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Books for Review should be sent to: Don D'Ammassa, 323 Dodge Street,  East Providence, RI 02914

 Last Update 12/30/10  

If Walls Could Talk by Juliet Blackwell, Obsidian, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23181-9  

First in a new supernatural mystery series, featuring a woman whose job renovating old houses results in encounters with ghosts who, in this case at least, implore her to solve the mystery of their deaths.  The ghost is in the same line of business, and the only clue available is discovered concealed inside the wall of the mansion whose renovation kicks the story off.  The novel is very similar in structure to the author’s Lily Ivory novels, which feature a witch as detective, but I frankly like the ghost motif better, even though the plot is almost as old as ghost stories themselves. It’s basically a cosy with an unusual character to set up the mystery, but Blackwell handles the theme well and there are a couple of clever twists.12/30/10

Black & Orange by Benjamin Kane Ethridge, Bad Moon Books, 2010, $20, ISBN 978-0-9844601-9-9 

Bad Moon Books did a trio of Halloween related books recently, of which this is the most ambitious.  The story is vaguely Lovecraftian in backdrop although not in style or delivery.  The Church of Midnight is a secret organization which has tried to open a gateway to an alternative – and rather nasty – reality through performing a ritual and sacrifice on Halloween night.  After literally thousands of failures, they finally appear to have found the right combination, and before this Halloween is over there will be genuine monsters walking the streets rather than just costumed ones.  A variously interesting set of characters are caught up in the prelude to and aftermath of the ritual in a nicely suspenseful story that derives its thrills from situations rather than bloody details. 12/24/10

Hard Boiled Vampire Killers by Jim Gavin, Dark Regions, 2010, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-87-5

There are none of your delicate, handsome, charming, or angst ridden vampires here.  The vampires are nasty predators who dissolve into dust when destroyed in the mode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Blade.  Our slayers in this case are a young man armed with a sniper rifle and an even younger one who uses a Samurai sword.  Initially working separately, they meet and eventually become a team.  There aren't a lot of surprises in this, which is mostly a vampire hunt with lots of action sequences, near escapes, confrontations, and running around.  Gavin makes it all seem believable and suspenseful and the two protagonists are portrayed in enough depth for us to care about their ultimate fate.  A nice antidote to the current wishy washy bloodsucker phenomenon.  12/24/10

The Scarlet Clan by Hideyuki Kikuchi, translated by Kinami Watabe, Tor, 2010, $10.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2332-3 

Third in the Wicked City series, which has also inspired a manga series.  The basic premise seems to be that the demons are just another race, albeit a supernatural one, and elements within that race want to reconcile themselves with humanity, while others want to preserve the old, predatory ways.  A human and a more or less human partner attempt to prevent the latter from destroying the progress that has been made, and that means that they are targets for elimination. This particular episode involves the potential birth of a being who can bridge the gap between races, so naturally the bad demons want to prevent the child from being born.  This is labeled as horror rather than urban fantasy, which I would have expected, and in truth it’s more of an adventure story than horror.  Although not badly told, it has a kind of lightness in the prose that reminded me of manga, so the spinoff is less than surprising.  I haven’t seen the first two books in this series but I imagine they involve similar conflicts. 12/22/10

House of Reckoning by John Saul, Ballantine, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51425-7  

I haven’t read many of the recent John Saul novels in large part because I started to find them monotonous, although it appears that several of these broke his usual mode.  This one is more like his early work, a mix of teenage angst and ghostly hangers on.  Sarah is a would-be painter who numbers among her friends a one time mental patient who apparently still hears voices. Her artwork becomes increasingly influenced by violent and disturbing images apparently inherent in the structure of the building in which she works and these uneasy spirits plan to use the two teenagers to wreak havoc in the world of the living.  I haven’t run into many haunted house stories recently so the familiar plot didn’t put me off as much as it might have, and Saul still tells a compelling story. 12/21/10

The Best of Tomes of the Dead by Matthew Smith, Al Ewing, and Rebecca Levene, Abaddon, 2010, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-35-2  

