Saturday, June 16, 2018

Review: Husk - by Rachel Autumn Deering

5 of 5 Stars

About two years ago, I met Rachel Autumn Deering at a Horrible Saturday event at the York Emporium used book store.  I picked this up at the time and it kinda got buried on my ever-growing TBR pile and just never got read.  Today, I finally corrected that error.

This novella is one of the most compelling and heartbreaking things I've read in recent memory.

Husk is some damn fine writing.  The kind that gets under your skin, makes you think, makes you downright angry.  Just because our servicemen and women come home doesn't mean the battles have ended.  For many, they have just begun...

"They got me seeing a doctor down to the VA hospital every few weeks.  Poking and prodding and asking me all kinds of questions a man hopes nobody would ever ask him.  Keeping me doped up and all, trying to put me back together, I guess.  I got a pill to help me sleep, one to perk me up, one to calm my nerves, and one to make sure I don't just fly plumb off the handle."

A tragic tale that left me reeling.

Strongly recommended.

Husk is available in both paperback and Kindle 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 - Rachel Autumn Deering is an Eisner and Harvey Award-nominated writer, editor, and book designer from the hills of Appalachia.  Her debut prose novella, Husk, was published in 2016 and drew praise from critics and fellow writers alike. Her upcoming novel, Wytchwood Hollow, is set for publication in 2018.


Review: Bones: A collection of monsters - by Andrew Cull

4 of 5 Stars     Review Copy

A solid collection of longer short stories and a bonus short-short make up this novella-length collection from Australian writer-director Andrew Cull.

Did You Forget About Me? - Cam Miller is a struggling actor and at age thirty he has yet to make his mark.  When his long-estranged father dies and leaves Cam his childhood home he contacts his sister and makes plans to visit the property.  The trip brings back unpleasant memories and more.  Cull makes effective use of his filmmaker's eye for detail. Although this is only a short story, Did You Forget About Me? had something that's been missing in a lot of books I've been reading recently and that's "atmosphere."

Hope and Walker - This is a charming story with a touch of horror. The opening lines, "We were both 10. But he was dead.  And I sat drawing him", immediately drew me in, so important with a short story.  This is one exceptional short story.  Highly recommended.

The Trade - Another really strong opening line begins this story of something from the woods leaving dead things for a troubled family. "I was seven and that was the Summer death stalked our home."  This tale features a slow build with a killer ending.

Knock and You Will See Me - I can't stress enough how a strong opening line can make a short story.  Here's another one.  "We buried Dad in the Winter.  It wasn't until the Spring that we heard from him again."  This is one creepy story.

The Rambling Man - A wonderfully gruesome short to wrap up this collection.

Recommended.

Bones 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 - Andre Cull is a writer and director of The Dark and The Possession Of David O'Reilly (UK title: The Torment). His first novel, Remains, is due for release later this year.

Review: The Nightmare Room (The Messy Man Series Book 1) - by Chris Sorensen

4 of 5 stars     Review copy

At it's heart, The Nightmare Room (The Messy Man Series Book 1) is a ghost story and a very good one to boot.

Here's a killer opening line for you...

"The boy woke to the sound of his screams."

The back story is that of an abused child, but part of the mystery is the child's identity.

"He hesitated...but why? He'd already made this run two times this week. Both Monday and Thursday, he's awakened screaming, bringing down the Old Man's wrath, and sending him here. To the penalty box. To time out. To the Night—"

Peter and Hannah Larson are moving back to Peter's hometown. With his mother passed and his father moving into a Nursing home, the plan was to take up residence in the family homestead, but when they arrive they find that the property has been pomised to the home to help pay for his father's care. But there is an older property owned by Peter's father.

"...this was every house in every horror movie he'd ever seen."

Peter makes his living reading audio books and after he set's up his sound booth in the basement of the property, the fun begins.

"'I saw something,' he said, laughing maniacally inside because he hadn't seen something, he had seen many many things, each more horrifying than the last. 'Inside, I saw something.'"

Suitably creepy, with plenty of "Oh, WOW!" moments. The author has a knack for chapter cliff-hangers that make you want to start reading the next chapter immediately. I loved the way Sorensen developed and moved his characters through the story. One character, Ellen, a sort of psychic/paranormal investigator was absolutely wonderful as was Peter's childhood friend, Riggs, owner/manager of the local watering hole.

