Thursday, December 30, 2010
By Patrick Lee
Published by HarperCollins Publishers, 2010
Back in the 1970s, during the activation of the Very Large Ion Collider at Wind Creek, Wyoming, an accident resulted in the creation of a wormhole, officially named “The Breach.” Periodically, assorted items of alien technology — known as “entities” —would appear. An autonomous organization known as Tangent was created to research, catalog, and control the entities that come through. Paige Campbell, one of Tangent’s leading scientists, is shown a very near-future in which mankind appears to have been annihilated by an entity. Understandably alarmed, Paige rushed off to take this information to the President of the United States. She is no sooner done when an unidentified paramilitary force attacks the motorcade in which she’s traveling, kills her companions, and abducts her. A former member of Tangent, Travis Chase, and Paige’s assistant, Bethany, are enlisted to rescue Paige. They manage to track her to a secret installation in Washington, DC, and manage to free her. However, the mysterious and decidedly hostile group now relentlessly pursues them, even as they attempt to unravel the hellish fate waiting for them and the rest of the world.
Ghost Country is Patrick Lee’s follow-up to his first novel, The Breach, and utilizes characters and concepts he introduced and developed in his earlier book. Regardless, Ghost Country stands alone well enough. Like The Breach, Ghost Country is more a hard-boiled thriller than a science-fiction or horror story, although the alien technology from the other side of the Breach certainly plays a major part in the unfolding of events. Indeed, during my reading of the novel, I found it moving in a very different direction from what I expected, based on the description of the novel and its first few chapters. Not that this is a bad thing, necessarily — the story moves at a clip, and the characters are mostly engaging, particularly Travis Chase, the hardened and occasionally not-quite-so moral protagonist. On the other hand, the back story of the Breach itself, and the entities it unleashes, must be taken on faith, as — by all indications — Lee’s first novel offers no more insight into the actual phenomenon than this one does. I confess to some disappointment at the downplaying of such a potentially fascinating aspect of the overall concept. Regardless, at the heart of the story is the dire need for Travis, Paige, and Bethany to discover the truth, in a hurry, and set things right, if humanly possible. That much the author manufactures with great aplomb.
In the end, having become acclimated to the direction the novel ends up taking, the revelations about the organization against which the protagonists are pitted, as well as the final unfolding of events, come as no great surprise. However, the novel is a fast, solid, and entertaining read; I’ll give it 3.5 out of 5.
Buy it here.
Reviewed by Stephen Mark Rainey
Stephen Mark Rainey is the author of the novels Dark Shadows: Dreams of the Dark (with Elizabeth Massie, HarperCollins, 1999), Balak (Wildside Books, 2000), The Lebo Coven (Thomson Gale/Five Star Books, 2004), The Nightmare Frontier (Sarob Press, 2006, and in e-book format by Crossroads Press, 2010), and Blue Devil Island (Thomson Gale/Five Star Books, 2007); three short story collections; and over 80 published works of short fiction. Stephen lives in Greensboro, North Carolina, with a passle of Damned housecats, and over the past year have become an avid Damned geocacher. For updates on what's happening currently, visit The Blog Where Horror Dwells and/or the News page.
by Joe McKinney
Published by Pinnacle Books
Apocalypse of the Dead is killer. This is an epic tale of human survival in the zombies-are-everywhere-and-I-need-a-freaking-gun tradition. Faced with countless undead, the book's four major storylines follow the survivors of a zombie plague. As the stories interweave, they create a terrifying tapestry of mayhem, weaponry, and gore. When a bite or a scratch can make a friend instantly turn into a drooling, clawing, and hungry zombie, it's a dangerous world indeed.
The story begins two years after the events in McKinney's Dead City. Houston has been walled off with its borders enforced by the Gulf Region Quarantine Authority. Trapped within are countless Infected, along with a handful of non-infected humans struggling to stay alive in a world that has written them off as collateral damage. What they want most is to escape. And escape, they do... accidently taking the undead filovirus with them.
Uncontrolled and unstoppable, the virus spreads around the world and society collapses. The survivors are left to fend for themselves. Needless to say, most are unprepared for such an event. A blind woman, an escaped convict, Florida retirees, a preacher and his flock, a police sharpshooter, a motorcycle gang, and two guys with hookers and an RV, all find themselves living moment-to-moment, fighting for their lives. To make matters worse, not all of the survivors are nice people, and some will do anything to prevail. Anything.
As the stories converge, the survivors are faced with the question of whether it's possible to re-form society in a zombified world. The survivors are embattled and the undead aren't going away anytime soon. To make matters worse, to survive in this new world, one might have to accept the fact that the strong rule, and the weak serve.
