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New Release Alert: The Rise of the Fallen by Peter Fugazzotto

Hey folks, hope you’re all well. 🙂

Check this out – amazing cover art from John Anthony Di Giovanni, and cover design by the kickass Shawn King.

Rise_of_Fallen-Cover-Web2-678x1024

Enter a world of fungal magic, a vengeful duke bent on a bloody civil war … and a secret that will turn a tropical empire on its head.

Cast out as a royal bodyguard for failing to stop an assassination, Maja, a master of the sword, lives out her exile among pirates on the outer islands.

But when a dying mentor charges her with bringing a young monk to the capital, Maja’s world is shaken.

Returning the boy comes with a price. Pursued by a mad torturer, Maja will risk her life and those of the Fallen, her embittered former companions, to protect the boy. Pitting her thirst for revenge against the desires of the Fallen, she must decide where her true loyalties lie.

Get your Kindle-copy now from Amazon (paperback on its way), and do check out Peter’s website for more info about him and his work.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

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Posted by on November 16, 2017 in New Arrivals, New on the Shelves

 

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Those Above – The Empty Throne Book One by Daniel Polansky

Hey everyone, hope you’re well. 🙂

Daniel first came to my attention with the utterly excellent The Straight Razor Cure, and even though I have yet finish that trilogy (and the accompanying tale, A Drink Before We Die)-which I blame entirely on being a writer myself- Daniel’s work stands out, and I knew that Those Above would be something special.

The novel (which is the first in a duology, and Those Below has been available for a while) takes place in a world in which humanity has been enslaved by powerful, seemingly perfect race of beings, called Those Above by their unwilling subjects. It is a world of extreme riches and extreme poverty, and those who hover in the middle are constantly fighting to keep their heads above water  – kind of sounds familiar, doesn’t it? 😉

These Eternals are at the very top of the food chain, in almost every sense of the word – nothing of importance happens without their input or say-so, and yet this is one of the reasons that their rule is being threatened. They are fallible and can be killed, though it doesn’t happen often; in fact, it’s happened only once, and that event led to a vicious crackdown which has reverberated down through the years, with repercussions affecting every level of society.

But folks aren’t happy with Eternal rule, and even some of the Eternals are showing a ruling-fatigue – it’s a situation ripe for revolution, and that’s what this first book focuses on through the POV’s (points of view) of three main characters.

One is a street rat, one of those living in constant poverty and assailed by crime and violence – assailed, and yet welcoming it all, because it’s where he finds his purpose and his strength.

One is the very person who managed to kill one of the Eternals – he’s struggling to find his own place and the way forward in a world which seemingly hasn’t changed, despite what he achieved; even as he’s been called on again to lead a new army.

And one is a female character, the wife of a deceased hero, who has involved herself in the deadliest of games against the Eternals and her fellow nobles. She, by the way, is one of the most epic female characters I’ve ever met – strong, independent, ruthless, intelligent, and even kind. She utterly stole the show, and I’m sure she’ll stand out for you when you meet her.

Further to the plot and events, Daniel manages to keep the focus on the above-mentioned characters (and many others) while taking the reader on a journey through this world and everything that makes it live – the various strata of society and how the rule of the Eternals affects them; the Eternals themselves and their games, beliefs, and cut-throat culture; the relationships between the characters; the history of the world and it’s peoples… Reading this book, I experienced a balance between everything that makes a book work: sometimes the world building overwhelms the characters, and sometimes the plot seems forced while the characters are shallow, but not in Those Above. Daniel is a masterful juggler – indeed, the juggling seems effortless. And I am most certainly jealous.

In short, if you’re looking for Epic Fantasy which doesn’t overwhelm, characters which shine, interesting and memorable world building and an intro to a world and plot which you haven’t encountered before, then Those Above should meet with your enthusiastic approval.

A definite 10 / 10, and I’m really looking forward to eventually reading Those Below. 🙂

To get more info about Daniel and his work, visit his website, and to order Those Above, check out the links below:

Amazon US,

Amazon UK,,

Kobo,

Exclusive Books (South Africa)

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on November 13, 2017 in Reviews

 

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Release-Day Review: Quiet Places – A Novella of Cosmic Folk Horror by Jasper Bark (Crystal Lake Publishing)

A new tale from Jasper Bark is always something I look forward to reading. The man has a style which is easy to read and flows like a delightful river, which seems almost at odds with the kinds of places Jasper takes the reader to with his stories…

For example, the title-story of Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts is one of those stories that makes you cringe and wince and clear the sick from your throat, but it also hooks nacreous claws into your mind and stays with you. And all of Jasper’s tales work on myriad levels, too – memories of scenes will pop into your mind months after reading a tale, and yet those memories will understand the scene better, or perhaps even differently. It’s one of the ways a great storyteller stands apart.

