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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Horror Review: Wrath of the Ancients by Catherine Cavendish

My third encounter with the dark imagination of Catherine Cavendish in as many years, Wrath of the Ancients is a book that (rather fittingly) has the feel of a much older story. Like the darkest stories of Poe, Stevenson, and Doyle, it is a slow-burning tale of claustrophobia, madness, secrets, and myths. It may feel oddly structured to some readers, especially with the way it so abruptly departs from Adeline's story to explore other owners of the house, but it all pays off in the end.

This is a story that starts deep in a lost Egyptian tomb, and ends deep within a secret Victorian basement. It is a story of death, obsession, and occult powers . . . a story where nothing is to be trusted, not even your senses. Although slow-burning, it does have its share of scares, with some great scenes of supernatural horror that grab you by the throat and overwhelm you with the putrescence of death.

Where the story kicked into high gear for me was in the second half, when Adeline confides in someone outside the house and they embark upon an enthusiastic purging of the basement and its haunted horrors. There is so much action and drama in that arc, so much advancement of the overall mysteries, that you appreciate the lull that follows as a chance to catch your breath.

If there is one downside to the novel, it's that it relies a little too heavily on coincidences. The fact that Adeline is such a perfect candidate to see Dr. Emeryk Quintillus' final wishes carried out is an excusable one, but there were a few later on (particularly one involving a train) that stretched the old willing suspension of disbelief to a near-breaking point. Really, though, that is a small quibble in an otherwise highly entertaining work of period horror.

If you have yet to read Catherine Cavendish, then Wrath of the Ancients is a perfect place to start.


Kindle Edition, 176 pages
Expected publication: October 24th 2017 by Lyrical Underground

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Can't Wait Wednesday - Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers by Joe R. Lansdale

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers by Joe R. Lansdale
Expected publication: October 31, 2017 by Subterranean

Before Bubba Ho-Tep, there was Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers.

Part of a secret government organization designed to protect civilians, Elvis Presley and a handful of hardcore warriors set out to save the world from an invasion of hive-minded, shape-shifting vampire-like creatures from a dark dimension who have taken up residence in a New Orleans junkyard.

Besides Elvis, among these righteous warriors is a hammer-wielding descendent of John Henry of railroad fame, a Blind Man who sees more than those with sight, Jack, a strategic wizard, and Elvis's right hand man and journal writer, Johnny, all thrown in with Raven (real name Jenny) a female recruit who is also a budding pop star, and like Elvis, high on the charisma chart.

Their leader is none other than Colonel Parker, Elvis's cutthroat manager, and a warrior himself, directly in contact with President Nixon, or possibly one of his doubles.

It's an unnerving peek into a secret world, and a possible delusion. It's what happened before Elvis, aka Sebastian Haff, found himself in an East Texas rest home, mounted on a walker, fighting an Egyptian mummy and worrying about a growth on his pecker.

Strange monsters, wild fights, sex with a beautiful ghost, a drug-induced trip into another dimension, and all manner of mayhem ensue, along with a Mississippi riverboat ride on a giant paddle wheel, and of course, there will be 3D glasses, fried peanut butter and 'nanna sandwiches, and a few hard working zombies.

Bring the kids, but plug their ears and blindfold them. This is one wild and nasty ride to the dark side, but with laughter.


The original Bubba Ho-Tep is a brilliant piece of storytelling, and one instance where the movie was just as good as the book, so I'm eager to enjoy a Halloween revisit with the character. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Horror Review: Shadows & Teeth Volume 3


If you remember when horror was dark and supernatural, free of pop culture nods and knowing smirks to the reader, with twist endings that absolutely eviscerated your imagination, then Shadows & Teeth Volume 3 is sure to be right up your alley - your dark, foggy, cobblestone, garbage-strewn alley.

Guy N. Smith's Cannibal House was a great twist on both haunted houses and cannibalistic slashers, starting and ending with creepy discoveries.

Nathan Robinson's Tree Huggers was a fun story that put a gory new spin on the concept of horror in the woods, complete with a brutally cold ending.

No Thanks, by Antonio Simon Jr., was probably my favorite story in the collection. The telling of it was fantastic, the pacing perfect, the black humor on point, and the very concept of "no thanks" simple, yet brilliant.

R. Perez de Pereda's Bernadette was an unexpected pleasure, a well-told story of a medieval priest, a deal with the devil, and a young woman who refuses to stay dead.

David Owain Hughes' Picture Not So Perfect was a slow-burning sort of tale, one with a tragically human element, an interesting twist of expectations, and a monstrous finale that has more than a few surprises.

Cruciform, by S.J. Deighan, was another favorite - a story of occult secrets, dark rituals, and the unfortunate consequences of summoning a demon to do your bidding.

A solid collection with only a few stories that didn't really work for me, Shadows & Teeth Volume 3 is a perfect read for fans of slasher flicks, splatterpunk, and Twilight Zone endings.

ebook
Published June 15th 2017 by Guy N. Smith

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About the Author

Born in Cuba in 1941, Ramiro Perez de Pereda has seen it all. Growing up in a time when then-democratic Cuba was experiencing unprecedented foreign investment, he was exposed to the U.S. pop culture items of the day. Among them: pulp fiction magazines, which young Ramiro avidly read and collected. Far and away, his favorites were the Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard. Ramiro, now retired from the corporate life, is a grandfather of five. He devotes himself to his family, his writing, and the occasional pen-and-ink sketch. He writes poetry and short fiction under the name R. Perez de Pereda. He serves Darkwater Syndicate as its Head Acquisitions Editor—he heads the department, he does not collect heads, which is a point he has grown quite fond of making. Indeed, it’s one reason he likes his job so much.


