[Review] – Ain't Worth A Shit

By Robert Essig and Jack Bantry

After reading and reviewing five Grindhouse Press books in a row, lets switch gears and talk about another great indie horror publisher:  Sinister Grin Press.  In particular, Ain’t Worth a Shit by Robert Essig and Jack Bantry.  
I’m not familiar with Essig, but I have read Bantry’s debut novel, The Lucky Ones Died First.  To put this simply, don’t read that one, read THIS one.  Ain’t Worth a Shit is superior to Bantry’s first novel in every way.  Whereas The Lucky Ones Died First is a creature feature, Ain’t Worth a Shit is a lean and mean dark (really dark) crime drama.  Don’t be deceived by the seemingly fun title.  I laughed too.  This book is NOT funny.  
Like all of my favorite dark crime stories, the pacing in this one is absolutely frenetic.  The first act is very short, and the action starts immediately.  If you liked the film Brawl in Cell Block 99, or you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to see a grindhouse film on paper…this is the one.  My only critique of this book is that I would’ve preferred just a tiny bit more character development with the main victims in the story.  This would’ve made the narrative even MORE grueling  and emotionally resonant.  Overall, this is a very small gripe for what is a vastly entertaining book.

Grade:  B

Amazon Link for Ain’t Worth A Shit

Review by Jason Cavallaro
jcavallaro42@gmail.com
Twitter:  @pinheadspawn

I received a copy of the book from Sinister Grin Press in exchange for review consideration

[Review] – A Voice So Soft

By Patrick Lacey

Patrick’s story about an evil pop star starts off strong.  It’s an intriguing premise:  songs with insidious and catastrophic effects on the audience.  I usually like books with similar themes to this one, which is why I surprised myself by not enjoying this one.  I think that my main problem with it was the pacing.  After the strong start, the narrative stalls.  I can enjoy “slow burn” horror as much as the next person, but this one runs in place a little too much for my liking.  I really had no other problem with it; good premise, decently drawn characters, and an interesting plot.  However, here is the bottom line:  this book did not pass my “closed book test.”  
Let me explain.
Even when reading short stories, I can rarely finish in one sitting.  I do not like this, but this is life yes?  Anyway, when life interrupts my reading, I usually (always) sigh loudly,  then insert a bookmark and put the book down.  This is when the closed book test begins.  How much am I bothered by the closed book?  How much do I NEED to know what happens next?  This is my main consideration when quantifying a story’s value.  
I’d recommend Lacey’s Where Stars Won’t Shine for a better example of what Lacey is capable of.  But if you want to try this one, it is released from Grindhouse Press.

Grade:  D

Amazon link for A Voice So Soft

Review by Jason Cavallaro
jcavallaro42@gmail.com
Twitter:  @pinheadspawn

I was sent a copy by Grindhouse Press for review consideration

[Double-Feature – Interview] – Patrick Loveland

Dead Head Reviews (DHR): This is your first published collection, correct? How did you settle on the stories in it?

Patrick Loveland (PL): Yes, this is my first collection. I had a general idea for a while about what this book was going to be and which stories made the most sense for it. There were originally a few that weren’t going to make it in, and one that got replaced pretty late in the process. The ones that made it in that weren’t going to were a result of me taking so long to write the core novella (that was supposed to just be a short ha) that I crept out of the window the original publishers required for exclusivity on those shorts.

As for how I settled on this set of stories…I wanted this book to be about go-for-the-throat thrills and chills and survival horror action that I feel comes naturally to me. The “cinematic” leaning that people mention sometimes in reviews of my stories—which makes sense, because I started as a screenwriter (and I still am one). So, the book took on a pulpy thrills and chills feel all around, in much of its content, and especially its presentation.

DHR: Your stories definitely do feel cinematic. You break the book into two parts: “YESTERDAY AND TODAY” and “TOMORROW AND BEYOND”.  Where the first part are stories based on the past and present time, and part two is all futuristic stories. Did you plan on setting up the book like that all along?

