Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Review: Come To Dust - by Bracken MacLeod

5 of 5 Stars  Review copy

Last year, I got to read Bracken MacLeod's Stranded, sixteen crew members of the Arctic Promise who become ice bound under strange circumstances. If you haven't read it, you should. It's one of 2016's better reads.

Bracken's new release, Come To Dust, is even better.  Children die.  It's horrible when it happens, but we read about or hear about such tragedy every day.

Bracken beautifully captures the grief of laying a child to rest...

Although green AstroTurf had been draped down to cover the bare earth sides of the hole, there was no imaginable way to disguise the fact that they were lowering a child into a grave. There was nothing loud enough to dispel the silence of a dead child.

Mitch LeRoux is taking steps to get his life back on track after a stint in prison. He's not just doing it for himself, but also for his niece, Sophie, who's been his ward ever since his sister took off with her drummer boyfriend.

I'm pretty sure you can see that things are not going to go well for Mitch, but that's not what Come To Dust is about.

The story unfolds at a blistering pace. I won't reveal all of its secrets.  Those are best discovered in the process of reading the book, which I hope you'll do.

This is a powerful story with highs and lows and more than a few surprises.  In many ways, Come To Dust is about second chances.  It also shines a light on ignorance, and fear of those who are different. Very much a tale of and for the times in which we live.

Highly recommended.

Come To Dust is published by Trepidatio Publishing, a division of Journalstone, and is available in both paperback and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - Bracken MacLeod is the author of the novels Mountain Home and Stranded. His short fiction has appeared in several magazines and anthologies, including LampLight, ThugLit, and Splatterpunk, and has been collected in 13 Views of the Suicide Woods. He lives outside of Boston with his wife and son, where he is at work on his next novel.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Review: Bone White - by Ronald Malfi

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

"Hell is empty and all the devils are here." - William Shakespeare

When Joe Mallory, from up on Durham Rd, walked into Tabby White's luncheonette no one expected the announcement he was about to make.

"They're all dead, and I killed 'em.  But I'm done now."

Eight victims over a five-year period.

...the old man was one cherry short of an ice cream sundae, Jill Ryerson's father had been fond of saying.

Dread's Hand, Alaska is a town with a history, a town that could be considered cursed.

There were bad places on earth—dark spots, like bruises—and...Dread's Hand was one of them. 

When Paul Gallo heard the news out of Dread's Hand, it caught his attention right away. After all, that was the name of the town where his twin brother Danny disappeared a year ago.

When you pick up a Ronald Malfi novel you know you are in the hands of a capable writer and there's a remarkable story to be told.

Those woods are haunted by the devil himself, his aunt Lin had told him and his brothers.  A man walks in there, he stands a chance of being touched by the devil. And that man, he goes sour. His mind rots. He becomes a vessel for evil, a vehicle for the devil.

In no time at all the reader is immersed in a great story as Malfi paints a picture of words with the finesse of a great artist.

Expect the unexpected in this great Summer read.  I can strongly recommend this book be placed at the top of your TBR list.

Published by Kensington Books Bone White is will be available on July 25th in paperback, e-book, and audio CD formats.

From the author's bio - Ronald Malfi is an award-winning author of several horror novels, mysteries, and thrillers. He's also a Bram Stoker Award nominee. Most recognized for his haunting, literary style, and memorable characters, Malfi's dark fiction has gained acceptance among readers of all genres. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife, Debra, and their two daughters.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: The Devil's Colony - by Bill Schweigart - The final book in the Fatal Folklore Trilogy

4 of 5 Stars     Review Copy

I love stories set in the Pine Barrens of South Jersey.  I have a special affinity for stories of the Jersey Devil. However, this particular tale deals with a different kind of devil.


Lance Whelan and his friend Danny learned about this place...

...on the white power message boards, the conspiracy sites, the doomsday blogs.

It was a haven for like-minded individuals and the young men were intrigued by one word more than any other...family.

The Devil's Colony is book three in the Fatal Folklore Trilogy. First, in The Beast of Barcroft, it was what looked like a series of unconnected animal attacks in a suburb of Arlington, Va.  A year later, in Northwoods, a strange creature in the waters of Lake Superior. Now, something that ties them all together is happening in The Devil's Colony.

All the usual suspects are back for the conclusion to the trilogy.  Lindsay Clark and Ben McKelvie, their leader and world-renowned cryptozoologist Richard Severance.  The banter between Severance and his pilot, Erica Cheung, was always fun to read.  Then there's the marksman and muscle of the operation, Davis Holland, and Richard's longtime friend Alex Standingcloud.

On the other side of the fence is Richard's one-time friend and now adversary Henry Drexler and his followers.

A white supremacy conclave, monsters, a dollop of H.P. Lovecraft. What more could you ask for? Mounting suspense with just the right amount of humor.  It did take more than fifty-percent of the book to get to the weird, but once we got there it was intense.  In the conclusion to this trilogy, no one is safe.  There were several moments when I just had to sit back and say, "I can't believe that just happened."

With multiple twists and turns and a wild conclusion that requires a total suspension of your disbelief, The Devil's Colony is certainly entertaining.

Although The Devil's Colony could be read as a standalone novel, it really works best if you've read the other books first.


Published by Hydra, and imprint of Random House LLC, The Devil's Colony, is currently available in e-book format only.

From the author's bio - Bill Schweigart is a former Coast Guard officer who drew from his experiences at sea to write the taut nautical thriller, Slipping the Cable. He's spent the last five years working on the Fatal Folklore Trilogy.  Bill currently lives in Arlington, VA with his wife and daughter, who along with their monstrous Newfoundland and mischievous kitten, provide him with all the adventure he can handle.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Guest Post: Never Trust a Unicorn - by Bill Schweigart, author of the Fatal Folklore Trilogy

Never Trust a Unicorn

I have a confession to make: I’m a fraud.

Before I get to that, I first need to thank the Fantastic Frank Michaels Errington for taking a devil’s holiday and inviting me to hijack his blog. Do what you like, he said. Promote your new novel, The Devil’s Colony, he said. I was touched and honored and excited, then those feelings began to curdle into a familiar sensation: but they’ll know I’m a fraud.

In general, I believe most of us grown-ups feel like frauds. We go around adulting in our big boy or big girl pants, occasionally looking over our shoulders and thinking at any moment the real grown-ups are going to show up and call us out. If you are so confident and self-assured that you sashay through life without such doubts, then congratulations: you are a unicorn. Or the President of the United States. At present, I don’t believe in either of those things and if I did, I certainly wouldn’t trust them.

No, I’m not talking about being an everyday charlatan. This is much more specific to you, Frank’s faithful readers. The first time I realized I was a horror writer was when my agent urged her Twitter followers “to welcome horror writer @billschweigart to the team.” I was shocked. Until that moment, I honestly hadn’t realized I was one. The Beast of Barcroft was my second novel—my first was a thriller about the Coast Guard—so at that point, exactly half of my output horror. Or a “supernatural thriller,” as I imagined it.

But there it was on Twitter, so it had to be true. I thought, “I’m a horror writer? But…but…but I’m squeamish.”

Here’s a semi-spoiler free example: there was a scene in The Beast of Barcroft when my main character Ben McKelvie is visited by a shapeshifting creature that’s been stalking him. His back yard’s motion sensor lights flare and Ben peers through the window to find a wolf staring up at him with glowing eyes. I wrote the scene and thought, “Not bad.” Afterward, as I went adulting into my day, I envisioned that, instead of a wolf, the shapeshifter visited Ben in the form of its last kill, one of Ben’s neighbors. I envisioned the shapeshifter standing there in the guise of his friend, naked, the gore of its latest victim still slathered on his jaw and matted in his chest hair. Ben and the creature’s eyes meet, and the man lifts his head and sniffs as if testing the air between them.

I shuddered, totally creeping myself out. My first thought, incredibly, was, “You can’t do that!” Then a cold, whispery voice hissed You must. I feel like a sham because this horror stuff didn’t come naturally at first. I’m much more comfortable writing the banter between my cryptid-hunting characters. There’s Ben (kind of a dick but trying), Lindsay (a zoologist and as stalwart as Ben is a buffoon), Alex (an embattled professor of Native American Studies), Davis (a special operations veteran and the only one remotely qualified to fight anything, let alone monsters), and Richard

Severance (the cocky-as-hell billionaire cryptozoologist who causes as many problems as he solves). I could write these characters zinging each other in a diner for 300 pages. It’s the murder-y bits I struggle with.

