Book review: The Night Marchers – Daniel Braum

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I wasn’t entirely sure of what to expect from this collection of short fiction from Daniel Braun. I’d enjoyed his story ‘An American Ghost in Zürich’, which featured in the Grey Matter Press anthology, ‘Savage Beasts’, so I went in to this collection with high expectations. I’ve heard this collection described as ‘strange’, and I’d been inclined to agree. Braum’s collection flirts with horror and weird fiction for sure, but there is something else going on here that almost makes the stories defy categorization.

The stories themselves often have a very dream-like  quality to them and one aspect of the writing that I particularly enjoyed was the choice of location within the stories. Away with familiar places featured in a lot of today’s stories, instead Braum’s takes us to the Caribbean, Hawaii and a host of other tropical destinations. Another aspect I particularly enjoyed was the musical theme that features heavily in Braum’s stories. You can almost hear the music playing in the background as you read and I felt it really added something unique to the stories. Braum’s knowledge and obvious love of music shines through. Similarly I enjoyed his inclusion of old magic, ancient gods and unexplained occurrences.

The prose is deceptively simple and you will find yourself effortlessly guided through each story, drifting along on a wave of tropical beats and jazz filled passages, exploring unusual destinations where strange occurrences are often. Of the highlights for me, I really enjoyed ‘Spark’, a strange tale about a pyromaniac and the title story is also a wonderful story but my favourite was ‘The Green Man of Punta Cabre’, a strange tale that features an ancient Guatemalan god! Braum successfully weaves a web of mysticism and magic through his stories, making them addictive and often unpredictable. It’s this unusualness and unpredictability that I really enjoyed and made this collection really shine for me. Highly recommended reading for those looking to take a journey to a far away place where anything is possible.

Pick up a copy from here.

Book reviews – Werewolf double header! Toneye Eyenot – Blood Moon Big Top & Dominic Stabile – Full Moon in the West

 

Two short reviews for a couple of Werewolf novellas I read recently. I love a bit of shapeshifting blood and guts and both of these novella length pieces delivered exactly what is needed to make a very cool Werewolf tale. Check them out!

Blood Moon Big Top – Toneye Eyenot

Toneye isn’t afraid to go for the juggler (see what I did there!) with Blood Moon Big Top, a book that has his trademark brutality stomped all over it. Young and old are despatched with reckless brutality in this tale of circus clown, Marbles, and his transformation into a flesh-ripping creature of darkness. An encounter with a young feral child leads to Marbles being bitten when stumbling through a forest one night. The clown is disowned by the circus due to his increasing ill-health after the bite and so begins Marbles resurrection and his quest to find his travelling family once again.

No punches are pulled by Toneye in this quick but entertaining novella, brimming with blood and guts. What makes this story stand out is its blend of clown horror and Werewolf myth. Both are familiar horror tropes but I don’t recall coming across both in the same story before and it’s an interesting and original take. The full transformation takes some time and Marbles’ kills become more and more gruesome as the wolf begins to take its hold.

It all leads to a great climax of carnage and horror.

Pick it up from here.

Full Moon in the West – Dominic Stabile

Dominic Stabile takes a different approach to the Werewolf myth, taking us to the old wild west in a brutal tale of revenge featuring a little bit of the witchcraft and the supernatural in the form of a pistol that captures souls.

Whilst only a short read, ‘Full Moon in the West’ does exactly what is necessary for a cool shapeshifting read. The six outlaws (Werewolves) responsible for murdering Tezcat’s wife and daughter are suitably horrible, displaying all the usual lycanthropic traits such as quick healing, great strength and speed and a disliking of silver. The story mainly takes place in and around the sheriff’s office where one of the outlaws is behind bars. What follows is a bloody shootout, ‘Assault on Precinct 13’ style tale with plenty of action, a cool soul-capturing weapon and a satisfying conclusion. Tezcat is an unlikely hero, not convinced that he is capable of taking his revenge, but cometh the hour, cometh the man!

I love a good Werewolf tale and this one is heaps of fun.

Pick up a copy of ‘Full Moon in the West’ from here.

Album review: Hardwired…To Self-Destruct – Metallica

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I’ve pondered this review for a few days now. This is the first Metallica album I didn’t rush out to buy on the day of release! Let me start by saying that I love Metallica. I’ve been a fan ever since I purchased ‘Master of Puppets’ on cassette many years ago and have bought every album they’ve put out before that metal masterpiece and since. Ever since the infamous ‘Black album’, Metallica have had a few ups and downs. I loved ‘Load’…yep, you heard that right. I. Loved. ‘Load’. ‘Re-Load’, not so much. With the exception of a couple of tracks it sounded like a bunch of b-sides to me. ‘St Anger’ was a mess. The production was awful, the songs even more so and my disappointment was increased further with the release of “Death Magnetic’ – an album that confuses me still to this day. It’s like the band didn’t really know what to do with themselves. The production (again) was weak, far to clean sounding and Hetfield’s continued use of “ahhh” at the end of every word drove me insane. The less said about ‘The Unforgiven III’ the better. Truly one of the worst songs the band has ever recorded.

