darkfictionreviews

Emergence - Gary Fry I originally gave Gary Fry's Emergence four stars, but after a day or so of the story simmering in my thoughts, going over some of the themes, I had to move up to five stars. I even moved it into my favorites. Every time I think about Emergence, the more I like it.

Is Emergence a perfect story? No. It's not. No story is. Emergence is a slow burn with an ambiguous ending that I know will leave a bad taste in some people mouths. But not mine.

For me, the characters and, as mentioned, the themes touched me very deeply. Jack, who has just lost his wife, and his grandson are spending the week together in his house on the coast of northeast England. Both are experiencing similar problems with reading. Jack, who was an English teacher, is now having difficulty identifying words, while Paul, the grandson, is just learning to read and therefore suffers similar problems.

They wake up one morning to find a series cones that have been carved out on the beach sand. And the morning after that, an entire city.

What these have in common with the stumbling blocks of communication you will have to read for yourself. The fear of getting old, however, that existential horror of realization that your body will one day fail, perhaps is failing, is a fascination (more of a dark obsession) of mine. It kept me focused on not just where the story was taking me, but Jack's awesome characterization.

What we have here is a story of existential and cosmic horror that can be read easily in one sitting. Very well written. If you like the weird fiction of the early twentieth century with a modern sense of culture, then this story should be right up your alley. It certainly was mine. Highly recommended. I'm looking forward to reading more by this author.

Clockwork Dolls

Clockwork Dolls - William Meikle Dave Burns is a man living in his past. A past soaked with alcohol and regret and a ton of anger. We all know a guy like this. It's that arsehole who gets dramatic at parties when he's had too much to drink because he can't let go of an old flame and he brings everything and everyone down along with him. I think that a lot of us was this guy at least once in our lives. I certainly know that I was. Dave, however, is that guy full time. And he's terribly fun to watch.

This is just part of the brilliance of this story. And I'm not exaggerating when using the word brilliance. These characters are among the most realistic I have ever read. It could be because they come from my own life, or at least part of it.

And then there's the cosmos, a separate character all its own. When at a party with some old friends, Dave and party members are given the opportunity to throw a request to the cosmos by a woman, Dave's blind date incidentally, who is another person we all know. She's that girl who's into crystals and charms and magick that's spelled with a 'k'. She, of course, knows exactly how to do this, and for fun, they set to it.

Dave, being the bitter soul that he is, throws his request to the cosmos that sets off the events for the remainder of the story. And it is a strange story that would fit right in with the best of the weird tales of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Machan or Blackwood could have written this.

I highly recommended Clockwork Dolls. It's a short read that you could probably get done in a sitting or two. And you'll probably be stuck there, reading, until the story is done. What's even better is that Clockwork Dolls is the kind of story that nourishes your brain with its food for though. A well rounded story that I doubt you'll regret.

Children of No One

Children of No One - Nicole Cushing Children of No One is a great piece of weird literature. The problem for me, however, is that I felt that there should have been more, that this story could have been expanded upon a bit more. More importantly, I would have liked to have known the characters more.

But that's a really bitchy thing to complain about, isn't it? Because what this book is is an ode to all the great classic weird fiction that has had an incredible influence on horror fiction today. It also has a lot of philosophical food for thought and a fantastic setting: a new form of art that encapsulates human cruelty and a nihilistic way of experiencing life.

Children of No One is a fascinating novella that I highly recommend, but one that could have been so much more had we the chance to explore just a little further.

I'm really looking forward to see what Nicole Cushing is capable of presenting to us in the future.
Among Prey - Alan Ryker I was introduced to Alan Ryker through the DarkFuse Kindle club via his book The Hoard. What I liked most about that book were the characters. They were great, believable characters. So when DarkFuse sent me Among Prey, I thought I'd stop what I was reading at the time to fit this review in before the book's release date.

And I'm glad that I did.

My enjoyment of the characters in The Hoard is multiplied tenfold here. The story is told in four parts with the POV of four different characters. It is written in the third person, but each character comes off the page like a slap in the face, they're so real.

Amber is a doll maker for the more upper class of children. The dolls are custom made right there in the store, and the client, the child, has full control over how to create their doll. One day a 7 foot giant, Bobby, who has the mind of a small child comes in with his nurse. He makes a doll and then goes in once a week to make a new doll each time. This seems to make him happy, but Amber notices something wrong with the dolls the giant is creating.