A comfortable if not comforting read. Little touches, universals, make reading this book a pleasure, but at the same time the author is creating a sense of unease.

Although I was a bit thrown by the ending, I'm hoping for some clarification in book 2 of The Messy Man series.

Chris Sorensen is a relatively new author, although he's been telling other's stories as an audio book reader for years now. His own work is well worth reading. I finished reading this book the same week I saw Winchester in the theater. Of the two ghost stories. I much preferred The Nightmare Room (The Messy Man Series - Book 1)

Recommended.

The Nightmare Room (The Messy Man Series  Book 1) is published by Harmful Monkey Press and is available in both papaerback and Kindle 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 - Chris Sorensen spends many days and nights locked away inside his own nightmare room, having narrated over 200 audiobooks (including the award-winning Missing series by Margaret Peterson Haddix ). He is the recipient of three AudioFile Earphone Awards, and AudioFile singled out his performance of Sent as one of the ‘Best Audiobooks of 2010.’ The Butte Theater and Thin Air Theatre Company of Cripple Creek, Colorado have produced dozens of his plays including Dr. Jekyll’s Medicine Show, Werewolves of Poverty Gulch, and The Vampire of Cripple Creek. He is the author of the middle grade book The Mad Scientists of New Jersey and has written numerous screenplays including Suckerville, Bee Tornado and The Roswell Project.

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Review: Slashvivor! - by Stephen Kozeniewski and Stevie Kopas

5 of 5 stars     Review copy

It's 1983.  An accidental nuclear war has left the US with just 1% of its former 234 million residents.  Stephen Kozeniewski and Stevie Kopas have created such a world and have decided to have some fun with it.

Take for example the tagline for the TV ads fo Alino Al's Discount Surplus, "Come on down!  It's not illegal.  In the Geiger Lands, nothing is!"

That is so true and includes what passes for entertainment...

"From the ruins of Vancouver to the Cuban Keys, from the Allied Texas Republic to the Irradiated Plains, welcome back, ladies and gents, to the most popular show on the continent!"

Try Not to Die, where contestants, drawn from the populace at large, are pitted against notorious serial killers, including an evil animatronic Abraham Lincoln.  But when the producers selected Dawn Churchill, they never expected what was to follow.

"We present to you 45,000 square feet of mayhem, terror, and pure entertainment!"

Personally, I found this work to be imaginative with many surprises.  Slashvivor! is horror in the extreme and not for the faint of heart.  Kind of like The Hunger Games on acid.  If you like lots of blood in your horror, I promise this book will not disappoint.

Slashvivor! is available in both paperback and e-book formats from Sinister Grin Press.

Totally recommended.









Monday, May 14, 2018

Review: The Goat Parade - by Peter N. Dudar

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Warren Pembroke has lived his whole life with his deformity and he plans to make the world pay.

A mixture of devil-worship, sacrifice, and drugs...

"The hallucination began. It started with his right hand— the deformed hand— growing and stretching into a goat's hoof. He watched with terrified fascination as the nubs where his truncated fingers had been hardened into a resin of dead keratin cell tissue. A layer of wooly goat fur sprouted down his forearm, across his wrist, and over the newly formed animal foot. The effect never ceased to amaze and terrify him. Warren knew the metamorphosis was only a hallucination, a temporary alteration that allowed him to commune with the Dark Lord, so he pushed the fear away and searched for the power behind it."

"Tobacco Joe" Walton made a deal with Ol' Scratch when he was just a young man.  Joe became a famous bluesman, but the devil seldom plays fair and he spent most of his life in prison.  He's being released at age sixty-seven and Scratch is not done with him yet.

Reporter, Erik Marsh, is done with the crime beat.  The lifestyle has cost him his marriage and it's time for something different, but someone forgot to tell one criminal in particular.

Add to the mix a street performer, the amazing Svetlana Barnyck of the Carpathian Great and Tiny Circus.

All of these diverse threads and more are woven into a compelling tale that is as far-fetched as it is believable.  OK, some parts are more believable than others, but it's still a good yarn.

This is the second time I've encountered Devil's Breath in a story. The first time was in Greg F. Gifune's novel of the same name. This is a very powerful drug and plays an important part in the story.

There's even a sly reference to Frank Dodd, a character from Stephen King's Dead Zone.  Quite plausible as both stories are set in the same general area.

There is no happy ending in The Goat Parade.  I really like that in my horror as more often than not, there are no happy endings in real life, either.