PL: Once I decided what I was going for with the book, yeah, I knew I wanted it to be chronological. A big part of wanting to put this book together was having two shorts that had been serial near misses, publishing-wise, that were a couple of my favorites I’d written. And they were both period pieces. A Weird Western and one set during the Vietnam War. Another thing about my stories that I’m sure is not that uncommon with other authors in this genre realm is that many of my stories exist in a kind of shared universe. Some more directly connected, some more tangentially. Peripheral.

Looking at my stories with knowledge of how they connect or don’t with this shared universe approach, I decided to put this together in the order they would appear to happen in. Like a tour through my multiverse, I guess you could say. Plus, I felt like it might be helpful to the reader to be able to feel it was a progression through time, without having to go from a far future alien space god short to a story in the present day about Halloween candy and make those possibly jarring shifts in their mind frequently. I’m not saying readers aren’t capable of that, but that’s not the experience I wanted them to have.    

DHR: That Vietnam War one was seriously so cool! Also, I’ve never heard close-but-not-directly-connected stories described like that before—peripherally. I love it. I’m going to use that!You do all the art in this book. It matches your writing style for sure, but is there a theme that readers may not catch on to that you’d like them to?

PL: Not necessarily a theme (other than the cover illustration I did, with its Many Eyes) but I think I just wanted a Crypt Keeper-like character to introduce the stories. And since I decided on just using images without words, I wanted to have the character—lovingly called “Spoop Boy”—convey something about each story just from what they were wearing or surrounded by. Like costumes and props.

DHR: That’s a really great idea! Spoop, ha. Can you tell us a little bit about Stay Strange Publishing?

PL: Sure. Honestly, I got a little tired of waiting 3-6 months to hear back on story submissions, acceptance or not. Of course, I’ll still be doing that in the future, but at that point it drove me toward something different. I also felt like I’d learned a lot working with the publisher of (the original version of) my first novel, April Moon Books in Canada, and interacting with many other indie and self-publishers, and I felt like maybe it was time to try one of those approaches out myself.

I considered just self-publishing…but I was really drawn to an entity here in my hometown of San Diego called Stay Strange. It was originally and continues to be a noise and experimental music tape and CD label, as well as a performance and event series. Its founder—Sam “Strange” Lopez—and I had become good friends from the noise and music scene here from way back. I have a huge amount of respect for Sam and what he’s done with Stay Strange, so I approached him about adding a publishing wing to the whole setup. He said he had actually been thinking about that himself, and was very interested.

Then the third core member of SSP—Christopher Smith Adair—just kind of clicked into place. They’ve been a lifelong friend of mine and copyedited most of my work, something they’re certified for and done a great deal of in the pen-and-paper roleplaying realm—Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Pulp Cthulhu, etc.—as well as being a published writer of roleplaying modules and a whole campaign that was recently released by Chaosium Inc. A Cold Fire Within for the Pulp Cthulhu system.

I’ve also seen a lot of much larger and more successful imprints and publishing setups go under, for a few different reasons. But one thing that seems to be pretty common when I read about one doing that is a feeling like they may have spread themselves too thin. So, the only other thing I’ll say about Stay Strange Publishing for now is we’re taking it slow and steady, and only have one other project lined up right now for sure, with some other prospects but nothing concrete. Not open for submissions or anything like that, though. ha   

DHR: That’s so cool that Sam has a multi-faceted entertainment business. I really like that origin story. Did you create the logo for SSP? Any particular influences for it?

PL: Actually, yeah, I did create it. Other than my many horror and dark surrealist art influences—HR Giger, Zdzisław Beksiński, Wayne Barlowe, Moebius, Junji Ito, etc.—that particular logo had one very specific influence. It was me riffing on the original Stay Strange logo, which was created by a badass local harsh beatmaker here who goes by Tenshun—who also performed in a little local supergroup to do backing sounds for a reading I did at my favorite SD bookstore, Verbatim Books. He was joined by other local legends Esteban Isaac Flores (of Monochromacy, BWATWOB), Christian Molenaar (of Those Darn Gnomes, and many others), and Xavier X. Vasquez (on video production, presentation, and lighting).

