RSS

Book Review: Shadowshaper

Look at that stunning cover! I didn’t even care what the book was about, I knew I had to have it as soon as I saw that cover and I dived right in without even reading the blurb.

shadowshaper

Cassandra Clare meets Caribbean legend in SHADOWSHAPER, an action-packed urban fantasy from a bold new talent.

Sierra Santiago was looking forward to a fun summer of making art, hanging out with her friends, and skating around Brooklyn. But then a weird zombie guy crashes the first party of the season. Sierra’s near-comatose abuelo begins to say “No importa” over and over. And when the graffiti murals in Bed-Stuy start to weep…. Well, something stranger than the usual New York mayhem is going on.

Sierra soon discovers a supernatural order called the Shadowshapers, who connect with spirits via paintings, music, and stories. Her grandfather once shared the order’s secrets with an anthropologist, Dr. Jonathan Wick, who turned the Caribbean magic to his own foul ends. Now Wick wants to become the ultimate Shadowshaper by killing all the others, one by one. With the help of her friends and the hot graffiti artist Robbie, Sierra must dodge Wick’s supernatural creations, harness her own Shadowshaping abilities, and save her family’s past, present, and future.

Firstly, hooray for having a character of colour on the cover of a YA fantasy novel!! Like a million stars just for that. Secondly, hooray for a diverse YA urban fantasy novel! Have more stars! And this novel was written by a real life Puerta Rican from the very suburb in which the story is set. All the stars, book, have them all!! I’m a huge fan of diverse books and an even greater fan of diverse books written by diverse authors.

But okay, onto the story. This was a fun, colourful, different and refreshing read. I don’t read a lot of urban fantasy but I happened to really enjoy the books by Cassandra Clare and can definitely recommend this novel to fans of the City of Bones series. Shadowshaper, however, was a lot more awesome because it felt so fresh. This novel presents Puerta Rican mythology to the reader, something I sadly knew nothing about until I picked up this book. And, despite having been exposed to a great number of books, TV shows and movies set in New York city, this story took me to Latin suburbs I’ve never explored.

While the plot is good and definitely kept me turning pages, there were times in the first quarter or so that left me wondering about the stakes and wondering whether the characters should be more concerned. Turns out they should’ve been, but the story takes just a teeny tiny bit too long to get started. Once it does, however, it kicks into top gear and doesn’t stop until the very last page. I loved discovering the shadowshaping world along with our narrator Sierra, who, having been denied her own heritage, wakes up to who she is on a lot of different levels throughout the story with the help of her wonderful friends and Haitian love interest.

What I truly loved about this book was the characters and the portrayal of Latin, black and mixed-race characters – nothing smacked of tokenism, every character felt real and necessary and an organic part of the story. I also received a crash course in Spanish and NYC slang. The voice is strong but not off-putting and Sierra was extremely relatable. I loved that she took charge and didn’t hesitate putting others in their place when they deserved it, calling out her aunt on racism, her grandfather on sexism and so on. This book explores feminism within the Latin community and closer knit family as well as what it means to be a Latin teenager growing up in NYC. It opened my eyes to a lot of things I never even thought about.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am really looking forward to reading more by this author, particularly if his future works contain more Puerta Rican mythology. Fascinating premise, great characters and superb writing, this book scores 4/5 glorious ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 27, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , ,

Guest post: The Difference Screen- and Novel-writing

Today I’m handing over to Glenn Benest, an award-winning horror writer whose screenplays have been directed by the likes to Wes Craven. Now Glenn Benest has teamed up with Dale Pitman, co-writing a horror novel called Ink. Here’s the blurb:

 

His studio has become his refuge and his prison – a place of boundless imagination and lonely isolation. Brian Archer, creator of a series of successful graphic novels about a vengeful supernatural being called “The Highwayman,” 
has become a recluse after the adoration of a female fan turned to rage and violence.
 
