The Mort Report!
Book Reviews by Mort Stone
Into the Pit
by Brian G. Berry
Have you ever stood in front of a pit, looked down into the darkness and wondered what every single person who has ever been in that situation has thought?
Namely: If I pee in there, will I hit something?
This story has nothing to do with those thoughts. However, I’m willing to bet any time you walk past any deep hole in the future that is the thought that will pop into your head.
You are welcome.
INTO THE PIT by Brian G. Berry is an interesting story, and there are two things that stands out to me.
But first, the story:
The Moonlight Butcher kidnaps children, kills their parents and feeds them to the thing in the pit. Or is it just a delusional madman whose mind is making excuses for the horrible deeds he is doing?
The two things I want to mention are these:
It warms the cockles of my heart to see someone developing as a writer. If you take his first published book – THE CHILD EATER – and you compare it to this one, there is a huge difference and the improvement as a storyteller is a beautiful thing to behold.
The other is that this guy does not hold back on the violence. The fact that the victims are children does not spare them from the cruelties this story has to offer, which firmly puts this firmly in the realm of extreme horror. Lots of blood and gore – so be warned.
A very solid 4 stars – closer to 4.5!
by Aron Beauregard
When I was young and single, I was friends with someone I worked nightshift with. One night, we were talking about pick-up lines, and this is probably the best of them:
“You go up to a girl and ask her if she has a boyfriend. If she says Yes, you ask if he likes to watch.”
That one made me laugh my ass off. Of course, I don’t know if it would have worked – I never had the guts. No, not the line, just going up to a girl I didn’t know and starting a conversation. I was awkward back then. I’m still awkward now, but I’m also happily married and have made peace with the fact…
Anyway, THE CUCK by Aron Beauregard was something new for the author, since it takes place in the UK. All-in-all, I think he handled it pretty darn well. There wasn’t a single time I thought: Blimey, this bloke is blowin’ the lingo, innit?
Fuck off, I ain’t British, but in my country we are much closer to the Queen’s English than the American, so I would like to think that I have a fair idea of how they sound.
But, back to the book – take two horny guys, give them one drink too many and then send them on their way, with ads for sex workers all over the place. What do you think is going to happen?
Here’s a clue: there’s no knitting involved.
But someone wants to watch…
Aron takes his sadistic imagination and puts it to good use in this story where there are no guns but, boy oh boy, will there be violence. One scene in particular made me cross my legs rather lady-like.
So, yeah, not for sensitive readers, and Aron Beauregard is not the author you want to start with if you haven’t read extreme or Splatterpunk before. You can’t handle it…he WILL fuck you up.
5 mutilific stars!
by Holly Rae Garcia
Don’t know exactly why, but this cover spoke to me the moment I saw it. I have looked at it many
times over the last two weeks and I still can’t tell you why it drew me so much, but I’m glad it did.
Going into this, I just needed a break from the Splatterpunk/extreme horror scene. This cover
popped up on Amazon, I read the blurb and thought: Why the hell not?
Which means I’ve never heard of this author or story before.
PARACHUTE reads like an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Or, if you are of a younger generation,
THE OUTER LIMITS. Or, if you are even younger still, BLACK MIRROR. And if you are too young to
know any of these, use your damn innernet to look it up, kid.
This story is about a teen called Angela Rodriguez, who just graduated high school. They head to an
abandoned elementary school, where they break in and discover an old gym parachute. When they
start playing a childhood game, things start to go off the rails. It gets interesting form there.
My thoughts on this story is that it was interesting. While it didn’t blow my mind, it was something
that kept my interest throughout and I am glad I gave it a shot. This is definitely an author I will have
to keep my eye on. The ending was right up my alley, and I am really glad Miss Garcia ended it this way.
Recommended to those who like their stories on the weirder side, but not to the point where you
can call it bizarro.
If I Die Before I Wake
Tales of Savagery & Slaughter
Published by Sinister Smile Press
If I Die Before I Wake: Tales of Savagery and Slaughter is an anthology that just drew me in immediately. In fact, when I saw the cover, I reached out to find out if it would be possible to get an ARC of this, so I want to thank the person who made this happen.
I am REALLY glad I went with my gut on this one, because it sure as hell delivered. While not all of the stories were great, there wasn’t a single bad one. That in itself means Sinister Smile Press did a great job with their selection.
In this one it is all about revenge – so who can’t relate? And, since most of them do not have any supernatural elements, it makes it all the more realistic and scarier.
In OUTRUN THE WOLVES, we learn that it might not be a good idea to be rude to a psycho bitch.
In THIS FERTILE SOIL, we run into a superstition that just may be true.
In BUTCHER’S BLOCK, we look into the art scene and an urban legend of the macabre.
In PRECISION BODY WORKS, we discover an innovative way of making someone regret their actions.
In THEE MOST EXALTED POTENTATE OF LOVE, I made this note: Interesting Femme Fatale Fatale. You will have to read the story to find out why.
In PERCEPTO!, we discover that nothing can be quite as electrifying as a good movie theatre.
In UNCHAINED, two movies are referenced, one of which is KILL BILL and ………, but I want to keep that out of the review for fear of ruining the surprise.
In JUST A GIRL, we delve into a threesome with Gwen Stefani.
In THE LAST GIFT, there is an interesting angle on a WWII legend.
In MONKEY CAGE, well, let’s just leave it at this quote: “She’d seen THE HILLS HAVE EYES one too many times.”
Now, there are two stories I need to highlight in this collection, both from authors I don’t know.
