Review: Attack Of The Theocrats! How The Religious Right Harms Us All – And What We Can Do About It by Sean Faircloth

Theocrats

About Attack of the Theocrats!

At no time in history has the United States had such a high percentage of theocratic members of Congress—those who expressly endorse religious bias in law. Just as ominously, especially for those who share the values and views of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, at no other time have religious fundamentalists effectively had veto power over one of the country’s two major political parties. As Sean Faircloth argues in this deeply sobering yet highly engaging book, this has led to the crumbling of the country’s most cherished founding principle—the wall of separation between church and state. While much of the public debate in the United States over church-state issues has focused on the construction of nativity scenes in town squares and the addition of “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance, former politician and lobbyist Faircloth moves beyond the symbolism to explore the many ways federal and state legal codes privilege religion in law. He demonstrates in vivid detail how religious bias in law harms all Americans—financially, militarily, physically, socially, and educationally—and directs special attention to the outlandish words, views, and policy proposals of the most theocratic politicians. Sounding a much-needed alarm for all who care about the future direction of the country, Faircloth concludes by offering an inspiring 10-point vision of an America returned to its secular roots and by providing a specific and sensible plan for realizing this vision.


About the Author

Sean Faircloth served five terms in the Maine Legislature on both the judiciary and appropriations committees. In his last term, he was elected Majority Whip by his caucus colleagues. Faircloth had the idea for the Maine Discovery Museum and led the four-year project from conception to completion in 2001. Of the twenty-five children’s museums in New England, the Maine Discovery Museum was then the second-largest children’s museum outside Boston.

An accomplished legislator, Faircloth successfully spearheaded over thirty laws, including the so-called deadbeat-dad child-support law that saved Maine taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars and became a model for federal law. Faircloth had numerous legislative successes in children’s issues and justice-system reform.

Faircloth has spoken around the United States about the Constitution, secularism and law, children’s policy, obesity policy, and sex-crime law. Faircloth chaired a commission on sex-crime-law reform that led to substantive improvement in that area of law. He chaired a commission on early childhood, as well as a commission regarding the citizen-initiative process.

Faircloth graduated from the University of Notre Dame and has a law degree from the University of California Hastings College of the Law. Faircloth served as a state assistant attorney general and as a lobbyist for the Maine State Bar Association. In 2009 Faircloth became executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, advocating for separation of church and state and for greater acceptance of nontheistic viewpoints in American life.

As executive director of Secular Coalition for America, Faircloth conceived of, drafted, and orchestrated the Secular Decade plan, and has worked with secular americans nationwide to continually improve this plan, which offers a specific strategy for returning America to its secular roots.

In 2011 Faircloth become Director of Strategy and Policy for the Richard Dawkins Foundation in the United States.


My Thoughts

Quick note: I’ve been careful about not making this blog particularly political, but thought this title was relevant for review given our upcoming elections stateside on Nov. 4. I’m a few years late to the party in reading this one, but, now that I have, I would encourage everyone to give it a shot, irregardless of your religious beliefs or personal convictions, simply for your own personal edification and for a quick, easy read that can provide some terrific intellectual stimulation and food for thought. It’s a great bit of education and elucidation.

Sean Faircloth is a man with strong credentials to back up his work in Attack Of The Theocrats! How The Religious Right Harms Us All – And What We Can Do About It. As a five-term politician on the Main Legislature, serving as Majority Whip during his last term, former executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, as well as director of strategy and policy for the US branch of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, he has a solid history from which to draw upon in examining the significant strain of theocracy that is running amok in America and has shaped a vision for the future of this country in combating the religious right with his plans for the Secular Decade Plan.

Faircloth confesses to having a particular fascination for speeches – particularly those of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King – and his time as a lawyer no doubt helped him hone his concise and pragmatic manner of delivery that is on display in this book. The writing is crisp and to the point.

