Book review: The Rage of Cthulhu – Gary Fry

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I’ve read some damn good books recently and maybe I’m being a little harsh on this novella from Horrific Tales Publishing. Horrific Tales Publishing have released some great novellas in the past 12 months. Gary McMahon delivered a gem in ‘The Grieving Stones’, Paul Kane impressed with ‘The Rot’ and I also enjoyed John Llewellyn Probert’s ‘Dead Shift’. The splendid cover for ‘The Rage of Cthulhu’ and the title promise a great deal. Unfortunately Fry’s tale plods away and never really gets going until the final few pages and by then I’d almost lost interest.

George and his wife are about to go on a tour of the world after the discovery of a brain tumour in George’s head. We follow George and his wife travelling the world, with George stumbling upon links to the Cthulhu myth. Is it all simply playing out inside of George’s fragile mind or are the sightings and stories true?

One thing Fry does well with is creating that sense of dread and unease as our muddled protagonist George Cox discovers an abandoned foghorn station on the North-East coast of England. Upon entering he discovers the place has been attacked…but, by what exactly? Cox delves deeper into the mystery of the foghorn station and uncovers a dark past.

The atmosphere Fry creates is very typical of the Cthulhu mythos and is delivered well. We don’t really get to learn very much at all about George and Christine other than Christine being concerned about her husband’s sickness and of course George’s ill-health. The pacing is steady enough though it soon becomes a little repetitive as they hop from one place to the next making another discovery. There is nothing wrong with the way in which ‘The Rage of Cthulhu’ is written, it’s just nothing really new to get excited about. I’ve read hundreds of Cthulhu stories over the years and some writers have approached the mythos from a completely fresh and original angle, sadly ‘The Rage of Cthulhu’ is a little forgettable. It’s not all that bad, but not brilliant either. For me it’s just missing that bit of spark that separates it form the pack.

3/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

Book review: Relics – Tim Lebbon

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‘Relics’ might just be my favourite Tim Lebbon novel yet! It is a book that has elements of crime, urban fantasy and even horror, and I strongly feel that ‘Relics’ is destined to become one of my favourite reads of 2017.

The two main characters are Angela and Vince. Angela and Vince are a loved-up couple living in central London. When Vince mysteriously disappears from work one day, Angela goes in search of him and in doing so she uncovers Vince’s “other life”. There is an underground black-market for strange relics, odd and extremely rare pieces of the past, a magical, unbelievable past. Are they real or purely a work of fiction? How long has Vince been a part of it? What else is he hiding from Angela? These are all questions that Lebbon throws at the reader early on. I won’t say anymore about what this book is about because it would spoil the surprise, but whilst ‘Relics’ may start out as a kind of crime thriller it soon takes off in a completely different direction, and one that this reader had a truly wonderful time with.

‘Relics’ is a real mash-up of genres, and it works brilliantly. At times I felt there were comparisons to Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere’, whilst elsewhere there were even hints of the classic ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C. S. Lewis.

Angela is a great character; strong when she needs to be, but at times fragile and confused. Vince, too, is well fleshed out; a kind of Indiana Jones, but perhaps not quite as brave. The book is filled with other incredible characters as Angela and Vince enter a world of strange creatures and vile people. Some of these characters are painted in grey, in that you are never really sure whose side they are on, and after all, some of them have a lot of money invested in these relics! The dialogue is great, too. Some very quotable passages particularly from the “other” characters.

I went into ‘Relics’ not having read the synopsis. I loved the cover art and Tim very rarely disappoints. I devoured this book over three nights, always looking forward to re-entering the strange and magical world that Lebbon has created. I’m going to keep this review nice and short but I’d strongly suggest if you’re a fan of either of the books mentioned then I think you will adore this, but do as I did and try not to read any spoilers, for magic awaits!

5/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

Book review: Chalk – Paul Cornell

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There are quite a few things that become apparent whilst reading ‘Chalk’ by Paul Cornell. The first is that Cornell is a big fan of popular tv show Doctor Who, brought about by the many references to the popular programme. Second is that he is a fan of 80s pop culture and thirdly is that Cornell can write a very powerful and moving story.

