Review: Facial by Jeff Strand


About Facial

Greg has just killed the man he hired to kill one of his wife’s many lovers. He’s now got a dead body in his office.

Carlton, Greg’s brother, desperately needs a dead body. It’s kind of related to the lion corpse that he found in his basement.

This is the normal part of the story.

From Jeff Strand, the author of Benjamin’s ParasiteThe Sinister Mr. Corpse, and Fangboy, comes a tale that’s weird even by his standards.

Facial. It’s not about what you’re thinking. Well, okay, part of it is…

About the Author

Jeff Strand was born in Baltimore, Maryland, but moved to Fairbanks, Alaska when he was six months old, so his memories of Baltimore are hazy. He grew up in the cold, where he desperately wanted to be a cartoonist. Then he wanted to make video games. Then he wanted to write movies. Actually, he still wants to do all of those things, but for now he’s quite happy writing lots of demented novels.

He was nominated for the Bram Stoker Award in 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012. His novel PRESSURE has been optioned for film; he’s hoping the movie will be made soon so he can scream “My baby! What have you done to my precious baby?!?”

His novels are usually classified as horror, but they’re really all over the place, from comedies to thrillers to drama to, yes, even a fairy tale.

Because he doesn’t do cold weather anymore, he lives in Tampa, Florida with his wife and a deaf cat.

My Thoughts

Throughout my reading of Jeff Strand’s Facial, one thought repeatedly crossed my mind, primarily in it’s long, NSFW form: WTF.

I’ve read a few strange books over the years, but this one takes the cake and may very well be on of the most farcical horror stories I’ve ever read.

Despite it bold oddness, the story is actually pretty simple and summed up pretty well during a moment of exposition when Greg explains his, and his brother’s, predicament to his cheating wife by telling her:

[T]his scary face appeared on the floor of Carlton’s basement, and it gave us gold coins in exchange for feeding it severed heads, and we figured that if we had to kill people, it might as well be people who are cuckholding me, so I’m a monster!

And that’s Facial in a nutshell. It’s a trippy, hallucinogenic story of bloodlust and murder, with a comedic bent. It’s a quick, short read, and the story flops around between alternating viewpoints from Greg, Carlton, Felicia (Greg’s cheating wife), and a few of their victims.

Unfortunately, this novella didn’t quite work for me. I typically don’t have a problem with shifting narrators, but here, they all carried the same voice and personality, and sense of humor. Overall, it was just a little too Looney Tunes for my palette, a little too off-wall and improbable, a little too long and a bit too one-note.

That said, the one thing that is strongly apparent in this work is its originality. I can honestly say I have not read anything quite like it before! And given that, I am very curious to see what else Strand has up his sleeve and will be checking out some of his other works in the near-future.

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Review: Facial by Jeff Strand

Review: The Dark Servant by Matt Manochio

the-dark-servantAbout The Dark Servant

Santa’s not the only one coming to town…

It has tormented European children for centuries. Now America faces its wrath. Unsuspecting kids vanish as a blizzard crushes New Jersey. All that remains are signs of destruction—and bloody hoof prints stomped in the snow.

Seventeen-year-old Billy Schweitzer awakes on December 5 feeling depressed. Already feuding with his police chief father and golden boy older brother, Billy’s devastated when his dream girl rejects him. When an unrelenting creature infiltrates his town, endangering his family and friends, Billy must overcome his own demons to understand why supposedly innocent high school students have been snatched, and how to rescue them from a famous saint’s ruthless companion—that cannot be stopped.

About the Author

Matt Manochio was born in 1975 in New Jersey and graduated from The University of Delaware in 1997 with a history/journalism degree. He spent the majority of his 13-year newspaper career at the Daily Record in Morris County, New Jersey, where he won multiple New Jersey Press Association Awards for his reporting. He wrote about one of his passions, rock ‘n’ roll giants AC/DC, for USA Today and considers that the highlight of his journalism career. He left newspapers in 2011 for safer employment, and currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son. The Dark Servant is his first novel.

My Thoughts

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

I’m the kind of guy who thinks that Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever, while absolutely despising A Christmas Story wholeheartedly. And, frankly, give me Scrooged over the straight-up Dickens classic come Dec. 25, or even Lethal Weapon. Heresy? Yeah, maybe, but whatever… All of this is to say that when it comes to Christmas stories, I’m looking for something a bit off-kilter, something most holiday purists would see as largely non-traditional.

