Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fading Light - An Anthology of the Monstrous - Edited by Tim Marquitz

4 of 5 Stars

Tim Marquitz has put together a beautiful anthology "firmly rooted in the imagery of H. P. Lovecraft and the stark atmosphere of Stephen King's The Mist."

The content is wonderfully captured in Jessy Lucero's brilliant cover art.  I was thrilled when Tim offered to allow me to read an advance copy of or his effort, but when I saw the cover, I couldn't wait to see what was inside.

The initial story, "Parasitic Embrace" by Adam Millard, is very true to the editor's stated vision, with a huge volcanic eruption leading to an ash cloud covering Great Britain and bringing with it much more than darkness.  Well writen and very effective.

One of the things I love about an anthology like this, is getting to sample new writers.  Sure there are some stories in here from folks I've read before.  People like Gene O’Neill, William Meikle, Nick Cato, Gord Rollo (loved his entry, "Friends of a Forgotten man." - A truly creepy story involving leeches), and others.  But, some of the best stories in this collection are from people I've never read before, like Stephen McQuiggan's "A Withering of Sorts."  A really disturbing tale with a Pied Piper feel to it and my favorite in the collection, from Stacey Turner, "Born of Darkness."  Wow.  What a story, worthy of being expanded into a longer piece.  It's about darkness blocking out of the sun and a little girl who shows up at Cassie and Jeb's door, they take her in and care for her even though she cannot speak.  Darkness, Light, Good & Evil.  It's all there in this beautifully crafted short.

There are all kinds of stories in Fading Light, a number of them deal with the darkness above, a couple with the darkness below, a fear of losing gravity, leeches, body-snatching, wars, Kraken, plagues, (did I mention leeches?), comets and more. 

And if you get the e-book, there are some pretty cool bonus stories.  One that I greatly enjoyed was "Torrential" by Regan Campbell.

Truthfully, not every story knocks it out of the park, but most of them do.  This is one collection that is well worth your time and money.  Be on the lookout for this one, real soon.

Warning:  The entire anthology is recommended for mature adults.  There is some profanity and plenty of disturbing images.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Ushers of Darkness - by Greg F. Gifune - Disturbing, dark short from a master of the genre

5 of 5

Ushers of Darkness delivers.  This short story accomplishes quite a bit considering its length.  Dark, brooding and filled with panache.  Just another sample of the writing style of Greg F. Gifune, who's earned quite a good reputation over the last several years.

It wasn't very long ago that Michael's wife, Gloria, had a "greater innocence, self concious smiles, blushing cheeks, fingers curling, playing with her then dark blond hair."  She is so different now.  Three weeks ago Michael arrived home from work to find her sitting on the bathroom floor - "that once beautiful dark blond mane - suddenly white."

Enter Boyce, a clairvoyant recommeded to help Michael get an understanding of what has happened to his wife.  What has occured is beyond understanding, but as a reader it's a wonderful experience.

At the moment Ushers of Darkness is free from Amazon.  I picked it up only because of the writer's name and I was not disapointed.  I highly recommend getting it now while it's free and read it ASAP.  It's that good.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Alone - by Brian Keene - Either a long short story or short novella. Good stuff either way.

5 of 5 Stars

Alone is about Dan, who wakes one morning to find everyone gone.  His partner, Jerry, their adoptive daughter, Daniella, his neighbors...all gone.  But it's also so much more than that.

Keene starts with Dan's initial discovery that the power went out during the night and builds on a series of annoyances, revealing a bigger and more terrifying picture throughout the morning and the days ahead.

Whatever is happening, it's so much more than a last man on earth story and you find yourself eager to get to the end so you can find out what this is all about.

I just love a good Brian Keene story.  He has such a way of taking ordinary people and placing them into strange, extraordinary situations.

Brian is also very good at incorporating comments on our times into his tales. "They could be members of the Westboro Baptist Church for all Dan cared."  Nice touch.

An aside to the author: The Twilight Zone episode, Time Enough At Last, is one of my favorites as well.  I thought Burgess Meredith was just brilliant.  To understand this comment, you'll need to read Alone, which is certainly not a bad thing.

