dino parenti dead reckoning

This pre­mier col­lec­tion by Dino Par­enti, pub­lished by Crys­tal Lake Pub­lish­ing, show­cases six­teen beau­ti­fully writ­ten sto­ries that delve into the darker aspects of Amer­i­can life in the late twen­ti­eth and early twenty-​first cen­turies. The sto­ries are grouped by theme and time period, from the sev­en­ties to present day and into a post-​apocalyptic future and include a num­ber of dif­fer­ent gen­res, sci­ence fic­tion, hor­ror, mys­tery and west­ern, to name a few.

Among the sto­ries that stood out for me is “On the Fickle Nature of Ger­mi­na­tion,” which chron­i­cles the jour­ney of a deadly virus from the ice fields of Patag­o­nia to the far cor­ners of the world when two sci­en­tists dis­cover the frozen remains of a cou­ple who died in each other’s arms. Iron­i­cally the nar­ra­tor and her hus­band were try­ing to start a fam­ily when they mis­guid­edly thawed out the dead lovers, dubbed Lady and Gen­tle­man. What begins as a touch­ing, almost roman­tic tale turns into some­thing very dif­fer­ent when Lady and Gen­tle­man are found to have suc­cumbed to a vir­u­lent plague now unleashed upon the planet.

Out­stand­ing even in a col­lec­tion of so many superb sto­ries is “Stra­tum,” whose pro­tag­o­nist plans to exit the Inter­na­tional Space Sta­tion for a close up ‘look’ at the impactor meteor Perses, now on a col­li­sion course with earth. His mis­sion is to launch a group of Remem­brance Spheres that will offer insight to future space trav­el­ers about what life on earth was like before being extin­guished by Perses, but his per­sonal quest may interfere.

The Mother-​of-​Pearl Way,” a qui­etly har­row­ing story of a post-​apocalypse earth, begins with an almost fairy­tale qual­ity. A young girl wit­ness­ing the after­math of a rit­ual fight-​to-​the-​death asks her wise grand­fa­ther, “Why do we keep doing this?” and then risks her life to cre­ate a bet­ter future for her people.

Finally, the title story “Dead Reck­on­ing” depicts a bru­tal bat­tle of wills between a sui­ci­dal priest and a vig­i­lante cop dri­ven to mur­der by a flac­cid legal sys­tem. Par­enti skill­fully unspools their con­flicted pasts as the two men endure a tor­tur­ous trek through Death Valley.

To sum up: DEAD RECK­ON­ING AND OTHER STO­RIES is spec­u­la­tive fic­tion at its finest, a bril­liant col­lec­tion that deserves to be savored, con­tem­plated, and read again.

That Which Grows Wild Front Cover 300 dpi The title of award-​winning author Eric J. Guignard’s debut col­lec­tion of short sto­ries hints at things unruly and dis­rup­tive, envi­ron­ments pos­si­bly dan­ger­ous and cer­tainly beyond human con­trol. Among them: an inhos­pitable desert where a des­per­ate woman hopes foot­prints will lead her to safety and a beach where a tsunami that wiped out a young woman’s fam­ily leaves behind a mys­te­ri­ous doll. Guignard’s abil­ity to uses expertly drawn locales to evoke feel­ings make these six­teen tales all the more mem­o­rable and haunting.

Some of the sto­ries strad­dle the line between gen­res, as in “The Last Days of Gun­slinger John Amos,” a story which com­bines ele­ments of west­erns, hor­ror, and sci­ence fic­tion in a tale about a good-​hearted gun­slinger strug­gling to save the lives of five kids not his own. In “Dreams of a Lit­tle Sui­cide” an offer of a chance to play a munchkin in the Wiz­ard of Oz evokes the tone of a romance until events take a darker turn.

Many of Guignard’s sto­ries involve ordi­nary peo­ple forced to try to adapt to the sur­real and the weird. In “Cer­tain Sights of an Afflicted Woman,” a woman’s infected eye enables her to see beyond the dusty, windswept prairie town now pop­u­lated only by corpses, includ­ing that of her sis­ter, who was gifted with a dif­fer­ent kind of “sight.” And in “Whis­pers of the Earth,” he looks at grief through the eyes of a wid­ower in a town where peo­ple are dis­ap­pear­ing into sink­holes that appear on the ten-​year anniver­sary of a tragedy.

The intrigu­ingly titled “A Case Study in Nat­ural Selec­tion and How It Applies to Love” posits a super-​heated world where watch­ing a friend spon­ta­neously com­bust is noth­ing out of the ordi­nary and win­ning your dream girl comes down to stay­ing alive longer than the rest of her suitors.