But all that changes when he meets a renowned and beautiful illustrator, A.J. Hart, who carries emotional scars of her own. Their work together is fueled by the unrequited passion they share and a mysterious bottle of black ink that arrives one day at Brian’s doorstep.
 
The impossibly dark liquid has mystical properties, making their characters appear so real they eventually come to life, reigning terror on those who mean them harm and if not stopped—threatens to unleash an apocalypse on all mankind. Brian must break free of his self-imposed exile and solve the mystery that allowed these terrible creatures into the world.

 

art1

Buy the Book

The difference between writing for film and writing fiction
by Glenn Benest

 

As you may know, I’ve been a professional screenwriter for many years with seven produced screenplays, including two scripts I wrote for acclaimed horror director Wes Craven.
 
We started this project as a screenplay and though we won a number for awards for the screenplay we never seemed to get it over the finish line. Our manager, Mary Louise Gemmill at Writers Ascending, thought all along it was better suited as a novel and with her encouragement, that’s what we did.
 
The difference between these two art forms is enormous, as my writing partner, Dale Pitman, and I discovered. For one thing you have to decide who is telling the story. Do you do it in the first person, the 3rd person, an omniscient point of view? This takes time and probably some failed attempts until you get it right.
 
But the great joy of writing fiction is that you can delve much deeper into the characters you’re writing about. You can expose their thoughts, something you don’t have the luxury of doing in film.  As a result, you really can get under their skin, what they’re really thinking when they might be doing completely the opposite of what they’re really feeling or contemplating. 
 
The other great luxury you have in fiction is that you can delve into the characters’ backstories in a way you can’t in film and television. We call this in screenwriting – exposition. And it is the hardest thing in the world to hide the exposition you’re trying to get in (i.e. what happened five years ago).  The reason for this is that screen story really bogs down when you go into some long-winded explanation of the backstory of your characters. You have to keep the story moving.
 
But in fiction you don’t have that problem. The reader is much more willing to let you write a chapter about what happened five years ago as long as it’s interesting and has conflict. The backstory brings so much more dimension to the characters than you will ever achieve in film.
 
This is probably why most people don’t like films made about their favorite books. It’s because the books were so much richer and had greater depth of character and texture than you can achieve in a film.
So was it hard to go from screenwriting to the writing of a novel? Absolutely. Was it rewarding? More than I can say.

 

Get in touch with the authors:
Glenn Benest
Twitter: @glennbenest

 

Dale Pitman
Twitter: @DalePFT
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on August 4, 2015 in Guest Post

 

Tags: ,

‘Kros: Hallowed Ground’ by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake

Vampire Hunter Kros fights a battle at night as fearful and horrific as the battles fought during the day at the Battle of Gettysburg.

2516ee900fa495eaf492be3209f77a39_original

Kros: Hallowed Ground began over 10 years ago as a tale of horror set during the Battle of Gettysburg. A dream project for us both, it waited silently, like a vampire in the shadows… The story was written, some pages were drawn–atmospheric, dark murky landscapes, the dimly lit surgeon’s tent, a figure swirling from the smoke of battle…

It’s time to hear the wolf’s howl; to watch the undead descend like buzzards to the feast.  It’s time to unleash the vampires…

 All wars are horror stories.

Gettysburg, July 1-3, 1863. The blood soaked battlefields of the Civil War draw Vampires who descend to feed on the wounded and dying as Blood calls to Blood. One man, a Vampire Hunter named Kros, stands against them, waging a battle at night as fearful and horrific as the battles fought during the day.

KROS: HALLOWED GROUND is a 128 page horror graphic novel by John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake. Kros is a dream project and Kros’ story is one we have been wanting to tell for a long time.