McKinney has created his best work to date and it’s a must-read. Reminiscent of The Stand, (not a comparison to be taken lightly), this book starts with a bang and never slows down. The characters come alive (even if only for a little while) and among the twists and turns there are more than a few surprises. Apocalypse of the Dead goes beyond the traditional bash-them-in-the-head-with-a-baseball-bat storyline and offers a few philosophical head-scratchers as well. Not to say that there's not a sufficient supply of rotting flesh, oozing brains, bullets, and leaking body fluids. Yum.
Read this book, if you can. If not, watch out for the headshot that puts you out of your misery.
Buy it here.
Reviewed by R.B.Payne
R. B. Payne is a dark fiction writer. His stories have appeared in Doorways, Dark Discoveries, Necrotic Tissue, and the recent Stoker-nominated Midnight Walk anthology. He is insanely enthusiastic about writing book reviews for Shroud magazine. But rather than continuing to blurb himself by pretending that someone else wrote this bio, he would prefer you seek out his stories and read them late at night. For the record, he lives in Los Angeles and lurks at www.rbpayne.com. He would love to hear from you as long as it’s not a beating heart delivered in a cardboard box.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Edited by Bill Moran
Published by PARSEC Ink
Fourth in the Triangulation anthology series, End of the Rainbow provides a diverse selection of fantasy literature. The book boasts quality authors throughout, and the tales range from retellings of cultural myths to science fiction. All of them enjoy vivid imagery and a sense of wonder, appropriate to the title.
David Sklar starts the book strong with “The Rainbow Vendor” as a man struggles to sell his supply of the optical phenomena to an unreceptive town. “The House at the End of the Rainbow” and its teleporting structure imprison an old woman faced with a young stowaway. Meanwhile, Amanda C. Davis utilizes the rainbow as a symbol of wish-fulfillment to chilling effect in “David is Six.”
Tinatsu Wallace’s “A Womb of my Own” follows with a harrowing character study (probably the best in the book), as a gay man, impregnated through surgery, grapples with an identity crisis. Cate Gardner’s trademark whimsy lightens the mood in the first pages of “The Meaning of Yellow” before exploring far deeper themes in a world robbed of color.
Eugie Foster provides his spin on a Chinese creation myth in “A Patch of Jewels in the Sky,” even as Aaron Polson allows those populating the town in “The World in Rubber, Soft and Malleable” to disappear through strange doors in their basements. Cat Rambo’s, “In Order to Conserve” closes the collection proper via a world where a scarcity of color fuels government sponsored fear and deprivation.
After reading such an impressive collection of stories, Editor Bill Moran’s afterword comes off as particularly bittersweet. Each Triangulation is clearly a labor of love, and heavy labor at that. One can only appreciate the care expressed not only for the anthology, but quality fiction as a whole, when too much of today’s audience seems to have forgotten how to appreciate it.
Buy it here.
Reviewed by Patrick Rutigliano
Patrick Rutigliano resides in Indiana with his wife, Hannah, and a very peculiar cat he found on his doorstep. He began his professional writing career in 2007 with a sale to Permuted Press. Since then, his work has appeared in History Is Dead, Monstrous, and Shroud Magazine. A full bibliography of his work is available at http://patrickrutigliano.blogspot.com/ , although he advises the reader to take any of his rambling outbursts with a grain of salt.
by Stephen King
Pre-release anticipation of King’s latest book, a collection of four novellas, included comparison to similar groupings of his long fiction, Different Seasons and Four Past Midnight. Long-time King fans can’t be faulted for their hopefulness, either. Not only does King nail the novella more often than not, but of the eight stories in the aforementioned books, five were made into movies or television miniseries; some of the better adaptations of his work, depending on whom you ask.
Full Dark, No Stars comes out of the gate strong with ‘1922.’ It is about a farmer who confesses to the murder of his wife in that titular year. There’s more than a touch of the supernatural in the story, but it doesn’t overpower the simple and reality-based ways in which the men’s lives fall apart in the years following their crime. It’s an altogether satisfying tale in the classic King style. ‘Big Driver,’ the second story, is about a mystery writer who does a bit of sleuthing (and leaves behind quite a mystery herself) after being raped and left for dead on the way home from a public appearance. Like ‘1922,’ ‘Big Driver’ could readily be adapted for television, though the latter might be more comfortable on Lifetime.
