Archive for Book Reviews

Hellnotes is currently seeking additional book reviewers to provide original, thoughtful, and timely reviews of recent and upcoming titles in horror and related genres. A small number of reviews from Hellnotes.com are selected to appear in Dark Discoveries Magazine, and a token payment of $10 is offered for those reprints. Hard copies or licensed eBooks provided to reviewers by publishers remain the author’s property after the review has been completed. We normally seek reviews of approximately 500 words’ length, but longer pieces are welcomed of the piece warrants it.

We are looking for individuals who are committed to promoting the horror genre and helping readers discover new authors and titles. This is a great opportunity to work with some fantastic people, discover new authors, make connections, and stretch the budget on your expensive book-reading habit! Approximately once a month, a list of available titles is distributed and reviewers respond with their preferences. We then assign titles based on a combination of “first come, first serve,” and other factors such as who still owes reviews, who has helped out by taking one that needed doing even if it wasn’t their first choice, and specific expertise in an area (if relevant).

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If interested, contact Ken Heard, Reviews Editor, using the contact form here.

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StillwellStillwell: A Haunting on Long Island

Michael Philip Cash

Redfeather Publishing, 2013 

Reviewed by Michael R. Collings 

Having read Michael Philip Cash’s earlier novel, Brook X—A First Hand Account of the Great Cicada Invasion, I received Stillwell—A Haunting on Long Island with a sense of anticipation tinged with an odd feeling of familiarity, as though I were about to read something by an old friend. I’ve never met Cash nor corresponded substantively with him, but I remembered the feeling of comfort-within-horror in the earlier novel.

As things turned out, the feelings were justified.

Stillwell examines a broken family. Paul Russo’s wife has died and his three children are not handling the crisis well. Nor is he. He has largely ignored his job during the final weeks of his wife’s illess…and his children. Following the funeral, he must face the inconceivable: a life without her. At the same time, however, he has a much-needed opportunity to get back to work. A life-long friend has asked him to sell a centuries-old mansion on Long Island. The commission from the sale will go a long ways toward re-establishing the Russos’ financial stability.

There is a drawback, however…actually two.

The first is that Stillwell Manor, easily worth cool twenty million, will likely be a hard sell. It is the scene of the murder-suicide of the previous owners, which will turn many prospective buyers off; and it is haunted, in fact has been from the eighteenth century. Somehow Paul must deal with these difficulties, which only seem to increase the more he discovers about the old place and the more intimately he involves himself with the Andrews family, past and present.

The second drawback is even more formidable.

Paul Russo half believes that he is going insane. He has had dreams, evil dreams of his dead wife’s spirit in the clutches (literally) of a horrific demon, a beast-thing that will not allow her to move forward into the afterlife. As the story progresses—the actions taking little more than a week to complete—Paul fells increasingly drawn into the world of his nightmares that somehow, inexplicably, focuses on Stillwell Manor and the ancient well nearby.

The novel is less horror than ghost story. That is, there is an otherworldly feel about even the most terrifying events, usually recounted as occurring within dreams; while the actual “real world” circumstances are recounted with precisely, almost obsessive detail that balances and often contravenes scenes of horror. The story unfolds slowly, with the opening chapters devoting more time to Allison Russo’s death and Paul’s struggle to cope than with anything outré or unexpected. When the supernatural does begin to intrude, it does so almost unnoticed, building gradually to a combustive conclusion that simultaneously resolves both haunting: the one at Stillswell Manor and the one confronting Paul.

The storytelling is clear and precise. Perhaps my only critique of the book is that it leaves me with a lingering wish for more, that the tale had not been told quite so crisply—the same sense, by the way, that I had when finishing Brood X. Still, Cash tells his story well, creating and animating a bit of history as he invites us into a decaying, atmospheric old pile on Long Island.

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The Alchemist's NotebookThe Alchemist’s Notebook 

By Byron Craft

Createspace

Reviewed by James B. Carter 

The idea for The Alchemist’s Notebook started way back in 1978, when it was initially going to exist on celluloid, but unfortunately for cinephiles the world over, the movie incarnation of Craft’s story, originally entitled THE CRY of CTHULHU, just wasn’t in the cards.