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About the Book


Horror

Date Published: June 15, 2017
Publisher: Darkwater Syndicate, Inc.

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Out of the shadows and meaner than ever, volume three of this award-winning horror series packs international star power. Featuring ten brand-new stories by the legendary Guy N. Smith, the prolific Adam Millard, master of horror Nicholas Paschall, and others, this collection is certain to keep you up at night. Take care as you reach into these dark places, for the things here bite, and you may withdraw a hand short of a few fingers.


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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Blade of Empire by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

Blade of Empire by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory
Expected publication: October 24, 2017 by Tor Books

They thought the war was over. They were wrong.

Runacarendalur Caerthalien has been a master of battle for hundreds of years, but he found himself on the wrong side—the losing side—in the last war. Betrayed by his brother, trapped in a prophecy he does not understand, Runacar flees the battlefield.

Yet Runacar is no coward. In a twist he could never have imagined, the Elven War-Prince finds himself leading a new army into battle—a force of centaurs, merfolk, gryphons, minotaurs, and talking bears who can perform magic. For centuries they have been trying to reclaim their lands from Elven invaders. With Runacar at the helm, they just might manage it.

Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory’s first collaboration, the Obsidian Mountain trilogy, introduced readers to a brilliant, continent-spanning fantasy world of high adventure and epic battle. Civilization shimmered with magic while in the nooks and crannies of the world, dragons and unicorns hid from people who believed them to be nothing more than legends.

The Dragon Prophecy, set thousands of years before that story, illuminates a time when long-lived Elves rule the Fortunate Lands. It is a time of dire prophecy, of battle and bloodshed, of great magics unlike any the Elvenkind have seen before. It is the story of the end of one world and the beginning of the next.


The Obsidian Mountain Trilogy is a definite favorite of mine, and Lackey/Mallory make a great team, so this is a must-read for me.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

#Horror Review: Reich by Donald Allen Kirch

A year after Hitler committed suicide, a rather cliched message-in-a-bottle was found on the beach in Copenhagen, suggesting he actually died U-boat collision that winter. Donald Allen Kirch's WWI vampire thriller, Reich, takes this obscure bit of WWII history and runs with it, adding a monstrous twist to the interesting alternate history scenario.

Hitler has been called a monster before, but never quite like this. In Kirch's tale, he is an old-fashioned vampire - supernatural, demonic, and unrepentantly evil. In public, he puts on a good face, hiding his true nature from the world, yet allowing it to drive his political ambitions. Outside the public eye, however, he lets his monstrous self loose, including yellow eyes, elongated fangs, a thirst for blood, and garygoyle-like wings protruding from his back.

The bulk of the story revolves around Hitler's secret passage to Norway aboard a German U-boat. As if life aboard a WWII submarine weren't dark, claustrophobic, and dangerous enough, imagine being trapped under the ocean with a hungry monster. What makes for such an interesting story, however, is the way in which Kirch portrays the German soldiers. He starts the story with a high-ranking soldier who sacrifices his life in an attempt to assassinate the Führer, and then carries it through with a U-boat captain whose first loyalty is to his country and his people, pairing him with a second-in-command who believes in Hitler's propaganda, but who is a good man at-heart.

The story develops slowly, with only a few glimpses of real horror, allowing the characters (and their conflicted loyalties) to carry the story. Meyer is a heroic figure from the start, and Starger develops nicely throughout the story. Add in a Norwegian clergyman, Donavon, and his daughter, and you have all the ingredients for a good vampire hunt to end the story - complete with a climactic battle aboard the Nauecilus.

Alternately creepy and thrilling, Reich was a far stronger story than I expected, and one that does justice to the novelty of the concept.


Paperback, 2nd Edition, 178 pages
Published September 7th 2017 by Why Not??? Publications 

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the author in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Monday, September 11, 2017

#Horror Review: Florida Gothic by Mitzi Szereto

Florida Gothic is a dark little tale, a quiet, intimate, vintage slice of horror. Even when it's at its bloodiest, it's like watching a grainy slasher flick with the sound turned down low, with just the shadows flickering about you. Having only experienced her erotic side, this was something of a change of pace for me, but Mitzi Szereto delivers.
Ernesto enjoys his little routines, his rituals. They make sense of his day, give him a purpose. But death puts an end to that.
Though it doesn’t put an end to Ernesto.
After Ernesto dies, he begins to like other things. Dark things.
Like the best horror stories, Florida Gothic is dark, creepy and violent, but it is also quirky and kind of smug. It is an altogether deceptive story, one that slithers along with the languid pacing of an alligator in the Florida heat, but which bites just as hard and just as fast. With its different points-of-view, it almost gleefully spoils the fate of its villains, letting us in on their moment of demise, before switching back to Ernesto and letting us anticipate what we already know is coming.

