Yep, it’s been a while…

I’m working full-time now, taking public transportation, and kind of tired by the end of the day, so reviews will be sporadic and unpredictable. I may also do a lot more as short takes rather than longer reviews. On the plus side, I actually like my job! I’m a release of information specialist at a hospital. I’m looking forward to working the evening shift starting soon–it’s a lot quieter in the evening and it’ll be easier to make time to go to doctors’ appointments and run errands.

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Review: “The Mirror of the Nameless,” Luke Walker

Rating: 5 out of 5

Luke Walker’s horror novel The Mirror Of The Nameless was written before his The Day of the New Gods, but in-world it takes place afterward. I read Day first, and I’d recommend doing it that way. It makes the events of that book more surprising.

Dave Anderson, 41, made the mistake of walking down the wrong streets at night. The Children of Naz Yaah, the Worm, chose him as a sacrifice to their god. When he’s rescued by a mysterious young man named Tom who claims to be in love with Dave’s daughter Ashleigh, the two of them head off to hunt her down and save her from an attempt to do something very dangerous. For 30 years now the gods have ruled the earth: Gatur the Green, who drives people so insane that they attack and kill the very people they love. Segoth, the giant zombie who drops burning, rotting flesh that melts people and turns them into his minions. And Naz Yaah, the least understood of the three, the giant worm dripping acid who rules her younger siblings. Ashleigh believes that the writings of an author named Makepeace hold the key to rescuing humanity and freeing them from the rule of the gods, but Tom thinks she’s going to get herself killed–or worse.

Much like Day‘s main character, Brian, Dave spends most of the book fighting tooth and nail to get to and save his daughter. However, Ashleigh is a bit older than Brianna, very much knows her own mind, and has a plan. So the relationship ends up being very different between them. Dave is a bartender who writes on the side (it’s basically heresy to write fiction, so he ghost-writes celebrity books), and he has a lot less practice at being tough than Brian did. He doesn’t have the firepower Brian had, and has to rely on his wits as well as whatever improvised weapons may come to hand. Tom isn’t an amazingly deep character, but it is interesting to watch his somewhat sheltered views get shattered.

What’s really fascinating for me in this book is the opportunity to glimpse civilization several decades after the arrival of the cosmic horrors from beyond. It’s wild to read about–both the ways in which civilization has continued to exist, and the ways in which it falters.

Content note for brutal death and dismemberment, as well as alluded-to offscreen rape.

Usually, sunset came anywhere between nine and midnight. Some nights, it didn’t come at all.

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10 Fantasy and Sci-Fi Books with Asexual Characters

Luminosity Library has come out with a great list of 10 Fantasy & Sci-Fi Books with Asexual Characters. If you’re looking for ace rep, I highly recommend hopping on over there–some of those books look fantastic!

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Short Take: “The Invasion,” William Meikle

Rating: 5 out of 5

I’m a huge fan of Meikle’s creature-features and cosmic horror, so when I found out he had an alien invasion novel, I had to pick up The Invasion. I’m so glad I did.

A strange green rain (in some areas, snow) touches down and consumes all organic matter that it touches. Once it’s done, waves of the resultant green sludge mow down the survivors. Then the real invasion begins. Alice barely survived the initial snow, since she got just a few flakes on her hand. She’s teamed up with two surviving brothers in the effort to stay alive, and she’s starting to discover she has a unique gift that gives her some protection from the aliens–but also turns her into a target. Meanwhile, Hiscock feels pretty great about the fact that he was ready with his bunker and supplies, but in actuality he’s pretty lonely. And he’s starting to worry that even down in his bunker he might not be safe from the invasion. Eventually both survivors get caught up in a plot to drive away the aliens that might or might not save the last of humanity as well.

The life cycle of alien organisms is absolutely fascinating, and the alien world-building that we catch a glimpse of through Alice is amazing. The devastation the few survivors go through is on point, and the aliens are definitely scary. I love the fact that the aliens are not all-powerful, omniscient, or perfect–they make mistakes as well. The characters have a fair amount of depth for a novella, and I really liked the directions both Alice and Hiscock went in.

If you enjoy alien invasion stories and want a quick read, this is a great choice!

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Review: “Someone to Share My Nightmares,” Sonora Taylor

Rating: 5 out of 5

Expected publication date: October 19, 2021. Review book provided by author.