Roughly thirty-five years later, Bryon Craft proves that persistence will always win out, as the novelization of his film idea doesn’t just pay off, it pays off in spades.

It isn’t only Craft’s impeccable writing skills that shine, so does Tom Sullivan’s artwork, which just doesn’t grace the cover, but is speckled throughout the pages of Craft’s epic tale.

If you’re longing for bizarre creatures, mind control and hyper unique other worldly environments, then Byron Craft has written a must read book for you.

The Alchemist’s Notebook is not only an homage to the work of H.P Lovecraft, but it’s as if he wrote the book himself, possessing the mind and fingertips of one Byron Craft.

The novel is written as if it were based on true events taken from a diary kept by Janet Church, the journal of Heinrich Todesfall and a series of audio recordings made by Janet’s husband, Faren Church. Each story is seamlessly sewn together, acting as one flawlessly written narrative.

The story is highly imaginative, and written with unapologetic sophistication, although brilliant, It’s not a casual read. If you want an intense one of a kind journey, steeped with wormholes and alien life forms, then by all means jump down Crafts rabbit hole.

Byron Craft is so astute at bringing to life these fantastic thoughts and intriguing storyline that sometimes you wonder if the story he has penned is fictitious at all.

The Alchemist’s Notebook, is the first chapter from a planned trilogy, so strap yourselves in and prepares for the mysterious unknown, because what Craft has graced us with thus far is just the beginning.

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We don’t normally reprint reviews, but how could we not when the subject of the review is a collection edited by one of our very own?  Here’s a great review for Brian M. Sammons’ Spellbound:

The Dark Rites of CthulhuThe Dark Rites of Cthulhu by George Anderson 

The Dark Rites of Cthulhu is the first publication from April Moon Books. And what a high benchmark they have set themselves! This anthology, edited by Brian M. Sammons, is a collection of 16 original tales of black magic, incantations, rites, ritual and madness delivered by some of the best exponents of the dark art of Lovecraftian writing around.

In a lot of Lovecraftian/Cthulhu mythos fiction the emphasis is usually on the end result of reading from forbidden tomes. This anthology eschews that in favour of concentrating on the more esoteric and obscures processes that lead up to that end result. And in doing so it concentrates far more on the really frightening aspect of the Cthulhu mythos, namely that of the frailties of the human condition in its quest for knowledge.

The opening story is “The Keeper of the Gate” by William Meikle. What starts out as a police investigation into a shooting in the suburbs rapidly descends into chaos and madness when detectives start looking a little too closely at the victim and his lifestyle. You can’t fault this as an opener. I’ve always loved stories that feature the Dweller at the Threshold and this one doesn’t disappoint! Next up is “Dead Man’s Tongue” by Joshua Reynolds which features a certain Randolph Carter and his exploits in dealing with the perverse ritual of “Ralong”. A really well written and fun story!

“The Dark Horse” by John Goodrich is set in an almost medieval/post apocalyptic version of New York after the rise of the Old Ones. Goodrich just nails it in terms of the bleakness and despair of being in a world ripped from reality and bereft of hope. As with all things, redemption and salvation may make an appearance. And in the case of this delightfully bleak story, appearances can be very, very deceptive. Sometimes it is better to stick with what you have than what you actually get!

Next up is “The Changing of the Guard” from Peter Rawlick. This is a wonderful little tale about how to manage and control the forbidden knowledge and information contained at Miskatonic University. As one would expect from Rawlick, he has an uncanny knack for wringing new life from established characters. This is then followed by “The Murder at the Motel” By Brian M. Sammons. Set during Halloween it chronicles the encounter between a so-so magician and a real sorcerer. Let’s just say career re-evaluation is the order of the night!

Following on from Sammons’ wicked little tale of psychopomps is Robert M. Price’s majestic “The Grey Rite of Azathoth”. Price uses his intimate knowledge of biblical and scripture studies to excellent effect in this story of an encounter between Joseph Curwen and a man of the cloth and a unique “show and tell”. Sam Stone’s “The Vessel” is a cracking little tale set in Civil war era New Orleans about one man’s quest to save his beloved from a life of slavery. As is the case with these things, appearances can be oh so deceptive and love can most definitely be blind.

