Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bad Valentines

Bad Valentines is a collection of three short stories by Steve Vernon. This was an entertaining quick read, and offered something quite different from normal horror fair.
The first story, Change of Pace, features a well meaning bumbling man who just wants to please his wife. Enter his best friend and sidekick, who is full of not so good ideas. This was a very humorous story, and I really did find myself laughing at the characters as they unwittingly set things in motion that would have not so pleasant results.
Then there is Westside Story. This is the second story in this collection, and it is  very tongue in cheek and deals with homophobic FBI agents and love between squids. Yes, I said squids. There is also an assortment of other sentient sea creatures. Again this was another humorous story, although this one takes us in to the world of science fiction.
There is a big change when we get to the third story, Potboiler, Told in a Spanish Key. This one was much darker in tone and more in line with what you would expect from a horror collection. It is said that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, well the woman in this story brought down the wrath of an angry god upon her ex-lover.

As a whole, this was a very enjoyable collection. I will admit to being a bit startled when I got to the third story, as I was expecting another humorous one after reading the first two, but Potboiler was my favorite out of the three.  The three stories do go together in this collection, however, as they all deal with problems in relationships in some fashion. I think it also shows that Vernon has a wide range when it comes to storytelling, and I am looking forward to reading more of his work.

I give it three and a half cocktails.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Intergalactic Affair

If you are looking for a light and fluffy read that blends romance and scifi, then you will likely enjoy this book. Other than the fact that one of the main characters was born on another planet, Intergalactic Affair treads no new ground. It follows the romance formula of fall in love even though they will deny it at first, then there are problems that keep them apart, and then they overcome said problems for the requisite happy ending. The fact that it followed this formula was not a problem for me, nor will it be for most romance readers. I was looking for something mild, light, and entertaining, and I found it. Recommended for those looking for a quick read that will provide escape for a bit. 

I give it three cocktails.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Spectral Press

So this is a review, not for a particular book, but for an entire small press. Not all publishing companies are made equal, and you do have to sometimes be careful with the smaller ones. Spectral Press, however, is in a class all its own. They don't produce a lot of things, but you get quality over quantity with them. They produce limited edition chapbooks that generally sell out prior to their release date, and there is good reason for this. These chapbooks have high production values, so the physical product is very nice, but the stories contained in them are ones that you will want to go back to again and again. I have had the pleasure of reading three of them. Nowhere Hall by Cate Gardner, King Death by Paul Finch, and Rough Music by Simon Kurt Unsworth.

I have heard Cate Gardner being described as a genre of one, and I think that is an apt description. I love her work, and Nowhere Hall was everything I expected it to be. Which is to say I was surprised, challenged, and moved by her unique story. It is about a suicidal man that becomes trapped in a rather strange hotel; he is not sure if he has gone mad or is already dead.

King Death by Paul Finch is another masterful tale in the Spectral line. This one is quite different from Gardner's story. It is set during the time when the black death was sweeping through Europe. In it there are two characters; one is a knight who is immune to the disease that has stricken so many around him, and the other is a young orphaned boy. The knight, who is a rather unsavory character, seeks to take advantage of the boy's situation, but he gets quite a surprise in the end.

Rough Music by Simon Kurt Unsworth is the most recent release from Spectral, and it is a very strong story. The main character, a man named Cornish, is woken up every night by loud banging on pots and pans that is accompanied by people performing an  increasingly intricate dance; they are trying to tell him something. What I really loved about this story was that it had a song like rhythm to it. It was as if the scenes where Cornish woke up each night were a refrain in a song that Unsworth kept coming back to, and each time he did the time between the refrain and the rest of the song grew shorter. This rhythm had me reading faster and my heart rate increasing until I reached the climax at the very end. This was a very well written story!

Having read these I will continue to subscribe to Spectral Press for the foreseeable future; I don't want to miss out! They are a great product and the editing in each of them was suburb. Spectral Press is also producing a line of novellas. The first one is called The Respectable Face of Tyranny by Gary Fry. The limited edition hardcover of this has already sold out, however it will be available in paperback.  Here is a link to Spectral's website where there is ordering information as well as various updates about the Spectral line. I highly recommend getting a chapbook subscription and the upcoming novella; anyone who enjoys fine fiction is certain to want these as a part of their library.

