The Mort Report!

Book Reviews by Mort Stone

 

01/22/2022
Mastodon

by Steve Stred

We humans sure like to experiment, don’t we?

We were given a natural curiosity and a brain capacity to try to understand, improve, evolve…despite our best efforts to destroy it with reality television.

Have you ever sat back and wondered: How in the world did they come up with that? Who thinks like that? Was it an accident or not? Will we ever be able to improve on it?


Here’s a hypothetical:

So, the lady of the house is mad at her husband for seeming to enjoy milking the cow a little too much, so she takes the ‘flowers’ he brought as a peace offering and beats them repeatedly until they are mostly just a powder. Now, I’m not here to speculate whether he’d brought her rye or wheat, but it does seem rather coincidental that, in its powdered form, it is referred to as flower (flour), isn’t it?

So, the man is angry at his wife, but he’d witnessed the skill with which she’d swung that rock, so instead of beating her, he throws the extra rye bouquet he’d picked for her into a pot, already boiling with water and some other stuff she’d added for the broth, and then he forgets about it. Days later she discovers it and with spite in her heart serves it to him as a drink, but instead of not liking it, he drinks it all.

And then he accused her of being a lycanthrope, and she knows he must be drunk because he didn’t use the word ‘werewolf’, which would suit his normal vocabulary, and then…


Okay, I have no idea how beer is really made, but who knows how it began, right?


Where am I going with this?

Well, Tyler’s dad is in a plane crash, the same place where his mother had disappeared 17 years ago and presumed dead. But the military won’t allow anybody to search for him in this restricted area. Why?

Well, that’s the ten-million-dollar question, isn’t it?

The only way to search for his dad would be to go rogue, but will he be able to deal with what is waiting on the other side?

Well, this is advertised as a creature feature kind of story, but what exactly are these creatures? Where do they come from? Is this an Area 51 situation? Are we experimenting on aliens? Are aliens experimenting on us? Have we opened a gateway to another dimension? Or maybe right into the bowls of hell? Is this whole review a misdirection?


Look, those who’ve read Steve Stred before will know he is a solid writer. Those who haven’t will find out soon enough.

The story is really good, and I do think it is better for the readers to go into this one a little blind. It is strong enough to draw a wider audience than just the ‘creature feature’ crowd.


Mort's Final Report= 4.5 stars

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01/15/2022
Fallout From Our Asphalt Hell

by Gabriel Hart

This is my introduction to Gabriel Hart: twenty horror short stories called FALLOUT FROM OUR ASPHALT HELL.


It is a quick read – the stories are not very long, and you can breeze through some during tea breaks at work, clocking in at 178 pages for Kindle.


The one thing that absolutely shines is the diversity of the stories – thematically they are cover so many different subjects. From satanic panic to the end of the world scenarios, from war heroes to transgender struggles, from animals to humans to aliens – and mostly scratching the surface of humanity and our ever-changing cultures which doesn’t always involve in the right way. Through it all there is always just a hint of humor.


The stand-out story in this collection has to be DEAR DIANA RANSWELL (MOM) – this one ticked all the boxes for my tastes, and I loved everything about the story, pace and ending.


My criticism:

These stories were written over a period of time and sometimes it showed. The author has definitely grown and gotten better through the years, but it shows in some of the stories. I felt just a little unbalanced by the quality of writing varying between some stories.


The other thing I want to mention – for both the author and the reader – is to skip the introduction. An author telling you about all the inspirations etc. before the stories are read is not a good idea. The reader still has to decide whether they like the stories or not – if they are interested in finding out more, then it is a really good option to have…afterward. So, readers, by all means, skip it until you’re done, then go back to it if you want.


Mort's Final Report= 4 STARS

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01/15/2022
Fearless

by Ashley Lister

While the cover didn’t impress me all that much, this story by Ashley Lister exceeded expectations. It was the first time I’ve read this author and I am impressed, to some extent.


What would you do if you lost all fear? Would you doodle in the margins of a library book? Go to bed without brushing your teeth? Fart loudly in the elevator?  Eat sushi for the first time?


Or would it be more than that? Perhaps tell the boss exactly what you think of him? Drive over the speed limit when you have unpaid parking tickets? Tell your wife her ravioli tastes like asshole? Try to traverse a high building where, should you fall, death is a certainty?


The story takes place on a campus where illegal experiments have been conducted for years on humans without their knowledge and consent. And after an assault is foiled by Doctor Ellie Green, things will spiral out of control for more than one person on campus.