Set at a private school during the 1980s, Paul Cornell’s ‘Chalk’ is the story of Andrew Waggoner and the ordeal he endures at the hands of the school bullies. I know, it isn’t the most original of ideas, but, hang in there because this is a great novel. Whilst being quite a shortish tale, ‘Chalk’ is a gripping, uneasy reading experience, one that features many scenes of strong violence. The violence in the book is often very graphic, though it is testament to the quality of the writing when you know something bad is going to happen and yet it still doesn’t quite prepare you for the graphic nature of what actually occurs.

Waggoner is just an average kid. He minds his own business but gets singled out by Drake and his friends. What Drake and the others do to Waggoner goes beyond name calling and pushing in the playground. It’s a horrific occurrence that stays with you for a long time afterwards. The story then follows Waggoner as he takes his vengeance upon those that wronged him.

‘Chalk’ isn’t just a cheap psychological revenge thriller. History plays a strong part in Waggoner’s awakening and elements of the supernatural are woven through the narrative very well. ‘Chalk’ is a journey through the psychological disintegration of a child’s fragile mind. The school attitudes are quite indicative of the time in that a simple pat on the head and saying everything will be okay is the norm. Waggoner’s relationship with his parents are distant and increase the pressure on his already fragile mind. There are plenty of 80s references throughout the book. From tv show like Top Of The Pops to Rentaghost, to pop culture icons like Bowie, Culture Club and Spandau Ballet, ‘Chalk’ really succeeds in taking you back to time when attitudes to what is deemed acceptable and whit is not were very different.

The violence in ‘Chalk’ is purposeful and unflinching. It is gruesome reading at times but necessary and in keeping with the time. Being a short novel the pacing is quick but not at the expense of getting to know the characters. As a child brought up during Thatcher’s  rule in the 1980s I can identify with a lot of this book. It is one that really resonated with me for a number of personal reasons, too, and I’d highly recommend it. A note on the ending of this book which I thought was superb. It took me a little by surprise and I thought it came together really well, leaving me with conflicting emotions and a desire to read more from this talented writer.

5/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

 

Book review: Unnerving Magazine #2

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I was really impressed with issue #1 of Unnerving Magazine, so much so that issue #2 was always going to be a bit like the difficult second album by your new favourite band. My initial worries were laid to rest when I saw that Stephen Kozeniewski *checks spelling*, James Newman and Jessica McHugh had jumped on-board, submitting new pieces of fiction. Of the three mentioned, Mr Kozeniewski delivers a very solid Z story where the dead are controlled by the mind! Some typical dark humour and a good ending means issue #2 is off to a great start. I’m not a fan of zombie fiction due to a bit of an overdose on it a few years back, but I did enjoy this one a great deal. I’m a massive fan of James Newman but his story here didn’t do a lot for me this time. Perhaps I’m simply too exhausted with the current political climate in the US at the moment to truly enjoy this short piece. Jessica McHugh is a writer you never know what you will get from her next (this is good, by the way) and with ‘Lipstick’, McHugh delivers a cracking short about an unusual evening at a restaurant. ‘Lipstick’ is only a quick read but it should make you want to go deeper into the McHughniverse. A shout-out also to Aaron J. French  who contributed a great short story and the chapter excerpt from his forthcoming novella through Unnerving also left me glad that I have pre-ordered it.

I really enjoyed the non-fiction from issue #1 and the same with this issue. A thoughtful piece from author Stephen Laws about why he stepped away from writing for a while and solid chats with Ted E. Grau and Nicole Cushing. There is a Ray Bradbury piece by Gwendolyn Kiste that’s very good too and there are the usual book reviews which never outstay their welcome by being too long, but give a very fair assessment of the contents.

All said, Unnerving Magazine looks like it is here to stay, and I for one am sure glad. If Eddie can keep on luring the calibre of writers he has for issues 1 and 2 as well as giving newer voices their chance to shine then the magazine will hopefully have a long life.

