Book review: Stranded – Bracken MacLeod

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I have been a fan of Bracken MacLeod since his novella ‘White Night’. I loved his novel ‘Mountain Home’, and have been waiting patiently to see how ‘Stranded’ came out, especially since I read the blurb from Jonathan Maberry.

‘Stranded’ is a supernatural horror novel and it’s one of the best novels I have read in 2016. One of the great things about this book is its pacing. From the opening scenes where we are thrust into an arctic storm to the sudden sicknesses of the crew members, MacLeod’s delivery is sublime, descriptive and chilling. The frozen setting adds to the isolation and fear that shroud the crew and as we dig deeper into the lives of a select few deck hands aboard the beset ship the pieces of the puzzle begin to slot into place.

At the centre of the story lies Noah Calbot, a man with few friends, especially his father-in-law who is also the ship’s captain. Tensions between crew members are already fraught even before they encounter the storm that leaves them trapped in the ice and things take an unexpected turn midway through the book when a team leaves the ship to embark upon a journey towards a mysterious object they see on the horizon, hoping for salvation. Nothing can prepare you for what the crew find there and this is where the book takes you on a whole new journey of survival.

Noah is a likeable character, he has his flaws but you can definitely empathise with him, especially when you find out what he has been through. Scattered throughout the novel are a few flashbacks where Noah sits at the bedside of his dying wife. These scenes are fantastic and see MacLeod pull at the heart-strings leaving not a dry eye in the house. The other characters are equally engaging and the twist in the tale is both unexpected and well executed.

There is something about arctic settings that works so well with this type of fiction. Dan Simmons ‘The Terror’ is another book I have a great fondness for and it is also one set in the frozen wastes and I also recommend ‘Dark Matter’ by Michelle Paver if you want to be chilled to the bone.

You sometimes hesitate a little when a book you have been eagerly awaiting is finally released. Will it be as good as you hope? well, with ‘Stranded’ it was even better. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this on a few “Best of” lists at the year’s end, I know it will sure as hell be on mine.

Pick up a copy from here.

Book review: Odd Man Out – James Newman

 

When the words ‘master storyteller’ get used, you tend to think about some of the greats in the genre. People like Stephen King, Clive Barker, Robert McCammon, these are the sorts of writers I usually associate with these words. James Newman is another name I’d like to add to this list. A master storyteller, in my eyes, is able to pull at a number of emotions, making you feel happy, sad, angry, fearful, hopeful and a whole lot more. When a writer is able to do this in such a short book I truly believe that they are up there, rubbing shoulders with some of the very best in the business.

‘Odd Man Out’ sees James Newman tell a coming of age tale that drags you through many of the above mentioned emotions. It is a story of a group of young boys, away at a focus camp where tragedy soon strikes after young Wesley Westmore is found out to be gay. The repercussions of this discovery are sickening and brutal. Newman’s tale is a story that rips you apart and then pours salt into the wounds. It is a story of intolerance, hate, prejudice and the fear of difference.

There is so much to talk about in this story that I don’t even know where to start. First of all I felt as if I was watching this story quickly unravel from the forest that surrounds Black Mountain Camp. Great stories do this to a reader, they pull you in quickly, never let go and take you on an emotional journey. We watch as the relationships between Wesley and the rest of the group head south and a mob mentality begins to bubble and blister among the boys as the story progresses. If you have any sort of humanity within you then I guarantee you will cringe and squirm in your seat as you read this book, particularly during the second half of the story. The tension among the group builds and builds until finally something has to give. The boys are suddenly left alone at the camp and this is where things begin to spiral out of control. Fueled by alcohol, rage and hate manifest inside of the young boys resulting in Newman’s story exploding with violence and brutality. The ending is somewhat inevitable but certainly doesn’t feel watered down despite its rather obvious course. This is certainly a heavy read, make no mistake, Newman pulls out all of the stops in building a story that will linger long in the memory, and to do so in a novella is a truly amazing feat of storytelling.

I love it when writers bring to the fore subjects that are too often neglected in fiction. It is obviously something that James feels very strongly about and he covers himself in glory with this tight, tension-filled tale. A riveting read.

Pick up a copy from here.

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Follow along the tour with these hashtags: #OddManOut #HookofaBook

Odd Man Out, Synopsis

  • Print Length: 150 pages
  • Publisher: Bloodshot Books

WELCOME TO THE BLACK MOUNTAIN CAMP FOR BOYS!

