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 2002

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!

**

Reviews, March 2022

In honor of Women in Horror Month (which is taking over March instead of Feb and I’ve heard referred to as Women in Horror Movement anyway because we cannot be confined to a single month), here’s a batch of reviews of cool stuff mostly done by members of my horror sisterhood! Rock on, ladies!

Including: 666 Gable Way by Dani Lamia and Frederick H. Crook, the Slash-HER anthology from Kandisha Press, the A Woman Built By Man anthology from Cemetery Gates Media, Stephanie Jensen’s Dissecting House, Sea Caummisar’s Raised By A Killer Book 1, and Manhunt by Gretchen Felker-Martin.

Title: 666 Gable Way

Author: Dani Lamia and Frederick H. Crook

Publisher: Level 4 Press

Website: http://www.level4press.com

With beautiful, evocative writing and shades of Shirley Jackson right out of the gate, this book hooked and held me from the beginning. And kept me that way, to the very last page.

I mean, come on, a brooding atmospheric old house with a history, a dark ancestral legacy of witchcraft and sacrifice, lavish descriptions, awesome costuming, steeped in gothic evil with more than a hint of steamy sex? Heck yeah!

Phoebe Pyncheon is a character plenty of us will find all too easy to relate to: an aspiring writer, struggling to make ends meet, burdened with student loans, with few friends and no love life, laid off from her latest job and behind on her rent to the point of facing eviction and possible lawsuits, out of options and at the end of her rope.

Well, almost out of options. There’s one possible last resort — Great-Aunt Hester, her only living relative, brooding away at the old family manse. Surely, despite their earlier falling out after the death of Phoebe’s mother, the stern old lady wouldn’t turn her away?

So, packing up her meager belongings into her piece-of-crap car, off she goes to plead her case and try her luck. Humbling and humiliating though it may be, she doesn’t have much other choice.

Great-Aunt Hester does agree to take her in, under Cinderella-esque earn-your-keep conditions, putting Phoebe to work helping take care of the paying boarders who rent rooms in the house. Such as the eccentric artist, the charming Brit, and the other ladies … one of whom Phoebe finds strangely alluring.

Of course, it turns out there are secret goings-on. Her great-aunt, and the rest of the coven, have plans for the last of the Pyncheon bloodline.

**

Title: Slash-HER

Editors: Janine Pipe and Jill Gerardi

Publisher: Kandisha Press

Website: https://kandishapress.com/

In a way, it’s kind of frustrating we keep needing to make the same point again and again — yes, women CAN and DO write/read/enjoy this kind of stuff! — but, on the plus side, hey, we get a whole book of nasty, violent, gonzo female-oriented slasher stories, and that’s always a win!

What’s interesting, though, is, as you read them, you’ll find more of a range of motive and emotion than in the ‘traditional’ male-dominated tales of the genre. As if women NEED a motive, a legitimate reason, are still stuck playing a reactive role … while society accepts the idea of men as killers just, well, just because.

So, in many of these stories, the characters’ actions might seem understandable, almost righteous. Mothers driven to drastic measures to protect their children, for instance. Avenging the betrayal of a cheating partner, or treacherous friend. Striking back against control and abuse. Being put upon and pushed to the (bleep)ing brink.

I mean, sheesh, you might think, can’t women also be sociopaths? Can’t they also kill for the thrill? Can’t it be just because? Well, don’t worry; this book’s got plenty of that sort too!

With a total of 21 stories, as well as an intro by the notorious Sisters of Slaughter, there’s quite the variety. There are teenagers, housewives, career women, party girls. Some delve into the paranormal, others are straight-up psycho.

As enjoyable (in their evilly twisted way) as they all are, I had a hard time choosing my top faves, but have to give a couple of special mentions:

For witty sheer-fun cleverness to Cynthia Pelayo’s “I Hate Slashers,” a chatty conversational podcast-style influencer tutorial full of helpful tips and tricks and advice;

And to “A Helping Hand From Peter Pan” by Stephanie Rabig, one of the best creepy-kid ghostie yarns I’ve read in a long time!

