to Horror Reviews

of Horror Reviews

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

Last Update 9/27/13 

Cradle Lake by Ronald Malfi, Medallion, 2013, $14.95, ISBN 978-160542510-8

I read and enjoyed two previous horror novels by Malfi. This one isn't quite up to his usual standards but it's still quite enjoyable. The protagonist and his wife, who is intermittently suicidal, inherit an uncle's home in a remote part of North Carolina. Shortly after arriving, they discover that the nearby hidden lake is magical, that it can cure all sort of dramatic injuries and illnesses, even erase scars, although it doesn't always work and apparently it often wants something in return. Some of its beneficiaries have turned out twisted, even murderous. Inevitably he decides to try it himself and then uses it to "cure" his wife, but she gets pregnant and you can pretty much imagine the possibilities that creates. I was a bit disappointed by the ending, which offered no real shocks or surprises, but it was still a better than average novel of the supernatural. 9/27/13

Tropic of Darkness by Tony Richards, Pocket Star, 2013, $1.99, ISBN 9781476727097 

Although I was sent a bound copy of this novel, there is nothing to indicate that it will be issued in anything other than ebook format. An American expatriate with a shady past finds himself in Cuba. He has troubles enough when he suddenly finds himself in another body in another time facing another danger. When people start committing suicide unexpectedly and in bizarre ways and an old curse resurfaces, our hero and everyone else is in jeopardy. And when he tries to run, he discovers that may not be possible either. This is a rapidly paced story with strategically placed supernatural incidents to add suspense along the way. The underlying mystery and the fast paced plot complement each other admirably. 9/15/13

Paranormal Properties by Tracy Lane, Pants on Fire Press, 2013, $9.99, ISBN 9780982727171 

I Kissed a Ghoul by Michael McCarty, Noble, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 9781605923970  

In the first of these a team of ghost hunters visits the most haunted town in America, unaware of the fact that their own son can communicate with ghosts, and that he has been in contact with the most notorious ghost around. The ghost wants the boy to help him track down the person who murdered him more than half a century earlier. With a female sidekick, our hero does just that, resolving a couple of other problems in the process. Familiar plot but done pretty well for younger readers. The second title has a less serious plot but is written at a slightly more adult level, although itís still for younger readers. The protagonist this time thinks he can solve any paranormal problem that arises, but he is tested in this mix of werewolves, mummies, and other strange creatures of the night. Both are as good or better than similar stuff Iíve seen from major publishers. 8/31/13

A Cold Season by Alison Littlewood, Jo Fletcher Books, 2013, $22.95, ISBN 978-1-62365-022-3 

After leaving her husband, a woman and her young son move to a remote town to start over. Almost immediately she encounters unexpected problems. The boy displays odd behavior and signs of suppressed anger. Some of the local people act strangely. There are odd noises in her house and she has disturbing dreams. Her online business runs into difficulties. Eventually the pattern coalesces and we discover that she is the focus of a supernatural force with a sinister purpose. A little slow to build the tension and the individual elements are very familiar, but they're assembled here in a new configuration that leads to a distinctly eerie result. 8/25/13

Weirder Shadows Over Innsmouth edited by Stephen Jones, Fedogan & Bremer, 2013, $36, ISBN 978-1-878252-07-4

A collection of stories - both original and reprint - inspired by or related to the work of H.P. Lovecraft, third in a series. The authors include an obscure piece by Lovecraft himself, plus more recent stories by Kim Newman, Caitlin Kiernan, Conrad Williams, Brian Hodge, Ramsey Campbell, Brian Lumley, and others. Most of the reprints I'd already read although only a couple were familiar. The new stories were without exception interesting and in most cases quite evocative of Lovecraft's atmosphere if not his style. HPL's stories of people who are no longer entirely human because of their close relationship with some hidden race are among my favorites of his work, so it's no surprise that several of these resonated with me more than usual. These are the kind of stories Lovecraft might have written if he had been born a generation or two later than he was. 8/20/13