“Like, Comment, Share” by Don Webb is a sharp story about the digital age and the dominance of Facebook. Just suppose all of those little packets of information you commonly shift about are little bits and pieces of a ritual. What happens when they all align? And do you really know who your “friends” are? Really, really liked this story. Don Webb can take a simple premise and twist it into something really subtle and insidious.

“With Death Comes Life” by Scott T. Goudsward is about loss and longing. A young man awakens to find his girlfriend has killed herself. His investigations lead him to a book. The book leads him to resurrection but as one would expect from this type of book, the end result is not what you desire. He’s one of the authors in here whom I had never heard of. Methinks I will again. “The Dogs” by Jeffrey Thomas is as weird and delightful as one would expect from his penmanship. A man creates a window into an alternate version of Earth where the phrase “man’s best friend” takes on all sorts of wrongness. I don’t know if I’ll be able to look at dogs with bones in the same light ever again!

“Of Circles and Rings” by Tom Lynch is a cracking little tale about the relationship between two martial arts fighters and how one has developed a unique fighting style over time. Suffice to say it doesn’t end well for one of the two when he encounters the real Master. Glynn Owen Barrass offers up “The Bride of the Beast” about a detective’s encounter with a diabolical old man and his version of a Tillinghast Resonator. As one would expect the effects of being in the vicinity of such a device are felt well beyond the event. From Beyond has nothing on this story!

C.J. Henderson is next up with “The Nest of Pain”. After reading this gem about a house and its’ effects on residents methinks you’ll interpret any little creak or groan in your house’ walls as something to be investigated! “Black Tallow” By Edward M. Erdelae is a creepy story about a man’s obsession with a book called “Infernalius” and to what extremes he will go to secure forbidden knowledge. I think if I have a power cut anytime soon i’ll be sure to have a torch. I don’t think I can look at candles in quite the same way.

“The Mindhouse” by Christine Morgan is just stunning in its’ writing. It is a narrative from a former patient of the Evergate Hospital about her madness and the unique therapeutic remedies and environment that the place provides. To say that I was blown away would probably be an understatement. This is exceptional writing in a anthology that is full of excellence.

Last, but by no means least, is T.E.Grau’s “The Half Made Thing” about a country house, a young boy and a pledge to make things whole. As one would expect from it being in this collection, that promise will have dire consequences once you have that knowledge at your fingertips.

To be honest this is one of those collections that just begs to be devoured in one sitting. Much like the protagonists contained herein you will thirst to know more and will probably just read and read and read. Top Notch!!!!

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Someone WickedSomeone Wicked: A Written Remains Anthology

Edited by JM Reinbold & Weldon Burge

Release Date:  November 24, 2013

Publisher:  Smart Rhino Publications

Reviewed by Matthew Scott Baker

I never get tired of seeing unique anthology ideas, especially when the completed product is chocked full of talented authors.  Such is the case with Smart Rhino Publications’ somewhat recent release, SOMEONE WICKED.  I have to openly apologize to Weldon Burge at Smart Rhino for taking so long to review this; he sent it to me back in December, but it somehow ducked out of sight after I moved at the end of that same month.  But the wait was well worth it; this anthology is a real treat, and every horror/thriller fiction reader will want to add this to their library.

If you are not familiar with SOMEONE WICKED, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Smart Rhino Publications:

“There is poison in the fang of the serpent, in the mouth of the fly, and in the sting of a scorpion; but the wicked man is saturated with it.” — Chanakya

Avaricious, cruel, depraved, envious, mean-spirited, vengeful—the wicked have been with us since the beginnings of humankind. You might recognize them and you might not. But make no mistake. When the wicked cross your path, your life will never be the same. Do you know someone wicked? You will. The 21 stories in the Someone Wicked anthology were written by the members of the Written Remains Writers Guild and its friends, and was edited by JM Reinbold and Weldon Burge.

