Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Valley Of The Scarecrow by Gord Rollo

In keeping with Rollo's ability to craft an incredible story, Valley Of The Scarecrow delivers top notch storytelling with all the flair of a late '80's/ early '90's slasher flick feel. The ride is intense, brutal, and never lets up. If this is what we can expect from Rollo - the future of Canadian horror is in great hands.

Seventy years ago the residents of Miller's Grove rose to destroy their devil-worshipping minister. They lashed him to a cross in his church and left him to die, resembling a macabre human scarecrow. But now the scarecrow has returned to life and is hungry for his revenge.

From the beginning of the novel, Rollo sets out to let the reader know that he is still in top form, introducing a cast of characters that are not only faithful to the genre's expectations, but also the dependable keys to a great story. It's through these characters that Rollo brings a new slant to the whole "slasher" camp, making the reader feel like they're part of the story - instead of feeling like you're just reading one. Personally, I felt as if I were watching something in the vein of Friday the 13th or Sleepaway Camp - as opposed to reading a novel, making this a very worthwhile experience. I can directly attribute this to Rollo's killer dialogue and the creative way he spins his characters. It's refreshing at the same time as it gives the reader a sense of nostalgia for the aforementioned 'slasher' days.

The monster featured in this novel is incredible. Joshua Miller is the stuff that nightmares are made of, namely for the fact that he just jumps off the page and straight into your head. Rollo has taken something that has been used for years - the Scarecrow - and made it scary again. The very idea that a scarecrow would come to life and chase someone is terifying enough, but add a religion-fueled, righteous indignation makes it all the more terrifying. Couple that with Rollo's innate ability to create some seriously traumatizing scenes depicting some seriously disturbing monsters, and you have what I like to think is the stuff of true terror - done properly. I don't know who/where he comes up with this stuff, but I'm hoping it keeps up.

To add one last bit of info (potential spoiler ahead), Valley Of The Scarecrow sets itself up for a sequel which, upon finishing the novel, I am now salavating for.

You can check out Gord Rollo's website here, follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and visit his forum (hosted by The Keenedom, registration necessary) here.

Valley Of The Scarecrow is available at the Leisure Books website and on Amazon as an ebook. If you don't have a Kindle, read it on your iPod, like I did. It's completely worth it.

The Trade Paperback will be available from Leisure in 2011.

PBH.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Regret by Gabrielle Faust

Wow. Talk about an ambitious little novella. This book is packed with enough examples of demons and sin to turn your church going grandma into a slavering maniac. When I read up on it, and Faust's other works, I knew I was going to be in for something special. I'm stoked to report that with Regret, I wasn't let down at all.

Humanity is renowned for placing the blame for their most unspeakable actions in the palms of their "demons". It would seem that for every crime, every indecency there is a minion of the Underworld assigned to it. The lucky ones balance precariously on the edge of damnation, always managing at the last minute to halt their impending doom. The unlucky ones succumb entirely or, in Marcus Glenfield's case, find themselves following a much darker parth than they ever would have imagined. After a strangely brutal twist of fate, Marcus becomes his own inner demon, that of the Demon of Regret. As he begins his new life as a tempter and collector of mortal souls, his path of damnation unfortunately crosses with that of Sonnellion, the Demon of hatred; Cresil, the Demon of Slovenliness; Vetis, the Tempter of the Holy; and finally Belial himself, the Prince of Wickedness. Through each of his interactions, Marcus gleans valuable insight into the purpose of his fellow demons within the greater hierarchy of existence, assisting his personal mission to collect the one soul that continues to preoccupy his every thought. However, will the wisdom of Hell's ancient minions be enough to save him from a deadly encounter with Belial, or does Hell have another plan for Marcus altogether?

That's quite a synopsis, isn't it? It looks as if you've gotten the whole story, but deep within this 140 page novella is something far darker that any blurb can actually single out.

Faust writes beautifully, with a seasoned artist's touch and a flair for the dramatic. Her descriptions dance across the page in a flow that feels both elegant and brutal. The depictions of gore are wet and juicy, the dark and squalid surroundings in some of the settings are completely tangible, and the oppressive emotion regarding the varied sins you'll come across in the novella are incredible. Rich, full fleshed and disturbing images abound in this piece of work. It's like reading the literary equivalent of a deliciously dark painting.

