Sunday, March 17, 2019

Review: Hark! The Herald Angels Scream - Edited by Christopher Golden

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I know it's almost Spring, but this holiday-themed anthology is a great read any time of year.  Many of my favorite writers, both old and new come together to spread their own special brand of cheer.

Absinthe & Angels by Kelly Armstrong - A proper way to begin a holiday-themed anthology.  Frightenly fresh.

"'A proper reading of Dickens requires absinthe,' Michael says as he lifts his glass. 'The nectar of the muses.' Ava shakes her head. 'There’s no way anyone could drink this and still write.'"

Christmas In Barcelona by Scott Smith - Traveling with an infant,  What could possibly go wrong?  Plenty.  Well-told and ultimately horrifying.

Fresh As the New Fallen Snow by Seanan McGuire - Another wonderful tale.  A babysitter who is no Mary Poppins.  A morality play with a chilling ending.

Love Me by Thomas E. Sniegoski - A delightfully terrifying story.  Like a Christmas episode of Tales From the Crypt.

"The Creeper was what they used to call him, given his unique ability to get inside a place where the owners were home and pick it clean with no one the wiser."

Not Just For Christmas by Sarah Lotz - What do you do when your genetic pet starts sending you spam advertisements?

Tenets by Josh Malerman - An effective story.  When Adam comes to a Holiday Reunion of University classmates with a guest who is a former cult leader fresh out of prison, it's hard to tell which is worse the guests who leave or the one who asks the former cult leader what his tenets are.

Good Deeds by Jeff Strand - If you've ever been depressed by that Christmas song about the little boy who wants to buy new shoes for his dying mother, you're gonna love this Jeff Strand story.

It's a Wonderful Knife by Christopher Golden - An excellent play on words and a terrific twist.

Mistletoe and Holly by James A. Moore - Yet another solid entry in this anthology.  Sometimes Christmas wishes are best left unfulfilled.

Snake's Tail by Sarah Langan - This one is beyond strange.  A mysterious tale of disappearing children.

"The clock chimes. Two hundred thirty -six children evaporate from the crowd. First, they are there. Then, they are not. It’s a funny thing, witnessing something like that. Those people who have faith, lose it. Those people who have none, find it."

The Second Floor of the Christmas Hotel by Joe R. Lansdale - A very effective ghost story from Mr. Lansdale.

Farrow Street by Elizabeth Hand - A masterfully-crafted tale.  A change of plans leaves Melanie alone in London at Christmas time.  Reminded me of the time I was alone in Ft. Wayne at Thanksgiving, but that's another story.

Doctor Velocity: A Story of the Fire Zone by Jonathan Maberry - Maberry is a brilliant wordslinger as evidenced by this remarkable tale.

Look, you know how I was when I was younger, what I went through. I understand horror. I’ve seen things in those foster homes far worse than the fangs of any vampire or the claws of any werewolf. I’ve felt horror breathing on the back of my neck as it held me in its hands and used me, took me, ripped me apart. I know monsters. Real ones?"

Yankee Swap by John M. McIlveen - The most horrifying game of Yankee Swap ever.  I absolutely loved this ugly little tale.  So twisted.

Honor Thy Mother by Angela Slatter - The family matriarch is not happy about the prospect of moving into a retirement home.

Home by Tim Lebbon - An atmospheric piece about the end times with a rather enigmatic ending.

Hiking Through by Michael Koryta - I've been aware of Michael for some time, but have never read his work before now.  I must say, I totally enjoyed this haunting tale set on the Appalachian Trail in Maine.  On Christmas Eve, no less.

The Hangman's Bride by Sarah Pinborough  - The longest and perhaps the best ghost story to close the collection.

Hark! The Herald Angels Scream is, without a doubt, a collection which will bring joy to any horror fan and will cause any season to be the most wonderful time of year.

Recommended.

Published by Blumhous books, Hark! The Herald Angels Scream is available in paperback, e-book and audio formats.





Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Review: Junction - by Daniel M. Bensen

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Daisuke Matsumori is the star of the most popular nature show on Japanese television and has been recruited to investigate what's on the other side of a wormhole found in New Guinea.  By the way, the pronunciation is "Dice-Kay," not "Dye-Sue-Key."

"Lines were being drawn, ultimatums made, sabers rattled, and someone in the UN had seen this smoking powder keg and said to themselves, 'Why this looks like a job for a Japanese television personality.'"

Actually, the team is a broadly diverse group of characters,  each with their own agenda.  There's Colonel Syahiral Hariyadi, Colonel Gregory Pearson, Anne Houlihan of the University of Sydney, Tyaney and his wife Sing, Nurul and her husband, and pilot Mikhail Sergeyevich Alekseyev, Misha for short.

A plane was deconstructed on Earthside and reassembled on the Junction side of the wormhole.  Unfortunately, the plane crashes on its maiden voyage.  Misha manages to land the plane safely and all survive the crash, but will they survive the journey back to the wormhole, and more importantly each other?

Junction is extremely imaginative as the author has created a fantastical world full of wonders and danger on the other side of the wormhole.

"...at least a quick death smashed against the ground would be better than being very slowly eviscerated by a carnivorous sloth-flower."

If you like your speculative fiction wild and untamed, Junction is just that and much more.  Filled with unexpected twists and turns and even a touch of romance.

I don't expect this book to be among my favorites at year's end, but it will likely be one of the more memorable.

Recommended for readers looking for something different.

Published by Flame Tree Press, Junction is available in hardcover, paperback, e-book and as an audio CD.

Form the author's bio - Daniel M. Bensen writes alternate history, science fiction, and fantasy – usually with kissing, always with a bibliography. He teaches English in Sofia Bulgaria, where he lives with his wife and daughters in the Balkan Tower of Matriarchy.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Review: Limbs A Love Story - by Tim Meyer

5 of 5 Stars

From Wikipedia...

Acrotomophilia...in which an individual expresses strong sexual interest in amputees. It is a counterpart to apotemnophilia, the sexual interest in being an amputee.

And there you have it, the underlying premise of Limbs: A Love Story.  As strange as the premise is, and believe me, it's pretty damn strange.  At its heart, this truly is a love story.

Ray Bridges, for the most part, a rather ordinary guy.  He has a job he doesn't exactly love working the sales floor at a Best Tronics store.  He has a best friend, Percy Jones, and a boss he despises.  But, here's the twist, not only is Ray attracted to women who are amputees, he can't "perform" unless his partner is missing something.  Ray manages to live with his fixation until Kayla starts working at the store with him.  They hit it off in a big way and after few dates wind up in bed and, well, things do not go well.  What's an acrotomophiliac to do?

All this, plus a series of crimes where someone is abducting women and chopping off body parts.  The press is calling him the Hacketstown Hacker.

Tim's down-to-Earth writing style is perfect for a work like this.  Take this scene where Ray is getting his annual performance review...

"Getting your review at work is one of the worst experiences of the year. You’ve been there, we all have. No one would argue having your weaknesses pointed out and shoved in your face is about as much fun as having your nipples hooked up to a car battery, unless you’re into nipple stuff, in which case you might like it. (I think that makes sense.) But I’m getting off track and talking about nipples, so let me stop myself and get back to the story at hand."

At times repulsive, yet funny and charming.  Wickedly original and in my modest opinion, Tim's finest work to date.

Published by Grindhouse Press, Limbs: A Love Story is available in both paperback and for the Kindle.  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 - Tim Meyer dwells in a dark cave near the Jersey Shore.  He’s an author, husband, father, podcast host, blogger, coffee connoisseur, beer enthusiast, and explorer of worlds. He writes horror, mysteries, science fiction, and thrillers, although he prefers to blur genres and let the stories fall where they may.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Review: Night Shift - by Robin Triggs

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Let me start by saying I wanted Night Shift to be something other than what it turned out to be.  Let's face it, a mining base in the Antarctic at the start of a six-month-long night shift doesn't your mind immediately turn to The Thing?  So, I'm expecting a monster.  I got one, it just happened to be of the human variety.

Anton Nordvelt is a last-minute replacement for head of security at Australis...

