Thursday, October 20, 2016

Black January: A Spectra Files Novel - by Douglas Wynne - Modern Lovecraftian horror at its finest

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Black January is the sequel to Douglas Wynne's Red Equinox which made my top ten list of favorite reads from all of 2015. The new work works well as a standalone novel, but if you haven't read the first book in the series, you are really missing out.

Both books deal with much of the mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft, a world which continues to inspire writers for nearly a century.  While I personally find the works of Lovecraft to be a difficult read, I love his ideas and there are some  modern day authors continuing the tradition with great success.  Brett J. Talley's That Which Should Not Be and He Who Walks in Shadow, come to mind.  And certainly, Douglas Wynne falls squarely into that same category.

Central to the story in Black January is the Wade House, built by renowned candle maker and rumored witch Caleb Wade in 1782.

Photographer, Becca Phillips, is called upon once more by SPECTRA, a clandestine government agency charged with protecting citizens from things we're better off not knowing about.  She's important to the team because she has EDEP (Extra Dimensional Entity Perception).  She can see the things others can't.

The author does a fine job of catching the reader up on the first story through a combination of conversation and exposition, without coming across as preachy.

Douglas Wynne has actually manged to combine the best elements of a haunted house story with a heavy dose of Lovecraftian horror and the result is a remarkable piece of fiction.

If you read Black January keep an eye out for the Stu Redman reference.  That made me smile.

Even though this story manages to tie up all of the loose ends, there is a scene which nicely sets the stage for another book in the series and I already want to read that one, as well.

Strongly recommended.

Black January is published by JournalStone and is available in paperback and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - Douglas Wynne is the author of the novels The Devil of Echo Lake, Steel Breeze, and Red Equinox. He lives in Massachusetts with his wife and son and a houseful of animals just a stone's throw from H.P. Lovecraft's fictional town of Arkham.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life - by Ruth Franklin - The life and times of a truly remarkable literary voice

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Admittedly, I don't read a lot of biographies.  Not my thing. Nothing against them, I just prefer to spend my time reading fiction.  That being said, when I saw there was going to be a Shirley Jackson bio, I decided to get out of my comfort zone just a bit.

Shirley Jackson is perhaps most remembered for her short story, The Lottery, and her novel, The Haunting of Hill House, but there is so much more to her short life.

The bio covers her childhood, college years (she wasn't a very good student), early published works, novels, family life, her troubles with anxiety and a period of agoraphobia, and ends with her untimely death.

Shirley Jackson was the mother of four.  Two boys and two girls.  Laurence (Laurie), Joanne (Jannie), Sarah (Sally), & Barry.  Each unique in their own way and often fodder for lighter, more humorous stories she wrote, in sharp contrast to her more serious pieces.  She also had a sense of humor about the children's misdeeds.  One day Laurence, twelve or thirteen years old, balked when she told him to take a bath.  Shirley went into the kitchen, came back with an egg, and smashed it on his head.  "Now you need a bath," she told him.

Her husband, Stanley Hyman, was a firm believer in polyamorous relationships, much to Jackson's dismay, but despite numerous thoughts of divorce throughout the years, the couple remained married until her death in 1965.

Of the many quotes from Jackson's work included in her biography, there was one which seemed just as relevant today, as it was when written 60+ years ago.  From The Witchcraft of Salem Village...

"We are not more tolerant or more valiant than the people of Salem, and we are just as willing to do battle with an imaginary enemy...The people of Salem hanged and tortured their neighbors from a deep conviction that they were right to do so. Some of our own deepest convictions may be false. We might say that we have far more to be afraid of today than the people of Salem ever dreamed of, but that would not really be true. We have exactly the same thing to be afraid of--the demon in men's minds which prompts hatred and anger and fear, an irrational demon which shows a different face to every generation, but never gives up its fight to win over the world."

The biography is certainly complete, right own to the seemingly most minor of details.  As much a treatise on the times and the publishing industry in general as it was on the life of Jackson.  Plus, there are a number of wonderful pictures interspersed throughout the book.

Recommended for all readers who are the least bit curious about Shirley Jackson.

Published by Liveright, a division of W.W. Norton & Company, Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life is available in hardcover, e-book, and audio formats.

From the author's bio.  Ruth Franklin is a book critic and former editor at The New Republic. She has written for many publications, including The New Yorker, Harper’s, The New York Times Book Review, The New York Review of Books, and Salmagundi. She is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in biography, a Cullman Fellowship at the New York Public Library, a Leon Levy Fellowship in biography, and the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism. Her first book, A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction (Oxford University Press, 2011), was a finalist for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Rare Breeds - by Eric Hofstatter - Horrific with a payoff worth waiting for

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

This is the third time I've read and reviewed a work by Erik Hofstatter and truthfully, I haven't exactly been effusive in my praise of what I had read to date, but let me tell you.  This time Erik has hit a towering home run.  (OK, I read Rare Breeds during the MLB Playoffs).