I enjoyed this story a lot, but more for the entertainment value of the story. While some of the situations seemed a little conveniently set up to suit the overall idea of the story and some things just seems unlikely, the idea is a good one. My biggest issue is that the supernatural element didn’t contribute anything of value. In fact, I think this story could have been better advertised as a thriller if that element was missing altogether.


Recommended to those who seek entertainment in a short-ish read.


Mort's Final Report= 3.5 STARS

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01/08/2022
Mort Report Extra Feature:
Film Review

Single Location Horror

‘Visually spectacular’ is one of the terms that come to mind when you think about horror movies. While it doesn’t always have to include lots of gore, the movement and clever camera angles can enhance the fear factor horror lovers are always looking for.


But take away most of the movement and things can be a little challenging. There are some single location movies – where probably 90% or more of the movie takes place in a single location – that are very popular. But, if you think THE SHINING, it was a big hotel. THE MIST – grocery store. DON’T BREATHE, PANIC ROOM, THE AMITYVILLE HORROR, EVIL DEAD, THE STRANGERS, MISERY and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY – houses with multiple rooms. 


However, when your single location is only one room, you need a damn good director and even better story to hold the audience’s attention. This was brilliantly done in movies such as CUJO, GERALD’S GAME, DEVIL and one of my favorite movies of all time, SAW.


Which brings me to the movie I’ve just watched – WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING.

When a dysfunctional family of four gets trapped in a bathroom during a tornado, some secrets will come to the surface that have been buried too long. No, it is not a fucking zombie movie, damnit!


This movie is based on a novella (and the screenplay was also written) by Max Booth III, also titled WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING.

And for all the horror readers out there, if you don’t know who Max Booth III is, I am about to introduce you to one of the up-and-coming superstars in the horror community.

Look, this movie had a very small budget – the special effects are not the best you’ll see – but I will be damned if the story doesn’t make up for it. This one is actually scary, people.

And, where else will you hear the line:

“Snakes are just bats that can’t fly!”


So, check out the movie – I adored the ending – and share with your friends. Who knows, maybe someday enough people will check it out to make Max Booth III a name to be reckoned with in the industry – he is well on his way already.


And, yes, the book is better… 

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Book Cover for We Need to Do Something

by Max Booth, III

 

01/08/2022
Krae

by Tim Eagle

Hyperosmia.


I won’t blame you if you’ve never heard of the term before.


You know when you yawn and others who see you start yawning as well? They say the original yawner creates this air disruption that others breathe in, and the only way to balance it out in your brain is to yawn as well.

Of course, this has nothing to do with the term or this story, it’s just an interesting fact I wanted to share.


Hyperosmia is a condition where the sense of smell is overly developed. You know how a dog can smell fear and things like that? Like that, but since you’re human, the protein in shit actually still stinks – even worse, in fact.


Our main character in this story, Krae, is a sensitive who suffers from this. And this is the part where I must tell you what happens in the story, but I actually can’t, because I will give something away that I don’t want to. My advice is to go into this one blind – it has to do with a supernatural element of Dutch folklore.


There are some things in this tale I’ve never heard of before and it does make for some interesting reading, but there are two things that bother me. Neither are deal breakers, though, so there will be an audience who will love it and I can recommend it to them.


The first is that the story could have been fleshed out a little more. While I am a huge fan of less is more, there were some things that isn’t explained enough to my satisfaction. Again, this is difficult without giving anything away, but one example is the relationship between Beatrice and Angela toward the end. What is the connection? Also, while I did look up the name Krae (and it actually exists), I’m not completely sure what the connection to crows are. In Dutch, ‘crow’ is ‘kraai’ (which is pronounced ‘cry’ in English) – so is this some kind of loose connection to that word?


The second is, about halfway through the book and during the conversation between Krae and Beatrice, the author gives too much away. From that point forward, I knew exactly where the story was headed. This could have been intentional by the author, since we are dealing with a foreign myth, but I want to be surprised – that’s just my personal taste.


I am not slamming this story, I’m just not 100% sure I was the right audience for it. I will recommend it to those who likes to learn about foreign, unknown mythologies.


Mort's Final Report: 3 STARS

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01/01/2022
The Boy with the Spider-Face.

by AJ Franks

Prejudice vs. Tolerance.

This is a short-ish story that actually says a lot about society and the times we are living in.