So yeah, I just took what I loved about Tenshun’s original logo and did it in my own style to keep the Stay Strange energy flowing through it.

DHR: HR Giger is one of my absolute favorites too! Which, is the perfect segue into my next question. I know that one of your biggest influences in film is the Alien series. Did that come into play with any of the stories?

PL: Well, yes and no. Without going into too much detail—as I’m known to do about Alien series topics—I feel that Alien and Aliens are masterpieces of slightly different subgenre overlaps (and I personally love it as a Trilogy, with Alien³ as the bleak but noble finisher of Ripley’s story) and along with JC’s The Thing and a few others, those films informed and molded my approach to Sci-Fi/Space Horror—and suspense and pacing in general, especially Aliens, which is a masterclass on build-up, thrills, and weaving horror in with bursts of action as it plays out. So, I’d say I learned a lot from those films in terms of pacing, atmosphere, and how to be economical with character-reader attachment, when needed. But no direct influence in these stories, other than my general approach.

In the book, Applewhite and Zorn does have a short stretch that could be called reminiscent of Alien, but only as much as any story that turns a spaceship into a “Haunted House” with a monster stalking around in it could be. “Halcyon-noyclaH” also has some more obvious influence when they’re on the planet, but I didn’t think about it in those terms as I was writing it.

Also, I will add that I’ve been working on a SF/H novella in-between publishing/art projects that owes much more to my love of the mentioned films in obvious ways, and I’m hoping to have that out early next year. More to come on that.

DHR: Agreed about Aliens 3. I’ll keep my ears open for further news on that novella.What are your favorite stories? Does one top all the others?

PL: I have my favorites. I’m proud of every story in the book or it wouldn’t be there…but with that said, my favorite shorts in the book—because my favorite all around would have to be TOO MANY EYES, the title novella—would be “Ekwiiyemak (The Place Where It Rains),” “The Ballad of Chihuahua Puente,” “Not Cavities,” “Whoever Fights Monsters…,” “R-Day for Mrs. D,” and “Beluga”.

I also have to say that “PIE” holds a special place in my heart, because I love cyberpunk, but especially because of all the stories my late father was able to read of mine over the years before he passed away, he said it was his favorite. He even gave me some stainless steel chopsticks as a gift, similar to those the main character carries and uses in the short.

DHR: Wow…that’s incredibly touching, man. The first part of your book heavily focuses on California, as did your debut novel A Tear in the Veil. Are there any fellow Californian authors that you look up to that inspire you more than others?

PL: Good question. Of the authors I know who live in California…I have really enjoyed what I’ve read by Israel Finn, Jimmy Callaway, Chad Stroup, and Ted E. Grau. There’s also someone coming up (who I think lives in Davis, California) named Alex Chase who is what I think you’d call One To Watch. Also, I think Rachel Nussbaum is now a Californian (after moving from Hawaii), and she had a very well-written poem in a George Romero charity tribute anthology (Stories of the Dead from EyeCue Productions) I also had something in, and I look forward to reading more from her.

DHR: Do you have anyone in particular that inspires your art?

PL: If you mean my graphic art, I think I touched on that. If you mean writing, I’ve always been a fan of Clive Barker, King, Lovecraft, Clark Ashton Smith, William Gibson, John Shirley, Douglas Coupland, and Kurt Vonnegut. And I’m sure there are others I can’t think of right now.

DHR: Sorry, I meant your graphic art. There were some tough words to pronounce in this book. For example, your first story Ekwiiyemak (The Place Where It Rains). That was one of my favorite stories, by the way. Where do they derive from?

PL: Thanks, glad to hear it was one of your favorites!

