Archives for category: Book Reviews

Even today, long after his death, Edgar Allan Poe is recognized as a master of horror and the macabre. A movie’s coming out soon, The Raven, based on his tales & poems, starring John Cusack. Now, a new master of horror has surfaced, a distant relative of Edgar’s: Frank G. Poe, Jr. He may even be, if the stories about him are true, Edgar reincarnated to walk this Earth and write further spellbinding imaginings of the intellect. His first collection of tales, Raven Wings and 13 More Twisted Tales I will also review here, in the coming weeks; but, as Star Child is just out, I will review it first.

What can you expect from Star Child? The original Poe’s boots would be difficult for anyone to fil, as any legend is always difficult to live up to and match. I’d say, for starters, don’t expect Edgar’s old-fashioned uses of words that are rapidly fading from general usage. But that’s okay–it certainly worked for Edgar, but it would seem archaic for anyone to try to write mimicking Edgar’s style. If he was reborn, undoubtedly he’d be a man of his times, as he was then, and use current turns of phrases.

Ultimately, Frank G. Poe Jr.’s tales succeed because of his own talent, wherever it might originate from, and he deserves all the credit or blame for however the tales have turned out. But, the good news is, the tales collected in Star Child are very well-written, and I believe Edgar would be proud to know someone in his lineage has taken up the torch and is continuing to attract a wide audience to the horror genre. I can’t do justice to the entire collection by discussing each of the tales in much detail, as that would take at least one paragraph apiece; but, I will touch on a few of the stories that stood out as highlights to me.

I’ll begin from the beginning, with a tale with the very cheery title “Because They Eat Children.” Alexander Popovich is an extremely dedicated and protective fourth grade teacher, who gets a bit carried away with thinking he needs to watch over his young flock. He tells them anecdotes of children being eaten by evil people, and even by their own parents, in times of dire famine, or because they have developed a perverse taste for human flesh. He means only to make the children aware of the dangerous world around them so they can better be on guard. But, word gets back to the parents of the children, and things start to go very downhill for Alexander from there on. If only poor Alexander was taken more seriously…but why cry over spilt blood?

The second story is an homage to The Lord of the Rings. “Tolkien Revisited,” shows Poe’s interest in and love of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings novels. In the tale, Frodo, Gandalf, and the rest of the band stop at a roadside inn on their way home from their adventures and the destruction of the ring. They relate their adventures to the innkeeper, who happens to be Tolkien. The innkeeper thinks he can spice their story up, and he invents new characters, such as Gollum/Smeagle, and he changes/adds details. When he tells the new version back to the adventurers, they are spellbound–indeed, the innkeeper has vastly improved the tale. But, at what cost?

“The Blue Knight’s Tale,” is the third tale of the collection.
It’s a story of modern-day knights, jousting on a–ahem–nightly basis at a Medieval Tournament and Feast resaurant. There is, of course, a Lady Fair, as well, Kitty. She is engaged to be married to the Black Knight, her current boyfriend, Stephen. Austin, the Blue Knight, used to have a “puppy love,” for Kitty, but that ended badly after their senior prom. Still retaining his boyishly good looks, Austin has recovered from his puppy love, with semingly every female in the audience anxious to make him their next mark on their lipstick cases. Or, has he fully recovered? What happens when their old romantic is rekindled? Find out the shattering result when you check the story out for yourselves!

Before I mention a couple of other tales, I would be remiss if I didn’t relate that Frank, like Edgar, writes poetry as well as short stories. He has three poems in the collection “Holocaust,” “Melancholy and the Internet Madness,” and “Contact.” “Holocaust,” is, as you’ve likely guessed (being the astute people that you are), about the Holocaust and our reactions to it, including those of naysayers. The second poem, “Melancholy and the Internet Madness,” is about the obsession of many people with the Internet in general and social media in particular. One begins to feel sometimes filled with a self-importance based on Likes, Follows, etc., that is unrealistic. The obsession is like a form of madness at times. Finally, “Contact,” is about Stephen Hawkings and his fear that our first contact with aliens might well prove to be our last. Poe has a very different take on the ensuing result, though, in the last of a very imaginative and thought-provoking trio of poems.

I’ll briefly mention two of the other tales in Star Child to give you a further taste of the menage of genres and stories that await you. These two tales are the title one, “Star Child The Discovery,” and “After the Apocalypse.”

“Star Child” is another foray into the science fiction genre by Frank, and it’s an engrossing and brilliant gem of a short story. An artifact from an alien civilization is discovered–and, though the dig team is sworn to secrecy by the federal government, they feel that the information they’ve discovered is too important for the public to not learn about. But, they also don’t want to get into legal trouble, so they decide to make a “fictional” account of the whole story available to everyone and the names of those involved will be changed. Though it’s walking a fine line, they feel it’s worth the potential risk. But, is it, really; and, will the public even benefit at all from what they read, if they believe it to be fictional?

The last tale I’ll discuss is “After the Apocalypse.” Based in part from an old Appalachian saying, “Root hog or die,” this is one of my favorite (of many) in Frank G. Poe Jr.’s collection. Then again, how could I NOT like it, as one of the main characters is named Lilly, which is our family “dog’s” name, though ours is spelled with only two l’s? Lilly’s Granny Sugar is the propagator of the saying, and living through the Great Depression as she did, she demanded her daughter, Rose, to learn survival skills from childhood on. Lilly compares this brutal sort of existence to the scenario of Lord of the Flies, and there is at least some truth to that. Since Granny Sugar comes from Pike County, Kentucky, where the McCoy clan (of the infamous Hatfield/McCoy feud) lived, it’s not much of a wonder that she believed in the philosophy of: “When society breaks down only the strong survive, root hog or die.”

This and some of the other tales, though they’re fascinating reading, contain some language that makes the collection more suitable for older teens and adults than younger children. I suspect that back in the time when Edgar wrote his poems and stories, many people found them morally offensive, as well, though now they’re generally considered to be fairly tame in comparison with even what children see on the Nightly News. Perhaps this collection will porve to seem tame to future generations. Don’t get me wrong; Poe is never explicit, and he only uses adult language at times because it’s warranted by the subject matter of his tales and to make the characters who speak the words more realistic. Right or wrong, most of us use four-letter words on a daily basis, so I, personally, wasn’t offended at all by any of the tales in Star Child.

