Thursday, August 30, 2018

Review: A Season In Hell - by Kenneth W. Cain

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

This stand-alone short story may get easily overlooked, but it's one of the most powerful pieces of fiction I've read this year.

The story begins at Dillon Peterson's Hall Of Fame induction ceremony.  As he's standing and presenting his acceptance speech, there's another story to be told.  The story of Keisha Green, the first woman ball-player in the history of professional baseball.

It's a known fact, rookies get hazed, but the treatment of Keisha by fellow outfielder Dizzy MacLean was beyond the pale.

"(Dillon) wanted no more of this, having grown up loving the game, thinking for the longest time, thinking for the longest time it could never be anything but decent.  In less than a few months, they had proven him wrong.  They took something pure, something joyful, and tainted it."

Kenneth was in great form here, like a virtuoso who hits every note.  A Season In Hell is a powerful short which affected me greatly.  Even brought a tear to my eye.  Just wow.

Recommended.

A Season In Hell will be available on September 7, 2018.  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.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Review: The Long Oblivion: Rafael Ward Book Two - by Michael Pogach

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

We first met Rafael "Rafe" Ward a few years ago in The Spider in the Laurel.  At that time he was an agent of the Relic Enforcement Command, commonly referred to as the REC.

In this long-awaited sequel, Rafe is running from the organization he once served.  Although it's not necessary to read book one to enjoy the followup, there is certainly a backstory there, and it's a good one.

The Long Oblivion introduces us to a new character, Sam Vasquez, who has her own reasons to despise the REC.  This is how she was portrayed in news coverage...

"Samantha Vasques, eighteen, they say is part of a cult and killed her mother, Alissa, forty-two, and her father, Javier, forty-six"

But it was all a lie.

"What the Republic does in the name of itself isn't beholden to legality or sense."

Wow. We live in scary times when the lines between fiction and reality have become so blurred.

The Long Oblivion is an action-packed thriller in the tradition of Dan Brown's Robert Langdon novels.

One of the things I really liked about this sequel is the author's willingness to hurt his characters, not just bumps and bruises, but genuine pain and loss.  Face it, that's what happens in real life.

Rafe is a terrific, flawed character, thrown into situations of great peril and yet he manages to, time and again, narrowly escape death and continue on a quest that could possibly save the world.

In case you are wondering, there will be a book three coming in 2019.

The Long Oblivion: Rafael Ward Book Two is available in paperback and e-book formats from  Crossroad Press.

From the author's bio - Michael Pogach is the author of the dystopian thriller Rafael Ward series: The Spider in the Laurel and The Long Oblivion.  His other work includes the "dirty and intense" chapbook Zero to Sixty, as well as contributing to the Amazon-best-selling CAM Horror & SciFi Charity Anthology.  Michael is currently at work on Book Three in the Rafael Ward series, plus his ever-mysterious Byron thriller.  His day job is teaching English and Creative Writing in Southeastern PA.




Monday, August 27, 2018

Guest Post: Michael Pogach

I’m Bad, and That’s Good:
How Thanos Redeems Infinity War

I watched Infinity War for the first time this past weekend, and it reminded me of a lot of the writing advice I’ve both given and received over the years. Stories need smart plots, but they also need proper pacing. And characters need room to grow. Infinity War is a good movie because it both accepts and flouts these assertions. It’s essentially one long climax punctuated by quips and banter (I know, I know…that’s what she said). Yet, it works because it’s not really a standalone movie, which allows us to forgive some its lack of character development and pacing issues.

That said one way in which Infinity War nails it is the antagonist. Thanos is a damn good bad guy. Yes, his arc is a bit predictable when it comes to his adopted daughter, but the point is he has an arc. Remember, a character’s arc is not entirely about how they evolve. Characters don’t exist in vacuums. It’s also about how they are revealed.

We’ve seen villains as good guys, like Wreck-It Ralph and Dexter and Riddick. We’ve seen villains who seek or find redemption, such as Darth Vader and Spawn. And we’ve seen a ton of antiheroes, such as Lisbeth Salander and Deadpool and Roland Deschain. But writing a villain who plays the role of antagonist while demonstrating emotional evolution and eliciting empathy from the audience is more unique.

