Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Gorge by Jason L. McPherson

This week’s selection reminded me of an old saying every state likes to claim.  If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes and it will change.  I don’t know how true that is for weather, but it is dead on for The Gorge by Jason L. McPherson.   The book is a plot heavy page turner that effortlessly pulled me into a world of supernatural warfare, religious fanaticism, and all kind s of brutality.  Without a doubt, the stand out strength of The Gorge is its continuously evolving plot.  Readers can expect to be carried from one harrowing event to the next, and just when you say this story is like a supernatural Southern Comfort with Keith Carradine, it changes to another well-loved B movie.  But the story keeps its continuity throughout.

We begin with Nathan Mires, a seemingly ordinary family man in Raven Falls, North Carolina, being compelled by a strange voice to commit heinous acts of murder.  This road of carnage leads him into hiding in the Blue Ridge Mountains where the outdoor skills passed onto Nathan by his grandfather come into use.  As he becomes the pawn in ancient Native American curse, he must face various foes for his survival.  His bloody path brings him to join forces with a Cherokee Medicine Man and a former enemy.   Together they set out on a mission of dread with all the odds against them.

Sometimes the story sacrifices characterization for plot, but the action makes up for it.  I think Spore Press should have edited the first chapter slightly differently, and the book would have been even better. There are a few typos that I noticed, so if you really don’t like those, I encourage you to overlook them in order to have a great time.  Don’t waver in chapter one, put on your seatbelt because two onward makes you want lots of popcorn and Cherry Coke.  At about 95%, I wasn’t sure I was going to be happy with the ending, but then in McPherson fashion it changed right before my eyes.  The last sentence gave me chills..

I give it a solid three severed heads.  Of course these severed heads have bad ass Indian war paint and timber rattlers crawling into their gaping mouths.  Look for a future interview with Jason L. McPherson on writing Appalachian Horror.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell


Saturday, September 8, 2012

Sudden Death Overtime by Steve Vernon

Good evening Horde,

I finished up Steve Vernon’s Sudden Death Overtime todayAt first I was kind of iffy about the whole thing.  But it turned out to be a very inventive novella.  I don’t know anything about hockey, but Steve’s first chapter set a great stage for what he describes as Paul Newman's Slapshot thrown in a blender with Steven Niles 30 Days of Night.  I think that mixed treat has a hefty serving of 1987’s Lost Boys in a geriatric sort of way.

I was immediately drawn in by the mentality and setting of Labrador.  The hard living style of the washed up old hockey players made them dam ready for the mysterious black bus of hell spawn, vampires that drove into town.

The down side of this story for me was a far too simple plot for what I wanted.  You could say the visiting team was a bunch of blood sucking assholes that disrespected a home team player, so the locals got very fucking rough on the ice to teach the bastards a lesson.  The novella felt like a straight line to the ending.  We got a lot of back story on the guys, but they didn’t do anything.  Everything just fell into place a little too easily.

For me this book was all about the beginning and the end.  We got a great atmosphere and a cool image of the bad guys rolling into town.  Then we get the showdown.  The ending could have been more satisfying, but even so, I never felt like putting it down.  However, I never had any doubt either.  It almost felt too easy when our washed up old hockey players took on the role of the Frog Bothers from Lost Boys and whipped ass.

Steve’s got a lot of books, and I have no doubt this is not his best one.  I cared enough that I will read more.  As a matter of fact, I’ve already pestered him for more.

I give Sudden Death Overtime by Steve Vernon three severed heads stomped off by hockey skates.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Love's Bright Star by Virginnia de Parte

I really struggled with Love’s Bright Star by Virginnia de Parte.  It is the first true romance novella I have ever read.  I thought years of watching romantic comedies with the women in my life would prepare me, but I was wrong.  The genre aficionados among the horde may find it amusing that I loved it.  Then I hated it.  Then I loved it.  Then I hated…

The basics are a future setting in which there are two classes of humans, normals and g-altereds.  Siobhan is a photographer with cat genes who is being attacked by a man in a night club when James, a University Lecturer, who can stop time comes to her rescue.  From here the first half of the book is their growing passion for each other.  I found it a little tiring and superficial.  Siobhan is supposed to be 28, but she came across as very juvenile to me.

