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Happy 2014!
 

Well, it was great year for books, TombRats, and your funky and fractious old TombKeeper had the devil’s own time selecting the very best books from among those I reviewed here on Creature Feature, The Weekly Web Program during 2013. However, after exhaustive study and massive rumination, I present to you my personal favorites culled from a hundred or so books I reviewed (but which were not necessarily published during 2013). I present these titles in alphabetical order, because choosing a descending list is not possible! And so, if you missed any of these mind-blowing titles last year, all you need to do is click on the cover graphics to order your copies. Easy!

I’m looking forward to a hundred and more great books culled from Count Gore’s Teetering Towers of Terror Tomes in 2013, and I hope you’ll join me downstairs in the Tomb for the ongoing literary feast!

The 2013 Tomb Top Ten

ATTACK! OF THE B-MOVIE MONSTERS: NIGHT OF THE GIGANTIS edited by Harrison Graves

We here at Creature Feature love nothing better than B-movie monster extravaganzas (heaven knows Count Gore shows plenty of them upstairs in the Lab!), so it’s an immense pleasure for me to recommend this killer anthology of drive-in movie style fiction starring giant creatures spawned by mad scientists, experiments gone awry, eco-disasters, radiation, and all of the post-atom-bomb disaster scenarios that we loved so in the 1950s—and still do! Dedicated to the late, great stop-motion creature movie auteur Ray Harryhausen, this group of stories hits the sweet spot where crazy fun collides with rampaging monsters. As Gary Miele explains in his introductory essay, “Anticipating Disaster”, the advent of the atomic bomb and our ignorance of its effects generated an entire genre of B movies featuring speculative scientific catastrophes resulting in gigantic killer creatures running berserk among us. Each of the stories included in this anthology is tightly written, fully realized, scary, and funny as hell! In this volume, you’ll encounter mutants and giants of all sorts: crabs, silverfish, prairie dogs, sea lions, crawdads, frogs, ants, fish, tapeworms, shrews, slugs, mice, platypus, a 50-foot househusband (ha!), rocks and even--gasp!--giant tentacled potatoes! Fiction contributors include Alexander Ward, Lachlan David, John Grey, Ben McElroy, Randy Lindsay, Eryk Pruitt, Brent Abell, Kerry G.S. Lipp, Tracy DeVore, Gary Wosk, Terry Alexander, J.M. Scott, Doug Blakslee, Christofer Nigro, Colin McMahon, Nicole Massengill, Jay Wilburn, Kevin Bampton, Gerry Griffiths, and Jonah Buck. If you love those great drive-in monster movies of bygone days, you will love this grand and entertaining collection of wild and action-packed short stories that bring back the heydays of Harryhausen films. Great stories, great fun!

 

DARK ROADS by Bruce Boston

World-class poet/novelist Bruce Boston is winner of the Bram Stoker Award, the Pushcart Prize, the Asimov Readers Award, the Rhysling Award, and the very first Grandmaster Award of the Science Fiction Poetry Association. Selected from his dazzling canon of exquisitely crafted speculative poems, DARK ROADS collects a group of Mr. Boston’s longer poems selected from a celebrated career spanning more than forty years in this stunning volume, opulently illustrated by celebrated artist M. Wayne Miller. A dark sorcery of language immerses the reader in fully realized wordscapes and uniquely rendered portraits describing strange, dripping, horrific vistas such as the brilliant, award-winning Mutant Rainforest poems, science fictional outlands as in “The Star Dreamers”, grotesque humanoid androids and cyborgs in “Human Remains”, an ominous view of nature as revealed in “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Vulture”. Enjoy a surreal excursion to “The Restaurant That Is No Longer There”, and witness a modernesque Bride of Frankenstein rising in “Pavane for a Cyber-Princess”. One can almost feel the psyche tilt and incline toward the printed page while reading these 31 extraordinary poems. DARK ROADS is very dark ride indeed. For more information about this collection and the author’s many other works of poetry and prose, you may visit his online resting place at www.BruceBoston.com. Click on the cover graphic above to order the signed and numbered trade paperback edition of DARK ROADS (only $15.00!). To purchase the collectible signed deluxe hardcover edition, click here: http://www.badmoonbooks.com/product.php?productid=3684&cat=0&page=1
 