Despite what might be suggested by the title, this is an omnibus of three novels unrelated except that they’re set in the same universe, one in which a plague of zombies has overrun the world.  They were published separately during 2007 and 2008, but this combined edition is much more economical if you hadn’t bought the earlier editions.  There have been a handful of innovative zombie novels recently, and there are some interesting twists in these as well.  Smith suggests that even in the midst of the collapse of civilization under pressure from the living dead, criminals might find opportunities to take further advantage of the new situation.  Al Ewing’s protagonist is a zombie who hires himself out as a special agent, arranging assassinations and other crimes, or acting for the good guys if they pay better.  But what secret is our hero hiding, even from himself?  Rebecca Levene’s story is set in Ancient Rome and while nicely written was the least interesting for me.  Her female protagonist uncovers a plot to bring the dead back to life, a quest which could lead to the fall of the Empire.  A diverse lot despite the theoretically common setting. 12/13/10

The Painted Darkness by Brian James Freeman, Cemetery Dance, 11/10, $19.99, ISBN 978-1-58767-208-8  

The premise of this short novel is that if we suppressed fear and other strong emotions rather than deal with them, they can emerge unexpectedly at a later time with disastrous consequences.  The protagonist went through an undescribed childhood trauma after which he paints peculiar pictures related to it.  As an adult, and a successful artist, he is living in his childhood home during a winter storm when the past finally catches up to him and he must confront it squarely.  Primarily a story of psychological suspense, this one is very well written and emotion laden.  Freeman is another writer whose name was familiar but whose work I had not read except for a couple of short stories a few years back, but he’s also another writer whose byline I’ll be watching for in the future. 12/9/10

Trio for Sorcery by Mercedes Lackey, Tor, 2010, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2851-9  

It’s a sign of the times that this new Diana Tregarde book – a collection of three novellas – is being marketed as urban fantasy since if it had appeared when the first three novels did, it would almost certainly have been labeled horror, and that’s where I’m including this new title.  Tregarde is a modern day witch but she battles supernatural rather than purely magical dangers, darker than Jim Butcher though not so much as Graham Masterton.  The three adventures here include a psychic with clues to a kidnapping, an angry ghost with designs on a living woman, and a wendigo that makes use of computers to claim its victims.  I liked the first story the least and the last the most, making a nice progression, but all three are quite good and none have been published previously.  Call it fantasy if you want, but labels are mostly irrelevant when you’re talking about good stories. 12/5/10

Apocalypse of the Dead by Joe McKinney, Pinnacle, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7860-2359-2  

McKinney’s first novel about zombie hordes taking over the world, Dead City (2006), predated the current surge in popularity of the walking dead.  That first effort wasn’t bad and the sequel is as good or better, although the tropes are beginning to feel threadbare already.  The zombies first appeared in the aftermath of a hurricane and now, two years later, the contagion has spread throughout the world and pockets of survivors are searching for some place where they can remain safe. A one time lawman leads one of these groups to a refuge dominated by a religious fanatic who believes it’s time for the human race to vanish forever.  But our hero and his followers prefer to make the zombies the ones who become extinct. Exciting at times, but the deus ex machina ending left me feeling slightly cheated. 11/29/10

Full Dark, No Stars by Stephen King, Scribner, 2010, $27.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-9256-6

I'm listing this new collection by Stephen King in horror, but it's a bit of a stretch.  Included are two novellas, a novelet, and a short story.  "1922" relates the murder of a woman by her husband and son and the disastrous consequences on not just their lives but those of several people around them.  It's a well told story but there aren't any surprises and the few supernatural events are ambiguous and might just be hallucinations by the narrator.  "Big Driver" is a lot better.  A rape victim decides that she wants vengeance and uncovers a wider reaching conspiracy than she had expected. Some very effective scenes in this one.  "Fair Extension" is an unremarkable deal with the devil story that falls prey to what I consider a major flaw in this form.  If Joe Blow makes a deal with the devil to improve his own life, why should the devil then be empowered to destroy the lives of several other people?  This implies that evil is more powerful than good rather than in balance.  It is particularly aggravating when, as in this case, the devil is able to change the personalities of his victims rather than just their circumstances.  Finally we have "A Good Marriage" in which the protagonist discovers that her husband of many years is a thrill killer. As the title suggests, the stories are all dark, but there are no stars, although the last is quite good.  11/22/10

Mr. Monster by Dan Wells, Tor, 2010, $21.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2248-7  

