Johnny Gruesome
Gregory Lambertson

Bad Moon Books, Limited Edition Hardcover $45
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Every horror fan loves the fun, back from the dead, sometimes humorous, but always nasty films chock full of gore, scares, wild rockin’ soundtrack, and cool makeup. Who knew someone would be ambitious enough to try to squeeze all of this entertainment into one package – one that centers around a novel? Like Brian Keene crossed with Tales from the Crypt, Johnny Gruesome bucks the system and offers the true horror fan not only a novel, but a CD (by the Italianos), mask (to possibly wear while kicking back and reading), and great artwork by Zach McCain.

The story is simple enough: a badass teenager is murdered by a drug dealer and returns from the dead to kick some ass. Sounds like a cut-rate novel attempt, and did to me at first. But there’s a twist to the story – Lambertson can WRITE. Even though this homage to the splatter films of the 1980’s, efforts which were always fun but rarely triggered brain activity, IS a wild ride through the darker recesses of the reader’s imagination, there’s a well-written story underneath it all. This could have easily been a throwaway novel, comic-turned-book-with-gimmicks, but the writing is chock full of great characterization, fast pacing (something that’s NOT easy to do), and humor (something lacking in too many novels today).

I’m hoping that this marketing campaign triggers a new slew of novels that bring fun back to the genre. Now if only I could get a hold of one of those masks to don while I listen to the cool CD with …

Recommended to anyone who loves their horror hard, fast, and fun.

Wicked Dead: Lurker
Stefan Petrucha & Thomas Pendleton

Harper Teen, Softcover $7.99
Reviewed by Dave Simms

This new series penned by Petrucha and Pendleton (aka Lee Thomas, Bram Stoker winner of Stained) will remind many of R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps, but aims for an older crowd. A teen horror novel is a tough sell as true scares are elusive in the (hate to used this word here but it without it, hardcore Laymon or Ed Lee hijinks might ensue) censored world of the not adult/not child crowd. Teens routinely flock to the theaters to see Saw (pun intended) or Texas Chainsaw Massacre so dumbing down the horror is an effort that would result in yawns.

This pair won’t cause any readers to catch any “zzz’s” in math class. An intriguing premise, four teen ghosts residing in an orphanage who tell dreadfully horrific tales while revealing their own fates. I know I’m intrigued to find out more about this quartet the next time they “roll the bones” and tell the next tale. This yarn unfolds as Mandy finds her friend murdered and attempts to both stay alive while solving the mystery.

Recommended for anyone, not just readers of YA novels.

Dragon of the Mangroves
Yasuyuki Kasai

iUniverse, Softcover $12.95
Reviewed by David Simms

This semi-fictional account of the saltwater crocodile attacks toward the end of World War II reads like a Saturday night viewing of a Sci Fi channel monster movie crossed with a Japanese “Band of Brothers.” Told from the point of view of Private Minoru Kasuga, the terror is two fold: escaping the Allied onslaught and eluding the jaws of the crocs in the mangrove swamp. Both seem inevitable to the lesser soldiers, but appear nothing more than foolish apparitions to the leaders of the squadron – until the attacks begin.

The first attack doesn’t come until halfway through the short novel, which could have been avoided. Most of the book reads like a war story, with the “dragon” Kasuga dreams of as an afterthought until the final quarter. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but for those who are seeking nonstop tension and taut pacing, this World War II tale might not take.

However, the writer in me read the tale thinking cinematically and if the right studio came along, this could be the basis for an intriguing film, like The Ghost and the Darkness or Tim Lebbon’s White – if done correctly.

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