Reviews, June 2023

Taking a look this month at August Hill’s Division X, GUSH: Tales of Vaginal Horror by Gina Ranalli, The Best of Bizarro Fiction Volume 1 from Planet Bizarro Press, Night Birds by Lisa Snellings and Alan M. Clarke, and Robert Essig’s Mojave Mud Caves.

Title: Division X

Author: August Hill

Publisher: Brother Mockingbird


I admit, I have myriad complex and conflicting feelings about this book. Even now, after taking a break to think about it before attempting to write this review. And I honestly don’t know if I can adequately convey those feelings in a way that makes sense.

You know Schrodinger’s Cat? The “is it or isn’t it” when it’s simultaneously both and neither, and nobody can know one way or the other? You know Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle, where the more you understand one aspect, the more it changes the others? Those are the closest I can come to expressing the vibe I got while reading it.

Did I like it? Yes and no. It did things I should normally dislike, but in ways that worked … while at the same time doing things I should normally like, but in ways that I didn’t. The writing style overall put me in mind of a movie-maker laying it all out in detail for the entire production team, with “telling” of character info and descriptions.

The descriptions, though, wow … it’s visual to the point of being downright cinematic … the action scenes are tight and tense and fast-paced, the special effects (particularly gore and creature-feature stuff) are freakin’ outstanding. It starts off plunging into the deep end of a big-budget bloodsoaked monster-hunter horror blockbuster, then shifts to a more MiB / secret agency training type thing, with episodes of at least three different seasons of a sassy dark-comedy paranormal series mixed in, and it’s both all-over-the-place but weirdly cohesive at the same time.

Can you tell I’m struggling here? I mean, under other circumstances, I woulda/shoulda been annoyed as heck, even as I was puzzled and compelled and strangely fascinated. Maddening isn’t the word I want here, but it perhaps comes closest.

What’s it about, you may wonder? Well, in the broadest stroke overview, there’s this young woman who survives a family-slaughtering werewolf attack, to end up “recruited” into a shadowy agency for training to be dispatched to battle other supernatural menaces, while nobody’s telling anybody anything and everybody’s trying to figure out what’s going on.

Probably the best option here is to read it yourself … then get back to me and let me know if I was even close!


Title: GUSH: Tales of Vaginal Horror

Author: Gina Ranalli

Publisher: Madness Heart Press


Whoa nellie, here we go again … this book is going to cause another commotion, and I am totally there for it. Gina Ranalli continues to excel at fearlessly pointing out hypocrisy and bull(bleep), throwing it right out in the open for all the world to see, showing no mercy, and taking no prisoners.

Last time, it was with the hard-hitting, controversial All Men Are Tr@sh, just the title of which was deemed unacceptable for social media. Its very existence, let alone its content, let alone the author’s temerity to even dare to DO such a thing, upset and offended and outraged a whoooooole lot of a certain type of people (most of whom probably never even read it)

Well, those same certain type of people aren’t going to like this book either, aren’t going to read it, wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole, because omg eew biology. Those who prefer to believe ladyparts serve the sole purpose of being attractive and pleasurable for men, remain willfully ignorant about how the female body works, and are afraid to so much as walk down the feminine hygiene aisle at the supermarket? Those people are gonna run so fast in the other direction from this book, they’ll break the sound barrier.

Heck, even people who don’t feel that way, even people who HAVE ladyparts with attendant biological quirks, might not be prepared for this one. All the more reason to read it anyway. Nature is disgusting, bodies are weird and gross, accept it, get over it, grow the (bleep) up.

I confess, as soon as I started reading the first story, “Gush Run,” I forgot it was a collection and immediately settled in for an entire epic-length doomsday scenario, such that I was more than a little disappointed when it ended. But dang, if you want all that plus a bag of chips and a smack in the face metaphor for climate change, it certainly delivers. The characterization of the dudebros may be unflattering, but look me in the eye and tell me it’s not accurate, go on, look me in the eye.

The follow-up tales are all shorter, but each packs its own punch in a variety of disturbing ways. From the strangely beautiful and sad “Lush Life” to the fetish-fueled insanity of “Endlessly Beating” … from a coming-of-age tale that makes Carrie look tame to a terribly toothy take on a classic folk tale … from the itchy and oozing “Thrush” to the miracle of rebirth and renewal in “Valentine Sweet” … will you be able to handle this book?


Title: The Best of Bizarro Fiction Vol 1

Editor: Matthew A. Clarke

Publisher: Planet Bizarro Press


I sometimes liken bizarro anthologies to reaching blindfolded into a bowl of those novelty jellybeans. Each story is a different crazy flavor, some of which you weren’t expecting, some of which you wonder how in the world anybody ever dreamed it up.

And this anthology is one of those jellybean bowls, with the assortment of novelty flavors definitely on the more wtf side. Just about anything goes in this genre, these authors take it to heart, and however ready you think you might be, you’re going to be in for some strange, strange surprises.

As an interesting touch, the table of contents only lists story titles, not author names, so you don’t even know who wrote what until you get there (unless you peek ahead, which is valid, but why spoil the adventure?). In keeping with that spirit, then, I will follow suit.

There are twelve stories in total, and boy do they run the gamut of mind-warping! From a gifted sculptor taking on a national monument with shocking results (“The New Faces of Mount Rushmore”) to a high-tech biblical clash of epic proportions (“Ezekiel 2: Ezekiel Thinks God’s a D!ck”), from freakishly disturbing body horror (“The Other Half,” and “Sorry, Mom, But I Didn’t Love You”) to misfits just trying to get by in worlds where weird is the norm (“Freaky,” and “My Winter Lips”), and beyond.

We’ve got pest problems in the most unusual hotel of any realities (“Everything Will Be Fine When All The Squibbies Are On Fire”), a wife trying to figure out what’s up with her hubby’s new obsession (“A Shed Full of Pebbles”), a young woman determined to outdo her neighbors in the perfect baby department (“I Dream of a Roger”), and a little girl who doesn’t want to leave her magical fantasyland (“Vicariously”).

One of these stories, “A Puppet Scorned,” I’ve reviewed elsewhere as an independent, but it was just as much a messed-up bonkers treat to read again here; how often do you see sock puppet erotic horror?

And, for sheer most-bonkers bizarro title I’ve run across lately, gotta hand it to “Sow Beach: A True Story of Love and Sex Inside the Stomach of a Giant Space Pig.” Yes, you read that right. Title like that, you know you just gotta look!


Title: Night Birds

Authors: Lisa Snellings and Alan M. Clarke

Publisher: IFD Publishing


Oh wow did this book bring back memories of being a kid growing up during the 1960s and 1970s! The main character, Lucy, has a few years on me, though. And a much weirder childhood with more complicated family dynamics and unusual goings-on. Many of which are not just unusual, but seem downright supernatural.

When you’re a little kid, especially a little girl, the world can feel like one big puzzle with everyone keeping secrets, withholding information, and saying you’re not old enough or you’ll understand some day. They expect you to be quiet and obedient and follow the rules.

But, when you’re a curious, clever, rebellious, stubborn, sassy, tomboyish little girl, “some day” isn’t good enough, and Lucy understandably chafes under being kept in the dark and having her questions go unanswered.

Why, for instance, does her grandmother have so many strange rules no one else in the family seems to have to follow? Rules about opening windows, and taking naps under the bed? Why does her grandmother bury glass jars containing odd items in the garden? Why do her grandmother and the family housekeeper, both practitioners of rustic magic, have such a strained relationship?

And what about the other girl — ghost-girl? — Lucy keeps seeing? What about the man in the dark suit and black fedora? What’s up with the crowds of crows, and why does it upset her mother so much? What’s going on with her brother? With the new neighbors who move in, the ones with the peculiar daughter and the pet monkey?

Having the story unfold presented through Lucy’s childlike point of view lends it that genuine feeling of being simultaneously aware and unaware of the greater moving currents all around you, the frustration of being left out and no one will let you in. Really well-written and evocative, it makes for an engrossing read, as Lucy continues to push the stifling boundaries imposed upon her.

My only complaint, or maybe disappointment, was the ending, which felt kind of abrupt and left a lot of tantalizing questions unanswered. Yet, even that, given the themes of frustration and not-knowing Lucy has to deal with throughout the book, is somehow fitting.


Title: Mojave Mud Caves

Author: Robert Essig

Publisher: Encyclopocalypse Publications


Aw yeah, B-movie drive-in creature feature time! Belongs right in there alongside all those made-for-SyFy goofy horror/comedy monster movies, and I mean that in the fun, check-logic-at-the-door, sit back with your popcorn and enjoy the show sort of way.

