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

 Last Update 4/30/11 

An Embarrassment of Riches by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tor, 2011, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-76533103-8 

Like everything else, book prices appear to be going up. I’m not surprised that people are switching to ebooks, although I suspect the price differential is going to narrow very quickly. This is the latest St Germain novel, so I knew up front that I was going to like it. It was just a question of how much. This one’s set in 13th Century Prague and it’s about as far removed from horror, despite the vampire protagonist, as one can get. There are the usual court intrigues and the historical detail is often interesting but the plot hasn’t varied much in the last few books. There’s never any doubt that he’ll escape, since Yarbro has already chronicled his adventures in later eras, but it’s still fascinating to watch him evade his various enemies. The author has never wasted my time yet but this hovers somewhere in the middle range of her books in terms of interest. 4/30/11

The Zombie Autopsies by Steven C. Schlozman M.D., Grand Central, 2011, $19.99, ISBN 978-0-446-56466-3  

This is a gimmick book, printed in long hand and with drawings sprinkled through to provide verisimilitude. The “author” is infected with the disease which has converted more than half the population of the world into zombies and he’s desperately trying to find a cure before his symptoms erase his personality. Unfortunately they only have a few days to do so and ultimately they’re doomed. This feels like an excerpt rather than a complete novel – and with dozens of pages of appendices in a short book, it’s probably actually a novella at best. There are some interesting ideas developed in the discussions but there isn’t a whole lot of story and there really isn’t an ending at all. 4/25/11

By These Ten Bones by Clare B. Dunkle, Square Fish, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-312-65927-1 4190-1

The Vampire’s Promise by Caroline B. Cooney, Point, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-545-28976-4 

Here’s a pair of young adult quasi-romance novels involving the supernatural, werewolves in the first and vampires in the second. I have a mild prejudice against werewolf stories, which seem to me as limited in scope as modern zombie tales, but Dunkle does a very good job with this one, set in medieval Scotland. There are some variations of the legend that I’ve never heard of before. The protagonist is a young women who correctly identifies who is the lycanthrope and eventually ends the menace, but only after some quite suspenseful interludes.  A little rough around the edges but basically quite a good story.  Cooney is also an above average YA writer and she avoids falling into the usual vampire romance theme so popular of late. Her vampire is not only evil he’s essentially a devil and teens make a deal with him to boost their popularity, only to find out that they have to pay a steep price in return. This is actually three related novelets and, alas, they are not up to the author’s usual standards.  The stories are predictable and not very interesting and there is almost no suspense at all. 4/20/11

Chilling Tales edited by Michael Kelly, Edge, 2011, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-894036-52-4

Those Who Fight Monsters edited by Justin Gustainis, Edge, 2011, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-894063-48-7

Six-Guns Straight from Hell edited by David B. Riley and Laura Givens, Science Fiction Trails, 2009, $15.95, ISBN 978-1453836866   

I was in the mood for a two day orgy of short horror fiction to mark the coming of spring, more or less, since it arrived here with a snow storm and rain. All three of these consist of original stories and while two of them are technically theme anthologies, the theme is so general that they felt open ended as well.  The first is completely unthemed and includes eighteen stories of varying but generally quite high quality. The most successful are those by Claude Lalumiere, Barbara Roden, Brett Alexander Savory, Nancy Kilpatrick, and David Nickle. As a general statement probably reflecting the editors’ tastes, I’d say these were more dependent upon actual storyline and less on atmosphere than is most horror fiction, but the stories don’t suffer from that shift of emphasis. The second title concerns occult detectives, but since these are original stories, their protagonists are much more contemporary and closer to urban fantasy than to Hodgson or Dunsany or Jules de Grandin. There are some very good stories here including those by T.A. Pratt, Simon R. Green, Tanya Huff, Rachel Caine, and Carrie Vaughn, and merely quite good stories by the rest. There’s a bit less emphasis on horror in these than in the first title, but the average quality level is even higher. This is one you might want to track down since I don’t know how much distribution Edge gets in the US. These two make some pretty stiff competition for the third, which includes less well known writers. The theme for this one, if you didn’t guess it from the title, is the Old West. Since my mother taught me to read using her paperback westerns, I’ve always had a fondness for the form and I particularly like westerns with an element of the fantastic. So I might be prejudiced but in general I thought this was pretty good as well, though some of the stories are not quite as polished. Lyn McConchie, David Lee Summers, and James Patrick Cobb provided particularly memorable tales and there were only a couple where I hurried to get through because they didn’t hold my interest.  More evidence that horror fiction works better at shorter length. 4/14/11