“Ekwiiyemak” is a Kumeyaay word, one of the languages spoken by the Ipai-Kumeyaay-Tipai Native American peoples originally inhabiting and currently in the region of California I’m from, sadly, to a much lesser extent. I apologize in advance if I mess any of that history up. But that is my understanding. As it is commonly spelled now, Cuyamaca. I grew up camping in the Cuyamaca area with my grandparents, also going to the small town of Julian to the north of that. The town in the story is my own playful alternate history of that place. Julian is a great cozy mountain town mostly associated with apples and apple pies at this point, but in my experience with it personally and in my research, I found out about its history as a mining town, originally.

And one translation of Ekwiiyemak, and the one that obviously inspired me, is “The Place Where It Rains.”

DHR: Well, from my point of view the story sounded realistic! On one more of your stories, Pizzapokalypse, please tell me that was created out of Max Booth’s pizza anthology.

PL: Since you asked, yes. It was written for that and was actually short-listed for it, but didn’t make the final cut. No love lost on my end. I’m sure that book is a great read.

And this happens to be the story that was the late-stage replacement I’d mentioned. I consulted with CSA about how the stories meshed, and they told me if there was any story that didn’t fit for them, it was my story “The Five Crystal Dragons”, a Kung Fu/Vampire/Hammer/Shaw Bros homage toThe Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires—originally published in April Moon’s excellent Short Sharp Shocks Vol.4: Spawn of the Ripper, a book all about Hammer and Amicus homages—so I really thought about that.

I did agree that most of the book is populated with much more amorphous, “unknowable” creatures, and vampires might have thrown off the flow of it. And I had recently received the rejection on “Pizzapokalyps,” so I felt it could fit in more, with its goopy, shapeshifting pizza-bominations.

I am fond of “The Five Crystal Dragons,” though, so I’m sure it will pop up someday in another collection or something like that. Maybe free on my site. We’ll see.

DHR: Well, I’m glad you had it in this book. It was hilarious and conjured so many neat images in my head! I’d be interested to read that vampire story too. I noticed you always paint a pretty vivid picture of your tech. Do you do a lot of research to figure out certain sci-fi creations or is engineering or science sort of something you read for pleasure?

PL: Somewhere in-between. I do read about those topics and enjoy it, but it’s also a part of my research. I call it “research-tainment” ha

DHR: Haha, nice. The Bulb”, in a strange way, made me think of Pacific Rim. Did that film happen to have any influence on that story?

PL: Not directly, no. I can’t remember if I’d even seen Pacific Rim when I wrote that one. It was my very first published story, actually. It was for the second Short Sharp Shocks anthology by April Moon Books, Stomping Grounds, which was all about kaiju and the like. So, I guess you could say that book and Pacific Rim shared similar influences, but there was no direct connection on my end. That book is also a great read, by the way.

DHR: I bet it is. Which one of your stories would you put yourself in and bet that you’d come out on top in the end?

PL: Good question! I’d say, of all the stories in the collection, I’d be most likely to get through “Not Cavities” unscathed. If that creepy, diminutive woman gave me an ultimatum, I’d listen. ha

DHR: Haha! Man, I would hope I’d listen to her too. If you were one of your own characters, would you be concerned?

PL: Very! I don’t make it easy on them, for the most part.

DHR: You bastard!Is there anything you’d like potential readers to know before going into this book?

PL: What I would say has already been spelled out pretty well, I think. This book is mostly about pulpy thrills. Deeper things might seep in here and there, but these collected stories were written predominantly to entertain. I feel like the title and presentation convey that, but just in case, don’t go into this book expecting what some call literary horror.

DHR: That’s a fair statement. Would you like to make a shout-out to anyone?