Guig­nard brings to his writ­ing a gift for vivid, some­times lumi­nous imagery, as when he describes the unrav­el­ing of a woman’s men­tal state as “…Margie’s imag­i­na­tion, pre­vi­ously a mouse slum­ber­ing in some dark crevice of her brain, began to wake and scurry about, gnaw­ing on com­mon sense…”

That Which Grows Wild cements Guignard’s already con­sid­er­able rep­u­ta­tion as an adept and mas­ter­ful sto­ry­teller. Read­ers who rel­ish dark fic­tion rich with com­pelling char­ac­ters and for­bid­ding land­scapes won’ be disappointed.

Five Senses Art 228This is not your aver­age hor­ror anthol­ogy. In addi­tion to offer­ing twenty sto­ries (full dis­clo­sure: mine is one of them) that incor­po­rate one of the five senses, it also offers a wealth of sci­en­tific infor­ma­tion about the brain and just how we process sen­sory input.

The book is divided into five sec­tions of four sto­ries each devoted to the five senses. Among the con­trib­u­tors: authors John Far­ris, Ram­sey Camp­bell, Poppy Z. Brite, Dar­rell Schweitzer, and Richard Chris­t­ian Matheson.

An engross­ing Intro­duc­tion by Jes­sica Bayliss, PhD looks at “Why Do Hor­ror Sto­ries Work? The Psy­chobi­ol­ogy of Hor­ror,” in which she explores how the brain, par­tic­u­larly the amyg­dala, trig­gers our emo­tions and how mir­ror neu­rons aid in cre­at­ing expe­ri­ences. And how do these psy­cho­log­i­cal mech­a­nisms get their data to begin with? Through the senses, of course – which is what night­mares in real life and in hor­ror fic­tion are made of!

Bayliss opens each of the sec­tions with a dis­cus­sion of how that par­tic­u­lar sense relates to fic­tion, so that read­ers may expe­ri­ence fear or revul­sion vic­ar­i­ously through the brain’s recep­tors. This means, in other words, that we expe­ri­ence shiv­ers not just when we watch a cen­tipede crawl across the floor, but when we read about a char­ac­ter in a hor­ror story who watches one.

In addi­tion to Bayliess’s com­ments, the anthol­ogy includes a fas­ci­nat­ing essay by Eric J. Guig­nard “Under­stand­ing and Incor­po­rat­ing the Five Human Senses into Mod­ern Hor­ror Short Fic­tion” that will intrigue any­one who writes hor­ror or aspires to do so.

And in the After­word, “Sen­sa­tion and Per­cep­tion,” K.H.Vaughan PhD raises some thought-​provoking questions:

How dif­fer­ent are my per­cep­tions from yours?

Does a real­ity exist inde­pen­dently of our perceptions?

Can per­cep­tions be trusted at all? (And what hap­pens if the answer is no?)

In short, The Five Senses of Hor­ror offers an illu­mi­nat­ing look at how mod­ern hor­ror fic­tion man­ages to evoke fear through each of the senses – a must read for hor­ror writ­ers, read­ers, and stu­dents alike.

tremblay cabin at the end of the world Paul Tremblay’s ter­ri­fy­ing new novel THE CABIN ATTHE END OF THE WORLD plays on the fear of the dan­ger that shows up out of the blue– bru­tal and over­whelm­ing, but also inscrutable. Are the bad guys an assort­ment of psy­chos who found each other online or are they basi­cally decent peo­ple try­ing to save human­ity from annihilation?

And if your life and the lives of your loved ones are at stake, how much does the dis­tinc­tion really matter?

Mar­ried cou­ple Eric and Andrew are faced with that ques­tion when they and their adopted daugh­ter Wen are spend­ing what was intended to be an idyl­lic week­end at a remote cabin. Wen catches grasshop­pers. Andrew and Eric relax on the porch. A man walks up the road and talks to Wen. He seems ami­able and harm­less, but he also makes promises to the lit­tle girl that, as the reader will soon find out, he is pow­er­less to keep.

Using a mas­ter­ful take on the hor­ror of home inva­sion, Trem­blay keeps the reader guess­ing right to the last para­graph, as Andrew, Eric, and Wen strug­gle to out­wit cap­tors who are by turns, politely apolo­getic for the incon­ve­nience and stun­ningly vio­lent. Are they insane? Or are they four self­less heroes forced into an unthink­able sit­u­a­tion? Or is the whole night­mare an act of vengeance insti­gated by a vio­lent homo­phobe, as Andrew theorizes?