Sin & Ashes by Joseph S. Pulver Sr., Hippocampus, 2011, $20, ISBN 978-0-9844802-4-1   

Here’s an interesting collection of short horror fiction which will be new to most readers and partly new to all.  I only recall reading one of these stories before, one of the Lovecraftian ones, and those that are not original to this collection have appeared in the small press primarily.  They are also very short on average – there are more than fifty although some are prose poems.  As you might expect, there’s a good deal of violence in them, but Pulver seems more interested in atmosphere than gore most of the time, and spends a lot of time experimenting with prose styles.  Some of these latter work quite well; some of them don’t.  I found the entertainment level varied quite dramatically for me, but there were enough good stories to be worth by putting up with the lesser ones. 3/21/11

Falling Under by Gwen Hayes, NAL, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23268-7   

A high school student experiencing erotic dreams with a recurring partner becomes completely disoriented when her dream lover shows up in the flesh, the new kid in school, to whom she is understandably drawn even while her mind tells her to stay away. Their relationship will take her to a different reality, threaten her life, and overturn much of what she believed about the world.  Although not labeled as such, this is a YA novel, a romance that has a lot in common with vampire romances, although it’s not one itself.  The prose is written in a sparse style that keeps the story moving, but without providing any real depth of understanding of the characters or situations.  Has its moments, but won’t satisfy most adult – and probably not all young adult – tastes. 3/10/11

The Horror at Chiller House by R.L. Stine, Scholastic, 2011, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-545-16200-5

Claws! by R.L. Stine, Scholastic, 2011, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-545-28933-7

Night of the Giant Everything by R.L. Stine, Scholastic, 2011, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-545-28935-1 

  The perennially popular Goosebumps series continues with these three new blends of humor and horror for younger readers.  The first one is in the Horrorland sequence involving a magically menacing amusement park and the other two are in a new series, the Hall of Horrors.  In the first, the proprietor of another attraction plots against the kids who venture into his store.  I’ve actually liked some of this series, but this one seemed pretty flat.  The second one is kind of cute.  The young heroes inadvertently allow a cat they are supposed to be watching to die accidentally, so they steal an exact duplicate from a pet shop.  Except that it’s not exactly a duplicate, and not even exactly a cat.  The third is the weakest of the three, primarily because it’s pretty much a toned down version of The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson.  A boy is tricked into drinking a potion that reduces him to nine inches in height and he has various adventures in his own house.  Few adults will fine much of interest here, but they should entertain their target audience. 3/2/11

Thirteen Years Later by Jasper Kent, Pyr, 2/11/ $17, ISBN 978-1-61614-253-7  

In Jasper Kent’s first novel, Napoleon’s ill fated invasion of Russia in 1812 was harried not just by their Russian opponents, but also by predatory vampires who naturally take advantage of the chaos and bloodletting.  Now more than a decade has passed.  Napoleon is dead and peace of a sort has been restored to Europe.  But the vampires haven’t gone away.  It appears that the dangers to the throne of Russia have only human sources at the moment, but that’s an illusion and an ancient evil is about to strike again. I don’t ordinarily care for historical horror novels for some reason, but I very much liked the first and the sequel is every bit as good. 2/27/11

Uprising by Sean McCabe, Signet, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-451-41306-2  