You’ve got your basic setup: a quintet of young people — the bestie bros, the couple, the single girl — roadtripping for a weekend of drinking and partying at the lake. One of the bros wants to make a desert detour and check out these ‘mud caves’ he saw on the internet. The rest of the group isn’t interested, but he’s their leader and the driver, and so, into the desert they go.

They find the mud caves, formations like giant termite mounds or anthills. And of course it seems like a good idea to go in and look around. Y’know, as one does; what’s the worst that could happen?

Next thing they know, one of their own number is lost in the caves, and they’ve found a traumatized injured woman. So, naturally, they split up; two stay to look for their friend, the other two take the woman to the nearest town.

Once things start going wrong in a scenario like this, they tend to keep right on going wrong and getting worse, which is, naturally, what happens. Because it turns out a lot of people have gone missing from town, including the daughter of one tough ol’ dude who isn’t about to sit by and do nothing, even drafting his daughter’s no-good boyfriend into helping.

It also turns out the mud caves — surprise, surprise — aren’t natural formations after all, but are inhabited by a whole lot of industrious critters who don’t take kindly to having their home invaded.

What follows is madcap chaos, with stinger-packing flying giant bug-things, seething pits of larvae, people getting dismembered and eaten, deputies shooting stuff, an ice cream truck carrying more than ice cream, lots of blood, lots of gore, trash-talk, and craziness.

I do hope, though, that the book went through at least one more edit before hitting print, to chase out a number of bloopers. Fun read otherwise, if probably not the wisest choice for someone who’s about to move to the Mojave …


Reviews, May 2023

This month, taking an unseasonal look at Night of the Living Elves by Brian Asman, plus Matthew Quinn’s Serpent Sword, Bishop by Candace Nola, Pets for Legion by Shawn David Brink, and the charity anthology Blood Bank from Blood Bound Books!

Title: Night of the Living Elves

Author: Brian Asman

Publisher: Mutated Media


Nobody ruins childhoods better than extreme horror / bizarro folk taking on our most cherished holidays and beloved traditions. From Robert Deveraux’s smut-steeped Santa trilogy to Adam Millard’s Human Santapede, Mike Lombardo’s harrowing White Doomsday film, and even the “Happy” show on Netflix, there really is nothing sacred, nothing off-limits, no such thing as “too far.”

And, just when you think you’ve seen it all, Brian m’f’n Asman rolls up all ‘hold my beer’ with Night of the Living Elves. I mean, if it were possible for me to be without words, I would be without words. However, since it is not possible for me to be without words, I have words. I just can’t use most of them here or this review would never get posted.

I read this entire book in one boggle-eyed, jaw-dropped sitting, blown away as much by its cleverness and wordplay as by its total, brash, shameless irreverence and references. Every time I told myself it couldn’t get any weirder, I was almost instantly proved wrong. So wrong. So, so wrong.

The book begins with a catchy little fourth-wall-defying poem that warns you up front what you’re in for, making no pretensions, yet even that failed to adequately prepare me for what I was getting myself into.

The actual story-story begins with a young Juggalo at a job interview on Christmas Eve, the job in question at a massive warehouse where hosts of store displays, surplus inventory, and unsold leftovers are stashed away at the end of December. Which, really, sounds like it’d be awesomely fun to explore, except that some of the items hidden away in its confines are there for a reason.

Items like, say, a cursed snowglobe in which a monstrous mutated zombie elf has been imprisoned, until the globe gets broken, and the most festive apocalypse begins. Spurring the various factions of national and holiday governments into action, wanting to contain the situation before it spirals out of hand.

Saving the day may well take a miracle … a genuine Christmas miracle!


Title: Serpent Sword: Wastelands Book 2

Author: Matthew Quinn


The post-apocalyipticish, steampunkish, westernish, dark-fantasyish sweeping military/medieval epic (with dinosaurs!) continues, picking up where the previous volume left off. Various forces and factions are in play and on the move, seeking to seize control of key assets and territories, as the warlord Grendel struggles to maintain his hold against insurgents, rebels, and dissension among his own allies.

It’s wall-to-wall political scheming and maneuvering, both on the battlefield and off. Anybody could be a potential ally, spy, or enemy. Loyalties are constantly questioned and put to the test. Trust is a rare commodity, while the threat of betrayal looms large.

Including within Grendel’s own inner sanctum, such as the harem where he keeps his concubines and their children. Mothers plot to gain advantage or favor for their sons, half-brothers jockey for position, And one, the resentful captive Catalina Merrill, is being put into play as both pawn and bait, in hopes of enticing her family’s supporters into doing something rash.

The story unfolds from the points of view of several characters, primarily those of Grendel, his eldest son Falki (eager to prove himself), Alonzo Merrill (Catalina’s brother and leader/figurehead of the opposition), Catalina herself (whose situation is further conflicted by love for her little boy, despite her hatred for his father), and Andrew Sutter (who began the last book as a small-town youth inadvertently drawn into the action, now rising through the ranks).

There’s a large cast to keep track of, and some similarities of names may occasionally make it a little tricky remembering who’s on who’s side (lots of A names, and H names, for instance). Some of the earlier battle scenes do tend to blur together a bit — dirigibles and trenches and gunfire and all that — but especially once the action centers in on an assault on the citadel where Grendel is holding Catalina, the tension picks up and rolls along.

And ends, of course, with plenty of key issues left unresolved and drama cranked up to carry over into the next book!


Title: Bishop

Author: Candace Nola

Publisher: Uncomfortably Dark Horror


Coming in fairly high on my list of things I personally avoid is a broad, sweeping category encompassing hiking, camping, the wild wilderness, rock climbing, extreme outdoorsy stuff, and pitting myself against nature’s many challenges, everything from terrain to weather to dangerous critters.

And this book right here is another GOOD EXAMPLE WHY. It’d be a good example why even without the bonus element of something unnaturally monstrous also added into the mix, just in case there weren’t already enough horrible ways to die.

What can I say, I’m soft, I’m unfit, I will choose comfort over adventure nine times out of ten, I hate being dirty, and prefer indoor plumbing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy reading about people who DO get into those situations … whether it’s from an urge to see them triumph, or an urge to see them get what they deserve for going out there in the first place, six of one half a dozen of the other.

I’m not sure where Candace Nola herself stands on these issues, but the harrowing detail and agonizing description she brings to the table suggests she either has hard-won personal experience of such ordeals, one top-notch imagination, or both. The characters in this story sure do get put through the wringer, and take the reader right along for the ride.

Characters like Erin and her teenage daughter Casey, both skilled and hardy survival-types, equipped and prepared and, in theory, ready for anything. But, when they don’t return, Erin’s brother Troy isn’t content to sit back and let the rangers conduct the search (and, hopefully, rescue). Bum knee or no, he’s following their trail, wherever it may lead, even into the cold and desolate Alaskan woods.

To which desperate, determined end, he enlists the company of a local guide, a rugged and capable but secretive loner known only as Bishop. Who, it turns out, has good reasons for keeping to himself, knows what’s out there better than anyone, and may be their only hope.


Title: Pets for Legion

Author: Shawn David Brink

Publisher: Tell-Tale Publishing Group


It’s never easy rebuilding your life, starting over in a new place with a new job after a messy divorce and spate of homelessness and fate giving you one kick in the face after another. However, Sasha James is trying her best to do just that, with her own studio apartment, working at a nice school in the small town of Getriede, Iowa.

Maybe she doesn’t know many people yet, and maybe she doesn’t have the most cordial relationships with some of her co-workers, but when a knife-wielding maniac in a hoodie attacks one of the students, Sasha’s the first to spring into action. In so doing, she saves a life … and makes a target of herself.

Because, it seems, misfortune has befallen a lot of Getriede’s kids lately. As if someone is systematically hunting them down for some nefarious purpose, and Sasha’s interference has thrown the plan off-schedule.

At first, she doesn’t make the connection, and thinks the attempts on her life are courtesy of her vengeful ex-husband. When it becomes clear there’s something very weird — unnaturally, even supernaturally weird — going on, Sasha finds herself on the run from an impossible, relentless foe. She doesn’t know where to turn or who to trust, and a grisly death may only be the least awful fate awaiting.

With a fun premise and interesting characters (especially Clay), it’s a decent read with a tense sense of high-stakes, but the manuscript really would have benefited from a solid edit, and the big final chase/conflict feels like it drags on and bogs down in spots, with more than a few skeptical reality checks.

