Friday, July 29, 2016

WTF Friday: It's A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World by Curtis M. Lawson

Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't always get a lot of press, and which rarely benefit from any prominent retail shelf space.



They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!

It's A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World is a bad-ass tale about bad people doing bad things to bad people. It's a story where bad things happen to good people, and where even those good people do bad things. You expect the drug dealer, mercenary assassin, serial killer duo, occult weirdo, and others to be bad - and they don't disappoint. What you don't expect is for Detective Eva to be so casually cruel, or for Sister Michelle to be the baddest bitch of the lot.

He pulled it up just enough to catch the base of the guy's pecker in its teeth. His victim howled in pain and squirmed in his urinal seat.

Dabbling in a wide range of influences - including cop thriller, spy thriller, splatterpunk horror, detective noir, and urban fantasy - Curtis M. Lawson weaves a surprisingly well-told story that careens along at a breakneck pace. Even as I was marveling at the increasing darkness of each new twist, I was struck by just how well the story was told. Usually the narrative gets lost in the mayhem of a story like this, but here it's strong enough to shine through.

"The one witness, a little girl, said the killer was dressed like a nun and looking for some magic knives that her mom's boyfriend had stolen from a fat guy."

This is a dark story, but also one that's a lot of fun. Everyone is so bad that you find yourself gleefully rooting for them, championing one bad guy over another. It's the ultimate guilty pleasure, and the supernatural element driving it all just helps put it over-the-top. The big final confrontation pays off in every way, and the few little twists that follow, tying up all the loose ends, are just perfect. It's A Bad, Bad, Bad, Bad World is a good, good, good, good read.


Paperback, 155 pages
Published June 13th 2016 by Black Pyramid Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Dark Fantasy Review: The Taming by A.M. Rycroft

Working both as an exciting fantasy tale and a convincing horror story, The Taming is a fast-paced, well-written novella that all but demands to be read in a single setting. A.M. Rycroft imbues her tale with just enough worldbuilding and history to ground the reader, but allows the strength of Thystle to carry the story.

Without giving anything away, I loved the fact that Rycroft took the parasitic approach to vampirism here. Forget your crosses and your holy water, and don't count on daylight to save you. The vampires here are something both more natural and more monstrous. It's only when they're blood-starved and driven to madness that they become truly dangerous - a fact that the villain here uses to turn people against them.

Thystle is (to some extent) your typical fantasy anti-heroine, a brash loner trying to drown the sorrows of her past, but she's entirely sympathetic. Here we have a woman who was put into an impossible situation, and who must live with the consequences. She's being hunted herself, and is reluctant to put her trust in the young barmaid to offers her heart as well as her blood. The romance there is secondary to the action and the horror, but an integral part of the overall package.

The Taming is a short novella, barely topping 100 pages, that leaves you wanting more. Fortunately, there's an entire novel available (Into the Darkness), set in the same world, that expands upon and opens up the wider story.

Paperback, 122 pages
Published June 14th 2016 by Mighty Quill Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Obsidian Chamber by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

The Obsidian Chamber by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Expected publication: October 25th 2016 by Grand Central Publishing

A TRAGIC DISAPPEARANCE
After a harrowing, otherworldly confrontation on the shores of Exmouth, Massachussetts, Special Agent A.X.L. Pendergast is missing, presumed dead.

A SHOCKING RETURN
Sick with grief, Pendergast's ward, Constance, retreats to her chambers beneath the family mansion at 891 Riverside Drive--only to be taken captive by a shadowy figure from the past.

AN INTERNATIONAL MANHUNT
Proctor, Pendergast's longtime bodyguard, springs to action, chasing Constance's kidnapper through cities, across oceans, and into wastelands unknown.

BUT IN A WORLD OF BLACK AND WHITE, NOTHING IS AS IT SEEMS
And by the time Proctor discovers the truth, a terrifying engine has stirred-and it may already be too late . . .


While I had issues with the final third of Pendergast's last adventure, he's such a fantastic character that it would take a lot more than one awkwardly forced story arc to keep me away.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Fantasy Review: Spiderlight by Adrian Tchaikovsky

Spiderlight was a fun tale, a vintage sword and sorcery story that hits on all the old tropes.

I have to admit to some trouble with the first half, however, plagued as I was by doubts as to the intentions behind it. Was it a bad parody of old school fantasy, or was it a wink-and-nod homage to the same?

Seriously, it felt as if Adrian Tchaikovsky pulled out his old roleplaying books, rolled himself a few characters, pulled up a few monsters, and then let his inner dungeon master run free with the mayhem. These aren't just characters, they're character classes - wizard, cleric, warrior, rogue - with spells cast and weapons wielded according to the rules of the game. There were so many echoes of Weis and Hickman, Salvatore, Greenwood, Nile, and Knaak that it actually became distracting.

Where I finally got past that, and was able to settle in and enjoy the tale, was through the character of Nth. Here we have one of those vintage monsters, a giant spider, whom the party wizard arrogantly transforms into something vaguely human. He opens so many moral and ethical dilemmas, making us question our stock assumptions of good versus evil, that you don't realize how cleverly you've been duped until the story's almost over. Suddenly, in those last few chapters, it all comes together, and the truth behind those intentions I doubted at the start are revealed.

