Reviews, June 2022

This month, taking a look at The Journals of Lacy Anderson: Monster Hunter of the 1800s by Jade Griffin, Visceral 2: Filleted Flesh by Daniel J. Volpe and Patrick C. Harrison III, Tim Meyer’s Pteranodon Canyon, Erie Tales 14 by the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers, and Alan Baxter’s The Fall.

Title: The Journals of Lacy Anderson Moore: Monster Hunter of the 1800s

Author: Jade Griffin

Website: http://jadegriffinauthor.com

I’ve always been one of those gamer-types for whom the flavor-text and description and well-written character backstory is far more important than the stats and number-crunching. So, something like this, in which I get all the good stuff without having to worry about knowing the system or rules or worldbook, is just the kind of thing that I like. I can read it as fiction, for story, for worldbuilding.

And, in those senses, this book absolutely delivers. It’s written in the form of a journal, obviously enough from the title, doing a very good job of actually feeling like a journal overall. There are only a few places where it slips into reading like more of a narrative, but even when it does, it works well enough without being jarring.

Lacy Anderson, relating these events from her life, is a scrappy and unusual young lady, especially for her era. Even as a teenager, she’s no stranger to speaking her mind, or throwing and taking a punch when the situation calls for it. The normal life path of demure courtship, marriage, and family is not for her. Tracking down and eliminating paranormal threats, on the other hand? Now, THERE’S her true passion.

It’s a passion that leads her on various adventures across the still-budding United States as well as further-flung corners of the world. Along the way, she makes the acquaintance of an English policeman, one Richard Moore, and they begin an occasionally-tempestuous romance, bringing additional challenges and conflicts to Lacy’s life.

Writing-wise, as previously mentioned, the journalistic form works well here, feels very personal-thought, with just enough dialect to give a good sense of speech patterns and language while not being overloaded. The history reads legit, the occult and paranormal elements fit the story without bogging down in excessive explanation or info-dumping.

I’d play in or run this kind of campaign, watch this kind of show or movie, and will definitely be ready to read more of Lacy’s story.

**

Title: Visceral 2: Filleted Flesh

Authors: Daniel J Volpe, Patrick C. Harrison III

Publisher: Stygian Sky Media

Website: https://www.amazon.com/Visceral-Filleted-Daniel-J-Volpe-ebook/dp/B09XKPTKHP

Nasty, nasty boys.

Maybe Janet wasn’t singing about these two in particular, but, oooh, she might as well have been. This dual-author collection of extreme body horror is just so, SO nasty … in the best possible most grotesque and disturbing ways … if there isn’t at least one thing in here to freak/squick/gross you out, then I dunno what to tell you.

And such a variety of grotesque and disturbing ways, too! Invasive monstrous body horror, corpse desecration, sick and twisted sexy stuff, medical nightmares, artistic culinary performace art, reproductive gooshiness, mutilation, intestinal and eliminatory distress, dental torture, and animal cruelty (of everything in the book, THAT scene was the one that most got to me!)

Each author contributes four tales for your reading pleasure and/or psychological trauma. Volpe starts it off with “Green Bleeds Red,” a sort of love story in which a grieving husband is surprised by the unexpected return of his presumed-dead wife. PCH3 follows up with a boys’ adventure piece (nasty boys!) with a grisly discovery in “Firecracker Kings.”

Each also presents something to whet or forever kill the appetite, spanning the spectrum from Volpe’s mystery-meat-on-a-stick “Fair Food” to the expensive, exclusive experience of PCH3’s “Sumptuous Sunday at Susie Suzuki’s Sushi Saloon.”

Family is the theme when a desperate couple visits an unusual fertility clinic in PCH3’s “Carmenta,” and an overdue confrontation with an abusive father in Volpe’s “Cut of Your Jib.” Then PCH3 looks to a not-too-distant future with the next step in “Evolution of Communication,” while Volpe’s “The Dead Never Die” invites us along on a cancer treatment journey.

Needless to say, this is not for the squeamish or sensitive reader. The stories are all exceptionally well-written, far from the gore-for-gore’s-sake argument, but they are also, as I may have mentioned once or twice, very, VERY NASTY.

**

Title: Pteranodon Canyon

Author: Tim Meyer

Publisher: Evil Epoch Press

Website: https://www.abe.pl/en/advancedsearch/search/?publisher2=Evil+Epoch+Press

I love dinosaurs, possibly far more than a woman of my age should. Raptor Red is one of my favorite books of all time. I have dinosaur-themed curtains in my bedroom, a dinosaur garden in the front yard, and raptor decals on my car.

I also love weird/horror westerns, so you know there was no way I’d pass up a combination of both! I mean, I even watched “Cowgirls Vs. Pterodactyls” all the way through (be sure to turn on the closed captioning, some of the descriptions of sound effects are priceless!). In my therefore educated experience, I can safely say Pteranodon Canyon is far superior, and freakin’ awesome!

It’s got cowboys and outlaws and hard-drinkin’ gunslingers, bounty hunters and rustlers and poachers, wide open spaces, rugged landscapes, struggling frontier towns … and DINOSAURS. Dinosaurs presented in scientific terms with plausible behaviors, and if there’s no explanation given as to WHY there are dinosaurs or how species from epochs millions of years apart are all existing in the wild west era, well, so what? It doesn’t matter, because there are DINOSAURS and they are super cool.

