7 Brains by Michael Louis Calvillo

7 Brains from Michael Louis Calvillo took me for a ride. I wasn’t really sure what to expect, never having read any of Calvillo’s previous works, this little book kept me on my toes right from page one.

Humanity is on the cusp of a New Evolution. Yep! Pure Emotion has curdled and given way to empty solutions, a gilded edge of bling-bling exteriors masking Rampant Corruption, Souring Evil and Internal Pollution. Our hero, Malcolm, the reluctant man with a reluctant plan, purpose fluttering in his chest from zero to a million miles an hour in seconds flat, holds the keys to the kingdom of light. All he has to do is eat seven lovely brains and set things right. He’s got a hacksaw, and a hammer, and a set of determined, pearly whites. Can he usher in hope before the imminent descent of everlasting night?

The story is told by Malcolm, himself, in first person. After only a few pages it becomes apparent that Malcolm is quite possibly insane. Calvillo’s narrative invites the reader into Malcolm’s mind, and paints a picture of a happy, yet troubled man. Malcolm’s nightmares draw upon legitimate human fears, while his conscious mental state evoked a genuine sympathy from this reader. As the pace of the story quickens and the antagonist is introduced, Malcolm further straddles the line of insanity, yet remains grounded by his constant love for his family.

Calvillo pushes the boundaries of classification with his antagonist. I began reading expecting a zombie splatter-fest, but that opinion was quickly squashed as Malcolm’s degeneration is protracted and “zombie” becomes improper terminology. Elements in both story and narrative suggest a paranormal antagonist, however that idea is quashed by the antagonist himself.

I said before that this book took me on a ride, and that’s the best way to describe it. 7 Brains is emotional, psychological horror. Having said that, this book contains all the gore and uncomfortable situations that hardcore readers will crave, and will test those limits at least twice. Calvillo made this book incredibly funny in areas where the humour was best served, and the punchlines were delivered effortlessly. Calvillo also examines the human condition, as each of the 7 brains represent human attributes that in Calvillo’s world, (and in ours, I’d agree) have been rendered extinct. Malcolm is forced to make gut-wrenching choices, and Calvillo’s world is so expertly constructed that all choices offered to Malcolm could have a terrible outcome.

7 Brains is only a taste of what Michael Louis Calvillo has to offer, and as a chapbook, it’s a bite-sized portion of awesome. You can order a copy from Burning Effigy Press, and check out Calvillo’s other works on his website.

Revenge Flick! by James Newman

I consider myself a big Tarantino fan.  I‘ve seen, purchased and analyzed all of his films and can rarely find fault with anything that the man touches. Hell, I quote Jackie Brown on a daily basis (much to my wife’s disapproval). I honestly believe that he will be remembered as one of the filmmakers that defined our generation.  I also love genre fiction (as evidenced this very site).  These two loves have existed completely independent of each other and, frankly, I’ve never given any thought to combining the two.  Lucky for me, James Newman did think to combine the two and the result is a nasty little chapbook called Revenge Flick!.

From SideshowPress.com

Behind the wheel of his Mustang, a rotting corpse riding shotgun, The Man With No Balls is on a quest for blood.

Once known as Roy “RJ” Taylor, he had a job in construction, a vintage black mustang, a double-wide trailer, and a loving wife. A part-time actor already in his 40s, he had all but abandoned his dreams of becoming the next Brad Pitt.

When he got a part in the latest film by celebrity film director Terry Quintana, it looked like RJ would finally get his big shot. But what should have been a dream come true soon spiraled into his worst nightmare.

Now RJ is no more, and The Man With No Balls has taken his place. Shotgun in hand, death in his thoughts, he is on a mission for REVENGE…

Revenge Flick! Plays out like an inside joke for lovers of all things Tarantino.  The story is funny, violent and just weird enough to make for a very worthy nod to the director.  Newman realizes that the strength of this chap comes from the brutal violence and unbridled rage felt by The Man With No Balls so he lets the character take center stage and the story moves to the background.  The Man With No Balls motors across his tattered life as he seeks to settle the score with the director who has ruined his dreams.  There is no shortage of blood as Newman gets flat-out nasty with his assault on the reader.  He takes no prisoners as The Man With No Balls exacts his revenge on every person that has done him wrong.  It is a thrilling little ride that will leave your gore soaked face grinning from ear to ear.

