Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Last Firefly of Summer - by Robert Ford - Bob Ford takes no prisoners with his writing

5 of 5 Stars

Bob Ford takes no prisoners with his writing.  With his latest novella, The Last Firefly of Summer, Bob managed to tear my heart out and later gave me sweet revenge, resulting in a totally satisfying read.

The story of first love, true love, the love where you would do absolutely anything for the other person.  Anything.

The Last Firefly of Summer is the story of Patrick Walder, his love for the Pastor's daughter, Sunni Hackett, his time in prison, and his life after release.  Three close-knit stories in one solid novella.

Strongly recommended.

The Last Firefly of Summer is available in both paperback and e-book formats.

Robert Ford writes stories that are always focused on the characters, first and foremost. Anything else just happens to be happening. "If I can write a story that makes the reader feel—laugh, or cry, or get angry or upset—if I can write an engaging story that involves the reader and hits them emotionally, then, and only then, have I done my job."

Previous works include The Compound, and Samson and Denial.  Robert currently lives in central Pennsylvania.

The Night Parade - by Ronald Malfi - A creepy vibe and some genuinely terrifying moments

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

First the birds disappeared.
Then the insects took over. 
Then the madness began . . .

A building sense of foreboding.  Something has happened, is happening.

It's an amazing feeling when you start a new book by a capable writer. one who gently takes you by the hand and guides you on your journey.  Ronald Malfi is such a writer.

Malfi is a master at giving the reader just enough to draw you into his world and then slowly reveals bits and pieces until it all comes together.  Much like painter creating a work of art by adding layer after layer until the piece is just right.

There is a new plague in the land. Wanderer's Folly, which results in nosebleeds, hallucinations, and ultimately death.  No one knows the cause or even how the disease is transmitted.  There is no cure. Some regions are devastated and others are barely affected. David Arden and his soon to be nine-year-old daughter, Ellie are on the run.  You see, Ellie is special, not only is she immune, but she's exhibiting other talents.  Talents which may be a result of her immunity or the reason for it.  And, of course, the government wants to know more.

The dialog in The Night Parade is brisk and delightfully refreshing.

I generally don't enjoy stories with flashbacks, but I found Malfi's use of the technique to be effective and useful in filling in the gaps of the events which lead to David and Ellie's current situation. One such flashback featured the tale of a Freez-E-Friend truck pulling up in the Arden's cul de sac, at one in the morning, in the dead of winter.

The reveal of the story behind the book's title was charming and effective.

The Night Parade has a creepy vibe and some genuinely terrifying moments.  I even teared up a time or two.  It's everything I look for in a great read.

Highly recommended.

Published by Kensington Press, The Night Parade is available in paperback, e-book, and audio formats.

Ronald Damien Malfi was born in Brooklyn, New York and spent most of his childhood growing up along the Chesapeake Bay. He professed an interest in the arts at an early age and is also known to be a competent artist and musician. In 1999, he graduated with a degree in English from Towson University. For a number of years, he fronted the Maryland-based alternative rock band Nellie Blide.

Most recognized for his haunting, literary style and memorable characters, Malfi's horror novels and thrillers have transcended genres to gain wider acceptance among readers of quality literature. He currently lives along the Chesapeake Bay.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

The Devil's Evidence - by Simon Kurt Unsworth - The Devil's Detective is back

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Thomas Fool, The Devil's Detective, is an Information Man and a human among demons.  Fool is now the Commander of the Information Office, a position in Hell for which he gets little respect.

Now there's a new department in Hell, The Evidence, headed by Mr. Tap.  All they seem to do is get in the way of the Information Men.  "They didn't investigate, they simply tore things apart and reached conclusions that made little or no sense, and then executed justice on the spot."

As Fool and his team are investigating a series of arsons and murders, he is called away to be part of a special delegation to Heaven.  While in Heaven, he learns of some mysterious deaths there.  Heaven blames Hell.  Hell blames Heaven.  Can Thomas Fool uncover the truth before there's an all out war?