Yes, it's horribly cliched in its construction, incredibly awkward in its humor, and almost painful in some of its dialogue - but all deliberately so. It takes some patience, and requires some trust that there is indeed a method to Tchaikovsky's madness, but it all pays off in the end.

Kindle Edition, 304 pages
Expected publication: August 2nd 2016 by Tor.com

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

In case you missed it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


Clive, Hellraiser and Me guest post by Paul Kane

Waiting On Wednesday: Skullsworn by Brian Staveley


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Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

Nothing new on the review front, but this week's used bookstore haul included:
  • Prophecy by Elizabeth Haydon (the arrival of the final book in her series put her back on my radar)
  • Gates of Dawn by Robert Newcomb (which fills my craving for the kind of fantasy I grew up on)
  • Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson (he's always a great read, and I somehow missed this one).


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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

Once again, my reading list is all over the place, balancing the review pile with some titles I want to read for myself. Having been on vacation for most of this week, I do have some books read and reviews coming up, but here's what I'm still enjoying.

 

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, July 22, 2016

Clive, Hellraiser and Me by Paul Kane

Today we have the great pleasure of hosting Paul Kane - author, editor, journalist, and Hellraiser scholar extraordinaire. If you haven't already picked up a copy of Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, then I urge you to do so at your earliest convenience.


Clive, Hellraiser and Me

I first came across the fiction of Clive Barker, like a lot of people, back in the 1980s. I’d already been introduced to horror at a ridiculously early age, when a mate handed me a copy of James Herbert’s The Rats in the school yard and told me I’d like it; he wasn’t wrong. From that moment on, I lapped up anything by the likes of Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, Anne Rice, Graham Masterton, Richard Laymon and so many others, as well as seeking out as many of the video nasties of that era I could get my hands on – usually lent to me by older relatives of my friends. It was little wonder then, that when I saw a copy of Books of Blood on the shelves in my local bookstore I grinned from ear to ear and just knew I had to have it. This was the omnibus edition – we lived in quite an out of the way place, so the individual ones probably wouldn’t have made it up to us – with the Barker artwork on the cover, though I didn’t know at the time Clive drew and painted as well. Didn’t know he wrote for the theatre and acted, nor that he’d made short films either by then. All I knew was the book looked awesome and all that stood between me and it was putting the pocket money I’d saved down on the counter.

I ran off with it and started reading even before I got home… to be honest, I’d started reading it in the shop so I was just continuing on with it. After the glowing introduction by Clive’s fellow Liverpudlian Ramsey Campbell came the first part of the framing titular story, about a man who pretends to talk to the dead, to tell their tales, and suffers the ultimate price for it: they begin to write their stories on his skin; a human Book of Blood! Wow… Such a cool device, but there was also something that transcended the horror here – and I found this time and time again as I read those tales. ‘Midnight Meat Train’, for instance, doesn’t just present us with a psychopathic serial killer – which would have been enough for most horror writers of that time – it gives us the totally mind-blowing reason for the murders.

The same was true of story after story, and even without the recommendation from King saying that Clive was the future of horror, I could see that these collections were going to be a game-changer. No two tales were the same, ranging from comedy horror in ‘The Yattering and Jack’ to rampaging monster horror in ‘Rawhead Rex’, to horror that contemplated what it was to be us, in the aptly-named ‘Human Remains’ (one of the best short stories of all time, in any genre). As you can imagine, I sat and waited patiently for more stories and books – re-reading the one I was lucky enough to have stumbled upon in the meantime. Volumes 4-6 followed, and Clive’s first novel, the utterly brilliant Damnation Game, and then…something else. Something which captured my imagination like nothing before or since has ever done. That something was The Hellbound Heart in an anthology called Night Visions, edited by George R.R. Martin – and I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that my life would never be the same again.

Immediately I fell in love with this tale of an obsessive man called Frank, who’s seeking the ultimate pleasure by opening a puzzle box, only to discover that the demons he summons – the Order of the Gash, more commonly known as Cenobites – have a very different idea of pleasure to him. At the same time, his former lover Julia has married his brother and they’ve moved into the house where Frank vanished – and where a spilt drop of blood brings him back…sort of. There was just so much to admire here, from Clive’s writing again of course, to the simple yet overwhelmingly complex story; the idea that a doorway to another world could be opened up in a house that might be down the street from you was utterly terrifying. And that’s even before you realise what the Cenobites can do to you! It was a story that made me smile as much as it sent shivers down my spine.

