Loch Ness Revenge – Hunter Shea

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2019 is starting out with a bang as Hunter Shea’s LOCH NESS REVENGE is my first read of the new year. And oh what a read it was. Who isn’t fascinated by one of the most famous cryptids of all time, the Loch Ness Monster? For me, Nessie has always been one of the holy trifecta of cryptids, along with Sasquatch and the Yeti. I can still hear Leonard Nimoy’s voice from my childhood as he told us every week what he was In Search Of, and Nessie was one of my favorites. So how can you tell a believable story about Scotland’s favorite monster without making it sound like a hokie fairy tale? Equal parts humor and horror. That’s it. Who knew? Shea did, that’s who. And it he does it very well.

As children, Natalie and Austin watch in horror as their parents get munched by Nessie at Loch Ness. Of course, no else saw it and they’re disappearance gets labeled as accidental drownings. But the kids know better and they don’t forget. Left with a huge life insurance inheritance that they collect once they turn 18, Natalie and Austin use it to get on with their lives. For Austin, it’s to head off to college and forget about the accident. Natalie has other plans. She buys an RV and moves to Loch Ness to stake out in hopes of spotting Nessie…and exacting revenge.

Shea uses a first-person telling of the tale and it works beautifully with plenty of helpings of humor added to the horror. By doing this, he’s able to expertly shoot down all of the hard to believe happenings by having the characters joke about how crazy it is. Believe me when I tell you, it works and it works well. Think of how the characters are in Night of the Creeps or 1988’s version of The Blob. By creating the story in this manner, Shea makes for an extremely enjoyable thrill ride. You’ll love the characters and their banter back and forth each other. Lots and lots of good old fashioned ball-busting. Throw in a nerd with access to lots of firepower and you have Loch Ness turning crimson red with lots of floating meaty chunks. What’s not to love?
5 out of sides of beef out of 5
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Welcome to the Show – edited by Doug Murano

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WELCOME TO THE SHOW is a collection of tales surrounding the fabled San Franciscan concert hall, The Shantyman. In my opinion, rock and horror go together like peas and carrots, so this should be right up my alley. Without further ado, lets jump right in –

What Sort of Rube – Alan M. Clark

Absolutely loved this one. Such a great voice and I found myself completely engrossed in it. A jealous father, island cannibals, and and old world curse? How can you not love it? This is my first time reading anything by Clark, but I’ll be seeking out more of his work.

5 out of 5 stars
Night and Day and In Between – Jonathan Janz

Raft has been tracking Clara for three months. He finds her performing at the Shantyman, but in his way is the evil proprietor, Summers. Summers has a little surprise for Raft…and Raft has one for him. A fun, twisted tale from Janz where the characters shine. I’d love to see a continuation of their story.

4 out of 5 stars
In the Winter of No Love – John Skipp

The Shantyman likes to chew them up and spit them out in the Summer of Love. I can’t decide if this is a real head trip or real head scratcher. Not really my kind of story.

2 out of 5
Wolf With Diamond Eyes – Patrick Lacey

A journalist is granted an interview with the last living member of the infamous Italian progressive rock band, Harpie. Vincenzo has been a recluse for the last twenty years, out of the public eye ever since that fateful night of their last performance at the Shantyman. That performance ended with 30 people dead, including all of the band members besides Vincenzo and he hasn’t spoke a word about what happened that night, until now. What he has to say about that night of horror, of how his lead singer got involved in black magic on a previous tour of Europe, and how he brought back something terrible for that last night at the Shantyman. Lacey does a nice job weaving a tale that uses the black magic angle that many rock bands used to stand out from the crowd of other bands, and leaves you wanting more.

3.5 out of 5 stars
Pilgrimage – Bryan Smith

Be careful of what the guy next to you passes your way to try. Because at the Shantyman, that ain’t just any ‘ol doobie. It’s some heavy shit, man. Smith builds some nice character development before he slams us over the edge in this one. What a trip.

4 out of 5 stars
A Tongue Like Fire – Rachel Autumn Deering

Freedom of speech protects our right to use our words and express ourselves, but what about when our expressions hurt other people. A thought-provoking tale.

