Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Dream Stalkers - A Shadow Watch Novel - by Tim Waggoner - So strange, yet so satisfying

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

If you are looking for horror that is irreverent and totally off the wall, look no further than Dream Stalkers - A Shadow Watch Novel by Tim Waggoner.

It's been nearly a year since we first met Audra Hawthorne and her counterpart Jinx, so a quick review may be a good idea. Audra is an Ideator who dreamed up Jinx, an incubus who manifests as a clown.  Together, they work for Shadow Watch, an organization tasked with keeping Earth, and it's counterpart Nod, safe.

Audra and Jinx have a contentious relationship which plays out with a lot of jabs and barbs, making for a fun read.  Of course when it hits the fan these two always have each others back.

The storyline for Dream Stalkers finds a new drug on the market called Shuteye.  Designed to allow a chemical simulation of sleep for Ideators and Incubi who don't sleep.  The problem is the side effects, including psychotic behavior, going crazy after a single dose, and even death.  What our heroes discover while trying to find the drugs suppliers could mean the end of the world as they know it.  If you think that sounds overly dramatic, it's not.  Actually it's more of an understatement.

There are moments of Earth-shattering violence, a bit of social commentary, as well as non-stop action.   In the end, all of this insanity makes perfect sense, which actually scares the hell out of me. Here's my recommendation for reading Dream Stalkers , just check your disbelief at the door and enjoy the ride.

From Angry Robot Books Dream Stalkers - A Shadow Watch Novel will be available on April 7, 2015 in a variety of formats.  For the full Shadow Watch experience, don't for get to read book 1, Night Terrors.


Friday, March 27, 2015

Inkblots and Blood Spots - by Michael Bailey - A nice mix of Dark Prose and Poetry

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Inkblots and Blood Spots is a beautiful blend of poetry and storytelling from the darker side of fiction.

This is my first time reading Michael Bailey's work and, although I've never been a big fan of poetry, I found this collection to be a nice mix of  prose and poetry where the story would often complement the poem or vice versa.

The first story featured in this collection is a good example of  what is to come in the rest of the book.  "Hiatus," is a somewhat familiar tale of a world that has suddenly stopped moving, except for Seth.  The story reads like a good episode of the Twilight Zone, but the ending is chillingly original.

Many of Michael Bailey's stories make use of the classic, "what if" premise and the results are quite successful.  "The Binds of Lasolastica"merges cloning with the idea of being able to upload one's mind and later download it into a new body/brain.  What could possibly go wrong?

There are also, tales of a boogeyman, whether to pull the plug or not, severe weight loss, fairies, annoying people on cell phones, and so many more imaginative stories taking the reader to a multitude of destinations.

I, personally, found Bailey to be an amazing word sculptor and Inkblots and Blood Spots is one of the most interesting books I've read this year.  Even when writing prose, the author does so with the heart of a poet and the result is truly something special.

Inkblots and Blood Spots is currently available in paperback from Villipede Publications and can be purchased through Amazon.com.


Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Devil's Detective - by Simon Kurt Unsworth - Not sure what it was all about, but I did enjoy it

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Angels, demons, humans, Hell and a series of murders. Regardless of whether you believe in a literal Hell or not, The Devil's Detective will give your imagination a strenuous work-out. Simon Kurt Unsworth's debut novel introduces us to Thomas Fool, an Information Man, a detective of sorts who is tasked with investigating the circumstances surrounding a series of unusual deaths.

Fool is one of three investigators with specific rights laid out in The Information Man's Guide to the Rules and Offices of Hell. There's been no training for this job.  It's strictly learn as you go.

In addition to the ongoing investigations there is a small group of emissaries from Heaven who have come to Hell tasked with Elevating a number of humans to Heaven.  Selection is random, it's not like you get time off from eternal damnation for good behavior.

The author has done an amazing job of world building and I can promise you, this is not the Hell you may be used to.  To say The Devil's Detective is different would be a major understatement.  This is not the light-hearted, fun, Hell of a Sandman Slim novel, and it's certainly not a religious treatise on the subject, but The Devil's Detective is definitely a compulsive read.

