Settle in my reading friends and let me tell you the story of the “Pink Slime”. Once upon a time, fast food restaurants were immune to criticism. Then one day, sometime in 2012, all that changed when ABC News ran an 11 part segment on what fast food meat looks like in its raw form. The most charitable description? “Pink Slime.” “Pink Slime” was defended as being a harmless additive to make ground beef go further, nothing more, but the controversy put all fast food restaurants under careful consumer scrutiny. In 2014, horror writer H.E. Goodhue proposed that “Pink Slime” comes from space and is anything but harmless.
The novel Pink Slime is hard to describe. It’s most like a bizarro novel but less explicit (no anthromorphized/sentient reproductive organs running around) and with a stronger, more real world-ish plot. If you removed the aliens and the Pink Slime, this is the story of a formerly bullied young adult who has the oppportunity to get revenge on everyone who hurt him and in the process becomes corrupt from the power. The thing is, Andy Holstein would not be able to get revenge without the Pink Slime. Immediately after reading it I described this book as being an easy read, which it is, but it’s not necessarily a “beach read”. Underneath the body horror and the Pink Slime, there’s a message about appropriate revenge versus becoming worse than the bullies. Also, “beach reads” aren’t usually this dark.
I don’t want to spoil everything about Pink Slime
but let me give you a little taste (pun intended). Andy Holstein is an overweight athletic store employee whose only genuine friend is a spacy, hyperactive character known as Squirrel. Andy is in love with Cece, a frequent customer who he thinks is out of his league but is also nice to him. Other than Squirrel and Cece, everyone who meets Andy bullies him for his weight and awkwardness. The only place he feels welcome is the local fast food restaurant. Through a convoluted series of events, Andy eats the Pink Slime and gains the ability to turn people into Pink Slime monsters. This is all explained better in the novel, I promise. With his new power Andy goes on a killing spree and…Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out how it ends.
While I enjoyed Pink Slime there were parts and characters that seemed unnecessary. The one that stood out to me was any scene involving the alien nicknamed Guy. The alien nicknamed Guy was there for exposition purposes but in the end felt like he didn’t have to be there after all. He even said himself that there were aspects of the Pink Slime that he wasn’t familiar with. For a character that explains complicated events, you would think they’d have a good grasp on said events. Unfortunately when you read the book, you can’t ignore Guy.
In spite of some…moments, I do recommend Pink Slime. The book, not the gunk at fast food restaurants.
I may have given up on supernatural/demon horror novels completely if not for The Many (The End is Nigh). After hitting many dead ends in these horror sub-genres that I used to crave, I had the unpleasant thought that nobody was writing anything good and I needed to move on. When I move on from sub-genres, it’s not permanent but when I return I have decreased enthusiasm and patience. Thank you Joe Stone for writing an exciting supernatural/demon horror novel and giving me renewed hope!
The Many is an ensemble novel in which we are first introduced to four characters with separate but related stories until all four meet each other and share the same story. Usually I wouldn’t recommend this style of writing because I can’t keep track of what events happened to what character, but in The Many the four characters are distinctive enough to remember who and what is happening overall. The four characters are Tommy (a high school student with no luck in getting the girls), Jason (a man with close ties to his mother), Amy (a married woman in search of other men), and Nick (a police officer). A recommendation: Follow Amy’s story the closest because she starts and ends the book. These four characters witness different aspects of the demonic virus but the thing they share is that the entities get into their heads and taunt them about their secret sins as a way to (attempt to) possess them.
By now you’re probably curious about this demonic virus. It’s not fully explained in the novel, but that just means we’ll have something to look forward to in the sequel. From what I understand, it has something to do with Lou Parsons and his grudge against the Lenton, Massachussetts community’s priest. Lou Parsons either summons demons or is a demon himself and his goal is to take over the community and make it his. His method is to use powerful body-hacking, landscape-changing demons to take over “regular” people’s bodies while he works on influencing Tommy, Jason, Amy, and Nick to do his most important work (which involves killing the priest). By the end of this book, Lou Parson’s reach has extended from Lenton to all over Massachussetts.
I said it in multiple places of this review and I’ll say it again, reading The Many was such a relief. It has elements of other pre/post-apocalyptic novels such as the world being normal one day and spiraling out of control the next and that the cause of the apocalypse is supernatural, but hen it offers a twist. The creatures have zombie-like qualities such as feasting on human innards and flesh, but they’re not zombies and they have more of a sense of consciousness. This is much more unnerving than reading about mindless flesh-eaters. I like that by the end of the novel, I was excited for the next book because I have no idea what direction it’s going to take. Sometimes predictability is comforting, but I don’t read the horror genre to be comforted. I like that I don’t know what’s going to happen next.