4 out of 5 stars
Master of Beyond – Glenn Rolfe

Ouija boards and the Shantyman? Not a good combination the night before a Headbanger’s Ball concert.

4 out of 5 stars
Dark Stage – Matt Hayward

The Shantyman’s soundman, Fred, isn’t aging like a fine wine. In fact, his arthritis is so debilitating, he will have to quit his job. That is, until a stranger shows up for open mic night.

4 out of 5 stars

Open Mic Night – Kelli Owen

A noir dressed demon appears at the Shantyman for open mic night the day after a big musical star dies at the age of 27. Every time. Owen’s fantastic version of The Devil Went Down to Georgia-type story of trading your soul/life for fame.

5 out of 5 stars
Beat on the Past – Matt Serafini

Time stands still for no one. Not the punk rock band, Brainpan. Not for their fans. Not for the love between them.

2.5 out of 5 stars
True Starmen – Max Booth III

If it walks, talks and looks like a cult, it’s probably a cult.

3.5 out of 5 stars
Just to be Seen – Somer Canon

Groupies aren’t a modern thing. They’ve been around since the beginning of the Shantyman. And their ghosts are still here.

4 out of 5 stars
Parody – Jeff Strand

A Weird Al Yankovich wannabe’s debut at the Shantyman doesn’t go like he envisioned it would.

3 out of 5 stars
Ascending – Robert Ford

Do online relationships ever turn out to be as good as you expected. Not in Naz’s case and especially when he stumbles into the Shantyman.

4 out of 5 stars
The Southern Thing – Adam Cesare

Ain’t nothing like the real thing. Damn, I didn’t see that ending coming.

4.5 out of 5 stars
Running Free – Brian Keene

A wise guy with a death wish and the Shantyman as a backdrop. An engaging story with a weird ending and makes you wonder why the Shantyman was even included.

3 out of 5 stars
We Sang in Darkness – Mary SanGiovanni

A decent tale about a Lovecraftian threat to our society as we know it. Music of any kind is banned because it has the ability to open doors between our world and others and letting in an array of alien life that will destroy us.

4 out of 5 stars

Overall: 3.75 out of 5 star
A solid collection with a couple of gems in there. My two favorites are Alan Clark’s and Kelli Owen’s stories. For me, those two stood out about the rest. Adam Cesare’s was right up there too. I thought the Shantyman made for an interesting backdrop to tell haunted tales. I enjoyed seeing each author use it as a template to paint their own creation. I also liked how there were many different time periods used by the authors. That made it more interesting than everything being set in modern day. It seemed to breathe life into the Shantyman by giving it a checkered “history”. The down sides were kind of surprising. Two authors that I was really looking forward to reading actually turned in the weakest offerings – John Skipp and Brian Keene. Skipp’s was just a head trippy mess that was a chore to get through and Keene’s felt like he already had a story completed that had nothing to do with The Shantyman and then went back and cut and pasted it in so that it would fit the criteria. It was clunky and felt odd and out of focus. A couple others had that same disjointed quality, like they pulled a story out of their archives, blew the dust off it, and inserted the venue within in it, here and there, so they could use the story.

All in all, a solid offering with some quality reads. Definitely worth your time.

The Mark – Lee Mountford

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The combination of old school and modern horror merge nicely in this demonic ghost story from Mountford. Imagine, if you will, you’ve had a rough week and you’re still trying to get the remnants of an abusive relationship out of your system. So blowing off a little steam at the local pub with your friends seems like as good of a way to spend a Friday night as any. You take a taxi home, a little worse for wear, but nothing a good night’s sleep and some Advil in the morning won’t take care of. You pass out and in the middle of the night you’re awakened to hear an intruder creeping up your stairs. You attempt to get away, but he gets the best of you. Thinking you’re about to meet your end, he pulls out a syringe, jams it in your neck and depresses the plunger. Out go the proverbial lights. When you awaken, its morning, you’re lying facedown on the kitchen floor, no one is in the house with you and you have these strange symbols carved on your back bleeding through your shirt.

