Saturday, May 30, 2015

Saturday Shorts: Isolation

Introduction to Isolation
by Claus Holm
51 pages
$.99 Kindle version

Introduction to Isolation is a collection of four short stories with the common theme of being stuck somewhere. Perfect for readers that have less than an hour of free time.

Remember how boring it was to be stuck in a classroom all day? Imagine being held prisoner by soldiers, afraid to leave your desk. Afraid to fly? Some people have the same fears, but different reasons. What exactly inspires an author? Do you really want to know? If you were stuck on an alien planet, would you ask for help, or try to find fuel by yourself? Horror, sci-fi and general strangeness are all within these pages.

I enjoyed all four stories. The writing style of Claus Holm reminds me of Twilight Zone: you don't know where you're going until you get there...and every end is a surprise. My favorite is the last story, The Pilot. I had my suspicions about the direction of the story, but the ending was still a horrific surprise.

You don't have to be a fan of any particular subgenre to appreciate the entertainment value of these four stories.

As always,

Friday, May 29, 2015

John Connor Interview

No, nothing to do with Cyberdyne. (Did you know there really is a robotics company called Cyberdyne?!) This John Connor is a horror/sci-fi author that I recently discovered during one of my breaks from the undead. He's written an entertaining horror anthology filled with twenty-two fantastic tales.

Some of the stories are merely entertaining, some are utterly terrifying, but they are all well-written and completely captivating. I love the variety of the stories - not only is each plot unique, but the settings, POV, etc. are also unique to each story. I wanted to know more about the man behind the stories, so I asked Connor a few questions in the Lair:

Q. Have you always aspired to be a writer, or is this a recent development?

Well, I suppose that I've been writing for a long time, but I've only considered myself to be 'a writer' for the last decade or so.  I spent my career with the provincial press, which always leads people to the conclusion that I was a  journalist when in fact I was a member of the commercial staff and wasn't required to write a word as a part of my employment.  But opportunities came along from time to time and I made contributions to our various publications.  However, it wasn't until I found myself in early retirement that the time to write seriously became available.

Q. What genre are you most comfortable with and why?

I began reading science fiction as a child when I discovered Kemlo, the creation of the author E C Elliot, and was hooked.  Kemlo lived on a space station and owned his own space scooter - what nine year old wouldn't be captivated?  After that I read everything I could get my hands on, which in the UK in the mid fifties, wasn't a lot.  After I'd exhausted the supply of H G Wells and Jules Verne in my local library I had to look elsewhere for writers and that, with a few exceptions, meant the USA.  In my teens I was a huge fan of Ray Bradbury.  I loved both his sci fi and the poetry of the tales in The October Country and Dandelion Wine. I rediscovered his short stories just a while ago and they're still magical.  At home, John Wyndham was an influence (both he and H G Wells were former pupils of the school I attended).  The Day of the Triffids; The Midwich Cuckoos and The Kraken Wakes were all part of my reading experience.  In fact, I have to admit, my interests have been pretty single track when it comes to genre preference and I must have consumed just about all there's was from Aldiss to Zelazny as a young man.  No wonder then that sci fi is where I feel happiest.

Q. How does Whines and Spirits compare with your other anthologies?

In view of the above you'll see that Whines and Spirits is a little outside my usual area of interest as an author.  It came about as a result of one of those opportunities I spoke about earlier.  I received a commission to write a regular column for a young readers feature in one of our newspapers and that meant a ghost story was required each Halloween and New Year.  Over the years I compiled quite a collection and more  recently I sat down and rewrote many of them for an adult audience.  That's how the title came about.  It's the result of a commercial imperative I suppose. 

Style wise it's not a million miles from my other works, Fifty Percent of Infinity and Short Circuits, which are both collections of short sci fi stories.

Q. Who or what influences your writing? Do you follow the same process each time, or do you approach each story differently?

What influences my writing?  Well all of the above and everything else in my life - just like any writer I guess.

I look for a new idea, or more usually, since new ideas are hard to come by, a new slant on a familiar theme and I start writing.  The 'voice ' is the important thing.  The tone, the style; something that catches the nature of, and enhances, the narrative.  That just comes naturally.  I don't give it a lot of thought.  There are alternative possibilities of course and the one you choose - if you do choose - can make the difference between a story that sounds credible and one that's appears contrived and false.  With the voice comes the story.

Q. How do you think genres such as horror and science fiction have changed since the 1980s? Do you think readers have also changed? If so, how?

As to horror I can't offer an opinion but with regard to science fiction, yes there have been changes.  Genre style is an evolving condition adapting to social mores and preferences.  Twenty first century sci fi has been hijacked somewhat by the movie industry and expectations from readers new to the genre are sometimes for similarly grandiose concepts.  But there are still plenty of people out there writing high quality sci fi for discerning fans. Take a look at Gardner Dozois' annual Year's Best.  The near future is often more intriguing than the death of the universe and the day after tomorrow is changing all the time, as a result of what's happening today.

