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

 Last Update 8/30/11  

Grave Expectations by Charles Dickens and Sherri Browning Erwin, Gallery, 2011, $15, ISBN 978-1-4516-1724-5 

I thought the mashup craze had ended, but obviously I was wrong. Erwin, author of Jane Slayre, takes on my favorite Dickens novel, Great Expectations, and transforms it, or rather adds to a rather condensed version of the classic. It is, I believe, Dickensí most suspenseful novel, involving concealed identities, long held secrets, and enigmatic characters.  Erwin adds an element of lycanthropy to the mix. Pip, who is the werewolf in question, encounters zombies and other supernatural elements including a vampire and a slayer. This was actually more fun than I expected, considerably more inventive than most of the others of its type. 8/30/11

The Knowledge of Good and Evil by Glenn Kleier, Tor, 2011, $24.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2377-4 

Here we have a very ambitious and well written novel about a man who was supported through most of his life by his religious faith but who eventually begins to doubt the validity of the immortal soul. In order to put his mind to rest, he decides to ferret out the mysteries of the Church Ė which I wonít describe here Ė but the title gives you a good idea of what his quest is really about, even when he doesnít know it yet.  Naturally there are some bad guys who donít want him sticking his nose where it doesnít belong. Itís definitely supernatural or fantasy depending on your bias and there is some quite inventive stuff, particularly toward the end. Should be particularly appealing to fans of Dan Brownís stuff, although this is better written. 8/25/11

Evolve Two edited by Nancy Kilpatrick, Edge, 2011, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-894063-62-3 

This is the second volume of an anthology of vampire stories whose common thread is that they are set in the future and include some form of speculation about how the undead might adapt to changing circumstances. The horror element varies a good deal obviously and what constitutes a vampire isnít a uniform interpretation either.  A few of the stories are a bit gimmicky, most are pretty good, and a couple are quite good.  The contributors include Tanith Lee, John Shirley, Kelley Armstrong, and a crew of less familiar but often very talented writers.  If you liked volume one, you should like this one as well. If youíre looking for vampires that arenít always handsome, angst ridden, and romantic, then either volume should serve you well. 8/19/11

The Whisperers by John Connolly, Pocket, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4391-6524-9

I stumbled across this one by accident, assuming it was just a mainstream thriller. Less than a quarter of the way through, I went on line and ordered five more of his novels, so obviously I enjoyed it.  It's the latest in the Charlie Parker detective series, which apparently veers into the supernatural from time to time, as it does here.  A group of veterans who served in Iraq are engaged in a smuggling scheme across the Canadian border, selling artifacts looted from a museum, but one of the items in their collection actually imprisons some vengeful demonic forces.  There are a number of people interested in acquiring possession including the thoroughly repulsive Herod, the mysterious Collector, and the inhuman Captain. Parker is investigating, sort of, the suicide of one member of the group, and stumbles into a dangerous and volatile situation. There's a good deal of violence but almost none of the weapons porn common in this kind of novel and the writing is top notch.  8/17/11

Kittyís Greatest Hits by Carrie Vaughn, Tor, 8/11, $25.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2696-6   

I had already read about half of the short stories included here, and was glad to find the others.  Kitty, if you havenít read any of her book length adventures, is a benevolent werewolf and radio star in a version of our world where vampires and other supernatural creatures have come out of the closet. Kitty isnít actually in all of the stories although they all appear to be set in the same world, although at different times in history. Thereís also a quite good original novella. The novels vary from borderline horror to paranormal romance but whatever their label, they are among the very best of their type and the short stories are, if anything, better than the novels. 8/15/11

Partners in Slime by Michael McCarty and Mark McLaughlin, Damnation, 2011, $17.99, ISBN 9781615723508 