The second volume in the John Cleaver trilogy.  In the first, Cleaver murdered an unpleasant man who turned out to be quite literally a demon in disguise. He found this particularly bothersome because he thought he detected all the traits of an incipient serial killer in his own personality and wasn’t sure that he was acting on the side of good.  Well, now that he’s dispatched the monster, things should be much rosier, but that’s not the case.  There are other demons around and some of them resent the fact that one of their kind was dispatched by a mere mortal. Nor is Cleaver at ease himself, because he still fears that his mental equilibrium is at risk.  When a new series of murders brings fresh business to his family’s mortuary, the stimulus is there for either a psychotic break or a new campaign against monstrous evil.  Which path will he choose?  The story obviously dictates that he battle the monsters, but Wells made me wonder at times if Cleaver wasn’t potentially just as bad.  A quite different horror novel setting the stage for which will presumably be a conclusion that answers all our, and Cleaver’s, questions. 11/19/10

Mischief Night by Paul Melniczek, Bad Moon Books, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-9844601-7-5

The Samhanach by Lisa Morton, Bad Moon Books, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-9844601-8-2

A pair of Halloween related chapbooks, each of which explores a slightly different traditional aspect of that holiday.  In the first, a handful of boys decide to play pranks on a reclusive and mysterious old man, and encounter instead a malevolent dwarf and dark magic that threatens to bring their reign of petty terror to an end.  In the second, a woman discovers a diary written by an ancestor that tells of the family's linkage to an ancient demon which will return on Halloween to exact revenge.  The woman's daughter has just gone out trick or treating and the rescue mission is on.  Both of these are nicely told and very well packaged.  Both tend toward the adventurous end of the horror/occult adventure scale although the first has some creepy scenes early on.  11/16/10

The End of the Line edited by Jonathan Oliver, Solaris, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-33-8

A collection of original horror stories about subways, always a subject I find promising.  A couple of my favorite horror novels have involved subways and I even enjoyed the underground sequences in the movie Mimic.  The authors are predominantly British so it's no surprise that the London subway is the most common setting.  The stories involve a variety of unexpected characters and critters lurking therein. Several of them are genuinely creepy and evoke claustrophobic terror.  Among the best stories are those by James Lovegrove, Nicholas Royle, Conrad Williams, and Christopher Fowler, but there are thrills and chills to be found in almost all of them.  11/1/10

Fatal Error by F. Paul Wilson, Tor, 10/10, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2282-1  

The Repairman Jack series steams toward its conclusion in the next and last book in the series.  In this one, Jack has become bodyguard to the spirit of the Earth itself, but still has time to look into the kidnapping of a man’s family by people, or forces, unknown.  Various other plots begin to converge.  A secretive group of humans is trying to hasten the apocalypse, a child is born under peculiar circumstances, and the evil critters Jack has been fighting on and off during his lifetime are plotting fresh mayhem.  Wilson has mastered the art of pre-apocalyptic fiction and while the series has had a few rough spots, for the most part it has been excellent.  Fans will be caught up in this one as it sets the stage for the final confrontation. 10/27/10 

Tempting Providence by Jonathan Thomas, Hippocampus, 2010, $20, ISBN 978-0-9844802-0-3 

This is the second collection of short fiction by this author that I’ve read.  I believe that most or all are original to this collection as I’ve never seen them elsewhere and there are no publishing credits.  The collection is nominally horror although some are just odd fantasies and few evoke the kind of atmosphere normally associated with the genre, although they are not at all devoid of an atmosphere of their own.  The introduction mentions Robert Aickman, which is apt because Thomas reminds me of Aickman and Algernon Blackwood.  The title story, plus “Gumball Man” and “The Salvage Saints”, struck me as particularly effective.  I’m a bit prejudiced because of the Providence setting – I live one city away – and they have some of the feel of Lovecraft without the exaggerated mannerisms or the specifics of Lovecraft’s world view.  The only reason these stories could not have appeared in professional horror magazines is because, with the possible exception of Cemetery Dance, there are no professional horror magazines published regularly.  10/25/10

Dying Light by D. Scott Meek, Parallel Worlds, 2010, $17.50, ISBN 978-1-935705-07-9

Blood Justice by Dan Burton, By Light Unseen, 2010, $12, ISBN 978-1-935303-11-4 

Both of these trade paperbacks are by imprints I’ve never heard of and I suspect they’re both print on demand that you’d probably find most easily by ordering them through Amazon.  For all I know, they’re self published although if so I’ve read professionally published work that wasn’t as well written.  Both of these are about vampires, although they have entirely different takes on the subject.  The first one is a quasi-rationalized one set in the future.  The vampires are the victims in this one, forced to hide from the authorities who want to wipe them out.  Agreeably written, and my only real complaint is that it really wasn’t suspenseful and it needed a bit more physical action to keep the story going.  The second one is about a woman seeking revenge against the murderer of her child who is assisted in her efforts by a more or less benevolent vampire who converts her to one of his kind, albeit reluctantly.  Ultimately they have to overcome evil men as well as evil vampires.  Meek is marginally the better writer but Burton tells a more interesting story.  10/25/10