I AM GODDESS by Tamika Thompson, which is the third story in this book, is probably the least gory of the lot, but it is possibly the best written one. Powerful – highly recommended.
FAMILY ANNIHILATOR by LP Hernandez, which is the very last story, blew me right the fuck away. This is the highlight – it just ticked all the boxes for my personal taste. Superb!
After the Burn
By Ronald Kelly
Do you know Ronald Kelly?
Soft-spoken Southern gentleman, likes to draw pictures, writes like a fuckin’ champion?
I recently discovered the metalcore band Bad Omens. I know what you’re thinking, and you may not be totally wrong, but you should give this song a listen:
THE DEATH OF PEACE OF MIND shows you just how incredible this guy’s voice is. The range? Insane! I’ve even watched a few reaction videos and some of them made me smile – they knew the previous, hard music. So, when this guy comes with this high, soft voice, with a slow – almost gentle – song, a lot of them said: “I don’t know what is happening right now…”
Go ahead, give it a go. Don’t let the word ‘metal’ put you off. The production is absolutely out of this world – it is so dark, while being so light, it is heavy, while being so soft. There’s a brilliance in there, whether you like metal or not. The music video speaks to me on so many levels as well.
And when he gets angry, oh boy, that damn range!
So, why am I talking about music while reviewing this book?
Well, Ronald Kelly’s book – AFTER THE BURN – reminds me of that song on an emotional level. There are times where you can’t believe how dark this gentleman will go. His writing is beautiful - it is so dark, while being so light, it is heavy, while being so soft…where have I heard those words before?
These six short stories and two novellas takes place in the same world; a post-apocalyptic world, where the nukes exploded, and humanity is all but done. Yet these stories are so diverse – from the silly fun of TAKING CARE OF BUSINESS to the heartbreakingly beautiful MEAT IS LIFE to the extreme Splatterpunk story of A SHINY CAN OF WHUP-ASS, this collection has something any horror fan can dig his or her teeth into, even if it is not filed to sharp points…
If you are a fan of this author, you know what to expect. If you haven’t read him yet, you are in for a treat.
Highly recommended to all horror fans.
by Jeff Strand
I’m actually glad I waited a little before I wrote this review, because now I can say this is the sequel to the book PRESSURE by BRAM STOKER AWARD WINNING AUTHOR Jeff Strand!
I have never made a secret of the fact that I am a huge fan of this writer. I absolutely loves the way he can bring humor to stories that are still considered splatterpunk and extreme horror. And the win is a validation that is long overdue.
So now that I got that fangirling out of the way, back to the story at hand.
PRESSURE is probably one of his darkest stories. And since I don’t want to give away too much for those who want to (and should) read it, let’s just say Alex Fletcher befriends Darren Rust, who turns out to be a psychotic serial killer – and thinks that Alex might be his soulmate. But, since Alex is just a normal guy, the feeling is not mutual.
And Darren pretty much fucks up his life from there.
In DEATHLESS, Alex is just trying to take it day to day and survive as best he could. And there may be a ray of sunshine heading his way when he meets Luna Booth. She is a spectacular person who is willing to accept him as he is and won’t judge him for his past.
But is she too good to be true?
Get ready for round two…
*** *** ***
I have to say, I didn’t think Strand could match the darkness of the first book, but I was wrong. There are two places in this book that goes very fucking dark, where I thought to myself that he was pushing boundaries for the things he would usually write. But that just goes to show how well he writes these characters – you, as the reader, are truly invested in their lives.
Recommended to horror fans who can stomach a really dark story brilliantly written.
Twenty Years Dead
by Richard Farren Barber
So, this is what they call ‘quiet horror’.
The idea is really original – people who die will rise twenty years later, for a brief moment, before they pass permanently. This is not a zombie story – thank goodness – and it doesn’t have any elements of the apocalypse. Phew!
Dave will get one final chance to find out why his father had abandoned him and his mother before his death. But will he find the answers he is looking for?
Here are the good things about the story:
From a psychological point of view, this is a study in family, relationships, humanity and character, and how the past can ultimately define what we become in the future. On an emotional level, this short story delves into a lot of issues.
Here are the bad things about this story:
This is NOT a horror story, in my opinion. While it did have some supernatural elements, it is background noise, and there was nothing I found scary or surprising enough to give me the jolt of excitement I was looking for.
Since I was biased going into this one – expecting a horror story – and felt disappointed when it was over, it took me a day to realize that it was not a BAD story.
So, I will not try to convince you to pass this one. Instead, I will say that the horror fans who likes their gore and the adrenaline rush, you are not going to get it with this one.
I think it should be read by those whose stories must be driven by emotion and a soft, eerie atmosphere, where the resolution holds all the power of the read.
By Patrick C. Harrison, III & Daniel J. Volpe
Eight brutal stories that will push your limits and the boundaries of decency.
Shit, who are we trying to kid here? Decency has left the building a long time ago. If you look really hard in the rearview mirror, you’ll be able to see…nothing. It’s just not there, man.
So, I think six of these stories were great, one was good, and one made me tap out.
Patrick Harrison III (or PC3 to the slow typists) is a fairly well known in the indie horror community as a writer, editor and co-owner of Death’s Head Press publishers. He did the first VISCERAL with Christine Morgan and he is probably best known for his Western Splatter book A SAVAGE BREED, CERBERUS RISING and CERBERUS EXPLOITATION, as well as numerous stories in anthologies. If you have read anything by him, you will know this guy is not the type of kitty you take on without gloves…and a loaded .44 Remington Magnum…and a diaper, just in case. Whenever I read his stories, I always feel like he’s figured out the strengths in his writing and he writes to them.