If you are a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, Stephen King, or Frank G. Poe’s first collection of macabre tales, Star Child is a Must Read! And, if you love the horror, fantasy, and SF genres, I would also recommend this fine selection of quirky tales to you. I look forward with great anticipation to reading more from Frank in the coming years, and to reviewing his first collection in a couple of weeks or so.

The back of (click to buy) Tribulations by Ken Shufeldt dramatically states: “The World Has Ended…The War Is Only Beginning.” That’s enough to capture the eye of almost any SF fan. Similar themes of the end of the world and warfare between different civilizations have been the fodder of many SF novels, but still they are fascinating frameworks for countless science fiction novels. In the right hands, a literary masterpiece can be created from such ideas; or, in lesser hands, a dismal flop can be the result. Which one of the two extremes does Tribulations most resemble, or does it fall somewhere in-between the two extremes? Read on to find out!

The very title of Ken Shufeldt’s novel evokes an Old Testament feel: Tribulations–the difficult times & trials God’s Chosen people undergo before they can finally attain their long-promised homeland/salvation. Fine, I thought before I even began reading–likely the novel will combine science fiction, science, and religion, either one of Earth’s religions or that of another planet. Lots of great SF has been written with religious undertones, like Dune, by Frank Herbert; Hellhole, by Brain Hderbert and Kevin J. Anderson; The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, by PK Dick; and A Canticle for Leibowitz, by Walter Miller, for four examples off the top of my head. I loved reading each of these four books, but I also recognize that anyone who attempts to combine religion and SF walks a fine line. If the book leans too much towards a religious outlook, it can seem to be too preachy and even overbearing to someone who is an atheist or who follows a different religion.

In Tribulations, Ken unabashedly wears the Judeo-Christian religion on his sleeve, though he theorizes that its foundation began on another planet and its basic ideas/concepts were taken here by aliens who were forced into landing on Earth because their spacecraft was damaged. These humanoid aliens were stranded here, and lived out their entire lives on our planet, trying to make the best of their situation and indoctrinate the natives with their religious POV. Their beliefs of there being one god became the foundation for the JudeoChristian religion.

Ken Shufeldt’s novel begins with an amazing archeological discovery. An ancient metal sarcophagus has been “brought back from the battlefields of Iraq” by Larry Sheldon, one of a team of Logos scientists. The group of people known as Logos were an “ultra-secretive evangelical society.” The sarcophagus had been the one the female alien, Evevette, had used “to bury her husband, Adamartoni.” Though the author doens’t come right out and say it even more plainly, this couple’s names seem to indicate that they were the Adam and Eve from the Bible.

Some of the DNA gets injected into the body of a human boy, Billy West, by “accident,” or fate, and some gets fed intravenously into the bloostream of a little girl, Linda Lou Bustamente, who “needed an operation to save her life.” Again, coincidently, her parents “had been lifelong friends” with Billy’s. These two children grow up and are educated under the watchful eyes of Logos, and they progress rapidly in their education, due to their super-enhanced genetics.

Long story somewhat short, the Billy and Linda Lou eventaully learn of meteorites headed Earth’s way, and they realize that Earth is doomed. They plan to have a small fleet of interstellar spacecraft built and they choose a planet that appears to be suitable to sustain human life as their ultimate destination. The name of their particular ship is Genesis, a name torn again directly from the Bible, as it’s what the first book of the Bible is called.

I would have preferred there to be a bit more subtlety in the naming of the two main characters and their spacecraft. Also, Billy’s and Linda Lou’s ability to communicate with each other telepathically seemed to me to be maybe a bit too pat. Still, even with their enhanced DNA, and Biblical prophecy behind them, even with their being the supposed prophesied saviors of humanity in their favor, Billy’s and Linda Lou’s lives aboard the spacecraft are far from Paradise.

Billy knows time is working against them, that reaching the planet he thinks would be the best opportunity for their success will take way too long. So, he decides to try to make the Genesis travel as fast as the speed of light, or faster, despite the apparent impossibility of such a thing. He has a measure of success, but then his plans go terribly wrong. The weakened Genesis gets separated from te rest of the fleet and drifting towards a myserious planet.

Not only that, but the planet is inhabited by opposing sides engaged in a bloody civil war. Upon landing, the members of Genesis are forced into choosing sides just to stay alive. That is where the story gets REALLY interesting, and I was reminded of the story of the land of Canaan in the Bible, where the Israelites had to kill the Canaanites in order to claim their Promised Land. Does a similar outcome happen in Tribulations? I’m not going to tell; read it for yourselves to find out!

Tribulations is a fascinating take on the science fiction theme of aliens possibly having guided human civilization from the very beginning. It’s an apocalyptic but a hopeful tale. While I believe aspects of the novel could have been handled a little more subtley, overall it’s a very well written book that fans of apocalyptic SF will embrace. Check it out today!

What first attracted me to this fantastic collection of prose & verse by the talented author Linda Addison was the very cool cover. I admit, I was drawn in by the eye candy–at least, eye candy for a person who loves the horror genre. Am I shallow? Aren’t we all, at times? Was I right to judge a book by its cover? Perhaps not; but, in this particular example, the contents of the book do match up in excellence with its cover. Maybe I just got lucky…you will, too, if you read How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend (A Collection of Prose & Verse) from Linda Addison and Necon Ebooks for just $4.99! You can also purchase the ebook from Amazon for your Kindle for the same price by clicking here.

Linda is the first African American to win the coveted Bram Stoker Award for horror fiction. She is a rising star in horror fiction, and the short stories and poetry in this collection displays her ability to translate the macabre to the written word extremely well. There are 35 tales & poems in the volume altogether, and though they are short, each packs a powerful wollop. Combined, they will keep you awake at night, and make you nervously glance towrds your closet door and look under your bed for the Boogie Man or some other horrors, like the ones her tales depict in gory detail.

I won’t write about each story and poem in this volume–it would take too long to do them all justice–but I will touch on a few of the poems & stories that I considered to be highlights. They are all great; but, I will limit myself to just a handful.

