Tag Archives: horror

01Aug/17

Town & Train by James K. Moran

Speculative realist writer, James K. Moran, has been chatting to Vance on our show! To learn more about him and get links to his work, give Episode 122: Horror Is My First Love a listen.

REVIEW

A slice of small-town Americana, spliced with horror, is always going to be a satisfying mix. The two seem to compliment each other, as they do here when various characters who want to escape their hum-drum existence, accidentally summon a snorting demon from the gates of Hell.

The author has an interesting style, letting the reader get to know each character in short, sharp well-observed snippets, so you care about them before he starts killing them off. There is David, new-to-the-area cop and closeted bisexual, who is tasked with solving the mystery of the train and the disappearance of various townspeople. He’s seen it, but no-one seems inclined to believe him. And there is teenage dirtbag John, a bullied, wannabe metalhead who refuses to be a victim, courting his chief tormentor’s girlfriend. That tormentor is Cutter, soon-to-be undead metal freak responsible for most of John’s miseries. John wakes up by the rail tracks to see Cutter and his pals being whisked away to undoubtedly certain death.

The real villain of the piece is the titular demonic chuff that turns up at seemingly random times, after the sultry conductor “hears the townspeople’s call.” This was a bit tenuous, to be honest. I didn’t get a sense of rhythm or a build-up to when this would happen. The reason for it to turn up in the first place is also a little thin. After all, surely wanting economic wealth and growth for a town isn’t a bad thing? But doing anything to get it, including protecting odious individuals from just punishment IS a bad thing, which made sense. When people start disappearing, it is obvious that something strange is going on. When one person seems to be alive and normal, but isn’t, that is an idea that could have been expanded further before the confusing finale.  Yet the train is genuinely menacing, and there are some great atmospheric scenes that make up for hiccups in the plot.

Which was a little hit and miss. The subplot of Grant and his mistress ended somewhat unsatisfactorily, as most affairs do, and I couldn’t see the tie-in with the main plot. It was all a little too neat. The town pedo also didn’t seem to get the reward he was no doubt entitled to. Interesting that there was some attempt to make him sympathetic, but we make our choices, and for me, that didn’t work. In places, I found the denouement to be a little incoherent, especially towards the end, necessitating a couple of reads to make sure I understood it – I’m still not sure I do. Some major characters just seemed to disappear, without the neat ending. This seems a contradiction, but there are times when tying everything up is okay, and times when it isn’t. In this book, the lines are blurred.

Having said that, I loved the inventiveness of the plot, the building of atmosphere, the genuinely scary moments a la James Herbert or Stephen King. There are Koontz-esque scenes of banal normality set against an increasingly glowering backdrop, and a sense of impending doom as both David and John independently try to figure out how to prove that the town is being haunted by a ghost train from hell. And the characters, apart from the nasty ones, are genuinely likeable. Although David drinks WAY too much and still seems to function perfectly well.

So, a little uneven in places, but with characters to care about, and a genuinely frightening antagonist, set against the backdrop of a dying town overshadowed by  a stinking paper mill, this has atmosphere by the bucketload and enough scares to give a late-night shiver.

BLURB

In a small Ontario town, seventeen-year-old John Daniel wakes by the railroad tracks with no recollection of how he got there. Something called him from his bed. Officer David Forester, a recent transfer from Toronto, struggles to fit into the local police force, despite resistance from established circles. Both soon suspect a more pervasive and menacing collusion occurring in town when an antique steam train arrives late in the night. At the phantasmal engine, a conductor promises the desperate locals escape from their town dying with so many closed stores and shattered dreams–but there is no denying what the stranger really brings is the stuff of nightmares.

 

25Jul/17

Remains by J. Warren

Scholastic author J. Warren has recently been on our show! To find out more about what makes him tick, and get links to his work, listen to Episode 121: So That’s a Thing!

REVIEW

Told in the first person, this is a deep, dark and compelling book. Mike Kendall is a troubled man, on meds and having therapy to untangle the torments of his past, when he is told to go home to his folks for Thanksgiving. At the same time, bones have been found, which might belong to a boy he was friendly with in his teens.

The author has been very clever, as the whole way through the book, I wasn’t sure whether Mike was a good guy, or a bad guy trying to cover up past crimes (no spoilers.) For a while, I didn’t actually like him very much. He didn’t seem that caring towards his girlfriend, forever waiting for him to call her, or particularly sympathetic towards his sister, whose lesbian affair was alienating her from their parents. But I know that people with mental health issues can sometimes come across as unlikeable, so the author had hit the mark with Mike dead on. When we find out the reason for all his past torments, it seemed a little too easy, but there was enough to keep the mind ticking over with everything else going on around him.

It’s difficult to say much more without letting slip some of the many secrets the small town of Placeville holds, but I can say that there are many, and they are very dark indeed. I genuinely did not see the denouement coming, and I wasn’t expecting the satisfaction I felt at the very end. In fact, I read it twice to make sure I hadn’t missed anything.