PL: Other than those mentioned already,I would like to say that my wife is a huge help to me, creatively. As a fellow huge horror and sci-fi fan, I’ve been bouncing story and promo ideas off of her for years and she knows me well enough to give advice that is honest and also takes my quirks into account. Also, my daughter, who is only 7 years old, but keeps one of the posters of my weird cover image for the book up on her bedroom wall—at her request (and with rainbow unicorn tape to hold it up). Ha

Oh, also Re-Animated Records here in La Mesa—they’ve been very supportive, stocking both of my books and hosting a reading for me and Chad Stroup in October that was a lot of fun. Just a great shop, and a family operation too. Very cool people.

DHR: That’s a fantastic support system, brotha. Thank you for giving us your time, Pat! Always a pleasure talking to you.

PL: Thank you!

You Can Follow Patrick on:

Twitter: @pmloveland
Instagram:
pm_loveland

His Website: patrickloveland.com

Publisher’s website: Stay Strange Publishing

[Double-Feature – Review] – Too Many Eyes

By Patrick Loveland

Patrick Loveland’s collection Too Many Eyes hits you with a blend of 19th century frontiers folk to harsh arctic futuristic test facilities. The collection is broken down into two parts. The first half being subtitled YESTERDAY AND TODAY—stories that take place in the past up to present day. While part two is subtitled TOMORROW AND BEYOND—focusing on near future and a century from now events. Every story includes the strange and weird in one form or another. Fitting for the publisher, Stay Strange Publishing.

The cover design, as well as the illustrations before each new story, was all done by Patrick Loveland. His art is fantastic and it really captures the strange and weird. So much so that it would truly be a delight and gift to us all if he came out with a book on his illustrations one day (I’m not trying to plant the idea in your head or anything, Loveland, hehe).

The first story, Ekwiiyemak (The Place Where It Rains) was really fascinating. I kind of wish Loveland would pursue a frontiers/early America/cosmic terror story in the future. It places you in civilization, only, it still doesn’t feel very secure, what with some kind of strange plague spreading throughout the town and it being the 19th century and all.

To my knowledge, with the exception of “Ley Lines” and “Whoever Fights Monsters…” the stories are not directly connected. The two that I just mentioned are pretty interesting, though. The protagonist, Special Agent Blakely Tran, is put through some serious shit in the first story—“Ley Lines”. Without giving anything away, after the ordeal in the first story, you’d think the poor agent would be through with the madness. Nope. She’s sucked back into it shortly after with her partner, to meet another set of unbelievable events that wouldn’t make sense even if you witnessed them with your own (too many) eyes.

I don’t know if Loveland intended on doing this, but “Pizzapokalyps” was hilarious. Although, if I witnessed the events from that story in person, I’d surely soil myself. It’s a tale that involves pizza in so many glorious ways and over the last year, after Max Booth III made his infamous pizza anthology call, I automatically think about him whenever pizza and horror collide. And that puts a big smile on my face.

The last story I’d like to address is “The Bulb”. Loveland certainly does like his fair share of space and cosmic terror, but this one, it reminded me of a mixture of older alien invasion films with a sci-fi edge to it. It’s absolutely terrifying to think of an alien or thing like “The Bulb”, but then again, what’s more terrifying is the particulars of the ending. I shiver at the idea of the things described on that last page.

The only criticism I have for this collection, and I won’t go into specifics, are some of the stories did not suck me in. I did not find myself connecting with some of the protagonists for a few reasons: too many characters to focus on, story did not dive into who they were as a person, or the story seemed too focused on the buildup for the finale. That being said, Loveland does deliver good imagery per usual, his cosmic terrors are worthy of the silver screen (which I’m sure he’d be stoked for, giving his love for cinema), and the way some of his characters go out…is pretty damn cool.

Amazon link for Too Many Eyes

Review by Patrick R. McDonough
patzilla13@hotmail.com
Twitter:
@prmcdonough

I received the paperback from the author for review consideration.

[Cover Reveal] – The Messy Man

By Chris Sorensen

Dead Head Reviews is proud to reveal the US Cover Release for The Messy Man, book Three in the The Messy Man Series. One lucky Dead Head follower will win a signed copy of The Nightmare Room and The Hungry Ones (Book One and Two).

