Monday, December 29, 2014

King's new novel: Firmly in the middle of the pack


By Stephen King

Publisher: Scribner; 1st edition 

Pub. Date: November 11, 2014

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

I sometimes get the feeling that Stephen King, in his relatively old age, is looking for the Big Picture. Gone are the the days where the scare was everything, if that time even existed for King. In many ways, King is looking for relevancy in his newer works more than he may have had before. I really got that feeling with 11/22/63, a reflective opus that looks at where we have been, what we lost, and the futility of finding it again. His new work, Revival has a similar feel to it. The novel centers around Jamie Morton as he grows up, makes mistakes, and revives a perilous relationship with his church's pastor. Charles Daniel Jacobs is a charismatic minister but when his wife and child dies in a car accident, he delivers a devastating sermon that results in his removal as pastor and from the town. Jacobs has an obsession with electricity, particularly something he calls "secret electricity". Jamie grows up, becomes a musician and struggles with his own demons in the shadow of lost family and drug addiction. He meets up with Jacobs later in life and the ex-reverend is now heading a revival type healing tour with people who claims to have been healed. Jacobs also heals Jamie but he can't get over a single thought. "I've lost something".

King's new novel fits firmly in the mid-ground of his writings. He has a mission and he stays with it as it develops slowly. A little too slowly for this reader. There are very few shocking ad scary moments until you get to the end. But the ending makes up for all that lull. This may be one of the best endings in any King novel. Yet I didn't think the rest of the book was worthy of it. Jamie felt a little too formula; good kid strays, comes back, explores the mystery of his ex-mentor, etc. I didn't get a good round view of his character. Jacobs fares a little bit better but rarely going beyond the mad scientist stereotype. Yet like all good King works, it manages to gel together at the end. It's good but not great. I didn't get the sense of urgency that I felt in 11/22/63 nor the dread of death and the unknown that I felt in Pet Sematary which explores some of these themes in a more terrifying way. Overall, it is an above average novel by an author whose work I expect to go over the bar by miles. I do recommend Revival but there are many books by King I would recommend first.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Best of 2014

It is that time of year again. I am putting forward my list of the 10 best novels of 2014 for everyone to see and comment on. This year we had a fairly good crop. As usual the novels range from bestsellers to the obscure, from mainstream to experimental. I will add some separate categories to single out honorable mentions. With the exception of number one, which is my choice for best of the year, they are in no particular order.

1. The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World by Brian Allen Carr
2. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami
3. Perfect by Rachel Joyce
4. Bird Box by Josh Malerman
5. The Troop by Nick Cutter
6. Hell’s Waiting Room by C. V. Hunt
7. Kumquat by Jeff Strand
8. Dream of the Serpent by Alan Ryker
9. Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
10. Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich by David Agranoff

And the honorable mentions…

Best YA novel: The Tyrant’s Daughter by J. C. Carleson

Best new series: Z Plan by Michail Lerma

Best short fiction collection: Phone Call from Hell and Other Tales of the Damned by Jonathan Woods

Best novel in 2013 that I waited to read in 2014: Time Pimp by Garrett Cook

Best WTF! Novel: Zombies and Calculus by Colin Adams

Best periodical or journal: The Lazy Fascist Review

Best non-fiction: I'll Take You There: Mavis Staples, the Staple Singers, and the March up Freedom's Highway by Greg Kot

That wraps it up for this year. Have a great holiday season and happy reading for next year.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A coming of age novel that doesn't come of age

