Remember a few years back when Seth Grahame-Smith’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES hit the book scene, and suddenly it seemed like every hack writer was submitting classic novels interspersed with horror sections to publishers? Unfortunately, some of those “novels” (I use the term loosely) actually made it into print. What should have been a one hit wonder (and it kind of was) sparked imitations.

It’s similar to when Hollywood has a hit movie and hack screenwriters rush to their laptops and attempt to copy the winning formula of what they just saw on the screen rather than come up with something original. They type up a by-the-numbers script instead of being inspired by what they saw and attempt to create something with heart and soul.

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The Lovecraft Squad: All Hallows Horror

THE LOVECRAFT SQUAD: ALL HALLOWS HORROR is the first in a promised trilogy of novels using a concept created by prolific horror and dark fantasy editor Stephen Jones. While it has its moments of effective horror – thanks mostly to John Llewellyn Probert’s prose style – this debut suffers from an derivative plot structure that dulls its overall intentions.

Bob Chambers is a member of the Human Protection League, often nicknamed “The Lovecraft Squad,” an FBI-sanctioned group that investigates and prevents occult occurrences throughout the world. Or, as Chambers himself explains, “Occasions when dark powers have tried to break through, evil forces that exist just on the other side of our reality and want to make this world their own.”

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FERAL by James DeMonaco (writer/director of THE PURGE movies) and B.K. Evenson (aka “Brian Evenson,” IMMOBILITY, THE WARREN) avoids the mistakes of a lot of post-apocalyptic, zombie-esque plague stories:

It gives you a little bit of set-up, then immediately jumps to the post-plague scenario. Because really, that’s what the reader wants. Not page after page of characters wandering around pontificating about “What’s happening?” No, we want to jump ahead to the action. We want characters struggling to survive in a new, harsh, and violent world. Screw the “whats” and “whys.” But I’m getting ahead of myself…

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Hekla’s Children

James Brogden’s book HEKLA’S CHILDREN is a deeply unsettling and complicated work, layering an intriguing mystery with a thoughtful fantasy topped by a screeching horror tale that may or may not be allegorical, but is chilling and memorable.

The mystery begins when young Nathan Brookes is leading a small troop of four adolescents on an orienteering hike through a large British park. There should be no danger involved and so Brookes lets his charges roam on ahead and he takes a shortcut to meet up with them. He sees the group in flashes and then they disappear. They are not where they are supposed to be. All four youngsters have vanished.

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Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales

Prolific, insightful and often surprising editor Ellen Datlow chooses birds as the topic of BLACK FEATHERS: DARK AVIAN TALES, her latest anthology of mostly new stories.

Birds often connote beauty, freedom, and song. But as Datlow points out in her stylish Introduction, “there’s a dark side to the avian.” She notes the many birds of prey; that birds often kill other bird’s eggs; and some are also known to kill small animals. These and several other foreboding avian characteristics, along with several species of birds themselves, are the basis of the works featured in this anthology.

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Darkness Whispers

A mysterious older gentleman wanders into a small town and wreaks havoc by granting the residents their secret desires, all at the cost of simply doing him a small favor.

No, it’s not Stephen King’s NEEDFUL THINGS, although you’d be forgiven for thinking that. The plots are eerily similar, but honestly, it wasn’t a terribly original plot to begin with. The whole “make a deal with the Devil” and “be careful what you wish for” scenarios were showing signs of age back when Rod Serling was pulling them out for every fourth episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

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The Apartment

No, not a novelization of the 1960 Jack Lemmon/Shirley MacLaine comedy, THE APARTMENT is a slow-burn horror/suspense story that, if it were indeed a film, would be more suited to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock rather than Billy Wilder.

Mark and Steph are a mismatched married couple living in Cape Town with their toddler daughter. One night, the family is subjected to a home invasion. Although they are left physically unharmed, the psychological stress wears on the couple. They decide to get away for a week with the hope that it will alleviate much of the dark cloud that has surrounded their lives since the break-in. Steph contacts a website that assists would-be vacationers in “residence swapping,” a way for folks to stay somewhere exotic without paying hefty hotel rates. Soon after, Steph receives an email from a couple in Paris that would like to swap residences for a week. Jackpot, right? Well, no…

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Six Scary Stories

6scarystoriesPulling the next submission off my precariously balanced tower of books-to-review, and —

Hey, what’s this? SIX SCARY STORIES by Stephen King.

Huh. I didn’t know King had a new collection of short stories out. And this is a slim volume (only six stories, after all), so I can probably knock it out in an hour or so. Wonder why my friends (huge King fans) haven’t been talking it up …

… um …

I see.

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The Fireman

firemanJoe Hill’s latest novel, THE FIREMAN, effectively presents this popular young horror author at his creative best, as well his self-indulgent worst. And it’s the striking creativity of the story that makes you wish the end result were so much better.

Can a person really die from spontaneous combustion? No, unless they are stricken with Draco Incendia Tyrchophyton – the disease central to the novel (more commonly known as “Dragonscale”) that marks its victim with beautiful black and gold bruises before it causes them to burst into flames. No one is sure how it began, but it has turned into a plague spreading across the country and hitting cities one by one.

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Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone

warlockholmesAmerican author Gabriel Denning signs his name “G. S. Denning” to assume a more British persona in WARLOCK HOLMES: A STUDY IN BRIMSTONE, his comedy/horror version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal detective. The concept is limited. So, not surprisingly, most of the humor in this debut work is forced and overplayed. Holmes purists, beware.
Like the Conan Doyle originals, Denning’s book is a series of short stories. In the title story Dr. John Watson meets and soon shares lodgings at Baker Street with Warlock Holmes. It isn’t long before Watson discovers his new friend’s unique ability. Holmes has an impressive – although often irritating – knowledge of demons. In fact, as Watson eventually learns, Holmes is possessed by the spirit of Professor James Moriarty, a master demonic criminal.

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