Siobhan becomes pregnant against James’ wishes seemingly destroying their relationship.  I couldn’t help but side with James.  I was clearly too focused on the sci-fi back story of the second class citizenship that the child would be burdened with.   

For me, the climax of the book took place well before the end when Siobhan was having her initial ultrasound.  Virginnia gave us a very exciting moment that had me white knuckling my kindle, but unfortunately, it didn’t last. 

A cat and mouse game follows in which an organization known as the Defense Department takes extreme interest in the former couple and their unborn child.  James and Siobhan come back together, and the book gradually ends.  I think there is a sequel in the works.

The book was short and well written, so you won’t feel it is a total waste of time.  But it is not complete blissful escapism either.  Severed heads is not the best scale for this one, and my feelings are mixed.  So I give Love’s Bright Star by Virginnia de Parte somewhere between 2 and 3 cupid arrows.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Pied Piper of the Undeadd by Michael Whetzel

This week I had the feeling.  I know you’ve had it, all readers have.  When you read a book that is so cool and so everything you love, you are practically vibrating with excitement.  Several times I had to consciously stop myself from writing a one line review.  “Go get this book now.”

The Pied Piper of the Undead by Michael Whetzel is a book seemingly based on the principal of going back in time and undoing some of the features that have becomes staples in the zombie apocalypse genre in order to give us a fresh start.  He leaves out the armies of survivalist psychos. He takes out zombies that are more powerful than humans.  He leaves out the drawn out predictable description of the end of the world.  He leaves out the religious dogma.

So you are wondering, what’s left?  Glad you asked.  There is a sense of mystery that drew me in as I was confronted with a world inhabited by only one human survivor, a thirteen year old boy named Peter.  He lives on top of a water tower at the edge of his small town, and the horde of the living dead ambles below.  As he looked down at them, waiting for him, in some cases signaling for him to climb down the ladder they do not have the motor control to climb, I was reminded of I AM Legend.  The undead calling to Robert Neville is my most enduring memory from reading the 1954 classic, and I felt that again.  Just like in the classic, we don’t know why Peter is there.  We don’t know any of the circumstances, and Micjael shows us instead of telling us boring back story.

The novella also delivers a young protagonist that offers a totally different emotional backdrop than the twenty to forty something plot of fighting for survival in order to reach the haven.  Peter is in that puberty time of immortal thinking.  He doesn’t fear his circumstances because in his simple, non developed mind he has figured out the system of how to get supplies and how the zombies “work”.  His view of the zombie apocalypse allows for different interactions with the undead. 

It is pretty standard for characters in these stories to struggle with one of their loved ones becoming a corpse and having to go through the mental anguish of killing them.  However, Michael Whetzel goes beyond that struggle with Peter’s interaction and feelings about the dead.  And the reason he was able to make this emotional landscape so rich is that he zooms in a small fragment of Romero’s description of mall zombies in Dawn of the Dead.  It all wraps up into a nice coming of age zombie story.

I will say that if you like the caravan quests of zombie killers driving around in endless search of bullets, gas, and other supplies you might not be into this story.  It’s a small scale character experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.  If I had a genie wish, I would have wanted the big ending to slow down just a touch, but that is mainly because I didn’t want the great read to come to an end.

happily give The Pied Piper of the Undead by Michael Whetzel five rotten severed heads.  Because I loved Michaels work so much, here is a link for you to check out all his fiction.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dark Confluence by Rosemary Fryth

This week I began my adventures in the genre of Paranormal Romance.  Other than listening to my wife talk Twilight and Hunger Games with her friends, this world is foreign to me, so I was very excited when a member of the horde asked me to review her latest book.

Conflict came at me from all sides as I read Rosemary Fryth’s Dark Confluence.  The story begins with a jolt of adrenaline as Jen McDonald narrowly avoids driving into a strange woman dressed in black.  This event leads her into a web of paranormal activity and warring factions of faeries just below the surface of the pristine tourist town of Emerald Hills.