Little girls are missing and their bodies, alive or dead, are never found. The dolls that Bobby makes looks just like the missing girls. they're even wearing what they were when they went missing.

It takes four characters to tell this story, and each one of them shine. My only problem is that an important character is introduced to the reader a little late and is therefore jarring. This could have been easily fixed with some edits, but it didn't really ruin the story for me.

Among Prey is more about the journey than it is the conclusion. Once you let the characters talk to you, letting the tell their story to its end, you'll be hypnotized and left wanting more.

Highly recommended! 4.5 stars and a new favorite.
Fevered Hills - Keith Deininger Fevered Hills by Keith Deininger is a difficult book for me to review. For one, I think that it's brilliant. The problem is, I'm not entirely sure why I feel this way. All I can say is that I really enjoyed what I read.

Martin, A sixteen year old soldier escapes and returns home hoping to reacquaint himself with his parents. Unfortunately, he finds nothing but an empty home and a garden that's overgrown, the livestock dead in their pens.

But the war will not let him go. The soldiers are coming and there's nowhere for him to go but the pit he's accidentally found himself fallen in, and the two strangers who live there.

Fevered Hills excels at showing the reader the horrors of war and its effects not only the people of the countryside, but the human psyche of those who've had to fight within it. There is a creature element to the story that, if anything, only added to the "horrors of war" aspect to the story for me.

What impressed me most, however, was the writing style. It resembles Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oats. It brings to mind The Road and The Slaughterhouse-Five. There's serious stuff happening in Fevered Hills that we need to pay attention to, because it speaks of what we're made of as humans. How none of us are innocent, that everyone has grey areas. And if you were to put a serious war in the middle of this, then this becomes an interesting character study.

To answer my own question, I guess that's what I liked best about the book. It's honesty and unflinching look at the human condition.

Because Fevered Hills is a haunted character study. And I can't wait until I read more by this gifted author.

Lilith

Lilith - Toby Tate Hunter Singleton and his wife Lisa are media guests on the USS Gerald Ford, one of the newest and biggest ships of the U.S. Navy. While on board, a hurricane forms quickly and is heading straight for New York City, and the Ford is ordered to go there immediately for aide and assistance.

This is where things start to go wrong. Men and woman, both the media guests and those in service, are not acting they're normal selves and it seems that someone is out to sabotage not only the USS Ford, but the entire mission.

This sweeps Hunter and Lisa along with members of the Ford's crew into a battle against a creature that is out to overtake humanity and rule the world.

While my description is poor and makes the book sound like it has a cookie-cutter plot, I can assure you that it does not. What fascinated me about Lilith was the creature-features, so to speak, along with the storm and its after-affects upon a large city.

What you have with Lilith is an adventure that doesn't require too much thought. Although meticulously researched, this book doesn't require much from the reader. Just plug in and enjoy the ride. Lilith is simply a hell of a fun story with great characters and, as I mentioned, an awesome monster. Reminded me a bit of Harry Shannon mixed with a little Clancy. Recommended!

The Rain Dancers

The Rain Dancers - Greg F. Gifune The Rain Dancers was a pleasant surprise. I have heard of Gifune's writing from the Goodreads group Horror Aficionados for some time now, but never really took the plunge. Recently, I joined the DarkFuse book club, and this is one of the novellas that I got for free for joining.

Getting the novella for free wasn't the pleasant surprise, though that was pleasant enough. No, what grounded me and got my head spinning was the great characterization and dialogue within this short, intense masterpiece.

Will and Betty return to Betty's hometown a year after her father's death to clean out his house and put it up for sale. On their first night a terrible rainstorm hits, and with it comes Bob Laurent. Bob claims that he's an old friend of Betty's father who moved away when Betty was only a teenager. He says they were so close that Betty used to call him "Uncle Bob." This appears to be true, because he knows an awful lot about Betty and her family.

The only problem is, Betty doesn't remember Bob Laurent. As the night, and Bob's visit, wears on, Betty slowly begins to remember Laurent. More importantly, she remembers what he is.

The Rain Dancers is tense from beginning until the end and I had a lot of fun reading it. It read very well as a novella, but I could see it being adapted as a play and/or a movie as well. A very engaging story and highly recommended.

The Mourning House

The Mourning House - Ronald Malfi This is the first book I've read in 2013, and talk about starting the year with a bang! Sam Hatch has just suffered a serious tragedy and has found himself wandering the country. He finally stumbles upon a house in a small town and immediately buys it. He's not sure why the house speaks to him so much, but the residents of the small town all think that the it's haunted.

