Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: Come To Dust - by Bracken MacLeod

5 of 5 Stars  Review copy

Last year, I got to read Bracken MacLeod's Stranded, sixteen crew members of the Arctic Promise who become ice bound under strange circumstances. If you haven't read it, you should. It's one of 2016's better reads.

Bracken's new release, Come To Dust, is even better.  Children die.  It's horrible when it happens, but we read about or hear about such tragedy every day.

Bracken beautifully captures the grief of laying a child to rest...

Although green AstroTurf had been draped down to cover the bare earth sides of the hole, there was no imaginable way to disguise the fact that they were lowering a child into a grave. There was nothing loud enough to dispel the silence of a dead child.

Mitch LeRoux is taking steps to get his life back on track after a stint in prison. He's not just doing it for himself, but also for his niece, Sophie, who's been his ward ever since his sister took off with her drummer boyfriend.

I'm pretty sure you can see that things are not going to go well for Mitch, but that's not what Come To Dust is about.

The story unfolds at a blistering pace. I won't reveal all of its secrets.  Those are best discovered in the process of reading the book, which I hope you'll do.

This is a powerful story with highs and lows and more than a few surprises.  In many ways, Come To Dust is about second chances.  It also shines a light on ignorance, and fear of those who are different. Very much a tale of and for the times in which we live.

Highly recommended.

Come To Dust is published by Trepidatio Publishing, a division of Journalstone, and is available in both paperback and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - Bracken MacLeod is the author of the novels Mountain Home and Stranded. His short fiction has appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including LampLight, ThugLit, and Splatterpunk, and has been collected in 13 Views of the Suicide Woods. He lives outside of Boston with his wife and son, where he is at work on his next novel.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: Bone White - by Ronald Malfi

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

"Hell is empty and all the devils are here." - William Shakespeare

When Joe Mallory, from up on Durham Rd, walked into Tabby White's luncheonette no one expected the announcement he was about to make.

"They're all dead, and I killed 'em.  But I'm done now."

Eight victims over a five-year period.

...the old man was one cherry short of an ice cream sundae, Jill Ryerson's father had been fond of saying.

Dread's Hand, Alaska is a town with a history, a town that could be considered cursed.

There were bad places on earth—dark spots, like bruises—and...Dread's Hand was one of them. 

When Paul Gallo heard the news out of Dread's Hand, it caught his attention right away. After all, that was the name of the town where his twin brother Danny disappeared a year ago.

When you pick up a Ronald Malfi novel you know you are in the hands of a capable writer and there's a remarkable story to be told.

Those woods are haunted by the devil himself, his aunt Lin had told him and his brothers.  A man walks in there, he stands a chance of being touched by the devil. And that man, he goes sour. His mind rots. He becomes a vessel for evil, a vehicle for the devil.

In no time at all the reader is immersed in a great story as Malfi paints a picture of words with the finesse of a great artist.

Expect the unexpected in this great Summer read.  I can strongly recommend this book be placed at the top of your TBR list.

Published by Kensington Books Bone White is will be available on July 25th in paperback, e-book, and audio CD formats.

From the author's bio - Ronald Malfi is an award-winning author of several horror novels, mysteries, and thrillers. He's also a Bram Stoker Award nominee. Most recognized for his haunting, literary style, and memorable characters, Malfi's dark fiction has gained acceptance among readers of all genres. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife, Debra, and their two daughters.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: The Devil's Colony - by Bill Schweigart - The final book in the Fatal Folklore Trilogy

4 of 5 Stars     Review Copy

I love stories set in the Pine Barrens of South Jersey.  I have a special affinity for stories of the Jersey Devil. However, this particular tale deals with a different kind of devil.

Välkommen.

Lance Whelan and his friend Danny learned about this place...

...on the white power message boards, the conspiracy sites, the doomsday blogs.

It was a haven for like-minded individuals and the young men were intrigued by one word more than any other...family.

The Devil's Colony is book three in the Fatal Folklore Trilogy. First, in The Beast of Barcroft, it was what looked like a series of unconnected animal attacks in a suburb of Arlington, Va.  A year later, in Northwoods, a strange creature in the waters of Lake Superior. Now, something that ties them all together is happening in The Devil's Colony.

All the usual suspects are back for the conclusion to the trilogy.  Lindsay Clark and Ben McKelvie, their leader and world-renowned cryptozoologist Richard Severance.  The banter between Severance and his pilot, Erica Cheung, was always fun to read.  Then there's the marksman and muscle of the operation, Davis Holland, and Richard's longtime friend Alex Standingcloud.