Available in hardcover, paperback and a variety of ebook formats, The Devil's Detective is published by Doubleday.

Not for everyone, but recommended, particularly if you are feeling adventurous.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Loonies - by Gregory Bastianelli - A cross-genre story that will keep you guessing

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I love a good opening line and Loonies opens with this one, "Smokey Hollow had the appearance of a quiet and quaint New England town, until the trunk in the attic was opened."  I was drawn in immediately.  Part horror, part crime drama, and part mystery, Loonies kept me turning pages right to the very end.

Brian Keays and his wife Darci are new to town.  Brian has taken the job of editor at the community's weekly paper while Darci spends her days at home preparing for the upcoming birth of their first child.  It's a quiet life until the discovery of a trunk in the attic that when opened reveals a mystery that will envelope the entire town.

Even with all the craziness in this story, the plausibility factor remains very high.  There are many unforgettable characters in Smokey Hollow, some of my favorites being the assistant fire chief, Simon Runck and his ventriloquist's dummy Marshall, and the town Somnambulist, Sherman Thurk. I can't help but think this story was a lot of fun to write, but at the same time, a lot of work. Loonies is a bit like a giant jigsaw puzzle with so many pieces, yet very satisfying when you put them all together.

I found Loonies to be wickedly imaginative and a fun read.  It's available both in paperback and a variety of ebook formats from Journalstone.


Thursday, March 19, 2015

The Breadwinner (The Breadwinner Trilogy Book 1) - by Stevie Kopas - A quick fix for zombie fans

3.5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I really wanted to like The Breadwinner (The Breadwinner Trilogy Book 1) much more than I did.  After all, it's zombie lit.  From a technical standpoint, it's well-written, the characters are OK and diverse, the story is well mapped out and it sets the stage nicely for book 2 in the series.

All that said, The Breadwinner, just seems overly familiar.  It's a typical zombie scenario with no explanation as to what started it all and from there it's the same formula we've seen in dozens of other zombie books.  Even the cover, although eye-catching, is reminiscent of the opening credits of The Walking Dead.

If you can get beyond the sameness, there is an enjoyable story here.  Author, Stevie Kopas, shows a great deal of potential.  If I hadn't read so many zombie tales over the years, I probably would have liked this much more.

The Breadwinner starts with attorney, Samson Eckhart, exiting the courtroom after having his case continued due to strange events occurring outside the building and around the region.   I do like how the author gets to the action right from the start, problem was it was all stuff we've read and seen before.  I would like to compliment Kopas for her grip on the times we live in.  Her take on the effect of the collapse of social media for one of the younger survivors was dead on.

In many ways, The Breadwinner Trilogy is already a major success for Stevie Kopas, as she's seen her work go from being self-published to being published by Permuted Press.  Book 1 is available now, as an ebook, from the major online retailers.

A must read for zombie fans and I am hoping for something more in book 2, Haven, coming soon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hounacier (Valducan Book 2) - by Seth Skorkowsky - Urban fantasy with some wonderful twists

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

I had more fun reading this than anything else I've read in recent memory. What I expected going in was a rehash of book one in the Valducan series. What I got was a great stand-alone novel in the Valducan world.

Author, Seth Skorkowsky has come up with a winning formula featuring the Valducan, a group of demon-hunting knights who find and keep track of all holy weapons and whose library of demon species and lore is massive.

Whereas book one dealt with the weapon Dämoren, book two focuses on Hounacier.  Given there are dozens of such weapons, Skorkowsky could work in this world for some time to come.  Truth be told, I'd be quite happy if that was the case.

Like it's predecessor, Hounacier, is fast-paced, filled with monsters and monster hunters, and gets to the action from the very beginning, barely allowing the reader a chance to catch a breath. Unlike the first book, there is a very big twist halfway through.  Not gonna spoil it, ya gotta read it, but this turned out to be one of the things I liked most about Hounacier.  In my opinion this unexpected twist leads to a much better story.