Q. Do you think there is a difference between US readers and UK readers, besides location? Do you think authors need to take culture into consideration when writing for different audiences?

Oh yes, I'm sure there is.  We may, in many respects, share the same culture but there is a wide divergence in social mores and, I suspect, a very different national consciousness. At a basic level there's much that divides us too. I'm reading Stephen King's 11-22-63 right now and  - apart from that date, which would read 22-11-63 over here - there are frequent references to sport, politics and even retail businesses (!) which leave me baffled.  Do I think King should publish a UK friendly version of his story? No, certainly not.  It's those touches of Americana that are an added attraction for a British audience and place the story right where it belongs.

Q. What else would you like readers to know about your work?

If there is anything to discover, I'd like the readers to do that for themselves. If you're a horror aficionado then Whines and Spirits may seem pretty tame to you; no blood and guts, no slavering monsters from the nether reaches of hell. Just, I hope, quietly chilling tales and lots of story lines to make you think.  Friends tell me that's a fault.  There are enough ideas in that collection to write three or four novels, they say, why don't you expand the plots a little and stretch things out?  But that's not what I'm about.  You'll find this with Fifty Percent of Infinity and Short Circuits too, if you're kind enough to give them a go.  Ideas sparking into life and racing to a conclusion, or at least part way to a conclusion, because I like to leave the reader room to think on...

I definitely recommend Whines and Spirits to my fellow horror fans...sometimes it's nice to go back to the basics that first attracted us to the genre.

As always,

Wednesday, May 27, 2015


by Paulo Coelho
272 pages
$7.99 Kindle version

Once upon a time, I worked in a Borders (a bookstore, for you younger kids that think everything comes from the internet). I remember that books by Paulo Coelho were best-sellers that we could hardly keep in stock, especially The Alchemist. A lot of customers told me how his book changed the way they look at life. There is definitely a depth to his books that you won’t find in “best-sellers” like 50 Shades of Grey.

So, I was surprised to find out he had written a book called Adultery, about adultery. Only it’s so much more than a story about a woman’s affair. In fact, the affair plays a very small part in the story. It’s more setting than plot…it’s also a great hook. Linda, a journalist living in Geneva, has a great life by most standards, but suddenly finds herself miserable when she realizes that her life lacks passion after a flip remark by an author during an interview. Basically, Linda is on her way to a midlife crisis.

“Today I am a woman torn between the terror that everything might change and the equal terror that everything might carry on exactly the same for the rest of my days.”

Around the same time, she reconnects with a college boyfriend who is now a well-known politician that she must interview. And, so, her affair begins…but the passion she finds does not bring her any real happiness.

The story is written in first person, almost as a confession, with brief chapters. This format had me racing through book, which is unusual for me, considering this isn’t a mystery-thriller or action-packed adventure. It’s just that the drama is so intense in the most personal way, I was genuinely worried about Linda’s marriage and her state of mind. The lady has some seriously dark thoughts run through her head at times.

Coelho does a superb job creating an atmosphere for Linda to come to terms with her life based on her adultery, without any explicit sex scenes. THAT is true storytelling.
As always,

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Writers: Don't Be Discouraged

Everybody seems to have their own idea of how their writing career will begin...and it rarely ever happens the way anyone plans. Maybe you've been rejected a bunch of times, maybe you were accepted for an anthology but didn't actually get paid, or maybe you lucked out from the beginning but your career isn't taking off the way you expected. The process is complicated and, often, discouraging.

Here are a few tips that might help you deal with the ups and downs:

Whether you’re asking someone to comment on a work-in-progress, review a completed book, or consider your work for publication, there are usually guidelines in place, so research the situation is first. For instance, ask what the estimated turn-around is…if it’s longer than you care to wait, you might want to consider other options. Please keep in mind how ridiculous-busy many publishers, editors, etc.'s not that they don't make time to read your submissions, they may simply haven't had a chance. A lot of people in the writing profession are leading double lives (by that I mean working more than one job or handling numerous personal responsibilities), and there are only so many hours in the day…especially during the holidays.

When you do get a response, and it’s not what you were hoping for, DO NOT TAKE IT PERSONAL. I don't care what anyone says; NO ONE starts out as earth-shattering...even when it comes to writing reviews. For example, the difference in my reviews written two years ago, compared to the last six months, is terrible...and I still have a long way to go. Maybe you need a bit more editing, maybe you weren’t what they were interested in at that particular time, or maybe you’ll get a completely different reaction from elsewhere (i.e. find a better fit). What you don’t want to do is start talking trash because you’ll probably just end up giving yourself a bad reputation; you never know where your referrals may come from. Someone may not like your work, but maybe they know someone who would.