Daniel J. Volpe is one of the up-and-coming superstars in the business. His debut, BILLY SILVER, put him on the map immediately, and I have not read a bad story by him yet. TALIA, A GIFT OF DEATH and ONLY PSYCHOS are all stories that have a rating above 4.35 on Goodreads, but his book LEFT TO YOU proved something that I have felt for a long time. Of all the authors I know, he probably has the most natural talent for writing. He also has the potential to bring new readers to the extreme horror genre and, more importantly, may be able to transition to mainstream appeal in horror writing. Unless something severe happens, I can’t imagine how he will not be a legend in the genre someday. To top it all off, he’s just a super nice guy who is approachable, so go for it.
Okay, the stories are all brutal, as I have already stated, but I am not going to rehash them here. They make you uncomfortable, they make you cringe, and they may even be able to make you cry. So, heed this warning – this is extreme horror people.
There is one story I need to say something more about:
I know my limits – I can’t do animal torture. I can’t detach enough and the mental images not only makes me sad, but I get nightmares from them. Literally – nightmares.
Now, in this genre you do come across it from time to time. As most readers of this genre (and all the other morbid fucks who are drawn to darker things) know, serial killers are known to start on animals and gradually progress to humans. Which means, sometimes it is necessary for the story. I can’t fault the authors who use this in their stories, if it fits with the characters and story, so I have decided not to penalize the authors with my rating because of it. However, I will end my review with a trigger warning.
TRIGGER WARNING: Animal torture in the story FIRECRACKER KINGS. I did not finish this story and therefore it had no bearing on my rating.
Something in the Groove
By Glenn Rolfe
Does every generation think their music was the greatest? You are allowed to, you know, because I’ve read somewhere that your music taste actually develops around the age of 12 or 13, into what you will prefer for the rest of your life.
So, my fellow 80’s children, we know our decade was simply the best when it comes to music. Toward the end of the decade, it was the very last time when you could hear pop/rock/reggae/soul/R&B and even some metal on the same chart. That’s right: Phil Collins to Guns N’ Roses to UB40 to Bette Midler to Billy Idol to The Beach Boys to Whitesnake to Rick Astley to…whatever the fuck you wanna call Bobby McFerrin’s music.
And that’s why we had such a broad choice of music that we knew and could choose from. Which is also why I could kick some serious ass with 80’s music trivia!
Any-hoo, this story is about a vinyl copy from the hard rock band, Bad Obsession. Extremely rare and perhaps even cursed, our favorite urban shaman Lee Buhl is back to track it down. And Rhiannon might also be there. For those of you who have no idea what the hell I’m talking about, I refer you to Rolfe’s first published book THE HAUNTED HALLS, and maybe even a short story in an anthology (I think it was WELCOME TO THE SHOW). However, this story works fine as a standalone.
So, the question will be: Can this record actually summon a demon?
** ** **
For those of you who don’t know Rolfe, here’s what I can say:
Not only is he a really good writer, but he is just a super nice person as well. As a reviewer, his method of ‘Kill them with kindness’ makes me feel like a shit if I have to leave a bad review – which has happened.
But I am elated to say that this one is probably my favorite from him. Whenever an author incorporates 80’s rock into their stories, I am immediately invested.
Let me share something from the book:
“He remembered a time not so long ago when he would have taken her to his room and treated her like a Def Leppard groupie beneath the stage, setting free his lust and need to feel in control.”
For those of you who don’t get that reference, allow me to explain:
In 1988 I was 12 going on 13, and it was the first time I heard the album called HYSTERIA by a band called Def Leppard. Up until then, I’d listened to mainstream music mostly. My brother borrowed the vinyl from a friend, and I ended up stealing it for a day to listen to it in my room when he wasn’t there.
THAT is the record that defined my musical taste. It blew my fragile little mind. I’d never heard anything so perfect in my entire life, and I’ve owned (and worn out) 4 copies of that album through the years.
Now, Def Leppard was probably the biggest band in the world for a little while. On tour with that album (the live video is called ‘In the Round, In your Face’) they would set up a circular stage in the middle of an arena and have fans all around them. During their breaks, band members would go beneath the stage, and there are legendary rumors of what happened down there. Only female fans were allowed, and admission was taking off their tops.
When I read that line, I felt kind of giddy because of the connection, and there was a moment where I paused and wondered if the book could actually live up to my expectations from there.
It did. I loved this one and recommend it to all horror fans – but the 80’s kids will get an extra kick from it.
By Matt Shaw & Aron Beauregard
What do you get when you take two of the darkest, most twisted minds in the world, and combine them to create a single story?
This could go one of two ways, with very little middle ground. It will either live up to the high expectations and blow the readers away, or it will be a huge disappointment. No pressure, right guys?
Well, let’s look at the story.
Connie and Ray have survived traumatic events, but they still need help. Just not the kind of help you are thinking of. You see, most survivors go through intense feelings of guilt because they survived while others didn’t.
But humans are complex beings and not everybody looks at the world the same way. Which means the outcasts, even though they try to hide it from others, are drawn to each other.
And when they find each other…
I have read a lot of work by these two authors, and I can certainly vouch that their content is extreme to a degree where few others dare to go. But that also means that I have been looking forward to this one for months and expectations going into it has been high.
Here’s what I was worried about, though:
The Brit and the Yank have very different writing styles. Will it actually clash to the point of being distracting? Will their ideas gel and come out smooth, or will it be two distinct voices shouting over each other?