Odd Is on Our Side by Fred Van Lente and Dean R. Koontz, Del Rey, 2010, $10.99, ISBN 978-0-345-51560-5 

This is a black and white only graphic novel featuring Koontz’s popular character Odd Thomas.  Thomas is a short order cook who suspects that the annual Halloween festivities are covering over an evil presence, and his ability to observe the souls of the dead gives his opinion some validity.  Indeed there is a costume involved but not the one we’re expecting.  The story is straightforward and, frankly, a bit dull, and the artwork is the minimalist kind I associate with newspaper comic strips, with nothing to really attract the eye other than the story line.  For fans of the series, but nothing outstanding. 10/22/10

The Book of the Living Dead edited by John Richard Stephens, Berkley, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-425-23706-9

The title would suggest that this is another collection of zombie stories, but only if you apply a very loose definition.  These are mostly classic horror stories and they involve vampires, Frankenstein’s monster, and other semblances of zombies, along with a few of the real thing.  The authors include F. Marion Crawford, Jack London, Mark Twain, Guy de Maupassant, H.P. Lovecraft, and Sir Walter Scott among others.  There are a few quite obscure tales included, along with the majority which will be quite familiar to long time horror readers, and there were only a couple that I had to read or re-read because they had faded from my memory.  But given the small gap of recollection from one generation to the next, this might well be new to a good many of those looking for another zombie fix. 10/18/19

Overwinter by David Wellington, Three Rivers Press, 2010, $14, ISBN 978-0-307-46079-0  

David Wellington has quietly produced a steady stream of entertaining supernatural thrillers of which this is his latest, second in a series about werewolves, usually not my favorite monsters.  My problem with most werewolf fiction- and increasingly with vampire fiction – is that the plots are almost always basically the same.  Not so with this one, which deals with a woman so obsessed with werewolves that she prowls the frigid Arctic north to find a secret that will destroy them, and perhaps cure her of the curse because, yes, she’s a werewolf as well.  In opposition, as you might expect, is a clever werewolf hunter, to say nothing of a centuries old werewolf who has rather a large stake in the outcome of her search. I had a lukewarm reaction to the first in this series, Frostbite, but the sequel is much better. 10/17/10

Blanket of White by Amy Grech, Damnation Books, 2009, $12.49, ISBN 9781615720170   

I’d only read a couple of stories by this author prior to seeing this slim collection from a publisher I don’t recognize.  I expect to be reading more in the future though, because there’s a pleasant diversity of style and subject matter here that promises well for the future.  There are fourteen stories here, but I don’t know if they’re new or reprints since they were all new to me.  Although they tend toward the horror end of the fantastic continuum, they are predominantly about the people in them rather than the physical events surrounding them.  They’re quite short but each of them has a punch of its own. 10/13/10

Esperanza by Trish J. MacGregor, Tor, 2010, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2602-7 

I think this is a first novel, and a promising one.  An FBI agent finds herself at a remote part of the Andes with partial amnesia after becoming involved in the investigation of a counterfeiting operation.  There she meets a man who appears equally innocent of intent and together they confront a town which is dominated by the uneasy ghosts of the dead. These are not nice or ethereal spirits but have the power to possess the bodies of the living and force them to perform unsettling acts, and they are just the tip of the iceberg because if they cannot be repelled from one small town, then what is to prevent them from returning to plague all the cities of Earth?  The romance between the two main characters is predictable and mildly distracting at times, but the story itself is suspenseful and well constructed. 10/10/10

The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell, Holt, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-8050-9243-1 

Another zombie holocaust novel.  The living survivors are living in walled enclaves, scattered and disorganized, while the walking dead stalk the countryside virtually unopposed.  The protagonist is a troubled young woman who takes us with her on a tour of the countryside and some of the enclaves, learning as much about herself as she does about her environment.  It’s a kind of quest story, since she’s looking for the right place to settle down and deal with the memories that torment her.  The story isn’t badly conceived, but the execution drove me nuts.  First of all, it’s first person, which drains every bit of tension and suspense from the plot.  Second of all, the author has decided that quotation marks are unnecessary so the dialogue just blends in with the expository text, and blend in it does, sometimes so well that I lost track of who was talking, or if anyone was talking at all.  I had more struggle finishing the book than the protagonist did resolving her conflicts. 10/8/10