Drinking Until Morning

By Justin Grimbol


Publisher: Atlatl Press 

Pub. Date: September 9, 2014

Rating: 2 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Books like Drinking Until Morning leaves me feeling very conflicted. From the first page it is clear that Justin Grimbol has a style of writing that must have been a gift from the Gods, presumably the same ones Charles Bukowski prayed to. I really loved the first third of this relatively short novel. Then it seemed to sink into a rut. Justin Grimbol's protagonist, whose name is Dustin Grimboli, seems human and vulnerable at the beginning yet soon he sinks into just being pathetic. It is Grimbol's direct but darkly poetic writing that got me through the book but after the end it was "Is that all there is?". I loved it and hated it but not in the way that Less Than Zero and American Psycho made me more aware of the nihilistic underpinnings of the modern American lifestyle. Drinking until Morning just made me feel nihilistic, not unlike another gifted writer Chuck Palahniuk. . It was the first part where Dustin is struggling with the loss of his girl friend that got me. It was frank and uncomfortable in a way that the reader can relate. Yet it is dropped quickly and Dustin wanders pointlessly through living with a crazy aunt and hanging out with the Rugrats, a group of brats that can only be called losers. The autobiographical nature of the novel is obvious if only from the name the author chooses for the main character. Yet a stagnant life isn't worth reading about and I doubt if the author has a stagnant life. Even Holden Caulfield and Sal Paradise managed to make something out of their seemingly pointless wanderings. I look forward to reading another Justin Grimbol book if only for his prose. Even I have to admit that anyone that I compare even negatively to Bukowski, Palahniuk and Brett Easton Ellis has tons of good stuff going for him. I hope I can relate to his next book more than this one. That may be the issue. From the other reviews many seem to relate to this book, presumably younger readers. I wish them well but this one...not for me. Until then, two and a half stars.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A mystery about new and old Hollywood

Angel of the Abyss

By Ed Kurtz


Publisher: Darkfuse

Pub. Date: December 2, 2014

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars.

At the start of this atmospheric mystery Angel of the Abyss echoes Indiana Jones more than Sam Spade. Film archivist and wannabe movie maker Graham Woodward gets a call about a long lost film. It is titled Angel of the Abyss and was the only film starring Grace Baron, an actress that disappeared after the film was made. A rich woman in Hollywood wants him to look at the film and pays for him to come to California. But when he arrives he finds the woman dead. Pretty soon, he is being shot at too and his ex-wife who lives in California is also missing.

So we enter at the prospect of finding "the holy grail" of silent films and soon blend into a parade of bad guys and suspects as our hero attempts to find out why anyone wants him dead and why death and violence follows the film. We also get a slacker sidekick who gets some of the the first person narration along with Graham. It is a fun ride to the end. As if that is not enough, there is an alternating third person narrative in the form of the making of the film in 1926 through the eyes of the unfortunate starlet Grace Baron. It's that switching back to past and present that makes this such a good novel. Aside from worrying about our hero, we get a nice glimpse of the victim and a tasty look at Hollywood in the silent film era. It is a lot to handle in a relatively short novel but author Ed Kurtz handles it like a pro. While the novel has some Raymond Chandleresque echoes, mainly due to the LA setting, the main protagonist is not a detective but just a poor working guy who gets into a mess and finds he has the cajones to fight it. I like that. The only thing that keeps this from going out of the ball park is that it feels a bit formula at first. It doesn't feel like it is going anywhere new and the mystery is a bit easy to figure out. Perhaps it was a little too short for its own good. But it is still a really good read by a writer that has what it takes to go the distance. If you like mysteries, especially those that delves into Hollywood and the alternately glossy and gritty shades of its past, then you will like this novel. Three and a half stars.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

A highly recommended literary review

Lazy Fascist Review #1 and #2

Edited by Cameron Pierce.

Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press

Rating: See below

Everyone should read a literary journal now and then. The good ones do more than give you a sampling of new writers and material. They give you a break from the mainstream dribble that drowns us in a commercial sea of the expected. Not that I have any thing against the New York Times bestseller list, mainstream magazines, and the pulp jungle. But the real reader seeks the unexpected, those writers that bury us in words that tear at the fabric of our existence.

Lazy Fascist Review is a different type of journal. It is published by Lazy Fascist Press, an imprint of Eraserhead Press which primary deals in Bizarro Lit. Eraserhead’s other sibling is Deadite Press which goes more into horror. Yet Lazy Fascist, under the capable hands of Cameron Pierce, seems to be the most literary of the three, perhaps more accepting of experimenting and not tied down to any particular genre. Their novels seem to have no clear boundaries except to awe and impress and ranges from Bradley Sands’ surreal humor to Andersen Prunty’s existential horror to Brian Allen Carr’s sparse landscapes of angst and dread.