And Jasper has done it again with Quiet Places.

The cover (by the supremely talented Ben Baldwin), coupled with the title, says so many things, and is a perfect snapshot-image of the tale – that scene also takes place in the novella, and when you read it I’m pretty sure that you might flip back to the cover; if you can stop reading long enough to do so, I have to add.

Because by the time you get that specific scene, you’ll already be deep into the tale – you’ll have met sad, determined, slightly off-kilter Sally, her husband David, some of the inhabitants of the small town they live in, and Hettie and the Beast. Jasper’s spell will have been tightly woven, and you’ll be aching to know how Sally got into the situation she’s in at the beginning of the novel.

What Jasper has done with this tale is create something that has many aspects but which also works supremely well as a whole – you’ve got Sally’s psychological self, coupled with her determination; you’ve got David’s seeming lack of concern and spine; you’ve got a small town, with the accompanying mentality, and it’s people; you’ve got a major secret which everyone is keeping; you’ve got strange happenings in the forest and hedgerows; you’ve got cosmic horror. It all works. It all meshes. Masterfully.

But the heart of the tale -which boils down to what we experience, decide, act upon and then rue- is where this tale really shines. Monsters aren’t actually monsters because of what they do or what they look like – they’re monsters because they reveal themselves to be almost akin to those aspects of ourselves we choose to disregard or ignore or hide. And Jasper understands that sometimes the monster isn’t the monster, and that the victim can also be the knowing instigator.

Quiet Places is tight, lyrical, spans centuries is novel ways, and shows us parts of ourselves which might, given the perfect nudge at the right time, change from that which gives us strength to that which makes us want to run in fear and terror. And it’s also a tale which shows it’s characters (and the reader) that what you think you know is almost always wrong, or at least misunderstood.

It’s an excellent tale, on many levels, not the least of which is that it shows how versatile and empathic a writer Jasper is. Highly recommended!

10/10

Click here to order your copy from Amazon, add it here on Goodreads, and do check out Jasper’s website for more info and freebies (when you opt-in for his newsletter). There’ll be a kickass launch-day event on Facebook later this evening, so join us! 🙂

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 29, 2017 in Crystal Lake Publishing, Reviews

 

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Review – Part 2: Ugly Little Things – Collected Horrors by Todd Keisling (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey everyone, I’m back with part 2 of my ‘Ugly Little Things‘ review. 🙂

If you missed part 1, here’s the link – in part 2 I’ll be looking at the final three stories in the collection. And the one that kicks off the final trilogy is a doozy!

When Karen Met Her Mountain is brutal, the kind of tale which hits you over and over again without letting up. In it you’ll meet Karen and her husband, road-tripping and trying to find their way back to each other after a tragic loss. In it, you’ll meet Karen’s therapist and a group of strange, violent, mask-wearing cultists. And in it, you’ll witness Karen’s descent (or is it an ascent) into madness. Not for the faint of heart, but brilliantly written.

In The Harbinger, a journalist in need of redemption and a career-saving story travels to a town famous for pigs and dolls. How those two (pigs and dolls) are connected, and what Felix Proust discovers as he digs deeper into the town of Dalton and it’s mysterious celebrity (the doll-maker), make this a truly memorable, creepy tale, which works on all the senses, too. Dolls have long had a unique creep-factor; Todd adds the that creep-factor while doing something unique, yet, terrible (in the terror-sense of the word) with dolls.

My favourite of the lot. I became of fan of Robert Chamber’s ‘The King in Yellow‘ without knowing it, thanks to the first incredible season of True Detective. Fast-forward a couple of years and I’ve been reading ‘The King in Yellow‘ for a while now; I’m honestly obsessed with it. I’ll explain that when I post my review, but suffice it to say that I haven’t read anything resembling ‘The King in Yellow‘. It’s utterly unique.

