Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: Blanky - by Kealan Patrick Burke

5 of 5 Stars

I love the tag line on the cover of Kealan Patrick Burkes new novella, Blanky.  

The gift that keeps on living.

And then there's the opening line.  One that immediately draws the reader into the story.

You say you can't imagine what it must be like to lose a child.
Let me make it easy for you.
It's the beginning of the end of your world.

What follows is a story I'd compare to having a rug ripped out from under your feet, again and again, as a baby blanket picked up at a flea market seemingly goes on a killing spree.

In addition to being a great story-teller, Kealan Patrick Burke, is a true word craftsman filling his story with gems like these.

The light through the partially open blinds was, like me, feeble and gray.

I stayed at the bar until the choice was removed and the drinks stopped coming.

Red and yellow leaves tussled across the grass that was one rain shy of needing a haircut.

Blanky effectively blurs the line between grief and insanity and is a read I would definitely recommend.

Blanky is currently available 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.

Born and raised in Dungarvan, Ireland, Kealan Patrick Burke is the author of five novels, over a hundred short stories, six collections, and editor of four anthologies. In 2004, he was honored with the Bram Stoker Award for his novella, Turtle Boy.  Kealan also designs covers for print and digital books through his company Elderlamon Design.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: Ugly Little Things - by Todd Keilsing

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Earlier this year, I read Todd Keisling's novella, The Final Reconciliation. It's still one of my favorite reads from 2017.  Ugly Little Things is Keisling's first collection and if you didn't get to read The Final Reconciliation, I've got good news on a couple of counts. Not only is his new book a chance to be introduced to his work through ten of his shorter pieces, but it also includes his critically acclaimed novella.

A Man In Your Garden - Ever see something out of the corner of your eye and then question whether it was really there?  Take that premise, add a delightfully creepy twist and you have A Man In Your Garden.  And one of my favorite lines in the entire book. tell yourself it was your imagination, a phantom conjured from the tomb of sleep, given life by the bourbon soaking into your liver.

Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave - A well-constructed and bittersweet tale of never-ending love with a healthy dose of horror.

Radio Free Nowhere - A road trip, a radio dead zone, the song of a siren...and oh, the horror.

The Otherland Express - A terrific story with a Twilight Zone vibe.  I'm a genuine Nobody.  I help all the other Nobodies get from here to there, and sometimes I find Nobodies who don't realize they're Nobodies.  Sometimes, I find people who want to become Nobodies just like the rest of us.

Saving Granny from the Devil - A totally enjoyable story about choices.  One that shows the man in black in a new light.

The Darkness Between Dead Stars - A mission to Mars, a single volunteer, a familiar trope with a fresh look.

Human Resources - Lovecraftian mythos in the age of technology and one of the best opening lines I've read this year.  It is with deep regret and sorrow that I must bid you farewell.  Effective immediately, I am resigning from my duties as HR manager on account of having just murdered my assistant and misleading others at the company.

House of Nettle and Thorn - A story with mutant plant girls.  Whats not to like?

When Karen Met Her Mountain - Is it ironic that I'm reading a story about Karen meeting her mountain at the same time I met a mountain of my own? In a single week, I nearly had a kidney transplant, but the kidney was damaged and we had to pass, I fell down a flight of stairs, and was hospitalized with Congestive Heart Failure. The following week I began dialysis.  As Karen Singleton's Daddy would say, "...sometimes things just happen and there's nothin' to be done about it...when there's a mountain in your way, you either climb other it, or you find a way around it.  There ain't no in-between."

The Harbinger - Some people are afraid of clowns, for me, it's dolls.  In this short, Keisling takes a familiar trope and delivers an effectively scary tale.

The Final Reconciliation - In this novella Todd Keisling introduces readers to the fictional heavy metal band The Yellow Kings.  It's been years since that fateful show at a small L.A. nightclub.  Miles Hargrove and his producer are interviewing Aidan Cross, looking for the true story of their one and only performance of The Final Reconciliation.

Todd Keisling is a wonderful story-teller.  As I read the diverse tales in Ugly Little Things I found the only common thread to be the horror.  It's there in every story, and I couldn't wait to see where the author would take me next.

Ugly Little Things is available from Crystal Lake Publishing  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.

Todd Keisling is the author of A Life Transparent, The Liminal Man (a 2013 Indie Book Award Finalist), and the critically-acclaimed novella, The Final Reconciliation. He lives somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania with his wife, son, and a trio of unruly cats.

Guest post: Who Made Who? - by Author Todd Keisling

Who Made Who?

I was a weird kid.