Similarly, while the initial deaths come quickly, unannounced and unexpected, Szereto draws out the fear and the dread of Ernesto's final victim. This is a story of dark, damaged people, of mortal men with human failings, and of one man for whom death is only an opportunity. For anybody who has ever dreamed of vengeance, ever wanted to use their dying breaths to repay an unforgivable cruelty, this is the perfect read. More than anything else, this is a book of consequences, a story where justice is rarely served, but where fate catches up. In fact, the final twist is one of the best scenes in the book, even if we know it is coming.

Part Poe, part Serling, and part King, Florida Gothic is a dark, powerful, entirely satisfying read.

Kindle Edition
Published June 2017 by Strange Brew Press

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the authorvin exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

#Horror Review: Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix

As the cover blurb says, take a tour through the horror paperback novels of the 1970s and ’80s with Grady Hendrix . . . if you dare! Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction is a gloriously grotesque trip down nostalgia lane that works on multiple levels.

First off, let's talk about the visuals. Browsing through all those bold, garish, blood-soaked covers is worth the price of admission alone. There are so many covers here that I recognized from my younger years, many of which I still have on the shelf today - books like Isobel, Dark Advent, The Possession of Jessica Young, Cellars, Hot Blood, Animals, Ghoul, and XY. Then there were others that caught my eye, making me want to run out and hit the used bookstore to dig them up - books like The Little People, Satan's Love Child, Orca, Slither, and Obelisk. It's not just book cover porn, however, Hendrix also provides some insights and backstories of the artists behind them, many of whom have surprising pedigrees or quirks.

Next, let's talk about the narrative of horror publishing, where Hendrix walks us through the rise and fall of horror publishers, whether they be major or niche. Having read so many of them, and having followed some of them as closely as authors, it was fascinating to learn about who was behind them, how they came to be, and what market pressures and personnel changes led to their demise. As a horror-addicted teenager, the business of publishing was the farthest thing from my mind, even as I noticed the best publishers disappearing from the shelves, but in hindsight I can understand what was happening.

Lastly, and this is the true glory of the book, we need to talk about the evolution of horror themes and tropes. I remember so many of these fads coming and going, seeing similar covers on the shelves, and reading the same stories under different titles, but Hendrix does a great job of setting the stage and exploring the social/political background. From the Satanic panic, through creepy kids, man-eating animals (and plants), haunted houses, mad scientists, serial killers, and more, he explores how each came to be and how the themes develop. Thanks to his insights, I've added The Guardian, Scared Stiff, The Devil's Kiss, Toy Cemetery, and Soulmate to my used bookstore shopping list.

Although I enjoyed it as a digital ARC, Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of '70s and '80s Horror Fiction is one of those books I need to pick up in paperback, just to have on the shelf so I can revisit those covers and dig into some of those themes.

Paperback, 256 pages
Expected publication: September 19th 2017 by Quirk Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: To Guard Against the Dark by Julie E. Czerneda

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

To Guard Against the Dark by Julie E. Czerneda
Expected publication: October 10, 2017 by DAW

The final book in the hard science fiction Reunification trilogy, the thrilling conclusion to the award-winning Clan Chronicles

Jason Morgan is a troubling mystery to friends and enemies alike: once a starship captain and trader, then Joined to the most powerful member of the Clan, Sira di Sarc, following her and her kind out of known space.

Only to return, alone and silent.

But he's returned to a Trade Pact under seige and desperate. The Assemblers continue to be a threat. Other species have sensed opportunity and threaten what stability remains, including those who dwell in the M'hir. What Morgan knows could save them all, or doom them.

For not all of the Clan followed Sira. And peace isn't what they seek.

If you're not already reading Julie's work, then you really should be. This is a series that has surprised me at every turn, so I'm curious to see how it all ends.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

#Fantasy Review: Seventh Decimate by Stephen R. Donaldson

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Unbeliever (first and second) were a pivotal moment in my early fantasy reading. They were grown-up fantasy, full of moral quandaries and difficult emotions, but they were also stunning works of imagination, populated by brilliant characters. Even when he was writing gothic romance and portal fantasy with Mordant's Need, or sweeping science fiction with The Gap Cycle, Stephen R. Donaldson's work was always marked by those elements - stunning imagination and brilliant characters.

Sadly, that's precisely why Seventh Decimate falls so short. The first book of The Great God's War reads like a self-indulgent short story, big on ideas, but short on everything else. It's a heavy-handed morality tale about the horrors of war and the stupidity of racism/nationalism, couched in a thinly-veiled desert fantasy.

For a man who excels as world-building, this falls so short, it's really quite embarrassing. We get two warring countries, separated by a river . . . or chasm . . . or cliff . . . or something that's never really clear. There is an ocean to one side of them and a desert to the other, both assumed to be impassable - although it turns out the desert is simply a challenge, and hardly an insurmountable one. If there is anything else to the world (and we do get hints later in the story), neither country has the slightest idea.

Similarly, for a man whose fiction is defined by its characters, this falls even shorter than it did in the world-building. There is hardly a likeable character in the book, and none of them have any more depth than a background character. Most importantly, Prince Bifalt, the protagonist of the story, is even more unlikable than Thomas Covenant - a miserable, leprous man who most readers remember for a single unconscionable act. The Prince is a bland, boring, arrogant young man with a single-minded obsession. If only he had demonstrated a sliver of growth, this could have been a far better story, but if that growth is in the cards, it's not in this volume.