With just under 24 hours to go, this kickass Kickstarter project has been FULLY FUNDED! Absolutely epic news for John Ostrander and Tom Mandrake! :) The first stretch-goal has been achieved and the second, which will see 20 additional pages of content added to the graphic novel, is very close to being passed.

a6b271bf5ee270269ea0d8a1977fa8cb_original

 

THE STORY

Set against the backdrop of the Battle of Gettysburg during the Civil War, KROS: HALLOWED GROUND is a tale of horror that follows the story of Vampire hunter, Major Kros, who fights two wars. During the day, Kros fights the battle history remembers. At night, he fights a secret battle against supernatural forces.

Kros himself is an enigmatic character. He’s a dampyr – a vampire hunter – and has some of the vampire’s abilities. Long lived, Kros cares nothing for the politics of ordinary mortals. The Civil War means nothing to him. Kros is on the trail of the undead. There are considerable dangers to Kros as well–and death is not the worst of them. Blood calls to Blood and there is always the danger that could be turned and become that which he hates.

Around Kros are ordinary people, civilians and soldiers from both the North and South in the midst of a cauldron called Gettysburg. They have faced the conflict and horror of the battlefield and now must face an even greater horror. Vampires have followed the armies and come at night to feast on the fallen. A second battle is fought at Gettysburg of which the history books know nothing. That’s the tale we want to tell. We’ve waited a long time to tell it. With your help, it will happen.

The KROS: HALLOWED GROUND 128 page graphic novel will include character and production artwork by Tom Mandrake, cover/poster art, as well as a short KROS story by John Ostrander.

92f6e747e5f53328fb0407e3307213a5_original

Definitely a graphic novel I’m looking forward to devouring, and I’m really stoked for Tom and John that this dream of theirs is in the process of becoming a reality. :) If you’d like to help make sure that the next stretch-goal is reached and passed -and who wouldn’t? There is some really cool swag to be had in exchange for your help- check out the project’s page over at Kickstarter.

Massive congrats to John and Tom once again – very well deserved, guys! :)

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
 

Tags: , , , ,

Book Review: Empire of Night

This is book 2 in the Age of Legends series. Over here, you can read my review of book 1 Sea of Shadows. I knew I would return to this series because I adored the characters, and I’m really glad that I did because what I felt was lacking in book 1 was delivered in spades in book 2!

empire

No blurb this time because it would give away too many spoilers. This is going to be a spoiler-free review as well, so I won’t be discussing too much of the plot. You’ll just have to trust me when I say that this book kept me turning pages way past my bed time!

Book 2 picks up almost exactly where book 1 leaves us, weaving recaps of book 1 into the narrative in a way that didn’t feel like a major info dump. While book 1 was mostly about two girls traipsing through the wastes and battling legendary beasties, book 2 dives straight into what I thought was lacking in the first book: political intrigue! Book 2 introduces quite a few new characters which not only adds to the world-building but also forces the characters to grow and change in unexpected ways. Again, the girls are split up by circumstances and must face their own trials and tribulations, but the book never lets you forget that this story is first and foremost about the sister-bond between Moria and Ashyn. There is romance, but it always comes second to the love between the sisters which I found most refreshing.

While I found the world-building a little confusing in the first book, book 2 reveals far more about the cultures and construction of this fantasy world that seems to be a mesh between East and West, with a tendency toward 17th Century Japan although I think Armstrong does well to avoid some of the cliches while still introducing recognizable elements of the culture. There is also mention of foot-binding which was a Chinese practice, but the caste system comes straight out of Edo-era Japan. Coupled with the northern cultures we’ve only begun to get a taste of by book 2, I would say the world in this series isn’t a borrowed version of the ancient East so much as an continental amalgamation which I found really different from the vast majority of Euro-centric fantasy.

While there are no openly LGBT+ characters in the series – yet? – same-sex relationships are mentioned several times and seem to be accepted if not quite the norm. I’m not quite sure how this would work in a society very much concerned with family and lineage, but I hope that Armstrong explores this in the final book.