On the other side of the fence is Richard's one-time friend and now adversary Henry Drexler and his followers.

A white supremacy conclave, monsters, a dollop of H.P. Lovecraft. What more could you ask for? Mounting suspense with just the right amount of humor.  It did take more than fifty-percent of the book to get to the weird, but once we got there it was intense.  In the conclusion to this trilogy, no one is safe.  There were several moments when I just had to sit back and say, "I can't believe that just happened."

With multiple twists and turns and a wild conclusion that requires a total suspension of your disbelief, The Devil's Colony is certainly entertaining.

Although The Devil's Colony could be read as a standalone novel, it really works best if you've read the other books first.

Recommended.

Published by Hydra, and imprint of Random House LLC, The Devil's Colony, is currently available in e-book format only.

From the author's bio - Bill Schweigart is a former Coast Guard officer who drew from his experiences at sea to write the taut nautical thriller, Slipping the Cable. He's spent the last five years working on the Fatal Folklore Trilogy.  Bill currently lives in Arlington, VA with his wife and daughter, who along with their monstrous Newfoundland and mischievous kitten, provide him with all the adventure he can handle.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Guest Post: Never Trust a Unicorn - by Bill Schweigart, author of the Fatal Folklore Trilogy

Never Trust a Unicorn

I have a confession to make: I’m a fraud.

Before I get to that, I first need to thank the Fantastic Frank Michaels Errington for taking a devil’s holiday and inviting me to hijack his blog. Do what you like, he said. Promote your new novel, The Devil’s Colony, he said. I was touched and honored and excited, then those feelings began to curdle into a familiar sensation: but they’ll know I’m a fraud.

In general, I believe most of us grown-ups feel like frauds. We go around adulting in our big boy or big girl pants, occasionally looking over our shoulders and thinking at any moment the real grown-ups are going to show up and call us out. If you are so confident and self-assured that you sashay through life without such doubts, then congratulations: you are a unicorn. Or the President of the United States. At present, I don’t believe in either of those things and if I did, I certainly wouldn’t trust them.

No, I’m not talking about being an everyday charlatan. This is much more specific to you, Frank’s faithful readers. The first time I realized I was a horror writer was when my agent urged her Twitter followers “to welcome horror writer @billschweigart to the team.” I was shocked. Until that moment, I honestly hadn’t realized I was one. The Beast of Barcroft was my second novel—my first was a thriller about the Coast Guard—so at that point, exactly half of my output horror. Or a “supernatural thriller,” as I imagined it.

But there it was on Twitter, so it had to be true. I thought, “I’m a horror writer? But…but…but I’m squeamish.”

Here’s a semi-spoiler free example: there was a scene in The Beast of Barcroft when my main character Ben McKelvie is visited by a shapeshifting creature that’s been stalking him. His back yard’s motion sensor lights flare and Ben peers through the window to find a wolf staring up at him with glowing eyes. I wrote the scene and thought, “Not bad.” Afterward, as I went adulting into my day, I envisioned that, instead of a wolf, the shapeshifter visited Ben in the form of its last kill, one of Ben’s neighbors. I envisioned the shapeshifter standing there in the guise of his friend, naked, the gore of its latest victim still slathered on his jaw and matted in his chest hair. Ben and the creature’s eyes meet, and the man lifts his head and sniffs as if testing the air between them.

I shuddered, totally creeping myself out. My first thought, incredibly, was, “You can’t do that!” Then a cold, whispery voice hissed You must. I feel like a sham because this horror stuff didn’t come naturally at first. I’m much more comfortable writing the banter between my cryptid-hunting characters. There’s Ben (kind of a dick but trying), Lindsay (a zoologist and as stalwart as Ben is a buffoon), Alex (an embattled professor of Native American Studies), Davis (a special operations veteran and the only one remotely qualified to fight anything, let alone monsters), and Richard

Severance (the cocky-as-hell billionaire cryptozoologist who causes as many problems as he solves). I could write these characters zinging each other in a diner for 300 pages. It’s the murder-y bits I struggle with.

But I rewrote that scene and I’m sure as hell glad I did. With every book, I push myself to keep raising the stakes. In The Beast of Barcroft, the aforementioned shapeshifter slays the residents of a suburban Washington, D.C. neighborhood like a hot knife through butter. Think folklore as a weapon. In Northwoods, the team deploys to the Minnesota woods when they learn of something terrible crossing the border from nightmare into reality. Think folklore as an invasive species.

