Review: Conduits by Jennifer Loring

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About Conduits

Mara is a Japanese-American girl with a history of personal tragedy. Though she still cuts herself to quell the pain, she thought the worst was behind her. But her boyfriend’s sudden death, and a visit to one of the most haunted places in Washington State, sends her into a spiral of madness, landing her in a psychiatric ward.

Already suffering from dreams of a strange, ghost-infested house in the woods, Mara begins to question the very existence of reality. She is forced to confront the truth about her older sister’s death and the reason the ghosts have chosen her as their conduit.


About the Author

Born in Portland, Maine and raised in rural western New York, Jennifer Loring had read Stephen King by age 11 and was writing horror stories within a year. Her first publication was in the Canadian vampire magazine Requiem Aeternam at age 21. She is a member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and the International Thriller Writers (ITW).

website: http://jennifertloring.com


My Thoughts

The first thing to strike me about Conduits is Jennifer Loring’s writing voice. She’s got a style and a strong authorial pen that makes reading this novella crackle. Whether she’s describing rain falling down a windowpane or the much darker act of deliberately cutting oneself in an effort to control the psychological pain through the physical act of bleeding, there’s a consistent beauty and elegance to her words that really appealed to me.

Coupled with that is a wickedly strong story. Conduits is billed as a ghost story, but Loring brings so much more to the table by wrapping her plot in a paranoiac’s mystery and the hazy fog of depression and self-doubt. Mara is a cutter, but her problems run in multiple dark, stark streams of deep psychological trauma. Loring expertly ties all of this into a troubled family history and the recounting of Japanese myth from Mara’s grandfather to her.

I absolutely loved this novella, and I think it’s one of those reads that works best when you know little to nothing about the story. I hadn’t read the plot blurb since pre-ordering this book a few months back, which allowed me to forget what it was supposed to be about. Given that, I’d forgotten a lot of the key elements listed in the description and was surprised at the turns it took. I’d love for any future readers of this title to just blind-buy it and ignore the description, simply so they can have the same surprise and shocks over the turns the narrative takes. That said, I’m going to inject a brief SPOILER WARNING here, so by all means skip the next paragraph.

The plot twists are rich sucker-punches, and the way Loring was able to alter Mara’s voice between the first and second chapter, after we, as readers, have hung onto her words and trusted her as a narrator, only to be faced with the potential of delusion atop delusion, twisted inside a desperate paranoia and mental mystery, was absolutely enthralling. It was a great way to upset the narrative and call into doubt Mara’s legitimacy, which remains inconclusive throughout.

END OF SPOILER

I had previously thought that Blackout would be my pick for best DarkFuse novella this year, but Conduits has quickly called that into question. This was such a rich, multilayered story of psychological horror that it may not only be one of DarkFuse’s best novellas this year, it may be one of the best books I’ve read this year. As far as I’m concerned, Conduits isn’t just highly recommended, it’s a must have.

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Review: Bad Apples: Five Slices of Halloween Horror

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About Bad Apples: Five Slices of Halloween Horror

The five freshest voices in horror will make you reconsider leaving the house on October 31st with these all-new Halloween tales:

• A brother and sister creep out of the darkness with bags full of deadly tricks in Gregor Xane’s THE RIGGLE TWINS.

• A boy with a misshapen skull just wants to be normal in Evans Light’s PUMPKINHEAD TED.

• A group of thrill seekers learn that looking for terror is a whole lot more fun than finding it in Adam Light’s GHOST LIGHT ROAD.

• Two bullies go looking for trouble but instead find a young boy and his imaginary friend in Jason Parent’s EASY PICKINGS.

• When a mysterious, Halloween-themed attraction comes to the town of Bay’s End, everyone is dying to pay a visit in Edward Lorn’s THE SCARE ROWS.


My Thoughts

Short horror stories can be a terrific thing of beauty at times. Quick character sketches that bring to life the cast, and a plot that cuts right to the bone, getting those scares front and center. Balancing these two necessary components in a small burst is an art, and to make them truly effective requires some very strong story-telling mojo.

Bad Apples: Five Slices of Halloween Horror does a sublime job of collecting five such effective stories under a single cover. The anthology is based around a simple, timeless tradition: the Halloween scare story. October 31st is ripe with things that go bump in the night, and the five authors collected here seize the stage for their own wicked tales. In short, these are the kind of storytellers you’d want around the campfire sharing their stories of haunts and legends. The anthology has it all: maniacs and monsters and ghosts, oh my.

