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

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 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 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

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


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Night Sea Journey, A Tale of the Supernatural - by Paula Cappa - Beautifully written with an undertone of horror

3.5 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

Have you ever had a meal at a fine restaurant where the atmosphere was captivating and the meal itself was beautifully prepared, but the food actually left you unsatisfied. For me, Night Sea Journey by Paula Cappa was a bit like that.

The prologue takes us to Abasterson House, named for the angel who rules the fifth hour after sunset.  Kip is having a recurring dream where she battles a firehawk, a fierce creature, with a chest full of orange flames.  Then there's a giant black-blue serpent which manages to make the trip from her dream to reality.  Kip is prepared and manages to kill the serpent.  This is something she had had to do again and again.

In Chicago, Father Raymond Kera wakes from a dream, sweaty, his heart pounding, his legs shaking.  In the corner of his room he sees hooked shadows.  Whatever it is, it has twisted hair, claws and moldy breath.

Circumstance sends Father Kera to Horn Island, RI, to do carpentry work on a light house converted into a church.  It's there that his path crosses with Davida Kipling Livingston, dreamer and talented artist.

Left in Chicago is Father Kera's good friend, Father Garcia, who's street ministry is at odd's with the Church, not to mention how they might feel about his wife and child.

Night Sea Journey was a bit more cerebral than most of the horror I choose to read.  The story itself was beautifully told.  Cappa is a skilled writer producing beautiful prose with amazing imagery, but I had a difficult time figuring out what I was reading.  Is it religious drama, an urban thriller, a wild fantasy, horror or chick lit?  I know it's not right to pigeon-hole someone's writing and there is nothing wrong with any of those genres, but there were times it felt like I was being given too much sub plot and not enough meat.  Back to the restaurant analogy, to much atmosphere and not enough substance.

In the end there was so much left unsaid, I felt unsatisfied.  Also, there were a few errors that should have been caught in proofreading, but not enough to be more than a mild distraction.

Night Sea Journey is available now, as an e-book, from  Not one I whole-heartedly recommend, but if you're willing to take a chance you might find you enjoy it.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

The Hole - by William Meikle

4 of 5 Stars

The Hole starts off with a pretty good opening line.  "The hum started just after midnight."  OK, I'm hooked.  Right away, I want to know more.  Having just seen an episode of Syfy's new series, Joe Rogan Questions Everything, where Joe investigates a strange hum in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, that's been driving the locals batty, I immediately wanted to know what William Meikle's take would be on such an occurrence.

In Meikle's story, those who hear the hum, also suffer nose-bleeds, and at Hopman's Hollow, there's a growing hole in the ground that threaten's to swallow the owner's septic tank and eventually much more.

What we have with The Hole is one of the better character studies I've read in quite some time.  Diverse townspeople brought together by a catastrophe that puts every one of them in imminent danger and, thanks to the military and CDC, leaves them with no way to escape.  Tempers flair, leaders are tested and unlikely heroes are born.  In this respect, it reminds me a bit of Stephen King's "Under the Dome."  The cast of characters is quite a bit smaller, but well developed, with people you care about and one in particular you can't wait to see get knocked off.

The Hole is filled (see what I did there?) with surprises.  The cause is explained, to a degree, but there was a good deal left to the imagination.  All in all, I found The Hole to be a very enjoyable read which I am happy to recommend.

The Hole is available now in both print and kindle format through from Dark Fuse press. In addition, if you have Amazon Prime you can get the book for FREE through the Kindle Lending Library.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Appalachian Undead - Edited by Eugene Johnson & Jason Sizemore - Backwoods fun with zombies

4 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

The Appalachian mountains run from Georgia to Maine, covering a lot of ground from a geography standpoint.  In much the same way, editors Eugene Johnson and Jason Sizemore, have covered a good deal of ground with their twenty selections for this zombie anthology.

There are granny moonshiners, zombie gators, zombie gunfighters and many more.  I like how different writers come at the zombie story from different directions and have different names for the undead. There's The Spread, The Cold Ones, Shufflers and even friendly zombies (watch out for the friendly zombies - they're sneaky).

There's a good mix of familiar names in the horror genre and several stories from names that are new to me.  

Here’s the table of contents in no particular order

When Granny Comes Marchin’ Home Again” by Elizabeth Massie
“Calling Death” by Jonathan Maberry
“Hide and Seek” by Tim Waggoner
“Twilight of the Zombie Game Preserve…” by S. Clayton Rhodes
“Being in Shadow” by Maurice Broaddus
“Sitting up with the Dead- Bev Vincent
“The Girl and the Guardian” by Simon McCaffery
“Repent, Jessie Shimmer! -Lucy Snyder
“Almost Heaven -Michael Paul Gonzalez
“On Stagger” by G. Cameron Fuller
“We Take Care of Our Own” by John Everson
“Sleeper” by Tim Lebbon
“Reckless” by Eliot Parker
“Company’s Coming” by Ronald Kelly
“Black Friday” by Karin Fuller
“Spoiled” by Paul Moore
“Miranda Jo’s Girl” by Steve Rasnic Tem
“Times Is Tough in Musky Holler” by John Skipp & Dori Miller
“Long Days to Come” by K. Allen Wood
“Brother Hollis Gives His Final Sermon from a Rickety Make-Shift Pulpit in the Remains of a Smokehouse that now Serves as His Church” by Gary A. Braunbeck

The first short, When Granny Comes Marchin’ Home Again” by Elizabeth Massie, was so well received she went and turned it into the novel, Desper Hollow, which is also available from Apex Publications.

Speaking of Elizabeth Massie, her husband, Courtney Skinner, is the artist responsible for the cover on this book.  Nice work, Courtney.

Not every one of these stories is great, but there is certainly enough here to make Appalachian Undead an enjoyable read for zombie fans, even if you're city folk like me.

Originally published in 2012, Appalachian Undead, was taken off the market due to some kind of dispute at that time.  Truthfully, none of that matters anymore, because now it's back and is available from Apex Publications in a variety of print and e-book formats.

If you still haven't made up your mind, the fine folks at Apex Publications have published a chapbook sampler of 4 stories that didn't get into the book called, Mountain Dead.  If, for no other reason, get it for "Let Me Come In,"  a zombified retelling of "The Three Little Pigs." 

For now Mountain Dead is available for FREE.  Just go to and click on the Smashwords link to download in your preferred e-book format.