Lazy Fascist Review is a twice yearly publication with two issues currently out. Aside from that, it does not appear to have a regular publication schedule nor a subscription option. It sells right along with their other novels so it may best be called an anthology rather than a journal. It features both prose and poetry yet there seems to be no real theme except that it is prose and poetry way outside the mainstream and it makes you think. In the Lazy Fascist review, writing is a serious business. Yet not so serious that the journal doesn’t throw out a little twist. Along with the prose and poetry, the journal also features a look at an obscure brewery while the editor, Cameron Pierce, suggest pairings of a quality beer with each work. Beer tasting reviews are also featured. I am not likely to test out these pairings thanks to my recently acquired hops allergy, ending my beer days. Perhaps someday they may try a wine tasting issue which would be more to my liking and limits. However, kidding aside, this little quirk is what makes Lazy Fascist Review different, pairing very different and serious writing with a casual and slightly droll setting.

Lazy Fascist Review #1 starts with its best: “In The Neighborhood” by William Boyle. It begins fairly mainstream yet becomes dark and decadent quickly. It is a delightfully uncomfortable tale that tells the reader this particular journal is not going to shy away from those topics some call taboo. It is the most daring work in the first issue. Yet “Tenth Century Man” by Mike McGinnis is just as dark and lends a Southern Gothic feel to a tale of wanton murder. Between these two works are equally high quality stories by Juliet Escoria, Elizabeth Ellen, Hernan Ortiz, and Monica Storrs. There is also an exquisite and complex poem by Ben Spivey & Ben Fitzpatrick. While I cannot find any specific thing to complain about in any of these works I did think that, with the exception of the Mike McGinnis piece, there was a continuous feel of suburban angst, dark yet not really that far from the bulk of stories you find in most literary journals. Yet if any one of these authors show up in my radar again, these samples will certainly leads me to devour their next stories, poems or novels. In that way, the journal is a success. Overall, a quite exceptional debut yet a little more conventional than what I would expect from the Eraserhead / Deadite / Lazy Fascist triumvirate. Three and a half stars. Aside from the prose and poetry, there are interviews with writers Dennis Cooper and Tom Piccirilli plus book reviews and the aforementioned beer tasting reviews.

The sophomore issue, Lazy Fascist Review #2 picks up the pace quite a bit. Editor Cameron Pierce feels a little more relaxed in this one, regaling us with a look at salmon season on the Columbia River then effortlessly easing us into what to expect with the rest of the journal. There is a bit more edge in this issue and a bit more challenge. I am not sure what to think of Kevin Mahoney’s “Nelson Gets it All” except that its free flowing depiction of sports violence and thinly disguised eroticism reminds me of a bit of Jim Carroll .Yet Mahoney’s style grabs me more quickly and tighter. “The Waiting Room” by Cody Goodfellow is a mischievous bit of chaos that is also a strange love story. “Hector on the Continent” by Violet Levoit doesn’t grab me like the other two, feeling wandering and unfocused yet it is still interesting. But the stunner in this collection is “The Abortionists” by Scott McClanahan, the closest thing to a horror tale in the bunch and emotionally ripping. Rounding out the issue is a poem by Lucy Tiven, a brief, funny and silly piece called “Robots I’d Like to Fuck” by Dena Rash Guzman and a couple photo collages by Kevin Sampsell. Pierce continue his beer tasting reviews with a different brewery and there are more book reviews. The quality in issue #2 is a little more uneven in quality than the first issue yet still higher than most literary journals. Yet this is actually a plus as that unevenness is a result of widening the variety and providing a stronger sense that the reader will be challenged by topic and style. This issue comes out a strong four stars.

The bottom line is that this is a periodic review that I will continue to look forward to. With Cameron Pierce at the helm, himself a daring and talented young writer, I have strong expectations of continuing high quality and equally strong expectations that the next issues will be just as willing to stretch literary boundaries.