4/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

Or, even better, ignore the Amazon Death Lords and go direct to Unnerving Magazine where you can get 4 digital issues delivered for only $10.00!! Go here.

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Be sure to check out Unnerving Magazine Website. It’s updated regularly and features reviews, interviews and guest posts.

Book review: Baby Powder and other Terrifying Substances – John C. Foster

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Not since John F.D. Taff’s short story collection have I enjoyed a coming together of short tales such as this. Though I have read some of these before, I was only too pleased to revisit the dark landscapes that Foster has crafted here with his imagination. To label ‘Baby Powder and Other Terrifying Substances’ (wow! what a mouthful!) as a collection of horror would be doing it a massive disservice. Foster has his fingers in many pies and his stories contain elements of crime, horror, science fiction and noir.

The opening story sees a train journey erupt into a fight for survival. I felt a little Lovecraft influence in this dark tale of body horror. What a great way to start! I dove straight into ‘Burial Suit’ even though it is a story I have come across before. It reads like a dark and violent crime fiction story but contains elements of the supernatural and it is one only Foster can write. Don’t lose your head over this one! ‘Talk to Leo’ was my first exposure to Foster’s writing and it was a joy to read it again. Ventriloquist dummies are pretty damn creepy at the best of times, but Foster turns the creep factor up to a Spinal Tap 11 with this odd little tale.

We then get into three fantastic tales. ‘The Willing’ sees a group of survivors summon forth an ancient evil to supposedly help them defeat an alien menace, whilst ‘Meat’ is a dark science fiction story where a ship crashes on a mysterious planet. Very little exists on this planet, though there are some ugly-looking trees scattered around. Only two people have survived the crash, but they are not alone. I loved this story, such a great ending. ‘Girl 6’ is another favourite. Anybody familiar with John’s work will be delighted with this story of strange Russian experiments inside a mysterious house. An interview takes place with a man recollecting his journey through the house where a number of young girls are found dead (sort of). This story has everything! It is damn creepy and the ending is simply terrifying. ‘Red’ is another science fiction tale about an alien invasion where the aliens are being hunted by a government operative. The aliens are able to clone themselves and regenerate at will leaving our operative facing an uphill battle.

I’m not big on zombie stories but I really enjoyed the undead setting of ‘Dead on Sunset Strip’ where a gig at the Whisky-A-Go-Go turns into a fight for survival as Hell on Earth is unleashed and a plague of the living dead take centre stage. ‘A Lamb to Slaughter’ is firmly rooted in the weird. A man takes up the position of being a witness to criminal executions. He soon finds out that all of his predecessors have died and that he could be next! One of the longer stories but an absolute ripper!

The final piece is the title story. A novella where Foster takes the familiar horror trope of the haunted house story but adds his own slice of weird to it. I think this was my favourite story in the book. It’s tension-filled, weird and just damn creepy. The Jacoby House is the centrepiece of the story, a house with a long, long history. It is a very real feeling entity, a living and breathing thing that cannot be destroyed no matter how hard people try. When a girl (Sasha) goes missing inside the house, her partner Gretchen turns to alcohol and drugs as a way of trying to cope with her disappearance. The girls are a paranormal investigation team, but it’s a bit of a scam and they bite off more than they can chew inside of the house. Gretchen leaves the house unscathed but there is something that left there with her and she soon begins to find strands of black hair everywhere. This odd but engrossing story sees Gretchen eventually return to the scene of the disappearance to confront the evil that lurks there. A damn fine story and a great ending to this one as well..

Foster’s ‘Baby Powder and Other Terrifying Substances’ is a tour de force in short story writing. With such a variety of stories on show, you never know what John will serve up next. But, rest assured, I will be at the front of the line when it comes to meal time! Superb, I loved it.

5/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

 

 

Book review: Primordial – David Wood & Alan Baxter

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The speed in which I blasted throughout this book should give you a good indication bas to how much I enjoyed it. Whilst it wasn’t quite worthy of the full quota of stars (it was close!) due to a little pace dip in the middle, ‘Primordial’ sure is a hell of a lot of fun and an easy to read horror/thriller.

