Saturday, December 28, 2013

Nomads - by Benjamin Kane Etheridge -A novel set in the Orange & Black universe

4 of 5 Stars.   Review copy

A few years ago Black & Orange picked up a Bram Stoker award for best first novel.  Deservedly so, as Benjamin Kane Ethridge created a wonderfully complex story about two worlds separated by a barrier which can be breached each Halloween. There are forces on the other side trying to make the opening permanent and others working to keep that from happening.

The cover art, from Matt Dixon, depicts one of the central characters from the Black & Orange universe, Chaplain Cloth, and a number of his "children."  Cloth is one of many brilliantly iimagined characters that populate these tales.

Nomads is the second full-length novel in this series and there is also a collection of shorts called Reaping October: Stories from the Black & Orange Universe.  Each worth your time if you're in the mood for a totally immersive experience.  Be prepared, these works are not for the casual reader, nor for the faint of heart.

Nomads can be read as a stand alone piece, but I would recommend reading the other works first.  Once again, as Halloween approaches, the Nomads are called upon to protect the Heart of the Harvest.  If they are successful the opening between our world and the Old Domain will close for another year, if they fail the opening may become permanent and if that happens the world will never be the same.

The Black & Orange universe is so large and complex that I found myself lost at times, but never to the point where I wanted to leave.

Filled with many fully fleshed-out characters, Nomads, takes us on a trip to places unknown with people and creatures we've never imagined.  Not your standard horror monsters, but certainly worthy of the genre.  The climatic scene was mind-blowing and the ending was far from what I expected.  I look forward to seeing what Benjamin Kane Ethridge comes up with next.

Nomads is available now, in paperback and for the Kindle, at Amazon.com.  Keep Halloween alive all year 'round.

Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Does This Look Infected? - by Mandy DeGeit

4 of 5 Stars

A very short story showing the importance of following up with your Physician.  Seems Stacey may have caught something from her husband, Aaron, and now neither of them is doing very well.

The office visit with Aaron's doctor actually had me squirming in my chair.  That test had to be painful and now his doctor wants to do it again?  Since the original problem went away, who can blame Aaron for not going back?

Does This Look Infected? is a quick little read that packs a pretty good punch.  However, you may want to avoid reading right before dinner.

Available now as an ebook from Smashwords and Amazon.com.

Recommended.

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road - by 9 of horrors brightest stars- all to benefit Tim Piccirilli in his fight against brain cancer

4 of 5 Stars

Caution:  This story is not for the masses.  Even if you are a fan of one or more of the authors involved, you may want to think twice.

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road is a project with proceeds going to help defray the massive medical expenses incurred by Tom Piccirilli's battle against brain cancer.  A worthwhile endeavor by some of my favorite genre writers.

So here we have Brian Keene, Jack Ketchum, Edward Lee, J F Gonzalez, Bryan Smith, Wrath James White, Nate Southard, Ryan Harding and Shane McKenzie writing a round-robin style, gross-out ghost story.  Each managing to outdo the last in the lengths they will go to disgust and potentially alienate the reader.  In many cases they will succeed in that endeavor.  As a result there are already a number of 1 Star reviews.  Reviews that I can actually see as a twisted badge of honor for the writers involved.

If Sixty-Five Stirrup Road was Movie, it would likely be rated NC-17.  An NC-17 rating can be based on violence, sex, aberrational behavior, drug abuse or any other element that most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits for viewing by their children.  I'd say this book meets and exceeds those qualifications.

So, do you think I've adequately covered how sick, depraved and morally reprehensible Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road is?  If so, let's get to the good stuff.

Yes, there is a story.  It's either an evil or haunted house and those who live there, or find themselves nearby, are slowly overcome by sexual desires of the most perverse variety.  Go ahead and dwell on what that might mean, then pick a number from one to ten and multiply.  Trust me, you're not even close.

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road is not a literary masterpiece.  It was never meant to be.  What it is is a wild, no holds barred romp filled with sex and violence.  I did enjoy the tag team approach to writing the novel.  One writer would take a chapter, he'd be joined by a second writer for the next chapter and then that writer would go solo only to be joined by someone else for the next and so on.

And then there's the payoff.  No spoiler here, but let's say if you are a fan of these guys, follow any of them on Facebook or Twitter, have spent time with them at a horror convention, you're gonna love what happens next.

Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road is available now as both a paperback and ebook from Amazon.com and remember proceeds go to defray Tom Piccirilli's medical expenses associated with his fight against brain cancer.  Go Tom!

It you have a strong constitution and are not easily offended, I can strongly recommend Sixty-Five Stirrup Iron Road.




Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Serial - by Tim Marquitz - Two serial killers try to one-up one another in El Paso

4 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

Police Detective, Isaac Grant, has been working the case of a serial killer terrorizing El Paso, Texas.  He gets a call from his boss, Captain Garcia.  There's been a double homicide.  The work of a new serial killer?  "We've got enough with the damn Desert Ripper.  The last thing we need is for another serial killer to start calling EP home."

Soon it's like the two serial killers are caught up in a game of one-upsmanship.

I loved the way Serial  began with an instant twist drawing me into the story quickly, and the way Marquitz ended each chapter in a manner that made me want to jump right into the next without slowing down for a breath.

Serial has an intriguing concept that is deftly executed and has some downright gruesome moments.  A page turner you're likely to complete in a single terrifying sitting, with a twist at the end that I never saw coming.

Tim Marquitz has a strong following in the Fantasy world, particularly with his Demon Squad stories, he's also a fine editor, his work with the Anthology, Fading Light - An Anthology of the Monstrous was just great, and he's got a flair for gore, too.

Serial is available now, as an ebook, from the folks at Samhain Publishing and through Amazon.com.

If you're not among the squeamish, I can definite recommend this one.



Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Hereafter Gang - by Neal Barrett, Jr - Where everthing costs a nickel

4.5 of 5 Stars.   Review copy

Originally published in 1991, Barrett's novel, The Hereafter Gang remains fresh.  A bold tour de force, the work is much like an Almond Joy or Mounds candy bar.  It's indescribably delicious.

Kudos to David Wilson at Crossroad Press Publishing for getting works like this back to the public via ebooks.  Although, I've not been able to sort out who is responsible for the cover of this version, special props to them for capturing the spirit of the book.

The Hereafter Gang is the story of Douglas Hoover and his journey to the other side.  Only he doesn't quite realize that's what is happening.  His marriage to Erlene is about done and he's had it with his job and he just takes off with his cat, Mousebreath (what a great name for a cat).

There is a stream of consciousness feel to Barrett's storytelling.  Having grown up in the Nazarene Church, I found his character Doug's take on the denomination rather intriguing.  "He has other word problems linked with religion.  He wonders about the Nazarene Church. It seems unlikely they are in any way connected to the Nazis.  Still, these are the only two words he knows that begin with these letters."  All those years I spent as a Nazarene and that thought never once crossed my mind.

It strikes me that The Hereafter Gang is somewhat like a twisted, bizzarro-world version of one of Garrison Keiller's Tales From Lake Wobegone, filled with gem after gem like this, "Doug had to choose between a Nehi Orange and a Grapette.  An agonizing decision.  He seldom slept Friday nights before a game.  He loved Grapette, but the Nehi Orange was much bigger.  Grapette came in tiny little bottles you could finish in two gulps.  He knew what he wanted which was two Grapettes.  He had more sense than that.  His dad would blow a fuse whether the Hoover Wolverines won or not.  Jesus Christ, you want two?  Why there's kids in Europe'd likely give their left nut for just one.  I don't even think they make it you want to know.  What do you think of that Greedy Gus?  So Doug didn't ask.  He got Nehi Orange and hated his father for a week."

If you've read this blog before, you probably know my preference for reading material leans toward horror, but a good read is a good read and The Hereafter Gang is good and much much more.  John Clute called it one of the great American novels.

The Hereafter Gang is available from Crossroad Press and Amazon.com.

Strongly recommended.












