Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Review: Cthulhu Blues A SPECTRA Files novel - by Douglas Wynne

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Cthulhu Blues is a fitting conclusion to the SPECTRA Files series which began in 2015 with Red Equinox and continued last year with Black January.  I'm going to miss Becca Philips and Jason Brooks as they battle the cosmic horrors found in the Lovecraftian mythos.  I'll even miss Becca's dog Django.

The latest story begins with Becca having checked herself into the Psych Center at UMASS, Tewksbury, to be monitored while she slept.  Her symptoms, singing in her sleep and a recurring nightmare at 3:33 every morning.  In addition, mirrors are showing a link to another world.

A cyclone of eels revolved in the water below the mirror's surface, coalescing in a pattern resembling a woman turning in a pirouette, trailing scarves of black flesh.  A chill coursed through Becca's skin just as warmth ran down the inside of her leg and urine puddled at her feet.

There are a number of children around the country who also have been singing in their sleep and they've been collected by a mysterious minstrel to form A choir of the Voice, an instrument played by the ocean..."They're going to raise Cthulhu."

Can Becca save the children and stop this catastrophe from occurring or will she join the choir?

Filled with twists and the Lovecraftian vibe these SPECTRA Files stories are known for.

Cthulhu Blues works well as a standalone novel, but I certainly recommend reading all three books in the series.

Cthulhu Blues is available in both paperback and e-book formats from JournalStone.

From the author's bio. Douglas Wynne wrote his first dark fantasy novel at the age of fifteen but has never found the courage to take it down from the attic and read it. After a long detour through music school, rock bands, and recording studios, he came full circle back to fiction writing and is recently the author of five novels: The Devil of Echo Lake, Steel Breeze, and the SPECTRA Files trilogy (Red Equinox, Black January, and Cthulhu Blues). He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son and a houseful of animals.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Review: Blanky - by Kealan Patrick Burke

5 of 5 Stars

I love the tag line on the cover of Kealan Patrick Burkes new novella, Blanky.  

The gift that keeps on living.

And then there's the opening line.  One that immediately draws the reader into the story.

You say you can't imagine what it must be like to lose a child.
Let me make it easy for you.
It's the beginning of the end of your world.

What follows is a story I'd compare to having a rug ripped out from under your feet, again and again, as a baby blanket picked up at a flea market seemingly goes on a killing spree.

In addition to being a great story-teller, Kealan Patrick Burke, is a true word craftsman filling his story with gems like these.

The light through the partially open blinds was, like me, feeble and gray.

I stayed at the bar until the choice was removed and the drinks stopped coming.

Red and yellow leaves tussled across the grass that was one rain shy of needing a haircut.

Blanky effectively blurs the line between grief and insanity and is a read I would definitely recommend.

Blanky is currently available for the Kindle.  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.

Born and raised in Dungarvan, Ireland, Kealan Patrick Burke is the author of five novels, over a hundred short stories, six collections, and editor of four anthologies. In 2004, he was honored with the Bram Stoker Award for his novella, Turtle Boy.  Kealan also designs covers for print and digital books through his company Elderlamon Design.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Review: Ugly Little Things - by Todd Keilsing

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Earlier this year, I read Todd Keisling's novella, The Final Reconciliation. It's still one of my favorite reads from 2017.  Ugly Little Things is Keisling's first collection and if you didn't get to read The Final Reconciliation, I've got good news on a couple of counts. Not only is his new book a chance to be introduced to his work through ten of his shorter pieces, but it also includes his critically acclaimed novella.

A Man In Your Garden - Ever see something out of the corner of your eye and then question whether it was really there?  Take that premise, add a delightfully creepy twist and you have A Man In Your Garden.  And one of my favorite lines in the entire book.  ...you tell yourself it was your imagination, a phantom conjured from the tomb of sleep, given life by the bourbon soaking into your liver.

Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave - A well-constructed and bittersweet tale of never-ending love with a healthy dose of horror.

Radio Free Nowhere - A road trip, a radio dead zone, the song of a siren...and oh, the horror.