Since I’m excited and that hasn’t happened for a while, I feel safe in saying that if you are also a fan of supernatural/demon horror but you’re in a reading slump, you really should give The Many a chance. If you do, let me know what you think!
Let’s imagine you are a fan of the zombie apocaypse horror/science fiction subgenres but you are cautious about reading unknown zombie apocalypse authors. Your fears are completely understandable; I’m not even a zombie apocalypse fan and that makes me very discerning about what I enjoy. We both have that in common, even if our reasons are different. Trust me when I say that Outbreak: The Hunger is a fun read and in spite of its writing style flaws I do recommend it.
Outbreak: The Hunger begins scarily similar to the zombie apocalypse horror movie 28 Days Later (note the reference to the movie in the text) in which three animal rights activists are in a laboratory to free the animals. They do exactly that, but of course it blows up in their faces when one of the friends is killed by an animal and another friend is badly injured. The third friend is Jason, a very important secondary character who survives the night and stupidly spreads the zombie virus. You’ll learn more about him later in the novel, so keep his name in mind.
The bulk of the novel is about John, a chef and father to daughter Fiona (Fi). They are visiting the local zoo for daddy-daughter day thinking it’ll be fun, unaware that some of the zombie animals are there and ready to attack/spread the virus. Does either one survive to the end? Let’s just say that you’ll have to read through the epilogue and then to the first chapter of book two, Outbreak: The Mutation to find out.
My biggest hang-up about Outbreak: The Hunger is the writing style. This is not a deal breaker for me, but it’s fair to mention it in case it bothers any of you. The book is partially in third person, like when the animal rights activists break into the laboratory, any backstory about people who handle the zombie animals (Ex: Animal shelter workers Julie and Jim), and any scene involving the military. The remaining chapters are in first person where John is talking about being attacked by the zombie animals at the zoo. While the mixed points-of-view are necessary for telling the full story, it’s jarring to switch from third person to first person and back again.
Although the writing style can be problematic, Outbreak: The Hunger is a fun read. At the risk of spoiling a key part of the novel, the characters are often as confused as the readers. There’s not a clear “This is what the zombie virus is and this is how it spreads from animals to humans” explanation. Different characters contribute new information up until the end of the novel. This means that you go through a similar journey as the characters (except without zombie animals). Just keep in mind this helpful hint: Don’t care too much for anyone because the body count is pretty high. If you hate everyone or can handle characters you like getting picked off by zombie animals, you have nothing to worry about.
Author Scott Shoyer has been getting positive reviews by other zombie apocalypse authors such as Joe McKinney. I wouldn’t normally mention the reviews because they’re ego-stroking by friends, but here it’s relevant. Outbreak: The Hunger deserves more publicity than it currently has. I can’t promise that everyone will love it, but I can tell you that it impressed a reader who isn’t normally a fan of zombie apocalypse novels. Tell me what you thought of it.
Have you ever read a novel that you’d been excited about from the first time you read a synopsis of it, only to be disappointed? The Nebulon Horror qualifies as this for me. It’s not a bad book, but it’s dated in its language and the style of writing feels restricted. The synopsis is accurate, but it would help considerably if it said “In this reprint of a 1980 novel…” so that readers have a better sense of how the time period may have inspired this novel. 1980 is not even what I would consider “old”; many fun horror novels have been originally published in the 80s and the reprints are just as relevant and exciting now as they were then. The Nebulon Horror is a “different” novel.
The plot of The Nebulon Horror is perfect for fans of the evil child and/or occult subgenre(s). At its most simple, seven-year-old children in a particular school in Nebulon, Florida have become evil overnight and the adults in the town need to stop whatever is causing it unless they want to be the next victims. The cause of this evil is the summoning of a long-dead and powerful human man’s ghost via a unique symbol that he responds to. There’s scenes that are violent and gory (sort of, a point that I will address more in-depth), but the bulk of the story is about secrets that this community keeps from each other.
One glaring thing about this book is that the plot is slow-moving. I was drawn to this book from reading the synopsis because I expected action-filled scenes with small interludes of characters being introduced or characters wondering “What’s going on?” Simply put, it’s the opposite. To be fair, the scenes with the evil/possessed children Jerri, Raymond, and their classmates were compelling. The first chapter of the book, for example, was Jerri’s first sign of possession when she accused her mother’s boyfriend of molesting her and physically ripped his face apart in self-defense but when pressed for details said she couldn’t remember what happened. The boyfriend survives his attack and becomes an integral part of the story, which I won’t spoil beyond this except to reassure you that he survives. This attack/kill and then claiming innocence is common among all the children; there are multiple scenes of a normally-shy Raymond committing grisly murders of people in the community for example. This plot point is why I kept reading in spite of feeling disappointed. When the kids are off at school or playing in the park and the focus changes to the adults, the plot becomes “draggy” and repetitive. If you want to skip to the big reveal, go to Chapter 25 and read to the end.