However, I found this conciseness to actually a bit of a detriment, as he hit upon certain abuses from the inequity in laws to favor religious services, or to flat out deny minority groups an equal standing in society, that I would have liked him to explore more deeply. I realize, though, that such topics might warrant entire tomes of their own, but the brevity of this work sometimes makes it feel more like a primer to garner interest in the benefits of secularism, rather than an in-depth exploration of why, exactly, secularism is a necessity in modern America. And while I have little doubt about the veracity of Faircloth’s assertions given my own research into similar topics and accounts that I’ve read elsewhere, I really wish he would have been more liberal in citing his sources in order to help readers do their own bit of fact-checking and to be able to pursue topics in greater detail than what’s given here.

That said, the stories and information as presented certainly pack a wallop, while also driving home the author’s central premise with far too many disheartening facts. When it comes to going for the guts, Faircloth knows when to launch into an emotionally engaging, and aggressive, attack on the brutal injustices of the fundamentalists, particularly in areas in which religious doctrines and organizations use and abuse children.

I would challenge any reader to not sneer in disgust at the level of abuses Faircloth details in describing how unlicensed religious child-care centers are able to flaunt and totally disregard basic health and safety laws that have would have shut it down had the care center been a secular institution, and which, in multiple instances, have led to the death of multiple children at worst, and allowing infants to sit in dirty diapers or wander a deserted playground alone and naked, all the while receiving federal taxpayer funds. And try to keep the bile down as he lists the many ways that so-called “faith healing” harms, at best, or kills, at worst, children saddled with such ignorant parents who would rather have their child die than let them be treated with modern medicine. And, of course, there is also the physical and sexual abuse carried out by predatory clergy and the fervent faithful.

The read is far from a list of far-right religiously motivated atrocities, though, and Faircloth presents a very grounded and even-handed treatment of why fairness and equality is not only needed, but something that we, as Americans, must demand. It’s a heartening plea that he rounds out with a sense of optimism as he charts a ten-year-long course for secularists to regain ground lost to fundamentalism. By using emotional stories rather than sheer statistics, grassroots organizing, and applying his Ten Point Vision of a Secular America, along with increased advocacy against the injustices perpetuated in unequal measures of law by religious favoritism, he aims to inspire a broader base of voices that can not only help reclaim America, but build a better American based on the values of its Founders. This is a read I’d easily recommend, especially before voting!

Buy Attack of the Theocrats! At Amazon
Review: Attack Of The Theocrats! How The Religious Right Harms Us All – And What We Can Do About It by Sean Faircloth

Review: The Last Mile by Tim Waggoner

last_mile

About The Last Mile

All Dan wanted was to be a good husband and father, to provide for his wife and daughter, to keep them fed, warm, and safe. But then the malevolent godlike beings called the Masters arrived, and their darkness spread across the world, reshaping it into a twisted realm of savagery and madness. In exchange for his family’s protection, Dan now serves one of these alien gods, obtaining human sacrifices to feed his Master’s eternal hunger.

Like so many people since the world changed, Alice has had to do unspeakable things to survive. Unfortunately for her, she’s Dan’s choice for his next sacrifice. Now Dan drives along the shattered remnants of an old-world highway, headed for his Master’s lair, Alice bound hand and foot in the backseat of his car. Dan may not like what he’s become, but he’ll do whatever it takes to protect his loved ones. Alice doesn’t intend to relinquish her life so easily, though, and she plans to escape, no matter the cost.

But in the World After, everything—animals, plants, even the land itself—has become a predator, and the journey to the Master’s lair is an almost guaranteed suicide run. But Dan won’t give up, and he won’t stop fighting. Not until he makes it through the Last Mile.