Summer 1989. It is a time for splashing in the lake and exploring the wilderness, for nine teenagers to bond together and create friendships that could last the rest of their lives.

But among this group there is a young man with a secret–a secret that, in this time and place, is unthinkable to his peers

When the others discover the truth, it will change each of them forever. They will all have blood on their hands.

Odd Man Out is a heart-wrenching tale of bullies and bigotry, a story that explores what happens when good people don’t stand up for what’s right. It is a tale of how far we have come . . . and how far we still have left to go.

James Newman, Biography

James Newman lives in North Carolina with his wife and their two sons.

His published work includes the novels Midnight Rain, The Wicked, Animosity and Ugly As Sin, and the collection People Are Strange. Still Waters, a short Christian-themed horror film based on his original screenplay, is now available for purchase at http://www.tackytiefilms.comwww.tackytiefilms.com.

Up next are the novels Dog Days O’ Summer and Scapegoat (co-written w/Mark Allan Gunnells and Adam Howe, respectively).

Praise for James Newman

“You might expect the work of a young Southern writer to show some roots, and you’ll see that clearly in James Newman’s writing. There’s a little bit of Davis Grubb and Joe Lansdale twisting into that dark earth, and a strong straight spike of Robert McCammon digging deep. But the story tree that grows above ground belongs to a tale-spinner who can raise one mean hunk of nightmare all on his own.” —Norman Partridge, author of The Man with the Barbed Wire Fists and Dark Harvest

“…a beautifully-written adult story of murder and a boy. Grimly true to life, evocative and compelling. I loved it!” —Piers Anthony, author of On a Pale Horse and Firefly

“James Newman’s Animosity courses a chilling descent into madness that’s downright Hitchcockian in the way the suspense slowly strangles the reader, tightening its grip to unbearable levels. And yet Newman brings as much humanity to this startling tale as he does horror. The result is a well-crafted, disturbing, and often heartbreaking foray into the dark netherworlds of the human experience that burrows under your skin, nests there, and continues to feed on you long after you’ve turned out the lights.” – Greg F. Gifune, author of The Bleeding Season

Purchase Links

Amazon

Want to Feature?

If you’re a media site, blogger, or radio/podcast host, and you’d like to feature James Newman or review Odd Man Out, please contact Erin Al-Mehairi, publicist, at hookofabook@hotmail.com.

BTB Storytellers episode 13: Nathan Robinson talks STARERS

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Released back in 2012 by Severed Press, ‘Starers’ saw author Nat Robinson take an ordinary family and put them into an extraordinary situation where complete strangers and neighbors stand outside of the Keene house simply staring at them. Weird huh? very cool though. ‘Starers’ is a fast-paced and darkly humorous book that typifies Robinson’s writing style and today Nathan is going to tell us the story behind the story of ‘Starers’.

Recently, Nathan released his latest book through Severed Press, a dinosaur thriller called ‘Caldera’, but it’s his novella ‘Ketchup on Everything’ that is my favorite Robinson read along with ‘Starers’. Nathan is always a big part of the convention circuit in the UK and it seems not a weekend goes by without him popping up at a horror con. I was fortunate to meet up with him when I visited the UK in July at Edge-Lit where I picked up a signed copy of ‘Ketchup on Everything’. I urge you to get a copy for yourself, it is superb.

‘Starers’ is a great place to start with Nathan Robinson’s writing. Despite being his first published novel it shows a talent for the written word and his engaging delivery is sure to continue to win over new readers. It is a highly original read that gets the GRIM READER’S stamp of approval. Thanks heaps to Nat for this great piece. Links to where you can find out more about his work are at the bottom of the article.

Enjoy, and don’t forget, they’re watching you…

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Starers

By

Nathan Robinson

I’ll start at the beginning. The genesis, as it were. Where did Starers come from? That would make sense right, where the inspiration first struck, that point where the fork of hot lightning first touched the terra firma of my imagination.

In about 2008, before I’d even had a short story published, I was squatting in a house that my father and I had refurbished into a livable condition (the legal term is Adverse Possession, which is a story title in itself). The garden was about forty feet long, bordered by a fence and a large field of grass behind that ran the length of the rest of houses on my stretch of the street.

The one night I had a dream about opening the curtains and seeing a little girl in the back garden, just staring at the house.