"I don’t know what they told you back in Tierra, but you’re only here because we have to have someone, you know that? You’ll walk out of here, your wallet three times as thick and your pick of jobs to walk into.  And what’ll you have to do for that?  Nothing.
There’s no crime here, none at all.  No crime, no drugs, no alcohol, only thirteen people, including you.  But because it says in some Company rulebook that we must have a commander, a doctor and a chief of security, here you are...Welcome to Australis, Mr. Nordvelt.  Good to have you aboard.”

Just a few days later there's death with more mayhem to follow.

Although Night Shift was not what I expected, that's not to say this debut novel from author Robin Triggs wasn't a story well told, because it certainly was.  It's a joy to read the words of a writer you've not read before and immediately feel you're in good hands.

There is sufficient action start-to-finish in Night Shift with an avalanche taking out the base's Comm Center and later, an explosion at the refinery. Is one of the thirteen members of the crew responsible or is there an outside entity responsible for all of the death and destruction.

Not my favorite read of the last year, but not the worse by a long stretch.

Published byFlame Tree Press, Night Shift is available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audible formats.

From the author's bio - Rob was raised in Bradford before heading, at eighteen, to the bright libraries of Norfolk.  Music was his main interest at this time.  He played drums and sang whilst writing copious amounts of lyrics, some of which tipped over into the vaguely-defined realm of poetry.  He studied archaeology at Queen's University, Belfast before returning to Norfolk and starting to write seriously.  When not writing he studies the past: archaeology and the historic landscape remain passions.  He's also an exceptionally poor cricketer, turning out for The Bodleian Library's collection of misfits.  At the Bodleian, he tells tourists that yes, Harry Potter was filmed here, but no, they can't go inside.  He also works as a proofreader.  A freshly-minted father, he spends his time changing nappies, Tweeting and, when the opportunity presents itself, doing the odd bit of creating.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Review: The Sorrows - by Jonathan Janz

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I was a bit late to the party when it came to discovering the work of Jonathan Janz.  As a result, I totally missed The Sorrows when it was originally published by Samhain Publishing in 2012.

When Samhain ceased operations on March 1, 2017 many great works went out of print, including this debut from one of the most popular horror writers working today.

The Sorrows presents the reader with a wonderful cast of characters secluded at Castle Blackwood located on a private island known as The Sorrorws.  Eighty miles off the coast of northern California and the site of one of America's strangest unsolved mysteries.

There are more than a few cringe-worthy moments including this little gem...

"A hand slipped inside Chris’s boxer shorts, the scalpel tracing an almost delicate line down his penis, the sharp point pausing on the shriveled tip and grinding into the urethra. Chris groaned, the voice rasping at his ear, '…so many places I can dig.'"

The Sorrows is a wonderful example of a place exercising its influence over its occupants.  Gothic horror at its finest.

Janz's first novel shows the promise of greatness and in the years since its release, the author has matured into one of today's leading horror writers.  One whose work is looked forward to by many readers, including this one.

With all its horror and disgusting moments, The Sorrows is secretly a love story.  I dare you to prove me wrong on this one.

If you missed The Sorrows when it was first released, be sure to read it now.

Fully recommended.

This re-release of The Sorrows is published by Flame Tree Press and is available now in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and Audible formats.

From the author's bio - Jonathan Janz is the author of more than a dozen novels and numerous short stories.  His ghost story The Siren and the Specter was selected as a Goodreads Choice Awards nominee for Best Horror.  Additionally, his novel Children of the Dark was chosen by Booklist as a Top Ten Horror Book of the Year.  Jonathan's main interests are his wonderful wife and his three amazing children.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Review: Ten Thousand Thunders - by Brian Trent

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

There was a time when I immersed myself in Sci-Fi, long before I discovered horror and it took over my reading experience.  Every now and again, it's nice to go back and visit those days, and that's just what I did with this epic, hard Sci-Fi novel by Brian Trent.

How does one know right away they're reading a Science Fiction novel?  Try this opening line on for size...