Newman flaunts his versatility as he uses numerous styles to tell the story.  There are sections written as a screenplay, while others are told in memoir form and there are also portions told from the third person.  All of these varying techniques and perspectives add to the overall cinematic flow of the chap and really give credence to the argument that Newman is one of the most talented writers working in the genre. His style is unique and unassuming while the ultimate effect is jarring and powerful.  Now, Revenge Flick! is not indicative of Newman’s true talent because, lets face it, this story is basically a tightly crafted exploitation flick in print. This is not a bad thing at all.  Newman has proven is true ability in novels like Midnight Rain and Animosity so it is a treat seeing him writing from a more whimsical place. It takes a great writer to know the story he is trying to tell and show the appropriate amount of restraint.


This is a fun little chap that is a must-own for fans of Newman and Tarantino. Revenge Flick! is limited to 150 copies and is signed by Mr. Newman, himself.  I strongly encourage you all to head over to Sideshow Press and pick up a copy.

Heart Of Glass by David Winnick

When it comes to chapbooks, I tend to prefer vibrant displays of poetic wordplay, intense gore, or creepy-crawley quickies that are good for a fix. With Heart of Glass, I didn’t get any of that. What I did get was far better. This is a piece that picked me straight up out of my reading chair and into a completely different place.

Heart Of Glass is an incredibly well paced story with an end resulting in a feeling I didn’t expect at all. After all, it’d been a long time since I’d felt this. What was it, you ask? Well… I felt surprised. In a good way.

Time has not been kind to Adam and Sonia’s marriage. They have drifted away from each other and barely speak anymore. On a trip to the local antiques mall, Adam finds a jigsaw puzzle made of clear glass. He believes that working on the puzzle together may help with their problems. However, the puzzle has a strange hold on Adam, and what he thought might bring him and Sonia together threatens to tear them apart forever.

The pace of this story is very… I don’t know… it’s not quick, but it’s not slow. It’s moreso an incredibly stable, dependable story that really doesn’t give you any allusions as to where it’s going. Winnick builds characters that speak to the reader very clearly, and never waver. Like I said, this is a very stable story. One of the most solid ones I’ve read in a while, to be honest.

His main character, Adam, is pretty standard issue, but delivered with enough finesse to stand apart from the masses. He’s just like any old American Joe, really, but Winnick adds a subtle layer or two to the man that makes him feel more 3 dimensional than those who you may find in any other genre fare. I have a feeling that if this character had been written in a more dynamic sense, it would have set a different feel throughout the story, and completely destroyed the illusion that the author carefully creates throughout this work of art.

Everything is very carefuly orchestrated towards a single overall feeling or loss and frustration on the part of the two main characters. That is, until the end of the story – the moment when he pulls the rug out from under everybody and everything. It’s genuinely incredible, and heart-breaking, in a way. In what is one of the most unexpected endings I’ve ever read, Winnick completely turns the tables and provides an ending that defies the entire tone of the story. It’s a great revelation, and a really fresh and interesting way to finish off the story. I thoroughly enjoyed it, making Heart Of Glass one of my favorite reads of the year.

Heart of Glass is short, solidly written, and thoroughly enjoyable. Take a look at Bad Moon Books‘ catalogue for more stellar horror fare, and grab yourself a copy of this chapbook on Amazon as an ebook.


Vanishing Hope by Tobin Elliott

Jesus… I wasn’t expecting this one from Burning Effigy Press – a micro press that I pride myself on having most, if not everything they’ve published. When Monica announced on Twitter that she would be releasing a book from a completely new and unknown author, I was very intrigued. After all, I’ve enjoyed just about everything that’s come out from this press. And I’m not saying I didn’t enjoy this chapbook. What I’m saying is… I wasn’t ready.

And I don’t think you are, either.

And that’s what makes Vanishing Hope so goddamned good.

The book knows your dark places. It knows your weaknesses. It knows your innermost desires. It feels your pain and knows how to twist it to its own needs. It knows how to become our best friend.

All the things we can do together…

Talia is nine years old. The book is ancient. Talia hates her life. The book explois hate. It shows you all the things you can do to those you hate. All the ways you can hurt them. Talia is powerless. The book is power. Now the book has found Talia.

With that synopsis, the reader only gets the slightest hint of the darkness yet to come. It seems as if you know the grand idea as to what’s coming down the pipe, but really… you don’t even know the half of it. This chapbook is incredibly visceral, agressive, and supremely effective at making the reader uncomfortable, all in a good way. In all honestly, this is an incredible story written by an incredible author, published by a fantastic press that is willing to take a chance and do something daring, and something you really don’t want to miss.