As the ordeal pro­gresses, each man forms his own ideas about how to deal with their sit­u­a­tion. Do they pla­cate their cap­tors? Fight back? Try to make them see reason?

Or, most fright­en­ing of all, do they con­sider the pos­si­bil­ity that maybe, just maybe, these peo­ple aren’t crazy at all and what they’re claim­ing is actu­ally true?

Therein lies not just the road to mad­ness, but also a hel­luva good novel.

51 uzv1SVHL. SY346 Lovers Mike and Ver­ity play a game fraught with dan­ger. They call it “The Crave” and it hinges on Verity’s abil­ity to attract would-​be suit­ors and mus­cu­lar Mike’s skill at fend­ing them off. In a night­club, Ver­ity hangs out alone at the bar until a man approaches. She teases and flirts until, upon a sig­nal from her, Mike storms over and inter­venes. “I love see­ing how scared they are of you,” says Ver­ity, as they find a dark cor­ner where they can have sex.

Writ­ing from the point of view of Mike, author Aram­inta Hall depicts a man whose wretched child­hood has left him so dam­aged he is pow­er­less to rec­og­nize the depth of his delu­sions. After the pair split up and Ver­ity rashly invites Mike to her wed­ding to Angus Met­calf (“London’s most eli­gi­ble bach­e­lor”), Mike con­vinces him­self the mar­riage itself is part of an elab­o­rate “Crave” meant to pun­ish him for a brief infidelity.

Of course Mike’s creepy obses­sion with Ver­ity and his inabil­ity to believe she really does love her new hus­band can lead to noth­ing good. When the novel opens, Mike is telling his story from prison where he’s being held for mur­der. Whose mur­der, we find out later.

OUR KIND OF CRU­ELTY is a page-​turner I read almost at one sit­ting. My only quib­ble with the novel is that at times char­ac­ters behave so fool­ishly that their actions defy all rea­son except as a plot device. Instead, a tragedy that could have been averted by sim­ply involv­ing the police or hir­ing a pri­vate secu­rity team is allowed to run its vio­lent course.

Still, in every other respect the novel is far too com­pelling and well-​done to pass up.

In her after­word, Hall points out what many women sadly already know, that we live in a world where “women must be per­fect, men are allowed to get away with murder.”

OUR KIND OF CRU­ELTY does a stel­lar job of illus­trat­ing that point.

TideStone TIDE OF STONE, Kaaron Warren’s spell­bind­ing dark fan­tasy novel, raises ques­tions about moral­ity, jus­tice, and the nature of com­pas­sion – who deserves it, and is there any­one who doesn’t? What about the liv­ing husks inside the Time Ball Tower, some of the worst crim­i­nals in his­tory who are, by turns, manip­u­la­tive and child-​like, cun­ning and vicious?

Nar­ra­tor Phillipa Mus­kett has grown up in the town of Tem­pus­ton, Aus­tralia, within sight of the Time Ball Tower off shore. Each day at pre­cisely 1:05 p.m. a large ball drops, per­haps a reminder to the men and women impris­oned there that they have stepped out­side time as most of us know it. Given the choice between death and eter­nal life, they chose the lat­ter and now have noth­ing but time to expe­ri­ence the enor­mity of their mistake.

Cit­i­zens of Tem­pus­ton serve as Keep­ers in the Tower for one year. When Phillipa gets a chance to become a Keeper, she sees it as an unpleas­ant but nec­es­sary way to redi­rect the path of her life. She’s right, of course, but in ways she could never fore­see. The pre­vi­ous Keep­ers have left writ­ten reports, some cryp­tic, oth­ers detailed, of their stay in the Tower, and these pro­vide Phillipa with an under­stand­ing of the prison’s his­tory and of the Keep­ers who pre­ceded her here.

By its end, TIDE OF STONE becomes even more deeply unset­tling as we real­ize, along with Phillipa that the Tower holds secrets even more ter­ri­ble than the dis­in­te­grat­ing human wrecks inhab­it­ing it.

A book that begs to be read more than once, TIDE OF STONE com­bines gen­uinely creepy hor­ror with the tan­gled psy­cho­log­i­cal games played between Phillipa and the peo­ple she watches over – and some­times tor­ments and is tor­mented by.

33784310Usu­ally I write about hor­ror fic­tion. This time I’m writ­ing about real-​world hor­ror and how author and self-​termed “vio­lence expert” Tim Larkin would have us pre­pare for it.

Vio­lence is rarely the answer, but when it is, it’s the only answer.”