The Otherland Express - A terrific story with a Twilight Zone vibe.  I'm a genuine Nobody.  I help all the other Nobodies get from here to there, and sometimes I find Nobodies who don't realize they're Nobodies.  Sometimes, I find people who want to become Nobodies just like the rest of us.

Saving Granny from the Devil - A totally enjoyable story about choices.  One that shows the man in black in a new light.

The Darkness Between Dead Stars - A mission to Mars, a single volunteer, a familiar trope with a fresh look.

Human Resources - Lovecraftian mythos in the age of technology and one of the best opening lines I've read this year.  It is with deep regret and sorrow that I must bid you farewell.  Effective immediately, I am resigning from my duties as HR manager on account of having just murdered my assistant and misleading others at the company.

House of Nettle and Thorn - A story with mutant plant girls.  Whats not to like?

When Karen Met Her Mountain - Is it ironic that I'm reading a story about Karen meeting her mountain at the same time I met a mountain of my own? In a single week, I nearly had a kidney transplant, but the kidney was damaged and we had to pass, I fell down a flight of stairs, and was hospitalized with Congestive Heart Failure. The following week I began dialysis.  As Karen Singleton's Daddy would say, "...sometimes things just happen and there's nothin' to be done about it...when there's a mountain in your way, you either climb other it, or you find a way around it.  There ain't no in-between."

The Harbinger - Some people are afraid of clowns, for me, it's dolls.  In this short, Keisling takes a familiar trope and delivers an effectively scary tale.

The Final Reconciliation - In this novella Todd Keisling introduces readers to the fictional heavy metal band The Yellow Kings.  It's been years since that fateful show at a small L.A. nightclub.  Miles Hargrove and his producer are interviewing Aidan Cross, looking for the true story of their one and only performance of The Final Reconciliation.

Todd Keisling is a wonderful story-teller.  As I read the diverse tales in Ugly Little Things I found the only common thread to be the horror.  It's there in every story, and I couldn't wait to see where the author would take me next.

Ugly Little Things is available 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.

Todd Keisling is the author of A Life Transparent, The Liminal Man (a 2013 Indie Book Award Finalist), and the critically-acclaimed novella, The Final Reconciliation. He lives somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania with his wife, son, and a trio of unruly cats.

Guest post: Who Made Who? - by Author Todd Keisling

Who Made Who?

I was a weird kid.

While most five-year-olds in the late 80s probably spent their free time watching He-Man and G.I. Joe, I had a different obsession: Horror films. You can blame my mother for that. After my parents divorced, Mom and I lived with my great-grandmother for a few years, and during that time, Mom worked days and went to school at night. My granny could only keep me occupied for so many hours before winding down herself, and since we couldn’t afford daycare, Mom turned to the next best thing: a VCR.

My grandmother worked part-time at our small town’s only video rental place—Showtime Video, it was called—so we had access to hundreds of rentals at a discount. Every week, Mom would rent a batch of films. Some for herself and some for me. Some of my earliest memories are from that time, sitting in front of Granny’s old console television, watching Labyrinth, Return to Oz, and Maximum Overdrive.

I know. One of those things is not like the others. Let me explain.

In her defense, I’m not sure Mom really expected me to watch all of the movies she rented for me. She probably figured I’d get bored with them or fall asleep before I could finish them. As you might imagine, the exact opposite happened. When I finished my movies, I started watching hers. Films like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th were part of my VHS diet. Out of all of them, though, two favorites emerged: Maximum Overdrive and Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn.

Looking back, I’m not sure what it was about them that captured my imagination so much. Maximum Overdrive is a terrible film (what I’d call a good “Bad” movie), but it has that Green Goblin truck, and it has some hilarious moments (the Ice Cream truck, the lawnmower, the vending machine at the baseball park). I say hilarious because, to a five-year-old, those scenes aren’t particularly scary. They’re inanimate objects coming to life—just like in the cartoons I also watched—but with a lot more bad language and AC/DC providing the soundtrack.