There are good vampires and bad ones.  The good ones have created a set of rules designed to keep them from coming to the attention of ordinary humans, but the bad ones still like killing their prey.  Human prey, obviously. One protagonist is a human policeman investigating a gruesome death who believes that vampires are real.  The other is an agent of the Vampire Federation, who knows they are real, given that she is one herself.   The two inevitably become romantically involved as factions within the undead community go to war, with humans caught in the middle.  Not badly written, just not very original. 2/26/11

Zombiesque edited by Stephen L. Antczak, James C. Bassett, and Martin H. Greenberg, DAW, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7564-0658-5   

There’s a plague of zombies, all right, and they’re on the bookracks.  Most of the titles I’ve seen to date have either been spoofs – some of them quite funny – or regurgitations of the George Romero Living Dead movies, occasionally very badly written.  Original anthologies follow trends, of course, and this one brings together sixteen original stories that mostly manage to find something new to say, and which vary considerably in tone if not plot.  The best of these are by Del Stone Jr., Seanan McGuire, Nancy Holder, and Jim Hines.  I suspect this is a trend that will not last long, given the early onset of constant repetition I’m seeing, but I’ve been wrong before. 2/22/11

The Bone Tree by Christopher Fulbright, Dark Moon, 2010, $17.95, ISBN 978-0-9832211-2-8

Alice on the Shelf by Bill Gauthier, Dark Moon, 2010, $17.95, ISBN 978-0-9832211-1-1

Two horror novellas, one traditional, one not.  The first is the traditional one.  Young boys have their lives overturned when they discover the existence of the Bone Tree, a nexus of supernatural evil.  The Shadow Men, suitably creepy figures, begin appearing and the boys realize that they must deal with matters without the help of their elders.  Not terribly surprising but quite well written and at times actively scary.  The second title is more innovative, a dark take on Alice in Wonderland. The protagonist has a dream involving the fictional Alice, but it's actually a link to a danger facing a real woman, Miranda, who turns out to be missing.  As our hero investigates he finds more links to the classic fantasy but with a much darker tone.  I liked this one quite a lot. The story unfolds neatly and the allusions give it an extra dimension.  Not familiar with the author but I suspect I will be in the future.  2/8/11

The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer by Lucy Weston, Gallery, 2011, $15, ISBN 978-1-4391-9033-3  

It looks like every historical figure you can think of was either secretly a vampire or demon, or secretly hunted vampires or demons.  Or both.  In this case, Queen Elizabeth is battling for control of England against the king of the vampires in a secret war invisible to most of the population. The vampire king is actually Mordred, which provides a bit of a novel twist.  The blurb on this one claims that Lucy Weston was the prey of Dracula in the Stoker novel, but that’s not true.  The character’s name was Lucy Westenra.  The novel still might have been successful if it had tried to do something original with the material, but it quickly devolves into a standard vampire romance in period costume.  I’d say it was disappointing, but I wasn’t expecting much to start with. 2/7/11

Beneath the Surface by Simon Strantzas, Dark Regions, 2010, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-92-9

Our Lady of the Shadows by Tony Richards, Dark Regions, 2010, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-94-3

Two collections of horror stories, both of them well above the average of ones I’ve encountered recently.  The first was previously published in England.  The stories vary considerably in plot but there’s a distinct atmosphere common to most of them, similar but not identical to Lovecraftian fiction in that there is an implication that the world we see is only one of many and that we are the prey of forces beyond our understanding and control.  “A Shadow in God’s Eye,” “Behind Glass,” and “In the Air” are marginally the best in a uniformly good selection.  Richards writes stories closer to the horror mainstream, whatever that is, and is more reliant on plot than on atmosphere, although there’s plenty of that as well. There are several excellent stories here as well, including “Hanako from Miyajaki” and “Streets of the City.”  There is also a very nice novelette, “Postcards from Terri”.  With so little short horror fiction available from major publishers, the smaller presses like Dark Regions can provide a high quality product with refreshing frequency. 1/28/11