Let’s compare Darth Vader and Thanos. Both want to end conflict and suffering. Vader’s gig is that order will prevent strife. Thanos’ deal is he thinks killing half the universe will fix overpopulation and starvation. They have similar goals and are willing to commit similar atrocities to achieve them. The key difference is Vader never feels regret for the deaths he causes. His only expression of “feeling” is for the suffering of his son at the very end. Thanos, on the other hand, suffers the guilt of making an impossible choice, on both the large and small scales. Both are excellent villains, but for Infinity War, a Vader wouldn’t do. Thanos is necessary to counterbalance the film’s other character-based shortcomings.

This premise is something most writers struggle with. In my first novel, The Spider in the Laurel, the main character’s struggle is very much an internal one. He—Rafael Ward—is the “good guy,” though in a very Jason Bourne kind of way. By the end of the novel, however, he is drifting towards more of an Evey Hammond role: the citizen who comes to understand the only way to fix what’s broken is to break it further.

In the sequel, The Long Oblivion, Rafael Ward faces a clear antagonist, in addition to battling his own demons of regret and guilt. The antagonist in book two is driven by a very relatable desire, one which Ward himself has relied on to justify his own actions. Two different books; two different types of antagonists. As authors, we need to remember to write our characters for what the story needs. To do this we have to read, watch, and listen to everything we can, both in and out of our genre.

Look, I’m not telling you the audience MUST feel sorry for every villain who’s conflicted about their victims. We need irredeemable baddies like Joffrey Baratheon and Anton Chigurh as much as we need Hannibal Lector and Harley Quinn. What I am saying is that I, as an author as well as a fan, am impressed with how Thanos was written. There’s an accessible humanity in him that buoys Infinity War when it might otherwise sink under the weight of its own wit and explosions. He’s bad alright, and that’s damn good.

Review: The Moore House - by Tony Tremblay

5 of 5 Stars      Review copy

I can't think of a better way to describe Tony Tremblay's debut novel, The Moore House, than with the author's own words of warning from one character to another in the actual story...

"Think of all the scary stories you've read about demonic possession.  Remember all the horrible scenes you've seen in horror movies, this will be worse."

From the very first page, I was drawn into the story of this house said to have a black soul and the tale of three former Nuns, empaths, employed by the Church to determine if there is any evidence of possession.

The Moore House itself may be evil, but as a book it's good, it's more than good, it's great and it's terribly effective in what it sets out to accomplish.  Tony Tremblay continues to grow as an author and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.  As a matter of fact, about half-way through, I got the feeling I was reading a break-out book by an author I've been reading since the very beginning.  As a reader and reviewer, that's pretty damn exciting.  Simply stated, The Moore House is one of the best possession stories I've read since The Exorcist.

I fully recommend adding this novel to your Summer TBR pile.

The Moore House is available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats from Haverhill House 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 - Tony Tremblay is the writer of numerous short stories that have been published in various horror anthologies, horror magazines, and webzines and has also worked as a reviewer of horror fiction for Cemetery Dance Magazine and Horror World.  In 2016 Tony released his first collection of short stories, The Seeds of Nightmares.  The author lives in New Hampshire.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Review: Suspended In Dusk II - edited by Simon Dewar

5 of 5 Stars     Review Copy

Before we review the anthology, Suspended In Dusk II,  I just have to comment on the cover art from the amazing Dean Samed, without a doubt, the best I've seen in 2018.  Absolutely stunning.  And, for the most part, the stories beneath the cover are just as good.

In Simon Dewar's foreword, he talks about dusk—"the time between light and dark.  This grey area that we all find ourselves in from time to time is the fulcrum, the tipping point.  This tipping point is the penultimate moment of change—where things either come good, or go badly, badly wrong.  This is a fantastic place for great stories to be found, written and collected. "

Now on to the stories, featuring a truly diverse mix of writers...

Angeline by Karen Runge (author and visual artist based in South Africa) - A believable tale of a woman of the night and her varied clients.  "I loved all the men who came to see me.  Their frailty, their fragility.  I loved them for their need, and the ways they tried to hide it."

The Sundowners by Damien Angelica Walters (twice nominated for the Bram Stoker Award.  She lives in Maryland with her husband and two rescued pit bulls) - Alzheimer's is such a terrible tragedy, as evidenced by this story from the patient's POV.

