Sunday, June 29, 2014

Carnies - by Martin Livings - "They're not what they seem to be. Dig deeper."

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

The Australian horror community is rich with talent.  Martin Livings is a Perth-based writer who has had over sixty short stories in a variety of magazines and anthologies.  Carnies is his first full-length novel, first published several years ago, it was nominated for both the Aurealis and Ditmar awards.  Carnies is now available as an e-book from Cohesion Press.

The story begins with an incident at the Tillbrook Pub where a biker gang has a run-in with three men who walk into the bar.  You can't say they weren't warned, as the barmaid tells them, "'You...' she stammered, you shouldn't chase those folk....' She sought the right word for a moment.  'They're not...right.'"

Paul and David Hampden are brothers.  David works for a paper, but is no longer a big deal.  He's been reduced to puff pieces for the weekend magazine. Paul is currently unemployed, but is actually a pretty good photographer.  David offers his brother a job taking pictures at a carnival no one's ever heard of and off they go.  What they find is darker than they could ever imagine.

Nothing is unimportant in this story.  I really enjoyed the way Martin would take some little tidbit from earlier in the work and then drop in a follow-up with little or no fanfare.  As a reader, I like to experience that sense of discovery.

Carnies is a good read and is available now, both in paperback and e-book formats, through


Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Exiled - by William Meikle - Horror, plain and simple, with some pretty grim stuff, and the truth is beyond belief.

5 of 5 Stars  

William Meikle is a Scottish writer, now living in Newfoundland, Canada.  I happen to enjoy his frequent Facebook posts with pictures of icebergs floating by.  That has nothing to do with this book, I just happen to like those pics.

As fate would have it, I also happen to like Willie's new book.  Set in his native Scottland, The Exiled, features brothers, John and Alan Grainger.  The former is a copper and the later a cub reporter.

They don't really keep in touch until the brutal slaying of a black swan and the simultaneous disappearance of a six-year-old girl bring them together and throw them into a compelling mystery which takes them to a place neither of them even knew existed.  They may not have been close before, but let an outsider try to harm one, the other will give his all for his brother.

I loved the mood, the settings, and the colorful language of The Exiled.  I found the story to be original and well written.  "'There's always been stories about these parts,' he said, almost a whisper.  'You can't swing a cat around here without hitting a haunted castle or a fairy wood or a bogle's cave.  There are some things that can't be explained--some things you shouldn't look at too closely.  That's all I'm saying.'"

The Exiled is certainly not a pleasant story.  It's horror, plain and simple, with some pretty grim stuff, and the truth is beyond belief.

As I was preparing this review, I happened upon the following quote from the author and I thought I'd share...

"The nightmare? I've been having it off and on since I was a boy. It's of a bird - a huge, black, bird. The stuff that dreams are made of. 

In the nightmare I'm on the edge of a high sea cliff. I feel the wind on my face, taste salt spray, smell cut grass and flowers. I feel like if I could just give myself to the wind I could fly. Then it comes, from blue, snow covered mountains way to the north, a black speck at first, getting bigger fast. Before I know it it is on me, enfolding me in feathers. It lowers its head, almost like a dragon, and puts its beak near my ear. It whispers. 

I had the dream many times, and always woke up at this point. 

Then, in 1991, I heard what it said. 

'Will we talk about the black bird?'

The next morning, for the first time since 1976, I wrote a story. It wasn't a very good story, but something had been woken up, and the day after that I wrote another, a wee ghost story. It didn't have a black bird in it, but it did have some jazz, and a sultry broad, a murder and some dancing. When that one made me 100 pounds in a ghost story competition, I was on my way. 

The bird comes back and whispers to me every couple of years - I've come to think of it as my spirit guide. Although it terrifies me, it also reassures me in a weird kind of way. As long as it's around, I'll still be a writer and not just a drunk with weird ideas he can't express. 

The bird's most recent appeareance was last year, and the next morning I had an idea. THE EXILED, my Darkfuse novel is a way of making sense of that dream - I think I got close to the heart of it. 

Will we talk about the black bird?"

The Exiled will be published in paperback and for the Kindle on July 1, 2014 from Darkfuse, a small press that, in my opinion, has become synonymous with quality.

Highly recommended.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Devourer of Souls - by Kevin Lucia - One of the most creepy books I've read in some time

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

If Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft had a bastard child, his name would be Kevin Lucia.  Devourer of Souls is one of the most creepy books I've read in some time. By the way, that's a compliment.  I love creepy.  Mixing small town realism with Lovecraftian style mythos, Lucia has delivered two loosely connected stories in one entertaining new book.