Sunday, December 8, 2013

Cadaver Dogs - by Anthony Armstrong - An intriguing Zombie novella

4 of 5 Stars.   Review copy

With The Walking Dead on break you might be asking yourself, "Where can I get my zombie fix?"  Well, here's Anthony Armstrong with a nice little novella to get you though the dead spots.

Wikipedia defines Cadaver Dogs as canines specifically trained to find the scent of decomposing bodies.  Although there are no dogs in Armstrong's book, there are plenty of decomposing bodies and a group of survivors who have taken to disposing of them in a manner I've not seen in zombie-lit before.  Frankly, I think it would be rather interesting to see what would happen if Rick and the others were to encounter such a group of survivors on The Walking Dead.

The protagonist, Eric Englund, nicknamed Father Englund by the group, loses his beloved wife, Hannah, at the beginning of the story.  It's this bond that is examined closely when Eric discovers his wife,  as a zombie, later in the tale.  There's more to that, but I think you should have that "Oh, Wow!" moment for yourself.

I don't know if I really like zombies that can talk, even if their speech is limited to little more than expressing their hunger, but I definitely enjoyed Armstrong's story.

Cadaver Dogs was released, earlier this week, by Angelic Knight Press and is available as an ebook from Smashwords and Amazon.com.

Highly recommended.

Friday, December 6, 2013

JournalStone's DoubleDown Series, Book III - Dog Days by Joe McKinney & Deadly Passage by Sanford Allen

4.5 of 5 Stars    Review copy

I'm a big fan of JournalStone's DoubleDown series which is modeled after the old Ace doubles.  You read one story, flip the book over and read another.  Plus, there's the idea of pairing an established author with a relative newcomer.  And although the stories are not of a shared world or even shared themes, they generally have something in common.

This time it's monsters.  I chose to start with Joe McKinney's Dog Days which begins with a quote from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles. One of my favorite stories as a kid.

It's 1983 and the Gulf Coast is in the wake of Hurricane Alexis and a shrimp boat has wound up in an old Pecan tree at the end of the road.  There are people aboard, dead people, eaten dead people.

Mark's dad, Wes, is a police officer with the Houston K-9 division, his dad's canine partner, Max, lives with the family which also includes his mom, who is a pediatrician.

The best way to describe this story and McKinney's writing style is that it's real. Real people in believable situations and from there the tension just builds.

I also enjoyed how the author made his ten-year old hero a reader.  Great line, "But as I read about Tarzan's battles with Kerchak, a real battle, and one far more savage, was raging down the street.  The real horror of that summer was just beginning."

Great story with some definite "Oh, Wow!" moments.

The other story is the debut novel from Sanford Allen, Deadly Passage, which starts with a strong opening line, "The beast climbed down its gnarled tree by cover of night."  I'm hooked.

Most of the action takes place on a slave ship, the Lombard, where something is causing the deaths of "cargo" and crew alike.  "The next morning, the crew discovered four more bodies, this time three women and the only child in the hold. Like the others, their flesh had gone pale gray, and once again, Hicks was at a loss to fully explain their demise."

Deadly Passage is disturbing on multiple levels, not only what's causing the deaths, but the circumstance of the slave trade and the treatment of the "cargo."  The truth can be painful.

Allen creates some strong prose in this story.  "Then the mate shrieked incoherently.  His cries continued amid a sickening tearing noise like a butcher separating the parts from a chicken with his hands."

The third entry in JournalStone's DoubleDown series is not perfect, but it's awfully close. Dog Days Deadly Passage is available as a signed Limited edition, Trade Paperback and ebook from JournalStone.com and Amazon.com.

I can strongly recommend this one.






Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Book of Apex: Volume 4 of Apex Magazine - Edited by Lynne M. Thomas

3.5 of 5 Stars    Review copy

Apex Publishers focuses on Fantasy, Science Fiction and Horror and, during the last year, I've had the pleasure of reviewing some great books from them, including Tom Piccirilli's What Makes You Die, Maurice Broaddus' I Can Transform You and Desper Hollow from Elizabeth Massie, as well as the collection,  Plow the Bones from Douglas F. Warwick.

Apex also publishes a monthly Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror magazine featuring original, mind-bending, short fiction from many of the top pros of the field. New issues are released the first Tuesday of every month.

This collection of thirty-three stories is culled from the pages of that magazine during the tenure of it current editor-in-chief Lynne M. Thomas and covers tge issues from Nov. 2011 through Jan. 2013.

The volume is rich in Fantasy, but light on Science Fiction and even lighter in the Horror genre.  As a result I didn't enjoy the collection as much as I had hoped.  The writing is fine and  I did discover a few new authors I'd like to read more of and even some of the fantasy was enjoyable.

The collection starts the way any great collection or antholoy should, with one helluva great story, "The Bread We Eat In Dreams" by Catherynne M. Valente is the tale of a demon mistaken for a witch by the locals.

"The 24 Hour Brother" by Christopher Barzak was also quite good.  Living a life in a day was an eye-opener.

Cat Rambo's "So Glad We Had This Time Together," about an unreality show was clever. Vampires, werewolves and the like, all living under the same roof with real people.  I'd watch!

"A Member of the Wedding of Heaven and Hell."  Pure Fantasy.  Pure Fun.  From Richard Bowes.

The Horror I was hoping for can be found in Rachel Swirski's "Decomposition."  "He pried open her jaw.  Fat, yellow maggots wriggled in froth that had once been saliva."

"Trixie and the Pandas of Dread" by Eugie Foster is a fun little tale about one badass god.

As you can see, there were several standout stories, but for each one I loved, there were more than a few I could take or leave.

Kudos to artist Julie Dillon for an amazing cover.  Available as a paperback and ebook from Apex publications and from the usual e-retailers.

3 Stars, if you're a Horror or Science Fiction fan, 4 Stars, if you're into Fantasy.  Thus the 3.5 Stars overall.










Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Carvings Collection: A selection of stories from the crinkled mind of Drake Vaughn

3.5 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

A little over a year ago, I read and reviewed The Zombie Generation  by Drake Vaughn. A different take on zombies and worth a look.

This time it's a collection of 10 stories on a wide range of subject matter.  No two have any similarities except for one.  They all seem to lack an ending.  True, this is a fairly common literary device where the outcome is left to the reader to imagine, but as a steady diet, it's less than palatable.

Drake is apt at developing some original stories and at fleshing out characters, but when it comes to closure, it's just not there.

The collection started, promisingly enough, with "Dolls."  Evil doll comes to life, talks to little Ella.  Creepy, in a Child's Play kind of way.  Plus it was told from the child's point of view, which I found entertaining.  But, then it ended.  It was a natural place to end, but so much was left unresolved.

On to the next story, "Driver's Seat."  A protagonist, named Minji, who has Amaxophobia. She's afraid of cars.  In the telling of the tale, we learn the root cause of that fear and I'm finding the story interesting...and then it ends with much left untold.

There's a pattern developing and for most of the book the pattern is consistent.  Great story, original concept, but with a vague or abrupt ending.

Some stories are better than others, for example, "In the Chair."   A novelette length tale, disturbing and cringe-worthy, is about a man forced to remain in a chair for days on end as punishment for allowing his mother to die in a similar manner.

"Tests," was another longer short story that held my interest.  Just a taste of horror, more of a coming of age story and one of the stronger entries in the collection.

"Trip to V-Town" is an interesting take on prejudice as seen through a treatment on vampires or piners as they're refered to in the story.

At the end is "Flatheads." For me, this was the most complete story of the bunch.  A futurustic tale where people are surviving in high-rise apartments above flood levels and water is both a danger and a precious commodity.

In all, I found The Carvings Collection to be entertaining and unfulfilling at the same time. The stories were good enough to grab my interest and keep me reading, but each one left me wanting more.

The Carvings Collection is available now, through Amazon.com, for the Kindle and is FREE if you subscribe to Amazon Prime and want to make it your current selection in the Kindle Owner's Lending Library.


