Quickie Corner — June 2022

Sometimes, sick things come in small packages … and here are a couple I’ve enjoyed recently! This time, looking at Terry Miller’s Dis-GORE-derly Conduct, and the crazypants Swan Dongs triptych.

Title: Dis-GORE-derly Conduct

Author: Terry Miller

Website: https://www.amazon.com/DIS-GORE-DERLY-CONDUCT-SHORTS-Terry-Miller/dp/B09M5KY8KG/

You know how some warning labels make you wonder what in the holy heck people have been doing to make such labels a necessity? Like, who’d even DO that? Such as, oh, say, for random example, when the one on a curling iron says “for external use only”?

Well, the opening lines of “A Chosen Silence,” the first story in this evil little book will make it ALL TOO CLEAR. But, rest assured, the improper usage of a certain beauty appliance is, in this case, far from recreational. It’s an implement of horrific revenge in a cheating partner scenario,

And that’s just the jilted party getting back at the side-piece as a warm-up; the main event goes much further, in an extended and graphic campaign of torture payback. Gets pretty angry, brutal, and ugly, but there’s an emotional resonance to it not always found in this kind of tale.

The second story, “Best Friend,” ventures into other skin-crawlingly creepy territories; the reader is spared explicit details of the child abuse and molestation, but the implications alone are harrowing enough.

Little Matthew tries to be his mother’s good boy, even when she makes him do things he doesn’t want to do. To escape, or when she’s distracted by having her grownup ‘friend’ over, he resorts to watching scary movies with his special new Cuddle Bear.

But, sometimes, when someone’s been pushed too far and had enough, those scary movies might give someone … ideas …

Short book, quick read, little one-two double gut-punch to the psyche that’ll leave a heck of a bruise.

**

Title: Swan Dongs

Authors: Chris Grindstaff, Mick Collins, Russell Holbrook

Publisher: Mothers of Mayhem

Website: https://anchor.fm/marian-and-christina

Sometimes, the fates converge, the stars align, and all the elements are in place, just waiting for the moment of catalyst to make the magic happen.

Sometimes, a simple one-letter typo on social media snowballs into an unstoppable juggernaut bandwagon of sheer crazypants absurdity.

Or maybe they’re the same thing; either way, this freaky little book book now exists in the world, and the world will never be the same for it.

I can’t help but wonder if the esteemed Robert McCammon knows how what was meant to be a recommendation of his brilliant epic became, through the slip of a thumb, what we now have to contend with.

And it wasn’t just some lone lunatic! There was a CONTEST! A contest to create the ultimate “swan dong” story. So yeah, here are three separate and distinct tales about … well, that should be self-evident.

Chris Grindstaff starts things off by taking it meta, with an online oopsie leading to a drunken late-night lake expedition of disastrous consequence. Next, it’s over to Mick Collins, introducing a wacky world of supers and sex-toys that might give even the creators of The Boys pause. Then, Russell Holbrook brings us home with a gleefully irreverent theological smackdown for the ages.

It also features a foreword by Dustin Whalen, because the whole thing was his fault, but he rallied and rolled with it and rose to the occasion like a champ. Tip of the hat all around to everyone involved. My kind of weirdos!

**

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.

**

Cover reveal!

Coming soon, in limited edition hardcover by Thunderstorm Books and mainstream release from Madness Heart Press … the epic sequel to the Splatterpunk Award winning Lakehouse Infernal!

Quickie Corner — May 2022

Trying a new review category thing just for the chapbooks, periodicals, and shorter pieces … starting with a look at the upcoming issue of Olde Wyathscope’s Quarterly Concern from Matt Henshaw and Mat Fitzsimmons, and Scenes from a Village by Jeffrey Thomas.

Title: Olde Wyathscope’s Quarterly Concern: Samhain 2022

Authors: Matt Henshaw and Mat Fitzsimmons

Website: oldewyathscope.blogspot.com

This is exactly the sort of quirky pocket weirdness I absolutely adore! Clever, humorous, with an old-fashioned flavor and modern wit, it’s like a cross between what people think of when they hear the word ‘almanac’ and a small-town periodical focused on local events with a hint of gossip.

