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A View from the Lake – Greg F. Gifune

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Katherine and James purchased lake property in rural western Massachusetts when they were in their mid-twenties. They rented out the various cottages while James worked on his poetry. It was an idyllic setting and life. That is, until James discovered the body of a boy floating by one of the cottage docks. The accident sent devastated James and he slowly sank into madness and depression from a broken mind. Katherine watched as James became more and more recluse and angry until one day he disappeared without a trace. Trying to pick up the pieces of a shattered life, Katherine makes the decision to sell the property in the spring and to try and start a new life. All she has to do is get through the winter. Not an easy task now that she’s hearing strange thing that sound like James. Is this all in her mind or is he out there somewhere?

I’ve read a handful of Gifune’s work and most of them are noted for the story being enveloped in shadows and fog, to the point where it’s hard to tell what’s going on, what’s real and what’s not. A View from the Lake is no different. But where it is different than my other experiences with Gifune’s stories is that there is no pay off. The last 1/3 doesn’t ratchet up and have this wonderful revelation that ties everything together. In fact, the ending came out of the blue and left you with more questions than answers. The characters weren’t all that interesting and I didn’t feel for Katherine or James. I know this is one of Gifune’s earlier works and I think it shows. When you read his later works, you’ll see that he commands things so much better.

 

2 Confusing Hallucinations out of 5

 

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Succulent Prey – Wrath James White

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Succulent Prey should come with a warning on the cover: WARNING – Not for the faint of heart, weak stomachs or if your idea of horror is Stephen King and Dean Koontz. If you like your horror to be serial killers, cannabalism, and graphic page after page drenched in blood, Succulent Prey might be for you. This is my first forray into Wrath James White’s writing and yes, it’s brutal, but White isn’t a one-trick pony. The guy can flat out write. In the hands of a less talented author, this story easily gets lost. But White breathes life into it…well…right before he rips open a chest and yanks our a heart and eats it. Okay, I’m regressing. Joey is an 11-year-old kid that gets abducted by a serial killer who gets his kicks by slicing his victims and drinking his blood. Joey was the first victim and for some unknown reason, the killer lets him go. The subsequent victims aren’t so lucky. They’re brutally sliced apart, blood drank and flesh consumed. The killer, Trent, is finally apprehended and sent away to a mental institution. Flash forward to present day where Joey is a sophomore in college and he’s a big boy, and when I say big, I mean football player/body builder big. Top it off that he look like Superman from the comics and you can see why he has no problem picking up women. Unfortunately, the scars of his past have made his sex life and desires slide to the extreme. And when I say extreme, I’m not talking a little light bondage S&M. No, Joey dreams of sinking his teeth into their flesh and consuming them in one bloody bite after another.

I’ll stop here on the story’s details and say that this story could’ve easily went off the rails into the rediculous many times, but Wrath gives us a compelling tale that pulls you in. Joey is a complex character that you can’t decide how you feel about him. His victims are the sad sacks with no self esteem that society typically exploits. At times, you think, “who’d do that?”, then you realize that yes, there are people out there like that. At times, the story walks the razor’s edge of suspension of disbelief, but White delivers a blood-soaked thrill ride with your hair on fire. If you like your stories to extreme splatterpunk, grab your raincoat and try to avoid the splatters.

4 1/2 Chewed-Off Nipples out of 5

 

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Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

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The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyl & Mr. Hyde has been eyeing me from my TBR pile for quite some time now. It’s been patiently waiting for me to choose it over the stacks and stacks of other choices. The reason it’s always been the bride’s maid and never the bride is because it falls into that unsavory category – classical literature. And for me, classical literature can be about as appetizing as swallowing a handful of broken glass. Oh, I’ve had a few triumphant moments with literature. Frankenstein, War of the Worlds, HP Lovecraft tomes, even Twain, Fitzgerald and Golding. But for every Catcher in the Rye, there’s Moby Dick and The Tale of Two Cities. I try. I really do. I want to love literature, but I don’t think it loves me back. Alas, I periodically go back to the well and try again. This time, it was Stevenson’s tale’s turn to suit up…and I’m glad it did.

We all know the basic premise of Jeckyll & Hyde. The lovable Dr. Jeckyll explores a way to rid himself of his dark urges by attempting to concoct an elixir that will dispel his dark side. Instead, it transforms him into the evil and wretched Mr. Hyde. Stevenson had me hooked with his storytelling from beginning to end. The tale is intriguing in the exploration of Jeckyll’s alter ego and the imbalance of chemicals that brings him out. In man’s search for purity by tinkering with Mother Nature, we discover that there is something so vile and impure lying beneath the surface waiting to escape. Is every human capable of evil? Do we all have evil within us, lying in the weeds waiting for it’s chance to surface? If so, what keeps the lid on the boiling pot, preventing it from spilling over into the outside world while others cannot keep the same lid securely fastened? It’s an interesting question, the duality of man, and one that Stevenson not only makes into an entertaining read, but also a thought-provoking one.