Finally, that brings us to the plot, which is the only thing weaker than the world-building and the characters. It is largely a paint-by-numbers story, predictable in every way, with a conclusion so foregone it should just be dropped into the cover blurb. Aside from the opening battle and the scenes involving the mysterious desert caravan of nations, there is nothing here of interest or excitement. There were moments of potential, where the story could have opened up, but it lacks the characters necessary to do so.

I had high hopes for Seventh Decimate, especially after The King's Justice proved to be such a fantastic read last year, but was bitterly disappointed. Unless the digital ARC was a rough draft that was accidentally released, I don't see myself continuing with this.

Kindle Edition, 320 pages
Expected publication: November 14th 2017 by Berkley

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Tough Travels - Dragons!

Welcome back to Tough Travels! On the first day of every month, Fantasy-Faction leads us on a tour of the fantasy genre. From high to low, from classics to new releases, from epic to urban; each month, with the assistance of The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynne Jones, they guide us in search of a different trope, theme or cliché.


With no more ado, this month's topic is DRAGONS.
The Tough Guide advises that Dragons are ‘very large scaly beings with wings and long spiky tails, capable of breathing fire through their mouths. They can be almost any colour or combination of colours, though green, red and black are preferred. They are always very old. Most of them seem to have flown to Fantasyland aeons ago across the void. This migration was almost certainly to get away from our world, where people would insist that they were dangerous monsters that had to be exterminated. Dragons, as all Fantasyland knows, are no such thing.’ Or are they?
For me, the love affair with dragons begins with the original Dragonlance Chronicles by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Said to be the original beings of Krynn, dragons were born of the elements, hence their categorization as Chromatic or Metallic. These, for me, remain the classic archetype of dragons in my fantasy - old, intelligent, full of magic, and able to be harnessed by armies as mounts (and weapons) of war.


Next up would be the dragons of Robin Hobb, which are hugely important to her Realm of the Elderlings saga. In this case, the dragons are creature of legend, magical beasts unseen by mortals for generations, with only the stone statues of their passing to remind the world of their presence. It takes a long time for readers to ever see a dragon, but there is so much mythology wrapped up within them, it is entirely worth reading through to the eventual big reveal in Assassin's Fate.


For sheer nostalgia, The Obsidian Mountain Trilogy from Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory is a series I can't praise enough. It is old-fashioned (some would say tropey and clichéd) epic fantasy, set in the forest and the mountains, complete with humans, elves, unicorns, and dragons. It is very Dragonlance-esque, which is fine, because as much as I do enjoy the grimdark genres, this is precisely what the world needs once in a while.


The Dragon Apocalypse by James Maxey is another series that immediately comes to mind, and not just because the omnibus edition is still staring me down, threatening to attack if I don't make time for a read and review. Once again, this is classic quest-driven epic fantasy, complete with magical artifacts, inhuman races, and (yes) truly epic dragons. From what I understand, dragons are even more prominent outside the first book, so I am eager to get reading.


Skipping ahead through the years, the most prominent use of dragons that I can think of in recent memory is in Marc Turner's Chronicles of the Exile. It is the second book, of course, that introduces us to the idea of Dragon Day, where the fabled Dragon Gate is raised to allow a single sea dragon to escape into the Sabian Sea, and the third book where . . . well, no spoilers, but it is a Dragon Day to remember.


That said, I think it's only fitting that we wrap this up by talking about The Waking Fire by Anthony Ryan, in which dragons feature prominently. We're talking mean, vicious, bad ass dragons here, threatening to burn the world to the ground. We're also talking dragon blood, which imbues those who drink it with magical powers of their own, creating a vicious cycle of hunting and consumption.


Got a favorite line of your own? Share it below.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

#Horror Review: The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford was a book I came close to abandoning to the DNF pile. There was a lot of pot use here, and aside from being disgusting, it always make me wonder if it's going to be one of those questionable tales where the horror might have been real, or might just have been stoner hallucinations. Screw that. Be stoned and paranoid on your own time. I want the horror to be real, brutal, and unflinching.

As for the story, I liked the archaeological approach to exploring an abandoned mansion, and thought the details around process and technique were actually quite solid. I was as curious as to what would come out of the pit next as I was about anything supernatural, but that horned baby skull with the vestigial tale certainly did the trick.

The supernatural element was interesting, although I am still not entirely sure I buy the explanation for what happened to the family. There were some genuine scares and some really creepy moments, and I loved the frantic assault on the old woman's house, but where it fell apart for me was at the climax. It was over far too easily, and far too quickly, concluding with a whimper rather than a bang.

All in all, an entertaining diversion, with some real ingenuity, but a little too thin to be truly memorable.

Kindle Edition, 176 pages
Expected publication: September 12th 2017 by Tor.com

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Destiny’s Conflict by Janny Wurts

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

Destiny’s Conflict by Janny Wurts
Expected publication: October 12, 2017 by HarperVoyager

The long-awaited second book of the fourth story arc - Sword of the Canon - in the epic fantasy series, the Wars of Light and Shadow.