Oddly, when I first saw Hellraiser – or maybe that should be when I first saw the video cover, because I hadn’t been old enough to see it at the cinema and still wasn’t 18 so I couldn’t rent it from out local video store – I didn’t make the connection with its source material. Perhaps it was because I was so blown away by the cover image of the guy with nails banged into his skull, or the picture on the reverse of a skinless man. However, when I finally got to see it properly, borrowing it from a friend’s brother and waiting until my folks were out shopping, I put two and two together…once I’d stopped shaking, that was. Not many horror movies frightened me back then – they still don’t – I was too desensitised; but that first encounter with the film scared the crap out of me, when I wasn’t grinning like a loon at discovering such a gem. Again, it was the thought that all this could be happening not a stone’s throw away – although I didn’t really know it back then, it was an example of British New Wave, or Kitchen Sink drama…it just happened to have sadomasochistic demons in it. From that moment on, my fate was sealed and my life would be forever linked with both Clive and Hellraiser.

As the years passed, and I watched more and more of the sequels, collected the comics and everything else, I also found out more about what a creative force Clive is and kept up with his books – which still contained elements of horror, but were moving more and more towards dark fantasy. In fact, they were becoming unclassifiable in some cases, as his writing happily transcended genre categories to become – quite rightly – a genre in itself. I went to art college, then university and then broke into freelance journalism, with a specialism in genre writing. I reviewed films for my local paper and started a Film Studies MA course, with an eye to maybe writing a few books on film myself. It was a no-brainer that at some point I’d write about Hellraiser – my aim being initially to do a kind of BFI style book about the first movie, like Mark Kermode’s one on The Exorcist. I couldn’t get much interest in that sadly, but after I sent some samples in to a publisher called McFarland they suggested I should write about the whole movie series – eight by that time – plus relevant comics and short films. I ummed and ahhed about doing it, because I knew it would be so much work, but my best friend Marie O’Regan – now my wife of ten years – convinced me that if I didn’t do it, I’d always regret it. She was absolutely right, I would have.

The book might have taken years to research and write, but it filled a much needed gap in the market and has become a sort of bible for fans of the series – even ending up being the illustration for the Hellraiser Wiki page. Around the same time I’d been writing it, I became Special Publications Editor of the British Fantasy Society – an organisation Clive had been a huge part of twenty years beforehand, before his move to the States. My first project was to put together a calendar based on the Gawain and the Green Knight legend, involving some of the biggest names in SF, Fantasy and Horror. And the person we approached to do the introduction was Clive. As busy as he was, he said yes… It would take a week for the smile to fade from my face.

This and the publication of Legacy were the things that put me on Clive’s radar. The things that led to our inviting him over to be a Guest of Honour at the 2006 FantasyCon – where I finally met him in person, found out that he was lovely and interviewed him live in front of an audience of about 600 fans, my grin of delight plain for everyone to see – that led to many interviews and chats on the phone, the suggestion of a Hellraiser anthology called Hellbound Hearts which I would co-edit with Marie… All of it. And, believe me when I say I still pinch myself on a daily basis.

It’s not often you get to meet your heroes, let alone become friends with them, but amazingly that’s what happened here. One of my fondest memories is of being on post production of the film version of Book of Blood with Clive, and spotting a ghost-zombie walking past with one arm. “Well,” said Clive, “you don’t see that every day.” I remember smiling, then chuckling, then laughing until I cried…

It’s one of the reasons I felt so comfortable sounding him out about my idea to do a Sherlock Holmes/Hellraiser crossover. I’d discovered the Conan Doyle stories around the same time as Clive’s fiction, and had watched Jeremy Brett bring the character to life in the Granada TV show at the same time I saw Hellraiser – so in my mind there was that link. The same kind of link there was now between Clive, Hellraiser and me. Thankfully he loved the sound of the novel that would become Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell, loved the detailed outlines for it and sample chapter, and loved it when we found a supportive publisher in the form of Solaris. At the time of writing this, the book came out last week and seems to be doing very well. People are reading it, people are enjoying it. One kind reviewer even called it a ‘masterwork’, which is another one of those pinch yourself moments for an author.

Which brings us pretty much up to date. I’m not sure what the future will hold, not for myself, not for Hellraiser nor for Clive – but I am sure that all three of us will be always be linked now. I think we always were, really, even though none of us realised it.

It’s something that, when I think about it, always makes me smile.

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About the Author

Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over sixty books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), Hellbound Hearts and Monsters. His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for US network television, plus his latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film), the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane), the sequel to RED – Blood RED – and Sherlock Holmes and The Servants of Hell from Solaris. He lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan, his family and a black cat called Mina. Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.

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About the Book

Sherlock Holmes and the Servants of Hell
by Paul Kane 

Sherlock Holmes faces his greatest challenge yet when he meets the Cenobites, the infamous servants of hell.

Late 1895, and Sherlock Holmes and his faithful companion Dr John Watson are called upon to investigate a missing persons case. On the face of it, this seems like a mystery that Holmes might relish – as the person in question vanished from a locked room – and something to occupy him other than testing the limits of his mind and body.

But this is just the start of an investigation that will draw the pair into contact with a shadowy organisation talked about in whispers and known only as ‘The Order of the Gash’. As more and more people go missing in a similar fashion, the clues point to a sinister asylum in France and to the underworld of London. However, it is an altogether different underworld that Holmes will soon discover – as he finds himself face to face not only with those followers who do the Order’s bidding on Earth, but those who serve it in Hell: the Cenobites...