Thursday, November 7, 2013

Second Chance - by Chet Williamson - Takes "what if?" to the extreme

5 of 5 Stars    Review copy

Originally published by Cemetery Dance, nearly twenty years ago, Second Chance, holds up well.

Second Chance is once of those stories that's difficult to categorize.  Part love story, part fantasy, elements of horror, science fiction and much more.

1969 was a turbulent time on college campuses and it was no different at a small college in Western Pennsylvania.  This is where Chet Williamson starts his story with friends trying to make a statement by blowing up the ROTC building on campus.  No one was supposed to be hurt, but things go terribly wrong and both Keith Aarons and Tracey Zampelios are killed.

Nearly twenty-five years later, Woody Robinson, now a successful musician, is looking to rekindle the vibes from his college days and goes to extraordinary lengths to get as many of his old college friends together in the same apartment where they would gather all those years ago.

What transpires is nothing short of magical and what seems to be wonderful slowly becomes a horrible nightmare.

I don't want to give up a lot of the secrets of Second Chance, most of the fun comes from the series of twists and turns along the way.  Seriously, each time I though I might have an inkling of where the story was going, there was something new to keep me guessing.

Just a little something from their impromptu reunion..."Woody remembered it all, saw it all. The sofa on which he sat looked across the room at another sofa, even more worn, if such a thing was possible.  A window behind it was open, but did little to disperse the thick haze born of cigarettes, incense, and the occasional joint.  Frank, his roommate, sat on that sofa with Judy, and they both looked decades younger than when he had last seen them in Atlanta.  Frank held a can of Iron City Beer, Judy a cigarette.  They were both nodding, eyes half-closed. listening to the music.

"Keith, the other roommate, was standing in the wide doorway of the dining room, leaning against the pillar, talking in a low but passionate voice to Sharla, whose afro bloomed like a crimson dahlia, and whose coffee-colored skin seemed the same shade as Keith's in the monochomatic glow.  And there, sitting and standing about the two rooms, were all his old friends, Alan, Diane, Eddie, Dale, the living and the dead together, in memory."

At this point in the tale, anything seemed possible. After all, isn't there a time and place each of us would love to return to?

Second Chance  is a bit dated in places, but certainly not enough to distract from an amazing story.  At times the language and situations could be considered offensive, but in my opinion it is the character that is the culprit, not the writer.  There are other times, that events are genuinely disturbing, but it all serves the story well.

So, one of the best stories I've read in 2013 was written twenty years ago.  I have no idea what that means, if it means anything at all.  All I can say is, if you missed this one, like I did, it's never too late to enjoy a good story well-told.

Second Chance  is available in e-book format from Crossroads Press and Amazon.com

Strongly recommended.




Monday, October 28, 2013

Reaping October - Stories from the Black & Orange Universe - by Benjamin Kane Ethridge

4 of 5 Stars

For the uninitiated, Black & Orange is a novel from Benjamin Kane Ethridge.  An effort which was presented with the Bram Stoker award for Superior  Achievement In a First Novel From the Horror Writers Association.

In  Black & Orange Benjamin Kane Ethridge created an amazingly complex mythos. There's the Church of Midnight, a mysterious organization whose goal is to unite with the Church of Morning located in the Old Domain, a place separate from the real world and filled with horrors.  And that just begins to scratch the surface.

November 30th, 2013 will see the release of Nomads (Black &Orange II) from Bad Moon Books.

In an effort to tide you over to the new novel, and just in time for Halloween, Benjamin Kane Ethridge and Bad Moon Books have released Reaping October: Stories from the Black & Orange Universe.  Three distinctly different tales involving the people and creatures of the Old Dominion.

"Child Care" is a terrifying Halloween story told from the perspective of 10 year-old Mesheila.  As a result, we get gems like, "Mom's going to a party tonight.  She's going as a pirate wrench."  I could see my 9 year-old grandson saying something like that.  Left alone with her older brother, Mesheila comes face to face with a living Jack O'lantern with fangs and bloody eyes and an insatiable hunger.   Great pacing in this one and by far my favorite of the three.

"The Cats of Delkilth" takes place in the Old Dominion.  Sort of a tale about the birth of the Nomads, the upcoming sequel to Black and Orange.  The cats in the story are described as "...black, the size of a domestic cat, with an orange mane.  Fiery runes burned in their fur, lighting with power."  I think artist Matt Dixon did a brilliant job of translating that description into the cover art for this book.

The third and final story is "All Other Days."  Chaplain Cloth, a key player in Black & Orange, has inhabited the body of John Maghan of the Los Angeles Police Department in an effort to obtain a photo taken of him a number of years ago.  "He just had to find that photo.  The less about him in this world, the less human interference."

Three stories, each with a different perspective on the Old and New Dominions, the division and what you'll find there.

It certainly helps to have read Black & Orange before reading October Reaping.  Although the stories in the later can certainly stand on their own, they are enhanced greatly by what you'll find in the original volume. I'm definitely looking forward to the next book in the series.

Black & Orange is available as a signed hardcover and trade paperback from Bad Moon Books and as an e-book from Amazon.com.  Reaping October: Stories from the Black & Orange Universe is currently available as an e-book from Amazon.com.

I certainly wouldn't recommend these works for younger readers or the prudish, but if your up for something different, I can strongly recommend Black & Orange and Reaping October: Stories from the Black & Orange Universe.



Thursday, October 24, 2013

Nightmare Man - by Alan Ryker - A novella of night terrors that become all too real

5 of 5 Stars

Alan Ryker's Nightmare Man is a look at a man who's life is slowly falling apart from some serious night terrors.  They're so bad, they affect his work, his family, his entire life.  He's already on the only available medication for the problem, but it no longer seems to be helping.

His shrink suggests he take part in a study of a new medication.  He signs up, but that's when things go from scary to downright frightening.

I really enjoyed Nightmare Man. In the short time allowed by the story's length, Ryker does an excellent job of defining his characters and building relationships.  In a single paragraph he manages to clearly define how much he cares for his young children, Logan (named after Wolverine), and his sister, Madison.  "While I've managed to pass on my love of comic books and comic book cartoons to Logan (and he managed to get me into Power Rangers~I had no idea how awesome that show is), Madison hasn't taken to them.  She likes Hello Kitty.  Everything she owns costs twice as much as it should because it has that cat's round head stuck on it.  We used to call her honey bunny which is both cute and a reference to Pulp Fiction.  She now insists on being called honey kitty.  I've tried to explain to her that it makes no sense and doesn't rhyme.  She doesn't care."

Nightmare Man is a well-conceptualized story and the author has a reader-friendly writing style which made for a quick read.

Nightmare Man is available as a signed, limited edition, hardcover from DarkFuse and for the Kindle from Amazon.com.  If you are a member of Amazon Prime you can borrow this book for FREE from the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Highly recommended.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Mirror (of the) Nameless - by Luke Walker - A novella full of monster gods

3 of 5 Stars

I'm really having a difficult time with this review.  On the surface Mirror of the) Nameless seems to be a Lovecraftian influenced story of monster gods creating havoc across Europe.  Segoth, Gatur and Naz Yaah each powerful in their own way and requiring thousands of human sacrifices.

Amid all the chaos we have Tom, looking for his missing girlfriend, Ashleigh, and Ashleigh's father, Dave, who has joined the search.  All the while, Tom and Dave are trying to elude the police, as well as some crazy followers of Naz Yaah, and the monster gods themselves.

Sounds like fun, right?  Well, not really.  Not being a writer, I couldn't begin to tell you what was missing, but somehow the story just seemed incomplete.  Plus, I don't fully comprehend things like allegory, which I suspect this book may be.  I do see similarities between the way the general populace in Luke Walker's story has given up its freedoms and are willing to sacrifice themselves for an overall feeling of safety when compared to the way we are being forced to live our lives today.  Maybe that's what Luke Walker was striving for or maybe he was just trying to write an entertaining tale.  Either way, this was one book I could have lived without.