    Gail Husch – Reckonings
Billie Sue Mosiman – The Flenser
Mike Dunne – The Fire of Iblis
Christine Morgan – Sven Bloodhair
Ramona DeFelice Long – The Chances
Russell Reece – Abracadabra
Carson Buckingham – The Plotnik Curse
Chantal Noordeloos – Mirror Mirror
Patrick Derrickson – The Next King
Barbara Ross – Home Improvements
JM Reinbold – Missing
Shaun Meeks – Despair
Liz DeJesus – Sisters: A Fairy Tale
Doug Blakeslee – The Flowering Princess of Dreams
Justynn Tyme – The Semi-Aquatic Blue Baker of Borneo
Ernestus Jiminy Chald – The Tail of Fate
Weldon Burge – Right-Hand Man
Joseph Badal – Ultimate Betrayal
Maria Masington – Impresario
L.L. Soares – Sometimes the Good Witch Sings to Me
Shannon Connor Winward – The Devil Inside

First, I have to compliment all of the contributing authors on thinking up a wide range of ideas to fit this concept.  Like the film I reviewed earlier today, I wasn’t too sure what to expect with this collection; the cover art was vague and made me instantly think of Snow White.  But, wow…my expectations were exceeded and then blown out of the water.  There are some nice, juicy, original tidbits in this short-story buffet!

Each story in SOMEONE WICKED is written well and carefully crafted.  The authors take great care with building the suspense in their stories, and the result is a collection of immersing and thoughtful (albeit horrifying) tales.  There are a couple of stories here that will certainly make you think twice about crossing certain people.

I particularly enjoy the diversity of writing styles that are showcased in this anthology.  Some of the stories are written in first person while others in the third.  But each author lends a distinct voice to their stories, an almost trademark for their individual talent.

I enjoyed all of the stories in SOMEONE WICKED, which is a true feat because in most anthologies I usually find a couple of tales that I didn’t care for.  But if I were forced to find a favorite, I would have to say “Sisters: A Fairy Tale” by Liz DeJesus would stand out the most.  I love her writing style, and the subject matter of the story enthralls me.

SOMEONE WICKED is a huge win for me, and I recommend giving it a look.  This book is definitely worth what you pay for it, so snatch it up regardless of what format you prefer.

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Apr
08

Dead North – Book Review

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Dead NorthDEAD NORTH

Exile Editions

352 Pages

Edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

ISBN: 9781550963557 

Review by Rick Amortis

A collection of twenty short stories with a central theme of zombie related fiction in a Canadian setting capitalizes on the widely successful trend of the undead pop culture phenomenon.

It seems only fitting in Hollywood as well as the realm of the page where the horror genre is concerned, if a particular formula is successful then run with it screaming blood curdling murder all along the way.

The resurrection of zombie related fiction into our entertainment culture and its continuing momentum of popularity is worthy of an anthology in its own right. It’s not surprising to see an onslaught of varying sub genres surface in the market. Dead North is certainly no exception. Where we as the audience wouldn’t ordinarily sense the relevance of an anthology crafted exclusively towards Canadian geography, the premise does provide some definite allure and intrigue.

As a forty year old Canadian I was rather excited at the notion of a homegrown anthology of the reanimated. The possibilities are frankly endless and I found my curious nature had gotten the better of me as I ravenously tore through page after page. My initial concern of this collection getting lost among a plethora of other releases was quickly diminished. The tales are as distinctive and diverse as the authors themselves, proving this book could appeal beyond our borders every bit as much as it does in its origins.

The plot lines are creative and innovative subtexts of situations and circumstances. From the gruesome “Kissing Carrion: to often comical “Waiting For Jenny” to the deconstruction of familiar tales such as “Adventures of Dorea Tress”, the content appears to be as rich in diversity as our very culture.