The majority of the story is split between the actions of Jen and a woman named Carma who serves in a local political action group as well as runs a new age shop.  Carma dabbles in low level magic, and an encounter with a customer brings her into the supernatural drama unfolding in the town.
Without a doubt, the near car crash is exciting and kicks off an involved plot that many readers will enjoy, but I felt like the action began before I could develop a reason to care about the main character.  As a result I read along as a distant observer.  I was never able to become immersed in the story.

As Jen learns more about the Faerie folk and their involvement in her small town, we are introduced to lots of characters, way too many for me.  They would be here, then gone.  I got tired of looking for a way to connect to all of them.

Rosemary writes believable characters that are interesting to follow.  Jen has a wonderful relationship with an elderly widower named Tom that reminded me of millions of Baby Boomer daughters caring for aging parents and learning about their pasts.  But she also has a fiery desire for a mysterious young man named Fionn that provides the story with a backdrop of sexual tension.  The same is true for Carma.  She is fun to watch as she carries out her self-interested plans.  As much as the characters were interesting to me, I never lost myself in the story.  I was always very aware I was reading fiction.

Readers will appreciate Rosemary’s writing.  The story is pleasantly linear.  She is quite sensual in her descriptions.  She has a magician’s ability to manipulate time with her words.  She lingers us through scenes of desire between Jen and Fionn, and she harrows us through deadly encounters with the paranormal. 

The final conflict for me was faeries.  I don’t like them accept in children stories.  I never could get over it.  I do not see them as grown up.  I do realize that is a character flaw on my part.  When I discovered Dark Confluence was the first in a trilogy, my jaw dropped.  I can tell you now the other books don’t interest me, but it’s because of the faeries.  I would love to know how things end up for Jen and Carma.  I really would.  

Rosemary is a writer I could enjoy, but this is not a book for me.  If you don’t have a faerie hang up, this is probably a fun read.  Even though this is the end of the road for me, I think Dark Confluence by Rosemary Fryth is a solid three …hmm…severed fairy heads.  That might be too much.  Let’s just say three.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Misunderstood And Other Misfit Horrors by Jason Brannon

My biggest problem with Jason Brannon’s, The Misunderstood And Other Misfit Horrors, is the title.  It would be all too easily, unfortunately, to scroll right past this super collection of fiction because of the generic title.  I am very grateful Jason sent it to me for a review because I might have been one of the people that missed out.  I also feel “horror” is a little bit of a misnomer.  I do realize I’m splitting hairs, but it stuck with me.

Rest assured Jason’s brief collection of nine stories is dark, but its foundation is imagination and mystery rather than terror.  Each of his fiction gems focuses on an atmosphere that is genuinely creepy.  I really liked the quiet settings of most of the stories.  I could almost feel the foreboding silence.  I was happily reminded of several Bradbury and Matheson stories.

My favorites of the collection included “Beware The Death Angel” and “The Misunderstood” for their great additions to Halloween mythology.  “Follow The Leader” was downright sinister in its delivery giving it an awesome Richard Laymon feel.  I didn’t like the ending of “The Fourth Key”, but the delivery was perfect for a late night read on a quiet couch.  “The Oracle” was a great traditional tale of terror, and “The Juggler” could have been an episode of Tales from the Darkside.

I immediately started hounding Jason for copies of his other books, and thank goodness he offered a few.  This collection really wet my appetite for some of his longer works.  I give The Misunderstood And Other Misfit Horrors by Jason Brannon a solid four severed heads delivered on a silver platter by Rod Serling.  Don’t miss it.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell


Sunday, July 29, 2012

Call For Submissions

I am primarily interested in reviewing novellas of any genre but will consider novels and collections.  Please query with title, genre, type, (novella, novel, collection) and blurb/synopsis.  Word count should be included.  If your book is selected, I only review Kindle versions of books.  All reviews are based on a severed head system.  My best rating is five decapitated heads.  The severed head system can be amended for different genres such as five teddy bears, five French kisses, or five bullets to the back of the head-whatever the situation calls for. 