 

HAUNTINGS edited by Ellen Datlow

As the editor states in her introduction, “Ghosts are persistent memories.” This disturbing anthology is about ghosts--not determinate monsters that prowl the present--rather, these ghosts are insistent echoes from the past, unwanted companions often created by misdeeds, mistakes, moral failures and regrets. Top genre authors include Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carl Oates, Peter Straub, Jonathan Carroll, F. Paul Wilson, Caitlín R.Kiernan, Pat Cadigan, David Morrell, Lucius Shepard, Jeffrey Ford and many others, each exploring a singular dark corner of theme of ghostly visitations. Here, horrors arise from a disastrous childhood game of hide and seek, a jesting attempt to radio contact a dead regiment that succeeds, an escalating barroom exchange of ghost stories, a married couple’s pillow-talk spawns horrors, a violinist is summoned to play a performance on a unique instrument, a restaurant’s ghastly history, a midnight encounter on dark roadway, a trio of men trapped in a howling blizzard with something…else, a lifeguard sees strange shadows in the water, and more. Twenty four tales in all spanning the years 1983 through 2012, Ms Datlow has assembled a formidable community of eminent genre artists working at the very heights of their literary powers to create this outstanding dark fantasy anthology. This is the best of the best--don’t miss it! For more about the editor, you may visit her online resting place at www.datlow.com.

 

HERDING RAVENS: BON-BONS AND COLD CUTS by Christopher Conlon

This is a delightfully dark collection of flash fiction, short-shorts and vignettes with a Gothic flair from Bram Stoker Award® winning author Christopher Conlon. As the author explains in his opening page, a bon-bon “…is a very short tale of fantasy with no rules or logic, or with dream logic, or the logic of the grave.” And so the parade of strange, phantasmagoric, ghastly, darkly humorous and grisly fictions proceeds. The reader will encounter a shocking modern version of Hawthorne’s Hester Prynne; a family conflicted about reanimating a testy relative; a funny take on Poe’s “The Raven”; a Christmas that ends badly for a distressed woman; a future where growing beards becomes a competitive sport for everyone; a sardonic turn on tempus fugit, a terrorist of the future who was quite famous in the past, a new spin on photographic soul-stealing, dark, laugh-out-loud (and accurate!) recommendations for living one’s life, and one of the best closing stories ever. I’ve only touched upon some of the surprises offered up in this surreal, bizarre, horrific and often hilarious collection of tidbits from an author of literate and reliably excellent dark fiction. For more about Christopher Conlon, you may visit him online at www.christopherconlon.com.



 

MESSAGES FROM THE DEAD by Sandy DeLuca

Looking for a truly spooky read to take along when you head out for that last sun-drenched weekend before autumn ushers summer into memory? I suggest Sandy DeLuca’s haunting new horror novella, MESSAGES FROM THE DEAD, which is instantly downloadable in electronic format. In the wake of having found the brutalized body of her mother, who was beaten to death by her boyfriend, young Donna moves in with her mystical grandmother, a practicing seer and reader who takes her granddaughter into her home until Donna, searching for love and safe harbor, marries a young man with whom she has almost nothing in common. Unhappy in her marriage, Donna decides to get an education and try to make a more meaningful life for herself. An amateur painter, Donna packs her few belongings and art supplies with plans to perfect her artistic skills at New York’s Castell Community College. When she arrives, she discovers the building itself is old and forbidding, permeated dreadful memories. The moment Donna crosses the threshold, her hereditary ability to discern the paranormal kick in, and Donna soon discovers that Castell Community College has a very dark past. It was once a rehabilitation hospital for children afflicted with tuberculosis, and terrible atrocities were committed within. The restless ghosts of abused and murdered children are drawn to Donna, as though beseeching her for justice and salvation. The walls of building seem to breathe terror and agony, and Donna is no stranger to those feelings. If she can save these tortured souls, perhaps she can save herself. But there is something terrible standing in her way, and a battle is sure to ensue. Beautifully envisioned and wrought, Sandy DeLuca has crafted another heart-stopping novella that will have you shivering, even if you’re lying on the beach. For more about this talented author/poet/artist, she can be found online at www.sandydeluca.com.

