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

 Last Update 7/25/10 

Almost to Die For by Tate Hallaway, NAL, 2010, $9.99, ISBN 978-0-451-23057-7  

Lyda Morehouse kicks off another pseudonymous series, this one featuring a teenaged protagonist whose father is a vampire and whose mother is a witch.  That’s problematic because the two types are supposed to wage unrelenting war on each other, leaving Anastasija caught in the middle of one of the most dysfunctional families – theoretically at least – of all time.  She also has to beat off suitors of her own from both camps and all of this has even wider consequences because her father isn’t just a vampire, he’s king of the vampires.  Tongue poked firmly in cheek, the author takes us through the consequences, most of them unsurprising.  Amusingly written and reminiscent at times of MaryJanice Davidson’s Undead series, although with some twists of its own.  A nice antidote to urban fantasy angst overdoses. 7/25/10

Tempting the Fire by Sydney Croft, Bantam, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-0-385-34228-5 

Judging by the copyright information, this is a joint pseudonym of Larissa Ione and Stephanie Tyler.  I haven’t read anything by the latter, but this reminded me a lot of Ione’s paranormal erotica, so that’s probably the case.  I was drawn to this one because it looked more like a contemporary thriller with overtones of the supernatural, which is what it turned out to be.  An expedition is sent to Brazil to discover what attacked a military unit there, and they uncover the existence of a mythical beast that not only has a taste for human flesh, but which can recruit some of its victims into its ranks.  The thriller element is reasonably well handled and you can skip over most of the erotica, if you’ve a mind to, without losing track of the story.  Not awful but not great either. 7/21/10

As Lie the Dead by Kelly Meding, Dell, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-59287-0 

The second adventure of Evangeline Stone, a bounty hunter specializing in the supernatural who was brought back from the dead to solve her own murder in the first in the series. Her world is full of the creatures of legends – vampires to gremlins – and the human race as well as the less aggressive shapeshifters are all in danger. Her efforts to investigate a hidden threat cause a great deal of trouble, with everyone from her boss to an unknown assassination upset to some degree, and even she is ultimately surprised by what she uncovers. This is clearly at the fantasy end of the fantasy-horror spectrum despite the creepy critters involved, and it’s one of the longer books of its type as well, providing considerable substance. This will probably appeal more to the fans of Jim Butcher than those of Laurell Hamilton. 7/21/10

The Chamber of Ten by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebbon, Spectra, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-553-38656-1 

An archaeological team finds Petrarch’s lost library underneath a building in Venice, and below that another sealed room containing peculiar artifacts.  During their initial exploration one of their number, who has some psychic ability, senses another presence, and shortly thereafter the walls break and water floods in, nearly killing them all.  Then he psychic, Nico, begins acting strangely and disappears for a while.  Not long after, we discover that he is possessed by a 15th Century magician who has been trying to protect Venice from three evil magicians who are immortal.  Magic is opposed to magic and the modern population is caught in the middle.  I enjoy the work of both of these authors, and this is a well written and very effective book, but I have to say that the first third is probably the best.  Once we know what’s going on, the suspense level drops precipitately, and the villains actually come across as comparatively frail.  One of them even dies in a brief knife fight. Rewarding supernatural adventure rather than brooding horror despite the very suspenseful intro.  I liked it a lot once I'd made the adjustment of expectations.  7/20/10

Beyond Exile by J.L. Bourne, Gallery, 2010, $15, ISBN 978-1-4391-7752-5 

I am resigned to a flood of zombie novels over the next few years, but as long as they aren’t A Farewell to Zombies in collaboration with Ernest Hemingway or A Tale of Two Zombies with Charles Dickens, I can live with that.  Zombies have, after all, replaced the vampire as contagious, deadly, and disgusting monsters preying on humans.  Bourne has written a previous zombie novel, which I read way back when, and I was not favorably impressed, largely because it was obvious no one had copy edited it.  This one seems to have received more attention.  It’s mostly an account of various military operations, sort of, against the army of undead, and it’s presented in the form of a journal kept by one of the characters.  The grammar and writing are better, but there really isn’t much of a plot except what is obvious from the situation.  Readable but not memorable. 7/18/10

Monsters by Paul Melniczek, Dark Regions, 2010, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-85-1 