I can't wait to see what you've got.

Let's Get Some Heads Rolling,
Everette Bell
Submit to Wartooth Ebooks and Reviews

The St. Petersburg Confessions by Ty Hutchinson

Ty Hutchinson delivers a psychological thriller set in the final days of the cold war that offers just as much excitement today as it would have in the early 1990’s.  The St. Petersburg Confessions opens with “St. Petersburg, Russia, 1991”.  For those of us with memories of that time we recall the protests and the radicals slowly chipping away at government legitimacy.  It was a time filled with intrigue, espionage, and political assignation.  CIA and KGB were everyday words.  The details of the time are completely understated in this novella to the point that my first thought was wondering why Ty used the setting in the first place, but as the darkness of human nature unfolded, I was treated to the bleak existence of the times.

Description is sparse, and the novella avoids extravagant language as if the reader were in a government food line waiting for a hunk of hard bread.   If the prose didn’t so perfectly fit the cold stone of the cathedral and the totalitarian oppression of the people, we might simply scoff at the story.  Ty Hutchinson created a world that transmits the authenticity of the time without the details.  I applaud his efforts.

Father Fedor sits at his church late one evening when he is approached by a shadowy figure referring to himself as a ghost.  He tells the father he wants to confess his sins.  The humble servant of God accepts his duty and begins listening to the stranger confess ninety-nine murders.  By the day, Father Fedor tries to go on as usual while carrying his burden of darkness.  The tension builds as the father becomes obsessed with fulfilling his religious duty until the darkest grows out of control.

There is a point where the story became a little predictable, but I was still hooked.  Unfortunately the climax was delivered too quickly and neatly.  I expected something much messier in order to really leave the reader breathless.

The St. Petersburg Confessions by Ty Hutchinson is a sleek fast read with a nice nugget of darkness that you can ponder in your spare time.  I give it three and a half severed heads out of ninety-nine.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Beatrice Beecham's Houseful of Horrors by Dave Jeffery

Beatrice Beecham's Houseful of Horrors by Dave Jeffery

Beatrice Beecham’s Houseful of Horrors by Dave Jeffery is a little bit of a conundrum for me, sort of a no man’s land of fiction.  My assumption is that this is some level of children’s book, but I can’t discern what kid would like this book.  It doesn’t have a multi sensory experience or a wildly engaging story.  It is a very low energy read that I don’t feel would appeal to many kids in this age that offers a plethora of wonderful choices..
Beatrice Beecham is a sleuthy high school girl with a group of friends referred to as the Newshounds.  The team investigates paranormal phenomenon in the small town of Dorsal Fin.  This book features four short stories of their adventures.  The only one that I enjoyed was the first one, Halloween Haunting, and I really loved it.  The rest of the stories were unremarkable.  The pages are peppered with references to pop culture and history that seem more aimed at adults.

Beatrice is known for her culinary interest and skill, but her love of cooking is lost one me when she has conversations with a group of celebrity chefs in her head.  The result of these mental meetings is that she gains some insight, but again, kids won't know the chefs and probably won't read much longer.      

Halloween Haunting has several vivid elderly characters that enthralled me in a story that kids would have little interest in.  However, the folksy description of everything got in the way of the plot at times.  The emotional energy of the elderly protagonists was beautiful and created great tension.  Then I was utterly disappointed by the abrupt, unsatisfying ending.  I would love to see this story retooled for adults.

Perhaps Beatrice’s other books are a different story entirely, but Houseful of Horrors gets two severed heads.  Since it is aimed at younger people, they are stuffed and cute.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell


Zombies of Iwo Jima by Dane Hatchell

Zombies of Iwo Jima by Dane Hatchell

Zombies of Iwo Jima by Dane Hatchell is a fun corpse tale with a historical gimmick.  For the most part this is a free sample of his current zombie novel, but he does toss us this undead bone with a hunk of ghoulish raw meat on it.  I didn’t read the novel excerpts. 

