‘Dial M For Mutants!’ by Mat Thorne – Review

*Disclaimer – I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

Her office smelled like the bathroom of a seedy bar. The endless cycle of cigarettes. That urinal cake perfume. A headache was already forming somewhere deep in Buck’s skull and one whiff of her office was just enough to set it alight. He slumped into the old floral sofa across from her desk and sighed.

She watched him a long, silent moment, then returned to the open tabloid on her desk. She clicked her tongue and scratched notes all across the page. Buck sat too low in the sofa to see what she wrote. He didn’t need to. Her expression told him everything he needed to know.

“Have a smoke,” she said, nodding to the pack of Viceroys on the table.

Buck sat up and took one.

“Why the hell not,” he said. “Just why the hell not.”

He tapped the cigarette on the desk and hesitated. The chaos of the newsroom sounded through the open door. Phones ringing, voices arguing, the occasional burst of laughter.

“You want me to close that?” Buck said.

“Leave it open.”

Buck pressed the cold cigarette to his lips and held it there. “That’s what I thought,” he mumbled.

She sat the paper down and flattened out the creases with her knobby hands. Just skin and bones and a glitter of cocktail rings moving slowly, tenderly, over the edges. She made a real show of it. She even squared it to the edge of the table and patted it like a puppy.

“This is trash, hun,” she said.

Buck lit his cigarette and smiled. “You’re the publisher.”

She smiled back. Red lipstick smeared across her teeth.

“Not the paper,” she said. “The Midnight Extra is an award winning publication.” She thumbed toward the wall of gilded plaques behind her desk, then raised her voice to be heard well beyond the office. “Award winning!” she shouted. Then to Buck: “It’s your section dear. It’s trash.”

Synopsis –

Welcome to 1994. Bill Clinton is the president, Twitter doesn’t exist, and The Midnight Extra is staring at you from every checkout lane and ratty newsstand along the East Coast. Hollywood scandals, wild gossip, and the occasional UFO. You just can’t miss it. You might want to, but you can’t.

The Midnight Extra isn’t much of a tabloid, but that’s never really bothered Buck Vincent. He isn’t much of a reporter. And in a paper notorious for Elvis sightings and celebrity sex gossip, Buck’s Can You Believe It?! section feels right at home. For twenty-nine years, he’s dreamt up stories about Bigfoot, aliens, ghouls, and monsters of every stripe, usually after a whiskey. Or four.

Problem is, Buck didn’t dream up his latest story. He’s seen the blood. And he’s met the strange, smiling woman haunted by something beastly in the night. Hell, he’s seen the damn thing himself.

Good thing he’s teamed up with rookie photographer Betty Roy. She may be a loose cannon, but she’s got more spine than Buck ever had. Gumption too. And together they’ll chase a story that might just be chasing them back. Something with teeth. Let’s just hope the story is worth all the trouble. Things are getting a little spooky.

Thoughts –

Set in the 90’s around a magazine publication specializing in the paranormal, supernatural, and esoteric, Dial M for Mutants! is a novel that perfectly encapsulates the smoke and mirrors of such a workplace. The setting and atmosphere of the book is immersive, and is only made even more enticing by the visceral and frightening events and images in the book.

Our reporter Buck Vincent is used to creating a spin on things, and for the last three decades of his career he hasn’t been above just totally making things up. But when he and the new photographer for the magazine, Betty Roy, find themselves in the middle of a story that appears to have real blood, real mystery, and real danger, Buck finds his taste for a good story hasn’t left him just yet.

Dial M For Mutants! has a nostalgic feel to it without overwhelming the reader. Thorne’s writing is a gritty fast paced story that does not hold back on the old school monster visuals and the macabre mad scientist angle. With characters you want to root for, and a mystery that is too delicious not to keep you hooked to the last page, this is a book that you will likely finish in one sitting.

A breathtaking cover to match the horrifying story within.

About the Author –

Mat Thorne is a writer, designer, and photographer from West Virginia. He lives in Pittsburgh with his wife, daughter, and two strange cats. He enjoys monster movies, fantasy miniatures, baseball, and dumplings. “Dial M for Mutants!” is his first novel.