Above all, be patient. Even when an author's work is fast-tracked & contracted, it still can take forever for things to happen. Some of the most well-established authors have to wait months at times now and then.

Last, but not least, keep writing. Even if you want to be a novelist, it won’t hurt to start small: blogs, magazines, anthologies. Instead of trying to jam “the book” down everyone’s throat, give them a taste of your writing – a reason to come around and read your big novel (that you’ve undoubtedly spent countless hours perfecting).

Please don't get discouraged!!

As always,

Monday, May 25, 2015

A Lost Daughter of China

The Year She Left Us
by Kathryn Ma
352 pages
$10.99 Kindle version

This novel is centered around a young girl named Ari, adopted from China by a single Chinese-American woman, Charlie. Even though Ari is at the heart of the story, it doesn't take long to realize that all three generations of the Kong women, including Aunt Les and Ari's grandmother, are doing some serious soul-searching. Ari is struggling with abandonment issues and longing for a father figure, Charlie is struggling with being a single mother, Les is trying to balance a career and love life, and the grandmother has been keeping a dark secret for years.
I enjoyed reading the story, but it was almost like watching a car accident happen in slow motion. I found all four women to be very self-centered, even though Ari's mother, aunt and grandmother keep emphasizing the importance of family. I never sensed any real happiness within the Kong family and no one gets the happy ending they're longing for. So why read such a depressing story?
It's a gritty eye-opener, displaying the cultural differences, not only between China and the U.S., but also between the Chinese-Americans in Chinatown, the Chinese-Americans trying to be as "American" as possible, the white families that adopted Chinese daughters, and, of course, Ari and her Chinese-American family. Ari's self-destructive path is the prefect tool to highlight all the racial politics, both at home and abroad.
Ma's debut novel is a well-written social commentary that I think will interest readers who enjoy novels with cultural emphasis.
As always,


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Who In The Hell Is Amy Cross?! [Interview]

Before February of this year, I had never heard of Amy Cross. I found her by accident during one of my searches for something new to read. (I was also looking to take a break from the zombie genre.) The first story of hers that I stumbled upon was 3AM.

3AM is so much more than a ghost story with haunted train tracks. First of all, I kept checking my clock to make sure it wasn't 3am. It also didn't help that I could hear the night train passing through my part of town. I was sincerely frightened, and I think other horror fans will feel similar chills. Cross uses classical elements of horror, such as mystery and suspense, and mixes them with not only paranormal situations, but also terrifying events that happen in real life (ex: serial killer). All of the characters interested me, not just the main characters - not something that usually happens when I read horror. The prologue immediately hooks readers (and scared the crap out of me), and, last but not least, the ending is excellent.

WARD Z: REVELATIONS is every camper's worse case scenario. At a UK camp for teens with terminal cancer, four girls are forced to fight for what little life they have left. They soon realize that no one can be trusted as they uncover a plot by an invading species to take over the world. Invasion of the Body Snatchers is nothing compared to this nightmare created by Amy Cross. (You do not need to read Ward Z for Revelation to make sense, but I recommend adding it to your Amy Cross reading list.)

TENDERLING  is not only a damn terrifying nightmare, but also a great piece of fiction in general. You don't even have to be a horror fan in order to appreciate the entertainment value of Tenderling. The epilogue ROCKED! I want to contact my friends in the film industry and make this into a movie!

THE GIRL CLAY was one hell of a demonic tale. I love all the elements at work in this story: horror, mystery, suspense and drama. The horror ranges from real-life issues to the supernatural. There is mystery surrounding Clay - her past, the present and, of course, the demonic entity hunting and tormenting her. The two storylines, set ten years apart, are the perfect way to build suspense throughout the novel, until readers are finally shown all the connections. Last but not least, the drama surrounding the girl Clay, specifically the detachment she maintains with everyone around her. Her non-relationship with Aaron is one of the most heart-wrenching part of the story in my opinion. Amy Cross is such an incredible writer, she is able to create an intense level of intimacy between Clay and Aaron in just a few short scenes.

THE SCREAM is a great short story, if you don't have time for a full-length novel. As soon as I began reading, the scream had me hooked. Cross does an excellent job of describing what the town is experiencing...I felt their desperation. Some readers may find the ending frustrated. Having read The Girl Clay, I felt that I had a special insight into the mystery. The novel is NOT related to the short story, but...remember how Stephen King hid easter eggs from his stories in his other stories? I recognized a name in The Scream from The Girl Clay. That was good enough for me

As far as I'm concerned, Amy Cross writes horror the way it should be written. She is a prolific horror author, possibly the best I've come across since the 80s, so I asked her for an interview, and she was kind enough to take time out of her busy schedule to answer a few questions...

Q: Do you consider yourself a horror author, or do you avoid labels that limit you to one genre?