Instead of alternate history, Dane gives us “substitution” history.  He adds a deadly mix of zombies to the monumental battle in a traditional style that zombie fans are sure to enjoy.  I really liked his characters for such a short work, and his reason for bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima blends very well into the zombie mythology.

I give this story three severed heads.  It’s per5fect for a quick horror break..

p.s. I have a feeling zombie fans will like his zombie novel.  I may read one myself.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Surviving the Fittest by Jason White

Surviving the Fittest by Jason White

Surviving the Fittest by Jason White is an emotionally charged, action packed zombie short story that kept me on the edge of my seat.  His zombies are the classic lumbering fiends from the Romero blood line.  Not that humanity has a chance anyway, but against corpses with super speed, super strength, and reason, we’d last a few hours.  With Jason's walkers I feel like our delusion of survival is dragged on long enough to get stories other than zombies eats human.

So the situation is a zombie plague has overtaken the world.  Fifteen year old Charlie is alone caring for his thirteen year old severely mentally disabled sister, Cindy.  They must survive the living dead as well as those humans that have survived.

The affection Charlie has for his sister and his innocence in general made this story work.  Zombie tales are  metaphors for the inevitable death of all people.  You can run all you want, but they will catch you—and in the end death will be triumphant.  Charlie’s story gives us another metaphor, a reason to live despite approaching doom.  He learns what his life is worth.

I give Surviving the Fittest four severed heads. 

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell


Electric Blue by Deanna Riddell

Electric Blue by Deanna by Deanna Riddell

Electric Blue is a short story by Deanna Riddell that totally hooked me with its synopsis.  Tragically, fifteen year old Jake disappeared one evening on a trip to the grocery on his electric blue bicycle and never returned.  Six years pass and we join the story on his younger sister Sara’s fifteenth Birthday.  Their parents have never stopped waiting for Jake to come home.  The strangeness of the situation isolates Sara from her friends.

Sara receives an unexpected Birthday card in the mail.  There you have the synopsis that made me think I was about to get some traditional Bradbury or Matheson horror.  That is not what happened.

Turns out, the synopsis is the whole story except for the unrewarding, lack luster, imagination free ending.  I’m not one to focus on writing mechanics because an engaged reader will overlook and forgive many mistakes.  However, for a story this short editing was very poor.

Electric Blue gets a body with a butter knife cut on throat.  Pretty soon the guy will get up and walk away.  You should too.  .

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell

Shreds of Humanity by M.J. Hangge

Shreds of Humanity by M.J. Hangge

Shreds of Humanity by M’J. Hangge seemed like an awesome concept, zombie destruction of humankind from the perspective of the walking dead.  In ironic fashion, it did not live up to my expectations.  In fact, for me it was dead on arrival.  I managed five or six chapters before I quit.  It was just continuous thought perspective from the zombie, like a stream of dead consciousness.  There were no characters or plot for me to grab onto. 

Normally, if I quit a book I wouldn’t even review it because I don’t think it’s fair to a writer to pass judgment without having experienced the whole thing.  But I am mentioning it because I might not be a hard-core enough zombie fan to get it.  I will say I wanted to love this book, so I can’t help but wonder if this was a personal failure rather than a bad book.

I feel like there are several hard-core zombie fans in the Wartooth Horde.  Someone post a review if you care to that can encourage me to try again.  Not to mention, I don’t want to dissuade other hard-core fans from a potentially great read.

How many heads would you give it?  Should I try again?

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Beautiful Nothings

I have always loved to walk, particularly aimlessly in search of all the cool nothings life has to offer.  At an early age my love of walking and stories collided.  My grandmother had a dark stuffy room in the back of her house, and I loved to sneak off and rummage when the grownups weren’t looking…One day I found a stack of my cousins’ comic books.  That encouraged more wandering and looking for nothing in particular.
A few years later my uncle took a job in another state.  Before he left he gave me his BetaMax.  As you can imagine, that lead to searching aisles of video cassettes for the perfect movie.

