Reviews, February 2022

This month, I look at Abhorrent Siren by John Baltisberger, Jade Griffen’s Call-of-Cthulhu RPG scenario “Amor Fati: Taken for Granite,” Berserker: Green Hell by Lee Franklin, Gaby Triana’s Moon Child, Normal by Benjamin Langley, and Bryan Smith’s Last of the Ravagers.

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Title: Abhorrent Siren

Author: John Baltisberger

Publisher: St. Rooster Books

Website: http://stroosterbook.blogspot.com/

Ever been in one of those moods where you want freaky aquatic horror mutation science, cannibalistic monstrous infected outbreak mayhem, AND immense stompy kaiju carnage, ALL IN ONE gooshy package?

Well, my friends, here is the book for you! Buckle your seat belt as soon as you sit down, though, because it starts off full-speed-ahead and only slows now and then to give you the occasional breather before flooring it even harder.

It begins with another rough day at work for Barbara, a nurse at a methadone clinic. She’s devoted her life to helping others, only to have patient reactions range from unappreciative to downright abusive. As bad as it’s gotten, however, she’s not ready for a violent addict in the throes of some horrific transformation to bust in and tear the place up.

Barbara survives the massacre, but not unscathed. Almost at once, she realizes she’s undergoing changes herself, feeling primal urges to feed and fight and mate. The scenes in which the reader experiences her slow dissolve of rational humanity provide an extra-creepy undercurrent to the more overt gore.

Whatever the affliction is, it spreads like wildfire, so fast the news hardly has time to get out, let alone give the authorities a chance to mobilize. People are changing, sprouting extra limbs and claws, attacking in wild, bloody rampages, causing panic and pandemonium. There’s glowing blood and toxic slime and a weird red miasma. And something else, something really, REALLY big, emerging to wreak even more havoc.

In the midst of all that, a desperate father goes to drastic lengths to protect his little girl, first from her own mother, and then from the rapidly imploding chaos of the rest of the world. They head for the country, thinking they might be safe there … if they can be safe anywhere.

Now, the team of scientists called in to investigate recent peculiar adaptations among the fish and amphibians in local waterways are initially unaware of the rest of what’s going on; they’re too caught up in their shocking discoveries. Abnormal size, impermeable scales, bizarre biology, weird membranes … like nothing they’ve seen before. By the time anybody can make the connections, let alone look for a solution, it might be too late.

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Title: Amor Fati: Taken for Granite

Author: Jade Griffen

Website: https://www.drivethrurpg.com/

Every now and then, for a change of pace, I like to review something that’s not fiction. This is one of those occasions (though it’s still horror-related), as I take a look at a Call of Cthulhu scenario, perfect for a one-shot gaming session.

Of course, since I haven’t actually gamed in years and don’t have a current group, I can’t exactly put this to the proper play-it-through test to see how it goes in practice. In premise, though, it looks like a lot of fun, nicely unsettling in the right kind of ways.

The year’s 1922, right around Thanksgiving, when thoughts should be turning toward harvest and home and togetherness. The setting is Graniteville, Vermont, a rustic small town near a rock quarry. The characters, pre-generated and provided for convenience, are either locals or visiting for the holiday.

They’re a mixed group, the PCs, consisting of a waitress, some workers from the quarry, a librarian, a farmgirl, and a musician. Each have their own relationships, connections, and various skills, all of which will be needed to figure out what’s going on.

What, you might wonder, IS going on? Well, cosmic weirdness, what else? Strange things are happening. People are being struck inexplicably blind or deaf, having violent outbursts, and other peculiar behaviors. One of the churches is planning a special “night baptismal,” there’s a strike at among the quarry workers, some foreign doctor moved in a few days ago …

Offering many opportunities for investigation, action, descents into madness, and entertaining roleplay, this seems like it’d be a delightful way to pass a few evenings, either on its own or worked into an existing campaign.

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Title: Berserker: Green Hell

Author: Lee Franklin

Publisher: Hell Bound Books

Website: https://www.hellboundbookspublishing.com

Before I settled in to write a proper review … before I even finished reading the book … I had to take a moment to contact the author just so say something along the lines of “holy (bleep) wowsers!”, because, well, read it and you’ll see!

It may start off seeming like it’s going to be a good ol’ action-packed testosterone-laden military horror adventure, with a team of specialists deep in the jungles of Vietnam, navigating the deadly terrain and the deadlier perils of war. Which, all right, so far so good, that on its own is plenty of adrenaline-overload thrills …

… until they encounter something ELSE out there in the green, something superhuman or inhuman or other than human … insanely strong and fast and unstoppable, like the berserkers of lore (hence that part of the title) …

… so, okay, you might be thinking, we’ve got a Predator or Dog Soldiers style monster hunting/fighting scenario going on, very cool …

… except THEN they also stumble across a hidden black ops installation where all kinds of experiments and bad stuff’s happening and there’s a wickedly manipulative femme fatale calling the shots …

… and the twists keep on coming faster and faster, as the stakes keep on escalating higher and higher … it’s full edge-of-your-seat nailbiting tension, wet with humidity and sweat and sex and gore …

I mean, holy (bleep) wowsers! There’s not much else I can say! Loved the writing, the characters, the action, the shocks and bombdrop revelations, everything. Fantastic stuff!