Gregor Xane’s The Riggle Twins starts the show off well and gets the anthology off to a strong start. It’s also one of the most perfect examples of effective characterization done quickly. When we’re introduced to Kelly Crenshaw, a surly old man, we immediately know his mindset. He makes the “Get Off My Lawn!” elders seem downright quaint and picturesque, but is cognizant enough of his own behaviors to question how he can possibly be melancholy when he enjoys misery so damn much. The Riggle twins are creepy products, thanks to Xanes descriptive tellings, and they might even make you question the wisdom of trying to ride out Halloween with the lights off, the shades drawn, and lacking any candy to give out.

Pumpkinhead Ted is a powerful, emphatic tale of abuse and bullying. Ted is malformed thanks to a birth defect, and the subject of ridicule for seemingly everyone. Evans Light does a terrific job illustrating how sometimes monsters are man-made, rather than born, and ties it all into a much too-real legacy of urban legend. This one is a brisk and compelling read that will tug at the heartstrings while possibly being the darkest, amoral story of the bunch.

Urban legends are a theme that Adam Light picks up with his Ghost Light Road. This one was a fun spin on kids seeking a few scares and getting far more than they bargained for, and added a little extra depth to the backwoods fright. Jason Parent’s Easy Pickings, too, was a fun twist on the bully-victim dynamic, and managed to bring a different facet to the proceedings than Pumpkinhead Ted so that it never felt redundant. While less emotionally shocking and abrasive as Evans’ story, it makes up for it with an eagerness that’s both scary and somehow light-hearted.

Capping it all off is Edward Lorn’s The Scare Rows, an erotically charged tour through the world’s worst Halloween carnival. It’s a fun, vulgar, dark riff on all of those haunted house, corn maze attractions that pop up annually to entertain for a few nights and then disappear back into the ground.

Bad Apples is some serious horror entertainment, and makes for a perfect Halloween anthology that readers just may find themselves turning toward every October 31st.

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Review: A Vision Of Fire by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin

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About A Vision Of Fire

The first novel from iconic X-Files star Gillian Anderson and New York Times bestselling author Jeff Rovin: a science fiction thriller of epic proportions.

Renowned child psychologist Caitlin O’Hara is a single mom trying to juggle her job, her son, and a lackluster dating life. Her world is suddenly upturned when Maanik, the daughter of India’s ambassador to the United Nations, starts speaking in tongues and having violent visions. Caitlin is sure that her fits have something to do with the recent assassination attempt on her father—a shooting that has escalated nuclear tensions between India and Pakistan to dangerous levels—but when teenagers around the world start having similar outbursts, Caitlin begins to think that there’s a more sinister force at work.

In Haiti, a student claws at her throat, drowning on dry land. In Iran, a boy suddenly and inexplicably sets himself on fire. Animals, too, are acting irrationally, from rats in New York City to birds in South America to ordinary house pets. With Asia on the cusp of nuclear war, Caitlin must race across the globe to uncover the mystical links among these seemingly unrelated incidents in order to save her patient—and perhaps the world.


About the Authors

Gillian Anderson is an award-winning film, television, and theatre actress whose credits include the roles of Special Agent Dana Scully in the long-running and critically acclaimed drama series, The X-Files, ill-fated socialite Lily Bart in The House of Mirth, and Lady Dedlock in the BBC production of Charles Dickens’s Bleak House. She is currently playing the role of Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier in Hannibal and is a costar on the television thriller, Crisis. She currently lives in the UK with her daughter and two sons.

Jeff Rovin is the author of more than 100 books, fiction and nonfiction, both under his own name, under various pseudonyms, or as a ghostwriter, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. He has written over a dozen Op-Center novels for the late Tom Clancy. Rovin has also written for television and has had numerous celebrity interviews published in magazines under his byline. He is a member of the Author’s Guild, the Science Fiction Writers of America, and the Horror Writers of America, among others.


My Thoughts

[This review is based on an advanced reader's copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.]

I’ll just say this straight away: A Vision Of Fire was a novel I really wanted to enjoy far more than I actually did. That’s not to say the book is all bad, but given Gillian Anderson’s creative pedigree I had expected a lot more. (She’s Dana Scully for cripe’s sake, of The X-Files fame, and was recently promoted to series regular for the next season of Hannibal, which, if you’re not watching, you really should be!)

What I discovered was a story that was more like brain candy. It was fun when I was reading it, even if the prose was pretty basic and unengaged, but it was also easy to put down. And when I wasn’t reading A Vision of Fire, I wasn’t thinking a lot about it either. There wasn’t enough meat in the execution of the premise for me to chew on in the off-hours, and the characters didn’t have enough depth to make them compelling enough for me to fully invest in them.

