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’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.
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.
After becoming bored with supernatural horror novels, I turned to creature horror novels. To make a long story short, I can’t get into novels about land creatures and nobody will ever convince me that I’m missing out, but I’ve been falling madly in love with aquatic horror, specifically where it involves things with tentacles and parasitic offspring. The ocean is a scary place. If you’ll excuse me going off track a little, allow me to say that I used to love going to the beach and swimming around but now you couldn’t pay me to step a foot into the water. By foot, I mean my foot, not the distance. Aquatic horror plays on everything that terrifies me about the ocean, which is a) why you can’t get me into the ocean ever again and b) why I can’t get enough of the literary subgenre. Deep Devotion is a worthy contribution to the aquatic horror subgenre, though it isn’t without its flaws. Follow me into the ins and outs of this novel, and please try not to throw up over the parasitic octopus parasite things that you’ll be hearing a lot about. If I can handle it relatively well with my fears of the ocean and my fears of food poisoning, I think anyone can.
Deep Devotion begins simply enough at an exotic seafood restaurant Ryuu where a young man named Collin proposes to his girlfriend Sarah. The two are so excited about starting their new life, but of course readers know better. Minutes later, Collin collapses on the floor and vomits up his lobster and crabcakes (which, spoiler alert, are important to future events in the novel). Sarah freaks out and takes him back to his apartment (because in horror novel land, nobody is capable of making genuinely intelligent decisions). Collin gets even worse, going into a catatonic state except when he talks about needing to return to the sea. He is picked up by an ambulance and a nurse, Kate Browning, discusses the situation with Sarah. Sarah eventually reveals that when she looked in Collin’s eyes at one point, she couldn’t see him and knew this was more than a regular case of food poisoning. Kate takes Sarah’s concerns seriously because there were other patients in the hospital that she had worked with earlier in the day who had the same reaction. Long story short, the crabcakes and other crab dishes served at Ryuu were infected with microscopic one-eyed tentacle parasites that could affect their hosts’ minds and couldn’t be removed through force. The only way to speed up the process of removing them from their human hosts was to take the hosts to the ocean and let the parasites remove themselves. Problem: The parasites were offspring of a monstrous octopus/squid/dinosaur entity who was not happy about humans interfering with them in any way. The only way that Kate and a marine biologist she teamed with could save the patients was to kill the mother entity. Are they successful? Well, I’m not going to spoil the very ending for you. I guess you should check out Amazon for a copy of the book. It’s worth the cost.
I have to be honest with you and state that although I recommend it, Deep Devotion isn’t 100% perfect. It’s missing this something that makes other horror novels gripping. I’m not quite sure what the word I’m looking for is, so bear with me as I try to explain it. I would say that as soon as the focus of the book moves from the food poisoning/parasite infection to Kate’s relationship with the marine biologist, there’s less of that desire to keep reading word-for-word. Don’t get me wrong, the love story isn’t the main focus of the novel as a whole. It does, in fact, have significance to the very last page of the novel. If you want to know about the octopus/squid/dinosaur entity’s capacity to recognize human emotions, you have to accept Kate’s relationship as being genuine and meaningful. It’s just that, well, why did there need to be that love story interrupting scenes of urgency and in some cases straight-up horror? This may be because when I go into a horror novel I expect horror above everything else and I keep my horror separate from my romance, but I felt like the relationship was when Deep Devotion lost its energy. I admit that I skipped around so that I didn’t have to read the blah blah blah descriptions of the relationship formation.
If you are a reader who enjoys mixing genres and/or can overlook the relationship, there’s not much else I can gripe about. I mean, yes there was content I wanted more of. You know what kept me interested in this novel? I was a big fan of the infection/possession from the offspring and the mystery surrounding what was happening to the patients. More of that, please. I don’t necessarily mean that M.C. Norris needs to pull this edition and rewrite it to have more of these elements, but this was what I mean when I say I want that something. One thing I thought was interesting about this novel was that it was relatively “clean” as far as the bloodshed content. Don’t get me wrong, there was copious amounts of blood concerning the parasitic tentacle offspring removing themselves from their hosts’ bodies, but it wasn’t a bloodbath for the sake of having blood and gore in the novel. I realize this makes very little sense if you haven’t also read Deep Devotion, but I guess what I’m trying to get at is that the disgusting straight-up horror elements of the novel are necessary to the story.