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‘The Haunted Halls’ by Glenn Rolfe – Review

***

Walking up the pool steps he sensed a presence. Something else was here, and he had the goosebumps to prove it; the room was freezing. Not normally a man so easily spooked, Edward grabbed a towel from the plastic chair he’d left it on, and made for the door.

Stepping into the long empty corridor he could see his own breath. The icy presence had followed him. Even the maroon carpet which ran all the way down to the inns lobby was cool beneath his bare feet. The immense chill permeated every available space around him, freezing every door handle in sight and sparking to light and intense fear in him. He broke into a run looking for the nearest restroom.

Edward reached for the silver lever, his mind two steps away from setting his axis permanently out of whack, and despite the icy cold beneath his palm, shoved the door open. He spun around to the other side, shutting out the cooling hallway of the Bruton Inn. Something followed me. Standing in the men’s room clad in nothing but men’s swim trunks and a tiny pool towel that wouldn’t fit a child, he waited.

He was shivering, his teeth chattering, heart pounding. He could feel the wooden door at his back growing colder by the second. The small pool of water puddled beneath his feet began to freeze before his eyes. He stepped out of the slick space his wet body had created and stood before the mirror face to face with himself, intent on talking some sense into the man looking back at him.

“This isn’t happening. This isn’t fucking happening. Get a hold of yourself you stupid asshole!” he sad through quivering blue lips. A series of cracking noises stole his attention. He gazed back at the door. The floor beneath it began freezing over, the ice reaching out into where he stood.

Synopsis –

The Bruton Inn, located outside of the small Maine city of Hollis Oaks, is home to something special. An icy presence has made its way from a dark past to the present day. Cold spots, shadows, and whispers permeate the halls, and guests are beginning to change.

For two front desk employees, Rhiannon and Jeff, the dark rumors are about to come to light. They call upon Lee Buhl, the urban shaman, and his connection with the spirit world to dig up the truth.

Will they be able to stand against this malevolent force? Or will they come face to face with something beyond even your most frightful dreams. Welcome to the Bruton Inn. The Ice Queen has arrived.

Thoughts –

The Haunted Halls by Glenn Rolfe is a paranormal story set in a terrifying hotel with a dark past. Strange and unexplained things have been happening for some time; dead bodies found floating in the pool, voices and shadows in the empty hallways, and cold spots that can make your bones ache. Rhiannon is a relatively fresh recruit at the Bruton Inn and isn’t yet sure if she believes rumours going around, but she’d about to find out they are more true than she could ever imagine, and her coworker Jeff can’t escape them either.

A smorgasbord of messed up characters, bad decisions, evil intentions, and violence, The Haunted Halls has as many layers as there are rooms at the inn. The only real set back of the novel is the large cast of characters. Between hotel employees, blow in guests, regulars, and those from the haunting past that created it, it was a slippery task trying to keep them all straight in my head. Fortunately, a lot of them do end up shuffling off this mortal coil by the end, so it gets easier as it goes along. But Rolfe still handled the challenge well and the core character have their own time in the spotlight to keep the story going.

A classic haunted hotel story, from a fresh perspective, The Haunted Halls boasts physical and emotional turmoil, somewhat immoral characters redeeming themselves, and definitely immoral characters getting what they deserve. And a few unfortunate people who get caught up in the chaos and mayhem in between.

An exciting read that will keep you on your toes to the very end, this novel is another great read from Glenn Rolfe.

About the Author –

Glenn Rolfe is an author, singer, songwriter from the haunted woods of New England. He studied Creative Writing at Southern New Hampshire University, and continues his education in the world of horror by devouring the novels of Stephen King, Jack Ketchum, Richard Laymon, and many others. He has three children, Ruby, Ramona, and Axl. He is grateful to be loved despite his weirdness.

He is the author of August’s Eyes, Until Summer Comes Around, The Window, Becoming, Blood and Rain, The Haunted Halls, Chasing Ghosts, Boom Town, Abram’s Bridge, Things We Fear, Land of Bones, and Slush.