And maybe it is.

Because Sam begins to hear noises in it late at night, and when he goes searching for the sources, digging through the floorboards and plaster, he finds relics and items from his old, dead life.

What I enjoyed most about this story is that it reminded me a lot of classic weird/horror fiction by the likes of M. R. James and maybe Arthur Machen. It's a short and fun read filled with real characters, great dialogue, and a creepy atmosphere. Recommended!

The Hoard

The Hoard - Alan Ryker Alan Ryker is a completely new writer to me. I joined the DarkFuse book club recently and was introduced to his work at the club's forum. And I'm glad that I was because his novella, The Hoard, is something completely original wrapped up in a wonderfully told tale.

The Hoard is about Anna, an elderly hoarder who's found herself in trouble with Adult Protective Services. Her son and his family are neighbors and, although they all know that there's something wrong with Anna and the inside of her home, no one wants to be the one to enter her house. Or worse, confront her about it.

When Anna is finally forced to leave her home and live with her son, they all can't help but notice that there's something wrong with her. Something seriously wrong. What nobody knows just yet is that there's a new type of parasite dwelling within the dirt and mounds of garbage, and maybe even Anna herself.

The character's in The Hoard are all very well realized and they are one thing that makes this book shine. The characters, in fact, begin to feel like your own family and friends.

Another thing that makes the story shine is the personal and dramatic look into a family suffering from mental illness and severe hoarding obsessions. Without these two elements, this could have very well been nothing but another zombie-like story. The Hoard is nothing like another zombie-like story at all.

I highly recommend The Hoard if not for it's originality and fresh story telling, but for the people who populate it. Give it a try and I'll doubt you'll be disappointed.

When We Join Jesus In Hell

When We Join Jesus In Hell - Lee  Thompson When We Join Jesus In Hell is an emotional punch to the stomach with a couple of knees to the face for good measure. The word 'Hell' is mentioned in the book's description a few times, and I like to think that that is exactly what this novella is. A sudden decent into grief, rage, vengeance, and then, finally, Hell.

I don't want to go into the plot because it moves quickly and there are a few surprises along the way that will ruin it if I even begin with the set up. One thing I can tell you, however, is that the characters breath with life, the atmosphere is thick, and the prose is lyrical and full of symbolism. It's really quite a startling read that will draw you into its grim, darkly painted world.

Once there, it will no let you go. When We Join Jesus In Hell will haunt you long after you've read it. I finished it almost a month before writing this review, and I still think about it. Highly recommended.

The Hungry 2: The Wrath of God

The Wrath of God - Harry Shannon, Steven W. Booth When I was a kid, I loved movies like Aliens and Predator. A big reason for this was the awesome monsters that the military heroes had to kill. Another big reason was the character of the heroes themselves. At that time in my life, I had dreams of joining the military so I could go on similar adventures, albeit without the monsters, because in these movies along with some books I was reading, the heroic military men and woman were a lot like the monsters: bigger than life and stronger than any mortal man. Even when and if they died.

The beginning to Steven Booth’s and Harry Shannon’s sequel to the great The Hungry made me reminisce of those older movies and the emotions they summoned within my impressionable and young heart. In Wrath of God we first meet Rat and her team of military mercenaries who are on their way to Nevada for a mission with an odd catch. There are zombies in the desert, and their mission is of the upmost importance.

When we rejoin Penny Miller and crew, they are held up in a Las Vegas hotel by the military. General Gifford, however, has other plans for them. He offers the crew a deal that will see them out of Las Vegas with a crap load of money. All they have to do is join up with the mercenaries and return to the scene of the crime from the climax of the first book to retrieve some data.

Sounds easy, right? Penny doesn’t think so. In fact, she thinks that the deal stinks, and what follows is a one crazy and fun and entertaining moment after another.

What I liked most about Wrath of God is the fun factor. I would even go so far as to say that this volume is even more fun than the first. The characters remain true to themselves as they did in the first, and the new characters, mainly Rat, another hard-edged, ass-kicking female protagonist, was a lot of fun to read. Yet, some of the mercenary’s felt a little flat to me, reminding me of hulk-like men, doing what their told while grunting their displeasure and scratching at their privates.