Despite the psychological trauma of Maanik, daughter of an ambassador seeking a truce over border rivalries between India, Pakistan, and Kashmir, and an assassination attempt on the ambassador, the sense of danger is minimal. Her psychiatrist, Caitlin, never feels too out of her element or threatened by the minimalistic forces against her, and nobody really questions her motivations too intensely, particularly at times when it seems like it should be well deserved. There’s a shadowy group, known conveniently enough as The Group, whose inclusion in the proceedings is negligible at best beyond the theft of a rock in the novel’s opening sequence. Even the rock itself feels like a rather inconsequential and disconnected MacGuffin for large swathes of the story. Even half-way through the book I was still hoping for some degree of clarity as to what one side of the story had to do with another, and the ending ultimately failed to clarify or provide satisfactory closure in even broad terms. Propping up the entire construct with fairly hollow characters did little to help.

One thing that I did like, though, were the moments of psychiatric care and the segments between patient and healer. Although some of the elements became too swamped in woo for my tastes, other points worked well, such as Caitlin’s observations of changes in behavior and posture of those around her, which caused her to adapt and change her own tactics in communication. Those types of shifts were handled well and struck me as being nicely thought out. Some of the symptoms that were being manifested by Maanik and others presented an intriguing mystery and some terrific scares.

While I didn’t find the central cast and ancillary characters to be particularly well-drawn or charismatic enough to merit much attention, I rather enjoyed Caitlin’s relationship with her son, Jacob, who is partially deaf and has a love of cooking. Their connectedness and sort-of shared telepathic (for lack of a better word) shorthand that can exist as a result of strong parental-child bonding was heartwarming, and helped speak to the strength of mental health and well-being that informs Caitlin’s role in both her life and her profession. This relationship was one of the book’s stronger aspects, in fact.

Although I give Anderson and Rovin plenty of credit for taking a rather interesting spin on the doomsday scenario, one that calls into question the when and where of their apocalypse at hand, the different elements they’ve strung together fail to merge successfully or provide a worthwhile resolution. A Vision of Fire is ultimately a science-fiction book that eschews science almost entirely, opting instead to present the story through nonsensical mysticism and kooky spirituality, while the plot is built atop at least two too many contrivances.

buy at amazon

Review: The Wolf In Winter by John Connolly

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About The Wolf In Winter

The community of Prosperous, Maine has always thrived when others have suffered. Its inhabitants are wealthy, its children’s future secure. It shuns outsiders. It guards its own. And at the heart of the Prosperous lie the ruins of an ancient church, transported stone by stone from England centuries earlier by the founders of the town . . .

But the death of a homeless man and the disappearance of his daughter draw the haunted, lethal private investigator Charlie Parker to Prosperous. Parker is a dangerous man, driven by compassion, by rage, and by the desire for vengeance. In him the town and its protectors sense a threat graver than any they have faced in their long history, and in the comfortable, sheltered inhabitants of a small Maine town, Parker will encounter his most vicious opponents yet.

Charlie Parker has been marked to die so that Prosperous may survive.


About the Author

John Connolly is the author of The Wrath of AngelsThe Burning SoulThe Book of Lost Things, and Bad Men, among many others. He is a regular contributor to The Irish Times and lives in Dublin, Ireland. For more information, see his website at JohnConnollyBooks.com, or follow him on Twitter @JConnollyBooks.


My Thoughts

[This review is based on an advanced readers copy obtained from the publisher via NetGalley.]

John Connolly is one of my favorite authors, and I always relish each new entry in his Charlie Parker series. Every time I start in on one of these books, I’m immediately flooded with a sense of warmth, regardless of how chilling a plot he’s crafting. For me, the Parker books are a perfect comfort read, imbued with all of the basic genre hooks I love: the lone-wolf PI, a band of killers, a splash of the supernatural, a rich mythology running through the spine of the story, a haunting suggestion of one’s own dark soul, and explorations of the struggle between good and evil. Connolly himself is such a skilled and gifted storyteller that I always feel like I’m in good hands for the few hours I get to spend in his world.

Twelve Parker books deep, and Connolly is still at the top of his game. While The Wolf In Winter may be too soaked in the rich overarching mythology of the series for newcomers, long-term fans should find quite a lot to be happy about. And if, for whatever mysterious reason, you haven’t read any of this series yet, do yourself a favor and get a copy of Every Dead Thing and subsequent volumes until you’re all caught up!

This novel’s initial draw revolves around the murder of a homeless man and his daughter, and the dangerous Maine community of Prosperous, initially feels a bit too familiar, particularly for mystery genre readers and Parker fans. A massive mid-book game-changer upends any sense of familiarity or safety in the proceedings, and Connolly plunges us into the depths of conspiracy that has been a constant thru-line in the world that Parker and his allies inhabit. Among his new lethal enemies in Prosperous are returning staples, such as The Collector, who is being hunted by the detective following the conclusion of The Wrath of Angels, and organizations like The Believers and The Backers, and a number of familiar faces from previous entries. Louis and Angel, of course, return as well, with their eyes rightly centered on vengeance.