Some literature lovers may enjoy the writing style-here referring to the language and word choices- of The Nebulon Horror. As I said earlier, I thought the language was dated. To give you a concrete example, in the first chapter there is an odd way of describing the difference in characters’ speaking styles.
“Born in New England of European-born parents, Vin Otto spoke an oddly formal kind of English, at least for this rural Florida town where speech was usually as casual as an old shoe.”
Vin Otto has a substantial reason for his formality of speech, but there are other examples of writing that seems “off”. I have no idea what “…where speech was as casual as an old shoe” means, and it gets even weirder from there. The word “queer” used throughout the novel is synonymous with “strange” or “bizarre” rather than its more familiar present reference to sexual orientation/gender studies, which may interest word lovers but did in fact throw me a bit. When attractive women are described, there are euphamisms such as “well-proportioned”. The second grade teacher, who is only 27, shamed evil/possessed Raymond by calling him “You wicked boy!” These are little moments of writing that eventually add up. Vin Otto, the character with textbook English, is less “old” sounding than some of this writing. I get the sense that while this book was originally published in 1980, Hugh B. Cave wrote it much earlier. One other thing I wondered was if Cave wrote a more blunt draft of this book but had to censor some words or phrases so these odd choices were the best he could come up with. Either way, the writing style does not make for enjoyable reading.
After kicking around the good and the bad of The Nebulon Horror, I have decided that it’s not for me but others may enjoy it. I hinted at it when talking about the writing style, but a surprising audience for this book is readers that enjoy “wordplay” and seeing how language changes through the years. I don’t recommend it for horror fans, however.
Have you ever counted the days before a book will be released and you’re so excited you feel personally offended that the publishing company doesn’t release it earlier? I had been waiting at least two months for Evil Little Things by Matt Shaw and yes, I felt like giving readers the synopsis of the already-written book but not pushing it out sooner was a personal insult. When I finally downloaded the Kindle e-book, I thought all the waiting would be worth it. Well, it depends on why Evil Little Things seemed appealing and if you felt it delivered. I…wasn’t impressed like I thought I would be.
Evil Little Things is a demonic possession novella, sort of. An unmarried couple and their two children move to an inexpensive house that doesn’t seem quite right. Crista, the mother, was creeped out from the first day of living in the house when she and her partner Matt had a conversation only she could remember and her two daughters Ava and Aria had conversations with invisible entities. As the novel progresses, Crista’s sanity is called into question. She tells Matt that her children look like eyeless ghosts, she hears loud noises when there should be silence, her children are in multiple places at once, and she grows teeth where she shouldn’t. He responds that it’s all in her head and she needs psychiatric help. Ultimately Crista can’t handle living with the demonic entity and checks out in a bloody way, leaving the house to the demon. In the epilogue, we learn that *SPOILERS* Matt is possessed by the demon so that he can drive Crista to suicide and then raise Ava and Aria as recruits in the demon leader’s army. *END SPOILERS*
The epilogue is actually solid. If Matt Shaw decided to write a series about the demon army, he would have me as a guaranteed reader. This is when it’s confirmed that even as Crista loses her sanity and becomes unreliable, there is one main demon and the possibilities of more demons. That confirmation solves a problem with the bulk of the story, which I will explain in the next paragraph. The only thing that would improve the epilogue is if it didn’t jump from the omniscient narrator to the demon talking in first person. It was jarring, to say the least. Even so, I do recommend pushing through the novella to reach this part.
The story leading up to the epilogue was not terrible, but I admit to being disappointed. Crista was meant to be a sympathetic character but she was much too short-tempered and vain to be likable or at least pitied. If people around her didn’t buy into whatever she believed at the moment (whether it was that she felt old or she had evidence that the house was haunted) she would get short with them and take out that frustration on innocent people around her. The worst thing about Crista was that even after she knew she had an evil entity attached to her and the house, she engaged with others who weren’t protected from the demon and passed it on to them as well. Her partner’s friends Gabe and Melissa didn’t need to be dragged into the possession (and the novella); Their only purpose was to add to the body count. When every character was terrible in different ways, there was nobody worth cheering for. Another problem, also related to Crista, was that the more she experienced the demon’s presence and activities the less credible she seemed. I honestly felt like she could’ve benefited from a therapy session, it not to be diagnosed then at least to sort out the supernatural problems from her personality problems. Until the epilogue confirmed that there was a horde of demons out for recruits, this could’ve been a psychological novella. I love literature that challenges reality vs. the mind’s power, but I wanted Evil Little Things to be strictly supernatural. I only read to the end because this was a book I had once been so excited about. Author Matt Shaw can still tell a good story and I will still recommend him when I come across good work, but Evil Little Things pre-epilogue is not one I recommend.