Anyone fascinated by the “small-town America seething with murky skeletons in the closet” genre, will love this. It is a Salinger-esque character study of one man, but also one place, the town, and the lengths it will go to, to remain normal on the outside. Again, I’m choosing words carefully, so as not to spoil anything. There are elements of horror, of murder/mystery, of sex (and one extremely well-written intimate scene, blooming into a fledgling relationship) and social commentary, as well as the complicated dynamics within a fragmenting family. Half-way through Remains I realised I didn’t want to put the book down until I’d finished it. It was a slow burn, to be sure, but well-worth the effort.

BLURB

J. Warren’s Remains is an insular story, almost claustrophobic as we first join Mike Kendall where he lives: walled up in his own mind. As the book progresses, Kendall is drawn back to his hometown of Placerville, when the remains of a long-missing boy are finally found, a boy Kendall had shared a complicated history. No matter how much Kendall tries to resist the underside of the mystery behind Randy McPherson’s disappearance, he must confront the lies that he has built his life upon.

21Jul/17

J Warren

July 21, 2017


It gives us great pleasure to announce J. Warren as the guest on Episode 121: So That’s a Thing!

This week J. Warren joins us to discuss his latest novel, Remains, the allure of transgressive fiction, and the echoes of Greek myth in his horror.

Follow Joe and support his work:

*** At one point in the interview, Joe said “The Lost Boys by Burroughs.” It should have been: “The Wild Boys by Burroughs.”
*** At another point, Baz said “Brian Fischer” while referencing Star Trek Discovery on CBS. It should have been: “Bryan Fuller.”
All three of us apologize for missing it before the audio went live! ***

Bio:

J. Warren is a scholar, an author, a comic book reader, a lover of all things science fiction, a drinker of Belgian beers, and transgressive fiction fanatic.

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07Jul/17

Review of Daimonion by J. P. Jackson

The dark n’ sweet J.P. Jackson visited our show just last week! To hear his interview with Vance and find out more about his debut horror fantasy novel, Daimonion (The Apocalypse Book 1), published on July 10 2017, follow this link! Episode 119: I Like Flirting With The Darkness

REVIEW

I was gifted an ARC for an honest and fair review.

Daimonion is many things. The first book in The Apocalypse trilogy, a debut novel, and a blood-spattered, gory quest for one demon who struggles with the whole “killing kids” thing. The book is told in the first person, and has more than one protagonist, but it works because they are each given a chapter, clearly marked. This can go horribly wrong, but not in this case.

Dati is the main character, a demon who is a bit hapless, to be honest. Despite his his job description, he seems to have a human side, which gets him into all sorts of trouble, especially when he tries to save one special person who eventually ends up in a cocoon. He just seems to have the kiss of death about him, but I liked him because he was obviously struggling with unfamiliar feelings. Obsession, rather than love, but for a demon, it’s a start….

I couldn’t fault the writing at all. There were no faltering mis-steps at any stage, so I felt I was in good hands, which was essential as urban fantasy horror is not a genre I’m familiar with. I usually like my horror to to have a human heart, allbeit one that has been dragged across a gravel road, still beating. This was unfamiliar and it took me a few pages to really get into it. But I did because the author has obviously had a huge amount of fun, throwing in satyrs, vampyres (not sparkly ones), shape-shifters and blood-thirsty demons, and a succubus so sexy I almost fancied her myself.

At first, I thought I was going to miss the human set-up before realising that it was there, but told from the demon’s side, something I’ve never experienced before. The most memorable human was the girl, untrained witch, Jenae, also a stroppy teenager, which I loved. Her voice was en pointe, a thoroughly modern witch, without resorting to stereotype. The dialogue was sharp and there was a lot of humour, but not in a slapstick way. The book didn’t take itself too seriously, as some of these books about an imminent Apocalypse can be. The bombastic horror is inescapable, but balanced with a lightness of touch. It’s an interesting concept and a risky one, but it works.

One quibble would be that the plot was slightly confusing, as books with lots of characters and unfamiliar names always are (to me.) With first books, there is a tendency to throw in the kitchen sink, just in case you never write another one, and I sensed an element of that, even though the book is part of a trilogy. Now that everyone has been introduced, it will be really interesting to see how the plot develops. With a less frantic pace, the reader will have more breathing space to sit back, relax and enjoy.

As well as the icky parts, the descriptions were fantastic, steeping the reader in a post-modern, urban world with utter conviction. Monster dogs, magic, creatures of fantasy move around an indeterminate city, scenes of torture are gut-twisting but never seem gratuitous. The characters all had some element which kept them from being unsympathetic, apart from Master, who is badass (but then, he has to be…) Alyx, Dati’s potential/possible love interest, did get more interesting as the book unfolded, as well as Dati’s inner conflict over unfamiliar feelings for him.

To round up, this is a steaming, visceral debut novel for those who like their urban fantasy steeped in blood and gore, and demons wrestling with human dilemmas.