I cannot talk about the plot without giving away major spoilers. This book is all about the plot! There is substantial character development as well, but what kept me turning the pages was the political intrigue and wondering who the girls could trust, or who might betray them next. What I do absolutely love about this story is that the girls are both strong, independent young women who aren’t strong because they act like men. They are still young girls with a rather narrow if slowly broadening understanding of the world and people who use their significant skills to help themselves and others while not being afraid of asking for and accepting help when needed. Too often, strong female characters are written like male characters as if any show of femininity is somehow a show of weakness, but this is definitely not the case in this novel where the girls can do battle just as easily as they can chat about pretty dresses.

If I have any criticism of this book, it’s that the ending was a punch in the gut and is going to make the wait for book 3 a special kind of torment. While book 1 wasn’t my favourite, book 2 was excellent and I strongly recommend giving this series a chance because I’m sure it’s going to finish on a high! 5/5 splats for Empire of Night.

5 inksplats

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 28, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , , ,

Book Review: Love in the Time of Global Warming

This book has been on my radar for ages. It’s also my first foray into the writings of Francesca Lia Block, but it certainly won’t be my last.

love global

Her life by the sea in ruins, Pen has lost everything in the Earth Shaker that all but destroyed the city of Los Angeles. She sets out into the wasteland to search for her family, her journey guided by a tattered copy of Homer’s Odyssey. Soon she begins to realize her own abilities and strength as she faces false promises of safety, the cloned giants who feast on humans, and a madman who wishes her dead. On her voyage, Pen learns to tell stories that reflect her strange visions, while she and her fellow survivors navigate the dangers that lie in wait. In her signature style, Francesca Lia Block has created a world that is beautiful in its destruction and as frightening as it is lovely. At the helm is Pen, a strong heroine who holds hope and love in her hands and refuses to be defeated.

What you need to understand before you venture into this story is that this is less science fiction and more magical realism. While Block does attempt to provide some sciency answers to what’s happening in this post-apocalyptic world, most of what’s going on is decidedly trippy and surreal. If you start trying to make sense of what’s happening in terms of science and technology, you will not enjoy this book. Rather, suspend your disbelief, and embrace the bizarre yet beautiful landscape Block effortlessly crafts with elegant prose.

This is the first YA magical realism book I’ve ever read and I absolutely loved it. At first, I was wondering how on earth the author would justify what was happening, but I quickly ceased to care about the details as I became utterly engrossed in the story and emotionally invested in the characters. There isn’t an awful lot of plot in this book. It’s really just a roadtrip adventure through a surrealist landscape with some obvious goals to keep the story moving forward, but the plot isn’t what’s important here, it’s the characters. I should mention that this story is quite openly inspired by Homer’s The Odyssey, with some overt references to the classic. If you’re not au fait with Greek mythology, however, fret not as these references are fairly well explained given that the target audience is teens.

In the world of YA we talk a lot about diversity and the need for intersectionality – where minority meets minority – and this book delivers that in spades. While the story revolves around Pen – a teen girl coming to grips with her bisexuality – all four of the main cast members are queer teens. How refreshing to read about an entirely queer main cast! We have Hex, Ash, and Ez – each with their own gender identity, sexuality, racial identity, and socio-economic background. These traits are masterfully handled by Block so that at no time does the story seem preachy or like a lesson in privilege. Instead, the author weaves the back-stories of each character into the narrative in a way that helps the four friends understand each other and better come to terms with their situation.

In order to fully explain why I loved this book so much I need to give a few details about Hex and Pen which may seem spoilery, so skip the next paragraph if you’d prefer to avoid spoilers…

Hex is a trans boy with whom Pen falls in love. Their relationship brings to mind the unfurling of a flower as they get to know each other and their own hearts. I have never before read open-door sex featuring a trans character in YA fiction. Block handles the love scenes between Pen and Hex as she does everything else in this book, with an easy elegance that results in scenes of true beauty, scenes that are honest and open without becoming crass. I think it’s important to show trans teens having normal relationships and exploring those relationships physically without the usual genital fixation that comes from the cisgendered. This book shows that love is love, subtly giving the reader insight into Hex’s identity while also developing Pen’s character and burgeoning sexuality. Kudos to the author for going there in this book and doing it so well!