The Devil's Evidence turned out to be a worthy sequel to The Devil's Detective, and  was slightly better than book one.  More fantasy than horror, but it does get rather gruesome at times.  Pure escapism requiring a total suspension of disbelief.  This is not an easy read, but it is an interesting and entertaining foray into a completely different world and the final twist is pure gold.

From Doubleday, The Devil's Evidence: A Novel, is available in hardback, e-book and audio formats.

Simon Kurt Unsworth as born in Manchester and lives in a farmhouse in Cumbria, in the United Kingdom.  He is the author of The Devil's Detective and many short stories, including the collections Lost Places, Quiet Houses, and Strange Gateways.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Blister: A Novel - by Jeff Strand - Don't even read my review, just go buy the book, you can thank me later

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Jason Tray is a popular cartoonist.  Four panels a day with ten on Sundays. After an incident involving his dog, Ignatz, a couple of neighborhood brats, a fake chain saw, and a make-believe severed head, his manager decides to send him off to his cabin until things settle down.

While ostensibly on vacation and trying to stay away from trouble, Jason meets a women some fifteen years his younger who was horribly disfigured by her then boyfriend five years ago.

What follows is a charming romance story/horrible nightmare. Blister can be likened to standing in line for what you think is the tamest roller coaster at the amusement park, only to discover it's really the tallest and fastest, with more twists and turns and loops than any you've ever ridden before.  But, wow, what a ride.

I've read several books by Jeff Strand and this is one of my favorites.  I thoroughly enjoyed the dark humor, cringe-worthy horror, and even the off-beat romance.  Blister truly is something special, with oh-wow moments and a reference to one of the most forgettable recordings of 1970.  When you get to it, be sure and look up it's Wikipedia page online.

Highly recommended.

Blister: A Novel is available in paperback, e-book, and audio formats from Sinister Grin Press.  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it at no additional charge.  Also, if you are an Amazon Prime member you can read it for FREE using the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Jeff Strand's books include Wolf Hunt, A Bad Day For Voodoo, Dead Clown Barbecue, and a bunch of others.  He lives in Tampa, Florida, with his wife and two cats names Chaos and Mayhem.

The Kraken Sea - by E. Catherine Tobler - A rather surreal look at a monster trying to be a normal boy

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I finished reading The Kraken Sea a few days ago.  Usually I'll write my review the same day I finish reading a book, but in this instance I wanted to allow time for it all to sink in.

As a horror fan, The Kraken Sea was a book I wanted to read, after all, the word "Kraken" is right there in the title and make no mistake about it, there are Kraken in this tale, but it certainly wan't what I expected.

The work of E. Catherine Tobler is new to me and she is indeed a very capable writer.  This particular piece is more literary in it's approach and after reading a series of in-your-face monster novels, The Kraken Sea was a welcome change of pace.

The opening to the novella really gives you an idea of the kind of story-telling to follow.

It began with a dragon in the pouring rain, the beast barely held at bay, balanced upon two thin steel rails.  Steam poured from its black mouth and guts, billowing through the damp gloom.  A brief spark of after-rain sunlight caught within its glassy green eye, against sharp metal tooth, and when the steam gave way young Jackson could see it was no dragon, but a train.  The train was headed as far west as it could go and Jackson, aged fifteen-and-one-half, in the year of our Lord 1893, would be on it.

Jackson is a special child, dropped off with the nuns when he was but an infant, now on his way from NYC to San Francisco to a guardian who has requested a lad such as he.  A guardian who wears a live fox around her neck and that was just the beginning of the weirdness Jackson would find in his new home.

Jackson wants nothing more than to be a real human boy, but it's not his lot in life and the sooner he accepts the fact the better off he'll be.

The Kraken Sea was an intriguing story, filled with wonderful prose.  A tale I found to be rather surreal and enigmatic.

