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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cover Reveal: Indelible Ink by Matt Betts

It’s What’s Inside That Counts

Something lurks inside Deena Riordan. She never once questioned her life in the criminal underworld as the star of Mr. Marsh’s illegal empire and his youngest assassin. Her ruthless demeanor and dark magical powers have kept her at the top of the heap for years. But one day she pushes the sorcery too far and something snaps. Only then does Deena realize she’s always been a puppet of that dark power with no true will of her own.

Now, in order to get out of the crime business for good, she needs to save her sister from Marsh’s angry clutches. It won’t be easy. She’ll have to make her way through friends turned foes, dodge determined federal agents, and stay out of a particularly stubborn fellow hitman’s sights. Worst of all, Deena will have to wrestle with the darkness inside to keep it from swallowing her up again.




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About the Author

Matt Betts was born in Lima, Ohio some years ago. Lima is just a stone’s throw away from several other towns with excellent throwing stones. During and after college, Matt worked for a number of years in radio as an on-air personality, anchor and reporter. He has written for Blood, Blade and Thruster Magazine and Shock Totem. His fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous magazines, journals and anthologies.

Matt currently lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and sons. He is hard at work on the next adventure of the crew of the airship Leonidas Polk. And watching old horror movies. And maybe reading comic books. He can feel you silently judging him and doesn’t like it one bit.


Monday, March 30, 2015

As Above, So Below By Laura Bickle (Guest Post - Review - Giveaway)


As Above, So Below
By Laura Bickle

Things are rarely what they seem, especially in the town of Temperance.

Temperance, at the crossroads of Yellowstone National Park and ranch land, was founded by an alchemist back in the Gold Rush days. The alchemist, Lascaris, was able to conjure enough gold from rocks to keep the town running. That is, until he died mysteriously in a fire.

But some of his alchemical experiments remain behind, persisting to the present day. They adhere to the principle of “as above, so below” – that the world above reflects the inner, hidden world. And there’s a whole lot to hide in Temperance.

The Alchemical Tree, the Lunaria, represents that principle. Its roots dig deep into the earth, with branches reaching to the heavens. It stands at the center of a warren of secret tunnels stretching for miles underneath a cattle rancher’s field. The Lunaria has its secrets – it’s a remnant of Lascaris’s quest to find the secret of eternal life. It’s the source of power for the local undead, the Hanged Men. The Hanged Men were created over a century ago among the branches of the tree. They must return to the Lunaria every night to decompose and be reformed. They can’t wander far from the shadow of the tree, and are forever in the company of their raven familiars.

One of the oldest Hanged Men, Gabriel, has masqueraded as human for all this time as a ranch hand for the cattle baron who owns the land around the tree. Later generations of the Hanged Men lost the ability to speak, memory, and even human appearance as the power of the tree waned. The Lunaria’s leaves are beginning to curl and fall. Whatever power remains, the Hanged Men must protect it to survive.

Petra Dee, a geologist, has come to Temperance to find her missing father and escape her own personal demons. She only believes in what she can see and bring to light beneath her microscope. But she discovers the hidden world beneath Temperance when she digs up an artifact that dates from Lascaris’s time – a golden compass. The compass has the ability to locate magic, and runs on blood. It leads her right to the doorstep of the Hanged Men, who will kill to defend their underground secret.

The Hanged Men are not the only threat Petra faces. Caught in a war between the local meth lord and a ruthless cattle baron, Petra stumbles across a string of bent and twisted corpses. The bodies are calcinated beyond her ability to explain scientifically. Are they the product of fresh alchemy gone bad? She must suspend disbelief to explore what lurks beneath the surface, before the things beneath the ground find her.

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About the Author

Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology – Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs, also writing contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams.

Her work has been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016. THE HALLOWED ONES and THE OUTSIDE are her latest young adult novels.

www.laurabickle.com

https://twitter.com/Laura_Bickle

https://www.facebook.com/Author.Laura.Bickle

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About the Book

Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle

On-sale: 3/24
ISBN: 9780062389862

Stephen King’s The Gunslinger meets Breaking Bad in Laura Bickle’s novel Dark Alchemy.

Some secrets are better left buried…

Geologist Petra Dee arrives in Wyoming looking for clues to her father’s disappearance years before. What she finds instead is Temperance, a dying Western town with a gold rush past and a meth-infested present.

But under the town’s dust and quiet, an old power is shifting. When bodies start turning up - desiccated and twisted skeletons that Petra can’t scientifically explain - her investigations land her in the middle of a covert war between the town’s most powerful interests. Petra’s father wasn’t the only one searching for the alchemical secrets of Temperance, and those still looking are now ready to kill.

Armed with nothing but shaky alliances, a pair of antique guns, and a relic she doesn’t understand, the only thing Petra knows for sure is that she and her coyote sidekick are going to have to move fast, or die next.

Available at

Amazon    BN  

Google Books    HarperCollins

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Review

An odd mix of urban fantasy and supernatural horror, with a strong heroine, a kick-ass coyote familiar, and a fascinating villain, all adds up to one of the more refreshingly unusual reads I've enjoyed in a long time. Unlike so many books in the genre, Dark Alchemy isn't concerned with saving the world, defeating the ultimate evil, or consummating the perfect paranormal romance. Instead, what Laura Bickle has crafted here is a story of weird people, weird history, and weird science, all told on a rather intimate scale that keeps the action focused and compact.

Bickle starts throwing mysteries at us right from the first page, offering just enough hints to really intrigue the reader. What's up with the two strange skeletons found in the field? What secrets are Sal protecting? What is Petra running from? What's with the odd coyote and its buried treasure? Why does such a small hick town have so many hick tweakers? What's up with drunken Frankie and his talk of prophetic ravens? What's the deal with Gabriel, a man who seems older and wiser than even his quick-healing flesh would suggest? Just how do Sal's secrets line up with Gabe's, and what do ravens and coyotes have to do with it all?