About the Author

I write fantasy and horror for both adults and young readers. I also teach creative writing at Sinclair Community College and in Seton Hill University’s MFA in Writing Popular Fiction program.

website: http://www.timwaggoner.com/


My Thoughts

Let me get this right out-of-the-way: I freaking loved The Last Mile. It’s novellas like this that make me such a huge fan of the DarkFuse imprint – it’s fun, it’s wicked, the writing and editing are crisp, the cover design is simple yet evocative. A top-notch effort all the way around. This might even be the best read of my October.

Tim Waggoner has painted a bleak, haunted, post-apocalyptic landscape of life on the road. Alien “Masters” have taken over the planet, and have enlisted a select few to hunt and provide sacrifices on their behalf. These people bear a mark and are known as the thrall. Dan is one such thrall, and his questionable actions are motivated entirely by his love for his wife and daughter. His latest capture is Alice, a waitress before the world’s fall. After his Oldsmobile comes under assault, the two are forced to beat feet for the last mile.

What follows is a nervy little tale that hops back and forth between Dan and Alice’s current predicaments to their lives before the fall and following the immediate aftermath of the Master’s Arrival. There’s nasty business to be had, for sure, and a number of gruesome shocks as both leads adjust to their new lives. The Earth and its inhabitants have changed in some severely fundamental ways, most of them deliriously effed up. Waggoner has a knack for description when it comes to his unsettling creations and the perverse actions his cast partake in.

I’m hesitant to give anything away, though. The Last Mile is a quick, breezy read, one that had me crinkling my nose in disgust on a few occasions. That’s a strong complement, by the way. Go read this one. It’s good. Real good.

buy the last mile on amazon
Review: The Last Mile by Tim Waggoner

Review: Hell Hole by Hunter Shea

hell hole

About Hell Hole

Deep in a Wyoming mine, hell awaits.

Former cattle driver, Rough Rider and current New York City cop Nat Blackburn is given an offer he can’t refuse by President Teddy Roosevelt. Tales of gold in the abandoned mining town of Hecla, in the Deep Rock Hills, abound. The only problem–those who go seeking their fortune never return.

Along with his constant companion, Teta, a hired gun with a thirst for adventure, Nat travels to a barren land where even animals dare not tread. But the remnants of Hecla are far from empty. Black-eyed children, strange lights and ferocious wild men venture from the deep, dark mine…as well as a force so sinister Nat’s and Teta’s very souls are in jeopardy.

There’s a mystery in Hecla thousands of years old. Solving it could spell the end of the world.


About the Author

Hunter Shea is the author of the novels Forest of Shadows, Swamp Monster Massacre, Evil Eternal, Sinister Entity and The Graveyard Speaks. His stories have appeared in numerous magazines, including Dark Moon Digest, Morpheus Tales and the upcoming anthology, Shocklines : Fresh Voices in Terror. His obsession with all things horrific has led him to real life exploration of the paranormal, interviews with exorcists and other things that would keep most people awake with the lights on. He is also half of the Monster Men video podcast, a fun look at the world of horror. You can read about his latest travails and communicate with him at http://www.huntershea.com, on Twitter @HunterShea1, Facebook fan page at Hunter Shea or the Monster Men 13 channel on YouTube.


My Thoughts

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review via NetGalley.)

Hunter Shea’s latest is a weird west monster mash that finds Nat Blackburn and his compatriot, Teta, two of Teddy Roosevelt’s famed Rough Riders, squaring off against  demonic forces in the abandoned mining town of Hecla, Wyoming.

Hecla has a sordid history. There’s gold in them there hills, yet prospectors who venture into town are never heard from again. The entire town has up and disappeared, and the latest in a long line of missing are troops sent by President Roosevelt to investigate. As Nat and Teta discover, Hecla is far from abandoned. In fact, there’s all kinds of life cooped up in the mining veins of Deep Rock Hills. Only thing is, none of it’s human…

The first thing that struck me about Hell Hole is that I imagine Shea had a hell of a good time writing it. There’s a constant sense of fun infused in this off-kilter story, along with a sort of tongue-in-cheek tone that is absolutely essential to the proceedings. While it’s a bit of a grim story, and there is a definite darkness lurking about Hecla, it maintains a proper B-movie level of seriousness, and Shea keeps upping the ante monster-wise, leaving readers to wonder just what in the hell is going on here. The answer, of course, will be left unspoiled here, but I found it to be a terrific reveal as I have a bit of a soft spot for these mythological beasties.

