Saturday, May 31, 2014

In the House of the Worm by George R.R. Martin

This novella is a fine example of dark fantasy. The imagery is rich and weird and disturbing. It's a mix of horror and adventure that's claustrophobic, atmospheric, and gross. The terror of being lost in darkness, inside an underground maze, with hundreds of hungry slimy creatures swarming all around is perfectly invoked.

Imagine H.R. Giger building the world for and illustrating a tabletop role-playing game source book.

Concrete Gods by Harry Shannon & Kealan Patrick Burke

Reading this was like stumbling onto a really cool concept in a great artist's sketchbook. Yes, of course, it's rough and not entirely fleshed out, but it's still cool as shit.

The Damage Done by Mark Matthews

I saw where this one was going. But I don't know if I could say it was predictable, because it went where I wanted it to go and where I would have went with it.

I like stories about drug addicts and addiction. This story had a healthy amount of griminess, too, which I'm fond of.

You can grab this sucker free from Amazon, if you'd like.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Zombie Dash by Mark Matthews

First off, I'm not a zombie guy. I picked this one up because it was free, and I wanted to see if the author would avoid the most obvious thing in the world he could possibly do: include real zombies in an event featuring fake zombies. Sadly, he went down the obvious path, and this was a rather large strike against this piece for me.

The story had a cluster of glaring problems that a proofreader could have fixed. 'Feel' is used when 'fell' is meant. People 'flayed' instead of 'flailed.' That sort of thing. Now this wasn't a consistent problem throughout (not that I noticed, anyway). It kind of seemed like there was a chunk of errors when things really started getting scary. Maybe the proofreader had to look away?

The storytelling on display here isn't bad and the typos aren't of the 'so maddening that you need to pull out your hair' variety. So, I certainly wouldn't try to dissuade zombie guys and gals from reading this. Not that I could, anyway.

Here you go zombie people, click here for the free download on Amazon.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wicked Smart Carnie by Mark Matthews

I'm partial to stories about carnivals and carnies and creepy sex and cribs filled with...

You're just going to have to read this one.

You can grab the Kindle Edition free from Amazon.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Music of the Gods by Richard Schiver

I enjoyed this more than I did Schiver's Bobo (reviewed here). This one was much freer with the concrete details and had a much clearer narrative through line. However, its overall impact was marred by some unrealistic dialogue, a storytelling cheat, and a predictable and cliched ending. Many of these sins could have been forgiven had the otherworldly aspects been more inventive, more intriguing.

Like Bobo, this looks to be permafree on Amazon.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Bobo by Richard Schiver

I liked all the elements that made up this story, but I didn't much care for the execution. I understand that the protagonist was mentally unstable and that maybe the author was trying to emulate that with the storytelling techniques employed, but it didn't work for me. Following this story was as tricky as building a sandcastle on top of a giant block of Jello after both hands have been bitten off by a shark. (Okay, that bit about the shark is an exaggeration.)

But this is one that folks will likely be divided on. And it looks like Bobo might be permafree on the old Amazon. So, you can grab it and give it a go, if you're one to gobble up stories about creepy clowns no matter what.

Monday, May 26, 2014

A Modest Collection of Slightly Shocking Fairy Tales by Richard McGowan

Of the works I've read thus far by Richard McGowan, this is my favorite. He's perfectly nailed the standard narrative voice of the fairy tale and has ratcheted up the cruelty and brutality so often found in tales of this type to a dizzying extreme. Although the title of this little collection claims that the stories to be found therein will be slightly shocking, I'd guess that most people would find them to be rather shocking, or exceedingly shocking. These pieces are chock-full of taboo sex, twisted violence, and countless scenes of pitch-perfect insanity.

Note: I received a free copy of this book from the author on a random day when he was giving books away. No arrangement was made to read this in exchange for a review.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

To Read or Not to Read by Vincent Hobbes

This story was entertaining enough, a pleasant read, like something you'd find in an old dusty anthology of twisted tales published in the 1960s. I enjoyed it despite the predictable ending, a few awkward turns of phrase, and the giggling female protagonist. She's a weary, 32 year-old mother of three boys and giggles non-stop throughout this thing like some simpering ninny you'd find in a Strawberry Shortcake cartoon. Odd.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Microchip Murder by Martyn V. Halm

There's something satisfying about watching an exceedingly competent professional at work. With these Katla KillFile shorts, I get the same gee-whiz feeling I get when watching a documentary showing master craftsmen building things, anything.

This was a good read, but I liked "Locked Room" more. The overabundance of location and street name details bogged this one down some for me.