Except, with a darker, ominous, occasionally forbidding bent. That much is clear from the very first page, a section titled ‘Meteorological Forecasts,’ which thanks one family for donating their daughter to ensure good rain and warns that the winds are liable to drive people mad.

The tone continues throughout, with horoscopes and helpful house hints, a writeup spotlighting a church eager to increase their congregation, a society who’s who article on an influential personage, a fiction feature, music reviews, agricultural/farming tips, a calendar of upcoming events, news, trivia, and advice.

Complete with equally quirky illustrations and a couple of ads — really, who wouldn’t want their birthday entertainment courtesy of Lord Scratch’s Amazing Party Clown Company? — it’s a fun, nifty little treat.

**

Title: Scenes From a Village

Author: Jeffrey Thomas

Publisher: oddness

Website: https://darkregions.com/collections/jeffrey-thomas

My main academic crush, Professor Drout, mentions in one of his courses on Tolkien the masterful way Tolkien wove threads of legend and lore and common knowledge into Middle Earth, without doing big info dumps to explain them, as if they were just part of the cultural osmosis that everyone, obviously, already knew … making the world seem all the more REAL and alive.

One of the things I most admire about the works of Jeffrey Thomas is that he shares that talent, and it really comes into play in this slick chapbook. It’s about a remote village with its own ways, culture, and mythology, but he doesn’t sit the reader down to fill us in on a history lesson. And he doesn’t NEED to; the setting comes across just as vibrant and completely legit, seamlessly and effortlessly making its own beautiful sense.

The stories themselves, six of them, are each quick little haunting evocative glimpses, weirdly reminiscent of Kipling’s “Just So Stories,” charming and fascinating and exceptionally well done.

**

Reviews, May 2022

Things continue to be hectic and busy, but luckily I had managed to stockpile enough reviews for this month! In which I look at Stephanie E. Jensen’s The Howling of the Dead, Damien Casey’s The Village of Gill, Where All Is Light And Starless by John Linwood Grant, Brian Asman’s Man, Fuck This House, and Cold Water Forest by Fredrick Niles.

Title: The Howling of the Dead

Author: Stephanie E. Jensen

Website: https://www.amazon.com/Howling-Dead-Stephanie-Jensen-ebook/dp/B09D8G8LPC

You know those movies where you spend the entire time shouting “don’t do it, you idiots!” and “nope, nope, bad idea!” at the screen and they do it anyway and horrible stuff happens and then you’re all “well, I warned you” but it’s too late for them?

This book makes for one of those experiences, and these characters don’t listen any better than the ones in the movies. And, while I’m not so mean as to say they deserve everything they get, there’s still that kind of smug schadenfreude because they really should have known.

Characters like Brayden, for instance, who, despite already suffering frequent episodes of sleep paralysis and extreme night terrors and ominous dreams involving his weird aunt … up and moves into the remote cabin his weird aunt leaves him after she’s found dead in the woods. I mean, if that isn’t a walked-right-into-it setup, I don’t know what is.

Doesn’t stop Brayden, though. After all, in this day and age, his generation faces plenty of budgetary and life challenges. A shot at home ownership isn’t to be passed over lightly. To sweeten the deal with his girlfriend Kylee, he promises her the chance to raise horses like she always wanted.

So, okay, fair enough, what could go wrong? Heh. Well. Where to begin? Aside from Brayden’s continuing night terrors, and the mystery of how his aunt really died, they start hearing unnatural screams and catching glimpses of strange figures and …

And, they keep trying to blow it all off as random weirdness and nothing to worry about, ignore it, even as it gets worse and more dangerous and physical and anyone with an ounce of sense would have long since bailed …

Yet, even while wanting to shake or smack the crap outta them, you kinda can’t help feeling for these two. Either that, or basking in the “told you so.” Or maybe both. For me, it was both.

**

Title: The Village of Gill

Author: Damien Casey

Website: https://www.amazon.com/Damien-Casey/e/B07B7G49HJ

I read this book like six times in a row … but, hear me out, I can explain. For one, it’s a nice slim book, a quick and fun read, not a weighty tome that takes days to get through. For another, and more importantly, it’s a schlocky Lovecraftian horror movie style CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE, so, seriously, come on, if you don’t think I’m going to follow every single choicepath to find out every single possible conclusion, then I don’t even know what to tell you.