If I can draw a cue from The X-Files or Millennium, The Wolf In Winter would be considered a very heavy addition to the series mytharc, and reader’s enjoyment will depend on how heavily invested they are in the ongoing conspiracy and the rivalries of various factions concerned with the supernatural corners of Parker’s world. As a decade-plus long Connolly fan, I find myself even more intrigued with the underworld black-market activity that each book has helped to flesh out and shape into an ethereal, dangerous, sometimes omnipresent force overshadowing Maine and its surrounding locales. The cultish Familist activities of those in Prosperous and their devotion to the Green Man make for a fine addition to the series cannon, and prove to be remarkably interesting in their expansion and divisiveness of the darker corners of this series. Connolly takes some serious steps in giving the series, and its readers, a vicious jolt, the aftermath of which provides some of the most taut and tense drama in a long while.

As with other entries in the Parker series, my only complaint is that I’ll have to wait at least another year for the next one! Beyond that, The Wolf In Winter is ripe with Connolly’s customary humor, wry observations, and witty repartee, and provides some delirious escapist entertainment into the world of killers and old gods, and the ramifications of this particular entry should ripple out to disrupt Parker’s future and his role to play in the overlapping ancient conspiracy and prophesy for a good long while. This a perfect fall release, one to curl up with beside the fireplace to rightly savor, and is highly recommended for Parker devotees.

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Review: Sunblind by Michael McBride

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About Sunblind

When U.S. Border Patrol Agent Christian Rivera discovers the body of an undocumented alien in the middle of the vast Sonoran Desert with three enigmatic words carved into her flesh, presumably by her own hand, it triggers a frantic search for the remainder of her party, a group of twenty-five men and women who have inexplicably vanished into the desert.

Aided by two of the agency’s best trackers, Rivera follows the woman’s trail into the brutal heart of one of the hottest and most unforgiving landscapes on the planet, where nothing can survive for long. As more bodies turn up, Rivera and the others begin to realize they may be up against an enemy far deadlier than the desert, an unseen adversary that will stop at nothing to take from them what it needs to survive. A mythical evil that may not be myth at all, but horrifically real, could very well be stalking them, and their only hope of surviving the same fate that befell the missing party lies in deciphering the clues to their disappearance before it’s too late. If it isn’t already…

From Michael McBride, bestselling author of Burial Ground and Snowblind, comes Sunblind, a thrilling new novel of terror and action that will take you on an unforgettable journey from the desperate streets of Mexico, through the deadliest corridor in the world, to a place where mankind was never meant to tread.


About the Author

Michael McBride was born in Colorado and still resides in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains. He hates the snow, but loves the Avalanche. He works with medical radiation, yet somehow managed to produce five children, none of whom, miraculously, have tails, third eyes, or other random mutations. He writes fiction that runs the gamut from thriller to horror to science fiction…and loves every minute of it.

website: http://author.michaelmcbride.net/


My Thoughts

In Sunblind, Michael McBride’s latest DarkFuse horror novel, the parched, sun-drenched climes of the Sonoran Desert is every bit as vital to this piece as the characters and creatures.

Alternating between the story of a group of undocumented migrants crossing the Mexican border into Arizona and the investigation by Border Patrol into the grisly aftermath of their journey, the desert setting becomes its own violent, horrifying force of opposition. The group face not only the aggressive pathos of their coyote, but the threats of snake bites, dehydration, exposure, and severe sunburns. In fact, the dangerous environment and its effects on the human body, and the lengths some will go to just to survive another hour or another day, are as terrifying and squirm inducing as any other bit of horror. Before too long, as their numbers begin to dwindle, it becomes clear that they are also being stalked by a powerful, stealthy, and unimaginable hunter.

One of the really fun aspects of Sunblind is watching how deftly McBride alternates between the present-day and the recent past while keeping the story interesting and full of surprises. By introducing the lone survivor of the desert crossing in the opening pages, readers may think they know what comes next – and, to a certain degree, they’re right. However, McBride is able to keep the narrative suspenseful and fraught with tension, and with a pacing that’s right on the money. The cards are laid out up front, and so the investment as a reader lies entirely with seeing how Border Patrol Agent Rivera’s fresh discoveries merge with the events that unravel in the back story.

And, oh boy, do they unravel.

While the story is fundamentally a creature feature, somewhat in the vein of The Relic if you swap out the museum for a desert, the focus is squared centrally on the human cast. The story is a dark one, about the trials and tribulations and dangers of border crossing, from the Mexican ghettos where human cargo and cartel drug trafficking is the prime order of business, to the desolate, but no less perilous, vast expanse of sun-baked land. Equally horrendous are the traumatic backgrounds that drive the principle immigrants, and the dreams of their companions that are far sunnier and hopeful than the circumstances they find themselves engulfed by. Wrapped up around all of this is the narrative surrounding the Border Patrol’s investigation as they slowly and surely find evidence that things are far worse than they could have predicted.