Iíve  read stories by both these authors individually before and enjoyed them, and a previous selection of collaborations, which I liked as well.  This new collection consists of several more such collaborations, two individual stories, and a couple of collaborations with others, including scream queen Linnea Quigley.  Theoretically theyíre all horror although several are campy enough that itís hard to pin that label on them. A few are light fun, a couple are quite good. There is a strong influence from direct to video horror and science fiction movies here, and a pair of twisted senses of humor. This isnít likely to appeal to those who like their stories conventional and tame, but it has a lot to offer those of us who want to tweak those conventions. 8/11/11

The Secret of Crickley Hall by James Herbert, Tor, 2011, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2888-5 

I believe this is the first US edition of a 2006 novel, a haunted house story in the usual tradition though a bit longer than most at over six hundred pages.  A family with two young daughters moves temporarily to the house of the title almost a year after their young son disappeared under mysterious circumstances.  The Hall was a site for dislocated children during World War II and eleven of them perished, apparently in a flood, during that era.  The house has the usual array of creepy devices and itís obvious that the deaths of the children was not as initially described.  In fact, although this is well written and moves right along, I had pretty much figured out everything that was going to happen around page 200. The identity of the living villain Ė as opposed to the ghostly one Ė is evident the moment he shows up, simply because there are no other candidates.  A variety of subsidiary characters are all drawn together for the climax.  I did find it a bit of a leap to believe that the father would rent a house with an open pit to an underground river in the basement, not guarded in any way, and a fast moving mini-river right by the front door, given that his kids are 12 and 5 respectively. 8/8/11

Dark Souls by Paula Morris, Point, 2011, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-25132-7 

This is a highly atmospheric ghost story for younger readers about a young girl who moves to the city of York where she becomes inextricably involved with its aura of ghostliness. Sometimes we even doubt who is alive and who is not. Morris develops all three of her primary characters with considerable depth and the setting is quite skillfully evoked.  Thereís a steady build up to the exciting confrontation with what is really going on behind the scenes. The book is short and feels even shorter because it is so engrossing. A novel that should appeal to adults however young or not they may be. 8/7/11

The Horror Hall of Fame edited by Joe R. Lansdale, CD, 2011, $35, ISBN 978-1-58767-026-8 

This is a collection of Bram Stoker Award winning stories, so not surprisingly I had read all of them previously, although there were a couple that I barely remembered. Thereís a nice cross section of horror here, since there are stories by Robert Bloch, Tom Liggotti, Elizabeth Massie, Harlan Ellison, and David Morrell, among others, and an obviously large array of styles and subject matter.  Given that they are all award winners, itís not surprising that all of them are well written, and only one of them was not to my taste. A good sampling of some of the best short horror fiction of the last decade or so. 8/2/11

The Concrete Grove by Gary McMahon, Solaris, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-95-6   

The premise of the first novel I ever wrote was that no matter how horrible a monster you could conjure up, humans had and will do things even worse.  Thatís a theme here as well. The protagonist is caught up with a predatory loan shark whose charm is directed at getting something more than money.  But little does he, or she, or anyone else know what evil actually lurks in the house already. Despite the supernatural overtones and a mysterious protector, this is more a novel of psychological suspense than horror.  It kept me guessing, and that doesnít happen nearly as often as it ought to. 7/27/11

No Hero by Jonathan Wood, Night Shade, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-282-6   

An unprepossessing British police detective gets in over his head when he is approached by members of a super secret government organization that is trying to protect the world from the encroachment of Lovecraftian style horrors from another dimension. The story line is straightforward and the tone is not entirely serious. There are references to pop culture and some clever bits here and there.  Warning for those who share my prejudices: this is written in first person present tense, which is even worse than third person present tense. 7/25/11

The First Days by Rhiannon Frater, Tor, 2011, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3126-7  

First in a zombie series. Donít run away screaming; itís actually not bad at all.  The premise is the usual one.  Some mysterious plague suddenly affects large portions of the population, turning them into flesh eating zombies who prey on anyone who comes in range. Itís a George Romero movie without the pictures, although some of the pictures conjured up by the author here on as gruesome as anything that appeared on the screen. Two women team up for a quest across the countryside Ė nothing new there either Ė but the sometimes very dark humor that pops up now and then keeps this from being just another zombie slugfest. The plotís not anything out of the ordinary but the characters are real enough to keep you intrigued. 7/24/11