There are, if I counted right, 16 poems and 29 short stories for your reading pleasure. The poems and tales also include some from the science fiction genre. Some of the stories could classify as being Flash Fiction, not being much more than maybe three hundred words in length. It takes skill to be able to write a story with a beginning, middle, and end in such a short number of words. They, and the poems, helped break the short stories up and the variance in lengths is useful in holding the readers’ attention.

Some of the poems I really enjoyed were: “Mourning Meal,” “Forever Dead,” “Bottling Up De Evil,” and “Alien Bathroom.” “Mourning Meal,” is about a woman whose child has passed away, and she is eating memories of the child, consuming things like a Mother’s Day card and toy spacemen:

bitten into little pieces
swallowed like strange pills.

“Forever Dead,’ is a first-person poem about a zombie stumbling through Central Park. He says that he: “lost my soul to a Voodoo Goddess.” Then, “Bottling Up De Evil,” was a poem I found interesting, as it’s about bottle trees, trees with bottles tied to their branches to attract ghosts into them. They’re mostly seen in the South, and an example can be seen in the movie Because of Winn-Dixie. “Alien Bathroom,” is a fun poem about various aliens trying to figure out what a relic is that they’re viewing. Each type of alien undergoes some elaborate ritual, but none comes close to figuring out what the relic is, until one finally figures out how to flush it–as the relic is a toilet.

On to the short stories. I’ll just mention three examples of the great tales in the collection, to give you an idea of what you can expect when you purchase Linda’s book.

I really enjoyed reading “The Power,” and liked it even more when I came to a story at the end of the book, called “Milez to Go,” that has the same two main characters in it, but now they’re older. “The Power” is about two girls, cousins, Brenda and Angelique, and their involvement with magic that gets slightly out of hand. Angilique goes to visit Brenda and her grandmother, sent there by a seemingly uncaring mother. She desires her mother to love her more, so Brenda shows her how to make a gris-gris, or magical talisman, to strengthen the bonds of familial love.

This, though, has the unintended consequences of attracting the attention of Mrs. Johnston, an odd hag who lives nearby. Though the girls learn that their grandmother was once friends with Mrs. Johnston, things have changed very much since that time. It’s all the girls can do to save their grandmother’s life, after they unwittingly attract the demonic Mrs. Johnston and she tries to take over their grandmother’s body and soul.

The second tale to feature Brenda and Angelique, “Milez to Go,” is perhaps my favorite in the volume. Milez is a protoplasmic musical intrument that Brenda has invented for Angelique to use in her band, which often performs a the Funky Piranha club where she works.The two women encounter three evil charcters who want some information Brenda has, and they will do anything they can to get it from her, including torturing and killing whomever gets in their ways. Milez can talk, and he plays a part in the eventual success of Brenda and Angelique over their foes. Of course, magic again also is pivotal to the tale, and both women have increased in their powers.

The third (and final) story I’ll mention is one with a pretty neat title: “369 Gates of Hell.” The story’s main character is Redi Thomas, who, as the tale opens, is a bodyguard of an accountant. Redi has been an assassin, and her skills have led to her being constantly haunted by the ghosts of the people she’s assassinated. She also had a stepfather who abused her, and Redi longs to get revenge on him, even though he is dead and buried. Enter a character straight from the depths of Hell to offer her that very opportunity, in return for one simple favor: killing the very accountant she’s been hired to protect. Will the exquisite pain Redi experiences as a result of her desire for revenge wake her up to who she really is? read the tale to find out!

How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend (A Collection of Prose & Verse) by Linda Addison is a marvelous collection of horror & SF tales & poetry that you are sure to love if you’re a fan of these genres. See why critics and readers around the world are making Linda one of the best-known names of the horror genre by reading the poems and tales in this collection for yourselves!

Detritus: the stuff that we inevitably accumulate. Some of us turn our detritus into our obsessions, into our collections. Most of us have had collections of one sort or the other in our lives, but few have had the strange sort of collections that the characters of the short stories in the new horror anthology Detritus have. The bizarre collections mentioned in these 15 tales range from wads of chewed bubblegum to stuffed animals with lives of their own to the body parts that serial killers collect as trophies to remember their past kills. You can purchase Detritus in paperback form for a mere $13.99 directly from Omnium Gatherum, the publishers of the book, by clicking here, or you can buy it in ebook form for a paltry $2.99 from Amazon; but if you’d first like to learn a bit more about the anthology, read on.

All of the 15 short stories in Detritus are amazing, well-crafted gems of tales about the obsessive nature that often compels people to collect the detritus they like to collect. I won’t get into any great detail about any of the stories, but I’ll mention a handful that stood out for me to give you an idea about the subjects of the tales and to whet your appetites for what lies ahead when you plunk down your cash to purchase this anthology.

The anthology opens up with “Chewed Up,” by the talented author Jeremy C. Shipp. I alluded to this tale earlier; it is the one about a man who collects wads of used chewing gum. It’s the typical story: man collects used gum; has a wife who is sickly and uncommunicative; takes advice from a toy flying unicorn that comes to life; but, finds out too late that covering one’s sickly loved one with used chewing gum can be detrimental to that person’s health. Oh, well–live (or die) and learn, I suppose…I love stories with uplifting morals to them.

Immediately following “Chewed Up,” is “Shots and Cuts,” by Mary Borsellino. It’s about a cop reminiscing about infamous serial killers like one from Ukraine who killed over twenty people. Also, it’s a story about a pair of 14-year-old killers, who brutally attacked a man and killed him on camera, later showing their deeds on YouTube for the world to view. Even the reactions of those who watched it were then filmed and broadcast on YouTube. Kids these days, the youngs rascals, with their torturing, maiming, killing, and collecting trophies! They can be so incorrigible at that age, and so full of murderous curiousity.

The third tale is “Ride,” by Brent Michael Kelley. It’s about a motorcycle riding dude with a heart–actually, twenty-seven of them, which he lovingly cuts out of his still-living victims to honor the memory of his kid bro, who died at the age of twenty-seven. The story reminded me of a song by Talking Heads called “Memories,” and the line: “These memories can’t wait!” What a heart-rending homage to one’s sibling.

I’ll just mention a couple of other tales that are included. I’d like you, dear readers, to have the pleasure of reading & learning aobut these twisted collections and their collectors for yourselves, without too many surprises given away by Yours Truly.