But I rewrote that scene and I’m sure as hell glad I did. With every book, I push myself to keep raising the stakes. In The Beast of Barcroft, the aforementioned shapeshifter slays the residents of a suburban Washington, D.C. neighborhood like a hot knife through butter. Think folklore as a weapon. In Northwoods, the team deploys to the Minnesota woods when they learn of something terrible crossing the border from nightmare into reality. Think folklore as an invasive species.

In The Devil’s Colony, the team faces their deadliest challenge yet. In the New Jersey Pine Barrens, a man named Henry Drexler operates a private compound called Välkommen, which is Swedish for “welcome.” Indeed, Drexler welcomes all visitors—so long as they’re racists, neo-Nazis, or otherwise in cahoots with the alt-right. But Drexler is no mere Hitler wannabe. Once he was Severance’s mentor, and his research may well have summoned a monster to the Pine Barrens. Think folklore as a weapon of mass destruction. To find out the truth, Ben and Lindsay must enter the camp incognito. There, under the watchful eyes of Drexler’s bodyguards and sociopathic son, they will learn that that, sometimes, the greatest monster is man.

The Devil's Colony is the final installment of my Fatal Folklore Trilogy, and I assure you, it’s the darkest yet. And to continue the shameless plugging, on July 25, “The Expedition,” a short story set in the same universe will be featured in Volume 7 of Dark Screams, Penguin Random House's horror anthology. I hope you’ll check both out. I poured a lot of soul into my Fatal Folklore Trilogy. I believe in these novels, their characters, their struggles, and relationships. Even if I didn’t always believe in myself. And like good horror, I believe it speaks to the times—and the fears—we’re living in.

But I have another confession to make: a strange thing has been happening recently. I thought finishing the terrifying adventures of Ben and company would exorcise that cold, whispery voice in my head. But it’s still there. And I’m afraid it’s getting louder. Every time I pass a copse of trees, it says Wouldn’t this make a wonderful home for some fanged menace? Every time I pass a dark alley or lonesome field, it says What a lovely place to set a murder.

And I’ve stopped equivocating when people ask what I write. Yes, there’s a lot of humor. Yes, there’s heart. And yes, there’s—gasp—romance. But no, they’re not supernatural thrillers.

“They’re horror,” I say, a gleam in my eye.
Bill Schweigart revives a bit of forgotten lore from the shadow of Washington, D.C. for his chilling thriller, The Beast of Barcroft which finds a devilish creature stalking the residents of Arlington. Publishers Weekly says "Readers who appreciate a B-movie sensibility, affable characters, and a sense of fun along with their scares will find much to enjoy." Its sequel, Northwoods, follows Ben McKelvie and Lindsay Clark as they travel to the Northwoods of Wisconsin to investigate sightings of a new and terrifying cryptozoological threat. The Devil's Colony, the final novel in the trilogy, will be available July 11, 2017. Bill is a former Coast Guard officer who drew from his experiences at sea to write the taut nautical thriller, Slipping the Cable. Bill currently lives in Arlington, VA with his wife and daughter, who along with their monstrous Newfoundland and mischievous kitten, provide him with all the adventure he can handle.

The Devil's Colony: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/553209/the-devils-colony-by-bill-schweigart/9780399180347

Dark Screams: Volume 7: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/554539/dark-screams-volume-seven-by-edited-by-brian-james-freeman-and-richard-chizmar/9780399181948

Fatal Folklore Trilogy: http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/series/TLG/the-fatal-folklore-trilogya

Review: Whispered Echoes - by Paul F. Olson

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Admittedly, I have heard of Paul F. Olson, but up until now, I can't say I've read any of his work.  I can happily say I've now corrected that omission. Whispered Echoes is a wonderful collection of old and new.

One bit of writerly advice I hear again and again is to write what you know. Well, Paul F. Olson knows that part of Michigan called the Upper Peninsula, the part of the state that's surrounded by three of the great lakes.

The first two-thirds of this collection is made up of some of the author's earliest short stories, presented in the order in which they were written.  The last third is the writer's newest novella, Bloodybones.

The title of this collection, Whispered Echoes, was meant to evoke long-lost voices from the past, but as I read the stories I noticed the word whisper, in one form or another, popping up again and again.  I can't say it was in every story, I wasn't paying that much attention, but it certainly had a presence throughout.

The Visitor - A terrific opening to a solid collection.  It's Fall in the Upper Peninsula, but...

...there is something about the season that is not quite right. Something that hasn’t been quite right, in fact, since Kent Barclay began coming into town each October first, taking a room at Elvira Martin’s boarding house, and leaving again during the first week of November.

Over the years Kent became known as "the jinx."  Things just seemed to happen when he was in town.

From A Dreamless Sleep Awakened - The kids have played in the cave as long as there have been kids to do so. But his time something has awoken.

The Forever Bird - Old friends and magic birds and a bit of weed lead to a tragic night.

Homecoming - A disturbing story of a fifteen-year-old in a roadside dive.

"Do you make a habit of serving alcohol to fifteen-year-olds?”“Hey, bud, take a look around. On a night like this, I’d serve my five-year-old nephew."

They Came From The Suburbs - Years before the walking dead, there were the quiet ones.

Through The Storm - I loved this story, the storm, the unknown, the blistering pace all combine for great storytelling.

The More Things Change - This quote pretty much sums up a rather bizarre tale...

A bear rode by on a big Harley. We waved. The bear gave us the finger.

Guides - A story of coming to terms with your destiny.

Getting Back - A wonderfully charming ghost story

Faith And Henry Gustafson - There comes a time when it's no longer safe to put your faith in others.

Down The Valley Wild - An incredibly sad story of Don Stewart confronting his past.

Bloodybones - This new novella begins with a story written by David Mahon...

 I wrote the pages a few months ago at the suggestion of a friend, who said the process could help me understand what happened to Amy Brackett, the light of my life, who vanished suddenly on a stormy Saturday afternoon last October.

This is a very effective ghost story and the stuff of legends.

One of the things I really enjoyed throughout the older stories were the pieces long lost to time, like buying a roll of Certs...listening to Seger on the tape deck...Gooden can outpitch everyone...my transistor radio and I'm sure there were others I missed.

Each story in the collection is its own microcosm of life in the Upper Peninsula with a bit of the weird thrown in to spice things up.  Reading the stories in Whispered Echoes was like eating potato chips, impossible to stop at just one.


Whispered Echoes is available from Crystal Lake Publishing in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats.  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.

From the author's bio - Paul F. Olson has been a professional writer and editor for 35 years. His first novel, Night Prophets, was published in 1989.  In the late 1980s, he published and edited "Horrorstruck: The World of Dark Fantasy," a trade magazine for horror fans and professionals. With the late David B. Silva, he created the award-winning newsletter "Hellnotes," which he and Silva edited together for five years.  After spending nearly two decades as a small-town newspaper editor, he has returned to a full-time focus on fiction. He currently lives in Brimley, Michigan, not far from the shores of Lake Superior.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Review: Blood Dawn - by Jason Bovberg - The conclusion to the Blood Saga trilogy

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Blood Dawn, the final story in Jason Bovberg's Blood Saga trilogy is a bittersweet tale filled with new ideas and strong female characters.

Felicia and Nicole have found something special in Fort Collins, Colorado...

They talk about school, and they talk about books and music, and—again—they laugh at the odd coincidence that they each have a 17-year-old brother named David. They talk about goofy childhood memories and longtime friends back home, and they talk about sex and marijuana, and they talk about past boyfriends and girlfriends, how one notion led to the other.

If you've read books one and two, you know about the alien invasion that's taking place.   We've seen how type O-negative blood is the key to saving those turned by the aliens. When the worst happens to Felicia, she is immediately treated and becomes a pivotal part of the plan to defeat the alien threat for good.

Bovberg is adept at building suspense slowly without dragging things out too much and when Felicia is turned we get a unique perspective from her distinctive voice.

The inner struggle within Felicia is so well conceived and clearly written...

The fact that it happened makes her feel at once violated as if raped and altered. Because she has retained this … this clairvoyance, this telepathy.