Devourer of Souls is set in the fictional town of Clifton Heights, and areas nearby, in the Adirondack mountains. There is a small group of men who meet at the Skylark diner and discuss it's secrets.  You see, strange things happen in Clifton Heights and, for some reason, these men know more about those things than your average citizen.

First up, two boys, Nate Slocum and Jake Burns, both sons of single fathers who served in Vietnam, but the similarities end there.  They are introduced to the ancient game of Souphan (Fate) by an elder Vietnamese man named Mr.Trung.  Jake believes Mr. Trung has captured his father's soul through this game and Jakes's plan for revenge leads to dire consequences.

The later story takes place in the nearby town of Tahawus where the man in yellow has come to lead Vacation Bible School at the local church.  "...the man in yellow offered folks much subtler prizes: health. Freedom from physical and emotional pain.  Acceptance and belonging.  Stronger eyesight, confident speech.  Clean, clear breath.  And the townspeople lapped those things up like newborn kittens drinking milk, never once considering the cost."  

In addition to the man in yellow, there's also a reference to Carcosa.  Out of curiosity, I reached out to Kevin and asked if he watched HBO's True Detectives.  Kevin says he plans to, but had not seen an episode.  My response was that I think Kevin's Muse and Nic Pizzolatto's Muse must be drinking buddies.

Keven Lucia has a gift for putting creepy down on the page and there are a lot of nice touches to the stories, like the Wednesday night creature features in the park the boys like to attend.  Very cool.

Devourer of Souls is available now in paperback and will be available as an e-book on June 30th, 2014, through, from Ragnarok Publications who are really on a roll of late.

Highly recommended.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Lazarus Initiative - by Steven Savile and David Sakmyster - Virtual reality meets Near Death Experience

4 of 5 Stars     Review Copy

The Lazarus Initiative takes the reader on an exhilarating ride, mixing heavy research on the Near Death Experience (NDE) and Virtual Reality (VR).

Steven Savile and David Sakmyster combine for a wildly imaginative story of Nicolas Sheridan, CEO of Echelon, a gaming company that has all but cornered the market on VR. Nicolas dies in a suspicious plane crash, but is brought back to life, leading to a fascination with NDE.

The story plays out in three different areas as Nicolas surrounds himself with others in various fields who have each had similar NDEs researching the phenomena.  At the same time Echelon Corp's VP, Gregory McCormack, wants Nicolas out of the picture so he can pursue some frightening VR  research the military has an interest in.  And then there's a kind of mysticism involving a Grey Man, a shape-shifting coyote, and an ancient deity who wants nothing more than to bring a permanent end to those who have come back. Who knows, maybe they're all the same entity.

The authors do an excellent job of weaving the story-lines into a fast-paced, compelling tale filled with excitement, intrigue and one very big, very unexpected twist.

The Lazarus Initiative is published, as an e-book, from BadPress and is available now through and if you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners' Lending Library.


Saturday, June 21, 2014

Relic Of Death - by David Bernstein - Wildly original novella

5 of 5 Stars

Relic Of Death is a brilliantly conceived and executed horror novella. Many times a novella will leave me wanting more on some level.  More story, more character development, more of something.  Relic Of Death is perfect, just where it is.

It's difficult to give a story synopsis without revealing too much.  As you can tell from the beautiful cover (Darfuse always has exceptional covers), it has something to do with a mystical suitcase.

The story is told through a series of vignettes as the object changes hands violently over time.  Before it all becomes too repetitious, Bernstein reveals the truth about the Relic Of Death and gives the tale some closure, for now.

This is my first time reading David Bernstein, it certainly won't be my last.  With clear, crisp prose, he delivers page after page just what the story calls for.  No fluff, no wasted words.

Relic Of Death is another winning entry in the Darkfuse novella series.  My bookclub membership is the best money I've ever spent with a small press.

Official release date is June 24, 2014.  Relic Of Death will be available in a variety of formats and if you have an Amazon Prime membership you can read it for FREE through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Highly recommended!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Kumquat - by Jeff Strand - A comedic love story

 5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

When it comes to writing, Jeff Strand has two passions, horror and comedy, and he often combines the two with much success.  With his latest novel, Kumquat, Jeff gives his readers a comedic love story for adults and takes us on the road-trip of a lifetime from Florida to Rhode Island to PhaserCon in San Francisco.

Todd Bryan meets Amy Husk at what is arguably the worst film festival ever and they bond over a fictional sci-fi series "Exit Red."  One thing leads to another and, before you know it, the two are driving from Florida to Rhode Island to get a hot dog from Hunky Dory Dogs.

To say that things go awry would be putting it mildly.  The trip is like Murphy's Law on steroids.  There's a lot I'm not saying here, you really should discover this one for yourself.

