2B by Mark Allan Gunnells- Book Review

2B
Mark Allan Gunnells
Valhalla Books; 1st Edition (February 13, 2021)
Trade Paperback/ eBook/ 155 pp

“No one tells you how terrifying love can be.”

Just in time for Valentine’s Day here we have ourselves a rather feisty one from Valhalla Books. This time in the shape of a steamy ex-lover’s quarrel turning into a violent murder/suicide in the main character’s bathroom in his apartment 2B. When Berkley Simmons wakes up in the hospital with his best friend, Sasha, he is more than ready to go. Hospitals are an absolutely terrible place to wake up. Surrounded by so much pain and suffering and death. Especially after barely surviving such a traumatic event. Luckily, the paramedics and the guy with a crush on him that lives across the hall in 2A arrived on scene quick enough to bring poor Berkley back from the dead after being clinically gone for approximately five minutes. They even told him that if it would have been just a couple more minutes, he too would have been a goner for good, and not just his ex-sociopathic-lover, Kevin, who had just attempted to drown him in the bathtub while blowing his brains out all over the bathroom walls. After arriving back home, we as the reader quickly realize that our main protagonist, Berkley is not alone. Books and CDs whose artists and authors have all committed suicide in the past are randomly falling off his shelves and littering his apartment floor, and all the faucets keep turning on full blast and spraying out water. The mysterious events are even happening while he is at work at the bookstore. Water coming out of nowhere and flooding the pages of recently stacked books, as well as a myriad of items falling from their appropriate shelving devices.

“Home is the place that you have to go to, even when you’d rather go anywhere else.”

Berkley knows it is him. How could it not be him? Who else would come back from the dead and torment him like that? He’s never witnessed a ghost or poltergeist before. But it must be him. It’s all too real and won’t stop giving him the absolute creeps. But why does nobody believe him? Everyone thinks it’s all just part of him surviving a traumatic encounter such as the one he’s just been through. What can he do to prove it to them? This is when things get even more exciting as Berkley hosts a terrible dinner party with terrible food, but he does it all for the evenings main event. After the crew of four washes their food down their throats with extra glasses of water and wine and slips little pieces of scraps under the table to feed their imaginary dogs, Berkley breaks out the Ouija Board! I absolutely loved this scene as I am a huge sucker for the occult and paranormal, and I love a good old fashioned haunting/possession scene in my horror art and media. I promise this one will not disappoint. Also! The supernatural fun and games do not stop there. His boss from the bookstore eventually hooks him up with a young, psychic medium as the tragedy in apartment 2B prevails, and we as the reader soon discover that our main character may have even more baggage and quite a few more ex-skeletons than we had originally thought in his closet (pun very much intended), as the book leaves us hanging onto our own devices and questioning what really happened with two different potential endings (the author does this in a good way neither of which will disappoint) that are somehow equally rewarding as far as death certificates are concerned. The author puts the idea of a potential overall metaphor in our head as we are faced with the lingering question of maybe our main character was actually the problem throughout their entire relationship the whole time, and that is what had sparked his ex-lover Kevin’s sudden psychological glitch in the reality matrix, which had then resulted in and pushed him to such extremes in erratic, unpredictable, and violent behavior, or perhaps maybe he was just a raging sociopath with a plethora of childhood abandonment issues acting out in the most impulsive, aggressive, and violent ways.

I said it years ago after being introduced to the work of the author here and reading one of his brilliant earlier works (The Summer of Winters), as well as a few really solid, well-written short story collections (Companions in Ruin, Flowers in a Dumpster) that Mark Allan Gunnells was one to watch out for and I stand by that statement from years ago still to this day. The author has an uncanny way of engaging his readers into the psych of his characters. No matter how loveable or hateable his characters are, the author continues to make sure that we as the reader are able to connect/understand what the main characters/characters in his stories are going through, experiencing, or have experienced. There are SO many authors working today (big and small press) and I don’t even know how many books I will actually physically quit reading time and time again and year after year that are unable to pull this concept off… BUT the gift here is true and admirable and absolutely for real. Gunnells is also able to show off his obvious love for writing and horror in new and fun and exciting ways time after time with each and every release. For example, in this book we have a chapter more than relevantly but also hella creatively titled ‘It Follows.’ We also encounter random bits of early horror movie adoration and nostalgia and even a few book shout-outs in the most-clever and often humorous ways. This is a fun one, folks. Do yourself a favor.