There’s also, at the end of the book, a handy list of potentially upsetting subjects, so that readers can be forewarned and/or choose if they might want to avoid reading certain stuff. Thought that was a good way to approach an often-contentious debate.

**

Title: A Woman Built By Man

Editors: S.H. Cooper and Elle Turpitt

Publisher: Cemetery Gates Media

Website: http://www.cemeterygatesmedia.com

Just in case anybody STILL needed proof that women can and do write some awesome horror (and if you do by now, I kinda gotta side-eye you like whoa, bro), here’s an anthology so full of fine examples there really can be no doubt.

Laurel Hightower starts it off with the excellent and all-too-true “Every Woman Knows This,” which I can about guarantee every woman reading it WILL know and be nodding along in complete understanding.

Likewise, “She Asked For It” by Lily George, a stark look at sexual assault, victim-blaming, dismissiveness, and downplaying. This, too, is something too many women already know; both stories should be required reading for boys, by high school age if not sooner.

Other stories explore different facets of the feminine experience, many laden with the mysterious power of folklore and mythology and magic. They are richly textured with revenge, control, sacrifice, seduction, religion, societal expectations, grief and loss, pain, obsession, possession, aging, beauty, love, and fear.

Setting-wise, they range from the past to a speculative sampling of possible futures, including the far cosmic darkness of space and distant worlds. We see women as women truly are, women as WE think we are or want to be, women as MEN think we are or want us to be.

Among my additional personal top picks:

Olivia White’s “Maddy Long Legs,” featuring some of the creepiest creepy-crawlies I never wanted to even imagine thank you very much for the nightmares …

“Bambolina, Bambolina” by G.G. Silverman, a creepily enchanting fairy tale reminiscent of Pinocchio but much, much darker;

Lea Storry’s “M.E. And Her,” pondering the inevitable pressures put upon women to stay young and pretty, at any cost;

“Genesis 2:22” by Denarose Fukushima, settling an age-old grudge by paying it back bigtime in grisly flinch-to-read detail;

and Michelle Tang’s beautifully written “The Shock of Death,” bringing together echoes of The Green Mile and Frankenstein to tragic effect.

**

Title: Dissecting House

Author: Stephanie E. Jensen

Website: https://godless.com/products/stephanie-jensen

We’re all familiar with the concept of the stone-cold, emotionless, predatory, human-shark type of serial killer … the ones with long-term careers of high body counts, taking gruesome souvenirs, and largely going unsuspected by those around them. To the point, whatever this says about us as a society, that we’re hardly shocked by yet another news story of some ordinary-seeming guy who turns out to have a freezer full of body parts in his basement.

People have a much harder time wrapping their heads around it if it’s a woman. Female serial killers are more often categorized as black widows with a series of tragic husband fatalities, or angels of death taking it upon themselves to put the suffering out of their misery.

Even Dr. Victor Lukman, a police psychologist who’s seen plenty of horrible crimes and pleas of insanity, is skeptical when he takes on the case of Mina Bassey, who’s just confessed to murdering a man she picked up at a bar. But that’s only the beginning; she goes on to describe, in vivid detail, a track record that would be impressive by any psycho’s standards.

Not to mention collecting her share of souvenirs. “Count the penises,” she tells him, when she can’t recall her exact total. Which, as lines go, is a doozy all right, letting Dr. Lukman as well as the reader know we’re in for one heck of a wild ride.

There are, suffice to say, a lot of penises. A LOT a lot of penises. Mina has been one busy lady. Dr. Lukman finds himself both fascinated and horrified by her, their conversations a deep dive into crazytown as he tries to understand what makes her tick.

Some of the procedural stuff may need to be taken with a pinch of salt and dose of literary license; forensics and investigations tend to take a lot more time than they show on the TV crime dramas, and Lukman has a thing or two to learn about confidentiality or he’s gonna lose his license.

Fast-paced writing moves the story right along. The kill scenes, even in flashback, are vicious and gleeful and savage. I’ll be looking forward to the sequel!

**

Title: Raised by a Killer Book 1

Author: Sea Caummisar

Website: https://arcus-www.amazon.com/Sea-Caummisar/e/B07PFS4H42

Yikes. I mean, eesh, yow, yikes, super-yikes! This book goes way beyond disturbing to outright devastating, and it’s only the opener of a series sure to dredge the depths of psychopathy and abuse.