While the characters, particularly Mayra, the lone survivor of her traveling band of immigrants, are well-developed and realistic, it becomes clear from the opening pages that McBride has certainly done his due diligence in researching for this novel. He peppers in facts regarding illegal immigrations, the number of souls lost to the desert, and the work of the Border Patrol so expertly that Sunblind could just as easily be a top-notch mystery/suspense thriller if not for the presence of ancient monsters. This additional layering adds a lot of depth and style, as well all the all-important sense of realism, to get the ball rolling for the horror to ultimately unfold.

Sunblind is a very strong book and will likely make for quite a solid contender during the DarkFuse Readers Choice selections later this year.

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Review: Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

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About Beautiful You

“A billion husbands are about to be replaced.”

From the author of Fight Club, the classic portrait of the damaged contemporary male psyche, now comes this novel about the apocalyptic marketing possibilities of female pleasure. Sisters will be doing it for themselves. And doing it. And doing it. And doing it some more . . . Penny Harrigan is a low-level associate in a big Manhattan law firm with an apartment in Queens and no love life at all. So it comes as a great shock when she finds herself invited to dinner by one C. Linus Maxwell, aka “Climax-Well,” a software mega-billionaire and lover of the most gorgeous and accomplished women on earth. After dining at Manhattan’s most exclusive restaurant, he whisks Penny off to a hotel suite in Paris, where he proceeds, notebook in hand, to bring her to previously undreamed-of heights of orgasmic pleasure for days on end. What’s not to like? This: Penny discovers that she is a test subject for the final development of a line of sex toys to be marketed in a nationwide chain of boutiques called Beautiful You. So potent and effective are these devices that women by the millions line up outside the stores on opening day and then lock themselves in their room with them and stop coming out. Except for batteries. Maxwell’s plan for erotically enabled world domination must be stopped. But how?


About the Author

Chuck Palahniuk’s novels are the bestselling Fight Club, which was made into a film by director David Fincher, Diary, Lullaby, Survivor, Haunted, and Invisible Monsters. Portions of Choke have appeared in Playboy, and Palahniuk’s nonfiction work has been published by Gear, Black Book, The Stranger, and the Los Angeles Times. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.


My Thoughts

(This review is based on an advanced reader’s copy obtained from the publisher via NetGalley.)

In Beautiful You, Chuch Palahniuk takes the War on Women to the next level with this dystopic satire centered around female orgasms.

C. Linus Maxwell has earned his tabloid nickname “Climax-Well” with the unveiling of his line of Beautiful You personal care products for women. Thoroughly researched and based on the tantric sex secrets of the ancients, the Beautiful You products quickly ensnare the vast majority of the global female population, from the first female president of the United States to a multiple-Academy Award winning French actress. New York turns chaotic as women begin disappearing, lost to the abyss of self-pleasure and turned into emaciated, toy-addicted zombies. Only Penny Harrigan, one of Maxwell’s most recent conquests and research assistant, can help stem the tide and undo his evil plans for world domination.

Beautiful You is a fun read, but ultimately lacks sufficient depth. Palahniuk seems too content to rely on stereotypes surrounding women – their love of shoes and tawdry romance vampire novels and their inferior rankings in a man’s world – rather than subverting them or plumbing them to their fullest depths. However, it makes for fun fodder, if only on a superficial mockery of the Fox News/Men’s Rights Movement perception on what women are like.

Penny herself is, at times, the lone standout and the primary focus of the novel. While there are other women present and accounted for, few of them make any lasting impression and appear to be notable only for their achievements in-world and not for any particularly skilled characterization. Most of the women that appear in this book have achieved notable success, but serve only as pawns to Maxwell’s scheming and have been coerced into their fame only through his machinations.

While worth a read, the book feels imbalanced between trying to make a point for female autonomy and mocking the far-right’s fear of all-things vaginal. Even Todd Akin’s idiocy gets some wish-fulfillment in a rape scene echoing the congressman’s ignorance when he espoused his nonsensical views on “legitimate rape” and how women’s bodies have a way of shutting that down. And while it scores points with its deft maneuvering on topics of commercialism and advertising, and how many men and society itself would utterly collapse without the presence of women, too much of the story itself is reliant on stereotyping and a pack-view mentality of women without any real glimpses of individuality or sparks of life outside of the book’s central character. Beautiful You rarely goes deeper than the superficial, and although its topic of women’s perceived roles in contemporary American society and politics is certainly ripe for satirizing, it does little else beyond pointing fingers at current problems in exchange for some knowing laughs. The book is a light breezy read, but on a topic that deserves more subtly and nuance than it receives here. Three stars.