The Kraken Sea is available in both paperback and e-book formats from the Apex Book Company.

E. Catherine Tobler is a Sturgeon Award finalist and the senior editor at Shimmer Magazine and makes her home in Colorado.  She is the author of numerous short stories, as well as the Folley & Mallory series.



Friday, July 15, 2016

The Awakening- by Brett McBean - A wonderfully dark coming of age story

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

"In the small Midwestern town of Belford, an old man sat gazing out the window."  From this very simple beginning comes a story of friendship, loss, first love, and getting to know the truth about others and yourself.

Sometimes, within the first few pages of a new book, you know you're reading something special.  This is one of those times.

The Awakening is on par with Stephen King's story, The Body, which was the basis of the movie "Stand By Me." It is a story that, at times made me chuckle and also brought me to tears, more than once.  When the truth is revealed, it was unexpected and enlightening.  An epic tale of the Summer between Middle School and High School.  A Summer which changes young Toby Fairchild forever.

Brett McBean really managed to capture the spirit of life in a small town and the dialog involving the fourteen-year-olds in his book was exceptional.

"'Yeah, well, after tomorrow, we won't have to worry about getting beaten up by Dwayne.'  Frankie threw a few clumsy punches.

'It takes a lot longer than one day to become a boxer,' Toby said.

'Yeah, but I'm super good.  Like Muhammad Ali, I'm gonna float like a butterfly and sting like a bee!' He threw some more punches.

'More like float like an elephant and sting like a poodle.'"

The Awakening didn't exactly end the way I wanted it too, but the author's choice resulted in a much better story.

I had been wanting to read Brett McBean for sometime and this was a good introduction.  It certainly won't be the last time I read his work.

Originally published as a signed, limited edition book, which can be purchased on the secondary market for hundreds of dollars.  Thankfully, The Awakening will be released on August 15th, 2016 as as a trade paperback and e-book, from Bloodshot Books so everyone can read this amazing work. The Awakening is available now for pre-order.  Plus, if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you'll be able to read it at no additional charge and if you're an Amazon Prime member, you'll be able to borrow it for FREE through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

Brett McBean is an award-winning horror and thriller author who lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and daughter.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

United States of Japan - by Peter Tieryas - A thoroughly enjoyable alternate history novel

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

United States of Japan is Peter Tieryas's third book, it began as "a story revolving around the tragic events on the Asian side of WWII." The book is inspired by Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, his time at Electronic Arts, and his experiences traveling in Asia.

For the most part, I've never been much of a fan of alternate history stories, but John Liberto's cover art caught my attention and I did enjoy the Amazon Prime series The Man in the High Castle, so I decided to take a chance.

As in The Man in the High Castle the Japanese have taken control of much of the West Coast following the Asia-Pacific War of WWII. The Germans exerting an influence in what was once the Eastern United States, but that's where the similarities end.

This story begins in one of the Japanese internment camps during the war. After their liberation by the Japanese Empire the action quickly moves to 1988.

The times are very different in the 1988 under the rule of the Japanese Empire. There is so much going on in this story. there are many little details woven into the tale. Marvels like "porticals", very addicting, iPhone like devices. There's a little used technique where "private messengers were making phones powered by the biochemistry of their body, electric pulses from the heart, additional radio connectors integrated into their intestines." And Mechas—robotic soldiers that were as tall as skyscrapers—vigilantly guarding the skies against enemies outside and within.

When a video game emerges that posits a world where the allies won, a game censor and an Imperial Government agent discover truths about the empire that make them question their loyalty.

There is a marked difference in culture between the America I grew up in and the United States of Japan as envisioned by Peter Tieryas. It's a story filled with wild ideas. The war may have ended forty year ago, but it's not exactly a peaceful time. There's a radical resistance group which calls themselves the George Washingtons who employ a particularly horrific torture involving genetically engineered ants with a taste for human flesh.