In high school I started patrolling two local record stores for the perfect album.  In college the shrines to the gods of wandering became a comic shop and a used book store.  I rarely knew “what” I was looking for, but when I saw the perfect title, with the perfect cover, with the perfect synopsis, and the perfect first line, I felt it in my bones.  I savored these jewels. 

I now wander the stacks at amazon, hoping to find that perfect nothing.  My reviews are aimed at sharing the beautiful nothing.  We’ve begun with horror, but stick with me.  I promise we’ll explore many worlds of emotion.

Asian cultures have wonderful words like do and tao to describe the spiritual way and itsu to describe peace or my favorite translation “mistake”  For me Wartooth is the grand, wandering mistake.  If you move and you search you will find the peace of nothing.

Nothing to it,
Everette Bell.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

AfterDark Chronicles: Survival by R.L. and M.R. Reeves

If you are a fan of zombie splatter and the polished supernatural fiction of a solid hit maker like Stephen King, AfterDark Chronicles: Survival by R.L. and M.R. Reeves will be familiar territory.   Our tale begins with the end of the world from a zombie plague.  Everything is exactly as the mythology demands with a few extras thrown in by the Reeves.    

Mr. and Mrs. Reeves write with an engaging vocabulary of exploding skulls and gushes of arterial blood that keeps the action rolling very cinematically.  They don’t forget to develop their characters either.  A father and his adult daughter embark on a quest to reach the rest of their family on the other side of the country.  A tough as nails marine with a heart that gets her in trouble at times joins them.  They do stupid things and really smart things just like all of us would.  At times the characters fall into their stereotypical uniforms, but I managed to stay invested throughout.  As they cross a crumbling America, the band of survivors encounter the well-armed rednecks and fanatics we love to see heroes destroy, and they do it convincingly with a fun flair. 

My biggest complaint is the supernatural element that gets introduced does not get near as much screen time as the zombies.  An otherworldly force takes interest in certain survivors of the plague and mysteriously intervenes in their lives.  This tried and true plot line of the masters is kept fresh by the Reeves’ naive villain that allows for a brief flicker of uneasy sympathy and convincing innocents that anyone would want to protect.  I hope this story line will be amplified in the other books of the trilogy.

AfterDark Chronicles: Survival by R.L. and M.R. Reeves gets a solid three severed heads, and you better not get too close to these heads because they will eat your brains after finishing your intestines.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell

Friday, June 29, 2012

Critique by Daniel I. Russell

Critique by Daniel I. Russell

Set the table for one lonely soul and prepare for an introspective horror story that attempts to tap into primal repulsion.  Critique by Daniel I. Russell is a journey into obsession that leads to unsettling self discovery.  Russell explores the shadows of a broken soul in a well written, gently paced novella that lets you savor his effort rather than have it shoved down your throat.

Sandy Devanche is the city’s harshest food critic.  He believes his tough words are aimed at improving the restaurants he visits, but the top chefs dread and fear his arrival.  One particular evening he visits an experimental eatery known as the House of Jacob.  The strange meal leaves him both disgusted and fascinated.  Slowly Sandy descends into isolation and obsession as he becomes consumed with savoring more of the chef’s unorthodox food.  His fractured life becomes more troubled as he thinks only of the exquisite flavors offered by the House of Jacob.  Finally, he crosses a line into a grim place of introspection that promises freedom from his pain in exchange for…

Russell attempts a moral tale, perhaps a fable.  Sandy is the misguided soul given a second chance at life if he can overcome his own demons.  The idea is powerful, but I didn’t feel that Sandy was developed as a character worth such profound intervention.  He was a self-centered asshole, without a doubt, but I didn’t buy him as deserving of his fate.  During the revelation of the final meal, Sandy was confronted with religious imagery that may put off conservative readers, but Russell treats  it with the respect it deserves in order to lend authenticity to his message.    