Then she tried to get in.

But she never did. The dream continued, becoming my first recurring nightmare. Every time, the same girl trying different ways of getting into the house; banging on the windows, rattling the doors, to no avail.

I’ve moved house twice since then, moving into a new home, with shiny windows that reflect on the outside, letting those inside look out like detectives viewing a suspect through a one way mirror.

Now our house is tall and new. It stands out against the other homes on the street like a sore thumb, so we’ve become accustomed to folk walking past our houses, pointing and nodding, couples clearly commenting on such a fine house (it is a fine house). So we can see the people looking in, but they can’t see us. We don’t mind, I’m proud of our house. I helped build it. I don’t mind showing it off.

Across the road from our house is a bus stop, so again, we’ll have people stood directly across the road from us, sometimes staring at the house as they wait for the bus to arrive.

So, one dark and stormy night (okay it was starting to drizzle), an old man is stood at the bus stop. I noticed him as I head upstairs to put my children to bed, and when I came back down half an hour later, he’s still stood there, at the bus stop in the rain.

I go to close the curtains and notice he’s staring at the house, his suit soaking, and I wonder to myself as I draw the curtains, what if he’s still stood there in the morning…?

My mind span. What if he was still there in the morning? What if he wasn’t alone? What if others joined him? What if more and more people joined until it became a crowd, all staring at my house.

That’s how most stories bloom in my head. That first hook of electricity, that explodes through my synapses like a billowing fungus into various what ifs and how’s and whys in every direction. I ask myself, what would I do? Would I call the police or my family first? Would I try to talk to them? Reason with them?

This is a good hook. This is a good start to a story. And I think of the little girl, trying to get into the house, and wonder how she fits into all of this?

But if they start attacking the house, it’s just like every other zombie siege horror. What if they don’t try to get in? What if they just stare…?

That’s it. That’s what they do. Strength in numbers. They form a wall. No flesh eaters. Literal zombies, not traditional (I once got a bad review from a reader who says I lied to her “I bought this book at a convention after a brief chat with the author under the guise that it had zombies. Spoiler alert; they aren’t zombies. He lied about that but never mind…”, I now realise her spectrum of zombies is a lot narrower than mine.)

I wanted a family; not warring military types armed to teeth. I wanted everyday people, no guns. Because that would have been too easy. So I created the dysfunctional Keene family (I was reading a lot of Brian Keene at the time) The reliable Dylan (his parents named him after Bob), his comedy relief brother Lennon (after John, their parents were music fans) Dylan’s wife, Kirsty (the seemingly grounded one) and the Keene’s daughter Lucy (in the Sky with Diamonds. I wanted another Beatles-esque reference with a quote from McCartney’s “Let ‘Em In” at the start, but the publisher persuaded me against it. It’s a creepy song if you think of it with Starers in mind)

I also crammed in as many references to some of my favorite films, if anyone can spot them all, they get a prize.

I’d sold my first short on my first try. The Chicken in Black won first prize over at Spinetinglers and I even took £100 to the bank for my effort. This was the first point I realized I could really have a chance at becoming a writer. My thirtieth birthday was approaching, so I made it goal to have a book deal by that date. I completed Starers and sent it Severed Press, whose anthology, Dead Bait I was enjoying at the time. They said they loved and sent me a contract. I signed it and sent it back two days before my thirtieth birthday.

Achievement unlocked.

I’m immensely proud of Starers (or Kindred, as it was originally called). I still get emails and people coming up to me at conventions saying how it freaked them out or gave them nightmares. It’s got a 4/5 rating on Amazon.com, 4.4/5 on Amazon.co.uk. Fans keep asking for a sequel, and I’ve listened and started one, but it’ll still be another year or before I iron out the creases and become happy with a plot.

But there are other plans afoot. When I wrote Starers, I imagined it as a film, and a future project of mine, is to get it scripted. But that’s the future, and I’ve still got about ten more books on my mind between now and then.

 

 

Horror author Nathan Robinson lives in Scunthorpe with his darling six year old twin boys and his patient wife/editor.

 So far he’s had numerous short stories published bywww.spinetinglers.co.uk, Rainstorm Press, Knight Watch Press, Pseudopod, The Horror Zine, The Sinister Horror Company, Static Movement, Splatterpunk Zine and many more.

He writes best in the dead of night or travelling at 77mph.