The Vampire Stalker by Allison Van Diepen, Point, 2011, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-545-28375-5   

Thereís an unusual twist at the beginning of this YA vampire novel.  The vampire and the vampire hunter are both characters in a series of books. The female protagonist is startled one day to encounter the hunter, who has somehow become a very real teenage boy. Thereís more than one mystery connected to the story and not surprisingly a romance springs up as well.  There are some minor plot problems Ė including the small effort needed to convince the authorities that thereís a real vampire on the loose Ė and some problems with jumps in the story line that really should have had some backfill, but itís almost certainly going to appeal to its target audience. 7/19/11

Zombies vs Nazis by Scott Kenemore, Skyhorse, 2011, $12.95, ISBN 978-1-61608-250-5  

The sad thing is that given the current zombie craze, I took this seriously for a few seconds. Itís a spoof, a secret history of Nazi attempts to build a zombie army during World War II, complete with comic book style illustrations, over the top villainy, and so forth. The book consists of the journals of the German agents sent to Haiti to discover the secret or raising the dead, and what they found there, and what found them there. Some of the humor is clever, some obvious.  It was a bit longer than it had to be, but otherwise fun. 7/16/11

Deadline by Mira Grant, Orbit, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-316-08106-1   

Feed was probably the most significant and one of the best written zombie novels of the last few years and this is the sequel. Itís a quasi-rationalized zombie rather than supernatural, part of a plague that has changed much of the structure of the world, although there may be worse things lying in waiting. The protagonist is a journalist who has become depressed by the turn of events even though he presumably defeated the villains he faced in the first book.  Then a government researcher hiding from her own superiors shows up with intelligence suggesting that things are even worse than he thinks. Unlike most zombie novels, this one is more about the personal relationships than descriptions of dismembered body parts.  I think it should have been trimmed down some Ė there are some unnecessary repetitions and the story slows down at a few points Ė but overall itís quite suspenseful and engages the reader on more than one level. Whenever thereís a new literary fad, there are always a few books that stand out. This series will undoubtedly be among those that survive the inevitable decline of the zombie genre. 7/2/11

My Life As a White Trash Zombie by Diana Rowland, DAW,  2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7864-0675-2 

Iíve found that most of the better zombie novels refuse to take themselves entirely seriously, and thatís the case here. The protagonist is a long time loser, unable to hold a job, addicted to drugs, and so forth, but one day she wakes up in a hospital after a mysterious accident and is promptly offered a job at a morgue. Thatís disturbing enough but she also has developed a new appetite, an addiction to eating brains, and sheís not the only one.  When decapitated corpses start showing up, sheís intrigued and pissed because sheís always hungry, but then things start to fall into place.  I actually rather liked this one and it has great cover art as well. 7/1/11

The Five Masks of Dr. Screem by R.L. Stine, Scholastic, 2011, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-545-28936-8   

The Goosebumps series refuses to die although itís not nearly as popular as was once the case.  But horror fiction in general has been declining so thatís no surprise. This one is Halloween oriented and involves two kids who get involved with the effort to prevent the evil villain, Dr. Screem, from obtaining a series of magical artifacts that could give him unprecedented power over the world. Where have I heard that one before?  They succeed of course after low key adventures written for preteens.  6/29/11

The Midnight Gate by Helen Stringer, Feiwel and Friends, 2011, $17.99, ISBN 978-0-312-38764-8   

This young adult novel is a bit of a ghost story and a bit of fantasy. In the first in the series the protagonist Ė Belladonna Johnson Ė discovered that she has magical talents. She also encounters the ghosts of her parents.  This time her parentsí shades are missing but another ghost shows up with a map and an enigmatic message. That leads to a blend of mystery and quest with some lively action here and there as she figures out what is going on and what she has to do, aided slightly by her male friend from school. Not badly written but with a bit too young a focus to really engage me. 6/27/11