Sonora Taylor’s horror short story collection Someone to Share My Nightmares: Stories is a delight to read. It contains something all-too-rare in the horror genre: consensual sex that isn’t punished. For all of its claims of breaking boundaries and taboos, most horror depicts sex as violent or as something that has to be punished. It’s a staple of the genre that in slasher stories, it’s always the people who have or want sex who die first. This book contains horror in which sex is entirely consensual, and the people having it aren’t automatically marked for death (and even if they die after sex, that isn’t why they die). There’s even a little bit of erotica tucked in for fun.

One of the most memorable stories in here for me was the first one, which shares the book’s title: “Someone to Share My Nightmares.” Kristin’s favorite director is one who sees that there are demons in the forest around her town. When he dies, she meets an actor who also feels the same way. There are some great subtleties in here about how one “sees” demons that make this really intriguing.

“Petal, Page, Piel” is chilling and fun, but too short for me to say anything else about without giving things away. Similarly the poem “Metal Meticulous” is also chilling and fascinating.

“Bump in the Night” is hilarious. Tasha has a plumber coming over, but things get a bit wild when the woman arrives! And Tasha has some ulterior motives for calling the woman over… “The Parrot” has some darker humor to it. Melinda just died, and her husband Charles is very angry about it. After all, who’s going to make his breakfast now? A home assistant called Parrot is the key to someone’s handling of his abuse of Melinda. Another humor/horror piece is the short piece “Candy,” in which Martha will do anything for her favorite Valentine’s Day truffles.

Another favorite story is “The Sharps.” Camila planned the perfect summer research getaway to a cabin without her phone or wifi or any other distraction. Now she’s stranded by little monstrous creatures that threaten to eat her if she tries to go outside. When Joseph gets stranded with her, she wakes up to the fact that somehow, she’s going to have to get out. The story is also nice and sexy.

“You Promised Me Forever” is rather different from the others. Carrie was turned into a vampire by Cody, and now the bloom is off the rose. They’re arguing, and Carrie is starting to wonder whether she wants to continue with him any more. This story shows a much more realistic look at the ups and downs of a relationship than most fiction, against a background of drinking blood and avoiding the sun.

My final favorite is “‘Tis Better to Want.” It’s the erotic piece in here, in which Lydia becomes incredibly enamored of the demon Krampus. I love the fact that when she meets him as an adult he doesn’t remember running into her as a child. If he had, and had some sort of “I’ve known I wanted you since you were seven” thing going on, this would have been gross rather than sexy, and that’s the route too many authors take. This story is for those of us who really didn’t give a whit about Tom Cruise’s character in Legend because we were too busy ogling Tim Curry.

I hope this signals a rise in positive depictions of sex in horror. Horror doesn’t always have to come from the sex in order for the sex to be relevant to the story. For now, we at least have Sonora Taylor’s wonderful approach to the issue!

Content note for explicit sex, physical and mental abuse, blood drinking, some blood and violence, and a little bondage.

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Review: “The Day of the New Gods,” Luke Walker

Rating: 5 out of 5

Luke Walker’s horror novel The Day Of The New Gods is original and attention-catching. Brian Jackson and his crew (Buggy/Kev, Andy, John, and Willie) just robbed a bank. They’re commandeering a bus to get them and their loot to their van when something entirely unexpected goes wrong: a rip is opened in the fabric of the universe and three very powerful “gods” start wreaking havoc. One is a giant with living flesh that he sheds and which contaminates all who come into contact with it. One is a green mist that makes people violently insane. The third is… well, mostly just a rumor at this point. People are dying by the thousands. Blood and gore litter the streets. Brian and his crew had planned to pick up Brian’s 12-year-old daughter Brianna and leave Britain for Spain, and now getting to Brianna is the only thing Brian can think about. Unfortunately there’s a lot of pain and death between the two of them.

The process of having to figure out what’s going on largely from looking out the windows of their bus makes the gods’ arrival feel all too real. Fragments of broadcasts from the radio fill in a few gaps, but not by much. Countries are planning on nuking the rip in the sky, and the world holds its breath to see what will happen when they do.

The choice of characters–a group of aging robbers–is fantastic. It’s a random-seeming set of characters to throw into something like this. They have guns, they lack a certain moral sense, and yet they’re bound together very strongly. They don’t want to hurt anyone, and yet rescuing Brianna and themselves trumps everything. The character choice gives this story an unusual tone for cosmic horror.

When the characters come to the attention of one of the gods, their assumptions about what is going on take a tumble. Suddenly they’re fighting for a whole lot more than just their own lives. Things turn into one hell of an action story, with a limited number of bullets, some aging robbers who aren’t as spry as they used to be, and a couple of very sharp knives. I loved this book and look forward to reading more by Walker!