And so we arrive at ‘Hardwired…To Self-Destruct’ an album that is much improved and for me their best release since ‘Load’. It isn’t without its faults so let’s get them out-of-the-way. It is too long for a start. Two discs filled with songs around the seven minute mark is quite draining and though there are some great musical passages, a couple of songs drift off into nothing but self-indulgence. A more focused ten song single album would’ve worked much better in my opinion. A couple of the tracks are simply awful. ‘Now that we’re Dead’ being the worst offender. After two great opening tracks this track sounds really out-of-place and just doesn’t work for me at all. It sounds like something left-over from ‘Death Magnetic’. Similarly with ‘Murder One’ – a track I can’t seem to remember anything about…at all.

There are some great tracks that have taken me some time to truly appreciate. ‘Atlas, Rise!’, ‘Halo on Fire’ and ‘Dream No More’ after repeated listens I’ve found that I really dig them, particularly ‘Halo on Fire’ which builds and builds into an epic track. Disc 2 isn’t quite as cohesive as the first but there are some gems in the form of ‘Here Comes Revenge’ and the closing track ‘Spit Out the Bone’ which really gets the head moving. The production is much better on this album than the previous ‘Death Magnetic’. The guitars have more crunch and don’t sound as flat in the mix, Hammett in particular seems to have a renewed energy with his soloing. Hetfield’s voice is also much better and the bass work is as good as it needs to be, complimenting the guitars well. Lars’ drums are…as expected, average. I’ve always found him to be a very limited drummer that lacks imagination and although he keeps things tight, most of the drums sound very similar.

There is a great energy about the band with this album and though I don’t believe it will ever go down as a classic it is much improved over their recent output. I don’t think ‘Hardwired..to Self-Destruct’ will win over any new fans. It isn’t meant to. It could win back a few of the old ones who had perhaps lost faith in the metal behemoth that is Metallica.

4/5 stars

Book review: SNAFU: Black Ops

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The SNAFU series from Cohesion Press has been churning out military infused horror fiction for some time now. With ‘SNAFU: Black ops’ the publishers have enlisted the services of some cool cats like Jonathan Maberry and Nicholas Sansbury Smith, both of whom should be well-known to you if you read a lot of this sort of stuff.

Maberry kicks things off with a long piece featuring his wise-cracking, ass-kicking super stud Joe Ledger in a cool post-apocalyptic tale. It’s trademark Maberry and although there are a far too many “Hooahs” I did enjoy this tale. ‘The Waking Dragon’ was excellent. really original and just the sort of thing I want to read in an anthology where there are likely a lot of similar stories, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, it’s all here in this great story. ‘Black Tide’ features Alastair Crowley, James A. Moore’s dastardly character. I’ve loved his other Crowley stories in previous anthologies and this one was good too. It is a story that features the handsome looking thing on the front cover and is hella fun. Alan Baxter’s tale reminded me a little of ‘Suicide Squad’, which I didn’t like when I saw it at the movies. Thankfully, Baxter’s tale is much better. ‘Seal Team Blue’ had an air of Matheson’s ‘I am Legend’ about it. It features a team of Navy Seals sent into a city to search for survivors.  There is nothing bad about it but it did feel a lot longer than it needed to be. I’m pretty sure this story can be told in half as much time, but maybe that’s just me. I soon approached a home-run of stories by Kirsten Cross, Hank Schwaeble and Seth Skorkowsky. Each one had its own unique flavour and I really enjoyed them all but particularly Schwaeble’s Hatcher story which sees a rescue mission turned into a monster hunt. Great dialogue in this and Hatcher is a terrific character I want to read more of. ‘God-Killers in our Midst’ was pretty good too though it didn’t blow me away the same way in which the previous stories did. A little too satirical in places though it provided a welcome change in style. The final story ‘Extinction Lost’ by Nicholas Sansbury Smith I approached with caution. I’d recently read ‘Hell Divers’ and wasn’t very impressed with it at all, finding it to be a little too cliché and cheesy for my liking. Thankfully this story isn’t from that same world and it finishes the anthology off in fine style with a pulsating story taking place in freezing Greenland. Yes, again it’s a little cheesy but the monsters were cool and I liked the setting too, so “Hooah!”