No, for real, it is! The story opens with a quartet of young people heading out for a weekend getaway, one pair a couple, the other an attempted setup (his friend, her friend, let’s get them together so we can double date).

Their destination is the quaint little fishing village of Gill, which will of course turn out to have its share of sordid, ancient secrets and all manner of opportunity for things to go wrong. And, in keeping with the characters and genre, most of the choices aren’t the most sensible to begin with.

But maybe you’ll decide the vacationing quartet should stay at the convenient motel first, or maybe they should hop the boat for the island. Maybe you’ll have them go along with the locals for a secret ritual, maybe you’ll have them think better of it and try to leave. It’s up to you, dear reader! Their fate is in your hands!

Ah, who’m I kidding? Situations like this, they’re pretty much doomed from the start … but you get the fun of determining the particulars. I do have to mention that, likely just due to formatting/layout, the page numbers don’t always match up to the ones given in the menu, like, when it says go to Page 29 but the scene starts on Page 30, but it’s easy enough to figure out.

**

Title: Where All Is Light And Starless

Author: John Linwood Grant

Publisher: Trepidatio Publishing

Website: http://www.journalstone.com

Given the author’s quirky and kind of goofball online persona, if you see him posting on social media and such, it might be easy to forget or overlook just how truly skilled and talented an author he is, and what finely-tuned tales he can turn out.

Such as the ones in this collection, many of which are hauntingly beautiful with a wonderful old-school / old-fashioned feel that make them seem as if they were written in another age, even when the settings are modern.

Some delve into the realms of cosmic horror, such as the opening tale in which our protagonist is driven by otherworldly forces to try and recreate in miniature a long-lost city, amid shadowy conspiracies and sinister beings … or those dedicated to the collection and preservation of secret histories and ancient knowledge, no matter the cost …

Some follow the persistent efforts of “civilized” folk seeking to “educate” and “elevate” and “save” other cultures in other corners of the world, risking the wrath of native entities … or break and beat those cultures into submission by any means necessary …

Others draw their inspiration from folklore, and in a far from fairytale sense; the fae folk and supernatural creatures depicted here are as uncanny and unknowable and alien and STRANGE as they really should be … dangerous tricksters, mysterious forest spirits, the old ways, the old world … examinations of and speculations on a few often-overlooked beings who don’t get enough of a shot at the spotlight …

Speaking of spotlights, still others examine the heyday of yesteryear, looking to unravel mysteries hidden in old film reels, or stand-up comics passing down legacies of their trade … while a few more contemporary straightforward-seeming horrors touch upon elements of madness, neglect, and decay.

Really, the stories span SUCH a broad gamut, there’s plenty for everyone and every taste. All very well-written, compelling, disquieting.

I have to give a particular shout-out to the titular “Where All Is Night, And Starless,” which deals with one aspect of WWI I’ve always found both harrowing and fascinating — the sappers, the tunnelers, digging beneath enemy fortifications and sometimes waging their own wars under the earth … and just in case that’s not dangerous enough, what else might be down there?

**

Title: Man, Fuck This House

Author: Brian Asman

Publisher: Mutated Media

Website: https://brianasmanbooks.com/

I love living in an age where horror can be fun, where twisting and turning the tired old tropes inside-out and upside-down has darn near become a genre of its own, and where it’s more okay than ever to be wacky and take risks.

Risks such as using the F-bomb in your actual TITLE, which, experience has taught me, makes posting reviews to certain sites somewhat tricky because even when the title may contain certain words, a review daring to also use them is likely to get noped.

But really, though, given the scenario, it’s too perfect! Isn’t that exactly what everyone would, or at least should, say when the nice ordinary family moves into a nice new house and freaky-weird (bleep) starts happening before they’ve halfway unpacked?