Content note: gore, bad injuries, child death.

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Review: “Queen of Teeth,” Hailey Piper

Rating: 5 out of 5

Hailey Piper’s horror/science fiction novel Queen of Teeth takes several concepts and images that I have always found irredeemably cheesy and silly, and turns them into something exciting, heartbreaking, inspiring, and profound.

Yaya is a chimera–when she was in the womb, she “absorbed” her twin, leaving her with two sets of DNA in different parts of her body. In this case it was caused by the escape of the manufactured INZ9-00 virus. The AlphaBeta Pharmaceutical company now owns half the intellectual property rights to the chimeras, and they’re required to come in for regular checkups. During those checkups, sometimes they’re injected with things they don’t really know much about. After Yaya’s one-night stand with Doc, a woman she met at a club, she discovers she has teeth growing in her vagina (“vagina dentata”). When tentacles join the teeth, she realizes this is more than just the usual chimeric oddity. But when she fails to show up for her latest mandated ABP checkup, she ends up having to go on the run.

Yaya’s story takes place in an alternate timeline where Nancy Reagan became president in ’88, the police have been militarized, and a number of other changes have made the present a bit on the bleak side. The chimeras are forced to turn to ABP for their medical care, but ABP doesn’t care about their health except as it affects their own experiments and data collection. They could easily be the epitome of the faceless corporation, except that Piper puts faces to it, a move that makes it all the more insidious. It’s all the scarier to see otherwise normal people following the dictates of a three-person Board.

The body horror is amazing. I’ve always found vagina dentata to be too silly to find horrifying as a concept, but Piper makes them… disturbing, and oddly transformative. There are other images and types of body horror in here that I’ve also found ridiculous before, but again Piper turns them into something worth reading about. Yaya’s changes are fascinating, and both tragic and beautiful. There are no easy answers here, just fear, tragedy, and love.

The pacing is great, starting from a drunken one-night stand and building up to a city-wide threat. There’s a great deal of body horror, blood, bone, and terror. One detail I love is that there are no 100 percent good guys among the “normal” people in this book. There are no real good guys at all, come to think of it. There’s a great theme of bodily autonomy running through here, and where violations of that autonomy can lead.

I love this book as much as everything else I’ve read by Hailey Piper, and this just fortifies my desire to read everything she writes.

Content note: sex (f/f/vagina monster), body horror, menstruation, gynecological exam, bodily autonomy violations, death and gore.

It’s a zygote-eat-zygote world.

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Review: “To Offer Her Pleasure,” Ali Seay

Rating: 4 out of 5

Ali Seay’s horror novella To Offer Her Pleasure is a truly wild ride. Ben lost his father to cancer at 15, and his mother walked away at 16 with her boyfriend Patrick. Not sure when–or if–she’s going to return, he determines to take care of himself. Really he’s been doing that anyway since his father died. As he goes through his father’s things in order to feel close to him, he finds a hidden book. It’s called “To Offer Her Pleasure,” and it seems like it’s written in words Ben can almost read. It also has an image of a female form with horns that seems to move. He starts to find himself compelled to “feed” the book (the woman?) flesh and blood sacrifices, and she starts to demand MORE. Then his father comes to him in a dream and tells him the woman can give him a family if he just keeps sacrificing to her.

Ben’s reaction to all of this going on makes him an unusual horror protagonist. He isn’t so much horrified by his actions, and he isn’t even sure why. Yet at the same time, he is absolutely resolute in his desire to not harm certain entities. The combination is appealing.

We meet a few of Ben’s neighbors and friends. Mike from down the street is desperate for company. Steve has a bit of rage simmering under the surface. And Ben is attracted to Alice from his D&D group–she’s sweet, confident, and energetic. One neighbor is concerned for Ben in his mother’s absence. Each comes alive in interesting ways, even in cases where we don’t get to see them for long.

This really takes a hard look at what “family” means, and can mean. What does it take for someone to be a mother or a father? Or to be a good mother or father? How do you choose your own family? What sacrifices do you have to make to have the family you want or need?

The reason I gave this a 4 out of 5 instead of a 5 out of 5 is because there is no sequel planned and this book left too many loose ends. There are several woods oddities that so far have no explanation or apparent purpose in the story. Things feel rather like they end in the middle of the story with so much left to come or be resolved. There’s also a hint that a neighbor may know more than she’s saying about Ben’s father. There’s a certain feeling of a lack of satisfaction arising from those loose ends. Normally I love the novella format for horror, but this book needed to be novel-length.