There were also a few scenes at the end that just didn’t seem very realistic to me, but with that said, I am reminded of Sigourney Weaver hanging from one arm in a decompression airlock opened to the big black abyss of space. Large metal crates whip quickly by her head from the vacuum, and yet Sigourney’s harm does not tear off at the shoulder. I also remember Arnold Swartzaneggar stumbling out of the remnants of an explosion equal to that of a nuclear bomb with nothing more than a limp. Sure, his mind was completely gone, but he was relatively unharmed. Right?

It’s these things that made these heroes larger than life and worth every inch of my childhood admiration. And I would argue that it’s the same with the heroes in The Wrath of God. They’re as tough as metal, and one would want to double check their sanity in messing with them.

Oh yeah, and there’s lots of Zombies.

How could you possibly want more?


The Haunted

The Haunted - Bentley Little Despite its bleakness, Bentley Little's newest, The Haunted, was a lot of fun to read. Although Little is known for his sense of humor, I warn you to not look for that here. This is a book that is dark, bleak, and full of despair as the Perry family loses control of their average, every day lives.

The story is about an innocent family haunted by their new house, but it reminded me of self-abuse spinning out of control, the unknown anger and angst of adolescence, the fear and desperation of a child stuck in a family haunted by its past and current abuses. And this is without any of those subjects taking center stage.

We start off with the Perry family looking to move out of what they feel is becoming a bad neighborhood. Had they known what they were in for, perhaps they would have stayed and put up with the bully kids, the ones who use the Perry family's driveway for skate board practice without permission. Now that they have moved, however, they're trapped in debt and stuck with a ghost, or maybe it's some other entity, that's physically abusive and life threatening.

This book is about the love and hate of a family (that innocent family with the average lives I mentioned earlier), invaded by unknown forces. It's a book about what's not in your control, and how what's good and average can turn to bad and abnormal at any time.

As this is a haunted house book, there's nothing really new here. Yet, the haunted house book has been written regularly for close to two hundred years now, so what are you looking for? Something groundbreaking?

I don't think so.

Give The Haunted a try. Its got some real creepy moments that's excluded from a lot of other horror novels. I highly recommend it.

Hive

Hive - Griffin Hayes I’m pretty sure that I’ve said this before, probably on one of my opinionated articles on a Harry Shannon book, but the zombie subgenre is getting old. It surprises me how it just keeps on ticking without even a sign of it slowing down. The subgenre, in itself, is like a slumbering, moaning creature that should be dead but keeps on coming. A zombie of which you cannot shoot in the head, no matter how hard you try, and put an end to the whole thing.

But saying such things makes me a hypocrite. I still read about zombies, even though I’m tired of them. But every once in a while, an author has an interesting idea, or something new they can offer to an over-bloated genre, and I think that Hive, by Griffin Hayes, is quite possibly that. I say possibly, because Hive is just the very beginning of a new series, and the story itself, an action packed romp through a long abandoned mall, packs some serious heat.

Taking place two-hundred years after the initial zombie apocalypse, Azina and her team are sent into said mall after a group of Prospectors have gone missing. Somehow, and I’m not sure why, the story reminded me of Aliens, and I couldn’t help but think of the character, Bron, played by Ron Perlman. Which brings me to Griffin’s strength, of which seems to have even improved since the first book I’ve read by him, Malice. His strength is in his characters. They all have their own personalities and never stray from what is at their inner core. They feel like real people. And they are fun to follow.

The only thing that bothered me about Hive was the first-person, present-tense narrative. Although it worked for the most part, there were times where it felt like the story should have been told in the past-tense. It seemed as though it might have been written the first time around in the past-tense and then was switched to the present-tense for whatever reason.

But seriously, all nitpicks aside, if you’re looking for a fun time with the ancient undead, I implore you to give Hive a try. It’s cheap, it’s short, and most implortantly, it’s terribly fun. I’m excited to see where this series is going and what Griffin will do with these characters he’s created. Come along for the ride. It’s bound to be interesting.

Cthulhu Comes to the Vampire Kingdom

Cthulhu Comes to the Vampire Kingdom - Cameron Pierce Cthulhu Comes to Vampire Empire


Lola and Franz’s baby has just died and the world is coming to an end. Sunlight threatens to shine once again upon the land, and the vampires weigh this as burdensome as most of us humans do global warming. The vampires having treated their planet so poorly over the centuries is causing this cursed sunlight to shine through. On top of that, vampire blood supply is at an all-time low.