In The Devil’s Colony, the team faces their deadliest challenge yet. In the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a man named Henry Drexler operates a private compound called Välkommen, which is Swedish for “welcome.” Indeed, Drexler welcomes all visitors—so long as they’re racists, neo-Nazis, or otherwise in cahoots with the alt-right. But Drexler is no mere Hitler wannabe. Once he was Severance’s mentor, and his research may well have summoned a monster to the Pine Barrens. Think folklore as a weapon of mass destruction. To find out the truth, Ben and Lindsay must enter the camp incognito. There, under the watchful eyes of Drexler’s bodyguards and sociopathic son, they will learn that that, sometimes, the greatest monster is man.

The Devil's Colony is the final installment of my Fatal Folklore Trilogy, and I assure you, it’s the darkest yet. And to continue the shameless plugging, on July 25, “The Expedition,” a short story set in the same universe will be featured in Volume 7 of Dark Screams, Penguin Random House's horror anthology. I hope you’ll check both out. I poured a lot of soul into my Fatal Folklore Trilogy. I believe in these novels, their characters, their struggles, and relationships. Even if I didn’t always believe in myself. And like good horror, I believe it speaks to the times—and the fears—we’re living in.

But I have another confession to make: a strange thing has been happening recently. I thought finishing the terrifying adventures of Ben and company would exorcise that cold, whispery voice in my head. But it’s still there. And I’m afraid it’s getting louder. Every time I pass a copse of trees, it says Wouldn’t this make a wonderful home for some fanged menace? Every time I pass a dark alley or lonesome field, it says What a lovely place to set a murder.

And I’ve stopped equivocating when people ask what I write. Yes, there’s a lot of humor. Yes, there’s heart. And yes, there’s—gasp—romance. But no, they’re not supernatural thrillers.

“They’re horror,” I say, a gleam in my eye.
                                                                                                                                       
Bill Schweigart revives a bit of forgotten lore from the shadow of Washington, D.C. for his chilling thriller, The Beast of Barcroft which finds a devilish creature stalking the residents of Arlington. Publishers Weekly says "Readers who appreciate a B-movie sensibility, affable characters, and a sense of fun along with their scares will find much to enjoy." Its sequel, Northwoods, follows Ben McKelvie and Lindsay Clark as they travel to the Northwoods of Wisconsin to investigate sightings of a new and terrifying cryptozoological threat. The Devil's Colony, the final novel in the trilogy, will be available July 11, 2017. Bill is a former Coast Guard officer who drew from his experiences at sea to write the taut nautical thriller, Slipping the Cable. Bill currently lives in Arlington, VA with his wife and daughter, who along with their monstrous Newfoundland and mischievous kitten, provide him with all the adventure he can handle.

The Devil's Colony: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/553209/the-devils-colony-by-bill-schweigart/9780399180347

Dark Screams: Volume 7: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/554539/dark-screams-volume-seven-by-edited-by-brian-james-freeman-and-richard-chizmar/9780399181948

Fatal Folklore Trilogy: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/series/TLG/the-fatal-folklore-trilogya


Review: Whispered Echoes - by Paul F. Olson

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Admittedly, I have heard of Paul F. Olson, but up until now, I can't say I've read any of his work.  I can happily say I've now corrected that omission. Whispered Echoes is a wonderful collection of old and new.

One bit of writerly advice I hear again and again is to write what you know. Well, Paul F. Olson knows that part of Michigan called the Upper Peninsula, the part of the state that's surrounded by three of the great lakes.

The first two-thirds of this collection is made up of some of the author's earliest short stories, presented in the order in which they were written.  The last third is the writer's newest novella, Bloodybones.

The title of this collection, Whispered Echoes, was meant to evoke long-lost voices from the past, but as I read the stories I noticed the word whisper, in one form or another, popping up again and again.  I can't say it was in every story, I wasn't paying that much attention, but it certainly had a presence throughout.

The Visitor - A terrific opening to a solid collection.  It's Fall in the Upper Peninsula, but...

...there is something about the season that is not quite right. Something that hasn’t been quite right, in fact, since Kent Barclay began coming into town each October first, taking a room at Elvira Martin’s boarding house, and leaving again during the first week of November.

Over the years Kent became known as "the jinx."  Things just seemed to happen when he was in town.

From A Dreamless Sleep Awakened - The kids have played in the cave as long as there have been kids to do so. But his time something has awoken.

The Forever Bird - Old friends and magic birds and a bit of weed lead to a tragic night.

Homecoming - A disturbing story of a fifteen-year-old in a roadside dive.