While most five-year-olds in the late 80s probably spent their free time watching He-Man and G.I. Joe, I had a different obsession: Horror films. You can blame my mother for that. After my parents divorced, Mom and I lived with my great-grandmother for a few years, and during that time, Mom worked days and went to school at night. My granny could only keep me occupied for so many hours before winding down herself, and since we couldn’t afford daycare, Mom turned to the next best thing: a VCR.

My grandmother worked part-time at our small town’s only video rental place—Showtime Video, it was called—so we had access to hundreds of rentals at a discount. Every week, Mom would rent a batch of films. Some for herself and some for me. Some of my earliest memories are from that time, sitting in front of Granny’s old console television, watching Labyrinth, Return to Oz, and Maximum Overdrive.

I know. One of those things is not like the others. Let me explain.

In her defense, I’m not sure Mom really expected me to watch all of the movies she rented for me. She probably figured I’d get bored with them or fall asleep before I could finish them. As you might imagine, the exact opposite happened. When I finished my movies, I started watching hers. Films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th were part of my VHS diet. Out of all of them, though, two favorites emerged: Maximum Overdrive and Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn.

Looking back, I’m not sure what it was about them that captured my imagination so much. Maximum Overdrive is a terrible film (what I’d call a good “Bad” movie), but it has that Green Goblin truck, and it has some hilarious moments (the Ice Cream truck, the lawnmower, the vending machine at the baseball park). I say hilarious because, to a five-year-old, those scenes aren’t particularly scary. They’re inanimate objects coming to life—just like in the cartoons I also watched—but with a lot more bad language and AC/DC providing the soundtrack.

Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn is a far better film—one of my all-time favorites, in fact—driven by bizarre effects, over-the-top acting by the amazing Bruce Campbell, and a batshit-crazy storyline about the Necronomicon, demon resurrection, MacGyver-like resourcefulness, and time travel. The film also has its own share of (intentional) hilarity and slapstick, from Bruce Campbell getting blasted in the face by a geyser of blood to fighting off his possessed hand. While most kids in elementary school had their heroes like Batman and Superman, I admired the guy who was willing to cut off his own hand and replace it with a chainsaw in order to fight evil. I wanted to be Ash Williams for Halloween; instead, I was a vampire.

When I say these films were my favorites, I mean I was obsessed with them. I watched them every day. Every time Mom went back to Showtime Video, I asked her to rent them again. And again. And again. There was a point where Mom had rented them so many times that it would’ve been cheaper for her to just buy the movies—which weren’t cheap back then. So, she had a friend copy both films onto a blank VHS cassette—along with a film of her choosing, which happened to be Dirty Dancing.

That personalized VHS cassette was one of my most prized possessions. I carried it with me everywhere. Whenever I went to my dad’s place for the weekend, I brought that cassette with me and subjected him to its insanity. Needless to say, Mom didn’t get to watch Dirty Dancing very much. In fact, that whole section of the cassette was nearly ruined from my constant fast-forwarding from Maximum Overdrive to Evil Dead 2.

As you might imagine, there were effects to this constant exposure to horror from an early age. My childhood drawings involved monsters and heroes. I made up stories about fighting evil. I tucked my hand into my sleeve and replaced it with a toy weapon which I used to fight off twisted creatures from the abyss. Sometimes I donned an old cape I’d worn at Halloween and hunted these monsters in Granny’s backyard. I was cautious of semi-trucks, ice cream trucks, lawnmowers, and chainsaws. And somehow, I had memorized the lyrics to “Hells Bells” before completing elementary school. I knew the word “fuck” was a powerful one, having blurted out “fuck face” in front of Granny one afternoon that earned me both a sore behind and an awkward conversation with my mother later that day.

I’m sure all the parents out there are probably cringing and wagging their fingers, but don’t misunderstand my point. I’m not writing this to throw my mom under the bus (or a semi-truck, for that matter). Quite the contrary, in fact. Mom recognized my affinity for these gruesome subjects very early on, and she saw what they did for my creativity. Most parents these days would probably try to curb such influences, but I’m grateful that my mother didn’t. My obsession with horror defined me in a lot of ways, and I have her to thank for that.

Life is kind of funny in the way it sets up so many parallels and intersections. Things you didn’t know were related later reveal themselves to be intricately entwined. Maximum Overdrive and Evil Dead 2 are perfect examples. Most of the horror aficionados probably know what I’m referring to, and I ask for their patience while I explain for the uninitiated.

Several years ago, I learned that Maximum Overdrive was Stephen King’s directorial debut, based on his short story, “Trucks.” Although Mr. King needs no introduction, it’s worth mentioning that several years prior to its release, he provided a quote for an upcoming horror film by a bunch of no-name filmmakers from Michigan. That film was the first Evil Dead, and the filmmakers were Sam, Ted, and Ivan Raimi. Years later, while directing Maximum Overdrive, King would lend some of his crew to those same filmmakers to help out with the filming of Evil Dead 2.