There’s a way to put a stop to this. The answer is summoning Cthulhu and his minions of darkness to put the sunlight away forever. They also have scientists, working at a way to create an endless supply of blood.

I had mixed feelings about this bizarro book by Cameron Pierce. The twisted way in how Lola and Franz react to finding their baby dead is the sick sort of humor I love, sort of like a darker version of the Addam’s family. The rest of the story, however, felt sort of rushed with an interesting, but hardly formidable version of Cthulhu, who is currently on a quest to find the perfect hamburger and, of course, put an end the vampires who have summoned him.

Cameron’s prose was solid and entertaining to read, though. He reminds me of a bizarro version of Christopher Moore and A. Lee Martinez, which is an accomplishment on its own.

All in all, Cthulhu in Vampire land is a fun and entertaining read.

You Shall Never Know Security

You Shall Never Know Security - J.R.  Hamantaschen The type of story within You Shall Never Know Security is a favorite of mine to read, so my opinion on J. R. Hamantaschen could be considered biased. The stories are weird and very dark. They’re also intelligent and linger in your thoughts after reading. I found that I had to stop sometimes just to digest what I had just read.

You Shall Never Know Security is full of raw emotion and themes that are the obvious result of some very deep thought. Each story is actually about something. They are real even at their most absurd. They’re topics has affected us all one way or another. They can be terribly sad or angry, but around the middle of the collection there is one comedic story that does well in relieving the tension.

The stories that had the most effect on me are as follows: Endemic is, perhaps, one of the strangest stories I’ve ever read. It poses an interesting approach to catching rapists. A Parasite in Your Brain makes me want J. R.’s version of a parasitic spider to stretch its legs out amongst the folds of my own brain. Truth is Stanger than Fiction paid homage to Lovecraft, I think, and very well done. Sorrow has its Natural End is, perhaps, the story that affected me the most. It’s about a man in his twenties whose gone blind. His dark spiritual journey is probably similar to what mine would be if I were to go blind. College is about a professor who asks his student some very interesting morality questions in an experiment that reminded me of a course I took while in college myself.

With this collection, J. R. manages to remind the reader of Lovecraft and Ligotti, while at the same time remaining completely faithful to his own ideas, themes, and voice. What it comes down to is this: as a writer myself, one who also aspires create weird horror, reading these stories made me a little jealous. Okay, I lie. They made me a lot jealous. I wish I could write at Hamantaschen’s calibre and level of talent. I look forward to reading more.

The Menstruating Mall

The Menstruating Mall - Carlton Mellick III I remember watching a documentary on the making of Dawn of the Dead somewhere. On it there is mentioned something to the effect that Romero’s genius lay within his calling out the suddenly present consumerist age with the advent of the shopping mall. Of course his vision was spot on. Watching the hoards of mindless, slow and limping undead approach the mall had a sort of sardonic sarcasm that has not lost its impact today.

If anything, consumerism has become worse, perhaps making Romero a prophet. If so, where does that leave Carlton Mellick and his book The Menstruating Mall?

The hero of the story seems like a regular guy. He works a dead-end job, he is single, and he is completely obsessed with going to the mall. This guy’s obsession, however, makes him work a lot of overtime just so he can spend more money. He is a marketing campaign’s wet dream. When we meet him, he is going into his favorite place in the entire world: the mall, of course.
After filling his hands with bags full of products, he’s happy. Only there’s one problem. He can’t leave the mall. No matter how often he tries, something stops him. There’s no road block and the doors are not locked, yet he cannot leave.

Later on, he meets people with the same problem. When the mall closes and doesn’t reopen, some of the stranded turn up dead. One of them is killing the others for being part of the herd, and the killer’s message is simple: Break your mold, don’t be mundane.

I think that The Menstruating Mall is a satire on the level, if not higher, with Romero’s horror genius. It’s the whole Breakfast Club feel to the story, with each character having their own and modern style, and that all have to work together despite their differences to achieve a goal that just might save their lives, which led me to this conclusion. You can see yourself somewhere in one or more of the characters and therefore see how absurd it all seems.

And yet we continue on every day, living our chosen stereotypes and buying crap we don’t need. We will continue to do so until we pound the Earth to ash with all the nukes our leaders have collected over the years.

Until then, I suggest that you buy this book, even if it’s something you don’t need for your survival. It is, after all, a lot of fun and entertaining. That’s all that matters, really.

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