The fifth story is one of my many faves: “Mrs. Grainger’s Animal Emporium.” It’s a shop filled with stuffed animals, skulls, and a skeleton wearing a top hat. There are so many interesting curios in it, that it’s no wonder a mean-spirited kid decides to purloin one of the animals–a stuffed rat–for his very own. But all of those eyes staring at him catch him in the act, and the lady who runs the establishment is not one to let petty thievery go unpunished. It must be nice to have a collection, like this lady does, that works for you, and helps make the size of your collection larger.

Arkitekture, by Michael Colangelo, is the final tale I’ll mention in any degree of in-depthness, though I loved reading all of them. Patterns and dolls are the two collections that play the largest role in this intriguing tale of a Mother who has drifted (avalanched?) into the depths of madness. Or, is it something about the house she lives in the Night House, and the robots within, and the dark, onyx-like ball there that is the cause of her madness? Still, like Jack in The Shining, haven’t we all gone a little crazy sometimes?The Mother of the tale lives in a house that’s just a tad bit too “mysterious and kooky” (to quote The Addams Family theme song) for my liking!

The other short stories that I didn’t discuss are equally marvelous. They are: “The Tick Tock Heart,” by L.S. Murphy; “Candy Lady,” by Neil Davies; “Armoire,” by Louise Bohner; “Shrieking Gauze,” by Edmund Cotell; “The Highest and the Sweetest,” by S.P. Miskowski; “Heroes and Villains,” by Michael Montoure; “Let Them Into Your Heart,” by Lee Widener; “In His Own Graven Image,” by Pete Clark; “Crawling the Insect Life,” by Opal Edgar; and, last but far from least, “The Room Beneath the Stairs,” by Patrick Burke.

There you have it; Detritus is a Must Read collection of horror stories about those people who have…collections. They should perhaps have paid attention to the great Henry David Thoreau’s warning about not allowing your possessions to take control over your life and end up possessing you. But, then, we wouldn’t have this unusual but way cool anthology to read, now would we? Check it out today, horror fans!

Franklin E. Wales knows what it takes to tell a great zombie story: blood, guts, glory, halfbreed human/zombies, and…oh, yes–zombies. As I have been known to be an afficionado of horror & zombie novels, I was very much interested in reading/reviewing the author’s novel available at Amazon for $10.99 (Click to Buy) Deadheads: Evolution and seeing for myself if it was as good as I’d heard. It is, and even more so, a brilliant shining gem of zombie goodness without the candy-coated shell. As a bonus, it has very cool illustrations by Joseph “Jody” Adams. The bombs have been dropped, the zombie virus has spread, and the voracious Deadheads want to claim the Earth as their own. To Hell with the meek–the Deadheads are here, they’re attemtping to become the dominant species, and…they’re evolving.

What can you expect when you read Deadheads: Evolution? Is it worth your hard-earned cash? It’s about motorcycle-riding, dark sunglass-wearing, gun-totin’ Gage Owen, and takes up his tale two years after the biobombs fell, transforming the Earth into a wonderful mystical gory Zombie Wonderland. Well, it’s not that wonderful if you’re a human, as humans are no longer at the top of the proverbial foodchain–zombies are. Fortunately, there are people out there like Gage, fighting back against the zombies and trying to bring order back to the chaotic postapocalyptic world one dead zombie at a time. And, Gage likes to go about his bidness while singing tunes like The Battle Hymn of the Republic. The old standards are best, when it comes to shooting the Living Dead.

And, there’s a traveling companion he picks up, the lovely Sara. Sara has been held captive, locked away and fed, by a household of zombies who have figured out a way to lure humans to their screaming munchy crunchy deaths. Their plans for Sara are ruined when Gage invades their happy home and rescues her, by putting caps into their zombie heads. Sara, Gage finds, is a fairly proficient shot, herself–which can (and does) prove to be very useful–especially when the Deadheads are becoming more intelligent, and seem to be developing a mindreading, hive mentality, like they do in Stephen King’s novel Cell.

Yet another interesting character in Deadheads: Evolution is the ex-Congressman, First-Peter. He and his brother Samuel try to flee the Deadheads in a boat, but they find to their dismay that the boat is also carrying an unwelcome stowaway: a deadhead in the hold. The zombie infects Sam before First-Peter can stop it, and Sam in turn becomes a zombie. First-Peter kills him, then hallucinates–or does he? Jesus walks on the water and speaks to him, and in his hunger and thirst-induced condition, First-Peter takes and eats a strip of his brother’s flesh, in order to attain a new life…or, at least, to continue living. The real/imaginery Jesus reminds him of a bottle of Gatorade down in the hold, thus providing First-Peter with enough to drink to keep him alive until he reaches land.

What does he then do, but start himself a new religion, to honor Jesus and the New Life he has received. First-Peter captures a deadhead he christens Adam, gains followers, and becomes the creator of a new religious movement. The sacrament of the religion includes partaking of strips of flesh he slices from Adam and then consumes, inviting anyone who comes to his revivals to also eat. It’s a religious movement you can really…sink your teeth into (groan). Spoiler Alert: Too bad a brutal motorcycle gang puts an end to First-Peter’s life.

Deadheads: Revolution by Franklin E. Wales is proof that there is still plenty of life in the Living Dead subgenre of horror fiction. Gage, half-human, half-zombie, is all bad ass! On the human side, another villain Gage faces is Sheriff Brody of New Hope. If you are a fan of horror and zombie fiction, Deadheads: Evolution by Franklin E. Wales is a Must Read and is well worth the cover price. Other fantastic novels by Franklin E. Wales include Purgatory Junction, Booger, Gamesmaster, and Friend. A little short on cash/prefer to read ebooks? Well, friend, you’re in luck, as you can also buy this fine book by Mr. Wales at Smashwords as an ebook for a mere $3.99. Just click here.

In the silence of the night, unquiet things rustle and scuttle. Are they they products of our unsettled imaginations, or are they…something more? These unquiet things are the subjects horror author Charles L. Grant loved to write about. He was perhaps one of the best horror writer ever at conveying a sense of unease and dread, and his novelas set in the New England town of Oxrun Station display this talent to its fullest. Necon’s series of Charles L. Grant re-releases in ebook form, if you’re a fan of horror fiction, are a great way to read these gems and celebrate the genius of the horror
genre that was Grant.

