Friday, February 22, 2013

What Makes You Die - by Tom Piccirilli - New book coming March 19th

5 of 5 Stars     Review Copy

It's difficult to pigeonhole this new work from master storyteller Tom Piccirilli.  Horror?  Not really.  Mystery? Sort of.  Dark fiction, most definitely.  Let's go with that.  Most important, it's a very good, well told story.

What Makes You Die begins with the protagonist, Tommy Pic, in the bin, strapped to a bed, surrounded by family, some actually there, some dead.  Tommy's there because he tried to commit hara-kiri with a steak knife.  And that's just the beginning of a wonderful tale of a struggling screenwriter looking to recapture past glory.

I can't imagine how difficult it must be to write a first person narrative from the perspective of a madman with moments of lucidity and pull it into such a cohesive story, but Tom pulls it off and the result is wildly entertaining.

There are many subplots in this story from the screenplay Tommy is working on (but doesn't remember writing), to Eva, the new woman in his life, that he meets at Weird Sisters, a store specializing in Wiccan supplies, to his overwhelming desire to find his childhood friend, Kathy, who disappeared when he was ten.  And then there's the Angry Clown who in a strange way brings it all together.

I loved the twisted way Tommy would often look at his own situation in terms of the screenplay he may or may not have written and makes life decisions on what a particular character might do next to further a plot line.

And the prose is just wickedly enjoyable.  One of my favorite lines, of which there are so many.  "You can sometimes find what you're looking for if you're hunting for the right thing.  Usually I'm not, which is probably what brought me to a party in Hoboken to chat with a talking pug."  In context that will make perfect sense.

The only downside for me was that I didn't want it to end.  I want to know so much more about these characters, but that's certainly not a complaint, just a personal preference.

I debated mentioning the following in this context, but finally decided it was important.  Tom Piccirilli has been writing for more than twenty years and has had some modicum of success, even to the point of receiving a number of prestigious awards.  Last Fall it was discovered he had a brain tumor the size of a tennis ball, which he had removed and he has since undergone both chemo and radiation therapy.  While his progress has been nothing short of remarkable, the expenses are very high.  One of the best ways to support Tom is to buy his books.  This way, you get a good read and Tom gets a bit of cash.

What Makes You Die won't be available for a few weeks, but put the release date on your calendar.  March 19th, from the fine folks at Apex Book Publishers.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Less Than Human - by Gary Raisor - An oldie, but a goodie

5 of 5 Stars

This twenty-year old novel from Gary Raisor packs quite a punch.  Released just a few months ago as an ebook, it reads as fresh as anything being published today.

Less Than Human starts with a couple of pool hustlers arriving at Leon's Pool Emporium in Carruthers, Texas looking for a game with local hot-shot D. A. Fontaine.  The hustlers, Steven Adler and Earl Jacobs, were a bit disappointed when they discovered D. A. was actually Dorinda, a 17 year-old girl.  When Steven and the girl were getting ready to play, "Dorinda felt a slight tingle of fear when she looked into his green eyes.  Something wasn't right about them.  They seemed way to old for his face.  And there was some kind of hidden rage swirling around in their depths.  She looked away, and when she looked back, his eyes were okay.  It must have been the light, she decided."  After a few games the two were asked to leave, which they did, but when Adler went to pick up his special cue stick, he found it was gone.  Not a good thing for the people of Carruthers.

I found the whole first chapter in the pool hall to be tense, dark and totally entertaining and it only got better from there.  Raisor does a very nice job of developing the characters who comprise this small Texas town, but the villains are what make the story.  Steve and Earl are truly memorable characters and get some of the best dialog.  Earl to Steve, "You killed the guy's daughter, cut off her hand and stuck it in a jar of pig's feet, and then you tell him you're not exactly human.  I think he's already figured that out."

Less Than Human includes plenty of violence as well as an original take on a vampire-like character and no he doesn't "sparkle."  Not recommended for the young'uns or easily offended, but it was right in my wheelhouse and a great way to spend a few nights reading.

