Thursday, September 29, 2016

Hunter of the Dead - by Stephen Kozeniewski - An epic tale of a vampire dynasty and the one man they fear more than any other

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Hunter of the Dead is a sprawling, epic tale of vampire houses, the Inquisitors who seek to destroy them, and the one both vampires and Inquisitors fear the most, simply known as The Hunter.

Kozeniewski wastes no time setting the bloody tone for the tale which follows. I have never read anything like this.  At times mesmerizing and breathtaking, Hunter of the Dead is every bit as entertaining as The Strain, but dissimilar in many ways. Multiple story-lines woven together in  a complex tapestry of blood and violence  No sparkly vampires here, these undead are definitely hardcore.

"My intellect tells me there is no chance that The Hunter of the Dead has emerged from centuries of sleep.  That he disappeared all those years ago.  But my heart screams out that he is back.  And if he is, then, yes, mankind and immortals both are in existential danger. He is vicious, soulless, relentless. A killing machine without mercy, without fear.  He destroys the undying the same way a man swats a fly.  He is indestructible.  And he is very, very real."

It there are any negatives with Hunter of the Dead it would be in the way the story moves from the past to the present and back again which I did find a bit tricky to follow, but overall, The Hunter of the Dead is a read that is well worth your time.

Published by Sinister Grin Press, Hunter of the Dead is available in both paperback an Kindle formats.  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you may read it at no additional charge and if you're an Amazon Prime member you can read Hunter of the Dead for FREE through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the author's bio - Stephen Kozeniewski (pronounced "causin' ooze key") lives in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer, he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star. He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor's degree is in German.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Winter Box - by Tim Waggoner - Wow. A compelling novella

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

The Winter Box, is a lovely tradition started by Heather and her then boyfriend, Todd, a young couple in love.

Let's each pick one object — something small — that represents our relationship.  The other person will have to guess why he or she chose it, and then we'll put them in the box and save them.

 As the years slip away, so does this charming ritual and their passion for one another.

Tim Waggoner's writing is crisp and clear, unlike the weather. Bitter cold, heavy snow, and a biting wind, combine for blizzard conditions keeping the couple snowbound.  What happens next is nothing short of heartbreaking.

The Winter Box is available as an e-book from Darkfuse Publishing. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge and if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Tim Waggoner’s first novel came out in 2001, since then he’s published over thirty novels and three collections of short stories. He writes original fantasy and horror, as well as media tie-ins. He’s been a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award and the Scribe Award, and his fiction has received numerous Honorable Mentions in volumes of Best Horror of the Year. In 2016, the Horror Writers Association honored him with the Mentor of the Year Award. In addition to writing, Tim is also a full-time tenured professor who teaches creative writing and composition at Sinclair College.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Deadside Resurrection - by Terry Grimwood

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Deadside Revolution is one of those books that is conceptually strong but gets lost in the execution.

The dead are coming back to life, but not as zombies per se. These dead still have their faculties, even if they are rotting on the outside.  In addition to the dead, there are half-dead, and some people who are still considered living.

This was not simply a smoking, post apocalyptic ruin, this was an inversion of normality.  Whatever was alive was now dead, and whatever had been dead was alive, and living - a grotesque parody of 21st Century life.

Regrettably, I found much of the action in this book to be repetitive, with one battle scene pretty much the same as the next.  That's unfortunate because there is a story hidden in the miasma of Deadside Revolution.

Robert Lewis is a reluctant hero who must get his daughter, who's mother was one of the half-dead when she was born and has no soul, to a location where the fallen angel, Azazel, can claim her body. This may be the only way to return things to the way they once were.

Although, fast-paced and entertaining at times, I can't easily recommend this book, especially with its less than satisfying ending.  I do give the author credit, though for trying to do something different in the zombie sub-genre.

Deadside Revolution is available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats from Horrific Tales Publishing.  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge and if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Emergence: A Humanity 2.0 Novel - Edited by J.M. Martin - The first book in a new shared world anthology series

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Emergence: A Humanity 2.0 Novel, edited by J.M. Martin, is a shared world anthology where an ancient trigger gene buried deep in humankinds's DNA is sporadically activating  and evolving some humans into something superhuman.  What these "chimerics" do with their new powers is up to them. Some become heroes, others villains.

From the Barrel of a Gun by Jeff C. Carter - A former military sniper is brought to trial for killing Anchor City's superheroes. His motive for the crimes may surprise you.