The Complete Short Fiction of Charles L. Grant Volume II: The Orchard is composed of an introduction by Kealan Patrick Burke, a prologue by Grant, and four of his Oxrun Station novelas: “My Mary’s Asleep,” “I See Her Sweet and Fair,” “The Last and Dreadful Hour,” and “Screaming In the Dark.” The stories are loosely linked by their setting, by a spooky old blackened apple orchard at the outskirts of town, and by recurring characters from the first tale in the collection, “My Mary’s Asleep.”

What are the short stories about? “My Mary’s Asleep” tells the tale of college students who ought to be preparing for their finals, but who instead choose to use their Sunday to have a picnic, have fun, and blow off some steam. Something mysterious lurks in the old orchard near to where they picnic, but what is it? They enjoy the picnic, have fun playing a game of tag with few rules, and one of the group gets smashed into by a car and dies. That person is the boyfriend of Mary Oster. The main protagonist of the story, the overweight Herb Johns, has the hots for Mary, and so is not unhappy when her boyfriend bites the dust. But then, the other friends at the picnic also begin to die off; Herb mysteriously loses quite a bit of weight in a short time; he carves an elaborate coffin with Mary’s visage on it and a life-sized version of Mary; and then, he eventually finds himself alone in the old apple orchard. Or, is he truly alone?

The second novela, “I See Her Sweet and Fair,” has as its main protagonist a middle-aged police officer who has a teenage son who may be a murderer. Policeman Brett Gilman wonders which of two women in town might be showing the most interst in him, and if he can still find love this late in his life. His teenage son, Les, has been on eof the last people seen with young teen girls who have been showing up dead, ran through by an unknown weapon, perhaps an icepick. Brett tries to confront his son, but Les takes off and runs away, afraid that he is about to be arrested, and that his father doesn’t trust him. But, is it really Les who is behind the murders, or some mysterious creature form mythology borught to life by the hopes and wishes of an obsessed woman?

The third tale in the collection, “The Sweet and Dreadful Hour,” is one of my favorites, as it is a bit more bloody and gory. Ellory Phillips and assorted other characters find themselves hopelessly trapped in a movie theater during a storm. He is watching a movie with a woman he’s asked out on a date when there’s a power failure. An old man falls, and gets knocked unconscious. People try to leave the theater, but find that the doors are all locked, though two people do manage to leave through the doors to get help. They never return. The glass windows are impossible to smash, despite the best efforts of those trapped within. There are shape-shifting demonic figures like Ginny. She acts very seductive, and her clothes somehow fall off of her body. But then her flesh falls away and she’s not so seductive anymore. There are people who disappear mysteriously; and, the concept that it’s all just a dream, and soon they will awaken. But, Herb for one still can feel pain. If it’s all just a dream, then whose dream is it?

The fourth story, “Screaming, In the Dark,” is a nice conclusion to the collection. It’s about a reporter who is recovering from a broken leg in a hospital. But, then he gets an odd bunkmate in his room. Too bad his insurance didn’t cover a private room…but then, there wouldn’t be much to this gem of a horror story.

Check out The Orchard by Charles L. Grant if you love reading quiet horror stories full of dread that creep up on you and without warning, rip your throat out. Happy reading, and pleasant screams–er, dreams.

Can you stay cool while it’s getting hot? Environmental concerns and the threat of global warming are topics that everyone should be concerned about, and they have also played into the plots of SF books like the brilliant Paolo Bacigalupi novel The Wind-Up Girl and even Cormac McCarthy’s New York Times bestselling novel The Road.

Tobias S. Buckell’s latest page-turning novel, Arctic Rising, is about a time in the not-so-distant future when the polar ice caps are melting due to global warming. Though I like reading just about any type of SF, I especially like reading those in which the plot seems very plausible because the future depicted is based on trends, events, or scientific theories that are prevalent today. To me, that basis in reality makes books like Arctic Rising seem more relevant and gripping.

In Buckell’s book, global warming has caused the polar ice caps to partially thaw and calve off icebergs, which in turn causes lowland coastal flooding, and opens up the Northwest Passage and uncovers land that has been encased in ice for thousands of years. The land is called Thule. New communities form in Canada, and it becomes an economic powerhouse. The United States and other nations try to claim parts of the sea bed, in their ever-continuing efforts to locate new oil and other mineral reserves. But, others seek to use the newly navigable oceanic highways to transport drugs and illegally dump nuclear waste material.

The main female protagonist of Arctic Rising is the Nigerian airship pilot (working for the underfunded United Nations Poar Guard) Anika Duncan. She and her UNPG copilot, Thomas Hutton, soar in the skies above the frigid polar seas in search of suspicious ships that might be transporting drugs or radioactive waste to dump. Anika notices that the scatter cameras on the airship are detecting that one such suspicious ship, the Russian Kosatka, registered in Liberia, is emitting strong radioactive readings. When they come in closer to investigate, someone aboard the ship opens fire with a RPG launcher, bringing Anika’s airship crashing down into the ocean.

By the time a ship rescues them and helicopters come to take them to where they can obtain further medical attention, theKosatka is long gone. Though they both are alive when pulled from the ocean, Tom’s protective uniform wasn’t zipped up properly and let in the icy water, bringing on hyperthermia. He dies from it, and Anika is more determined than ever to learn why their airship was attacked and what the Russian ship had been transporting. She knows that the rewards could be high for those captains who loaded up old derelicts with radioactive waste and had “accidents” off the coast of African nations, and believes that perhaps the Kosatka was involved in similar illegal activities.

When the ship is found, and the crew arrested, no sign of whatever cargo might have been onboard is in sight. Fortunately, Anika has kept a recording of the evidence gathered by the scatter cameras to prove that the Russian ship had been transporting something radioactive; but, someone, or ones, seem determined to hush the investigation. Why are various military agencies and corporations suddenly getting involved? Could it be that the crew was trying to smuggle a nuclear weapon of some sort?

Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell, who also wrote the bestselling novel Halo: The Cole Protocol, is a suspenseful book that is sure to stay with you and open your eyes to what might happen if global warming continues at its present rate. The activist group Gaia Corporation, which tries to use technology to reverse global warming and which has a plan to terraform the Earth, also create a superweapon that falls into the wrong hands. When Anika goes undercover and attempts to stop the Gaia Corp’s weapon, the action really picks up and makes for a fast-paced, exciting read. If you like very realistic science fiction thrillers, I highly recommend that you add Arctic Rising by Tobias S. Buckell to your reading lists.

If you enjoy reading dark urban fantasy novels, you really must check out Joseph Nassise’s brilliant Eyes To See (Jeremiah Hunt Chronicles Book 1). Sometimes, one has to lose what he most cherishes to be able to see how much he misses it. Sometimes, the blind see better than the sighted; sights that we ordinarily can’t see; the ghosts that walk amongst us on a daily basis. This novel is a fantastic beginning to the Jeremiah Hunt Chronicles, and though there have been many books written about the paranormal and ghost busting before now, Nassise’s (author of The Heretic)shines as being one of the best in recent memory.

The novel’s chapters alternate between ones taking place in the present, labeled “Now,” and those in the past, titled “Then.” Though Hunt has lost his eyesight, he’s done it to help him find his kidnaped daughter, Elizabeth. We learn this in the “Then” chapters. Though he loses his eyesight, when he’s in the dark, he can see, to an extent, well enough to get by with the use of a cane. And, he can see the ghosts that walk around us, who are largely unseen by most of us, except the pyschically sensitive.

The main protagonist, Jeremiah Hunt, was once a Harvard classics professor. He was charged with taking care of his daughter, but gets so wrapped up in his research and work on his computer that he fails to realize the passing hours since he’s last seen and heard his daughter, Elizabeth. When he eventually realizes that he hasn’t heard a peep from her for awhile, he goes in search of her and doens’t find her anywhere. He notices an open window in her bedroom, and comes to the conclusion that his daughter must have been abducted. The cops, for a time, suspect that he was involved in whatever happened to Elizabeth, which just adds to the misery and hopelessness that Hunt experiences.

Though Jeremiah loses his normal vision, he gains the spiritual aid of an entity he calls “Whisper,” and another one called “Scream.” They enable Hunt to learn enough about who is behind certain murders that he has often assisted the police in solving homicide cases. Even with their help, Hunt has a hard time figuring out who, or what, is behind the brutal murder of Brenda Connolly. Hunt was brought into the case to provide as much information to the cops as he can, but the posed naked body of Brenda, hands wired and on her knees as if in prayer, is unsettling, to say the least. And what has tinged her skin green?

Hunt sees arcane symbols and words on the walls of the dead woman’s bedroom. He recognizes a pattern, and that Connolly’s murder is reminescent of others. With the help of a bartender who Hunt has recognized possesses pychic abilities, Hunt gets tantalizingly closer to discovering who the murderer is-and how it all ties in with his daughter’s disappearance. But, is at all designed just to lead Hunt into a deadly trap?

Eyes To See by Joseph Nassise is a spellbinding dark urban fantasy that will haunt your nightmares and memories for a long time after you finish reading it. If you love reading novels of outstanding paranormal fiction, than I highly recommend that you check out Eyes To See and see for yourselves what a great author Joseph Nassise is–get it today!

–Douglas R. Cobb–

Morpheus is one of the UK’s premier horror magazines. Some of the best horror authors of today submitted short stories, and 13 were meticulously selected through a grueling process by the editor, Adam Bradley, and have been gathered together to form the spine-tingling anthology, Morpheus: 13 Tales of Dark Fiction. Many of the top names from the horror authors of today are included in this collection, from the very first offering by the renowned author of Sasquatch and zombie horror, Eric S. Brown, to the famed author, Andy Remic. Is this anthology awesome? Is it kick-ass? Is it worth the cover price to purchase it through Smashwords ($4.99 there–just click the word Smashwords to be automatically transported to the site) or wherever else you might choose? Hell, to the ya, to each of the preceding three questions!

Thirteen glorious tales of horror await your twisted imaginations within the pages of this sick (in a good way) anthology. I won’t go into detail about each story, but I will give you an idea of what each tale is about, to whet your appetites further.

As I mentioned, the anthology opens with a choice cut by Eric S. Brown, a dude who is getting more and more attention in the circles of horror writers today. Many of his novels can be purchased on Amazon, such as Bigfoot War, Bigfoot War II, War of the Worlds Plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies, Seaons of Rot, and World War of the Dead. The one that begins this collection is “Civil Beasts.” It is set during the American Civil War in Pennsylvania, and is a nuanced tale of…a not-so-nuanced tale of blood, guts, and a ticked-off Sasquatch on a violent spine-snapping, skull-crushing rampage. Jamie, a private in the Union army, and a couple of other soldiers he’s with witness a Sasquatch being shot at by Reb soldiers. The Rebs have shot and killed an Indian woman who had run out of the woods, shouting “Sasquatch,” over and over again. She was likely trying to warn the soldiers, but they thought she was just speaking nonsense and got tired of hearing her, so one shoots her in the head. Does the story have a happy ending for all involved? It’s a tale about a rampaging Sasquatch–what do you think?

The second story is “Dirty Story.” Despite its title, it is not in the least pornographic–sorry, guys…but, it still is a pretty cool tale, deserving of being included in this anthology. It’s by Gary McMahon, author of horror novels like Hungry Hearts, Pretty Little Dead Things, and The Concrete Grave Trilogy. “Dirty Story,” focuses on a working-class man, harry, and a little hygiene problem he has that develops into an obsession. Harry wants to look nice & clean for his girlfriend, who wants to take their sexual relationship to a different level; but, however hard Harry tries, however many bars of soap he uses, however much he scrubs his skin raw, the dirt keeps coming back. It invades his fingernails, the pores of his skin, and even inside his body. Is this all just inside of his mind, or is it something much, much more?