I had not read any of the eight stories collected here, all of which more or less involve monsters.  The opening story is a good example of what I liked, and disliked, about almost all of the others.  An expedition is launched to find an abominable snowman and, after various tribulations, they do find a monster, but it’s not the one they expected.  It’s a moderately clever ending, but I never felt any particular suspense during the build up.  Most of the others are equally well written, but none of them really evoked the kind of atmosphere I associate with a really good monster story.  Read as supernatural adventures, they’re quite nice, but I was expecting something else.  The best of the lot are “Devil Man of the Hollow” and “The Bunyip.” 7/16/10

Sketch Me If You Can by Sharon Pape, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23604-8 

I’m including this in horror and supernatural fiction even though it’s packaged as a detective story because there’s a genuine ghost in it, although he’s not at all spooky.  The protagonist is a police sketch artist turned detective whose unofficial partner is the ghost of a detective murdered by persons unknown during the 1870s.  So she has to investigate a contemporary case as well as help unravel the murder of her apparitional partner, avoiding getting turned into a ghost herself in the process.  Although this has been done before – many times – I found myself actively enjoying the interplay between the protagonist and her rather out of date and cantankerous partner.  Potentially a good series. 7/5/19

Circus of Sins by Natasha Rhodes, Solaris, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-906735-73-9  

Kayla Steele is back for her third outing, this time on a scale rarely found in urban fantasy.  The end of the world is in the offing if she can’t figure out who has kidnapped an angel and where he is being held.  It seems that a vampire contracted with the Devil himself to bring to fruition a curse that will result in a war inside Heaven and an apocalyptic battle for all humanity. Nothing greatly out of the ordinary otherwise in this fairly fast paced adventure.  It must have caught me in the right mood because I read this almost entirely in one sitting and was surprised when I found myself so close to the end.  A little overwhelming on the vampirism occasionally but not fatally so. 6/21/10 

Quill & Candle by Scott Thomas, Dark Regions, 2010, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-80-6 

Scott Thomas doesn’t write enough short fiction.  I’ve read and enjoyed a couple of previous collections and this one seemed a long time coming.  It appears that they are all original to this book, and each is set during either the 18th or 19th Centuries, and all take place in New England or the adjacent ocean.  One of the blurbs refers to these as “spooky” tales which is particularly appropriate as they have more the aura of just out of kilter weirdness than the more overt mood of most contemporary horror.  Most are ghost stories or some variation thereof, in a variety of settings ranging from haunted houses to ships at sea.  “The Opposition” and “Three White Boxes” were most effective for me, although the quality level is quite consistent from one story to the next. A more traditional type of horror story than is popular nowadays, but still with the power to move their readers. 6/21/10 

Night Souls by L.H. Maynard & M.P.N. Sims, Leisure, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6378-6  

This is the second Department 18 novel, which refers to a secret government agency that deals with supernatural threats.  This time they get involved with the Breathers, a kind of super vampire that sucks souls.  The Breathers have split into two rival factions and there are tensions between them that suggest a violent war is brewing.  Humans, of course, are likely to be caught in the middle, particularly our heroes, who are trying to rescue kidnapped team members as well as end the menace, and not die in the process.  This one’s more adventure story than horror and reminded me of Graham Masterton’s novels, which is not at all a bad thing since he’s one of my favorite writers.  But I think I liked the first in this series slightly better.  6/21/10

Dweller by Jeff Strand, Leisure, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6358-8  

Just when I thought horror writers had run out of variations on old ideas, let alone new ones, Jeff Strand proves me wrong.  The story follows the life of the protagonist from childhood to late middle age.  As a boy he encountered and eventually befriended a genuine hairy monster that lives in the woods near his home.  Growing older, he has to deal with all the usual problems of life, but there’s a difference.  There’s a friend lurking unseen to others who might intervene from time to time.  The story is really about the relationship between man and monster, which becomes increasingly complex when we discover that the creature is willing to kill if he thinks that’s what his human wants.  This is a be careful what you wish for book, among other things.  It’s also Strand’s best novel to date. 6/13/10

Night of the Living Deed by E.J. Copperman, Berkley, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-425-23523-2