A: I try to pay attention to the labels without letting them limit me. I don't take a very analytical approach to that side of things, I just trust my instincts and hope that I won't stray too far off course.

I love writing horror, but occasionally I like to try something a little different. Sometimes that works, e.g. with The Girl Who Never Came Back, and sometimes it doesn't, e.g. with The Return. I'm working on something now that's firmly in the fantasy genre, it might even have a few dragons. But horror seems to be my thing, and I'm not complaining.

Q: You have a plethora of short stories and novels. What is your writing schedule like? What’s a typical day for you?

A: I have a real-life job that takes up a few days each week. On those days, I usually write from about 7pm to midnight. On days when I don't have to do the other job, I start at 8am, take a break from midday to 2pm, and then work again until 5pm. So that's between five and seven hours a day. I really enjoy writing, so I usually only have a few days each year where I don't do any at all. It's pretty intense, though, and if someone knocks on the door when I'm in the middle of something, they can usually tell I've been writing because I'm almost in a daze!

When I'm not writing, I'm usually out with the dog, or cooking. Sometimes I even crawl out into sunlight and see other people. I recently moved, so I think that was enough disruption for now.

Q: How do you feel about the controversy over self-publishing? Do you think authors should try to submit to a publisher first?

A: I think authors should do whatever suits them best. Self-publishing suits me, because I can work fast and I get to decide what book to write next. There are advantages and disadvantages to any approach, and I think the key thing is to be flexible.

For example, I doubt any sane publisher would ever have thought that Dead Souls is a good idea, since it's basically a commitment to release a fifty-page episode every week. It took me a while to decide I was ready to commit to that. A publisher would probably want the whole thing written a year in advance, and they'd probably want me to commit to one particular genre with the series, which would be tricky. So far it's a melodramatic horror romance soap thriller with occasional hints of erotica. I'm not sure how I'd have explained that to a publisher at the start.

Then again, I've never worked with a publisher, so if a good one came along, I think I'd have to give it a try.

Q: What kind of fan base do you have? Have they shown a preference for particular titles?

A: I don't really know! I've never tried to analyze it. I was lucky that the first books I released, the Dark Season trilogy, did quite well, and then so did Asylum. I just write the books that I want to write, and I make sure to label and describe them accurately so that people know what they're getting with each one.

Q: Your genre range and writing style remind me of Stephen King from the 70s and 80s. Do you think you will ever be as well-known? What goal do you have for your writing career?

A: I'm a big fan of Stephen King, although I've by no means read all his work. I used to read James Herbert quite a lot, too.

I tend to binge read certain authors, going through all their work without a break. I did that with Graham Greene, and John Steinbeck, and William Faulkner, J.D. Salinger, people who aren't really known for writing horror, but whose books often have individual moments of horror.

My goal is just to keep writing. I don't expect to ever be as well-known as any of those people I just mentioned. I like my little schedule (as described above) and I wouldn't really want anything to disrupt it.

If you haven't read anything by Amy Cross, you are missing out on some excellent fiction. So what are you waiting for? Start reading her stories - the diversity alone will send your imagination into a state of horrified bliss.

As always,

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saturday Shorts With Joshua Scribner

I have recently become a fan of Joshua Scribner's short stories and flash fiction. I love his style: he dives right into the dark, lures readers in with well-crafted suspense, and leaves us gasping with unexpected endings. Here are some recommendations:

100 is a story about changes. Scribner has a real talent for writing stories with surprising twists, and 100 is no exception.

Bad Marriages is an entertaining flash fiction story about an unhappy husband, but I wish it had been longer...maybe with multiple victims, all connected in their personal lives. I love the killer in this one...completely caught me off guard.

In New World Justice, an unusual society has risen. I certainly was not expecting the supernatural angle, and I definitely haven't read anything like this, but it is more bizarro fiction than horror.

Very Short Very Wicked is only a few pages, but still an incredible flash fiction collection with some variety. The first one is my favorite!

Sometimes curiosity can be both good and bad. Come Out is only a few pages, but it is full of surprises. Just when I thought I couldn't be caught off guard, along comes Scribner.

What's Right In Front Of You is Scribner's best story to date. I read the story's description beforehand, and I was still thoroughly surprised throughout the story. Ignorance is not bliss, it's just sad. There is a level of human darkness within these pages which is far more terrifying than the undead or other supernatural creatures. Scribner delivers a mystery so thick with suspense, readers will be gasping out loud.

These stories are just a fraction of Scribner's work. He has written dozens of short stories, anthologies and novels. Horror fans short on time should definitely check out Scribner's list.

As always,

Friday, May 22, 2015

Review Request Guidelines

Ever since I started writing book reviews, I have had several difficult situations arise with authors and publishers. Some of these situations happen so often, I had to write a set of guidelines. I've been using these guidelines for years, and, yet, I am still dealing with some of the same issues. It makes me feel like I have to explain to someone why water doesn't roll uphill - it's very frustrating.