And that's just the first four chapters.

Yes, there's a bit of a Gunslinger feel to this, as the cover blurb teases, and it's easy to see the Breaking Bad element, but it's the small town Twin Peaks oddness to the town of Temperance that pulls it all together. I really liked the idea of The Hanged Men, led by mysterious Gabe, and Luneria (the Alchemical Tree of Life) was a very cool element that was incorporated into the story in ways I didn't really expect. Petra's story alone could have made for a decent book, and setting her against Sal could have made for an interesting conflict, but it's the addition of these supernatural, alchemical elements that really elevates the story to the next level. Petra and Gabe were, by far, my favorite characters in the story, and despite being a stereotypical villain based on the oft-used trope of the corrupt small-town landowner, I still loved the scene-chewing grandeur of Sal.

Dark Alchemy plays with the typical urban fantasy tropes, but puts a unique spin on them all. The magic and the mystery are the hook, but the characters are what will keep you reading. It's a fast-paced adventure, with something significant happening in every chapters, all racing towards a suitably epic climax that satisfyingly ties up all the loose ends . . . but which leaves the door open just a crack for another adventure.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

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

A busy week this time around, book-ended by a couple of author visits, with some great features and reviews in between.
For those keeping tabs, you'll also noticed I've added a page above to track my reading progress with the 26 titles of the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. Please keep an eye on it for updates as I go.

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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.

Just a few new additions this week, all them small/indie press titles that I'm excited about.

First up is The Shadow Cartel by Layton Green, the latest in his Dominic Grey series, which puts a paranormal spin on the international thriller genre. Each book in the series has been better than the last, so I'm really excited to see what this latest adventure will bring.

Next up is Through A Glass Darkly, the just released haunted house horror tale Donald Allen Kirch, which will be my third read from his shelves. I've already enjoyed his old-school brand of vampires, bloody and monstrously evil, so I have high hopes for his take on hauntings.

Finally we have Heart of a Lion, the first book of Dark Sun Dawn by Stephen Zimmer. I've heard a lot about Rayden Valkyrie, bane of the wicked and corrupt, and the most loyal and dedicated of friends. Zimmer's know for his epic fantasy novels, so I'm excited about 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.

• The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
A very oriental kind of fantasy, with a pantheon of gods and floating airships, in which we journey across seven kingdoms with two young men who find their friendship tested by ideas of justice and power, leading them into to war.

• Vostok by Steve Alten
A 5 million-year-old subglacial lake located beneath two-and-a-half miles of ice in Antarctica, a team of scientists and covert operatives, a prehistoric monster, and evidence of extraterrestrial life with huge implications all adds up to epic adventure.



What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, March 27, 2015

WTF Friday: The New Bizarro Author Series

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 get a lot of press, and which rarely get any 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!

For this week's feature, Donald brings us a trio of reviews from the New Bizarro Author Series, which pretty much defines the essence of WTF weird.

Deep Blue by Brian Auspice 
The machine is alive and Tuesday may never come, but if you can't beat them then join them.

A fast paced journey through the life of John, in a town who cares of nothing anymore. Who wants to be a man in the jar, fed to a machine, waiting for a Tuesday that will never come. This book packs a dark storyline of the human condition. Taxi drivers with no faces, driving around town between violet, gray, and red districts, and one man's journey to feed a machine nightly for nothing in return.

If you want something new to read with bizarre, interesting, poetic storytelling, then grab a copy of Deep Blue. The title alone lets you know its out there......but don't forget your coat.

Paperback, 82 pages
Published October 20th 2014 by Eraserhead Press


Pax Titanus by Tom Lucas 
A BIG! four/half stars.

Tom Lucas takes the gladiator battles to a whole new universe. Very strong characters (literally) and a likeable storyline. My early guesses were not corrected (Titanus's final battle guess and the outcome of the final battle), so that gives my thoughts on a awesome twist.

Titanus is a hero on his planet with a very, very BIG member, asked to join in on some arena battles with many different monsters from around the universe. On top of that, his son has been kidnapped and is being held hostage until he competes in the deadly battles. This is not WWE wrestling - here you leave your opponent dead in puddles of blood.

I'm calling for a BIG! sequel. More blood, more monster creativity, and the future (Titanus Jr.) to take more of a beating like Rocky did in his blockbuster battle against Apollo Creed.

Massive war hammers, a coach full of cuss words, sexual seepage ooze, and crushed skulls, all crammed together in this BIG epic arena style battles. Tom Lucas knocks a memorable sci-fi out of this world... GET SOME!

And always think BIG!

Paperback, 124 pages
Published October 20th 2014 by Eraserhead Press


SuperGhost by Scott Cole 
I'm calling this an "Ode to Ghostbusters" Funny, outrageous Bizarro and a very smart idea.

When a scientist pulls the curtains on his new creation, three friends are in tune to save the city they live in from destruction. The giant collection of Phantom Limbs, all pieced together, and somewhere in that giant heaping pile are their own phantom limbs and they want them back - despite the pain they gave them.

It begins with missing appendages jokes and a support group. A mad scientist that could have been one of the most intelligent to walk the earth, and an ending kinda like the famous kid song "On top of Spaghetti" and what happens to that item. But the mind of Scott Cole gives a whole new meaning to "Meatball"

Overall it's a ghost story in the likes of those slapstick style movies with gut wrenching laughter, and the Bizarro goodness that tastes so good with ice cream, no matter what flavor it is.