Content note: sex, some gore, animal death, violence, murder.

“This is the part where I should stop but I don’t. I don’t, and everything goes terribly wrong.”

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Review: “Nameless: Season One,” Dean Koontz

Rating: 4 out of 5

Dean Koontz’s Nameless: Season One is six short novelettes that do, in fact, resemble a season of a television show in structure. The first books are episodic, and then a little bit of arc plot slips in, followed by a season-ender that includes arc-plot revelations.

The basic setup is this: “Nameless” is a man who only remembers the last two years of his life. He’s okay with this; he has the feeling that he agreed to the artificially-induced amnesia, and that he’s better off not remembering who he was. He works for a mysterious organization, and his contact is called simply the Ace of Diamonds. This group selects targets for him: bad people who have gotten away with murder and other horrible crimes. He exacts “truth” rather than justice or revenge (supposedly), taking on different identities and delivering some sort of supposedly-deserved punishment. The organization behind him clearly has deep pockets and voluminous resources. To up the ante and make things even more interesting, Nameless sometimes has clairvoyant flashes of things that have happened already or things that are to come. As the season progresses, he starts having a particular and unusual montage of clairvoyant glimpses that may be past, future, or some blending of the two. And if he can’t figure out where it takes place and how to deal with it, people will die.

In the Heart of the Fire (Nameless: Season One Book 1) introduces us to Nameless and his mission. He has no credit cards and carries no ID. He’s directed to motels where he has reservations awaiting him. Cars are left for him to use; mysterious suitcases full of clothes and cash accompany him. He shows up to speak to one Jennifer Demeter, a woman at the end of her rope. The local sheriff Russell Soakes seems obsessed with her, refusing to take no for an answer as he attempts to court her. But there’s a twist–she’s realized that he isn’t interested in her. He’s fixated on her 10-year-old daughter, Seraphina. And she’d do anything to protect her daughter. Soakes’s family pretty much owns the area, so there’s no good way to turn him in to law enforcement. And he’s been a predator for years–Nameless’s organization has figured that much out. So it’s up to Nameless to deal with Soakes. There’s just one major problem: his clairvoyance has shown him a future in which Jennifer dies, and he can’t always change the future. This story is a nail-biter with horrific bad guys we can totally feel good about rooting against. Jennifer in particular is an interesting character.

In Photographing the Dead (Nameless: Season One Book 2), Nameless hunts a wealthy, privileged serial killer. Can he nab him before a pair of twin women come upon the serial killer while hiking? Photographer Oxenwald is an interesting killer. He sees himself as an avatar of Death, and is almost wholly fixated on his “hunts.”

The Praying Mantis Bride (Nameless: Season One Book 3) is a bit different than the other installments. Nameless’s target this time is an exceedingly superstitious woman who has married and killed three different wealthy men. At first I wasn’t sure why Nameless’s organization would target someone like her, but it becomes obvious eventually. The setup for dealing with Lucia in this one is more complex than the previous two, and it’s really fascinating. Nameless is tasked with using Lucia’s superstitions against her.

Red Rain (Nameless: Season One Book 4) focuses on a disfigured woman named Regina who lost her two young children in a fire. When she tried to push on the idea that the fire was deliberately set, she was threatened. The various people involved have a long history of arson-for-insurance-money, and Nameless plans to deal with the lot of them.

In The Mercy of Snakes (Nameless: Season One Book 5), wealthy senior citizens at Oakshore Park are dying of strokes. Brock McCall believes this is no coincidence, and that the doctor who owns the place is killing people. Nameless’s organization has uncovered a conspiracy, and it’s his job to deal with the various conspirators. Just to make things more difficult, he seems to be developing some possible cracks in his amnesia, and a weird montage-clairvoyant episode returns.

Memories of Tomorrow (Nameless: Season One Book 6) brings us to the end of the season. First, Nameless has to rescue a young boy who’s been kidnapped by his stepfather, a drug addict who killed his own wife. As he heads out on his own afterward, something feels very wrong. He starts seeing things from his weird vision, only slightly off. A young boy instead of a young girl. A waitress whose features are slightly wrong and whose name isn’t right. He will do whatever it takes to prevent the nightmare pile-up from his vision from coming true–and then he’ll have to beg Ace to shore up the cracks in his rapidly failing amnesia. We do find out who he is, why he became Nameless, and why he does what he does, with some questions left unanswered for the next (and final) season.