Lysaer’s unstable integrity lies under threat of total downfall, and as his determined protector, Daliana will face the most frightening decision of her young life. Arithon, Master of Shadow, is marked for death and still hunted, when his critical quest to recover his obscured past entangles him in a web of deep intrigue and ancient perils beyond his imagining.

Elaira’s urgent pursuit of the Biedar Tribes’ secret embroils her in the terrible directive of the Fellowship Sorcerers, while Dakar — the Mad Prophet — confronts the hard reckoning for the colossal mistake of his misspent past, and Tarens is steered by a destiny far from his crofter’s origins.

The penultimate volume of The Wars of Light and Shadow will touch the grand depths of Athera’s endowment, and deliver the thrilling finale of arc IV, the Sword of the Canon. War, blood, magic, mystery – and the most hidden powers of all – will stand or fall on their hour of unveiling.

I am woefully behind in this series, but it's one I intend to catch up with - hopefully before it come to an end.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford
Expected publication: September 12, 2017 by Tor.com

Three friends go looking for treasure and find horror in Jeffrey Ford's The Twilight Pariah.

All Maggie, Russell, and Henry wanted out of their last college vacation was to get drunk and play archaeologist in an old house in the woods outside of town. When they excavate the mansion's outhouse they find way more than they bargained for: a sealed bottle filled with a red liquid, along with the bizarre skeleton of a horned child

Disturbing the skeleton throws each of their lives into a living hell. They feel followed wherever they go, their homes are ransacked by unknown intruders, and people they care about are brutally, horribly dismembered. The three friends awakened something, a creature that will stop at nothing to retrieve its child.


I actually landed an ARC of this earlier in the month, so I won't be waiting quite as long as many of you, but I think you'll agree this sounds like a damned creepy adventure.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What Rayden Valkyrie Offers to Today's World


I've said many times that Rayden Valkyrie has become the character that enjoy the most when it comes to my writing.  With my roots in fantasy, there is no question that the world she travels and explores holds great appeal to me, as do the plots that she is a part of.

Above all, though, the things that she offers the world of today comprise the majority of reasons as to why she has become so near and dear to me.

An inspirational character is timeless. It doesn't matter if they are in an ancient world setting, such as the one Rayden Valkyrie lives in, a modern one, or some distant futuristic one in a galaxy far away.  It is through inspirational characters that light can come into the world from the page, especially during trying times.

The inspirational qualities of Rayden Valkyrie were battle-tested with me before the first manuscript was ever sent to an editor.  From the first time I grasped a vision of her character, she served as a beacon of inspiration during some personal times of trial for myself.  I have since seen her become an inspiration for many readers, several of whom have shared very personal stories that illustrate why they developed a close bond with the Rayden character.

Looking at Rayden and the world of today, I can see a number of ways in which she can have a positive impact.

The essence of Rayden is self-esteem and self-confidence.  She believes in herself and knows both her strengths and weaknesses.  She is confident without becoming arrogant, and this confidence encourages those she assists and gives pause to enemies confronting her.  In a world where so many struggle with issues of self-esteem and confidence, Rayden calls to everyone to believe in themselves, and stand tall each and every day.  Through her character, she gives encouragement to develop that inner strength that comes from self-esteem and self-confidence, and that is something I see a great need for in the world of today.

Self-determination is another key component of Rayden's inspirational ability.  When she decides on a course of action, she sets out to accomplish her aims without second-guessing or wavering.  She does not allow others to control her or tell her what she should be.  She follows her heart, something a lot of people are dissuaded from and discouraged from doing in our world.

Rayden also exudes a high level of discipline.  She trains hard, and regularly, to keep up her fighting skills and advance them.  She keeps a focus on the things that must be done, and adheres to them with a steadfast approach.

She is not one to procrastinate or do something halfway.  Her discipline and ability to take the small steps every day that build up to make major steps possible separates her from most of the crowd, but it also serves as a good model of what it takes to be successful in any kind of pursuit.  In that way, she speaks powerfully to the world of today.

Rayden is also an independent thinker.  In a world where there is a tendency or drive to categorize people, and fit them into neat boxes and apply labels to them, Rayden is a character that shuns categorization and labeling. Her moral code can find genuine connection with people of all types and backgrounds.

This core is something not driven by politics, religion, or any sort of ideology, but truly on an individual level, guided by what she finds to be right or wrong.  It is in this area of true independent thought that she stands as a major threat to the characters in her world that seek to control others.

In a similar way, she calls to the people of our world to think for themselves, question everything, make use of reason, and scrutinize situations on a case by case basis.  A person that becomes that sort of individual is not one that can be labeled or grouped, and these kinds of individuals are perhaps the greatest obstacle to the would-be puppet masters of the world.

Living with an honor code is another defining characteristic of Rayden that I find to be part of her inspirational appeal.  It is a dynamic aspect of her character, as she is always honing herself and working to live up to the ideals and values she embraces.  She is not dogmatic, but neither is she bogged down by a mindset that is afraid to identify rights and wrongs.