Okay, not that the family in this case is exactly ordinary … and some of them aren’t exactly very nice, either. Mom Sabrina, for instance, has never really bonded with or warmed to her son, ever since she found out about the whole in-utero absorption thing, and it shows. Small wonder then that little Damien cranks the creepy-kid factor to eleven and makes it his mission in life to freak his mother out; kinda hard to blame him.

Dad Hal and big sister Michaela may be more or less normal, a regular working-class dude and a tweenager none too thrilled about starting over at a new school. And the house, at first anyway, doesn’t seem so weird. No dark history, no burial grounds. Just a house, with a nice kitchen and a luxurious master bath, and if Sabrina has some wtf experiences right off the bat, well, it’s probably only stress from the move.

Spoiler: it isn’t stress from the move. The funky hippie neighbor lady from across the street won’t set foot in the place due to its vibes. Sabrina keeps seeing a strange man who inexplicably vanishes. The rest of her family thinks she’s losing it — a bonus to Damien, who amps up his behavior to help her along, despite receiving vaguely menacing texts advising him not to. Just his sister messing with him, he figures.

Spoiler #2: it isn’t his sister messing with him. All too soon (and I mean soon; it all takes place in, what, less than a week?) matters have escalated to the point of no return, to insanity and beyond. It’s a wild ride, a riot, exploding into hilariously unforgettable bizarro horror, and I read the whole book in one sitting.

**

Title: Cold Water Forest

Author: Fredrick Niles

Publisher: Fever Garden Publishing

Website: https://www.amazon.com/Cold-Water-Forest-Fredrick-Niles-ebook/dp/B09MWM4H39

Have to admit, I had some troubles with this one, for a variety of reasons, many of them personal. It’s about a woman who’s saddled with caring for her elderly and irrational mother, dealing with the incredible mental, emotional, and financial stress such a life-change entails. Which, as it happens, is pretty much the scenario I’ve been in for the past year, so, not much of an escape into fiction, y’know?

The woman in the book, though, Kelsey Fletcher, has it way worse than I do. Not only is her mother far more impaired and physically disruptive, but she’s got her pre-teen daughter in tow. They’re on the run from both unpleasant memories and debt collectors. And the place they run to, in their efforts to escape, is a run-down cabin miles from anything, with little in the way of amenities.

All in all, a bad scene for everyone. I found myself further bothered by the actual treatment of the mother, not only from Kelsey but from the medical system … they just dumped her loose in that condition? No medications? No nurse follow up? Nothing? And then Kelsey goes and leaves her on her own for hours at a time, potential danger to self and others as she may be?

Yeah, for those reasons primarily it gave me many a red flag, so it was a difficult read I was predisposed to distrust from the get-go … and that was only the setup. Once they’re settled in at the cabin and things take turn after turn for the worse …

Which is not to say it’s poorly written or anything of the sort. A little sketchy on some reality checks, maybe, but the crux of the story is about the deterioration of their psyches. And forget any gradual descent into madness; it’s more of a plunge, like the coach at swim lessons who figures the best way to get the kiddies used to the water is to hurl them right in.

**

Reviews, April 2022

For this month, I take looks at Michelle von Eschen’s Old Farmhouses of the North; A Puppet Scorned by Jamie Kort; Matthew Quinn’s Little People, Big Guns; The God Provides by Thomas R. Clark; and Bridgett Nelson’s A Bouquet of Viscera.

Title: Old Farmhouses of the North

Author: Michelle von Eschen

Publisher: WtD Books

Website: https://www.amazon.com/Michelle-von-Eschen/e/B08P6Q6W8G

Is post-apocalypse gothic a thing? If it’s not, it should be … or maybe it is now … because that’s the phrase that tolled in the back of my mind while reading this book. A lonely, desolate, cold, dusty, windswept, atmospheric moodiness permeates all the linked stories herein, providing a backdrop suggesting a world of ruins and hopelessness, within which even worse things happen on a smaller, personal scale.

It opens with the title tale, in which a couple are heading through a forsaken landscape of blighted farms and abandoned farmhouses, and the driver’s ideas of how a man should take care of his woman play out in some less than romantic ways.

Next up is “What To Expect While You’re Expecting,” my favorite of the bunch, invasive and disturbing pregnancy horror escalating well past the point of no return.