So, PLEASE, read these guidelines before you contact me about a book review!

  1. Your book needs to be available for purchase. It doesn't matter if your book is in paper form, or an's pointless for me to write a review about the book, especially 5-stars, if readers can't buy it. It doesn't have to be on Amazon, but it helps if your book is for sale at a site that allows me to post a review. This would seem obvious, but I've lost count of how many times someone has asked me to write a review about a book/story that wasn't even published yet.
  2. I need to know the following details before I decide whether or not to do a review:
    a) genre
    b) number of pages
    c) if it is a stand alone or part of a series
    If I feel I can’t read a book/story with an open mind for any reason, I won’t do a review. In order to be fair to the author, I need to be genuinely interested. If I turn down a request, don’t take it personally. It may be as simple as having a huge workload...not to mention the fact that I have a life offline.
  3. Although I rarely write reviews with less than a three-star rating, it does happen. If this is a problem for you, please do not request a review from me. No one is guaranteed anything other than honesty, and a promise that I will finish every story before I write a review. Authors from the same publishers are not guaranteed the same review ratings; reviews are based on the individual's work, not the name of their mutual publisher. Even if I am a fan of your work, you are not guaranteed a great review...if anything, I will have higher expectations.
  4. A review won’t help your sales, even if it’s a 5-star review, if you don’t share the link in your networks/sites/blogs. The reason I review books is because I want to share my finds with others. If I love a story, I want other readers to know about it. I take it offense to authors that hound me for a review & then don’t bother to link back to the review, even when the review praises the writing. There are plenty of hungry authors who would love the free publicity.
  5. I only review final book versions. Even if I've read a beta version, I need to make sure that the version I review is the same one that customers will be buying. I am NOT referring to editing for typos, or polishing up a few sentences here and there; I am talking about taking out entire sections, adding new chapters, and/or other massive changes. Let me make this perfectly clear: if I review something & you make massive changes, then my original review is no longer valid, and I don't want to be accused of writing fake reviews because you couldn't be bothered to give me a heads up first!!
  6. I am more than happy to provide blurbs, etc. I do not have a problem with any part of my reviews being quoted, as long as the quote is attributed to “Ursula K Raphael” …I don’t like being plagiarized anymore than you do.
  7. Please do not abuse my contact information. If I connect with you on a social network, or give you my email, please don’t send duplicate messages. Do not send me multiple messages. If I don’t get back to you right away, I guarantee you that I am busy - not ignoring you. I will get back to you as soon as I can. Please do not add me to mailing lists for your personal websites, pages, etc.
  8. If you choose not to follow my guidelines, I will not be able to work with you. Even if you write the most amazing story in the history of the human race, I can’t work with someone who is disruptive. It’s not fair to the other people that I work with. Consider it practice for following submission guidelines to publishers. 
  9. Keep your personal drama to yourself. If you have a beef with another author or publisher that I have worked with, do not involve me or expect me to take a side. If you make a habit of bad-mouthing others in the literary community, especially the horror community, I will probably choose not to work with you. If you have a significant other causing drama, I will hold you responsible...and not work with you. The only thing I really care about is whether or not your story/writing is entertaining.
  10. If I do happen to work on a project with you, please don’t expect me to hold your hand through the rest of your writing career. Keep in mind that I am not an editor, agent or publisher, so please do not make other requests that are unrelated to the review process. Beta-reading is the only exception.
If you have any questions, just ask. You can message me through Facebook (I do check my "Other" folder whenever I'm online). You can also contact me through Twitter. (I rarely use my account on Google+, but I 'm there too.) Or you can just leave a comment here.
Ursula K Raphael
aka AstraDaemon

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Crystal Connor's Twisted Mind

...And They All Lived Happily Ever After!: A Smorgashboard of Atrocities
by Crystal Connor
260 pages

Crystal Connor is anything but a traditional horror writer; her anthology "...And They Lived Happily Ever After" showcases her amazing ability to change up her writing style and themes, boosting the originality of her every creation. Usually, a reader would have to find a compilation of several different authors to find the kind of variety featured in her collection of stories.

After the most seductive intro I have ever read, the anthology begins with the novella, The Lazarus Antidote. If you are a zombiephile, but you feel you've read every type of apocalypse scenario, then you need to read this story. I've never read anything like it - I'm not even sure how to classify the prose of this particular tale. The first dozen pages or so made me feel like I was reading articles on a science news website. The descriptions of medical breakthroughs set the perfect tone for the nightmare that follows. Eventually, the story that emerges will have you rethinking everything you've ever imagined about a zombie viral outbreak.

