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

Last Update 12/21/13  

The Lord Came at Twilight by Daniel Mills, Dark Renaissance,2013, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-937128-87-6

A collection of short stories by a Vermont writer with a very New England flavor. Most of them are small town horrors, although more in the vein of Shirley Jackson than Stephen King, although there's a touch of both as well as a hint of Lovecraft. Themes include obsessive guilt, abandonment, bizarre imagery, religious mania, insanity, repression, and hidden secrets.  The stories almost assemble themselves into a kind of tapestry like Winesburg, Ohio. "The Hollow," "Dust from a Dark Flower,: "The Wayside Voices," "The Falling Dark," and the title story are all excellent.  One of the better horror writers you probably have never heard of. This is a very fine collection and there are several excellent illustrations by M. Wayne Miller. 12/21/13

This Book Is Full of Spiders by David Wong, Thomas Dunne, 2012, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-250-03665-0

My first exposure to John Dies at the End was the movie, so the book didn't have all of the zip it might have had if I had come to it unsuspecting. The sequel meets that criterion. This very funny spoof takes on aliens, zombie apocalypses, and various other fads and mangles them all with delightful ease. This time spidery parasites are turning people into zombies, sort of, and our two odd heroes may actually have caused a zombie apocalypse, or have they? There is a change of tone this time around and much of the book - particularly in the second half - plays things straight and dark. The dialogue crackles with wit and the plot is inventive and fast moving, if not always completely coherent. It's always nice to see  a one-shot success followed by another equally good, but not quite in the same vein. Hopefully there is more to come. 12/9/13

Rise Again Below Zero by Ben Tripp, Gallery, 2013, $16, ISBN 978-1-4516-6832-2   

Sequel to Rise Again, a novel of a zombie apocalypse. I havenít read the first but the second bears a considerable resemblance to The Walking Dead, and most other zombie epics. Some of the zombies have progressed from staggering idiots to cunning and much faster hunter types whose adaptation threatens the small groups of surviving humans. One band of the latter decides to head cross country to a rumored refuge Ė where have I heard that one before? Ė but their destination is not exactly what they expected it to be. The author makes more effort than usual to give his characters some depth and texture, but the violence and suspense are really what the book is about and thatís what readers are likely to be looking for. Average or slightly better for a zombie novel. 12/1/13

Apparition by Trish J. MacGregor, Tor, 2013, $26.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2604-1   

Third in a series that started with Esperanza, in which ghosts and witchcraft menace the modern world. Two separate people find themselves drawn to the town of Esperanza in South America, an FBI agent and a journalist. There is something about this community which sets it literally aside from the ordinary world. As such, it provides a gateway through which the dead can and do return to the land of the living. Some of these spirits are good and others are evil. The newcomers adjust to their strange new home, but something has begun to change. A fresh group of angry ghosts have found the gateway and they arenít willing to play by the old rules. MacGregor writes well and I liked the first two books, but this one seems to be reworking old material in new outfits and I would rather have seen the author take on something different. 11/29/13

Shivers VII edited by Richard Chizmar, CD Publications, 2013, $20, ISBN 978-1-58767-225-5  

The latest in a highly respected collection of new and reprint short horror fiction includes, I should mention, a short story by yours truly. There are twenty-six stories here with reprints by Stephen King and Clive Barker, along with a very nice selection of newer writers like Scott Nicholson and Bev Vincent. One of my favorites in this volume is by Graham Masterton, which would have made a good episode of The Twilight Zone. Others I particularly liked included those by Del James, Lisa Tuttle, Norman Partridge, Ed Gorman, and Rick Hautala. A very high quality collection with a nice variety of styles and subject matter and Iím pleased at the company my story is keeping. This series has consistently published some of the best short fiction in the genre. A more expensive hardbound edition is also available.  11/27/13

To Dance with the Devil by Cat Adams, Tor, 2013, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2875-5

I'm reviewing this as horror but it's probably more fantasy than anything else. Celia Graves, part human and part vampire, has been working successfully as a bodyguard thanks to her vampire abilities and particularly since she acquired a magical artifact that gives her telepathic powers as well. When a personal attack leaves her with wounded pride and a lot of pent up anger, she wants revenge but she also has to take into consideration the effect her actions might have on her friends, as well as the chance that the entire state of California may be in supernatural jeopardy. Despite the scale of events, this is a pretty standard urban fantasy with horror overtones. Adams is a reliably competent writer who will always entertain you, even if her latest hews quite close to the standard formula.  11/14/13