Kumquat is one of those books you just don't want to end.  Great characters, crazy fun, and the unexpected at every turn.

The ebook should be available at on July 1st, so set a reminder for yourself to pick it up when it's released.

Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Georgie - by Robert Ford - Word for word the best horror I've read this year

5 of 5 Stars

Robert Ford posted a link to this short story as a FREE gift for Father's Day.  As of the posting of this review it's still FREE at  Go get it now and then come back to finish reading this review.

The opening paragraph just knocked my socks off.  This is only a short story. but it packs more horror per word than any full length novel I've read this year.

As a father and now grandfather, I was repulsed.  What happens is terrible, yet I couldn't put it down.

Robert Ford is not the most prolific writer, but he's a solid writer who chooses every word carefully.  So why is this story FREE?  Well, being the smart marketing man that he is, Robert has included a sample from his novella Samson and Denial, in hopes you'll like it and buy that one.  Pretty clever.

Georgie is available now at  If you love horror, I can't recommend this one enough.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Quick - by Lauren Owen - An epic story set in Victorian England

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

An auspicious debut for writer Lauren Owen.  Given my love of horror, at first I thought I may have been misled into reading The Quick.

From the book's description, "1892: James Norbury, a shy would-be poet newly down from Oxford finds lodging with a charming young aristocrat.  Through this new friendship he is introduced to the drawing-rooms of high society and finds love in an unexpected quarter.  Then, suddenly, he vanishes without a trace.  Alarmed, his sister, Charlotte, sets out from their crumbling country estate determined to find him.  In the sinister, labyrinthine London that greets her, she uncovers a hidden, supernatural city populated by unforgettable characters: a female rope walker turned vigilante, a street urchin with a deadly secret, and the chilling, ' Doctor Knife.'  But, the answer to her brother's disappearance ultimately lies within the doors of the exclusive, secretive Aegolius Club, whose predatory members include the most ambitious, and the most bloodthirsty, men in England."

So, I'm more than a hundred pages in and I'm wondering where is all the good stuff I was promised?  At this point it was well written, but more like Jane Eyre or Sense and Sensibilty, great stuff, but not what I signed up for.  Once the story took a twist to the dark side it manged to hold on to the tone of the book's beginning, but added the elements I had been promised.

It's difficult to believe The Quick is Lauren Owen's first novel.  She is a talent to be watched and read.  Available in Hardcover, Paperback, ebook and audio book formats from Random House LLC and available for pre-order from

Official publication date is June 17, 2014.  Recommended.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Apocalyptic Organ Grinder: A Hydra Dystopian Novella - by William Todd Rose

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

For a novella length story, there is a lot going on in Apocalyptic Organ Grinder.

There's the back story of the evil wizard who created the pathogen which kills off most of the world's population, there are two groups of survivors, those not killed outright, but are diseased carriers who refer to themselves as The People, and those known as Clear Skins who call the infected Spewers.

Tanner Kline, a Clear Skin, is also a Sweeper, it's his job to seek out Spewers and eliminate them.  I found Apocalyptic Organ Grinder to be interesting in that there are no clear-cut good guys and bad guys, both groups want the same basic things.  Food, shelter, and safety for their loved ones.

Of course, if you are a Clear Skin, you can understand why the Spewers would be a threat, "He could see the greenish yellow pus within the stone-sized blisters that covered their bodies.  The blisters were membrane thin and the pressure of infection made them pulse and throb as if tiny hearts were submerged within the cloudy liquid.  Portions of the Spewer's bodies were marked with deflated blisters that had yet to scab over; directly below these festering wounds. new bubbles of flesh filled with contagion and strained against the skin."

Apocalyptic Organ Grinder seems a bit hampered by the novella format.  I would have liked to have read this in a novel sized treatment with more about life in each of the survivor groups, as well as more about the evil wizard and the events leading up to the way things are now.

As it stands, Apocalyptic Organ Grinder is a good story and an enjoyable read from Random House.  It's set for publication on June 17, 2014, but I see the ebook available now at

Sunday, June 8, 2014

The Forty First Wink - by James Walley -Just plain fun

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Bizarre, stream-of-consciousness, fantasy; It's hard to put a finger on James Walley' s debut novel.  One thing's for sure, you won't be bored.

Marty thinks he's awakened with a massive hangover, but actually he's still asleep and stuck in his dream with evil clowns, cloth pirates, bodies of water made of paper, mirror images with a mind of their own, flying galleons, and much more.

"When he had woken that morning, he had not expected to be going to work, and he had certainly not expected to be arriving at work at the helm of a pirate galleon, with a small army of stuffed toys and a massive robotic bird.  Even as insane as that concept sounded in his head, it sure beat taking the bus."