Monday, December 8, 2014


Motherfucking Sharks

By Brian Allen Carr

Publisher: Lazy Fascist Press 

Pub. Date: October 20, 2013

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

There's something to be said for having your own review blog. I reminded myself of that after perusing the Amazon reviews for Brian Allen Carr's Motherfucking Sharks which recently won the Wonderland Award for best novel of the year. Here is a critically acclaimed novel of which Amazon boldly state the title in their pages. "MOTHERFUCKING SHARKS!". Yet not one review on the same Amazon page will have the title in the review. Why? Because any review with obscenity in it is immediately rejected! As of this date, Amazon has not yet admitted to the irony of this.

I mention this just to illustrate how weird our reality is. Logic often flies out the window and the only way to deal with it is to reject logic altogether and go with the flow. It was once said, "Fact is stranger than fiction because fiction has to make sense". I often think the Bizarro writer is saying "Why?" to that statement. If reality is not logical, why should fiction be logical? Would not a senseless reality be better illustrated in senseless fiction?

I don't know if Brian Allen Carr would agree with the above statements but his novels are certainly loaded with the illogical. Yet they stay rooted in our reality in sort of an extreme magical realism. I have read two novels by the author and I am tempted to call him the Ionesco of Bizarro. There is a bit of surrealistic dadaism in his writing yet placing that in the sparse, unforgiving, and very real landscape of West Texas is just short of brilliant. In Motherfucking Sharks (God! I love that title!) Carr's version of people turning into rhinoceros is sharks swimming in the desert, coming out of puddles in a desert storm and annihilating everyone in sight. Throw in the harsh realities of desert life and a bit of cannibalism ("That's not mule.") and the reader cannot help to think that he has stumbled into a different type of existentialism in which Godot has actually arrived armed with shark teeth. blood and mule stew that isn't mule.

I have been reading a lot of Bizarro fiction lately. I have stated in the past that I predict the best writers of the future may be languishing in the literary ghetto of Bizarro. Of the many worthwhile writers just beneath the surface in the field of Bizarro lit, I have also placed myself out on a limb by suggesting that two writers in particular, Andersen Prunty and Cameron Pierce, are most likely in the future to find themselves breaking through into the literary mainstream. Today I add the name of Brian Allen Carr to that very short list. Read either Motherfucking Sharks or The last Horror Novel in the History of the World and I think you will see what I mean.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Libraries have basements?

The Strange Library

By Haruki Murakami

Publisher: Knopf 

Pub. Date: December 2, 2014

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


 The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami is both different and very typical for the author. First written in 1982 but first published in 2006, this newly released version is made so much more unusual being presented in its odd paperback design with quirky illustrations by Chip Kidd. I can see this being instantly picked up by the Murakami completist and those wanting a different literary Christmas present. I am sure the December 2014 release was not coincidental. It reads a bit like a children's tale yet you may not want it for your child especially if you are encouraging them to read! The idea of a man who forces a boy to read so he can suck out his information filled brain may not go well with some. Yet it is the kind of strangeness we expect from the author most unjustly ignored by the Nobel committee. As the story starts, the young protagonist goes to the library and is sent to the basement to find more books. "Libraries have basement?" was pretty much my response as well as the boy's yet he diligently goes down the stairs. When he arrives he is trapped by an old man and forced to read books about Ottoman tax collectors. In typical Murakami style, he meets a sheep man and a mysterious girl who also are trapped. There is not much more of the story except for them to attempt to escape but it fits right into the author's world borrowing a little from his other works yet being its own kind of fable without a moral. Overall, it is a fun romp made even more mysterious by the aforementioned illustrations and book design. Mandatory reading for the Murakami fan and just a wild little ride for everyone else.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A hybrid novel of sci-fi and mystery

Lock In

By John Scalzi

Publisher: Tor Books 

Pub. Date: August 26, 2014

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 4 stars

Lock In is an intelligent combination of science fiction and mystery. I hesitate to call it a thriller mainly because John Scalzi's heart seem to be primarily into the repercussions of his creative idea and only secondarily into the goal of suspense and keeping us on the edge of our seat. That isn't to say it is not exciting. The author knows how to spin a good yarn. It's just that it works mainly as a fast moving tale of future technology and an analogy about the way technology in the midst of disasters and social upheaval may change our perspective on reality.