Recommended.

The Goat Parade is available in paperback and e-book formats from Grinning Skull Press.

From the author's bio - Peter N. Dudar was born and raised in Albany, NY.  A graduate of Christian Brothers Academy and an alumnus of the University at Albany, he moved to Maine in 1995 and began his writing career shortly after.  His first novel, A Requiem for Dead Flies, was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award in 2013.  His other books, The Angel of Death, Dolly and Other Stories, Where Spiders Fear to Spin, and Blood Cult of the Booby Farmers, continue to draw critical praise and adoration from genre fans everywhere.  His short fiction can be found in numerous horror anthologies and literary websites.  Dudar is a proud member of the New England Horror Writers and is a founding member of the writer's group, The Tuesday Mayhem Society.  He currently lives in Lisbon Falls, Maine with his wife and daughters.

Guest Post: The Sophomore Jinx - by Peter N. Dudar

The Sophomore Jinx
Peter N. Dudar

I have a new novel out right now. Back in February, Grinning Skull Press released THE GOAT PARADE, which is the follow-up to my debut novel A REQUIEM FOR DEAD FLIES (released back in 2012). That’s a six-year span between books, and consequently six long years that I’ve been sweating out the Sophomore Jinx.

That’s not to say that I’m superstitious or anything like that. I don’t go around throwing salt over my shoulder or avoid stepping on cracks as I wander down the sidewalk. But the Sophomore Jinx is a real thing and I’d been warding off heart palpitations and anxiety attacks all the way up to the book’s release. I’m not saying this because I’m conceited or have an enormous ego, but part of me believes that it’s because my first book, REQUIEM, got a lot more praise and success than it probably should have. That book got lots of attention and wound up being a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award (for debut novel category) in 2013. Back then, it was a weird, exciting ride for me because I’d been writing and publishing short fiction for nearly two decades and readers still had no idea who I was. It felt good to finally be read. It felt good to taste success.

But my brain is pretty complicated, and even though I was enjoying myself for the moment I kept thinking that my next novel needs to be better. It needs to have more conflict and sharper characterization and really knock readers off their feet. I need for this to happen because I need to prove to myself that the first book’s success wasn’t a fluke. I don’t want to be that writer who falls to the Sophomore Jinx, where my career starts its downhill slide right after getting that first taste of success. And I really didn’t want to see bad reviews on Amazon, where readers were claiming that the new book was nowhere as near as good as REQUIEM.

I don’t want my debut novel to be the benchmark by which everything else I write gets judged.

Imposter Syndrome is a very real thing for some of us authors. As I’ve said, I’ve been writing and publishing fiction for a long time now, and I still get nervous when going to conferences and conventions because a part of me feels like I haven’t earned my place yet. And that’s ridiculous because, even if I haven’t been putting out full-length novels, I still managed to release three novellas and a full-length collection of short stories since my debut novel was released. It’s not like I’ve been sitting around doing nothing. It’s just that part of me felt intimidated by the Sophomore Jinx, and wouldn’t commit to writing a novel until I was sure I had a great story to tell. Three whole years would pass by after REQUIEM before I started writing THE GOAT PARADE.

The new book was cobbled together from a lot of failed story ideas from my past. Foremost, it was supposed to be a screenplay in homage to Giallo films that author L.L. Soares and I talked about writing. It was going to be a very visceral murder mystery, and I had developed this idea of a hard-drinking, broken down crime beat reporter who ends up falling in love with a movie star, only she was going to get killed and the murderer was going to pin the crime on him. But both of us had other projects going on at the time, with Soares releasing his novels ROCK N’ ROLL and HARD in fairly close succession. The idea never left me, though, and that was the starting point when I sat down and began typing.

But I’d also had a story idea about an old Bluesman who’d traded his soul to the Devil for talent and success, but then never got to use it because he was tricked into committing a terrible crime and going to prison. That idea was at least a decade old, and meant to be a short story, but I always felt like there was more to “Tobacco Joe” Walton’s story than I understood at the time, so I left that one on the back burner until I could discover where it was meant to be used. And on the opposite side of that coin are Rufus and Leon Hickey, the brothers who killed Joe’s father and raped his mother when he was a boy. They are the antagonists that Joe exacts revenge on, that land him in prison. Those boys came from a failed novel I wrote years ago called AMONG THE LIVING, which was a mix between Ken Kesey’s FLOWERS FOR ALGERNON and H.P. Lovecraft’s HERBERT WEST, REANIMATOR

That book was poorly written and dreadfully executed by a young neophyte author who has improved his craft enormously since then. Perhaps one day I’ll brush that one off and see if it’s salvageable.