I had to think long and hard about writing a review for The Angel of Vengeance (A Glimpse Into Hell) by Wade H. Garret. If I was writing this review uncensored, I would state that it has some very good parts and some very bad parts and while I wouldn’t go into heavy detail I would tell my readers what they have to be aware of if they’re interested in reading this book. The author has a one page disclaimer about the book, and for a good reason. The thing is, I almost didn’t want to take a chance on writing an uncensored review because the author’s disclaimer essentially says “This book is graphic, gory, upsetting, politically incorrect, and offensive. Don’t read if you’re sensitive.” Eh, I’ve read worse. The sticking point for me was that also in his disclaimer, he talked about receiving negative reviews for the book and responding to the reviewer. Granted, the response was probably the most well-handled “Well, I like my writing so whatever” I’ve read in some time. Still, reviews are not meant to stroke an author’s ego or keep the book high in the ratings (for example, on Amazon where I rented this book as a Kindle Unlimited, keeping the average rating of the book between four and five stars). When I review a book, I may very well sing its praises. More often than not, I’m critical of the book. That doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book, but it means that I’ve read the book, I’ve thought about the book, and finally I want to share both the good and the bad of the book for other readers. It’s intimidating to read in an author’s disclaimer that they know what content is in their book and if it upsets you, well, you knew what you were getting into. In the end, I am going to review The Angel of Vengeance (A Glimpse Into Hell) because I have thoughts on the book and I want to share them with my readers.
The Angel of Vengeance takes place in a basement torture chamber, predominantly as a long, extremely graphic conversation between the anti-hero character Seth Coker and a man named “Richard”, “Dicky” for short. Here’s what you need to know: The conversation is part conversation between Seth and Dicky and part of a way to flash back to all of Seth’s handiwork, some that is lying around the basement in various locations. The conversation is broken down into stories that span two to three chapters followed by Seth showing Dicky what the bodies of his corpses look like in the present day. Seth is one of those characters that you will be conflicted on because he is a vigilante, he is not a good guy, his sanity is probably shot, and yes, he loves torturing people…but he has a sense of justice about it. Whenever Dicky asks Seth why he enjoys torture, Seth says that he’s doing it to bring justice to the victims of his victims. The way Seth views the criminal justice system is that it’s broken and doesn’t punish the people that need punishment the most, so he comes in to set things “right”.
I did have a segment of chapters that I completely understood Seth’s sense of justice, twisted as it was. “The Shattered Reflection of the Crescent Moon” “Human Octopus” and “The Gruesome Torture Device” tell the story of three men that, among other things, tortured and killed fifty-three shelter animals for no reason. Oddly, the paragraph in “The Shattered Reflection of the Crescent Moon” specifically about the shelter animal torture doesn’t go into the same graphic detail that goes into Seth’s methods of vengeance. It’s still extremely stomach-turning if you’re an animal lover and you don’t like reading about animal torture. The thing is that if animal torture makes your blood boil, you probably feel like anyone who tortures animals deserves to be tortured the same way themselves so they know how it feels. Maybe you even support Seth in these three chapters. In real life when I have a clear head I would never say “Torture the animal-torturers worse than what they did, but in reading these chapters I felt that primal sense of “Kill! Kill! Kill!”
People who have a cause that’s near and dear to their heart will probably have a similar reaction to myself. If you are anti-elder neglect or you’re anti-violence against women or you’re anti-child abuse, you might also find some segments where you support Seth’s brand of justice.
Although I did have three pet chapters (no pun intended) that I got into, I found myself wondering where Seth believed it was his duty to humanity to right every criminal justice system wrong through torture. Of course if we believe Seth’s account, it’s that victims of violent acts shouldn’t suffer without getting some kind of peace and since he’s capable of it, that’s his life’s work. That said, Seth is extreme in handing out justice and sometimes he has no connections to the people’s he’s helping/”helping”. There’s a plot twist in the final few chapters where readers learn why “Dicky” is Seth’s latest victim and there is minor justification. I won’t spoil it because it’s worth reading for. More often than not, it feels a lot like Seth tortures people for the fun of it and uses “I’m correcting injustices” as a way to shield his twisted hobby. It’s hard for me to get into Seth’s mindset. I don’t know that anyone can.