Which makes what Todd did with ‘The Final Reconciliation‘ that much more incredible. Todd takes a metal band (The Yellow Kings), an evocative yet utterly unsettling track list, a self-proclaimed gypsy, and the creation of a new album, and marries them with what reads like the true-life account of this band’s rise and fall. The tale is full of weird imagery and lyrical brilliance, and positively sings with the strange, unsettling aspects of what makes ‘The King in Yellow‘ so strange – yet Todd pulls it off in a way that adds to the mythos Chambers created, putting everything that makes that strange book stand out in a modern context, yet also not explaining anything. You’ll have to read it to understand what I mean. What’s terrible about this tale (terrible, yet utterly creepy) is that now, more than ever, I want to delve deeper into ‘The King in Yellow‘, and even though I probably won’t survive it, I need to hear The Final Reconciliation in all it’s mind-breaking brilliance.

This is, for damned sure, one of those must-have collections. 10/10

To order your copies, click the Amazon link; you can also add it to your Goodreads shelf, and check out the trailer.

And don’t forget to check out Todd’s website for more info, and Crystal Lake Publishing’s website for more excellent books.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in Crystal Lake Publishing, Reviews

 

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Launch Day Review: Satic by M.D. Thalmann

One of the craziest, coolest rides I’ve ever been on.

You’ve got God as a character (while also fulfilling one other interesting role), geneticists and the cutting edge (and way past it), SF that doesn’t boil your mind while still being interesting, and characters that are both naive and compelling, powerful and tragically weak.

You’ll step into a world massively changed by a world-wide catastrophe involving nanotech, robots, androids, one weird baboon, and creepy board members. You’ll meet face-wearing barbarians, too.

How does it all fit together? Not telling – that you’ll have to read for yourself. But it does all fit together – and many, many times you’ll be cursing the author, because often what was in your mouth (or even in your nose) will be forcefully expelled by sudden laughter.

This is a fast-paced, fun and ultimately awesome SF ride – I haven’t read anything quite like it before, and I’m looking forward to every book we’ll get from this author. Highly recommended!

10/10

Order at Amazon now!

Check out more about M. D. Thalmann and his work over at his website, and have a browse through his Amazon page.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Reviews

 

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Launch Day Review – Part 1: Ugly Little Things – Collected Horrors by Todd Keisling (Crystal Lake Publishing)

(Illustrations by the excellent Luke Spooner)

(Cover design by the amazing Ben Baldwin)

Part 1? There’ll be a part 2? Yep, because I’m halfway with the collection, and since it’s launching today, I’d like to review what I’ve read so far and add my voice to those who’be been lauding this collection, since it really does deserve to be lauded. 🙂

Every good collection begins with a suitable foreword, and in this case the tradition not only continues but does so wonderfully – I have yet to read Mercedes M, Yardley‘s work (I know, right? I’ve got so much to catch up on!), but she does a great job of intro-ing the collection because she doesn’t give anything away and made me excited to read it. She evokes the emotions the tales made her feel and, like a good bookseller, convinced me to begin reading. 🙂

The first tale, A Man in Your Garden, is an absolute corker – trust me, you’ll go through this thinking that it’s nothing special, nothing notable -but like all good word-wizards, that’s exactly what Todd wants you to think- and then the end hits you like a sucker-punch in pitch darkness. Excellent stuff!

 

The next tale, Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave, is one of those quietly building horrors… It lulls you into thinking that the main character is am idiot for making the choices he does, even though you can understand why he’s making those choices, and I was left wondering at the end of the tale what his final choice would be: give in, or fight? It’ll probably leave you with the same questions.

 

Radio Free Nowhere works well as cautionary tale and plays with the city-folk-in-the-country trope – I kind of new where it was heading, but I still enjoyed the trip, as Todd manages to evoke that road-trip/desert-crossing/driving-into-the-unknown feeling amazingly well with his tight descriptions and fully-realized characters. Even the petrol-station attendant is given layers, instead of being the caricature most movies make that kind of character into.

 

The Otherland Express is one of the real stand-out tales, both a parable for our time and the kind of Horror tale starring a character we can understand and sympathize with – as Stephen King likes to do, this tale also reveals the hidden, uniquely strange things which might be hiding out there and humanizes them, forcing the reader to think about what they would do, if they were ever placed in a similar situation.

 

Saving Granny from the Devil is a wonderful tale and showcases Todd’s character-creation talents – we follow the life and decisions of the main character from when he’s a little boy until he’s an adult, charting the events in his life and the decisions he’s seemingly forced to make. Todd also gives us a new, almost perfect look at ‘the Devil’, one which upends some conventional ideas and revels in creating a new, interesting take on the ultimate bad guy. Really good stuff!