An epidemic of an influenza-like pandemic has resulted in millions being afflicted with Haden's Syndrome, "a condition that results in the complete paralysis of the voluntarily nervous system", usually referred to as "Lock In". However the afflicted person's minds are alert and fully functional. This leads to a series of technological and neurological break-throughs that enable the victims to interact through virtual technology and also through a form of mind transfer to people call Integrators. While this is liberating for the afflicted, it also causes a shift and division within Society. Into this scenario steps Chris Shane A "Haden" in his first day as an FBI agent. When someone is killed, the only eye witness who also happens to be an integrator who is suspiciously muted regarding his involvement in the incident. From this point on, Chris and his partner Vann become meshed in a plot involving powerful entities and hidden conspiracies.

Lock In seems part William Gibson, part Phillip K. Dick but still all Scalzi. He is an excellent storyteller capable of combining intrigue and action with a technical plot. He can also make a virtual existence come alive on paper. I would say he does this better and more realistically than Gibson. But as good as it is, it never makes the leap to mesmerizing. Many of the themes do feel a bit rehashed which slows down the intensity of the plot for me. Having said that, I did think it was well thought out and merged mystery and sci-fi quite well. I think this would be an enjoyable read for either the science fiction reader or the mystery aficionado. If it didn't wipe me out, I still really enjoyed reading it.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

A sublime and unseen terror

Bird Box

By Josh Malerman

Publisher: Ecco

Pub. Date: May 13, 2014

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


Of all the terrors that you read about in the horror genre, I believe that nothing is scarier and more suspenseful than the horror of nothing. By that I mean the horror that engulfs you in spite of having no knowledge of what it is that is actually destroying you. Lovecraft was good at this. His monsters didn't usually kill you by force but played with your mind in the most terrifying ways. That is why Lovecraft seem to love the phrase "unspeakable horrors" which implied terrors too awful to describe or to speak of. It's a mental thing. In a very different way, Josh Malerman embodies that same fear in Bird Box and takes it a step further. In this very unique and relentless dystopian horror novel, we never see the monsters and, at first, we are not even sure they exist. Anyone who sees these creatures become instantly insane and it is not long before only a few people still survive by staying locked inside with all the windows boarded and covered. When anyone goes out they go out blindfolded, which only increase the feeling of apprehension and uncertainty in the protagonist...and the reader.

At the beginning of Bird Box, Malorie and her two children, both four years old, are about to leave their house and row up a river to a yet undisclosed destination. They will do it blindfolded. As they depart, we learn through flashbacks how Malorie came to this situation and how this apocalyptic nightmare began. Malerman does an excellent job transmitting terror through emotions and dread, the horrible "things" are never really known or shown but we do find out the consequences of seeing them. This is an apocalyptic horror novel about psychological fears, whether intentional or otherwise. It is a major feat to write a novel that successfully depict a major apocalypse where the characters are either blindfolded or trapped indoors. The novel's sense of horror can be described as an exquisite form of claustrophobia where, even in the open, you are enclosed by your own voluntary darkness. The author's sleek and direct style keeps the reader involved with a effortless switching back and forth from present to past. Bird Box is an exceptional surprise in this years crop of horror novel and has flown to the top at number one horror novel published this year.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

A collection of mystical fantasy

Aberrations of Reality

By Aaron J. French


Publisher:  Crowded Quarantine Publications

Pub. Date: September 29, 2014

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars 


Aaron J. French's collection of mystical fiction may not always be an easy read. I believe that is because the average reader has learned to strive on a steady diet of zombies, vampires and ghosts that are designed to scare and not necessarily to make you think. Aaron J. French makes you think. He eschews the easy scare and gravitates toward the confounding and inexplicable. The stories in Aberations of Reality are often as mystical and forbidding as the collection's title. But that plays into the strength of the author as his writing is as intelligent as it is otherworldly.