Crying Demon by Alan Baxter (multi-award winning British-Australian author who also teaches Kung Fu) - A gripping tale of The Dark Web.  Nothing frighten's me more"'It’s a game on the Dark Web, but you have to finish it.'  'What do you mean?' Claude leaned closer to the screen, half-turning his face away even as he did so, trying to decide how authentic the image was. 'If you don’t finish, you become part of the game. Like this kid.'

Still Life with Natalie by Sarah Read (a dark fiction writer and freelance editor now living in Wisconsin) - a surprising tale of art in still life.

Love is a Cavity I Can’t Stop Touching by Stephen Graham Jones (author of sixteen novels living in Boulder Colorado with his family and too many old trucks) - Wow. Unusual and gruesomely wonderful.  How's this for an opening line? "When I was fourteen, I ate a cooked piece of thigh meat off my girlfriend Sherry Wilkes."

There’s No Light Between Floors by Paul Tremblay (his most recent novel is the critically acclaimed Cabin at the End of the World.  He currently resides outside of Boston) - You can't go wrong with a story of the old gods.

That Damned Cat by Nerine Dorman (a South African author and editor of SFF) - "It’s  not every day that a coven attempts to bring through a Duke of the Ninth Infernal Circle—especially not in a city where consorting with demons was an offense punishable by death."

Riptide by Dan Rabarts (Dan's writing and editing work have earned him both New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award and the Australian Shadows Award multiple times) - A more literary approach to horror and a sad story filled with beautiful prose.

The Immortal Dead by J.C. Michael (horror author from North Yorkshire England) - My favorite story so far and one with an excellent twist. Just great storytelling.  I felt as if I was actually on a ghost tour of merry old England.

Dealing in Shadows by Annie Neugebauer (novelist, short story author, and poet, living in Texas with two crazy cute cats and a husband who is exceptionally well prepared for the zombie apocalypse) - Quite an imaginative tale of bereavement and the shadow people. Another high note in a strong anthology.

Another World by Ramsey Campbell (Britain's most respected living horror writer) - Upon his father's death, a young lad searches for the Kingdom of God.

The Hopeless in the Uninhabitable Places by Letitia Trent (Letitia lives in a haunted Ozark mountain town with her son, husband, and three black cats) - Anthologies are a wonderful way to discover authors you might not be familiar with as was the case with this terrific powerful and original story.

Mother of Shadows by Benjamin Knox (best known for his Dead of Winter novellas) - A quiet and creepy tale of a search for a girl who goes missing at her grandmother's funeral.

The Mournful Cry of Owls by Christopher Golden (New York Time bestselling author born and raised in Massachusetts, where he still lives with his family) - When is an owl not an owl? A somewhat joyous, yet sad, and totally original tale filled with rich characters.  Pretty damn good for a short story.

Wants and Needs by Paul Michael Anderson (lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and daughter) - Alone after the death of her son. A snow storm. An intruder.  It all comes together in this intense short story filled with beautiful imagery.

An Elegy for Childhood Monsters by Gwendolyn Kiste (a speculative fiction writer living in Western Pennsylvania with her husband, two cats, and not nearly enough ghosts) - Do we ever really outgrow our childhood monsters?

Lying in the Sun on a Fairy Tale Day by Bracken MacLeod (author of Mountain Home, Stranded, and Come to Dust. He lives outside of Boston with his wife and son) - Starts much like the descriptive title and then BAM!  A cleverly constructed tale.  My favorite in an exceptional anthology.

Suspended In Dusk II is a superior anthology with most of its tales appearing here for the first time. It's well worth your time and money.  Totally recommended.

Available now in both paperback and e-book formats from Grey Matter Press.



Thursday, August 9, 2018

Review: The Peoples Republic of Everything - by Nick Mamatas

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

The People's Republic of Everything is made up of fourteen short stories and one novella from genre fiction writer Nick Mamatas and is the most varied assemblage of work I've read in some time.

Walking with a Ghost - A Lovecraft inspired piece right off the bat and one of the best in the collection.  It's the story of H.P. Lovecraft as AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Arbeitskraft - A steampunkish story about the elimination of the proletariat.  I even see a bit of our times in this unusual tale.

The People’s Republic of Everywhere and Everything - A crime noir story, of sorts, about stealing the Q-chip, or quantum chip, which promised to be capable of breaking any and every code.  This one has one of my favorite lines in the entire collection...