“The Bug House” is a take on the classic kids’-rite-of-passage tale, when an adult comes home and has to remember and confront the truth of what happened to his friend.

“Butcher and Shaw” brings in a nightmarish supernatural/religious tone, as a pair of gravediggers tasked with delivering unborn babies from dead mothers speculate on the purpose of their trade.

“Clove Hitch” cranks up the dystopian side of things; in a society where state-sanctioned suicide has become commonplace, a man who hasn’t told his wife his plans is in for a bad surprise.

In “Nancy Gone Wild,” a young woman from a strict upbringing is eager to get her first taste of freedom despite her parents’ concerns what might happen to her out in the hedonistic real world, but none of them are ready for the changes she undergoes.

“Noche Obscura” is my second-fave, a purgatorial nightmarish piece, reminiscent of a dream just half-lucid enough to be aware of its hellish inescapability.

“Because Father Is Dying” hits those midwesterny apocalypse gothic notes strong again, heavy with the burdens of hard work and hopelessness and tradition.

“Firesick” then pushes that aesthetic to the next level, as if Little House on the Prairie had been written by Cormac McCarthy, leaving tragedy and loss and regret in its ashes.

Wrapping it up is the fittingly-titled “Last Call,” wherein an aspiring actress goes to great lengths to reinvent herself, getting all the attention she wanted and then some.

**

Title: A Puppet Scorned

Author: Jamie Kort

Website: https://twitter.com/JamieKortScrawl

Let it never be said there’s not something to this whole social media thing … there I was, scrolling Twitter, when I saw a post from someone lamenting they hadn’t been sent a review request for “the sock puppet erotic horror book,” while other reviewers who had received the request were expressing reactions ranging from “yeah nope” to “I’d rather gouge out my eyes with a melon baller,” and I think to myself, “hey wait, didn’t I just get that review request too?”

Sure enough, I had, and after a couple of entertaining online exchanges with the author and other reviewers, I decided, “okay, why the heck not?” Sure wasn’t as if I haven’t read, reviewed, and even written my share of freakyweird (bleep). So I responded I’d give it a whirl. The author sent it. I opened it to take a peek and see what I’d gotten myself into.

And my plans for the rest of the day went right out the window because I ended up reading the whole thing then and there. Whatever I might have been expecting — and, I admit, I was expecting something along the lines of dirty muppet pr0n — THIS WAS NOT IT. This was good, clever, well-written, brilliantly imagined, and totally bizarro bonkers in all the best ways.

It’s the story of Camille, a lovely polka-dotted sock puppet, swept into a passionate romance with handsome striped sock puppet Brad. It is indeed sock puppet erotica, with knitting needles and stitches and unraveling yarn made sexyhot in ways that’d give sweet little old crocheting grannies heart palpitations.

But, let us not forget, it was also billed as erotic ‘horror,’ and the horror kicks in with just as much adroit WTF-ery as the rest. Brad and Camille find their actions have consequences, consequences Brad is in no way prepared to deal with, leaving Camille the puppet scorned of the title. Nor is she about to just forgive and forget. She wants her revenge, and she’s going to get it.

For real, folks, this is one of the most delightfully twisted surprise reads I’ve had in a while. I’m so glad I decided to try it instead of noping out sight unseen, and I encourage all those other reviewers to reconsider, because they are missing a real treat!

**

Title: Little People, Big Guns

Author: Matthew Quinn

Publisher: Deadite Press

Website:www.deaditepress.com

If the very fact, title, and nature of this book gives you the ableist-guilt discomfort cringies, well, brace yourself, because yep, it goes there. It’s got ‘dwarf-tossing’ in the prologue’s opening paragraph. It unflinchingly, unapologetically, rub-your-nose-in-it goes there.

The members of the McTavish Little Persons Association consisted of five members, before one of their own meets a bad end in the woods while walking home from a redneck bar after a profitable evening of the aforementioned dwarf-tossing. The rest of them decide something should be done in honor of their lost friend, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

James, the Association’s president, tries with letters and in-person meetings, but the authorities are less than impressed with their cause and don’t seem inclined to be very helpful. So, they decide to take matters into their own hands. They’ll arm up and go hunting, as much in preemptive self-defense as for revenge.