A Haunted Halloween by Paul Melniczek, Dark Regions, 2010, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-91-2 3991

Charnel Wine by Richard Gavin, Dark Regions, 2010, $17.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-88-2 

The first of these collections is well written but suffers a bit from too much of the same theme.  As the title suggests, these are all Halloween stories.  A couple of them are quite clever but some of the others are reprises of familiar Halloween plots and I had a sense of déjà vu while reading them.  “The Attic Door” was my favorite. Probably best read in small doses.  The second title is a slightly expanded edition of a small press collection first published in 2004.  Gavin employs a variety of narrative techniques and mixes them up well.  There are several good stories including “Mrs. South” and “The Lodge.”  I had a recurring problem though in that the stories are all very short and I never really found myself immersed in any of them before the punch line was delivered.  Gavin’s horrors are more intellectual than explicit most of the time, although witches, the returned dead, and other familiar horror tropes make their appearances. 1/25/11

Ghouls, Ghouls, Ghouls by Victoria Laurie, Obsidian, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23197-0 

I wish the titles in this series weren’t so corny because the individual books have been quite good, light suspense, creepy supernatural effects, and even some enjoyable characters.  In this, the fifth in the series, our protagonist and her film crew travel to a remote castle in Ireland which is supposedly haunted by ghosts and inhabited by a mysterious phantom, who kills visitors he doesn’t like.  For a while I thought this might be a human masquerading as the phantom, but the real answer is much more satisfying.  Light humor rarely works with the supernatural, but Laurie has it down to a science. 1/23/11

Bloodshot by Cherie Priest, Spectra, 2011, $15, ISBN 978-0-345-52060-9

This vampire adventure is the first in an apparent series that skirts along the edges of urban fantasy without completely overlapping. Raylene Pendle is a century old vampire who makes a living stealing things.  She's a reasonably traditional vampire, burns up in prolonged sunlight, drinks blood to survive though usually not by killing people, heals quickly though enough bullets will kill her, and has super senses and strength.  Her latest client is a blind vampire, which puzzles her because vampires should be able to heal such things, and her efforts to find out more about the government project which experimented on him before he escaped makes her the target for two separate paramilitary organizations.  Much mayhem follows, hugely entertaining at times, and a cast of unusual and quite interesting supporting characters.  I was a little put off by Raylene's penchant for killing even innocent pawns of the bad guys but not enough that I didn't enjoy her exploits thoroughly.  The immediate bad guys get their just desserts but the big bad is still at large, so I presume at least one sequel is in the works. 1/16/11

Valley of the Scarecrow by Gord Rollo, Dark Regions, 2010, $14, ISBN 978-1428511095  

A generation ago, the elders of a small town decided that their minister had made a deal with the devil – which was true – and they walled him and three followers up in the desecrated church and moved away.  Years later, the story intrigues a group of young people, particularly the part about a treasure in gold, so they try to locate the church and find the hidden gold.  Bad idea.  When the minister is restored to life by living blood, he wreaks havoc among the newcomers in typically gory ways.  Not badly written, but this read so much like a direct to video horror film that I expected the credits to roll across my vision when I turned the last page. 1/15/11

Blood Prophecy by Stefan Petrucha, Grand Central, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-446-55599-9

I’m not ordinarily a fan of historical horror novels, but in this case – even though the protagonist is a kind of reluctant vampire – it’s more of an occult adventure story than a true horror novel.  Some elements of the plot are familiar but others are fairly novel, including the existence of a supernatural threat that could have apocalyptic consequences.  The best parts of the book were the vividly described settings and the convincing evocation of historical periods.  The conflict among the well realized characters felt almost secondary to me. It wasn’t at all what I was expecting, and in a good way. 1/11/11

Keys to the Repository by Melissa de la Cruz, Hyperion, 2010, $14.99, ISBN 978-142313454-1  