I am glad to say that they did gel very well, even though both stayed true to themselves. The ride is really good, and then we get to the halfway mark…
A lightbulb will go on in your head. The story becomes so obvious, and you think to yourself: Self, they are heading there. This can only end one way. I’m a bit disappointed to have figured it out this early.
Dear reader, have a little faith in these guys. They managed to twist this thing into something more than I thought it could be. And I have to congratulate them – this one did them proud.
Highly recommended to all extreme/splatterpunk horror fans.
Faces of Beth
by Mort Stone
Hmm…so this is a Carver Pike you won’t expect.
Let’s get this out of the way. FACES OF BETH – the title is a about a character named Beth who suffers from a very rare skin disease called temulentusia, where the skin has these strange, glowing lines and, in direct sunlight, it gives the face this blurry appearance that makes it look like multiple faces on top of each other. You know, like when you’re drunk.
Hope that explains it.
I’m willing to bet you’ve just looked that up, didn’t you? And Google gives you a lot of stuff you can’t read, right?
Let me put you out of your misery.
That’s right, I’ve just made that shit up.
Beth is actually a very complicated woman. She’s got psychological problems. But Andrew loves her. So, he marries her and moves her entire family into his house. Now, I need to backtrack here for those who think no man would ever do that.
The male ego is a sum-bitch. A lot of men think they can handle anything. I will try to explain like this:
In the movie ZOMBIELAND 2, there is this scene where the girl brings all her luggage to the car, while one of their rules is to travel light, so to get things going, Woody Harrelson’s character says he’ll load it up. So he waits for the girl to get in the car, gives it a couple of seconds, then slams the trunk shut, and they leave leaving all her luggage behind.
And that sums up what a lot of men THINK – they can leave the girl’s luggage behind.
Only, it doesn’t work like that.
Next thing you know, you’re like the guy who has to get all the Kardashian luggage at the airport.
So, Andrew has become an instant father, brother-in-law and grandson-in-law. While it is exhausting, he loves Beth enough to accept it and adapt to the circumstances. For the most part, he even enjoys parts of it. Because family is family, after all. But, like any house of cards in a shit-storm, things can’t keep going at that pace.
Eventually, things will start to crumble, much like my attempt at cooking the perfect dinner will end up with an upside-down pot on the sauce-covered floor, with the cat licking it off the fridge door, and me sitting with my hand over my face. Or, as it’s known at my house, Thursday evening.
In the end, it will come down to the ultimate test of Andrew’s love for his wife and his love for his life. Because things are not always as they seem.
For some reason I keep thinking of this as the grown-up Carver Pike novel, because this is a straight up horror story – this does not fall in the extreme realm. And it also means that Carver should be able to broaden his readership with this story.
It was not perfect for my taste, but I also recognize the fact that the author actually achieved what he set out to do with this story. I can recommend this to most horror readers, especially the ones who are into possession stories.
Man, Fuck This House!
By Brian Asman
Every now and then, a book’s title can grab you even more than the cover. Call me a dirty minded fella if you want, but any time I see the word ‘Fuck’ in a title, it gets my attention.
Enter, MAN, FUCK THIS HOUSE.
I have read a few books by Brian Asman and I have enjoyed them all. Not only can this guy paint you an almost cinematic picture with his words, but he can make me laugh AND he’s not afraid to throw in the gore.
This is the most serious of his work that I’ve read, and it seems like he went for a solid horror story, but every now and again, the humor does slip through.
“No one had direct knowledge of death except those who’d experienced it, and they remained famously tight-lipped about the whole thing.”
Well, you get a family that moves to a new house, which turns out to be haunted, yada-yada… But wait, there is a fresh angle to this one that made me forget all about AMITYVILLE HORROR, or POLTERGEIST, or PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, or INSIDIOUS, or THE CONJURING, or 1408, or CASPER…
It is not like any of the ones you are thinking about right now.
This is a study in family dynamics, when daddy is oblivious and mommy might just be a little mentally unhinged, where the teenage daughter is a good girl but her younger, genius brother might be either possessed or just plain fucking with mommy’s head…and don’t forget the house!
This book is a fresh take on a well-known story, and I enjoyed every moment of the ride. If you haven’t read Asman before, give this one a go. If you have, you will know you are going to get quality and value for money.
Highly recommended for all horror fans.
by Wrath James White
So, apparently this Wrath James White guy is some kind of bad ass in the extreme horror world. It’s really tiring to hear about how bad this guy is and how scary that guy is, just because they think up these violent stories. I mean, look at him – how bad can he actually be?
He’s the big guy?!
Well, fuck me, let me start over.
Ahem: Wrath James White is actually one of the guys in this genre who may be capable of the shit he thinks up – if you look at the size of him. But he would never. Why, just last night after we picked some sunflowers, we sat around a campfire and sang ‘Kumbaya’, right after knitting matching scarves and painting a white dove mural on a wall.
Okay, so I’ve never actually met the guy, per se, but I can tell we have a lot in common – we are just misunderstood, gentle souls. Think I’m lying? Watch this – two arms, two legs, one head, one torso. Granted, about three of me will fit inside his skin, but size doesn’t matter. Not if you’re as big as him, anyway.
But you want a book review. Fine!
Hardcore Kelli is a well-written, violent story…that would have worked better as a graphic novel. While this is the first thing I’ve read by Mr. White, I know him by reputation. And, having read this, I can tell you that he is very good at painting a vivid, gory picture.
As a writer, I can see why he has made a name for himself and I definitely want to read him again in the future. This story, though, comes at a time when I am totally sick of all the superhero bullshit. It is fucking everywhere, and my son is just getting into it at this stage, which means I can’t escape it.