If you haven't read it before, go ahead and take a chance on Less Than Human.  It accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it rather well.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Forever Man - by Brian W. Matthews - A fresh take on good versus evil

5 of 5 Stars     Review Copy

It is just hard to believe this is the first published novel from Brian W. Williams.  It's just so good.  Sometimes it's the simplest things that will grab me and keep me turning page after page, being drawn into a story until I'm totally invested.  In Forever Man I knew I was in for a treat at the very begining and the line, "From the front of the bus, the driver barked out, 'Newberry!' and the door swung open with a snaky hiss."  I've never heard a bus door opening described in this maner and yet it was a perfect choice.  Like I said, it's the simple things.

Here's the book description from, "Police Chief Elizabeth "Izzy" Morris enjoys keeping the peace in the small town of Kinsey in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. But when her seventeen-year-old daughter goes missing after a school dance and the mutilated corpse of the girl's date is discovered in the nearby woods, Izzy's police skills are stretched to their limits.

Her only suspect is a stranger, a mysterious black man with no known past. When a second stranger appears, the investigation stalls. People she once trusted turn against her. The local banker's autistic son begins to know things no one else does. And now something unspeakable prowls the woods.

Joined by three friends and the man she once considered her enemy, Izzy races to find her daughter-and ends up trapped in the middle of a war between an ancient evil and the man who has stood in its way for nearly two thousand years."

The character of Izzy, the police chief whose daughter is missing, is one of the strongest female characters I've read recently.  Take charge, no-nonsense, fearless, all the things you would expect from a woman whose teenage daughter is missing and feared dead.

As a horror writer, Brian also won me over with his willingness to kill off his characters.  Stephen King was always good that.  A lot of writers want to try and save everyone and it isn't always possible.  In Forever Man there were characters I loved to love and ones that brought up the taste of bile into my mouth.

Once again, the folks at JouralStone have shown their adeptness at finding new talent and putting out a quality end-product.  Forever Man is available now in a format to suit anyone's taste and budget. 

Once again I can highly recommend this new work for anyone looking for a fast-paced horror thrill ride, but not recommended for chilren.  Enjoy!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Blue Heron - by Gene O'Neill - Novella on the preliminary ballot for the 2012 Bram Stoker Awards

4 of 5 Stars

Originally an extremely limited (only 13 copies made) signed hardcover from Dark Regions Press.  After it was placed on the preliminary ballot for the 2012 Bram Stoker Nominations for Long Fiction, Gene O'Neill made it available as an e-book from his facebook page.  This is why I love following authors, you never know when they're going to get the urge to share something for free.

From the synopsis of the story found on the Dark Regions Press website..."In 1962 a USMC Force Recon team, after destroying a V.C. ammo dump, on the Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam border, has a surreal encounter with a Blue Heron. A bird not normally found in SE Asia. Many years later members of that six-man team begin to die in odd circumstances, but deemed accidents. But are they accidents? A 2-inch piece of origami in the shape of a Blue Heron is found inconspicuously at the scene of each death scene."

The story is fast paced and somewhat suspenseful.  The origami Blue Heron is a nice touch, but I did find the story to be somewhat predictable, however, no less enjoyable for that fact, and it's being considered for a Bram Stoker award this year.  If you can find it, I think you'll enoy it.  Maybe friend the author on Facebook and then e-mail mail him and ask if he'll send you the e-book.  It doesn't hurt to ask.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Southern Hauntings Saga: The Lurker - by Bryan Hall - Another great story in this series

5 of 5 Stars      Review Copy

The Lurker is the third installment in the popular Southern Hauntings Saga from writer Bryan Hall.

It all started in May of 2012 with the publication of The Vagrant, a story which introduced us to Creighton Northgate, a man shrouded in mystery and on the run from a past he doesn't even fully understand.  In August of 2012 he released The Girl.  In both books, Crate, (after three books, I think I've earned the right to call him Crate).  Anyway, in both of those stories Crate uses his ability to communicate with the dead to resolve problems for the people who have hired him to help.  It's his gift and his curse.