The final touch was coming up with a storyline about the Omniscient Eye, which allows Svetlana Barnyck the ability to see into other people’s souls. That concept has always been terrifying to me; that someone else could see what I was thinking or somehow invade my private memories without permission. If someone were to ever have that ability, I’d hope and pray they’d put it to good use and help people rather than use it for their own power and personal gain. And, of course, they’d have to hide it so that others wouldn’t try to steal it.

Once I had all of these ideas, it was a matter of connecting dots and plot points, creating tone and atmosphere, developing conflicts, and maintaining precise continuity. Which wasn’t easy. The first draft was a mess. I’d worked without a proper outline and it was enormously evident when I reread and started revisions. I had to grab an old spiral-bound notebook and create a proper outline, where I could plot the chronology of events and organize character arcs correctly. Then I really went to work.

The time span from when I began writing to the day I got my acceptance from Grinning Skull Press was nearly two years. And that is a hell of a long time compared to some of my colleagues, who can sit down and write books with ease and precision in very little time. 

I’ve mentioned Imposter Syndrome above, and that’s a great part of it. Honestly, I’ve never felt as if I was going to turn my writing into a professional career—it’s something that I do as a hobby and because I love the craft of writing. You’ve heard other authors claim, “I’d write anyway, even if nobody read my work and I wasn’t getting paid for it!” There’s a degree of truth to that, but still…it’s enormously rewarding to have people read your work. It’s even better when someone posts a 5-star review on Amazon. It gets addictive. It becomes important that readers see that you’ve improved since your last book. You don’t want to feel like they’ve wasted their time reading your book, and you really don’t want to feel like you’ve wasted your time writing it. That’s the risk you take being an artist.

I’d like to think I’ve beaten the Sophomore Jinx. THE GOAT PARADE has gotten some terrific reviews so far. Genre fans are talking about it. And most importantly, they’re mentioning it independently, without comparing it to REQUIEM. So now I get to sit back and try to enjoy this wild, exciting ride once again. Only this time, I’m going to let myself relax a bit more. This time I can finally feel satisfied that I’ve earned it. I love this book, and I’m very satisfied that I told the story exactly how I wanted to tell it. I hope you will enjoy it, too.

From the author's bio - Peter N. Dudar was born and raised in Albany, NY.  A graduate of Christian Brothers Academy and an alumnus of the University at Albany, he moved to Maine in 1995 and began his writing career shortly after.  His first novel, A Requiem for Dead Flies, was a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award in 2013.  His other books, The Angel of DeathDolly and Other StoriesWhere Spiders Fear to Spin, and Blood Cult of the Booby Farmers, continue to draw critical praise and adoration from genre fans everywhere.  His short fiction can be found in numerous horror anthologies and literary websites.  Dudar is a proud member of the New England Horror Writers and is a founding member of the writers group , The Tuesday Mayhem Society.  He currently lives in Lisbon Falls, Maine with his wife and daughters.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Review: Death Witch: A Rape/Revenge Thriller - By Nick Cato


4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

If you follow Nick Cato's SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES column at the CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT website, you likely have a good idea of his taste in horror.  If you're not familiar with his work there, the subtitle for Death Witch: A Rape/Revenge Thriller, should give you some idea.  If you are offended by the subject matter, you may want to steer clear of the author's latest novella.  But, if you're up for it, get ready for a thrill ride as Cato pulls no punches.

After being beaten and stabbed by her former boyfriend, Beth Werner has moved from NYC to just outside Fultonville, NY.  Her attempt at a fresh start doesn't quite work out.  Raped by four men who saw her at a bar and followed her home, she begins to plan her revenge.  Not giving anything away here, it's all in the title, after all.  Throw in a bit of the occult and you have a taut text of sixty pages.

Recommended with the warning above.

Death Witch: A Rape/Revenge Thriller will be published later this year by Dynatox Ministries.

From the author's bio - Nick Cato is the author of one novel, six novellas, and one short story collection.  He writes the SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES column for the acclaimed website, CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  A collection of his column in book form is forthcoming.  His next novel is titled, Lovers.