Watcher of the Dark by Joseph Nassise, Tor, 2013, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2720-8 

This is the third adventure of Jeremiah Hunt, whose world overlaps fantasy and horror. Hunt's life has been thoroughly disrupted in the first two books as he quite literally has a brush with Hell itself after acquiring the ability to "see" through supernatural means. Now he's on the run because he's broken some rules and attracted some unwanted attention, but his effort to find refuge runs awry when his abilities come to the attention of a ruthless and ambitious man, and his friends become prey for a supernatural entity with a taste for human blood. Fortunately he has learned from his previous experiences and is not as vulnerable as he once was. Every bit as good as the first two books in the series. Should appeal to fans of urban fantasy and/or gritty horror. 11/12/13

The Universal and Other Terrors by Tony Richards, Dark Renaissance, 2013, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-937128-89-0

Fresh Cut Tales by Kenneth W. Cain, Distressed Press, 2013, ISBN 978-1491058770

I've been on a short fiction kick for a few days and gobbled up these two most recently. I've read quite a bit of Tony Richards' work so I pretty much knew what to expect - good stories most of which place an element of horror in an otherwise mundane context. The contrast is sometimes strikingly effective. They're not all the same, however, and a few seemed to me quite out of his ordinary style. About half the book is new material, but I had not previously read any of the reprints either. The title story, "The Very Edge of New Harare," and "By a Dark Canal" were marginally the best in a very uniform selection. Kenneth Cain is a name new to me. The stories here also appear to be all reprints, but I'd only encountered one of them before. The author has a vivid imagination and some of his plots are quite good, but the prose isn't as polished as that of Richards and at times it feels as though it could have used another revision. Still some interesting stories though, notably "Inside Out."  11/8/13

The Best Horror of the Year Volume 5 edited by Ellen Datlow, Night Shade, 2013, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-474-5

I have always believed that horror works better in short stories than in novels, and this annual compendium provides a good many examples. With no strong professional horror magazine around, it's not surprising that these are drawn from a wide variety of sources and that most of them were completely new to me. Picking favorites tends to be unfair and subjective, but I have to point out that Laird Barron seems to get better with each story, that Gary McMahon is edging toward becoming one of my favorites, and that Conrad Williams, Ramsey Campbell, Kij Johnson, Lucy Taylor, Margo Lanagan, and Lucy Snyder rarely disappoint me. There are some promising new names in this volume as well including Amber Sparks, Nathan Ballingrud, and Stephen Bacon. This is your best bet for finding well written horror stories that may otherwise be hidden from you. 11/4/13

Ghosts Know by Ramsey Campbell, Tor, 2013, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3633-0

A talk show host decides to publicly embarrass a man who claims to have psychic powers. His plan initially succeeds, buy later the psychic is hired to find a missing girl and announces that the host is connected in some fashion to the disappearance. Although he assumes no one will seriously believe the supposed charlatan, evidence begins to surface which makes him look progressively more guilty. This is psychological rather than supernatural horror, and it might have worked nicely if Campbell hadn't decided to use first person, present tense narration, which gives the story an abstract, awkward quality that is the antithesis of actual suspense. This one definitely didn't work for me even though it has an interesting premise. 11/1/13

Reanimators by Pete Rawlik, Night Shade, 2013, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-478-3

This is a sequel to H.P. Lovecraft's "Herbert West, Reanimator", in which West reanimates corpses, to his regret. A rival with a grudge against West tries to expose him as a fraud but instead finds himself pursuing the same arcane knowledge. This leads to a decades long contest to see who can perfect the process first, but of course we know that by its very nature this search for knowledge will corrupt both of the men who seek it. Despite the connections to HPL, this didn't feel like a pastiche but rather an historical horror novel that draws on the traditions of Frankenstein and other classic horror stories and films. Well written and reasonably suspenseful though perhaps a bit slow at times. 10/29/13

Tales of Jack the Ripper edited by Ross E. Lockhart, Word Horde, 2013, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-939905-00-0