 

The Darkness Between Dead Stars is superb cosmic Horror – the kind of Horror which leaves you with more questions than answers; the story is tight and small, is written from an interesting angle (instead of the expected POV), and features some truly creepy visuals. It’s visceral and memorable and I’m pretty sure you’ll agree.

 

Human Resources is perfect. Just perfect. Corporate Culture meets Cultist Insanity. Love it!

 

House of Nettle and Thorn plays with what I believe to be one of the ultimate formative tropes teenagers in the US have to deal with – Sorority Houses. Being a South African, and not having had to deal with anything similar in high school, it still surprises me that these places exist. 🙂 I’m very glad that Todd didn’t go the way many other writers have, concerning Sorority’s, i.e. not crafting a tale in which members of different SH’s go up against each other. This is something cool and twisted and dark, explicit in places and disturbing in others, but damned good. There’s also an incredible quote-worthy passage in the tale, regarding what some men are meant to do with their lives, which made me laugh out loud it was so nail-on-the-head, but I’ll leave you to discover that passage for yourself. 🙂

 

So, that’s eight stories reviewed in part one, with three more coming in part two. So far Todd has been hitting home runs – going places where dark thoughts tumble, where strange things travel our roads, where irresistable horrors ensnare… So, should you buy this collection? For damned sure. Click on this link and do so.

And see you next week for part two of my Ugly Little Things review. 🙂

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Crystal Lake Publishing, Reviews

 

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Review: Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders – Edited by Doug Murano

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. 🙂

I got the chance to read this impending anthology, which will be published by Crystal Lake Publishing, and jumped at it. I’m glad I did – this is a truly memorable publication, and a stand-out addition to the annals of Horror.

First shout-out has to go to Josh Malerman for an incredible foreword – it’s not often that a foreword truly captures the essence of what the reader is going to be reading, but Josh did an incredible job; so much so that you’ll probably find yourself re-reading the foreword, as I did. And if you’ve yet to read Josh’s work, the foreword alone will make sure you do; the man has an enticing, evocative and lyrically rhythmic turn of phrase which seems perfectly suited to Horror. (and yes, I too have yet to read Josh’s work)

The anthology is divided into three sections – Oddities, Curiosities, and Undefinable Wonders, and Lisa Morton’s LaRue’s Dime Museum opens the anthology – an inspired choice by editor Doug Murano, as this tale hints at practically every strange and terrifyingly wondrous thing you’ll read. Let me be clear: the feel of it, how it blends reality, fear, and longing, as well as the imagery and atmosphere of it, will prepare you (to a certain degree) for the rest of the tales. It’s also a tale which defies end-guessing, and which will probably make you look twice at that strange-looking person across the street… Here’s an exceptional illustration from the mad-skills-afflicted Luke Spooner, to give you a taste of what you’ll be reading:

The next tale, Brian Kirk‘s Wildflower, Cactus, Rose is absolutely chilling in how it looks at society’s sick need to ‘look better’, as well as how ‘normal’ and ‘accepted’ abuse becomes. It’s a difficult story to read, and should be – we have to talk about the things that make us uncomfortable and that have no easy answers, and this tale doesn’t flinch from showing the uglier sides of human nature… Yet there’s a strange kind of beauty there, too.

Hal Bodner‘s The Baker of Millepoix is filled with the kind of imagery you’d expect from a charming foreign-language movie; the writing is flowing, lyrical, easy – as if your eyes are following the happy gurgling of a stream with birds tweeting in the background and a slight breeze puffing your hair. Yet when the horror arrives, it seems almost sweet and -dare I say it again- charming. You, the reader, will have witnessed something society says you must not allow to happen, must not take part in, yet… You’ll have found it a bit wonderful.

Next you’ll read Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament – not saying who the author is (either let yourself be surprised or spoil it for yourself). This tale is about the discovery of talents, the exercising of power, the black-hole-pull of love and lust, the physicality of intention, how guilt is able to ravage and inflame, and how, strangely enough, there’s a sick, twisted and yet breathtaking beauty in the experiences of pain and horror. The tale also ends with one of the most unsettling, yet fitting, scenes I’ve ever read.

What also makes Behold such a memorable anthology are the poems which split the book’s sections – Stephanie M. Wytovich isn’t one of those ‘read and have no clue what you’ve just read’ poets; her work won’t leave you feeling as if you missed classes at some high-brow literary school. It’s as if Stephanie has woven scenes or micro-stories using the ideas of Horror, the foundational elements and emotions. Her work is unsettling and addictive. An Exhibition of Mother and Monster is, to me, a scathing indictment of humanity’s need to make a spectacle of that which freaks us out. The poem points at us and says, ‘You giggle and cringe and thank your genes that you haven’t come out different, yet you don’t see the beauty and tragedy in what you’re paying to see and selfie.’