The third tale is by Alan Spencer, and is “If you Lay Here Quiet Next to Me.” It sounds kind of creepy, like words a serial killer or stalker/serial killer might say to his victims; but, that is not at all what the short story is about. Rather, it’s about the transcending love a man, Robert, feels towards his wife, Stacy. After she dies in a car crash, Robert hits upon a plan to keep her with him always, or for as long as the blood he’s collected in a bottle holds out, at least. But, her existence is tenuous at best–she can only exist within the walls of a locked room, and she is, unfortunately for Robert, very, very, forgetful. She has some dim recollections of Robert, but they come and go. When they go completely, she thinks he’s some twisted stranger who has imprisoned her within a locked room. It’s not easy for poor Robert to keep the love alive, just because he’s somehow managed to keep his wife alive….Spencer has also written horror novels like The Body Cartel, Inside the Perimeter: Scavengers of the Dead, Ashes In His Eyes, and the forthcoming book, Zombies and Power Tools.

The next short story is “Desperate Measures,” by Stanley Riiks. It is a first-person post-apocalyptic tale of survival despite the odds and the horrendous difficuties the remnants of humanity have to face just to even find enough food to eat. That is a very real problem the narrator of this gem deals with, and he takes up residence in an abandoned hospital (or is it abandoned?), trying to scavenge and catch whatever vermin he can to keep himself alive. This includes delicacies that most of us would be disgusted to try, such as rats and cockroaches. Oh, and humans–did I forget to mention humans? And then, what if you could no longer find anything around you to eat, but you were slowly starving to death? Would you make…the ultimate sacrifice?

The fifth short story is “The Tax Collecter,” by Tommy B. Smith, a fellow resident of the city I live in, Fort Smith, Arkansas. I’ve never met him before, but this story definitely proves that he is a very talented up and coming author worth paying attention to. As the title suggests, it is about a tax collecter, but one of the future. As now, it’s pretty much impossible to escape the Tax Collecter when you owe him, big-time. The cool thing is, though this appears to be set in a future time, the characters behave as if they are directly from the times when Fort Smith was one of the wildest cities of the Wild West. The main protagonist, Miguel, takes a bullet from the Tax Collecter in his hand, to protect his friend, Mack Brumbleby. This gives Mack enough time to escape, but can anyone really escape from tax collecters for very long? And, just how far will friendship go, when you’re about to lose your arm from infection?

Short story number six in the anthology is “Organ Grinder,” by William R.D. Wood. Officer Frank Delgado is the main protagonist in this tale, and he’s sent to investigate why a rookie officer hasn’t reported in after being sent to check out a carnival that’s come to town. At first, the carnival seems to be oddly deserted…then, Delgado begins seeing the dead, mutilated corpses upon the ground, and one old man, who looks as if he should be dead, up and walking around. This is one of my favorite tales in the collection, and gives having a case of the crabs a whole different meaning.

Tale number seven, “The Machine,” by Fred Venturini, is also a pretty cool story. You know how quacks and snake oil salesmen have conned people down the ages with “miracle cures”? What if one of the peculiar inventions actually worked? That’s the basic concept behind this well-crafted horror tale. The machine produces UV light, in frequencies that supposedly promote healing and general good health. You place a part of the device under your tongue, which is presumably the best area to achieve the quickest results. The story’s protagonist, who narrates the first-person tale in a series of journal entries, tells of how he got a prototype of the machine to test out from a very reputable “doctor” who is not really a doctor, but whom he calls “Dr. Mexico,” as the guy is from Mexico. Who else is better to trust for one’s medical advice? The machine works wonderfully well, but even a machine designed to bring about “miracle cures,” has its limitations….

Number 8 of the 13 is “To Hear a New World.” It is by Matt Leyshon. This short story is about Joe Meeks, a dude who has somehow figured out a way to cheat death–at least, temporarily–managing to earn a tidy sum of money by risking the odds at Russian roulette on a nightly basis. Just how does a man play night after night, always soemhow ending up the victor, and alive? Could one rig the game, possibly, with the use of music and sound frequencies? Read this to find out what it means to nightly dodge the proverbial bullet, to enter and exit alternate dimensions, and to finally meet a creature right out of H.P. Lovecraft’s most twisted, dark imaginings.

The ninth tale is “Whatever It Takes,” by Joseph D’Lacey. The author riffs on the various meanings of the two-word phrase: “Get up!” The story is one almost any writer can relate to, as it’s about a man who suffers from a writer’s block, and he decides to seek help for his problem. He finds that the solution is not what he had expected, at all; but, the words do come to him–for a while. It all depends on how strong the motivation is–a gun pointed at you is a pretty powerful motivating factor. Still, what if you simply run out of ideas? Read “Whatever It Takes,” to find out what happens, and who knows? Maybe you’ll decide to take a writer’s block in stride the next time you feel your creativity temporarily blocked.

Then, tale number ten, “Wounder,” by Andrew Hook, takes the reader to the world of dreams, and over the edge, into craziness. What does it mean, the words “sane” and “crazy”? Does the male protagonist listen to his friend, Drew, when she tells him about his new girlfriend that she might be crazy? There wouldn’t be much of a story if he did listen to her, now would there? The love between the protagonist and his girlfriend is one which is great at first, as most loves are; but, then, the protagonist decides to try to help his girlfriend conquer her nightmares. That doesn’t go so well, as he discovers. You may think that your girlfriend/boyfriend is crazy–read this tale to find out what crazy is really all about!

Number eleven is “Mongrel Days,” by Andy Remic. Andy is a fantastic author, who has written such books as Spiral, Quake, Warhead, War Machine, Biohell, Hardcore, Cloneworld, Hell’s Legend, and more. It’s set in the future, and the main protagonist is a guy named Mongrel. He has obvious fighting skills, and he gets pushed aorund just a bit more than he decides finally to take. Mongrel gets beaten up and kidnapped by the minions of a crime boss named Riegel. Mongrel has admired the skills of the famous Anarchy Androids, but he doesn’t think there’s any way that they can help him escape from what looks like a certain death. I really enjoyed this tale; I think you will, also. Remic’s at the top of his form with this masterpiece of mixed genres.

The twelfth tale is “103” by Shaun Jeffrey. It’s about the attempts of three people to carry out the wishes of a wealthy dead man, Max Franci, who was also a serial killer, who reportedly had killed over one hundred people. The three are interviewing people to determine if they might be proof that resurrection is possible, that one of them might be Max come back to life in a different body. Max met his end by being hung at the Strangeways prison; but, can even death keep a dead man down? Forever is a long time….