The demons that appear in this book are phenomenal in description and design. The beginning of each chapter features a wicked picture of the demon to be featured in the following chapter. All of the drawings were done by the Author, making this novella a huge treat to those who love their art as much as their literature. Seriously, Faust has such a handle on so many facets of the genre, I'm not even going to hesitate to say that this is someone who is going to go very, very far.

Faust's writing is tight, making this book incredibly hard to put down. I was disappointed to see it end, but incredibly pleased that the author had left it open for future volumes. I'm looking forward to following Marcus' adventures in the underworld.

Check out Faust's website here. You can also follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

You can pick up a limited edition copy of Regret in October 2010 at the Dark Regions website, here.

PBH.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Succumbing To Gravity by Richard Farnsworth

To be honest, I wasn't sure what to expect when I cracked this one open. I tend to find that fiction that focuses on angels, demons, and horror do one of two things. They either re-invent something that didn't need to be re-invented, actively deterring the reader from getting past the first act in the book, or it takes all of the major conventions of the genre and plays them out in a well ordered way - entertaining the reader, but ultimately leaving no distinct impressions that can be seen to advance the genre.

Succumbing To Gravity does neither. In fact, I'd say that this book is a complete standout in terms of this theme. Farnsworth not only grabs the reader with his eloquent and accomplished writing style, but he also takes you on the type of trip that is sorely needed in horror these days.

Greg used to be an angel, but that was an eternity ago. Back when he was Araqiel, part of the celestial chorus. Back before he gave in to his temptations. Before he fell. Now he roams the wet streets of a hopeless city, feeding his addictions and punishing himself for sins that cannot be forgiven. But when a desperate girl and a host of vengeful demons cross his path, Greg must choose between redemption and damnation. For him, the two may not be so different.

I'm no stranger to dark fiction with a religious theme. In fact, I'd go as far as to say that it's my preferred sub-genre of horror fiction. The Amityville Horror, The Exorcist, and various others, are books that I consider to be my favorites. If you dig deep enough, you'll even find a review of Dark Sacrament - a book detailing to accounts of 2 priests and their "adventures" in exorcism. The idea that there are things out there - steeped in faith and believing - that are out to get us, is an incredibly versatile and terrifying prospect.

Farnsworth uses the above mentioned themes in order to achieve something awesome, investing the reader in the exploits of a fallen angel and making us actually give a damn. The main character is both charismatic and pathetic, eliciting a one-two combo of sympathy and disgust. Personally, I found him to be most satisfying. The one liners in his dialogue are delivered beautifully, providing the reader an opportunity to laugh at the same time as being completely concerned by the harrowing situation that Greg is currently in. Greg (a heroin addicted fallen angel) is a fantastic example of how to write the sort of anti-hero that the comic world, and most detective fiction is completely reliant on. It's a relief to read someone like him.

The story itself is very tightly written and pulled off with a seasoned expertise expected from authors with multiple offerings. The fact that this is Farnsworth's first outing is almost unbelievable. The only thing I feel I should warn readers about is the multiple angles that this story is presented in. Starting off in First Person, the reader may well be a little put off by the sudden switch to Third Person narrative a chapter or two later. The back and forth/1st to 3rd switching happens throughout the novel, but very much to it's benefit. The ability to not only lose one's self in the descriptive beauty in the 3rd person perspective is great, but to also know exactly what's going on in the main character's head is very satisfying. I wouldn't usually entertain (or even suggest) the use of perspective hopping, but this book is obviously an example of how to do it right.

Another high point to the descriptive quality is Farnsworth's ability to envision scenes of beauty as well as fleshing out some of the most brutal scenes of violence I've read yet. They're pretty few and far between, but man...when Farnsworth wants to get visceral, he does so with an intensity capable of slapping a beaming smile on the face of most seasoned gore hounds. The beauty of the scenes coupled with the sadness and desperation of the main character's situation plays well against the few scenes of utter destruction and gore. In essence, this novel has something for absolutely everyone. Actionwise, Farnsworth's fight coreography is second to none. When the fist start flyin', you better watch out.