Hounacier is a wild rollercoaster of a tale which will ultimately lift your spirits.

Hounacier (Valducan Book 2) is available now for the Kindle, from Ragnarok publications, through Amazon.com.

Although I'd recommend reading book 1 first, it's really not necessary.  Hounacier works well on it's own and is one that comes with my highest recommendation.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Yesterday's Kin - by Nancy Kress - Intriguing SF which takes some interesting turns

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

A quick comment on the cover art by Thomas Canty.  Eye-catching and a nice blending of the extra-terrestrial and DNA themes of the story.  This would make me pick up the book and at least see what it's about.  Kudos.

Nancy Kress is a well-respected and prolific SF novelist with more than 30 published novels to her credit.  Her latest work, Yesterday's Kin, was published last September.  It's a relatively short piece, coming in at a bit under 200 pages.

Yesterday's Kin tells the story of the Deneb, visitors from another galaxy, but there's a twist.  The visitors aren't exactly aliens.  Their stated mission is peaceful, they're here to warn us of a "spore cloud" with an Earth trajectory,which could unleash a virus that could decimate the world's population.

A lab is set up at their Embassy in New York Harbor in a race against time in a joint effort to find a vaccine to protect humans from extinction.

But there is so much more to this multi-layered story.  I particularly liked the writer's handling of the public's reaction to the space travelers and their stated purpose.  In many ways it's the same way we react to change in the 21st century.  I couldn't help but think about how divided we are over the Affordable Healthcare Act and how much of a panic there was over the Ebola threat.  Take that and multiply it to a global scale.

As much as the story is about visitors from another world and the horrors of global annihilation, it's mostly about family connections

Overall, I found Yesterday's Kin to be an enjoyable read.  True, not everything made perfect sense, but much of what I read for enjoyment makes no sense at all.  I can certainly suspend my disbelief long enough to allow for a few leaps in logic.

Available now from Tachyon Publications and the usual online retailers, Yesterday's Kin can be purchased in paperback and all of the popular e-reader formats.


Friday, March 13, 2015

Within - by Keith Deininger - Brutal with it's characters, and if you're fortunate enough to survive, it's not "happily ever after."

4 of 5 stars     Review copy

There is one question which is prevalent throughout Within.

Is this a dream?

At times it's difficult to tell as Keith Deininger's latest novel effectively blurs the line between reality and dreams.

Within is told in a first person narrative, by a number of principal characters. There's Colin (the young artist who comes to town wanting to make a name for himself), Zach (a young boy with an eerie connection to the mansion next door), Lauren ( who receives a mysterious invite to one of the mansion's frequent parties), Maddy ( a young artist and roommate of Colin) and Klimt (the mansion's elusive current resident).  Despite all the disparate points of view, the writer still manages to create a strong cohesive story.

It took a bit of time to become familiar with each of the characters, but by then I was totally immersed in a story which revealed it's secrets carefully, and became increasingly creepy.

In addition to the creep factor, there was a good deal of sex and violence.  All driven by the story which added to, rather than distracted from, it's overall effectiveness.

At the center of the tale is the Upshaw mansion, although there hadn't been an Upshaw living in Mesa Rapids in several decades.  Is it the house itself that's causing the weird events all over town or is it Harold Klimt, it's new tenant which has people in town acting strangely--more foolhardy, more excitable than usual?

If you're looking for a story with a happy ending, keep looking.  Within is brutal with it's characters and if you're fortunate enough to survive, it's not "happily ever after."

Within is available for pre-order now through Amazon.com from Darkfuse publishers.  The release date is May 5th, 2015.  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you'll be able to read this one at no additional charge once it's published.

Definitely recommended.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Sing Me Your Scars - by Damien Angelica Walters - A fine collection of speculative fiction, beautifully written

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

The Apex Voices series continues with book #03, Sing Me Your Scars, a winning collection of speculative shorts from Damien Angelica Walters.  If you've not heard of Damien Angelica Walters, well that's sort of the point of this series, which aims to introduce the reader to writers who are making waves, but are still relatively unknown.