What the hell, right? That’s exactly what I was thinking while I was reading this. Mountford does a great job with character development in THE MARK. Not only do you feel for Kirsty, you’re walking in her shoes every step of the way. You’re trying to figure out just what in the hell is going on. All the while, Mountford keeps dropping these creepy, skincrawling scenes on you and he does it with such a nice touch. There’s a slow build up of dread, as he builds the characters and atmosphere, and slowly unwinds the story. At times, he dangles you over the edge for a few moments before he plunges you over the edge. And this is where his story telling is a cut above many of his peers. He doesn’t just beat you over the head repeatedly without giving you a chance to think or care. No, he dangles the danger just out of your reach and makes you crane your neck to try an peer around that corner and get just a glimpse of what lies ahead. He makes you want it and that’s why I enjoyed this story so much. This is my first time reading Mountford and I’m impressed. I think you will be too.

4 1/2 Codex Gigas out of 5
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Practitioners – Matt Hayward & Patrick Lacey

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I’ve been noticing more and more collaboration novels in the horror genre lately. I’ve always been curious as to how two different authors can concoct a story together and keep everything seemlessly cohesive. Matt Hayward and Patrick Lacey are able to do just that in Practitioners. You really can’t tell who wrote what. The tone, pacing, characters and delivery are evenly matched. So kudos to them for being able to utilize the age-old saying, “Two heads are better than one.”

Practitioners uses elements of A Nightmare on Elm Street, Phantasm, Hellraiser, and various Lovecraft tales and brings it all together through the plight of Henry Stapleton. Henry is a police detective on administrative leave while he attempts to pick up the pieces of the senseless and seemingly random murder of his wife. Henry is trying to make sense of it all, but appears to be losing his mind due to his excessive drinking and inability to seperate hallucinations from reality. In an attempt to get a handle on his life, he visits a spirituality center in a downtown strip mall that promises to teach him how to interpret and control his troubled dreams. This is where the story picks up steam and crosses back and forth from crime drama to horror to fantasy and back again. Oddly enough, this is also when the story becomes more focused. Even though I was enjoying the characters, I felt that the beginning was too muddied to understand what I was reading. I get that the writers were trying to keep everything in shadows, but to me, maybe the delivery could’ve been a little better, a little clearer. All in all, a solid story from two talented authors.
3 1/2 Alternate Realities out of 5
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Baal – Robert McCammon

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To say that I like Robert McCammon’s writing is like saying fish kind of like water. He is, without a doubt, my favorite author that ever put ink to paper. His writing has wrung out every emotion possible from within my soul and has helped shape who I am as a reader, writer and as a person. Yes, his writing is simply magical. So, it was a no-brainer when the opportunity came around to participate in the Robert McCammon Challenge. The RMC is where you read his work in chronological order, one a month, until you’ve completed them all.

Baal is McCammon’s first novel published way back in 1978. Many authors would kill for their first novel to have this level of quality. You can see that it doesn’t quite live up to the standard he set with his later works. Baal has shades that bleed through of the gifted storyteller that was to mature. McCammon was only in his mid-twenties when he wrote it.

It starts off well enough, with the rape of a woman in an ally who later gives birth to a child that is not quite like every other child. As you can imagine, this child grows up to be the demon, Baal. The story has three seperate parts. The first is rape and the life of Baal being shuffled in and out of every orphanage school you can imagine. This is where McCammon shines. Baal is Damien from the Omen to the tenth power. Throw in a little Isaac from Children of the Corn and you get the idea as he round up his minions to do his bidding.

The second part has Baal as a man leading some religious building/gathering in the Middle East. The bleak atmosphere radiates from the pages. You literally feel like your dying of thirst and your skin is blistering, but the transformation into Part III is hurried and muddled.

The last part again uses McCammon’s uncanny ability to build the setting and atmosphere to it’s fullest height. The arctic landscape pictured here makes you shiver and your hands go numb as you follow the characters chasing Baal. Then there’s the ending. Not my favorite. In fact, it felt like McCammon had spend all of his energy on creating the journey that he didn’t quite know what to do with the ending. While it’s not bad – I’ve definitely read much worse from other “masters” of horror – it feels very anti-climactic. Michael’s ability to control Baal without much trouble what-so-ever seemed like a stretch. You’ll see what I mean once you read it. Overall, still a very solid read that lets you have a glimpse of a newborn master storyteller learning how to walk.