While the stories remained compliant and conformed to Canadian origins guidelines I couldn’t shrug off the feeling that something was missing in terms of global commercial appeal. It would be a tragedy for this anthology to be discarded or passed by an American or European market. Much of the content was inspired by Native folklore which is intriguing and fascinating in its own right. Yet the anthology somehow does not entirely epitomize the Canadian experience especially as seen from an international perspective. The tone tends to indicate a collection of tales that may take itself a little too seriously. Perhaps if the odd entry included an exploitation of some of the stereotypes about our nation it would provide some sense of relation. Imagine a tale of relentless hockey fixation as a good natured ribbing or including landmarks such as the CN Tower, Niagara Falls, Casa Loma or other internationally recognized settings? A mish mash tale of political scandal could’ve breathed a seal of Canadian authenticity approval. Imagine a mish mash contemporary political soiree: Rob Ford-Zombie Slayer? The impact on global market would be off the charts. But as I digress it’s clear the editors at Exile Editions had an entirely different mandate.

The authors that were hand selected such as Gemma Files, Ada Hoffman, Jamie Mason, and Brian Dolton just to name a few composed in eloquent prose. Each narrative captures the audience’s sense of captivating introduction, sound pace of plot and unpredictable climax. Many if not most of the stories are penned from first person point of view which appeals to the emotional aspects of the characters. We’re enabled to feel what they feel suspending our plausibility factors.

An abstract sense of zombie evolution is visited or perhaps more accurately the concept is reinvented as we’re introduced to a new breed of varying assortments of the undead. In these versions many can run, swim, communicate with coherent expression and exist within everyday society. These very notions exemplify the terror aspects of a ‘they walk among us’ type philosophy’.

All in all Dead North is not a bad collection. As a consumer I would likely pursue its offerings but not likely as a first choice.

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Apr
05

Blood Red – Book Review

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Blood RedBlood Red 

Jason Bovberg 

Permuted Press 

PB ISBN: 978-1618682536 

eBook ISBN: 978-1618682543 

April, 2014; $16.95 PB, $5.99 eBook 

Reviewed by Josh Black

Much has been done with zombies over the past decade or so. Their resurgence and subsequent explosion in popularity has left fans satiated, to say the least. So many zombie stories are out there, across so many types of mediums, that it can be difficult to find a gem that takes conventions and drags them outside the box. Jason Bovberg’s Blood Red is one such gem.

Blood Red, the first volume of a projected trilogy, follows 19-year-old Rachel through a world that’s been suddenly thrown into disarray. She awakens to find that nearly everyone in her town seems to be dead, a strange and harmful red glow emanating from their heads. After this debilitating discovery, she sets out to find her missing father and to piece together what’s truly going on.

Rachel makes a strong protagonist. Confused and helpless at first, she changes considerably through the course of the story, finding the inner strength to take charge and do what needs to be done. Her quest to find her father is a touching and harrowing one, and readers will be drawn in by this alone. The other characters, though not as well-drawn, are likable as well, bringing their own unique strengths and abilities to the grim proceedings.

The zombies (if they can be called that), are downplayed for much of the novel, which works to its benefit. The first two acts set up the characters and build suspense. Speculation as to the cause of the mass death is tossed around, but in this case, the unknown is far more unnerving than anything else. Descriptions of a strange scent and red-tinted quality to the air, as well as explosions and fires in the distance, give a sense of unease. One claustrophobic chapter is set in total darkness, accompanied by bone-chilling sounds you wouldn’t want to hear even in daylight. While the characters try their best to create order and take care of the injured, the ones already deceased are twitching, slowly changing into something altogether unnatural…

There’s a lot of heart in Blood Red, and the strong attention paid to the emotional side of things is in striking contrast to the horrific imagery of what happens in the climax. The requisite gore is vivid, depicted with a gleeful and unflinching eye for detail. Given that the zombies aren’t in full swing until the last third of the novel, not a lot can be said about them without divulging too much. Suffice it to say, anatomically speaking, these are some of the most twisted and disturbing creatures you’re ever likely to read about. Yes, the bulk of the story is a quiet and character-driven study of the initial reaction to the incident. When the action ramps up, though, the novel absolutely earns its title. Think Silent Hill and you’ll be on the right track.

Far from being a cookie-cutter zombie novel, Blood Red is worth reading even for those who aren’t fond of the shambling, flesh-eating variety of horror. It’s by turns emotionally gripping, disquieting, and outright terrifying. Here’s hoping we won’t have to wait long for the sequel.

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