The stories in this collection seem to hark back to an older tradition. They are not Lovecraftian as much as they are Blackwoodian, if such a term exists. Like Algernon Blackwood, and to a lesser extent William Hope Hodgson, French seems not so much terrorized of the unexplained as in awe. All of the stories have a theme regarding alternative realities and universes overlapping into our own reality usually with devastating consequences. Most of the tales involve dreams as a important part of the plot and as a clue to understanding different realities. The first story titled "Doubting Thomas" is a fitting one as it involves a hedonistic seeker whose idol, a Alister Crowley clone named Phillip P. Vernon (uncomfortably close to another name I am familiar with, don't ya think?), who "gets religion" so to speak. It has a nice open-ended climax that keeps you wondering after you turn the page. The next story. "Dweller in the Cracks" despite its Lovecraftian title is a bit more conventional involving cats and neighbors that may not be what they appear to be. Perhaps the best and scariest story is "Whirling Machine Man" a gruesome tale involving a private investigator seeking answers to the disappearance and subsequent amputation of a young boy. I was also pleasantly spooked by "When Clown Face Speaks" mainly because clowns have always made me uncomfortable to begin with. "Golden Doors to a Golden Age" is one of those stories that reveal an admiration of the mystical as well as a fear of the unknown, as does "Tree of Life". Most of these tales uses religious symbols quite well and many of them are brave enough not to disguise the spiritual aspects of their plot. Overall, French's collection is quite strong and if there are some stories that do not work as well as you would hope, a stronger one will soon be found. I would recommend this to any lover of short fiction and equally, to any aficionado of intelligent horror and fantasy.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A tight and effective P.I. novella

A Bone Dead Sadness

By Joe R. Lansdale

Publisher: Gere Donovan Press

Pub. Dale: August 10, 2014

Rating: 3 & 1/2/ out of 5 stars

Marvin Hansen is slightly different than Joe R. Lansdale's usual East Texas misfits, even if he hangs around Hap and Leonard and gives them jobs once in a while. Marvin is an ex-detective, now private investigator. His messed up leg doesn't keep him from doing his job or delivering a little physical payback from time to time. He is married but not necessarily happily since he was caught in an affair and the marriage is still healing. Marvin is offered a job by an elderly well-to-do woman to find her missing son. The problem is that he has been missing for 25 years.

A Bone Dead Sadness (great title!) also seems a little retro. While it is set in Lansdale's usual contemporary East Texas setting, it feels more like a traditional gumshoe story. Hansen is smart and tough and has more than a little Sam Spade in him. Hanson is surely not unknown to Lansdale aficionados, being a regular in the Hap and Leonard series and a primary character in Act of Love. Yet here he is front and center with a P.I.'s keen observational skills and raw nerve. A Bone Dead Sadness may feel like a typical gumshoe novella but it is a very fine one. "Too short" is a legitimate complaint for the Lansdale fan but not necessarily fair since the author sets out to write a certain story and does it well. No frills, no fat, all lean. If my rating seems a little low, it is based on a thorough knowledge of the heights Lansdale can take a reader. For the reader new to the writer's world of suspense, this would be a fine starting point.

Monday, November 17, 2014

A twisted affair

Last Winter We Parted

By Fuminori Nakamura


Publisher:  Soho Press 

Pub. Date: October 21, 2014

Rating; 2 out of 5 stars

In many ways, Japanese suspense and mystery novels are an acquired taste. They tend to be darker than American and European novels of the same genre and more likely to be inundated with strange, unlikable and, dare I say, inscrutable characters. They also tend to be amazingly imaginative and philosophically oriented. Fuminori Naklamura's Last Winter We Parted is certainly all of that. Yet as a whole it is not all that exciting.

The basic plot involves a journalist who is interviewing a man, a photographer by trade, on death row who killed two women by setting them on fire. He admits to killing them but blames the women himself. The journalist's investigation leads to the the commended man's sister and an artist that makes dolls resembling the buyer's loved ones. Quickly the journalist becomes intimately involved with the sister and is pulled into their twisted relationships. He begins to regret his involvement in the investigation. This all leads to a surprising and satisfying twist at the end.

So what's the problem? While the protagonist becomes overly involved and entrenched in the story, we do not. There is very little to involve us. All the characters are too unlikeable and we know very little about them even after a few convoluted back-stories. But the main culprit is the poor structuring of the story. There is a mix of first person narrative plus narration through letters and even Twitter. It is often nearly impossible to figure out whose perspective we are looking at. The result is a disorienting mix of viewpoints that blunt any chance for involvement. When we get to the end we can appreciated the strange twist but it is a cold appreciation of style over emotion. In foreign language novels, it is easy to blame the translation and I do think there is some blame headed that way. But mainly the author 's obsession with literary style becomes as relentless as his allegedly murderous photographer's obsession for his art. Overall, it was a impressive attempt to tell a different type of thriller yet not a successful one.