'Fair Extension’ is the shortest and easily most-disposable story in the book. Calling it a story is a technicality even, since it’s really only a description of the bad things that happens to one man’s family after another throws him under the bus in a deal with the Devil. The collection finishes with ‘A Good Marriage,’ about a woman who discovers that her husband has spent the last thirty years of their marriage as a particularly vicious serial killer. The ending was fairly predictable (there’s only so many credible ways for a story like this to end) but half the fun is getting there, as they say, and this one was true to pattern. It probably wouldn’t make a good movie, as it’s comprised heavily of internal dialogue, but it’s a good read that, in concert with the first two stories, makes up for the third.
Overall, Full Dark, No Stars should satisfy most King fans. The writing style is vintage King, asymmetrical to either his novel Under the Dome or his short fiction Just After Sunset, reminding us why he is the Master.
Buy it here.
Reviewed by Lincoln Crisler.
Lincoln Crisler is a United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer and the author of two collections of dark stories, Magick & Misery (2009, Black Bed Sheet) and Despairs & Delights (2008, Arctic Wolf). He lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife and two of his three children. You can visit his website at www.lincolncrisler.info.
by Louise Bohmer
Publisher, Library Of Horror Press, September 2009
The Black Act is a suspenseful, heart-felt, dark-fantasy tale based on a unique mythos as to the creation of our world. Written in a well-executed, non-linear fashion, Bohmer’s evocative imagination whisks us away to an old world--- alien, yet familiar.
Ever since the death of their Guild Mother, Anna and Claire’s world has been tough. Anna—a second level initiate into the ways of magic—feels her sister has changed. When Anna starts having strange and vivid dreams concerning the beginning of the world—even the inner-thoughts of those who dwelled within it—she approaches her scribe teacher, Rosalind for advice.
Rosalind instructs Anna to scribe what she has dreamed. It is to be part of The Record. Anna, only a second level initiate questions the motives. She feels she is not ready. But she has no choice. For some reason, Anna is watching the forging of the clans that comprise of the Dalthwein lands and the story must be told.
Her sister Claire spends more and more time with her secret lover, Luthien, from the south woods. Anna can’t take the pain of being put aside by her sister and her secrets any longer. She implores her for answers. Claire appraises her sister’s face to see if she is ready for the truth… the last words their mother spoke before she died.
Once the truth is spoken, Anna’s life is turned upside down with a horrible realization that could re-write history in no one’s favor. Anna’s dreams continue, and when they start contradicting the status-quo of history, she has no choice but to seek help from her Scribe teacher; only to find the harsh truths told by her sister, and the dreams are one in the same.
The Black Act is epic in scope. Bohmer digs deep and immerses us into a world that is fantastical, yet tangible. The use of allegory in history is done very well and is put to good use. The people we come to know along the way are just as human as we are. What truly makes this a gem—aside from creating an entirely believable and fantastical world, unique and rich—is Bohmer’s powerful voice and delivery. All of this coalesces into a tale that haunts you long after finishing it. The Black Act heralds the presence of a formidable story-teller.
Buy it here.
Find out more about Louise Bohmer at: www.louisebohmer.com
Review by, Ben Eads
By Joe Schreiber
Published by Titan Books 2010
Confession time. I really like the TV show SUPERNATURAL. Yeah I know, it’s weird and something I don’t admit to everyone. I mean, it’s on the WB, a television network I have no other use for. It stars two hunky guys and only has the occasional hot chick as a costar so there’s no real eye candy in it for me. Lastly, despite its title and premise, I never found it scary. Nope, not once. That said, I do think it’s very well written, with two great characters as the monster hunting Winchester brothers, and while not particularly frightening, it is often funny as hell. I am a diehard horror-head but things that make me giggle are always greatly appreciated.
I was a bit dubious when I got the latest SUPERNATURAL novel for review. I was also more than a bit curious. So with as much of an open mind as I could muster, I dove into THE UNHOLY CAUSE.
This book finds the troubled brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester along with their renegade angle pal, Castiel, down south Georgia way looking into murder and mayhem at a Civil War reenactment. Sadly curmudgeonly father figure Bobby doesn’t have a big part in this story. What starts off looking like not all that difficult of a case involving murder and suicide, soon turns out to be a battle with an ancient evil. How ancient? Like Jesus Christ ancient.
THE UNHOLY CAUSE replicates the essence and feel of the TV series wonderfully. Author Joe Schreiber has penned a novel that reads like a standalone episode of the show. The characters are very well fleshed out and treated with respect for their six years of television history. The book’s plot is suitably mysterious, the mythology it plays with is handled well, and most importantly for me, there’s plenty of snarky, sarcastic humor courtesy of the Winchester boys. Those silly bits are the main reason why I keep tuning into the show week after week. I was happy to see them done right in this novel.