Spoilers are over!

This book has a dreamlike quality to it with refined prose referencing art and music in a way that made my nerd hurt extremely happy. References to Goya and Bosch abound – two of my favourite artists – so this was a personal win for me! For anyone who enjoys magical realism and is looking for something a little different, or is looking for a diverse read, I strongly recommend Love in the Time of Global Warming. I’m now going to hunt down the sequel and then make my way through the rest of Block’s works. 5/5 splats for this book!

5 inksplats

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 16, 2015 in Reviews

 

Tags: , ,

For Exposure: An Interview with Apex’s Jason Sizemore

What does it take to become a Hugo and Stoker Award-nominated editor and publisher? Follow Jason Sizemore’s unconventional professional path as it winds through a tiny, overheated Baptist church deep within the coal fields of Appalachia, Kentucky, past a busted printer and a self-serving boss that triggered an early mid-life crisis and the epiphany that he should open a magazine spreading the gospel of science fiction to the masses, all the way to WorldCon 2012 and his first Hugo Awards ceremony.
For_Exposure_CVR002sm_1024x1024

In this collection of semi-true and sometimes humorous essays, Jason exposes the parties, people, and triumphs that shaped him into the Apex Overlord. He also lays bare the hardships and failures that have threatened to take it all away. Meet Thong Girl, heed the warning about the ham, receive rest stop bathroom wisdom, and visit an emergency room straight out of a horror movie in this extraordinary account of life as a publisher and editor.
With rebuttal essays from Maurice Broaddus, Monica Valentinelli, Lesley Conner, and more, For Exposure tells Jason’s story with insight from key players along his road to success. It is a comprehensive and frank look at what Apex and the genre publishing business is about. Take a shot with the publisher, dance the night away, and become a legend.

And do it all For Exposure.

 

Q. For Exposure seems to be equal parts Apex tell-all, an honest look at the publishing business in general, and a hopeful outlook on the next 10 years of Apex Publications. When you first set out to write the book, did you always intend to mix these themes or did you initially plan to focus more on one than the others?

A. One of my worst traits is that I am an optimistic. When something isn’t working out, my mindset isn’t “Cut my losses and run” but “If I simply work harder things will turn around.” Of course, you can’t just force of will into success, and some of these disastrous and poor decisions derived from my stubbornness I tried to share in For Exposure. If you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, ya know.

Q. Through Apex Magazine and Apex Book Company, you’ve gotten to work with some of the biggest names in speculative fiction: Lavie Tidhar, Brian Keene, Damien Angelica Walters just to name a few. Is there a particular author you were especially excited to work with?

A. Even after ten years in the publishing business, I still have many fan boy moments. You should have seen me at World Con in 2012 where I think I frightened Jacqueline Carey! My inner fan boy squealed when Tom Piccirilli contacted me with the pitch for What Makes You Die. I believe Tom has written one of the defining southern Gothic novels of our time: November Mourns. Having the opportunity to work with such a gifted writer has been a highlight of my career.

Q. A lot of the stories in For Exposure seem to occur at conventions. How many conventions to do you tend to attend in a year, and how important do you believe they are to the success of a small press publisher?

A. I try to do 5 proper conventions a year. They’re so time consuming, expensive, and exhausting that doing more than five is a real stress on a person’s stamina. Having said that, they’re incredibly fun and are important in terms of networking, promotion, and sales. Convention appearances by ‘Apex’ and associated staff is a lot more cost-effective than taking out an ad in a genre publication such as Locus. Genre small press makes a sizable percentage of revenue from the “true fans”, and many true fans attend conventions. So I believe attending major conventions is of the utmost importance.

Q. There is a particularly disturbing story in For Exposure about ham. Just reading it, I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to eat it again. Do you eat ham or did the experience turn you off of it forever?