Monday, November 10, 2014

More strange wonders from Gary Fry


By Gary Fry

Publisher: Darkfuse

Pub. Date: September 22, 2014

Rating: 4 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

This is the third of 3 reviews on new releases in Darkfuse's continuing series of new novellas in the horror genre.

I have been keeping close tabs on Gary Fry's writing. He is one of those horror writers that seem to be onto something different and always experimenting. He comes across traditional but innovative at the same time. I like that. If he doesn't always hit the nail on the head he at least dents it every time he puts pen to paper.

In Mutator, he not only hits the nail on the head, he rams it through the floorboard. A professor has moved into his new country home. Problems start when he discovers a six inch hole in his yard which leads down into his basement, a basement that he finds is much larger than he thought. He finds notes and drawings that shows the previous owner was exploring this phenomenon. He also finds a six inch sphere that could have made the hole. What occurs next becomes the gist of this eerie and involving tale.

I believe this particular works really shows off some of the authors' influences. The eerie descriptions and settings of a dark mood evokes much of Ramsey Campbell's style. Most prevalent in this story is a similarity to the Lovecraftian leanings of the Lovecraft Circle. Have you ever kept thinking of a writer when you read something but you can't explain why? In this situation, I kept thinking, "Clark Ashton Smith". If Fry does not love the tales of CAS, I will be shocked. Even if the main theme of Mutator is science fiction and not supernatural, the sense of doom and dread is there especially at the beginning. But that changes. The protagonist's feeling toward the entity of the story evolves and we find ourselves involved in how that change happens. The change from a vague fear to (no spoilers) is what makes the tale different from much of the horror out there and why Gary Fry deserves to be read. Highly recommended at four and a half stars. As much as I loved this one, I am still waiting for the Fry novel that floors me. I am pretty sure it is there somewhere.

Friday, November 7, 2014

A tale of childhood fears

In the Shadows of Children

By Alan Ryker

Publisher: Darkfuse

Pub. Date: November 11, 2014

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Alan Ryker is fast becoming one of my favorite writers of horror. He is one of a few horror writers that knows how to deftly balance terror with realistic human emotions. His books are often just as much about human relationships as being about the things that go bump in the night or, in this case, in the closet.

As in Ryker's amazing Dream of the Serpent, there is a theme about how the consequences of our our simplest actions can scar us for the rest of our life. It does not hurt that theme when the author connects a supernatural entity to that consequence. That fact still holds meaning for us in our natural world. In this book titled In the Shadows of Children, another of Darkfuse's long and exciting line of novellas, Aaron returns home for the funeral of his mother after a 15 year absence. He appears to have a great deal of guilt about leaving his younger brother 15 years earlier especially since shortly after that, his brother disappeared and was never heard from again. Aaron also seems to have forgotten a number of events that occurred before he abandoned his brother. In classic haunted house style there appears to be an entity in the old house that is about to remind him of those events.

Ryker in evoking a well known childhood fear here, that of the boogeyman in the closet. As children, most of us know the boogeyman and have at least a few memories of him being in the closet or under the bed. I like where the author takes us in his rendition of the myth. Yet I appreciate even more Ryker's understanding of family connections and what the severance of those connection can cause. For a short novel of about 70 pages, there is a lot of drama packed into it. The tale doesn't have the complexity of Dream of the Serpent yet it is still full with emotion and, of course, honest scares. Overall this would be a great introduction to one of the most promising horror writers in this generation.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

A ghoulish delight

Oasis of the Damned

By Greg F. Fifune

Publisher: Darkfuse

Pub. Date: December 9, 2014

Rating: 3 & 1/2 out of 5 stars

Oasis of the Damned by Greg F. Gifune is another short fiction work published as an eBook by horror specialists Darkfuse. I will be reviewing two more in succession in these next few days. Darkfuse seems to like these novellas and so do I. So I am delighted they keep throwing them out like little French pastries for the horror fans to gobble up. Oasis at the Damned is about 71 pages of nightmare and doesn't waste time getting into the horrific groove. It starts with a plane crash in a desolate part of the North African desert. The survivor of the crash is met by another person who states he also crashed weeks ago. He takes her to a ruined fort that has enough water and food to survive. He also seems hurried to be in the fort by night. Why is quickly discovered and it brings us to the harrowing meat of this novella.