Blood Lite 2: Overbite edited by Kevin J. Anderson, Gallery, 2010, $16, ISBN 978-1-4391-8765-4 

Following the success of the first volume, the Horror Writers Association provides its second selection of humorous horror.  Truth in advertising – I have a story in this one.  Humor is a peculiar thing varying from person to person, so what I might find hilariously funny might strike someone else as leaden or just silly, and humor mixed with horror is even trickier.  Not surprisingly that means that I didn’t find that all of the entries here tickled my funny bone, but there were no real clunkers either.  A few were quite effective, however, and I think on balance this is a better collection than the first.  Lucien Soulban has an absolutely hysterical sendup of the Cthulhu Mythos, a subject I would have thought long exhausted of new potential.  Jeff Ryan provides the funniest grossout story I’ve ever read.  Jordan Summers introduces us to the ghoul police.  Sharyn Crumb describes the consequences of appointing a Native American god as a college department head. Jeff Strand's tale of a plan of revenge gone hysterically awry is also excellent.  Very good stories as well from Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Steve Rasnic Tem, Nancy Kilpatrick, and Edward Bryant.  The balance are all pretty good as well.  A couple of them did not seem to me to have any humorous content, but they were entertaining anyway.  10/6/10

The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor, Night Shade, 2010, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-196-6 1 

I find it very amusing that the majority of publishers appear to be treating the recent zombie phenomenon as a joke more often than not.  This one’s nature should be obvious from the title and author, an obvious spoof of Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon.  The setting is a small Minnesota town whose residents are not your everyday friends and neighbors.  But their slightly superior little world is turned upside down when the dead start rising and walking about.  Despite being a spoof, this is pretty well written and I’d be curious to know who really wrote it – the copyright page is revealing no secrets.  Evidence that the zombie boom has at least a few positive results. 10/4/10

Dust by Joan Frances Turner, Ace, 9/10, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-441-01928-1 

With the flood of zombie books appearing, one would hope that at least a few would not be rehashes of George Romero movies.  This is one of those few, a zombie apocalypse sort of story told from the point of view of one of the zombies. Turner’s zombies are not shambling mindless creatures, although they do prey on the living, but intelligent beings who remember their past lives, have feelings toward one another, and endeavor to find happiness even while hunting down their next victim.  This might have been done as a comic novel, but Turner handles the theme seriously and with some poignancy at times.  Her protagonist is a teenage girl who comes to life, if that’s the word, as her story unfolds.  A zombie novel about more than just carnage and gore. 9/30/10

Stronghold by Paul Finch, Abaddon, 2010, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-10-9  

This new title in the Tomes of the Dead series – zombie novels – is as much fantasy as horror, in part because of its medieval setting.  An English army has been sent to suppress a rebellion in Wales, but the Druids are ready for them this time and raise an army of zombies to oppose their advance.  Although the English castle is designed to be impregnable, even that cannot stand long against a renewable army with no fear of death.  Our hero can only save the day by carrying out a perilous rescue mission.  I liked the new twist here even though the result is at times undistinguishable from an army of orcs. 9/18/10

When Blood Calls by J.F. Beck, Bantam, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-440-24577-3

A quick look at the copyright page tells me this is a pseudonym for Julie Kenner, who has written other paranormal romances, usually in a humorous vein.  This one involves vampires and werewolves, but it’s closer to the fantasy than horror end of the spectrum.  The protagonist is a prosecutor who is somewhat dismayed to find that her first case is to prosecute her former lover – an absurdity that ruined the entire book for me since she would obviously have been disqualified even in a fantasy version of our world. Although Kenner/Beck is not a bad writer, this one is so confused morally, ethically, and logically that I only finished it because I was stunned. 9/17/10

The House of Dead Maids by Clare B. Dunkle, Holt, 2010, $15.99, ISBN 978-0-8050-9116-8  

This very short novel is a traditional ghost story with a twist – it’s a prequel to Wuthering Heights.  The protagonist is hired to watch over a young boy who has what we would now call severe behavioral problems.  Once ensconced in the gloomy old house, she begins to experience the influence of the ghost of a previous maid, and other restless spirits, and the story proceeds roughly parallel to that of The Turn of the Screw for a while.  The young boy, obviously, grows up to be Heathcliff so we know the story will not have a happy ending.  Clever and very atmospheric. 9/13/10