In the third installment, I expected more of the same and that would have been OK, but instead, the author brings his protagonist to Sutton's Mill, North Carolina to help with their rather unique situation.

I found myself sliding into the world of Crate Northgate to be like putting on comfortable slippers after a hard day on my feet.  I like Hall's way with words, he brings conversations to life with colorful language like, " I live in a little single-wide trailer.  You can hear a squirrel farting in the trees outside through them walls they're so thin."

The writing gets getter with each new story, as well.  In my opinion, The Lurker is the best so far and I loved the way the writer kept the series from becoming too predictable.

Although The Lurker can be read as a stand alone work I recommend reading The Vagrant  and The Girl and I have no doubt there will be more books in the Southern Hauntings Saga, including a trip back home in Crate's future, where I have a feeling all Hell could break loose.

This book is highly recommended and keep 'em coming Bryan Hall.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Seasons of Insanity - By Gill Ainsworth and Frank W.Haubold

4 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

Two writers, one working in English and the other in German, set out to write a book of stories covering the twelve months of the year, with the tales set throughout Europe.  In the end we have a dozen stories from England and Germany.  After Gill Ainsworth and Frank W. Haubold work together in translating Frank's words into English, what is left is a unique body of work that touches upon insanity in each piece with each story from a separate month of the year. Thus the title of, Seasons of Insanity.

For some reason, I found myself more drawn to the work of Gill Ainsworth than that of Frank W, Haubold.  The writing is capable and the theme of the collection is consistent thoughout, but not every story was great, some were just good. 

There is one story that will live with me for a long time.  It's the entry for June and it was written by Gill Ainsworth and it made me gasp more than once as I read the words on the page.  The story is called, Fighting the Flab.  It's the story of Gina, for whom exercise doesn't work and dieting's a waste of time.  One of the most disturbing stories I've ever read and one that will likely stay with me for some time to come.

Both writers weave references to music throughout many of their stories, a technique I enjoyed and found that it added flavor to their writing.

I feel comfortable recommending this to all readers.  It was an overall enjoyable read with one story, Fighting the Flab, that is not to be missed; although I don't recommend reading it right after eating.

Seasons of Insanity was released in December 2012 from Apex Publications and is available as both a paperback and ebook from a wide variety of retailers.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Gameland Episode 2: Failsafe - by S. W. Tanpepper

3 of 5 Stars

Gameland Episode 2: Failsafe is part of a larger work with a total of 8 episodes and a prequel.  As excited as I was with the prequel, Golgotha, and the first episode, Deep Into the Game, I have now lost some of that enthusiasm.   With more than a dozen proofreading errors in this 83 page novella, it got to be more than a little distracting.

The story it'self is still a good one and the writing style is still comfortable and entertaining. 
A little background may be in order here.  Between climate change and periodic zombie outbreaks, the near future is a different world.  Consider the Life Service Law,  now everyone is legally considered government property after death.  You die, you become Undead and you serve the government in some capacity until your time of servitude is ended.  Then there's Gameland, Long Island is cut off completely, "after the second flood, the Army Corps of Engineers went in and walled it off and evacuated the people still alive." Later, Arc Properties converted one of the zones on LI into a new type of gaming arcade, which they called Gameland.  Then they imported a new crop of Zombies as Players.  It costs more than a million bucks to buy into the game.

A group of 6 teenage hackers with more spunk than brains decide it might be fun to see if they can get onto Long Island and check it out.

In Gameland Episode 2: Failsafe the action picks up after the central characters escape the Forbidden Zones and the episode is primarily about a rescue attempt to get one of their friends who was trapped during their effort to escape.  There's a lot of teenag angst and the writer deals with relationships in a very convincing manner and overall the story is wildly entertaining.  I just wish the product had fewer grammatical errors.

If you'd like to read Gameland each of the 8 episodes are available separately, or there is a complete omnibus version with everything except the prequel for a discounted price.