For the content-warning conscious, as well as the children, there are some uncomfortable animal, cruelty bits; not much in the way of sex, and some ghoulishly garish gore. Might also have been nice to have a few more female characters, too.


Title: Blood Bank — A Charitable Anthology

Publisher: Blood Bound Books


Charity anthologies often get a skeptical side-eye in general, especially the kind that tend to crop up fast in the wake of a current-events disaster or loss. As if, perhaps, the people involved might be trying to capitalize on someone else’s tragedy, for attention if not necessarily for profit.

Personally, I don’t think that’s always the case. I think the sincere from-the-heart projects, born of genuine intention to contribute — if even in a small way — to a good cause are worth the effort, deserving of respect and support.

This particular book strikes me very much as the latter sort. It’s dedicated to an ongoing organization aimed at continuing to help: Read Better Be Better, encouraging childhood literacy. The opening two intro pieces, one by Blood Bound Books publishers Marc Ciccarone, and S.C. Mendes, and the other by RBBB Founder Sophie Allen-Etchart, lay out the purpose and mission statement in detail.

And a glance at the names in the Table of Contents speak their own volumes, because some pretty major players decided to donate their time and talent; Neil Gaiman not least among them. The result is a lineup of fourteen stories, ranging across many sub-genres of darker spec-fic. Some are more fantastical, others graphic and extreme, still others with touches of humor or the cosmic or the psychological or the historical or the surreal.

Really, a little something for everyone, a neat mix. Though, fair warning, there may also be certain subjects that are decidedly NOT for everyone. If you’re freaked out by creepy clown dolls, for instance … or sexual assault … or violence involving children … or loss … or loss with the added devastating nightmare of just NEVER KNOWING … yeah, several of these will poke extra disquieting chills at sensitive spots.

So, yeah, great cause, great people, great writing, a great variety of great stories. Check it out!


Reviews, April 2023

This month, I look at The Anarchist’s Kosher Cookbook by Maxwell Bauman, Stephen Cooper’s Not Four Children, The Revenge of Joe Wild by Andrew Komarnyckyj, The Ghost Loser by Rhys Hughes, and Danger Slater’s Moonfellows.

Title: The Anarchist’s Kosher Cookbook

Author: Maxwell Bauman

Publisher: Madness Heart Press


I have read some hilariously irreverent doozies in my time, and from the opening of the first story in this collection, I knew it’d rate right up there among the best of them. If you’re the religious sort to be easily offended by even casual blasphemy … well, if you are, I wouldn’t expect you to be reading my reviews in the first place, so, let’s just leave it at that.

But, yes, as just the most cursory skim of the table of contents will reveal, Bauman goes for it with glee and gusto. I mean, come on, with titles like “Baphomitzvah” and “You’ve Lost that L’Chaim Feeling” and “Dybbuk, Dybbuk, Goose”? Those alone should be warning enough of what you’re getting yourself into.

For instance, that first story I mentioned? “When the Bush Burns”? Oh, it’s about a burning bush, but sure not the same kind as appeared to Moses. No, this is the other sort of bush, if you know what I mean, and the woman to whom it belongs is certainly not prepared for it to ignite with holy fire and start talking to her with messages from God.

Nor is the world ready for the events that unfold in “The Messiah in Newark,” which brings on a judgment day with repercussions far beyond the usual expectations … or the somehow Kipling-esque tragic romantic bittersweetness of the other perspective in “The Leviathan Blues.”

And the titular story itself? “The Anarchist Kosher Cookbook”? I LOL’d, as the kids used to say. At one line in particular, I LOL’d so hard I annoyed the cats. Never going to think of golems the same way again.

Among these pages, you’ll also find a pair of twins getting ready for their Big Day … the inconvenience of ghostly virginity … one of the more off-the-wall takes on melded mythologies you’re ever likely to see … and more. Witty, clever, and tons of fun!


Title: Not Four Children

Author: Stephen Cooper

Publisher: Splatploitation Press


Having recently reviewed Cooper’s novel, The Rot, I was more than glad to dive into more of his work, this time in the form of a quartet of wicked little tales about some VERY wicked little children. Each of these tiny or not-so-tiny tots is just horrid, monstrous, awful, and oftentimes plain downright EVIL.

First up is “Holding the Baby,” about a loving young couple eager to start a family — oh, no, wait; about a guy who never wanted to get married in the first place, let alone experience the joys of fatherhood, and certainly not as the stay-at-home dad. He would have felt the same even if his darling daughter wasn’t a screaming nightmare who got up to malevolent mischief when no one else was watching.

Next is “The Red Stuff,” my personal top pick of the bunch. Precocious preschooler Sammy learns a lot from her new favorite-ever movie, “The Brutalizer,” watched one night while Daddy fell asleep on the couch. A lot of new words her parents wouldn’t want her to say, and a WHOLE LOT of nifty new games to play with the other kids, games and fun tricks to make all the red stuff come out!

Meanwhile, in “Tidy Your Room,” exasperated mother Jane decides she’s had enough; there’s normal eight-year-old boy mess and then there’s the absolute disgusting pigsty her son Tommy lives in. If he won’t clean it up, she tells him, she will, and make him help. Only, Jane’s about to discover it’s far worse than even she expected … especially once she gets a look under the bed … and in the closet …

“Me First” goes right up to the line between spoiling your kid and giving in to sheer juvenile terrorism. Goes right up to that line, crosses it without a blink, and keeps on going full speed ahead. Grant, at eleven, is way past brattiness or bullying, well on his way to serial-killer-in-the-making, and he’s far from thrilled about the prospect of having a new baby sister.

If you’ve got a thing about creepy kids (and really, who doesn’t? even the nice sweet ones can be disturbingly weird at times), nothing in these pages will help assuage your fears. It’s a total messed-up blast, and I loved it!


Title: The Revenge of Joe Wild

Author: Andrew Komarnyckyj

Publisher: Santa Monica Press


For me, when it comes to westerns in particular, the language/tone/style/voice/feel of the storytelling is every bit as important an element, if not even MORE important, than the setting itself, the characters, and specific details of historical accuracy.

In none of those regards does this book fall short, but for that first, most important one? Hooked me from the very beginning, pulled me right in, didn’t let go, and held strong throughout. It ran so true and genuine, the book could have been legitimately written by someone living in that era (made all the more impressive when I got to the author’s note at the end and saw he lives in the UK).

Titular protagonist Joe Wild is a scrappy lad of twelve when the story begins, his family none too well off, living in a shack at the edge of town. His pa is a skilled outdoorsman when it comes to hunting and foraging and surviving, but is also a mean no-account drunk with a temper. His put-upon ma isn’t much better. Between them, and the strict schoolmarm, Joe takes more than his fair share of discipline.

None of that stops him striking up an acquaintance with the pretty daughter of a rich man, or her dashing older brother, or even getting on well with the rich man himself. Nor does it stop him befriending a local semi-recluse with a reputation for having a hidden store of gold. If he starts suspecting those around him harbor private secrets, well, he minds his own business.

But, when his reclusive friend ends up dead, and Joe himself — despite his age — is framed for the killing, all of a sudden his main business becomes escaping with his hide intact. He goes on the run, having to draw upon the skills he learned from his pa, making a harrowing cross-country journey during turbulent times.

Those turbulent times? The 1860s, not yet a full century into the independence of the nation, with the North and the South heading for bloody conflict. Young though he is, Joe figures his best chances are with the Union army. Then, once the war’s over, he may be able to head home to solve his friend’s murder and clear his name.

Really, the highest praise I can give is to say that my dad, the die-hard living history buff and Civil War re-enactor, would love this book.


Title: The Ghost Loser

Author: Rhys Hughes

Publisher: Gibbon Moon Books


The best reads, no matter the genre or format or content, are always, all-around and hands-down, the ones where a skilled, clever author was clearly having a lot of fun.

Thus far, everything I’ve read by Rhys Hughes speaks to him being a skilled, clever author, who’s clearly having a g-d blast, and I couldn’t be more into it! This one, The Ghost Loser, is no exception. Quirky, delightful, an absolute treat.

I mean, ask yourself what if … what if Carnacki, THE Carnacki, Thomas ‘Ghost Finder’ Carnacki, William Hope Hodgson’s famed occult detective … what if he had a son who was, and I say this with all affection, a Wodehouse-style goofball dilettante in the 1930s?