There were some times where the story did seem to drag a bit, but it is certainly a solid conclusion to one of the most original trilogies in recent memory.

Recommended.  Although you could read Blood Dawn as a standalone novel, I strongly suggest reading the entire series.

Blood Dawn is available in both paperback and e-book formats.  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.

From the author's bio - Jason Bovberg is the author of the Blood trilogy—Blood Red, Draw Blood, and Blood Dawn—as well as The Naked Dame, a throwback pulp noir novel. He is editor/publisher of Dark Highway Press and he lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with his wife Barb and his daughters Harper and Sophie.

Guest Post: Jason Bovberg the author of the Blood trilogy

Today we have a dramatic guest post from the author of the Blood trilogy, Jason Bovberg.

Blood Catharsis
By Jason Bovberg

So, it turns out I authored an entire horror trilogy—the Blood saga, encompassing Blood Red, Draw Blood, and Blood Dawn—before I realized I had written the entire thing as a metaphor for my battle with cancer thirty years ago.

How dense am I?

It’s true: Not long after I typed “The End” on Blood Dawn, the final chapter, I started to reflect on the series as a whole. I felt a sense of accomplishment, sure, and I knew that the series grew stronger as it went along. I also felt that I’d done the characters justice and sent them off properly. Not a bad collection of thoughts after finishing a whacko, blood-drenched horror trilogy! But I also realized something else as I sat there reflecting: The word Blood in all three of my titles—and particularly in Draw Blood—means more than the plot device it springs from. Much more than that, it harkens back to my days of oncology and chemotherapy, a painful time in my life that I now understand will remain a part of me until I kick.

When I was 19, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. Shellshocked, I absorbed the diagnosis numbly and lived through it day by day, attending my freshman college courses, gradually becoming a writer. Meanwhile, I was enduring brutal blood and radiation treatments that played hell with my body, leaving me with all kinds of enduring scars. And yet I was young and immortal. I knew the cancer wouldn’t kill me. It might maim me, it might hobble me, but it wouldn’t kill me. That optimism got me through it, and when I was finally declared cured, I tried to shove it all behind me, wanting—needing—the whole experience to be a part of my past. Part of a different me.

Easier said than done. But it worked for years, despite daily reminders that it had happened. Things like hair loss and reduced lung capacity and other heinous internal stuff.

But anyway.

Guess who else is 19? My main character Rachel.

Yeah, I just recently made that connection. She’s a young woman who awakens to unspeakable horror and runs—also shellshocked—through what remains of her world, yearning for answers, grasping at what matters most, relying on those around her for support. She’s innocent, and she’s new to the horrors of the world, and she’s reckless. But she faces it. Strong. Resilient. She makes mistakes, but she also finds the “hero” inside her. And I’m not spoiling much when I tell you that the ending of her story is a happy one. (She lives.)

I used to say that Clive Barker’s Books of Blood was an inspiration for the title of my saga, but now I know that’s not entirely true. Yes, Barker’s books were influential around the time I was going through my cancer episode, but the word Blood suddenly has a more visceral meaning that I had tamped down over the years. Shortly after finishing that final volume, I stared at my three covers side by side, all emblazoned with that word, and the connection was obvious. Coming to this realization was akin to the first time I watched The Sixth Sense—that goosebump-raising moment of “Gaaah!”

Clive Barker is famous for dabbling in what he calls “body horror”—and that is a concept that I definitely explored in my Blood trilogy, albeit unconsciously, through the prism of my experience. The monsters in my novels are wrenched-back monstrosities, humans who have been painfully inhabited by a malevolent presence, wreaking havoc on their tissues, bones, and organs. They are gasping, crooked, and increasingly deformed, and above all they are infected. And it is discovered that these afflicted “monsters” can be turned back to humanity with a “blood cure.”

Stop me when this sounds familiar!

Since coming to these multi-layered realizations, I’ve pondered the power of the subconscious mind and marveled at how the Blood saga poured out of me—a full-on, multifaceted metaphor for my experience, utterly beyond my awareness. I even have a character in Rachel’s past who went through her own cancer ordeal (and lost)! I don’t think of my realization as a blindness, or a cluelessness, but rather a revelation for how much my cancer episode has defined my persona. The truth is, no matter how much I want it to be otherwise, cancer is an integral piece of who I am. It was folly to try to bury the past.

So, I’m left studying the weight of this revelation. Thirty years after my own cancer diagnosis, I have put the final touches on a saga all about the aftermath of my diagnosis. Like it or not, the Blood saga has been a far more personal work than I understood while writing it—a reminder that our experiences, good or bad, remain a part of us for the long haul, and even if we don’t feed them any conscious energy, they’ll be there waiting, feeding off our darker parts.

As you read Blood Red, you can sense the innocence of the protagonist—the shocked recoil and the desperation as she faces a terror entirely new to her. Denial and despair give way to fearlessness. In Draw Blood, Rachel is humbled by her experiences but comes to term with her new reality—in essence, beginning to grow up. And in Blood Dawn—an even more appropriate title, now that I see if for what it is!—she comes of age, overcoming her inner and outer challenges. From the pit of darkness, she rises to find her future bright.
If you’re interested in checking out the Blood saga, it can be ordered in paperback from your favorite local bookstore, and from Amazon at the following link: https://www.amazon.com/Jason-Bovberg/e/B00JJ36NNW. Check out my website at www.jasonbovberg.com. Follow me on Amazon at https://www.facebook.com/jasonbovberg.author/.                                                                                                                                              Jason Bovberg is the author of the BLOOD trilogy--Blood Red, Draw Blood, and Blood Dawn--as well as The Naked Dame, a throwback pulp noir novel. He is editor/publisher of Dark Highway Press and he lives in Fort Collins, Colorado, with his wife Barb and his daughters Harper and Sophie.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Review: Lucifer's Star - by C.T. Phipps & Michael Suttkus

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Words I never expected to be typing.  I just read an epic space opera and I absolutely loved it.   So much so I can't wait to return to the world created by C.T. Phipps and Michael Suttkus in Lucifer's Star.

Cassius Mass the Fire Count. The Colonel-Count of Analathas. The Butcher of Kolthas.  Awarded the highest honor his country had to give...the Lucifer’s Star.

Lucifer's Star is filled with cybernetics, bioroids, and clones  Oh, my. They are all very much the norm, that being said there are still prejudices.  It's a time after the war and being on the losing side sucks.  Cassius is hiding in plain site on board the Melampus.

Just when I think I should no longer stray from my chosen genre of horror along comes this truly great read.  Admittedly I don't have anything to compare this too but it is a solid story with great characters. Cassius Mass is suitably flawed with the mindset of a Han Solo without being a copy and he's certainly not afraid of firing first.

Lucifer's Star is filled with pithy words of wisdom like...

War was always beautiful from a distance, full of glory and promises of epic heroism. 

Lasting peace is a lie told to children. Peace is simply a measure of time between wars. 

...space seemed to have brought out the worst in humanity. 

People don’t give a shit about freedom as long as their bellies are full and there’s something good on the holo.


The bigger the lie, the more people would believe it, especially if you started with something plausible to build on.

Lucifer's Star is filled with explosive twists and turns to numerous to count with delightful wordplay throughout.  There's just so much juicy goodness in a story which is incredibly complex yet easy to follow.


Lucifer's Star is available in paperback, e-book, and audio formats from Crossroad 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.

From the authors' bios...

C.T.Phipps is a lifelong student of horror, science fiction, and fantasy. An avid tabletop gamer, he discovered this passion led him to write and turned him into a geek for life.  He is a regular blogger on "The United Federation of Charles" (http://unitedfederationofcharles.blogspot.com/).  To date, his books include Agent G,  Cthulhu Armageddon, Straight Outta Fangton, The Supervillainy Saga, and Lucifer's Star.

Michael Suttkuss is a man of mystery.  There is a dearth of information available about Michael.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Review: Hell Cat of the Holt - by Mark Cassel

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Hell Cat of the Holt is a stand alone Shadow Fabric mythos novella. If you're like me, you may not be familiar with the term holt.  A quick visit to Merriam-Webster provides us with this definition. Holt: a small woods : copse.

Ghosts, big cats, little cats, Shadow Fabric, Pippa (the clairvoyant artist), a witchblade, and more.  For me, that was part of the problem with Hell Cat of the Holt.  It seemed to lack focus.