Also, with this story, you get a greater sense that Katla really is an all-business, cold-blooded killer. That's not a criticism, by the way. But some people might be put off by how she dispatches her rather sympathetic target in this mission.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

What the Dark Brings by Edward Lorn

If you like short short stories, you'll really like this collection. Short shorts are exceedingly hard to write, and Mr. Lorn seems to have a real knack for them.

This book has 22 stories crammed into 145 pages!

Lorn is primarily thought of as a horror writer, but the bulk of the stories to be found here are more quirky and bizarre, not so much out-and-out horror. There are some straight up horror pieces near the end (including the three bonus stories), but I enjoyed the somewhat lighter, funkier pieces more.

My favorites include:

"A Purchase of Titanic Proportions"
"What the Dark Brings"
"He's Got Issues"
"That Thing about a Picture and a Thousand Words"
"He Who Laughs Last"
"The Attraction"
"Come to Jesus Meeting"

Well, it seems I've listed nearly half the stories as favorites. That should tell you something.

Full Disclosure: I received an electronic copy of this book from the author as a gift. I was under no obligation to read or review it.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Chuggie and the Fish Freaks of Farheath by Brent Michael Kelley

I would guess that Kelley wrote this after Chuggie and the Desecration of Stagwater. It seems to me that he's come to grips in a major way with what makes the Chuggie character work, and this mastery came after spending an entire novel figuring everything out. Chuggie, the drunken, cocky embodiment of drought, comes off as fully formed here, perfectly related in short order, and I don't really think this has much to do with me having read Stagwater first. I think Chuggie's voice is second-nature to Kelley now, and he's just having a lot of fun.

This was a fine short piece with wonderful illustrations (by the author?). I really like an illustrated book.

Seeker by Ade Grant

Seeker is a slim collection of six short stories. It doesn't look to have gotten much attention since its release, which is kind of surprising to me. Yeah, it's a bit rough around the edges, meaning it could have stood another round of proofreading, but the writing and storytelling to be found here is pretty darn fine, if you ask me.

Oddly enough, I found the titular story the least interesting of the bunch. It served as a decent enough jumping off point. But if it had been a bit more of a gut punch, I likely wouldn't have set the book down when I saw the second story was a Christmas story. I'm not fond of Christmas stories, especially not in January. Don't ask me why I set it aside and just didn't immediately skip it and read the rest, which I eventually came back months later to do. I have no rational reason for this. And now that I've finished the stories, and put off "Three Ghosts" (the fucking Christmas story!) till last, I'm forced to say it's tied for my favorite of the bunch. Another strike it had against it was that it was told from a overly familiar omniscient viewpoint. But, once I got into it, and saw where it was going and eventually where it went, I was more than pleasantly surprised. There are some wonderful ideas and imagery crammed into this piece, along with a good helping of dark humor. Very well done.

The story "Three Ghosts" is tied with as my favorite from the collection is a post-apocalyptic tale called "The Couch." I wish I could tell you why I liked this one so much. I want so badly to tell you...

All right. The other stories:

"The Abortionist" - Easily the darkest and perhaps gutsiest piece. This is a first-person tale told from the viewpoint of a hitman who specializes in the assassination of small children. Yeah, you read that right.

"Sausages" - Although I enjoyed this story, I think what it eventually morphs into would be more immediately appealing to English folks who are far more likely to catch the cultural reference crucial to its understanding. I got the basics, but had to do a bit of research to fill in some of the pieces.

"The Secret Junction" - I liked this one quite a lot. A Bangkok taxi driver discovers a secret shortcut that saves him a great deal of time and earns him a small fortune. I only wish this would have been twice as long and that it delved deeper into the true nature of the shortcut.

Seeker is the second book I've read my Mr. Grant (the first being the exceedingly grim dark fantasy, The Mariner), and I'm looking forward to reading a third.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Peeler by Gord Rollo

Peeler is a cool character and this is a pretty cool little story. I really liked the main villain's back-story in this and the ending was pretty great. Also, this piece takes place in an asylum, and I'm a sucker for a good asylum story. I thought the writing wasn't as clear as it could have been at times, and found myself re-reading sentences here and there to try to decipher their meanings. I also found some of the procedures at the institution less than believable, the kind of reality bending that exists chiefly to get one character in the right place to interact with another character. I think the only way the author would been able to get around this would be to give the protagonist a totally different job at the asylum.