Sold yet? I would have been. I would have been all over it already. And that’s what we’ve got here, a bumbling and fumbling Bertie Wooster with the best of intentions but the least of ability, a good-hearted bloke who is far better suited to hanging around his exclusive gent’s club drinking and swapping stories than actually getting into (and, more importantly, out of) dangerous scrapes.

This younger Carnacki, chummily known as “Clumsy” to his similarly-nicknamed friends (and the ‘Ghost Loser’ behind his back), does desperately yearn to live up to the familial legacy. Despite being woefully unsuited for it, he fancies himself just such an investigator and expert, and the five stories presented herein demonstrate it to perfection.

Whether it’s matching ‘wits’ with an unusual sort of vampire, following a hallway rug that just up and flew away, trying to solve the mystery of why no more babies are being born, encountering a bizarre individual in a shop that shouldn’t be there, or attempting by way of a devious invention to literally follow in his father’s footsteps, Clumsy’s misadventures make for entertaining romps.

Every page is packed with whimsical wordplay, humor, lively dialogue, just the right hint of occasional prim raunchiness, poignant glimpses of emotion, and touches of the eldritch. I read the book in one sitting, grinned the whole way through, and laughed out loud several times.

Offended Hodgson purists and literary snob types, well, your loss!


Title: Moonfellows

Author: Danger Slater

Publisher: Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing


It’s certainly no secret that Danger Slater is weird. In a good way, of course, in the most fun, cleverest way. This trait shines through very clearly in all of his work.

But lemme tell ya, folks, Moonfellows is weird even for him. Again, in a good way, of course. Weird in a good way. Good in a weird way. Goodweird. Weirdgood. Very very much so.

He’s also done what some might consider the impossible — devised a spaceship captain who makes even Zapp Brannigan look competent, reliable, and efficient. Meet Dirk Mangrove, someone I wouldn’t personally trust to pilot one of those coin-op rocket rides outside the grocery store … commander of the SELENE ONE, America’s first and super-top-secretest mission to the moon.

The year is 1906 — well, the Danger Slater version of 1906; while I am normally a quibbler over historical accuracy, lemme also tell ya, in this case all that goes out the window (even the helmet, I will even allow the helmet, one of the most major concessions I am capable of making; you’ll know it when you see it).

Anyway, it’s 1906, and the president has set his sights on the moon to obtain the rare mineral MacGuffinite, assembling a team to go find some and fetch some. They are dubbed the Moonfellows, and aside from Captain Mangrove, consist of three scientists and one gravedigger.

Wait, what? Well, because graves are holes and mines are holes and therefore to mine for MacGuffinite, someone needs to dig. That someone is Franklin Crumb, whisked from his home and job and family, from whose perspective the reader is treated to the ensuing absolute insane debacle to follow.

The result is something like a MAD magazine mashup of old-school Jules Verne technology, 50’s sci-fi, those big-budget action movies where the fate of the planet rests on an unlikely few misfits, government conspiracies, sociopolitical commentary, and sheer lunacy (in every sense of the word).

Only a handful of the best bizarro authors could not only get away with something like this, but make it shine. Fortunately, Danger Slater IS one of the best, and he does.


Quickie Corner — MHP Pocket Books series #1

There are four books in this new line’s debut, but one of them, I shouldn’t really review for obvious reasons, being all modest and stuff, like I am.

Suffice to say, though, “Damned Lazy,” from the case files of Matt Brimstone, P.I., was a total blast to write; I hope anyone who reads this little bit of Mephistopolis-noir enjoys it as much as I did!

Okay, moving on! To the other three books, about which I may admittedly also be biased because they are all by some of my favorite authors. And, tbh, because, just about anything from Madness Heart Press is gonna kick @&&.

Witness, for instance, “The Hillels Have Eyes,” by MHP bigwig John Baltisberger. The title alone, I mean, *muah* chef’s kiss; don’t even have to be an expert in theology to appreciate that one! It’s the story of Joshua and Alan, a couple of small-town friends starting college in the big city, who drop by a local Hillel, an organization devoted to helping Jewish students settle in, and provide them a ready community in an unfamiliar environment.

They are welcoming. Very welcoming. Maybe too welcoming; Joshua can’t help but find them a little unnerving, and is none too sure about all of this anyway. Alan, though, takes to the Hillel immediately, to the point of ignoring his classes and neglecting everything else. Joshua doesn’t even see him for a while, until Alan suddenly pops up again, wanting — insisting — Joshua come to a service with him.

Now, one thing about this book is, it’s sneaky. Even when and if you’re someone who knows better, who knows Baltisberger, it does a good job lulling you into a false sense of security, that this one’ll be more mild, more mellow, reminiscent perhaps of the title tale in King’s Hearts in Atlantis (the actual story, not the way they smacked it onto the movie about one of the OTHER stories from the collection; cheaters).

Then … how did I put it in my message to him? Something something get messy in a hurry, screaming left turn into depravity, blood and body horror and religious atrocity and hold onto your hat because there’s no turning back.


Moving on again, with a complete shift of gears into all-out wackiness, the masterful Edward Lee brings us the hilarious, absurd, disturbing, filthy-naughty, completely bonkers “Bounce House.” Which, like many of Lee’s works, you can just tell he was cackling like a maniac at the keyboard.

Which, also, I read not too long after one of the families in the neighborhood even HAD a bounce house on their lawn for some party or another, and I’m quite glad I didn’t read it before then, because my relationship with the neighbors is weird enough already.

But not weird in the way the neighbors in this story are, like arrogant jerk Miles Bennell, who is determined to have his kid’s birthday ‘do outshine everyone else and really rub it in their noses and impress the hot MILFs. It’s got caterers, a petting zoo, and THE biggest bounce house anyone’s ever seen (even if the guy who rented it to them was kinda weird).

Spared no expense, as the old dude in Jurassic Park liked to boast, just before everything went catastrophically wrong. Well, guess what? You know it, everything goes catastrophically wrong, because when horndog Miles lures his wife Becky into the bounce house for a little pre-party test drive …

It’s no ordinary bounce house, to say the least. What it does to anyone who bounces in it … how it … CHANGES them in rather intimate ways … ways that are NSFW and far from appropriate for children … like all the little party-goers eager to try it out …

Yeah. It’s messed up and raunchy and over-the-top. But, that’s Edward Lee for ya!

If the previous wasn’t a complete shift of gears enough, we come to the one of the quartet that made me cry. Will probably do the same to you, too, if you’re at all familiar with the horror writer community in recent years. We’re talking ALL THE FEELS here, people.

Jay Wilburn was such a great guy, who dealt with medical hell with a forthright humor and grace I know I kept in mind as an example when going through my own. I like to think we had a strange sort of shared-experiences connection that way, and I admired him greatly for his courage, his openness, and his compassion. The genre lost a good ‘un when we lost him, and the best we can do is carry on in his memory.

And here, in the posthumously-published “Failure,” he brings it SO close to home, SO close to the bone. Every word rings true, written straight from the heart (or kidney, as the case may be). If not truly autobiographical in the sense of the plot and what happens in the story, you KNOW it was in the sense of building the character and depicting what he’s going through.

See, thing is, kids, it isn’t necessarily going to be just the young, fit, and healthy who survive the first stage of the zombie apocalypse. And it doesn’t always matter how much of a prepper you are, how much food you’ve got stockpiled and how well-defended your house is, when the primary threat to your life comes from within your own body.

Such as, kidney failure, and reliance on treatment and medication. That’s the problem confronting Roman, along with the prospect of his own mortality; as soon as civilization collapses, there goes any chance at getting the help he needs. Which would be bad enough if he was on his own, but Roman has his wife, daughter, and little granddaughters to look out for.

Roman’s love for his family and his struggles to protect them, even in the face of his deteriorating condition and ticking clock, add an oh-so-real poignant realism. And yeah, I cried … you’ll cry … ALL THE FEELS.

Available from Madness Heart Press or through our fiendish friends at Godless!


Splatploitation’s own lovely Stephen Cooper provides an insightful, in-depth review of the saucy stories in HorrorSmut:

And, three of the stories from HorrorSmut will be appearing, translated into Spanish, as Lujuria Mytica, coming soon from Pathosformel!

Reviews, March 2023

In which I look at God’s Leftovers by Grant Wamack, Beneath the Unspoiled Wilderness by Nikolas Robinson, the second installment in Jade Griffin’s Lacy Moore adventures, Stephen Cooper’s The Rot, and Rise of the Catalyst by Honor Raconteur.

