Friday, January 31, 2014

Bull Running for Girls - by Allyson Bird - 2009 British Fantasy award winner for Best Collection

4 of 5 Stars.   Review copy

Allyson Bird is an author worth watching and worth reading.  In addition to winning the Best Collection award from the British Fantasy Society for Bull Running for Girls in 2009, her first novel, Isis Unbound, earned the Bram Stoker award for Best First Novel in 2011. Quite an auspicious start.

This collection of twenty-one stories covers a broad spectrum of speculative fiction genres, from fantasy to horror to science fiction and some that defy classification.  It all begins with "The Caul Bearer," a rather shaky story of a woman who loses her lover to the sea and the terrible thing she does to appease the deities of the sea.

Fortunately, the stories get better from here and continue to do so as each tale seems to be more enjoyable than the last.

There are ghost stories, vampire tales, witches, pirates, mermaids, real world terrors, and so much more.  Some of my favorites include one of the best shorts I've read in this, or any collection, in quite a while, "Shadow On Shadow."  "It took a long time to push, with a struggling will, to that higher part of Alice's mind where she could not tell reality from insanity--between what was imagined and the supernatural.  In her indesicion she was suffering.  That night she had tampered with doors that should not be opened, pushed the car over the cliff with herself in it, and unknowingly had unleashed something from deep within her subconscious, or another place--where dark things live, where creatures as old as time, formless but nonetheless still dangerous, dwelt."

Other favorites include "The Bone Grinder," " The Conical Witch," and a wonderful story inspired by H. G. Wells' The Island of Dr Moreau, called, "In a Pig's Ear."

One of the things I really liked about this work was the way each story was prefaced by a quote from another work which provided the inspiration for Allyson's piece.

Bull Running for Girls is available both in paperback and various e-book formats from Journalstone Publishers on their website and from

Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Mister Rainbow In the Case of the Death of a Ladies' Man - by C. S. Boag

3 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

Mister Rainbow in the Case of the Death of a Ladies' Man is the second in s series of mystery novels covering the colors of the rainbow.  This one happens to be orange.  I admit to not having read the first book and found that I was not hampered by the lack of the experience.

Death of a Ladies Man is not a part of my regular reading material.  I tend to stay in the Horror/Dark Fiction category, but this was a case of an author reaching out to me with a request for a fair and honest review and after looking into the book and seeing it described as, "In the great tradition of Dashiell Hammett's Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe," I was more than willing to take a chance.

It's true, there are moments where there was an ambiance of noir in Boag's writing, with worthy lines like, "Thomas L. Tycho was everybody's enemy, a trickster who played one trick too many, on one too many people, a dirty dealer who dealt one dirty deal to far, a wide boy wide enough to keep himself alive until the moment he made the mistake of wide boys evthe world over -- and that was not getting a whole lot narrower when the gun went off."

There were some other gems.  Since his divorce, Rainbow's been living on a boat he named Wooden No as in the answer to the question, "What's the name of your boat?"  Clever.

However, as I got further into the story, it just seem like the writer was trying too hard, much of the writing seemed forced; good noir should seem effortless, even though it's not.  Plus, I found the repetitive use of strange words to be a bit annoying.  Words like "phyzog" for face.  I was able to look that one up.  Others, like, "porphyry," as in "something in the porphyry of my senses."  I don't believe it was a proofreading issue as the book is quite clean in that regard.  It could be the character subbing this word for "periphery" in an attempt to be cute, but it just didn't work for me.  And then there's the use of "fenetre" for window every time.  Why can't a window just be a window?

Ok, let me step down from my soap box.  If you can get by all of the stange writing quirks, there is a good story here and for that, I liked it and maybe you will too.

Friday, January 24, 2014

The Loving Husband and the Faithful Wife - by Kit Power

3.5 of 5 Stars    Review copy

Two stories combine to make up this novella size release from Black Beacon Books.  The first is a tale of the lengths a man will go to in order to restore balance to the relationship between The Loving Husband and the Faithful Wife.

When the couple decides to add a sun lounge to the rear of their house we discover one of the workers to be young, handsome, tall, and muscular.  It's not difficult to see where this is going.

The cover art, from the talented Greg Chapman, shows a PG version of a tatoo on the worker's right shoulder, "It depicted a red devil lady, in a cartoonish style, naked to the torso with her red breasts and pert nipples on clear display.  Her face bore a smile of perfect depravity and the wink she was tipping left nothing (and everything) to a fevered imagination.  Beneath her chest, a banner, written all in capital letters in a gothic script , simply declared 'BAD BOY.'"

The Loving Husband and the Faithful Wife is told completely from the point of view of the husband's somewhat twisted mind and the end result is somewhat predictable.