Dark Matters by Bruce Boston, Bad Moon Press, 2010, $17, ISBN 978-0-9844601-5-1  

As I’ve said before, I don’t have the critical vocabulary or insight to do justice to collections of poetry.  That said, I’ve always found Bruce Boston’s work to be more accessible than most, not to mention more pleasing than most.  This is a fairly large collection of almost fifty poems, most with vaguely or explicitly horror themes, nicely packaged and with some very good interior illustrations by Daniele Serra.  Boston evokes images, scenes, emotions, or atmospheres with an effective economy of words.  Even readers who normally avoid poetry in any form should find things to like in this one. 9/13/10

The Loving Dead by Amelia Beamer, Nightshade, 2010, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-59780-194-2  

Zombies are in, obviously, as witness this new novel.  There’s a minor variation on the usual set-up – the zombie disease is transmitted sexually – but the end result is vicious killers preying on everyone they meet, the usual zombie apocalypse. The two protagonists have been going through a somewhat shaky relationship and now it’s under external pressure as well.  Can their love survive?  Can they survive?  They travel to Alcatraz Island, convinced this is the only safe haven, as the world falls apart around them. Despite the plot summary, which sounds like the usual gorefest, this is also a reasonably funny satire – zombie humor is also very popular.  The joking around was very amusing at first, but I began to get tired of it about halfway through the novel.  It’s probably still going to be among the cream of the zombie novels this year, but it didn’t quite break through to being really good. 9/11/10

Hellfire & Damnation by Connie Corcoran Wilson, Sam’s Dot, 2010, $10.95, ISBN 978-1-93559-007-1 

This collection of stories and its author were both entirely new to me.  They are not directly related but they are all linked to the concept of Dante’s Inferno and the specific sins related to them. They are not uplifting, since each involves a physical or metaphorical descent into hell, obviously, but some of them are quite gripping.  One of them is actually based in part on a true story.  They’re also written in a variety of styles and formats, some of which worked very well, others not so much.  “Amazing Andy, the Wonder Chicken” was one of my favorites. 9/4/10

A Gathering of Crows by Brian Keene, Leisure, 8/10/ $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6092-1  

The legend of Roanoke Island forms part of the backdrop for this new horror novel, which features Keene’s recurring character, Levi Stoltzfus.  Several creatures from another reality descend upon a small town in order to wipe out its population in various unpleasant ways.  They almost succeed, but are of course thwarted at the last minute and banished from our reality forever.  Keene’s thrillers are always fast paced and exciting and on a pure storytelling level I almost always enjoy them, but the last few – including this one – have more of the feel of a movie proposal than a novel.  That’s not to say that they are superficial but they have a lighter feel than his earlier work and the atmosphere is not evoked nearly as deeply or effectively as in, say, The Conqueror Worm or The Rising.  Still gruesome fun though. 9/3/10

Pariah by Bob Fingerman, Tor, 8/10, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2627-0

The sudden renewed popularity of the zombie – although contemporary zombies in film and books are more like traditional vampires – has spawned an interesting phenomenon, the funny zombie apocalypse.  This has been particularly obvious in movies like Shaun of the Dead, Zombies of Mass Destruction, and Zombieland, but it’s also starting to show up in books.  I mean, can you really take Pride and Prejudice and Zombies seriously?  Anyway, this opens with the usual set up.  Most of the population has been turned into the walking dead and a handful of survivors are barricades in a building in Manhattan, trying to acquire food without becoming food.  Then a young girl appears whom the zombies apparently don’t find tasty.  So what’s up?There’s plenty of the usual gore and carnage and the humor is so dark it’s practically opaque, but it’s mostly fun, if of a rather grisly vintage.  Parental warning for extensive strong language. 8/31/10

The Wizard of Ooze by R.L. Stine, Scholastic, 2010, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-545-16198-5

Slappy New Year! by R.L. Stine, Scholastic, 2010, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-545-16199-2

Two new titles in the Goosebumps Horrorland series for younger readers.  There’s not much here to entertain adult readers but I have to admit they have a kind of morbid charm. The first title is the better of the two.  A comics fan finds a rare issue featuring his favorite superhero, the Ooze, but when he buys it, he discovers that he is being followed by sinister characters, including one that looks disturbingly like the Ooze himself/itself.  A shade creepier than most of the books in this series. The second is a variation of the haunted doll story, in this case a dummy whose presence seems to attract bad luck and mysterious events, suggesting it may be taking conscious part in the goings on.  This one was okay but not nearly as good as the first. The big craze for this series may have ended, but there are obviously still a good number of fans. 8/29/10