Russell worked very hard to varying degrees of success using food as a dark source of spiritual sustenance.  On one occasion my stomach turned with revulsion, but in others I was unmoved.  The uneven horrors of the meals detracted from the growing tension of the situation.
I’m sure this is an early effort in a long writing career that will blossom with the release of each new work.  I give Critique by Daniel I. Russell 3 severed heads clad in their bloody chef hats.

Heads Will Roll,

Sunday, June 24, 2012

The Midnight Hour by Neil Davies

The Midnight Hour by Neil Davies is a plainly dressed horror anthology that could easily be passed by in the crowd of horror ebooks that walk the streets of  However, you would seriously miss out on a great read if you did that.  The 14 tales that comprise this book take the reader into delightfully, disturbing worlds of darkness.

Neil Davies was born in 1959 before the horror genre became the place we know today.  He was ten when Night of the Living Dead was released and probably nowhere near seeing it for years.  He didn’t have the epic novels of Stephen King and the other bestseller propagators to inspire his writing.  He had Hitchcok, Matheson, Bradbury, the pulp writers, and maybe the great Hammer films of his homeland.  Whatever his muse, these tales stand out as something excitingly refreshing in our zombie, vampire overkill world.

Short story is not really the best term for what Neil does.  I prefer “micro novel”.  Wrapped in these small bites are fully developed characters and plots that unfold in layers.  The pacing is a steady pagan drumbeat that keeps us turning page after page in a realm where terror stalks the innocent with cold indifference.

Twelve of the stories are straight on horror.  They’re bloody, they’re dark, and Davies writes with confidence in his storytelling chops.  He doesn’t seem to try and hook his reader’s attention, but he invites them to look into a peep hole for a glimpse of evil.  Turn away or look.  His stories are not meant for mass appeal.  He uses disorientation, over amplification of the mundane, and ambiguity with the subtlety of a magician.  Other times he charges straight on with a chainsaw to give us lovely gore.  I hope you like the scene with the coat hanger as much as I did.

 I give The Midnight Hour by Neil Davies five maggot-infested severed heads.  I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Thanks Neil. 

In support of a five severed head writer below you will find a link to his other works.  I know what I want to review next.  I love winter horror.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Slander Hall by Matthew Tait

Slander Hall by Matthew Tait

Slander Hall by Matthew Tait is a slick horror novella that delivers on the genre’s basics while adding some metaphysical flair.  Cedar, the lone survivor of America’s largest mass suicide decides to return to where it all happened.  Only now, where it all happened is an abandoned suburb, a modern ghost town void of inhabitants (wink, wink).  Our pilgrim returns with a team of paranormal investigators, writers, and a psychic.
Tait created a wonderful atmosphere that extends throughout the entire novella.  The ominous environment is a constant presence that gets under your skin.  I never forgot I was in a horror novella.

Characters are well fleshed out for such a short work.  They all have their reasons for being there, and some have their suspicions about why Cedar is there.  You’d be right in guessing they face their demise one at a time, but the how is the fun part.

The story gradually unwrapped and flowed forward just like I was going room to room and building to building with the explorers.  The tension was awesome.  I was turning pages like a Tait junkie.    

The ending was more than I wanted.  I know a lot of people won’t mind but, I wanted more ambiguity.  Tait gives you way more than that.

I give Slander Hall by Mathew Tait four severed heads.  I look forward to more of this guy.

p.s. Just picked up a short story collection of his for free.  :)

Heads Will Role,
Everette Bell

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Ghosts Can Bleed by Tracie McBride

Ghosts Can Bleed by Tracie McBride

Speculative fiction lovers should be delighted with Tracie McBride’s short story collection, Ghosts Can Bleed.  The bio at the end of the book reports she won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best New Talent in 2007, and I certainly believe it.  Her words come across gracefully and confident.  Her writing is mature, and she knows exactly where to start and stop a plot to keep readers engaged.  Tracie has a sparse writing style that uses an elegant simplicity to convey darkness as well as humor.

The anthology is a mixture of poetry and prose that initially concerned me when I agreed to review it.  I have no skill or knowledge, for that matter, in the area of poetry, but her poems feel like stories set to a primal rhythm.  I was able to enjoy them for the dark images they evoked.