The writing was rich and colorful...

“The men have been taken through the Fabric,” she said. This time her voice was stronger, clearer. Muffled though, behind the scarf. “For the Construct.” I was about to ask what she meant, when Leo interrupted. “A demon is building a construct?”“Yes,” Pippa answered him. “It’s using the flesh of those men,” Leo explained, seeing my expression, “to build a vessel to walk the earth again.”

After reading Hell Cat of the Holt I had little idea of what I had just read.  I'm convinced I might have enjoyed this piece more if I had read other stories in the Shadow Fabric mythos. There is a bonus short story called The Artist and the Crone which takes pace prior to the events in the main novella.

Although I can't readily recommend this novella, others have enjoyed it and that may be your experience as well.

Hell Cat of the Holt is published by Herbs House and is available in both paperback and e-book formats. 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.

From the author's bio - Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK where he often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, dark fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines. His best-selling debut novel The Shadow Fabric was closely followed by the popular short story collection Sinister Stitches and are both only a fraction of an expanding mythos of demons, devices, and deceit.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Guest post: Something Familiar - by Mark Cassell

Today I welcome a guest fro across the Atlantic, the UK's Mark Cassell who hs a new novella out, called Hell Cat of the Holt.  And now, Mark Cassell...

Something Familiar

It’s common knowledge that for a companion, witches favour the cat. Known as their familiar, this small domestic animal – supposedly possessed by a low-ranking demon – is given to them as a gift by the Devil. Not just a companion, but as helper and advisor, and also used to perform malicious errands of the black arts.

The familiar, or imp as it was often referred to in the 16th and 17th centuries, is almost exclusive to England and surrounding islands and is a strong contribution to the theory of witchcraft.

Historical records indicate that cats of all colours have been associated with witchcraft; these days, the stereotypical witch’s cat is of course entirely black. As such, it’s claimed that if there is as little as one white hair on its body then the creature’s magical potency is reduced.

Today in rescue centres we see an abundance of black cats, where common superstitious misconceptions have led to them being abandoned, believed to bring bad luck. When actually, should one cross your path it brings good luck (whereas a white one is unlucky).

In addition to this, should one stray into your home, you must embrace it for this brings good fortune.

I once owned a black cat called Leo. After I found his body over a mile away from home, I made certain he’d live on in my debut novel, The Shadow Fabric (2014).

I named the main character after the little guy.

As the most commonly associated animal companion of the witch, the cat is known to be a favourite disguise of the Devil. In addition, it’s said that witches often took on feline shapes themselves, although throughout the centuries such familiars were equally as likely to be a crow, a toad, or any other common – yet small – animal. It was understood, however, that a witch could take the form of a cat nine times, reinforcing the popular belief that a cat has nine lives.

I guess my Leo already had his eight other lives before he was brought home from the rescue centre…

Throughout the witchcraft trials of the 16th and 17th century there was a common test by which one could determine whether a cat was indeed a witch in disguise: place the animal in a vessel of holy water. If the cat attempted to escape, undoubtedly it was a witch.

Rarely was it to the creature’s advantage when it came to witchcraft, and during the month of May when the spirits of the dead were considered to be exceptionally active, any cat born was soon drowned; it was said that they would be useless in hunting.

Cat-familiars were known to be of considerable age, having served numerous witches; inherited by one from another. In 1566, Elizabeth Francis, one of the Chelmsford Witches, claimed to have been given Sathan – a white spotted cat – by her grandmother. Following her ‘ownership’, and having sealed a succession of deals in the black arts (paying the small animal in blood by pricking her finger for each deed), after 15 years she had then passed it on to another witch.

Ursula Kempe, an accused witch during the trial of the Saint Osyth Witches in 1582, confessed to owning two familiars in the shape of cats, named Titty and Jack. Both of which she allegedly sent out on evil errands, and they were rewarded by sucking blood from her left thigh. She had another two familiars alongside the pair: a toad called Pigin and a lamb called Tyffin.

When writing Hell Cat of the Holt (2017), a standalone novella in the Shadow Fabric mythos, I chose to include domestic cats alongside the black cat of legend that surrounds the village in which it’s set. The emotions of Anne, the main character who searches for her missing cat, were too easy for me to write given that Leo was missing for two weeks before I found his body.

Although my Hell Cat story doesn’t contain witches or imps or any other familiar, it does feature ghosts, a sneaky demon, and a black cat much bigger than any you’d wish to meet. Atop that, the characters get tangled up in something way beyond anything history has ever given us…

Hell Cat of the Holt - a novella in the Shadow Fabric mythos is available from Amazon UK : http://amzn.to/2ruB1ux US : http://amzn.to/2rJvqO5


Mark Cassell lives in a rural part of the UK where he often dreams of dystopian futures, peculiar creatures, and flitting shadows. Primarily a horror writer, his steampunk, dark fantasy, and SF stories have featured in several anthologies and ezines. His best-selling debut novel The Shadow Fabric was closely followed by the popular short story collection Sinister Stitches and are both only a fraction of an expanding mythos of demons, devices, and deceit.

Mark’s 2017 release Hell Cat of the Holt further explores the Shadow Fabric mythos with ghosts and black cat legends.

The dystopian sci-fi short story collection Chaos Halo 1.0: Alpha Beta Gamma Kill is in association with Future Chronicles Photography where he works closely with their models and cosplayers.

For one of Mark’s FREE stories visit www.markcassell.com
Or www.theshadowfabric.co.uk

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Review: Just Add Water (Mail Order Massacres) - by Hunter Shea

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I absolutely love this opening line from Just Add Water...

When everything was said and done and the dead were long buried, they would blame Wonder Woman.

What follows is a perfect blend of comic books, the eighties, and monsters.

Patrick Richards and David Estrada took on every odd job imaginable to make a few extra bucks and laid down every hard-earned nickel they had on comic books.

It was in a copy of Wonder Woman where they saw the ad for the Amazing Sea Serpents!

In the ad, a smiling family of creatures that looked like a cross between mermaids and anacondas, with almost human faces, waved back at him from the comfort of their underwater city.

When the kit arrived, Patrick and David were suitably excited, but when they didn't see immediate results they wound up dumping the experiment in the Tuckerville sewers.  And that's when all hell breaks loose.

If you are an adult of a certain age and you read comic books when you were a kid, I'm sure you recall seeing ads much like the one Patrick and David responded too.  Hunter Shea takes that same experience we all had, and proceeds to give the reader a helluva ride in this "what if" tale of a childhood adventure run amok and he definitely has fun with this one.

The sea serpents had done a pretty thorough job of digesting as much of every victim as they could, but there were still stray limbs, a few fingers, the top of a scalp, odd bits of clothes and shoes and, draped over a parking meter, the flap of someone’s entire face.

When it comes down to crunch time, only the kids can save the day, and you'll never guess what they use to destroy the monsters.

If you love a good brain cleansing read...this is it.  Totally recommended.

Just Add water  is published by Lyrical Underground, a division of  Kensington Publishing Corp, and is currently available as an e-book.

From the author's bio - Hunter Shea is the product of a childhood weened on The Night Stalker, The Twilight Zone, and In Search Of.  He doesn't just write about the paranormal - he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself.

Hunter is an amateur cryptozoologist, having written wild, fictional tales about Bigfoot, The Montauk Monster, The Dover Demon and many new creatures to come.  Copies of his books, The Montauk Monster and The Dover Demon, are currently on display in the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, ME.

Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he's happy to be close enough to New York City to get Gray's Papaya hot dogs when the craving hits.  His daughters have also gotten the horror bug, assisting him with research, story ideas and illustrations that can be seen in magazines such as Dark Dossier.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Review: The Seven Whistlers - by Amber Benson & Christopher Golden

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

From Wikipedia...

In the UK there is a superstitious belief in the "Seven Whistlers" which are seven mysterious birds or spirits who call out to foretell death or a great calamity. In the 19th century, large groups of coal miners were known to have refused to enter the mines for one day after hearing this spectral whistling. The Seven Whistlers have been mentioned in literature such as The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser, as bearing an omen of death. William Wordsworth included fear of the Seven Whistlers in his poem, "Though Narrow Be That Old Man's Cares". The superstition has been reported in the Midland Counties of England but also in Lancashire, Essex, Kent, and even in other places such as North Wales and Portugal.