Available as an e-book, in paperback, and through audible from Angry Robot Books The United States of Japan was a compelling read, thoroughly entertaining, and the ultimate "what if?" story.

Peter Tieryas is an Asian-American writer. In addition to writing United States of Japan, he is the author of the collection Watering Heaven and the novel Bald New World. He attended the University of California Berkeley. Tieryas is a Lead Character Technical Director at Sony Pictures Imageworks and has worked at LucasArts as both a technical artist and technical writer.


Monday, July 11, 2016

The Sludge - by David Bernstein - As much fun as going to the drive-in for a B-movie spectacular

5 of 5 Stars    Review copy

Take a milk truck full of toxic waste and dump it into a lake where sealed barrels of contaminants have been dumped before.  No harm right?  Wrong. Add the Garrett brothers hiding out from the law and then mix in a group of unwary hikers, stir vigorously and you have the perfect formula for...disaster.

I won't go into a lot of detail on the plot, that would spoil all the fun, but that's the key word...fun.  The Sludge is the kind or story I used to love seeing on the drive-in movie screen, only in book form, preying on your imagination.

Disturbing in places and gleefully graphic, reading The Sludge is the equivalent of pigging out on your favorite junk food. You know it's not good for you, but it's oh, so tasty.

If you love monster mayhem, you'll love this quick read from David Bernstein.

The Sludge is available in both paperback and e-book formats from Great Old Ones Publishing.

David Bernstein is originally from a small town in Upstate New York.  He now resides in NYC and misses being surrounded by chainsaw-wielding maniacs. David writes all kinds of horror, from hair-raising ghost stories to gore-filled slashers and apocalyptic tales of terror.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Sleep Paralysis - by Patrick Lacey - A collection of horror sure to haunt your dreams

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Over the centuries, symptoms of Sleep Paralysis have been described in many ways and often attributed to an "evil" presence: unseen night demons in ancient times, the old hag in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, and alien abductors. Almost every culture throughout history has had stories of shadowy evil creatures that terrify helpless humans at night. People have long sought explanations for this mysterious sleep-time paralysis and the accompanying feelings of terror.

In his new collection Patrick Lacey presents eighteen tales of horror to keep you up at night.

Worm Garden - "A Quaker cemetery dating back to the seventeenth century, sometimes referred to as the Worm Garden because of the unusual moisture in the soil that lasted most of the year."  The perfect setting for best friend paranormal investigators who share more than an interest in ghosts.

Operation Parasite -A deftly told story of a man who believes an evil corporation has bio-engineered parasites which are now in each of us waiting to take control.  Is it a story of one man's raging paranoia...or is he actually telling the truth.

Pen Pals - A totally cool tale of a third grader assigned a pen pal who has some frightening powers.

Downing In Filth - A delightfully disgusting story of the host of a "Hoarders" type TV show who becomes afflicted after a strange encounter at one subject's home.  "Long live the filth,"

Lost and Found - The story of a boy with a speech impediment who doesn't stutter when talking to a dead girl.

First Bell - A sad ghost story set on the one year anniversary of a school shooting. Poignant and touching.

Send Your End - "Send Your End.  It's a secret website with a generic black background and a single field in which to type a password.  After typing in the password, the screen is filled with thumbnail of videos and an option to submit.  There are thousands."  A story of a strange addiction.  Disturbing, yet well-told.

The Lynnwood Vampires - A gritty tale of a new cult taking over a community and one father's fight to protect his daughter.  We hear the words, "It's just a phase." quite often, but when does a phase become something worse.

Norton - The familiar story of a stuffed animal with something evil within.  This tale of such a bunny takes an interesting turn.

Cold Call - "I'd sell my soul for a second chance."  Be careful what you wish for.  You never know who might me listening.

Bad Egg - A woman whose biological clock is ticking wants a baby in the worst way. Patrick Lacey is happy to oblige with this crazy tale.

Critter Marrow - If there is a theme in this collection, I'd have to say it's the author's ability to take the simplest day-to-day activities and inject an element of horror to give the reader something different.  This time it's the spam folder for a work e-mail system.