How To Enter The Messy Man Giveaway
Follow Dead Head Reviews (@reviewshead) and Chris (@casorensen) on twitter, and retweet the Dead Head Reviews Messy Man Cover reveal post. One winner – picked at random – will be chosen on January 2nd 2020 and announced shortly after. Good luck!

What people have said about the series so far

“This is an author with some serious chops.” – Michael Patrick Hicks, author of Broken Shells and Mass Hysteria.

“This is one haunted house that had me running for the door! A must read.” – Hunter Shea, author of Slash and Creature.

“Sorensen has this ability to keep you firmly on the edge of your seat throughout that you’ll need to stop and remember to breathe time and time again.” – Steve Stred, author of Ritual and The Girl Who Hid In The Trees.

“Chris Sorensen is the only horror author to make me love – not one, but TWO – haunted house stories.” – Rachel, The Shades of Orange

“Think of your absolute favorite sequel, no matter the franchise. Got it in mind? This is what Sorensen has accomplished for me with The Hungry Ones.” – Tracy, Sci-Fi & Scary

THE MESSY MAN Synopsis

In the middle of a cold, Midwestern cornfield, an orphaned girl with remarkable abilities accidentally conjures a man from thin air. The stranger is traumatized, his thoughts scattered. The girl, Willa, is able to glean Little about the man save for his name—Peter—and the fact that he doesn’t belong in her world. Unbeknownst the girl, her summoning has caught the attention of others with vested interest in Peter’s fate…others both living and dead. If Willa is to repair the damage she has done and return Peter home, she must fully embrace her gifts and plunge headlong into a hungry, grasping nightmare.

Chris Sorensen is a New Jersey based writer with a penchant for the bizarre. His novel The Nightmare Room is the Winner of the 2018 Indie Horror Book Awards, was named a “Fearsome First” by The Library Journal and found its way onto dozens of reviewers’ “Top 10 Horror Books of 2018”. His follow-up novel, The Hungry Ones, is garnering similar attention and praise. His middle grade science fiction/fantasy book, The Mad Scientists of New Jersey, made him a favorite visitor at schools across the state. Chris penned The Roswell Project (sci-fi) for Windowlight Productions, Habblah: Classic Rock (horror) for Seymore Films, Double or Nothing (horror) for Level 10 TV, The Boy Smiles (horror) for Bora Bora Films, and A Valentine for Bernie (drama) for Budosh Movies. He has thirteen full-length plays produced by the Butte Theater and the Thin Air Theatre Company of Colorado. Chris is an original company member of The Present Company, producers of the NY Fringe. He has taught/directed at Cornell University, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the Atlantic Theatre Company School and Interlochen. He is also an audiobook narrator with three AudioFile Earphones awards and over two hundred titles to his credit.

The Messy Man will be published by Harmful Monkey Press in May 2020.

You can follow Chris on:

Twitter: @casorensen
His Website: casorensenwrite.com

[Review] Cold Comforts

By Marianne Halbert

Cold Comforts is a book that lives up to its name. The dread will wrap itself around you as you flip through the pages, layering itself within you until you feel right at home in the heart of this book.

Marianne writes with such beauty. Her descriptions are very much alive. I constantly found myself slowly becoming a part of the worlds she created. Which is something that happens few and far between. So, for me, this is high praise!

The stories here are original and frightening. The opening story, ‘When Betsy Whispers’, is totally unique and original. I haven’t read anything like it before. This trend continues as you get to the other stories. Which are also, excellent.

As always with a collection, you can expect some stories to not resonate with you as well as others. However, this is not to say there is a bad story in this collection. All of the stories are great, just some fit my taste better than others.

Overall, this is a great collection that comes highly recommended for this winter!

Amazon link for Cold Comforts

Review by Garrett Witt
garrettwitt7@gmail.com
Twitter: @reviewshead

I received an E-copy version of this book for review consideration.