Succumbing To Gravity is a story that pushes some serious boundaries in the realm of horror fiction - never really settling in as the standard fare, but also fitting in quite nicely. Farnsworth's debut novel should be on everyone's "to be read" pile, if not already safely tucked away on the bookshelf for repeated reading.

You can check out Richard Farnsworth's website here, and order a copy of Succumbity To Gravity on Amazon in Paperback and Kindle editions.

Also check out Reliquary Press at their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter. And remember: buy direct from the source and keep the small press alive.

PBH.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Jason Dark - Vol 2: Theater Of Vampires by Guido Henkel

In the mood for a bit of the old-school, pulpy horror in the vein of those great old penny dreadfuls? Jason Dark: Ghost Hunter Vol. 2 - Theater Of Vampires, will fill that want, and leave you satisfied.

When stage magic isn't what it seems, Jason Dark turns to an old friend for help. Explore the shadows of the Victorian Theater with London's most famous Geisterjäger as he confronts a horror beyond anything yet confronted. "Theater of Vampires" is a story of betrayal, discovery, and horror in the tradition of the Grand Guignol. The only admission price needed is your courage.

Henkel really delivers a blast from the past with this foray into the Jason Dark series, whipping the reader into victorian London, and a story infused with a darkness and an adventurous spirit. The over the top feel of this short book is great, giving the reader enough information to become lost in the story, but also delivering the goods in terms of action scenes and "edge of your seat" drama.

The character, Sin Liu, was incredibly sexy and - by the end - really a very powerful female character. I loved the way that Henkel played his entire cast against each other, making them jump right off the page in a grand way.

I'd love to see this turned into something in a different media - maybe a TV show or some graphic novels. The idea of turning this series into a series of radio shows isn't too bad either. The imagery involved really begs to be seen/heard as well as read. The magazine-style format is awesome to hold, and really adds to the nostalgic feel of the stories, but Jason Dark very much deserves something bigger and brighter than this small package. The idea presented here is something different from what we're seeing these days - deserving more notice in the horror comunity, and the popular culture at large.

Also, check out Chris Alexander's write up on the Jason Dark series in issue #296 of Fangoria. Alexander calls the Jason Dark series "a cult of sophisticated fiends who like their terror full of elegant dread and Victorian charm" and thinks the series "is briskly paced pulp fiction full of shivery intrigue that aims to do only one thing: entertain." He couldn't be more right.

Henkel really has something special on his hands here. Slake your thirst for some old school horror in the style of the Grand Guignol at the Jason Dark website, or contact Henkel on Facebook and Twitter.

PBH.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Horror Library: Volume 3 by R.J. Cavender

I've read my fair share of horror compilations and anthologies, but rarely do I encounter a collection as well fleshed out as this. R.J. Cavender really went all out with this volume, presenting 30 interesting, unique, provocative, and - at some points - truly terrifying short stories to keep you up at night, and make you look at the world in a different way.

There's no real way to synopise something like this, but I can tell you that you're not going to waste your money if you pick this one up. The players involved run from little known authors, all the way to the more frequently seen names of the genre.

Here's an idea as to what you can expect:

Cavender and Boyd E. Harris start things off right with Lavese las Manos - an introduction that reads like a story itself. In fact, I thought I was reading a lead off story until the end, as what they present here are some seriously scary, chilling images of the world we live in.

Them, by Sunil Sadanand, tells the story of a man infected with a parasite not unlike the hairworms that you might find infecting/brainwashing an insect. Sadanand's take on this is obviously more intense - replacing the insect host with a human - resulting in an awesome display of his descriptive prowess.

Short Stacked, by Rodney J. Smith, a wicked little story about betting more than you can afford on a game. I loved this one. Smith's writing style is great and reminded me of Ketchum and some of the early Splatterpunk writers.

Being Supreme, by Mark Justice, gives us a little taste as to what it's like to sit down with God. A funny and dark little story - this one won't leave your brain any time soon.

The Station, by Bentley Little, has a great feel - written by a true master of the macabre. Little has given us a new perspective to think from when faced with the eternal question - what happens when we die? Truly unique.

