Saturday, 6 April 2013

Tempting the Cosmos

Clockwork DollsClockwork Dolls by William Meikle
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dave Burns is a man living in his past. A past soaked with alcohol and regret and a ton of anger. We all know a guy like this. It's that arsehole who gets dramatic at parties when he's had too much to drink because he can't let go of an old flame and he brings everything and everyone down along with him. I think that a lot of us was this guy at least once in our lives. I certainly know that I was. Dave, however, is that guy full time. And he's terribly fun to watch.

This is just part of the brilliance of this story. And I'm not exaggerating when using the word brilliance. These characters are among the most realistic I have ever read. It could be because they come from my own life, or at least part of it.

And then there's the cosmos, a separate character all its own. When at a party with some old friends, Dave and party members are given the opportunity to throw a request to the cosmos by a woman, Dave's blind date incidentally, who is another person we all know. She's that girl who's into crystals and charms and magick that's spelled with a 'k'. She, of course, knows exactly how to do this, and for fun, they set to it.

Dave, being the bitter soul that he is, throws his request to the cosmos that sets off the events for the remainder of the story. And it is a strange story that would fit right in with the best of the weird tales of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Machan or Blackwood could have written this.

I highly recommended Clockwork Dolls. It's a short read that you could probably get done in a sitting or two. And you'll probably be stuck there, reading, until the story is done. What's even better is that Clockwork Dolls is the kind of story that nourishes your brain with its food for though. A well rounded story that I doubt you'll regret.

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Friday, 29 March 2013

Emergence by Gary Fry

EmergenceEmergence by Gary Fry
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I originally gave Gary Fry's Emergence four stars, but after a day or so of the story simmering in my thoughts, going over some of the themes, I had to move up to five stars. I even moved it into my favorites. Every time I think about Emergence, the more I like it.

Is Emergence a perfect story? No. It's not. No story is. Emergence is a slow burn with an ambiguous ending that I know will leave a bad taste in some people mouths. But not mine.

For me, the characters and, as mentioned, the themes touched me very deeply. Jack, who has just lost his wife, and his grandson are spending the week together in his house on the coast of northeast England. Both are experiencing similar problems with reading. Jack, who was an English teacher, is now having difficulty identifying words, while Paul, the grandson, is just learning to read and therefore suffers similar problems.

They wake up one morning to find a series cones that have been carved out on the beach sand. And the morning after that, an entire city.

What these have in common with the stumbling blocks of communication you will have to read for yourself. The fear of getting old, however, that existential horror of realization that your body will one day fail, perhaps is failing, is a fascination (more of a dark obsession) of mine. It kept me focused on not just where the story was taking me, but Jack's awesome characterization.

What we have here is a story of existential and cosmic horror that can be read easily in one sitting. Very well written. If you like the weird fiction of the early twentieth century with a modern sense of culture, then this story should be right up your alley. It certainly was mine. Highly recommended. I'm looking forward to reading more by this author.

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Sunday, 17 March 2013

The Children of Nihlistic Art

Children of No OneChildren of No One by Nicole Cushing
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Children of No One is a great piece of weird literature. The problem for me, however, is that I felt that there should have been more, that this story could have been expanded upon a bit more. More importantly, I would have liked to have known the characters more.

But that's a really bitchy thing to complain about, isn't it? Because what this book is is an ode to all the great classic weird fiction that has had an incredible influence on horror fiction today. It also has a lot of philosophical food for thought and a fantastic setting: a new form of art that encapsulates human cruelty and a nihilistic way of experiencing life.

Children of No One is a fascinating novella that I highly recommend, but one that could have been so much more had we the chance to explore just a little further.

I'm really looking forward to see what Nicole Cushing is capable of presenting to us in the future.

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Monday, 11 February 2013

Among Prey

Among PreyAmong Prey by Alan Ryker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was introduced to Alan Ryker through the DarkFuse Kindle club via his book The Hoard. What I liked most about that book were the characters. They were great, believable characters. So when DarkFuse sent me Among Prey, I thought I'd stop what I was reading at the time to fit this review in before the book's release date.