I do have a few questions and issues. One, why does Nameless get his money in hundred as well as twenties? Almost no businesses will break hundreds at this point; it’s difficult to use them as legal tender in most places, and yet he seems to have no trouble with this. Two, I’m not really buying this whole “truth not justice” thing. The truth doesn’t always get out from what he does, and it seems like we really are dealing more with vengeance than anything else, despite the fact that the organization and Nameless have no relationship to the people they’re helping (or avenging). Three, Nameless repeats the idea that “white-hat hackers” have a comparatively easy time of ferreting out the truth. You don’t have to look far to see that just because people want to do good and have some computer skills doesn’t guarantee anything (remember how multiple people got misidentified as the Boston Marathon bomber by well-meaning internet sleuths?).

While the series glosses over some things, it’s still intriguing and fun, especially if you like stories of bad people getting what’s coming to them.

To be fair to himself, perhaps he should accept that some fates are sewn into the fabric of time with tighter stitches than others.

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Review: “The Bad Book,” ed. John F.D. Taff

Rating: 4 out of 5

The Bad Book is an anthology curated by John F.D. Taff that takes as its premise: what if biblical stories, but horror? The result is intriguing.

Hailey Piper is up to her usual hijinks with “Wife-Beast of Eden,” a story about Adam as the spoiled golden child and woman as nothing more than a gift for him. Eve finds out things she’d rather not know and comes across Lilith in the outskirts of the garden. Kristi DeMeester’s “To Dash Their Heads Against the Stones” is about a young woman who is possessed by the ghosts of infants. It’s a very sad and difficult read.

A body is not a house. A body can hold so much more.

Alan Baxter’s “Nurturing His Nature” is a creepy serial killer tale in which one experienced killer finds a budding killer who could use a few pointers. As you might guess from this, some tales fit the theme in more roundabout ways than others. Mark Matthews brings us “Golgorth Street,” in which a pair of junkies raise a Christ-like child while dealing heroin for a terrifying man. I didn’t feel like the growing child had much personality beyond his purpose in the story, but otherwise the tale was interesting.

V. Castro brings us “The House that Demons Built,” which roams from the Thomas Jefferson days of the White House to a future in which the world may end. A woman named Luisa Aguila is wide-open to calls from the dead, and she’s afraid of what she’ll see when she takes her son Lorenzo to the White House on a school trip. I had trouble getting into this one, but the ending is really interesting. Errick Nunnally’s “Tooth and Axe” is an unusual story in which a slave learns what freedom could be, after watching his Master take Rasa’s mother’s teeth to replace his own. There is a chunk of missing time in this one that I wanted to know more about, but it’s still a complete story.

Cindy O’Quinn’s “A Gathering on the Mountain” is one of my favorites. A young woman named Hobeth Freeborn has the sight, and she can tell that a traveling faith healer is evil. She isn’t the only one who’s noticed, however, and the mountain people have their own ways of handling con artists. Samantha Kolesnik’s “Shrewd” is another of my favorites. Marge lives in a sleepy town, working a dead-end job, married to a man she doesn’t love. When she finds herself attracted to the new stock boy, Harper, her life takes a very unexpected turn. This story did not go anywhere that I could have anticipated, but I absolutely loved it. Another favorite? Sarah Read’s “Seeing Stones.” A religious zealot is killing practicing psychics, and a psychic detective is brought in on the case. This is absolutely beautiful in how it’s handled. Todd Keisling does an excellent job with “Gethsemane,” in which we get a very different look at why Judas might have betrayed Jesus. There are some wonderful cosmic horror hints here that totally made this piece for me. Philip Fracassi’s “Marmalade” tells the story of a big orange cat who seems to work miracles on the sick–and the horrors that follow.

“Son of Man,” by doungjai gam and Ed Kurtz, is a creepy story about a former felon who finds an unusual form of salvation. It does raise some interesting questions about how to handle the urge to sin. John Langan’s “El” is an interesting tale that hints at older truths than what we see in the Bible.

My favorite stories were almost all (except for Keisling’s entry) not explicitly and overtly biblical in nature, but rather dealt with modern-day issues surrounding religion. All of them depicted rich worlds in quick strokes with intriguing characters at the core. The more religious/explicitly biblical stories are also quite good, but which you prefer will depend on your likes and dislikes as a reader.

Content note: miscarriage, animal death, drug use, dismemberment/disfigurement, removal of teeth, murder, child death.

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