The Parish is a short story about the demise of a small town after a geomagnetic storm brings about an apocalypse. Two communities merge in an attempt at joint survival, and God makes it known that He is not pleased with the results.

Best Friends Forever is one of my favorites. This story is told through various letters between a woman stalking another woman, the victim, and diary entries. This is a great example of how Connor deviates from typical story structure, making the situation between the women incredibly intense.

Amber's New Friend is simply one of the best ghost stories that has ever been written.

The Ruins has a fantastic original take on reincarnation.

I was so enthralled with The Monster that when someone tried to get my attention while I was reading, I jumped about a foot in the air. I am now afraid to go anywhere near the tree line in my backyard.

The Christmas Wish is the best story that I've ever read in my entire life; it should win an award. Connor should sincerely consider optioning this one into a movie.

The Queen's Pawn didn't quite fit in with the theme of the anthology in my opinion, but it was a nice piece of flash fiction nonetheless.

Generations Apart featured a moment of revenge among family members - nice touch with the text messages.

They Always Come Back is a great sci-fi story; I would love to see this turned into a full-length novel.

The Apple is an unusual dramatic story about a little girl and a homeless woman that is absolutely heart-breaking.

Bryannah And The Magic Negro had some great dialogue in the beginning that hooked me into the fates of the family; this story, about a statue that could grant wishes, is one of my favorites in the collection.

Spores is a brief tale about a germaphobe.

In addition to the novella and the short stories (which include a couple that I didn't mention for fear of revealing too much), there are flash fiction pieces at intervals throughout the anthology all titled Thicker Than Water. None of the stories are related to one another, rather they appear to be the literary equivalent of Tales From The Crypt or Twilight Zone. My favorite "episode" was the one with competitive neighbors. Every story is a great addition - it's like having a mini-collection within the larger compilation. Thicker Than Water could actually function as a separate anthology, albeit smaller, but Connor wisely give her readers plenty of horror for their dollar.

As always,

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

3 1/2 Years Later...

Against The Light
by Dave Duncan
495 pages
$4.99 Kindle version

I can't believe I actually put off reading this book for over three years! When I first put it on my reading list, I did so because I was looking to read more fantasy books at the time. However, I was under the impression that this novel had a heavy religious theme, and that's a theme (much like politics) that I try to avoid, even in literature.

The book description emphasizes the turmoil between followers of the Light, and worshippers of Mother Earth, mentioning missionaries, priests, heresy and treason. What it doesn't mention is the family drama that is the true heart of the story. And, while the details of the Mother's children definitely brings the fantasy element front and center, the medieval setting has some elements of historical fiction.

Three siblings (Maddy, Bram and Rollo) are separated at the beginning of the story by circumstances arising from the conflicts between the two religions of their country. Thus, three separate storylines emerge, one following each of the Woodbridge children. From time to time, the POVs of other characters are included, depending on their proximity and/or relationship to the Woodbridge trio.

I think Maddy's storyline is the most interesting because her character appears to go through the most physical and emotional changes. Bram's experiences are also very extreme, but he maintains his childhood innocence longer than his brother and sister. While Rollo is a main character, and a key plot device, I don't think he has to face as many personal challenges as his two younger siblings.

The character development is amazing. Duncan doesn't describe his characters as much as he allows readers to share in their experiences, creating a bond between the audience and the Woodbridge children. The use of dramatic irony also built the suspense far higher than I would have expected for a novel based in this genre.

The ending did leave me wondering if this was to be continued in a series; it works as a stand-alone, but I wouldn't mind reading another story set in the opposing country.

If you've ever read anything by Fred Saberhagen, you might enjoy Dave Duncan.

As always,

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Quite The Buffet Of Horror!

Somewhere In The Shadows
136 pages
$2.99 Kindle version

This anthology includes a mix of authors and genres filled with suspense and horror:

ADAM'S RIBS by Andrez Bergen: Vampire flash fiction. Humorous in a good way.

BLOOD LINE by Amber Keller: Werewolf flash fiction. Sad, but entertaining.

D.A.V.E. by Dean Giles: One of the best in this collection - a sci-fi tale that would impress both Ray Bradbury and Stephen King.

ON THE AIR by Jonathan D Allen: One of the scariest stories in the book - I'm afraid of going into my own shed now.

THUMBING IT by Marissa Farrar: Great horror story with classic elements.

HIGHWAY by Andrew Cyrus Hudson: I wish it was longer - LOVED IT!!

GOING VIRAL by Craig Jones: Fantastic zombie story!

CHARLATAN by C.M. Humphries: Great mix of suspense, mystery, action & horror.

WORDS by Dan H. Kind: Made me nervous to read it on my Kindle.

I recommend this collection to any horror/sci-fi fan.