Extra Innings, by John Peters, is a superb little story about a baseball team that never loses, and how far they will go to prove that. This was really a great treat, as I've rarely ever come across anything so refreshing and interesting in a horror anthology.

Fish Bait, by John Everson, is an awesome story that really has to be read by all. Everson's take on a backwoods little town and their dirty little secrets was a shining point in this book. I absolutely loved it.

The Apocalypse Ain't So Bad, by Jeff Strand, was - hands down - my favorite story in the whole book. A very funny, sarcastic, and...well...Jeff Strand take on the end of the world, from the perspective of a lone survivor. The world has been overrun with zombies, and the main character finds himself in several interesting situations. Personally, I think Strand should turn this story into a novel. You'll agree once you read it.

I have to say something about the cover here. I don't usually talk about artwork on this site mainly because I'm focussed on the content of the book itself - not the cover. But seriously, this series has some of the most incredible covers I have ever seen. The cover of Volume 3 (as you can see above) features a 3 faced priest with an inverted cross hanging from his neck. If that image doesn't stay with you for life, you've got to be blind. From what I've seen, every cover is incredible, and I would have these in my collection just for that fact alone.

Overall, this book is incredible. At no point did I feel I was reading the work of an amateur, and every story evoked something strong from me. Cavender has shared a really impressive set of stories with us. I would wholeheartedly suggest this to anyone who likes short stories.

Check out Cutting Block Press at their website. You can buy the book direct from them, and on Amazon and various other online retailers. Also available - Horror Library volumes 1 & 2. Look for Volume 4 to hit the streets in Early Fall 2010.

Submissions for Volume 5 are now being accepted for a publication date of 2011 in Trade Paperback Format.

PBH.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Siren by John Everson

A lot of people have been calling what John Everson is doing "Dark Romance" or claiming it to be a hybrid of horror and romance. While I don't disagree, after reading his latest offering - Siren - I do have to say that they're missing something. What's that?

Quote me on this: John Everson is the king of Erotic Horror.

That's what it is, folks. Everson writes Erotic Horror at it's best.

Night after night, Evan walked along the desolate beach, grieving over the loss of his son, drowned in an accident more than a year before.

Then one night he was drawn to the luminous sound of a beautiful, naked woman singing near the shore in the moonlight. He watched mesmerized as the mysterious woman disappeared into the sea. Driven by desire and temptation, Evan returned to the spot every night until he found her again. Now he has begun a bizarre, otherworldly affair. A deadly affair. For Evan will soon realize that his seductive lover is a being far more evil…and more terrifying…than he ever imagined.

He will learn the danger of falling into the clutches of the… SIREN

Everson has really reached outside of his usual fare with this one, crafting one of the greatest love-story-gone-awry scenarios and presenting it to a genre that didn't see it coming. The beauty of the story is that Evan's plight is something that every red-blooded man can feel sympathetic to. Eventually - over the course of the story - Evan comes back to reality, but his actions have caused a chain of events that will not be satisfied with the simple utterance of "it's over". The story really ends up being a study about how our lives can sometimes take unexpected turns when we make the wrong choices. Evan is a clear example of a worst case scenario.

The character of Ligeia is by far one of the most mystical and sexy creatures I've come across in horror today. The way Everson writes her, the reader almost instantaneously falls in love, only to find him/herself troubled by the notion that something is definitely rotten in Denmark. Revealed in a sort of back and forth/past and present - way of storytelling, we eventually learn the secrets behind her life, and come to appreciate what it is she actually does. In doing so, I think Everson has created one of the most deadly villains that exist out there: A woman who is viscious, nasty, and yet very easy to feel sympathetic towards.

So that's both sides you feel for, right? Wrong. In the end, you're left having to make a very personal choice. What I loved so much about this book is that it really gets under your skin. Everson has this way of tapping into the very essence of who the reader is, making him/her question what they actually believe deep down in themselves. I know I was shocked when the book ended and found myself gradually re-evaluating my priorities in life. I'm not saying that you'll have the same reaction, but Everson was really able to hit me in a very emotional way with Siren.

The writing is tighter than an airlock, the scenes just absolutely bleeding off the page, leaving you with the taste of saltwater in your mouth, begging for mercy. The musical influence is readily apparent in the storytelling, giving you a sort of inside look at where Everson was coming from with this one. It's almost as if you can really hear the music coming off the pages.