A. My mother-in-law makes a really tasty honey baked ham using Coca-cola. I loved that ham. After what happened in Nashville, it took me a couple of years before I could stomach eating her ham again. I’m sure my sudden, inexplicable distaste for her signature dish offended…but when you associate the smell and appearance of ham to the sound of sweaty thighs slapping together…

I’ll not go into further details. You just have to read it in the book.

Q. There are several rebuttal essays written by those who have been a part of Apex over the years. How was it asking people to write rebuttals to your essays? Was there anyone in particular that made you little nervous about the response you might get?

A. No one turned down an opportunity to write a rebuttal. Let’s just say that these people know me well and knew the safest recourse was to offer their sides of the story!

I didn’t feel nervous about any of the rebuttals. But there were a couple that I looked forward to reading the most. In particular, Lesley Conner and Monica Valentinelli. Lesley has worked closely with me for years. To get her perspective was fascinating. Monica’s rebuttal addresses a “controversial” incidental in the Apex mythology: the warm splatter. While I disagree with her take on the situation, I loved that she wrote such a funny, open, and honest(?) response.

Q. Your first book Irredeemable is a short story collection. Your second is nonfiction. Are there any novels in Jason Sizemore’s future?

A. Oh, I get this question a lot! The hope is “Yes, yes, there will be dozens.” The truth is “I don’t know, we will see.” I’m co-writing a novel with Maurice Broaddus titled Serpent. It’s a dark SF crime piece set in the slums of alternate Indianapolis where two factions fight over a new drug created by a preacher with the venom of the snakes he handles at his church.  I just need life to slow down enough for me to finish my part of the book.
 
Buy the book over here:

For Exposure: The Life and Times of a Small Press Publisher

About Jason Sizemore:

Born the son of an unemployed coal miner in a tiny Kentucky Appalachian villa named Big Creek (population 400), Jason fought his way out of the hills to the big city of Lexington. He attended Transylvania University (a real school with its own vampire legend) and received a degree in computer science. Since 2005, he has owned and operated Apex Publications. He is the editor of five anthologies, author of Irredeemable, a three-time Hugo Award loser, an occasional writer, who can usually be found wandering the halls of hotel conventions seeking friends and free food. Visit him online.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 14, 2015 in Interviews

 

Tags: , , ,

New Release: Eden Underground by Alessandro Manzetti (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey folks, something brand new and different for you!

Released today, and costing you only .99c – a collection of dark, visceral poetry by Alessandro Manzetti:

Eden Underground full cover

“Eden Underground delivers an intense and visually stunning collection of horror scenarios. Rich in eldritch dreams and manic visions
these poems get under your skin. Manzetti is a maestro of the dark fantastic.”
– Bruce Boston, author of Resonance Dark and Light

“…a personal take of the world that surrounds all of us, those hidden parts that create monsters and that serve as a dwelling place for demons that invade our lives, thoughts and actions.” – Tanja Jurkovic, Horrornews.net

“From the first stanza of the first poem in this amazing collection, I was drawn into the incredibly dark scenes of a disturbing and nightmarish “Eden”.”Marge Simon, multiple Bram Stoker Award® winner

The works by Alessandro Manzetti are exciting and clever. Anything he writes is a must-read.” 
– Jeani Rector, Editor, The Horror Zine

“… Manzetti’s intelligent view has the ability to create out of such horrors, powerful and admirable images that can surprise.”  – Helen McCabe, author of Piper

“I couldn’t put it down. So intense is the writing that I had to keep reading. If you have never read a book of poetry before or if you never thought you could be a fan of poetry let this book be the one to introduce you to the words of verse.”Horror Novel Reviews

Check out Alessandro’s website here, order your copies here, and don’t forget to check out Crystal Lake Publishing for more fantastic, creepy reads! :)

Be EPIC!

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on July 10, 2015 in Uncategorized

 
 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,764 other followers