In short, give me Krampus over Santa Claus any day.

And that is exactly what Matt Manochio does with The Dark Servant, a delightful bit of X-Mas horror that sees naughty high schoolers abducted by Kringle’s dark, demonic other. Manochio has done his homework when it comes to the hoof-footed beast, with a story derived directly from the mythology of Krampusnacht and what feels like a heaping amount of 1980s-inspired B-horror fun.

While the book is hardly a fright-fest – in fact, I don’t recall finding anything in this book to be downright chilling or truly horrifying, despite the menace Krampus represents and the agonies endured by the cast of high schoolers in peril – it is, at the very least, an entertaining creature feature that’s more The Monster Squad than Alien.

One thing that Manochio does very well, though, are his characters. Billy and Mike have an easy-going and relateable friendship, and I’d wager we all had similar relationships in high school. Billy’s pining over his classmate, Maria, is familiar but nicely done, without ever feeling too cloying or sappy. Both Billy and Maria feature prominently, and I enjoyed spending time with them. The family dynamic between Billy, his brother Tim, and their local cop father also rang some true notes for me.

Although I was expecting, and ultimately hoping, for more of a terror thrill ride, The Dark Servant entertained me well enough to keep me happy. Thematically, the work brings up some important issues regarding bullying and the traumatic physiological toll those cruel taunts can carry, but it doesn’t plumb those murky depths quite deeply enough to satisfy. Overall, it’s an enjoyable read, but feels a bit too light-weight in the topics its author tackles. Still, it’s not a bad bit of holiday-themed reading, even if Manochio pulls his punches a little too carefully and a little too often. (3.5/5 stars)

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Review: The Dark Servant by Matt Manochio

Review: Angel of the Abyss by Ed Kurtz


About Angel of the Abyss

When Graham Woodard is hired to restore part of a previously lost silent horror film—Angel of the Abyss—the last thing he expects is the first in a series of murders clearly meant to keep it lost.

With one-time friend Jake Maitland in tow, the two must now navigate the treacherous enigma that is the lost film, while piecing together the story of the film’s ill-fated starlet, Grace Baron, who vanished in 1926. The closer they get to the truth, the more blood is spilled, and it soon becomes apparent that there is much more to the lost film than anyone expected, as there are still forces that will stop at nothing to keep it and its star buried. The darkness the strange film conjured all those years ago has come alive again with its discovery, and now everyone from Graham’s own estranged ex-wife to the LAPD is getting involved.

And the body count is growing.

From the burgeoning film studios of 1920s Hollywood to the perilous streets and dark underbelly of modern-day Los Angeles, Angel of the Abyss is a dangerous tapestry of cinema, history and murder, at the center of which stand two men with everything to lose.

About the Author

Ed Kurtz is the author of ANGEL OF THE ABYSS, THE FORTY-TWO, and A WIND OF KNIVES, as well as numerous short stories. His work has appeared in Needle: A Magazine of Noir, BEAT to a PULP, Shotgun Honey, Thuglit, and several anthologies, including The Best American Mystery Stories 2014. Ed resides in Texas, where he is at work on his next novel.

Visit Ed Kurtz online at

My Thoughts

Angel of the Abyss, by Ed Kurtz, grabbed me right off the bat, and I had a hard time letting go of this one.

The story unfolds in a dual narrative between film restoration expert Graham Woodard in the present-day, and through the eyes of lost 1920s starlet, Grace Baron. Woodard is hired to restore the footage of a recently rediscovered silent-era film that was thought lost to history. It is also the only film Baron ever appeared in, and the subject matter was rather unsettling – and unseemly – for its era, rife with depictions of occultism, female nudity, and erotic scenes between Baron and a demonic creature.

With the Hollywood backdrop, and the murder of Woodard’s employer, Kurtz infuses his narrative with a cool noir sheen. The Roaring ’20 are well written as well, with the dialogue coming off as rapid-paced back-and-forths with the actors, actresses, directors and producers imbibing on alcohol made illegal thanks to Prohibition. The time-jumps are very well written, and each half of the narrative make for compelling stories in their own right. These split narratives converge into a satisfying finale.