This is the largest SNAFU to date. Despite a couple of the novella length pieces being a little too long, SNAFU: Black Ops kicks serious butt. Some of the stories showed great originality, whilst others were just great fun to read and had me yearning to find out more. With SNAFU: Judgement Day coming next year the series shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. If you enjoy military-style horror then you can’t go wrong with these books or any of the others from Cohesion Press. Good stuff.

Pick up a copy of the latest SNAFU from here.

Book review: Year’s Best Hardcore Horror – Anthology

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Comet Press’ anthology of hardcore horror features some of today’s brightest (or should that be darkest?) stars currently operating within the genre. I have read a great deal of work by many of the authors featured here and although there are a few gems, sadly there are some duds too. The title is a little misleading in that quite a few of the stories weren’t in fact very hardcore at all. That’s not to say they weren’t good stories, but the suggestion is that these tales would turn the stomach and this was rarely the case. I am perhaps being a little harsh on this book but 2016 has seen some exceptional anthologies and for me this one fell a bit short in comparison.

Anthologies are usually hit and miss, though if you enjoy the majority of stories on offer then the editors have done a good job. There were a few tales that I really did dig. David James Keaton’s ‘What’s worst’ is hardcore, out there, weird. Some people will love it, some will hate it. I was still thinking about it long after I finished the book, so bravo, sir. The Behrg’s ‘Reborn’ was another very cool story featuring a baby on a doorstep! I’m not saying any more about this story except that it’s a good one. Jeff Strand does what he does best with ‘Awakening’ in the shortest story in the collection. It’s filled with Strand’s trademark wit and guts and though I’m not usually a huge fan of humour in horror, this one is great. ‘Dead End’ by Kristopher Triana was pretty damn good and a new take on a familiar tale. Of the duds, the two stories featuring G.G. Allin I definitely would’ve done without. I’m not a fan of the guy at all and particularly the story by M.P. Johnson (a writer who I usually enjoy reading) was a bit too bonkers and felt really out-of-place to me. Similarly with the tale by Charles Austin Muir, another writer that has impressed in the past didn’t excite me at all with ‘King Shits’. A couple of the later stories just sort of passed me by and I struggled to remember much about them at all. Things pick up with Monica J. O’Rourke’s tale. It’s really quite disturbing and very well done and I also really enjoyed Pete Kahle’s story, though it did remind me a little of Nick Cutter’s ‘The Troop’. Still, it was gory, fun and kinda made my skin crawl, so job done! The best story, for me was Jason Parent’s ‘Eleanor’. Very dark, a little kinky and the ending was top-notch. I’ve read this one before somewhere but it is an absolute doozy. Great stuff! The final story ‘Blackbird Lullaby’ was also cool. Macabre, short but sweet.

The other stories weren’t bad, just not very memorable. Whenever I finish anthologies I take a look back at all the titles and try to remember what they were about, delivering a brief synopsis inside my head. Unfortunately there were a few stories where I couldn’t remember anything about them. Your mileage always varies with anthologies. Also, there have been some excellent ones released this year as I mentioned earlier. For me, this one was pretty good, but not great.

Book review: The Nightly Disease – Max Booth III

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‘The Nightly Disease’ is a book Mr Booth has been working on for some time. If you follow his amusing ramblings on social media then you will be well aware that Max is a night auditor at a hotel. Servicing his guests with a smile and always being sure that they are spending the night in comfort, overwhelmed with the scent of freshly washed towels, Max decided to write a surreal book about some the exploits of Isaac – a young chap also working the graveyard shift. What follows is a tale of death, loneliness, love (sort of) and owls! ‘The Nightly Disease’ blurs lines between what is real and what is not, it is left to the reader to decide as Isaac’s sleep deprivation and constant annoyance at his guests drives him insane. An impossible love interest with a bulimic girl is a nice touch and further details Isaac’s desire for a little companionship. Isaac is a bit of a sad sack, sarcastic, but you can’t help but like the guy.

‘The Nightly Disease’ is a unique book and I doubt you will read anything quite like it in this year or the next. It certainly is a dark book, but filled with enough humour to keep it from becoming depressing. The writing is sharp and the novel moves at a more than brisk pace as Isaac spirals into madness. Isaac is a fully realised and realistic character. He has problems, like we all do, he makes mistakes, but at his core he is human. I’m not sure if he is the most likeable of people but if you have ever worked nights in any trade, especially in hospitality then there are certain aspects of his personality you will connect with. On the surface ‘The Nightly Disease’ is a darkly humorous tale of one mans struggle with life, but if you dig deeper then there is much more than meets the eye.