When you get to the end of the story, there's a very nice Afterword which explains where the idea for  Alone came from, and sheds some light on other ways the story went during its development.

In addition to everything else, there is an excerpt from Robert Smartwood's thriller Man of Wax at the end of the e-book.

Alone is currently available Kindle and Kobo and should be available very soon for Nook.  Keene's minions, myself included, have already made this a best-seller on Amazon.  If you've never read anything from Brian Keene, you can correct that right now.  Enjoy.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Death Moon - by Sandy DeLuca - A compelling Erotic/Horror short

4 of 5 Stars

I'm not a big fan of Erotica, Horror or otherwise, but this story was recommend as a Horror story by someone whose opinion I respect and it was available as a free download.

What a pleasant surprise.  A beautifully written dark, twisted, sexual short story with a twist at the end that I dare you to see coming.

Tom is a homocide Detective who suspects his girlfriend, Alice, may be stepping out on him.  He's also investigating a string of muders, five women so far.  He winds up at a place called Moonlight were he meets Lila.  Both her mother and grandmother were Gypsies and Lila is sort of carrying on that tradition.  BTW, did I mention that they both see ghosts?

The story has a good deal of eroticism, but it is also mysterious, mystical, gory and downright strange. 

If you don't mind all those ingredients in your horror, or if you actually embrace them, I highly recommend Death Moon by Sandy DeLuca.  Last I checked it was still available for free at

A Face Full of Ugly - by Brian Knight - Novella in the Misadventures of Butch Quick series

5 of 5 Stars

A Face Full of Ugly is one of a couple of novellas in support of Brian Knight's first novel in the new series The Misadventures of Butch Quick,  there's also Big Trouble in Little Boots and the novel Sex, Death & Honey.

It doesn't matter where you start in the series, each works well as a stand-alone piece.

This one starts with our hero, Butch Quick, tied to a chair, cuffed with his own hand-cuffs and being beaten silly by Brick Houser.  Once again the dialogue is crisp, witty and a lot of fun.  Says Brick, "Maybe I just want to see if I can make that ugly mug of yours a little've already got a face full of ugly, but I bet we can fit a bit more on there for you."

The characters are rich and well developed for a story of this length.  There's the damsel in distress, Sharon Fitch, who jumped bail for possession and is the reason for Butch's being in his present situation.  You see, Butch works as a bounty hunter for his Uncle Higheagle's Bail Bond company, did I mention Butch is Native American, seven feet tall and 300 pounds?  Seems Butch isn't the only one looking for Sharon.

There's also the man who posted Sharon's bail, Professor Gary Charles who is one helluva fun character.  The man Butch refers to as "Professor Pull My Finger" after their encounter.

As suggested by the name of the series, things rarely go as planed for Butch, of course, if they did these stories would not be nearly as much fun.

Do yourself a favor and read one of the stories in The Misadventures of Butch Quick.  Hell, read 'em all.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

A Face In the Crowd - by Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan - Like an old episode of the Twilight Zone

4 of 5 Stars

A new collaboration from Stephen King and Stewart O'Nan who worked together chronicling the Red Sox improbable 2004 season in Faithful.

Where Faithful was non-fiction, this new novella,  A Face In the Crowd, is definitely pure fiction.

Ever since the death of his wife, Dean Evers spends a lot of time watching Tampa Bay baseball on TV and lately he's been seeing a number of familiar faces behind home-plate.  Problem is, the faces are of people who should be dead.

A quick read and an enjoyable story.  Kind of like watching an old episode of the original Twilight Zone TV series.

A Face In the Crowd is available as both an audio-book and an e-book from most of the major retailers.  A must read for the Constant Reader as King refers to his fans.  Even if you're not among the King faithful, there's a pretty good chance you'll enjoy this one.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Dreams The Ragman - by Greg F. Gifune - The stuff nightmares are made of

5 of 5 Stars

When Derrick was a little boy, his grandfather used to tell him stories about the Ragman.  "An impossibly old man crippled with various ailments, his body curved and bent with arthritis, The Ragman rode a derelict, horse-drawn wagon along the city streets...calling out 'Rags!'