While this book is not a superhero story, it is so very close to becoming one. And, in the end, because of the vivid descriptions, it became a little too much for my taste.
So, I am not going to slam this one. Right now, the market for this type of story might be bigger than for the average extreme book out there. Though not my personal taste, I can recognize the brilliant writing of this story, and I want to rate accordingly.
Highly recommended to those who like graphic novels and something with a superhero feel to it.
A Bouquet of Viscera
by Bridgett Nelson
Overview from the book:
An overzealous vigilante, who sees her victims' auras, finds herself in a very uncomfortable situation. A young woman, injected with a microchip in a futuristic America, develops unusual and grisly cravings. Four high school graduates end up on the menu of a giant, mutant sea creature. Diary entries share shocking and disturbing confessions...but who is the author?
Bridgett Nelson is a name that has popped up a lot lately, so my expectations were high going into this. How could it not be? Both Ronald Kelly (who did the foreword) and Jeff Strand (who did the blurb) endorsed this book – no small feat for a debut.
Well, most Indie authors write their first work and hope to get a foot in the door. Bridgett used another approach. She stormed through it like it was an old cowboy saloon with swinging doors, both hands fisted with a raised middle finger and screamed:
“Here I am, bitches, let’s get this party started!”
This does not read like a debut. It is well polished, clever, original and dynamic. Right off the bat, the story “Auras” shows you not only the strength of her writing, but just how clever she can be. There was not a single story that I felt was one dimensional and, while it might be clear she comes from a medical background, the ideas were vastly different.
I am willing to go all in with this author – don’t let the pretty smile fool ya, she’s got a twisted imagination and the writing skills to back it up. If she keeps at it, I predict she will become a name and force to be reckoned with in the industry.
A graphic, violent sexual assault is depicted in this story. It may not be suitable for all readers.”
That’s the way the story “Jinx” starts. You’d do well to heed that warning.
For those of you who may not be familiar with me, I read a lot of extreme and splatterpunk horror. I might be desensitized to certain things by now. But this story – and I am not saying this lightly – is the darkest short story I have ever read. In fact, currently it falls in the top 3 darkest STORIES I have ever read.
If you are familiar with either THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Jack Ketchum or WHAT GOOD GIRLS DO by Jonathan Butcher, this one is right up there with them. It rips your insides to shreds and you feel not only sick afterwards but sickened.
I CAN NOT STATE THIS STRONGLY ENOUGH:
If you are not an extreme horror or splatterpunk fan, who’ve got some experience under your belt with the genre, DO NOT read this one. It WILL upset you. Fuck, I am seasoned, and it upset me. Don’t try to be a hero, it is not going to work. Just enjoy the rest of the book, because it is a great read.
by Duncan Ralston
How do you follow up something like WOOM, which has become a cult classic as of late?
Well, you don’t try to rewrite it, for one, and you don’t try to out-gross or out-sick it, because the people will expect that. Any copy can never be as good as the original – if it exceeded expectations – and quality should outsell quantity.
In the writing business, which is damn hard anyway, there is nothing more valuable than a good reputation. Once you lose readers, the chances of getting them back is small to none. And for indie authors, word of mouth is worth more than gold.
Well, Duncan Ralston has navigated the minefield of possible mistakes with a new entry in the WOOM universe, and GROSS OUT is my favorite book of the year so far. While he actually toned down on the ‘gross’ factor (there’s still some things that might disgust you, don’t worry), the story is entertaining and hilarious.
The setting is an author convention called Splatterfest, for obvious reasons, and it builds to a climax during the Gross Out Contest at the end of the weekend. And you get all kinds of different characters – if any author sees themselves in these characters, it’s on you, not Ralston – who attends: Some are famous, some are struggling, most are insecure about SOMETHING, and nearly all of them have an agenda…revenge being one of the most prominent.
Which means only one thing: During the Gross Out Contest, the shit will hit the fan.
I absolutely LOVED this story. There is not a single thing that didn’t work for me – style, pace, humor, gore, emotion and even the romantic part. In fact, I think this story might be better than WOOM because it is so hugely entertaining.
I recommend this to ALL horror fans!
One Last Shindig
by Mark Towse
Would it be better or worse to be trapped on a tour bus with old people when the world comes to an end?
You have to give it to them: In order to reach the age they are, they have to be resilient, at the very least. Sure, they may be slow, loud, stubborn, and smell a little funny, but so are babies…and if you think about it, you don’t have to carry them everywhere or be judged a bad parent. That’s right, I said it. It doesn’t matter if the world comes to an end, some people will still be judgmental as fuck.
But these old geezers decided to make their final stand and have one last shindig – go out with style! Or will their years of experience actually pull them through what seems to be a hopeless situation?
This story is fun and clever, with a few chuckles when you see someone you actually know in some of these characters. You are not going to figure this one out until the author is good and ready to reveal it.
The bonus novella: Watch Me Fly –
I have to admit, this one had me rolling on the floor. In a very pessimistic way, this might actually be exactly what it would be like to be a superhero in today’s world.
Overall, a very enjoyable read, though I think the bonus novella actually surpasses the main story in entertainment value.
A very solid 4 stars.
by Aron Beauregard
Aron Beauregard brings you another tale of depravity and gore that pushes the boundaries – as we’ve come to expect.
And in this one he addresses one of the modern problems to have reared its ugly head with technology – the internet and the anonymity it promises. For people of a certain age – those who grew up in the real world – the world is fast becoming a place we can’t possibly understand.