Teaming up with a couple of the dwarf-tossing rednecks from the bar, they venture into the woods. Some violent mayhem ensues, and before long, die-hard activists from the Coalition for Radical Animal Protection get involved.

Because, see, there’s these badgers in the woods, and as far as the activists are concerned, badger lives matter … much more than human lives, let alone little person lives. The situation quickly escalates to include abduction, seduction, interrogation, mutilation, carnage. and all-out craziness.

If I were to have one quibble, it’d be that the promised “big guns” don’t actually play that much of a part. If I were to have two quibbles, the second would be a wish for a bit more editing. But, all in all, a fast-paced, irreverent, entertaining read.

**

Title: The God Provides

Author: Thomas R. Clark

Publisher: St Rooster Books

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

I love mythology and folklore, and it’s always nice to see those oldest tales reflected and living on in our modern world. Especially when it comes to horror; so many of our horror stories have ancient origins, so many of our classic monsters go back to the days of strange gods and dark magics.

Those elements all come strongly into play in this book, which is divided into sections each pertaining to major Celtic/pagan old-school holidays: Samhain, Imbolc, Bealtane, and Lammas. The stories are interlinked, weaving together from past to present, and also feature some lovely, evocative poetry.

Things in the Foothills are rarely what they seem. Outside threats who mistake the rustic quiet as an easy hunting ground are in for some rude surprises, as are hapless strangers who might just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Such as the Foothills Slasher, a serial killer who’s about to find out there are far more dangerous things lurking in the night. Or a trio of inner-city lowlifes looking to help themselves to a big score from a back-country drug operation they heard about. Or a young hitchhiking loner with no idea how quickly luck can turn.

Meanwhile, there are the locals, a community of close-knit families, all harboring their own legacies and histories and traditions going way, waaaaay back. Not to mention rivalries, disputes, and secrets. Oh, those strange gods and dark magics are still very much alive and real here.

**

Title: Bouquet of Viscera

Author: Bridgett Nelson

Website: http://www.bridgettnelson.com

Discovering a new-to-me author, who then also turns out to be REALLY REALLY GOOD, is a treat of which I never get tired. When it’s then also a woman, who’s bringing some serious hardcore horror? Oh, you better believe I am all in!

That said, remember, I am bent and far from normal, and a couple of the pieces in this collection were almost too much even for me … but I couldn’t and wouldn’t stop, even when the ick factor went off the charts.

First up is “Auras,” which opens with a child-molester getting hacked to pieces by an axe, courtesy of a young woman whose family legacy gives her the ability to see a person’s crimes, as well as the vigilante responsibility to do something about it.

Next, in “Political Suicide,” the machinations of a dysfunctional health-care system leave a single mother grief-stricken, until a twist of fate gives her the opportunity for revenge against the man whose greedy decisions led to her son’s death.

“Spores,” about a mycologist on assignment from a pharmaceutical company to study fungus in the woods of West Virginia, is one of THE ickiest up-close-and-personal bits of body-horror and eew eew eew but also there’s a big doofy sweetheart of a dog but eew, and the eyelid scene oh ick I can’t even!

Done journal-style, “Reflections” introduces us to another vigilante-type killer, seeking to punish those who deserve it, while keeping close tabs on the detective in charge of the investigations.

“Cooked” presents an all-too-plausible dismal near future scenario, in which decades of viral pandemics have taken a toll on society and the economy, to the point certain high-level authorities in the government and medical community decide more drastic measures are needed.

It feels a little weird to say that “Invader,” about teenagers getting chomped by a sea monster, is one of the lighter entries in the book … but you gotta admit, they had it coming.

“Jinx” is prefaced with a content warning, and that warning is not messing around; the sexual violence is dark and graphic, unflinching, and downright BRUTAL. Powerful, intense, VERY hard to read.

Finishing things up is “The Show Must Go On,” a multi-layered tale of aspiring starlets, tragedies, possessions, and a haunted theater.

Excellent stuff, even when difficult. Bridgett Nelson is definitely one to watch, a welcome addition to the club!

**