Book review: Todd Keisling – The Final Reconciliation

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Already I have a strong feeling that this novella from Crystal Lake Publishing and Todd Keisling will be amongst my years best. A big call, I know, but for me this story hit all the right notes (see what I did there?!).

In the late 1800’s the short stories of Robert W. Chambers called ‘The King In Yellow’ was first published. Chambers created a mythos of weird, cosmic horror that Keisling has tapped into with great effect in ‘The Final Reconciliation’. The narrative follows an interview with the last remaining survivor of prog rock band The Yellow Kings. Guitarist Aiden recounts the series of events that occurred during the recording of the bands only album and the meeting and involvement of a gypsy woman/groupie that attached herself like a leech to the band. Camilla, in turn forces them to complete the recording of the album and deliver a live performance that will allow her passage into Carcosa.

‘The Final Reconciliation’ is, in my eyes, the perfect novella. Expertly paced and crafted, Keisling chooses show, don’t tell early on in the story to suggest of the horrors that lie in wait for the band. The story builds as the band is manipulated and toyed with by gypsy Camilla, as she seeks to unlock the secrets of Carcosa. The tension inside the band is handled wonderfully well, the cracks gradually becoming deeper and deeper as relationships become more strained, opening into chasms of discontent.

Littered with musical references and authentic terminology, one of the most pleasing aspects was in the way Keisling captures the essence of being a musician in a band and also the way in which playing music can transcend you to another place. Keisling creates vivid images of Carcosa and the Yellow King, his minions and the realm itself. It all leads you towards a quite stunning climax where the bands final performance results in unimaginable horrors.

Character-wise, Aiden is a bruised and battered man, plagued by what he witnessed, he is a shadow of his former self. I had the image of a Keith Richards type figure, a well-worn appearance, skinny and a little tired looking whilst Camilla (The gypsy) is a vile manipulator of men, a sly character you will love to hate. The band each have their own little quirks too in a novella that doesn’t put a foot wrong.

If you are a musician or simply have a love of the heavier end of the musical spectrum then  I am pretty convinced you will be in awe of this story. Fans of Chambers and Lovecraft will also be enthralled in what is a very special book indeed. ‘The Final Reconciliation’ is the perfect example as to how to craft a novella that builds steadily, but never becomes boring.  Creating unease, tension and horror in spades. It gets extra points too for the chapters being named after the Kings in Yellow album tracks, a really cool touch. Bravo!

5/5 stars

Don’t hesitate in picking up a copy from here.

 

Guest Post: Robert E. Dunn – Stand Writing

Robert E. Dunn writes across a number of genres. From crime thrillers such as ‘A Living Grave’, featuring detective Katrina Williams, to his short novel, Motorman – a story about gods and fast cars, and his most recent release The Harrowing – a story about a biker that goes to Hell. One things for sure, you are never quite sure what Robert will present to you next.

I loved ‘Motorman’, you can read my review for that one here. And although I was a little cautious about ‘A Living Grave’, it really knocked me for six. I’m not really a reader of thrillers but this one has a great lead in Hurricane Katrina Williams, a great story and a strong supporting cast to go with it. You can read my review of that one here.

Robert was kind enough to offer this guest post about writing. It’s an insight into the shaping process of writing and how YOU and your life contributes to what goes into a book.  It’s a great post and I thank Robert for taking time out (from writing, obviously) and putting this together. I hope you enjoy reading it, I know I sure did.

Stand Writing

By Robert Dunn, author of The Harrowing

Adrian has given me a little piece of his media empire to talk about something dear to me. Thank you Mr. Shotbolt. I’ll try not to waste the space. There is something I want to talk about and I hope I don’t sound preachy or, like my kids would see it, like I’m lecturing. It’s about writing, yes. But it’s about taking a stand as well. See? Hackles are beginning to rise on some of you already. Let me explain how and why I feel as I do.

Stories, the oldest and the most resonant, the ones you grew up hearing and will carry to your grave, are the ones intended to teach you a lesson. Think of the fables. Recall the Bible stories. How about The Pokey Little Puppy or Mike Mulligan’s Steam Shovel? Take a look at the urban legends so many of us grew up with. Remember Hook Hand? If you heard it you remember and you know the lesson even if it was never explicitly said.