Thus begins this fas­ci­nat­ing self-​defense book, in which Larkin dis­cusses two types of vio­lence: social aggres­sion and aso­cial vio­lence. Both are best avoided, but are far dif­fer­ent in terms of lethal intent. Social aggres­sion, as Larkin defines it, involves showy, chest-​beating behav­ior (usu­ally between males) and is basi­cally a jock­ey­ing for posi­tion in the social hier­ar­chy. Larkin stresses there’s only one intel­li­gent way to deal with it. You back down, apol­o­gize for what­ever the guy thinks you did, and buy him a drink. Bet­ter than a law­suit for invol­un­tary manslaugh­ter or a lengthy hos­pi­tal stay for your­self. In short, when it comes to these dis­plays of male domi­nence, fight­ing is rarely worth it.

With aso­cial vio­lence, on the other hand, there’s no talk­ing your way out of it. It comes at you from behind at an ATM or in a dark park­ing garage, with a big­ger, stronger, faster assailant who has no qualms about maim­ing or killing you. In fact, maim­ing and killing may be the goal.

For this kind of kill-​or-​be-​killed sit­u­a­tion, Larkin presents a wealth of anec­dotes: the kind where the good gal or guy tri­umphs in a ter­ri­fy­ing sit­u­a­tion and the kind where, trag­i­cally, the oppo­site occurs and the wrong per­son ends up in a pud­dle of blood.

So how does the aver­age Jane or Joe dis­able a much stronger attacker?

Larkin goes into great detail, with dia­grams for good mea­sure, about how all human bod­ies, nomat­ter how formidable-​looking, are vul­ner­a­ble to cer­tain dev­as­tat­ing injuries if the other per­son knows how to inflict those injuries and is able and will­ing to do so (a crushed tra­chea and gouged-​out eye­ball being two examples.)

In his classes, Larkin reports that sev­enty per­cent of the peo­ple who sign up only do so AFTER sur­viv­ing a vio­lent attack. The proac­tive stu­dent just want­ing to be pre­pared is rare in his expe­ri­ence, and Larkin wants to change that. Aside from detailed expla­na­tions of how to crush, snap, and gen­er­ally destroy var­i­ous parts of an attacker’s body, he also offers some obvi­ous but impor­tant tips: ditch the ear­buds and put down the phone in pub­lic, lis­ten to your intu­ition, and avoid the ATM after dark. Like jun­gle ani­mals, we need our senses on high alert; the dis­tracted are easy targets.

At the same time, Larkin him­self comes across as a fun­da­men­tally non-​violent sort who reminds the reader over and over that vio­lence is the last resort, no mat­ter how highly trained you may be.

9781942645825Take four of the world’s top hor­ror writ­ers, add an ambi­tious media mogul and his tech-​savvy girl­friend, mix in a creepy old house where two sav­age mur­ders took place and a dash of spook­ery in the form of two deceased sis­ters, and you’ve got the ingre­di­ents for KILL CREEK, Scott Thomas’s ter­rific debut novel.

Thomas’s premise is both straight­for­ward and intrigu­ing: media tycoon Wain­wright invites extreme hor­ror writer T.C. Moore, Chris­t­ian YA nov­el­ist Daniel Slaugh­ter, leg­endary hor­ror writer Sebas­t­ian Cole, and famous but fal­ter­ing gothic hor­ror writer Sam McGarver to spend Hal­loween night in the noto­ri­ous Finch House. No one is any too keen about the idea, but each can use the pub­lic­ity, not to men­tion the cash.

The fate­ful night in the haunted Finch man­sion proves dis­turb­ing enough, with a few gen­uinely scary moments as well as a mean-​spirited on-​air inter­view by their host, but the next day all four writ­ers leave the house, shaken but appar­ently unscathed.

The Finch House has let them off easy. Or so it would appear.

The real hor­ror begins later, first fore­shad­owed by a tragedy that strikes Daniel Slaugh­ter on the day they depart the house. After that, all four expe­ri­ence a period of writ­ing so obsess­sive there’s barely time to eat or sleep as each cre­ates their own ver­sion of a novel based upon the Finch House. Soon it becomes appar­ent the Finch House was only toy­ing with them that first night, let­ting them leave in order to lure them all back for a final, deadly bat­tle with the supernatural.

Thomas’s writ­ing is vivid, even at times lyri­cal, despite a plot that doesn’t shy away from vio­lence and gore. His char­ac­ters reflect the real­ity behind their work and the urgent cre­ativ­ity that’s some­times rooted in trauma, loss, and phys­i­cal abuse. To a per­son, they cover their scars care­fully, and the Finch House is all too ready to expose each painful truth.

KILL CREEK is Thomas’s debut novel and a final­ist for Best First Novel for the 2017 Bram Stoker Awards. It’s a bril­liant begin­ning that left me already look­ing for­ward to his next book.

