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

Last Update 6/29/17

Twice Upon an Apocalypse edited by Rachel Kenley & Scott T. Goudsward, Crystal Lake, 2017, $13.99, ISBN 978-164007475-0

I have a story in this one, so I may be prejudiced but I think this is a pretty good anthology. The premise is that each story is a traditional fairy tale or legend but infused with elements of the Cthulhu Mythos. This results in story titles like "The Three Billy Goats Sothoth" and "Follow the Yellow Glyph Road" and there is a strong element of generally dark humor spread through the collection, although sometimes it is very dark and sometimes not funny at all. For the most part, I thought the stories satisfied the requirements of the premise quite well, and they are varied enough not to seem repetitive. The contributors include Bracken MacLeod, Armand Rosamilla, William Meikle, and many others. Nice cover and even nicer contents.

The Beckoning Hand and Other Stories by Grant Allen, 1887  v522

This is an uncredited print on demand book with an absolutely horrible format, but I wanted to read the collection so I picked it up. Allen was a Canadian writer most famous for his SF novel, The British Barbarians. This collection is ostensibly horror stories, but most of them are ambiguous. The title story is the best. A man discovers that his wife practices voodoo. There is a good deal of racism in the stories, not surprising given their age, and it is sometimes quite virulent. About half contain no fantastic content at all and other than the title story, they are all quite forgettable.

The Collected Supernatural & Weird Fiction of Emma Frances Dawson, Leonaur, 2011  

This is a retitle of The Itinerant House and Other Stories from 1896. Dawson uses a convoluted prose style that is hard to follow, and rarely worth following. Most of the stories have familiar plots, although she occasionally had interesting ideas. Almost all of the stories contain large bits of original verse of no particular interest and there are frequent digressions into extraneous matters that don't add to the story. The author did not seem to understand how to construct a story and these wander around for a while, then end, or have a climax, or more commonly an anticlimax. Dawson was a friend of Ambrose Bierce and, according to some sources, eventually died of starvation. 6/23/17

A Summer with the Dead by Sherry Decker, Elders Signs, 2017, $14.95, ISBN 978-1934501696

I have a soft spot for understated ghost stories like this one. A woman on the run from her abusive husband takes refuge on her aunt's farm, but almost immediately begins to experience supernatural events - whispers in the darkness, disturbing dreams that hint of past violence, the feeling that she is not alone. Is it possible that the ghostly presence deserves her sympathy, or is its quest for vengeance the product of darker things? And is she in danger herself?  The plot is obviously nothing out of the ordinary but the author uses it to tell an entertaining, smoothly written, and sometimes genuinely creepy tale. 6/19/17

Bloodline by Michael McCarty and Jody R. LeGreca, 2017, $14.95, ISBN 978-1542693899

Concluding volume in a trilogy about a vampire who has survived a number of famous catastrophes in earlier volumes. Now living during the 1960s, our vampire protagonist has found the girl of his dreams, although their relationship is occasionally rocky and they split up. Half a century later, he has an established vampire family when the repossession of a house causes a new crisis in his now very long life. This leads through a series of events to our hero finding himself kicked out of his recent home, but his old flame shows up just in time to make things even more complicated. As with its predecessors, the book chews on its vampires with tongue well placed in cheek. The protagonist is more henpecked and long suffering than creepy or menacing. For some reason, vampires seem to be a more fertile ground for humorous horror than any of the genre's other tropes, and the authors here have mined that ore extensively. 6/19/17

The Collected Supernatural & Weird Fiction of Mrs. Molesworth, Leonaur, 2011

Most of these are conventional ghost stories and not even particularly suspenseful ones. The author has a tendency to lecture her readers about the proper way to tell a ghost story, interrupting what little momentum they have. Two are novelettes but the others are all quite short.  Best in the collection is the novelette, "The Shadow in the Moonlight," which seems to be a haunted house story but eventually is revealed as something else. None of the stories are particularly memorable, however, and most have little if any plot. 6/16/17

