Friday, June 23, 2017

Review: A Gathering of Ravens: A Novel - by Scott Oden

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

The story in Scott Oden's, A Gathering of Ravens. takes place a thousand years in the past.  It is a mix of legend, history, myth, magick, and the growing influence of Christianity.  It's not the kind of fare I would usually read or review, but I'm so glad I picked this up.

An epic tale from an orc's point of view.  From the synopsis of A Gathering of Ravens...

To the Danes, he is skraelingr; to the English, he is orcnéas; to the Irish, he is fomoraig. He is Corpse-maker and Life-quencher, the Bringer of Night, the Son of the Wolf and Brother of the Serpent. He is Grimnir, and he is the last of his kind—the last in a long line of monsters who have plagued humanity since the Elder Days.

At its root, the story is about Grimnir's quest for revenge against the Half-Dane Bjarki.  A Gathering of Ravens is filled with wonderful characters, even secondary players like Blind Maeve are imbued with life in this wonderfully layered tale.

With sudden vehemence, Grimnir carved his seax through the Saxon's throat. He slashed once. Twice. And on the third blow vertebrae crunched as the dead man's head came free. Grimnir straightened, holding his prize by its long hair.

If you like stuff like that, A Gathering of Ravens is definitely a tale worth your time. Treachery, double-crosses, epic battles, and unexpected compassion.  All leading to the climatic Battle on the Plain of Tarbh.

...carved the blade across (his) belly and ripped him open from right to left, viscera tumbled out, loops of red and purple intestine, sacks of organs; blood splashed the roots of the tree, and the stench of bowel rose from the cavernous wound.

Recommended.

A Gathering of Ravens: A Novel is available in both hardcover and e-book formats from Thomas Dunne Books, a division of St. Martin's Press.

From the author's bio - Scott Oden was born in Indiana but has spent most of his life shuffling between his home in rural North Alabama. a hobbit hole in Middle-earth, and some sketchy tavern in the Hyborian Age.  When not writing he can be found walking his two dogs or doting on his lovely wife, Shannon.





























Monday, June 19, 2017

Review: Monstrumführer - by Edward M. Erdelac

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

If you read Edward M. Erdelac's story, Andersonville, about the most sadistic rebel prison of the Civil War, with a supernatural twist, you likely have some idea where he's going with this new novel combining the horrors of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Poland with Frankenstein's monster.

Once again, this gifted storyteller plays with historic events and imbues his tale with elements of horror, as Josef Mengele endeavors to improve upon the work of Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

Jewish twins, Jotham and Eli, are taken to a concentration camp. It was interesting to see how the twins went in different directions once in the camp.  Jotham managing to become the golden boy as a messenger for Dr. Mengele and Eli falling in with the resistance.  The story of their life at Auschwitz was absolutely devastating.  As twins they are somewhat luckier than others as Dr. Mengele wants them for his experiments, but what they see outside of their barracks is unreservedly horrible.

Horribly emaciated, rail thin, naked bodies, haphazardly piled together, spindly limbs intertwined, oversized, shaven heads with skeletal faces, eyes rolling.  It was like a refuse pile of imperfect marionettes heaped in the corner of a toymaker's workshop.

The author excels at combining real life events and horror into a complex, well-constructed story.   At times this is an unpleasant read, but all of the characters in the concentration camp are masterfully drawn, making Monstrumführer a creative and entertaining work which left me with much to ponder.

Recommended.

Monstrumführer is available in both paperback and e-book formats from Comet Press.

From the author's bio - Edward M. Erdelac is the author of the acclaimed Judeocentric/Lovecraftian weird western series Merkabah Rider, Buff Tea, Coyote's Trail, Andersonville, Perennial, and now Monstrumführer.

In addition to short story appearances in dozens of anthologies and periodicals, he is an independent filmmaker, an award winning screenwriter, a game designer, and sometime Star Wars contributor.

Born in Indiana, educated in Chicago, he now lives in the Los Angeles area with his family.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Review: We Came Back - by Patrick Lacey

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Patrick Lacey explains We Came Back in the dedication to his latest novel.

This book is about loss. It's also about monsters and cults and family. But loss is the theme if, indeed, there is one.

With that in mind, every dime Patrick earns from the sales of We Came Back will be donated to a cancer-related charity in memory of his father, Steven Joseph Lacey.

The creep factor is amped up right from the start and continues throughout.

Suddenly, the best and brightest students at Lynnwood High School are showing up for class looking pale, dressing in black, and letting their grades slide dramatically.  Other students and faculty soon begin referring to them as the Lynnwood vamps.

Alyssa, Frank and Mona Tanner's daughter, has dropped her long-time boyfriend and taken up with an older goth guy, Busty Brown.  Her ex, Justin Wright, lost his father to cancer and now his girlfriend to this loser.  Alyssa lost her brother in a car accident. The characters in We Came Back all seem to be dealing with loss in one way or another.  Even the villain has experienced great loss.

We Came Back is a page turner that's fun to read and features real people in dire circumstances and let's not forget the monster.

When Justin and his best friend, Art go undercover as reporters, I got a big kick out of the names Justin came up with...