Put that into the hands of  Amber Benson and Christopher Golden and it becomes...

The Seven Whistlers are evil spirits most often mentioned in the folklore of various regions of England, primarily Worcestershire. They appear as enormous black dogs, often accompanied by loud shrieking or whistling noise, as of the wind. Legend says they are demons loosed from Hell, searching for souls upon which the devil has laid claim. They harbinger disaster and ill luck for any who encounter them. If all seven should ever gather at once, it is believed that the world will end.

The end result is a tight and entertaining novella.

Rose Kerrigan's Grandfather, Walt Hartung is in the throes of Alzheimer's and when he says...

“There’s evil in the world, love. Things your young mind can’t grasp, but believe me, they exist, lying in wait…”

...one just thinks it's the disease taking its toll.  If only that were the case.

At its core The Seven Whistlers is about family, friendship, mistakes made, and prices to be paid.

The authors have created characters you care about and are very good at making the reader see them clearly.

Draped in a dusky purple caftan that hung on her like a shroud, with more than a dozen strands of amethyst beads looped around her neck, Arlene Murphy reminded Rose of the aging Stevie Nicks. But when she took in her curly scarlet hair and pale skin, she decided that the artist reminded her more of some future version of Tori Amos…well, a Tori Amos who had raided Stevie Nicks’ closet. She had a sage, earth-mother thing going on, combined with a no-nonsense attitude that belied her appearance.

The tension grows to a fevered pitch as the story races to a terrifying conclusion.

Strongly recommended.

From the authors bios - Amber Benson is a writer, director, actor, and maker of things. She wrote the five book Calliope Reaper-Jones urban fantasy series and the middle grade book, Among the Ghosts. She co-wrote the Willow & Tara comics for Dark Horse. She co-directed the Slamdance feature, Drones and (co-wrote) and directed the BBC animated series, The Ghosts of Albion. She also spent three years as Tara Maclay on the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her latest book is The Last Dream Keeper.

Christopher Golden is the New York Times bestselling author of such novels as Snowblind, Tin Men, and Ararat.  He has also written books for teens and young adults. Golden co-wrote the illustrated novel Baltimore, o, the Steadfast Tin Soldier and the Vampire  with Mike Mignola, which became the launching pad for the cult favorite comics series Baltimore. As an editor, he has worked on the short story anthologies Seize the Night, The New Dead, and The Monster's Corner.  He's also written and co-written comic books, video games, screenplays, a BBC radio play, the online animated series Ghosts of Albion (with Amber Benson), and a network television pilot.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: A Gathering of Ravens: A Novel - by Scott Oden

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

The story in Scott Oden's, A Gathering of Ravens. takes place a thousand years in the past.  It is a mix of legend, history, myth, magick, and the growing influence of Christianity.  It's not the kind of fare I would usually read or review, but I'm so glad I picked this up.

An epic tale from an orc's point of view.  From the synopsis of A Gathering of Ravens...

To the Danes, he is skraelingr; to the English, he is orcnéas; to the Irish, he is fomoraig. He is Corpse-maker and Life-quencher, the Bringer of Night, the Son of the Wolf and Brother of the Serpent. He is Grimnir, and he is the last of his kind—the last in a long line of monsters who have plagued humanity since the Elder Days.

At its root, the story is about Grimnir's quest for revenge against the Half-Dane Bjarki.  A Gathering of Ravens is filled with wonderful characters, even secondary players like Blind Maeve are imbued with life in this wonderfully layered tale.

With sudden vehemence, Grimnir carved his seax through the Saxon's throat. He slashed once. Twice. And on the third blow vertebrae crunched as the dead man's head came free. Grimnir straightened, holding his prize by its long hair.

If you like stuff like that, A Gathering of Ravens is definitely a tale worth your time. Treachery, double-crosses, epic battles, and unexpected compassion.  All leading to the climatic Battle on the Plain of Tarbh.

...carved the blade across (his) belly and ripped him open from right to left, viscera tumbled out, loops of red and purple intestine, sacks of organs; blood splashed the roots of the tree, and the stench of bowel rose from the cavernous wound.


A Gathering of Ravens: A Novel is available in both hardcover and e-book formats from Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin's Press.

From the author's bio - Scott Oden was born in Indiana but has spent most of his life shuffling between his home in rural North Alabama. a hobbit hole in Middle-earth, and some sketchy tavern in the Hyborian Age.  When not writing he can be found walking his two dogs or doting on his lovely wife, Shannon.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Monstrumführer - by Edward M. Erdelac

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

If you read Edward M. Erdelac's story, Andersonville, about the most sadistic rebel prison of the Civil War, with a supernatural twist, you likely have some idea where he's going with this new novel combining the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland with Frankenstein's monster.

Once again, this gifted storyteller plays with historic events and imbues his tale with elements of horror, as Josef Mengele endeavors to improve upon the work of Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

Jewish twins, Jotham and Eli, are taken to a concentration camp. It was interesting to see how the twins went in different directions once in the camp.  Jotham managing to become the golden boy as a messenger for Dr. Mengele and Eli falling in with the resistance.  The story of their life at Auschwitz was absolutely devastating.  As twins they are somewhat luckier than others as Dr. Mengele wants them for his experiments, but what they see outside of their barracks is unreservedly horrible.

Horribly emaciated, rail thin, naked bodies, haphazardly piled together, spindly limbs intertwined, oversized, shaven heads with skeletal faces, eyes rolling.  It was like a refuse pile of imperfect marionettes heaped in the corner of a toymaker's workshop.

The author excels at combining real life events and horror into a complex, well-constructed story.   At times this is an unpleasant read, but all of the characters in the concentration camp are masterfully drawn, making Monstrumführer a creative and entertaining work which left me with much to ponder.


Monstrumführer is available in both paperback and e-book formats from Comet Press.

From the author's bio - Edward M. Erdelac is the author of the acclaimed Judeocentric/Lovecraftian weird western series Merkabah Rider, Buff Tea, Coyote's Trail, Andersonville, Perennial, and now Monstrumführer.

In addition to short story appearances in dozens of anthologies and periodicals, he is an independent filmmaker, an award winning screenwriter, a game designer, and sometime Star Wars contributor.

Born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, he now lives in the Los Angeles area with his family.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: We Came Back - by Patrick Lacey

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Patrick Lacey explains We Came Back in the dedication to his latest novel.

This book is about loss. It's also about monsters and cults and family. But loss is the theme if, indeed, there is one.

With that in mind, every dime Patrick earns from the sales of We Came Back will be donated to a cancer-related charity in memory of his father, Steven Joseph Lacey.

The creep factor is amped up right from the start and continues throughout.

Suddenly, the best and brightest students at Lynnwood High School are showing up for class looking pale, dressing in black, and letting their grades slide dramatically.  Other students and faculty soon begin referring to them as the Lynnwood vamps.

Alyssa, Frank and Mona Tanner's daughter, has dropped her long-time boyfriend and taken up with an older goth guy, Busty Brown.  Her ex, Justin Wright, lost his father to cancer and now his girlfriend to this loser.  Alyssa lost her brother in a car accident. The characters in We Came Back all seem to be dealing with loss in one way or another.  Even the villain has experienced great loss.

We Came Back is a page turner that's fun to read and features real people in dire circumstances and let's not forget the monster.

When Justin and his best friend, Art go undercover as reporters, I got a big kick out of the names Justin came up with...

She nodded. “You must be the reporter from the phone. Mr. Raimi was it?” Justin nodded and felt Art’s eyes bore into him. “That’s right ma’am, and this is my assistant, Art Craven. Say hi, Art.”

Ever notice how rumors make everything seem worse, not that things aren' t bad enough in Lynnwood.

“There is a fine line between real and unreal. Sometimes the two become confused."

We Came Back may not be perfect, but it's certainly a fun and breezy read.  Fully recommended.

We Came Back is available in both paperback and e-book formats and is published by 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.