The Best Horror of the Year Volume 3 edited by Ellen Datlow, Night Shade, 2011, $15.99, ISBN 978-1-59780-217-8   

This is the first volume of this anthology Iíve seen since it shifted to Night Shade books and I really missed it.  There is so much short horror fiction being published in so many places, most of them not readily available, that I have felt out of touch with that aspect of horror for some time now. Datlow brings together a mix of new and established writers, and a wide range of subject matter.  Authors include Catherynne Valente, M. Rickert, Joe Lansdale, Tanith Lee, and Brian Hodge.  The editor also provides an informative summation, substantial author bios, and a brief list of honorable mentions.  Either I was in a receptive mood or this was a particularly good year for short horror because I planned to read a story or two a night until I was done and ended up reading it almost from cover to cover at the first sitting. Horror fiction generally is better at shorter length and there's plenty of evidence of that here. 6/26/11

Viking Dead by Tony Venables, Abaddon, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-1-907519-69-7   

Zombies vs Vikings. That about says it all for this latest addition to the Tomes of the Dead series. A ship full of the latter are exploring a land devastated by disease and warfare and discover that some of the local dead are still moving around. The wanderers arenít the big problem though; itís the organized groups of undead Vikings who prowl the area looking for fresh victims. The only way out is to go further in, to invade the castle from which the evil is being disseminated and end it forever.  Slash and gash adventure with no redeeming social value can be fun at times and this was one of those times. This one falls somewhere between horror and fantasy. 6/7/11

Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion, Atria, 2011, $24, ISBN 978-1-4391-9231-3   

A few writers are making an effort to find something original to do with the zombie theme.  This first novel comes closer than most.  The protagonist is a zombie wandering through a post collapse America, but heís not quite the mindless creature of the movies. He can speak a few words, make a few plans, and he feels deep and often unpleasant emotions. When he eats the brain of a young boy, he acquires some of the latterís memories and feelings, which leads to a bizarre and occasionally funny relationship between the zombie and his recent victimís still living girlfriend. I wonít tell you any more than that about the story, which is actually quite clever. There are not necessarily worn, tired out themes, just worn, tired out writers. 6/2/11

Rage by Jackie Morse Kessler, Graphia, 2011, $8.99, ISBN 978-0-547-44528-1   

Second in the Riders of the Apocalypse series, in which teenagers become avatars of the famous four horsemen, in this case War. In this, as in the first book, the teenager is troubled.  Famine was logically anorexic; War is a cutter who uses razor blades on herself in order to control her own life, and when sheís given a magical sword that makes her invincible, the temptation to use it is significant. Although obviously couched in fantastic terms, the book is actually an examination of the pressures that lead to self destructive behavior and the easiness with which some people are able Ė or think they are able Ė to lose control and become destructive. An interesting premise and quite well done. 6/1/11

Almost Final Curtain by Tate Hallaway, New American Library, 2011, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-451-2311-0   

Second in the Vampire Princess series. Our protagonist discovered in the first book that sheís not just a vampire/witch crossbreed, sheís also a member of the undead aristocracy.  But sheíd rather just be an ordinary high school student and do ordinary things. Things are complicated for her though. Her boyfriend wants to be a vampire hunter, which puts rather serious strains on their relationship obviously. In her second adventure, she continues to have confused loyalties because of the animosity between witches and vampires, and when she discovers that someone has stolen a magical artifact that could alter the balance of power between the two, she realizes she has to do something very unordinary about it.  Thereís nothing identifying this as a young adult book, but it definitely is one, though written well enough for adult readers. 5/28/11

Loss of Separation by Conrad Williams, Solaris, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-906735-56-2 

