Archive for September, 2014

The New Black

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Dark House Press

Length: 344 Pages

Review copy provided by editor in exchange for an honest review

The New Black is an anthology of 20 neo-noir stories edited by author Richard Thomas, who is the editor for Dark House Press and a columnist for Litreactor. I will be totally honest and admit that prior to reading Laird Barron’s stellar foreword “Eye of The Raven”, I had no idea what the neo-noir genre was all about. I had a general idea, but I didn’t have any prior experience with this genre of literature. After reading Barron’s forward and Richard Thomas’ introduction, I was eager to explore the darkness contained within the pages of The New Black.

The anthology kicks off with a bang with Stephen Graham Jones’ haunting “Father, Son, Holy Rabbit”. The story focuses on a young boy and his father as they struggle for survival in the wild during a harsh winter. The boy keeps telling him about a rabbit named Slaney, a seemingly immortal rabbit that has been feeding the boy and his father throughout their stay in the woods. It is a bleak story with an ending that will stick with you long after you finish reading.

“It’s Against The Law To Feed The Ducks” by Paul Tremblay is a portrait of a family as they spend a summer vacation together when an apocalyptic event breaks out. Everyone in the town surrounding Lake Winnipesauke seems to have disappeared without explanation. However, that is what made this story so enjoyable. Tremblay’s story is less about discovering the truth behind the apocalypse, but rather the strain the events puts on the family in what used to be an idyllic setting. As the events begin to unfold and the family shifts into survival mode, you begin to see a subtle change in the parents’ personalities. However, despite the bleak situation they find themselves in, they still manage to cling to their humanity and provide for their children and protect them from the harsh realities of their new world.

The stories in The New Black span many genres, but some of the stories do share a lot of DNA with traditional horror. There is Micaela Morrissette’s “The Familiars”, a story about a little boy and his imaginary friend. However, this imaginary friend is not like the ones you may remember from your childhood. He lives under the boy’s bed and he seems to grow from the shadows that lurk there. The boy and his friend create shadow puppets and play make-believe in the boy’s treehouse, which makes their relationship seem like a harmless childhood friendship. However, the imaginary friend seems to harbor an edge of darkness and possibly even evil.

“Dollhouse” by Craig Wallwork is a creepy tale of a girl named Darcy, who feels little fear due to her father telling her everything can be explained. Which is why none of the noises that reverberate through the family’s cottage bother her, particularly the loud bang that led her to discover the replica of her home in the attic. Despite the additions to the dollhouse every time she sneaks up to the attic to look at it and the shadow she sees moving in the attic, Darcy still clings to the idea that there is a rational explanation for everything. However, it quickly becomes clear that not everything can be explained and something sinister is lurking in Darcy’s attic.

Brian Evenson’s “Windeye” closes out The New Black and is one of my favorite stories of the collection. It focuses on a brother and sister and the closeness they shared as kids which began fading away when the brother discovers a mysterious window on the outside of their home. His sister was more detail oriented and never really notices that there is something off about the house as a whole until he leads her towards the discovery. There is one more window visible on the outside of their home than there is from the inside. This seemingly mundane discovery leads to an earth shattering revelation that impacts the pair forever. This story sort of reminded me of Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves, particularly the sections that focused on The Navidson Record. There is something deeply unsettling about the discovery of a mysterious addition to your home that you can’t explain. A home is supposed to be a place that is safe and familiar and Evenson’s decision to warp that sense of security makes for a creepy read.

There is a lot of diversity to be found in The New Black, which mixes in neo-noir elements with many other genres. While I obviously enjoyed the stories that had a horror bent, a few of my favorite stories would fall into other genres. Craig Davidson’s “Rust and Bone” is a powerful story about a boxer who brawls in underground boxing matches with no rules while recounting his life story and the role boxing has played in it. The story jumps around from his current match against a hulking man named Nicodemus and his past as an up-and-coming boxer whose dreams shatter in an instant. Roy Kesey’s “Instituto” follows a man who enters a program developed for him by a mysterious group of people known only as “perfeccionadores”, who slowly begin to improve his physical appearance and possessions. However, even with all the improvements in his life, the man quickly learns that some things are more important than having flawless skin and a perfect house.

The New Black is an excellent collection and features stories from authors I am familiar with – Stephen Graham Jones, Craig Clevenger and Craig Davidson to name a few – as well as a slew of new voices I eagerly look forward to reading in the future. Some of the stories may not appeal to everyone, but the talent and diversity displayed in this collection make it a worthy addition to any dark fiction fan’s bookshelf.