Of course, Mom was also an avid reader. She always had novels by King and Koontz on her nightstand.

If we’re keeping score, that’s a lot of Stephen King in my young life. Some might call that kismet. King fans might also call it ka.

My point is, when I look back on my early years and try to examine what put me on this path to being a horror writer, I always go back to those days at Granny’s house. Those days when I camped out in front of her old console television, watching Emilio Estevez fire a rocket into an oncoming truck while shouting, “Adios, motherfucker!” Those lazy afternoons when I recited the demon resurrection passages along with Professor Raymond Knowby, “Nos-feratos, amantos, Kanda.”

These days, whenever I hear Brian Johnson sing “Who Made Who?”, I have to smile because I know
the answer to that question. I mean, isn’t it obvious?
TODD KEISLING is the author of A Life Transparent, The Liminal Man (a 2013 Indie Book Award Finalist), and the critically-acclaimed novella, The Final Reconciliation. He lives somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania with his wife, son, and a trio of unruly cats.

Twitter: @todd_keisling

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Review: The Noctuary: Pandemonium - by Greg Chapman

4 of 5 Stars     Review Copy

I first read The Noctuary more than five years ago, so I was happy that Greg Chapman decided to incorporate the original novella in this new, longer, work based on his own source material.

It all starts when writer, Simon Ryan, begins conversing with his muse who reveals himself as Meknok, the thing in his dreams. Meknok offers Simon a rather unique opportunity.  To rewrite his own history.  Wow.  What a concept?  How many of us would love to put pen to paper and thereby change our lives for the better? More money, a better job, a more loving companion.  Sounds simple, but the reality is so much more complex.

In Pandemonium Simon Ryan has gone missing until one day a manuscript, purportedly written by the awol writer, shows up at the office of his former Psychiatrist, Dr. Desmond Carter.

As a result, the Doctor's life is about to change, and not for the better, as all hell breaks loose.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Pandemonium as follows...

1  -  The capital of Hell in Milton's Paradise Lost
2  -  The infernal regions :  hell the demons of Pandemonium
3  -  Not capitalized :  a wild uproar :  tumult Pandemonium erupted in the courtroom when the verdict was announced.

After reading The Noctuary: Pandemonium it seems as if Chapman managed to roll all three of those definitions into one.

If you're tired of the same old horror story, add this one to your watch list and pick it up when it becomes available this November.

The Noctuary: Pandemonium will be published by Bloodshot Books.

From the author's bio - Greg Chapman is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated® and Australian Shadows Award-nominated author of Hollow House and the author of five novellas. His second novel, The Noctuary: Pandemonium, the sequel to his acclaimed 2011 novella, will be published by Bloodshot Books in late 2017.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Guest post: Greg Chapman: A few words on "Words"


“Words - so innocent and powerless as they are, as standing in a dictionary, how potent for good and evil they become in the hands of one who knows how to combine them.” Nathaniel Hawthorne

Words have real power over me.

My life is defined by them.

Every day I write hundreds of words; not all of them are fiction (I work in public relations for a university), but I know how they can have an incredible amount of power over people’s perceptions of reality.

Think about how many thousands of words you are exposed to each day; by reading the newspaper, or scrolling through social media. The impact they can have upon your mental state is astounding. A half a dozen simple words can cheer you up or infuriate you. What about a 600-year-old Constitution, or a Bible? Do they confine or release you? The only thing for certain is that words define us all.

My latest novel, Pandemonium, the sequel to my 2011 novella, The Noctuary, is about the power of words, in particular, the words penned by one of the characters, an author named Simon Ryan. Ryan is a “dark scribe”, a soul chosen by a group of Dark Muses, to rewrite human lives to fulfill the Muses need to damn every living soul.

When I started to write Pandemonium I knew I wanted to push the boundaries of my original story and explore the very nature of words and how they can corrupt. All religion and philosophy is rooted in words and myth, with people first telling each other stories in darkened caves tens of thousands of years ago. Language and story are what separates us from all other species, but where did language come from?

This idea – and the philosophy of “good and evil” has always fascinated me. What if language was the root of all evil, or allowed us to “comprehend” the darkness within ourselves? This is all deep psychological stuff, hence the decision to make the central character in Pandemonium a psychiatrist. Through Dr. Desmond Carter – the psychiatrist who first treated Simon’s psychological scars – I explore these notions and retell The Noctuary all over again.