The Debt, for me, was the better of the two stories, featuring excellent pacing.  I could feel the panic rising as the protagonist slowly realizes the gravity of the situation he has gotten himself into.

Both tales are for mature readers, the first for sexual situations and the second for extremely raw language.  It's all relevant, but I couldn't even find a suitable quote from The Debt because every good line is laced with expletives.

I'm glad I got to read The Loving Husband and the Faithful Wife and look forward to reading more from author Kit Power who, in his alter ego as Kit Gonzo, performs as front man (and occasionally blogs) for death cult and popular beat combo The Diciples of Gonzo.

The Loving Husband and the Faithful Wife is available now at

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Samurai and Other Stories - by William Meikle - A wide variety of genre tales

4 of 5 Stars.   Review copy

All sixteen of the tales in Samurai and Other Stories have appeared elsewhere over the last several years, but are offered as a collected work for the first time and represent a fine sampling of short stories from Scottish born writer William Meikle.

If you're not yet familiar with Meikle's work you are missing out.  With twenty novels and more than 300 short stories published to date, his impressive body of work continues to grow and Samurai and Other Stories offers an excellent introduction.

This collection starts with the title story of the surviving members of a shipwrecked crew discovering a temple with riches that would more than make up for their lost cargo.   One problem, it's guarded by A powerful, unearthly Samurai.  "Samurai" is a strong start and offers up a nice twist as do many of the tales in this collection.

Some of my favorites include "Rickman's Plasma", sort of a 21st century take on the horror classic The Blob.  "Home Is the Sailor" features a walking dead scenario.  There's "Inquistor", a Lovecraftian tale from the time of the inquisition.  "The Havenhome" is a very well told story set in the early 1600s with appropriate language and a frightening adversary. But, my most favorite of all is, "The Haunting of Esther Cox," set in 1878 and told through a series of diary entries.  From one such entry, "You may not believe any good of me.  But if you believe nothing else, believe this.  I ain't a bad girl."

There were a few stories that I didn't particularly enjoy, but they were very few and It's very rare that every story in a collection will knock it out of the park.  Overall, Samurai and Other Stories is certainly worth your time and is available both as a paperback and ebook from Crystal Lake Publishers and

Highly recommended.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Laughing Boy's Shadow - by Steven Savile - Like nothing I've read before

5 of 5 Stars    Review copy

In the introduction to Laughing Boy's Shadow, writer Gary A. Braunbeck says, "The best horror fiction concerns itself with exploring the connections between violence, grief, loneliness, and suffering, and how we as a species reconcile these things with a concept of a Just universe watched over by a supposedly loving Supreme Being wherein even the most mundane and trivial of our everyday tasks carry some kind of greater meaning."

The above is as good a definition of horror as I've ever heard and this early work by Steven Savile certainly fits the bill. Declan Shea is a piano player, the kind that plays in bars, and is on his way home from a gig at 3am when he strikes a tramp by the side of the road and wraps his car around a lamppost.  At least that's the way he remembers it.  And so begins a downward spiral into a nightmare world where Declan loses everything and becomes a pawn in a battle for the very life of the city of Newcastle, England.

After losing his eyes, Declan is promised his sight back, but to do this he must take eyes from two dogs in the underground world where he finds himself.  Savile is a skilled writer and adept at making the reader squirm.  "' Forgive me' I whispered into its ear, bringing the knife to bear. I was by no means deft.  The knifeblade sliced into the soft flesh of the dog's jowls before it hooked up and cut out the sac beneath the eye.  The dog stiffened beneath my hands, letting loose a yelping whine that was utterly sickening.  I held back, unable to push the knife further and finish my theft.  The thought of digging through the strings of muscle attaching the eye to cut the nerve and sever those ties turned my stomach.  I couldn't do it."

Laughing Boy's Shadow is like nothing I've ever read.  At times beautiful and at times brutal it never fails to keep the reader totally engaged in an imaginative story that kept its secrets right to the end.

Laughing Boy's Shadow is not a new story, but it is certainly worth a read and is available as an ebook from Crossroad Press and Macabre Ink Digital at

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Grave Wax -by Kelli Owen - A beautiful love story with a twist

4 of 5 Stars

George Morey has been digging graves in Neillsville for nearly sixty years.  When he gets a second chance at love, with his first love, he wants it to last.  Not just forever, but for eternity.

Unfortunately, his wife, Rose, is battling Alzheimers and now Cancer.

I really liked the love story in Kelli Owen's novella.  It moved me to tears. I know how weird that sounds.  This big guy who loves everything horror and you throw in a love story and he cries like a little girl.