Overall, Angel of the Abyss was a very enjoyable read, and a cool and elegant crime thriller. I really appreciated the bit of fictional film history, largely influenced by the off-set dramatics during this period in Hollywood’s still largely infantile state, where rich producers and burgeoning gangsters reined as the nation began moving toward the Red Scare. Kurtz does an excellent job capturing the feel of that era, while keeping the present-day narrative grounded and within the realm of credibility. Highly recommended.

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Review: Angel of the Abyss by Ed Kurtz


Waking up to a good review is always nice, particularly when it’s from a fellow sci-fi author. Michael Brooke’s, who recently released SUN DRAGON, reviewed CONVERGENCE on his site and gave it a solid 4 out of 5 on the Amazon/Goodreads metric. Many thanks to Mr. Brooke for his kind words and thoughtful analysis. Go give it a read!


Review: Oasis of the Damned by Greg F. Gifune


About Oasis of the Damned

When her helicopter crashes in the middle of the Sahara, Heather Richter, a former Army Captain and veteran of the Iraq War, finds herself at an abandoned WWII military outpost in one of the harshest and deadliest deserts on Earth. But she soon realizes there is another victim of the desert in this empty expanse of endless sand. Owens, a victim of an earlier plane crash, is there as well. An enigmatic and brooding man, he knows the secrets of the outpost, that it was actually built on top of an oasis and a natural well, the only thing that’s kept him alive. But he also knows the darker secrets of this strange and forgotten patch of desert hell.

He and Richter are not alone. And the cruel terrain and relentless sun are the least of their worries, because inhuman things haunt the outpost, hideous and violent things that only come at night. Ancient, evil creatures hungry for human flesh, and no matter how many Richter and Owens kill, they just keep coming.

With little hope of rescue, and tortured by her horrific experiences in Iraq years before, as well as the untimely and tragic death of her younger brother, Richter struggles to maintain her sanity amidst the brutal attacks that occur each time night falls, all the while trying to figure out if Owens is truly what he claims, or something more.

Is anything as it seems, or is there something more profound happening, a shocking wound bleeding deeper than the ancient sands, the dark desert nights and the blistering sun?

Two lost souls…a forgotten outpost in a haunted desert…vicious creatures bent on destruction…

The brutal fight for survival has begun.

About the Author

Called “One of the best writers of his generation” by both the Roswell Literary Review and author Brian Keene, GREG F. GIFUNE is the author of numerous short stories, several novels, screenplays and two short story collections (HERETICS and DOWN TO SLEEP). His work has been published all over the world, consistently praised by readers and critics alike, received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Library Journal and The Midwest Book Review (among others) and has recently garnered interest from Hollywood.


Greg resides in Massachusetts with his wife Carol and a bevy of cats. He can be reached online at: or through his official website at:

My Thoughts

The desert has secrets, and it can play tricks on the unwitting. Every night, a horde of evil is unleashed upon the two survivors who find themselves stranded in the Sahara, holed up in an old military fort. These victims of chance and circumstance – both have been lost to this stretch of sand by separate aircraft crashes – must fight for survival.

I have a fondness for survival horror fiction like this, where we have a small cast with innumerable odds stacked against them, set against a hostile environment. I’m typically a sucker for the perils of frigid climates, but between Oasis of the Damned and Michael McBride’s recent DarkFuse release, Sunblind, I’m starting to become a fan of the harshness inherit in desert-set climes.

The main threat in Gifune’s latest is a combination of extreme weather and ghuls, demonic creatures popular in Arabic folklore for populating burial grounds. While the weather is a threat, it’s not quite as up-front and in-your-face as the beasts that attack Owens and Richter night after night. In fact, taking center stage is some pretty solid character development for Richter, a tough woman who lost her younger brother and pulled two tours in the Iraq war. Gifune fleshes her out well, and the story takes place largely from her point of view. She definitely commands attention with her steely resolve and can-do attitude, despite Owens being the more experienced survivor at their small compound.

Gifune also does a nice job of flipping the script roughly halfway through, which gives the story is really nice twist while providing a minor examination on the cyclic nature of life and death. The desert holds a lot of surprises, and, thankfully, so does Gifune’s work. Definitely recommended.