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‘Parting Shot’ by Daniel L. Naden – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

The shoe was on the other foot.

But the foot had become detached and was currently holding the intense interest of the zombie near the shed. Another zombie, one with a rather significant overbite, had wormed his way through the abdominal wall and gotten himself a mouthful of intestines. The overbite, however, kept his teeth from cutting cleanly. Now he was hopelessly tangled in what could only be described as a gutsy web of shit. A different knot of zombies must have, in their living lives, heard all the old leper jokes. Some were doing their deal-level best at trying for a face-off in the corner. Another unfortunate undead dude who lost his poker face was just about ready to throw in his hand. His heart was definitely in the game, but he simply couldn’t keep his head on the task at hand, or the hand at task.

From the depths of the shadows cast by the eaves looming over the backyard deck, I’d watched the undead tuck into Stine where they’d cornered him against the fence. When the first of them pushed into the backyard, I tried to hold him back to keep him from breaking cover. He heard them rattling up against the fence latch, heard the creak of the hinge as they forced their way through the gate, saw them shamble around the corner of the house, and just about shit himself. They got close to us, and Stine lunged away from me. I caught a fistful of his collar, but he twisted and shrugged out of it. Left me with nothing but the shirt off his back, literally, as he tore off across the yard.

I haven’t the slightest idea in hell what he thought he was going to do. Maybe he figured he could bull through them at the gate and escape to the wide-open streets. But he knew, or should have known, that wide open doesn’t exist anymore. There were just too many of these fuckers in the world. So, I dunno what happened. Stine was scared and just panicked, I guess. Maybe after all this time, it finally got to him. The running. The fighting. The hiding. The slow starvation. The loss of friends. The horror of watching the world die one mouthful at a time.

He ran.

Synopsis –

Brian has survived for ten years beyond the end of the world, but he’s not sure why. He’s not even sure if he cares anymore.

When the dead began strolling around and eating people, society was certain to collapse. Brian never realized how lonely a guy could be in a world with six billion hungry zombies hanging around. Or how empty a life of just surviving could be.

Meeting survivors in Brian’s world is dangerous. Living with survivors is almost suicidal. Zombies like large groups of people: the more, the merrier. Caring about people in Brian’s world is insane. How often can someone lose every person they’ve ever known or loved before they just quit trying?

When he hooks up with a new group of survivors, they all find a way to…well…survive together. After so many years, surviving is the easy part. The real challenge: can they find a reason to live? To love? Can they find a reason to hope? Can they remember how to laugh when so much of the world is dark and despairing?

Thoughts –

A short but memorable novella, Parting Shot is a post apocalyptic zombie story with heart. Ten years after the apocalypse and those still left living have figured out how to keep themselves hidden from the undead hordes looking to make a a meal out of them, but they’re beginning to lose the will to keep going at all.

When our protagonist Brian goes against his better judgement and teams up with a small group of friends he begins to gets that feeling again, the feeling that there is something still worth living for. But the monsters are just one step behind and they get closer every minutes. Now, when Brian and his friends actually want to keep living, they might just be the closest they’ve ever been to losing not only their own lives, but the lives of their new family.

Naden chooses his words carefully and in such a small amount of pages paints a poignant and enthralling picture of a world on the edge of annihilation. Through the strength and emotional connections of his characters, Parting Shot is not just any zombie story, it’s a zombie story that you won’t be able to tear yourself away from.

About the Author –

Daniel L. Naden has always been a writer. It’s an affliction, a blessing, a curse… a dominant part of life for as long as he can remember. He has published work in the areas of politics, humor, philosophy, and of course, fiction. Dan’s stories explore the irony in life, through the lens of horror, suspense, and sci-fi. His writing has appeared in great anthologies, like: The Best of Horror Library: Volumes 1-5, The Horror Library: Volume 2, Dark Distortions: Volume 1, and Our Shadow Speak, along with top-notch publications like Dark Recesses Magazine, Vault IX, Astounding Tales, Ragged Edge, and Montage. Dan’s latest novella, Parting Shot is here – from HellBound Books. Dan lives with his wife in Olathe, Kansas.