I have heard of Gifune before but this is the first thing I have ever read anything of his. His name is one of those that comes up frequently when the discussion turns to the future lights of horror and supernatural literature. It becomes obvious why that is so as I read his precise descriptive prose and realize how much he can pack in a few paragraphs. Oasis of the Damned is nothing if not frightening, riveting and a bit rough on the nerves. At first it seems like a zombie survival story yet through the use of some dream sequences, the reader gets a hint that there is more than attacks and screams to these zombie, or more precisely ghoul or ghul, story. The ending is quite satisfying. However I felt the overall affect was a little too Twilight Zone to say I was bowled over. It had the curious consequence of being a tightly knit and powerful but somewhat predictable story by a writer who can write the pants off of an ant. But there is no getting around the fact that it is an excellent story by someone who deserved to be read by anyone who loves the genre. it definitely gives me the urge to read more by Greg F. Gifune and that is high praise indeed. Three and a half stars.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Killers on a rampage

The World on Fire

By Sheldon Woodbury


Publisher: James Ward Kirk Publishing 

Pub. Date: August 16, 2014

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Louis Sedah aka the Angel of Death turns himself in after months of murder and arson. He is sentenced to death and is waiting his sentence on Death Row in a Colorado maximum security prison. He is about to grant an interview to David Milton, a troubled and disgraced reporter whose occupational slide went from the New York Times all the way down to the  National Enquirer. Milton is hoping an interview with The Angel of Death will revive his career. Yet once the interview starts, all hell breaks loose.

Sheldon Woodbury’s nasty little escapade titled The World on Fire is one of those books that evokes more cinematic references than literary ones.  Think Natural Born Killers meets The Devil’s Rejects meets Con Air. Yet Woodbury’s harrowing hell ride works well on paper as his group of the worst murderers on the planet, with hostage reporter and blonde bombshell groupie in tow, escape and indulge in the most terrible terrorist acts imaginable. It is very violent, a riveting roller coaster ride and, maybe, just maybe, there is some kind of post-apocalyptic social message of the subversive kind creeping around in all that fun and gore.

Woodbury’s pièce de résistance is Louis Sedah, a bigger than life monster whose abilities and charisma trumps his other less than human qualities. The author never lets us forget that Louis is relentless and merciless. As he and the seven criminal fugitives roam the country we find that his reach seems even more far reaching than we suspected. A character like Sedah runs the risk of becoming too unreal and unchecked in that the reader loses any semblance of reality and balance to the point that the protagonist becomes easy to dismiss.  Yet we also have David Milton, a man with his own burdens but still precariously able to keep his foot grounded in humanity. It is a nice balancing act. At some times, I wish Milton plays a more balancing role in this novel. He is essentially the hostage with little power and no control over the events yet his presence gives us an eyewitness with a conscience on the actions of madmen. We also find out that Sedah keeps Milton around as part of his plan. What that plan is becomes the payoff of this novel. There is also the obligatory lawman hell bent on capturing Louis yet, while his purpose to exist becomes clear at the end, he seems a bit of a detour. The real meat of the plot lies with Louis and his entourage.

I liked this novel. It flows like a weasel on fire, staying one step ahead of the reader and starting little fires as it darts in and out of the chaos. Woodbury has a smooth assured style that easily goes from one characters’ perspective to another without disturbing the narration. He tells a story with panache yet knows how not to give too much away too quickly.  It’s pretty much all you can ask for a debut novel and bodes well for a writer who knows how to keep you attention and scare the hell out of you. If you are looking something that reads like a grindhouse movie but also want something that kicks literary butt at the same time, you will probably like The World of Fire and the Angel of Death’s hellish alternate reality.