The relationship between Nat and Teta is also really terrific. Shea provides a wonderful backdrop for their friendship and demonstrates on more than one occasion just how true and strong their bond is. Both are old-fashioned gunslingers, in the mold of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday, or maybe The Lone Ranger and Tonto, with an intriguing shared history that solidifies their partnership.

My only complaint about Hell Hole is that there seems to be at least one action beat too many, and the middle part of the book feels a bit too drawn out and repetitious. There are two characters, Angus and Mattias, a sort of Wild West ghost-busting duo, who prove vitally important to the climax and I could have done with having them introduced a bit sooner. That said, the finale is a raucous amount of fun, and Shea has a knack for describing some truly strange creatures and demons set to oppose our heroes, with a well-constructed callback to Nat and Teta’s time in the war against the Spaniards as they find themselves neck-deep in a far stranger battle.

This is a fun read to be saddled up with, and I’m hoping we get to see more of Nat and Teta again in the future. Recommended.

Buy Hell Hole at amazon
Review: Hell Hole by Hunter Shea

Review: Surrogate by David Bernstein

surrogate

About Surrogate

Rebecca Hardwick wants nothing more than to start a family with her husband. But when a series of tragedies occur, she is left unable to have children by natural means.

Jane Nurelle is in an abusive relationship filled with beatings, drinking and drugs. But when she learns of her pregnancy, she is determined to turn her life around, even if it means resorting to violence.

Through an unlikely series of events, these two women come face-to-face with a notable scientist who has perfected a way for couples to have biologically matched children through the process of human cloning. But his service comes at a price…and the women share more in common than they ever thought possible.

Surrogate is an unforgettable tale of life, love, revenge and maternal instinct.


About the Author

I am a dark fiction writer, because to say horror is a HUGE no no in today’s world. Ha Ha! I write the gamut, from subtle horror to extreme horror to dark fiction and thriller, oh, and the occasional bizarro tale.

You may read one of my books and think “that’s his style” but then read another and be shocked at how different it is. My novels published by Samhain are usually more toward the true horror side–frightening/gore, whereas my DARKFUSE novels are more experimental or dark thriller/horror. While my Severed Press novels are zombie-related or post-apocalyptic.

Please visit me at davidbernsteinauthor.blogspot.com for more about me and my work or on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/david.bernstein.3


My Thoughts

Surrogate is one of those titles where I absolutely loved the premise, but wished it would have gone farther in its execution.

Author David Bernstein does a fine job of creating a credible atmosphere that is ripe with all sorts of potential horrors – from evil doppelgangers to the dark consequences of science run amok. The idea of creating a full-fledged clone for the purpose of surrogate pregnancies is imaginative and just borderline possible enough to make that willing suspension of disbelief all the easier. The measure of desperation that the book’s leads, Rebecca, and her husband, Tom, experience make them sympathetic and their choices understand and reasonable, despite the fact that we, as readers, know that everything will soon be going to hell in a hand-basket.

I’m issuing a slight spoiler warning here so I can discuss what didn’t work for me, and why.

What didn’t work for me was the nature of the threat and the lack of credible underpinnings supporting the Hardwick’s adversary, Jane. Jane is an abused spouse who ends up killing her husband on the eve of her delivery, but then ends up dying in a car crash. With little in the way of a satisfactory explanation, Jane’s soul somehow comes to inhabit the empty shell of Rebecca’s clone and goes on a murderous rampage.