After I finished this novel I learned that there are many other SUPERNATURAL books out there. I can’t speak for any of those, but if they’re anything like this book, I’ll have to give them a read. Look, THE UNHOLY CAUSE is a TV tie-in novel. If you are looking for great literature, you might be disappointed with this. Additionally, if you’ve never seen the TV show, then this one might leave you going “hmmm” as some of the backstory assumes the reader has watched at least some of the series before. But if you are a casual watcher and want a fun, fast, and entertaining read, then give this book a try. If you are a fan of SUPERNATURAL then consider this a must have.
Buy it here.
Reviewed by Brain M. Sammons
Monday, December 27, 2010
by Bob Lock
If you've ever felt sorry on behalf of someone else, multiply it by ten and you’ll have an idea of what Cooper Jones goes through in an ordinary day. In The Empathy Effect, put out by Screaming Dreams Publishing and written by Bob Lock, the reader gets a chance to acquaint themselves with Cooper's "gift" in intimate fashion -- the story opens with Cooper bound to a pier and the sea water climbing up to his neck.
From here on in, there's a sense of urgency as Cooper relates the story and all the moments leading up to how he came to find himself in his precarious situation. Set in Wales, Lock's home country, the setting forms the background, immersed in local flavor and characters without alienating readers from across the pond. The narrative is a cross between crime fiction and a comedy of errors, infused with British humor.
From the get go, one would think that having the gift of empathy to the degree that Cooper Jones does would allow him to anticipate disaster before it happens and give him a leg up in life, but his "gift" consistently has the opposite effect -- failing to save him from drunken excess, unable to realize the cute, gutsy officer right in front of him is harboring a crush on our hero, and usually walking into circumstances that backfire with hilarious results.
As a traffic warden who writes out tickets for parking violations, his duties intertwine with a violent incident. A sudden rush of feelings convinces him the van that raced past him is linked to a kidnapping. He attempts to unravel the crime-mystery with the help of his officer friend Janet but soon they become targets themselves.
Bob Lock does an excellent job of describing the kind of physical comedy whose satisfaction usually hinges on the visual; he pulls it off well, bringing to mind the hi-jinks in the movie Snatch, or, in the case of two bumbling police who attempt to apprehend Cooper and fail with gusto, the Three Stooges. The Empathy Effect is a quick and enjoyable read, especially for those who like their crime fiction tempered with humor.
You can listen to the first few chapters narrated by Mr. Lock himself here.
Purchase the book here.
Martin Rose lives in New Jersey, where he writes a range of fiction from the fantastic to the macabre, holds a degree in graphic design, and enjoys blurring the line between art and life. More details are available at www.MartinRoseHorror.com.
Edited by John Prescott
How come no one ever had this idea before? Or at the very least, taking it to this level? I mean I love monsters, you love monsters, and everyone who is remotely likes the horror genre loves monsters. So three cheers to John Prescott for coming up with the idea and compiling 26 short stories, each based off of a different creature and each corresponding to a letter in the alphabet. Instead of an anthology focused on one of the big bad beasties that goes bump in the night, like we usually get, we have a complete smorgasbord of slithery things, many of which you never see stories about. So this book is a cracking idea, but is it any good?
Well with 26 very short stories, the shortest being just four pages and the longest at fourteen, coving such a wide range of monsters, there are going to be hits and misses. The good news is when the story works, they are great. When they don’t, they don’t miss the mark by far. Out of the tales, only two of them did I really not care for. That’s a pretty good batting average.
I wasn’t thrilled about the story titles being only letters of the alphabet. I guess that might have been done to keep the identity of the monster appearing in the story a secret, but a clever title could accomplished the same thing and would have been more memorable.
I loved liked the number of obscure and off the wall creatures collected here. I mean, do you even know what a XyX, Kul, or a Fatback No Neck is? No, I didn’t think so. Also, I loved the usual monster that came to mind when thinking of a letter of the alphabet is often not the one used. For example; Z doesn’t stand for zombie, there are no werewolves or witches found under W, and while I was sure I would be reading about ghouls under the letter G, I was quite happily surprised at what was there instead. Unfortunately, V did stand for vampires and it wasn’t bad, but still…yawn.
The highlights for me were Adrian Chamberlin’s “W” set around the horrors of World War 2 and about things more deadly than Nazis. Simon Kurt Unsworth’s very weird story where the “N” stands for the horrible, dreaded, unimaginable evil…noodles! The “L” of Aaron J French’s story is about the living dead. I tell you that without ruining this great shocker. Even editor John Prescott pulls double duty by contributing his own demonic story, “D”.