From the author's bio - Patrick Lacey was born and raised in a haunted house. He spends his nights and weekends writing about things that make the general public uncomfortable. He lives in Massachusetts with his Pomeranian, his mustached cat, and his muse, who is likely trying to kill him.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Savage Jungle - by Hunter Shea

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Fresh from their adventure in Scotland,  Natalie McQueen, and her brother Austin are called upon to aid Henrik Kooper in his quest to find the lost city Gadang Ur and the elusive Orang Pendek.  Go ahead and google it.  You'll find it's every bit as much of a thing as Bigfoot, Yeti, The Jersey Devil, and The Loch Ness Monster.  All cryptids Hunter Shea has written about in previous books. As a matter of fact, Savage Jungle is a sequel to his book Loch Ness Revenge.

Ah, yes Loch Ness Revenge, it's where Natalie and Austin called upon the services to Mr. Kooper knowing that one day they would join him in revenging the death of his father in the rain forests of Sumatra.  In Savage Jungle that debt has come due and it just might costs them their lives.

He didn’t know what they were. They appeared human, but they also bore a strong resemblance to apes or orangutans. Except they walked perfectly upright, with broad shoulders and small heads. 

The Orang Pendek were fast and brutal and most of all, intelligent. 

“If I decide to write a book about this, no one will ever publish it. It’s just way too out there.” 

The writing is crisp and clean. It's a breeze to read   Unrelenting horror with just a touch of humor. You've got to read Savage Jungle just to see how the movie Cool Hand Luke plays a part in the story.  No one does monster horror better than Hunter Shea.  A wonderful roller-coaster ride full of surprises.

Although Savage Jungle is a sequel, it works as a stand-alone novel.  Needless to say, I loved the hell out of this book.  Recommended.

Savage Jungle is published by Severed press and is available in both paperback and e-book formats.  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.

From the author's bio - Hunter Shea is the product of a childhood weened on The Night Stalker, The Twilight Zone, and In Search Of.  He doesn't just write about the paranormal - he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself.

Hunter is an amateur cryptozoologist, having written wild, fictional tales about Bigfoot, The Montauk Monster, The Dover Demon and many new creatures to come.  Copies of his books, The Montauk Monster and The Dover Demon, are currently on display in the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, ME.

Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he's happy to be close enough to New York City to get Gray's Papaya hot dogs when the craving hits.  His daughters have also gotten the horror bug, assisting him with research, story ideas and illustrations that can be seen in magazines such as Dark Dossier.

Embers: A Collection of Dark Fiction - by Kenneth W. Cain

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Embers: A Collection of Dark Fiction features twenty-five stories. In any collection of this size, there are bound to be some hits and some misses along the way.  Fortunately, there are more of the former leading me to suggest this work be added to your personal TBR list.

The book begins with The Chamber - A visit to a place of unspeakable horror brings back nightmares, but not of what the reader might imagine.  A most interesting and somewhat Lovecraftian beginning to the collection.

If you enjoy your horror with a touch of Lovecraft, I believe you'll appreciate this body of work from Kenneth W. Cain more than you would otherwise.

Not all of the stories in Embers have creatures with tentacles.  For example. Valerie's Window is a zombie tale where the heroine is dealing with something much worse than the mere undead.

If you miss the tentacles, you don't have to wait long.  They're back in A Window To Dream By, a short story with a killer opening line...

Despite her tentacles and lack of human arms and legs, Seth had an inexplicable attraction to the woman.

Rather than doing a synopsis of every story, here are a few of the highlights.  I really enjoyed To Save One Life in which a spider named Boris plays a rather important role.  Of Both Worlds - If you're perceived as a monster, you might as well be one. And then there's Water Snake - huge snakes capable of swallowing a fully grown human.  Well-told and frightening.

I might not have loved every story in this collection, but I would certainly return for a second helping of tales from Kenneth W. Cain.

Embers: A Collection of Dark Fiction is available in both paperback and e-book formats from Crystal Lake Publishing.  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.

From the author's bio - Kenneth W. Cain first got the itch for storytelling during his formative years in the suburbs of Chicago, where he got to listen to his grandfather spin tales by the glow of a barrel fire. But it was a reading of Baba Yaga that grew his desire for dark fiction. Shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, Alfred Hitchcock Presents, and One Step Beyond furthered that sense of wonder for the unknown, and he’s been writing ever since.   Writing, reading, fine art, graphic design, and Cardinals baseball are but a few of his passions. Cain now resides in Chester County, Pennsylvania with his wife and two children.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: Feral - by James DeMonaco & B. K. Evenson

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Ever read a book with all the right ingredients, one that's well written, has characters you care about, tells a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, yet leaves you feeling disappointed?

That's exactly how I feel about Feral, the new novel from the powerhouse team of James DeMonaco and B.K. Evenson. From the moment I saw the eye-catching cover, I was excited about this new take on a post-apocalyptic world.

There are certainly some positives to take away from my reading of this book. For one thing, it's not about zombies, although the antagonists do exhibit some zombie-like characteristics like their relentless pursuit of the survivors.

Another example is the detailed explanation of exactly what caused the breakdown of civilization.  I also liked that the fact that only men were affected by the genetic virus and women were left to rebuild society while fending off attacks from the Feral men, leading to some strong female characters.

To say Feral is fast-paced hardly does it justice, think Fast and Furious on speed.

When the virus attacks the results are devastatingly quick and require decisive action just to survive..

...it's enough to give me the strength to roll over onto my back and lift the Glock and fire.  And again, and again, and again.  Four shots in all. all but the first shot straight into the skull of the monster that used to be my father.
My biggest problem with Feral was its predictability.  Every bit as predictable as the last few seasons of The Walking Dead.  For most of the book, I knew exactly what would happen. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the read, just that I might have liked it more if there were a few surprises.

Feral is told from a number of points of view, mostly in the first person from the perspective of various characters and occasionally third person when the narrative dictates.  It can be a bit disconcerting, but it wasn't a huge distraction.

If you're looking for a safe, steady read Feral delivers.  Just don't expect any bombshells.

Feral is a Blumhouse Books original published by Random House LLC and is available in paperback, e-book, and audio formats.

From the authors' bios...

James DeMonaco is the writer/director of the Purge series of films.  The Purge (2013), The Purge: Anarchy (2014), and The Purge: Election Year (2016).

B. K. Evenson is an American academic and writer of both literary fiction and popular fiction, some of the latter being published under B.K. Evenson  His fiction, often described as literary minimalism but also drawing inspiration from horror, detective fiction, science fiction and continental philosophy, makes frequent use of dark humor and often features characters struggling with the limits and consequences of knowledge..

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Crow Shine - by Alan Baxter - Alan's first collection of dark fiction

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

The first short story I ever read by Alan Baxter was "In Vaulted Halls Entombed" which featured a group of soldiers chasing terrorists into a cave in Afghanistan only to see them trapped by something their training never prepared them for.  Since that time, I always get excited when I see his name attached to an anthology.

With Crow Shine, I don't have to wait for his next short story, I merely need to turn the page.  Nineteen wondrous, magical shorts.  Some new for this collection, but many published before. They were all new to me, making this work all the more enjoyable.

Crow Shine - The title story is that of a legendary bluesman, his special shine, and his grandson who takes it all in.  Great storytelling.

The Beat of a Pale Wing - A chilling story of the mob...and magic.

Tiny Lives - A charmingly original tale of an old man who can breath life into clockwork animals...at a price.

Role the Bones - Luck and Chance, what's the difference?  And are you willing to roll the bones?

Old Promise, New Blood - The age old story of what happens when a deal with the devil comes due.

All the Wealth In the World - How cool would it be it you could buy time?

In the Name of the Father - A sensational story of a young Priest in the Outback, although he's not exactly what he seems.

Fear Is the Sin - A beautiful, lyrical story of a theatre troupe and their controversial sensual performance.

The Chart of the Vagrant Mariner - This is the result of a mashup between a swashbuckling tale of piracy on the high seas and H.P. Lovecraft.

The Darkest Shade of Grey - My favorite story in the collection and one of the best shorts I've read in recent memory.  He was supposed to be the rough, tough, take no shit reporter, getting to the bottom of everything.  All he ever got to the bottom of lately was a bottle, and then he started right over at the top of the next one.  This was one of the longer stories in the collection and when it was over, I still wanted more.

A Strong Urge to Fly - A clever tale I found to be both charming and creepy.  Could easily be subtitled Mrs. Oates' House of Cats and Contradictions.

Reaching for Ruins - What can you do when the plants run amok?

Shadows of the Lonely Dead - Intelligent horror and another terrific tale.