2014 Reading Challenge Completed

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I challenged myself to read 45 books over the course of 2014 on the Goodreads Reading Challenge. It seemed like a good number, and was the same goal I had set in 2013 when I ended the competition with 52 books under my belt.

Now, here we are nearing September and I’ve already hit my goal. I’ll keep on reading, of course, but I’m not sure where the final tally will land. I’m sure I’ll do a final write-up in December, as I did last year, but I’m guessing I’ll probably get close to 60 books read when all is said and done.

I had set a number of resolutions to build my 2014 reading habit around. You can check those out here, but I’ll admit right up front – I didn’t really make a conscious effort to achieve any of them and I’ve struck out entirely thus far.

I’m blaming NetGalley. Probably not entirely fair of me, but…eh. Whatever. It’s just too awesome of a service, and I am weak in the willpower area when it comes to reading material. I am a book junkie.

Basically, I did not read any Clive Barker. I did not read Mark Greaney’s Gray Man series. I am not caught up on my Preston & Child books, and haven’t touched anything by Jonathan Maberry yet. The first three novels of The Expanse series still sit on my book shelf collecting dust. On the comic book front…well, you can probably guess the result based on these trends.

My physical TBR pile has gone entirely untouched this year (thanks to Kindle, I haven’t even read a single physical book all year), and my digital TBR collection has only ballooned.

Instead of doing any of these things, I opened up a NetGalley account and started reviewing advanced reader copies, or ARCs, as they’re commonly called, of various novels. Most of them I would have bought anyway, eventually, like Lauren Beukes’ Broken Monsters or Cronenberg’s Consumed. I absolutely fell in love with NetGalley, somewhat to my detriment, and put out a healthy number of requests, many of which were granted by those terrific publishers.

NetGalley likes its users to have an 80% feedback. I’ve been granted access to fifty-five titles and have (at the time of this writing) reviewed or provided feedback for only 13 of them. So that 80% feedback ratio? Yeah…mine’s at about 20% currently.

So, that’s something I need to work on for the remainder of this year, and likely into 2015. Expect lots more reviews in the coming months.

During the tail end of summer, I also got into another horror jag, and became a big fan of DarkFuse, a small indie publisher that knocks out some really high-quality dark fiction titles. After learning about their book club, I decided I needed to be a part of that and reviewed the required five titles at Amazon (most of them cross-posted here), and now I really want to get enough review points so I can earn a spot on their VIP list and (hopefully!) get included in their NetGalley approvals list. A guy can dream, eh?

All of this basically means you can expect more DarkFuse reviews here, along with some looks at the titles I’ve picked up through NetGalley, and probably some miscellaneous stuff along the way.

As far as what’s on tap, well, have a look-see at this sampling of titles I’m really excited to delve into in the near-future:

sunblindconduits   vision-of-fire-9781476776521_lg

 

Bone.Thunder.Cvr_cover49309-medium     deep-9781476717739_lg

wormsnowblind      godsofwar

Review: Elderwood Manor by Christopher Fulbright and Angeline Hawkes

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About Elderwood Manor

Things fall apart—Bruce Davenport knows this all too well.

On the heels of his wife’s death, laid-off and penniless with an eviction notice on the door, the only thing left for him and his four-year-old son Cody is Bruce’s childhood home, secluded deep within Ozark forests, haunted by the ghosts of his past.

After he receives a strange phone call from his dying mother, who has lived alone in the house for the past 15 years, Bruce reluctantly returns to the estate with his son.

But they soon find that something else dwells in the home, in the earth, in the woods. Unseen things are out for vengeance and blood. If they can survive the night, they may just find out what truly lies within the walls of…Elderwood Manor.


About the Authors

Christopher Fulbright

Christopher Fulbright is the author of short stories, novellas, and full-length novels of fantasy and horror. His short stories have appeared in many venues–webzines, magazines, and anthologies–since 1993. Fulbright received the Richard Laymon President’s Award in 2008 from the HWA, and his short stories have received honorable mentions in “The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror” and “Best Horror of the Year.” For news on his latest and upcoming works, please visit http://www.christopherfulbright.com.

Christopher is a former journalist turned technical writer, but his real job is raising four kids with his wife and sometimes collaborator, the Bram Stoker award-nominated author Angeline Hawkes. For more information on the collaborative work of Fulbright & Hawkes, please visit http://www.fulbrightandhawkes.com.

Follow them on Twitter @FulbrightHawkes.