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Review: Oasis of the Damned by Greg F. Gifune

Review: Tom Clancy Full Force and Effect (A Jack Ryan Novel) by Mark Greaney

full force and effectAbout Tom Clancy Full Force and Effect

A North Korean ICBM crashes into the Sea of Japan. A veteran CIA officer is murdered in Ho Chi Minh City, and a package of forged documents goes missing. The pieces are there, but assembling the puzzle will cost Jack Ryan, Jr. and his fellow Campus agents precious time. Time they don’t have.

The challenge facing President Jack Ryan is an old one with a terrifying new twist. The international stalemate with North Korea continues into its seventh decade. A young, untested dictator is determined to prove his strength by breaking the deadlock. Like his father before him, he hangs his plans on the country’s nuclear ambitions. Until now, that program was impeded by a lack of resources. However, there has been a dramatic change in the nation’s economic fortune. A rich deposit of valuable minerals have been found in the Hermit Kingdom. Coupled with their nuclear capabilities, the money from this find will make North Korea a dangerous force on the world stage.

There’s just one more step needed to complete this perfect plan…the elimination of the president of the United States.

About the Author

Tom Clancy was the author of eighteen #1 New York Times-bestselling novels. His first effort, The Hunt for Red October, sold briskly as a result of rave reviews, then catapulted onto the bestseller list after President Ronald Reagan pronounced it “the perfect yarn.” Clancy was the undisputed master at blending exceptional realism and authenticity, intricate plotting, and razor-sharp suspense. He died in October 2013.

Mark Greaney has a degree in international relations and political science. With Tom Clancy he is the coauthor of Locked On, Threat Vector, Command Authority, and Support and Defend. He has written four books in his own Gray Man series: The Gray Man, On Target, Ballistic, and Dead Eye. In his research for these novels, he traveled to more than fifteen countries and trained alongside military and law enforcement in the use of firearms, battlefield medicine and close-range combat tactics.

My Thoughts

As is expected with a Tom Clancy novel, the strong geopolitics on display mimic a lot of recognizable real-world influences with deft shades of fictionalizing. Here, we see a North Korea that is attempting to extract an estimated 12 trillion dollars worth of rare earth minerals, a huge amount of hard capital that would allow them to buy nuclear weapons, as well as friends with influence in the UN. The ambitions of Choi Ji-Hoon, the young supreme leader of North Korea who has inherited the nation from his recently deceased father, is clearly influenced by real-life ruler of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, right on down to the actions taken against his uncle. Author Mark Greaney, in true Clancy fashion, is playing in a very recognizable modern world to craft a superb of-the-moment technothriller.

Although I enjoyed Greaney’s first solo outing in the Clancy franchise with this past summer’s release of Support and Defend, I found the climax of that book to veer off into waters more typical of a James Bond story. In Full Force and Effect, though, we see Greaney, who co-authored several Jack Ryan novels alongside Tom Clancy, prior to that author’s death late last year, back on solid footing and delivering exactly what is expected with the Clancy brand. This latest is a thick volume (but not quite as large as some previous installments) filled with ripped-from-the-headlines politics, espionage and spy-craft, and brisk action, along with the usual cast of characters in the White House and The Campus operators.

Greaney displays a solid command over his characters, and the story itself is a slow pot-boiler. When the action kicks in, to deliver an energetic centerpiece that puts President Jack Ryan himself in the cross-hairs, it’s tense and perfectly executed. There’s the usual deft, chess-like maneuvering of nations and their leaders, along with some smooth interplay between industry leaders, the Mexican mafia, and an Iranian bomb-maker for hire. The Campus operatives, which includes Jack Ryan, Jr., his cousin Dom, John Clark and Domingo Chavez, get their moments to shine and are well-integrated into this political thriller in a more street-level eyes-on capacity than we’ve seen from them in the past, yet they never feel ancillary to the plot.

For his first time at bat solo (or at least publicly), Mark Greaney proves to be the natural heir apparent to the Jack Ryan franchise, and a trusty steward to these characters. After Clancy’s passing, I was rooting for Greaney to continue on with the Ryan family, and I now find myself eager to see how he moves these characters forward with future installments now that the baton has officially been passed. Now that he’s charged full speed ahead with this latest installment, the big questions are, What comes next? and How soon can I read it?