Evil Dead 2: Dead By Dawn is a far better film—one of my all-time favorites, in fact—driven by bizarre effects, over-the-top acting by the amazing Bruce Campbell, and a batshit-crazy storyline about the Necronomicon, demon resurrection, MacGyver-like resourcefulness, and time travel. The film also has its own share of (intentional) hilarity and slapstick, from Bruce Campbell getting blasted in the face by a geyser of blood to fighting off his possessed hand. While most kids in elementary school had their heroes like Batman and Superman, I admired the guy who was willing to cut off his own hand and replace it with a chainsaw in order to fight evil. I wanted to be Ash Williams for Halloween; instead, I was a vampire.

When I say these films were my favorites, I mean I was obsessed with them. I watched them every day. Every time Mom went back to Showtime Video, I asked her to rent them again. And again. And again. There was a point where Mom had rented them so many times that it would’ve been cheaper for her to just buy the movies—which weren’t cheap back then. So, she had a friend copy both films onto a blank VHS cassette—along with a film of her choosing, which happened to be Dirty Dancing.

That personalized VHS cassette was one of my most prized possessions. I carried it with me everywhere. Whenever I went to my dad’s place for the weekend, I brought that cassette with me and subjected him to its insanity. Needless to say, Mom didn’t get to watch Dirty Dancing very much. In fact, that whole section of the cassette was nearly ruined from my constant fast-forwarding from Maximum Overdrive to Evil Dead 2.

As you might imagine, there were effects to this constant exposure to horror from an early age. My childhood drawings involved monsters and heroes. I made up stories about fighting evil. I tucked my hand into my sleeve and replaced it with a toy weapon which I used to fight off twisted creatures from the abyss. Sometimes I donned an old cape I’d worn at Halloween and hunted these monsters in Granny’s backyard. I was cautious of semi-trucks, ice cream trucks, lawnmowers, and chainsaws. And somehow, I had memorized the lyrics to “Hells Bells” before completing elementary school. I knew the word “fuck” was a powerful one, having blurted out “fuck face” in front of Granny one afternoon that earned me both a sore behind and an awkward conversation with my mother later that day.

I’m sure all the parents out there are probably cringing and wagging their fingers, but don’t misunderstand my point. I’m not writing this to throw my mom under the bus (or a semi-truck, for that matter). Quite the contrary, in fact. Mom recognized my affinity for these gruesome subjects very early on, and she saw what they did for my creativity. Most parents these days would probably try to curb such influences, but I’m grateful that my mother didn’t. My obsession with horror defined me in a lot of ways, and I have her to thank for that.

Life is kind of funny in the way it sets up so many parallels and intersections. Things you didn’t know were related later reveal themselves to be intricately entwined. Maximum Overdrive and Evil Dead 2 are perfect examples. Most of the horror aficionados probably know what I’m referring to, and I ask for their patience while I explain for the uninitiated.

Several years ago, I learned that Maximum Overdrive was Stephen King’s directorial debut, based on his short story, “Trucks.” Although Mr. King needs no introduction, it’s worth mentioning that several years prior to its release, he provided a quote for an upcoming horror film by a bunch of no-name filmmakers from Michigan. That film was the first Evil Dead, and the filmmakers were Sam, Ted, and Ivan Raimi. Years later, while directing Maximum Overdrive, King would lend some of his crew to those same filmmakers to help out with the filming of Evil Dead 2.

Of course, Mom was also an avid reader. She always had novels by King and Koontz on her nightstand.

If we’re keeping score, that’s a lot of Stephen King in my young life. Some might call that kismet. King fans might also call it ka.

My point is, when I look back on my early years and try to examine what put me on this path to being a horror writer, I always go back to those days at Granny’s house. Those days when I camped out in front of her old console television, watching Emilio Estevez fire a rocket into an oncoming truck while shouting, “Adios, motherfucker!” Those lazy afternoons when I recited the demon resurrection passages along with Professor Raymond Knowby, “Nos-feratos, amantos, Kanda.”

These days, whenever I hear Brian Johnson sing “Who Made Who?”, I have to smile because I know
the answer to that question. I mean, isn’t it obvious?
TODD KEISLING is the author of A Life Transparent, The Liminal Man (a 2013 Indie Book Award Finalist), and the critically-acclaimed novella, The Final Reconciliation. He lives somewhere in the wilds of Pennsylvania with his wife, son, and a trio of unruly cats.

Website: www.toddkeisling.com
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Twitter: @todd_keisling
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