That’s all well and good, you may think. But you are a reader of dark fiction. Perhaps you are a writer of horror stories so black as to kill any light that might peek through the curtains of your characters. But here is my thought. Good writing, the kind that inspires a deep connection between the author and the reader, will always give something of the writer away. Why? Because no art can be phoned in. The simple, the easy and obvious, that’s for captioning screenshots of Trump Tweets and posting them on Facebook. Fun but not deep. Did you see the one where… Never mind. I got sidetracked but remind me to tell you another time.

Now where was I?

Art. Yes. Think of yourself as a child. Now go take a look in the mirror. I’ll wait. Okay, good. You look different now than then don’t you? Life shapes you. It erodes and reforms. Sometimes it takes huge chunks and lets you live without them. Sometimes you get patches that are not quite the same color but they hold you together—well enough. What life is doing to you is happening to Life itself. That’s capital L Life, humanity, everyone, the human experience. Life shapes you and your shape is a part of the definition of the greater. See I was worried about being preachy.

Anyway, in writing the story, you are Life capital L. You are experience and humanity. You can’t adequately shape the story without giving away. I can go on and on but I think you get the main idea that writing is a shaping process. You take bits of yourself and make them ideas then words then share them. I believe if you do it right, you reveal some of what life has done to you in the book.

All of that being said, I always take the long road don’t I, what part of you do you want to put out there? That’s the big question. I’m not talking about legacy. I’m talking about foot prints. Most of us will be known by only a few people, perhaps for a generation after our passing. Our footprints won’t last. Unless we put part of ourselves into the shape of the world. We start with our children. We teach, we guide, and try to make them people who carry a particular shape into the world. Those of us who write a book or two, have something that could, only could, no guarantees, be picked up and read for years beyond our life. At that point the words will not be nearly as important as the shape. Think of Tarzan. How many movies? The story of courage, finding—making your place in the world, the draw of family, and love of a family you were not born into, still burns brightly. Have you read it? The writing is dated and difficult for modern readers. That is what I mean by the difference between the words and the stand.

Those are my reasons for suggesting you write with a stand, it makes better art, it makes better people. Now the how. What exactly do I mean by a stand? I’m not blowing a Social Justice, dog whistle here. At least not on purpose. And I’m not saying write to solve the world’s problems. Hell, you could be a hateful Nazi, writing Mengele-Smurfs mash-up fan stories in your Hello Kitty notebooks and your writing would be improved by the admonition, put what you believe into the story.

It can be simple, if you have a fear of octopuses—octopi—? If you have a fear of sharks, that’s it, sharks, and not spiders, write a killer shark book. If you have a love of poetry, make a character talk about a poem or poet. They will stand out and flesh out. But if you really want to communicate and shape, find a core and take a stand. Think again of Tarzan and the idea of family. I hear chuckling. I hear a couple of jeers from the audience saying my latest book, The Harrowing is about a mercenary biker who goes to hell on a rescue mission. The question is obvious. What kind of stand could I be taking in a fantasy bit about warring angels and a gypsy biker with a magic sword?

I’ll let you in on a little secret. There is no big signpost like in my novel The Red Highway. But just like that novel, The Harrowing is about racism. I won’t spoil it for you, but when you get around to it, here are some things to notice. There is obvious talk about race between my character Demon Jack and Edgar Allan Poe in hell. Less obvious is the simmering civil war in hell. Hell is a land of cruelty and segregation but it is a land of active resistance. It echoes the world of Earth. Both places are messy but trying to figure things out. Heaven is a homogenous world of angels who want the mess cleared away and the trains running on time.

In other books I do things differently. I have a mystery in progress with a main character who discovers gay people are people after all. In that and, I’m thinking from here on out, I’m using diverse characters. It is not simply a white world with people of color filling in supporting roles. Taking that stand has made my writing more interesting I believe. I hope you will think so as well. But the real question is, what stand will you take? Make your writing about something, even if it is about the joy of doughnuts. Because your belief, your joy, your rage, will inspire and make the story your story.