Paperback, 112 pages
Published October 20th 2014 by Eraserhead Press

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A World Apart by L.J.K Oliva (GUEST POST)


I briefly consider denying it, only to remember what Darius deCompostela does for a living.  I didn't make him a detective for nothing.  I cast what feels like a furtive glance around the tiny dim sum restaurant my creation has chosen for lunch.  Finally, I scowl down at my plate of steamed pork buns.

He's got me.  Worse, I suspect he knows it.

LJKO: Look, he's out of town on family business, okay?  Besides, you have your own book coming up.  I'm sure people wouldn't mind knowing more about you.

Darius deCompostela gives me a look I can't quite read.  Not that that's anything new.  He's an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a perfectly tailored suit.  Today it's gray wool over a crisp lavender shirt, with tie and pocket square in complementary shades of navy, violet, and periwinkle.
He would think I was crazy if I mentioned how good it looks on him.

DdC: So this is why you brought me here.  Bribery.

LJKO: Shameless, I know.  So, what do you say?

Wielding a pair of chopsticks with flawless skill, he pops a whole piece of har gau into his mouth.  He chews thoughtfully, then washes it down with a heavy sip of green tea.

DdC: What's in it for me?

I groan.

LJKO: Shrimp dumplings aren't enough?

He gives me a deadpan look.

DdC: Please.  I may be easy, but I'm not cheap.

I know for a fact he is neither easy nor cheap.  I groan again.  My list of questions is burning a hole in my pocket.  At this rate, we'll never get to them.

Darius arches an eyebrow.

I blow out a breath.

LJKO: Fine.  What if I give you a really, really hot sex scene in your book?

His other eyebrow goes up.

DdC: You serious?

LJKO: I'm a writer.  We never joke about such things.

He puts on a show of thinking about it, presumably for my benefit.  Then he gives me a short, sharp nod.

DdC: What's the first question?

I don't pause to savor my triumph.  I snatch the slip of paper from my pocket, and read it off.

LJKO: What impression do you make on people when they first meet you?

Darius snorts.

DdC: I scare the fuck out of them.

I don't ask if that bothers him.  He's trying to be flip—again, presumably for my benefit—but I've known him long enough to know it does.  I move on to the follow-up.

LJKO: How about after they've known you for a while?

Darius shrugs.

DdC: Hard to say.  Guess they like me all right.

LJKO: Your introspectiveness is truly refreshing.

DdC: Well, shit, what do you want me to say?  MacMillian and I have been sharing an office for...

He mentally calculates.

LJKO: Three years.  Give or take.

He rolls his eyes.

DdC: Wise-ass.  Fine.  Three years.  He hasn't tried to break my nose yet.  You ask me, that means he likes me.

I give him that.

LJKO: How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?

DdC: My life right now...fine, I guess.  I mean, it's as good as it's ever been.

LJKO: And if you could change anything?

DdC: Well, there is that little matter of being able to see and hear dead people.  Think you could do something about that, oh all-powerful author-God?

I make a mental note to have that embossed on my business cards.

LJKO: Sorry.  No can do, Ghost Whisperer.

He mutters something under his breath about "writers and their stupid plot devices."  I graciously pretend not to hear.

LJKO: What's the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?

I can tell from the hard set to his mouth he's debating telling me to fuck off, but the promise of cosmic sex apparently wins out.

DdC: My privacy.

LJKO: Is that all?

DdC: And my Ray Charles collection.

I roll my eyes and move on.

LJKO: What's the worst thing that's happened in your life?

DdC: What the fuck kind of question is that?

LJKO: I'm sorry, okay?  I got these off the Internet.  But we had a deal.  Come on, D, I'd hate to have to give you a string of mediocre sex scenes...

Darius scowls, but is saved having to answer by the arrival of the dim sum cart.  It's being pushed by the most stereotypical Chinese-grandmother-type I've ever see in my life.  Darius's eyes light up at the assortment of dishes on offer.  He looks back at me.

DdC: Mind if I...?

LJKO: Go for it.  You're better at this than I am.

DdC: That is true.

He sweeps a quick, critical eye over the dishes again, then gestures.

DdC: Wo yao yi cha siu bao, wah tip, fung zao.

I try not to look impressed.  The cart auntie beams like he's her long-lost son, and shuffles the specified plates to our table.  She asks something in what I guess is Cantonese.  Darius nods, and she refills our teacups.  Darius taps the table with his pointer and middle fingers.

DdC:  Mmm goi.

Auntie: Mmm sai.

She smiles again, and moves on.

LJKO: So, what exactly am I being subjected to here?

Darius is already helping himself to a gelatinous morsel that smells heavenly and looks suspiciously like a chicken foot.  Sure enough...

DdC: So, these are chicken feet in black bean sauce.

He uses his chopsticks to point to the other plates.

DdC: Those are pot stickers, and the other ones are barbequed pork dumplings.

I stare down at the remnants of my last steamed pork bun.

LJKO: Oh, god.  Not more pork.

Darius rolls his eyes.

DdC: Don't even play, porkivore.

LJKO: Touché.

We tuck into the food with gusto.  I've always like that about Darius; we share similar appetites.  Under the influence of delicious piggy parts, I feel suddenly generous.

LJKO: Okay, forget that last question.  It'll come out in your book, anyway.

DdC: Great.  That supposed to make me feel better?

I shrug.

LJKO: I get to ask one more question, though.

DdC: Of course you do.

I chew on my pork bun thoughtfully.  I want this last question to be meaningful.  Probing.  Something that will get to the meat of the man in front of me.  A man who, if I'm being completely honest, scares the fuck out of me.

I take a deep, fortifying breath and go for it.

LJKO: What do you want?

Darius gives me another one of those looks I can't read.  Then he reaches out with his chopsticks and plucks a chicken foot off the plate between us.  There's the barest hint of a twinkle in his black eyes.

DdC: More fung zao.

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About the Author

L.J.K Oliva is the devil-may-care alter-ego of noir romance novelist Laura Oliva.  She likes her whiskey strong, her chocolate dark, and her steak bloody.  L.J.K. likes monsters... and knows the darkest ones don't live in closets.

Newsletter Signup- http://eepurl.com/xRJuD 

      





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About the Book

A World Apart (Shades Below: Book One)
L.J.K Oliva

Genre: Urban fantasy

"There are things that go bump in the night, Mr. MacMillian.  It's my job to bump back."

Private investigator Jesper MacMillian was sure he'd seen it all.  After all, in a city like San Francisco, strange is what's for breakfast.  Following a long  recovery after a horrific accident, his life is finally the way he wants it- or at least, close enough.  The only monsters on his radar are the ones that keep him awake at night.
All that changes the day he meets Lena Alan.

Before MacMillian has a chance to brace for impact, Lena drags him into a world where monsters aren't just real, they're hiding in plain sight.  Suddenly, everything he knows is suspect, starting with his current case.  For Lena, a medium since childhood, it's just another day at the office.

For MacMillian, it's the beginning of the end of everything he thinks he knows.

Tough Travels with . . . Beloved Mounts

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: BELOVED MOUNTS

A combination of suggestions from several people, as it seems many want to talk about the various animals that people in fantasyland ride. So be they horse, bear, or other let’s talk about favorite rides.

The Lord of the Rings brings us one of the coolest horses to ever grace the page, a noble steed that not even the horse-riding tribes of the Rohirrim were able to tame. Shadowfax was, however, tamed by Gandalf and served as his brave, noble, steadfast steed from then on.

Mercedes Lackey was the first author I can remember who elevated horses to something more than just a wild animal. In her Heralds of Valdemar books, they are magical Companions who choose the human ride to whom they'll bond. In The Last Herald-Mage Series it is Yfandes, a caring and protective horse-like creature, who chooses Vanyel and serves as his loyal Companion.

While unicorns are often portrayed as pretty, magical creatures, in The Obsidian Trilogy (co-written by Lackey & Mallory), the unicorns are smaller, almost pony-sized steeds who abhor the touch of a demon, are most comfortable around virgins . . . and are general smart-asses. When Shalkan rescues Kellen from the Outlaw Hunt, Kellen finds himself bound to both the unicorn and celibacy for an entire year.

Kristen Britain's Green Rider series brings us Condor, the mount of Karigan G'ladheon, the Green Rider at the heart of the series - although she simply calls him Horse. Condor is a Messenger Horse from the Wanda Plains, one of the magical beasts that somehow know when a Rider need a new mount. Tall, long-necked, and long-legged, Condor bears the scars of serving its first rider, F'ryan Coblebay.

There are only two horses who appear in every book of the Wheel of Time series. The first is Bela, the shaggy brown mare owned by Tam al'Thor, ridden most often by Egwene al'Vere (including a dream version), and Mandarb, the highly trained warhorse ridden by al'Lan Mandragoran. Bela is a placid, but loyal beast who really doesn't really seem like much, but who does get to be a hero in the end. Mandarb, on the other hand, is a living weapon who is a hero throughout the series, earning his fair share of scares in the process.

A similar warhorse is found in A Song of Ice and Fire - Stranger, Sandor Clegane's warhorse. Strange is a massive, savage, black warhorse that violently lashes out at anybody who tries to get near, but who is a gentle companion to Sandor. Whereas Mandarb simply meant 'blade,' Stranger is named for the god of death and outcasts, a name that has specific meaning to Sandor.

The Stormlight Archive offers us the Ryshadium, another breed of horses who pick their riders. The fact that Dalinar and Adolin have their own Ryshadium mounts is a source of rage and frustration for Sadeas, who has never been similarly chosen, and who cannot buy himself such a horse. Dalinar's horse is a black beast by the name of Gallant, while Adolin's is a white stallion named Sureblood. These horses are strong enough to bear the weight of a Shardbearer, and smart enough to communicate with them, even obeying commands during the heat of battle.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Positive by David Wellington

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

Positive by David Wellington
Kindle Edition, 448 pages
Expected publication: April 21st 2015 by Harper Voyager 

In the bestselling vein of Guillermo Del Toro and Justin Cronin, the acclaimed author of Chimera and The Hydra Protocol delivers his spectacular breakout novel—an entertaining page-turning zombie epic that is sure to become a classic.

Anyone can be positive . . .

The tattooed plus sign on Finnegan's hand marks him as a Positive. At any time, the zombie virus could explode in his body, turning him from a rational human into a ravenous monster. His only chance of a normal life is to survive the last two years of the potential incubation period. If he reaches his twenty-first birthday without an incident, he'll be cleared.

Until then, Finn must go to a special facility for positives, segregated from society to keep the healthy population safe. But when the military caravan transporting him is attacked, Finn becomes separated. To make it to safety, he must embark on a perilous cross-country journey across an America transformed—a dark and dangerous land populated with heroes, villains, madmen, and hordes of zombies. And though the zombies are everywhere, Finn discovers that the real danger may be his fellow humans.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome meets World War Z and I Am Legend in this thrilling tale that has it all: a compelling story, great characters, and explosive action, making Positive the ultimate zombie novel of our time.


Generally, zombies just don't do it for me, but this sounds like a very cool approach to the genre. It sounds strange to hear it described as Wellington's breakout novel when he already has a dozen titles on the shelf, but I hope it does thrust him into the mainstream. Despite my complaints about the last Jim Chapel adventure, I like his style, from what I've read (the ARC has been sitting on my Kobo since November), this should be great.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Horror Review: The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.

Like many fans, I entered into The Scarlet Gospels with significant expectations. Not only is it Clive Barker's first novel for adults since 2007, it's one he's been teasing since 1993. Over the course of those 20+ years it's grown from just another short story destined for a new Books of Blood collection to a massive 232,000 word epic, before being edited back down to the 100,000 word final book. That means, of course, that more than half the story has been edited out of the final text, including many of the scenes Barker himself has teased. There's no Joseph and the Holy Grail to be found in its pages; no first encounter between Pinhead and a 12 year old Harry D'Amour; and no conversation between Harry and Jesus, discussing the subject of suffering, and remarking on how Pinhead's nails are akin to his crown of thorns.

While I would have loved nothing more than to immerse myself in another Imajica-length door-stopper, I'm actually glad none of those scenes are to be found here. This is Pinhead's story. This is the story of Hell. There's no room in it for the 'other side' to tell their story. Similarly, with Harry serving more as witness here than epic hero, it's simply not important for him and Pinhead to have ever met . . . and the story works better for it.

The Scarlet Gospels is the dark, bloody, brutal, magnificently epic horror novel we've needed from Clive Barker for so long. If you've worried that absence may have made the heart grow softer, or that he'd have trouble getting back into the blood after so long spent in the Abarat, then fear not. This is a book that's influenced by his entire career, seamlessly meshing the sadomasochistic brutality of The Hellbound Heart with the epic mythology of Weaveworld, while incorporating the same depth of character we found in Sacrament. More than that, after the somewhat sterile novella that was Mister B. Gone, Barker has recaptured the power of his narrative voice, marking a return to the kind of storytelling where you're compelled to linger over every word.

The first third of the novel is a contemporary horror story, full of magic, ghosts, demons, and monsters. It serves to establish Pinhead as more than just another opportunistic Cenobite answering the call of Lemarchand's box, establishes Norma Paine as a friend for whom Harry D'Amour would willingly go to Hell to save, introduces Harry to the horrors of Lemarchand's box, and introduces Pinhead to the one mortal worthy of being considered a true adversary. It's dark and it's violent, but there are also some strong touches of humor, especially with the banter between Harry and his crew.

Once the story shifts to Hell, however, it's a whole different story. Pinhead's march through the streets of Hell and into the Monastery of the Cenobitic Order is some fantastic stuff, with images that linger with the reader long after the cover is closed. Barker describes it as an immense fortress of sadomasochistic solitude, built over seven hundred thousand years ago to isolate its priests from the politics of Hell. There's a confrontation here that allows Pinhead to put his grand scheme into motion, with bespelled origami birds, deathly plagues, and a fog the likes of which has never been seen before. Following that we have a suitably epic journey across the landscape of Hell, taking us through the cities of the damned, a wilderness of dead trees, and across a lake haunted by a monstrous force of pure hunger and malevolence - all to reach the hidden, secret fortress of Lucifer himself.

If I were to have one minor complaint about the novel, it's that this really isn't the 'Pinhead versus Harry' tale that we were promised. While Harry undertakes his epic journey for the noblest of reasons, entering Hell itself to save Norma's body and soul, it turns out he's really only been drawn there to witness Pinhead's grand plan. The two do have their confrontations, and they are brilliantly entertaining, but Harry has absolutely no hand in Pinhead's fate. Fortunately, by the time we get to the end of the novel, we've already come to realize that his is Pinhead's story (not Harry's), and when a creature of such monstrous cruelty is striving to do no less than overthrow Lucifer's throne . . . well, he deserves a foil even greater, even more mythic, than the Cenobite himself.

As works of epic mythology go, The Scarlet Gospels is absolutely magnificent. At this point, it's hard to add much to the story of Hell, but Barker succeeds brilliantly. It's absolutely breathtaking the way he just keeps upping the tension and expanding the scope, adding layer upon layer to the horror, even as he takes us deeper and deeper into Hell. The final set piece is . . . well, there's not much I can say about it without spoiling the story, but it's one of the finest Barker has ever created. The finale may leave some readers feeling a little unsettled, especially with the odd sort of epilogue (with it's entirely self-indulgent, yet gloriously satisfying confrontation with a wealthy preacher), but so long as you remember this is Pinhead's story, it all works.


Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: May 19th 2015 by St. Martin's Press

Monday, March 23, 2015

Horror Review: The Wolf at His Door by Adrian Lilly

As opening scenes go, The Wolf at His Door has one hell of a kick-ass means of dragging us, kicking and screaming, into the story. It all begins with a flashback to a pregnant mother, suffering from both physical and emotional distress, convinced that something is terribly wrong with her unborn child. It's a chilling scene, and one in which this woman attempts some unspeakable acts in an attempt to end the life eating her alive from the inside.

I thought I knew what to expect from Adrian Lilly's pitch, but was excited to discover that this is a full-on, hardcore horror novel - with a strong undercurrent of mystery. It goes to some very dark places, and takes some exceptionally violent roads to get there. Werewolves are often wasted in the genre, used to symbolize some sort of internal struggle, but Lilly lets the wild side of the monsters loose. They are allowed to be monstrous here, to be wild and fearsome, with matted fur and bloody fangs contributing to the carnage.

Similarly, where I expected the gay romance to be more of a factor here, with a strong connection between coming out as either gay or wolf, it's less of a plot device and more of a character element. Lilly doesn't devote a lot of attention to building up the romance, and simply drops the sexuality angle into the story, with no time wasted on big revelations. Alec and Jared are friends who happen to be gay, but it's their friendship that's central to the story, not the romance.

If I were to have one complaint about the novel, it's that the characters don't always make a lot of sense, and fall prey to poor decisions again and again. There were numerous instances where I thought they were slow to react, or where I felt their response to the horror and carnage around them was somewhat muted. It's a shame, because the story itself is strong, and the horror element is fantastic, and I think stronger character reactions would have really helped to sell the fear.

With The Wolf at His Door being the first book of a trilogy, there's a lot of world-building and mythology that's hinted at, but not yet fully developed, and that's a bit of a frustration. The plot is both deep and complex, with some creative twists (including those not yet fully revealed), while the gruesome scenes are superb, especially when contrasted against the few romantic/erotic elements. You can sense this larger story beneath it all, though, one that has much larger implications than just a family struggle, but it seems we'll have to wait for the next two books to have it fully developed. What is here, however, is interesting enough to make me want to keep reading, and that's about all you can ask for the opening stanza to a larger tale.


ebook, 348 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by One House Hill

Interview with Adrian Lilly (author of The Runes Trilogy)

Joining us in the Ruins today is author, poet, director, and fan of all things Gothic, Adrian Lilly. Currently touring in support of The Wolf at His Door, the first book of The Runes Trilogy, Adrian has stopped for a brief chat about the book. Stick around for an exclusive excerpt, and then be sure to check back this afternoon for my review.

Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, Adrian. For those who haven't yet had a chance to encounter The Runes Trilogy, please tell us a little about yourself and what we can expect from The Wolf at His Door.

The Wolf at His Door takes place in an everyday setting populated by seemingly ordinary people—people like your friends and neighbors—thrust into a maelstrom of lycanthropic horror. The Runes family is at the center of the novel, with secrets of their own, that threaten to destroy them. As the body count rises, Alec Rune begins to suspect his new boyfriend, Jared, may know more about the werewolves than he’s admitting, only adding to the tension.

As far as what to know about me—I’m that nutty guy who likes to scare the heck out of people, including jumping out of dark corners just to make someone scream. Also, I’m the stupid person who walks through a house in the dark. Oh, and I write horror novels. I’m currently finishing my sixth novel. My short fiction can be found numerous places, like Hello Horror, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, and Allegory.

Q: Werewolves have never received the same respect as vampires or zombies, but they represent some of our darkest, most primal passions. What was it about them that drew you in and convinced you to craft a series around them?

I like how primal they are. Vampires are often depicted, at least these days, as having a suave sophistication. Personally, I prefer the vampires from novels like They Thirst or 30 Days of Darkness, but I digress. Werewolves, I think, have received less attention because they are seen as either human or monster. Some writers see less potential in that. I decided to explore that struggle against something wicked within—to deconstruct that binary. Some characters fight the beast within better than others. I also think that werewolves represent our fears of anything untamed. Humans like to conquer, but we can’t always conquer everything.

Q: What would be some of your must-read werewolf novels or must-watch werewolf films for a fan looking to delve deeper into the furry side of horror?

I've only ever read one werewolf novel, and I didn't like it very much. It was movies and folklore that got me interested in werewolves. As a kid, I used to check out all these old books filled with woodprints of werewolves and vampires. The librarian probably thought I was odd. As far as films, I’d point anyone toward The Howling and Dog Soldiers.

Q. There is a strong queer element to the tale, with a gay romance at the core of the story. How did that aspect of the story come about, and what do you hope it accomplishes or communicates to the reader?

I have to make clear, first, that it’s not erotica or is the love story the main plot. I think a few readers hoped for lots of sex. Nope. This is a horror novel. The gay storyline came easily for me, because I was exploring the topic of secrets and secret identities. Anyone who’s ever felt like he’s had to hide a part of his or her identity will understand that element. With werewolves in particular, and the element of having another side, I felt like it fit. Additionally, when I started the first book, I had planned to make being gay a bigger twist—a bigger part of the plot. (I don’t want to give away too much.) As I wrote the book, I decided against that element, but kept the characters gay, because I was thrilled with how they turned out.

Q. Some of the most vivid and powerful horror authors out there – Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Anne Rice, Steve Berman, Michael Rowe, etc. – are either queer themselves, or weave significant queer themes into their work. What do you think it is about ‘queer’ and ‘fear’ that makes them mesh so well for a mainstream audience?

I think queer and fear is still very much a niche. For readers who enjoy it, I think that the sense of otherness is what makes it work. For instance, Brite has queer killers in the Exquisite Corpse—a brilliant, if not disturbing book. In that regard, I think it was the sense of otherness that added to the fear. It’s also easy to draw parallels to being in the closet and having a double life—as a vampire or werewolf—the “monster” in the closet, so to speak. In that regard, I think that is why fear appeals to queer readers.

Q: We’ve talked a bit about the core elements of the story, but if I can put you on the spot for a moment, what do you think is the biggest hook or twist that would turn a curious reader into a dedicated one?

The characters in the book are walking a fine moral line between preserving their family and helping humanity. Much hinges on their willingness to make sacrifices. It’s also the type of story that dictates that beloved characters must die.

Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction The Runes Trilogy that you've encountered to -date?

A reader on Goodreads wrote that he was ‘already crying.’ To me, that meant that as well as scaring people, that I had created characters that readers could care about.

Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

I have been on a kick reading classic literature lately. I’m reading Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis right now, and I think everyone should read it. I recently read Another Country by James Baldwin, and that was amazing. Such complex, well defined characters. Growing up, I read Christopher Pike, Mary Higgins Clark, and Robert R. McCammon, so I guess they’re to blame for my love of writing. Oh! And Robin Cook, I used to read all of his books. I almost forgot. Also, Peter Benchley. I read Jaws, The Deep, and Beast by him when I was young. I read Jaws 2, but that was written by someone else, as I recall. I remember liking it, and remembering how different Jaws and Jaws 2 were from the movies.

Q: Assuming you had total creative control over the production, who would you cast as the leading roles, were The Runes Trilogy to either be optioned for the big screen or a TV series?

I’m totally awful at current pop culture. Can I say Tab Hunter (Alec) and Montgomery Clift (Jared)?

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? I know you’re working on the 3rd book in the series, but is there perhaps something completely different on the way as well?

Yes. I’m the type who works on numerous books at once, and then, as I’m writing, one leaps to the front to finish. I’m putting the finishing touches on a book called Last Will and De-testament, which is the first in a new series called The BlackBird Mysteries. It’s a series dealing with all manner of creatures from folklore.

Best of luck with it all, Adrian, and thanks again for stopping by.

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About the Author

Adrian W. Lilly is the author of the novels The Devil You Know, Red Haze, and The Runes Trilogy: The Wolf at His Door, The Wolf in His Arms, and The Wolf at War. His short fiction and poetry have been published in Hello Horror, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Nervehouse and The Weekly among other publications. He can be found online at www.adrianlilly.com.

He is a fan of Gothic suspense movies and novels, which greatly influence his writing. Adrian's writing focuses on strong character development and the nuances of fear that build toward horror. The mansion in his first novel, The Devil You Know, was inspired by the grand mansions in the Victorian neighborhood where he lives.

Adrian writes novels, short stories, and poetry and has spent many years as a copywriter in the advertising industry. In addition, Adrian has directed two short films and co-directed a feature-length sci-fi comedy.

My website: www.adrianlilly.com

Facebook: facebook.com/adrianwlilly

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/+AdrianLilly

Twitter: @AdrianLilly1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6545875.Adrian_Lilly

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About the Book

The Wolf at His Door
by Adrian Lilly

Ilene Rune has lived with a secret for 21 years that threatens to destroy her marriage, her life, and all of humanity. But how can she tell her son, Alec, that his new boyfriend, Jared, may be part of that secret?

Investigating a brutal murder, Detective Lance Herald enters a dark world of fairy tales and fantasy—that shakes his belief in what is possible and imagined.

Lucy Rune cannot fathom what happened the night one brother was slaughtered and the other critically wounded—but she does know, her boyfriend, Rene, who was also attacked is changing.
Geraldine Bloom, Alec’s grandmother, has the gift of foresight, and has waited for years for the evil that wants her grandson to come for him.

Alec Rune wakes from a coma to learn his twin brother has been murdered—and that he is the only witness. But he remembers nothing of the night.

Werewolves, genetics, and a thrilling murder mystery intertwine in this “multi-layered and unpredictable” (Christine Coretti) horror novel that builds to “an absolutely epic ending” (thegayUK.com).

ebook, 348 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by One House Hill

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Excerpt

“Sam, did you hear something,” Celeste’s urgent voice echoed to him through his valley of sleep.
He shook his head, his eyes still closed and voice groggy. “Nope.” Outside, something grunted. At least, it seemed like a grunt. Sam leaned up on an elbow. Celeste’s urgency now washing over into him. “Shhh.”He whispered. He lay still in the bed, listening. The lake clawed at the shore, desperate to pull the rocks under the surface. The wind picked up, rattling across the cabin. March could be brutal.
“I think it’s just the wind,” he offered.
“No,” Celeste whispered to him. “Listen.” Again, they fell quiet. The grunting sound returned but with labored breathing. The sound intensified, as if the origin of the sound were much closer now—perhaps just outside the window by which they lay. The motion-sensor security light broke the night, and chalky light seeped under the closed curtains, dripping down the wall. Sam cast his eyes up, aching to see beyond the pulled curtains.
Sam clenched Celeste’s arm and mouthed Don’t Move.
Celeste held her position.
Slowly, through their disbelief, the sound became distinguishable. The heaves were the heavy breathing of a large animal—but there were no large predators in the area. No cougars. No bears. Certainly no lions. Not even alligators. Sam’s mind muddled with thoughts of what it could not be. Maybe it’s a stray dog. A fox? At best a coyote.
A shadow moved outside the window. Sam could not discern the shape of the animal; it appeared to stand on two feet. His first thought was of a mutant creature from the nuclear power plant, but decided that ridiculous. Mostly, anyway.
Celeste clamped her hand around Sam’s forearm. A mammoth shadow fell across the window. She felt fear growing inside her like a strangling vine, unyielding no matter how hard she tried to cut it back.
The shadow passed.
“Shit,” Sam muttered.
Celeste felt the vine wither, releasing her chest, and she breathed. “Fuck.”
Sam tossed the covers off and turned to face the window. If the thing was still around, he wanted to get a good look.
“Careful, Sam,” Celeste whispered.
Sam inched the curtains apart. The security light illuminated the yard. Beyond that the gray sky shed little ambient light. He could see nothing in the yard. At the edge of the yard, he heard the lake crash against the rocks. Sam turned to face Celeste. “I can’t see anything. It’s gone.”
“Good. Want a beer?”
“Sure. I can’t sleep anyway.” Sam watched Celeste as she crossed the bedroom to grab her shirt.
“Sam,” she said then bit off her sentence. Her jaw slacked and her eyes rounded. Sam sensed the presence of the beast behind him even before he felt the window glass pelt his bare back. He felt the claws shred the flesh and muscle of his shoulders as he was lifted off the bed and pulled through the shattered window into the cold night air.
“Sam!” Celeste screamed, looking through the vortex of broken glass, broken wood, and blood. The curtain was torn from the wall, the rod dangling like a broken limb. The darkness swirled as cold air met the damp warm air from the house and steam formed a momentary, translucent window.
“Jesus Christ,” Sam pleaded from outside. Heinous growls followed his shrill screams. “Oh, fuck! Help me.”
Celeste backed toward the kitchen then spun and bolted across the floor. She grabbed the telephone. She tapped out 9-1-
“Oh, no, no, no,” she cried as the beast appeared in front of the large bay window, dangling Sam from one large paw. Fear and pain bled his face of life, making him mannequin-like, though he still moaned and slapped at the beast holding him.
Celeste tapped the final one. She heard a reply, “9-1-1 what is your—”
The voice was drowned out by the sound of crashing glass as the beast hurtled Sam through the large bay window and retreated into the darkness.
“Sam,” Celeste screeched. His body landed in a contorted heap on the kitchen floor. Celeste stepped toward him. She heard a small voice beside her.
“Hello? Do you need help?”
Celeste placed the phone on the counter and stepped toward Sam. “Help me,” he muttered. “God, it hurts.”
“Oh no,” Celeste moaned as her eyes fell on Sam’s torn body. Both of his arms were nearly severed from his torso. Deep claw marks formed chasms across his chest and stomach. Half of his face dangled from the bone. How can I stop the bleeding? She stumbled to him and knelt by his side. A thunderous howl pierced the night. Celeste turned her eyes to the broken bay window. She stood slowly. Celeste backed away from Sam, casting her eyes down to him, pleading forgiveness, as she left him bleeding and tortured on the floor. From a knife rack on the counter, she grabbed a butcher knife.
With her other hand, Celeste grabbed the phone. “Send help...”
“Miss, I have dispatched police. What is the nature of your emergency?”
“Fuckmotherfuck.” Celeste replied and dropped the phone.
For the first time, the beast came into full view as it leaped through the bay window. Amid the spraying glass, Celeste caught glimpses of fur and fang. The creature ducked behind the counter, out of sight.
With Sam.
“Sam?” Celeste choked.
The beast raised into view, dragging Sam by his neck. Blood flowed down the length of his body. His jeans had turned dirty red with blood. He neared unconsciousness. “Drop him, you fuck.” Celeste ordered, pointing the knife toward the beast.
In defiance, the beast lifted Sam, bringing his neck closer to its jaws. Its long snout gaped open, revealing spiked teeth. The teeth clamped around Sam’s neck. A geyser of blood erupted from his neck, spraying the beast’s face. Sam gurgled once, before the skin on his neck split, and his head fell backward, dangling by one sinew.
Celeste whipped the knife across the room and bolted for the bedroom. Slamming the door, Celeste hopped onto the bed and out the broken window. Her first thought was to dart toward the car. After one step she froze. The idea was flawed on two counts: she had no keys and she would have to run past the bay window.
She was left with one option: the lake.
The frosty grass chilled her feet as she bolted across the wet lawn, her eyes and mind focused on the lake. Celeste spun to face the cabin. The silhouette of the beast was illuminated in the bay window. It held Sam’s torn torso between its two great paws. Its head cocked, eyes locking on Celeste. Burning like twin green comets, its eyes glimmered and blurred as it tore toward her, its enormous, muscular body springing through the window. As Celeste turned, she saw the faint outline of a car—a large black sedan—that did not belong. It was parked in the edge of the trees by the lake, nearly hidden. The image just whirred past her eyes as she spun and refocused her attention on the lake.
Falling over the rocks, Celeste flung herself into the cold lake waters. The shock pulled the breath from her lungs and her skin felt—for an instant—as though it burned. She choked in a breath and forced her limbs to move, swimming from shore. The beast lunged into sight, alighting on the rocky shore; it crouched, watching her paddle just beyond its reach. Celeste took shallow, quick breaths in the cold water. She felt the cold seeping into her.
She prayed for the police to arrive. How long could it take? A cramp contorted her feet. Celeste continued her labored paddling. She knew she couldn’t stay in the water for long. Hysteria swirled in her mind like a fog: Sam is dead. I’m facing a monster. She lost the sensation in her fingers. How long had it been?
Splitting the night with a howl, the beast bounded from the rocks, disappearing over the edge of the rocky shore. Waves splashed over her face, and Celeste realized she was slowly sinking. Her lethargic arms beat against the icy waters. The cramp in her foot crawled up her calf; she wouldn’t be able to swim for long. The cold was winning. Celeste wasn’t sure how long she waited, but in the burning cold water, it felt like an eternity.
Like mist settling over the water, Celeste heard the distant cry of sirens. She forced her burning arms to pull her toward the shore. She treaded water for a moment, forcing her mind to forget the terrible cold and focus. Were the sirens really coming?
Certain she heard sirens in the distance, Celeste stroked toward the shore. She could not feel the sharp edges as she clasped her rigid fingers to the rocks. She laid her head against one of the large, gray rocks. Arms stiff, she hoisted herself onto the slippery rocks. Her chest heaved, coloring the night gray. She would wait for the police, she told herself, safely near the water.
In a brown blur, the beast leaped from beyond the rocks, lashing its massive paw at her. Celeste felt its claws snag her arm. Fighting, she pulled away. She heard the ripping, not totally aware what was happening as she fell backward into the icy waters.
Searing pain shot through her shoulder and across her chest. She felt her warm blood flow into the water. It was too dark, but she knew the water was painted red with her blood. The beast looked at her a moment, its lips snarled in what she perceived as a smile. It vanished again, dropping her twitching arm on the rocky shore.
As the police lights came into view, Celeste’s eyes sank beneath the lake surface. She bobbed up, whispering weakly, “Over here,” before her face slide beneath the water a final time.