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Autumn Bleeds Into Winter by Jeff Strand- Book Review

Autumn Bleeds Into Winter                                                       
Jeff Strand
Amazon Digital Services (September 14, 2020)
eBook/ Trade Paperback/ 256 pp

When teenager Curtis Black’s best friend turns up missing after an argument at a what was supposed to be sleepover at his house, he accidentally stumbles upon and witnesses firsthand what appears to be the abduction of his best friend. He then soon comes to the harsh realization that the man who drove off with his friend lives nearby his neighborhood further down the street. Without any help from the police, Curtis quickly decides to take matters into his own hands when he steals approximately three-hundred and fifty dollars from his dad and buys an untraceable firearm from a sketchy felon to pursue his spurt of the moment plan and confront the kidnapper living in his neighborhood. This is when things take a much more violent and sadistic turn for the worse, and the danger abound comes back to haunt him tenfold. But, for only fourteen years old, young Curtis Black is made of nail-hearts and tougher than an entire wall of cinder blocks. The true art and magic of this book is the gut-wrenching tension, violence, mystery, and suspense that continues to unfold as we as the reader continue to turn the pages of what could be the author’s best work to date. Oh, and shout-out to Lynne Hansen’s always visually stunning cover art. This one is sure to deliver, folks.

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The Bad Box by Carlton Mellick III- Book Review

The Bad Box                                                                                
Carlton Mellick
Eraserhead Press (September 1, 2020)
eBook/ Trade Paperback/ 152 pp

I think we can all admit that the year 2020 has been a public display of one never-ending shit-show after another. But let’s try really hard to keep it positive here because the great godfather of Bizarro Fiction has dropped a new book on us back in September, and it’s quite honestly more than a lot of fun. It’s tons of fun and then some really if we’re going to be completely honest here. It’s a long walk in the park with hairy white goat legs. It’s x-ray vision. It’s kind of like shooting rainbows from out of your fingertips. It’s weird looming googly, ball-bearing eyes. It’s learning how to instantly speak Cantonese out of the deep blue. It’s also body moles, A.D.D., and wiggly wretched brown banana slug fingers. Like I said, TONS of fun and then some because it’s the bee’s $#@&!#% knees, folks.
 
“Little Benny isn’t very good at taking tests. It’s not that he’s a stupid kid or doesn’t pay attention in class. It’s just that he’s absolutely terrified of failure. It doesn’t matter how hard he studies. He gets so nervous that he freezes up and his mind goes blank, rarely even answering a single question before the time is up. This is especially difficult now that he’s in Mrs. Gustafson’s fifth grade class, where the punishment for failure is to draw a curse from the bad box—a magical device that permanently mutates children into horrific monsters.”

Benny Paulsen hates taking tests more than anything in the world and just can’t seem to pass any of them to save his life. He keeps having to reach his hands into that godforsaken bad box made of black steel, wrapped in barbed wire and chains, accompanied by a set of long drooling monstrous teeth. It hisses and growls in the Mrs. Gustafson’s hands, oozing a thick, dark fluid that smells like dead fish. It’s filled to the brim with dread and unease. It’s a very, very evil box. Benny just received his fifteenth punishment, and it might be worse than all the others, but, at this rate, only time will really tell. After hooking up with and becoming friends with Mika, a translucent blue slimeball (thanks to Mrs. Gustafson’s Bad Box) the two of them are now known as the Super Villains. So, what better time than now to team up and plot a devious bad box heist. But you will have to read the rest of the book to find out what really happens for yourself. This book is a lot of fun. The author manages to keep the reader heavily engaged in the storyline as the loveable (and well not-so-lovable) characters continue to keep getting weirder and weirder by the turn of every page, and the payoff in the end is exactly what we as the reader always wanted or needed. It’s also kinda/sorta like this overly cute, cuddly fun body horror story. Imagine a group of kids playing Candyland on the set of Hellraiser. Or, something like all hands on deck the Ouija planchette on a colorful playset with the Teletubbies.

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Sabbath of the Fox-Devils by Sam Richard- Book Review

Sabbath of the Fox-Devils
Sam Richard
Weirdpunk Books (May 15, 2020)
eBook/Trade Paperback/ 158 pp

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“This sin that we have let infect every single aspect of society will not stop until it has claimed each and every child in this room until it has dismantled and destroyed the lives of their entire generation.”