I would kill for a doughnut right now.

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Follow along the tour with these hashtags: #TheHarrowing #badasshorror #angelsatwar

The Harrowing, Synopsis

  • Print Length: 263 pages
  • Publisher: Necro Publications
  • Publication Date: November 24, 2016

Andrew Jackson Presley, mercenary and nomad biker, learned the hard way—never trust an angel. Recruited by archangel Puriel for a harrowing, a descent into hell to rescue the innocent, the next thing he learned is that no one is innocent.

Hell is a prison not just for men but for the old gods as well. Heaven is an insulated club for angels, no humans allowed. The two worlds are locked in an eternal war that may soon be coming to an end. It turns out Jack has been to hell before and there are secrets buried in past lives that make him the key to victory for both sides.

As he tries to finish his mission, Jack finds that the woman he’s to rescue is Orisa, someone he had loved and killed for in life. But Orisa is half-angel with her own secret role to play in the war. While magic, burned into him by angels, gets stronger, and the mystery of his past unravels, Jack becomes Demon Jack, and learns there is more at stake than one innocent person. With the help of Edgar Allen Poe, the Queen of Ghosts, an Earth Goddess, and the most beautiful woman in hell, Satan herself, Jack must stop the angel’s final battle from consuming Earth. Even as the truth takes shape and the plans of eternity are playing out, Jack raises the stakes. To save the world, he sets loose the gods of antiquity, risking the entire universe.

Biography

Robert Dunn was an Army brat born in Alabama and finally settled in Nixa, Missouri. A graduate of Drury College with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Communications/Film he also earned a second major in Philosophy with a minor in Religion and carried an emphasis in Theatre. This course of study left him qualified only to be a televangelist.

An award-winning film/video producer and writer, he has written scripts for or directed every kind of production from local 30-second television commercial spots to documentary productions and travelogues.

A writer of blognovels and contributor to various fiction websites his work has also included the book length prose poem, Uncle Sam, the collection of short stories, Motorman and Other Stories and novels Behind the Darkness, A Living Grave and The Red Highway.

Mr. Dunn now resides in Kansas City where he continues to write genre fiction and experiment with mixed media art projects using hand drawn and painted elements combined through digital paint and compositing.

Praise for Robert Dunn

The Red Highway is not one of the best books that I’ve read so far this year, or that I’ve read in a long time…it’s one of the best books that I’ve ever read!  It was an incredible read, one that has so many layers that I was completely enthralled with the story. 5+++ stars!”
-2 Book Lovers Reviews

“This is hardboiled fiction at its best. We’re talking Elmore Leonard territory. A fantastic read and I hope there’s more to come.”
–Hunter Shea, Author of Tortures of the Damned and The Dover Demon on A Living Grave

“Dunn’s lyrical descriptions of Katrina’s inner struggles and demons read almost like poetry as he weaves an intricate and deadly plot of motorcycle gangs, the MOB, cancer survival, and child abuse into a novel so rife with complex feelings and life-situations, you are compelled to read it slowly, so you don’t miss a nuance of the gut-wrenching emotions he elicits from his characters.”
– Peggy Jaeger, Author of The Voices of Angels

“Parts of this book moved me to tears while others made me want to cheer out loud at Katrina’s kick-ass-atude. The twists and turns in the story kept me on the edge of my seat until the entirely satisfying ending. I’m so happy that this is just the start of what promises to be a totally addictive series! I highly recommend this phenomenal 5 star read.”
-Horror Maiden’s Book Reviews

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Purchase Links

Amazon

Want to Feature?

Professional bloggers or media who would like to review The Harrowing, or are interested in featuring or interviewing Robert Dunn, please contact Erin Al-Mehairi, publicist, at hookofabook@hotmail.com.

Book review: Lone Wolf Anthology – Various

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Fantasy anthologies can be a little hit and miss for me. I think fantasy works best in the longer format where authors have the opportunity to create new and exciting worlds, develop heroes and villains and deliver something that is epic in every sense of the word. Having said that, the ‘Lone Wolf’ anthology is pretty damn good reading.