He is a regular reviewer for www.snakebitehorror.co.uk and Splatterpunk Zine, which he loves because he gets free books. He likes free books.

His first novel “Starers” was released by Severed Press to rave reviews. This was followed by his short story collection “Devil Let Me Go”, and the novellas “Ketchup with Everything” and “Midway.”

He has just completed his next novel “Caldera” and is currently working on his next novels, “Death-Con 4” and a sequel to “Starers.”

Follow news, reviews and the author blues at http://www.facebook.com/NathanRobinsonWrites or twitter @natthewriter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book review: The Veil (Testaments I and II) – Joseph D’Lacey

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Some call it “The Hush” – the time when the world went quiet. Electricity is no more, people have mostly vanished and there is a deathly silence…doesn’t actually sound too bad to me, to be honest 😉

I love dystopian fiction and especially when a writer tries out something a little different. ‘The Veil’ by Joseph D’Lacey is a collection of two novellas set in the same crumbling wasteland where a fungus-like plague is slowly taking over the world. In a similar way to John Wyndham’s classic ‘Day of the Triffids’, D’Lacey has used the natural world to create a tale of apocalyptic fiction straight out of the top draw. I will be honest in saying that it took me a few chapters to really get into this but once I did I found the world D’Lacey has created to be enthralling and scary.

The first novella features a strong female protagonist who is seen as a sort of leader amongst the remnants of the survivors hiding inside an old station. She is a reluctant hero, simply making the most of what little opportunities lie outside as she and others go scavenging for supplies to keep themselves alive. The monsters on the outside are called “commuters”, people who were once human, nobody really knows what it is they are after, they seem to want to absorb all others into their collective, a little like ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’. For me the story really picks up when her and two other characters leave the compound in search of a better life. There is constant fear everywhere they turn, even the ground they walk on isn’t safe due to the fungus.  D’Lacey does well with his character development considering this is only a novella and a surprising yet sad ending finishes the story on a high.

The second novella follows a man trapped underground, a prisoner slowly being taken up to be digested by the fungus (I assume?). He reflects on his journey there, about his time with his family and how a mistake led to his capture. Again the storytelling is superb, the characters are well developed, engaging and are easily identifiable. It is another sad, emotional story that makes it another fantastic novella. Similarly the ending to this one is superb and the images created in the stories final scenes are fantastic and weird. There are plans for further stories within this world and I for one am more than keen to see where Joseph D’Lacey takes us to next.

Another hit for Horrific Tales Publishing. Pre-order the ebook now at Amazon and get it for 99c! An absolute steal!

Book review: Grimdark Magazine Issue #1

 

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Grimdark is a genre that seems to be going from strength to strength. It is a kind of dark fantasy fiction with morally ambiguous characters, dark settings and worlds and it’s something I enjoy reading a great deal. Although 2016 hasn’t seen me read much in the way of it, 2017 will be different.

Grimdark magazine is a great way of familiarizing yourself with what the genre has to offer and this first magazine features a piece by Grimdark heavyweight Mark Lawrence. The magazine features fiction, non-fiction and reviews spanning the genre and this first issue, released back in late 2014 is very entertaining and well put together.

Opening with a short story by Adrian Tchaikovsky, this tale is a great way to open your eyes to the fantastic world that Tchaikovsky has created with his ‘Shadows of the Apt’ series. The series is filled with rich settings as warriors from different insect kingdoms do battle and befriend each other. Although this particular short won’t do a great deal for fans of the series it does work very well as an introduction to some of the different clans you can expect to read about in the books, and it will definitely entice newer readers to explore the books further.

A non-fiction piece about what Grimdark is follows, and although only short it does tell you what you need to know and encourages you to explore further should you feel the need.

A rather forgettable short piece by Nicholas Wisseman is bookended by two author interviews, one with Grimdark(Lord) superstar Joe Abercrombie and the other with Graham McNeill (Warhammer 4oK). Both interviews are entertaining and Abercrombie in particular comes across well but the real jewel in the crown is the short story by Mark Lawrence – a story of a mans metamorphosis from average Joe (good with weapons though) to bloody outlaw. Lawrence’s writing here is excellent and this short tale was brutally good fun.