"Fourteen-and-a-half hours after being killed in the shuttle explosion, Gethin Bryce found himself in a newly sculpted body staring at his hands."

Ten Thousand Thunders takes a wildly imaginative look at one possible future where humans are living on Mars and there's even an AI colony on the moon, but there are restrictions on further colonization and this has folks fired up on both sides of the issue.

Gethin Bryce now finds himself at the forefront of an investigation into a Lunar explosion and the destruction of the shuttle on which he was a passenger.  Not just to find those responsible, but the reasons for their violence.

It takes time to acclimate to the world the author has built in this novel.  Take Mars, for example...

"Mars, where the cities crawled with screaming toddlers or wide-eyed pubescents.  The younger generation was already… changing, too.  Martian gravity encouraged a beanpole look, with legs like stilts and long, swinging arms, graceful necks, torsos stretched like a troop of gingerbread men pinched at the waist to achieve an elongated look. Funhouse mirror people."

Although Ten Thousand Thunders requires a rather generous willingness to suspend disbelief, it more than makes up for it in story.  If anything, the work suffers from too much story.  At times I found myself having to reread portions of the book to get a better grip on what was going on.

Majestic in scope, Ten Thousand Thunders is an elaborate look at a future somewhere between utopia and dystopia.  But wait, there's more, Brian Trent is already at work on a sequel.  Despite the challenges in reading a book so massive in scope, I'll be back.

Recommended.

Published by Flame Tree Press, Ten Thousand Thunders is available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and Audible formats.

From the author's bio - Brian Trent's speculative fiction appears regularly in the world's top markets, including Analog, Fantasy & Science Fiction, COSMOS, Nature, Galaxy's Edge, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, Terraform, Escape Pod, Pseudopod, The Year's Best Military and Adventure Sci-Fi, The Mammoth Book of Dieselpunk, The Cackle of Cthulhu, Flame Tree's Gothic Series, and much more.

The author of the novels Ten Thousand Thunders (hard SF) and the fantasy/historical series Rahotep and its sequel The God and the Gate, Trent is also a Writers of the Future winner and Baen Fantasy Award finalist. Trent lives in New England.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Review: The Blade This Time - by Jon Bassoff

4 of 5 stars     Review copy

I recently discovered Down and Out Books has rescued the Jon Bassoff books which had been published by the now-defunct Darkfuse publishers, meaning The Incurables, The Disassembled man, Corrosion, and The Blade This Time, are all back in print.

Somehow, I never got around to reading The Blade This Time.  That oversight has now been corrected.

I am a sucker for a good opening to a story.  Take note...

"The world above was poisoned, maybe dead, and now I staggered through the abandoned tunnels, eyes adjusted to the darkness, ears pricked to the distant sound of a subway echoing against rubbled concrete.  Rats scurried along the broken tracks, gnawing greedily at the scattered garbage and each other’s tails.  Occasionally I felt one crawl beneath my jeans, slender teeth pressing against my skin, and I cursed and slapped it away."

Early on, I had no idea where the story was going, but it hardly mattered, the writing was marvelous and totally captivating.  Filled with amazing images and wonderful prose...

"...fire escapes crawling up the building like spiders."

Jon writes immersive, wildly imaginative tales, here with a stream of consciousness style...

"...the irrational thought didn’t scare me. I knew that a vicious death was exactly what I needed. Because only when we suffer, only when we scream, only when we die, are we truly enlightened. The solitary truth in this world is horror."

You'll notice, I didn't go into any detail about the story itself, no synopsis.  The reason for that is The Blade This Time is all about discovery.  I'd just like to say, it's worth reading, as are all of Jon Bassoff's books.

Published by Down and Out Books, The Blade This Time is available in paperback and e-book formats.

Jon Bassoff was born in 1974 in New York City and currently lives in a ghost town somewhere in Colorado.  He was called the “king of creepy crime-horror fiction” by Tom Piccirilli, a four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award.  His debut novel, Corrosion, won the DarkFuse Readers’ Choice Award for best novel, and two of his novels, Corrosion and The Disassembled Man, have been adapted for the big screen. The Blade This Time is his fifth novel.