Title: God’s Leftovers

Author: Grant Wamack

Publisher: Bizarro Pulp Press


Any book or movie that opens with a terrified woman running for her life through the harsh wilderness, you kinda just know it’s not going to end well for her or anybody … and, here, in the classic Hills Have Eyes tradition, it sure doesn’t.

The scene then shifts to a flashback of the woman and her family, on a little road-trip adventure to visit the scenic Valley of Fire in the Nevada desert, only to run into something even nastier and deadlier than the usual local wildlife.

And that’s just the prologue; from there, we join various other hapless travelers about to have their own hideous encounters. Whether it’s the would-be good Samaritan who tries to help a lost little girl, a young couple stranded with auto troubles, or a group filming a music video, they’re all about to have a very bad day, no matter how nice and welcoming those offbeat people on a hippie-esque new-age “meditation retreat” seem to be.

Right from the get-go, the story’s unabashed about being what it is — chock-full of violence, murder, torture, mutilation, cannibalism, sexual depravity, culty weirdness, and more. I do think some parts might have benefited from being fleshed out more (so to speak), and was left with a few lingering questions, but otherwise it’s an entertaining enough little read, quick and brutal, pulling no punches.


Title: Beneath the Unspoiled Wilderness

Author: Nikolas Robinson

Publisher: Madness Heart Press


You know how, on the cooking competition shows, sometimes there’ll be that one judge who is not a fan of that one particular ingredient, but the chef handles it so well the judge ends up liking it anyway?

I am normally against the multiple-shifting omniscient/telling viewpoint, where the reader knows what’s going on in all the characters’ heads. I normally gripe about it no end. But then, along comes Nickolas Robinson and pulls it off so well I didn’t mind at all! It worked! It really worked, for this story, for this style, and I can’t even complain. Dang it. Big tip of the hat to him.

And while I’m tipping the hat, the way this book starts being off one way, then leads into becoming something else, then takes ANOTHER turn into being something ELSE-else, with such a seamless natural flow … seriously impressive. I was reminded of how I felt watching The Village for the first time, settling in thinking I was getting *this* kind of story, then having to suddenly “oh wait, recalibrate” (only, this went even smoother, even better.)

For sheer technique alone, I’d give it full marks. The fact that the story itself is also gripping, the characters are believable and sympathetic and real-feeling, the action and tension and terror and dread all ring true? BONUS.

As for what it’s about, well, I don’t want to spoil the above twisty-turnies, so, I’ll just say it opens with five friends hiking deep into the uncharted woods to camp and explore and check out the region around a remote lake … only one of them makes it out alive, wounded and traumatized, with a story no one can (or wants to) believe.

Whether they want to believe it or not, though, something atrocious is going on out there, and no amount of ignoring local legends and secret history will make it go away.


Title: The Journals of Lacy Moore, Monster Hunter of the 1800s (Vol. 2)

Author: Jade Griffin


Obviously following on the heels of the previous volume, this book continues chronicling the paranormal adventures of the gutsy Lacy Moore, and her ongoing crusade against the sinister dark forces imperiling humanity.

Oh, she tries, now and then, to lead a normal life as a wife and mother and proper lady, but her dangerous past has made her some powerful enemies. She doesn’t want to bring that danger down on her family, even if it means abandoning her husband and son.

Besides, she tells herself, hunting evil and fighting monsters is her destiny, her true purpose. Some just aren’t cut out for homey domesticity, even if there weren’t necromancers raising legions of the undead, or a vampire queen with a personal vendetta against her.

The conflict between her calling and her love makes Lacy’s life all the more difficult, when it’s hard enough already being a tough, strong-minded, independent, feisty woman in a day and age not so accepting of such things. But, she soon discovers, she’s far from alone. There are others following similar paths, including some on the trail of the same vampire queen.

Although she’s used to working solo, Lacy has to admit there may be benefits to being part of a team … if she can put up with them, and if they can put up with her.

The journal/diary format of storytelling often presents a challenge for author and reader, because of how unlikely it seems that someone would write down exchanges of dialogue and action scenes in such detail; it tends to end up reading like standard first-person POV. But it works well here, suiting Lacy’s voice and character, and the ending manages a neat trick a lot of these kinds of books tend to stumble on.


Title: The Rot

Author: Stephen Cooper

Publisher: Splatploitation Press


A book set up like this could have so easily gone dull, become same-y, like you’re just reading the same basic premise over and over from different characters’ perspectives … but, BECAUSE of those different characters and perspectives, it doesn’t. Each chapter, even if the sequence of events follow a similar pattern, comes across fresh, fun, twisted, and unique.

So, okay, there’s this Rot. It’s not a contagious infection or anything like that, per se, but it is a corrupting plague that gets into people, takes them over, stirs their ugliest hidden urges or unconscious desires, and persuades them to commit all manner of unimaginable atrocities.

It’s sentient. It knows what it’s doing and what it’s making them do. Is it alien? Is it demonic? Does it matter? What matters is, once it burrows in with its wicked inner voice and startling symptoms of sudden facial decay, it tends to get what it wants. Which is, essentially, hate and pain and suffering and misery. Evil, in a nutshell. With no warning, no apparent cause, no cure.

The first few cases are chalked up to more ordinary psychosis, the wilder elements dismissed as overreaction from the victims or observers. But, as cases continue to rise, it becomes harder and harder to deny something abnormal is definitely going on.

Each chapter of the book follows a regular person who suddenly finds him or herself with a gross, fast-spreading skin condition and horrible thoughts about doing horrible things. Whether it’s a young mother, an ambitious politician, a porn-star stud, a Nice Guy (TM), a blind woman, a pervy teenager, a doting grandpa, a vengeful victim, a nervous first date, an absolute jerk even before the Rot, or any of a number of others … no one is safe, no one is immune, and a whole lot of heinousness quickly commences.

It probably goes without saying that there’s all kinds of nastiness here, all manner of potential triggers, all manner of the extreme, the taboo, the violent, and the despicable. Me, sicko that I am? Loved it. Frickin’ awesome.


Title: Rise of the Catalyst

Author: Honor Raconteur

Publisher: Raconteur House


A page and a half into this one, I had to jump back to the beginning and do a mental re-set, because I hadn’t realized beforehand it took place in 1910. Which, must admit, kind of proved to be a bit of a problem for me throughout, due to the more contemporary feel of a lot of the language, dialogue, attitudes, and terminology (for instance, pretty sure “lifestyle choices” wasn’t a phrase in common usage back then).

The technology, and frequent observational narrative remarks from the main character about various sexist and racist issues of the time helped remind me, and I was able to enjoy the story without too many more stumbles. But it still tends to read much more modern than might really fit the era and setting.

That aside, the story itself and characters and adventure all proved enjoyable, and definitely entertaining. Our first-person protagonist, Arwen Arnoult, would be a most unusual young lady in any era; physically all but blind, she possesses a different kind of sight that perceives magical and paranormal energies. In a society where mage-type women tend to go into the healing arts, she takes a more active and proactive role, as a specialist dealing with troublesome arcane matters.

Such as, say, a mystical mask causing problems at a Boston museum, prompting its director to engage the services of Ms. Arnoult and her team of oddball experts. The mask has a dangerous allure tempting people to put it in, and its power over the elements can move the very stones, putting entire buildings and large chunks of the landscape in danger.

What follows is a race against time, a battle of wills against wits, and the challenges of overcoming obstacles of travel, terrain, and would-be bandits, as Arwen tries to keep the mask under control while getting it someplace it can be stored safely. The most promising destination seems to be in the still-pretty-wild American southwest, where certain attitudes only add to the already inherent risks of the journey.

Reviews, February 2023

Things here continue hectic, but I’m trying to keep up! This month, looking at a fun little triptych from Uncomfortably Dark Horror, an epic with bonus by Matthew Quinn, Rhys Hughes’ Comfy Rascals, Matthew Clarke’s Sons of Sorrow, and Fugue Devil Resurgence by Stephen Mark Rainey.

Title: Exactly the Wrong Things

Authors: Franklin E. Wales, Joseph M. Monks, Candace Nola

Publisher: Uncomfortably Dark Horror


When you take the opening line of a particularly nasty Edward Lee tale — She stove the baby’s head in with the cast iron skillet; it burst like a pale, ripe melon — and added a line suggested by one of Lee’s diabolical minions — Laughing, at that moment, was exactly the wrong thing to do — and hand the combo to three different writers to pick up and run with and spin into their own demented stories, you know you’re in for a wild ride.