Fiend by Peter Stenson, Crown, 2013, $22, ISBN 978-0-7704-3631-5

Zombies are a metaphor for drug addiction in this unusual novel. The protagonist - definitely not the hero - of the story is a drug addict who is used to seeing hallucinations, but when he watches a young girl kill a dog he realizes that there is something more going on than his defective subconscious mind. As it happens, he has so thoroughly screwed up his life that an apocalypse of any sort is hardly likely to make a serious difference to him. Oddly enough, however, it does - and the consequences are actually beneficial. Every cloud has a silver lining. His mind begins to think constructively as he searches for new meaning in the midst of chaos. This was well enough written that I even managed to ignore the present tense narration most of the time. 8/17/13

Generation V by M.L. Brennan, Roc, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-451-41840-1

More urban fantasy than horror although the protagonist is a vampire, or at least partly a vampire. He doesn't prey on humans but a rival vampire has moved into the area and several people have disappeared. Despite his own reluctance and the opposition of his family he decides to discover the identity of the predatory newcomer. He is assisted by a shapeshifting romantic interest and not surprisingly succeeds in his outing as a supernatural private investigator, permanently altering his life. The prose is workmanlike though unexceptional, but that's appropriate for the plot, which is workmanlike but unexceptional. There are a couple of nice touches and I think this is a first novel, so let's hope practice will make the next book even better. 8/11/13

Floating Staircase by Ronald Malfi, Medallion, 2011, $14.95, ISBN 978-160542436-1   

Haunted house stories are generally pretty much alike and Iíd be fibbing if I said that any of the manifestations in this one were particularly new. There are unexplained footsteps, shadowy figures, troubled dreams, things moved when the protagonist isnít looking. That said, itís the way in which the ingredients are presented thatís important and this one is very well done. Travis is a novelist with a guilt complex about the death of his younger brother when he was a teenager. Years later he and his wife buy a house where, they eventually learn, a young boy drowned not long before. So when Travis starts seeing the shadow of a young boy, is it the ghost of the former resident or has his brotherís spirit somehow returned or has his guilt just caused him to imagine it all? I have a frequent problem with this kind of story where the protagonist accepts the existence of a ghost too easily and that happens here as well. A couple of scenes didnít work for me. When the hero decides to take the dead boyís toys back to his mother, I balked. It didnít seem to make any sense within the context of the story that he would do that. The frustrated reporter with access to confidential sources of information was a bit too convenient. That said, this is a very intense and otherwise well constructed novel in which there are hints of the supernatural, but never outright confirmation. Well worth reading. 8/9/13

Plow the Bones by Douglas F. Warrick, Apex Books, 2013, $15.95, ISBN 978-1-037009-15-1

I'm putting this collection of short stories into horror but there's actually quite a mix of subject matter. If nothing else, the author has a varied and inventive imagination, encompassing such things as artificial intelligence, self referential narrative styles, psychic vampirism, alternate realities, golems, ghosts, and such. I had not previously read any of these stories, although most if not all of them are reprints. Warrick's work is full of bizarre and colorful images. One of my favorites is one of the most conventional - a ventriloquist's dummy who is sentient. Only one of them failed to hold my interest, a mildly rambling bit about the strange nature of the afterlife. "Stickhead" is also one of the better stories, a kind of twisted Stephen King story, if you can imagine that sort of thing. It's a shame that there are so few widely read markets where horror fiction is published because Warrick would almost certainly be in greater demand if more readers were exposed to his work. 8/8/13

Deadman's Road by Joe R. Lansdale, Tachyon, 2013, $14.95, ISBN 978-1-61696-104-6

The short novel Dead in the West makes up the largest part of his collection of horror stories with Old West themes and settings. The novella featured zombies before they became the current fad and its restrained style is actually dramatically more effective than the excesses found in a lot of more recent zombie fiction. It is accompanied by four shorter pieces with the same central figure, pitting him against werewolves, cannibals, and killer bees, among other things. I'd only read one of the shorter pieces before, and didn't recognize it as related to the novella. All four stories are very good, which almost goes without saying given the author. Lansdale has a gift for bringing his settings to life and peopling them with well drawn and usually very interesting characters. Highly recommended. 8/7/13