Never Go Half Supervillain by C.T. Phipps - Charles' approach to the anthology seems to be less than serious, with supervillains having names like the Human BBQ, Inside-Out-Man, and Penmanship, really, Penmanship?  The title does give some good advice though. You didn't go full-supervillain, Freelancer.  You never go half-supervillain.  You need the hideouts, the henchmen, and the constant breaking out.  You try to live the white-picket fence and marriage, you get busted.

We Could Be Heroes by Eloise J. Knapp - A nice, solid, story which makes good utilization of the shared world aspect of the anthology.  Russian chimeras who want to flee to America and become superheroes.  This one has a good twist, too.  Overall, one of the better stories in the collection.  Well-told, with plenty of drama.

Whiplash by Tim Marquitz - Another excellent story, making good use of the shared world concept. Someone is introducing young chimeras into a life of crime and Whiplash is bent of finding the culprit

The Other by Rob J. Hayes - Things are picking up as Rob delivers a complex tale of a research scientist going to great lengths to protect himself from chimeras, with very interesting results.

Perennial by Edward M. Erdelac - This story could have been a standalone novel. Layered, with many elements.  The primary storyline is a kid's show called Peter 'N Wendy where one of the producers is a pedophile and the actor playing Peter actually becomes a superhero called Pan.  There was quite a bit that I liked about this story, but at the same time the author changed some names of places and things and left celebrities with their actual names, which seemed odd to me.  Like Hillywood for Hollywood and Tweeter for Twitter, but leaving references to Johnny Depp and Tim Burton.  This just didn't work for me.

Avenger by G.N Braunn - Probably my favorite story in the collection.  Leon Stoner, former special-ops agent and current security guard, is recruited  into a secret organization which combats evil chimerics.  A more serious approach to the material and the result is a very good story.

Bring It On, Hero by J.M. Martin - Hero, Noah Jensen, is in for a bit of a surprise when he has to meet with a therapist.  Another solid tale with nice cross-references to the other stories.

(They Call Me) Epilogue by Steve Diamond - As you may have figured out by now , most chimerics are born out of times of great stress.  For the Human Shield, it was when he tried to save the life of industrialist, Ted Ross.  He failed that day, but since then he's saved many lives.  Not good enough for Ted's wife.

I found Emergence: A Humanity 2.0 Novel to be somewhat choppy.  Some good stories, some average, and a few great tales.  The plan is to develop this as a series, if that happens I hope they take more time to work on the shared world aspects of the anthology.

By the way, comic book artist, Patrick Brown, brilliantly captures the feel of the book with his cover art for this first volume of stories.

Emergence: A Humanity 2.0 Novel should be available any day, in both paperback and e-book formats, from Ragnarok Publications.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Bad Apples 3: Seven Slices of Halloween Horror - The perfect theme for an anthology this time of year and brilliantly executed

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Halloween is fast approaching, don't believe me, just stop by your local big box store or visit any super drug store.  Candy and costumes and decorations are popping up everywhere.

Good news is, it's also time for Halloween anthologies and scary stories to appear on bookshelves and in your newsfeeds.

One such collection is from Evans and Adam Light, co-creators of the Bad Apples anthology series.

Bad Apples 3:Seven Slices of Halloween Horror is a delicious concoction of tales that are much more fun than bobbing for apples.  Plus, you're much less likely to suffer accidental drowning reading this book, unless you like to read in the tub, then you're on your own.

Belle Souffrance byAdam & Evans Light - The authors combine their talents to produce one of the most visceral stories of betrayal and revenge I've ever read. "now as he stood on the dark hillside, Halloween's arrival imminent, he imagined all that he could create with flesh as his canvas and fresh blood as his paint."  Set against the backdrop of an old amusement park (one of my favorite tropes), the story was horrifyingly original.

Chocolate Covered Eyeball by John McNee - One of the wildest, most imaginative short stories I've read this year.  Old man Koolter doesn't take kindly to those who shoplift from his candy store. The scene where the lead character vomits his ill-gotten candy into a toilet is disturbingly brilliant.

October's End by Craig Saunders - A suitably creepy tale about the house at October's End. "There might be a reason the house was called October's End, but Harvey knew October never ended.  It never had, and never would, and names and houses and old ladies all lied."

The Uncle Taffy's Girl by Gregor Xane - This is the first time I've read anything by Gregor Xane and it's a doozy.  A Halloween party for the ages.  Proof once again that if something is too good to be true, it is.  Gregory's story had me cringing more than once, each time with something even more terrifying than before.