Summary: 

Jeff Pritchet is a normal boy in almost every sense, except for the fact that he his the face of a spider. As a teenager, he’s been a constant target of bullying by not only his peers, but adults as well. If there is one thing he has learned in his short life, it is that nothing is fair. When a transfer student arrives at his school, Jeff is shocked and elated to find the boy doesn’t look down on him like he is a freak, and for the first time in his life, he makes a friend. But nothing can be as simple as that.


His new friend, Aarav, is a foreigner, and Jeff is about to find out about his own parents’ biases. The bubble in which he has grown up is about to burst. The consequences will be dire.


Mort's Report:

We are all guilty of it in some way, shape or form. Preconceptions (which are often misconceptions) gives us an excuse to dismiss or ignore - and sometimes even fight – the things we don’t understand and, more often than not, fear. I grew up in apartheid South Africa. As a Caucasian male, it was easy to “hate” when you have nothing to do with others. This is not only reference to racism, but often sexism and all those other wonderful -isms. It took me a little more than 20 years before the bubble I grew up in finally burst – and it happened when I made my first black friend. We met during a pool game (and he beat me), and it finally dawned on me that he is not only a better person than me, but a better person than MOST.


I have not uttered a racist slur of any kind in more than 20 years, and I can only hope that will be the case for the rest of my life. There were some valuable lessons to learn. When I look back, I am stunned to see how different I thought as a child. And how much, so obvious to somebody on the outside looking in, I missed. I was never the most athletic, even though I am skinny. Add to that I am short and very pale – the sun hates me, my skin is either very white or painfully red. I lost myself in movies and television as a child, and later in books. I was also never very sociable.


During my youth, I was often called “gay” (I use the “ because I refuse to use the actual terms) because I was never a man’s man – and I often called others the same if they did something unmanly. I was often called weak or a coward because I was never a fighter and avoided confrontation whenever I could. I was often called lots of different things – one of my nicknames before my teens was Landing Flaps because my ears were so big (they still are, but my head grew into them a little more). Today I can laugh about it – it was quite original – but some people may be stunned to learn it was actually a teacher who gave me that nickname.


So, this is what I learned: There are good people and bad people, there are honest people and dishonest people, there are assholes, bitches, dicks and morons in every race, sexuality, religion, nationality and any other walk of life. In this broken world of ours, everyone deserves to be judged on merit. You don’t have to like everybody just because they are the ‘same’ as you, just like you don’t have to dislike those who are not.


This story carries that lesson loud and clear. My only criticism is that the characters felt a little cookie-cutter for the message, so there could have been a little more depth to some of the characters. Recommended for coming-of-age horror fans who likes the feels.

Mort's Final Report: 4 Stars. 

 
 

Baker's Dozen

Reviewed by Mort Stone

“Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the SICKEST BAKER SHOW, where the competition is fierce and oftentimes brutal. Let’s find out what their secret ingredients are today!


First up, we have Christine Morgan, you get…

JEALOUSY!

Chris Miller, yours is…

A CHEERLEADER MOM’S DIAMONDS!

Ruthann Jagge, you get…

A BLACK BIRD!

Jeff Strand, close your mouth and collect your…

DOGSHIT!

Aron Beauregard, you seem to be the lucky winner of…

BLINDING LIGHT!

Carver Pike, yours is…

SLUTTY BLUEBERRIES!

Patrick C. Harrison III, wow, I don’t know how you are going to use…

MEMORIES!

Lee Franklin, can you use…

FISHING BAIT!

Kenzie Jennings, you better watch out because yours is…

A CROCODILE!

Daniel Volpe, what in the world will you do with your combination of…

CINNAMON and FIRE!

Rowland Bercy Jr., you get…

A PLANT!

Candace Nola, you get…ooh, what an interesting combination this is…

JAMS and a “KAREN”!

Finally, Michael Ennebach, you get…well, what do you know…

A SCYTHE!


Bloodshed and carnage is encouraged, so I want a really dirty bake.

 Contestants, are you ready? It doesn’t matter either way, because your time starts NOW!”



Candace Nola succeeded in putting together a very diverse and brilliant anthology. What I enjoyed the most is that not a single story was like any other, in either tone or substance, and I can honestly say there is not a single story in this one that I can call a weak link. Nor can I tell you my favorite.


While these stories are bloody, it only adds to the flavor. Some are straight-up horror, some are extreme, while the rest lies in-between. If you are a fan of any of these authors, this one is worth checking out, because it will widen your reading horizons if you are unfamiliar with some of them.