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‘Chatroom With A View’ by Glenn Maynard – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

The wind gusts reached into the woods and sporadically shifted the little log cabin at its base, and the raindrops thumped the structure with a little more vigor when they did. It wasn’t that it was a threatening storm, but it created enough of a commotion to jolt Troy Cullen back into the world in which he was not a very big fan. The gray, sticky afternoon in late July contained enough heat to bring on this afternoon thunderstorm, but much more accompanied the storm beyond the clouds and the thunder and the rain.

Troy looked around the room from the floor of this long structure and with hazy vision saw his father on the hardwood floor across from him. Neither of them moved like the approaching storm. Turning his head to the left, he could see his house through the window. In fact, he could see the window of his bedroom from his current position inside this little cabin in the back yard. He was on the other side looking in not long ago, but a lot had changed since then. In the matter of an hour, his entire world had turned upside down.

Synopsis –

Lizzie Borden took an axe . . . and so goes the song depicting the 1892 axe murders of her father and step-mother. Research indicates that a killer gene could be passed down through generations of family members, and evidence begins with Lizzie’s ancestor who murdered his mother in 1673. Chatroom with a View opens with a bone-chilling episode, and what’s left of Troy Cullen’s dysfunctional family keeps him even further from the normal integration with society. Troy’s life further unravels when his ex-girlfriend, Veronica, announces that she is pregnant. Troy loses control and plots to do unto others as they have done unto him. When Veronica digs into his family’s past, she exposes this killer gene; she must try to balance her obsession for a family with shielding herself and their baby from evil. But Troy has his own agenda, resulting in an epic showdown. 

Thoughts –

Chatroom With a View explores the intersections and interactions of characters that are in dire need of a therapist. Beginning with the young and troubled Troy Cullen, desperate to protect his mother from his violent and abusive father, Troy feels let down by the world and by himself. Now having to work with two women who bullied him in high school and hearing that they are still up to their immoral shenanigans, he decides to take covert action against them, but quickly crosses the line between giving them a taste of their own medicine, and becoming the monster himself.

But as Troy is struggling not to become like his father, and failing miserably, a girl from his past shows up again too inform him that she is pregnant with his child. Not taking no for an answer, Victoria is determined to create her perfect family with the reluctant Troy, no matter what he is hiding in his father’s cabin. Discovering that Troy may have a hereditary disposition for violence, and so might her unborn son, Victoria believe she can nurture this nature out of them.

Chatroom With a View is a roller coaster ride of bad reactions and even worse decisions. Rather than investing in a few well needed, therapy sessions, every character in this story leans into their darkest and most irrational ideas much to the detriment of everyone around them. With small touches on the theory of nature versus nurture when it comes to violence and even murder, as well as the role of family on one’s own mental struggles, this is a novel that attempts to shed some light on the darker motivations that some people have. Representing the self titled victims of the cruelty of women is Troy, and representing the perfect ten women who just seem to be too much for people is Victoria – at no point should these psyche’s meet, but unfortunately they do.

While Maynard’s writing is enjoyable and his character’s solid enough, the decisions made and actions taken by many of the characters in the story felt very rash and unpredictable. It was difficult to get a handle on what Troy’s priorities were and how far he was willing to go to stroke his own ego. Victoria’s mental health issues were more overt, but Troy’s complete disconnect with reality has them on the same level for much of the story. But the story does take an interesting look at the downward spiral of a young man on the outskirts of society with violence in his blood.

About the Author –

Glenn Maynard has a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Connecticut as well as a degree in Communications. After spending four years living in Denver, Colorado, he returned home to Connecticut and now resides in Wethersfield. Glenn Maynard is the author of ‘Strapped into an American Dream’ that details the one-year journey through the forty-eight continental states, Canada and Mexico in an RV. At one time he was a correspondent for three newspapers during his travels. To learn more about Glenn, you can visit his website here.