A Host of Shadows by Harry Shannon, Dark Regions, 2010, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-82-0 

I believe this is the first collection of short fiction by Harry Shannon, and for the most part it’s an excellent one.  The stories are quite varied – usually a good sign – and the horrors involved include everything from strange hospitals to zombies totally original.  Several of the stories are collaborative efforts and the best in the collection, “Concrete Gods”, is written with Kealan Patrick Burke.  I also particularly liked “Blood and Burning Straw” and “Suffer the Children.”  A couple are original to this collection; the majority are reprints.  Most of the stories pack a considerable punch and I think on balance I prefer his short fiction to his novels, good though the latter might be. 8/28/10

Thief of Midnight by Catherine Butzen, Stark House, 7/10, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-933586-31-1  

First in the Abby Marquise urban fantasy/horror series, and also only the second original novel from this publisher, which specializes in reprints of mysteries and thrillers.  Abby and her friends find themselves battling a creature which is essentially the boogeyman in her fist outing, set in Chicago.  Or actually a bunch of boogeymen who are out to steal children but find themselves in a real battle when a group of adults decides to bring their reign of terror to an end.  The creatures vary considerably from my conception of the boogeyman but they provide a daunting enemy for the protagonists.  A little uneven but generally entertaining. 8/24/10

The Tindalos Cycle edited by Robert M. Price, Hippocampus, 2010, $20, ISBN 978-0-9814888-5-1  

I believe Frank Belknap Long’s “The Hounds of Tindalos” was the beginning of this subset of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos.  The hounds, obviously, are not the good guys.  Over the years, a number of other writers have added to their story, and editor Price has collected a good number of them here including some of Long’s own work, a couple of inspirational sources by Robert. W. Chambers and Ambrose Bierce, and newer works by devotees of the form like Peter Cannon and Ann Schwader.  Most of the contributors are not widely known even in the horror genre, although Ramsey Campbell, Lin Carter, and Robert Bloch all have stories.  This is a good sized collection of pretty good fiction – I’ve always like Schwader’s work – and most of it is hard to come by elsewhere.  A slightly different take on Lovecraft. 8/24/10

Twice Bitten by Chloe Neill, NAL, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-451-23064-5

The Chicagoland Vampires series takes a bit of a downturn for me with the latest.  Merit, newly transformed and still adjusting to her life as one of the undead, is assigned as bodyguard to the head of a visiting delegation of werewolves.  Peace between the two races is fragile and an attack on her charge could precipitate much nastiness.  And naturally that’s exactly what’s going to happen as mysterious forces gather and attempt to drive a wedge between vampires and werewolves.  Neill has a nice, strong writing style that I generally like, but – possibly because there have been so many similar novels recently – this one felt like a retread.  Surely there must still be some original plots and situations possible in urban fantasy. 8/18/10

Kitty Goes to War by Carrie Vaughn, Tor, 7/10, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-6561-3  

The eighth adventure of Kitty Norville, radio talk show hostess and werewolf, in a series that I suppose one could call urban fantasy despite its trappings of horror.  Whatever category it falls into, it’s one of the better examples because the series has been consistently more interesting and better written than most quasi-similar ones.  The army has been using werewolves to hunt down the bad guys in Afghanistan, but some of these shapechanging soldiers have lost the ability to control their bloodlust and Kitty is hired as a kind of consultant to see if the men can be readjusted. There are bodies before long and the spirit of a dead woman escapes from its prison – literally – and must be dealt with as well.  Call it urban fantasy if you want – that’s what Tor says it is – but I say it’s a horror novel.  And a good one. 8/18/10

Undead and Unfinished by MaryJanice Davidson, Berkley, $24.95, ISBN 978-0-425-23435-8  

Another installment in one of the better paranormal romance series. Betsy Taylor was an ordinary suburban housewife until she became queen of the vampires a few books back. This time she makes a deal with the devil, and you know that never leads to a good things. The story is mostly about trips, a journey to Hell and travel through time so that Betsy can find out a few things about her family history, and perhaps change their future, her present. Like many of the best deal with the devil stories, it’s very much tongue in cheek as has been the case throughout this series.  Davidson has managed to keep her concept and her characters fresh and lively for quite a few books now, but I’m afraid this one started to feel repetitive in the little things even though the plot itself was quite different.  Fun, but less so than usual. 8/17/10

Nocturnal Emissions by Jeffrey Thomas, Dark Regions, 2010, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-84-4 