Now, I’m a big fan of dinosaur books. Whenever a mission is hatched to search for some sort of prehistoric beast I’m on board immediately and ‘Primordial’ is a great example of how to write a top dino-thriller. ‘Primordial’ has got a lot going for it. From the ancient myth surrounding the monster and the strange hooded figure that worships the beast, to the  inclusion of a missing Nazi search party that was sent to capture the beast for Hitler long ago. The characters are strong and the location is original too.

The quest to find the beast comes about due to a series of mysterious disappearances and some found footage of an attack. The footage brings a small town in Finland to the attention of Ellis Holloway-a Jurassic Park, John Hammond type character crazy and desperate enough to make a name for himself by capturing the beast and showing it off to the world. Holloway enlists the talents of marine biologist, Sam Aston-a man keeping a low profile in North Queensland and one who is in some trouble financially, he sees no other choice than to join Holloway along with documentary maker Slater and a couple of others on their quest to find out the truth about the existence of this prehistoric monster.

I found the characters in ‘Primordial’ to be engaging and entertaining. Aston, particularly, is a roguish protagonist with a little Australian charm and an eye for the ladies ; ). Slater provides the eye-candy for Aston. She is pretty good, too. Not the damsel in distress type but not full-on Sigourney Weaver either. Billionaire nutter, Holloway gets more and more bonkers as the story progresses and his crazy plan to capture the beast is doomed to fail.

Like I said earlier, the pace dipped just a little around halfway with little monster action but things ramped up and the final third of the book is great fun. There are a lot of dinosaur books out there but ‘Primordial’ is definitely one of the better ones. It reads like a thriller but also has enough to satisfy horror fans I feel, too. Some great characters, bloody monster action and an original location in Finland mean that ‘Primordial’ is a winner for this reader. Also, considering the book was co-written I didn’t notice any glaring stylistic differences, meaning it was a smooth and easy read. Nice cover too! Great stuff!

4/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

Book review: Splatterpunk’s Not Dead

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Jack Bantry, editor of Splatterpunk Magazine puts his DIY zine to one side to release an anthology of Splatterpunk fiction. I’m a big fan of the magazines, a BIG fan. I have every one published to date. They have awoken me to a number of new writers within the horror genre and a few of these authors make an appearance in this book. But how does the antho stack up?

After an intro from Deadite Press’ Jeff Burk things get off to a great start with Nat Robinson’s Mad Max: Fury Road-style story. It plunges us into an armoured vehicle piloted by a man at the end of the line. Robinson’s character has lost everything and has created a wheeled beast to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting public. Brutal, original and engaging, a great start to the anthology. Robert Essig is up next, a writer who I’ve come across in a few different anthologies and magazines. His story ‘High Fashion’ didn’t do a lot for me at all I’m afraid. By very early on in the tale I knew where it was going and it was a bit of a downer after a strong start. Similarly with Jeff Strand, ‘Beware of the Beverage’ is a typically bonkers Strand tale about an energy drink that contains Martian blood! It’s short and sharp but a bit too silly, even for Strand.

‘Eggbeater’ was just….errr, well, errr, out there. I quite liked it in a weird kind of way and then we had Adam Cesare’s entry which was really good. A very Cesare-style story about people’s addictions to social media platforms, in this case YouTube. Great story, even greater ending. Elsewhere, Shane McKenzie delivers a sexed up tale which was also very cool but it was Brenden Vidito who came up with a doozy of a story that for me truly encapsulates the Splatterpunk feel. Body horror, sex, weirdness, great story! My favourite in the collection. The final tale by Paul Shrimpton was also top-notch. If you can imagine a Splatterpunk version of Oscar Wilde’s classic tale ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ then you will be some way in understanding what this gory tale is about. A great way to finish things off.

A couple of stories didn’t quite float my boat, but there were some crackers in here to balance things out. It is a little on the short side for an anthology if I’m being honest but it’s a gruesome and entertaining way to kill a couple of hours for sure. This anthology just about sneaks 4 stars because when it’s good, it’s very good.

4/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

Find out more about Splatterpunk Magazine from here.