This collection fittingly begins with the title story which is one of the best shorts I've ever read.  The way it was told was a bit like piecing together a puzzle.  It's tough to tell you more without spoilers, but it really set the stage nicely for the rest of the collection.

One of the things that sets this writer apart is her lyrical, almost poetic prose.  The stories run from powerful to gut wrenching to charming, some exhibit all of those qualities in the same tale, like "Girl, With Coin," the tale of Olivia whose pain receptors are screwed up, a disorder so rare, it doesn't even have it's own support group.

I can honestly say that Damien Angelica Walters voice is like no other I've ever read.  I loved the story about the tragedy of Alzheimer's, "Melancholia in Bloom."

Then there's, "Iron and Wood, Nail and Bone."  Why would someone have themself nailed to a cross, repeatedly?

Elsewhere, in the collection, the author deals with spousal abuse, loss, scarring, robot-love, magic, and even zombies.  All with the same literate skill.

Sing Me Your Scars is available now, both in paperback and ebook formats, from Apex Books and can be purchased through Amazon.com.

You also might want to check out the other books in the Voices series, Plow the Bones by Douglas F. Warrick and  I Can Transform You by Maurice Broaddus.  Both of these books are well worth your time.

Strongly recommended.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Stillwater - by Maynard Sims - A well-told, modern day ghost story

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

This is my first time reading anything from Maynard Sims, so I thought I should check him out, turns out Maynard Sims is actually a "they."  Len Maynard and Michael Sims have been writing together for more than forty years.  In addition to supernatural thrillers, like Stillwater, they also write thrillers, mystery, and suspense.

Although, set in modern times, Stillwater, is an old-fashioned ghost story. This is not hit-you-over-the-head-until-you-bleed horror.  Instead, it's a rather quiet story of  a successful romance writer, wheel-chair bound after a terrible accident, who rents a somewhat secluded property to work on her next novel.  What she didn't expect was the ghost that came with the house.

I enjoyed the way Beth Alvarini, the writer in the story, didn't run screaming from the property, but instead tried to learn everything she could about the circumstances leading to the death of the teen-aged girl who now haunts Stillwater.

There are a lot of twists and turns in this nice diversion from the hard-core horror I've been reading of late.  Although, a bit slow out of the gate, Stillwater  picked up the pace and finished strong and is definitely a ghost story I can recommend.

Published by Samhaim Horror, Stillwater is available now, both in paperback and ebook formats.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Doll Face - by Tim Curran - Unrelenting horror

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

The opening paragraph of Doll Face is masterful...

"It wasn't until later that Ramoma realized how neatly it all fell together.  Like pieces of a die-cut puzzle, everything simply fit into place in that purely seemless and smooth sort of way that fate managed when it wanted something to happen.  Or it wanted people to suffer."

Ramona, Creep, Soo-Lee, Lex, and Chazz are on their way home from a Green Day concert at the Garden when Chazz decides to take a shortcut.  You know, if it weren't for shortcuts there would be way fewer horror stories in the world. This shortcut led them to the forgotten town of Stokes and the accident that trapped them in a nightmare.

There was an increasing unease as I made my way through the first few chapters of Doll Face as Curran does an excellent job of building the terror.  The author pushes all the right buttons to exude creepiness in this character study of a small group of diverse young people and how they handle this very strange and stressful situation that could end up costing them their lives.

Doll Face has plenty of gore, the pace is non-stop with unrelenting horror which at times I found very disturbing, but this is horror and it's exactly what we signed up for as readers of this genre.

In the world of music producers, Phil Specter created what became know as the "Wall of Sound." Here, Tim Curran has created a "Wall of Terror" including some of the most disturbing images I've ever read. A word of warning, Doll Face is NOT for the faint of heart.

Doll Face is available now from Darkfuse and can be purchased through Amazon.com.  If you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, you can read this work at no additional charge, and if your an Amazon Prime member you can make this your monthly FREE read through the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

If you're ready for unrelenting horror.  Get this book.  I don't think you'll be disappointed.