The book, published by Undaunted Publishing leans more towards heroic fantasy fiction, fiction where one often stands against many, or where one is thrust in a perilous situation against insurmountable odds with only the wind at their back. For starters Undaunted must be congratulated on the cover art. I think it’s great…but what about the stories inside?…

Things get off to a great start with ‘The Iron Keys’, a tale that features an ostracised mage called Farden who is sent to the front lines where a fierce battle is brewing against a blood-thirsty horde of minotaurs! Action-packed and exciting, this is a great way to start. The second story was also very solid. A kind of dark fantasy take on Beauty and the Beast that is a little different and quite enjoyable but it is ‘Birds of a feather’ that I really enjoyed. It features a man called Aleron, who is a Gryphon-rider. Aleron becomes an unwilling champion to one of his enemies in a battle against automaton knights that march across the land. This story has some solid characters and great pacing, I really enjoyed it. The fight scenes are excellent and the story flowed really well. The next story was very different in that it had a western edge to it. A young boy enlists the help of a bounty hunter called Cactus Rose to help him track down and exact revenge on a group of outlaws. The dialogue was good in this story and it was a solid idea too. Not my favourite, I’ll be honest, but very readable.

We are nearly halfway through and there hasn’t been any d***ons mentioned yet! But, fear not ‘The Rules of the Game’ has duelling dragons and an enemy that seeks to manipulate and control out hero – dragon-rider, Rasa – via mind-control! This story is heaps of fun. The battles are great and so are the characters, bravo! ‘The Dwarfendam Run’ is really quite odd, but brilliant. The Dwarfendam Run itself is an obstacle course that people run in order to reach a special chalice. Few survive the treacherous run, but when a local musician finds the secret to completing the course unharmed the story takes on a real feel-good vibe to it. Excellent and original.

‘In Telling the Legend’ is also very good, despite being the shortest of the stories it is quite emotional and the ending is superb, I really didn’t see it coming. It’s the story of a village hermit who isn’t who he appears to be. Very well-written and a real highlight for this reader. ‘The Black’ is rich in folklore and myth. A watch-tower guard awakes to find all in the village have vanished. This leads towards an unexpected journey and some Lycanthropic action! Pretty good. A coming-of-age story is next up featuring betrayal, warring tribes and a magical spear that can cut through anything. Interesting take in that it utilises some Indian folklore to good effect. I could do without the quotes sprinkled through the story. I felt it interrupted the flow a little but it is a good story.

‘Wayward Knight’ is fairly run-of-the-mill in its execution but there is nothing wrong with this story of a grizzled old knight who offers his services to a local farmer in exchange for a roof over his head and a feed. The locals are having a fair bit of trouble with somebody looking to buy their land and things take a bloody turn as things are settled with the clash of steel. The final story ‘Senthyd’ also features dragons, though uses them sparingly. I liked this story too but it didn’t feel like a short story, more of a novel prologue and it does feel a little rushed towards the end.

All said, this is a fine anthology. There are some great ideas and although some familiar tropes appear, the stories are strong enough to give fantasy fans something to smile about.

4/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

 

 

 

 

 

Book review: Megalodon Apex Predator – S.G. Larsson

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It’s nearly the end of January and it’s time for the first shark book of 2017. Now, before we begin let’s get one thing clear. This is NOT literary fiction. It’s utter nonsense and I love it. I don’t want progressive character development, rich plotting, twists and turns. All I want is giant prehistoric sharks eating people and causing destruction. So, does ‘Megalodon Apex Predator’ do this? Why, yes! it does.

After a boat is destroyed and nearly everyone is devoured, including his father a young boy vows to locate and capture this prehistoric monstrosity to prove to the world what transpired. Now older and very wealthy, Sir Mallory enlists the services of a few army-types, a grumpy sea-captain and his two children (oddly enough) and a couple of others that merely serve as shark food. They venture out into the freezing waters of the Drake Passage – a place filled with hungry Megalodon sharks. The plan is to capture the famed Megalodon and take it to a base that Mallory has had built on Elephant Island where he will study and record the giant killers and prove to the world their existence.