Rare Breeds is a novella length book.  A quick read.  One I finished off on a quiet October afternoon.

Aurel, Zora, and Zora's ten-year-old daughter, Livie seem normal enough, but the more we learn about Aurel, the husband and step-father in this family, the more the reader realizes something is not quite right.  First there's Aurel's sleepwalking, but really that just begins to scratch the surface.

Before it's over Rare Breeds will run the gamut from sleepwalking, to infidelity, to incest, and beyond.  Whatever you do, if you pick up this book, do not give up on it.  I've read just over one hundred books this year and Rare Breeds has the best ending of the bunch.  It's worth the wait.

Rare Breeds is available as a paperback from Dark Silo Press and is well worth your time.

From the author's bio - Erik Hofstatter is a schlock horror writer and a member of the Horror Writers Association.  Born in the wild lands of the Czech Republic.  He now dwells in Kent, England.  Some of his other works include include The Pariahs, Amaranthine and Other Stories, Katerina, and Moribund Tales.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Schrodinger's Clock - by John R. Little

5 of 5 Stars

You just don't see many chapbooks anymore and certainly none with the quality and attention to detail as those that appear quarterly from Keith Minnion's White Noise Press.

The latest such gem is a lovely short from John R. Little.  If you know John's work, you might know about his fascination with time.  Schrodinger's Clock  is a love story, of sorts.  "Jeremy was unlike any other person.  He was a genius, and sometimes it seemed like every thinking minutes he was focused on only one thing.  Understanding the nature of time."

When Jeremy and Katherine move in together, everything is fine for the first few years, but when he begins to disappear for increasingly longer periods of time, Katherine wants to know the truth.

To discover the what Jeremy is up to, you'll need to read this one for yourself.

Schrodingers Clock will be available, as a signed  limited edition chapbook, soon from White Noise Press.  For their complete list of chapbooks visit them online at


From the author's bio - John R. Little is an award-winning author of suspense, dark fantasy, and horror.  He currently lives in Ayr, a small town near Kitchener, Canada, and is always at work on his next book. John has published 14 books to date.

Children of Lovecraft - Edited by Ellen Datlow - A marvelous collection of Lovecraft inspired horror

5 of 5 Stars     Review copy

Ellen Datlow has been editing science fiction, fantasy, and horror short fiction for over thirty years.  She has won numerous awards for her work and is certainly one of the best in the business.  As a result she attracts some of the best writers when she puts together a new project and Children of Lovecraft is a fine example of this effect.

H.P. Lovecraft is not without his detractors, for numerous reasons, but love him or despise him, Lovecraft was, without a doubt, one of the most influential horror writers of all time.  Go anywhere where writers of horror have congregated and sooner or later, you'll hear his name or talk of his work or see Cthulhu on a t-shirt.

"Nesters" by Siobhan Carroll - As if life on the plains wasn't tough enough, the Mackay's are called upon two guide two men from the government to a neighbor's property where a shooting star seems to have crashed.  Off to a great start.

"Little Ease" by Gemma Files -Ginevra Cochrane works under the table for a shifty exterminator, A scary proposition from the start.  Her current job is at number 33, a run-down tenement. What she finds behind the walls, well, let's just say eating lunch while reading this one may not have been the best idea I ever had.  One of the best shorts I've read this year.

"Eternal Troutland" by Stephen Graham Jones - There are creatures out there we can't even guess at.  Surreal, esoteric, and entertaining.

"The Supplement" by John Langan - A book of blank pages, an amazing power, but it comes with a cost.  I was deeply moved by this story and regardless of the cost, I'd love to own this book.

"Mortensen's Muse" by Orrin Grey - A young ingenue moves to Los Angelos to become an actress.  A talented photographer with a eye for the grotesque follows her to the City of Dreams.  If HP Lovecraft had written for The Twilight Zone, this could have been the story he would have written.

"Oblivion Mode" by Laird Barron - Talking vampire bats and other animals are just the beginning, When Karl Lochinvar falls into a pit, things really get crazy.  If H.P. Lovecraft and  Douglas Adams had a love child his name would be Laird Barron and he might be writing stories like this.

"Mr. Doornail" by Maria Dahvana Headley - What would an H.P. Lovecraft inspired anthology be without tentacles?  Sharing a house with a man who's heart you've fed to a monster was nothing nice.  Another great read in a book where all of the stories are really good.

"The Secrets of Insects" by Richard Kadrey - Another solid tale, this one about a serial killer who would drill holes in his victim's heads and then allow insects to crawl inside.

"Excerpts for An Eschatology Quadrille" by Caitlin R Kiernan - An amazing and visceral story involving an ancient jade statuette.  Just when you think it can't get any get's much worse.