A wild, sick, splattery ride … or, rather, THREE DIFFERENT wild, sick, splattery rides … they may all start the same, but they each veer off in their own twisted, lunatic directions,

Needless to say, content warnings should be obvious already from that first line alone. Heck, this review itself could probably use one for including it. Ah well. Here we are, here we go, too late now.

The first contribution to this triad of depravity is “Postnatal” by Franklin E. Wales, in which a party girl lands herself a rich sugar daddy, only to discover the hard way that her sugar daddy has more than just a casual good time in mind … and, right when she’s starting to think motherhood may not be so bad after all, things get a whole lot worse.

Then Joseph M. Monks joins the fun with “Encore,” a definite change-of-place plunge into the sordid underworld of dark-web hardcore porn, the seriously vile stuff — amputations, mutilations, torture, snuff, every most awful ‘philia’ imaginable (or even, until now, unimaginable!) — as one actress tries to escape but only gets drawn in ever deeper.

Finally, Candace Nola brings it home with “The Best Puppet Show in Town,” featuring a pitch-black nightmare carnival of the damned and a grieving, desperate couple willing to go to any lengths to complete their family, even if it means engaging in ritualistic freakshow obscenities described in all-too-vivid detail.

For the record, Ed Lee was all in favor of this project, gave it the go-ahead, and thought it’d be a blast. He was not wrong. These authors did him proud!


Title: Battle For the Wastelands / Son of Grendel

Author: Matthew Quinn


You know the really good kind of snack-mix? The kind that’s got salty and sweet and chewy and crunchy, with a whole variety of tasty treats combined into an addictive gestalt where each diverse element complements each of the others in myriad ways? So no handful is exactly the same, in unpredictable but delicious bite? (brb getting snack-mix)

Okay, back. Where was I? Oh, yes. That experience is the equivalent of I got reading these books, where the elements of the snack-mix are different genres, distinct but mixing, and totally delightful. There’s a little bit of damn near everything here, and it all goes together so, so well!

Like … post-apocalyptic dark-fantasy steampunk western feudal military action/adventure horror with dynastic intrigue, Viking lore, cannibals, racial and religious conflicts, scheming harem concubines, radioactive monster-breeders, old-world relics and remnants. Like, there’s dirigibles. There’s dinosaurs, with no explanation of how or why there are dinosaurs, but you don’t care, because DINOSAURS!

And they all work. They all fit together, even when they shouldn’t. Even especially when they shouldn’t. In another writer’s hands, it might have turned into a total chaotic jumble of a trainwreck, but Quinn handles everything so well, you don’t question; you just trust him to know what he’s doing, and he does not let you down.

Battle For The Wastelands is the first main BOOK-book of the series, introducing a host of dynamic characters, from the young townie who gets swept up into major events to the warlord/overlord determined to establish and hold an empire. Some are in it for power or profit or personal gain, some are seeking revenge for or reunion with loved ones, some are only trying to survive.

Son of Grendel, a story set before the events of the first book but published after, follows that warlord/overlord’s eldest son, out to build a reputation and prove himself worthy of his place, despite the stigma he faces by being biracial and the threat presented by his half-brothers.

Challenging though these may be to categorize in terms of genre, they make for a tasty and very satisfying snack-mix indeed, and I’ll be ready to dig right in to the next one!


Title: Comfy Rascals

Author: Rhys Hughes

Publisher: Gibbon Moon Books


This book is quirky a.f., and I love it. Went into it blind, with no idea what it was about, no idea what I was in for. Then I saw the table of contents, how LONG the table of contents was, and really wondered what I’d gotten myself into.

Because, see, the table of contents lists something like 130 titles! Even as fast as I read, I thought, how the heck was I going to get through 130 stories in any reasonable time?

Well, ha-ha, joke’s on me … turns out the book itself is only 160-some total pages. Each piece, be it flash fiction, vignette, micro fiction, drabble, or any of those other terms for really super short stories are, is maybe a page or two … maybe more … maybe less. And many of them aren’t even stories in the usual sense, but more like parables, fables, adages, ponderings, or even quick little jokes.

Whatever else they are all, as mentioned above, quirky a.f., and utterly delightful. So much clever wordplay, so much bending of perspective or viewing things in altogether new lights, so cleanly and precisely written, and you never know what you’re going to get from page to page.

Given I’m writing this in late November even if it won’t be posted for a while, I can’t help thinking of advent calendars. This book is a quirky-lit advent calendar, a new surprise every time, a novelty or treat.

So many of them are just so good, if I were to try and list my favorites it’d be easier to post the entire TOC. Their unique nature will make them resonate differently with every reader. This would be a perfect book to carry around for those moments you’re stuck waiting and need a brief reprieve without getting tied down to a several-thousand-word commitment.


Title: Sons of Sorrow

Author: Matthew A. Clarke

Publisher: Planet Bizarro Press


Books that take the same ol’ tropes and turn them totally on their heads are always a favorite of mine, but even I’ve never seen the “return to the hometown” one tackled quite like this.

Because, yes, the town had its secrets and tragedies and mysteries and dark history. Yes, terrible things happened. Yes, an intrepid group of kids set out to confront the unnatural evils. And yes, as adults years later, those who left have to go back, only to discover that the evil remains.

But, as brothers Henk and Dave are appalled to learn, when the impending wedding of a childhood friend bring them home again, that evil … those tragedies and secrets and mysteries … aren’t usually highlighted as the center of a thriving tourism industry.

People come to the town of Sorrow from miles around to see the murder sites, visit the museum, pose for photos with walk-arounds of the monstrous killers, buy souvenirs. It’s big business. It’s revitalized Sorrow’s economy.

It’s also, as Henk and Dave are even more appalled to learn, made them into local heroes and celebrities for what they did when they were teenagers. They are the ‘Sons of Sorrow,’ famous, asked for autographs. Not at all the homecoming they expected.

Nor is their reunion with their childhood friend quite what they expected, especially Henk. He’d always kept his crush on Maria to himself, never suspecting she was dropping hints at him even back then. Now here she is about to marry someone else … until her fiance disappears, and the ‘Sons of Sorrow’ are once again on the case.

And that ancient evil is stronger than ever, bringing back all the crazy nightmares they once faced in a grotesque greatest-hits-parade which must be read to be believed. It’s bizarro horror-humor, loaded with one absurdity after another, a real hoot!


Title: Fugue Devil Resurgence

Author: Stephen Mark Rainey


Stephen Mark Rainey has a solid reputation in cosmic horror circles for very good reason, and this collection shows exactly why it’s so well-deserved. These stories, many of them interconnected in their own shared universe, hit just the right balance of melding our understandable everyday reality with the greater otherworldly eldritch, done with an approachable, readable style that brings them close to home.

That there’s an autobiographical aspect — a haunting childhood nightmare, combined with the influence of early monster movies — makes it even more relatable. I know I still have those lingering kinds of memories and formative experiences. Don’t we all?

Of the twelve tales herein, a couple do diverge a bit from the shared setting, such as “Pons Devana”’s historical foray into ancient Brittania and Rome, and the creepy-effective “Short Wave,” while others are more subtle about it with undertones and currents.

On a personal level, “Night Crier” got to me in a big way, because I’m currently dealing with my own aging mother’s struggles with physical and mental deterioration, so I REALLY felt for the main character and what he was dealing with.

Also on a personal level, being considered a Chambersian heretic in some of the abovementioned cosmic horror circles for thinking he was a much better writer than ol’ HP, I just about squealed aloud with delight over “Masque of the Queen,” involving a stage production of “The King in Yellow” and how insidiously, disastrously wrong it goes for the cast and crew. The way it expands upon the fragments of the play, and the larger mythos, are just beautiful.

Don’t worry, though, purists … ol’ HP is also quite well-represented, especially with the musical elements in “Threnody” and “Somewhere My Love,” and the handling of the entire things-best-left-unseen / not-meant-to-know nature of the various linked “Fugue Devil” stories.

There’s wine, there’s madness, the stars are right/wrong in the best wrong/right ways. Really gorgeous, really well-done, really really good stuff.


Reviews, January 2023

Kicking off the new year with looks at Dreamwhispers by M. Ennenbach, Tyler Bell’s The Eyes Beneath My Father’s House, Restless Void by Lucas Mangum, The Order of Eternal Sleep by S.C. Mendes, and Darva Green’s She Came From The Swamp.

Title: Dreamwhispers

Author: M. Ennenbach

Publisher: Uncomfortably Dark Horror


Some authors can do prose, or poetry, but not both. Then there’s the ones like THIS guy, whose poetry shines darkly but who’s also no slouch when it comes to writing stories, too. And, here, for your unsettling enjoyment, is a book containing eighteen pieces showcasing both.