Mirror (of the) Nameless is available from DarkFuse through Amazon.com.  If you have Amazon Prime you can borrow this book for FREE from the Kindle Lending Library.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Hell Gate by Elizabeth Massie - Horror at Coney Island in early 1900s

5 of 5 Stars

Hell Gate by Elizabeth Massie is totally unlike anything else I've read in 2013.  Original in concept and execution.  At times terrifying.  And a fascinating look at Coney Island in the early 1900s.

The story of Suzanne Heath, a child of wealth and privilege, who has a gift.  The gift to see events from a touch.  A gift her mother is convinced is of the devil.  So much so, she sends her to Madame Harlow's School for Young Ladies where she becomes part of the Morgans a group of girls with similar talents.

Events and circumstances lead to a loss of memory and a new home at the Hudson Colored Waif's Asylum where she was allowed to live in the attic and work in the kitchen.  While there, parts of her memory return and she and her friend Cittie make their way to NYC.

Years later, living in the Bowery and working as a Luna Park ticket-seller on Coney Island, Suzanne is called upon to use her gift to help in solving a series of grisly murders.

What she discovers is shocking, yet so clear, I was surprised I never saw it coming.

In addition to a compelling story, I found the setting to be amazing.  "While Steeplechase Park fronted on Surf Avenue, the main entrance was on the side, off the Bowery.  Suzanne took Bushman's Walk into the crowded hubbub of independent shows, theaters, rides, shops, game booths, and eateries.  Bright posters and billboards promised everything from 'best lunches in all the world' to 'most fun you'll ever have.'  Countless American flags flapped overhead as people of all shapes, sizes, and ages squeezed past, laughing, shouting, arguing, carrying parasols, packages, babies, cheap prizes.  Past Henderson's Vaudeville Theater, Stauch's Restaurant, clam and crab venders, pony rides, haunted houses, and the steep and narrow Drip the Dips roller coaster.  Stepping over spilled beer and ice cream, downed toddlers, and lost handkerchiefs.  Then, like a behemoth, appearing through the fog, there was the gigantic, garish, Funny Face, grinning with huge red wooden lips and vicious white wooden teeth, hanging directly over the entrance to Steeplechase."  It's almost like being there.

There are many kinds of horror in Massie's Hell Gate, including the horrors of prejudice, racism and domestic abuse.  Not for the faint of heart and definitely not a casual read, but if you like a little meat with your horror, this one's for you.

Hell Gate is available now from Darkfuse and Amazon.com.

Highly recommended.




Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Last Night of October - by Greg Chapman - A fresh Halloween

4 of 5 Stars

I am a fan of Halloween.  If you know me, or have ever read this blog before, this should really come as no surprise.  I think a big part of my affinity for the holiday is the chance to be someone or something else, if only for a few hours.

Then there's the dark side of Halloween.  One night a year when it's acceptable to revel in scaring and being scared.  Yep, I love Halloween.

Enter Greg Chapman, an Austalian artist and Horror writer, who grew up in a world without Halloween.  It's true, in Australia, Halloween just never caught on. No trick-or-treating, no costumes, no Halloween.  But, Greg's a horror writer and since Halloween is nearly synonymous with Horror, he's done his homework and the result is this gem of a novella about events that took place and continue to take place on The Last Night of October.

As with all good stories, this one starts with an opening line that draws you right in.  "Every Halloween, Gerald Forsyth's worst fear would come a-knocking."  The Last Night of October  is about friendship, survival, making choices and living with the consequences of those choices.

For someone who didn't grow up with the Halloween traditions, the author does an exceptional job of capturing the feel of the holiday. "Through the lace curtains over the front windows Gerald could see children, dressed as ghosts, zombies and princesses.  Pumpkins, mutilated, yet smiling, sat on porches; gatekeepers to the underworld.  People were laughing and frolicking, filling the children's baskets and bags with sugary junk, while others waited gleefully for the chance to open their doors to complete strangers."

The Last Night of October is available as a Trade Paperback and as an e-book from Bad Moon Books.

Highly recommended.



Friday, October 11, 2013

The Gate Theory - by Kaaron Warren - Five shorts from one of Australia's finest dark fiction writers

4 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

The Gate Theory by Kaaron Warren is the first release from a new publisher of dark fiction.  Based in Autralia, Cohesion Press, is the brainchild of writer and recent president of the Australian Horror Writer's Association (AHWA), Geoff Brown.

The Gate Theory is a collection of five shorts from the imaginative mind of Kaaron Warren, a well-known, award winning, Australian author.  All of these stories have appeared elsewhere, but are collected here for the first time.

All of the stories are all disturbing, even if I don't fully understand all of them.

"Purity"  Takes the saying, "laughter is the best medicine" to new heights.  But, like any medication, if not administered correctly, it could be dangerous.

"That Girl"  I hear the title and I automatically think of Marlo Thomas.  After all, I am an American of a certain age.  I would be rather surprized if Kaaron Warren has even heard of the '60s sitcom and that's just as well.  Her story, set in Fiji, as are many of her tales, is a bit esoteric for my taste, but I do become lost in the words and in the story.  But, is it a ghost story, the story of a missing girl, or something else?

"Dead Sea Fruit"  The story of the Ash Mouth Man.  A woman dentist kisses all of her "clients to learn their nature from the taste of their mouths.  Virgins are salty, alcoholics sweert.  Addicts taste like fake orange juice, the stuff you spoon into a glass then add water."

"The History Thief"  The perfect title and a wonderful opening line.  "Three days Alvin lay on the floor of his dusty lounge room before he realized he was no longer anchored to his body."  For me, this was my favorite of the five stories in the collection.  Original, wonderfully told, with a clever twist at the end.

"The Gaze Dogs of Nine Waterfall"  I will say this about Kaaron Warren, she certainly has an amazing imagination.  All five stories take me to places I've never been before, places I've never even begun to imagine.  Rosie McDonald specializes in aquiring hard to find dogs for her clients.  This time it's the vampire dog, found only on the island of Viti Levu, in Fiji.  The journey is dangerous and the task could prove deadly.

The Gate Theory is a fine introduction to Cohesion Press and, if you've not already discovered her writing, an excellent way to become familiar with Kaaron Warren.  Currently available at Amazon.com and if you're a member of Amazon Prime, you can read it for FREE through the Kindle Lending Library.

Highly recommended.





Monday, October 7, 2013

Six of the Best: A Hellish Half-Dozen - by Kevin G. Bufton

4.5 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

A few weeks back I was offered a book by an author I was not familiar with, but decided to take a chance.  Kevin G. Bufton, from Birkenhead in the United Kingdom, is the real deal.

Six of the Best: A Hellish Half-Dozen may only contain six tales, but they are six of the best I've read this year.  Well, what do you know, truth in advertising.  The collection has three stories with zombies (each from a distinctly original perspective), and three more with totally original themes that are just as scary.

The book starts with "Mother's Milk."  A graphic, cringe-worthy, yet thought provoking zombie story with a rather cute ending.

Then there's "The Shoot," the story of a writer who gets the interview of his dreams with wrestling's Masked Marauder. With the interview, come some series sutprises. This is proof that Bufton can really deliver the goods as he hits every mark, never missing a beat.

Back to zombies with "53 Minutes."  Once I got into this one the title made perfect sense, and yet again, the author finds a niche in the zombie genre I've not seen explored before.

There's also "The Root's" where Bufton manages to turn in an exellent tale which will have you giving tumbleweeds the right of way the next time you´re in the wild, wild west.

"The Wren" is another great story, this time of an age old secret tradition carried on by the men folk of the community.  A young man thinks he's discovered what they're up to and when he's found out, they ask him to join them, much to his surprise and misfortune.

And finally, "Hooked."  Another twist on the zombie story.  This time on the high seas.

Overall, I was quite impressed with Kevin G. Bufton's work and look forward to reading more in the future.

Six of the Best: A Hellish Half-Dozen is avaiable now for the Kindle and in paperback from Amazon.com.

Highly recommended.