I saw a post the other day that said:
“Do y’all remember, before the internet, that people thought the cause of stupidity was the lack of access to information?
Yeah. It wasn’t that.”
And one of the biggest problems I can see in the world today is simple:
Without going political – what do you expect if you look at the so-called leaders in the world? They can lie, cheat, steal and simply deny, because who will hold them responsible? And with the things happening in Europe at the moment – I am stunned that people still refuse to believe what is shown to them. How fucking stupid are you?
Enough of that – sorry.
MODERN HYSTERIA is about ‘The Dropout Challenge’ – Beauregard’s version of something like ‘The Blue Whale Challenge’ – where desperate, lonely youths are brainwashed into self-harm and even suicide. (I can recommend the essay which is exclusively available in the hardcover edition of this story).
I am not going to rehash the story here – lots of brutal shit goes down – but I want to point out how the question is raised in this one of accountability. When I was a kid, if I disrespected someone or did something I shouldn’t (this includes common human decency), I got my ass kicked. There weren’t cameras all around to ‘protect’ me and I learned about respect. There was nothing to hide behind.
These days, people can say and do just about anything, because they have the ‘right’? Bullshit! We are doing more harm than good. If a kid calls an adult an asshole because they couldn’t get their way, they need to be taught how the world really works. I’m not saying beat them to death (almost certainly not), but if they are not held accountable, they will only get worse. What will demotivate them?
And the most surprising thing I learned was that there are actually no laws that protect people from this kind of online abuse. Even if they find the person responsible for one of these ‘challenges’ where people lose their life, they can’t be held directly responsible because…
Like I said – the world is turning into a place I don’t understand. As a parent, it is scary to think that my child might someday be susceptible to this, and even scarier to think of the things I can’t even imagine that will come across his path.
Are we really heading in the right direction or are we producing the kind of humans that will be the downfall of humanity? I guess only time will tell.
Great story, from a great storyteller.
The Clown Hunt
by Judith Sonnet
Does anybody really like clowns?
I have this traumatic memory from when I was a child. Big crazy hair, tons of make-up and colorful clothes. You see, Aunt Edna was what they called eccentric, and I was too young to remember much beyond the family gatherings where she would lube her lips up with her tongue before she bent you over like a stapler, planting a gross kiss on your mouth.
Do I associate her with clowns? I don’t know. All I know is that clowns have always made me uncomfortable. Grown ass people disguising themselves to be among kids is just not something I get.
Well, there are others who don’t like clowns. Much more than me. In fact, there are even some that abducted clowns for the sole purpose of hunting, torturing and killing them. Do they deserve it? Well, maybe not – I mean, if you knew the clown personally, it might be a whole different story, but violence is never the answer.
Until it is.
Sonnet has written a very good extreme story here. But don’t write her off as someone who tries to shock people because she lacks the skills to write well. This lady has got talent, and she does some serious character development before the shit truly hits the fan.
And, it is quite clear to see how she was inspired by Jon Athan and Aron Beauregard on the brutality scale as well.
Now, I will address this in this review, simply because people can be total assholes. The main character is gay, but this is not the kind of story that pushes a political agenda. This is an extreme horror story, regardless of the background. And in this community, most readers are much more open to differences - as long as the story delivers what it promises. Don’t allow prejudice to ruin the experience, because this author will surprise you.
4 Brutal stars!
Haunt of Southern Fried Fear
by Ronald Kelly
Man, it has been a while since I’ve read one of these types of horror books.
Where the author doesn’t try to scare you to death, but creates this eerie atmosphere.
And even though Ronald Kelly won a splatterpunk award last year, nothing about this falls into the extreme or splatterpunk categories. This is straight-up make you uncomfortable horror. And for the few horror readers who doesn’t know Mr. Kelly’s work – he does it damn well.
So what scares you – other than ghosts? Scarecrows…rollercoasters…clowns…dolls…spiders…drains…being chased by a light in a dark tunnel? Do you perhaps suffer from lygophobia?
Can we cover ghost hunting, slavery, a sawmill, prison, a wooden horse, a furnace, a mine, Vanilla Musk and lots of other things with the central theme being ghosts and hauntings? Why, yes. Yes, we can…and we will.
As a constant reader, I know there are many skills that can be developed by writers who hone their craft through the years. However, there are only a few who has this natural talent for telling a story in a way that puts you THERE.
I read my first Stephen King book in 1988. I can still tell you most of what happens in that story. And while I have never been in Bangor, Maine, or even the USA, I was always THERE in his stories. Like it was a part of my life that I had lived. Ronald Kelly does the same with his Southern stories. I have never shucked corn, been to a barn dance or done any square dancing, nor have I chewed tobacco. I have never said things like “homemade fixings” or “I don’t rightly know”. But in this collection of stories, I was THERE. I was a part of it.
Hell, who else can use the phrase “…to be a doctor or lawyer or such,” with a straight face without quoting the song?
I can recommend this book to horror readers who enjoy atmosphere above gore, and even to some who might not be into horror but appreciates a story well written.
5 Laid-back Southern Stars!
RESTLESS VOID is the second book in the planned three-part DIGITAL DARKNESS series, where Lucas Mangum is pulling some of his previous work into the same universe.
The best description I can think of is that this is a techno horror – let’s say THE MATRIX with a supernatural element. It’s a little hard for me to rate it on an ‘extreme’ scale, though – THE GODS OF THE DARK WEB had such a shockingly sick scene – still one of the top five sickest scenes I’ve read – that this entry feels much tamer in comparison.