Listen up, folks. I’m going to say two words. Well, two names… rather. A first name and a last name and I want you to shut the lights off as you whisper them into the closest mirror in the dark. Do this three times with your eyes closed and then go ahead and slowly open them while staring deep into the mirror to reveal some of the darkest secrets buried in your mind’s eye. Repeat after me, “Sam Richard.” Do you see it? Can you feel it? The looming shadows of weird fiction, bizarro author extraordinaire, who after the recent release of his debut collection, ‘To Wallow in Ash and Other Sorrows’ continues to shock and torment and amaze us as the reader by melting brainwaves with his highly unique and original prose. This time with a Bizarro Fiction story that pays dark homage to the small creature horror films of the 80s, jam-packed with the time’s darker bits of nostalgia. So, throw away the black and white checkered slap bracelets and the radical hot pink and fluorescent, lime green skateboards and say hello to the Satanic Panic of yesteryear with style and grace.

“I am my own undoing and try as I might, I cannot yet spit you from my mouth. Neither hot nor cold, you are lukewarm and useless to me. I have searched your Word for freedom from subjugation my entire life and found only more chains.”

“After learning about the existence of a powerful grimoire through a cartoon, 12-year-old Joe is determined to find it and change his lot in life. But in doing so, he’ll also uncover a local priest’s dark secret and how it may be connected to Joe’s brother abruptly leaving town five years ago. Part homage to the small-creature horror films of the 80s (GhouliesGremlinsThe Gate) and part Splatterpunk take on a Goosebumps book, Sabbath of the Fox-Devils is a weird, diabolical coming-of-age horror story of self-liberation in an oppressive religious environment set during the Satanic Panic. Prepare your soul to revel in the darkness.”

The author hits a dark and creative homerun on the turn of every page with this bizarre Splatterpunk tribute to the above-mentioned themes and imagery of yesteryear. With a dark and evil preacher lurking, hideously ferocious and violent but also somehow extremely loveable fox-like creatures wreaking havoc on an oppressed and abusive religious setting, chock full of enough satanic magic and occult ritual panic for days and days and days. This is one sure to leave more than the mark of the beast on your technicolored and tormented soul…. Hail Satan! 666.

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Cherry Blossom Eyes by S.T. Cartledge- Book Review

Cherry Blossom Eyes
S.T. Cartledge
Eraserhead Press (November 1, 2019)
eBook/ Trade Paperback/ 134 pp

“A work of poetic surrealism reminiscent of the films of Guillermo Del Toro and the Siúil A Rún manga, The Girl From The Other Side” – Carlton Mellick III

Margot and Blanko live on the Isle of Flowers, blessed by the rose gold light of the cherry blossom sun. In the season of the Cold, they build bonfires on the beach to ward off the malicious shape-shifting sea creatures known as tourists from the island. Each year their home becomes colder, their resources become tighter, and more tourists swim ashore and murder the locals, bury them beneath the cherry blossom trees, and take their identities like nothing ever happened. Can they survive long enough to sort out real from imposter and put a stop to this hostile takeover?

This was a really fun and entertaining book from start to finish. The author manages to deliver a completely solid and original Bizarro Fiction story jam-packed with beautiful and eclectic prose and dreamy and artful imagery. One-part fantasy, one-part horror, the story follows two loveable characters in love as the powers that be are attempting to split them apart all in fear of the Isle of Flowers biggest fear, the tourists. The tourists are shape-shifting sea black shadow creatures who can mimic and shape-shift into anything they want. Their reputation, to trick and deceive (but not everything is as it seems here as we as the reader continue to read on as the books true magic begins to unfold before our very eyes). When a loved one disappears and falls victim to the tourists lies and deception the two lovers are separated. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing as we discover more about these mysterious shape-shifting creatures. Once the tourists true nature is brought to light (yes, pun very much intended) we as the reader discover there is far more going on and the author leaves it up to us as the reader to dig and decipher how far we really want to dig into their true meaning. Which I thought was a really impressive feat by the author here, as he manages to uncover more depth to the overall book, as if hidden away and lurking and waiting in the shadows and there but only if you really want to uncover the truth, which also ties in beautifully with the overall concept of the book, all the while also managing to tie in some hella strong sociopolitical commentary on modern society.

All in all, a very solid and original Bizarro Fiction story that was very well written, beautifully and memorably poetic, and often extremely thought-provoking in terms of overall artful imagery and sociopolitical commentary on modern society alike.

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