The Lost Boy by Greg Ruth, Scholastic, 2013, $12.99, ISBN 978-0-439-82332-6

This is a graphic novel for younger readers about a boy who moves into a new house and finds evidence of the existence of a mysterious boy who disappeared years earlier. When he starts asking questions, he attracts the interest of a number of odd creatures whose presence is increasingly menacing. He teams up with a local girl and pursues his investigation through a short series of low key, mildly creepy adventures before discovering the truth, which I won't reveal. It's all in black and white but the artwork is very good and the story interesting enough that it might even have made a good conventional novel. 8/5/13

Night Pilgrims by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro, Tor, 2013, $29.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-3400-8

The latest St. Germain vampire novel is set during the Crusades. As usual his own peculiarities combine with the unsettled political conditions and he decides it's time to relocate, taking his chances with a caravan led by a night seeking redemption for the sins he committed during the recent fighting. Tensions rise as the travelers meet and overcome various obstacles. St Germain struggles to keep his secrets secret, while uncovering the secrets of a fellow traveler whose simple piety and devotion to her husband might be masking something else. And somewhere on the horizon are the Mongol hordes, an old threat renewed.  As usual Yarbro tells a compelling historical drama, this one tinged with romance, and all revolving around a more or less benevolent vampire whose mortal enemies are generally nastier than he is. I've been tiring of this series but Night Pilgrims brought back some of my enthusiasm as the closed environment of the caravan brings this to a boil. 7/29/13

Forsaken by the Others by Jess Haines, Zebra, 2013, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4201-2403-3

Fifth adventure of Shiarra Waynest. Since this series features vampires, werewolves, and now zombies, I've included it in horror but it's really just another darker version of urban fantasy. The protagonist is currently in a relationship with a vampire and active conflict with a band of shapechangers. Discretion being the better part of valor, she temporarily relocates to the west coast to wait for tempers and other things to cool down a bit, but naturally there are problems there as well. The vampire population there is under siege by zombies in an unprecedented not very secret war whose motivation is murky. Someone is controlling the undead, but who could possibly have this much necromantic power? Obviously the plot follows her efforts to find out the truth and deal with it. I hadn't read one of these in a while so the overdosing I experienced a while back has mostly worn off. This seemed to me well written and well plotted, though not very original. 7/23/13

Carniepunk edited anonymously, Gallery, 2013, $16, ISBN 978-1-4767-1415-8

Carnivals and horror have been intertwined in many classic worlds including The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney and Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. This is a collection of all original stories exploring that  linkage by writers I mostly associate with urban fantasy rather than horror, although these stories struck me as somewhat darker than is usual in that genre.There are several good stories here Ė Seanan McGuire, Alison Pang, Kelly Meding, Rachel Caine, and Rob Thurman, and enjoyable stories by the remaining contributors. More weird than horror for the most part, but with a reasonable amount of variation in plot and treatment.

Widowís Tears by Susan Wittig Albert, Berkley, 2013, $25.95, ISBN 978-0-425-25572-8   

Although China Bayles and her friends appear in this novel, it is not a detective story. There is a murder but itís off stage and there is no mystery involved and the protagonists donít solve it. Instead it is a traditional ghost story. Chinaís friend Ruby is psychic and she is asked to help chase a ghost out of a remote house previously owned by a woman who lost her entire family in the Galveston hurricane of 1900. The usual devices are employed Ė strange sounds, lights that wonít turn on, phantom winds, cold spots, apparitions, objects moving by themselves, strange writing on a blackboard, etc. Itís not badly done and the flashbacks to the hurricane are fascinating as well. I liked this a lot but fans of the series might end up scratching their heads because it is not really a mystery novel and is at odds with the rational basis of the earlier books There was no reason why this had to be a China Bayles novel except name recognition. 7/13/13

MORE REVIEWS