Tracie McBride’s stories can be divided into three categories, religious and social dystopia, the collision of the every day and the never day, and dark humor.  My least favorite was the dark humor.  I was blown away by her dystopic fiction and loved her straight dark fantasy pieces.  The humor stories were good, but she had already won me over with her more thought provoking works by the time I encountered the humor stories.

The dystopic works in the collection were like malevolent, black gems.  Tracie has an incredible knack for zeroing in on the perfect characteristic to build upon.  I found the first story in the collection to be very unsettling.  I truly believe that our world is moving in that dark direction.  And what she does with mermaids and religion is wonderful.  Two others in the dystopia category are light science fiction tales that take readers back to the counter culture sci-fi of the 1960’s.

The more traditional dark fantasy stories in the collection read easily and are thick with believable characters as well as grim circumstances.  The story about the mother trying to help her son with his bad dreams has a lovely ambiguous ending.  Her stranger in a bar story really shows Tracie McBride can be dark with the best of ‘em.  The title story of the anthology would have made an excellent episode for your favorite dark fiction serial TV show. 

Tracie McBride approaches dark speculative fiction from an experimental angel that is both thought provoking and entertaining.  I highly recommend it for the short story lover.

I give Ghosts Can Bleed by Tracie McBride 4 severed heads.  Thanks Tracie.  I look forward to more of your writing.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell

Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Cellar Door by Paul Fenton

The Cellar Door by Paul Fenton

Paul Fenton delivers a wonderful, slow burn of a crime novel with The Cellar Door.  It begins as a gentle psychological suspense driven by a woman’s obsession with exploring the cellar of her house after she is fired from her job.  The backdrop of the story is the menacing economic situation in contemporary Britain, and it is the greatest threat to Sara and her husband, Zak.  As their lifestyle and finances deteriorate, the money pressure presses one dangerous situation after another.

It’s worth noting that the story is written in the first person.  I love first person stories but recognize it’s difficult if a writer doesn’t have anything to say.  It really becomes boring if the characters are lacking depth.  Fenton’s writing doesn’t suffer from boring characters, and his first person perspective is very enjoyable.
Sara and Zak take on a right brain/left brain relationship in their mysterious adventure that really makes the novel work.  Their relationship provides a wonderful framework for tension.  Sara is a carefree and intuitive individual that rips up floorboard and breaks down walls.  Zak evaluates everything carefully and seems to be a splash of cold water at times to Sara’s adventurous nature.  In the early part of the novel, Zak states that he knew something was wrong when he saw that crazy look in his wife’s eyes.  No detail is given, but he alludes to her manic nature that has caused problems in their marriage.  In the second half of the novel, events cause the relationship to change and Sara becomes the right brain.  The role reversal sets things up perfectly when the book switches to more of a street crime scenario.  For the first few pages after the primary action of the story shifted away from house exploration, I mourned for the first section to come back.
I was totally enthralled with Sara’s searching and could not wait to see what she found next.    The books description on Amazon gives the details of what she found, and those details made me purchase book.  However, I hope you will just trust me and let Paul take you deep into the cellar.
This novel has many metaphors for the central theme of crumbling order.  Perhaps this happened because Paul Fenton writes from a Britain that, like the rest of the Western world, has lost its financial luster.  But he goes further to deliver his message.  The house is physically destroyed piece by piece.  The financial dreams of Zak and Sara crumble.  Their marriage is strained.  Their role as good citizens changes in the face of their predicament.  It felt like I watched a train wreck happen in slow motion.  I knew it was going to be bad, but the extreme slowness kept me guessing.

My biggest complaint about the book is the ending.  It wrapped up like an episode of Matlock.  The detective ties up all the loose ends a little too neatly for my taste.  But then the story goes on to address the only unanswered question in the story.  For ne it was fat.
You will get your money’s worth out of The Cellar Door by Paul Fenton.  I am already planning on reading his second novel.

I give it four severed heads, and these heads are shot to pieces by MP-40s.  Thanks Paul it was a great time.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell