Friday, May 26, 2017

WTF Friday: Covenant by John Everson

Well, another WTF Friday is upon us, which means we once again turn the Ruins over to my dark half. As regular visitors will know, Foster Medina has a passion for messed up literary diversions - books that are bizarre, twisted, grotesque, and kinky - and he's only too happy to splatter them across the page.

While I had purchased several of John Everson's novels over the years - most notably Covenant and NightWhere - it wasn't until the release of Sacrificing Virgins that I realized what I had been missing and became a hardcore fan. With Redemption out now to finish up The Curburide Chronicles, I decided to go back to the beginning and read my way through to the finale.

Originally published back in 2004, Covenant was the debut novel by John Everson . . . and there's a damned good reason it won the Stoker Award for best first novel. This is dark, sexually charged, brutally violent, supernatural horror. It's a book with a great backstory, a twisted sense of history, and some fantastic characters.

At the core of Covenant is a classic ghost story involving an old lighthouse, a demonic presence, a history of suicides, and a small town that refuses to talk about it. At first, Joe Kieran suspects a murderous small-town cult, but the deeper he digs into the mystery, the more he finds it harder to deny the threat of the supernatural. Even his darkest fears, however, can't compare to the truth of what lies beneath the cliffs.

This is not a story for weak stomachs or sensitive souls. There are multiple scenes of rape and molestation, all driven by supernatural forces. Nobody is safe from the town's curse, with men and women compelled to act out their darkest desires, made to crave the shame, and forced to enjoy it - at least in the heat of the moment. As if that weren't enough, the sex is often bloody as well, adding to its occult nature. There aren't too many authors who can move from erotic spectacle to emotional trauma in the space of a paragraph, but Everson does it, and does it well.

While the climax is hardly a surprise, I did like the way the story came full circle, and am anxious to move onto Sacrifice next.

Paperback, 296 pages
Published September 1st 2008 by Leisure Books (first published 2004)

Thursday, May 25, 2017

#Horror Review: Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar

Gwendy's Button Box was one of those long-abandoned stories that Stephen King had never been able to finish, so he gave Richard Chizmar a crack at it, and they collaborated on the final product.

To be honest, I wish he'd just stuck with it and allowed his imagination to tackle it alone. While King's endings seem to be a source of disappointment for many readers, I have always loved how brutally dark they can be, with even victories that feel sad and sorrowful. Don't get me wrong, he's done a few silly ones (Under the Dome and Tommyknockers immediately come to mind), but for the most part I like his endings.

Not here. After a fantastic beginning involving Castle Rock, the Man in Black, and a mysterious box; followed by an equally exciting middle involving some very creepy explorations of power and responsibility; we get a soft ending that is all whimper and no bag. King and Chizmar completely side-step what should have been an epic climax. Not only that, but they offer up a weak closing that is entirely out of character for the Man in Black.

For a book that had so much promise early on, and which had me devouring pages at a frantic pace, I came away thoroughly disappointed.

Since I felt like there was a clear distinction in the text where King handed off the literary baton, with the whole style of the narrative changing, I do feel as if I got a fair taste of Chizmar's writing - and it's not bad. He's a solid writer who did a fantastic job of capturing the essence of Gwendy, and who contributed story elements that feel very much in keeping with King's style. I suspect he wasn't sure how to end it either, where to take such massive stakes without ending the world altogether, but certainly the two of them could have come up with something better than this.

Gwendy's Button Box certainly starts out as a vintage King story, hitting all the right buttons and getting the reader excited, and it plays very well with the mystery of that box, but it's timid refusal to confront a true ending undoes much of that potential.

Kindle Edition, 175 pages
Published May 16th 2017 by Cemetery Dance Publications

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Waiting On Wednesday: Swarm and Steel by Michael R. Fletcher

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

Swarm and Steel by Michael R. Fletcher
Expected publication: August 22nd 2017 by Talos

To escape the hell she created, a woman must team up with a novice warrior and return to her homeland in this gritty epic fantasy where delusions are literally made real.

Zerfall awakens in an alley, wounded and unable to remember her past. Chased by an assassin out into the endless wastes of the desert, she is caught, disfigured, and left for dead. Her scabbard is empty, but the need for answers—and the pull of her sword—will draw her back to the city-states.

When Jateko, a naïve youth, accidentally kills a member of his own tribe, he finds himself outcast and pursued across the desert for his crimes. Crazed from dehydration, dying of thirst and hunger, he stumbles across Zerfall.

Hunted by assassins and bound by mutual need, both Zerfall and Jeteko will confront the Täuschung, an ancient and deranged religion ruled by a broken fragment of Zerfall’s mind. Swarm, the Täuschung hell, seethes with imprisoned souls, but where gods—real or imagined—meddle in the affairs of man, the cost is high.

In Swarm and Steel, the power of belief can manifest and shape reality, and for political and religious leaders, faith becomes a powerful tool. But the insane are capable of twisting reality with their delusions as well, turning increasingly dangerous as their sanity crumbles. It is here that a long prophesied evil will be born, an endless hunger. The All Consuming will rise.

Although I have yet to get around to The Mirror's Truth, I can honestly say Beyond Redemption was one of the most stunningly original fantasy epics I have ever had the pleasure of reading. The publisher is looking for blurbs by early June, so I'll be tackling this soon.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Urban Fantasy Review: The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase by Greg Cox

The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase is a solid second entry in the literary annals of The Librarians, a fun follow-up by Greg Cox to last year's The Librarians and The Lost Lamp. Having already proven his grasp of the characters and their world, he's free to be a bit more playful this time around. It does lack the tension of the first, coming across as more a comedy of errors than a real life-and-death pursuit, but that's pretty much in keeping with the pacing of the series itself.

This time around, we discover that the original Mother Goose nursery rhymes were actually a dangerous spell book, one that was split apart and entrusted to three different descendants as part of the Mother Goose Treaty of 1918. A century later, it appears as if the planned demolition of a Mother Goose themed amusement park has prompted a return to the magic nursery rhymes.
"I don't plan, I act. I go by rhyme, not reason. I do as the spirit moves me. I am my own muse, the one true Mother Goose. No plans for me, only inspired flights of fancy!"
As a whole, the book is rather silly, but in an altogether clever way. Cox expands upon the verses we all know so well, going back to their darker, more sinister origins, and using them to serve as clues to a trio of treasure hunts. While all of this is going on, Colonel Baird and Jenkins are left to guard the Library itself from a hungry treasure chest, in a room-to-room battle that involves a lion, a unicorn, Excalibur, and more. As for Flynn, he's largely absent for this one, but the twist explaining why makes for an interesting finale.

If you're a fan, and can't wait for the new season to begin this fall, The Librarians and the Mother Goose Chase is a great fix for riding out the wait.

Paperback, 288 pages
Published April 25th 2017 by Tor 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.

Monday, May 22, 2017

#SciFi Review: Lucifer’s Star by C.T. Phipps

As opening scenes go, sci-fi doesn't get much better than this! Lucifer’s Star kicks off with a big, high-stakes, fast-paced battle that evokes memories of the most intense space battles from Star Wars or the original Battlestar Galactica. It's wild, frantic stuff, and it just keeps getting better as we watch one character after another come to a fiery end in pursuit of their suicidal mission.

Almost immediately, however, C.T. Phipps quickly leaps ahead from galactic space opera to something darker and grittier that reminded me more of the Deathstalker books than Star Wars, albeit with the cynicism and conspiracy of the rebooted BSG. There's actually a lot of philosophy to this, some deep thoughts and heavy ideas about the nature of good versus evil, family legacies, and right versus wrong. History is written by the victors, and one man's terrorism is another's rebellion.

While this absolutely nails the space opera spectacle, it also has plenty of world building, fantastic characters, byzantine plots, and equal parts wonder, horror, and humor. Our introduction to the crew of the Melampus will have your head spinning, with secrets and lies lurking under their skin. After that, you think you'd be prepared for the exploration of the Rhea, but toss in the issue of clones, and suddenly the secrets and lies are almost too deep to wade through.

It's those characters who make this such a fun read, though, with personalities to match their layers of deceit. Cassius is the perfect hero, damaged and flawed, and navigating his way through conflicting motivations. Ida reminded me a lot of Hetty from NCIS: LA (a scary sort of Yoda); Hiro is an intriguing, almost likable backstabbing scoundrel; and Clarice is a sexy sort of femme fatale, a good friend to have, and a terrifying enemy. I'll be honest, I didn't really care of Isla, and while I really did like Zoe, I hesitate to say too much without untying some of those treacherous knots of lies and conspiracies.

Lucifer’s Star is space opera for a grimdark generation, an action-packed story that doesn't forego character building or ethical dilemmas in delivering on the fun. It's not a feel-good story, and will likely leave you needing a shower, but it is effective storytelling.

Kindle Edition, 300 pages
Published October 2016 by Crossroad Press

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

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

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.

A quiet week this time around, with a pair of review titles sneaking their way onto my e-reader.

Scourge: A Darkhurst Novel by Gail Z. Martin
[July 11th, 2017]
Epic new fantasy from the bestselling author of The Summoner. In a city beset by monsters, three brothers must find out who is controlling the abominations.

Strange Weather by Joe Hill
[October 24th, 2017]
A collection of four novellas tells stories involving shards of sharp crystals that inexplicably begin to fall from the sky, a parachuter suddenly marooned on a solid cloud, a mentally unhinged security guard, and a camera that erases memories.


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.

Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King & Richard Chizmar is my digital read of the moment, but I'll be back into The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams as soon as I'm done. 

On the physical front, I've just cracked the spine on The Dragon's LegacyI was already excited about this, but having been friend with Deborah A. Wolf on Facebook for a few weeks . . . well, let's just say I really like her style!

What's topping your shelves this week?