The 13th. tale, “The Watchers at Work,” by Gary Fry, is an excellent piece to close the anthology. It tells the story of a young man who works at a bookstore, and is jealous of the success of his friends. He is also horny, and fantasizes about the 26-year-old owner of the book store. Is she perhaps too perfect in her appearance, though? This tale is about what happens when the protagonist decides to nick some cash from the bookstore’s safe to pay for a vacation his buddies have talked him into taking. What’s one to do when money’s tight? Perhaps a better question the protagonist should have asked himself is: “Who might be watching me steal money?” It’s always great to read a story that has a moral. It should prove to be edifying for the readers of this anthology.

That wraps up my summation of the 13 tales in this superb horror anthology, Morpheus: 13 Tales of Dark Fiction. If you love reading horror stories & novels, I highly recommend that you check this anthology out!

–Douglas R. Cobb–

Looking for some great horror fiction to read? Necon E-Books has come out with loads of fantastic ebooks that are sure to please the most discriminating fans of the genre. I will periodically review some of the excellent horror novels featured there. This week, I will focus on the first in a series of eight books that Necon is releasing covering the collected short fiction of the renowned horror author, the late Charles L. Grant (September 12, 1942 – September 15, 2006) titled Nightmare Seasons. Available at the site as an ebook for $4.99, it is composed of four novellas by Grant, and is a great beginning to the series and one that you’ll want to add to your E-libraries.

Originally published by Tor in 1982, the brooding and suspenseful tales of horror in this collection have found new life and hopefully a new and wider audience of horror fans. The four novellas are interrelated, linked by both their setting and the theme of seasons and decades, and what fresh horrors each season can bring. As stated at the Necon site, where you can order this ebook and many others, this makes Nightmare Seasons “a tone poem – almost a symphony.”

This description might make the book seem highbrow, but though the writing is sophisticated and polished, it contains enough genuine horrific moments that it beat out Stephen King’s Different Seasons and Dennis Etchison’s The Dark Country to win the World Fantasy Award for Best Collection/Anthology. Not too shabby, when you can write good enough horror to beat the America’s King of Horror.

So, what do you get when you purchase Nightmare Seasons, the first of the eight-book series? First, the folks at Necon E-books will work to make sure you get the ebook format that’s right for whatever reading device you want to download it to, whether it be to your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, cell phone, or computer, for example.

Nightmare Seasons begins with a nicely written prologue by the horror author and critic Don D’Ammassa that also serves to introduce us to Oxrun Station, a fictional Connecticut town where the stories of this collection (and much of Grant’s other fiction) is set. Besides the setting of the stories, they also contain the themes of “the potentially destructive power of love when it demands too much,” and “the tragedy of lonliness and the danger it poses for those so afflicted,” as Don Ammassa notes.

The four novellas are set in different decades and seasons. The first one, “Thou Need Not Fear My Kisses, Love,” takes place in the spring of 1940 and is about what happens when Samantha England, the de facto head of her father’s corporation when he suffers a stroke, comes home to discover the severed foot of a co-worker who may have been her lover of her lover lying in front of her house. She denies that he was her lover, but they were definitely close. Then, her fellow co-workers also begin to meet mysterious demises. Who, or what, is behind the series of odd deaths? Is the culprit a serial killer, a bear, or something…else?

The second tale, “Now There Comes A Darker Day,” is set in the summer of 1950. It, like the first story, involves a group of men attracted to a woman, but the woman in this tale is very different from Samantha England. Her name is Elizabeth Corey, and she travels with an enigmatic and creepy young girl, who has a thing for violets. The men whom are regulars at a local bar each, in turn, become fatally attracted to Corey, and feel the need to protect her and love her. They fall under her spell, but each has worrisome qulams about the silent little girl who seems to be her daughter. The men Corey leaves suffer terrible fates; but, is it the fault of Corey, or perhaps, somehow, the little girl?

“Night’s Swift Dragons,” the third novella, is set in the autumn of 1960, largely in the postal office of Oxrun Station. The workers there encounter a mysterious, Night Gallery-type of evil that is almost beyond their ability to comprehend. They find themselves virtual prisoners of the post office when their town is invaded by a motorcyle gang. But, is it a gang of bikers, as they appear to be; or, are they something much…worse, and evil? Perhaps they are archetypal antiheroes, perhaps they are dragons, who appear throughout history under different guises, and enjoy killing just for the sheer pleasure of it. I’d say it was my favorite novella from a collection of strong, powerful ones that display Grant’s writing prowess at their apex.

“The Color of Joy” takes place in thw winter of 1970. It is a
Christmas story, and the protagonist is the daughter of one of the postal workers from the previous story. Melissa is the center of a circle of devoted friends, but she has never gotten over the deahts of her mother and, later, her brothers. She finds it difficult to relate to others, but she believes that, in general, she is happy. However, Melissa finds it difficult to explain why she keeps imagining that someone is watching her, and she eventually begins to realize that perhaps her friends may feel differently about her than she has thought that they have. It’s a fascinating tale of self-realization and the horrors it brings.

Besides winning the World Fantasy Award, Charles Lewis Grant a Nebula Award in 1976 for his short story “A Crowd of Shadows”, and another Nebula Award in 1978 for his novella “A Glow of Candles, a Unicorn’s Eye.” He has also written under the pseudonyms of Geoffrey Marsh, Lionel Fenn, Simon Lake, Felicia Andrews, and Deborah Lewis.

To be perfectly honest, I had not heard of Charles L. Grant before I had the good fortune to be sent a copy of the ebook, The Complete Stories of Charles L. Grant: Nightmare Seasons Volume One. I didn’t know what to expect from the collection, but I greatly enjoyed reading it. It’s not a type of collection of horror that is about blood & gore from the beginning to the end of each story, though, which is what many readers of the genre have come to expect. Rather, the horror creeps up on you more. While terrible and gruesome things happen, the psychological horrors that the main protagonists experience are just as crucial to the plots of the tales. Though I have come to the writing of Charles L. Grant relatively late, I see his writing as that of a master of the horror genre, and I am looking forward to reading the second book of the series, The Orchard very much. Check out this wonderful collection of Grant’s novellas today!

–Douglas R. Cobb–

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