Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Short Story Review: Arrearages by Wesley Southard

4 of 5 Stars

Truth be told, I met Wesley Southard at a small con in York, Pennsylvania this weekend.  I purchased a couple of his books and he gifted me a couple of chapbooks.  Arrearages was one of them.  Now, I usually don't review short stories, but I enjoyed this one so much I decided it was worthy of such treatment.

"Cam woke up screaming."  An opening which certainly garnered my attention.  What follows is so much worse.

I love it when what I'm reading elicits a verbal response.  This line actually made me say, "ew."  "After he emptied his stomach, his arms gave out, and he fell face first into his own warm bile."

You see, Arrearages is a story of revenge.  The women in Cal's life have gotten together to do something terrible to him, for a change.  You see, Cam is a horrible human being and deserves everything he gets, right up to the very end when the author elicited another verbal response from me.  This time it was, "Oh, God."

Arrearages is available for the Kindle.  BTW, 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...Wesley Southard is the author of the novel The Betrayed, which was named one of Brian Keene's Top 15 Books of 2017, the novella Closing Costs, and has had short stories appear in numerous outlets.  When not watching numerous hours of ice hockey, he spends his free time reading and drinking copious amounts of green soda.  He is also a graduate of the Atlanta Institute of Music, and he currently lives in South Central Pennsylvania with his wife and their cavalcade of animals.

Review: A Penny For Your Thoughts - by Bob Ford & Matt Hayward

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I recently started reading Matt Hayward's work with his most recent book, The Faithful, of which I said, "If you're a fan of Lovecraftian horror, you don't want to miss this one.  Certainly recommended."

I've long been a fan of Bob Ford.  Read anything by Bob and I can promise you won't be disappointed.

One of the cool backstories to A Penny For Your Thoughts is that Matt lives in Ireland and Bob in Central Pennsylvania, a distance of about 3,300 miles, not to mention an entire ocean.  Thank God for the internet, without which this book would be nigh on impossible.  And that would be a shame because this book is so damn good.

A solid opening sets the stage for all the goodness to follow...

"Whenever I take the Lowback Trail, I always find something new: unknown names carved into tree trunks, discarded briefs by overeager dippers, a smoldering pit left from weekend hikers…but today?  Today I found a penny jar."

Yep.  It all started with that damn jar of pennies.  Wheat pennies, to be exact.  Pennies with wishes taped to them.  Wishes which when read, came true.  Just ask Kenny who read the one about wanting big boobies.  It seems the pennies were also reusable for new wishes.  It also seems each wish came with a price. What could possibly go wrong?

Then there's the overall writing.  There are so many wonderful bits of prose...

"Rumor had it those waters were home to a school of catfish so big they'd eat a gaggle of kids and ask for seconds."

"Place was quiet as a mouse fart."

"Sometimes you can't let a fart without a neighbor three doors down knowing what you had for dinner,"

Overall, A Penny For You Thoughts gave me that Twilight Zone vibe.  I love that feeling the reader gets when the writers are just "in the zone".  This is a story which is humorous, dark, bittersweet, and despite its outlandish plot, it somehow manages to be completely believable.

Published by Poltergeist Press, A Penny For Your Thoughts is available for pre-order.  Scheduled for release on June 1, 2019, the book will be available in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats.

From the Author's bios...

Robert Ford has published the novels, The Compound, and No Lipstick in Avalon, the novellas, Ring of Fire, The Last Firefly of Summer, Samson and Denial, Bordertown and the short story collection  The God Beneath my Garden.  In addition, he has several screenplays floating around in the ether of Hollywood.  He can confirm the grass actually is greener on the other side, but it’s only because of the bodies buried there.

Matt Hayward is a Bram Stoker Award-nominated author and musician from Wicklow, Ireland.  His books include  Brain Dead BluesWhat Do Monsters Fear?, Practitioners (with Patrick Lacey),  and The Faithful.  He compiled the award-winning anthology Welcome To The Show, and is currently writing a novel with Bryan Smith.  Matt wrote the comic book This Is How It Ends (now a music video) for the band Walking Papers, and received a nomination for Irish Short Story of the Year from Penguin Books in 2017.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Review: When the Clock Strikes 13 - edited by by Kenneth W. Cain

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

When the Clock Strikes 13 is an invitation-only anthology.  Steve Thompson is a fan of horror and as such he wanted to publish an anthology featuring stories by his favorite authors.  The result is a treat for all fans of the genre.

The Boy In the Pond by Mark Allen Gunnells - A paranormal investigator is hired by a family to rid them of their son's spirit trapped below the ice in their pond.  A brutally haunting tale and a superb opening for this collection.

Open Waters by Richard Thomas - A beautifully written story of a future where we take solace where we can.

Memories by John R. Little - I loved this telling of a family curse which leads to tragic consequences.

Detrition of War by Kenneth W. Cain - Nothing like a good old "creature" story.

Comes the Red Man by Tom Deady - Tom is one of my favorite writers and this is another fine story from this Bram Stoker Award-winning author.  A holy man is haunted by those who perished in a fire which consumed the tent in which he was conducting a service.

Mommy's Girl by Somer Canon - Somer is the real deal and this is a wonderful introduction to her writing.  A local beach kid meets a boy on the boardwalk during a cloud burst and things take a decidedly weird turn.

Taking Up Carpentry by Justin M. Woodward - An abusive step-father gets his due in a rather unique way.  "'Doug isn't a bad man, he's just tired a lot, and you shouldn't test him when he's tired.' On a cold night in January, my sister, Anna, found out just how tired Doug could get,"

Kill Point Club by Steve Thompson - What a fun story.  About a service where you can accumulate, purchase and redeem points to allow you to kill without repercussions, as long as you follow the rules.

Calm Down Time by Richard Chizmar - Molly works the late shift and needs to wind down when she gets home.  Watching the news she learns of a killer on the loose in her neighborhood.  Uh, oh.

Carrion: My Wayward Son by James Newman - And the award for best title ever goes to...James Newman.  This is the story of a serial killer who calls himself, THE CARRION KING.  "I'm not crazy.  Some men like to fish, some men like to build things, some men like to work on cars but there's only one thing I like to do and that is KILL!!!"

Bear by Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason - I'm a big fan of the Sisters of Slaughter and here they give us a very fine ghost story set in the desert of Arizona during monsoon season.

When Arachnids Attack by Sheri White - Why does it have to be spiders.  This wonderfully horrific tale actually gave me chills.

A Song Above by Glenn Rolfe - A post-apocalyptic tale of underground dwellers making an attempt to go topside after years below.

This anthology features many of my favorite authors and those I had not read before had some of the best stories in the collection.  I've already read a number of good anthologies in 2019 and this is one of the best.

Whole-heartedly recommended.

Available for pre-order, When the Clock Strikes 13, will be published for the Kindle by In Your Face Books on March 31, 2019.  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.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Review: Jimmy The Freak - by Charles Colyott & Mark Steensland

5 of 5 Stars   Review copy

From beginning to end, this limited edition novella is something special.  Care is giving to every word, beginning with this beautiful opening line...

"There's something magical about it, Mike thinks, watching the fat flakes of snow appear from a sky black as the void."

What made the falling snow even more special was...

"Jimmy's face.  It was a bit like seeing a five-year old's grin plastered on a 30-something-year-old's face."

Mike, and the seemingly mentally challenged Jimmy.  The opening chapter sees the two venture into a snowstorm to visit a local convenience store where something very unusual occurs.

Jimmy the Freak is a wonderful buddy book.  There are real difficulties involved in taking care of a mentally challenged man with powers some may want to abuse.  In  some ways, though, I wondered who was taking care of whom in this delightful story

Charming, thrilling, and so original.  By the way, I've taken the liberty of giving Jimmy the Freak the subtitle Wanna Build a Snowman?  If you read it, you'll gt it.

100% recommended.

Published by Thunderstorm Books Jimmy the Freak is currently available as a limited edition hardcover signed by authors Charles Colyott and Mark Steensland.

About the authors...

Charles Colyott lives on a farm in the middle of nowhere (Illinois) with his wife, 2 daughters, cats, and a herd of llamas and alpacas.  He is surrounded by so much cuteness it's very difficult for him to develop any street cred as a dark and gritty writer.  Nevertheless, he has appeared in Read by Dawn II, Dark Recesses Press, Withersin magazine, Horror Library Volumes III & IV, Terrible Beauty, Fearful Symmetry, and Zippered Flesh, among other places.  He also teaches a beginner level Tai Chi Ch'uan class in which no one has died (yet) of the death touch.  Unlike his llamas, he does not spit.

Mark Steensland self-published his first book while in fourth grade and has been telling stories ever since--some of them true.  He became a professional journalist at the age of 18, writing about movies for such magazines as Prevue and American Cinematographer.  His award-winning films have played in festivals around the world.  His novel for young readers, Behind the Bookcase, was published in 2012.  His novel for adults, The Special, was published in late 2018 and is now being made into a feature film.  He currently lives in California with his wife and their three children.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Review: Hark! The Herald Angels Scream - Edited by Christopher Golden

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I know it's almost Spring, but this holiday-themed anthology is a great read any time of year.  Many of my favorite writers, both old and new come together to spread their own special brand of cheer.

Absinthe & Angels by Kelly Armstrong - A proper way to begin a holiday-themed anthology.  Frightenly fresh.

"'A proper reading of Dickens requires absinthe,' Michael says as he lifts his glass. 'The nectar of the muses.' Ava shakes her head. 'There’s no way anyone could drink this and still write.'"

Christmas In Barcelona by Scott Smith - Traveling with an infant,  What could possibly go wrong?  Plenty.  Well-told and ultimately horrifying.

Fresh As the New Fallen Snow by Seanan McGuire - Another wonderful tale.  A babysitter who is no Mary Poppins.  A morality play with a chilling ending.

Love Me by Thomas E. Sniegoski - A delightfully terrifying story.  Like a Christmas episode of Tales From the Crypt.

"The Creeper was what they used to call him, given his unique ability to get inside a place where the owners were home and pick it clean with no one the wiser."

Not Just For Christmas by Sarah Lotz - What do you do when your genetic pet starts sending you spam advertisements?

Tenets by Josh Malerman - An effective story.  When Adam comes to a Holiday Reunion of University classmates with a guest who is a former cult leader fresh out of prison, it's hard to tell which is worse the guests who leave or the one who asks the former cult leader what his tenets are.

Good Deeds by Jeff Strand - If you've ever been depressed by that Christmas song about the little boy who wants to buy new shoes for his dying mother, you're gonna love this Jeff Strand story.

It's a Wonderful Knife by Christopher Golden - An excellent play on words and a terrific twist.

Mistletoe and Holly by James A. Moore - Yet another solid entry in this anthology.  Sometimes Christmas wishes are best left unfulfilled.

Snake's Tail by Sarah Langan - This one is beyond strange.  A mysterious tale of disappearing children.

"The clock chimes. Two hundred thirty -six children evaporate from the crowd. First, they are there. Then, they are not. It’s a funny thing, witnessing something like that. Those people who have faith, lose it. Those people who have none, find it."

The Second Floor of the Christmas Hotel by Joe R. Lansdale - A very effective ghost story from Mr. Lansdale.

Farrow Street by Elizabeth Hand - A masterfully-crafted tale.  A change of plans leaves Melanie alone in London at Christmas time.  Reminded me of the time I was alone in Ft. Wayne at Thanksgiving, but that's another story.

Doctor Velocity: A Story of the Fire Zone by Jonathan Maberry - Maberry is a brilliant wordslinger as evidenced by this remarkable tale.

Look, you know how I was when I was younger, what I went through. I understand horror. I’ve seen things in those foster homes far worse than the fangs of any vampire or the claws of any werewolf. I’ve felt horror breathing on the back of my neck as it held me in its hands and used me, took me, ripped me apart. I know monsters. Real ones?"

Yankee Swap by John M. McIlveen - The most horrifying game of Yankee Swap ever.  I absolutely loved this ugly little tale.  So twisted.

Honor Thy Mother by Angela Slatter - The family matriarch is not happy about the prospect of moving into a retirement home.

Home by Tim Lebbon - An atmospheric piece about the end times with a rather enigmatic ending.

Hiking Through by Michael Koryta - I've been aware of Michael for some time, but have never read his work before now.  I must say, I totally enjoyed this haunting tale set on the Appalachian Trail in Maine.  On Christmas Eve, no less.

The Hangman's Bride by Sarah Pinborough  - The longest and perhaps the best ghost story to close the collection.

Hark! The Herald Angels Scream is, without a doubt, a collection which will bring joy to any horror fan and will cause any season to be the most wonderful time of year.


Published by Blumhous books, Hark! The Herald Angels Scream is available in paperback, e-book and audio formats.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Review: Junction - by Daniel M. Bensen

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Daisuke Matsumori is the star of the most popular nature show on Japanese television and has been recruited to investigate what's on the other side of a wormhole found in New Guinea.  By the way, the pronunciation is "Dice-Kay," not "Dye-Sue-Key."

"Lines were being drawn, ultimatums made, sabers rattled, and someone in the UN had seen this smoking powder keg and said to themselves, 'Why this looks like a job for a Japanese television personality.'"

Actually, the team is a broadly diverse group of characters,  each with their own agenda.  There's Colonel Syahiral Hariyadi, Colonel Gregory Pearson, Anne Houlihan of the University of Sydney, Tyaney and his wife Sing, Nurul and her husband, and pilot Mikhail Sergeyevich Alekseyev, Misha for short.

A plane was deconstructed on Earthside and reassembled on the Junction side of the wormhole.  Unfortunately, the plane crashes on its maiden voyage.  Misha manages to land the plane safely and all survive the crash, but will they survive the journey back to the wormhole, and more importantly each other?

Junction is extremely imaginative as the author has created a fantastical world full of wonders and danger on the other side of the wormhole.

"...at least a quick death smashed against the ground would be better than being very slowly eviscerated by a carnivorous sloth-flower."

If you like your speculative fiction wild and untamed, Junction is just that and much more.  Filled with unexpected twists and turns and even a touch of romance.

I don't expect this book to be among my favorites at year's end, but it will likely be one of the more memorable.

Recommended for readers looking for something different.

Published by Flame Tree Press, Junction is available in hardcover, paperback, e-book and as an audio CD.

Form the author's bio - Daniel M. Bensen writes alternate history, science fiction, and fantasy – usually with kissing, always with a bibliography. He teaches English in Sofia Bulgaria, where he lives with his wife and daughters in the Balkan Tower of Matriarchy.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Review: Limbs A Love Story - by Tim Meyer

5 of 5 Stars

From Wikipedia...

Acrotomophilia...in which an individual expresses strong sexual interest in amputees. It is a counterpart to apotemnophilia, the sexual interest in being an amputee.

And there you have it, the underlying premise of Limbs: A Love Story.  As strange as the premise is, and believe me, it's pretty damn strange.  At its heart, this truly is a love story.

Ray Bridges, for the most part, a rather ordinary guy.  He has a job he doesn't exactly love working the sales floor at a Best Tronics store.  He has a best friend, Percy Jones, and a boss he despises.  But, here's the twist, not only is Ray attracted to women who are amputees, he can't "perform" unless his partner is missing something.  Ray manages to live with his fixation until Kayla starts working at the store with him.  They hit it off in a big way and after few dates wind up in bed and, well, things do not go well.  What's an acrotomophiliac to do?

All this, plus a series of crimes where someone is abducting women and chopping off body parts.  The press is calling him the Hacketstown Hacker.

Tim's down-to-Earth writing style is perfect for a work like this.  Take this scene where Ray is getting his annual performance review...

"Getting your review at work is one of the worst experiences of the year. You’ve been there, we all have. No one would argue having your weaknesses pointed out and shoved in your face is about as much fun as having your nipples hooked up to a car battery, unless you’re into nipple stuff, in which case you might like it. (I think that makes sense.) But I’m getting off track and talking about nipples, so let me stop myself and get back to the story at hand."

At times repulsive, yet funny and charming.  Wickedly original and in my modest opinion, Tim's finest work to date.

Published by Grindhouse Press, Limbs: A Love Story is available in both paperback and 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.

From the author's bio - Tim Meyer dwells in a dark cave near the Jersey Shore.  He’s an author, husband, father, podcast host, blogger, coffee connoisseur, beer enthusiast, and explorer of worlds. He writes horror, mysteries, science fiction, and thrillers, although he prefers to blur genres and let the stories fall where they may.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Review: Night Shift - by Robin Triggs

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Let me start by saying I wanted Night Shift to be something other than what it turned out to be.  Let's face it, a mining base in the Antarctic at the start of a six-month-long night shift doesn't your mind immediately turn to The Thing?  So, I'm expecting a monster.  I got one, it just happened to be of the human variety.

Anton Nordvelt is a last-minute replacement for head of security at Australis...

"I don’t know what they told you back in Tierra, but you’re only here because we have to have someone, you know that? You’ll walk out of here, your wallet three times as thick and your pick of jobs to walk into.  And what’ll you have to do for that?  Nothing.
There’s no crime here, none at all.  No crime, no drugs, no alcohol, only thirteen people, including you.  But because it says in some Company rulebook that we must have a commander, a doctor and a chief of security, here you are...Welcome to Australis, Mr. Nordvelt.  Good to have you aboard.”

Just a few days later there's death with more mayhem to follow.

Although Night Shift was not what I expected, that's not to say this debut novel from author Robin Triggs wasn't a story well told, because it certainly was.  It's a joy to read the words of a writer you've not read before and immediately feel you're in good hands.

There is sufficient action start-to-finish in Night Shift with an avalanche taking out the base's Comm Center and later, an explosion at the refinery. Is one of the thirteen members of the crew responsible or is there an outside entity responsible for all of the death and destruction.

Not my favorite read of the last year, but not the worse by a long stretch.

Published byFlame Tree Press, Night Shift is available in hardcover, paperback, e-book, and audible formats.

From the author's bio - Rob was raised in Bradford before heading, at eighteen, to the bright libraries of Norfolk.  Music was his main interest at this time.  He played drums and sang whilst writing copious amounts of lyrics, some of which tipped over into the vaguely-defined realm of poetry.  He studied archaeology at Queen's University, Belfast before returning to Norfolk and starting to write seriously.  When not writing he studies the past: archaeology and the historic landscape remain passions.  He's also an exceptionally poor cricketer, turning out for The Bodleian Library's collection of misfits.  At the Bodleian, he tells tourists that yes, Harry Potter was filmed here, but no, they can't go inside.  He also works as a proofreader.  A freshly-minted father, he spends his time changing nappies, Tweeting and, when the opportunity presents itself, doing the odd bit of creating.