‘Megalodon Apex Predator’ does exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a lot of fun, a quick read and doesn’t take itself seriously at all. The sharks are ace and despite a few very silly occurrences I had a ball reading this. The main character is 12-year-old Will – a young chap desperate for his father’s attention, he forms a bond with Sir Mallory and members of the ship’s crew. No use in getting too friendly with anyone though as they often become impaled on the Megalodon’s teeth or swallowed whole! Will is quite likeable for a 12-year-old as are his sister and Dom Mack (first mate). He is pretty handy with hand grenades too! The rest, as I said are bait. As for Sir Mallory himself, I actually found him to be a little creepy if I’m being honest. He always seemed to be a little too complementary towards Will as if he wanted to be his father himself. Weird.

With the movie version of ‘Meg’ to be released later this year, sharks stories are going to be very popular again. If you’re looking for something to tide you over until Jason Statham comes along the you can do a lot worse than picking up ‘Megalodon Apex Predator’. F.U.N

3.5/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

 

Book review double header: Happy Dark Year & Three Dead Men – Calvin Demmer

It says a lot about a writers work and the pride they have in it when they are prepared to get some kick-ass cover art for their book, even when it is only a short story. At around thirty minutes reading time each, ‘Three Dead Men’ and ‘Happy Dark Year’ are two quick slices of horror.

With ‘Happy Dark Year’ a young couple are on their way to a New Year’s party but constant bickering between the two leads to Cody dumping his girlfriend Kendall at a motel whilst he heads to the party to meet up with friends himself. Cody catches the eye of another girl at the party and soon things take an unexpected turn when they visit the lake for a spot of hanky-panky!!

I really enjoyed this one. It’s certainly a story that doesn’t end up where you think it will and for that I tip my hat to Calvin Demmer for a very cool ending. I felt it was a little harsh to dump Kendall at the motel but I suppose Cody gets what he deserves as a result of this. ‘Happy Dark Year’ is a quick read but very satisfying. I dig it.

4/5 stars

‘Three Dead Men’ didn’t quite have the same punch as ‘Happy Dark Year’. Once again the cover art is very cool and perfectly reflects what the story is about. The story follows Maiko, as she goes to her uncle’s house one night to collect him for dinner. Her uncle is a collector of antiques and other historical items. Some of these items house an ancient evil that is unleashed, putting Maiko into a fight for survival!

There is nothing wrong with ‘Three Dead Men’ at all, it just didn’t blow me away and it didn’t quite have the same great ending of ‘Happy Dark Year’. I liked way the story was set up. It was creepy and the fact that the dead men weren’t simply vengeful spirits but instead were (spoiler) entombed within a (spoiler) was original. I think this one would work better inside an anthology or perhaps as a story in a collection. Not bad, but not brilliant either.

3/5 stars

Overall, Calvin Demmer has shown that he has some original ideas and the obvious care taken with editing and presentation shows that he takes a great deal of pride in his work. I will certainly be reading more from this up and coming writer.

 

pick up a copy from Calvin’s Amazon page here.

 

Album review: Battles – In Flames

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Few bands split opinion like In Flames. The Swedish melodic death metal crew have been around for a number of years. Their back catalogue is impressive and the slight change in direction of their more recent albums is welcome, at least for this listener. Many fans of the melodic death metal scene feel they have “sold out”, choosing to go in a more “radio friendly” direction with their more recent works. I actually don’t mind the change. The band has always had a tuneful approach to their song writing and musical structure, and perhaps ‘Battles’ is their most melodic and tuneful to date. Whether that further alienates older fans or not remains to be seen, but for this metal-head, ‘Battles’ is a very solid album.