Angeline Hawkes

Angeline Hawkes holds a B.A. in Composite English Language Arts and Secondary Education from Texas A&M University-Commerce. Angeline’s collection, The Commandments, was a 2006 Bram Stoker Award finalist. Her story, “In Waters Black the Lost Ones Sleep”, appears in the Origins award-nominated Chaosium anthology, Frontier Cthulhu. Angeline works or has worked for such publishers as Delirium Books, Chaosium, Elder Signs Press, Dark Regions Press, DarkFuse and many others. She has seen the publication of novels, novellas, collections, fiction in 40+ anthologies, and over 100 short fiction publications. She is formerly an active member of HWA and a former member of the Robert E. Howard UPA. Angeline often writes collaboratively with her husband, Christopher Fulbright. Visit her websites at www.angelinehawkes.com and www.fulbrightandhawkes.com.


My Thoughts

I can always tell an author is doing something right when, while reading, their words play out like a movie inside my head and I lean forward, closer to the text, as if that can somehow move the camera and show me what’s lurking around the corner or draw me further into the story. They’ve sucked me in, and I can’t help but become a part of their story.

I found myself doing this a few times during my reading of Elderwood Manor.

Christopher Fulbright and his wife and co-author Angeline Hawkes have crafted a mighty fine, emotionally engaging haunted house story with this one. There’s a few slight spins on the genre tropes, drawing on pagan rituals, black magic, and human sacrifice. While there’s a few ghosts, the evil haunting Elderwood Manor is a thicker stew, one that has seeped right into the earth itself and lives, quite literally, in the roots of the estate.

The atmosphere is rich, and the authors set the stage nicely between the snowy, ice-laden backdrop and the empty manor, which feels disused and dusty.

Where they really shine, though, is in the slow unraveling of the history surrounding Elderwood. Bruce Davenport and his four-year-old son, Cody, share a deep connection with the family estate, one that’s rooted through the legacy of generations prior. That history is ripe with tragedy and shame, and creates some startling illusions upon the present-day as Bruce tries to find safety and shelter for his son.

Elderwood Manor is a brisk read, short but well-written and immediately engaging. As expected, it is another fine addition to the DarkFuse line of novellas.

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Review: Close Reach by Jonathan Moore

close reach

About Close Reach

In a riveting tale of suspense and terror on the high seas, Bram Stoker Award nominee Jonathan Moore pits human beings against nature—and something far deadlier: one another.

Kelly Pratihari-Reid and her husband sail their yacht into Antarctic waters, thinking their gravest concerns will be ice and storms—and their cracked marriage. A British girl shrieking across a short-range VHF frequency ends that illusion. It’s coming, she screams. It saw us and it’s coming back! Her voice is drowned by a tide of signal-jamming static, and Kelly sees a target on the radar screen: A ship is coming for them.

Thus begins an unforgettable cat-and-mouse game across stormy polar seas and dire landfalls. Kelly’s pursuers will test her to the limits of her endurance—and beyond. For the ship in her wake is crewed by pirates, with a young leader trained to use the most sadistic tortures in pursuit of his ultimate objective . . . a goal as shocking as it is horrific.


About the Author

Jonathan Moore and his wife, Maria Wang, live in Hawaii. When he’s not writing, or fixing his boat, Jonathan is an attorney. Before completing law school in New Orleans, he was an English teacher, a whitewater raft guide on the Rio Grande, a counselor at a Texas wilderness camp for juvenile delinquents, and an investigator for a criminal defense attorney in Washington, D.C.

Website: http://www.jonathanmoorefiction.com/


My Thoughts

(This review is based on a copy of the book obtained from the publisher through NetGalley.)

Sailing the open waters of Antarctica can be a lonely gambit. Most pleasure seekers keep to the warmer climates, so finding other boats nearby can be rare. Desolate waters, untrafficked and unpoliced, are the perfect recipe for terror.

While sailing with her husband Dean, Kelly hears a distress call come through the boat’s radio – a terrified young woman screaming “It’s coming!” Then, death metal music clogs the airwaves and Kelly notices a new boat appear on their radar, following them. In short order, a beat-up, stained, rusted-out fishing trawler catches up with them and they see a naked corpse dangling from the side of the ship, and a man armed with a harpoon on-deck. So sets the stage of a frantic, visceral game of cat-and-mouse.

I’m a fan of the horror genre, and there are two particular sub-genres that really pique my interest – maritime horror, where the scares are built around the open sea and set aboard some type of boating vessel, and arctic horror, where the freezing climes are every bit as dangerous as the monster stalking its prey (Dead Calm and The Thing, respectively, are terrific cinematic examples of these particular horror genres, in my opinion). When I learned about Close Reach, deciding to give it a read was a total no-brainer.