Plot-wise — because even though cowboys and dinosaurs is an irresistible premise, it still helps to have a plot and a story — there’s a group of bad guys who are hunting Pterosaurs, ruthlessly butchering them for their trophy beaks and choice bits and leaving the rest to rot, despite laws against it.

When bounty hunter Charlie Archer and famed/notorious gunslinger Nellie Watts answer the summons of a government agent, they’re offered a lucrative contract on presidential authority to hunt down and stop the poachers, they both agree, though neither is accustomed to working with a partner.

For Charlie, the chance to catch up with an old enemy further sweetens the pot, turning their quest into a mission of revenge. For Nellie, it’s mostly about the money and her reputation as a tough, independent loner.

And then there’s Finn … the eager young gun dinosaur enthusiast who invites himself along despite their efforts to get rid of him. It’s unlikely trio vs. sinister villains, excitement and adventure, and, best of all, DINOSAURS!!!

**

Title: Erie Tales 14

Editor Michael Cieslak

Publisher: The Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers

Website: http://www.glahw.com

The GLAHW is going strong, consistently delivering quality reads, and this 14th volume in their ongoing anthology series is another solid addition to the collection. With the general sub-theme of “Secrets,” each of these nine stories explores hidden truths and the costs of keeping them … versus the risks of having them found out.

Such as in Lee Allen Howard’s harrowing “The Summer House,” in which a grown man returns to his troubled family’s vacation home for the first time in years, and has to confront the tragic memories of what happened to his sister (the ending! ouch!)

Second up is Jen Sexton-Riley’s “Hungry,” my personal fave of the bunch for so many reasons, a strangely sweet and heart-wrenching haunting, told in the form of a journal/letters from a lonely young ghost to the house’s new resident.

Peggy Christie’s “Seep” doesn’t pinpoint its era or setting exactly, but it doesn’t need to, because the mob psychology notions of religion and plague and sacrifice remain creepily effective and relevant in any age, including our so-called modern one.

“Serial,” by M.C. St. John, has the satisfying twistedly grim dark humor of a classic EC Comics tale, with colorful sugary breakfast cereal, a kid-friendly mascot, greed, underhanded dealings, cover-ups, and revenge.

Montilee Stormer’s very relatable and realistic “Two Settings” looks at grief and loss, and the well-meaning but awkward and often disastrous efforts of friends who have the best intentions … but don’t realize some exes are exes for good reason.

“He Didn’t Need the Devil to Sing” by Herb Kauderer is a particularly quirky piece, with names and mannerisms suggesting an almost Victorian period but modern trappings and technology, all of which fits with the timeless tale of deals and reading the fine print.

Heinrich von Wolfcastle (what a name! every time I see it, wow!) also brings us a story way too many of us might find hitting uncomfortably close to the mark, in “Over and Over Again,” because haven’t we all had one of THOSE co-workers?

“Stress,” by J.M. Van Horn, peeks into the shadows behind our regular world, the toll it takes on a person to know that which should not be known, and how sometimes no amount of good deeds can make up for the weight of the burden of keeping secrets.

Closing out the show, fittingly, is “Your Plaintive Cries” by J.C. Rudkin, delving into the medium crazy of bygone years and one investigator’s determination to expose a fraud whose performances always seem to coincide with disappearances.

**

Title: The Fall

Author: Alan Baxter

Publisher: 13th Dragon Books

Website: http://www.alanbaxter.com.au

If you’ve not yet read The Gulp, Baxter’s previous book of stories about the quaint town of Gulpepper, you might not know what’s going on in this one. Heck, even if you HAVE read The Gulp, you might not know what’s going on; that’s kind of the whole point … even the characters who’ve lived there all their lives don’t know what’s going on in Gulpepper half the time.

As it should be. Gulpepper is a WEIRD place. Off-the-charts weird. Missing-from-most-maps weird. Avoided and not talked about by neighboring locals, unless it’s to vaguely but earnestly warn away hapless travelers.

Funny thing, though, how often those vague but earnest warnings have the exact opposite of the indeded effect. Ornery human curiosity, gets us every time … as plenty of visitors to Gulpepper learn the hard way.

The stories here are all interconnected, making it more like a novel told in sections than a collection of individual pieces. There are recurring characters, important events, references back to the previous volume. It’s its own compact universe, Gulpepper, and it’s one deep dive into strangeness.

It’s also not just the town itself; we’re treated to some farther-reaching explorations to the surrounding area, with tantalizing glimpses into the darker eldritch undercurrents permeating everything, land and sea.

The stories span a gamut of horrors, from the cosmic to the domestic. There’s the creepy but intriguing shop an adventuresome road-tripper runs across in “Gulpepper Curios,” with its antique fortune-telling machine and mysterious notes from the past … a shipwrecked fishing crew finds themselves facing far worse hazards than exposure to the elements when they wash ashore on “Cathedral Stack,” … an argument between husband and wife escalates into a desperate cover-up scramble in “That Damn Woman” … “Excursion Troop” follows some teenage scouts and their leader on a weekend nature hike that goes awry … and, finishing up, “The Fall” brings in and ties together elements from preceding tales as events escalate to an ominous culmination.

**