Punishment of the Sun - As a reader, I never quite learned what was going on in this story, but that didn't make it any less creepy.

The Fathomed Wreck to See - The tale of a siren and choices.

Not the Worst of Sins - If there's a moral to be found in this story of vengeance in the wild, wild west, it's never trust a ghost.

The Old Magic - The perils of an extraordinarily long life.

Mephisto - A short yet powerful story of a legendary magician.

The Darkness In Clara - When Michelle's lover commits suicide, she returns to the town where Clara was raised, looking for answers.  A wonderful story to finish this collection.

All of the stories contained in this body of work are inventive, original, and above all entertaining. Each tale has it's own unique voice.  If I didn't know they were all written by Alan Baxter I would think this was an anthology instead of a collection.

Totally recommended,

Crow Shine is available from Ticonderoga Publications in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog.  He also teaches Kung Fu.  Alan lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, dog and cat.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Review: Mars Girls - by Mary Turzillo

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

This will teach me to stray too far from my preferred genre of horror.  I should have taken heed when I saw this listed on Amazon as "A YA Science Fiction Adventure Novel." Alarms should have gone off, something along the lines of "Danger, Will Robinson,"  complete with wildly waving robot arms.

But Mars Girls was being released by Apex Publishing, a company that has provided me with many great reads over the years and I do enjoy expanding my reading horizons from time to time and the book's synopsis read really well.

Synopsis: Like any normal 8-mear-old Mars girl, Nanoannie is looking for some excitement! She wants to go to clubs, wear the latest Earth fashions, and dance with nuke guys. But her life is not exciting. She lives on her family’s Pharm with her parents, little sister, and a holo-cat named Fuzzbutt. The closest she gets to clubs are on the Marsnet. And her parents are pressuring her to sign her contract over to Utopia Limited Corp before she’s even had a chance to live a little. When Kapera— a friend from online school— shows up at her Pharm asking for help, Nanoannie is quick to jump in the rover and take off. Finally an adventure! What Nanoannie and Kapera find at the Smythe’s Pharm is more than the girls bargained for. The hab has been trashed and there are dead bodies buried in the backyard! If that wasn’t bad enough, the girls crash the rover and Kapera gets kidnapped by Facers who claim her parents are murderers! Between Renegade Nuns, Facers, and corp geeks, Nanoannie and Kapera don’t know who to trust or where to go. Kapera only wants to find her parents so they can get to Earth Orbitals and she can be treated for her leukemia. Nanoannie wants to help her friend and experience of little bit of Mars before selling her contract to the first corp that offers to buy it. Life isn’t easy when you’re just as a couple of Mars Girls.

Sounds utterly fantastic, right?  That's what I thought.  It does take some getting used to the lingo, but that's not a big deal and it's easy enough for the reader to catch on.

Some Martian-born girls got so used to their home habs that they never wanted to leave. Scared to leave. Happy corp slaves. Not Nanoannie. She liked the open sky.

I really had to elevate my suspension of disbelief to get through Mars Girls, something I'm usually ale to do without a second thought.  After all, I enjoy reading horror and as a reader of such, I do that all the time, but some things in this story made little or no sense to me.

“I see you’re looking at my Face bindi. Would you like one someday?”

This was in reference to the little face on Crystal Spirit’s forehead.  Bindis are face jewelry, common in the Indian culture.  In this story, the face bindi is actually a small face on the face of a Facer, a cult that worships the face of Mars and plans to journey to the home planet of the builders.  It's a really far-fetched idea that adds little to the overall story and makes the assumption that the reader is already familiar with the face of Mars.

At some point in reading Mars Girls, I began to think the story and characters sounded very familiar. A bit of research shows this new novel is based on characters introduced in "Mars Is No Place for Children" which won the Nebula Award for best novelette in 2000.   A story which obviously had a lasting impression on me for it to resonate all these years later.

Despite the elements which did not work for me in Mars Girls, the story was not without its charms. Parenting is pretty much the same wherever you live...

Escudo’s voice came on. “Little lady, you are in big trouble. No more net dates for you. No fooling around with guys in virtual clubs . The only boyfriend you’ll have is your cat. You are grounded, and I mean underground. Confined to your room, you hear? Until the end of Summer-May. No entertainment except for on-line school!”

Although Mars Girls was not for me you mileage may vary particularly if YA Science Fiction Adventure is your thing.

Mars Girls, from Apex Publishing, is available for pre-order in both paperback and -e-book formats and is scheduled for release on June 13, 2017.

From the author's bio - After a career as a professor of English at Kent State University, Dr. Mary A. Turzillo is now a full-time writer. In 2000, her story “Mars Is No Place for Children ” won SFWA’s Nebula Award for best novelette. Her novel An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl was serialized in Analog in July-Nov 2004 . These two works have been selected as recreational reading on the International Space Station.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Guest Post: Why I Wrote Mars Girls - by Mary Turzillo

This weekend it's all about Mars.  First up, a guest post from the author of MARS GIRLS, Mary Turzillo...

Mary Turzillo

When I was a kid, I had a terror of things I read about in books. Ball lightning. Tidal waves. Giant slugs. A walking severed hand.

But I was really frightened when I first heard of supernovas. I read where the sun would someday go supernova and we would all burn to a crisp. (Later, I learned that humanity would be extinct for others reasons, but that’s irrelevant.)

The idea that humanity would all die out because our planet was burned up by our sun was just too awful for me. So I became interested in the idea that humans could leave this planet and colonize other planets. Maybe the majority of us would die, but humanity would go on and spread throughout the universe.

In its original form, this was a childish idea. For one thing, our sun is too small to go supernova. This was but one way the pop-science books of my childhood misled me.

But my idea of humanity escaping Earth has some validity nonetheless. Humanity could perish in so many ways besides the not-actually-inevitable supernova: plagues, pollution, runaway greenhouse effect, nuclear winter — the possibilities are endless. And I want to think at least some of us, progenitors of a future human race would survive.

In my mind, we had to leave the Earth and colonize other planets. It didn’t matter if most humans died, at least the human race would go on.

I’m not the only person who has this idea. It’s almost a religious belief, this love of our own race. So—Mars would be a good beginning for humanity’s home away from home.

Many years later, my husband, Dr. Geoffrey Landis, introduced me to a visionary scientist-entrepreneur-engineer, Dr. Robert Zubrin, the founder of the Mars Society, an organization that is leading the drive to colonize Mars and author of multiple books including The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must (1996). After some fascinating conversation, Zubrin told me that he thought that I could be instrumental in the drive to colonize Mars.

I took that challenge seriously.

My Mars stories show that the colonists’ lives are not without problems. After all, obstacles are what make fiction interesting.

So I began a series of narratives about people born on Mars, doing science for humanity, and solving the problems of their extraordinary lives. My Nebula-winning “Mars Is No Place for Children” is about a little girl, Kapera Smythe, who searches for the original Mars Pathfinder rover. That Rover has a name: Sojourner. It’s named after an African-American freedom leader, Sojourner Truth. So I chose to make Kapera African-American, or rather African-Martian.

The other girl in my story, Nanoannie Centime, is a little older, and her path shows the social issues of being a Martian colonist: the fact that her life is lonely (no date-worthy boys) and that she is destined for a life of very hard work.

Enter the other Mars colonists, the Facers. These are people who, like me, believe that humans should colonize the universe, including an exoplanet they believe they have identified as humanity’s true home. They make serious mistakes, however, which leads to problems for Nanoannie and Kapera.
I had a lot of fun creating the Face-on-Mars religion, which is an extrapolation of the ideas of Richard Hoagland (The Monuments of Mars: A City on the Edge of Forever, 1987) and others. I hope you enjoy—and at times even admire—their crazy ideas.

Kapera and Nanoannie also have the problem that Mars is a long way from Earth’s police, and the law doesn’t always protect the innocent.

My husband, Geoff Landis, has his own award-winning Mars novel, Mars Crossing (2000). He has shepherded me through the minefields of Mars research. I watched in an auditorium in Pasadena as Jet Propulsion Lab engineers described the descent and landing of Mars Pathfinder. I got daily updates from Geoff while he was working on Spirit and Opportunity, the two Mars Exploration Rovers. I’ve attended many many presentations at Mars Society conventions.

In short, I’ve tried to make my fictional Mars as accurate as I can: no cheating. Just what engineers and scientists can do to enable people to live and work and explore Mars.