"Do you make a habit of serving alcohol to fifteen-year-olds?”“Hey, bud, take a look around. On a night like this, I’d serve my five-year-old nephew."

They Came From The Suburbs - Years before the walking dead, there were the quiet ones.

Through The Storm - I loved this story, the storm, the unknown, the blistering pace all combine for great storytelling.

The More Things Change - This quote pretty much sums up a rather bizarre tale...

A bear rode by on a big Harley. We waved. The bear gave us the finger.

Guides - A story of coming to terms with your destiny.

Getting Back - A wonderfully charming ghost story

Faith And Henry Gustafson - There comes a time when it's no longer safe to put your faith in others.

Down The Valley Wild - An incredibly sad story of Don Stewart confronting his past.

Bloodybones - This new novella begins with a story written by David Mahon...

 I wrote the pages a few months ago at the suggestion of a friend, who said the process could help me understand what happened to Amy Brackett, the light of my life, who vanished suddenly on a stormy Saturday afternoon last October.

This is a very effective ghost story and the stuff of legends.

One of the things I really enjoyed throughout the older stories were the pieces long lost to time, like buying a roll of Certs...listening to Seger on the tape deck...Gooden can outpitch everyone...my transistor radio and I'm sure there were others I missed.

Each story in the collection is its own microcosm of life in the Upper Peninsula with a bit of the weird thrown in to spice things up.  Reading the stories in Whispered Echoes was like eating potato chips, impossible to stop at just one.

Recommended.

Whispered Echoes is available from Crystal Lake Publishing in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats.  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 author's bio - Paul F. Olson has been a professional writer and editor for 35 years. His first novel, Night Prophets, was published in 1989.  In the late 1980s, he published and edited "Horrorstruck: The World of Dark Fantasy," a trade magazine for horror fans and professionals. With the late David B. Silva, he created the award-winning newsletter "Hellnotes," which he and Silva edited together for five years.  After spending nearly two decades as a small-town newspaper editor, he has returned to a full-time focus on fiction. He currently lives in Brimley, Michigan, not far from the shores of Lake Superior.


Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review: Blood Dawn - by Jason Bovberg - The conclusion to the Blood Saga trilogy

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Blood Dawn, the final story in Jason Bovberg's Blood Saga trilogy is a bittersweet tale filled with new ideas and strong female characters.

Felicia and Nicole have found something special in Fort Collins, Colorado...

They talk about school, and they talk about books and music, and—again—they laugh at the odd coincidence that they each have a 17-year-old brother named David. They talk about goofy childhood memories and longtime friends back home, and they talk about sex and marijuana, and they talk about past boyfriends and girlfriends, how one notion led to the other.

If you've read books one and two, you know about the alien invasion that's taking place.   We've seen how type O-negative blood is the key to saving those turned by the aliens. When the worst happens to Felicia, she is immediately treated and becomes a pivotal part of the plan to defeat the alien threat for good.

Bovberg is adept at building suspense slowly without dragging things out too much and when Felicia is turned we get a unique perspective from her distinctive voice.

The inner struggle within Felicia is so well conceived and clearly written...

The fact that it happened makes her feel at once violated as if raped and altered. Because she has retained this … this clairvoyance, this telepathy.

There were some times where the story did seem to drag a bit, but it is certainly a solid conclusion to one of the most original trilogies in recent memory.

Recommended.  Although you could read Blood Dawn as a standalone novel, I strongly suggest reading the entire series.

Blood Dawn is available in both paperback and e-book formats.  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 author's bio - Jason Bovberg is the author of the Blood trilogy—Blood Red, Draw Blood, and Blood Dawn—as well as The Naked Dame, a throwback pulp noir novel. He is editor/publisher of Dark Highway Press and he lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with his wife Barb and his daughters Harper and Sophie.

Guest Post: Jason Bovberg the author of the Blood trilogy

Today we have a dramatic guest post from the author of the Blood trilogy, Jason Bovberg.

Blood Catharsis
By Jason Bovberg

So, it turns out I authored an entire horror trilogy—the Blood saga, encompassing Blood Red, Draw Blood, and Blood Dawn—before I realized I had written the entire thing as a metaphor for my battle with cancer thirty years ago.

How dense am I?

