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Book Review: African Monsters

As part of my goal this year to read more African authors, I was delighted to accept an offer from the editor to review this anthology, especially when it features a story by our very own Dave!

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Speculative fiction, art and graphic stories from African authors, based on African folklore, myths and legends about monsters. African Monsters is the second in a coffee table book series with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world.

 

I always find it really tricky to give a star rating to an anthology of stories by different authors. Some stories I absolutely adored and thought were excellent, others I didn’t really care for. One of the highlights for me in this anthology was the short story by Nnedi Okorafur. Having only read Lagoon by Okorafur, I was looking forward to reading something else by the author and her story ‘On the Road’ definitely didn’t disappoint.

Dave-Brendon de Burgh’s story was another high point in the anthology – a story which gave a twisted, were-beastie spin to what felt like an excerpt from a Harry Dresden novel. This story in particular felt like it had the potential to spawn an entire novel and if it did *hint hint Dave* I would totally be reading that!

‘A Whisper in the Reeds’ by Nerine Dorman was another favourite for me featuring beautiful writing and delicate relationships between well-developed characters. Whenever I feel cheated by the length of the story and yearn for more, I know it was a good short story and that is exactly how I felt with these words by Dorman!

I also need to mention the art and illustrations scattered throughout. As you can see by the cover, the artwork in this book is spectacular and I particularly enjoyed the graphic stories included in this anthology. It’s the first time I’ve encountered ‘wordless’ stories in an anthology this way, adding yet another unique aspect to what is already a fabulously diverse read.

While I didn’t love every story in this collection, I can still strongly recommend this anthology if you’re looking to diversify your reading, particularly if you’d like to sample a selection of scary tales by African authors. This anthology scores 4/5 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

~Suzanne~

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2016 in Reviews

 

Review: Neverlight by Dan Weatherer – Collection

Hey everyone, Dave here.:)

I hope you ordered your copies of Dallas Mullican’s “A Coin for Charon”, which I reviewed on Friday.:)

Today’s review will focus on a short story collection by Dan Weatherer, titled “Neverlight“, published by Spectral Press.

Are we mere puppets, a slave to the will of others? Influence, an inescapable and unseen force exerted upon all of us. Can we ever say that we are creatures of free will, acting according to our desires and not of those around us? Influence is the white noise that bombards our every waking moment, clouding our thought, hindering our judgement.

Looking beyond our existence, there are those beings that dwell beneath the surface of our planet, ancient entities twisted in their resentment of our freedoms, that would mean us harm. Theirs is an influence ancient in its origin, born from evil and cruel intent. Their will presses upon us, calling out to our most primal instincts.

We, oblivious, heed their call.

neverlight

This is a collection of short stories and verse, the third collection from Dan’s pen (check out Only the Good Burn Bright and The Soul That Screamed), and serves to put a spotlight on a storyteller of talent and range.

The collection opens with the tale, “Abarath“, a chilling, Lovecraftian tale about two friends discovering the truth behind a rumoured treasure; it’s atmospheric and builds menace and tension steadily.

The next tale, “Signed” is my pick for the most entertaining, since it focuses on a struggling Horror writer and the lengths he goes to to get an agent; it’s also a wonderful, satirical look at struggling authors and successful authors and I’m sure many writers will catch themselves enjoying it for all the wrong, yet spot-on, reasons.😉

The Watchful Eye” is a great twist on the run-of-the-mill Haunted House tales, charting the implosion of a couple while revealing the utter strangeness of the house they live in.

Time Flow and the Spectral Realm” reads almost like an extract from a larger essay and, in my opinion, needs a bit more to shift it into the realm of a true short story. It does offer an interesting take on a phenomenon many people have experienced and which I (as a paranormal investigator) have also thought about.

My First Horror Story” shows that even children can be evil and calculating, yet reveals this in a darkly humorous manner.

Meadow View” is a tale of friendship and darkness in a strange psychiatric facility, and though predictable in a sense, it remains one of the strongest tales in the collection.

The Withered Touch” is a tale of misery and love, a tragedy which leads into a resolution which made me smile.

One of my other favourites, “The Raven and the Wolf” explores a strange yet beautiful friendship between two vastly different creatures, showing that perhaps companionship is the one thing which can bridge any difference.

“The Miners of Annan” is another foray into the creeping, stygian horror made famous by Lovecraft and has some truly creepy imagery.

A Butcher’s Wife, Indisposed” sheds light how  how one old woman ‘enjoys’ her stay in an NHS hospital bed while getting to know the other women in her room; of all the tales, it is the most well-constructed and incredibly entertaining.