3.5 Mangled Hands out of 5
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Apparition – Michaelbrent Collings

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Every once in a while, you run across a book that has a pretty hight rating, an intriguing sounding premise and some really nice reviews to back it up. So, you enthusiastically pick it up and begin reading. It’ll start out slow, but thats okay. We’ve all read books that seem to stumble around the first 25% until they find their footing and then they take off. As you approach the 40% mark, you think, “damn, this thing better have one hell of a second half!” Then, for many people, there comes a point where you pass the “point of no return”. This is where you’ve already invested so much damned time in the story that you now just have to ride it out. Others can simply toss the book and move on. I’m not cut from that cloth. I have to finish it, even if I’m cussing it out every other page until the end. Stupid, I know. But that’s how I’m wired.

So, as you’ve already figured out, APPARITION was that way for me. The premise is good. Delving into the phenomenon of filicide and to see if there’s another reason that parents decide to kill their own children besides they’re crazy, perhaps something ancient and evil. I like it. I’d like to go down this road and see where it takes us. For me, the road that is APPARITION was a long, tedious and frustrating one. First of all, barely anything happens for the first 50% of the story. Now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a slow burn if its told right, ala Peter Straub and Charles L. Grant. But this wasn’t a slow build up, it was an excruciating exercise of patience. One of the things that didn’t work for me, was when Collings would write from the little boy, Matthew’s POV. When he would switch into that character’s telling of the story, I wanted to slit my wrist. Throughout the the story, he had Matthew talking and thinking anywhere from a 3-year old little boy to a college junior psychology major. I also found that the description of the characters thoughts kept stumbling over each other. At numerous points in the story, I wanted to scream, “I KNOW! You just said that for the hundredth time… now get on with it!” Now, I do think Collings can write. In fact, there were a couple of scenes in the first half that literally made my skin crawl and I would think, “Alright! Here we go” and then it would go back into the plodding, repetitive pacing that plagued the entire story. Unfortunately, the characters weren’t interesting or sympathetic enough for you to invest in their well-being. And the ending was “meh”. Nothing shocking, surprising or the least bit satisfying. So there you have it. That’s my review. Now, keep in mind, many other people like this story, many of whom I respect their opinions and I usually agree with the majority of the time. So you may like it too. For me, APPARITION didn’t work.
2 Children Swallowing Demons out of 5
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Monstrosity – Tim Curran

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You know a writer kicks ass when they can stretch your imagination to the point where, when you look back, you can’t believe how much of the story you were buying. Curran does that in spades with Monstrosity. Monstrosity takes your typical rural Midwest setting and turns it on its ear in this dystopic tale.

Tremors begin happening in rural Wisconsin and out of the formed cracks oozes out what is called The Food. It looks white, marshmallow fluff and the wildlife and plants are “feeding” off of it. This isn’t good because all of a sudden the animals and plants undergo a metamorphis that Lovecraft on acid couldn’t have come up with. And they aren’t the cute, cuddly critters either. Mother Nature has had enough and she’s out to get rid of us.

That’s Monstrosity in a nutshell. Sounds dumb and unbelievable, doesn’t it? Not so fast, my friends. Monstrosity is probably one of the top 3 best stories I’ve read all year. Curran makes the unbelievable SOOOO believable. I bought into the whole story from start to finish and then couldn’t believe that I did. But Curran is sneaky. He pulls the wool over your eyes by using such likable characters that you can’t help yourself but to follow them blindly. He also paints such a vivid picture of the monstrosities that come out of every nook and cranny, it feels like you’re there with the protagonist. He also brings you along with the ride so close to everything that you run the gamut along with the characters of the emotional rollercoaster that is Monstrosity. Curran really has been on the top of his game with his last few tales. If you’re not familiar with his work, you need to be and Monstrosity is a great place to start.

4 1/2 Magic Mushrooms out of 5
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