What has become quite clear is that Mr. Mangum has evolved a lot as a writer since his first published book and can start relying more on the strength of the story and his writing skill rather than pushing the splatter side.
So, in this story:
Tanya is a vlogger.
Okay, for those of you who are a certain age, allow me to explain. A vlogger is someone who makes video blogs and posts it on the internet. These are the people who has the looks and charisma to appear on camera, so they provide content – either created by themselves or clever people who lacks the first two qualities – for fans all over the world.
As a side note, I just need to add that most of the youth today THINK they have it, so there are millions of vloggers out there, which means you can get the biggest shit your fragile little mind never even considered to be taken as fact. There are, however, some who knows what they are doing. And Tanya is one of the latter.
She has a show on mysterious disappearances. And a chance meeting with a stranger sends her down a rabbit whole where the consequences are dire and escape might be impossible.
And that’s where I am going to stop. You are on your own from there.
My thoughts on this story is that it is very well written and the people who loves techno will devour this. However, there are two things I need to point out.
The first is that this should be read in order. If you haven’t read the first book, you will more than likely become totally lost in this strange, upside down world.
The second is that this story has a complexity that needs your full attention. If your mind drifts for two pages, you will be lost and will have to backtrack to catch up again.
Overall, a really good book, which should tie together the series.
4 Solid Stars
by Daniel Volpe
“I was born in the wrong place at the wrong time
For the wrong reasons and the wrong rhyme
On the wrong day of the wrong week
I used the wrong method with the wrong technique.”
WRONG – Depeche Mode
That song kept running through my head as I read the latest offering by Daniel J. Volpe – ONLY PSYCHOS. Many different characters will come together during a snowstorm to create, well, this cuckery.
Think of it this way: It is an amalgamation of bad people, with bad habits and bad intentions, in a bad place, with bad karma, on a bad night, with bad consequences.
The mother who is trying to protect her children, the teenagers who became porn stars, the serial killer, the guy on the run, the sick family with dark secrets…all make for a wonderful Christmas movie for the whole family to enjoy in the middle of the night –
My personal preference when it comes to horror is usually the non-supernatural kind, where the people are the real monsters and shit just gets as real as it possibly can. Volpe delivers this in spades in this semi-claustrophobic tale of chaos and slaughter, where nobody is safe and survival is not guaranteed.
Splatterpunk at its very best!
The Night Road
by Kevin Lucia
Have you heard about ‘runner’s high’?
Apparently, there are some people who experience a high when they are running. Me? Not so much. I ran long distance when I was a kid. Had asthma and the doctor recommended it to my parents. Of course, I didn’t want to, but I wasn’t given a choice.
I did this for about three years, at least twice a week. Never got that high. Sometimes it makes me wonder what is wrong with me, other times I think it’s a form of self-hypnosis. You manage to convince yourself that something is what you want it to be. Like those who tell me about ‘delicious broccoli’…
Anyway, Kevin Lucia is a clean writer, you can see he takes his craft seriously and does his job well. Unfortunately, I couldn’t relate to the main character in this story. A female runner. The story is not bad at all, I just felt disconnected. Which is also a little strange. I have lost people close to me and I have felt guilt and sorrow, so that part spoke to me, but the way she acted was more of an intellectual exercise for me.
Which leaves me in a bit of a bind. How do I rate this one?
While there is a very strong message in this one and the story was well written, the fact that I couldn’t relate to the character made me want to feel more than I actually felt. And there will be people who will be sucked in and broken by this, there is no doubt in my mind that this one will have impact on the right audience.
So, I am going to push it up from 3 stars (my opinion) to 4 stars, simply because I want to recommend this to those who like the feels in their horror. It will devastate some and I can recognize the power of the story.
Also, I will be reading this author again in the future.
by Ryan Harding & Jason Taverner
Slasher horror is impactful, balls to the wall blood and gore, high energy carnage. Sadly, if you’ve read enough of these stories, the impact fades and it can become predictable. So, when you come across something that feels original, it brings back the excitement and love of the horror genre.
REINCARNAGE by Ryan Harding and Jason Taverner gets a re-incarnation from Death’s Head Press, and it brings something different to the table. Instead of a nameless killer surprising unsuspecting victims, all the information is out there in the open.
Everyone knows Agent Orange is the killer and everyone knows they are being hunted. Everyone knows he is not human and everyone knows that, while he can be killed, he will come back to continue his destruction.
And when a group of strangers wakes up in the Kill Zone – a section cordoned off from the public and meant to keep the killer inside by the government – the only thing they should be worried about is trying to survive. They do not know why they were chosen, but they will have to do everything in their power to survive long enough to be extracted from the area.
But will they be extracted? Couldn’t it be the government who’ve put them there in the first place, for some kind of secret experiment? If help wasn’t coming, was there any hope of survival? Could they kill Agent Orange themselves?
This book is one very long adrenaline rush. The action is non-stop, the kills are brutal and the descriptions vivid.
You have to like your horror extreme to get through this one, but fans will enjoy the ride.
Road Kill Anthology
Texas Horror by Texas Writers, V6
I have a confession to make.
When I got ROAD KILL to read for a review, I gave an internal sigh and thought of it as homework. The cover does less than nothing for me – an avid horror reader – and it looked kind of childish. Then I opened it to see how many of the writers I knew.
Three. Out of seventeen.
Another internal sigh. This was clearly a case of some unknown writers who got the opportunity to be in an anthology with a few known ones, and they were all hoping the bigger names will be enough to sell well. Don’t get me wrong, I support unknown authors all the time, but in a lot of cases the work is not always as polished as it should be.