Thursday, October 3, 2013

Summer's End - by Lisa Morton


5 of 5 Stars    Review copy

What a great way to kick off the Halloween season.  Can you think of anything better than a new novella from the writer who's become synonymous with the holiday?

Lisa Morton is the author of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween which was awarded the 2012 Bram Stoker Award for Superior Achievement in Non-fiction, and also won the Grand Prize at the 2012 Halloween Book Festival causing her to become affectionately known as the Queen of Halloween.

Summer's End is unique in that the writer is also the protagonist in the story which leads to this epic opening line. "My name is Lisa Morton.  I'm one of the world's leading authorities on Halloween.  And this year I discovered that everything I thought I knew, was wrong."

The title explanation was was pretty good, too.  "...the Celts had celebrated 'summer's end' (the literal translation of 'Samhain') with a three-day long party of drinking, feasting and horse racing."

What follows is an entertaining blend of real-life Lisa and story Lisa as the author finds herself caught up in desperate attempt to set history back on it's proper track.

Plenty of scarey moments and a few that can best be described as cringe-worthy.  Summer's End by Lisa Morton is officially available on October 4th, 2013 from Journalstone Publishing.  If you'd like something fresh to kick-start your Halloween spirit, this is the one.

Strongly recommended.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Trust: The Hero Chronicles (Volume 2) - by Tim Mettey

4 of 5 Stars    Review copy

Trust: The Hero Chronicles is the second entry in this YA series and is every bit as good as the first, Secrets: The Hero Chronicles. 

It's been three months since Nicholas learned he was a part of the Thusians, an ancient group of secret guardians of mankind, destined to sacrifice their lives at any given time, to save those around them.

Book two, further develops the mythos of the Thusians, their mission and those that would stand in their way.  At the same time it's about relationships, the importance of trust in those relationships and learning who to trust.

Tim Mettey does a very nice job of weaving life lesson's into his storyline.  Without being heavy-handed, there are teaching moments which many YA readers can benefit from.  The story itself is rather simple, with Nicholas meeting a number of challenges while dealing with the normal ups and downs of life as a teenager.

The climax of book two has several nice twists and some big surprises.  One thing, I'm still trying to figure out is the Tic Tac effect.  If you read the book 1 or 2, you'll understand what I mean.

If you're a younger reader, or know someone who is in middle school and up, I can strongly recommend Trust: The Hero Chronicles (volume 2), but I would consider reading book 1, Secrets: The Hero Chronicles first and, as of the posting of this review, it is available for FREE for the kindle at Amazon.com.  Click here.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Horror Without Victims - An Anthology from DF Lewis

3.5 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

An interesting collection of stories that came from the following call for submissions.

"Horror Stories, Weird Literature, Ghost Stories, Literary Fiction. Each story must either subtly or directly reflect the title of the anthology."

Unfortunately, only a handful of stories seemed to pull that off. It's possible I didn't fully grasp the concept, but the anthology definitely got started on the wrong foot for me as the first story seemed to be more of an essay on reading and how weather or music can compliment the reading of a book.  Since the first story in any anthology should really set the tone, I was not looking forward to the rest of the tales and nearly decided not to read them.

For the most part, the stories were of a more literate nature than what I'm used to, that's not a bad thing, but I kept coming came back to the title of the anthology.  If the title is Horror Without Victims and the protagonist is dead at the end of your story isn't there something wrong with that?

Don't get me wrong, there are some very entertaining pieces here.  Take "Clouds" for example.  The clouds are erasing buildings and soon much more.  The tale is quite original, it's entertaining, there is certainly an element of horror, but again, there are victims.

If you've ever tried to come up with a horror story without a victim, it's a lot tougher than you might think.  I applaud the authors in this collection who succeeded where others failed. Alistair Rennie was one such writer who contributed, "The Carpet Seller's Recommendation" to the anthology.  You get plenty of horror and in the end, there is no real victim.  Another story that delivers on the anthology's theme is, "The Yellow See-Through Baby," by Michael Sidman.  A ghost story told by a toddler going through potty training.  A charming horror tale that works on many levels.

To sum things up.  I enjoyed more stories than I didn't, but I was bothered by what I saw as a lack of faithfulness to the theme of the anthology in many of the tales.

Horror Without Victims is available as a paperback from Amazon.com or directly from the printer http://www.lulu.com/shop/d-f-lewis/horror-without-victims/paperback/product-21070495.html

If you enjoy literary horror there is a lot to like in this book, just don't be surprised if you find a few victims along the way.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Montrosities - by Jeremy C. Shipp - 10 shorts in the bizarro fiction sub-genre

4 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

Having read some some shorts from Jeremy C. Shipp in the past, when I saw he was looking for reviewers for his newest book of short fiction, I jumped at the chance.

When you're reading one of his stories there's no telling where your going to end up.  You just know it's going to be strange...bizarre really.  Combine that with a stream of consciousness style of writing and there's really no way of knowing what's around the next corner.

Here, Jeremy has collected ten twisted tales for our enjoyment. Each one more demented than the last.  Not all of them hit the mark for me, but enough do to make Monstrosities worth your time.

I particularly liked, "The Little Glass Soul," the story of Ash, her stepmother and stepsisters. A rather perverse retelling of the children's classic "Cinderella," and both "Clown Hands" and "Googly" were both out and out creepy.

Another good entry from this collection is "Cold."  From that story... "Here's Shark, pointing his 22-caliber phone gun at the dead-eyed department store mannequin, and here I am, trapped in a chair made of ice, held down with rope that isn't there."

I would say, if Bizzarro Fiction is your passion, Jerremy C. Shipp is your man.  If you're not sure if it's your thing and feeling adventurous, take a chance on Monstrosities.  If your still not sure this is up your alley read a few of the author's shorts for free at the author's website http://jeremycshipp.wordpress.com/free-stories/ If this definitely isn't for you, then steer clear.  Thus, the 4 of 5 stars.  Recommended for mature readers.

Monstrosities is available now for the Kindle at Amazon.com.




Thursday, September 19, 2013

Jack & Jill - by Kealan Patrick Burke - A preview of his new novella coming in December of 2013

5 of 5 Stars    Review copy

I've just finished reading an advance copy of a new novella to be released at the end of 2013.  If you're a fan of Kealan Patrick Burke or of Cemetery Dance Publishers you may have already ordered the limited edition, signed, hard cover of this one.  If you missed that window, don't despair, Jack & Jill will also be available as an e-book, probably in December.

The story starts with a dream, a nightmare really.  Gillian is a wife and mother of two.  She and her brother John were victims growing up.  Her brother is long gone and all of those events weigh heavy on her mind, even after all these years.  When they were young, they would often spend time rolling down a hill together.  "Though my brother's name is John, and mine is Gillian, between us we are Jack and Jill.  It is a fantasy, an escape, a secret identity no one can touch, further strengthened by this weekly ritual."

Jillian's two children are about the same ages as she and her brother John were in those days.  Sam is nine and Jenny is fourteen.  Maybe that's contributing to the dreams...nightmares.

For the most part, the horror in Jack & Jill is mental stuff as we watch Gillian's slow descent into madness or is that really the case, perhaps what Gillian perceive's is reality.  Either way, Burke does an excellent job of walking the fine line between the two, leaving much to the reader's imagination and personal bias.

The author has posted the first chapter of Jack & Jill at his website, www.kealanpatrickburke.com, and has graciously allowed me to re-post that chapter here. Enjoy.



ONE

A sky-spittle speck of rain hits my cheek. My heartbeat thunders in my ears, competing with the hollow sound of my own breath bellowing in and out of my lungs.

I tell myself this is why I can’t hear John.

Gradually, I roll over on my side. I look at the school. The windows are black, neither reflecting the world nor showing what might exist within. I feel a vague tightening in my gut at the thought that soon it will consume us. To the right, I note that the man is gone. Further right, John is sprawled on his back, arms splayed out as he too stares up at the sky.