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Dark House Press Official Website 

Purchase The New Black on Amazon

A Life of Death

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Books of the Dead Press

Length: 205 Pages

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

Weston Kincade’s A Life of Death is a highly enjoyable coming of age novel with a hint of paranormal occurrences. Alex Drummond is a detective who sits down with his son to discuss the most important moment of his life for a school project. What follows is a recounting of Alex’s teen years living in a three-bedroom trailer with his mom, his abusive stepfather and three step-siblings following the death of his father in a car accident. Alex soon discovers that he can see past deaths when he touches an object that a person touched when they died. He firsts discovers his gift while walking through town on his way to school. He touches a fence that surrounds the historic Brogand house and notices a musty odor before being transported into the past. Alex doesn’t simply see the murders happen, he inhibits the bodies of the victim. He experiences their thoughts and emotions and lives their final moments. Many of his visions involve other residents of Tranquil Heights and their families, but Alex begins to have visions that impact his personal life and set him on a path filled with sadness and tragedy.

A Life of Death is a very entertaining read and while Alex’s paranormal visions play a large role in the novel, they are not the sole focus. Instead, most of the action comes from Alex’s struggles at home as he attempts to protect his family from the violent and perpetually drunk Steve McCullin. Alex learns a dark secret about his stepfather that changes their interactions in an instant. No longer is Alex afraid of him and trying to solely avoid him, he gains the courage to stand up to Steve and protect his family.

While Alex’s visions may have frightened most people who found out they could suddenly see murders that have occurred in the past, Alex uses his new gift to try and fix past wrongs and learns a lot about himself in the process. He still mourns the loss of his father, but these visions give him a purpose. He is no longer on the aimless course he has grown used to (missing school and isolating himself), but rather standing up for what is right and trying to make a difference. Even though his world is swirling with chaos, his life begins to turn around when he falls in love with Paige and begins to build a relationship with his younger stepsisters.

The only real drawback with A Life of Death for me was the lack of back story regarding Alex’s abilities. I know that mediums often say their abilities manifested randomly at some point in their life and that could be what happened with Alex. However, there are is a moment in the book that indicates his abilities may not be so random and it would be interesting to see that angle explored.

A Life of Death is an emotional novel packed with terrifying visions, real life horrors and an intriguing premise that is sure to appeal to readers of a wide variety of genres. I am definitely looking forward to reading Kincade’s sequel, A Life of Death – The Golden Bulls, and seeing how Alex Drummond utilizes his unique gift in his career.

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Weston Kincade Official Website

Books of the Dead Press

Purchase A Life of Death on Amazon

The Specimen

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Createspace

Length: 512 Pages

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

I have been a huge fan of anything having to do with aliens for most of my life. When I was younger, I would head down to the local library and check out every single book about aliens I could get my hands on. I started out with children’s books ranging from the My Teacher Is an Alien series by Bruce Coville to Animorphs by K.A. Applegate before quickly moving on to adult sci-fi novels and true life accounts of alien encounters. I began checking out every book about aliens I could get my hands on about the Roswell incident, the Betty and Barney Hill abduction and numerous other well-known and obscure encounter cases. While the fiction works I read were highly entertaining, they were not really frightening. My fear of extraterrestrials and UFOs grew out of reading these true life accounts. Besides the obvious fear of the unknown, what frightened me the most was the stories about abductions. What could possibly be scarier than the possibility that entities from all across the universe could easily snatch you away from everything you know at will? In a majority of these encounters, the people who are taken are powerless to do anything to stop the aliens from taking them. Even if they did attempt to escape once taken, where would they go? They are on a spaceship without any possibility of returning to their homes, being totally at the whim of these beings. To this day, watching or reading experiences like this still sends shivers down my spine.

Pete Kahle taps into those dark fears with astonishing power in his debut novel, The Specimen. The novel is a sprawling horror/ science fiction hybrid with an enormous cast of characters, a timeline that spans centuries and some seriously terrifying aliens!