After reading The Angel of Vengeance, I had some final thoughts for potential readers. First, you absolutely need to take the author’s disclaimer seriously. This is not extreme horror like you’d get from Edward Lee (which I’ve read a few works from and will tell you that the version of extreme horror by Mr. Lee is more ridiculous than thought-provoking and hard to handle). There is nothing supernatural about this book. There is not a sense of “This part is gory but you’re supposed to find it laughable” with this book. There is some very dark humor in this book and if you read the reviews on Amazon, people have appreciated it. The humor is more about the weird exchanges between Seth and Dicky than, say, slapstick. Definitely keep in mind that this is not light reading. Second, if you are a book reviewer, don’t be afraid to write an honest review. This book challenged me, not because it had large vocabulary words but because enjoying it or appreciating it or being completely turned off was a moral dilemma. In the end I had to write a review of it and express why I was so challenged by it.
I’m going to kick off 2015 right with a weird aquatic horror novel about lampreys. For those of you who don’t know what a lamprey is, consider that a benefit for reading Lampreys by author Alan Spencer. If you do know what a lamprey is, you are going to find the entire premise of this novella ridiculous. Actually, I don’t know a thing about lampreys either and I still found the premise far-fetched. I have to warn you of that right now. In spite of the weirdness, you should give this novella a chance because it’s so weird but in the end it works as fun reading material.
Lampreys begins with a scene in a secret research lab where a research assistant is completing her work for the day and is about to leave the laboratory when her boss’s voice comes over the loudspeaker saying “Mama” is hungry and she is sucked through a hole in the ceiling by something large. She is chewed up and the scene fades to black. We are then introduced to the main character Conrad Garfield, an English professor who is mourning a break-up and is sent on a volunteer trip to Africa because, as his brothers say, he’s too big of a wimp. Conrad is extremely bookish, the stereotype of an English professor. This is somewhat significant to the rest of the novella, so keep that in mind. When Conrad, his brothers, and the rest of the volunteer team are taken to Africa, they are warned it’s a hot zone. That’s when things get good.
Once we reach this point, we find out what’s going on in the secret lab. The owner/lead scientist Dr. Sutherland is certifiably insane. He allowed normal-sized lampreys to infect his body so he could be “in tune” with their desires. The lampreys are flesh-eating machines, so Dr. Sutherland has to order human organs and flesh for them to munch on. In addition, he sicced his “super lampreys” (larger-than-human sized creatures, including “Mama”) on his research assistants to keep them happy while he ordered massive shipments of body parts. When Dr. Sutherland wasn’t feeding his lampreys, he was combining lampreys with humans to make weird living weapons. I won’t spoil the gory goodness, but let’s just say that the human/lamprey hybrids were much more lamprey than human. If you like body horror, you’ll love reading these scenes.
I also won’t spoil the ending, but the lamprey experience changed Conrad to a point, in a good way. Our bookish hero remained interested in literature and teaching, but the way he approached the subject matter became more personal. Also, the sad sack “I can’t move on from my unfaithful girlfriend!” person Conrad had been was gone. If nothing else, the lampreys made him realize he had control of his life and nobody had the right to decide the direction it took. Conrad is not always a likable character, but I promise he becomes more three dimensional throughout the novella.
I did have problems with believability of the novel. “Super lampreys” are out there, but as a fan of fantasy novels I can definitely get the need for unusual, inventive creatures. More than the lampreys, I didn’t buy mad scientist Dr. Sutherland’s lamprey/human hybrids. Humans can’t survive having living creatures shoved into and/or stitched to their bodies. There is no way, even in a clearly fantay/horror novel, that this technique is plausible. The only way author Alan Spencer could make the lamprey/human hybrid believable in context of the novella is to increase the novella to a full-length novel with more explanation. In order to enjoy this novella, you can’t question the logic at all.
Although I’m highly critical of the novella, I would still recommend reading Lampreys. It’s the horror equivalent of a beach read. Sometimes you want to be grossed out and entertained, no logic required. Lampreys doesn’t make sense, but it is a fun read.
I love a good cannibal serial killer novel. You’d be surprised to learn that although I’m not a “gore hound” and in fact would rather read supernatural or psychological thriller novels, there is something I crave about a good cannibal serial killer horror novel. It kills me to admit that in spite of having the potential for a delicious cannibal serial killer novel, I did not love Consumed by author Matt Shaw. This is the best way I can describe Consumed: It was disturbing as promised, but not disturbing in the way I like my cannibal serial killer novels disturbing.