If you could retell your story, would you? If you could right a wrong, or undo a tragedy with the flick of a pen, would you? If you looked deep within yourself what would you find there? How much darkness might you find there? Where did it come from?

Even now, as you read these words, you are asking yourself these questions, influencing your thoughts.

What power do words have over you?
From the author's bio - Greg Chapman is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated® and Australian Shadows Award-nominated author of Hollow House and the author of five novellas. His second novel, The Noctuary: Pandemonium, the sequel to his acclaimed 2011 novella, will be published by Bloodshot Books in late 2017.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Review: Ring of Fire - by Robert Ford

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

There are some writers I wish were getting more attention. Writers who have paid their dues and put out quality work, again and again, but still seem to remain in the background, underappreciated.  Robert Ford is one such writer.

Last year he published a novella called The Last Firefly of Summer, a bittersweet "story of first love, true love, the love where you would do absolutely anything for the other person. Anything."  One of my favorite novellas of 2016.

This year he offers up something completely different, as he returns to the world of Samson Gallows featured in his 2012 novella, Samson and Denial.  In Ring of Fire, Robert starts with an eloquent, if profanity laced, rant against infomercials, the medical industry, the media, and Gatlin, KY.  Not for the easily offended.

Here's a snippet describing the effects of the local meth trade in Gatlin, KY...

One guy smoked up and dragged his wife down to the train tracks, behind his farmhouse. Tied her up right to the rails, Dudley Do Right style. 'Course the train through Calverton stopped running years ago.  She spent the night getting bit by skeeters and when morning came she had some awful rope burns and looked like she had a bad case of the measles but was otherwise all right.

If you're looking for a rip-snortin' good time, pick up this quick read and follow the misadventures of one man just trying to get through a very bad day.

One more example of what you're in for...

I hustled into the drive and passed the first brown trailer on my left.  That's where the landlord, Betsy Aus, presided–and believe you me, she was some piece of work.  Late sixties and gardening braless in a tank top every afternoon when it was warm out.  Shorts cut to high heaven and her body the shape and condition of an overcooked apple dumpling. Gravity had certainly had a battle with Betsy's body and won.  It appeared as if two ferrets were sleeping inside her tank top.

Ring of Fire is difficult to pigeonhole into a specific genre but funny as hell and a damn good time. My only complaint is the story was way too short.  I would have loved to have read more.

At the end of Ring of Fire there's an excerpt from The Last Firefly of Summer,  I recommend you skip the excerpt and go buy that novella as well.  Although decidedly different I believe you'll enjoy both of these works from Robert Ford, a name worth remembering.

Ring of Fire 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 - Robert Ford writes stories that are always focused on the characters, first and foremost. Anything else just happens to be happening. "If I can write a story that makes the reader feel—laugh, or cry, or get angry or upset—if I can write an engaging story that involves the reader and hits them emotionally, then, and only then, have I done my job."

Previous works include The Last Firefly of Summer, The Compound, and Samson and Denial. Robert currently lives in central Pennsylvania.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Review: Those Who Follow - by Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason (The Sisters of Slaughter)

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Twin sisters, Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason made quite a splash last year with their novel, Mayan Blue.  Now, the Sisters of Slaughter, as they are collective known, are back with a new novel called Those Who Follow.

Celia is a bit of a vagabond who is known to lose a day or a few days here and there thanks to her flask and the assortment of pills which were her constant companions.

There's no doubt her confusion contributed to her circumstance in the desert...

Scrambling from her hiding spot, she fled, cursing her limbs that seemed atrophied with fear.  A walking nightmare came bearing down on her with ungodly speed. The sound of the massive hound's paws tearing the dusty earth beneath it was second only to the thunderous pounding of her pulse in her ears.  The distance was closed in a matter of seconds and, as it leapt, she was flooded with defeat.

She awoke a captive in a church with a number of other women, each with a number carved into their forehead representing the year they were taken, the oldest was sixty-eight, Celia was fourteen.

Miles and worlds away lies Casey who is in an asylum and awakens with the number fourteen engraved on her forehead.  What does it all mean, who is the mysterious man who would be god holding these women captive in an abandoned church?

Those Who Follow features other dimensions and the ability to travel from one to another.  It also has one of the most bloodthirsty, villainous characters I've seen in quite some time.

It took me a bit to really embrace the story the sisters of slaughter were presenting here, but once I got up to speed I totally enjoyed the ride.

A dark, violent, and challenging tale which horror fans are sure to embrace.

Those Who Follow is available in both paperback and e-book formats from Bloodshot Books. 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' bio - Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason.are twin sisters from Arizona.  They have been dubbed The Sisters of Slaughter. They write horror, science fiction, and dark fantasy.