Last Words - "I think that everyone is really two different people.  There's the person you are to the world, and there's the person you are to yourself.  In my experience, they're quite...incompatible." When Peter finds a hidden trap door in the basement of his recently deceased father's basement those words take on a whole new meaning.

Lost Things - A homeless man, a dumpster, and a baby and voilĂ , an instant horror story.

The Boss - One of the stranger stories in this collection, but truthfully the weirdest part is someone making 50K a year flipping burgers for a living.

Mrs. Alto's Garden - As I read this tale, I couldn't keep from thinking, "Mary, Mary, quite contrary, how does your garden grow?"  In Mrs. Alto's garden the answer is quite different than the one in the children's nursery rhyme.

Big Bertha - Big Bertha is the oldest game in the arcade.  I've always found arcades to be creepy, especially when they're closed and they don't want you to leave.

Full Disclosure - The collection finishes with another ghost story.  A ghost who haunts his old apartment and falls in love with it's newest tenant, but then she brings home a cuckoo clock with something evil attached.  I loved this story.  My wife works at a nursing home and occasionally when a resident passes they will leave some personal item behind and my wife will bring it home.  I always worry that she'll bring home some stray spirit.

Admittedly some stories were stronger than others, but they were all entertaining as Patrick Lacey repeatedly took an everyday situation and turned it on its head.

Recommended.

Sleep Paralysis, from Great Old Ones Publishing, is available now in both paperback and e-book formats.

Patrick Lacey says he was born and raised in a haunted house.  Which, if true, would explain a lot. He currently spends his nights and weekends writing about things that make the general public uncomfortable.  He lives in Massachusetts with his wife, his Pomeranian, his cat, and his muse, who is likely trying to kill him.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

The Conveyance - by Brian W. Matthews - On the surface Emersville looks like a lovely little village, but looks can be deceiving

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

The first third of The Conveyance was about ordinary people leading mostly ordinary lives.  Before you know it, Brian W. Matthews lulls the reader into a comfort zone brought on by his easy-going writing style.

Matthews has a gift for developing strong characters who interact with one another in the most genuine of ways. Therapist/patient, husband/wife, best friends  Every one of those relationships was one-hundred-percent believable. It's a good thing too, because a lot of what happens in The Conveyance requires readers to check their disbelief at the door.

A visit to Emersville and a quaint little shop called Lost Desires and it's like Brad and Toni have suddenly found themselves in The Twilight Zone.  It's at this shop where they purchase a Raggedy Ann type doll which will only be a a small part of the terror that's coming.

Mixed with the terror were a number of of nice similes.  Things like, "This part of Michigan was farm country, wide open and flatter than the Lions' defense."  And, "I turned to face my house, a sagging, post-war rambler that was one-part charm and three-parts home maintenance nightmare." I'm a sucker for this kind of stuff.

The Conveyance was one of my most enjoyable reads in recent memory.  It does stray into some strange territory, yet manages to convey a good bit of terror along the way.  Plenty of twists and turns, a dollop of violence, and periods of immense sorrow.

If you like a gritty story, with great characters, and a bit of the fantastic.  You can't get much better than The Conveyance.  I found it to be a hoot and a half.

Highly recommended.

The Conveyance is published by JournalStone and is available in both paperback and e-book formats.

By day, Brian W. Matthews works as a financial planner, but after the sun goes down he scribes stories meant to entertain and, perhaps, terrify.  When he isn't developing investment portfolios or crafting tales of monsters and madmen, he tries valiantly to knock a little white ball over the rolling green hills of a golf course without hitting traps or trees.  His previous works include two short stories, both of which appeared in the anthology, Foreshadows: The Ghosts of Zero. His novels include Forever Man and its sequel, Revelation.  I've read them both and can highly recommend them.  Brian lives in southeast Michigan with his wife, daughter, and two step-daughters.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Never Say Die: Stories of The Zombie Apocalypse - by Stevie Kopas - A diverse collection of zombie horror

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Never Say Die: Stories of the Zombie Apocalypse is a collection where writer, Stevie Kopas, gets to stretch her wings within the zombie sub-genre and manages to deliver 5 unique perspectives on what such an event may bring.