 

ONION SONGS by Steve Rasnic Tem

Few living authors can elicit a range of emotions from readers with the artistry Steve Rasnic Tem commands utilizing his vast imaginative and linguistic powers. His exquisite control of the short form is displayed most eloquently in this career retrospective of his tales published 1982 to 2013. Two brand new stories are included along with forty previously published tales collected here for the first time. Sorrow, longing, alienation, madness, death and utter strangeness overarch this collection where you will encounter the often startling revelations of aging, terrible news from a reluctant messenger, doodled drawings that chronicle a descent into insanity, a lifetime of memories falling from the sky in a dreadful downpour, an apprehended shoplifter displaying a shocking cache of stolen items, children far too attached to their mother, ominous instructions for escaping a hotel fire, scary clowns with tedious office jobs, a 1950s juvenile delinquent who steals a car ends up in an animal jungle war, and other bizarre people and events that are utterly other, yet somehow familiar. Never predictable, Mr. Tem astonishes and delights with each uniquely crafted tale, offering brief passages into alien mindscapes unavailable anywhere but in this particular volume. Truly one of the finest collections of 2014, ONION SONGS is a resounding testament to brilliance, mastery of language and unfailing imagination. These stories will change you. For more about the author and his equally talented wife and sometimes collaborator, Melanie Tem, click on http://www.m-s-tem.com/tems/blog1.php/home.

 

SCENES ALONG THE ZOMBIE HIGHWAY by G. O. Clark

Zombies! They are more popular now than ever, and clever and talented darkscribes possess seemingly bottomless caches of ideas to keep the genre of rotting folk…fresh. Multiple Bram Stoker Award® and Rhysling Award nominee G. O. Clark takes a poetic spin through the world of zombie mores and foibles in his latest collection, crafting wildly funny yet chill inducing poems that are delightfully illustrated by the inimitable Marge Simon. Mr. Clark illuminates facets of zombie un-life that few have pondered: zombie holiday traditions and seasonal weather complications, the dating scene, zombie transportation, zombie legal systems, zombie politicians, the perils of zombie karaoke and other forms of entertainment, romance, and fashion. Find out what it might be like to be a fully cognizant zombie or the last zombie on earth—hint: not good. One poem made me laugh out loud—it is titled “Some Things Zombies Suck At”; to wit, “Conga lines and line dancing…Throwing fondue parties…Texting, and texting while driving…Public speaking of any kind” and more. As startlingly humorous as these poems are, there is an unsettling sense of brooding dread at the core of each piece, so the reading experience is akin to whistling past a graveyard. You don’t have to be a zombie fan or a poetry fan to enjoy this irresistibly entertaining and accessible collection. Check out G. O. Clark on the web at http://goclarkpoet.weebly.com/.