This looked more like a mainstream thriller Ė the cover shows an airplane exploding Ė than any branch of fantasy, but it turns out to have some ambiguous supernatural elements. The protagonist was an airline pilot until an incident in the air spooked him and he retired to run a bed and breakfast in a small town in England. Then a hit and run driver seriously injures him and when he wakes after six months in a coma, his lover has disappeared and in short order he is suspected of some involvement in the murders of several children over a period of time. I was not convinced that the investigating officerís suspicions made any sense given the context and there were other times when the motives of some of the characters were unclear. There does appear to be some genuine psychic phenomena and the two mysteries inevitably turn out to be related.  Slightly reminiscent of Algernon Blackwood Ė heavy on atmosphere but not always with the most focused plot. 5/21/11

Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney, Pinnacle, 2011, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7860-2360-8  

Zombies on the rampage! Houston has been quarantined following an outbreak of the walking dead, but efforts to contain the threat have failed and there are growing numbers of the shambling mindless cannibals. Our protagonist is a woman who tries to contain the menace and expedite the escape of those not infected, but she and her co-workers are quickly overwhelmed and forced to join the exodus of refugees. You get the idea. The problem with a lot of recent zombie novels Ė except theyíre not really zombies but Iíve already lost that battle Ė is that there really isnít much new you can do with the premise.  Run, hide, falter, munch, gore, run some more. Try to guess whoís going to live and who is going to start staggering around looking for human flesh. McKinney writes reasonably well and if this is the kind of story that turns you on, heís going to do better than most. But heís not really going to make you sit up and say, wow, I didnít expect that to happen. 5/15/11

An Uninvited Ghost by E.J. Copperman, Berkley, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-24058-8

A Hard Dayís Fright by Casey Daniels, Berkley, 2011, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-24056-4  

Supernatural mysteries are apparently still popular.  The first of these is second in a series and it has a clever set up vaguely reminiscent of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. A woman runs a guesthouse where a resident ghost spooks guests in a nice way in exchange for her help in solving crimes. Yes, the ghost is a private eye who wants to solve cases for other ghosts. The plot this time is a bit convoluted so I wonít try to describe it, but itís an old murder case that suddenly becomes a new one, and it is all resolved rather cleverly. I liked this one quite a bit. The Daniels is the seventh in her Pepper Martin series, which Iíve also found generally nicely done. Martin is a cemetery tour guide who can see ghosts and solves crimes that keep them from resting easily. This time the ghostís body was never found and Pepper has to do so. A little lighter weight than the previous books but not badly done. These are horror by courtesy because of the supernatural elements but are essentially mysteries with some fantastic content. 5/9/11

Deadworld by J.N. Duncan, Kensington, 2011, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7582-5566-2  

Thereís everything but the kitchen sink in this first novel Ė vampires, ghosts, psychics, a brutal serial killer, and predictably the feisty female investigator.  Alas, I didnít like any of the characters at all. Even the heroes were callous, self absorbed, inconsistently portrayed, and sometimes downright annoying. The protagonist feels no empathy for the victims Ė even a murdered child Ė and the byplay that I suppose was meant to be funny just comes across as cynical. No indication that this is the first in a series but Iíll bet it is and I hope it isnít. 5/8/11

Consumed by Kate Cann, Point, 2011, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-545-26388-7

This is the sequel to Possessed, which I have not seen or read. Presumably it sets up the situation by which the protagonist, a teenage girl, discovers that the old mansion where she currently works is haunted. In the sequel, the arrival of a new boss coincides with a growing sense of alarm. The ghosts appear to be mostly benevolent but thereís an evil force in the house as well. There are references to pagan rituals Ė and at times I was reminded of Algernon Blackwood Ė and a pretty well constructed mystery. The protagonist is a bit too gullible at times but the romantic elements are restrained and donít overwhelm the story line as they do in all too many romantic fantasy and horror novels of recent vintage. Iíd say this is one of the best YA horror novels Iíve read in the past couple of years. 5/1/11

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