Unsteadily, I get to my feet, black sparks pulsing in my vision. I fear I might be sick, but close my eyes and allow the last of the disorientation to pass.

“You win,” I call to John, because even though I’m not sure which one of us reached the bottom first, it is safe to assume it wasn’t me. Besides, there is no competition here. There never is. I love John more than anything else in the world. Alone, the events we’ve been forced to endure would have destroyed us. Together, we can find solace in a world that seems to shun it.

There is blood on the grass.

I stop walking as more rain pats my face, not yet able to fully register the long thin shadow that edges its way into my periphery as the man I thought was gone reappears.

The blood, an odd color, more like bad movie blood than anything I have seen in real life, forms a thick wide ragged carpet leading from halfway down the hill to where John lays unmoving three feet away.

The man waits, in no hurry for me to discover his handiwork, and I am in no hurry to look upon him. I know who he is.

“John?”

I step closer to my brother.

Ferocious agony locks my chest and I drop to my knees in grief. I’ve been here before, though the horror never gets old. I know all too well the pattern of this malignant dream and my throat closes, trapping a scream. My breath catches. I try to close my eyes, and find that I can’t.

The stump of John’s neck paints the grass crimson.

My heart crashes against my ribs. Bile fills my mouth.

Fear and terror turn to rage, as I finally look to my right, to the thing awaiting my attention. I do all of this because it has been rehearsed, practiced a thousand times over twenty-odd years of dreams.

The man is tall and thin, and though a clear plastic bag has been wrapped tightly around his badly decomposed head, I recognize his face.

It is my father, and his mouth is wide open, filled with maggots that tumble free only to be trapped again in the folds of the bag. They move languidly against the plastic.

He is wearing a funeral suit stained with dirt. His white shirt and bare feet are spotted with my brother’s blood.

I weep and bring my hands up to cover my eyes, but they too are made of plastic and hide nothing. Certainly not the gruesome gleeful bobbing of my father’s suffocated head, nor the senseless fact that he has rusted clothes hangers for hands. Like a fish, John’s head has been hooked through the roof of the mouth on one of them. His handsome little face now looks like a poor imitation, absent in death of everything that made it beautiful in life.

Finally the scream escapes, a train of utter anguish that plunges free into the cold air. It is mimicked by a peal of thunder as the sky splits and the rain falls in sheets that have more weight than is natural. I am soaked in an instant. Rising from my knees feels like I am struggling to stand underwater.

The plastic bag turns a foggy gray as hurried, excited breath obscures my father’s face. Behind and above him, darkness rushes across the gravestones, creeping down the hill like spilled oil.

He raises the unburdened clothes hanger to show it to me and I hear his voice inside my head. Such a good girl. Do you remember how it felt to have it inside you? Twisting? Turning? It takes guts to know, and I know your guts. Such a good girl.

* * *

If you'd like to read more from Kealan Patrick Burke.  I can highly recommend his novel, Kin, the highly successful Timothy Quinn series and my personal favorite, Currency of Souls.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Hungry 4: Rise of the Triad - by Steven W. Booth and Harry Shannon - A strong entry in the Penny Miller saga

5 Stars    Review Copy

You would think after three other entries in this series it might start to get a bit tedious.  Not so at all.  The writers continue to breath life into the Penny Miller saga, this time taking the action to the California coastline where the threat of zombies is little more than the occasional rumor.

At the outset, it's just Penny Miller, the former Sheriff of Flat Rock, Nevada and her boyfriend, Scratch trying to keep a low profile.  If you've read any of the previous books in the series, you already know that can't last long.

I was excited to get my hands on The Hungry 4: Rise of the Triad.  It was akin to being on a crash diet for six months and stumbling onto a bag of Halloween candy left unattended.  It might not be good for you, but it sure tastes sweet.

I love how the story gets right to the action, "The woman moved like a heat-seeking missile.  She closed the gap, lifted her bloody hands, reached out, and grabbed Carlos by the sides of his head.  She leaned closer in, as if to kiss him on the lips.  Alex felt queasy.  It was on."  It certainly was.

There were several plot twists that allowed us to get away from the incessant onslaught of zombies, oh there are still plenty of zombies, just that it's not ALL zombies, ALL the time, which I found refreshing.   Plus, there are characters and places that I thought were gone forever, but are back in book 4 and the explanations are quite acceptable.

One thing I found missing in book three was the snarky dialog from Penny Miller.  Well, it's back.  Stuff like, "We have to be careful as a virgin with a vibrator."  And, "They were both as dead as Lindsay Lohan's acting acting career."  As well as many not suitable for this review.  Did I mention The Hungry 4: Rise of the Triad is recommended for a mature audience?

The official release date is Friday, September 20th, but I see it available now as a paperback and for the Kindle at Amazon.com.  It's not 100% required that you read the first three books in the series to enjoy The Hungry 4: Rise of the Triad, but you're missing out of some great zombie fun, if you don't.

I absolutely give my highest recommendation to this one.  Will there be a book 5?  I think the authors already have the story idea, it all depends on if the interest in the series continues to grow and I don't see why not. Enjoy!




Thursday, September 12, 2013

Revenant Road - by Michael Boatman - Monster hunting

4 of 5 Stars

Dark Fuse Publishers knows how to present a book.  What a great cover for this first novel from Michael Boatman, yeah, that Michael Boatman.  The same man who played Carter Heywood for the entire run of the Spin City TV series. No, he hasn't given up acting, he's still busy as an actor, but he's been writing Dark Fiction for a number of years and is now a published novelist.

Revenant Road is a strong debut, the story of a reluctant monster hunter and his introduction into life on the road.  In the protagonist's own words, "My name is Obadiah Grudge...This is a chronicle no one will ever believe...I'm rich, black, thirty-eight years old...Let me tell you about a demon I once met."

At the outset the story bounces around a bit, but once the various pieces of the overall tale have been established, Boatman does a good job of weaving the pieces together into a cohesive work filled with likable characters who play their parts well.  Obadiah's mother, Lenore, for one, "she can decapitate a man at twenty paces with one slash of her tongue" and Neville Kowalski, for another.

Obadiah learns of Neville and his father's partnership after his father's funeral.  What he learns changes the direction of his life and as much as he protests draws him into the family business.

There are plenty of creatures, blood and some snarky dialog, "'Shouldn't we call the police?' I whispered.  'And tell 'em what?'  Kowalski said.  'That an ancient Chinese forest spirit that walks like a man and devours human beings only to vanish mysteriously, leaving behind a skunklike stench and a haunting scream is stalking an abandoned Lutheran church in Northwest Seattle?'"

Although bumpy at times, Revenant Road is worth the trip, particularly if you love a good monster story.

For more on titles from Dark Fuse you can visit them online at DarkFuse.com.  Revenant Road is available now, in various formats, from Amazon.com.   BTW, if you are a member of Amazon Prime, this is one you can borrow for FREE through the Kindle Lending Library.

Another read I can definitely recommend.



Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The Translators - by Gord Rollo - Starts with the end of the world and then tells us the story of how we got there

5 of 5 Stars    Beta copy

The following synopsis, found on the opening pages of The Translators, sets the stage better than I ever could.  "Most people think John is crazy.  He's not.  The doctors think he's schizophrenic.  He's not.  The government thinks he might be humanity's last flicker of hope. but unfortunately he's not that either.  What he is is something no one - including himself - could ever have imagined..."

I was lucky enough to get an early copy of Gord Rollo's new novel from publisher Enemy One and while I expected it to be good, I never thought it would be on par with a new thrill ride at some world class theme park.  Wow!  What a ride.

The story starts 17 hours before the end of the world and then rewinds a bit over 2 years to show us how we got there.

What we have here is a story of biblical proportion that takes us around the world, but keeps coming back to one man, John Taylor.  A rather milquetoast individual, living with his fiance' Shelly and her son Robbie. John hears voices in his head, voices which, among other things, can instantly translate any language he hears, even though John has never studied any foreign language.