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Title: Moon Child

Author: Gaby Triana

Publisher: Alienhead Press

Website: http://www.gabytriana.com

When troubled-teen coming-of-age meets psychic/paranormal meets brooding haunted history Southern Gothic … the result might look a lot like Gaby Triana’s MOON CHILD.

It is a book with a lot going on, fraught and moody, spiritual, packed with secrets and conflicting emotions, with characters that both fascinate and frustrate, and a storyline that accelerates into ever-deepening weirdness, sweeping the reader along for the ride.

Our first-person POV protagonist is Valentina, whose unusual ability to glean impressions and information from whoever or whatever she touches has led her to question her strongly religious upbringing and explore her own beliefs. Much to the disapproval, of course, of her controlling family, community, and friends.

Her dissatisfaction, as well as some surprising revelations about her father, lead Vale to leave home and go visit the half-sister she’s never met … but that’s only the beginning of her strange journey. From there, she’s following a mysterious black wolf to the ruins of a once-grand structure decaying amid the cypresses.

There, she meets a group of young rebels with similar talents, who’ve been waiting for the final member to complete their circle … and that’s when things really get weird. Because of course the structure has a notorious past nowhere near at peace, and forces that have also been waiting for the right people to come along and unleash it.

Hauntings? Curses? Demonic possessions? Torture? Murder? Suicide? Dark magic? Otherworldy entities? All that and more? Yeah, pretty much, with Vale and her new friends smack in the middle of it.

The atmosphere is darkly drenched, the descriptions are amazingly vivid, the interactions and experiences of the characters ring very true. Good stuff!

**

Title: Normal

Author: Benjamin Langley

Publisher: Bloodshot Books

Website: https://bloodshotbooks.wordpress.com

The not-knowing is always the worst of the worst. With the known, even when it’s terrible, at least there’s some sort of answer, some sort of closure; we can try to begin to cope and move on. Being left waiting and wondering and guessing? Yeah, that’s the worst.

Except, sometimes, the worst can still get worser yet! Take, for instance, what happens to the Wallace family in this book. Their teenage son, Ted, just goes missing one night, with no hints or clues or rhyme or reason. His parents and sister endure months of agonized uncertainty, straining their relationships and sanity to the breaking point.

Then, Ted is found! But, what should be a cause for relief and rejoicing quickly becomes its own frustration — Ted has no memory of where he’s been or how long he was gone, the police can’t find any clues, nobody knows.. Still no answer, still no closure. Only more, and more disturbing, questions … as well as some odd physical effects and personality changes …

Nor is Ted the only one. Other missing persons begin turning up, with similar stories and inexplicable injuries. There must be some connection, some explanation! Are they even still the same people they were? Are they strangers, impostors, no longer human?

All the Wallaces want to do is get their lives back to normal, but that’s looking less and less possible. For them, or for anyone else in town, because whatever happened is only the beginning.

With the story told through the perspectives of all four Wallaces, the reader is treated to an up close and personal view of the whole family’s reactions, their ways of dealing with stress and distress, and the darker paths it leads to.

**

Title: Last of the Ravagers

Author: Bryan Smith

Publisher: Death’s Head Press

Website: http://www.deathsheadpress.com

Bryan Smith joins the Death’s Head Press Splatter Western posse with a grim adventure that really highlights the isolation and desolation of the wild frontier.

The town is called Snakebite, in the middle of the Arizona desert, and if that doesn’t already sound isolated and desolate enough, I don’t know what would. It’s hardly welcoming, not to the people passing through, and not to the people who live there because they haven’t mustered the will to move someplace else.

It certainly doesn’t seem like the kind of place where a monumental battle between the forces of good and evil may decide the fate of humanity, either … but hey, things happen! For Sheriff Ned Kilmister, the things start happening when a bounty hunter rides in, hollering about monsters and corpses coming back to life.

It’d be easy to dismiss his tale as ravings brought on by sun-fever, drink, or exhaustion … except for that saloon girl being viciously attacked the other night … and the grisly massacre at an outlying farmhouse … and what the town doc’s been getting up to in his back office … and the dreams … and the naked, bloodied woman paying sinister visits to her neighbors …

Suffice to say, the situation in Snakebite very quickly goes bad, with murders and disappearances and the apparently risen dead. Then, as if the sheriff’s hands aren’t full enough, another stranger arrives in town, a beautiful but mysterious female gunslinger claiming to be from another world, on the trail of an entity hell-bent on death and destruction.

And it just keeps escalating from there, action-packed and gore-soaked, all the sex-violence-horror you could shake a stick at, heading for the ultimate showdown of apocalyptic proportions … all out at some little nowhere town in the desert.

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