Last Stop by Edward Lorn - A very disturbing bus ride with a Brit who plans to kill three people on Halloween night.  First time reading Edward Lorn,too, and it won't be the last.  By far the darkest story in the book, but it's also one of the best.

Body of Christ by Mark Matthews - Another dark tale of a Christian mother's resistance to Halloween. Admittedly the oddest story in the anthology and gruesome at times, yet I found it completely satisfying.

Pulp by Jason Parent - An inventive tale of another Halloween party gone awry.  Most of the partygoers were members of a high school film club and "had drawn from a fishbowl a folded piece of paper with the name of an iconic horror-movie villain on it."  These were their costumes.  Sounds like a fun party, right.  Wrong.  Probably my favorite story in an anthology loaded with great tales.

Bad Apples 3:Seven Slices of Halloween Horror is a remarkably diverse collection of stories.  If Halloween is your thing and you like good horror, what are you waiting for?

Bad Apples 3:Seven Slices of Halloween Horror is available now as a paperback from Corpus Press.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Damnable - by Hank Schwaeble - Book 1 in the Jake Hatcher series - A solid mix of the urban fantasy, horror, and thriller genres

5 of 5 Stars

Not long ago, I received an advance copy of The Angel of the Abyss: A Jake Hatcher Thriller by Hank Schwaeble.  Having previously read American Nocturne, I was excited about the prospect of reading more of Hank's work. Then I found out, the new novel is the third book in a series.  Even though I was assured the new book works well as a stand-alone novel. I had to read the whole series.  Maybe I have a touch of OCD.

Long story, slightly longer.  I'm so glad I'm a completist.  Had I not read Damnable, I would have missed a terrific read, and a Bram Stoker Award winner for best First Novel, which I didn't realize until after I read the book.

In the beginning of Damnable, the author shows a bit of his love for noir.  It doesn't hold through the entire book, but it was nice to see.

At the counter nearby, the babe, a sultry minx with milky skin, sat sidesaddle on one of the stools, smartly arrayed in a taupe linen skirt and vest, sipping her coffee like a lounging starlet nursing a gin and tonic.

The we meet Jake Hatcher, in military prison, basically for doing his job, perhaps a bit too well. When Jake is released to attend the funereal of a brother he never knew he had, things start going sideways, quickly.

Meet Valentine, an amazingly well-crafted villain and a truly despicable character, bent on bringing an end to heaven. His scheme is complex and includes a monster he calls the Get of Damnation.

They stood there watching as the thing in the cage finished the heart.  It ate it like a piece of fruit, crouched over, shifting its weight on its haunches, hiding partially behind its shoulder, looking sideways at them every few seconds.  Between bites.

They say the devil is in the details and some of the smallest bits in Damnable are some of my favorites, like Jake Hatcher's mother's obsession with flamingos.  Certainly not needed, but thoroughly enjoyable.

Schwaeble creates powerful images, both with spurts of lyrical prose and the ability to get down and dirty when he needs to. Damnable is both a captivating and horrifying read.  It's also an adult read,with both hardcore sex and extreme violence, all totally relevant to the story.

There are a number of well timed twists throughout Damnable, enough to keep the reader guessing to the very end.

Published by Jove, Damnable is available in both Paperback and e-book formats.

Hank Schwaeble is a writer and attorney in Houston, Texas. His debut novel, Damnable, won the Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel. He is also the author of Diabolical, and the soon to be published, the Angel of the Abyss (all three in the Jake Hatcher series).  Hank is also the author of the horror-noir collection American Nocturne and numerous short stories.

Hank is an active member of the Horror Writers Association and the International Thriller Writers Association.

The Jersey Devil - by Hunter Shea - The legend of the Jersey Devil, more frightening than ever

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

A romp through the Pine Barrens of New Jersey with multiple twists, layers, and additions to the mythos of The Jersey Devil.

I've lived in Southeastern Pennsylvania most of my life.  It's close enough to South Jersey that I've grown up fascinated by the tall tales of The Jersey Devil. As a result I come to Hunter Shea's new book with a firm grasp on all of the hearsay from over the years  While Hunter keeps the history of the legend in tact, he really just uses those stories as a starting point for his own tale which makes anything you may have heard before look like a child's bedtime story.

The Jersey Devil begins five years ago with Jane Moreland and her abusive husband Henry.  Henry's lying on the floor, dead, having hit his head on the coffee table when he tripped while taking a swing at his wife during one of his drunken stupors.  Serves the bastard right.  Out of fear of the police, Jane wraps Henry's body in a tarp and takes it deep into the Pine Barrens to bury it.  What happens next is just the beginning of a non-stop thrill ride.