There are plenty of other hidden gems to be discovered here. Form the traditionally monstrous yet usually overlooked beasts like Incubi, the Jabberwocky, and the horsemen of the apocalypse, to the completely unexpected such as the bible’s Goliath, elephants, and the scariest things of all; parents. If you are looking for a who’s who of horrors with stories that range from graphically violent, to chillingly moody, to darkly humorous, then M IS FOR MONSTERS is the book for you.
Buy it here: M is for Monster
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
Sunday, December 26, 2010
Edited by Michael Bailey
Published by: Written Backward
Though Pellucid Lunacy is a slim volume, it nevertheless packs a wallop! This gem of a book is a collection of 20 short stories--and the operative word here is “short.” They average less than ten pages, making this collection perfect when a little time is all you have. I actually read one of them at a stop light--of course, where I live, you could probably read War and Peace before the light changed. But I digress.
There is something for every taste in this book. The stories run the gamut from speculative horror to the more traditional to mind-melting guilt. I read the entire book in a couple of hours and was quite sorry when I turned the final page.
All the stories were very well written, but I found a few that stayed with me. They were:
“I Wanted Black” by Michael Bailey, the editor of this tome. The story is an exploration into guilt, death and the horrific consequences of being unable to let go. Michael Bailey is someone to keep an eye on. He will find his way to the top of the genre in short order, and it’s a place he deserves.
“Sometimes They Hunt” by Chris Hertz, is a chillingly crafted story of revenge, decades-planned and completely mad. It haunts me still, and it will haunt you, too.
Having worked in retail many years ago, I found myself sympathizing with the poor store clerk in Dan Piorkowski’s “Sweaters” and I will never be able to look at that garment the same way again.
A.J. French’s “Creature” is another one that still makes me shiver--a confession to a dying mother that made me believe that she’d have rested much better not knowing--and that I would have, too.
The raison d’etre for this collection seems to be: Think you know someone? Better think again.
If you’re a horror fan, I highly recommend you give yourself a great gift this holiday season and pick up a copy of Pellucid Lunacy and under your favorite quilt, in front of a roaring fireplace with your beverage of choice, shiver the night away.
Visit: http://www.amazon.com/Pellucid-Lunacy-Michael-Bailey and buy it now.
Carson Buckingham is a writer living in the great American Southwest and she reviews horror/paranormal suspense novels.
Thursday, December 23, 2010
by R. Scott McCoy
Publisher Belfire Press, 2010
As often as I deal with his work as a publisher, via Stygian Press and Necrotic Tissue magazine, it is sometimes easy to forget that R. Scott McCoy is a writer in his own right. So here I am, looking down the barrel of his second novel and asking the only question that matters: does this bear bite?
Jeff Bennett and Merrick Polasky don't have much in common, living states and total existences away from each other, but there is that one thing. Nope, I'm not talking about the omnipresent grief and guilt due to the loss of their fathers. There is that, but the ancient, ageless evil magician trapped in the form of a Kodiak bear by one of Merrick's Sun'Aq ancestors and severely po'd by Jeff's father is a tad more pressing. Now they have no choice but to destroy the White Faced bear in a journey that will force them to face the deep dark things inside themselves neither is willing to admit. It's either that, or get eaten by a whole mess of bears.
As McCoy's second novel, The White Faced Bear shows him becoming more focused and confident in the craft. Where Feast was a bit loose and scattershot, in a fever-dream nightmare logic sort of way, the Bear is very concrete and grounded. This, along with the brevity, makes a tight story that speeds through the pages. I also appreciated the down to earth approach to dealing with shamanism and American Indian traditions in modern society.
However, what struck me the most here is how well Scott captures the easy going, somewhat dickish camaraderie that develops between men. Most of the dialog is spent on the interactions of Jeff and Merrick and it feels natural, comfortable and it flows well, but most importantly, it sounds like guys talking. Yes, I know that's vague, but we're dealing with feeling here, not quantifiable statistics.
Unfortunately, there are times that he draws the narrative momentum to a screeching halt to either proselytize or rant at the reader through the mouth of his characters. The worst offense comes up about half way through, via an argument over bitching rights that served no purpose either in moving the story forward or revealing character. It's not intolerable and the occurrences are spare and sparse enough to keep it from being a story killer, but it annoyed me a little.
Ending verdict: This Bear is a lean, muscular little beasty that moved at a brisk pace, took a fair piece out of my pale-faced booty and gave me a new nickname for Scott besides "he who loves unicorns".
Buy it here.
Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at antoncancre.blogspot.com. No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.