I suppose that ‘The Nightly Disease’ is a tricky one to pigeonhole, if you really wanted to then I guess you could say that it’s a Bizarro book. Whatever it is, it’s a great read from a writer you are never quite sure what you are going to get next, and here is where one of Booth’s strengths lie. One of the most original and thoughtful books of 2016.

Pick up a copy from here.

Guest post: Mark Allan Gunnells talks

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Mark Allan Gunnells has been pretty busy this year on the writing front. His co-authored book with Aaron Dries, ‘Where the Dead go to Die’ is featured in my years best of 2016. It is an astonishing book that turns a familiar horror trope upside down, pulls out its intestines and devours them. It is also another fine release by Crystal Lake Publishing. Today, Mark agreed to stop by and talk about his other recent release through Cemetery Dance, ‘Curtain Call and Other Dark Entertainments’ – a collection of short stories. I’ve read two of Gunnells previous collections in ‘Flowers in the Dumpster’ and ‘Welcome to the Graveyard’, both of which I really, really enjoyed. Mark really excels in the short format and I am sure that ‘Curtain Call’ will be another winner.

I always really enjoy guest posts by authors. Particularly when its an author I really enjoy reading too. So, without further ado, I will hand you over to Mr Gunnells. To find links to this book and where else you can stalk follow Mark, please see the end of this post. As always, thanks for stopping by.

GOING BEHIND THE CURTAIN: Putting a Collection Together

By

Mark Allan Gunnells

I’m a writer who has been fortunate enough to have published several books with a variety of great publishers, and as someone with a burning passion for short fiction, I’m extremely grateful to have nine collections on the market. The most recent of these is a digital collection from Cemetery Dance called Curtain Call and Other Dark Entertainments. Having a book with such a venerable publisher is by far one of the highlights of my career to this point. I pitched them the idea for a collection not really expecting them to say yes, but when I got the greenlight to submit a manuscript, I found myself struggling to decide what stories to include. In the end, I felt I picked strong tales that I’m very proud of, and I thought it might be interesting to some of you to know the process I used to choose my Table of Contents.

When I sat down, there were certain stories I knew immediately that I wanted to include. These were stories that I felt very strongly represented the best of what I had to offer. In particular for this collection, recent stories “The Girl Who Watched the Ocean,” “The Grass on the Other Side,” and “Curtain Call” came to mind immediately and I just knew I would include those. Three stories do not make a collection, however, and so I had to start looking at my work critically to determine what other pieces would make the cut.

One thing you have to understand is that I have literally hundreds upon hundreds of short stories, and even with nine collections already out there, I still had an overwhelming number of stories to consider. I decided to narrow down the field, I’d first look at only my most recent stories, the ones I’d written in the last year.

When I am putting a collection together, one of the things I’m looking for above all else is an eclectic mix. I know some writers like their collections to have a thematic through-line, and I respect that, but it isn’t how I approach the matter. I want each collection to show a wide range when it comes to my interests and subjects. I want a little supernatural horror as well as some psychological, a few graphic tales coupled with quieter ones, surreal pieces and some with a firm basis in realism. I even like to occasionally throw in stories with no horror or fantasy elements at all. I figure a collection is my opportunity to show the reader everything of which I am capable as a storyteller.

Keeping that in mind, I picked a handful of recent stories to add to the ones I’d already chosen. “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” “Picnic at Bonaventure,” “Along the Street of Gold,” “The Town that Played Christmas Music for No One,” and “Tanner.” I felt these stories fit the bill in providing an diverse collection of tales.

Next I dipped into my older stories, and what I looked for here were tales that I really believed in but had never found a home for in anthologies or magazines. This collection would be my chance to highlight them and finally expose them to a readership. These are the ones on which I probably spent the most time deliberating, looking at them very critically as sometimes there is good reason why a story can’t find a home. Time and distance can lend me an objectivity to see the flaws in certain tales. However, some of them still stand up for me and I still believe in. “Fates,” “Movie Baby,” “And a Former Child Star Shall Lead Them,” and “Do Over” were such stories.

All told, I picked 12 stories, put together the manuscript, and sent it in to Cemetery Dance, my fingers crossed. I was elated when I got word that they would be moving forward with the collection. Norman Prentiss, my editor, gave me some good notes and I began the revision/polishing process. He also suggested we cut two of the stories—“Tanner” and “Do Over”—and go with ten tales.

And thus Curtain Call and Other Dark Entertainments was born. I gave a lot of thought to the stories that would be a part of this collection, and I sincerely hope that readers enjoy the tales.

Pick up a copy of ‘Curtain Call…’ from here.

Visit Mark at his blog here.

Find him on Facebook and Twitter.