Don't get me wrong, Grave Wax is more than a love story, after all, this is a Kelli Owen book, so you know there's going to be a twist, and it's a good one.

Grave Wax was previously released as a part of Waking the Dead, a limited edition collection of four novellas from Thunderstorm Books.  Now available as an affordable ebook at

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Like Death - by Tim Waggoner - Brilliantly dark fiction. No happy ending here.

5 of 5 Stars   Review copy

Apparently, Like Death, is not a new book.  It's just new to me and I couldn't be happier that the folks at Apex Publications are putting it back out there in both paperback and ebook formats.

The opening paragraph sets the tone and is just a sample of things to come. "Huddled beneath the kitchen table, knees drawn to his chest, he crouches with hands balled into fists, jammed against his ears, kneading them as if he might cut off the screams by grinding cartilage and flesh to a pulp.  It doesn't work; the screams come through just fine."

The entire opening sequence is like a punch to the gut and like a prize-fighter that finds his opponents weakness, Waggoner just doesn't let up.

If you've read any of my previous reviews, you probably already know I like my horror to be a bit disturbing. Gore doesn't bother me, violence is OK, even the occasional bloodbath is fine.  But let me tell you, there were times that some of the subject matter made me downright uncomfortable and it wasn't this...

"His abdominal muscles bucked and the cords of his neck pulled wire tight as his digestive system prepared to initiate an emergency purge.  But before he could bring anything up, he felt the gentle touch of spider legs making their way deeper inside him, and with each inch farther they traveled, the need to vomit subsided a little more.  Within moments he no longer felt the urge to puke at all.  His stomach muscles unclenched, he stopped trembling, and his temperature returned to normal.  More, he felt a growing sense of well-being. Not only was he alright, but the entire universe and everything in it was honky-dory, a-okay, and peachy-keen."

There are times in Like Death where the line between reality, dreams and hallucinations becomes razor thin, the story telling is raw and you will get to the point where you will just learn to expect the unexpected.  In three words, I loved it.

OK, it's not for everyone.  It's certainly for mature readers and if you're a part of what we used to call the Moral Majority, please steer clear.  But if you love horror that knows no bounds and pulls no punches, then plop this baby right on top of your To Be Read list.  You can thank me later.

Like Death is available right now.  You can get details here from Apex Publications or you can order online now at

What are you waiting for?  I can't recommend this one enough.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

809 Jacob Street - by Marty Young - Some genuine chills to be had

4 of 5 Stars    Review copy

In his debut novel Marty Young has created a creepy little town named Parkton, Oregon.  One of those towns with a past it would like to keep quiet.  No need for a nosey, fourteen year-old, newcomer trying to learn what happened at 809 Jacob Street.

The rumors of mass murder and disappearing kids vary greatly and Byron James just wants to know the truth.  Byron's not the only one drawn to the house, there are his new friends Iain and Hamish and a disturbed former bluesman, Joey Blue, all destined to find themselves at Parkton' s darkest address.

809 Jacob Street may be Marty Young's first published novel, but he's certainly paid his dues, both as an award winning editor and as the founding President of the Australian Horror Writers Association and one of the creative minds behind Midnight Echo Magazine.

Young' s talent is is clear, particularly his keen eye for descriptive text.  "Byron James glanced up from his contemplations and stared at his new friend.  Iain Cluson' tangled mop of hair and thick eyebrows made him look like a crazy cartoon character, a mad scientist in shorts and a Darth Vader t-shirt.  He was the oldest amongst them, closing in on fifteen. Four months older than Byron and five months more than the third member of their gang, Hamish Aidenson, who was a head taller than Iain and a whole world more silent than anyone Byron had met before.  Hamish was thin, too, so thin that a good gust of wind would fill his clothes like sails and take him far away from here.  His brown hair was long and shaggy, reminding Byron of Beaker, that poor muppet who had a perpetual look of fright on his face.  Guess that meant Iain was Dr. Bunsen Honeydew."

This is the first time in a long time that I actually got chills while reading a book.  The author managed to build tension slowly and brought it all to a brutal crescendo.

I also liked the cover design and beautiful interior illustrations from David Schembri.

All told, 809 Jacob Street is a wonderful first novel for Marty Young and first release for new Publisher, Black Beacon Books

As I'm finishing this review, I noticed 809 Jacob Street is available for FREE if you are an Amazon Prime member,as a part of the Kindle Lending Library.  Sweet deal.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Netherworld: Book One of the Chronicles of Diana Furnaval - by Lisa Morton - I'll be surprised if I read a better book all year. Wow!

5 of 5 Stars    Review copy

What a great way to kick off 2014.  Lisa Morton has just set the standard for genre literature for the year ahead with an epic adventure into the Netherworld.