The plot is pretty standard. Five twenty-somethings who were once good friends but are beginning to fall apart go on a road trip in hopes of rebuilding their friendship. The main character is Michael, an aimless, hard-headed person. Michael’s best friend is Joel, an auto mechanic (oh, the irony!) who would smoke his life away if he could. Lara is a sharp-tongued woman who had once dated Joel and still feels the burn of their break-up. Hayley is a beauty queen who is so consumed (pun not intended but rock with it) with how she compares to other women that she doesn’t notice larger issues. Charlotte is a sweetheart who should not even be a part of the group and is viewed as a little sister that needs protected from the real world. Dan is just there, not someone who had a role other than being the first to die. The road trip doesn’t start off well with Lara and Joel bickering and continues to get worse when the car breaks down and they are rescued by two twenty-something brothers Johnny and Stephen who take them to the family house for a meal. Little do the five friends know that they’re the main course.
There are scenes of cannibalism in the novel, which I appreciated since that was why I wanted to read this book in the first place. Descriptions of a young woman eating a man during intercourse is sick and twisted, just the way I want my cannibal serial killer novels. What, I can’t enjoy a little bit of gore? In addition, there were entire pages dedicated to how some of the characters were sliced and diced. If you like details rather than fade-to-black sequences, Consumed is your book. Maybe.
How do you feel about incest? How do I put this without requiring a trigger warning? To put it bluntly, there is a lot of incest. None of it is fade-to-black either. It’s not as frequent or physically sickening as scenes in another extreme horror novel Dead to Writes (April Almighty Book One), the novel that I hold up as the sickest extreme horror novel I’ve read to date, but reading the descriptions of father-on-daughter violence feels voyeuristic and wrong. The problem with Consumed is that it should be the cannibalism that turns your stomach but in fact the incest is (I’m guessing) the reason this novel is considered extreme horror. I’ll ask you again, how do you feel about incest? Do you believe incest can carry a horror novel from beginning to end? Do you believe that incest is a ploy to make the villainous characters more sympathetic, even if there’s nothing else about them that is sympathetic? This may just be a personal concern, but I don’t think the way incest was written in Consumed was well-handled. Conventional wisdom says that you aren’t supposed to root for the villainous characters at any point of the novel. It was hard trying to negotiate the conventional wisdom with what the daughters suffered from their entire lives. Suzanne and Tammy, the daughters, are almost as into cannibalism as their parents. As readers, we shouldn’t like them. When they are raped by their father, we still don’t like them but we see them as victims and it’s just weird. Consumed would’ve been a stronger novella if the author left out the incest and just let us hate the family.
I have a lot of thoughts on Consumed, but I think author Matt Shaw’s author note placed right before the story says much more than I could say. Apparently Consumed isn’t even Matt Shaw’s normal style of writing. He had been receiving feedback from readers about them wanting some serious gore and rocked with it. His attempt with Consumed satisfied the extreme horror fans enough that the majority of ratings for the novella were overwhelmingly positive, but I’m not okay with it. I like Matt Shaw’s writing when it’s psychological (ex: Clown) or supernatural (ex: The Cabin and The Cabin: Asylum). I would normally recommend Matt Shaw. I will probably recommend some of his future works once I get ahold of them. I do not recommend Consumed.
How do you feel about cannibal serial killer clowns? If you threw up in your mouth a little reading that, you will not like author Tim Miller’s Welcome to Happytown. If you are sick and twisted like me and thought “Hey, I’ve gotta know more!” then trust me, you will be a happy horror literature buff. As the Amazon description and my review title says, Welcome to Happytown is the second book in the April Almighty series. While I was ambivalent on the first April Almighty book Dead to Writes, this one was delicious. It’s not perfect and you’re absolutely going to hear an explanation for that, but think of it as your favorite candy. You know it’s bad for you (the book flaws) but oh my god you can’t get enough (the book as a whole). The narrator for this book is omnicient but primarily tells the story in April Kennedy’s thoughts. The cannibal serial killer clowns (more on that later) get their fair share of voice time, but we’re not in their twisted minds too long for it to be uncomfortable. In addition, the thing that works in this book’s favor is that the majority of character deaths are well-deserved. Nobody is an innocent victim. Even April makes choices that are questionable at best, evil at worst.