BLURB

Dati Amon wants to be free from his satyr master and he hates his job—hunting human children who display demon balefire. Every hunt has been successful, except one. A thwarted attempt ended up as a promise to spare the child of a white witch, an indiscretion Dati hopes Master never discovers.

But Master has devilish machinations of his own. He needs human-demon hybrids, the Daimonion, to raise the Dark Lord to the earthly realm. If Master succeeds, he will be immortal and far more powerful.

The child who was spared is now a man, and for the first time in three hundred years, Dati has a reason to escape Master’s chains. To do that, Dati makes some unlikely alliances with an untrained soulless witch, a self-destructive shape shifter, and a deceitful clairvoyant. However, deals with demons rarely go as planned, and the cost is always high

06Jul/17

J.P. Jackson

July 7, 2017


It gives us great pleasure to announce J.P. Jackson as the guest on Episode 119: I Like Flirting with the Darkness!

This week JP Jackson joins us to discuss his first novel, what happens when you flirt with darkness, finding your genre, and the year of too many projects.

Follow J.P. and support his work:

Bio:

J.P. Jackson works as an IT analyst in health care during the day, where if cornered he’d confess to casting spells to ensure clinicians actually use the electronic medical charting system he configures and implements.

At night however, the writing happens, where demons, witches and shape shifters congregate around the kitchen table and general chaos ensues. The insurance company refuses to accept any more claims of ‘acts of the un-god’, and his husband of almost 20 years has very firmly put his foot down on any further wraith summoning’s in the basement. And apparently imps aren’t house-trainable. Occasionally the odd ghost or member of the Fae community stops in for a glass of wine and stories are exchanged. Although the husband doesn’t know it, the two Chihuahuas are in cahoots with the spell casting.

J.P.’s other hobbies include hybridizing African Violets (thanks to grandma), extensive travelling and believe it or not, knitting.

 

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17Feb/17

Review of Man & Beast (The Savage Land Book One) by Michael Jensen

The not-so-beastly Michael Jensen joined us earlier in January 2017. To find out more about Michael and get links to his work, check out Episode 093: Plans for the Blue Hoodie!

This is a first for me, a gay historical novel which left any preconceived perceptions I might have had, standing at the door. Sometimes, reading a historical novel can be like carrying your hefty mother through a swamp. It’s your duty. You know it’s the right thing to do, but all you really want to do is drop the bitch and make her walk.

Not in this case. Michael Jensen has meticulously researched his subject, yet has woven a story that wears it’s history as lightly as a cashmere cloak. The sense of place and time, is expertly captured, never getting in the way of the story, never bogging down the pace with so much detail in order to prove he had done his homework (the biggest reason I get turned off historical novels.) Instantly, I had the impression he knew what he was talking about, so therefore, I could move on and enjoy what was about to unfold.

The novel’s dark heart becomes even blacker

And what a story, as greenhorn John Chapman is brutally shown life lessons by the rugged and somewhat odious Daniel (I kept thinking of a young Jack Nicholson.) Their relationship is fraught with mounting sexual tension as well as gruesome detail. There are some bloody scenes worthy of 1970’s horror movies. A North American winter takes no prisoners. It’s every man for himself. The novel’s dark heart becomes even blacker after John finally breaks away from Daniel’s grasp and sets up home for himself, supposedly far, far away. He meets Palmer, and they strike up a “romantic friendship.” The way they have to deal with their sexuality in the midsts of a deeply religious community, is again deftly handled. No stereotypes here. No thinly disguised Kim Davis boo-hiss characters. The language feels authentic with no 21st century idioms sneaking in, but still feels fresh and easy to read.

John Chapman’s character is deceptively mild, but he has a core of steel. Also, I didn’t pick up on any gay angst. Rather, his concern is the prejudices and misconceptions of others. He is intelligent and likeable, somewhat gullible at the start, but in desperate circumstances, sometimes trust is the only way to survive. The story goes to places that are totally unexpected, and that unpredictability keeps the reader alert and braced for some truly harrowing scenes at times.

In short, the book was thoroughly enjoyable, an intelligent, entertaining as well as informative read, and I couldn’t put it down. So much so, I began reading Man & Monster straight away. If you like your fiction hard and your horror gristly, it’s a worthy sequel.

Print Length: 307 pages

Publisher: BK Books (November 29, 2016)

Publication Date: November 29, 2016

Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Language: English

ASIN: B01LYVEJ0T

 

BLURB

What is the line that separates man from beast?

The year is 1797, and 24-year-old John Chapman is lost on the American frontier with winter falling fast. Near death, he stumbles upon a lone cabin, and the owner, a rugged but sexy frontiersman named Daniel McQuay, agrees to let John winter over.

John and Daniel quickly find themselves drawn to each other, the sex between them unlike anything John has ever known. But as the weeks turn into snowbound months, Daniel begins to change into someone brutish, and the line between man and beast disappears.

With the arrival of spring, John flees, eventually finding refuge in the company of a group of frontier outcasts, including a brash young settler named Palmer. But in the wilds of this savage land, love is not so easily tamed, and John soon finds himself calling upon the raging animal within him to save the man he loves.