Sunday, May 19, 2019

Review: The Haunted Forest Tour - by James A. Moore & Jeff Strand

4 of 5 Stars

Take Jurrasic Park and replace the dinosaurs with monsters of every conceivable shape and size and you have some idea of the plot for The Haunted Forest Tour.

A forest sprouts up in the middle of the desert in New Mexico.  The forest is populated with deadly creatures which defy the imagination.  Along comes a visionary who manages to turn the forest into a profit-making enterprise.  Rails are laid and Trams begin running through the forest.  The same way they do through some wildlife reserves.

Everything was fine until one fateful day, when it all went off the rails, literally.

At first look, one might expect The Haunted Forest Tour to be a comedic romp, particularly with Jeff Strand's name attached.  Not so.  Although there is some humor, (again, Jeff Strand).  The Haunted Forest Tour is unrelenting horror.

"The woods were almost quite.  Almost, because Lee had heard several things moving nearby.  Big things, little things, wet-sounding squishy things and at least one thing that was big enough he could see the silhouette moving through the trees at a height of at least thirty feet.  The good news, so far, was that none of them had come looking for dinner."

Just when you think things aren't making any sense, it all comes together, and a way out finally appears for the remaining survivors, but can they escape before being devoured?

"'It all makes sense,' Mark said. 'Well, no, no, it doesn't make sense at all, but there's something going on, and this is the only solution that makes any sense whatsoever, even if it makes no sense. Am I making sense?'"

I recommend The Haunted  Forest Tour (for readers - not as an attraction,).

The Haunted Forest Tour is available in paperback, audio, and Kindle formats.  BTW, if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge.  Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the authors' bios...

James A. Moore is the author of over forty novels.  He has twice been nominated for the Bram Stoker Award and spent three years as an officer in the Horror Writers Association, first as Secretary and later as Vice President.

Jeff Strand is a four-time nominee (and zero-time winner, but c'mon, he lost to Stephen King TWICE!) of the Bram Stoker Award.  He is a two-time nominee and one-time WINNER!!!! of the Splatterpunk Award.  His novels are usually classified as horror, but they're really all over the place, almost always with a great big dose of humor.   He lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife and one gigantic freaking cat.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Endsville (Outlaw Arcana - Book 1) - by Clay Sanger

5 of 5 Stars     (Review Copy)

Clocking in at 457 pages, Endsville (Outlaw Arcana - Book 1) could certainly be considered epic and that would be an apt description of Clay Sanger's dark urban fantasy crime novel.

The book's cryptic opening sets the stage for the carnage to come...

"No one loves a crow.  Scavengers.  Thieves.  Liars.  Harbingers of death. Loyal to and beholden to no one but their own kind.  Drawn to the chaos and carnage so they can pick gold from the bones.  Good, bad, indifferent.  A crow does what a crow does.  Nothing commands a crow.  Not men.  Not kings.  Not gods.

The House of the Crow lives up to its namesake."

As you may have guessed by now, The Crows are a crime family, led by Victor St. John and his wife, Fiona.  Not all blood, but all brothers and sisters.  Notable among the family are Gabriel St. John, Captain of the Crows, and his sister, Delilah...

"Delilah was a sorceress, by trade and profession. No petty dabbler.  No one-trick pony.  Through her mother’s lineage, she came from a long and storied tradition.  Most practitioners in the City of Angels spoke Delilah St. John’s name in low and reverent tones."

Mr. Dante Washington, head of another criminal organization calls upon the special services of the Crows when a large sum of money in his possession goes missing.

Sanger's the real deal.  A talented writer with a wonderful gift for description...

"He saw the photo of a man, plain and dull, some middle-aged white guy dressed in a gray suit that reminded Gabriel of a Texas rancher on a Sunday afternoon.  He wore a thin goatee and a long brown ponytail.  Dude had glasses that belonged on a cartoon character.  He looked like he sold lawn equipment at Home Depot and collected butterflies on the weekend.  Maybe he had lived with his mother until she died, after which he had inherited the house and all her Precious Moments figurines.  Gabriel didn’t know him from Adam."

I haven't read a crime novel in a while and this is a good one, made better by the special skills possessed by various members of the brood.  Let's call Endsville a solid mix of crime and urban fantasy.  Kind of like a Dresdin Files novel, but grittier, darker and filled with the most amazing fight scenes.  So different from anything I've read in ages.

Don't look for any "good" guys in Endsville.  They are all criminals, but that's OK.  It's all about the story and it's a good one.  One of those reads where it's not so much about the destination.  It's all about the journey.  This is epic urban fantasy.  So many wonderfully fleshed out characters.  Blood and guts everywhere.

100% Recommended.