I've read about a dozen nonfiction books about Jack the Ripper, a figure who has become a metaphor for the darker side of Victorian England. I've also read several fictional accounts, which have varied in theme, solution, and quality. This is a collection of new and original short fiction related to the Ripper, and they are as varied in almost every aspect as are the theories about who was really responsible. My favorite in the collection is "God of Razors" by Joe R. Lansdale, a reprint. Close runner up is "Termination Dust" by Laird Barron. Several others are clustered right after that including stories by Walter Greatshell, Ann K. Schwader, Ramsey Campbell, and others. Some stories offer interesting alternate identities to the Ripper, some are very suspenseful, and nearly all of them are highly entertaining. 10/26/13

Kitty in the Underworld by Carrie Vaughn, Tor, 2013, $7,99, ISBN 978-0-7653-6868-3

This is one of my two or three favorite urban fantasy/horror series. Kitty Norville is a entertainer and a werewolf, in fact leader of a pack of shapechangers. Since werewolves are territorial, she investigates rumors that an outsider has moved into their vicinity. She is captured by a secretive group of non-humans who want to enlist her aid, willingly or not, in a plan to undercut the policies of a powerful vampire lord. Since Kitty doesn't like the vampire, she is tempted to cooperate, but she has misgivings about her new "friends" as well, whose tactics might be disguising, or perhaps illuminating, a hidden agenda that she would not like at all. Not one of the stronger books in the series but I liked it anyway. 10/23/13

The Beautiful Things That Await Us All and Other Stories by Laird Barron, Night Shade, 2013, $26.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-467-7

Worship the Night by Jeffrey Thomas, Dark Renaissance, 2013, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-937128-88-3

It's always a pleasure to set aside some time for short story collections, particularly when such promising ones reach the top of the pile. Barron frequently gets compared to Lovecraft and while I can see some thematic similarities, he strikes me as a different phenomenon entirely. He is superb at evoking atmosphere, reminding me at times of Robert Aickman. What is perhaps the best feature of this collection is that it's hard to pick the best stories because they are all so good. "Hand of Glory," "The Redfield Girls," "The Men from Porlock," and "Blackwood's Baby" all compete with the title story for best in the collection. The stories are full of sociopaths and magicians and creatures. The occasional historical settings are also a nice change. I had only read two of these stories previously but I'm quite sure I'll be reading all of them again.  Jeffrey Thomas has been turning out excellent short stories for several years now, almost all in unusual venues where most readers are unlikely to discover them. There are eight of his better stories in this new collection. A couple of the stories are related to his loosely organized ongoing series, and there are moments of humor as well as suspense, horror, and outright strangeness. The novella "Sea of Flesh" is my favorite in a very fine selection. You won't go wrong with either of these, and the artwork by Erin Wells in the latter is also worth noting. 10/19/13

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King, Scribner, 2013, $30, ISBN 978-1-4767-2765-3

Danny Torrance, the young boy with psychic powers from The Shining, is now grown, a recovering alcoholic working in a hospice in New Hampshire. He becomes aware of the existence of a thirteen year old girl whose grasp of the shining - a power including astral projection, telekinesis, telepathy, clairvoyance, and precognition - is unprecedented. The girl's power has attracted the attention of the True Knot, a group of no longer human people who caravan around the country kidnapping children with this power and restoring their own youth by absorbing the "steam" that these children emit when they are dying. The plot evolves pretty logically from that premise, with very few side issues but some fascinating embellishments. Although I enjoyed this a great deal, it is very different from the earlier book, which was relentlessly terrifying. This one is more of an adventure story and the narrative is less compelling, in part I think because there are multiple viewpoint characters, but also in part because we know so much about the True Knot that while they are monstrous, they are no more so most other psychic vampires. For a change, I was surprised when someone I was pretty sure was going to die ending up living, rather than the other way around. This is one of King's better recent books, but as he says himself in the afterword, it wasn't written by the same man who wrote the early ones. 10/8/14

The Savage Dead by Joe McKinney, Pinnacle, 2013, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7860-2930-3

Joe McKinney's zombie series was among the more entertaining of the recent surge of zombie novels. His latest starts a new thread when a corporation with no scruples creates a new strain of virus that can turn people into mindless monsters. The virus is introduced onto a cruise ship where it begins to affect passengers and crew alike. Although it is confined to the ship, the ship is headed for the mainland and if any of the infected get to shore, it might never be contained. Enter a team of commandoes led by our protagonist, directed to contain the project, but the challenge might be more than they can handle. This is a standalone story, but I wouldn't be surprised if it's the beginning of a new series. 10/6/13