I give Spectral Press and it's three chapbooks five cocktails.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Hell's Teeth

From the blurb: "Galipoli, 1916. The campaign is lost. The Turks are driving the Anzacs from their dugouts. Amongst them is Tom Potter, a man who left England in disgrace, hoping to start his life over in New Zealand. But his ghost have not let him go and, when he is cast adrift, lost at sea, they seek him out, they maroon him upon a grey and dismal island. A place where Tom discovers he is not alone, that he is being watched by horrors who have fed upon the blood spilled in the trenches of Passchendaele and the streets of London, and now they wish to feed upon him."

Hell's Teeth is the third book in the Vetala cycle, and a very strong close to the trilogy. It is mostly written in a poetry/prose that has become a signature style of Yeates. It is as beautifully written as it is terrifying. This is a horror book, but one that transcends the genre. It makes the reader consider the past, and how that affects the present. It brings the horror of war and trenches out of the history books and makes it something much more visceral and real. There are layers in the story that bring the past and present together, and then asks the question of what lies beyond death. This was an amazing read, that while horrifying, goes beyond horror and into the beauty that only poetry can bring. Yeates is a master of the English language, and his skills are on full display in this work. I can not recommend this highly enough; this is a book I will be reading again and again.  There is also some bonus material at the end, a chilling short story as well as a creation myth that is a beautiful and disturbing  poem.

I give this five cocktails.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Release the Kraken!

Not that long ago, a friend recommended a rum to me and some other friends. He is not normally a rum drinker, but he said this one was good, so I thought I would give it a try. It is very good! I am not normally one for drinking rum straight, but this is a black spiced rum from the Caribbean and I didn't find it needed to be mixed with anything. In fact, another friend tried it with coke, and he said it was terrible that way. But this is a great drink to have at parties with judgmental friends, as it is so dark it can pass for coke, or at least a rum and coke. (This way no one looks at you like you need an intervention if you happen to be around non-drinkers who don't understand how straight liquor over ice allows you to taste all the flavors of whatever it is you are drinking.)
But having said all of that, the good people at Kraken Rum clearly feel that you can mix this rum with lots of things, and have provided handy recipes on their website.  They also sell an assortment of odds and ends, from perfume to shower curtains. I have no idea why you want to smell like a distillery, but to each his own.

I give it four cocktails.

Monday, March 12, 2012

3 Things By Cate Gardner

Cate Gardner is one of my top three favorite writers along side Gary McMahon and G. R. Yeates. It's likely that you will see me review their work often on here. I have read three things by Gardner: Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits, Barbed Wire Hearts, and The Theatre of Curious Acts. All three were incredible, and I am always keeping one eye out on ebay for her chapbook Nowhere Hall from Spectral Press. The chapbook was limited to 100 signed and numbered copies, and sold out long ago.

Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits is a collection of short stories that are like being able to step into someone else's dream altered reality. Each story is unique, and each is as strong as the one before it. I don't come across very many collections where I really like every story in there, but that was the case here. The stories range from the sweet and whimsical to the macabre. There is one about an imaginary friend and one where a girl is trapped in a hospital room with strange visitors who keep dropping by. Each story will pull you  immediately into whatever world Gardner is taking you to visit.

Barbed Wire Hearts is a novella, and it is about a live boy who is missing his heart and a dead girl with a beating one. They come to rely on each other in this dark tale of love and sacrifice. Gardner once again has used her skill to create a world that is as believable as it as it is magical.

The Theatre of Curious Acts is a short novel and Gardner's most ambitious. It is a very complex and layered story  that is initially set in the trenches of WWI but quickly moves to another realm where we are introduced to the four horsewomen of the Apocalypse. It is up to Daniel  to save mankind at the end of the world.