Published by Crossroad Press, Endsville (Outlaw Arcana - Book 1) is available in both paperback and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - Clay Sanger is a professional technogeek by day and a writer of fantasy, science-fiction, and horror the rest of the time. A life-long lover of all things wild, Clay spent much of his early adulthood wandering the four corners of the country in search of the weird and wonderful, the dark and the light. As chance would have it he found them. After meandering far and wide he returned to his native Ozarks where he lives with his dazzling wife, their sons, and a menagerie of mythical creatures both real and imagined.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Review: Black Wings - by Megan Hart

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Briella is a bright child, some would say gifted.  That being said, she does have trouble making friends,

"Along with a loathing for personal hygiene and lack of friends, Briella had taken up lying.  Much like her father, she wasn't really very good at it."

Briella's father, Tommy, was making an effort to be in her life, even though her mother, Marian had left him years ago and was now in a relationship with her step-father, Dean.

As if that's not complicated enough, one-day Briella befriends a raven on the way home from school.  She names the bird Onyx, and this is when the wheels start to come off and things get more than a little strange.

Black Wings is a wonderful, real-life-like story with a touch of the fantastical.  Wildly original.  The challenging relationship between Briella and her mother was spot on, very believable.  Black Wings is a story that is simple, yet elegant.  Simultaneously charming and dangerous.  Intriguing and entertaining, right up to the unbelievable ending.  I loved it.

Recommended.

Published by Flame Tree Press, Black Wings is available in hardcover, paperback, e-book and audio formats.

From the author's bio - Megan Hart has written in almost every genre of romantic fiction, including historical, contemporary, romantic suspense, romantic comedy, futuristic, fantasy and perhaps most notably, erotic.  She also writes non-erotic fantasy and science fiction, as well as continuing to occasionally dabble in horror.  Black Wings is one of the later.







Sunday, May 12, 2019

Review: The Playing Card Killer - by Russell James

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Wow.  First read for a brand new author for me and I absolutely loved it.  There truly is no greater thrill than finding a new writer whose work keeps you guessing from start to finish.  OK, I can think of one or two greater thrills, but you get the point.

Brian is off his meds and having the most disturbing nightmares.  He's seeing the murders being committed by a serial killer who's been dubbed the Playing Card Killer by the press.  His girlfriend, Daniela, is less than happy he's gone med free, as a matter of fact, she's done unless he reconsiders his decision.

For a while, the reader is lead to believe, Brian is actually the killer and that's what the police believe when he shows up with what he's
seen in his dreams.

That's enough.  To tell you more would spoil all the surprises.  Buy this book now and add it to your TBR pile.  You can thank me later.  And you will.

The story itself was rather simple, but the execution in writing took the tale to a higher level.  A masterfully crafted, horrifically powerful story.   Expect the unexpected in this deliciously twisted tale.

The playing card KIller is fast-paced and brilliantly plotted.  And then there are my five favorite words in the entire book...

"It was time for revenge."

I whole-heartedly recommend this near-perfect thriller.

Published by Flame Tree Press, The Playing Card Killer is available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audio formats.

From the author's bio - Russell R. James was raised on Long Island, New York and spent too much time watching Chiller, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and Dark Shadows, despite his parents' warnings.  Bookshelves full of Stephen King and Edgar Allan Poe didn't make things better.  He graduated from Cornell University and the University of Central Florida.

After flying helicopters with the U.S. Army, he now spins twisted tales, including horror thrillers Dark Inspiration, Q Island, and The Playing Card Killer.  His Grant Coleman adventure series covers Cavern of the Damned, Monsters in the Clouds, and Curse of the Viper King.  He resides in sunny Florida.  His wife reads his work, rolls her eyes, and says "There is something seriously wrong with you."

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Review: Will Haunt You - by Brian Kirk

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I finished reading Brian Kirk's latest novel over a week ago and put off writing my review to allow this story time to gel in my mind.  Or, maybe ferment is a better word.  The whole concept of Will Haunt You is a bit of a mind-altering experience.

I've taken the liberty of paraphrasing the story's synopsis, it does a better job of explaining the premise than I ever could...

Rumors of a deadly book have been floating around the corners of the dark web.  A tale about a mysterious figure who preys on those who read the book and subjects them to a world of personalized terror.

Jesse Wheeler—former guitarist of the heavy metal group The Rising Dead—was quick to discount the ominous folklore associated with the book.

But Jesse is wrong.  The legend is real—and tonight he will become the protagonist in an elaborate scheme specifically tailored to prey on and resurrect the ghosts from his past.

Jesse is not the only one in danger, however. By reading the book, he has volunteered to participate in the author’s deadly game, with every page drawing him closer to his own personalized nightmare.  The real horror doesn’t begin until he reaches the end.

That’s when the evil comes for him.

There's even a warning at the beginning of Will Haunt You.  One that flat out tells you if you continue reading the author won't be responsible for what may happen to you.  Nice.

This is one of those stories where the line between what is real and what is imagined dissolves rather quickly.  I found Will Haunt You to be like a season of Channel Zero on SYFY.  Only, instead of having the reaction of "What did I just watch?" it was "What the hell did I just read?"