As a writer, Hunter Shea holds nothing back, he leaves it all on the written page, as bloody as it may be.  I liked the immediate action in the story, but then a slow build to an even bigger payoff.  Some of the descriptions of the attacks which take place are exceedingly violent and visceral.  There are numerous twists, each one darker than the last.  This is not a story for the squeamish, but the rest of us can certainly enjoy the gut-wrenching monster mayhem.

Strongly recommending, just not around mealtime, unless you are looking to lose your appetite or bring up your lunch if you've already eaten.

Published by Pinnacle, The Jersey Devil will be available in both paperback and e-book formats on August 30th, 2016, but can be pre-ordered now.

From the author's bio - Hunter Shea is the author of several novels and his short stories have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Shocklines : Fresh Voices in Terror. published by Cemetery Dance.  His obsession with all things horrific has led him to real life exploration of the paranormal, interviews with exorcists and other things that would keep most people awake with the lights on. He lives in New York with his family and vindictive cat.

Friday, September 9, 2016

Marvelry's Curiosity Shop - by John Brhel and Joe Sullivan - Good concept, but I was left wanting something more

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I love the concept behind Brhel & Sullivan's newest book.  If you're waiting for the "but," it's coming.

With nearly every story, I'm reading along, enjoying the writing and the imagination that went into the tale, and then...BANG...the reveal or twist and...that's it...over.  It was almost as it the writers would get to a certain word count and then go into hurry up mode to wrap up that particular tale.  I don't know, maybe it's me, but I like a little time to savor and enjoy what just happened in the individual stories. A mini epilogue of sorts for each episode would have been nice.

Marvelry's Curiosity Shop is told in a series of anecdotal stories, each one dealing with an item purchased from or given away by Dr. Marvelry, the shop's proprietor. Marvelry himself was once a world-renowned illusionist, now retired.

The curiosity shop is set in the fictional town of Binghampton, NY.  Think Binghamton, NY, pretty much the same place.

The Victor Talking Machine - The story of Brent and Kevin Buckley, a young couple who purchase a Victor Victrola that came with an old Frank Sinatra record and a little something extra.

Echo's Reflection - Echo Dollinger and her fiancé, Robert Simmons were looking for the perfect bathroom mirror for their Neo-Victorian furnished home.  They find the mirror they purchase at Marvelry's Curiosity Shop shows more than their reflections.

Magician's Complex - One of my favorite stories in the collection, about Peter Myers, a magician looking for a new illusion to give his act a boost.  He purchases a special bureau from Dr. Marvelry and gets more than he bargained for.

The Painter's Premonition - Justin Loza is an artist who walks away from the shop with an antique easel and some squirrel hair brushes.  When he uses them to paint a landscape, what he sees on the canvas is another scene entirely.

A Gift Ungiven - Tom Kopp's son, Chad, buys his father an Iroquois bone breastplate.  Tom is an anthropologist, so the gift is perfect...or is it.

A Made Match -  African fertility dolls.  Need I say more.  Nothing good ever comes of these things and this story is no exception.  Meant to be sold as a set, the two are sold to two different couples. Oh, no.

The Letterbox - When Josh Hart manages to purchase his grandparent's home, he wants to restore it to the way it was during his childhood when he spent his Summers on the property. He finds the original letterbox at Marvelry's and soon starts receiving letters from his mother mailed to his grandparents more than forty years ago.

Seams of Consequence -  What a great title for a sewing machine story.  When Emma Cowden's old sewing machine breaks down she can't really afford a new one.  Dr. Marvelry has one that one belonged to a very successful local seamstress and sells it at a bargain price.  Soon, Emma discovers if she make garments for events she or her husband would like to be a part of, they come to pass.  But there's a twist.

Martinus' Mannequin - The story of a possessed mannequin, but it's not who they believe is doing the possessing.

Siren Song - An organ, sold to Dr. Marvelry, finds it's way back to the apartment complex where the seller resides.

The New Assistant - A tale about what happens when the shop's new assistant, Drew, and the trouble he gets into when left alone to watch over the emporium.

Grand Illusions - A sold story about the second greatest magician in the world.

An Article On Dr. Marvelry From the Sun Press - Much too long for a newspaper article. It is a pet peeve of mine when this trope is used and then the story fails to read like a newspaper article.