And I'm glad that I did.

My enjoyment of the characters in The Hoard is multiplied tenfold here. The story is told in four parts with the POV of four different characters. It is written in the third person, but each character comes off the page like a slap in the face, they're so real.

Amber is a doll maker for the more upper class of children. The dolls are custom made right there in the store, and the client, the child, has full control over how to create their doll. One day a 7 foot giant, Bobby, who has the mind of a small child comes in with his nurse. He makes a doll and then goes in once a week to make a new doll each time. This seems to make him happy, but Amber notices something wrong with the dolls the giant is creating.

Little girls are missing and their bodies, alive or dead, are never found. The dolls that Bobby makes looks just like the missing girls. they're even wearing what they were when they went missing.

It takes four characters to tell this story, and each one of them shine. My only problem is that an important character is introduced to the reader a little late and is therefore jarring. This could have been easily fixed with some edits, but it didn't really ruin the story for me.

Among Prey is more about the journey than it is the conclusion. Once you let the characters talk to you, letting the tell their story to its end, you'll be hypnotized and left wanting more.

Highly recommended! 4.5 stars and a new favorite.

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Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Fevered HillsFevered Hills by Keith Deininger
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fevered Hills by Keith Deininger is a difficult book for me to review. For one, I think that it's brilliant. The problem is, I'm not entirely sure why I feel this way. All I can say is that I really enjoyed what I read.

Martin, A sixteen year old soldier escapes and returns home hoping to reacquaint himself with his parents. Unfortunately, he finds nothing but an empty home and a garden that's overgrown, the livestock dead in their pens.

But the war will not let him go. The soldiers are coming and there's nowhere for him to go but the pit he's accidentally found himself fallen in, and the two strangers who live there.

Fevered Hills excels at showing the reader the horrors of war and its effects not only the people of the countryside, but the human psyche of those who've had to fight within it. There is a creature element to the story that, if anything, only added to the "horrors of war" aspect to the story for me.

What impressed me most, however, was the writing style. It resembles Margaret Atwood and Joyce Carol Oats. It brings to mind The Road and The Slaughterhouse-Five. There's serious stuff happening in Fevered Hills that we need to pay attention to, because it speaks of what we're made of as humans. How none of us are innocent, that everyone has grey areas. And if you were to put a serious war in the middle of this, then this becomes an interesting character study.

To answer my own question, I guess that's what I liked best about the book. It's honesty and unflinching look at the human condition.

Because Fevered Hills is a haunted character study. And I can't wait until I read more by this gifted author.

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Thursday, 31 January 2013

LilithLilith by Toby Tate
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hunter Singleton and his wife Lisa are media guests on the USS Gerald Ford, one of the newest and biggest ships of the U.S. Navy. While on board, a hurricane forms quickly and is heading straight for New York City, and the Ford is ordered to go there immediately for aide and assistance.

This is where things start to go wrong. Men and woman, both the media guests and those in service, are not acting they're normal selves and it seems that someone is out to sabotage not only the USS Ford, but the entire mission.

This sweeps Hunter and Lisa along with members of the Ford's crew into a battle against a creature that is out to overtake humanity and rule the world.

While my description is poor and makes the book sound like it has a cookie-cutter plot, I can assure you that it does not. What fascinated me about Lilith was the creature-features, so to speak, along with the storm and its after-affects upon a large city.

What you have with Lilith is an adventure that doesn't require too much thought. Although meticulously researched, this book doesn't require much from the reader. Just plug in and enjoy the ride. Lilith is simply a hell of a fun story with great characters and, as I mentioned, an awesome monster. Reminded me a bit of Harry Shannon mixed with a little Clancy. Recommended!

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Sunday, 20 January 2013

The Rain Dancers by Greg F. Gifune

The Rain DancersThe Rain Dancers by Greg F. Gifune
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Rain Dancers was a pleasant surprise. I have heard of Gifune's writing from the Goodreads group Horror Aficionados for some time now, but never really took the plunge. Recently, I joined the DarkFuse book club, and this is one of the novellas that I got for free for joining.