 

THE SIX-GUN TAROT by R. S. Belcher

And now for something completely different, how about a steampunk weird Western set in 1869 Nevada? This is a crazy-fun, mind-bending mashup of genres and a debut novel from the Grand Prize Winner of the Strange New Worlds SF writing contest. And what a novel it is! Welcome to Golgotha, a cattle town that lies just beyond the deadly 40-Mile Desert, a town where secrets lie seething just beneath the dust and grit, where the sheriff’s neck is scarred by a hangman’s noose and his deputy is part coyote. The town mayor is hiding and protecting a hoard of magical treasures, and the banker’s wife is a member of an ancient secret order of assassins. Stop into the saloon for a whiskey, but be advised that the owner, like the town, is not exactly what he seems, and that’s just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There’s some bad stuff going on in Golgotha; something terrible is stirring in the old, abandoned silver mine that stares down at the town with its dark eye. When the thing in the mine comes to life, it’s going to be up to the sheriff and his men to stop the terror or it’s going to be the last roundup for the cattle town…and the rest of the world as well. Oh, and there are talking animals. And zombies. And so much more! THE SIX-GUN TAROT is fully dilated imagination running at a wicked pace, employing wild and wonderful characters and set-pieces that leave the reader dazzled by their audacity and originality. I love this novel! For more about the author, you may find his website here: www.sixguntarot.com.


VAUDEVILLE by Greg Chapman

An instinctive fear of deep, dark forests is one of the most pervasive human characteristics, I think. Folk tales are filled with horrors occurring in dense forests and Australian author/artist Greg Chapman hits that terror button dead-bang with his new novella, VAUDEVILLE. This is the story of Anthony Moore, whose father as committed suicide by hanging himself from a tree. No one knows why Anthony’s father killed himself, and it is a question that is devouring Anthony from within and destroying the small community of Keaton from without. Anthony’s mother drowns her sorrow in an alcoholic stupor that leaves her son alone in his own grief, making him withdrawn and friendless, searching for answers for his father’s decision to embrace death in such a horrendous manner. In the tiny town of Keaton, there is little comfort for the boy except to gaze mournfully into the depths of Keaton Wood, where terrible things have occurred and worse things reside in the darkness of the towering trees. A traveling troupe of performers trapped between this world and the next reveal themselves, and young Anthony Moore is poised to witness the performance of his life. Or death. VAUDEVILLE is a lyrically terrifying novella that will linger in the mind much longer than the time it takes to read. For more about the author, visit his online presence at http://darkscrybe.blogspot.com/.


WAITING FOR MISTER COOL by Gerard Houaner

Max is one hell of contract assassin. Part human, part beast, Max is an elite hired killer who is often called upon by the government to handle their most problematic, um, situations. And Max enjoys his work, making mincemeat of his targets and foes, which, in turn, gives his difficult-to-control, blood-thirsty inner demon an outlet. When not working, Max’s beast makes human companionship a near impossibility, but he does have friend and confidant named Lee, a government agent who works with Max. On the domestic front, Max supports and cares for a pair adopted twin girls who suffer from a similar predilection for blood and brutality. Lee, the twins and Max all find themselves in dire jeopardy when Max is mistaken for another hired gun code named Mr. Cool. Mayhem ensues, placing Max and company directly in the crossfire between two warring outfits of crazed zealots skirmishing over an abandoned government compound with a malevolent supernatural background. The compound is ostensibly the territory of a local militant group that wishes to use the supernatural attributes of the location to begin a new religion, but they are having major problems with a mob of illicit child sex traffickers who wish to employ the compound’s powers to create mindless killers out of the children they have kidnapped. Enter Max, Lee and the twins… and the body parts are going to fly. This is Mr. Houaner’s latest Max novel, preceded by THE BEAST THAT WAS MAX, THE ROAD TO HELL, and THE ROAD FROM HELL. Max has become an iconic anti-hero whose lust for gore turns the pages of these novels blood red, yet and his storylines are meticulously plotted and his characterization dead on the mark. WAITING FOR MR. COOL is a welcome addition to the Max series of extreme horror thrillers, which might be considered a sort of hyper-violent X Files hybrid. Hide this one from the kiddies, y’all. For more information about this talented author, visit his online resting place at http://www.cith.org/gerard/.

Last one into the Tomb is a rotten vulture’s egg!

Creature Feature © D. Dyszel 2014

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