There is also a bonus story from the forthcoming Anthology At the Cemetery Gates: Year One called...

A Dark and Desolate Occurrence - A clever tale of a couple who's car gets stuck in a snowbank.

Overall, I did enjoy this collection of stories and can recommend readers check it out for themselves. After all, your mileage may vary.

Published by Cemetery Gates Media, Marvelry's Curiosity Shop is available in both paperback and e-book formats. If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge and if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

From the bios of the authors...

John Brhel is a writer of fiction from Binghamton, NY. He is the co-author of two books, Tales From Valleyview Cemetery and Marvelry's Curiosity Shop, a vampire hunter serial titled Rita's Midnight Rides and numerous short stories.

Joseph Sullivan is a writer of horror, including Tales From Valleyview Cemetery, Marvelry's Curiosity Shop. and the upcoming Route 12: The Legend Trip. He is also a hiker, songwriter, and co-founder of Cemetery Gates Media. His long-term writing goal is to combine his love of poetry, the American novel, and Upstate New York into one cohesive work of fiction.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Drop Dead Gorgeous - by Donald Allen Kirch - A nice blend of sex, horror, and genetic engineering

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Drop Dead Gorgeous is a delightfully wicked tale of revenge. Mind you, this is a very sexual story and could easily be considered erotica, but there is also a heavy dose of horror.

Ray and his girl, Tammy, have been having a rocky period in their relationship, so when he goes to Diamond Jane's after work and doesn't come home, she just packs up and leaves after a few days.

Meanwhile, what's happening to Ray is about as strange as it gets. Kidnapped, but held captive by a woman who is Drop Dead Gorgeous.  Her name is Eve and her story is a doozie.

Eve's tale is doled out in bits and pieces to Ray as he remains hostage.and finds himself falling in love with the person holding him captive.  That in itself can lead to deadly consequences.

To tell more would just give away too much.  I will say this book was at times a bit crass with an an overabundance of sex some might even consider vulgar.  Drop Dead Gorgeous is certainly an original story and given daily advances in genetic engineering, it's easy to see how this could actually happen one day.

Recommended with the aforementioned warning for graphic sex scenes.

Drop Dead Gorgeous is available from Double Dragon Publishing in both paperback and e-book formats.

From his bioDonald Allen Kirch lives in The United States of America. He is an avid reader of history, Sherlock Holmes Mysteries, the paranormal, and is a "hardcore" Doctor Who fan. After spending two weekends in the famous "Sallie House," a "haunted house" in Atchison, Kansas, he is one of the only authors of his craft who can claim to have been attacked by a ghost!

Ibenus (Valducan series) Book 3 - by Seth Skorkowsky - Another solid story of the Valducan Knights and their holy weapons

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Urban Fantasy is hit or miss genre for me.  For the most part, I'm not a fan, but every now and then I find a series that pulls me in and doesn't let go.  One such series is Jim Butcher's The Dresden Files.  Another is the Valducan series by Seth Skowkowsky.

Ibenus is the third book in the series, the previous works include Dämoren and Hounacier.  To date, every book in the series has been worthy of a 5 Star review.

This time, The Order of Valducan is in recruitment mode, not an easy task since each Holy Weapon must reach out to it's new protector.  In addition to the training of new members of the order there's a new, outside threat.  Not a monster, but a cryptozoologist and web host, Johnny D who is hellbent on outing the Valducan.

The way the story in Ibenus is told certainly works as a stand alone novel, but for maximum enjoyment, I do recommend reading the entire series.  The story is pretty dark and there is plenty of monster fighting, but there are also some lighter moments, as well as a touch of romance.  Fight sequences can be very hard to write, but Skokorsky handles them with a touch of genius.

Another thing I like about these stories is Skorkowsky's willingness to kill off his characters if it enhances the tale.  I like that a lot.

There's a major twist for fans of the series that comes at the end of the book.  You'll know it when you read it.  And the author brings all the little pieces of this tale together at the end.

I'm very pleased to recommend the latest work in Seth Skorkowsky's Valduvan series.

Ibenus is available in paperback, e-book, and Audio formats from Ragnarok Publications.

From his bio - Seth Skorkowsky is a writer that gravitates to the darker sides of fantasy, preferring horror and pulp heroes over knights in shining armor. He is the author of Dämoren and Hounacier, and now Ibenus, all three in the Valducan series. Seth has also released two sword-and-sorcery collections in the Black Raven series, Mountain of Daggers and Sea of Quills. He lives in Flower Mound, Texas.