My first problem with this may be due to personal bias. I’m not into spirituality and after an author has gone to such length to develop a plausible scientific rationale to set the story in motion, to suddenly rely on a scant mention that Jane returned from Heaven to get back her daughter is to ask me to stretch my ability to suspend disbelief a bit farther than I’m capable. Although I certainly enjoy a good ghost story, I don’t believe in ghosts or goblins or demonic possession in real life. So, in fiction, when a story has already been establish to not be in that type of genre, well, it’s really reaching with me and lost quite a bit of credibility as an effective horror story. It felt like a significant chunk of story on Jane’s side of the plot was missing entirely, or either lost in editing or, worse, completely forgotten about. To structure this story around cloning and then having an entirely separate individual come to inhabit that cloned body off nothing more than sheer “just because” struck me as really weak story-telling.

My other issue is that when we first meet Jane, she’s a beat-up housewife who has been suffering her husband’s torment for, it seems, quite a while. And since we never get to really know her, or are allowed to inhabit her headspace for long enough before her demise, to then have her resurrected as some kind of cold-blooded executioner was way off-kilter. Again, it seemed like another instance of Jane behaving this way because the plot demanded it, or “just because,” without any prior – and badly necessary – buildup.

End Spoiler

 While there were a few things I enjoyed – the struggles between Rebecca and Jane, primarily, and the moral and ethical dilemmas surrounding the Hardwick’s choices and repercussions of their deals with The Agency – I ultimately felt that Surrogate failed to gel as well as it should have. Either one of the narrative’s conflicts would have made for a fine story in their own right, if fully developed. Instead, this novella feels more like two half-developed ideas sparsely glued together, with one hamstringing the other and both refusing to set properly.

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Review: Surrogate by David Bernstein

Dinner Is Served: Consumption Release Day

CONSUMPTION COMPLETE

My new short story, CONSUMPTION, is out today! It retails for only 99 cents and you can find it at the following etailers (Nook link coming soon!):

| Amazon | Kobo | Nook |

| iBookstore | Google Play |

| Smashwords |

I’ve been lucky enough to get some advanced review coverage on this one, and here’s what the readers are saying:

Your stomach will turn, your throat will restrict, and jaw will clench tighter than a bull’s arsehole in fly season.

- S. Elliot Brandis, author of Irradiated and Once Upon A Time At The End Of The World

Consumption is wonderfully paced and a real treat for horror fans. … I read it with the lights off and my Kindle screen turned up, and it was a totally immersive and satisfying experience.

- Franklin Kendrick, author of The Entity series.

Hicks takes the reader to some twisted, nightmarish places and if you’re a horror fan with a strong constitution, add Consumption to your reading list – you won’t regret it.

- Teri Polen, Books & Such

wonderfully macabre! Cleverly thought out, I was both disgusted and excited by this tale. This a MUST read for horror fans.

- Great Book Escapes

Consumption means a lot to me, and it’s a bit of an ode to the sort of horror I love. It’s a gory, fatalistic creature feature, full of atmosphere and creepiness. I had a tremendous amount of fun writing it, and I hope that joy comes through in the story. I’ve already written about how this story came about, and it’s a huge departure from my debut work, Convergence.

I talked about all this with S. Elliot Brandis over the weekend, and he’ll be posting his interview with me over at his site. Keep an eye out for it soon. I think it’ll be a pretty good read, if I do say so myself.

Then, head over to your favorite eBook hustler and plunk down a mere 99 cents for a good old-fashioned Halloween treat.

Dinner Is Served: Consumption Release Day

Review: Factory Town by Jon Bassoff

factory_town

About Factory Town

Russell Carver, an enigmatic and tortured man in search of a young girl gone missing, has come to Factory Town, a post-industrial wasteland of abandoned buildings, crumbling asphalt, deadly characters, hidden secrets and unspeakable depravity. Wandering deeper and deeper into the dangerous, dream-like and darkly mysterious labyrinths in town, Russell stumbles upon clues that not only lead him closer to the missing girl, but to his own troubled past as well. Because in Factory Town nothing is what it seems, no one is safe, and there’s no such thing as a clean escape.