Five delicious pastry stars!

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All Smiles Until I Return

Author: Aron Beauregard

Reviewed by Mort Stone

Is there life after death?


This is a question for many a debate – not only if your spirit will go on, but where it will go. What will happen?


There are different versions of heaven and hell, reincarnation, a higher spiritual realm and the one about the alien that will do something if you don’t believe in psychology or something – I really don’t care enough about this one to look into it – and others that might be even more obscure (at least to me).


And what is hell? Is it a generalized pit of fire where you burn for all eternity? Like DANTE’S INFERNO?

Or is it a more personal place where your worst fears come true and have to be experienced over and over again?

Spiders crawling over your face? Rats gnawing on your toes? Drowning over and over again? Being a cameraman for KEEPING UP WITH THE KARDASHIANS? (That last one actually works with crappy karma for reincarnation too.)


So, nobody really knows, and if you want to be really optimistic and open to everything, throw them all together and you might get to something like this:

We are actually aliens. Every time we die, we get reincarnated on another planet. The sun is a fireball, so it is only logical that every time we get reborn it is one planet closer to the sun.

We are on the third planet from the sun, people – time to take a long, hard look at yourself!


Look, I am not going to poke fun at someone’s belief system – I have one of my own – but I will say this:

As long as you leave this life having done more good than bad, I don’t really care if you believe something else. All I ask is to be treated well and I will do my best to return the favor.


Which brings us to this story – ALL SMILES UNTIL I RETURN.


This is a departure from the usual Aron Beauregard horror we are used to. This is a possible version of life after death and, although it might feel like it touches on philosophy, I took this story for purely fiction. And I will explain why.


For those of you who are not aware, I have been helping Aron this year with his stories – nothing major, just a check if all the T’s are crossed and all the I’s are dotted before the books are released. Aron indulges me this because I am a fan of his work and, since I believe he has the chops to be one of the big names in this genre, I always leave a review. By now, I consider him a friend.


Now, I make it clear to all authors that I cannot blow smoke up someone’s ass if I don’t believe in their product. When I review, I will mention if there were things that bothered me or criticism I pick up. There are those who accuse me of not writing bad reviews, but I have reached a point in my life where I prefer to NOT write a review at all if I don’t like the story. If it is possible, I try to contact the author and give feedback – which goes completely ignored most of the time. Sometimes it is met with anger – I have been accused this year of “not understanding” something I had a problem with. I have NOT reviewed six books this year (that I finished), and at least a dozen I’d abandoned.


Having read nearly everything Aron has released to date, I’ve come to expect that he will push boundaries and there will be something shocking/sickening to come. Having said that, though, I also have to mention that his books are story driven and doesn’t rely on shock value (torture-porn) to sell.


But there was one particular scene in this book that I was not prepared for. It shook me. It is, hands down, the scene that upset me the most – ever - that didn’t include animals. I had to put the book down for a little bit before I could continue.

And for the next 10% or so, I felt very negative about the story and the bleakness it portrayed. So much so that I told my wife I didn’t know what to tell Aron because I don’t think I can review this story!


Yet, I had to push through. And I am so glad I did. That Beauregard magic came through toward the end. Not only did he pull it together (at least, in my mind), but the essay at the end of the book (which you will only get with the hardcover!) gave me just a glimmer of insight I lacked going into this one.


I’ll be honest, this review is written a few weeks after I’ve read the story. I had to figure out what bothered me so much and how to put it in words, because this is not really a negative review, but it is as honest as I can be.


And here’s what I came up with:

Aron wrote a fiction story about life after death. This vision is so far removed from my idea of what life after death should be, it had upset me. That, added to the shock of that particular scene, put me in a place where everything felt confrontational toward my vision of the afterlife.


Hence: the author did nothing wrong. It is a FICTION story, for fuck’s sake. Get over yourself, Mort!



So, I want to say two things with my recommendation of this story:


- There is one very disturbing scene in this book, brace yourself, because I am not new to this genre and don’t shock easily.

- Prepare yourself for a very bleak, pessimistic journey. This theory is totally original (at least for me) and the philosophically minded might actually find some food for discussion with it.



And, because of that final statement, I do think this story will attract a wider audience than just the splatterpunk crowd, but it might just divide the readers afterwards.

 
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All Smiles Until I Return

Written by Aron Beauregard