[Review] – Saint Sadist

By Lucas Mangum

Lucas:  If you are reading this, I have an apology to make.  Despite seeing you at KillerCon every year, and my impression that you are a fun-loving, down-to-earth guy, I’ve been avoiding you because I’ve never read your work.  I’m always overly self conscious when faced with this predicament.  It doesn’t help matters any that I’m a naturally shy person, but I’d like to at least be armed with some knowledge of your work in that situation.
Anyway, Saint Sadist changes all of that, but now we may have a bigger problem:  Lucas…you have an impenetrable darkness inside of you.  And that darkness is this book.  It’s short, even by novella standards, and Mangum’s prose is really fast.  Just the way I like it.  It can be easily read in one or two sittings.  It would make a good companion piece with Mark Matthew’s excellent novella, Body of Christ.  If you’ve read and enjoyed that one, then you will almost certainly enjoy this one.  They both share the same themes of religious subversion and bleakness of humanity.  No spoilers!  Grindhouse Press continues its high standard for extreme horror with this one.
Good job Lucas.  I will talk to you this time, I promise.

Grade:  B

Amazon link for Saint Sadist

Review by Jason Cavallaro

jcavallaro42@gmail.com
Twitter:  @pinheadspawn

I received this book from Grindhouse Press for review consideration

[Review] – Dirty Rotten Hippies

By Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith is no stranger to us extreme horror nerds.  As a matter of fact, he should be an extreme horror legend for the Depraved trilogy alone.  More recently, he wrote my favorite extreme horror novella of 2018, Kill for Satan!, which was awarded a Splatterpunk award nomination this year.  Although I’ve read some of Smith’s stories before, this was my first time reading an entire collection from him.  
Before I begin…a quick primer on my evaluation method for anthologies and single-author collections:  I rate each story individually and then all ratings are averaged for the overall score.  Lots of collections are what I call “top heavy.”  Anthologies are commonly guilty of this; there are a few great stories by famous writers at the beginning, and then the quality tapers off drastically with filler stories.  My rating system holds these collections accountable for comprehensive quality, from beginning to end.
The collection begins with “Dirty Rotten Hippies,” which is the only novella length story in the collection.  I’ve enjoyed every novella I’ve ever read from Smith, and he continues the streak with this one.  It’s a fun zombie tale with a nice gut punch (thanks Bryan) at the end.  Of the next 8 stories, these were my favorites:
“Chainsaw Sex Maniacs From Mars”  Just as fun as the title would suggest
“We are 138 Golden Elm”  Wasn’t expecting how this one turns out”The Barrel”  Maybe my favorite in the entire collection.  Sort of like a Faustian version of Jack Ketchum’s “The Box”
The next 7 stories are from the ebook-only collection from Bitter Ale Press, Seven Deadly Tales of Terror.  With the exception of “South County Madman,” these 7 stories are all very short.  Smith notes that he was heavily influenced by EC comics for these.  I’d say that they are also very Robert Bloch-ish in design.  In a good way.  I really liked all 7 of these, but I believe that “Highway Stop” could be my favorite.
This is a strong collection; I didn’t rate any story lower than a “C”, and the majority of the stories were in the “B” range.  Honestly, I’d probably recommend either Slowly We Rot or Depraved to a Bryan Smith newbie, but for the hardcore Smith fans, this is a must read.  

Grade:  B-

Amazon link for Dirty Rotten Hippies

Review by Jason Cavallaro

jcavallaro42@gmail.com
Twitter:  @pinheadspawn

[The Old One And The Sea] – Review

By Lex H Jones

Exploring many forms of literature is an experience that should be afforded to all young readers. If you’re looking for a R’lyeh good introduction into “Horror for your Little Ones”, have I got the perfect book for you! You need not to look any further than The Old One and the Sea by Lex H Jones. This charming little story is a combination of a re-imagining of characters and events in the Lovecraftian universe, and biographical references to H.P. Lovecraft’s own life. It is a clever way to give some insight into the life of an author and approach the concept that even the most dramatic works of fiction have real-life, personal experiences behind it.