9780143132172 Leila Slimani’s Prix Goncourt-​winning novel delves into the tor­mented mind of Louise, the ulti­mate nanny, who dou­bles as house­keeper, gourmet chef, and orga­nizer of chil­drens’ par­ties and out­ings, with­out extra pay. She’s also a work­ing parent’s worse night­mare: a woman whose doll-​like, Mary Pop­pins exte­rior con­ceals a dam­aged psy­che rife with resent­ment, obses­sion, and rage.

THE PER­FECT NANNY chron­i­cles the rela­tion­ship between Paul and Myr­iam, two ambi­tious pro­fes­sion­als in Paris’s tony 10th arrondisse­ment, and Louise, the nanny too good to be true who does the unthinkable.

She’s our employee, not our friend,” Paul reminds his wife, but because Louise has become so invalu­able, it’s a point they both keep con­ve­niently overlooking.

There’s no mys­tery here as far as the crime. On the first page, we’re told, “The baby is dead.” The ques­tion, of course, is not who mur­dered baby Adam and his older sis­ter Mila, but what demons drove Louise to kill them. To that end, Sli­mani takes us into her stark and lonely world, the sparse apart­ment where she spends as lit­tle time as pos­si­ble, the abu­sive hus­band who left her with crush­ing debts, the land­lord who hounds her for money.

Her days spent in her employ­ers’ chic apart­ment mean free­dom to Louise, and she makes the most of them. With the older child at school and the par­ents work­ing, she lux­u­ri­ates in a long, hot shower, then glides nude around the apart­ment, her skin pearles­cent with Miryam’s expen­sive creams.

Only occa­sion­ally does the unseemly sur­face, as when Paul comes home to find Louise has tarted up his daugh­ter in full glam­our make-​up. Dis­gusted, he pulls away from Louise after that, but by then the unequal rela­tion­ship has pro­gressed too far, mak­ing Louise almost impos­si­ble to dis­lodge. While Louise obsesses over whether Myr­iam is preg­nant again, the par­ents pon­der ways to grace­fully let her go. It’s that ter­ri­ble dis­par­ity – the nanny’s fan­tasies of being part of a fam­ily when she is, in fact, hired help – that brings the novel back full cir­cle to its dev­as­tat­ing open­ing lines.

Although the end­ing dis­ap­points, leav­ing the reader to the obser­va­tions of the police detec­tive going over the scene, as a whole I found the novel engross­ing on many lev­els – as a crime thriller and as a social com­men­tary on class dis­tinc­tion, eco­nomic dis­par­ity, and motherhood.

beauty2 11 orig The paper­back edi­tion of THE BEAUTY OF DEATHDEATH BY WATER, edited by Alessan­dro Man­zanetti and Jodi Renee Lester for Inde­pen­dent Legions Press, is now avail­able through Amazon.

This gar­gan­tuan anthol­ogy includes thirty-​nine sto­ries by “some of the great­est writ­ers of hor­ror and dark fic­tion,” in which water plays the role of both accom­plice and exe­cu­tioner. With acci­den­tal drown­ings, irre­sis­tile calls of sirens from the deep, strange whis­per­ing from house­hold plumb­ing, faces of the dead in droplets of water, rabid fish, leviathan mon­sters, and more, these sto­ries will make you think twice about tak­ing that long-​awaited cruise, going for a mid­night swim, or tak­ing your next shower.

Take a look at the Table of Contents:

HIP­POCAM­PUS by Adam Nevill


ANTUM­BRA by Lucy Snyder




THE EVER­LAST­ING by Anthony Watson





THE WASH by Lisa Morton

WET SEA­SON by Den­nis Etchison

THE TARN by Simon Bestwick


RAISED BY THE MOON by Ram­sey Campbell

EVEN THE STARS FALL by Nicola Lombardi

COME UP by Brian Evenson


RIVER WATCH by Bruce Boston


GILLS by David J. Schow

ORI by Adam Millard

BY THE SEA by Alessan­dro Manzetti

DROWN­ING by Gre­gory L. Norris

SEA SLUG by Edward Lee

THE HIKER by Jeremy Megargee


SCAPE-​GOAT by Clive Barker

THE FOURTH BELL by Daniel Braum

SIREN by Jonah Buck

THE DOU­BLE LENS by Lisa Mannetti

JUST WATCH ME NOW by Jodi Renee Lester

BORN OF DARK WATERS by Michael H. Hanson

THE GORGE OF CHIL­DREN by Daniele Bonfanti

FRESH CATCH by Michael Arnzen