Sunday, October 7, 2018

Honest Reviews of Three New Titles from Flame Tree Press

I got the opportunity to read Advance Reading Copies of several titles from Flame Tree Press' new paperback line. These books have now all been released.

Here are the first three (of five).

-"Thirteen Days by Sunset Beach" by Ramsey Campbell.
This author is a legend, but I don't care for his writing style at all. I gave up on page 109.
A family on holiday on a mysterious island near Greece runs into trouble when three of their number are bitten and begin exhibiting an aversion to sunlight. The barrage of hints regarding the vampire-like activity on the island and the reactions of the natives to the members who've been bitten are ham-fisted, yet the rest of the family somehow remains completely oblivious. I found myself hoping that it was all misdirection, because it was all SO obvious, but at this point I don't care enough to ever find out one way or another.
The members of this family are the most passive aggressive bunch you're ever going to encounter. ("I take it you'll have tracked him down?", "Won't that be too spicy for you, William?") In fact, they're insufferable. I think that's my biggest peeve with the book. I dislike nearly every character. The author's dialogue is formal and stilted, and dialogue tags are unwieldy.
Here are a few samples:
Pg. 23
"Are you hungry?" Ray was able to hope.
"Do you know, I think I could be."
Pg. 39
"Well that's my choice for now," Julian said with just a hint of petulance. "I thought it might be good for all concerned."
"I think you've left somebody out of the choosing," Natalie said.
Pg. 67
"Can you hear me? Are you in difficulties?"
"I'm quite all right," Ray felt bound to declare.
Pg. 81
"Maybe you shouldn't try and take her over quite so much, do you think?" Having blurted this, Ray saw no reason not to add "We all need to be ourselves."
Pg. 94
"I suppose that could have been the case," Julian said. "Thank you for bringing reason to bear."

I found myself hoping "Jules" and "Pris" and all the others would get hit by a bus just so something exciting would happen. I gave up, which is something I have only done on a precious few occasions.

On to two books I enjoyed:
-"The Siren and the Specter" by Jonathan Janz
A skeptic of the supernatural is hired by an old college friend to write a book about a supposedly haunted house with a dark history. It becomes apparent pretty quickly that the house is the real deal as far as being haunted. There's an interesting back story about who haunts the house, but no real answers or details about HOW or WHY this evil creep was able to return. Maybe it's just something about the area, because in the end, there are almost as many ghosts as living characters.
Some of the characters are pretty over the top. If it's possible for a literary character to "chew the scenery" then several of the less-savory characters certainly do that. Perhaps that's intentional; the entire peninsula is under the dark influence of its own history and several of the characters in question seem to be acolytes of the ghost.
Overall, I did enjoy this book. I found myself wondering who was truly and ally and who was double-dealing the main character. The suspense was pretty good, and I had fun imaging the house.
The main baddie was dispatched rather easily, but most of the unsavory characters received satisfying comeuppance. I would read this author again.

-"The Mouth of the Dark" by Tim Waggoner
My favorite of the three. An overprotective man (who was raised by an overprotective mother) freaks out when his daughter drops out of sight. Convinced she's fallen in with the wrong crowd, or is in extreme danger --and honestly, who wouldn't be?-- he tries to find clues to her whereabouts. It doesn't take long for him to start running into some very strange characters and situations. Waggoner pulls out all the stops, creating a dark fantasy world with plenty of horror elements. Some great twists, and shades of gray characters who are neither all good or all bad, making for some interesting interactions along the way.
This one had good suspense, some neat surprises via flashbacks, and some vivid imagery. Toward the end I just kept reading, and the book became almost like a fever dream (but in a good way.)
There's a huge twist at the end that I only HALF saw coming. My only quibble is that, after the twist is revealed, the guy basically accepts his fate/his new role, and seemingly forgets all about his missing daughter. That goes counter to his driving motivation for 98% of the book. Maybe I misinterpreted, or missed something. Because when I finished, I just felt sick, wondering if Emory (the daughter) was still trapped where we saw her in the prologue. That would be horrible. Oh wait, this is a horror novel, so actually that would be quite satisfying.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Honest Reviews of Corporate Cthulhu and Digital Horror Fiction Anthology

Since Amazon doesn't allow authors to review anthologies that include their work, I've made a habit of posting my reviews here on my blog.

Title: Corporate Cthulhu
Theme: Cosmic and Lovecraftian horror in bureaucratic and business settings.
Publisher: Pickman's Press (now Stasheff Literary Enterprises
Editor: Edward Stasheff
Number of stories: 25
Pages: 418
Price: $19.99 paperback, $4.99 Kindle, $34.99 hardcover

Favorite stories: "Shadow Charts" by Marcus Johnston, "Career Zombie" by John Taloni, "MaryAnne's Equations" by Harry Pauff, "Forced Labor" by Peter Rawlik, "The Shadows Lengthen in the Close" by Ethan Gibney, and "Retraction" by Marie Michaels.

My story: "Corporate Cthulhu Inc." I collaborated with a very talented author named Evan Dicken on this story. Honestly, Evan wrote at least two thirds of this story, probably more. I contributed certain scenes and helped with line edits and fine-tuning the final manuscript. Overall, I am very happy with how the story turned out.

Final thoughts: I will be honest and admit I dreaded reading this anthology. It's 418 pages of what seems like a very limited theme. Credit to the authors for turning in excellent stories and to the editor for putting this anthology together with variety in mind. Each story is different; some are funny, some grim. Some seem very cutting edge and modern, while others hearken back to older times. Some are short, others are rather lengthy, in some you see the protagonists, in others they are only hinted at. Some of the authors employed clever formatting tactics (like a series of emails, for instance) to tell their stories. I was astonished to find myself breezing through this anthology at a very fast clip. Thinking back there's not really a dud story in the bunch. I give it an A.

You can order a copy of Corporate Cthulhu here.

Title: Digital Horror Fiction Anthology
Theme: non-themed horror story showcase
Publisher: Digital Fiction Publishing Corp.
Editor: Michael Wills
Number of stories: 25
Pages: 390
Price: $12.99 paperback, $4.99 Kindle

Favorite stories: 2:51, Behind the Caterpillar by Gregory L. Norris (what an abrupt, heartbreaking ending!), A Pocket of Madness by Samuel Marzioli (very interesting), Aces and Kings by David M. Koenig (excellent weird western-meets-King in Yellow mythos), Democracy by Larry Hinkle (had a feeling about the ending and I was right, but well worth reading), and Intermediary by Jason A. Wyckoff (classic jungle exploration gone horribly wrong vibe.)

My story: "Building Condemned (Seeking Asylum)"
A man finds himself in a mental asylum and immediately begins making much-needed improvements, even after learning the structure will soon be demolished.

The concept of chirality is explored. I wrote the story for another anthology. That editor short listed the story but ultimately passed on it. Soon after, it found a home in Alessandro Manzetti's Bram Stoker award-nominated "The Beauty of Death" anthology. Since then, I polished up the story and made a few revisions, and Mr. Wills kindly reprinted it in this new anthology.

Final thoughts: I would have chosen a more creative title, but story-wise there are some real gems here. (A previous anthology, Memento Mori, is also a very worthwhile read.) I am also glad that, despite their name, Digital Fiction Publishing publishes not just for Kindle but in paperback, which I prefer.

The only bad news is that two of the stories are absolutely dreadful for all the wrong reasons. I counted nineteen (19) typos and mistakes in the second story and several typos in one of the last stories.

I give it a B. You can order a copy of Digital Horror Fiction Volume 1 by clicking this link.