"Jules and Richard" by David Nickle - One of my favorite stories in an anthology where there are no weak links.  It's all a matter of taste.  This one starts out innocently enough, but just grew darker and darker as the story progressed.

"Glasses" by Brian Evenson - The shortest story in the collection.  About a woman who picks up a pair of biofocals (sic) when her new reading glasses break.

"When the Stitches Come Undone" by A.C. Wise - Darkness, cannibals, and more.  Ultimately a story of sacrifice.

"On These Blackened Shores of Time" by Brian Hodge - Great story with a terrific opening line. I saw it happen, watched the street open up and swallow my son whole.

"Bright Crown of Joy" by Livia Llewellyn - The anthology ends with a superb story of a world that has moved on.

You don't need to be a fan of H.P. Lovecraft to enjoy the quality storytelling in this book.  If you are, though, you might enjoy it even more.

Children of Lovecraft is available in both paperback and e-book formats from Dark Horse Books.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Bloodwalker - by L.X. Cain - Bloodwalker is a puzzle involving two distinct story-lines blended into one delightfully horrible tale

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

L.X. Cain has created a richly crafted old-world backdrop for her story.

Bloodwalker is a puzzle involving two distinct story-lines blended into one delightfully horrible tale.  On one hand, it's about a troubled circus, the murders that follow wherever it goes, and the severely scarred head of security, Rurik, who is obsessed with finding the party responsible.

The first thread ....

"Somewhere in the Zorka Cyrka—his home since childhood—among the circus tents, RVs, dressing rooms, and show trunks was a clown costume, missing a button.  And he was going to find it.  Find out who owned it.

And he was never going to hurt another child."

And then there was the story of the young bloodwalkers, three women, set to be married by Zora, the most powerful bloodwalker alive and the ceremony that goes dreadfully wrong for one of the brides to be.

"This disaster wasn't her mother's fault. She was a real bloodwalker—saw souls, heard the dead's voices, and gave messages to their families.  Sylvie couldn't, no matter how hard she tried.  Even when all she had to do was prepare a body...somehow things just went wrong."

It takes a while, but when the two stories merge into one and we discover the dark truth about surviving the bloodwalker's curse, the race is on to end the killing once and for all.

One thing I did enjoy immensely was the quotes from the Bloodwalker's Book at the beginning of each chapter.  Bits of information that give insight into what it means to be a bloodwalker.  For example, "All haste must be made to reach the corpse before it stiffens. If you arrive too late, be sure you order the relatives to leave before you begin breaking the joints and snapping the sinews."

I tend to be partial to stories with carnival and circus settings.  And Rurik may be a  monster on the outside, but in the end he realizes there are worse kinds of monsters in the world.

Not perfect, but certainly an enjoyable read.  Recommended.

Bloodwalker is available in both e-book and paperback formats from Freedom Fox Press.

From the author's bio - L.X. Cain was born in the U.S. but now lives on the Red Sea and busily taps away at a laptop, coming up with stories to thrill and entertain readers.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Stranded - by Bracken MacLeod - Fighting the elements in the Arctic is just the beginning

4 of 5 Stars     Review copy

We often hear the words "eagerly awaited," but generally it just doesn't apply to me.  However, I can honestly use these words to describe Bracken Macleod's new novel, Stranded.  I first heard about this book at NECON (a retreat for writers and fans, held in Rhode Island, each July).  When I saw the cover and heard the synopsis, I knew I'd have to add this to my TBR list.

"The Arctic Promise was headed in a bearing for the northeast Chukchi Sea, carrying supplies for the OrbitOil drilling platform Niflheim.  The voyage would have been hard under normal circumstances without a hurricane force storm threatening to capsize their ship."

The storm leaves the sixteen man crew off course, isolated, and in an impenetrable mist, which seems to have effected both the navigation and communications system.  Before long the Arctic Promise becomes ice bound and now they are well and truly Stranded.

Some of my favorite stories are about groups of diverse people and what happens when they are cut off from the rest of the world in the most dire of circumstances.  What follows takes that familiar trope and turns it upside down.  To go much further would be giving too much away.  Best to discover the twists and turns in story for yourself.

Stranded is not quite perfect, I was left with some unanswered questions, leaving me to speculate on one aspect of the story in particular, but overall, I'd have to say this book was worth the wait and is one I would definitely recommend.

Stranded is published by Tor Books and is available in paperback and e-book formats.

From the author's bio - Bracken MacLeod has worked as a martial arts teacher, a university philosophy instructor, for a children's non-profit, and as a trial attorney. His short fiction has appeared in various magazines and anthologies.  In addition to Stranded, he is the author of Mountain Home, and the novella White Knight.  Bracken lives in New England and is currently at work on his next novel.