From Jon Bassoff, author of Corrosion, comes a dark, gritty and surreal novel that is at once a compelling mystery and an exploration into the darkest recesses of the human soul. Welcome to the haunting, frightening and disturbing experience that is Russell Carver’s search for the truth…

Welcome to FACTORY TOWN.


About the Author

Jon Bassoff was born in 1974 in New York City and currently lives in a ghost town somewhere in Colorado. His mountain gothic novel, CORROSION, was called “startlingly original and unsettling” by Tom Piccirilli, a four-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, and won the DarkFuse Reader’s Choice Award for best novel. His surrealistic follow-up, FACTORY TOWN, was called “A hallucinatory descent into an urban hell” by Bram Stoker award-winning author Ramsey Campbell. Both novels have been adapted into films with CORROSION slated to begin filming in 2015.


My Thoughts

Discussing Factory Town is a bit difficult, since its plot hinges so directly on an early action taken by the book’s central character, Russell Carver. I’m going to give you a great big SPOILER WARNING for this whole damn review, and it begins now.

The book opens with Carver’s suicide with a bullet to his temple, and what follows is a mental sojourn through the shattered mind of a man in his death throes. The material is part nightmare, part memory, part remembrance, all of it filtered through a dying, gunshot shattered brain.

Told in first person point-of-view, author Jon Bassoff takes us through the surreal, fluid dream-scape of Factory Town and its ever-shifting landscape. For instance, Carver enters a run-down, abandoned theater, but exits a hospital. He hears music playing from a radio, but discovers it’s actually an a cappella band. These aren’t errors of the author or a failing of the editor, so much as it’s an effort to capture the “logic,” such as it is, of a lucid, waking nightmare. Things shift – people, buildings, the entire town – with the impermanence of a truly screwy dream.

The characters that exist beyond Carver are representations of figures in his own life, stand-ins from his own abusive childhood and the living traumas that were his parents. During Carver’s urgent search for Alana, a lost runaway, the narrative is rife with figments of the things that could have been in Carver’s own life. Virtually everything in Factory Town is shaped by Carver’s personal history and experiences, both the things he remembers and that which he is trying to hide or escape from.

Bassoff uses all of this as a template to explore the repercussions of abuse, and how the sins of the father are inherited by the son. It’s a story of the nature of evil, and whether or not we can actually control our destinies. How much of our inner demons are genetically encoded, and how much of is learned behavior? A lot of the horror in this book is buried in symbolism or tucked away in inferences, but there’s a few shocks to be had for sure.

I found Factory Town to having a surprising amount of depth, and the writing is crisp with a few fun turns of phrase. One of my favorite lines in the book explains the strangeness of this disturbed city with “All them chemicals leaking into the town’s hippocampus…” I also expect this book to be a rather divisive read, depending on one’s patience for a rather non-straightforward narrative. This one is a far cry from conventional horror, but rich in character and environment. If you’re curious what an abstract, hellish, industrial What Dreams May Come by way of David Lynch might look like, this one is well worth the investment.

buy factory town at amazon
Review: Factory Town by Jon Bassoff

Reblog: Review: Consumption by Michael Patrick Hicks | S. Elliot Brandis

I am utterly blown away by Elliot’s review of Consumption, as well as humbled and grateful. And I think he won the internets with this line:

Your stomach will turn, your throat will restrict, and jaw will clench tighter than a bull’s arsehole in fly season.

Exactly what I was going for!

Check out his review in full:

Review: Consumption by Michael Patrick Hicks | S. Elliot Brandis.

And pre-order Consumption today at Amazon! It releases this Tuesday. While you’re there, definitely pick a couple of Elliot’s terrific books, as well!

Reblog: Review: Consumption by Michael Patrick Hicks | S. Elliot Brandis