It starts with a very nice cover design ftom Rob Grom which perfectly captures the look and attitude of Lady Diana Furnaval.

With her lead character, Bram Stoker award winning author, Lisa Morton has created a worthy counterpart to Indiana Jones.

From Victorian England, our heroine travels the world in an effort to close the gateways to the Netherworld and to avenge the death of her husband.  From Calcutta, India to Canton, China to both coasts of the USA and back to England, Lady Diana and her cat, Mina, battle demons, lizard people, vampires, as well as your garden variety bad guys.

Lisa Morton's writing was wonderfully detailed, showing the research that had to have gone into her descriptions of the locales and the believable monsters Lady Diana must face.

There is so much to like in this epic tale, it's not just good vs. evil, there are a lot of gray areas and numerous subplots.  I particularly liked Chappell and Sons Booksellers.

If you are hesitant to read the first book in a series before the others are published, don't be. There is a good bit of closure at the end of book one and at the same time you can easily see the possibilities for continued adventures.  Plus, there is a terrific surprise in the last chapter.

Netherworld: Book One of the Chronicles of Diana Furnaval has everything I like in a book. Great characterization, well-told story, plenty of action and a place I'd like to return to someday.

Netherworld: Book One of the Chronicles of Diana Furnaval is set for release on January 10th and is available for pre-order in Hardcover and Papeback from

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Drive-In - by Joe R. Lansdale - As much fun as sneaking into the drive-in in your buddy's trunk

5 of 5 Stars    Review copy

Those were the days.  Heading to the drive in on a Friday night.  If you were lucky, it was with the girl with whom you were hoping to get past second base.  But then, it could be just as much fun with your friends.  Maybe with one or two of you in the trunk to save the admission fee.

The Orbit Drive-In off I-45 is the largest Drive-In in Texas with space for four-thousand cars.  With two or more occupants per car, that makes The Orbit bigger than many small Texas towns.

The Orbit shows "B-string and basement-budget pictures.  A lot of them made with little more than a Kodak, some spit and a prayer.  And if you've watched enough of this stuff, you develop a taste for it, sort of like learning to like sauerkraut."

Lansdale is a skilled writer who creates real people and then places them in real bad situations.  Even when those situations are themselves like a B-string movie.  And therein lies the charm of The Drive-In.

The Drive-In uses a familiar plot device where you take a diverse group of people and place them in a locked environment where there's no way out.  Think Stephen King's Under the Dome.  Although Landale's work pre-dates King's novel by some 20 years  they both deal with the lengths people will go just to survive.

Populated with some truly bizarre characters like The Popcorn King and a group of religious cannibals, The Drive-In is all the fun of those tacky B-movies from the golden age of the drive-in.  Roger Corman would be proud.

First published in 1988, The Drive-In is now available as an ebook, in a variety of formats, from the folks at Crossroad Press.  Also available are two sequels in the series.

If you've never read The Drive-In, I can recommend this one for a fast, fun read.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Eye Unseen - by Cynthia Tottleben - An original and very disturbing tale

5 of 5 Stars.   Review copy

The Eye Unseen starts out looking like it's going to be a straight-forward tale of the horrors of child abuse and it is that, but it's much, much more.

Told in a first person narrative with each chapter told by one of several characters in the book, including Tippy, the dog.

Lucinda Shay Tew, or Lucy as she's called, has quit the swim team because she can no longer hide the embarrassing bruises from her mother's frequent beatings.  Her older sister, Brandy tends to escape her mother's wrath, but Lucy seems to be hated just for being who she is.

To keep this child abuse from being discovered, Lucy's mother, Joan tells the school that Lucy is now living with her father in France and proceeded to keep her isolated in the house, locking her in her room for days at a time and eventually forcing her to live in the basement.

Lucy's mother makes the mother in Stephen King's Carrie look like a Saint.

At times, I found The Eye Unseen to be extremely disturbing to the point of horrifying.  "After rummaging through my drawers I came up with some toenail clippers, and together we dissected the rodent.  Cut the poor guy's fur like we were stripping him of a suit and peeled it back from his body.  A few months earlier, and Brandy and I would have squealed at such a thought.  Funny how hunger made you immune to some things.  'I'm sure this would taste a lot better cooked.'  I made my apologies to Tippy as I split the small bits of meat between us."

The writer, Cynthia Tottleben, was the winner of JournalStone's writing competition for 2013.  Deservedly so, as I found this to be one of the most compellingly original horror stories I've read in recent memory.

If you're in the mood for something different in your horror reading, be sure to add The Eye Unseen to your To Be Read pile.

Highly recommended.