One of the most impressive aspects of The Specimen is Kahle’s creation of The Riders. While the aliens main characteristic of latching on to a host – known in the novel as a “Steed” – is a familiar concept (Invasion of the Body Snatchers immediately comes to mind), Kahle manages to make the creatures feel fresh and unique. Kahle brings their personalities and motivations to light through a series of Interlude sections that follow the actions of Riders throughout recorded history. These Interludes range from an ancient coming-of-age ritual in Estonia in the 23rd Century BC where The Riders begin to spread throughout the world through the horrific events of The Holocaust. The Riders are extremely intelligent, able to tap into the memories of its host and exploit them in order to blend into society and carry out its nefarious agenda. Not only are they able to control their hosts, they have the ability to influence other humans and creatures by releasing pheromones that influence that person or animals behavior to aid it in avoiding detection or capture.

They are able to heal themselves and their host as long as their central nervous system is not destroyed which makes them an extremely formidable adversary. As evil as The Riders are portrayed throughout the novel, the ACME group that is supposedly trying to save the human race is just as vicious and deadly as the creatures they are battling. The group, which has been around since the end of the 17th century, has kidnapped, tortured and killed people who had contact with The Riders, even if they were innocent. The most ruthless of these agents is easily Nina Valentine, a woman who joined the group following a horrific incident in her past. She doesn’t just inflict pain on those who may be under the influence of Riders because it’s a necessary evil in the quest against the aliens, she actually enjoys it. Her ruthlessness plays a major role in the events that shape The Specimen.

I loved Kahle’s decision to break up the main plot with Interludes, fictional news reports and dispatches from the shadowy ACME agency. Kahle uses these supplementary passages to flesh out the history of both The Riders and The ACME group and show the connections between the characters in the novel. This is also how we learn about The Cluster, a mysterious entity that is connected to The Riders but whose motivations are murky for most of the novel. It shares many of its powers with The Riders, but it is unique in that it does not need a host and can change its appearance at will.

The only drawback to The Specimen is that the timeline of events is muddled at times due to the large scope of the story. I originally thought that keeping track of the characters would be the most difficult part of reading the novel, but Kahle does an excellent job giving each one of them a distinctive personality that helps them stand out on their own. However, a lot of the characters disappear for long portions of the novel which makes it difficult to keep track of how much time has passed. Are these events taking course over a few days of the novel? Weeks?

Despite the occasional confusion regarding the timeline, The Specimen is an impressive debut novel and one hell of a thrill ride! There is plenty of action, gore and  creepy alien awesomeness that makes this a must read for any horror or sci-fi fan. Kahle has mentioned he has plans for a sequel and I am definitely looking forward to continuing the story of The Riders and the ACME group. I am curious to see how the rag-tag group of survivors handle the upcoming threat introduced in The Specimen I am definitely looking forward to learning more about The Cluster!

Kahle is definitely an author to watch and I can’t wait to see what other dark stories he has swirling around his imagination!

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Pete Kahle’s Official Website

Pete Kahle on Twitter

Purchase The Specimen on Amazon

giveaway

I am excited to announce my participation in the Bloodcurdling Blowout 2014, hosted by Literary Litter! I want to thank author Weston Kincade and Shawn Remfrey of Literary Litter for inviting me to join the giveaway. The giveaway runs from August 31st until September 7th and the prizes include a Kindle Fire HD and a ton of books from Weston Kincade, Duncan McGeary, Justin Robinson, John F.D. Taff, Steve Kuhn, Marie McKean, Marshall J. Stephens, Scott Nicholson, L.F. Falconer, John Everson and Tonia Brown.

Below you will find a list of the blogs taking part in the giveaway, the prize packs available and last but not least, the rafflecopter for all the prizes!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Grand Prize: Kindle Fire HD

Prize Pack One:
A Life of Death Book 1 – Weston Kincade W/Authographed Coffin Keychain
Strange Circumstances – Weston Kincade
Through A Broken Window – L.F. Falconer Autographed
Born of Oak and Silver – Marie McKean
Sundowners – Tonia Brown E-copy
Violet Lagoon – John Everson E-copy

Prize Pack Two:
A Life of Death Book 1 – Weston Kincade W/Authographed Coffin Keychain
Strange Circumstances – Weston Kincade
Through A Broken Window – L.F. Falconer Autographed
Born of Oak and Silver – Marie McKean
Sundowners – Tonia Brown E-copy
Violet Lagoon – John Everson E-copy

Prize Pack Three:
A Life of Death Book 1 – Weston Kincade W/Authographed Coffin Keychain
Strange Circumstances – Weston Kincade
Through A Broken Window– L.F. Falconer Autographed
Born of Oak and Silver – Marie McKean
Sundowners – Tonia Brown E-copy
Violet Lagoon – John Everson E-copy