Vanishing Hope is the kick in the ass that the small press publishing world needs and, more importantly, something that I, as a reader, have been looking for all over the place. This is fresh, new, and unabashedly raw. It makes no apologies for what it is, and begs for no forgiveness either. What it does do, however, is provide the reader with a glimpse at the new blood of the genre. With our current sociopolitical and economic climates, we really only had to wait so long before someone penned a tale that matched the feel that is permeating the streets these days. What Elliott has achieved with Vanishing Hope is just that – a literary release of aggression and pain that forces the reader to face some incredibly uncomfortable situations head on.

Elliott excells at matching the ebb and flow of the main character’s feelings, starting out with a tone that feel somewhat innocent and unthreatening, all the way to the climactic scenes of the chapbook where her mental state and aggressive nature can only be described as frenetic and utterly pissed. It’s virtually impossible to retain any internal composure when reading this little story, and it seems that when Elliott wants to drive a scene home, he does so in the highest gear possible.

The main character, Talia, is a beautiful child, but exhudes a terrible mean streak that Icertainly hope my kids don’t harbor deep down inside themselves. It’s terrifying to think that something so small and innocent could be so damned malicious. The fact that Elliott took a chance with this piece of fiction and created this circumstance from the perspective of a child, well, that’s one for the books, folks. I haven’t seen something this daring since Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door.

At the end of the chap, way back there in the author bio, I found a shimmering ray of hope. It seems that this chapbook is essentially acting as a prelude to a full length novel featuring this subject matter, and even gives a quick little peek at who the major players may well be. Personally, I’m excited to see what Elliott can bring to the table in terms of longer fiction. His ability to capture the reader’s attention and use their emotions against them is phenomenal. I hesitate to call Vanishing Hope a “sleeper hit”, but really… you didn’t see this coming. Guaranteed.

Vanishing Hope was officially released just prior to the 2011 Festival of Fear. Elliott can be contacted at his website, and on Twitter. Burning Effigy Press can be contacted at their website and on Twitter, as well.

In related news, I’ve got 2 signed copies of Vanishing Hope to give away. Go hit up and “like” our Facebook page and hang tight. Leave a comment in the thread featuring this review, and we’ll see if we can throw this your way. I’ll let the winners know by the end of the week.


Nowhere Hall by Cate Gardner

Nowhere Hall is not only a great ride into a weird and wild world, but it’s also one of those stories that keeps you guessing, and hides something in every little corner of itself.

Gardner obviously takes her time crafting these images and emotions, supplying  the reader with the what she believes will make for a truly unsettling, yet thoroughly mindblowing array of literary voices. So much so that story culminates in a heart pounding ending that begs the reader to replay the entire tale in their head immediately upon completion. A whirlwind of greatness is contained within the pages of yet another brilliant Spectral Press release.

In the ballroom, wallflower mannequins stretch their fingers towards Ron. He can’t ask them to dance. He’s already waltzing with other ghosts.

someone stole the world while Ron conemplated death. They packed it in a briefcase and dumped him in the halls of the ruined hotel – The Vestibule. A nowhere place.

Gardner sets this short story up with a very dominant sense of gloom, introducing a character that exhudes sadness as if it were a very coporeal aura surrounding his entire being. We watch as Ron contemplates suicide, physically standing on the kerb side, but also in the lonliest place he could possibly be – his own mind. Gardner is very adept at making the reader feel the pain of this character, making it almost too difficult to work from sentence to sentence, but also encouraging him to persevere with subtle hints of what is yet to come and strange happenings that entice the mind to follow. From the beginning, we know there is much more to this story than originally revealed.

The pace of this story is interesting. At times, it meanders along, not really going very quickly, but instead allowing the reader to take in the sights. At other times, the author blasts so much information at the reader that they might feel as if this is an insane rollecoaster ride. The whole feel is very psychedelic and raw, with the above mentioned sense of gloom feeling like a storm cloud on the verge of dropping a deluge of rainwater. Gardner keeps this flow perfectly throughout the entire chapbook, never once breaking for a literary ray of sunlight.

Having said that, while dark and oft-times very bleak, the story does have an upside… if you look deep enough. It’s there, but its hidden under layers of metaphor, rich and expertly crafted visuals, and raw emotive prose. Gardner is incredibly gifted, and succeeds in bringing the reader on a very strange, wild, and mind bending journey into the heart of emotional pain. Nowhere Hall is a powerful little book that will leave its mark on your psyche for much time to come.

As usual, Spectral Press has offered a fantastic piece of fiction that isn’t confined to any genre or sub-genre. The releases that have been coming out of this press are incredible, and don’t show any signs of letting up in quality. Make sure you go take a look at Spectral’s upcoming releases, and give Cate Gardner‘s website a gander as well.