Rayden respects differences and the many varied things found among other people and cultures, but not to the point where she gives a pass to things that she sees as true evils.  If she encounters a wickedness, she will confront it and does not care one bit what others might say or whether her action will be popular.   This kind of honor code is not something that needs validation from others, and it is a harder road to travel, but develops the kind of people who will not stand by in the face of tyranny, abuses, and other evils that plague the lives of people worldwide.

As a character, Rayden has a lot to offer the people of today.  Through her actions, she serves as a powerful example of what an individual can be for others.  In a world that so many are finding increasingly rudderless and uncertain, she can be a beacon in the darkness, and this is why I have grown to have such a passion for her character and story.

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About the Author

Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based out of Lexington Kentucky. His works include the Rayden Valkyrie novels (Sword and Sorcery), the Rising Dawn Saga (Cross Genre), the Fires in Eden Series (Epic Fantasy), the Hellscapes short story collections (Horror), the Chronicles of Ave short story collections (Fantasy), and the Harvey and Solomon Tales (Steampunk).

Stephen’s visual work includes the feature film Shadows Light, shorts films such as The Sirens and Swordbearer, and the forthcoming Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart TV Pilot.

Stephen is a proud Kentucky Colonel who also enjoys the realms of music, martial arts, good bourbons, and spending time with family.

Twitter:  @SGZimmer
Instagram: @stephenzimmer7

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About the Book

Thunder Horizon
by Stephen Zimmer

A deadly menace stalks the shadows of the lands to the north, stirring the winds of war. Farther south, the power of the Teveren Empire spreads with every passing day, empowered by dark sorcery. Formidable legions bent on conquest are on the march, slavery and subjugation following in their wake.

Within the rising maelstrom, Rayden Valkyrie has returned to the Gessa, to stand with the tribe that once took her into their care as a child. No amount of jewels or coin can sway her, nor can the great power of her adversaries intimidate her.

With a sword blade in her right hand and axe in her left, Rayden confronts foes both supernatural and of flesh and blood. Horrific revelations and tremendous risks loom; some that will see Rayden's survival in the gravest of peril.

Even if Rayden and the Gessa survive the trials plaguing their lands, the thunder of an even darker storm booms across the far horizon.

Thunder Horizon is the second book in the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy.


Heart of a Lion
by Stephen Zimmer

Rayden Valkyrie. She walks alone, serving no king, emperor, or master. Forged in the fires of tragedy, she has no place she truly calls home.

A deadly warrior wielding both blade and axe, Rayden is the bane of the wicked and corrupt. To many others, she is the most loyal and dedicated of friends, an ally who is unyielding in the most dangerous of circumstances.

The people of the far southern lands she has just aided claim that she has the heart of a lion. For Rayden, a long journey to the lands of the far northern tribes who adopted her as a child beckons, with an ocean lying in between.

Her path will lead her once more into the center of a maelstrom, one involving a rising empire that is said to be making use of the darkest kinds of sorcery to grow its power. Making new friends and discoveries amid tremendous peril, Rayden makes her way to the north.

Monstrous beasts, supernatural powers, and the bloody specter of war have been a part of her world for a long time and this journey will be no different. Rayden chooses the battles that she will fight, whether she takes up the cause of one individual or an entire people.

Both friends and enemies alike will swiftly learn that the people of the far southern lands spoke truly. Rayden Valkyrie has the heart of a lion.

Heart of a Lion is the first book in the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Promo Blitz: Shadows & Teeth Volume 3




Horror
Date Published: June 15, 2017
Publisher: Darkwater Syndicate, Inc.

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Out of the shadows and meaner than ever, volume three of this award-winning horror series packs international star power. Featuring ten brand-new stories by the legendary Guy N. Smith, the prolific Adam Millard, master of horror Nicholas Paschall, and others, this collection is certain to keep you up at night. Take care as you reach into these dark places, for the things here bite, and you may withdraw a hand short of a few fingers.