With a writing style reminiscent of the late Douglas Adams (while remaining entirely Earthbound, if you don't count a flying Pirate ship), James Walley takes the reader on a rollercoaster ride of an adventure.

True, this isn't great literature, but it certainly is great fun.

The Forty-First Wink will be released on June 16, 2014 from Ragnarok Publications.  Set a reminder for yourself to grab this one when it comes out.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Savage - by Gary Fry - In horror, taking the road less traveled is never a good idea

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Whenever a character in a dark fiction story decides to get off the main road, for any reason, you know something bad is going to happen.  For Daryl, it results in the failure of his GPS, his running out of fuel, his cell phone not getting a signal, and then stumbling upon a very strange village where everyone is disciplined.  If you're undisciplined it makes you an outsider and suspect for anything untoward that may have happened in town, like murder.

Daryl is an academic, coming from a conference, and the first person narrative of the story is presented in the way such a person might speak.  Frankly, it drove me to distraction.  I found myself hoping Daryl would come to a bad end, just to get him to shut up.

I was a bit disappointed in Savage, it's a part of the Darkfuse novella series and I've enjoyed nearly everything I've read from them and although this is the first story I've read by Gary Fry, I've heard very good things about his writing.

If you want to try Savage for yourself, it will be available for the Kindle through on June 10, 2014.  Plus, if you are a member of Amazon Prime, you can read it for FREE through the Kindle Owner's Lending Library.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Dreams of Ivory and Gold - by Kirk Dougal - Epic horror of biblical proportions

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

In the Summer of 2013 I had the privilege of reading Manifesto UF edited by Tim Marquitz and Tyson Mauermann and I had this to say about "Rev" a short story by Kirk Dougal.  "When in the hands of a writer who 'gets it,' urban fantasy can be a lot of fun and Dougal definitely 'gets it.'"  It's nice to know Kirk Dougal still "gets it."

Dreams of Ivory and Gold is part fast-paced thriller, part urban fantasy, and part horror.  The result is a genre bending, epic story of biblical proportions.  A story more than 600 years in the making involving an emissary of the Catholic Church, given free reign to fight an ancient evil, and culminating in the investigation of a serial killer who leaves his victims a bloody mess and takes their uterus with him.  It all makes sense when you know why.

The writer's characters are well rounded and fully realized making it easier to suspend your disbelief when dealing with the unbelievable.  This is no small feat.  Plus, this is Kirk Dougal's debut novel. Wow!  That just makes this work even more impressive.

Dreams of Ivory and Gold  has just been re-released from Angelic Knight Press which is now the horror imprint for Ragnarok Publications.

Yet another great read I can highly recommend.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Deep Like the River - by Tim Waggoner - An interesting novella

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

A short, yet powerful read from Tim Waggoner.

Sisters, Alie and Carin, are spending a day leisurely canoeing down Little Clearwater river when they discover the unexpected.  I know how vague that sounds, but I really don't want to give anything away.  Most of the joy in this read is from the discovery process.

Deep Like the River is a journey of the mind with a wonderful intensity building as the perils the sisters face become more dangerous and more frequent.

From Dark Regions Press, Deep Like the River, is available now as a signed Limited Edition hardcover, paperback and ebook direct from the publisher, as well as through for the paperback and Kindle versions.  Plus, if you have an Amazon Prime membership, you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owner's Lending Library.

If you've never read Tim Waggoner before, Deep Like the River, is an excellent starting point.

Highly recommended.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Whisper - by Michael Bray - Fine supernatural horror

4 of 5 Stars

Whisper is one of those books you see for FREE and download in hopes of getting a chance to read one day.  That day came when I received a review copy of Echoes by the same author, Michael Bray, and discovered it was a sequel to Whisper.  I don't know about you, but I hate reading a sequel when I haven't read the original, so that meant it was time to read Whisper.

The book was a pleasant surprise.  City dwellers, Melody and Steve Samson fall in love with "Hope House," located in the forest outside of Oakville.  It'll need some work, but the price is right, and it will be nice to escape the concrete jungle.

The author does a nice job of building the mystique of the house and making the couple gradually regret their decision.  When the story of the property is finally revealed, the legend was at once believable and complete.

My biggest concern with Whisper were the changes in the couple's demeanour from scene to scene, I felt there were times it lacked believability.  If Melody is having weird experiences why wouldn't she be more understanding of Steve's and vice versa.  Where is the love?

Aside from that, this was a well-crafted supernatural horror story and I look forward to reading it's sequel, Echoes, in a week or two.

Whisper is available now from Horrific Tales Publishing, through, both as a paperback and ebook.  If you subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can read it for FREE through the Kindle Owner's Lending Library.