The Tragedy of the Tailor” seeks to show that finding the answers you seek could actually be a curse, but is almost too short a tale to explore that idea.

The Thing Beneath the Bed” brings an age-old monster into the world of adults, and could have also benefited from a more gradual building up and exploration of the idea.

Clarence Milton – Vampire Hunter” was, in my opinion, the weakest of the tales – I think it’s trying to explore the dark side of psychotic obsession when it comes to the supernatural, but doesn’t do so strongly enough.

That Laughing Man” is really damned creepy and is one of the tales which lingers; really enjoyed the character’s investigation of a sinister-looking attraction.

Six Feet” follows the travails of a grave-digger – definitely one of the most interesting tales in the collection.

She Who Casts No Shadow” was engaging and tragic yet also ended a bit too quickly – I would have liked to read more of the main character’s experiences and been able to delve a bit deeper into her thoughts and psychology.

Soul, Ugly” is a biting tale with a brutal stab of an ending, really damned good.

Killing Gary” is a quirky look at a simply crazy woman and the back and forth between her and the detective interrogating her – Gary’s of the world, read it at your peril.😉

Brammerly House” is another teasingly taut and creepy tale of what a child witnesses, and I feel it could have used a bit more to make it more effective.

The collection is also interspersed with short snap-shots of thoughts, idea-explorations and meditations, many of which still resound; I’m sure there’ll be many readers who will count a fair number of them among their favourites.

All in all, this collection is a great peek into what goes on in Dan’s head – his talents range across the board, from striking characterization while exploring interesting ideas, to being really effective at building tension and creepiness; I do wish that that some of the stories were a bit longer and that Dan strung the reader along for a couple of more pages before springing the climax. Some of the endings arrive so quickly that they lose their effectiveness even though they fit the tale. So that would be my only complaint.:)

I’m definitely looking forward to reading much more of Dan’s work (he’s got a novel on the way, too), and folk that like audiobooks will be glad to know that Neverlight will be produced as an audiobook, too.

The stunning cover art was created by Holly Madew – you’ll be seeing a lot more of her exceptional work, trust me!:)

neverlight

 

I give this collection a strong 8 / 10 and hope you’ll check it out – it’s currently selling for a bargain-price on Amazon UK and Amazon US, and you can order the limited edition hardcover direct from Tickety Boo Press.

And do go check out Dan’s site for more info about him and his work.:)

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on June 15, 2016 in Reviews

 

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Review: A Coin for Charon by Dallas Mullican

Hey everyone, Dave here again, hope you’re all well.:) I hope you got yourselves copies of ‘Thou Shalt Not’, which I reviewed on Wednesday.

In this post I’ll be reviewing a serial-killer thriller which is right up there with the work from folks like John Connolly and Thomas Harris, at least in my opinion.

charon

Gabriel isn’t murdering anyone. He’s saving them.

The media has dubbed him the Seraphim Killer. He believes the gods have charged him to release the chosen, those for whom life has become an unbearable torment. Gabriel feels their suffering—his hands burn, his skull thunders, his stomach clenches. Once they are free, he places coins on their eyes to pay Charon for passage into paradise.

Detective Marlowe Gentry has spent the past two years on the edge. The last serial killer he hunted murdered his wife before his eyes and left his young daughter a mute shell. Whenever she looks at him, her dead eyes push him farther into a downward spiral of pain and regret. He sees the Seraphim as an opportunity for revenge, a chance to forgive himself―or die trying.

Gabriel performs the gods’ work with increasing confidence, freeing the chosen from their misery. One day, the gods withdraw the blessing―a victim he was certain yearned for release still holds the spark of life. Stunned, he retreats into the night, questioning why the gods have abandoned a loyal servant. Without his calling, Gabriel is insignificant to the world around him.

He will do anything to keep that from happening.

This novel is the first book is Dallas’ ‘Marlowe Gentry’ series, gentry being the main character and a detective.

Marlowe is a no-nonsense, seriously unhappy man; having gone through a massively traumatic experience and working as a detective, he sounds like the kind of character it would be difficult for the reader to associate with, but I found myself really caring about this guy; Dallas’ reveals more of Marlowe’s inner self chapter by chapter instead of giving the read *everything* about the man as soon as he’s introduced, a mistake which many writers in this genre have made. Marlowe comes across as an living, breathing person, and when I finally found out just what had been driving -and hounding- Marlowe, it rounded out his character perfectly. He’s a damaged man, but then, all great, memorable characters are.

Marlowe’s supporting cast is split between his superior, McCann, and his friend, Spence – the back and forth between them is entertaining and doesn’t feel forced at all. McCann is a man under immense pressure and Marlowe’s past (which is known to him) doesn’t make things any easier for him. Spence is, in many ways, Marlowe’s opposite, yet still manages to stand out among the cast – he supports Marlowe but also calls him out from time to time, the kind of thing a true friend does. Koop, the medical examiner, is another stand-out character who, along with Spence, could easily star in their own series’.

There are two other characters, Becca and Max. Becca is a psychologist and the wife of a bad cop; Max is a husband and father who gets very bad news, which impacts and changes his life. How these characters swirl into each others lives and then intersect with Marlowe’s, was expertly handled – they are all important and central to the plot, as well as to the plans and choices of the man who will change all their lives.

Which brings me to Gabriel, one of the most interesting serial killers I’ve met in this genre. His view of life, his personality, his choices, motives and methods are pretty damned unique and memorable and I was absolutely helpless as his tale unfolded.

The novel has an air of mystery and just-perceptible supernatural elements and the writing is tight and controlled; Dallas’ creates and maintains a balance between evoking the gritty urban world the characters inhabit and their inner selves, both deeply realized and explored.

When there’s a tangible sense of place as well as stand-out characters, a tale works well, and this tale, focusing on people trying to find their place in an unforgiving and brutal world, is excellent.

The only writers of the genre who have so captured me before this have been Thomas Harris and John Connolly – Dallas Mullican deserves to stand alongside them, and I’m really looking forward to reading the next Marlowe Gentry novel.

10/10

charon

And how awesome is the cover art?!:)

To order your copies, follow this link for all the other links and info you’ll need.:)

Until next time,

Be Epic!

 
 

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Review: Thou Shalt Not – Edited by Alex Davis

Hey everyone, Dave here.:) Hope you’ve all been well! Apologies for my absences – I’ve been writing a lot and editing a lot lately and have achieved a balance or sorts which will lead to more regular reviews from me.:)

Let’s get into ‘Thou Shalt Not’!

The Ten Commandments were laid down in the earliest days of mankind, a guiding set of principles for our everyday lives. For centuries these tenets have shaped our morality, our laws, our societies. But what happens when these commandments are tested – and even broken? Step inside ten tales exploring the dark consequences of breaking these most ancient and sacred of rules…

That’s the premise for this anthology and, being raised as a Roman Catholic, I was really curious as to how the premise would be explored. Put it this way – I was shocked, stunned and left speechless, and I mean that all positively.

The anthology opens with Jeff Gardiner‘s Dionysus, a tale exploring the commandment, “Thou Shalt Have No Other Gods Before Me.” It’s also a tale about awakening and emerging from from the kinds of chrysalis’ which we find ourselves smothered in while trying to navigate Life. It is hard-hitting and heart-felt, the kind of tale that will probably echo in the reader’s mind when witnessing situations similar to what the two main characters find themselves in.

The next tale, Amanda Bigler‘s The Last Dinner, explores the commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Worship Any False Idols” and focuses on a photographer’s confession of love and admiration, exploring not only his quirks and tendencies but also throwing a light on a shady, dangerous business. It hit hard and had me swearing when I finished it – the build up in this tale is perfectly managed and the end is darkly, brutally brilliant.

All the Best Tunes by Clare Littleford takes the commandment, “Thou Shalt Not Take the Lord’s name in Vain” as its inspiration, and focuses on a couple, their desperate love for one another, and how their relationship impacts the community in which they live which, at times, has the flavour of a dystopia. It’s a subtle tale with an intense gut-punch of an ending.

Stuart Young‘s Confessions explores the commandment, “Thou Shalt Keep the Sabbath Day, to Keep it Holy“, and is one of my favourite tales in the book. It’s an absolutely blistering and eye-opening look at the concept of sin – outstanding tale!

The Looking Glass Girl by Laura Mauro, exploring the commandment, “Honour Thy Mother and Father“, is one of the more tragic tales in the anthology and follows the main character as she begins to uncover the truth behind her sister’s disappearance. The thing is, her sister, Stefania, appears in a mirror … or does it? Are we experiencing something supernatural or are long-suppressed memories rising to the fore? Great tale.

Danuta Reah‘s The Dummies’ Guide to Serial Killing (with “Thou Shalt Not Kill” as its theme, of course) is a fun, vicious tale in which a budding murderer is given a brilliant lesson in how not to go about being a serial killer. I enjoyed a nasty little cackle at the end of this tale.

Fuxnet by Pat Kelleher, exploring “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery“, is uncompromising and truly scary – the author takes online pornography and creates a nightmare which consumes the main character. It’s a disquieting, unflinching tale and may upset some readers, but is well worth the read.

Mark West‘s The Goblin Glass explores “Thou Shalt Not Steal” and has the main character sent to steal a particular, special mirror (The Goblin Glass) by a man he wishes to impress. He finds the mirror, of course…😉 A great, tense tale in which you as the reader know that the character is heading into dangerous territory, but you really don’t want to warn him (even if you could) because you need to know more about the mirror.

After Jasper Kent‘s The Tangled Web, you will never break the “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbour” commandment ever again, and you might even look at Twitter from an entirely new perspective, too…

And finally, rounding out the anthology with a tale of salesmanship, business deals and Hell, Jacey Bedford explores “Thou Shalt Not Covet Anything of Your Neighbour’s” in Pitch, an entertaining, surprising mix of themes and outcomes.

Thou Shalt Not

This is a seriously good anthology, exploring different themes with physical, emotional and psychological Horror-elements and should keep you reading late into the night; in fact, you’ll probably be late for work the next day. Not checking Twitter at all. Wondering about Sin. And so much else.😉

I’ve got no idea how many tales Alex had to choose from, but all of these tales are damned good and memorable. The editing was sharp and completely invisible and I’m definitely looking forward to reading further projects edited by Alex, and written by these authors.

9 / 10

You can order your limited edition hardcovers direct from Tickety Boo Press, or get the Kindle edition at the following links: Amazon US and Amazon UK.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 

 
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Posted by on June 8, 2016 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: Awakenings

awakenings

Cal MacDonnell is a happily married New York City cop with a loving family. Seth Raincrest is a washed-up photographer who has alienated even his closest friends. The two have nothing in common—except that they both suffer from retrograde amnesia. It’s as if they just appeared out of thin air thirteen years ago, and nothing has been able to restore their memories. Now their forgotten past has caught up to them with a vengeance.

Cal’s and Seth’s lives are turned upside down as they are stalked by otherworldly beings who know about the men’s past lives. But these creatures aren’t here to help; they’re intent on killing anyone who gets in their way. In the balance hangs the life of a child who might someday restore a broken empire to peace and prosperity. With no clue why they’re being hunted, Cal and Seth must accept the aid of a strange and beautiful woman who has promised to unlock their secrets. The two must stay alive long enough to protect their loved ones, recover their true selves—and save two worlds from tyranny and destruction.

Every time I read an urban fantasy novel – which isn’t often – I remember why I’m not a huge fan of the genre. I had slightly different expectations of this book, in that I anticipated the story to start in our world and move into the fantasy realm and thus be more epic than urban fantasy. This is not the case at all, with the narrative staying firmly rooted in the real world with the briefest of forays via memory of Aandor. I think this book will appeal more to readers who are fans of books like The Dresden Files or even Kevin Hearne’s The Iron Druid Chronicles than lovers of epic fantasy.

This book has a very odd voice in that the exposition often tends toward verbose, almost purple prose in a style that teeters toward being over-written. This makes the book rather descriptive and eloquent at times, which doesn’t seem to gel with the cast of gritty characters including a no-nonsense cop and porn-photographer-cum-frat-boy. The prose style would’ve been better suited to en epic fantasy in fact, but just didn’t quite work in what reads more like a noir novel with a dash of magic thrown into the mix.

I love rich world-building and I’m willing to overlook story issues in fantasy if the world-building is stellar. Awakenings teases with the world-building, mentioning the history and politics, the demographics and societal structure in the other world. Because the action takes place in the contemporary US though, there isn’t time to fully explore Aandor and I found this frustrating and it made it somewhat tricky to really get to grips with the stakes for that world without better understanding how it all worked. There are a lot of hints at the medieval nature of the world and the racial/ethnic disputes happening in the background – all fascinating stuff we never see enough of on the page.

As far as the story goes, I found the beginning a little slow to get off the ground with a lot of changing POVs that I found tricky to keep track. There were also a lot of characters with similar names – and quite a few names starting with C – which confused me at the start. The middle really picks up! Unlike so many books that suffer from a muddy middle, the middle here is where all the interesting action and intrigue lies. It was a real page turner and I struggled to put the book down, but then things started slowing down toward the end. I guess it was possibly a symptom of the author knowing he wouldn’t be able to fit all the story he needed to tell in one book, but not wanting to make the first installment too short, so there were a few scenes toward the end that I found dragged a little, especially with certain POV characters I just didn’t really care about much at all.

Overall, I don’t think this book really knows what it wants to be and so vacillates between detective noir, urban fantasy, YA contemporary, epic fantasy, and mystery. Consequently, there were many chapters I loved and then there were several I didn’t really care for at all because it felt like they didn’t really belong and could’ve been part of an entirely different book. The ending will also undoubtedly leave some readers frustrated and feeling cheated. I went into this book knowing it was the first in a series so the ending didn’t surprise me but if you prefer books even in a series to have a sense of closure at the end of book 1, this one might not be for you.

Interesting story, some interesting feminist views and portrayals of women, fascinating secondary world, some lovely language, but overall it didn’t quite come together for me in the way I needed it to to really love this book. Awakenings gets 3.5/5 splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

Review by Suzanne.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author for a fair and honest review.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2016 in Reviews

 

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Review: The Rage Wars – Book One: Predator – Incursion by Tim Lebbon

Predator Incursion

Hey everyone, Dave here.:)

I had high expectations for this after reading Tim’s excellent Star Wars novel, and Tim managed to knock even my expectations aside.

The characters in this are superbly written and fleshed out, with their own believable motivations – quite a feat, considering that Incursion is also a fast-paced novel which expands along two different timelines, includes a lot of cool, new information on the Colonial Marines, the Predators and other groups, and has plenty of awesome action.

One of my favourite characters -introduced in the very beginning of the novel- has an interesting, important and ever-building arc which ties her to basically all of the novel’s events, while the other characters unravel the mystery of the novel’s premise is different, attention-holding ways. Most never meet but all have an important part to play.

The Predators were awesome handled – they remain the powerful, incredibly dangerous and mysterious race we have come to like and yet Tim also deepens their mystery while adding more layers to their society. Tim really should be the go-to guy if Titan wants a Predators-only novel.

The action was frenetic and brutal, as we’ve come to expect from anything involving the Xenomorphs and the Predators, and the plot is really damned good – Fox should have waited for this novel to arrive; I’m pretty sure they would have been orders of magnitude more successful with this trilogy.

There’s even a link to one of the Predator movies which deepens the immersion into this universe.

All in all, highly recommended! You should definitely be reading this if you’re a fan of this universe. Looking forward to the next novel in the trilogy! 9/10

Predator Incursion

Predator – Incursion was published by Titan Books; the second book in the trilogy, Alien – Invasion will be published this year, so keep an eye on Tim’s and Titan’s websites for more information.

To order your copies, click here for Amazon UK, here for Amazon US, and here if you’re in South Africa.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on January 11, 2016 in Reviews, Uncategorized

 

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Film Review: Ex Machina

Ages ago I saw the trailer for this ‘indie’ film – directed by The Beach writer Alex Garland – featuring relatively unknown actors and a really interesting looking plot. Then I completely forgot about it until I was bored over the holidays and accidentally stumbled across it thanks to the suggested watch-list on IMDB. So I watched it and I was not disappointed.

ex machina

I love films about artificial intelligence. All the various forms and manifestations and imaginings these types of stories come up with never cease to amaze me, and lately, possibly bore me, because so many of these stories fall into trope-ish territory and become extremely predictable while trying to be thought-provoking.

Ex Machina starts out feeling familiar but strange, playing with the ‘mad scientist’ theme while giving us a ‘normal dude’ to champion through all the indie-film weirdness. Then comes the main body of the plot, which starts to feel even more familiar and predictable, and I endured with a multitude of sighs thinking I knew exactly where the story was going. Without ruining a rather unexpected and pretty interesting ending, suffice it to say, I did not see that coming and found the twist rather refreshing and genuinely thought provoking about how our humanity could be used against us by more subtle and insidious machines. Honestly, I felt a lot more freaked out by some of the ideas presented in this film than I have with any other AI story.

There was a lot to like about this movie, but I think Garland (writer and director of this movie) still played it safe in presenting male human characters creating and becoming entranced by a beautiful, sexy, sensual female android. There was literal objectification of women going on in this movie and not in a snarky, feminist-undertone kind of way. The entire premise actually relied on the tired idea of an average man being beguiled by a beautiful woman, a femme fatale even. I think it would’ve been fascinating to explore the same story idea with the genders reversed.

That said, this movie still made me think long after the credits rolled and I really enjoyed Alicia Vikander as the android Ava. Ex Machina gets 3.5/5 ink splats from me.

3.5 inksplats

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2016 in Reviews

 

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