"...even the Revolution appreciated a pretty girl who shaved her armpits and smelled like patchouli rather than patchouli and landfill."

Tom Silex, Spirit-Smasher - Fiction that smacks of realism.  A story about an attempt to obtain the rights to reprint the works of a forgotten pulp writer...

"Tom Silex is like a Sherlock Holmes/ cowboy/ ghostbuster/ Harry Potter-type all rolled up into one."

The Great Armored Train - A fanciful tale of the Russian Revolution and a Polish girl who can turn into an owl.

The Phylactery - Sort of an essay on Greekness.  Phylactery.  It's a Greek thing.  A good luck charm, if you will.

Slice of Life - "Not many women of child-bearing age make arrangements to leave their bodies to science. Fewer still die while in their third trimesters."

North Shore Friday - (Please note that the digital edition does not contain this story)  A tale of immigration.  Here's a helpful tip: If you think the government is reading your mind.  Think in Greek.

The Glottal Stop - Living a life inside of social media...

"By the time she got out of “the joint”— she was thinking in TV clich├ęs from her own childhood now !— all the social media platforms would be obsolete and abandoned, a graveyard of controversies as accessible as floppy disks."

The Spook School - Inspired by time spent in Scotland.

A Howling Dog - The curious incident of a bark without a dog.  This was once produced as a full-cast audio adaptation at pseudopod.org and appears in print for the first time in this volume.

Lab Rat - Supplementing a freelance writer's income by being a lab rat.  I wonder how many of my writer friends have actually done this.

Dreamer of the Day - A terrific crime story of an aging daytime actress wanting her philandering husband dead.

We Never Sleep - It's the Pinkerton slogan.  Dieselpunk - Just like steampunk, but greasier and more efficient.

Under My Roof - What would happen if an otherwise ordinary man built a nuclear bomb, put it a garden gnome on his lawn and became a sovereign state.  I loved this novella to finish up the collection.

I found much of the work in The People's Republic of Everything to be introspective, clever, and fun.

Recommended.

The People's Republic of Everything is available now in both paperback and e-book formats from Tachyon Publications.

From the author's bio - Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including Love is the Law, I Am Providence and the forthcoming Hexen Sabbath.  His short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Year’s Best Science Fiction & Fantasy, and many other venues.  His fiction and editorial work have been nominated for the Hugo, Locus, World Fantasy, Bram Stoker, Shirley Jackson, and International Horror Guild awards.  Nick lives in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Review: glass slipper dreams, shattered - by doungiagam

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Not at all what I expected.  The very first story, "I'll make you famous," was like a sucker punch to the face.

Gam, as her friends call her, has a truly unique voice.  This collection of flash fiction or prose poetry, as some have called it, is so good, it's like the reading equivalent of Lays potato chips.  You can't eat (or in this case read) just one.

Here's a single sample of Gam's prose from "one day we will dance again"...

"'We have to go.'  She tugs on me and we run from the wreck, from our broken corpses, and toward the next life."

While not every story hit the mark for me.  Enough of them did to warrant this five-star review.  Among the numerous gems here is a piece simply entitled, "cold."  It's one of the most artistically powerful stories I've ever read.

As I'm reading any work for potential review, I always make notes for myself.  Among the comments I jotted down for glass slipper dreams, shattered was "the author has the heart of a poet which beats strongly even in her prose."  I know it seems as if I'm gushing, but this collection contains all the emotions and I can't help myself.

Do yourself a favor and try something different.  If I hadn't been totally exhausted when I picked this up to read just one story, I would have devoured this in a single sitting.

Wholly recommended.

Published by Apokrupha,  glass slipper dreams, shattered, is available in both paperback and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - Doungjai Gam’s short fiction has appeared in Tough, LampLight, Distant Dying Ember, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep, and Wicked Haunted.  She was a sixteen-time winner in the Necon E-Books Flash Fiction contests and has appeared in the Necon E-Books Best of Flash Fiction Anthology series from 2011 on. she is a member of the New England Horror Writers.  Born in Thailand, she currently resides in Connecticut with author Ed Kurtz and their little black cat Oona. in her downtime, she enjoys road trips, lattes, and playing Pearl Jam on repeat.