4 Tainted Salts out of 5

 

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Witching Hour Theatre – Jonathan Janz

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The venue where we watch our favorite horror movies has metamorphosed through the years. We’ve went from old single screen movie theaters to drive-in theaters, to multiple screen multiplexes, and now many people have high quality electronics in their man cave that would give any theater a run for their money. For those of us that remember the older movie theaters, they were a magical place. The smells of popcorn and candy mingling with the sounds of the bustling crowds and the flashing bright lights of the marquee. Going to the theater was an event. But when the lights went down and the crowds dispersed, the theater could be a spooky place. This is the atmosphere that Janz captures perfectly.

Larry Wilson, an awkward loner and horror movie aficionado, doesn’t miss many of the Starlight Theaters Friday Midnight Matinees. He gets his popcorn and candy along with a large soda to wash it all down with. Tonight, he even got a future date with the cute girl behind the counter that he’s never had the courage to ask out. This night was shaping up to be one that Larry would never forget. Unfortunately, this was the last good thing to happen tonight. For this night, blood was going to spill and not just on the screen.

Witching Hour Theatre is a fun romp through familiar territory. Janz doesn’t try to do too much with this story. He lets it be exactly what it is – a B-movie tale told in an eerie familiar setting. He’s got all the right ingredients going – atmosphere, good characters, flawless dialogue and pacing, and oh yes, plenty of the red stuff. Come right in and take your seat. Don’t mind the stickiness on the floor. I’m sure it’s only spilled soda…or is it?

4 1/2 Slasher Flicks out of 5

 

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The House – Bentley Little

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So this was my first forray into a Bentley Little tale. I’d heard such good things about him and decided it was time to give it a go. I had a few of his sitting on my shelf staring back at me to choose from. I selected The House and, looking back, that my have been the wrong one to introduce myself to his work. It’s not that the house was horrible. Far from it. But it became a mess and the last 100 pages were an absolute chore to get through. The ending was completely “meh” and I found myself disappointed at what seemed like a really good story at the beginning.

Five different people from different parts of the country grew up in a house that gave everyone the heebah jeebahs. These five people “escaped” their childhood houses and had never returned as adults. Most of their recollections were vague and fuzzy about their childhood homes until they all started having strange things happen to them that seemed to be all pointing in the same direction. They needed to return to their homes and take care of some unfinished business. What that business was, they didn’t know.

So far, so good? Yes. I was digging Little’s writing style and even though the five characters kept having similar things happen to themselves, to the point where it was beginning to feel like he was describing the same scene five different times, I was still chugging along.

Then we find out that the same Victorian house is in five different parts of the country and it’s a gateway barrier to some alternate reality. The five people go to their respective houses and then things morph so that they’re all together in the same house, which is now holding them prisoner. Without going into too much more detail, things started getting weird. And I can get into weird, but this weird was the same thing told five different times, over and over and over and…well, you get the idea.

Even though this is my first story by Little, I can tell that he has the chops to be considered a very good writer. The prose is not done by an inexperienced hand. The problem is the story itself. It really just goes around and around without much of a payoff, aha moments of explanation, or any points of interest. With a writing style as good as his, I expect more and not the clunker that was The House.

3 Foul Mouthed Urchins out of 5

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Breathe. Breathe. – Erin Sweet Al-Mehairi

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Sometimes, I feel like I need to go outside my comfort zone with my reading and expand my horizons. Sometimes, I’ll pick up a historical non-fiction offering or begrudgingly open a classic that I resisted in my high school literature class. Most of the time, I can appreciate the different prose than what I normally gravitate towards. Such is the case with Breathe. Breathe. I tend to read poetry in a sing-song lyrical way. I don’t know if that’s how you’re supposed to read it, but I’ve never claimed to be an expert. With Breathe. Breathe., I had to read the first few poems over more than once to feel like I got what I read. That’s not saying the poems were lacking. In fact, they were quite powerful, but I had to to get myself in the right frame of mind to read poetry. Do you ever do that? Once I got into the groove, the power of the poems started to impact me. Erin’s prose is extremely heartfelt. Each one radiates with personal struggle, darkness, and perseverance. At times, it can be a bit overwhelming. The second half are Erin’s short stories. Again, lots of darkness and revenge ooze from the pages. My personal favorites are The Lighthouse Keeper’s Tale and The Madness of the Woodpecker. Give Breathe. Breathe, a try and see if it pushes your limits to the delicious edge.

 

4 Poisoned Cups of Tea out of 5

 

 

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Infestation – William Meikle

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Meikle really is a maestro of fear. He knows how to add just the right notes, when to increase the tempo, when to crescendo to a furious pace, all while captivating his audience with a perfect production. Infestation has everything I love in a read. A tight plot. Interesting and believable characters. Realistic dialogue that flows easily without feeling forced. All the right notes.

A Russian ship is reported being in the Arctic in waters where it’s not supposed to be. A Scottish special force unit is deployed to investigate. What they find is more horrific than they can imagine. Big beastie isopods have been released from the depths below…and they are hungry. They’ll eat through wood, metal, and FLESH!

Infestation is a fun, quick romp that you’ll furiously turn page after delicious page. Big beastie horror seems to be all the rage right now. Unfortunately, very few authors seem to know how to do it right. They need to take lessons from Meikle. He’s at the top of his class.

 

4 1/2 Fluorescent Green Veins out of 5

 

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