Your spoiler-free summary is as follows: Bad things happen when April Kennedy is your friend. That is literally the only aspect of Welcome to Happytown that isn’t a spoiler. Right from the beginning when viewers are told that April, her best friend Stacy, her new friend Kimberly (known as “Kim” through the majority of the book), and her adversary/Kim’s boyfriend Todd are going on a road trip, you know it won’t end well. You also know that there will be lots of sex and death. How to put this in a not-too-weird way? April developed a very unique ability to make men ejaculate when she talks dirty or threatens them and then hack their minds in such a way that they could (and have!) kill themselves if she told them to. April knows her ability is too easily used for evil and basically shut herself down to human affection (even the real deal) knowing that she could slip up and kill good people. If this is mentioned within five pages, you know it’s foreshadowing. The rest of the book: April and her friends break down in a creepy little town that they can’t leave unless they go through the Funhouse. A bunch of pychotic cannibal serial clowns make the Funhouse their home and torture headqarters. Main characters die or get turned into clowns. The community decides to get rid of the Funhouse for reasos that aren’t entirely clear. April goes on a killing spree of the townspeople. In the end, April is punished for her actions but we don’t learn her fate. Lead in to Book Three? It is nearly impossible to write a non-spoilery review for this book. Be warned that my take on the book will definitely spill some surprises. The book is still worth reading, however.
There are two things I liked about this book. First, none of the so-called good characters are saints. Second, these clowns are definitely a Tim Miller creation. There was also a major problem in the “Did this book make sense?” department, which I’ll discuss as part of my clown discussion (pardon the redundant language).
In these heavily violent stories you probably want at least one heroic, clearly “good” character to cheer for. Tim Miler isn’t going to give you that in Welcome to Happytown. April Kennedy is your heroine but her killing spree is anything but heroic. Kimberly is a sweetheart/pushover and look where that got her! Hint: Clowns can reproduce if they have a woman’s body to use as a vessel/incubator in a short amount of time (like, under an hour). Stacy was insignificant, which surprised this reader because she had been April’s best friend and rock. Todd? Well, Todd’s turning just goes to show that the bully always wins, even if “winning” is similar to losing. At least he got disfigured in the process, I guess. These characters don’t fit the traditional mold. That’s actually a good thing.
If you read my review of Dead to Writes (April Almighty Book One) then you knew I was uncomfortable with certain scenes. I didn’t mind the torture scenes or the cannibalism scenes, but the rape scenes were too much. The characters were completely innocent with no bad qualities that I could see. For all readers knew, they hadn’t even written negative reviews of a book (the reason the cannibal serial killers went on their revenge spree) in the first place. Welcome to Happytown had a different vibe, even where there was a very long, very weird rape scene of April’s friend Kimberly. I felt bad for Kimberly because, well, ewwwww! The entire atmosphere of the scene was different, however. I didn’t get the sense of injustice and true violation like I got from Dead to Writes. A part of me wonders if the author toned the scene down to be less “real” and another part of me wonders if I’ve come to expect a certain style from the author. More realistically, it seems like these characters being so flawed makes readers a little less sympathetic to them. I worry that this could be dehumanizing in some aspects (analyzing sexual assault in real life, for example), but for getting through Welcome to Happytown and appreciating the book for its fictional qualities, I can’t thank Mr. Tim Miller enough.
Now, let’s talk about the cannibal serial killer clowns. I have this craving for novels about evil clowns in general so it’s pretty much a given that I’ll read any novel dealing with evil clowns. Cannibal serial kiler clowns are the best type of clowns, I’ve decided. What’s interesting about Tim Miller’s clowns is that they’re a new type of entity. These aren’t clowns like what we’re familiar with, people wearing tacky make-up and horrible outfits. These clowns are entities that have always been clowns. According to the head clown Uncle Monkey, these entities have been around since Ancient Egypt and nobody, not even the clowns themselves, know exactly what they are. Todd and Stacy, when they become clowns, have to make a full-body change and forget their old identities because they’re no longer human. It’s convoluted but I, who always look for flaws in novels, didn’t question it too much. Props to Tim Miller for creating a new monster!
The only problem I have with the novel is that certain major aspects aren’t explained well but you’re supposed to accept them as if they are. For example, Kimberly giving birth to a clown later named Tiny Bubbles was just weird. The act of reproduction and giving birth was exactly like it is with humans except performed in about an hour and the clown offspring grows sort of in the uterus but explodes through the stomach, leaving behind a trail of female reproductive organs and innards. As horror fans we expect weird scenes like this, but I’m sure we also like some explanation. I have a few questions off the top of my head. Is this a normal method of clown reproduction? Is it normal for the baby clown to eat its mother/vessel’s organs after exploding out of her body? How exactly does all this occur in less than an hour? How are these clowns fertile if they’re non-human entities? Inquiring minds need to know, Mr. Miller!