Clocking in at just over 100 pages, this short chapter book is an excellent way to wade into the dark waters of cosmic horror with a child. (And I did not miss the clever play and reference to another literary work in the title as well, referencing the great Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea) It makes an excellent read-aloud for younger children, and a perfect independent read for early tweens.

Little Howie is living with his mother, Sarah, in the small coastal town of Innsmouth in a post-war timeline. We follow him through the course of a few days as he begins to explore a mysterious jetty, risen from the sea under the night sky (which is filled with suspicious new constellations!). Howie embarks on a journey of love, loss, friendship, and self-discovery and learning many important lessons along the way. In order to save his gentle giant friend Oolu (or as most of us know him, the great and powerful Cthulhu), Howie must find a way to overcome the pitchfork mob of angry sailors and face his fears as well as theirs.

The book approaches the subjects of war, destruction, and death quite frequently, but Jones’s ability to tackle tough stuff in a kid appropriate manner is exceptional. There are several discussions between characters regarding the lives of soldiers lost in war, the families left behind, and the aftermath and consequences of war on society as a whole. Howie also deals with the internal struggle of depression and anxiety, and learning how to express himself emotionally. It is wonderful to see men and boy characters discussing emotions so freely, and reinforcing with great earnest that it’s alright sometimes to cry, feel sad, and to mourn. Jones sees to it that each concept is delivered with a responsible honesty, but still gently enough to explain even the most emotionally devastating concepts to sensitive eyes and ears.

In addition to tackling a tough subject matter, there are several uplifting and encouraging themes throughout as well. Howie’s creativity, independence, and imagination are encouraged by his mother and neighbor. Sarah trusts her son to make the right decision and learn from his mistakes and experiences. She speaks to her son with the authority of any good parental figure, but also with an heir of respect that he is his own person with his own ideas and perspectives. I was quite pleased with that refreshing take on a parent-child relationship in a children’s book! Mr. Derleth never doubts Howie, and encourages him to explore and discover the truth for himself. He supports Howie’s explanation of his excursions to his mother, encourages him to seek the truth, and stands up for him against the incorrigible former sailors. Each character also has their part to play in demonstrating how we can experience our vast range of emotions, accept them, and change our perspective with a little thoughtful work.

Jones’s writing is complemented by truly wonderful and whimsical illustrations by Liam ‘Pais’ Hill. Hill’s drawings have wonderful cartoon style cell shading, quirky irregular line work, and a beautiful color palette. His renderings of little Howie are genuinely fun, comical depictions of a mini adult HP Lovecraft. Gone are the frightening representations of Cthulhu that send shivers down your spine at a glance. Howie’s beloved Oolu is presented as a lovable, gentle giant with soft, rounded shapes and charming little tentacles. Seeing the unlikely pair staring off into the distant night sky, admiring the stars, standing atop a carnival peer gave me a little chuckle. This art style and aesthetic is the perfect addition to such clever writing.

I truly could go on and on about all of the many wonderful qualities of this story, but I won’t! Instead, I’d love to encourage you all to go acquire a copy and enjoy your own reading experience. The Old One and the Sea is a perfect addition to any bookshelf looking to diversify its subject matter beyond knights in dented armor or princesses who save themselves. It is a clever intro to horror and classic literature, as well as a beautiful emotional read! Go grab a copy and get in touch with your inner child, gift it to your favorite young independent reader, or try it as a unique read-aloud with your family; it is quite simply the kind of book that everyone wants to get their tentacles on!

Amazon US Link for The Old One and the Sea

Amazon UK link for The Old One and the Sea

Review by Ellen Avigliano
thejackalopeswarren@gmail.com
Twitter: @thejackalopes.warren

I received a copy of this book from the author for review consideration.