The Translators is easily the most original story I have read this year.  To return to the thrill ride analogy, the story builds slowly, like the long climb to the top of an extremely tall wooden coaster and then you plummet over the edge going faster than you thought possible careening around hairpin turns and climbing hack up to the top to do it all over again.  What a rush!

The journey takes us to Area 51 in Nevada, Roswell in New Mexico, Loch Ness in Scotland, Machu Picchu in Peru and to the ends of the Earth, but trust me, it's not what you think.  Every time I wanted to take a break, I'd get to the end of a chapter only to plow ahead, eager to see where the author would take me next.  I would love to see this one make it to the big screen someday.

One of my favorite books of 2013 will be released on September 20th and if you're up for a great story and plenty of action, I promise The Translators will not disappoint.

Highly recommended.




Friday, September 6, 2013

The Demon's Wife - by Rick Hautala - A Novel of the Supernatural and Attempted Redemption

4 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

On March 31st, 2012 writer Rick Hautala picked up a Bram Stoker Award for Lifetime Acheivement, no one could possibly know that just shy of a year later Rick would be gone, taken from his family and the horror writing community at large by a heart attack in March of this year.

Prior to his passing, JournalStone Publications announced a two book deal with Rick and The Demon's Wife is the first of those two books.

Clair McMullen spends her days cooped up in a small office "her only lifelines to the 'real world' were cruising Facebook and listening to WXPN, a radio station from Philly that she streamed over the computer."  I loved that Clair listened to what is likely the best listener supported music station in the country that's right here in Philly.  How a New England native like Rick came to know about WXPN is anyone's guess.

I was immediately drawn to the concept behind The Demon's Wife and that was solidified by Rick's smooth writing style.  When Clair meets Samael she has no idea he's a demon.  The reader, however, is in on the fact that what Claire believes to be happening on the night she meets Samael is not what really happened, but we can't do much about that, other than let Claire figure things out for herself and by then, she and Samael are both hopelessly and helplessly in love.

Not everyone in Samael's world is happy about what is happening to their old co-worker, and that leads to plenty of conflict for the story.  

At times charming and often horrifying, The Demon's Wife  is a thoroughly enjoyable read that got better and better, to where I couldn't wait to see what would happen next.  Although there is no Fairy Tale ending for our happy couple, their love is strong and I wish them the best.

The official release date for The Demon's Wife is September 13, 2013, but it looks to be available now in a variety of formats from JournalStone.com and Amazon.com.

I can definitely recommend you add this one to your To Be Read list.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Smog/Baggage of Eternal Night - by Lisa Morton/Eric L. Guignard - JournalStone's DoubleDown Series, Book II

4.5 Stars    Review Copy

JournalStone Books second release in their Double Down series is another winner. This is where JournalStone puts together a single volume featuring two novellas, one from an established writer and another from a relatively new voice in horror.  Three months ago they released Book 1, Only The Thunder Knows & East End Girls, from Gord Rollo and Rene Mason.  Both stories about horrors in Great Britain's past and both well received.

This time the action takes place in the good old USA in the early to mid 1960s.  Up first is Smog from Bram Stoker award winning author Lisa Morton.  The setting is a suburb of Los Angeles called San Diablo.  The opening paragraph is perfect, "I was twelve years old in 1965.  It was a year when the world was changing: Walter Cronkite reported on civil rights every night; we were sending troops to a country called Vietnam; men were walking in space, and the Rolling Stones were making rock and roll music sound nasty.  Computers filled up entire buildings at NASA; the internet was decades away; our biggest war was cold and telephones were still things that were wired into walls."


Michaela Jo Donohue, who goes by Joey, is the one telling the story.  I loved the way Lisa Morton sets the stage by capturing the times so clearly and then throws in an unexpected event to combine with the area's Smog and what started out so sweet and innocent begins a downward spiral into insanity happening all around.

Smog is a lot of fun, but ends a bit too soon.  I would have loved it to have been longer, but the writer does do a nice job of tying up the loose ends in the epilogue while still leaving plenty to the imagination.

The second story is from Eric J. Guignard.  And 
Baggage of Eternal Night is his debut work of long fiction.  A fascinating, original tale set in Detroit in the early 1960s.  Charlie Stewart tells the story of what happened to his pal Joey Third, real name Joey Thurston, so called because he was the Third Joey gambling one night at Little Louie's and the name just stuck, after picking up an odd leather suitcase at a baggage auction.


Guignard shows excellent story-telling skills and the mood is like a really good episode of The Twilight Zone.  In a short amount of time, the writer manages to create genuine characters that I really cared about, flaws and all, and takes us on an improbable journey into the world of Rasputin, Russia's Mad Monk.  Baggage of the Eternal Night is really worth your time.

The official release date for Smog/Baggage of Eternal Night is September 6, 2013, but I believe it's available now in a variety of formats From the JournalStone website and Amazon.com.

This is one I can strongly recommend.  I'm already looking forward to JournalStone's DoubleDown Series, Book III.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Manifesto UF - Edited by Tim Marquitz & Tyson Mauermann - An anthology of Urban Fantasy stories

4 of 5 Stars    Review copy

One year and one day ago I posted a review of Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous, by far my favorite anthology of 2012 and one of the best books I read last year.

Here we are, a year later and Tim is back.  This time enlisting the help of Tyson Mauermann. The two have assembled 23 stories they hope will entertain and at the same time provide a message of what Urban Fantasy should be.

Although, I'm not a fan of Fantasy (Sword and Sorcery), Urban Fantasy is another story entirely.  I'm always up for a new Dresden Files novel and I've been a Richard Kadrey fan for years.  Vampires (the non-sparkly kind), werewolves, fairies, fae, angels and demons, plus a little snarky dialog, sign me up.

As is the case with many anthologies I read,  Manifesto UF, has a lot of really good stories, but there are a few that just don't quite measure up to the rest.

Manifesto UF starts on a strong note with "Rev" and the killer opening line, "I remember the first time I died."  The author, Kirk Dougal, delivers a well written story of a revenant (someone who died, but wasn't wanted by either side so they sent him back to Earth). When in the hands of a writer who "gets it" Urban Fantasy, it can be a lot of fun and Dougal definitely "gets it'."  "Dump me in a vat of blood, blow brains all over my face or let me smell a three-week old corpse sitting in the trunk of a car in August and I was fine.  Let a rat run across my foot and I'd scream like your little sister."

A great start, but then it's a while before we get to another good one.  I just couldn't enjoy a story with a talking dragon working as a private investigator.  There's suspending your disbelief and then there just plain silly.

Another gem of a story came from Adam Millard and "Savage Rise."  A truly disturbing story with an unknown horror which killed all the residents in a high rise exactly one year ago, and now it's happening again in another high rise across town.

Timothy Baker has what is one of the best stories in the collection,  "Front Lines, Big City." His protagonist is a Mage.  If you're familiar with World of Warcraft, you'll know what a Mage is. Simply put, a spellcaster.  This one living as a self-made prisoner in downtown New Kansas City.  A former soldier in the Magical Marine Corps.  When the Second Civil War ended he became a fugitive on the run after an act of congress turned him and his comrades into criminals.

The award for best title in the anthology goes to Nikolas Sharps and his story "Toejam and Shrapnel." Turned out to be a fun story as well.

Lincoln Crisler has a very good story in here called, "Queen's Blood" and Jeff Salyard's "Beneath a Scalding Moon" delivers with a story of an older woman dating a younger man. This after having been bitten by a mountain lion.  This leads to one of the best lines in the book.  No spoiler from me, but it's worth it.

I'm not going to go into a lot of detail about every story here, but I will say there were enough good ones to make this a worth while read.  Not as good as last years' Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous,  but much better than some I've read in 2013.

With that said, I can definitely recommend Manifesto UF  which is available now at Amazon.com.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Walls of the Castle - Novella by Tom Piccirilli

5 of 5 Stars

A perfect blend of genres; suspense, thriller, fantasy and horror. The Walls of the Castle by Tom Piccirilli is all of this, and more.