The opening chapters combine the tension of the unknown looming threat with a bit of technical sophistication on sailing. Jonathan Moore is a sailor himself, and he’s able to make the expository ins-and-outs of this craft readable by tying it seamlessly into the story and avoiding huge infodumps. While there’s a lot of boating and sailing jargon throughout, I never found it obtrusive or distracting. Once things get going, though, the story really pumps into overdrive and Moore proves to be a virtuoso.

His monsters are entirely human, completely unsympathetic, and far too real for my liking. They’re violent, methodical, and an almost always dangerous force. While not omnipotent, each appearance these pirates make is a finely crafted study in tension and makes Close Reach a white-knuckle suspense thriller. Their proficiency in torture and amoral baseness is utterly cringe-inducing. I was gripping my Kindle pretty hard and am thankful the device didn’t snap in two as I went from page-to-page.

That’s another testament to Moore’s ability to tell a story like this. I usually see the term “grimdark” in relation to epic fantasy books, like George R.R. Martin or Joe Abercrombie, but it is more than applicable here. Close Reach is unrelentingly dark and brutal, and I found myself wincing a few times at the escalation of violence and abuse. The subject matter and tone is oppressive, almost claustrophobic, but damn compelling.

If there’s one knock against the book, it’s that the villains, after having been built up so well in the preceding, seem too easily dispatched during the book’s climax. This is only a slight flaw, however, and the work as a whole is strong enough for me to forgive this minor lapse. Moore makes up for it with a methodical, nerve-jangling finale that truly tugs on the heartstrings in more ways than one.

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Review: Dead Five’s Pass by Colin F. Barnes

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About Dead Five’s Pass

When a new cave is discovered in the Rocky Mountains, no one considered the terrible consequences that would follow.

A volunteer mountain rescuer dealing with the loss of a child, the break-up of a relationship and the grief of a rescue gone wrong, Carise Culey isn’t sure she’s the right person for the job when she receives an emergency call. A climber is missing, presumed dead, and his girlfriend is found bloodied, beaten and catatonic with fear.

Carise soon realizes the discovery of the cave is worse than anyone could have imagined and learns of another group of teenagers already on their way there. With the onset of harsh winter weather, and the threat of an unknown evil, she reaches out to her ex-boyfriend and fellow rescue volunteer, Marcel, for help.

The two must travel to the cave to save the kids, themselves, and perhaps all of humanity…

Dead Five’s Pass is a tense, frightening tale of ancient secrets, high stakes, and dark, dangerous places.


About the Author

Colin F. Barnes is a publisher and full-time writer of science fiction and techno thrillers. He honed his craft with the London School of Journalism and the Open University (BA, English). Colin has run a number of tech-based businesses, worked in rat-infested workshops, and scoured the back streets of London looking for characters and stories.

He has three novels out in his cyberpunk technothriller series THE TECHXORCIST. His recent release is a new novel, SALT: A Post-Apocalyptic Thriller.

To be notified of new releases, you can sign up to his newsletter here: http://eepurl.com/rFAtL or if you would like to contact Colin you can email him at: hi@colinfbarnes.com

For more information, Colin can be found on:
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ColinFBarnes
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/colinfrancisbarnes
His Website: http://www.colinfbarnes.com


My Thoughts

I’m a sucker for a good snowy scare story. Set up a big nasty and its unwitting victims against a frigid landscape, and I’m in. Thankfully, Dead Five’s Pass lived up fully to my expectations and I got exactly what I was looking for. And hey, that cover art? Stunning.

Satellite images have revealed a new cave system along Dead Five’s Pass, and a group of college kids from their university climbing club are on a race to be the first there. One couple arrives early, much to their detriment, and discover the terror residing within. One has just enough time to radio in an emergency call before the inevitable, which prompts volunteer rescuers Carise and her estranged lover, Marcel, to set out along the mountain pass to save the climbers.

In short order, author Colin F. Barnes introduces us to the main cast, sets the blood flowing, establishes the unsettling presence of broken minds and eerie glyphs, and the threat of a large, tentacled monster hidden within the cave.

Carise and Marcel are given depth by the shared trauma of her miscarriage two years earlier. Losing their child drove them apart, particularly as Carise grew more despondent and found salvation in booze. My heart went out to them, and Barnes won me over to Carise’s side immediately. She’s a strong protag to root for!

Barnes manages to escalate the nature of the opposition his mountain rescuers face without making the book feel unbalanced or over-stuffed, and he keeps the pace running smooth. The action is crisp, and the story itself makes for a fun bit of adventure with its cave setting. It’s easy to see why this title has earned a 2014 DarkFuse Reader’s Choice nomination for best novella. Dead Five’s Pass is another strong entry in DarkFuse’s lineup and well worth a read.

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