Excerpt

My body crumpled forward, my forehead resting on the floorboards. I would have remained this way, if I had not been roused by a shout from behind me. Rosario roared and shook his head like an enraged bull, stamping his feet and frothing between gritted teeth. He clutched his temples and shook his head, and when he had gathered enough clarity of mind, he leveled a penetrating stare at the djinni and yelled, “Enough!”
All around Rosario, the peasant men stood frozen as though they were statues, eyes on the djinni. Clenching his jaw, he staggered forward a step, inadvertently brushing against one of the men. The man instantly spilled to his knees in supplication, droning, “I adore thee, oh my lord!” in such rapid succession that the words were hardly perceptible.
Scowling with rage at this irreverence, Rosario let fly an uppercut swing with his hook. The metal flashed in the dim candlelight and caught the man in the crook of his lower mandible. The man did not so much as scream, so overawed was he by the djinni.
Rosario raised his arm aloft, lifting the man fully erect, looking like a fisherman with a prize catch. Then he tore his dagger out of his belt with his opposite hand and plunged it into the side of the man’s neck between the skull and the shoulders. The skin at the peasant’s neck pulled apart, opening his throat as though his shoulders were yawning wide, until at last the weight of his collapsing body snapped his head off his neck. The body slumped to its knees and spilled headlong, gushing blood in spurts from its severed arteries.
Something like a sigh came from the djinni. Then it said, “Man is a foolish child who calls many things gods. Man knows not the gods.”
Its skin seemed to dull, losing some of the magnificent radiance it exuded, and I found that I was no longer overawed in its presence. Rosario helped me to my feet and together we addressed the djinni. The remaining three peasants all were unconscious, seemingly asleep on the floor.
“In the name of the most high, I command you to speak your name, djinni!” I yelled, thinking it could be cowed in the same manner as a demon might.
The djinni’s eyes widened. If it had eyebrows, they would surely have bobbed at my effrontery. Its eyes narrowed into angry slits that contained all the deadly chill of a winter snowstorm. “Hadst thou instead come to visit me, I would have attended thee in the manner befitting of a guest. I would have filled thy mouth with rotten pus until thy belly were full. Thou wouldst have told me a great many wondrous things of thy life, and I, having learned such, would have sent thee home with an anus so full of scorpions the trail of blood behind thee would stretch for miles.”
The images each word represented, along with the concepts and sensations those phrases conveyed, flashed in my mind as the djinni spoke. They are as vivid now as then—by God, I still taste the pus! These images are always in the forefront of my mind, constantly playing out before my eyes, and it is hard to focus on anything else except through purposeful concentration.
“Wherefore hast thou brought me here?” it asked.
Seeing how my last attempt at communication had failed, I bowed my head and spoke in lowered tones. “Djinni, we have called you to ask a favor.”
“Indeed,” it cut me short, “it is always so when mortals call upon the djinn. Impudent humans! What boon seeketh ye? Be it pleasure? I shall show ye such pain that the greatest pleasure would be anticipating its end! I ask again: wherefore disturbest me thou?”
It was then I explained we sought to spare your daughter from the ailment that would surely take her, and requested the djinni’s succor.
The djinni sighed, if otherworldly beings can be said to sigh. “Alas, thy mortality is a concept thy limited intellect can only dimly grasp.” It looked down at the floor as it considered this, then raised its gaze to make eye contact with me. “What wouldst thou have me do? The child is already dead.”
An image of her flashed in my mind’s eye. I was there, in the room with Bernadette as she languished in her bed, delirious with fever. The eyes I saw her with were not my physical eyes, as they saw more than human eyes could ever hope to detect. Bernadette’s body was like a red-hot fireplace poker, glowing orange from her core. The glow collapsed on itself, giving way to lifeless, cold black, shriveling into her center like a bonfire shrunk to embers. I knew she was dead when the light faltered and snuffed out, leaving nothing but a dreadful stillness in its passing.
Brother, do not think for a moment that so terse an account of your daughter’s death should mean I was hard-hearted about the matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. She was my niece, and—by God!—my only living relative; that is, save for you of course, if ever you should return to read this.
Her passing crushed me. It opened wounds in me, wounds that weep much as my eyes might weep. And while time has dried my tears, it has done nothing to soothe the ache of missing her.
I was flashed back to my study with the djinni standing before me. The realization that Bernadette was dead weighted my body; I crumpled to my knees and collapsed to all fours.
All of this, for naught! Frustration churned the searing bile in my stomach. “You must be able to do something,” I pleaded.
The djinni cocked its head to one side. “Thou hast misunderstood. I can do a great many things.”
“You could not save her!”
“Thou didst not ask.”
My mouth went dry on realizing it was right—I had not asked it to save her from the disease. “Save her!” I blurted, figuring this was as good a time to ask as any.
“I cannot. She has died.”
I plunged my fingers into my hair and clawed at my scalp. “Quit speaking in circles!”
“I speak as plainly as I can. Ye men possess little aptitude for understanding.”
“If you cannot save her, then…” I stammered. At the time, I did not know why I had broken off; I was only aware that I had stopped mid-sentence. I had found that strange, especially since I had already deliberated on what it was I wanted to say before saying it. In retrospect, I think I know what halted my tongue—some combination of my conscience and divine intervention giving me one last chance before I could commit a heinous sin.
“Then… bring her back,” I finished my sentence.
“It is already done.”
I blinked, and then again, looking upon the djinni in mute shock as its words sunk into my mind. Was Bernadette alive? When had she been brought back—when I asked, or sometime prior? Had she even died? It was not lost on me that the djinni could be lying, but before I could ask any questions, it said, “Thy niece lies upon her deathbed. Lay her body down in this circle before moonrise tomorrow night, and thou shall have what thou seeketh.”
A thought occurred to me then that I wanted to give voice to, but I stopped myself. To even reflect upon it sent shivers down my spine. What might the djinni want of me in exchange?
As if it had sensed my thoughts, the djinni said, “Thou wonderest what thou must offer to uphold the bargain. Rest assured, human, thy debt is paid in advance.”


About the Author


Our award-winning horror series brings together the very best in international horror. Volume three features the UK’s legendary Guy N. Smith, the prolific Adam Millard, and master of horror Nicholas Paschall, among other established names in the genre.

Bio For Series Editor, Ramiro Perez: 
Born in Cuba in 1941, Ramiro Perez de Pereda has seen it all. Growing up in a time when then-democratic Cuba was experiencing unprecedented foreign investment, he was exposed to the U.S. pop culture items of the day. Among them: pulp fiction magazines, which young Ramiro avidly read and collected. Far and away, his favorites were the Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard. Ramiro, now retired from the corporate life, is a grandfather of five. He devotes himself to his family, his writing, and the occasional pen-and-ink sketch. He writes poetry and short fiction under the name R. Perez de Pereda. He serves Darkwater Syndicate as its Head Acquisitions Editor—he heads the department, he does not collect heads, which is a point he has grown quite fond of making. Indeed, it’s one reason he likes his job so much.