Don't let my persnickety comments above stop you from giving this a try. I'm pretty sure you can grab this risk-free ($0.00) from the Amazon at any given time.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Harmlessly Insane by The Light Brothers

Full disclosure: I kinda-sorta know the Light brothers. We've never met face-to-face, but we've had numerous online interactions. I'd go so far as to say that I consider them to be two good Internet pals of mine. I don't believe the feeling is mutual, really. But that's beside the point.

What I'm trying to get at is that if any of the above causes you to dismiss this review as biased, so be it. Don't read onward. I'm OK with that.

All right, here's the setup: I've been kicking the idea around for a while now to write a 'bro v. bro' review of the Light brothers' short stories. Who doesn't like a good fight between siblings held in a public space? So, when I saw that the Light brothers put out Harmlessly Insane, a collection of all their stories in one massive volume, I wrote to Evans and told him about my 'bro v. bro' idea and asked him when the eBook version would be released. (I prefer to read eBooks now. Shut up. I've got my reasons.) He told me that they had no immediate plans for releasing this collection in eBook format but that he'd be happy to send me a trade paperback edition for free.

I accepted this offer, even though I was reluctant to provide the author of "Don't Need No Water" with my mailing address. Don't worry. I have shown my wife, kids, and neighbors his photograph, just in case.

Again, readers, if you'd like to dismiss this review as biased because I received a rather handsome (signed) trade paperback edition of the book in the mail for free, so be it. Don't read any further.

Everyone else, get some coffee (or your beverage of choice) and settle in.

My original intent for this review was to have each story serve as a metaphorical blow in a knock-down, drag-out fight between the Light brothers. "Crawlspace" would be an ineffectual bitch-slap that Adam easily shrugs off. "Taken" would be a brass-knuckled punch that would leave Evans with one less tooth in his mouth. You get the idea.

Unfortunately, when I received Harmlessly Insane in the mail, I quickly noticed that my dream of depicting a fair (but satisfyingly gruesome) fight between the Light brothers was not to be. You see, Evans has nearly twice as many stories in this anthology as Adam. Evans's material takes up approximately 2/3 of the page count!

If I went with my original concept, half the fight would just be Adam lying prone while Evans kicks the shit out of him, bludgeoning him with random household objects, torturing him relentlessly until he finally gets bored and delivers the fatal curb stomp that ends it all. And no one wants to see that. At least, I don't think they do. OK, Evans might.

So, what I'm left with is a rather run-of-the-mill rundown of the stories in this volume with my brief thoughts on each, along with star ratings. I usually don't bother with star ratings when reviewing an anthology, but since this review was originally conceived as a bloody fight, I wanted to see who comes out on top.

"Crawlspace" (Stars: 2.5) - I read this one a while back and here's what I had to say about it then: "This story needed another round of edits. Some sentences were horribly broken, some metaphors were way overblown. Did the door to the crawlspace open inward or outward? There seemed to be some confusion in the text about this somewhat important detail. The story itself wasn't bad. Just needed some polish." (Note: Based on the reviews I've read of this one, most people really dig this story. And of the ones who didn't like it, they generally cited the ending as the reason why. However, I really liked the ending. Go figure.)

"Whatever Possessed You?" (Stars: 3.5) - This was some good, solid Tales from the Crypt-style fun.

"Gertrude" (Stars: 3.75) - There is a collection of lines in this story that are repeated throughout. I really liked this particular aspect of the story, and this lifted this rather short piece up into my list of favorites from this collection. However, I did find some particular police procedural aspects of the story a bit less than believable.

"Aboreatum" (Stars: 4.75) - This is the best Evans Light story in this collection and the best story overall. I'm probably alone in this, but I really enjoyed the extended creek mud ingestion section in the beginning of the tale. This story had some great imagery, humor, and a huge dose of wickedness. The only thing keeping this from rating 5 stars is that a character goes missing at one point. You can piece together what happens to this character on your own, but leaving this character's fate up to the reader to decide makes the lead character seem like kind of an asshole. And I don't believe this was the author's intent.

"Nose Hears" (Stars: 3.75) - I rather enjoyed this one. It's not really a horror piece. It fits more into the Bizarro category. (Keep that in mind when you pick this collection up. There are some off-the-wall Bizarro-style stories mixed in with the horror.) The very last line of this one is a groaner. You've been warned.

"The Mole People Beneath the City" (Stars: 3.5) - This is another fun piece. I think most folks will see where this one is going, but that really doesn't detract much at all from the enjoyment.

"Cry Baby" (Stars: 3.5) - A creepy tale concerning night terrors. Again, the ending's a bit predictable, but I think parents will find this tale particularly discomforting.