I don't like giving away too much of  the plots for these books because for me, part of the magic of reading something by Gardner is discovering the layers of the stories as she presents them. It takes a tremendous amount of skill and imagination to pull off what she makes seem so effortless; I would recommend her books to any readers. Gardner's work will lead you down a path to the dark whimsical lands of her imagination. I highly recommend her work.

I give each of them five cocktails.


Critique by Daniel I. Russel is the latest book I have read from Dark Continents Publishing. I have come to expect good things from that small press, and Critique doesn't disappoint. It is a story of redemption, although perhaps not the kind that most people would want. It starts out with a man, recently released from prison, who is continuing down the wrong path in life. He makes a stop at a diner and is treated to a rather interesting story from another character that will make most readers reconsider having dinner.
This is the first thing I have read by Russel, but it won't be the last. He has an enjoyable writing style that drew me right into the story from the beginning. It is a book that took me down a path that I wasn't quite expecting based on the beginning. Good read on an empty stomach and recommended for horror lovers.

I give it four cocktails.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Dragon Warrior

Dragon Warrior is the first in a series of romance books that cross over into a few other genres, namely fantasy and science fiction. I am a big fan of the romance genre blending books, and really liked the post apocalyptic world where this one was set. MacLeod does a good job of setting up the story in the beginning and playing with the readers' idea of who the good guys are supposed to be.
This being a romance book, it is important to have a likable leading couple. I think MacLeod does well there of describing a rather good looking man who, while he is physically imposing is in need of help from the main character, Rain, due to the psychological trauma that he suffered. This of course brings them together nicely.
My one major criticism is the lack of a plausible explanation for how the dragon warriors are created. I know that this is science fiction; I just like a little more science with my fiction when it is used. This may not bother all readers. It is easy to forgive as there is a lot of action in this book and a fast pace to keep them entertained. It also had a satisfying ending that left me wanting to know what will happen in the next book.

I give it three cocktails.

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Conversation with G.R. Yeates about Shapes in the Mist

G.R. Yeates is one of my favorite writers, and reading his work has brought me back to the horror genre after many years away. Shapes in the Mist, his second novel, is quite scary and dark. It is set during the first world war, and if that wasn't unusual enough, it is in London during the Zeppelin air raids. He does an excellent job of portraying the terror that was felt by the populace during this horrific time in history, and there is a lot of history woven into what is at it's core a supernatural story. There is a different kind of monster set loose in London, one that is recreating the murders of Jack the Ripper. I highly recommend this tightly edited, page turning work.

I give it five cocktails

And now for something a little different. G.R. Yeates had a little chat about Shapes in the Mist with myself and a friend of mine. Here is an edited version of that conversation; I took out any plot spoilers. This conversation was not originally meant to be part of any blog, but he was kind enough to let me share it with you here. I hope you enjoy! 

Me: So Greg, what made you decide to write about vampires and why ones based on Hindu mythology?

Greg:  The first book, The Eyes of the Dead, I started working on in 2006 when vampires were not the big deal they are now. I wanted a challenge as I have never been particularly over-awed by vampires. Also, I wanted to ensure they were distinctive and some research yielded the Vetala from Hindu mythology. The only other Western horror writer I'm aware of using vampires from Asia is Bentley Little who I'm a great admirer of so I knew I'd be in good company there.

Dianne: Why did you choose the time period you did?

Greg:  I've had an interest in WWI since I was a teenager and read Wilfred Owen's poetry at school. It seemed like a good setting for a bleak horror story and also it had not been used overmuch in horror fiction - it's only this last year or so that I've read two short horror stories that are set in that period; 'Minos or Rhadamanthus' by Reggie Oliver and 'A Question of Obeying Orders' by Mark Samuels.

Me:  I mean do you set out to write something lovecraftian or is that what just comes out?

Greg:  I think it just comes out that way. Lovecraft is a writer I'm feeling more and more kinship with as I get older and the cosmic perspective for horror fiction appeals to me. I will be writing some Cthulhu Mythos fiction later this year - something I avoided for a long time because I was concerned to develop my own literary voice before diving into another writer's creative universe.