The craze for paranormal and supernatural elements has spread into the mystery genre as well, with lawyers who talk to ghosts, shop owners who have magic powers, and other familiar devices.  This is apparently the first in a new series by Jeffrey Cohen, who writes straightforward mysteries under his own name, involving a “Haunted Guesthouse.”  A recently divorced woman wants to find a new life for herself by turning an old house into a rooming service when an accident leaves her with the ability to communicate with ghosts.  There are two ghosts in the house – the former owner and a private detective – who want our heroine to solve their murders. An added incentive is that she might become the third victim if she doesn’t unravel the crime.  Eventually the ghosts prove to be an asset to the business as well as the investigation, setting the stage for a sequel.  Not badly done, and the mystery was good enough to hold my interest despite the occasionally too cute relationship between the living woman and the two ghosts. 6/10/10

Dark Dimensions by William F. Nolan, Darkwood Press, 6/10, $16.99, ISBN 978-0-9820730-6-3 

Although William F. Nolan is probably best known, at least at novel length, for his science fiction, a very large percentage of his short fiction falls into the horror genre. This latest collection is drawn from the last ten years, with two exceptions, and includes one original story.  None of the stories have been previously collected and I had only read a couple of them previously.  Nolan’s stories are reminiscent of Charles Beaumont, although they have a distinct flavor of their own in most cases.  I was particularly pleased to find “The Death of Sherlock Holmes,” “Horror at Winchester House,” and “The Man Who Stalked Hyde.”  Nolan has a wry sense of humor at times that occasionally caught me by surprise. There’s a tendency toward psychological rather than physical horror, but that proves to be more effective than not.  A title worth a little searching as I doubt it will have much general circulation. 6/5/10

Sherlock Holmes: The Impossible Cases by Daniel McGachey, Dark Regions, 2010, $21.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-79-0

This is a collection of five fairly long Sherlock Holmes adventures which involve the supernatural.  They actually have more the feel of Lovecraft at times than Doyle, with ancient burial mounds, knowledge man was never meant to possess, doorways to other realities, and such.  The Lovecraftian bits actually worked for me more than the Doyle pastiche.  The best additions to the Holmes saga, in my experience, have been those which make no attempt to copy the somewhat stilted style that Doyle used in the stories.  Author McGachey goes the other route and actually overdoes it at times, so that the dialogue seems more like parody than pastiche.  The stories themselves aren’t bad, however, particularly the ones involving the red barrow and the unknown worm.  I would have liked them better if they’d been written in more contemporary prose. 6/1/10

Sideshow by William Ollie, Dark Regions, 2010, $18.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-83-7 

Horror stories about carnivals have stiff competition from both Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes and Charles Finney’s The Circus of Dr. Lao.  This second novel attempts to mine that same vein as a mysterious carnival – whose sinister and supernatural nature is never in question – transforms some of its victims into attractions in its freak show.  Two young boys spy on the carnival, learn some of the truth, and find themselves more effective in dealing with it than are the adults.  The story contains some grotesque imagery and is certainly well enough written, but it’s hard not to compare it to the two masters cited above.  On the other hand, I admire writers who attempt something so daunting in the first place.  Ollie seems likely to develop his own distinct voice and even now he has his definite moments of creepiness. 5/28/10

Kiss of Death by Rachel Caine, Signet, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-451-22973-1 3553 

Somewhere along the line the Morganville Vampire series stopped getting labeled as Young Adult, which to a great degree it never was anyway since it took place in a college town.  In Morganville, good vampires live with humans and the bad vampires are sort of under control, most of the time.  One of the good ones is a musician and he wants to perform outside of town, which means a road trip with a variety of watchers to make sure he doesn’t get into any trouble, or reveal any secrets.  But things go awry when the travelers run into another group of vampires, a batch of baddies.  Although this stands alone pretty well, the various interactions among the characters are going to make a lot more sense if you’ve read at least some of the earlier books in the series.  And if you have read them, this is a pleasant change of pace, and locale. 5/22/10

In the Darkest Night by Patti O’Shea, Tor, 2010, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-6170-7

The Devil’s Playground by Jenna Black, Tor, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-24494-3 