If you've read any of my reviews, you probably know how I feel about opening lines and how they can really grab you and pull you into a story from the very beginning.  Case in point..."His son had been dead for two weeks, in the ground for ten days, he was told, and Kasteel was still sitting in the ICU waiting area, spooking the nurses."  I'm in, and what a great read this turned out to be.

What follows is a series of vignettes about Kasteel's strange new life behind The Walls of the Castle.  The Castle hasn't always been a hospital, it has a rich history dating back to before the American Revolution when it was constructed by Dutch settlers as a stronghold to fight off Indian attacks.  Today the hospital employs over nine thousand people so you can imagine how easy it might be to become invisible if you wanted to.

At times cringe-worthy and occasionally gruesome, The Walls of the Castle is more than just a story to make you squirm.  It's about a father's love, about redemption, about good versus evil.  In short, it's a damn fine story.

Originally available as a signed limited edition hardcover from Dark Regions press, you can now get the book from Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle formats.  If you happen to subscribe to Amazon Prime you can borrow it for free as one of your monthly selections from the Kindle lending library.

Also worth noting is the excellent cover and interior art, from artist Santiago Caruso, included in the Kindle edition.

I can highly recommend The Walls of the Castle from Tom Piccirilli.



Friday, August 23, 2013

Glitter & Mayhem - Edited by John Klima, Lynne M. Thomas and Michael Damian Thomas

3.5 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

One of the oddest anthologies I've ever read.  Twenty stories of Glitter & Mayhem.  A strange mish-mash of Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Erotica and more, usually involving disco, roller-skating, roller derby, drugs or just plain mayhem.

There were good stories from writers I was already familiar with; Cat Rambo, Tim Pratt, Maurice Broaddus and Rachel Swirsky all have strong entries.  And there are a few notable tales from writers I get to discover between the pages...

Authors like, Christopher Barzak and his short. "Sister Twelve: Confessions of a Party Monster," a fairy-tale of sorts, with twelve princesses who sneak off nightly to an underground realm leading to the world's legendary dance clubs.  "What happens underground, stays underground."

I also liked "Apex Jump" from David J Schwartz.  A remarkably inventive Sci-Fi piece involving Roller Deby in a galaxy far, far away, and which just happens to mention one of my all-time favorite TV shows, "Farscape."

One of my favorites was "Subterraneans" written by William Shunn & Laura Chavoen.  A totally original story that left me wanting another dose.

And an honorable mention to Cory Skerry whose story, "Sooner Than Gold", has the following great opening line, "I tug on clean underwear in case I get arrested, paint my makeup perfectly because there's nothing sadder than a grown man in badly applied eyeliner, and climb out my apartment window, onto the fire escape."

At this point you might be thinking - Wow, you must have really like this this book. Let's just say, I liked "some" of this book.  For every winning story there was another that just didn't work for me.  Perhaps it could have been a stronger anthology with fewer stories.  It seemed the tales just got weirder and weirder toward the end, with the exception of the Maurice Broaddus & Kyle S. Johnson story, "The Electric Spanking of the War Babies" and Rachel Swirsky's adult fairy-tale, "All That Fairy Tale Crap."

Even though I enjoyed a number of the contributions to Glitter & Mayhem, I can't really recommend this one.  However, if YOU were a part of that generation that loved the glitter, the disco, the roller-disco, the roller derby, the sex, the drugs..then this might just be your book.

Available now from Apex Publications at DriveThruFiction,com and Amazon.com in both paperback and Kindle editions.




Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Shiftling - by Steven Savile - Coming of age novella with a strange twist

4.5 of 5 Stars

Kudos to the unsung hero(es) responsible for the cover design and cover art for Shiftling.  Beautiful in it's own right and made more so with the way it ties in with this wonderful novella from Steven Savile and DarkFuse press.

Shiftling, which takes place in both 1985 and  the present, starts off looking like a run of the mill coming of age story set right in the middle of the 80's, but somewhere along the way, the story becomes about monsters, of both the monstrous kind and the human kind.

When the story is set in '85, Steven Savile uses the music on the radio to help establish the times.  With Savile being British and me being American, there were a number of bands/songs that were universally big and others that really never caught on in the good ol' USA. I found this to be a bit disconcerting, but I got the idea AND I never realized Bruce Willis was so big, as a singer, in the UK.

Another nice touch was the writer's use of a funfair or carnival as a backdrop for some of the story. Carnivals tend to creep me out.  Ever since Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes, carnivals have had a way of drawing me in and then scaring the bejesus out of me.

Spider, Scotty, Gazza, Ferret, and our story-teller, Drew, are the four principals who spend a summer afternoon washing cars and doing odd jobs to get enough cash to go to the funfair that's come to the commons in Ashthorpe.  The last place they come to is Old Man Harrison's broken down house which sits just across from the commons.  No one expected him to have a job for them, you see "Old Man Harrison is the archetypal creepy old hermit kids transform into vampires and cannibal child-eaters in their imaginations."

Scotty, however gets up the nerve to ask for work and, when he comes out of the house, convinces the gang to clean up the old man's property, but with no payment.  And this is when things begin to get really weird.

Shiftling wasn't at all what I expected.  Although it had me intrigued and creeped out out in no time, it took me in directions I didn't expect and didn't necessarily want to go.

Highly recommended and available now from DarkFuse press through Amazon.com

Monday, August 12, 2013

I Can Transform You - by Maurice Broaddus - Sometimes the law has a way of getting in the way of justice

4 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

I Can Transform You, by Maurice Broaddus, is the second in a new line of books in the Apex Voices series.  The First book, Plow the Bones, by Douglas F. Warrick, was the best collection of stories I've read so far in 2013.  Be sure to check it out.  It's really worth your time.

The idea behind Apex Publishing's Voices series is to give exposure to relatively unknown writers.  This time, somewhere between the idea of featuring Maurice Broaddus as one of those writers and the publishing of this book, Broaddus went and made a name for himself.  OK, maybe not a "household" name, but he's certainly getting his name out there.  There are the Stoker-nominated Dark Faith and Dark Faith: Invocation anthologies he co-edited with Jerry Gordon, his short fiction, which is getting published in a number of high-profile outlets and one of my favorite novellas in the last few years, Orgy of Souls, co-written with Wrath James White.

There are two works in this book.  The first, I Can Transform You, is a story-driven, raw and gripping futuristic piece...

From the dust of The Trying TimesTM, corp-nations have risen up in place of failed governments.  Mac Peterson left the employ of LG Security Forces and now manages a life in the shadows of the great towers.  His ex-wife, Kiersten, stayed behind on the Security Forces, working undercover. When she turns up dead alongside one of a growing number of tower jumpers, Mac pairs up with Ade Walters, a cyborg officer, to uncover who would try to hide Kiersten's death among the suicides. Searching for the murderer of one of their own, Mac and Ade discover plans to transform the Earth and its inhabitants.

While clearly a sci-fi tale, I Can Transform You, is also a solid police procedural.  As is repeated in the story by more than of of Broaddus' characters, "Sometimes the law has a way of getting in the way of justice."  And there's a lot of truth in this response during an interrogation, "What do you want to hear? That mommy and daddy beat us? That some rogue uncle touched him?  Things aren't always so melodramatic.  Sometimes dysfunction is simply...dysfunction."

In addition to the main novella, you also get a longer short story, Pimp My Airship, with one of the best opening lines ever.  "Citizens of the Universe, do not attempt to adjust your electro-transmitter, there is nothing wrong.  We have taken control to bring you this special bulletin."  There's some social commentary here in this story with some rather strange characters, Hubert "Sleepy" Nixon, Knowledge Allah and Deaconess Blues.

If you're not yet familiar with Maurice Braoddus, I Can Transform You, will give you a taste of his story-telling skills and his diversity with a bit of Sci-Fi and a little Steampunk.  He's a pretty good horror writer, too.

I Can Transform You (Apex Voices) (Volume 2) is available in both paperback and e-book at Amazon.com.

Recommended.