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‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ by Richard Ayre – Review

*Disclaimer – I received free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review*

***

The HS 748 began its final approach to Newcastle International airport. The landing gear locked into place with a clunk and the seatbelt lights flickered into life. The few passengers on board stirred thankfully in their seats. It hadn’t been a pleasant flight.

They had been delayed at Dublin for over an hour, the reason for which hadn’t been disclosed until a helpful, if rather naive stewardess, told a nosy passenger that there had been a bomb warning. According to the anonymous caller, the plane they were on would soon be blown out of the sky.

Maybe that wouldn’t have been so bad. After all, to fly, you have to place a certain amount of trust in the company doing the flying that it will do its best to get you to your destination in one piece. They wouldn’t let a plane fly that hadn’t been satisfactorily searched would they. Would they? But to make matters worse they had run into a thunderstorm just after that reassuring fact had been disclosed. Needless to say the rest of the flight had been disclosed. Needless to say the rest of the flight had been, to put it mildly, rather fraught. The panic stricken silence of the passengers was punctuated regularly with the lumpy liquid sounds of people throwing up and the unfortunate aroma of fresh vomit wafted up and down the fuselage, apparently oblivious to the air-conditioning.

While Phil Sturgess would not say he was unaffected by the violent motion of the small prop job, he at least had managed to keep his dinner down.

Synopsis –

Newcastle. 1988….
They say that music is the food of love. Reporter Phil Sturgess would disagree with this. He would argue that some music is the stuff of nightmares. Some music can literally tear out your soul and drag it, kicking and screaming, down to hell itself.
Sturgess loves rock music. He loves it so much he makes a living from it. But when he hears of a band called Minstrel’s Bargain, Sturgess’ life descends into horror. As the city he lives in succumbs to ever more violent and macabre episodes of grisly murders and barbarous acts of self-destruction, Sturgess begins to understand that there is something very wrong with Minstrel’s Bargain. Something very wrong indeed.
With time running out for humanity, Sturgess is threatened with an age old evil. And to stop that evil he is forced to confront the terrifying stranger who has been dogging his footsteps for months. The only question is; will Sturgess do what needs to be done? If not, the souls of millions will be destroyed.
Sturgess has to make a choice. Fight or flight? Heaven or Hell? Live or die? Whatever he chooses, it will be a Devil of a decision.

Thoughts –

‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ is the first in a musical horror trilogy of epic proportions. Spanning lifetimes and generations, the darkness in this story is a legendary and mythological one. Our protagonist Philip, a young music journalist with the world at his feet, becomes embroiled in the fight against this evil when his hometown of Newcastle is overrun with an obsession with a new rock band, and numerous and sporadic violent events. Finding the connection between these two things is the only way for Philip to stop them and save the people around him, but he is loathe to look to deeply into the shadows.

Reminiscent of ‘The Dark’ by James Herbert, ‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ is a succession of insanity fueled horrifying incidents, held together by the strange events currently affecting Philip Sturgess’ life. After listening to music of the new sensation that is ‘Minstrel’s Bargain’, a band from the states that has swept the airwaves like a tsunami, listeners may find that they have dark and violent impulses that must be sated – whether it’s their friends, work mates, or even their own mother who draws their eye.

Ayre’s writing is competent and enduring, giving each character just enough life to keep us interested before they are violently ripped from the pages. While cosmic horror-ish elements of the mysterious ‘tramp’ and the world which he inhabits did slow the pace of the book somewhat, overall ‘Minstrel’s Bargain’ is a novel that stretches across time, about an evil that annihilates everyone in it’s path, and the time honoured tradition of a chosen one who must fight it. And who better to take down an evil band than a music critic?

A horror novel about the power of music, and what can happen when that power falls into the wrong hands.

About the Author –

Richard Ayre was born in Northumberland too many years ago to remember, and teaches History for a living. His first novel was Minstrel’s Bargain, and he has also written Point of Contact, a Sci-Fi chiller, and A Life Eternal, a speculative historical novel. He lives in the North East of England where he continues to write whenever he can. When not writing, or putting children on detention, he can be found pottering around the Northumberland landscape on his motorcycle, Tanya.

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