Mormama by Kit Reed, Tor, 2017, $25.9, ISBN 978-0-7653-9044-8

Other than New England, the South has always felt like the best setting for horror tales. Kit Reed, who has been entertaining us for decades, proves the point again with this new novel. The protagonist awoke one day with absolutely no memory of his past. His only clue is a written address in his pocket. The address is a decaying mansion ruled ruthlessly by a woman who is determined to hold onto everything she had and allow no changes. The second protagonist is an adult niece who by necessity has moved into the house with her young son. This is technically a haunted house story, since past events have also established a permanent hold on the house, but they are not traditional ones and readers should not expect the ordinary course of events to follow. And it's all moving toward an imminent crisis. Good stuff. 6/8/17

Gwendy’s Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar, Cemetery Dance, 2017, $25, ISBN 978-1-58767-610-9 

Gwendy is a young girl living in Castle Rock, Maine, who encounters a strange man who gives her a peculiar box. She knows she should never push the red button but circumstances don’t always leave us a lot of choices. This is a low key but otherwise typical Stephen King type story, less overt than most, perhaps because of his co-author’s inclinations. I enjoyed it more than I normally would have – it's written in present tense which I find almost impossible to tolerate in anything other than a short story – and although I think the price is rather high for the content, it’s otherwise very much worth your while. 5/22/17

Full Wolf Moon by Lincoln Child, Doubleday, 2017,  $26.95, ISBN 978-0-385-53142-9

This is a rationalized werewolf story and it's pretty well done, though perhaps the weakest of Child's solo novels. It is also marred by some things an editor should have caught. For example, two hikers are killed and torn apart on successive full moons. Both are in remote locations and by the time their bodies are discovered, they are in a state of "advanced decomposition." Yet somehow the authorities know that each was killed on the night of a full moon. How would they know that? There is also a reclusive clan who refuse to allow the police on their property. No mention is ever made of a warrant, which would almost certainly have been denied because there is no probable cause. Nevertheless the police intend to storm the compound. The problem with werewolf novels is that they almost always end up being about identifying who is the shapechanger, and that's what happens here. 5/21/17

Ararat by Christopher Golden, St Martins, 2017, $25.99, ISBN 978-1-250-11705-2 

An earthquake reveals the ruins of Noah's Ark high on Mount Ararat. A varied group of investigators ascends or is delivered by helicopter to explore the interior, which includes a coffin inside of which are the apparent remains of a horned demon. The atmosphere becomes increasingly strained and then the killings begin. This is a reasonably suspenseful novel, but the evil is too powerful and unrestricted to be really interesting. It is clear that it will be mostly by chance if anyone survives. 5/13/17

Nights of Blood and Wine by Freda Warrington, Telos, 2017, $18.99, ISBN 9781-84583-951-2  

I have read very little by this author but I have been aware of the fact that she has written a series of romantic vampire novels (as opposed to vampire romances). The first half of this collection of stories is set within that backdrop, while the second half consists of various other takes on the vampire. I tended to prefer the latter, although a couple in the first part were also pretty good. Warrington has a very pleasant prose style and creates some memorable imagery. It's not a subgenre I generally find appealing, but these were all quite readable. 5/10/17

Resurrection Pass by Kurt Anderson, Pinnacle, 2017, $9.9, ISBN 978-0-7860-3681-3

I really enjoyed this author's previous, Devour, which was about a prehistoric shark. This time we have a group of modern age prospectors looking for an almost magical new mineral in a remote area. They are attacked by a gigantic creature that lives underground and sends tentacles up to claim its prey. They also have to worry about a group of ordinary humans who don't want them around. I was mildly disappointed. The story is quite exciting and certainly not slow, but there was a bit too much of the creature and without any buildup, so there was very little suspense before things became frantic. It didn't help that I disliked the protagonist. Still worth reading though. 5/3/17

Tales from the Weekend edited by David J. Howe, Telos, 2017, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-84583-120-2 

This is a rather slim collection of original horror stories by Paul Lewis, Freda Warrington, Simon Morden, Darren Shan, and others. The subject matter is frequently traditional – vampires, zombies, and werewolves – although the treatment varies quite a bit. There is even some humor. They tend to be weird rather than horror, if that distinction means anything to you. I liked all but one and the Warrington and Morden tales were my favorites. The title left me a little puzzled. 4/30/17