It’s true: Not long after I typed “The End” on Blood Dawn, the final chapter, I started to reflect on the series as a whole. I felt a sense of accomplishment, sure, and I knew that the series grew stronger as it went along. I also felt that I’d done the characters justice and sent them off properly. Not a bad collection of thoughts after finishing a whacko, blood-drenched horror trilogy! But I also realized something else as I sat there reflecting: The word Blood in all three of my titles—and particularly in Draw Blood—means more than the plot device it springs from. Much more than that, it harkens back to my days of oncology and chemotherapy, a painful time in my life that I now understand will remain a part of me until I kick.

When I was 19, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Shellshocked, I absorbed the diagnosis numbly and lived through it day by day, attending my freshman college courses, gradually becoming a writer. Meanwhile, I was enduring brutal blood and radiation treatments that played hell with my body, leaving me with all kinds of enduring scars. And yet I was young and immortal. I knew the cancer wouldn’t kill me. It might maim me, it might hobble me, but it wouldn’t kill me. That optimism got me through it, and when I was finally declared cured, I tried to shove it all behind me, wanting—needing—the whole experience to be a part of my past. Part of a different me.

Easier said than done. But it worked for years, despite daily reminders that it had happened. Things like hair loss and reduced lung capacity and other heinous internal stuff.

But anyway.

Guess who else is 19? My main character Rachel.

Yeah, I just recently made that connection. She’s a young woman who awakens to unspeakable horror and runs—also shellshocked—through what remains of her world, yearning for answers, grasping at what matters most, relying on those around her for support. She’s innocent, and she’s new to the horrors of the world, and she’s reckless. But she faces it. Strong. Resilient. She makes mistakes, but she also finds the “hero” inside her. And I’m not spoiling much when I tell you that the ending of her story is a happy one. (She lives.)

I used to say that Clive Barker’s Books of Blood was an inspiration for the title of my saga, but now I know that’s not entirely true. Yes, Barker’s books were influential around the time I was going through my cancer episode, but the word Blood suddenly has a more visceral meaning that I had tamped down over the years. Shortly after finishing that final volume, I stared at my three covers side by side, all emblazoned with that word, and the connection was obvious. Coming to this realization was akin to the first time I watched The Sixth Sense—that goosebump-raising moment of “Gaaah!”

Clive Barker is famous for dabbling in what he calls “body horror”—and that is a concept that I definitely explored in my Blood trilogy, albeit unconsciously, through the prism of my experience. The monsters in my novels are wrenched-back monstrosities, humans who have been painfully inhabited by a malevolent presence, wreaking havoc on their tissues, bones, and organs. They are gasping, crooked, and increasingly deformed, and above all they are infected. And it is discovered that these afflicted “monsters” can be turned back to humanity with a “blood cure.”

Stop me when this sounds familiar!

Since coming to these multi-layered realizations, I’ve pondered the power of the subconscious mind and marveled at how the Blood saga poured out of me—a full-on, multifaceted metaphor for my experience, utterly beyond my awareness. I even have a character in Rachel’s past who went through her own cancer ordeal (and lost)! I don’t think of my realization as a blindness, or a cluelessness, but rather a revelation for how much my cancer episode has defined my persona. The truth is, no matter how much I want it to be otherwise, cancer is an integral piece of who I am. It was folly to try to bury the past.

So, I’m left studying the weight of this revelation. Thirty years after my own cancer diagnosis, I have put the final touches on a saga all about the aftermath of my diagnosis. Like it or not, the Blood saga has been a far more personal work than I understood while writing it—a reminder that our experiences, good or bad, remain a part of us for the long haul, and even if we don’t feed them any conscious energy, they’ll be there waiting, feeding off our darker parts.

As you read Blood Red, you can sense the innocence of the protagonist—the shocked recoil and the desperation as she faces a terror entirely new to her. Denial and despair give way to fearlessness. In Draw Blood, Rachel is humbled by her experiences but comes to term with her new reality—in essence, beginning to grow up. And in Blood Dawn—an even more appropriate title, now that I see if for what it is!—she comes of age, overcoming her inner and outer challenges. From the pit of darkness, she rises to find her future bright.
                                                                                                                                             
If you’re interested in checking out the Blood saga, it can be ordered in paperback from your favorite local bookstore, and from Amazon at the following link: https://www.amazon.com/Jason-Bovberg/e/B00JJ36NNW. Check out my website at www.jasonbovberg.com. Follow me on Amazon at https://www.facebook.com/jasonbovberg.author/.                                                                                                                                              Jason Bovberg is the author of the BLOOD trilogy--Blood Red, Draw Blood, and Blood Dawn--as well as The Naked Dame, a throwback pulp noir novel. He is editor/publisher of Dark Highway Press and he lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with his wife Barb and his daughters Harper and Sophie.