Now, it has to be said that with this whole Leisure/Dorchester business going on, you're going to have a wee bit of trouble tracking this one down in the MMPB format. Luckily, it's also available from Bad Moon Books in a limited edition hardcover. The cover for the Leisure edition is beautiful, but you really have to take a look at the BMB cover. It's something seriously sexy.

Check out Everson's website here, contact him on Facebook and Twitter, and grab a copy of the Leisure edition of Siren while you still can. Being that it's one of two of the last books they'll print in that format, you can bet they'll be collector's items soon.

Also, check out Everson's small press - Dark Arts Books - for some incredibly awesome looking stuff.

PBH.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Desperate Souls by Gregory Lamberson

Usually, after I finish a book, I like to let it sit and stew in my brain so I can gather my thoughts, you know, really get a grip on how I felt about it. When it comes to The Jake Helman Files I find that impossible. Read on and see why.

They’re not breathing. That’s why they’re so still. But that’s not possible . . .

Eleven months after battling Nicholas Tower and the demon Cain, Jake Helman has set up shop as a private investigator in Lower Manhattan. When a woman hires Jake to prove that her dead grandson is dealing a deadly new drug called “Black Magic” on a Brooklyn street corner, Jake uncovers a vicious drug lord’s plot to use voodoo to seize control of the city.

While panic grips New York City, Jake Helman battles gun-wielding zombie assassins, hallucinations, and betrayal at every corner. But voodoo creates more terrors than zombies, and Jake finds himself poised on the edge of insanity as he fights to restore the soul of the one person he trusts.

The first chapter of this novel alone is worth every single moment of aguish that I experienced waiting for the follow up to Lamberson's first novel in The Jake Helman Files - Personal Demons. The following 27 chapters (plus epilogue) sealed the deal, leaving me utterly satisfied and yet still jonesing for the next installment. Lamberson has really outdone himself this time around, solidifying Jake Helman as one of my all-time favorite characters in horror today.

Seriously folks, cross genre fiction doesn't get better than this.

Like the previous book, it's go - go - go from the start, blending equal parts frenetic comic book style, and seasoned police procedural thriller. Lamberson delivers the goods early on, setting up characters that play beautifully against Helman, while hurrying the story along in a quick and dirty way. The way that the author blends the back story in is also remarkable, as it doesn't detract from the current read in the least. You'll feel like you already know what went down in the first book, making this one just as good as a stand alone novel. It would be my suggestion that you read the first though, as it has some incredible scenes that you really shouldn't miss.

Now, I've mentioned before that Lamberson has a way with giving the invested reader a severe emotional beat-down of sorts. That is also very much the case with this book. In fact, there was a point where I had to put the book down for a moment - the scene was so shocking and came out of nowhere. Like I said in the Frenzy Way review, when you fall in love with a character in a Lamberson story - something bad is going to happen to them. I'm going to leave it at that. If you're someone who loves Jake Helman, you're going to be in for some serious surprises here - but man is it satisfying.

The overall feel of the book is very much the same as the first. The only difference here is that Lamberson has really tweaked his story arcs, tightened up his dialogue, and really given his all to the development of every facet of the story. I wouldn't be wrong to say that this is the best piece that Lamberson has presented to his reading audience. In fact, the only bad part of the book was the blank page following the end of the story. I walked away from this book completely satisfied and ready to take on Cosmic Forces upon it's release in October 2011 - from Medallion Press.

You can read more about The Jake Helman Files at the Medallion Press website and on Lamberson's personal website. If you're looking to contact Lamberson, check him out on Facebook, Twitter, and on LiveJournal.

Lamberson and Medallion Press are hosting an interactive signing on Saturday, September 11th. The cost is $18 (the purchase of the book) and will include a chatroom and live webcam feed. He will personalize the book, and Medallion will ship it to you on Monday. Readers who take part will receive their copies of Desperate Souls 2 weeks in advance of the public. Register for the signing here.

Also, it should be noted that Audible.com has purchased the rights to both Personal Demons and Desperate Souls for audio books. As a fan of that medium, I really couldn't be more excited.

PBH.