Small Ghosts by Paul Lewis, Telos, 2017, $12.99, ISBN 978-1-84583-952-9

This is a pleasant little supernatural novella about a man estranged from his family, who nevertheless decides to lend support when his grandfather, a retired police detective, appears to be on the brink of death. He stays at the dying man’s house where he thinks he sees a child hiding from him. This leads him to investigate some paperwork about an old, unsolved case involving a series of child murders. In due course, this will result in a startling revelation, although not the one most readers are likely to anticipate. The story is low key and only mildly suspenseful, but it isn’t meant to be. The supernatural element is necessary to give form to the investigation and eventual solution. It provides an enjoyable hour of reading. 4/27/17

Cthulhu and Other Monsters by Sam Stone, Telos, 2017, $18.99, ISBN 978-1-84583-122-6  

The first half of this collection supposedly consists of Lovecraftian Mythos stories, but sometimes the connection is so tenuous that I couldn’t find it. Tentacled monsters are not confined to Lovecraft. The second half makes no such pretense. Some of the stories are pretty good – particularly the steampunkish ones – but many seem hastily written. The endings are sometimes disappointing and there are occasional glaring plot problems. Stone’s prose is very clear and readable and she sets up her situations well most of the time, but sometimes falters in the closing pages. It would also help if she thought through the details, which are sometimes startling ill informed. 4/27/17

Brimstone by Cherie Priest, Ace, 2017, $16, ISBN 978-1-101-99073-5  

A man who used a flamethrower during World War I is troubled by a plague of small, inexplicable fires in his vicinity years later. A woman who has decided to cultivate her clairvoyant powers in a community of like minded people has dreams about the man. Their two worlds inevitably will collide. This author appeals to me most when she is writing about the supernatural despite her success with a steampunk series from another publisher. The atmosphere in this one is quietly mysterious, and my only criticism is that it took too long before the pace started to quicken. 4/21/17

Here After by Sean Costello, Your Scrivener, 2008

A man whose young son dies of leukemia attempts suicide, then slowly recovers. He begins to have dreams in which his son returns and draws his attention to two young boys who have gone missing. He begins to see connections between them and eventually tracks down the people responsible for their abductions, in time to save the life of one of them. Low key supernatural story with the horror coming from the human rather than the superhuman characters. A bit slow but otherwise well written. 4/15/17

Captain Quad by Sean Costello, Pocket, 1991 

 Peter is a high school graduate with a promising future that is cut short when he has a motorcycle accident that leaves him paralyzed from the neck down. He cuts off ties with others except for his brother and becomes increasingly bitter. But then he discovers that he can leave his body and spy on others, even possess them briefly and direct their actions. And now he wants revenge for deeds both real and imaginary, and there may be no one who can stop him. There are some minor plot problems with this one, but its biggest flaw is that it is quite long and not a great deal happens for the first half. This was Costello’s last horror novel until 2008. 4/10/17

The Cartoonist by Sean Costello, Pocket, 1990 

Three men cover up the accidental death of a child in an automobile accident in order to protect their reputations. Years later, the driver is working at a psychiatric hospital where an elderly man with dementia has started drawing remarkably detailed sketches. The sketches, however, are visions of the future in which the three men are all in danger of their lives. Not a very original plot and the protagonist is not at all a nice person, but the story progresses steadily and with some creepy events until he realizes what is going on and tries to stop it. Costello was an entertaining writer who wrote only one more novel before the horror boom collapsed, after which he produced mostly mundane thrillers. 4/8/17

The Red Room and Other Tales by Bruno Carlos Santos, Room 13, 2016, $9.95, ISBN 978-1539827658

The author of this slim collection of stories is from Brazil. There are five short stories, but "The Bones Goddess" makes up half the book. The plots are more likely to involve cosmic forces than traditional horrors, and in fact the horror element is mostly muted. The prose is generally all right, but it feels like elements are missing, particularly physical descriptions, which are sketchy at best. The dialogue, however, is often awkward. I should remark on the production qualities, however. The typeface is much too small and there is so much white space on the pages that it feels like an outline rather than a series of stories. There are also no page numbers.

Eden’s Eyes by Sean Costello, Pocket, 1989 

This was a somewhat predictable but entertaining horror novel published just before the genre collapsed. Eden Crowell is brain dead, so his father authorized organ transplants. One of the recipients is a blind woman who receives his eyes. But the mother is insane and a Satanist and she digs up her son’s body and performs rituals to restore him to life. Then the various recipients of his organs begin to die, literally torn apart, and the formerly blind woman sees each murder during her dreams. And she is likely to be next. 4/3/17

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