One of the best of the current YA adult series – and much better than Stephenie Meyer in my opinion – is the Blue Bloods series by Melissa de la Cruz, which assumes that some of the original settlers of America were actually vampires, of a relatively benevolent sort, and that their descendants are still hidden among us.  This is the fifth book in the series, but it’s not a continuation of any specific narrative.  Rather, it’s a selection of short pieces, supposedly the archives of the hidden people, as well as a few non-fact articles related to the series.  A few of them are pretty good but overall I had mixed feelings because others are quite minor.  Fans of the series will probably like it, but it’s not the book you’d use to introduce someone to the author. 1/10/11

Pain by Harry Shannon, Dark Regions, 2010, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-95-0

This short zombie novel is tense and well written, and avoids the excesses common in less talented writers, but it's still basically just a George Romero variation.  In this case, the contaminant is in the water supply of a small town and those affected wander around attacking the rest, including a small group of professional mercenaries and the occupants of a medical clinic.  Shannon's zombies are considerably more cunning and dangerous than the screen version, but otherwise events play out much as I expected from the outset.  The odds are stacked so heavily against the characters that an apocalyptic ending is almost inevitable.  Fun, but not as good as the author's other novels.  1/7/11

A Hell of a Job by Michael McCarty, Damnation, 2010, $13.99, ISBN 9781615721184 

There is a very loose theme in this collection of twenty-five short stories, essentially jobs are hellish things to occupy your time, possibly literally.  There is little more to unite them and they range from SF to horror, from creepy to humorous, and with various gradations in between.  Several of them are collaborations with Jeffrey Thomas, Mark McLaughlin, and others, and about half of them are original to this book.  There are mad scientists, monsters, vampires, space travelers, dinosaurs, and a host of other oddities.  Only a couple of stories struck me as clunkers; the rest maintain a nicely professional air and several even hold a few surprises for the reader. 1/4/11

Down the Road by Bowie Ibarra, Gallery, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-1-4391-8069-3

I hate writing bad reviews.  Partly it's because that means I read a bad book, partly because authors don't generally set out to write bad books.  That said, this zombie novel - originally published by Permuted Press - is a very bad book.  First of all, it credits a variety of federal government conspiracy theories including secret FEMA prison camps and such.  I'm very tired of government conspiracy fiction - whether published as such or as spouted by Rush Limbaugh - but this might not have been a fatal blow.  The killer punch came with the implementation suggested within the first few days of an outbreak of walking corpses.  The entire population of the US is ordered to leave their homes immediately and move to detention centers, already prepared, for their own protection.  Highways clogged with cars are harassed by policemen calmly walking down the highway issuing tickets and demanding immediate payment, or handcuffing adults and children, and no one protests.  Not that the scenario makes sense in any case.  And finally, even if I could have accepted that, when the "hero" coldbloodedly runs down the policemen with his car, I started cheering on the zombies.  In fact, the zombies act more realistically than the humans for most of the book.  The protagonist has a problem with authority figures obviously, and the author's afterword in which he explains that he originally self published the book because he didn't want an editor tampering with his art suggests the same. There is a good deal of eye gouging, flesh ripping, and spewing blood, as you might expect.  I've been a fan of horror fiction for fifty years so I don't have a problem with graphic gore in a story.  But there really needs to be a story rather than just a string of grisly incidents.  There's a sequel out.  Wonderful.  1/2/11

Frankenstein’s Monster by Susan Heyboer O’Keefe, Three Rivers Press, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-307-71732-0

This is a direct sequel to Mary Shelley’s classic.  Frankenstein is dead, his family destroyed, and the monster is on his own.  Except that there are still people determined to bring his blasphemous existence to an end.  The plot proceeds somewhat predictably in general terms, although some of the twists might surprise you.  The message is obviously that the regular humans can be even more monstrous than the relatively innocent though dangerous creation of the misguided Frankenstein, and in fact at times I thought it was ladled on a bit too heavily, but for the most part the story  moves well, the prose is smooth, and the conclusion feels as though it is rushing toward you almost from the opening page.  1/1/11

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