Even better, at least as far as a folklore and mythology nut like me is concerned, you’ll find several twisted takes on classic myths and familiar fairytales, in ways you’d sure never see in a happy animated feature.

For instance, yeah there’s that new live-action Pinocchio movie with Tom Hanks, but wait until you get a load of “A Real Boy”! If you always thought the people of Hamelin kinda deserved it, check out “Piper.” Then there’s “Grimm,” which brings an old favorite into the modern day.

Or how about an epic poem describing the turbulent courtship of Eros and Psyche, with its own fairytale overtones casting Psyche as the princess charged with impossible tasks in order to prove her love? With Venus as the wicked queen? It works so well, I should be jealous I didn’t think of it first.

Then, on a rather different note, there’s the chillingly creepy but strangely beautiful sci-fi “Ascomycota;” not normally my kind of thing but ooh this one got to me. There’s also some thought-provoking irreverent theology in “A Conversation with God,” the action-packed paranormal bayou adventure of “Cypress and Flesh,” sinister experiments, psychological torment, a messed-up podcast interview, an incredible magic act that’d fool even Penn and Teller … so much more!

And “Blobert” … oh, “Blobert” … what can I say about “Blobert”? Sticky, icky, gooey, funny, gross … you know what, with that one, you’re on your own, just gotta read it and see for yourself!

The astute reader will also spot some clever connections, shout-outs, easter eggs, and other fun little meta extras throughout; always gotta love stuff like that. Plus a foreword by some crazy auntie raccoon person, for what it’s worth.


Title: The Eyes Beneath My Father’s House

Author: Tyler Bell

Publisher: WSF Productions


Went into this one blind, only to very quickly end up totally blown away by the beauty, skill, complexity, variety, and all-around wow-factor. I mean, dang, this is some well-crafted, cleverly-plotted prose … so many little interconnections weaving the individual stories into a larger tapestry … so much vivid detail and deft touches … really nicely done, really impressive.

It consists of nine stories, plus a brief acknowledgments/intro explaining their podcast origins and a brief afterword of thanks. And, unless some bozo like me comes along and spoils it in a review, at first you might not realize the connections; they sneak up on you, starting in subtle “hey waitaminute” ways that make you wonder if you missed earlier clues.

Yet, at the same time, each story stands on its own, not needing to lean on any of the others to make sense but complementing and contributing to the overall gestalt.

“The Umbrella Man” opens by telling you flat-out it isn’t a Stephen King-esque coming of age story, despite initial appearances. And it isn’t. Even though in some ways it is, with the group of misfit friends exploring their town, dealing with their own clashes and conflicts. But, it isn’t. It’s more, it’s weird, it’s creepy. The titular Umbrella Man, like a cosmic-horror mashup of Mary Poppins and The Penguin, freaked me out. There’s also a “wait-WHAT?” reveal moment that knocked me for a loop. Loved it!

I could, and kind of want to, go on at similar length about each story, but then this review would be a couple thousand words. So, suffice to say, the others do not disappoint either; there’s a slipstream sense of historical and/or futuristic and/or post-apoc surreal, there’s haunting gothic dark-romance tragedy and tensely riveting spectacular sci-fi, a phenomenal blend.

Also, especially what with certain current events, the last story? “Carrier”? Vicious biting social commentary on reproductive rights, combined with grotesque vivid body horror? Whoa. Just amazing.

Everything here is amazing. Definitely an author to keep an eye on!


Title: Restless Void (Digital Darkness: Book 2)

Author: Lucas Mangum


Available in the Digital Darkness omnibus rather than this installment continues building on the fascinating, maddening, infuriating, insidious universe of Mangum’s fiction — dang it, Lucas! are you TRYING to drive me bonkers with these season finale cliffhangers? because if you are, m’dude, it’s working, okay?

Ahem. Sorry. Got sidetracked for a second there. Anyway. So. The lines between reality, virtual reality, alternate reality, and basically every other possible kind of reality imaginable are no longer merely blurred. They’re not even one of those mind-warping eye-bleeding optical illusions that will melt your brain if you look at them too long. What’s real? Who knows? Nothing? Everything? Aaaaaaah!

For vlogger Tanya, whose channel as HazyGurl focuses on unsolved cases of mysterious disappearances and inexplicable events, it starts off innocently enough … she’s trying to shine a light into dim places in hopes of finding answers to seemingly unanswerable questions. If it all stems from the mysterious disappearance of her own uncle, and the shadow it’s cast over her family for her entire life, well, hey, sometimes the search for closure is the only solace we can get.

So, she looks at and into various rumors, and is always eager to follow up on a promising new lead. Until, of course, she finds herself smack in the middle of her own perplexing mystery, starting with what she thinks is yet another well-intentioned matchmaking setup by her best friends. Except, later, her friends insist they have no idea who or what she’s talking about. Are her own memories deceiving her? Or is something else going on?

Oh, you better believe something else is going on, something which takes Tanya down a rabbit hole of video games that may or may not be video games, bizarre messages, impossible transformations, and deadly consequences no matter what ‘reality’ might be.

Then it goes and pulls a “to be continued” so we gotta wait for the next one …

Like, we don’t even NEED elder gods or otherworldly dimensions or cosmic horrors to reduce us to gibbering insane shadows of our former selves when we got THIS guy on the job!


Title: The Order of Eternal Sleep

Author: S.C Mendes

Publisher: Blood Bound Books


In the first book of what’s shaping up to be a series, The City, we were introduced to an entire secret, supernatural, literal underworld buried deep beneath San Francisco in the early 1900s, reaching its sinister fingers above to prey upon the unsuspecting surface dwellers. The police detective lured out of retirement to investigate finds himself drawn into the mystery … perhaps never to return.

Three years later, he’s still missing, and the sinister machinations haven’t stopped. Now another detective is confronted with some inexplicable, ritualized murders, and the clues — symbols, cryptic languages, etc. — point to more menace brewing below.

Featuring a new cast as well as appearances by recurring characters, with cults and gangs and other factions continue their scheming jockeying for power, the stakes are higher than ever. There’s a lot going on, requiring the reader to pay attention or risk losing track (there’s also several prominent characters whose names/titles start with M, which — and this is a peevish foolish teeny peeve of mine — just occasionally feels a little cluttery).

Having the story presented from several different angles adds to the complexity, as well as expanding upon the lore of the underground dwellers. The action is good, rolling nicely along without going too cliche, and the various story-angles pull naturally together to a taut conclusion, while leaving just enough ominous thread hanging to let you know the danger’s still far from over.


Title: She Came From The Swamp

Author: Darva Green


Every now and then, there you are, just trundling along, when all of a sudden here comes a genre you never knew you needed, and there’s that lovely satisfying little *click* as another piece falls into place.

Okay, so, maybe the piece this time is paranormal lesbian swamp-monster erotica … you got a problem with that? Huh?

Well, if you do, then that’s your loss, because it’s really well-written, with engaging characters and believable dialogue, an interesting plot, and great descriptions. It’s also, even if you’re not particularly into certain key elements, pretty dang hot.

The paranormal aspect is presented in a natural, accessible way without being info-dumpy; just, oh, by the way, there are psychics and vampires and werewolves and entities living secretly among us; no big, you know the drill, moving on.

Dez is the black sheep of her supernaturally-gifted family, most of whom use their abilities for illicit purposes, profit, and personal gain in ways she doesn’t want to. Whenever she tries to get out, they pull her back in, even if it means threatening anyone she might care about. She relocates to the house her grandmother left her, the house where she grew up on stories of the swamp and the creatures dwelling within it.

Creatures like the kikimora, a monster expecting to be placated by regular gifts and sacrifices. As a kid, Dez was afraid; as an adult, she thinks she’s older and wiser and knows better now. Until she discovers the kikimora is, in fact, very much real … and very much a monster … but also strangely beautiful, powerfully alluring, and totally sexy.

Suffice to say, one thing leads to another, and, really well-written, pretty dang hot paranormal lesbian swamp-monster erotica, there you go! With side dishes of relationship turbulence, dysfunctional family dynamics, and some intriguing side-hooks that hold out hope for more.


Reviews, December 2022

In a weird coincidence, three out of the five reviews in this batch are by guys named Matthew … make of that what you will! Anyway, here are my looks at SICK by Matthew Dixon, Departures by Scott Cole, Matthew Davis’ Midnight in the Chapel of Love, The Atlanta Incursion by Matthew Quinn, and Carlton Mellick III’s The Girl With the Barbed Wire Hair.