As always,

Monday, May 18, 2015

Torture Porn

Torture Porn
by John Putignano
307 pages
$1.99 Kindle version

John Putignano, the author of "Pleasures in Putrefaction" and "Flesh of Society," has created a collection of horror tales guaranteed to shock the senses.

Yes. There is an abundance of graphic violence and depraved characters. The author also includes a variety of torture: self-inflicted, involuntary, psychological, physical, mundane, supernatural...not for those with weak stomachs. As a matter of fact, if you are not a serious horror fan, stay the hell away from this book. However, the violence and depravity are just fragments of the nightmares within this collection.

A true horror fan will be able to see beyond the gore, into the more disturbing elements of the stories...the lack of empathy, morals and restraint. Many stories seem to have nothing to do with the title. THE SHUT-IN is a story about guilt manifesting into a phobia. In TRANSLUCENCE, the role of monster keeps changing. THE NEBRASKA MOLOCH even had a happy ending. This anthology is a sampler of all the sub-genres of horror.

Unfortunately, the variety of stories does not provide a solid theme for this book. THE ALABAMA GODS would have made a better title.

Don't let "Torture Porn" chase you away - this is just a horror anthology...with no limits.

As Always,

More Than A Haunted House

The Patchwork House
by Richard Salter
237 pages
$4.99 Kindle version

James and his girlfriend, Beth, have come back to England to assess a piece of real estate for his dad. The patchwork house is a mix of various architecture...and it's haunted. So, naturally, James invites his friend Derek and his wife Chloe to spend the weekend at the house for some ghost hunting.

Unfortunately, there is more to the house than just ghosts. There is an entity that can control time travel, and the couples soon find themselves trapped in nightmare. If they want to survive, they have to sort out the different timelines inside the house, keeping them prisoners.

I'm a fan of Salter, and this is his best work to date. I read this novel in one sitting, during the day, and it still scared the crap out of me. I don't scare easy - I really don't, but the combination of horror, sci-fi and drama is absolutely terrifying and hopeless...and the relationship histories between characters adds that extra gut twist.

Horror fans have met their match in Salter.

As always,

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Zombie Movie "Experts" In Real Undead Outbreak

Decaying Humanity
by James Barton
205 pages
$2.99 Kindle version

A pair of friends consider themselves zombie experts...when it comes to movies, but when videos of zombie attacks appear online, claiming to be real, Harvey and Jim are put to the test of survival. They soon realize that zombies aren't their only problem.

This is a very original plot, full of surprises, with a great unfolding of the outbreak. I loved the emphasis on the fear factor. The action is non-stop, and the characters are quite interesting.

I hope Barton sticks with the zombie genre.

As always,

From Slave to Gypsy

The Barefoot Queen
by Ildefonso Falcones
656 pages
$13.99 Kindle version

Set in Spain, 1748, this story is about a recently freed Cuban slave, Caridad, wandering the streets of Seville. She meets Milagros, a gypsy who sweeps Caridad into a society full of romance and art, passion and dancing, until the gypsies are declared outlaws by a royal mandate.

This is a family drama rich with historical content, and with multiple POVs that overlap, making this story very suspenseful. I had no idea how it would end, even when I was down to the last page.

With three strong central female characters (Milagros Vega, Ana Vega and Caridad), the title of Barefoot Queen could apply to anyone of them. Caridad, a former Cuban slave living among gypsies, realizes that even though she is free of the tobacco plantation, it takes more than a document to truly feel free. Milagros learns the value of family by surviving the nightmare that is her marriage, and Ana becomes stronger than even she could imagine when she fights tooth and nail against the imprisonment of the gypsies. Melchor (Ana's father, grandfather to Milagros and the man who brings Caridad into the gypsy fold) is the one who ties the fates of the women together.

I loved how all the characters struggle to find their place in the world, without losing who they are inside. The details of the gypsy culture add a deep texture to the various storylines. More than once I cried while I was reading this's impossible not to feel the emotions of the characters.

I recommend this to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

As always,

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Know Thy Enemy: Aliens

Alien Invasion Owners' Resistance Manual: Know your enemy (all extraterrestrial lifeforms) - The Complete Guide to surviving the Alien Apocalypse (Owners' Workshop Manual)
by Sean T. Page
128 pages

This manual will appeal to a wide variety of readers: science fiction fans, gamers, those interested in the subject of alens, and, of course, those at high risk for abduction, as well as ages 13 and up. The format is well-organized and easy to comprehend, which is not surprising considering that survival manuals are the author's specialty.

Sean T Page puts a tremendous amount of research into his writing, including his personal expertise from his military background and world travels. I have been reading his books for years, and I've never been disappointed.

Now, Page is a British author and his books have a strong UK flavor, but even US readers can put these manuals to good use. ;)

I also recommend, Zombie Survival Manual: From the dawn of time onwards (all variations), for the zombie fans on your gift list.