Prize Pack Four:
We Are the Plague Dext of the Dead Book 1 – Steve Kuhn Autographed
We Are the Infected Dext of the Dead Book 2 – Steve Kuhn Autographed
We Are the Entombed Dext of the Dead Book 3 – Steve Kuhn Autographed
We Are the Extinction Dext of the Dead Book 4 – Steve Kuhn Autographed
We Are the End Dext of the Dead Book 5 – Steve Kuhn Autographed

Prize Pack Five:
We Are the Plague Dext of the Dead Book 1 – Steve Kuhn E-copy
We Are the Infected Dext of the Dead Book 2 -Steve Kuhn E-copy
We Are the Entombed Dext of the Dead Book 3 – Steve Kuhn E-copy
We Are the Extinction Dext of the Dead Book 4 – Steve Kuhn E-copy
We Are the End Dext of the Dead Book 5 – Steve Kuhn E-copy

Prize Pack Six:
Mr. Blank – Justin Robinson E-copy
Coldheart – Justin Robinson E-copy
Everyman – Justin Robinson E-copy
City of Devils – Justin Robinson E-copy

Prize Pack Seven:
Sundowners – Tonia Brown Autographed
Death of an Immortal – Duncan McGeary
Led to the Slaughter – Duncan McGeary
DIRT – Scott Nicholson
Thank You for the Flowers:  Stories of Suspense and Imagination – Scott Nicholson
A Life of Death Book 1 – Weston Kincade E-copy
Strange Circumstances – Weston Kincade E-copy

Prize Pack Eight:
NightWhere – John Everson Autographed
Violet Eyes – John Everson Autographed
The Pumpkin Man – John Everson Autographed
Death of an Immortal – Duncan McGeary
Led to the Slaughter – Duncan McGeary
Born of Oak and Silver – Marie McKean E-copy
Once Within – Marie McKean E-copy

Prize Pack Nine:
The Gears of Strange Machines – Marshall J. Stephens Autographed
Even the Dead May Die – Marshall J. Stephens Autographed
Death of an Immortal – Duncan McGeary E-copy
Led to the Slaughter – Duncan McGeary E-copy
Born of Oak and Silver – Marie McKean E-copy
Once Within – Marie McKean E-copy

Prize Pack Ten:
Death of an Immortal – Duncan McGeary E-copy
Led to the Slaughter – Duncan McGeary E-copy
Little Deaths – John Taff E-copy
Born of Oak and Silver – Marie McKean E-copy
Once Within – Marie McKean E-copy
Cage of Bones – John Everson E-copy
Vigilantes of Love – John Everson E-copy
Failure – John Everson E-copy

Blogs:
Literary Litter
August 29th – Shawn’s favorite horror ebook prize pack
September 7th – final drawing winners announced!

Minding Spot
August 30th – Amazon Gift Card and Ebook Giveaway

Like a Bump on a Blog
August 31st – $20 Amazon Gift Card

Deal Sharing Aunt
September 1st – Book Lover’s Prize Pack

The Beauty of Literature
September 2nd – $10 Amazon Gift Card

Bryce’s Blog
September 3rd – Gift Card

A Readers Review Blog
September 4th – Gift Card and Book Prize Pack-
We Are the Plague Dext of the Dead Book 1 – Steve Kuhn E-copy
We Are the Infected Dext of the Dead Book 2 -Steve Kuhn E-copy
We Are the Entombed Dext of the Dead Book 3 – Steve Kuhn E-copy
We Are the Extinction Dext of the Dead Book 4 – Steve Kuhn E-copy
We Are the End Dext of the Dead Book 5 – Steve Kuhn E-copy

September 4th – Book Prize Pack –
Born of Oak and Silver – Marie McKean E-copy
 Once Within – Marie McKean E-copy
 A Life of Death Book 1 – Weston Kincade E-copy
Strange Circumstances – Weston Kincade E-copy

3 Partners in Shopping
September 4th – Book Prize Pack

The Horror Bookshelf
September 6th – Book Prize Pack-
Mr. Blank – Justin Robinson E-copy
Coldheart – Justin Robinson E-copy
Everyman – Justin Robinson E-copy
City of Devils – Justin Robinson E-copy

JBronder Book Reviews
September 5th – Book Prize Pack –
 Born of Oak and Silver – Marie McKean E-copy
 Once Within – Marie McKean E-copy
 A Life of Death Book 1 – Weston Kincade E-copy
Strange Circumstances – Weston Kincade E-copy