A new collection from Jeffrey Thomas is always good news.  This one consists of eight stories and some poems, none of which I had previously read – and three of them are original to this collection.  I suppose the collection falls into the horror category although some of the stories really aren’t and in any case Thomas has such a unique perspective that putting them into one category or another seems a waste of time.  So while there is vampirism, it isn’t what you’re likely to suspect, and the same is true of deadly parasitic infections, flying saucers, preternatural creatures, and other thrills and chills.  Probably my favorites this time are “The Possessed,” “Godhead Dying Downward,” and “The Night Swimmers.”  Even Thomas’ lesser stories are always interesting and frequently surprising. 8/13/10

A Glimpse of Evil by Victoria Laurie, Obsidian, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23085-0 

Tomb with a View by Casey Daniels, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23551-5   

Both of these are paranormal detective stories, and both are among the better examples of their kind.  Laurie’s Psychic Eye series involves a woman with clairvoyant powers of a kind, unreliable naturally, but which nevertheless make her co-workers suspicious of her. This time around she is convinced that separate cases are linked but no one believes her and she has to work things out on her own.  Not the best in the series but well done.  Daniels takes things a little less seriously in her Pepper Martin series.  Martin is a cemetery tour guide who can also talk to the dead, who give her just enough information to get her involved in a case without actually solving it for her.  An ambitious young woman is murdered and her ghost nags Martin into finding out how gave her the fatal push.  This wasn’t the high point of the series either, but it was light fun. 8/10/10

Blood Law by Jeannie Holmes, Dell, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59267-2   

It’s the good vampires against the bad ones again in this, the first in the umpteenth urban fantasy vampire novel paranormal romance series.  There are some superficial similarities to Charlaine Harris – vampires are a substantial part of the population and the protagonist is a vampire police officer – so I suppose I should probably call this fantasy. Someone is murdering the town’s undead and the local sheriff is just as happy to see them go, so our heroine has to track down the killer – whose technique resonates with her own personal history – practically on her own. She does get assistance from an outside agent, her sexy ex-lover, which is absurd since no one in their right mind would have assigned the two to work together.  The writing itself isn’t bad but the plot is overdone, not thought out well, and the relationship between the two main characters is so stereotyped I could anticipate some of the dialogue. 8/9/10

Siren by John Everson, Leisure, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6354-0 

Sirens are more commonly associated with fantasy than horror, but John Everson makes use of one in this sometimes hauntingly atmospheric novel.  The protagonist is grieving over the accidental death of his son when he encounters a beautiful woman on a beach, a woman with whom he begins to have a passionate love affair.  But the reader will know long before he does that this is not a human being at all but an evil creature who is luring him to a fate worse than death. I liked the first half of the novel a great deal but was not as happy with the second half.  Once our hero begins to suspect the truth, and particularly when he visits an underwater world, the realism begins to fade and even though it was nicely written I found it increasingly difficult to believe in the story as it unfolded. 8/7/10

Lifeblood by Tom Becker, Scholastic, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-545-03746-4   

Second in the Darkside series, for younger readers. Jonathan is the young hero who lives in London, but also in a kind of quasi-London that impinges on the real city and where magical and supernatural events occur.  Yes, it’s a kind of dark Borderlands novel.  And it’s pretty dark.  There has been a series of mysterious, scary murders and Jonathan has decided to hunt down the killer.  He’s in a hunt, all right, but he’s the quarry.  Werecreatures and other problems interfere as well.  This is pretty obviously written down for a less sophisticated audience.  The storyline is actually pretty good though, so if you’re not bothered by the barebones prose, you might enjoy this even if you’re only young at heart. 8/5/10

The Girls with Games of Blood by Alex Bledsoe, Tor, 2010, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2384-2

A staked vampire is resurrected in the 1970s and has to adjust to life in a world totally unlike that in which he previously existed.  Fortunately, he develops a taste  - no pun intended – for loose women and fast cars and has little difficulty finding new ways to occupy himself. Unfortunately for our antihero, not everything is so pleasant and when he crosses trails with an ornery sheriff with old fashioned views, to say nothing of a pair of deadly sisters with secrets of their own, his new life – if that’s the word for it – begins to rush headlong toward disaster. Bledsoe does a good job of creating vampires that are both evil and oddly personable and weaves his plot intricately and inevitably toward its ultimate conclusion.  I recall reading his previous vampire novel and liking it, and this is its sequel, so I hope there's more of the same on the way. 8/1/10

 

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