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  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


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 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

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

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

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 and

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.