Contact Links


Purchase Links



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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett
Expected publication: September 12, 2017 by Viking

International bestselling author Ken Follett has enthralled millions of readers with The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, two stories of the Middle Ages set in the fictional city of Kingsbridge. The saga now continues with Follett’s magnificent new epic, A Column of Fire.

In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love.

Ned Willard wants nothing more than to marry Margery Fitzgerald. But when the lovers find themselves on opposing sides of the religious conflict dividing the country, Ned goes to work for Princess Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, all Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch sets up the country’s first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions, and invasion plans. Over a turbulent half century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. Elizabeth clings to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents.

The real enemies, then as now, are not the rival religions. The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else—no matter what the cost.

Set during one of the most turbulent and revolutionary times in history, A Column of Fire is one of Follett’s most exciting and ambitious works yet. It will delight longtime fans of the Kingsbridge series and is the perfect introduction for readers new to Ken Follett.


I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but The Pillars of the Earth & World Without End are two book that I enjoyed (and appreciate) immensely. Hard to believe it's been 10 years, but I'm definitely up for the next chapter.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.



A pair of dark new titles this week, one from a fellow Canuck and the other from a scholar of Cenobites:

Worship Me by Craig Stewart
[August 1, 2017]
Something is listening to the prayers of St. Paul’s United Church, but it’s not the god they asked for; it’s something much, much older.

Before by Paul Kane
[September 5, 2017]
Described as "the dark fantasy version of Cloud Atlas," Kane's BEFORE is as wide in scope as it is in imagination


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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

I'm just starting in on a few titles, so we'll see if they grab me - Sip by Brian Allen Carr and Wrath of the Ancients by Catherine Cavendish.


   

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Fantasy Review: The Black Elfstone by Terry Brooks

It has been a very long time since I last read a Terry Brooks novel but, as was the case with Raymond E. Feist bringing his Riftwar Cycle to a close, the prospect of seeing Shannara come to an end brought me back.

The Black Elfstone feels very much like a return to form for Brooks, despite it's disappointing page count and its unprecedented weight of darkness. It's a broad-sweeping epic fantasy, with multiple stories intertwined, a dire threat to the Druids, and a seemingly unstoppable force marching upon The Four Lands.

Everything and everyone here are in conflict, ranging from the intimate (between individuals) to the massive (between races). The only problem is, with such a short novel to kick-off the series, it isn't always clear how or why those conflicts are relevant. For instance, the whole storyline with Tarsha Kaynin' brother is a bit muddled, although I suspect his magical madness is establishing him as a foil for his sister somewhere down the line.

The characters are reasonably strong and interesting, something Brooks has always excelled at, but their motivations are somewhat suspect. For instance, Drisker Arc is an ex-Druid who evokes memories of Allanon, complete with his estrangement from Paranor, but his willingness to trust in old foes is foolish. Similarly. Dar Leah is a swashbuckling sort of hero, at the forefront of the action throughout the book, but it seems like he can't decide on when to take a stand - and it costs him. Finally, Tarsha Kaynin may be one of the strongest female characters Brooks has written, but even she can't decide between loyalties and impulsive frustration.

What ultimately redeems all of those flaws, however, is the finale. The Black Elfstone has a big climax, and pays off beautifully.

Hardcover, 318 pages
Published June 13th 2017 by Del Rey Books

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey
Expected publication: September 3, 2017 by Angry Robot

An apprentice sorceress is dragged into a vicious quest across an endless sky in this Star Wars-inspired space fantasy

The Axiom Diamond is a mythical relic, with the power to show its bearer any truth they desire. Men have sought for it across many continents for centuries, but in vain. When trainee sorceress Aimee de Laurent’s first ever portal-casting goes awry, she and her mentor are thrown into the race to find the gem, on the skyship Elysium. Opposing them are the infamous magic-wielding knights of the Eternal Order and their ruthless commander, Lord Azrael, who will destroy everything in their path...


I actually landed an ARC of this last week, so I won't be waiting quite as long as many of you, but I think you'll agree this sounds like a whole lot of awesome.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.



Just when I thought I was getting caught up on the review pile, a whole shelf-load of requests came through, including:

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey
[September 5, 2017]

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford
[September 12, 2017]

   

Paperbacks from Hell: A History of Horror Fiction from the '70s and '80s by Grady Hendrix
[September 19, 2017]


Wrath of the Ancients by Catherine Cavendish
[October 24, 2017]

   

Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers by Joe R. Lansdale
[October 31, 2017]

Seventh Decimate by Stephen R. Donaldson
[November 14, 2017]

   

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

While I'm still enjoying Weldon Burge's Zippered Flesh 3 and Terry Brooks' The Black Elfstone, it's been a rough week and I've been in a foul mood. So, rather than take out my anger on the people around me, I've reached into my Laymon/Lee/Little paperback shelf and indulged in some cruel horror escapism with Dispatch.


   


What's topping your shelves this week?