The next tale, John Langan‘s Madame Painte: For Sale is a quirky tale – it almost serves as a warning to bargain- or antique-hunters to be very careful of what they find, yet it could also be a warning to folks against believing the stories which accompany the pieces you’re interested in; it works both ways.

The next tale, Chalice, by another author I won’t name (for the same reasons as Jacqueline Ess) is one of those quaint, leaves-you-with-a-good-feeling tales – it’s sublimely written and marries the strange and out of place beautifully with the solitary life of a small-town retiree.

Fully Boarded by Ramsey Campbell is a story every traveller will love. 😉 Or maybe you’ll never travel again. Or maybe you’ll never go anywhere just to find fault with a place… Who knows? 😉

In Amelia’s Wake by Erinn L Kemper is, to me, a brooding, lovely and yet dark meditation on loss and progress, and about how grief can become a wall which not even more loss can break through. There’s a dark magic to this tale.

In A Ware That Will Not Keep, from John F.D. Taff, we hear the confession of an old man to his grandson, and we’re taken back to World War 2 and the atrocities committed against the Jews by the Nazis. It’s a tale which explores the nature and repercussions of revenge, and is probably also the first time I’ve ever felt true sorrow for a mass-murderer. Here’s a hint of what you can expect, again from the excellent Luke Spooner:

 

Then comes Ed Pruitt’s Smoker by Patrick Freivald – this tale ranks among my favourites because of the nature of the tale. It takes a seemingly innocuous subject -bees and bee-keepers- and gives it a terrifyingly wonderful twist; you simply have to read this one to understand what I mean.

We’re then treated to another poem by Stephanie Wytovich, As a Guest at the Telekinetic Tea Party, and this time she focuses on the utter uselessness, faux frivolity and inherent judgements made by women who hold tea parties. Or does she? You decide.

Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies by Lucy A. Snyder will have you laughing out loud and perhaps wiping away tears, too – Conventions may be one of those events an author aspires to, but be careful of the cookies, okay? 😉

Brian Hodge‘s The Shiny Fruit of Our Tomorrows launches the reader into the anthology’s final section – Undefinable Wonders. Brian’s tale is one of the most beautiful, and heart-breaking, tales in the anthology. It reveals a world very. very few of us have ever (willingly or otherwise) entered, people by real people, the likes of which you have probably met without knowing it. You know how sometimes truth and need, when combined, can be heart-breaking? That’s what this tale represents. Wonderful, lingering stuff.

The Wakeful by Kristi DeMeester is sublime, slow-building horror… Don’t read it while sitting out in your garden; you’ve been warned.

Christopher Coake‘s Knitter beings to my mind the awesome work Stephen King did in Insomnia – that marriage of the seemingly innocuous with the truly strange; it’s a glimpse into a world which will be very real to you while you read the tale.

Sarah Read‘s Through Gravel is, to me, an exploration of how claustrophobic religion can become – Sarah shows us a world in which darkness is sacrosanct, and change is anathema; it’s when the light begins to filter in that things change…

The collection ends with Hiraeth by Richard Thomas – a beautiful tale which resounds with aching need, sorrow, and a growing love amidst slow and beautiful magic. A reminder that the world has more to offer than we can possibly see, or know from experience. Here’s another one of Luke Spooner’s incredible illustrations – perfectly suited to the tale:

Behold is one of those memorable collections – you haven’t encountered anything like these stories in fiction before. Beauty and darkness and terror and love swirl together to create a book I’ll be thinking about for a long time. You simply have to read this-experience this-absorb this. Major kudos to Doug Murano for excellent editing and to Crystal Lake Publishing for giving readers this anthology. Absolutely incredible stuff, and well deserving of a resounding 10 out of 10.

Pre-order the Kindle version for just $2.99, and join the two ThunderClap campaigns to spread the word about this incredible anthology, and check out the many other top-notch titles Crystal Lake has released. You can also add the book on Goodreads. 🙂

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
 

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M.D. Thalmann / Satire and Sci-fi

M.D. Thalmann, a novelist and freelance journalist specializing in satire and science fiction, lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife, children, and ornery cats, reads too much and sleeps too little.

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