"Pay Back" (Stars: 4.25) - This is another story I'd place in the Bizarro category. This is one of my favorites. Evans does a fine job of painting a portrait of a despicable character. This one is crude, gross, over-top-top, ridiculous, and ultimately very satisfying. Some would call this satire. I call it farce. (Note: Based on reviews I've read, I'm sharing the minority opinion on this one. But I think this is largely due to reader expectations.)

"Curtains for Love" (Stars: 4.25) - This is a fine ghost story. Evans provides an alternate ending to this one in his end notes. I'm torn on which one I liked better. They're both quite good.

"Don't Need No Water" (Stars: 4.5) - This story is lean, mean-spirited, gruesome, fast-paced, and quite tense. This would have rated a solid 5 stars were it not for the too convenient placement of a particular object that I believe served mostly to get the author out of a tight spot. Another solution could have been found that would have seemed more believable to me.

"Candie Apple" (Stars: 3.5) - Yeah, yeah, I knew where this was going, but I'm still glad it went there. This would have rated much higher had the tragic event central to the story been moved to a more believable location.

"The Package" (Stars: 3.5) - Another winning Bizarro tale. I had a lot of fun seeing how the author weaved Joe R. Lansdale novel and story titles throughout the narrative. He did a fine job of making these allusions not seem forced.

"Black Door" (Stars: 3.75) - This piece was suitable for its intended, younger audience, and sufficiently creepy. The ending borders on the cliched, but I did really like what lies behind the black door quite a lot.

I've done the math, and it appears that the Evans Light section of Harmlessly Insane comes in at 3.8 stars. However, based on the fact that he provides story notes after almost every story, something I'm quite fond of, that rating gets bumped up to a very solid 4 stars.

"Taken" (Stars: 3.75) - With "Taken," Adam kicks off his section of Harmlessly Insane with a solid starter. I liked the hapless villain, the victim who refuses to be victimized, and I really liked Dianne. Mmm, mmm, Dianne.

"Tommy Rotten" (Stars: 2.5) - This Halloween tale seemed a bit rushed to me and cluttered up with too many secondary characters.

"Way Out of Here" (Stars: 4) - This was my favorite of the Adam Light stories. This isn't horror, it's Bizarro. It's some good trippy, goofy fun.

"Gone" (Stars: 2.5) - This one was entertaining enough, but the cliched ending keeps it from being truly satisfying.

"Serving Spirits" (Stars: 3.25) - This story had great potential to be Adam's flagship piece for this collection. It had an almost Hitchcockian setup. It felt like an homage to horror stories of days gone by with the well-to-do, drunk couple whose marriage is on the rocks. I liked the supernatural element. It has goodly amounts of sex and violence, which I always find pleasant. However, the overall impact of this story was greatly compromised by some uneven writing and editing issues that I just couldn't ignore. I think if this story underwent some surgery, it could wind up being the equal of Evans's "Aboreatum."

"Vengence by the Foot" (Stars: 3) - All I can say is that this was some good, dopey fun. I would love to see this one as a short film. It has some great slapstick moments.

"The Continuance Agency" (Stars: 3.75) - Adam ends his section of Harmlessly Insane on a high note with "The Continuance Agency." This is solid post-apocalyptic SF with plenty of nastiness to satisfy the horror fans. The ending left me a little cold, but I understand this is part of a series, so I don't think I can be too down on it. However, I would like to see where this is going. So, you know, hurry up with part two, Adam.

The Adam Light section comes in at a solid 3.25 stars. And he gets no bonus points because none of his stories were followed by story notes. I say 'BOO' to that. Maybe I'll get some in volume two? I hope so.

Based on my reading, I'd say the outcome of this brother versus brother war of words would be very much like the ending of Freddy v. Jason (where Evans is Jason and Adam is Freddy), and we'd see Evans emerging from Crystal Lake holding Adam's severed head in his hand.

As a whole, I had great fun reading this book. It was like gorging myself on alternating Tales from the Crypt, Monsters, Tales from the
Darkside, Twilight Zone, and Outer Limits episodes.

Overall star rating: 3.6 rounded up to 4.0.