She nodded. “You must be the reporter from the phone. Mr. Raimi was it?” Justin nodded and felt Art’s eyes bore into him. “That’s right ma’am, and this is my assistant, Art Craven. Say hi, Art.”

Ever notice how rumors make everything seem worse, not that things aren' t bad enough in Lynnwood.

“There is a fine line between real and unreal. Sometimes the two become confused."

We Came Back may not be perfect, but it's certainly a fun and breezy read.  Fully recommended.

We Came Back is available in both paperback and e-book formats and is published by Sinister Grin Press.  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 - Patrick Lacey was born and raised in a haunted house. He spends his nights and weekends writing about things that make the general public uncomfortable. He lives in Massachusetts with his Pomeranian, his mustached cat, and his muse, who is likely trying to kill him.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Savage Jungle - by Hunter Shea

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Fresh from their adventure in Scotland,  Natalie McQueen, and her brother Austin are called upon to aid Henrik Kooper in his quest to find the lost city Gadang Ur and the elusive Orang Pendek.  Go ahead and google it.  You'll find it's every bit as much of a thing as Bigfoot, Yeti, The Jersey Devil, and The Loch Ness Monster.  All cryptids Hunter Shea has written about in previous books. As a matter of fact, Savage Jungle is a sequel to his book Loch Ness Revenge.

Ah, yes Loch Ness Revenge, it's where Natalie and Austin called upon the services to Mr. Kooper knowing that one day they would join him in revenging the death of his father in the rain forests of Sumatra.  In Savage Jungle that debt has come due and it just might costs them their lives.

He didn’t know what they were. They appeared human, but they also bore a strong resemblance to apes or orangutans. Except they walked perfectly upright, with broad shoulders and small heads. 

The Orang Pendek were fast and brutal and most of all, intelligent. 

“If I decide to write a book about this, no one will ever publish it. It’s just way too out there.” 

The writing is crisp and clean. It's a breeze to read   Unrelenting horror with just a touch of humor. You've got to read Savage Jungle just to see how the movie Cool Hand Luke plays a part in the story.  No one does monster horror better than Hunter Shea.  A wonderful roller-coaster ride full of surprises.

Although Savage Jungle is a sequel, it works as a stand-alone novel.  Needless to say, I loved the hell out of this book.  Recommended.

Savage Jungle is published by Severed press and is available in both paperback and e-book 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 - Hunter Shea is the product of a childhood weened on The Night Stalker, The Twilight Zone, and In Search Of.  He doesn't just write about the paranormal - he actively seeks out the things that scare the hell out of people and experiences them for himself.

Hunter is an amateur cryptozoologist, having written wild, fictional tales about Bigfoot, The Montauk Monster, The Dover Demon and many new creatures to come.  Copies of his books, The Montauk Monster and The Dover Demon, are currently on display in the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, ME.

Living with his wonderful family and two cats, he's happy to be close enough to New York City to get Gray's Papaya hot dogs when the craving hits.  His daughters have also gotten the horror bug, assisting him with research, story ideas and illustrations that can be seen in magazines such as Dark Dossier.



Embers: A Collection of Dark Fiction - by Kenneth W. Cain

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Embers: A Collection of Dark Fiction features twenty-five stories. In any collection of this size, there are bound to be some hits and some misses along the way.  Fortunately, there are more of the former leading me to suggest this work be added to your personal TBR list.

The book begins with The Chamber - A visit to a place of unspeakable horror brings back nightmares, but not of what the reader might imagine.  A most interesting and somewhat Lovecraftian beginning to the collection.

If you enjoy your horror with a touch of Lovecraft, I believe you'll appreciate this body of work from Kenneth W. Cain more than you would otherwise.

Not all of the stories in Embers have creatures with tentacles.  For example. Valerie's Window is a zombie tale where the heroine is dealing with something much worse than the mere undead.

If you miss the tentacles, you don't have to wait long.  They're back in A Window To Dream By, a short story with a killer opening line...

Despite her tentacles and lack of human arms and legs, Seth had an inexplicable attraction to the woman.

Rather than doing a synopsis of every story, here are a few of the highlights.  I really enjoyed To Save One Life in which a spider named Boris plays a rather important role.  Of Both Worlds - If you're perceived as a monster, you might as well be one. And then there's Water Snake - huge snakes capable of swallowing a fully grown human.  Well-told and frightening.

I might not have loved every story in this collection, but I would certainly return for a second helping of tales from Kenneth W. Cain.

Embers: A Collection of Dark Fiction is available in both paperback and e-book formats from Crystal Lake 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 - 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.   Writing, reading, fine art, graphic design, and Cardinals baseball are but a few of his passions. Cain now resides in Chester County, Pennsylvania with his wife and two children.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Review: Feral - by James DeMonaco & B. K. Evenson

3 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Ever read a book with all the right ingredients, one that's well written, has characters you care about, tells a story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, yet leaves you feeling disappointed?

That's exactly how I feel about Feral, the new novel from the powerhouse team of James DeMonaco and B.K. Evenson. From the moment I saw the eye-catching cover, I was excited about this new take on a post-apocalyptic world.