Then some unplanned work came my way and I pushed it aside.
Later, when my schedule was cleared, I decided I had to go back to this one – I hate making commitments I can’t keep. I did not give another internal sigh, because that would just make me a drama queen. However, I went into this one expecting to feel like I’m wasting my time.
Well, indie horror readers should probably know Patrick Harrison III, Stephen Graham Jones and Jeremy Hepler – if they haven’t read them, they’ve most likely come across the names a few times. And, as expected, the three of them had very solid stories.
However, with the first story – THE TEETH by Jacklyn Baker – I got sucked in and by the end of it, she’d knocked the teeth out of my disinterest by curb-stomping my preconception. That story kicked ass! And the more I read, the more impressed I became. These authors are not beginners by a long shot.
ROAD KILL is one of those “don’t-judge-a-book-by-it’s-cover” cases and I can tell you this one is worth your time. The stories are all either good or great, and more of them the latter. In fact, I want to highlight THE CHICKENS THAT ARE NOT HER CHICKENS by Mario E. Martinez as my favorite in this one.
Horror fans, do yourself a favor and look this one up. You can thank me later.
by Aron Beauregard
From the darkest corners of one of the darkest minds working in extreme horror today, comes these scraps, morsels and crumbs of depravity to blow you away.
NIGHTMARE NIRVANA is a homage to dark thoughts, sinister intentions and macabre situations, and if you know Mr. Beauregard by now, you can expect the usual dark art to accompany these 18 stories of morbid scenarios.
What is worse: Going to the gyne or the dentist?
What’s more difficult to bake: The perfect pie or a baby?
Which job is harder: Magician, truck driver, mechanic or stripper?
Are you a hero or a shitter? And which is worse off?
How fake is professional wrestling?
So many questions, and the author will answer them unapologetically. It may not be what you want to hear, and it certainly will not be what you expect – but that’s why we buy this guy’s books, isn’t it?
To the many whose attraction and fascination with the darker side of life gets frowned upon by those deemed ‘normal’ by society…welcome to Nirvana!
Recommended to extreme and splatterpunk fans.
Published by Potter's Grove Press
There may not be a lot of people in the world who knows the name – before this book, of course – but in the small community of splatterpunk and extreme horror, he’s become the number one fan.
Yes, that is actually his face on the cover. But if you think he’s a big, old teddy bear because he is so hairy and his eyes are so docile, you are sorely mistaken. He’s probably high as fuck right now, which gives him that gentle look. And his taste in reading material can be downright brutal! But, guys and girls, I enjoy this guy because he is funny as hell.
I don’t know Brad well, but we do communicate from time to time on social media. On New Year’s Eve, I sent a recorded message of my son wishing everybody a happy New Year to a few of my FB friends. This was Brad’s response (verbatim):
“WOOT, Hey little dude! Thanks! To celebrate the new year, hide your dad’s wallet & keys! It’s HILARIOUS.”
And that about sums up the character of the man on which this great honor has been bestowed.
Which brings me to my next thought:
How fucking awesome is this? The authors in this anthology is either well established or rising Indie authors. They dedicated HOURS of their busy lives and full schedules to this – to thank a SINGLE fan of their work. Can you think of any other place in the world where this could happen?
As I mentioned before, it is a small community. And we have some fucking weirdo’s, believe you me. You wouldn’t invite The Professor to a yoga class. Or McHardy and Hawker to your next orgy – hey, you just know those guys will show up with a spatula and a Sudoku puzzle, and an inventive way to use them…
But here’s the thing: Most of us are open minded and ACCEPTS others with their quirks. Extreme is all about pushing boundaries, so you have to have the right mentality to want to explore it. We are not all Black Metal, blood drinking, masochistic sex fiends (I can’t speak for Bedlam…), but we won’t judge you if you are.
For the judgmental types who are reading this, it was a joke, I like Elizabeth a lot…and don’t judge her at all…;)
So, to all the authors who participated in this anthology, you did something incredible – and most of you are super people!
Well, you can go from Werewolf to Wendigo within a few pages, the gross-out kings might surprise you by not grossing you out, but Caffery will – with a smile on your face. You might even find a Mad Max/Hunger Games/Texas Chainsaw Massacre combination which works surprisingly well.
I will be honest and say there are two stories which didn’t do it for me, but that still leaves about 85% motivation to buy and read this one.
I want to end this with the highlight of this anthology for me:
The Narrow Path by River Dixon.
For those who don’t know this author, he has the heart of a poet. More important, though, he has the skill to back up his writing. It is nearly impossible to describe how he manages to tell you exactly what happened without giving you any details. And due to the heavy subject matter, I think it is one of the most brutal psychological horror shorts I have read in a long time. This story alone is worth the price of this anthology.
Recommended to the extreme/splatterpunk crowd – you know who you are, you sick fucks!
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
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.
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
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
Mort Report Extra Feature:
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…
Book Cover for We Need to Do Something
by Max Booth, III
by Tim Eagle
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
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.
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.
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.
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…
Chris Miller, yours is…
A CHEERLEADER MOM’S DIAMONDS!
Ruthann Jagge, you get…
A BLACK BIRD!
Jeff Strand, close your mouth and collect your…
Aron Beauregard, you seem to be the lucky winner of…
Carver Pike, yours is…
Patrick C. Harrison III, wow, I don’t know how you are going to use…
Lee Franklin, can you use…
Kenzie Jennings, you better watch out because yours is…
Daniel Volpe, what in the world will you do with your combination of…
CINNAMON and FIRE!
Rowland Bercy Jr., you get…
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…
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!
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.