‘Drained’ is a great way to kick things off. A brooding beginning leads into a spoken intro before things pick up pace turning it into a classic In Flames track. Great melodic chorus too. ‘The End’ then backs up nicely from the first track. Some great guitar and another catchy chorus mean its two from two and a great start to the album. ‘Like Sand’ slows things down a little, and although I like the change of pace it isn’t one of the albums best tracks. Things pick up quickly though soon after with ‘The Truth’, a track that really embraces the bands newer direction – very melodic and a chorus that you will be singing long after you have finished listening to it. I think this will sound superb in the live arena due to the crowd-like chant of the chorus. A top track. ‘In My Room’ has a nice bass line running through it and a good chorus. Relationships seem to be a strong focus for the lyrics on ‘Battles’ and this continues with ‘Before I Fall’, a track I wasn’t keen on at first but won me over after a few more listens. ‘Through My Eyes’ has been around forever now it seems. A cool track, classic In Flames sound, one of the albums faster tracks, sounds like it would’ve worked well on an earlier album as well. I like it a lot and It should be another cracker to hear live too. The title track ‘Battles’ starts off heavy as hell with Anders screaming in the back. Not my favourite In Flames track if I’m being honest, it’s just kind of there really. ‘Here Until Forever’ is superb, a ballad that builds into a great chorus. The change of pace works well here. A very memorable track. ‘Then we have Underneath My Skin’ which is a little In Flames by numbers. Nothing particularly bad about it, just nothing really special either. ‘Wallflower’ clocks in at just over seven minutes in length and the intro sounds like Tool! A much more progressive sounding track than we are perhaps used to from In Flames. I like it a lot. Final track ‘Save Me’ is another that has been seen and heard a lot of recently. It’s a very good way to finish things off, a good representation of In Flames and where they are now musically.

‘Battles’ is an album, for me that gets better with repeated listens. In Flames are making the music they want to make and if you don’t like the direction the band are heading then don’t listen to them. It’s as simple as that really. It’s an album that sticks to its guns, doesn’t experiment too much and delivers most of the time. The performances are solid, the mixing is good and the artwork is excellent. All said, a very solid album indeed.

4/5 stars.

Pick up a copy from here.

Book review: UBO – Steve Rasnic Tem

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‘UBO’ is a superb story by Steve Rasnic Tem. It’s a sci-fi novel, though it does have strong horror elements to it as well. It follows a group of men trapped inside of a research facility. Are they on Earth or some other planet in a galaxy far, far away? Who are the man-size cockroaches that run the facility? ( yep, that’s right, man-size cockroaches!), and why are they subjecting the prisoners to a sort of mind-swap program? And why are they are sent back in time into the consciousness of some of history’s most vile characters. Characters such as Joseph Stalin, Jack the ripper and Gilles de Rais amongst others.

The main character in the story is Daniel. Daniel is determined to find out what is happening, why he is there and where “there” is. Are the cockroaches looking to take over the Earth? Are they using the men as guinea pigs trying to discover what makes humankind tick?

‘UBO’ asks many questions and the reveal is something that took me by surprise, though looking back I realise there were numerous clues scattered throughout the book. The first half of the book has Daniel injected into these numerous personalities and what he experiences is translated very well through the descriptions. I particularly enjoyed the return to Whitechapel, through the eyes of Jack the Ripper. The imagery here is superb, as is the dialogue and the descriptions of the murders are gruesome and horrifying, as you can imagine. However, these scenes almost pale in comparison with the horrifying gas chamber scene where hundreds of Jews are executed inside the camps during the second world war. This scene broke my heart to think that human beings actually did something like this. It really is a very strong scene in an excellent book.

The characters in this book are excellent too. We get a glimpse into each mans past, how they came to be there. Each person has a different voice and personality. Aside from Daniel, I found Falstaff to be the most intriguing. He is a shady character and you never really know which side he is on as he seems to hold a lot of information on the roaches and  consequently nobody ever truly trusts him.

Midway through the second half of the book things began to click into place and I understood what the subtext surrounding the story was a reflection of. Good science-fiction should be though provoking and ‘UBO’ definitely is that. The writing is very strong and I easily became emotionally involved with the story as it moved towards its conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed this thoughtful and emotional book. It looks at what it means to be human and also makes you look long and hard at our history as a species, what we have done and what we could still become?

5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.