Me: yeah I can see where that can get tricky

Greg: Also, I think all writers are influenced by their peers and predecessors - it's how you put your influences together and let them speak through that creates your voice and who you are as an artist.

Dianne:  Can I ask what is your plan for the next Vetala Cylce?

Greg: Well, the third book comes out in late Feb/early March. I have plans for a further trilogy set during World War Two followed by yet another during Vietnam and a final three that bring the story up to the present day in Afghanistan.

Dianne: Why the military theme? I like your themes because there is more going on than just fighting and politics.

Greg: horror and weird fiction work best for me when dealing with isolated protagnists and using soldiers is one way of doing that. Despite the camaraderie, you are still very alone in that position particularly if you kill and have to come to terms with that or even when you come home and have all these experiences you're unable to share with close family and friends who did not go through the same.

Dianne: did like how the vampires sort of took on the persona Jack the Ripper. Was there a reason why? For me, I like it because it made it more understanding for me in that I already had some knowledge of who Jack the Ripper was.

Greg:  The basis of that was my own realisation that Jack the Ripper was unique as a human being who has become a monster on a par with the vampire, werewolf, zombie etc, and this is because he was never caught, is faceless and thus a figure of nightmare. A lot of Ripper fiction deals with identifying who Jack was but I wanted to explore what he represents as a nightmare by having the Vetala recreate him using the psychological spoor left behind in Whitechapel by the murders. On a sidenote, I went on a Ripper walking tour in london and there are still some very atmospheric parts of Whitechapel surviving to this day. You get a tinge of what it was like back then even though Whitechapel now stands in the shadow of The Square Mile - London's central business district.

Me:  how much damage did the zeppelin air raids do?

Greg: The zeppelin raids damage was primarily psychological. Their bombings, with a few exceptions, were often off-target or fell into the sea on the return trip.

Me:  so...I'm lazy and I have been wanting to know what exactly is the Hindu mythology of the vetala? how much of it did you take directly from there and what did you change to make fit with the world you created?

Greg: hey are reanimated corpses that delight in driving men insane, causing miscarriages and torturing their victims with riddles and games. Additionally they can also be bound to protect places such as villages and graveyards - which should be remembered for future books in ther series.

Me: well speaking of sex, it does play a big role in your book in the form of lots of abuse and rape, forced prostitution since people had to choose between that or being in the factories that would kill them...did you add the more loving relationship between jack and liz to give a break from all that, or was that just how it worked out in your head? I guess what I am trying to ask is how much do you plan out in advance and how much of the story develops as you go

Greg: It was initially written in my younger and more optimistic twenties which is why I gave the reader some relief there. Not sure that will be the case in the future ;-) Plans can change from day to day depending on how I am developing as a writer. I write the story out as I go but I don't use a synopsis as that was only a requirement when I was looking to be published the old-fashioned 

Me: just sit down and start writing until you come up with the whole story? initially I mean...I know it goes through lots of edits and changes as you go on

Greg:  It can do but my imagination does tend to go off at right angles so sometimes I do need to make notes as I go and exercise some control before I end up in space talking to sentient planets made of blancmange.

(final comment that I will include in here from Dianne- our conversation went along with some other chitchat as they often do, but I think this sums up Greg's work nicely) 

Dianne:  Reading back through some of the posts triggered my memory to say something, lol. Before I knew what a lovecraftian style of writing was or who Lovecraft was I always found your stories to be poetic. Not poems of love necessarily (which is what I always associated poems with) but just a beautiful flow of words put together to create a world/story and an atmosphere in which you can't help, as a reader, to immerse yourself in. Now I realize the style of writing that you have. So thank you for being my first introduction into the lovecraftian style of writing. I absolutely love it.

Greg:  And thank you for saying that is my style. That's made my day. . My literary relationship with Lovecraft is deepening every year so for someone to say that to me I take as the highest compliment.

Here is a link to a guest post that Yeates did on another great blog. It explains a bit about the novel that follows Shapes in the Mist, Hell's Teeth.