This novella grabbed me right from the start, maybe it's because I'm old enough to remember The Ragman, yeah, we had one in the town where I grew up, too.  He fit the author's description to a tee.  Right down to the "whip in one hand and a rusty bell even older than he was in the other."  The Ragman would buy rags, newspapers and assorted bits of junk.  In my neighborhood, he would travel up and down the alleys yelling "Rags!" and ringing his bell.  I remember my Mother telling me if I didn't behave, she'd sell me to The Ragman.

But Dreams The Ragman is more than a story of a scary old man. 

Derrick's grandfather used to tell him of The Ragman. Telling young Derrick that The Ragman needs to eat and never stops until he gets his fill.  When asked "What does The Ragman eat?" his grandfather would tell him "Souls."

In his teenage years Derrick came to associate a series of murders with The Ragman.  Thirteen victims, over a span of three years and across six states.   "While not exactly what his grandfather had described to him, a deranged hobo riding the rails and murdering unsuspecting townsfolk seemed close enough."

At the time of the murders, Derrick's closest friend was Caleb.  The two tried to get inside the mind of The Ragman, tried to figure where he would go between murders, but over time Caleb becomes quite the junkie and the friends are separated by distance and circumstance.  Now it's 30 years later and  when the news comes about a pair of murders in Sheppard Beach, New Hampshire, Derrick knows he must go and that Caleb would be there, too.  This could be his last chance to save his friend and possibly himself.

Sheppard Beach was once a luxurious resort that like so many of it's kind has fallen on hard times.  The writer's description of such a place is dead on and his characters are genuine and well developed.  It is evident throughout that Gifune is, in the words of Ed Gorman, "Among the finest dark suspense writers of our time."

Dreams The Ragman is an expertly layered tale of friendship, choices and redemption.  If you're not already reading Greg F. Gifune then let me recommend you start with this brilliant novella.  

Now available as an e-book in the Kindle format.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Six Days - By Kelli Owen - Alone in the dark with no way out

5 of 5 Stars

A year ago, I had never heard of Kelli Owen.  Now, I can honestly say she is my favorite female horror writer.  Is that a sexist thing to say?  God, I hope not, because it's the truth.  Don't get me wrong, there are a number of strong contenders for that title, but there is something about a Kelli Owen story that set's it apart from the rest of the field.  Remarkable prose and at the same time she can make you cringe without going over the edge.  All this from someone who used to hide her work, apparently as a result of some misguided fear of rejection.

Six Days was Owen's first full length novel and was a part of the 1st signed, limited collection from Thunderstorm Books new line, Maelstrom, headed by Brian Keene.

In the story, Jenny awakes thinking she's gone blind.  It's beyond dark.  The kind of dark where you can't see your hand in front of your face.  The author skillfully helps you to see, or actually to not see, the world through Jenny's eyes.

As Jenny struggles to understand what's happened and how she may have come to be in this situation we are treated to dreams, memories and the like to help us learn more about the captive.  What we learn through these snippets is that Jenny is not all sugar and spice, she has skeletons in her closet, but none of that matters right now.  What matters is escape and getting home to her 10 year old son, Alan.  What must he be thinking at this point?

Six Days is a wonderfully written novel, especially the flashback scene in the hospital room the day after the "surprise" party for Jen's best friend Beth.  Some of the best writing I've read in quite some time.  I was drained when I finished the passage and actually had to take a break from reading for a bit.  Congratulations to the author.

If you didn't get a chance to pick up this one in it's signed, limited edition release, there's good news.  It's now available in e-book format from and if you happen to be a Prime Member you can get it for free as one of your monthly selections from the Kindle Owner's Lending Library.

If you enjoy getting a bit unnerved while immersed in a good story.  You might want to check out Six Days.  Enjoy.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Bad Dreams/New Screams - A 2012 chapbook from Cemetery Dance

3.5 of 5 Stars

An interesting project conceptually, Bad Dreams/New Screams is a flip chapbook.  Bad Dreams is three stories from established authors in the horror field and then New Screams is an equal number of shorts from relative newcomers.

The known entities here include Ray Garton, Douglas Clegg and Brian Keene.  Some of the best writing today.  On the downside, all of the stories are dreadfully short.  I don't think any were more than ten pages, but then there is only so much room in a chapbook.