More often than not I’ve had positive experiences with reading novels published by DarkFuse and that can be a bad thing. I hold DarkFuse novels to a higher standard than other small press-published novels since I trust that if the company has delivered in the past, it’ll always deliver. It’s an unfair standard, I admit, but I don’t think I’m unique in my views. If you were to ask other book lovers/book reviewers about their automatic buy books (you know, the ones that they will buy even before they know anything about the book based on who its author is or who published it), I’m sure others would tell you the same thing. Because DarkFuse is a company that I adore, that’s why I’m so disappointed in Sacrifice Island. It’s decent in the respect that there is a creature and there’s heavy supernatural elements directly relating to that creature and therefore it’s fun, but it’s not “Oh my god!” incredible. On its own terms that would rank Sacrifice Island as a decent read that after much hemming and hawing I would tell you all that in spite of its flaws, you have to read it at some point because it’s fun. The problem is, I expected more from a DarkFuse novel.
Sacrifice Island is about a not-a-couple couple, Alex and Jemma, who are travel writers with a focus on the world’s most haunted places. This article they are writing is for the last chapter of their soon-to-be-published book Spirits Around the World and they heard rumors of strange happenings on a secret island near Palawan in the Philippines. Little do they know that the stories of tourists who traveled to the island and didn’t return alive or at all were occurring during the writing of their book and they are at risk the moment they step on Palawan. Without spoiling the more exciting points of Sacrifice Island, let’s just say that there is truth to the rumors. Palawan is a tourist destination that seems like a fun up-and-coming alternative to cliched vacation spots with nothing sinister behind it, but the secret island’s name (Sakripisiyuhin Island) should be as much of a red flag to readers as it is to Alex. The two travel writers find that the more they research the secret island, the more in danger they are of becoming like all of the other victims. Ooh, spooky! Well, sort of.
One thing I genuinely liked about Sacrifice Island was that it introduced me to a new type of supernatural creature. I am not familiar with Filipino folklore so I love that I get to learn about a country’s stories and legends while reading horror fiction. So, what exactly is this creature? Alex explained in a succinct-ish overview that the creature on the island is an aswang, a vampire-like creature that kills a person’s physical body for food and then eats their ghosts as well. Kristin Dearborn has a brief article after her story that details more about the aswang, which is quite interesting. Apologies to anyone who is of Filipino origin should I get any of this wrong, by the way. Also, please feel free to contact Dearborn and set her straight. Disclaimer over, let’s talk about this particular aswang. According to Dearborn, the aswang is a usually female vampiric human/monster shapeshifting creature. It would traditionally be able to fly but her specific creation needed to be trapped on Sacrifice Island so she took liberties with the folklore by taking that ability away. Nowhere does she mention about the aswang being able to eat the ghosts of people it killed, but she does say that it likes to eat the newly dead. I would not mind reading more novels about this creature because it sounds way more interesting than the vampire character from European lore. I wouldn’t even mind if Dearborn wrote a follow-up novel that goes more in depth on the aswang. Unfortunately, Dearborn knows much more about this creature than what she includes in this novel and the absence of information is noticeable.
Now I have to discuss the obligatory “Dear god, why DarkFuse, why?” aspect of this book. Sacrifice Island was all about the absence of information. I would assume that the intention is to add to reader suspense, but that’s not the result of it all. I had questions that distracted me from the reading. These are some of my major questions:
- If Jemma was so sensitive to the supernatural (ghosts in particular), wouldn’t she have been sensitive to the aswang’s precense from the beginning? There’s no excuse for the author to leave out the explanation for how Jemma can sense certain aspects but not others. As a reader who is open-minded about the supernatural, I would believe it’s possible to have limitations. In my fiction, I want the character to be developed enough that I know why they have these limitations.
- In the end of the novel, Jemma becomes an aswang while the former aswang (named Virginia) dies. To Kristin Dearborn’s credit, there is explanation for how a human can become an aswang that involves a transference ritual. It was never clear in the novel how Virginia and Jemma do that transfer. All readers know for sure is that immediately after, Jemma becomes a hungry entity that wants to punish tourists to Sacrifice Island by means of eating them.
- Jemma’s travel writing partner Alex dies right before she becomes the new aswang. Who serves as Jemma’s “keeper” (essentially the human that will deliver tourists to her)? It made sense that Terry would be Virginia’s keeper since they were married for a long time but would Terry do it for a woman he didn’t know well?
DarkFuse novels don’t usually leave me hanging. I think it’s even worse with Sacrifice Island because Kristin Dearborn doesn’t have any follow-up novels to it so we’re left wondering all of these things with no satisfactory conclusion. I know that movies and TV shows are fans of cliffhangers, but it really is different when the product is a novel.
Instead of giving you all an official recommendation, I’m just going to leave this “Boo, DarkFuse!” review here and we’ll see what you all think.