As always,

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Worst Customer Service

The Phone Company
by David Jacob Knight
425 pages
$.99 Kindle version

HELLO, I AM THE TETHER - The Phone Company has been around for a long time. As civilization grew, so did PCo’s power, slowly spreading its lines across the continent. Today it’s in everything. It’s in the air around us.

I CAN TRACK YOUR KIDS FOR YOU - Now PCo is building a cell tower in the isolated town of Cracked Rock, Montana, bringing with it infrastructure, opportunity, and the world’s smartest phone: the brand-new Tether.

I CAN SPY ON YOUR NEIGHBORS - But the Tether isn’t just a phone. It knows everything about you. It can give you anything you want. It can even connect you with the dead.

ALL YOU HAVE TO DO IS GET CONNECTED - As the Tether digs up the town’s dirtiest skeletons, one father must make a stand to save what’s left of his family, his town, and humanity itself—or succumb to his own desires.


PCo is a phone company that hands out "Tethers" to the townfolk of Cracked Rock. The apps are truly frightening - scarier than any horror monster. In addition to the extremely disturbing nature of the technology, there is a madness within this story that reminds me of Stephen King's Needful Things (a thought I had BEFORE one of the characters actually referred to the apps as "needful things").

The Phone Company could easily be the result of a three-way between Stephen King, Steve Jobs and HP Lovecraft, but it is the twisted creation of David Jacob Knight. As with The Pen Name, Knight has a talent for perverting reality into a nightmare that you'll never forget.

As always,

Life In Hell

Damaged Souls
by David Bernstein
240 pages
$4.24 Kindle version

There are so many levels to this story that I don't know where to begin...a man facing the life-changing consequences of what seemed like an insignificant decision at the time, the supernatural battle for the future of mankind, avenging the death of a loved one, interconnected much going on in this novella - never a dull moment. I also love the depth that Bernstein adds to the main character's relationships, particularly with his wife.

I have been a fan of Bernstein's for some time now, but this is unlike any of his previous work, proving that Bernstein knows his horror and doesn't limit himself to any particular sub-genre. Even though there are supernatural creatures in this story, it's the realistic events that are the most terrifying. Some of the gore comes in spurts, but the rest of the story flows quite easily with an impressive buildup to the final struggle.

The ending is a spectacular way to tie up any loose ends, and provide the perfect closure. I recommend this book to any horror fans who miss the old-school methods of tearing the heart out of readers, and serving it still-beating within the pages.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

A Brutal Throwback Thursday

Brutal Planet: A Zombie Novel
by Sean P. Murphy
316 pages
$2.99 Kindle version

Brutal Planet is a selection from my personal reading list, and I wasn't disappointed with my choice. Told mostly from the POV of an anthropologist named John, this novel is full of incredible action scenes, and some great dialogue between characters. I think making the main character someone who is able to make professional observations about the zombies was a superb decision by the author Sean P. Murphy. It provides an interesting angle to the story which I think zombiephiles will enjoy.

I personally enjoyed the way Murphy mixes up the storyline with a major flashback about halfway through, instead of dumping all of John's survival experiences on the readers at the beginning. It felt as if I was getting to know John as a person, and not just a character. But, for the life of me, I don't understand why the other characters kept calling John an [a-hole], when he kept saving their lives.

I hope Sean P. Murphy continues to write more stories with the same formula: lots of action and solid character development, as well as the help of a professional editor. In the meantime, I encourage my fellow zombie fans to overlook the editing issues, and add Brutal Planet to their reading lists.

As always,

Throwback Thursday: Chasing Nightmares

Chasing Nightmares
by Adam Millard
292 pages
$.99 Kindle version

Adam Millard has dug into the dark and devilish corners of his mind to provide readers with a buffet of frightening delights that will thrill and traumatize any horror fan.

COFFEE, DEATH, TEA Don't order beer at a coffee shop at ten in the morning. Brilliant start to the collection.

YOU'VE CHANGED, VERONICA LEIGH Truly frightening - Alfred Hitchcock would have loved this one.

DOPPLEGANGER One of my favorites - I had no idea where Millard was going with this, but I enjoyed the ending.

SCREEN 5 A vampire story; different for this particular subgenre.

THE CAGED DOLL I read this in another collection, and it never ceases to impress me. Great hook...even better twist!

FLORENCE'S DIARY Another story that I've read before; POV told through child's diary.

I DREAM OF DJINNY This one actually made me sad!

SHORT LIFE OF SOLITUDE More like flash fiction, but the darkest piece in the collection.

KEEPING UP WITH THE SUTTONS Dramatic and suspenseful.

CARNY Another favorite. Everything about it was completely unexpected.

THE WITCHING-WELL HAG Great finish to a spectacular collection.

I don't think I've enjoyed an author's collection since I read Stephen King's Skeleton Crew.

As always,