On a related note: I understand that the Light brothers are currently collaborating on a novel. After reading this collection, I'm eagerly looking forward to reading this. Their styles are similar enough that I'd imagine that the finished product will be nearly seamless. If they manage to imbue it with the same sense of macabre fun evident in this story collection, it should be quite the treat.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

No Such Thing by Edward Lorn

This short story had many of the Lorny things that make me like Lorn's stuff: character descriptions and situations that catch you by surprise and force a double-take, inventive violence, and crisp, forward-leaning writing. However, I just didn't buy several aspects of the ending. It didn't seem like enough time had elapsed for one character to do what he does. Two characters end up in another room seemingly for no other reason than it was more convenient for the story's reveal (though what's revealed is pretty great). And the main character's choice at the end just wasn't earned.

Overall, I'd say this was a fun chunk of good pulpy nonsense.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Short Stories & Only Short Stories

My mission to read only short stories this May in honor of National Short Story Month continues. Here are some more short stories I've read:

"Pay Back" by Evans Light
"Curtains for Love" by Evans Light
"Candie Apple" by Evans Light
"The Package" by Evans Light
"Black Door" by Evans Light
"The Sisters Who Gave the Devil His Due" by Richard McGowan
"How to Get Ahead by Kissing Frogs" by Richard McGowan
"The Awful Wages of Unbridled Lesbianism" by Richard McGowan
"Taken" by Adam Light
"Way Out of Here" by Adam Light

It's been a pretty good run thus far, I must say.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

2014 Locus Award Finalist: A Terror by Jeffrey Ford

My favorite author of short fiction, Jeffrey Ford, is a 2014 Locus Award finalist for his novelette A Terror.

You can read it for free at

Or, you can purchase a copy at

You should give it a read. It is National Short Story Month, after all.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

May is National Short Story Month!

I'm not sure who exactly had the power to make it so, but it looks like May is "National Short Story Month." To celebrate, I'll be reading nothing but short stories this month, and I'll be posting some brief thoughts about what I've read on this here blog.

Serendipitously, I just started reading a rather large anthology this month called Harmlessly Insane. It collects all of the short fiction published to date by horror authors and brothers Evans & Adam Light.

So far, I've read the following short stories:

"Whatever Possessed You?" by Evans Light
"Gertrude" by Evans Light
"Aboreatum" by Evans Light
"Nose Hears" by Evans Light
"The Mole People Beneath the City" by Evans Light
"Cry Baby" by Evans Light

I must say that I've been highly entertained so far.

Note: It looks like the Light brothers are holding a Goodreads Giveaway this month for Harmlessly Insane (ending May 13th). If you're a Goodreads person, you can enter to win a fat trade paperback copy.

Short Story Collections You Should Read

The Fantasy Writer's Assistant by Jeffrey Ford
The Empire of Ice Cream by Jeffrey Ford
Mad Dog Summer by Joe R. Lansdale
The Best of Lucius Shepard by Lucius Shepard
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3 by Clive Barker
Books of Blood, Vols. 4-6 by Clive Barker
Night Shift by Stephen King

Free Short Fiction by Jeffrey Ford

"The Prelate’s Commission" is in the Winter 2014 edition of Subterranean Press Magazine.
"Relic" at
"A Terror" at

Happy reading!

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Upon finishing this book I knew two things:

1) Its reputation in my mind would grow over time

2) I wanted to revisit it in the near future and give it another read (which is something I rarely even consider)

For me, it didn't have the visceral impact that many people report after reading it. I didn't find the book scary. In fact, some aspects I found rather silly, like the introduction of Mrs. Montague near the end of the book. She was such a broadly drawn caricature of a overbearing wife, and she seemed to go completely against the grain of the novel. But the more I thought about it, I realized she did have a purpose after all, and a crucial one. (To go into why I believe her appearance to be so important would spoil the book.) I also thought Dr. Montague was a pretty ridiculous character himself, and a truly pathetic paranormal investigator. He's shown measuring a single cold spot in the house, and for the rest of the novel he's just hanging out eating big meals, sipping brandy, and playing chess.

And, yes, I know that the Montagues and their investigations aren't what this book is all about. I understand that this is Eleanor's story, and that this novel's chief strength lies with this fascinating, well-drawn character. I found her relationship with Theodora more engrossing than any of the supernatural elements in the story. It was far more interesting to watch Shirley Jackson writing around lesbian sexuality. And I'm sure that someone somewhere has already made the case that it's this repressed, forbidden sexuality that's the true source of the psychic disturbances experienced at Hill House.

Did I think this was a fine ghost story? Yes. It also ended the way I like horror stories to end. I was very pleased in this regard. And, yes, yes, the writing was beautiful at times, especially the first and last paragraphs of the book. I do understand why this novel is considered a classic. But, I do have to admit that after my first reading, it didn't immediately land in my own personal list of classics.