First up, from the demented mind of Ray Garton (by the way, I mean "demented" as a compliment), comes "A Date With Maggie".  Just one more reason to be wary of blind dates.

From Douglas Clegg, there's "The American".  A man driven by love to do despicable things.

And Brian Keene 's story is "The Ghosts of Monsters".  "It's all bullshit.  There's no such thing as monsters", but I guess that would depend on your definition of a monster.

New Screams include "Dr. Johnson's Patient" from C. W. LaSart, "The Wings of a Fly" from M. Louis Dixon and "Meat Socks" by Nikki McKenzie.  All competent stories from new authors worth keeping an eye on.

Nothing ground-breaking here, but a fun read throughout.

Available in a limited unsigned run of 600 copies from Cemetery Dance.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Dueling Minds - Edited by Brian James Freeman - Six horror shorts inspired by the cover art

4 of 5 Stars  (Review Copy)

First of all, let me thank the editor, Brian James Freeman, for the ARC of this truely intriguing anthology.

This Novella length book is a printed version of something Brian had tried on his website,, back at the turn of the century.

Each author, some of the best working in the horror genre today, was shown a haunting piece of artwork by acclaimed artist, Alan M. Clark, and then asked, "What worlds do you see hidden in this painting?"  The stories collected in this book are their answers.

In addition, because this is a selection in the Cemetery Dance signature series, it required additional interior art work, which was provided by Erin Wells.  So what we end up with is Erin painting interior artwork inspired by stories that were inspired by Alan M. Clark's cover art which was originally inspired by a Ray Bradbury story.  How about that?

Now to the stories.  It all begins with Purple Reign from Brian Keene.  Keene took a rather literal approach to this exercise.  When you look at the cover art, you can see where many of the aspects of the story come from, but the ultimate horror of the tale could only come from the mind of one of the masters of modern horror.  Brian has a knack for taking an ordinary day and quickly turning it upside down, immediately putting his characters into life threatening situations.  This one is not for the kiddies, lots of swearing, but a great ride for adult horror fans.

Next, from Gary A. Braunbeck, another familiar name in the field of scary stories, is Bargain, a more prose driven tale with great lines like..."what better spot, then, for a certain corner of hell to open one of its back doors."  Whereas, Keene's story was about the effects of the "Blue Ballon", Braunbeck takes us inside the mind of a man riding in the ballon's basket.  A troubled mind, to say the least.

The great stories from great writers continue with Between the Dark and the Daylight from Tom Piccirilli.  While the first two works deal with rather fanciful interpretations of the balloon in the artwork, Tom finds his horror in a story that seems all to possible, featuring a runaway hot-air balloon with a 6 year old child alone in its basket.

Tim Lebbon's Falling Off the World still haunts me with images of Holly caught on one of the ropes of yet another runaway hot-air balloon and she's not alone in her cirumstance.

The only newcomer in this collection is Jenny Oroset.  She certainly doesn't write like a newcomer as she goes toe-to-toe with the established writers in this collection with her story That Which Binds.  She doesn't pull from the obvious pieces of the artwork for inspiration, but it's there if you look hard enough.

This anthology finishes just as strong as it starts with Breath of Bygone Spirits from Gerard Houarner.  Another prose driven entry as Bill returns home, at the behest of his Grandmother, to deal with the ghosts of the past.  I loved this line as he gets off the train at his old hometown..."the bag in his other hand seemed to want to follow the wind out of town."  Again not the obvious choice of inspiration from Alan M. Clark's artwork, but it's there.

Overall, I was quite pleased with the experience provided by this anthology.  Some stories were stronger than others, but that could be more a matter of taste on my part.  I will say I enjoyed each and every one.  My favorite, and the one I see most clearly when I look at the book's cover, is Purple Reign from Brian Keene.  I'd like to invite you to read Dueling Minds when it comes out in October and let me know which is your favorite.