Jack - Jack Abbot has been searching for his sister for a whole year.  Much has happened in that time.  He's managed to make a new life for himself as part of the New Alliance, a zombie-free zone.  He's even gotten married.  So when Jack finally finds his sister, Maya, you might think that would be the end of the story, but you'd be wrong.  Oh, so wrong.  A dark tale well-told.

Gordon & Elena -
All children, under the age of twelve, have fallen into some kind of inexplicable coma.  What happens net has the 24 hour news outlets speculating. "Terrorism. The Rapture.  Aliens.  Gamma Ray Burst.  Zombies."  Through it all, Gordon & Elena are trying to get on with their divorce.  A wonderfully inventive twist on the zombie scenario.

Patient 63 - Finally a cure for a disease which has left half the world dead, or worse, infected. Well, maybe not.  Proof again that author, Stevie Kopas, really understands the zombie sub-genre.  This was my personal favorite in a diverse collection of zombie lit.

Rosie - The zombie apocalypse from a child's point of view with a great opening paragraph. "I'm always really scared when there's a thunderstorm.  Usually Mommy or Daddy will sing to me until I fall asleep or until the rain stops, but Daddy tried to hurt me, so Mommy killed him."

Trevor - Trevor works in customer service, a thankless job where customers dish out verbal abuse  like it's their God-given right.  When things fall apart as a result of the zombie apocalypse, Trevor sees it as an opportunity to exact revenge on some of the worst offenders.  Working in the same field, I can't say as I blame him.

If you're looking for a quick zombie fix this Summer, Stevie Kopas has just what you're looking for.

Never Say Die: Stories of The Zombie Apocalypse is currently a Kindle exclusive.  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.

Stevie Kopas was born and raised in Perth Amboy, New Jersey. She  is the author of The Breadwinner Trilogy.  The Breadwinner, Haven, and All Good Things all available from Permuted Press and a series I can heartily recommend.

Stevie currently resides in Panama City Beach, Florida and tries to spend as much time as she can soaking up the sun.  She's also the Managing Editor of the website Horror Metal Sounds and a writer for the site. Offline, Stevie is a telecommunications professional.


Friday, July 1, 2016

Mister White - by John C. Foster -

4 of 5 Stars

The book starts with the question, "Who is Mister White?" Even now, having read the book, I couldn't tell you.  Not because I don't want to give anything away, but because I really don't know. What I do know is if I hear his name I should fear for my life.

If you work in the field of espionage and..."If you heard the name Mr. White you are already on borrowed time."

Lewis Edgar heard the name and now he's on the run.  No matter where he goes people wind up dead and now he's wanted as a person of interest in those cases, but all he can do is continue to run.  Having to change identities with the frequency the average person changes their attire.

The story is enhanced with having his wife, Cat, and daughter, Hedde, on the run separate from Lewis.  I particularly liked the scenes with Hedde dealing with some local hooligans.

Mister White is not a perfect spy thriller or a supernatural horror tale, but has elements of both. Although I found the writing to be choppy in places, once I got into the heart of the story the suspense was thick and the action unrelenting.

There is some serious weirdness in this book.  Can Mister White be killed.  Can you kill a nightmare?

In the end, I still don't know who or even what Mister White is, but if I'm honest with myself, I don't really want to know.

Mister White is published by Grey Matter Press and is available in paperback and e-book formats.

John C. Foster was born in Sleepy Hollow, NY, and has been afraid of the dark for as long as he can remember. A writer of thrillers and dark fiction, Foster lives in New York City with the actress Linda Jones and their dog, Coraline.