The best way to summarize how I felt about Deep Devotion is that if you read all the positive reviews about it on Amazon, they’re much nicer than my own review but they’re not wrong. This is definitely an aquatic horror novel I recommend you all add to your collection of horror novels. It’s on Amazon in print and Kindle editions and also Severed Press, its publishing company’s website. A bit of an aside, but one of my favorite horror authors, Tim Curran, is published by Severed Press. Interestingly enough, Mr. Curran also has an aquatic horror novel (well, novella titled Leviathan) that I highly recommend. In short, I feel safe recommending not only the book Deep Devotion but the publishing company Severed Press.
I am on a creature horror kick right now. Although the trend in self-published creature horror seems to be dinosaurs and robot entities (god knows why; they’re kind of blah), I particularly like aquatic horror. The idea that the majority of the ocean hasn’t even been explored and you don’t know what’s living in its deepest darkest depths is already the most terrifying concept I can think of. What happens when (fictional) people learn the answer to the mystery? Seaspawn is a speculative fiction horror novel in asking “What if these humanesque creatures overpopulated the ocean and needed to spread out to land?” I was totally hooked by the synopsis but in the end I am 50/50 on whether I liked how this book played with the idea.
Up front, I’m going to tell you that I hate the way Edward Parker wrote this book. In the first seven or so chapters, readers are introduced to various characters who are vacationing in St. Meads, a tourist beach community. The novel opens with a small team of lobster fishers on a boat called The Esmeralda who are slaughtered by a seaspawn they were unfortunate enough to catch. In the second chapter readers meet the Collins family, who are visiting St. Meads at exactly the wrong time. A few chapters later the focus is on Keith Evans, a local restaurant owner who had money problems way before the seaspawn and did not need yet another problem to compound his cursed life. There are other characters as well but I would have to reread the novel to explain their purpose. As a good reviewer I have a responsibility to provide factual, accurate information, but let’s be honest for a second. If characters aren’t appealing enough for me to remember, they’re just not important. The point is that there is no one character that you can follow initially and in the middle and end of the novel when everyone’s paths converge, it’s not particularly important who they are. Here’s the thing: I loathe this style of writing and it was a potential deal-breaker for me. If you are a reader that can follow multiple characters’ storylines and you get into that deal, maybe this won’t be a problem for you. I just have to warn you because it did not endear me to this book and if there was nothing else redeeming then I would’ve given up.
The redeeming factor is the seaspawn themselves. An old homeless man named “Mick” refers to them as mermaids, which they are definitely not. What they are is the fictional creation of author Edward Parker, and they’re pretty creative. They are humanesque in some ways. They have all the basic human body parts that allow them to feed, fight, and basically function on land as they would in the water. They are such a threat because they are semi-immortal; the only thing that can kill them is firebombs dropped on the St. Meads’ community. I would assume that the idea Parker is playing with is that of the “four elements”, water is more powerful than everything but fire. Anyway, when these seaspawn come out of the ocean for new land, they are dead-set on making it theirs. They aren’t scared of humans even though they’re not familiar with humans and being physically attacked by their human victims/prey doesn’t phase them at all. I like reading about creatures that are bloodthirsty and emotionless. Parker could’ve easily written a novel where some of the seaspawn become pets of the tourists and break from their animalistic instincts, but instead he writes them to be all about the food and generally unpleasant little things. I enjoyed reading about these creatures and I’m disappointed that they weren’t featured in a better-written novel.
There was one other thing I genuinely liked about this novel, but I’m cautious to explain what it is because it’s the “end” of the novel and it would be a huge spoiler. I’ll leave you with this: Consider that these creatures are called seaspawn. What does the word “spawn” suggest to you?
I’m going to avoid giving an official recommendation because I realize that the things I disliked about this novel are liked by other readers. There’s nothing horribly wrong with this novel from a storytelling perspective (as in, everything is justified and Parker leaves no loose ends) and there were no obvious grammar or spelling errors that I picked up on. I would just recommend that if you purchase this novel, be sure to read other reviews so that you know what to expect in advance. Finally, I want to add that I am not turned off from this author. Edward Parker has written other novels that sound interesting and I’d be willing to give them a chance. He has excellent concepts in his novels, so I’d like to give him a fair chance to impress me with other works.