Friday, August 3, 2018

Review: Welcome to the Show: 17 Horror Stories – One Legendary Venue - Edited by Matt Hayward & Doug Murano

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Welcome To the Show is a shared world anthology.  They don't always work, but this one's premise is simple enough and every one of the seventeen stories in the collection is true to the theme.

There's a well-known club in San Francisco where nearly everyone who's anyone has played at one time or another.  The place is called The Shantyman.  The thing is, despite its legendary status, the place has experienced its fair share of tragedy and there are tales to be told.

I wondered about the origin of the club's name, having never heard of a Shantyman before.  If you're at a loss, too, take a moment to Google the term.  Once you know it, the name makes perfect sense.

The table of contents is a veritable who's who of my favorite horror writers and a few I enjoyed reading for the first time.

 What Sort of Rube by Alan M Clark - Alan does a wonderful job of setting the stage for the anthology.  It's the story of a man named Beverly who performs at the Shantyman and also sells stories to magazines.  He meets a beggar in the alley outside the club and asks for a story in exchange for a meal.  This is that story.

Night and Day and in Between by Jonathan Janz - George Raft, but not that George Raft shows up at the club, looking for Clara, the current headliner.  But as we'll learn she's so much more than a singer.  This one has a delightful twist in keeping with what we know of the curse.

In the Winter of No Love by John Skipp - A great opening line from John...

"The street was a neon nightmare, a low-rent Disneyland of sleaze down which Marcie tromped in army boots. It was cold— at least for California, with the chill November wind blowing in off the ocean— and in her ankle-length coat of ratty fur, she felt like the least-naked woman on the strip."

Being old enough to remember the late sixties, Skipp took me all the way back with a very enjoyable tale.

Wolf with Diamond Eyes by Patrick Lacey - Vincenzo Lucille is living a nightmare.  Now seventy-two, he's the only member of an Italian prog rock band to survive a fateful performance at The Shantyman and he's finally ready to tell his story.

Pilgrimage by Bryan Smith - A tour bus, a stop at The Shantyman, a stranger with a special blend of weed...it all leads to a very strange trip, indeed.  One of my favorites in a book of terrific tales.

A Tongue like Fire by Rachel Autumn Deering - Words have meaning...and consequences.

Master of Beyond by Glenn Rolfe - Bringing a Ouiji board to a place like The Shantyman.  Not exactly a good idea.

Dark Stage by Matt Hayward - As evidenced in Matt's story, The Shantyman isn't always dark.  Sometimes a bit of light shines down, but occasionally even in light, there is darkness.

Open Mic Night by Kelli Owen - Loved this story.  Kelli presents her take on the "27 Club" and its link to The Shantyman.

Beat on the Past by Matt Serafini - A punk band, an old photograph, and the usual strangeness of The Shantyman.

True Starmen by Max Booth III - If you're not reading Max Booth, your missing out.  His description of hipsters is priceless...

"Thick neckbeards coated in Dorito dust.  Semen-stained fedoras.  Sarcastic T-shirts too small for the massive guts bulging out of them."

BTW, I'm officially old.  I thought for certain shoegazing had to be a made up thing.  But once again, thanks to Google, I learned something new.

Just to be Seen by Somer Canon - One of the stranger tales in a collection of strange stories.

Parody by Jeff Strand -  It's time for Zany Chester.  A wickedly funny tale that could only be told by Jeff Strand.

Ascending by Robert Ford -I've been a big fan of Bob's work for some time now.  His style, the way he puts his words together.  I just love it.  At first, I thought this was going to be a touching love story, but then I recalled this was The Shantyman and Bob did not disappoint.

The Southern Thing by Adam Cesare - Its been sometime since I've read an Adam Cesare story.  My fault, not his.  This is a good one.  A quick story, which packs quite a punch.

Running Free by Brian Keene - Best story in the anthology.  Brian hits it out of the park.  Wonderfully told.  Complete in every way.

We Sang in Darkness by Mary SanGiovanni - And we end, appropriately enough, with a bit of Cosmic Horror from the wonderful Mary SanGiovanni.

In conclusion, let me say how much I love a good shared world anthology.  This isn't that, nope.  It's a GREAT shared world anthology.  Without a doubt, Welcome to the Show is my favorite antho so far in 2018.

Welcome to the Show: 17 Horror Stories - One Legendary Venue from Crystal Lake Publishing is available now in both paperback an 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.
Recommended.