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Review: Tom Clancy Full Force and Effect (A Jack Ryan Novel) by Mark Greaney

Review: Dark Screams, Volume One


About Dark Screams, Volume One

Stephen King, Kelley Armstrong, Bill Pronzini, Simon Clark, and Ramsey Campbell are the first contributors to a mind-bending new series of short-story collections that push the boundaries of horror and dark suspense to the bleeding edge. From Brian James Freeman and Richard Chizmar of the acclaimed Cemetery Dance Publications, Dark Screams: Volume One reaches across genres to take readers beyond the precipice of mortal toil and into the glimmering void of irreality and beyond.

THE WEEDS by Stephen King

When a meteorite lands on his property, Jordy Verrill envisions an easy payday. Unfortunately for Jordy, this is no ordinary rock—and the uncompromising force inside has found its first target.

THE PRICE YOU PAY by Kelley Armstrong

Never pay more than you owe. Sounds like easy advice to follow. But for Kara and her childhood friend Ingrid, some debts can never be repaid . . . especially those tendered in blood.

MAGIC EYES by Bill Pronzini

Edward James Tolliver has found a weary sort of asylum among the insane. He knows he’s not one of them—but how can he tell anyone about the invaders without sounding that way?


Imagine awaking to find yourself in an underground vault, chained by the neck to a murderous lunatic, a grunting goliath who seems more animal than man. What would you do to save yourself?

THE WATCHED by Ramsey Campbell

Little Jimmy gets a glimpse of the cold truth when he finds out that it’s not always what you see that can get you into trouble; it’s who knows what you see.

About the Editors

Brian James Freeman is the managing editor of Cemetery Dance Publications and the author of several novels and novellas, along with four short-story collections. He is also the founder of Books to Benefit, a new specialty press that works with bestselling authors to publish collectible limited-edition books to raise funds and awareness for good causes.

Richard Chizmar is the founder, publisher, and editor of Cemetery Dance magazine and Cemetery Dance Publications. He has edited more than a dozen anthologies, including The Best of Cemetery Dance, The Earth Strikes Back, Night Visions 10, October Dreams (with Robert Morrish), and the Shivers series.

My Thoughts

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review via NetGalley.]

Dark Screams, Volume One collects five short stories, making this small anthology a fairly  breezy read, but an ultimately disappointing collection.

Up first is Stephen King’s 1976 story, Weeds, which was the basis for “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” in George Romero’s horror film anthology Creepshow. Here, we witness a meteor crashing on Jordy Verrill’s farm and splitting open to spill a strange, white substance upon the ground. Jordy, a rather dim sort, touches the substance and awakens the next morning to find a moss-like growth on his fingers. Over the course of the story, he is slowly consumed by this alien breed of plant. It’s a quick one-and-done kind of story, but not particularly deep and it runs a path that is pure straight-and-narrow. The final segment sets up a chilling final scene, but not one that is particularly shocking or surprising. For me, it’s a notable work only because it is a chance to read a very early King story that I wasn’t familiar with, but not one that I found overly impressive as a whole. There’s a natural narrative drive to the story, though, and it ends the only way possible, albeit in a rather familiar, and now well-trod, horror trope. Still, my first impression of this story is merely that it felt rather quaint. Good, certainly, but quaint.

 While I didn’t find myself quite enamored with Kelley Armstrong’s The Price You Pay, a small revenge thriller revolving around the cycle of bad choices, I rather enjoyed Magic Eyes by Bill Pronzini. I’m a bit of a sucker for madhouse psychological horror, and Pronzini delivers. The story is told via the journal of a patient, who writes with a felt tipped pen. I really liked the way the narration slipped into the occasionally mysterious, mad rant and the ways anger bled through the pages with frantic, run-on sentences. There was a terrific sense of voice here, and Pronzini hooked me early and kept my attention throughout.

Simon Clark’s Murder in Chains was another one that I enjoyed, but I wasn’t quite satisfied with the resolution of the central mystery. The story involves a Leeds journalist wakening in an underground crypt and chained to an angry killer. It’s an adequate slice of the moment piece, but lacks any background or answers regarding the central premise.

The anthology ends with Ramsey Campbell’s The Watched, the only story in this collection that I actively disliked. I found this story to be dull, lifeless, and pointless, to the point that I broke down and skimmed through the last few pages to hit the end.

Overall, I found this opening volume in the Dark Screams anthology series to be rather unimpressive. I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t wrapped up in any of the stories, and I found myself disappointed more often than not. I will admit, however, that I was on the verge of screaming, though largely out of frustration…

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Review: Dark Screams, Volume One