Title: SICK

Author: Matthew Dixon

Publisher: Evil Cookie Press


“Isolation plus infection plus escalation … SICK more than lives up to its title, and then some!” — Christine Morgan, author of Lakehouse Infernal.

Yeah, that’s me, blurbin’ this book, but a simple blurb only scratches the surface of what you’re in for here. Given it opens with our main character suffering and miserable and attempting to brew his own NyQuil out of antihistamines and booze, you might go into it expecting a plague outbreak story. And you wouldn’t be wrong, but sniffles and a cough will turn out to be the least of anyone’s worries.

Because Bradley Hayes works for a petroleum company, managing a district up in the remote reaches around Barrow, Alaska (familiar to many a horror fan from 30 Days of Night, though set at the other end of the year where at least they have ‘round the clock daylight). And, while he’s been home drugged senseless from self-medicating, the crew out on the fancy new oil rig have run into a slight problem.

One of their core samples has brought up something … unusual. Fossilized frozen organisms that, once thawed, turn out to be not so fossilized after all. Next you know, people are dead or dying and all heck’s breaking loose.

Here, you might jump from thinking 30 Days of Night to thinking The Thing and/or Aliens, especially once a team is dispatched to investigate, and you wouldn’t be far wrong, but neither would you be totally right. Poor Bradley, sick though he is, gets dragged along to look after the company’s interests, and thus ends up smack in the thick of a horrific scenario.

The precise nature of the horrific scenario, well, no spoilers, but it gets REALLY wild and nasty and grisly and gross, REALLY fast. A one-sitting read with no reprieve, and an “auuugh!” of an ending; SICK definitely delivers.


Title: Departures

Author: Scott Cole

Publisher: Black T-Shirt Books


I know, I know, I’d just mentioned Scott Cole’s story “The Trunk” in my recent review of the Blackberry Blood anthology … and it did catch me off guard for a second to run into it again so soon here, but it’s still a really nifty story and it’s not like I can complain.

Nor can I complain about the others making up this collection. The opening line of the first one, “Egg House,” snagged my attention in an instant — The egg was a surprise, to say the very least — I mean, how can you NOT read on intrigued after that kind of hook?

And the rest of the story goes on to get progressively weirder, as a new homeowner isn’t sure what to make of the egg discovered behind a door, or the rapid deterioration in the condition of the place. It may also lead to the urge to deep-clean everything, be advised.

After that, it’s vacation time, thanks to a postcard reading “Greetings From Trammel Beach” and the family who decides to take advantage of a too-good-to-be-true travel deal to a seaside paradise … the thing about too-good-to-be-true deals, though, well …

“Cold Hands” made me think of a long-time friend whose feet are perpetual ice, but at least she’s not yet run into the problem the character here does with her frigid appendages (though, given she also had a jerkface husband, maybe part of it wouldn’t have been so bad?)

“Gourds” is either the exactly wrong or exactly right thing to read at a time of year when the grocery stores are full of weirder and weirder knobbly-looking squashes and mutant pumpkins; I’d been tempted to pick some up for decoration but am now having second thoughts.

The WTFy absurdity of “Clown Noses” is a jarring contrast to the following haunting creepiness of “Only Bad People;” “The Penanggalan” gives an oft-underused and overlooked nightmarish monster a chance to shine; “Can’t See The Forest” starts off squicky and accelerates from there; and “The Noise Machine”? Well, that’s one way to deal with insomnia, I guess!


Title: Midnight in the Chapel of Love

Author: Matthew R. Davis

Publisher: JournalStone Publishing


It may be a familiar enough trope — the reluctant return to the childhood home after a long absence, to confront old memories and unpleasant secrets from the past — but I’ve rarely seen it done as well as this. Even without the weird paranormal elements, this one would be a winner … with them, adding another layer of richness and mystery, it reaches a whole new level.

As a high school senior, Jonno’s life was going okay; if he was the odd man out after the other two in his trio of besties became a couple, it didn’t matter so much once Jessica came to town. The addition of the adventuresome, quirky goth girl made their trio a quartet, perfect for double dates and friends forever.

Except then, a tragedy fractures not only their friendship, but Jonno’s entire world. His reputation a wreck, his future plans derailed, his relationships with his father and neighbors destroyed, he puts rural little Waterwich behind him as soon as he can and never intends to look back.

Fifteen years later, going by Jonny now, things are good. He’s a city guy now, with a job and a girlfriend with whom he’s deeply in love. The creepy black envelopes slipped under his door on the five-year-interval anniversaries of the tragedy? Easy enough to throw away and ignore.

The notification of his father’s death? Not so easy to ignore. No, duty calls, and he feels obligated to return to Waterwich one last time, even if it means facing memories he’d rather not think about and people who might not be glad to see him … or be all too glad to see him, because they’ve got scores to settle.

Of course, all those unquiet ghosts catch up with him, making him remember everything he’s tried so hard to forget. Things like the cave, and the Chapel, and what really happened that terrible night.

Spiced up with a local legend of Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque doomed romance teen outlaws, and spiced up further with some quite steamy love scenes, rich with description, laden with unexpected twists, it’s a compelling read throughout.


Title: The Atlanta Incursion: The Long War Book 2

Author: Matthew Quinn


You know how the Alien movie is horror, and its sequel Aliens is more action-packed monster-fightin’ adventure? That’s kind of the feeling I got here, going from the first book in this series to the second. Which is by no means a bad thing; both have their merits and shine on their own, while also fitting well together.

Book 1, The Thing in the Woods, focused on small-town claustrophobic isolation with a handful of protagonists fighting sinister cultists worshiping an otherworldly evil. Book 2 picks up a few months later, with the survivors of that fateful battle doing their best to go on with their lives … and, of course, talk to NO ONE about what they experienced, because the shadowy agency who helped cover it up is always watching.

James Daly, now a college student in Atlanta, would only be too glad to never have to deal with any of that awful business again, but the nightmares and PTSD won’t let go. If anything, they’re getting worse. He’s not just having nightmares but waking visions and weird experiences not limited to what happened last summer.

Because this time, it’s not a remote small town. This time, the danger’s come to the big city, preying on homeless people and gang members, organizing, gaining strength. The last thing James wants to do is get involved in another hellish mess, but, with his own mind working against him, he doesn’t have much choice.

His independent investigation, of course, lands him (and his girlfriend, Amber, also a suffering survivor of the horrors from their home town) right in the thick of it, pulled back in by the same shadowy organization that already has such a hold on their lives. They, and James’ hapless roommate, find themselves on the front lines of a secret war nobody else knows about, and all the ultra-tech and Men in Black jokes in the world may not be enough to save them.


Title: The Girl With the Barbed Wire Hair

Author: Carlton Mellick III

Publisher: Eraserhead Press


Prolific and mega-talented bizarromeister Carlton Mellick III is at it again, this time putting his own unique spin on the spooky-Asian-ghost-girl theme, partially inspired by unsettling encounters he’s experienced personally. The Author’s Note at the beginning is a series of paranormal story-ettes unto itself; some day, this guy’s gonna write a full autobiography, and it will be an epic, fascinating read!

The actual novel doesn’t dilly-dally around with slow build-ups; the first thing the reader gets is Yusuke’s impressions of the strange girl he sometimes sees in the alley behind the fire station as he’s on his way to school. He thinks she must be some homeless waif or orphaned vagabond, feels sorry for her, and starts leaving her little gifts of food and toys. Soon, she seems to be awaiting his visits.

Gradually, though, aspects like her bloodied fingers and pale skin make him wonder about her … and then there’s the matter of her hair, which appears to be long strands of actual barbed wire. When he mentions her to his mother, all he gets is a stern warning to stay away, with no explanation.

But when he runs into a classmate, the pretty and popular queen bee Narumi, he hears the whole story about the ghost-girl who’s been haunting that alleyway for years. Hardly anyone ever actually sees her, sometimes kids disappear, and certainly nobody else has encountered her multiple times.

Narumi is morbidly fascinated with the local legend, and doesn’t care if her friends judge her for hanging out with a nerdy newbie like Yusuke if it means she might get a chance to see the ghost for herself. She’s thrilled when Yusuke, after freeing the ghost from the alleyway, becomes the object of spectral attention.

But the resulting haunting isn’t the usual sort; the ghost-girl latches onto him with terrifying obsession, determined to be with Yusuke forever, whatever it takes.