The content herein is liable to be an auto-nope for many people, especially with regards to awfulness against innocent animals and kids. It’s evil. Manipulative, horrible, and evil. Skin-crawlingly, stomach-turningly so.

Usually, when you hear about “groomers” of children, it’s in a pedophiliac context; in this case, a father is training up his daughter into what’s apparently a generations-long family tradition of serial abduction, torture, murder, and worse.

There’s an old saying about how “as the twig is bent, so the tree is shaped,” and it certainly applies here. Deicide (yes, that’s her name) is only four, but that doesn’t earn her much leeway from Pops and his regimen of “lessons” and the ensuing punishments whenever she fails to follow the rules.

One of her main jobs is, when Pops takes her to the park, to cry and pretend to be lost so some nice lady will take pity on her, until Pops can get there and be oh so grateful, such a dedicated and concerned daddy, winning the nice lady’s trust. And then the nice lady ends up in the bad room …

It’s not easy telling a story from the perspective of a pre-schooler, but Caummisar does an outstanding job of putting the reader right into Deicide’s conflicted little head. You just know terrible things are going to happen, and that when Pops gets her a puppy, it’s not out of the kindness of his heart.

Now, in previous reviews of this author’s work, I know I grumbled a little about some of the overall writing … but any such issues have been resolved; skills have clearly been honed and polished as well as any slasher’s prized blade. Very favorably impressed with the improvement!

**

Title: Manhunt

Author: Gretchen Felker-Martin

Publisher: TOR Nightfire

Website: https://tornightfire.com/

I read this book in one spellbound sitting, and by the time I was done, I was rooting for the total extinction event giant asteroid harder than ever, because good grief we are a horrible trashfire of a species who deserve to be wiped out so the world can be cleansed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this is NOT a horrible trashfire of a book. Far from! This is an exceptionally well-written, potent, cuttingly insightful, emotionally impactful powerhouse of a book. It holds up a merciless mirror to modern society, and, folks, trust me, it ain’t pretty. We don’t look good. Not at all.

As is often the case, in any apocalyptic outbreak disaster scenario, the threat of the actual event takes a backseat to just how divisive, hateful, dangerous, and awful our fellow humans can be. How we’ve always got to us-and-them it, OTHER each other, to feel smug and superior and important.

The outbreak scenario here is a plague that turns men into bestial, cannibalistic, mutated monsters while leaving women immune. Except, thing is, sex/gender isn’t that cut and dried. It’s not just a matter of innies vs outies and cishet this or that. What about everyone else? Whose lives already faced countless struggles? Who’ve already dealt with prejudice, exclusion, dysmorphia, surgeries, hormone replacement, etc?

Then THIS all happens … and one of the few ways some of them can keep themselves safe from the plague involves, well, ‘harvesting’ certain choice nodules from the feral beast-men … while also just trying to survive, when even the more accepting communities tend to regard them as ticking time-bombs.

And just in case that’s not enough to deal with, there’s the TERFs, entire organized nightmare armies of the entitled righteous ladies of which memes are made. And the knowledge that this is probably exactly how they’d behave if they could get away with it makes me want to go poke each and every one of them in the eyeball. Horrid. Just horrid.

In case you haven’t guessed, this is not the fun feel-good read of the year; it is intense and difficult and painful, so real and so close to home. Mad props to the author for having the grit and tenacity to go there and stick with it. I could not have done that.

Giant asteroid. Seriously. Humanity screwed it all up. Let the cephalopods or meerkats take over already. Because, wow. We really are our own worst enemies.

**

Cool podcast news!

The fine folks at Staring Into the Abyss undertake a more thorough and scholarly discussion of Spermjackers From Hell than I ever would have expected to see in my life!

They bring up some very good points, and also had me grinning like Captain Jack Sparrow during the pre-hanging scene as he’s hearing the listing-off of his various crimes.

https://staringintotheabyss.libsyn.com/spermjackers-from-hell

They also got me really wanting to finally do that sequel!