Getting the novella for free wasn't the pleasant surprise, though that was pleasant enough. No, what grounded me and got my head spinning was the great characterization and dialogue within this short, intense masterpiece.

Will and Betty return to Betty's hometown a year after her father's death to clean out his house and put it up for sale. On their first night a terrible rainstorm hits, and with it comes Bob Laurent. Bob claims that he's an old friend of Betty's father who moved away when Betty was only a teenager. He says they were so close that Betty used to call him "Uncle Bob." This appears to be true, because he knows an awful lot about Betty and her family.

The only problem is, Betty doesn't remember Bob Laurent. As the night, and Bob's visit, wears on, Betty slowly begins to remember Laurent. More importantly, she remembers what he is.

The Rain Dancers is tense from beginning until the end and I had a lot of fun reading it. It read very well as a novella, but I could see it being adapted as a play and/or a movie as well. A very engaging story and highly recommended.

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Sunday, 6 January 2013

The Mourning House by Ronald Malfi

The Mourning HouseThe Mourning House by Ronald Malfi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book I've read in 2013, and talk about starting the year with a bang! Sam Hatch has just suffered a serious tragedy and has found himself wandering the country. He finally stumbles upon a house in a small town and immediately buys it. He's not sure why the house speaks to him so much, but the residents of the small town all think that the it's haunted.

And maybe it is.

Because Sam begins to hear noises in it late at night, and when he goes searching for the sources, digging through the floorboards and plaster, he finds relics and items from his old, dead life.

What I enjoyed most about this story is that it reminded me a lot of classic weird/horror fiction by the likes of M. R. James and maybe Arthur Machen. It's a short and fun read filled with real characters, great dialogue, and a creepy atmosphere. Recommended!

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Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Hoard by Alan Ryker

The HoardThe Hoard by Alan Ryker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Alan Ryker is a completely new writer to me. I joined the DarkFuse book club recently and was introduced to his work at the club's forum. And I'm glad that I was because his novella, The Hoard, is something completely original wrapped up in a wonderfully told tale.

The Hoard is about Anna, an elderly hoarder who's found herself in trouble with Adult Protective Services. Her son and his family are neighbors and, although they all know that there's something wrong with Anna and the inside of her home, no one wants to be the one to enter her house. Or worse, confront her about it.

When Anna is finally forced to leave her home and live with her son, they all can't help but notice that there's something wrong with her. Something seriously wrong. What nobody knows just yet is that there's a new type of parasite dwelling within the dirt and mounds of garbage, and maybe even Anna herself.

The character's in The Hoard are all very well realized and they are one thing that makes this book shine. The characters, in fact, begin to feel like your own family and friends.

Another thing that makes the story shine is the personal and dramatic look into a family suffering from mental illness and severe hoarding obsessions. Without these two elements, this could have very well been nothing but another zombie-like story. The Hoard is nothing like another zombie-like story at all.

I highly recommend The Hoard if not for it's originality and fresh story telling, but for the people who populate it. Give it a try and I'll doubt you'll be disappointed.

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When We Join Jesus In HellWhen We Join Jesus In Hell by Lee Thompson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When We Join Jesus In Hell is an emotional punch to the stomach with a couple of knees to the face for good measure. The word 'Hell' is mentioned in the book's description a few times, and I like to think that that is exactly what this novella is. A sudden decent into grief, rage, vengeance, and then, finally, Hell.

I don't want to go into the plot because it moves quickly and there are a few surprises along the way that will ruin it if I even begin with the set up. One thing I can tell you, however, is that the characters breath with life, the atmosphere is thick, and the prose is lyrical and full of symbolism. It's really quite a startling read that will draw you into its grim, darkly painted world.

Once there, it will no let you go. When We Join Jesus In Hell will haunt you long after you've read it. I finished it almost a month before writing this review, and I still think about it. Highly recommended.

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