There are certainly some positives to take away from my reading of this book. For one thing, it's not about zombies, although the antagonists do exhibit some zombie-like characteristics like their relentless pursuit of the survivors.

Another example is the detailed explanation of exactly what caused the breakdown of civilization.  I also liked that the fact that only men were affected by the genetic virus and women were left to rebuild society while fending off attacks from the Feral men, leading to some strong female characters.

To say Feral is fast-paced hardly does it justice, think Fast and Furious on speed.

When the virus attacks the results are devastatingly quick and require decisive action just to survive..

...it's enough to give me the strength to roll over onto my back and lift the Glock and fire.  And again, and again, and again.  Four shots in all. all but the first shot straight into the skull of the monster that used to be my father.
My biggest problem with Feral was its predictability.  Every bit as predictable as the last few seasons of The Walking Dead.  For most of the book, I knew exactly what would happen. That's not to say I didn't enjoy the read, just that I might have liked it more if there were a few surprises.

Feral is told from a number of points of view, mostly in the first person from the perspective of various characters and occasionally third person when the narrative dictates.  It can be a bit disconcerting, but it wasn't a huge distraction.

If you're looking for a safe, steady read Feral delivers.  Just don't expect any bombshells.

Feral is a Blumhouse Books original published by Random House LLC and is available in paperback, e-book, and audio formats.

From the authors' bios...

James DeMonaco is the writer/director of the Purge series of films.  The Purge (2013), The Purge: Anarchy (2014), and The Purge: Election Year (2016).

B. K. Evenson is an American academic and writer of both literary fiction and popular fiction, some of the latter being published under B.K. Evenson  His fiction, often described as literary minimalism but also drawing inspiration from horror, detective fiction, science fiction and continental philosophy, makes frequent use of dark humor and often features characters struggling with the limits and consequences of knowledge..

Monday, June 12, 2017

Review: Crow Shine - by Alan Baxter - Alan's first collection of dark fiction

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

The first short story I ever read by Alan Baxter was "In Vaulted Halls Entombed" which featured a group of soldiers chasing terrorists into a cave in Afghanistan only to see them trapped by something their training never prepared them for.  Since that time, I always get excited when I see his name attached to an anthology.

With Crow Shine, I don't have to wait for his next short story, I merely need to turn the page.  Nineteen wondrous, magical shorts.  Some new for this collection, but many published before. They were all new to me, making this work all the more enjoyable.

Crow Shine - The title story is that of a legendary bluesman, his special shine, and his grandson who takes it all in.  Great storytelling.

The Beat of a Pale Wing - A chilling story of the mob...and magic.

Tiny Lives - A charmingly original tale of an old man who can breath life into clockwork animals...at a price.

Role the Bones - Luck and Chance, what's the difference?  And are you willing to roll the bones?

Old Promise, New Blood - The age old story of what happens when a deal with the devil comes due.

All the Wealth In the World - How cool would it be it you could buy time?

In the Name of the Father - A sensational story of a young Priest in the Outback, although he's not exactly what he seems.

Fear Is the Sin - A beautiful, lyrical story of a theatre troupe and their controversial sensual performance.

The Chart of the Vagrant Mariner - This is the result of a mashup between a swashbuckling tale of piracy on the high seas and H.P. Lovecraft.

The Darkest Shade of Grey - My favorite story in the collection and one of the best shorts I've read in recent memory.  He was supposed to be the rough, tough, take no shit reporter, getting to the bottom of everything.  All he ever got to the bottom of lately was a bottle, and then he started right over at the top of the next one.  This was one of the longer stories in the collection and when it was over, I still wanted more.

A Strong Urge to Fly - A clever tale I found to be both charming and creepy.  Could easily be subtitled Mrs. Oates' House of Cats and Contradictions.

Reaching for Ruins - What can you do when the plants run amok?

Shadows of the Lonely Dead - Intelligent horror and another terrific tale.

Punishment of the Sun - As a reader, I never quite learned what was going on in this story, but that didn't make it any less creepy.

The Fathomed Wreck to See - The tale of a siren and choices.

Not the Worst of Sins - If there's a moral to be found in this story of vengeance in the wild, wild west, it's never trust a ghost.

The Old Magic - The perils of an extraordinarily long life.

Mephisto - A short yet powerful story of a legendary magician.

The Darkness In Clara - When Michelle's lover commits suicide, she returns to the town where Clara was raised, looking for answers.  A wonderful story to finish this collection.

All of the stories contained in this body of work are inventive, original, and above all entertaining. Each tale has it's own unique voice.  If I didn't know they were all written by Alan Baxter I would think this was an anthology instead of a collection.

Totally recommended,

Crow Shine is available from Ticonderoga Publications in hardcover, paperback, and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - Alan Baxter is a British-Australian author who writes dark fantasy, horror and sci-fi, rides a motorcycle and loves his dog.  He also teaches Kung Fu.  Alan lives among dairy paddocks on the beautiful south coast of NSW, Australia, with his wife, son, dog and cat.