Dueling Minds will be published by Cemetery Dance as selection #10 in their popular Signature Series and will be available in 2 versions...
• Hardcover Limited Edition of 550 signed (by all of the contributors) and numbered copies bound in full-cloth and Smyth sewn with illustrated endpapers ($35)

• Traycased Hardcover Lettered Edition of 26 signed (by all of the contributors) and lettered copies bound in leather and Smyth sewn with illustrated endpapers and a satin ribbon page marker ($175)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Kamp KoKo by Night - by Jeffrey Kosh - Skip this one

2 of 5 Stars

At least once a month I tell myself to stay away from the free books on Kindle, but at the same time, I'm afraid I'm going to miss something, a hidden gem, just waiting to be read.  It has happened, but more often than not, I wind up with something like Kamp Koko by Night.

At a mere 27 pages, I guess this work would be considered this work a short story, so the good news is that it was over quickly.

The story is about group of kids, a closed camp, the murdered pedophile who was the owner/manager and now haunts the camp...oh, and there's the hint of a scary clown, too.

There might be a good horror story, struggling to get out, here.  But right now it' s buried under poor prose, bad grammar, and a lack of direction.

Descriptions like, "Matching pants and a t-shirt who made him look like a ninja."  I don't think "who" should be in that sentence.  Elsewhere, in back to back paragraphs, the author references Craig Turner and then Craig Wales.  I'm pretty sure they're the same kid.  Then there's, "...their families have been in Prosperity Glades by almost a century."   Why use "by"?  I could go on, but let me just say I was turned off, a number of times by the author's choice of sentence structure.

The story itself has promise, but even that was disjointed , moving from one element or horror to another without ever giving any one part of the tale a chance to develop into anything truly scary.

Kamp Koko by Night was available for free when I got it from, but now it's back to .99 cents.  If you see it for free again, you might want to pick it up just to see if I'm crazy for what I say here, but if you have to spend money to read it, I would definitely skip this one.

Friday, August 3, 2012

North by 2000+ - by H. A. Hargreaves - Mid-Seventies Canadian Science Fiction

4 of 5 Stars  (Review copy)

When North by 2000: A Collection of Canadian Science Fiction was first published way back in 1975, it was the very first collection of short stories clearly marketed as Canadian Science Fiction.  North by 2000+ is a reissue of the original book with a few more SF stories written by Hargreaves in the years following it's publication.

The collection starts off strong with Dead To the World.  For me the story has a Twilight Zone feel to it.  Due to a computer glitch, the protagonist, Joe Schultz, is now...dead to the world.  In the writer's future, where you need an ID card for every aspect of your life, from building security, to purchasing basic necessities, being dead can be quite a problem for someone who's still alive.  Well written and quite satisfying, despite references to punch cards, which went the way of dinosaurs in the early days of the computer revolution.

Many of the stories in this collection take place in a world where at least a portion of the US and Canada are now known as Americanada.  In addition to the punch card reference, another item in Hargreaves' society of the future was the Autoteria.  Sort of an automatic cafeteria.  Here in the states, particularly where my Mom took me as a kid, they were known as Automats.  We used to go to Horn and Hardarts in Center City Philadelphia, and as an 8 year old, I loved it.  The fresh entrees, deserts, side items and such were all behind little windows.  You'd enter whatever the cost of the item was in a coin slot and it would unlock the window for that item.  In the stories of North by 2000+ you would use your AP (All Purpose) card.

There's also the story of Cainn, about a juvenile delinquent and the man who serves time with him as a one on one, personal corrections officer, who's job it is to rehabilitate the prisoner.  Interesting concept.

Another story I really liked was, More Things In Heaven and Earth, which you might recognize from Shakespeare's Hamlet.  Alan Hamilton, is a Senior Lecturer at University Television Central, who teaches a very popular course on the Bard's work while a team of dedicated actors called The Unit act out scenes, all televised to classrooms around the country.  Of course, there are complications, including a crew from the magazine Look at Life, coming to do a story on the process.  Get it?  LOOK at LIFE.  If you were around in the 70's, I'm sure you got the references.

All in all, I never did get a feeling for the "Canadian Science Fiction" angle.  For the most part the stories ran from average to great Science Fiction and that's good enough for me.  I'm glad the stories were left as written and not updated for a new audience.  I enjoyed the time capsule feeling of seeing what a mid-seventies writer saw for the time we live in now.

North by 2000+ from 5 Rivers Publishing was published in March of 2012 is available in paperback and a variety of ebook formats.