Demons and romance are featured in both of these.  The first in fourth in the Light Warrior series and it is closer to fantasy than horror, with elements of both.  A woman is on the run, pursued by a demon as well as by her human enemies.  She is assisted by a man – tormented by his own problems of course – and in fact my one serious problem with the book is that there is so much angst that it overwhelms the story line.  As much as I like good characterization, it really wasn’t necessary to pick at every scar in their personalities.  I liked the Jenna Black – fifth in the Morgan Kingsley series – much more. She’s an exorcist who happens to be possessed after a fashion by a demon who functions as a kind of secret voyeur.  She becomes involved with the investigation of an influx of demons at a local club, and she is almost peripheral to the action at times after that as the investigation proceeds.  A bit slow at times, but otherwise well written. 5/21/10

Sparrow Rock by Nate Kenyon, Leisure, 2010, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-8439-6377-9

A group of teenagers go out for a typical wild night of secret drinking and find themselves the survivors of a sudden nuclear war.  Sounds like science fiction, but the story takes a decidedly different turn and it's very clear that the supernatural, not science, is responsible for sudden changes in the aftermath.  Insects have become carnivorous and other animals don't stop moving around - or threatening the survivors - even when they're apparently dead.  I don't want to reveal too much but there's an explanation - not a rational one - later in the book.  Some of the characters are interesting, some are pretty much stereotype.  A departure from Kenyon's previous books with some interesting propositions and some effective scenes, but I found the clash of themes a little offputting, the same problem I had with Stephen King's The Stand and a few others.   5/19/10

Tom Sawyer and the Undead by Mark Twain and Don Borchet, Tor, 8/10, $13.99, ISBN 978-0-7653-2729-1

Blending classic literature with zombies was a mildly funny once, but it has long since lost whatever attractiveness it once had for me.  I recently re-read Tom Sawyer and it certainly lends itself to the interjection of darker matter more than Jane Austen, but I suspect that some of the people who buy this will be more interested in its collectability than in actually reading it.  I suppose if this results in a few readers actually reading more Twain - Huckleberry Finn is one of the great novels of all time - than I suppose it served a purpose.  Cute cover. If Twain himself was undead, he'd be grumbling in his grave about now.  5/19/10

The Fall of Hades by Jeffrey Thomas, Dark Regions, 2010, $19.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-78-3

If Jeffrey Thomas was not such a good writer, he'd be worth reading anyway because he has such interesting visions of reality, and unreality.  Fortunately we have the best of both possible worlds since he's a good writer as well.  His latest is almost indescribable and unclassifiable, a kind of cybernetic Hell with various demons and other characters.  The protagonist is a woman who suffers from amnesia and finds herself caught up in a battle between angels and demons, but not the angels and demons of Christian mythology necessarily.  And not the same Hell either.  Armed with a sentient gun, she explores her surroundings and attempts to discover her own past, and future.  Wildly inventive, sometimes quite funny, and always fascinating.  One of our more underrated writers.  5/14/10

Wait for the Thunder by Donald R. Burleson, Hippocampus, 2010, $20, ISBN 978-0-9814888-1-3

Going Back by Tony Richards, Dark Regions, 2010, $16.95, ISBN 978-1-888993-77-6

Horror fiction always seems to me to be more at home with itself in the short story, presumably because it is easier to sustain a mood for a few pages than for several hundred.  Nevertheless, the major publishers insist on novels - when they publish horror fiction at all - so it remains for the smaller press to take up the slack.  Two very good examples are included here, from authors whose work would otherwise be little known outside of the specialty magazines.  Burleson has provided solid collections before and even though most of these stories appeared in magazines and other places you've likely never heard of, there is a very high average quality throughout the book.  I particularly liked the Lovecraftian pastiche, " Desert Dreams", "Tumbleweeds,"  and "Wait for the Thunder."  There's a good mix of themes, settings, and plot elements and even some dark humor.  The Richards collection was previously published - in England I believe - although I think more stories have been added.  This is also a very solid book.  Among the better stories are "A Place in the Country," "Alsiso," "Nine Rocks in a Row," and "Too Good to Be True."  Not all of the stories struck me as horror, and Richards seems a bit more intellectual and less atmospheric than Burleson, but not less entertaining.  Both of these are trade paperbacks and both are worth tracking down.  5/6/10

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