This first issue of ‘Grimdark Magazine’ is pretty good. The Lawrence short is ace and the non-fiction good as well. A couple of “Just OK” stories, but that’s simply my opinion. I have read a few more issues of this zine since issue one came out and it’s very good. A lot of very popular Fantasy/Grimdark writers have been keen to jump on board which shows that they respect the publication. It’s a little on the short side even for a magazine, however there are treasures to be found and fans of the genre should definitely check it out if they haven’t already.

Pick up a copy from here.

Book review: Tijuana Donkey Showdown – Adam Howe

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I thought that I had my top novels of 2016 list all done and dusted until a review copy of the new Adam Howe book found its way onto my Kindle. I am already a fan having seriously enjoyed ‘Gator Bait’ and his novella collection ‘Die Dog and Eat The Hatchet’, but with ‘Tijuana Donkey Showdown’, Howe has blown everything else he has written right out of the water with an Uzi 9mm.

The excellent artwork simply doesn’t prepare you for what you are getting yourself into. Howe’s book is hands down the funniest novel I have ever read, and let me tell you that I am a hard man to amuse, particularly when it come to fiction. Howe’s brand of humour is very similar to my own and at times the book is truly bizarre as Reggie Levine returns, this time to aid used car salesman Harry in reclaiming his stolen dog, which is of course mistaken for a Chupacabra, and is being held at at a circus come gas station! Things take an even more bizarre turn upon the discovery of a well-hung donkey called Enrique, a porn star mule with a secret stash of cocaine in his belly. Levine’s situation continues to spiral into chaos with hilarious results.

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This book is absolutely magic. Howe’s love of action movies is evident throughout and Levine is like an overweight version of Patrick Swayze from his Roadhouse days. The dialogue and banter between the characters is what makes this book stand out particularly the dialogue between Levine and Harry and his employer at The Henhouse, Walt. I can’t count how many times I laughed out loud over the absurdity of the situations the characters find themselves in. Some of it reminded me of episodes of ‘Police Squad’, starring Leslie Nielson, which I adore. It’s not all about Levine though, the supporting cast is equally as entertaining, each given their own moments to shine in the book and when an A-list celebrity makes an appearance at the books end I was truly in reader heaven. With all of the craziness going on this book could’ve been a bit of a train wreck but Howe’s writing shines and the book simply gets better and better.

If you’re looking for something a little different then Howe’s novel is absolute dynamite! A short novel, yes, but damn it’s a good en. Without doubt this is one of my favourite books of 2016. In fact, scratch that, this IS my favourite book of 2016. I sure hope this isn’t the last we’ve heard from Reggie Levine.

Do not hesitate in picking this up. It’s a bloody ripper.

Pick up a copy from here.

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Album review: Winter’s Gate – Insomnium

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I am a bit of latecomer with Insomnium. The Finnish four piece came to my attention last year with their release ‘Shadows of a Dying Sun’- an album I still have on heavy rotation to this day. The bands melodic death metal styling is both punishing one moment and dreamlike the next, enveloping the listener in a musical shroud of dark wonder. I love what the band did prior to the release of ‘Winter’s Gate’ in that they released a series of short videos detailing the albums creation. The frozen surroundings were perfect for the shoot and the band speak openly about the albums genesis.

For their latest release the band have tried something different in that they have delivered an album consisting of one song. Split up into seven acts the album is based upon a short story written by bassist/vocalist Niilo Sevanen called ‘Winter’s Gate’ – which is available inside the sleeve, translated into English for your reading pleasure. ‘Winter’s Gate’ sees Insomnium firing on all cylinders. The production and mixing is excellent, allowing each instrument to breathe and not drowning out the vocals of Sevanen. The guitars are sublime, featuring driving riffs one moment and intricate melodies the next. These melodic passages allow the listener to catch a breath before the next crushing passage comes along, laying waste to your eardrums. Hirvonen and Sevanen (drums and bass, respectively) combine well, keeping the music precise and rhythmic setting an epic platform from which Sevanen delivers a heartfelt and passionate vocal performance.

There is a lot more instrumentation on this album and I’m fine with this, especially when the band is sounding so tight and focussed. I definitely feel that Insomnium were in a good place when recording this. There is very little to be critical about, perhaps only a slight niggle would be the running time, which is a little on the short side. To these ears, everything falls into place perfectly with ‘Winter’s Gate’. Insomnium have gone one better than the immense sounding ‘Shadows of a Dying Sun’ and in doing so have created one of, if not THE metal album of 2016.

5/5 stars

Visit Century Media for more information and Insomnium for more details.