While undoubtedly Brian Kirk's best work to date Will Haunt You left me a bit perplexed.  Let me put it this way, while I really enjoyed the ride, I had no idea where I was when I arrived at my destination.  About Halfway through, I noticed the first letter in each word of the title spell the word WHY.  Why, indeed.

Recommended, but be prepared for the weird.

Published by Flame Tree Press, Will Haunt You is available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audible formats.

From the author's bio - Brian Kirk is an author of dark thrillers and psychological suspense.  His debut novel, We Are Monsters, was released in July 2015 and was nominated for a Bram Stoker Award® for Superior Achievement in a First Novel.  During the day, Brian works as a freelance marketing and creative consultant.  He lives in Atlanta with his beautiful wife and rambunctious identical twin boys.

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Review: Out Behind the Barn - by John Boden & Chad Lutzke

5 of 5 Stars   

I'm always fascinated by collaborations.  How they come about.  The division of labor.  Who gets the final say in arguments.  Etc...

The back story on Out Behind the Barn was particularly interesting.  John sends a short story called Maggies Farm to Chad for his insight.  Even though Chad loved the story he felt it needed more.  The case of a short story longing to be a novella.  After a couple of rejections as a short, Chad tells John he'd add 15,000 words if he had to write them himself.  Some time passes, other obligations are met and after collaborating we have the final cut and its a remarkable story.

Young Davey and Ronny have lived with Miss Maggie for as long as they can remember.  Others have come and gone, but the two boys remain.

What follows is a story which immediately draws me in.  I really enjoyed how the boys share a love of reading, particularly their fondness for Poe.

The storytelling of Boden and Lutzke is top notch, too...

"The three ate breakfast together while Maggie sat and observed. She always kept a close eye, especially when it came to her boys. If anything ever happened to them, the world couldn't hold all the tears that'd fall. She stoked these thoughts as she pretended to read the cereal box before her, then was dragged from them when Davey started speaking of a cartoon he'd watched about a land of balloon people and the terrible pincushion man who came to terrorize them."

The result of this collaboration is a sound tale which guards its secrets closely.  And the prose is often to die for...

"The sky above was a sea of motor oil and diamond buckshot, the air smokestack ejaculate and lingering diesel."

On the surface, this story may seem like a charming tale of a simpler time.  But, make no mistake, Out Behind the Barn  is a horror story.

Recommended.

Published by Shadow Work Publishing, Out Behind the Barn is available in both paperback and Kindle formats.  BTW, if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge.  Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the authors' bios...

John Boden lives a stone's throw from Three Mile Island with his wonderful wife and sons.  A baker by day, he spends his off time writing, working on Shock Totem or watching M*A*S*H re-runs.  He likes Diet Pepsi, cheeseburgers, heavy metal, and sports ferocious sideburns.  While his output as a writer is fairly sporadic, it has a bit of a reputation for being unique.

Chad Lutzke lives in Michigan with his wife and children.  For over two decades, he has been a contributor to several different outlets in the independent music and film scene, offering articles, reviews, and artwork.  He has written for Famous Monsters of Filmland, Rue Morgue, Cemetery Dance, and Scream magazine.  He's had a few dozen stories published, and some of his other books include: Of Foster Home & Flies, Stirring the Sheets, Skullface Boy, and The Same Deep Water As You.

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Review: The Haunting of Henderson Close - by Catherine Cavendish

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Catherine Cavendish is a prolific writer of horror - frequently with ghostly, supernatural, Gothic and haunted house themes.  She's very active on Social  Media and I have no idea why I've never read her work before now, but now that I've finally read one of her novels, I know I'll be back for more.

If ever a location deserved to be haunted, it's Henderson Close.  This is not a heavy-handed ghost story, but that's just fine.  There is certainly a place and an audience for this kind of ghostly tale.

"Farquhars Close was some sort of gateway to hell.  It was one of the first Closes to go and was sealed very quickly.  The story goes that a devil was walled up there and if he should ever be let loose, Edinburgh would burn."

Now we're talkin'.

This book turned out to be so much fun.  The scene with the ouija board was brilliantly written, and terribly frightening.  One of the best things about The Haunting of Henderson Close was these were real people having real experiences.  I truly enjoyed this immersive experience.

The Haunting of Henderson Close was a wonderfully complex and extremely twisted tale of a haunted area with layer upon layer of ghosts and one elusive demon who has escaped the pentagram which had once trapped his spirit.

Recommended for anyone who ejoys a solid ghost story.

Published by Flame Tree Press, The Haunting of Henderson Close is available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audio formats.

From the author's bio- Catherine Cavendish writes horror fiction - frequently with ghostly, supernatural, Gothic and haunted house themes.  She has numerous novels and novellas available.  Visit her page at Amazon.com for a comprehensive list.  Catherine lives with a long-suffering husband and a delightful black cat who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt.  She sees no reason why that practice should not continue.  When not slaving over a hot computer, Catherine enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.