I created take-charge characters and a turbulent society for Mars Girls. I’m planning two more Mars novels, and I hope they’ll inspire readers to push forward the exploration and colonization of that amazing planet that you sometimes see in the night sky, reddish in color and so bright, our next home. And maybe you’ll go there. As astronaut Buzz Aldrin says, “Get your a## to Mars!”
From the author's bio - Mary Turzillo's 1999 Nebula-winner, " and her Analog novel, An Old-Fashioned Martian Girl, have been read on the International Space Station. Her poetry collection, Lovers & Killers, won the 2013 Elgin Award.  She has been a finalist for the British Science Fiction Association, Pushcart, Stoker, Dwarf Stars and Rhysling ballots.   Sweet Poison, her Dark Renaissance collaboration with Marge Simon, was a Stoker finalist and won the 2015 Elgin Award.   She's working on a novel, A Mars Cat & His Boy, and another collaboration with Marge Simon, Satan's Sweethearts.   Mary lives in Ohio, with her scientist-writer husband, Geoffrey Landis, both of whom fence internationally.

Geoff and Mary ponder the question: what would it be like to fence in zero-G? and: What about if we were cats fencing in zero-G?

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review: The Sound of Broken Ribs by Edward Lorn

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Edward Lorn is a writer who pulls no punches. He writes with the anger I often feel, but regretfully have no outlet for.

I've often mentioned in my reviews that I'm a sucker for a great opening paragraph and The Sound of Broken Ribs delivers with the following....

In forty-five minutes, she’d be fighting for her life. But, for now, Lei Duncan I was typing The End.

But first, let's talk about the bad day Belinda Walsh had awoken to.  It began with a persistent knocking on her front door.  Her initial thought was' Dan’s dead. Jesus Christ, my Dan’s dead. Before long she wished he was.  An eviction notice?  Failure to make payments on the rent?  When she calls her husband at work to ask him what was going on, he hangs up on her and promptly disappears. This left Belinda beside herself with anger, fit to be tied, seething with rage.

When she got behind the wheel of her car...

She hit the woman in the spandex tank, blue-and-white yoga pants, and highlighter-yellow sneakers doing roughly forty-two miles per hour. That might not seem like a lot of speed, but it was enough to change both women’s lives forever.

And that's just the beginning of The Sound of Broken Ribs.  This is a visual tale, definitely rated R for sex, ultra-violence, and language.  That being said, there is a great depth to Edward's characters and their actions are totally believable.  So many unexpected twists and turns.  Like a full season of Fargo without the accents.

Recommended and one of my favorite reads of 2017.

The Sound of Broken Ribs will be available as a signed, limited-edition release through Thunderstorm Books. You can pre-order your copy at http://thunderstormbooks.com/thunderstorm/book/the-sound-of-broken-ribs/  There should be an e-book release at a later date.

From the author's bio - Edward Lorn (E. to his friends) is a reader, writer, and content creator. He's been writing for fun since the age of six and writing professionally since 2011.  He can be found haunting the halls of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Goodreads.  E. lives in Alabama with his wife and two children. He is currently working on his next novel.

Monday, June 5, 2017

A very personal guest post from Edward Lorn, author of The Sound of Broken Ribs

Today's guest is Edward Lorn who talks about how his personal experience led to his writing The Sound of Broken Ribs.  Here's Edward...

The Inspiration of Pain

Pain can be crippling and depressing, but it can also be inspirational.

Hello, everybody. My name is Edward Lorn, but everyone calls me E. Pleased to meet you. I’m here today (thanks to Frank Errington) to talk about my inspiration for my upcoming Thunderstorm Books release, The Sound of Broken Ribs. Now that the boring intro is out of the way, let’s talk.

To date, I’ve had five back surgeries. The previous four were almost exactly three years apart from each other, always in the Summer, starting in 2005, then repeating in 2008, 2011, and 2014. Finally, in January 2016 I found a doctor that fixed the issue instead of simply treating the symptoms. Due to all this, I live day-to-day with pain. It’s an old friend who’s not going anywhere. My pain has thus far inspired two of my novels Cruelty and The Sound of Broken Ribs. The latter, the one we’re here to talk about today, I feel is my best work to date.

The Sound of Broken Ribs is loosely based on personal experiences I had while recovering at home from my last surgery. Some early reviewers have mentioned that they were reminded of Stephen King’s 1999 accident, wherein he was run over by a speeding van while taking his daily walk. I see the similarities, of course, as I’m a lifelong King fanboy, but Lei’s accident in the book actually stems from my own experience, right down to the neon yellow shoes. You’ll understand more about the shoes when you read the book.

After my fifth (and hopefully final) back surgery, I started walking every day, without fail. I began by shuffling through the house with a back brace until I could manage going down my porch stairs, of which there are seven. Seven steps might not seem like a lot, but before my surgery, I’d been bedridden for three months. Once I was able to get up and down the steps without assistance, I started walking to the end of my driveway—about fifty yards. Then the end of my street—about a quarter mile. Then onto the surrounding country roads. Out in the middle of nowhere. Where my phone gets zero reception. Anything could have happened to me. And one day the worst case scenario almost did.

I live in the southern United States and am surrounded by the sort of people who do not take kindly to my wife being African-American. We’ve had threats and have seen some harassment, but for the most part, as long as we keep to ourselves, they leave us alone. Things settled down quite a bit when the neighbor’s oldest boy moved out, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

I had just wrapped up a novel and felt up for a walk, so I saved my work and got dressed. I’d made it about two miles from the house when I noticed my shoe had come untied. It’s damn near impossible for a fat man (I’m 350lbs, last I checked) who’s a month post-op to tie his own shoes, but I managed the task by dropping to one knee. I was in the process of doing so when a truck swerved off the road and onto the grass at the side of the road, barely missing me. I fell backward into the tree line and just laid there for a while, counting my lucky stars.

Did the driver of the truck intend to hit me? I haven’t a clue. But I do know three things:

          1. Given my size, I am really fucking hard to miss. Especially in my highlighter-yellow sneakers.
          2. I wasn’t on a curve. This was a straightaway. Nothing could have obstructed their view of me.
          3. I saw the same truck later that day. My neighbor’s son was driving it. I was out on the porch when he pulled in and headed up the hill to his house. He waved at me. I didn’t like the look of the smile on his face.

Having no proof of what I expected might have happened, I decided against calling the police. After all, it could have very well been an accident. Who knows? Certainly not me. I’m just glad it ended the way it did because it could’ve ended very badly.

This whole incident got me thinking about the driver’s motivations. I couldn’t help it. That’s how my brain works. Then another thought came to mind. Perhaps contact was never the purpose. Maybe the driver of the truck was simply trying to scare me. (Yes, I know this could have all been an accident with no ill-will intended whatsoever; things happen. He could’ve been on his phone and drifted, or… any number of things. But I’m an author of terrible things. My brain automatically dives into the deep end of suspicion when things like this happen.)

The final inspiration for the book came when I started imagining the driver as an otherwise decent person, someone who’d had a horrible day and wanted to scare or hurt someone as a way of sharing their pain. Perhaps they’d just lost their home… their spouse… the life they’d worked so hard to build... Such a mindset is certainly plausible, if not completely understandable.

And that’s where Belinda Walsh’s character came from.

In the end, Lei and Belinda balanced perfectly when stacked against one another and the book basically wrote itself. The best ones always do, I feel. Here you have a woman who has everything reduced to a maimed and crippled mess on the side of the road by a woman who has just lost everything—the emotionally damaged dealing physical damage to another soul to quell their inner pain. It’s where the book went after the accident that I never could have expected. I can’t say this enough: I’m super proud of this one.

I think that’s enough for today. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to read this diatribe. Many thanks to Frank for having me, and I hope everyone enjoys The Sound of Broken Ribs.

If you’re interested in the limited edition hardcover from Thunderstorm Books, you can pre-order it here: http://thunderstormbooks.com/thunderstorm/book/the-sound-of-broken-ribs/

Take care of one another,

From the author's bio - Edward Lorn (E. to his friends) is a reader, writer, and content creator. He's been writing for fun since the age of six and writing professionally since 2011.  He can be found haunting the halls of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, and Goodreads.  E. lives in Alabama with his wife and two children. He is currently working on his next novel.