Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Seances with the Living . . .

                                            Seances with the Living . . .  

                                           Book Review by A. R. Braun

Seances with the Living . . .  is a short story book by award-winning horror author Johnny S. Geddes. I’m impressed with his intelligence, as a lot of his stories go over my head. The bad news? He only hits it about 1/3rd of the time. I prefer to be entertained, not outsmarted. There are some winners here, so it’s worth checking out, if you can get past all the grammar and spelling mistakes. There’s also a lot of author voice intrusion. I don’t want a writer to say, “Now this is the part that will really get you.” Just get me and blow me away.

The opening descriptions are written beautifully, the author saying, “Just stories?” and then going on to setting up the landscape of not only the shorts contained within but also descriptions of his other books, which looked like very tempting purchases indeed. The introduction, “Infamous First Words,” by the author himself, compares reading the book to picking the author up as a hitchhiker, dangerous but not too threatening, knowing how to drive you to strange worlds that will keep you up later than you know you should stay up, seeing as you have to report to work in the morning–something all good writers do.

The stories I feel deserve honorable mention:

“And You Get Three Wishes,” is about a young man dealing with the kidnapping of his parents by a shopping catalogue distributor who offers a horror of horrors; “A Friendly Bet,” about Delta and Omega inside a computer ruining people’s lives; and “Old Flame,” about a Catholic father having to exorcise a demon in the future to disastrous results. The first story mentioned won him his first award and, as you read it, you’ll understand why. “Old Flame” leans on sci-fi/horror, a true classic.

“Forever Bound,” is about a sailor stranded at sea who has to sell his soul to an Egyptian goddess if he ever wants to see dry land again and the tragedy that befalls him as he takes part in the curse; “The Gate Glass,” brilliantly provides the atmosphere of a life of hopeless poverty (which is scary enough in itself) and the “hope” that comes from a magic mirror he finds; “And Janus Jumped,” features a guilt-ridden programmer forced by the government to insert a computer chip into babies to insure they don’t live a life of crime–but which causes nasty side effects. Of all the pieces, “The Gate Glass” scared me the most. The man has lost his woman and is living in a poverty-ridden shack with Clockwork Orange-like characters chasing him. “And Janus Jumped” again leans on sci-fi, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

“Torquemada Town,” includes a village that had taken part in the inquisition that faces its comeuppance; “One Enchanted School Day,” shows a girl who’s Daddy has been taken from her after having a nervous breakdown. She plans revenge on the whole world by releasing bombs by hacking into a school computer; “The Overnaught,” casts a rich, selfish game designer enjoying a virtual vacation on Mars, only to happen upon an Egyptian god and the curse that follows; and “The Cherry Room,” is about the murder of a person of a different race by a very guilty white man, and the victim’s revenge . . .  

Of all the stories, I think “The Overnaught” is my favorite, for the moral and the resolution, the payback coming to a money-hoarding jerk. I don’t mind the protagonist being the antagonist, as long as he gets what’s coming to him in the end!

I can see why Mr. Geddes won so many awards, but he’s hit-and-miss. I could’ve done without the fifty page unoriginal vampire story, “Chronophobes.” Still, there are tales here worth reading, stories you’ll want to add to your library of horror.

A. R.  Braun

The Demon Redcoat

The Demon Redcoat
Book Review by Amber Stults

The Demon Redcoat is the final book in C.C. Finlay’s Traitor to the Crown trilogy.  In the series Finlay addresses the scenario of what may have happened if both sides of the American Revolution used witches in the war.  Finlay stays true to the actual timeline of events without moving them around to suit his purposes and a few famous figures make appearances as the main character, Proctor Brown, works to secure America’s freedom from the British.

Proctor is a former minuteman whose life has taken unexpected turns because of the war.  Though his life hasn’t gone exactly as he imagined it would, Proctor has the two things he wanted the most – a wife and land.  Through a series of events in the first book, Proctor was sent to The Farm where he met Deborah and fell in love with her.  Deborah’s parents were part of an underground railroad for witches and owned The Farm.

At The Farm, witches practice their magic and learn how to control it.  It’s also a safe haven for witches.  Proctor’s magic originally manifested in the ability to see the future but through practice and trials experienced in the previous books, he has grown more powerful than he ever imagined.

The British have a secret society of European witches known as the Covenant helping their cause.  England recognizes the rights of blacks as free people but ironically continue to kill witches for practicing their magic.  The Covenant has inserted itself into positions of power in Europe and some of its members have lived for hundreds of years.  They would like to defeat the American rebels in order to maintain their current power.  Throughout the trilogy The Farm has received quite a bit of attention from the Covenant.  Deborah and Proctor decide the only way to save them and their loved ones is to take the fight to the Covenant.

Proctor represents the everyman and the action always focuses on him.  Once he is on his way to Europe, Finlay is able to keep the reader informed of what is happening in America without breaking in with a narrator.  These glimpses of events without full knowledge of the circumstances give the reader the same sense of confusion and dismay experienced by Proctor.  This serves the story well.

The topic of slavery comes to the forefront in both subtle and obvious ways.  Accompanying Proctor to Europe is a former slave, Lydia, who pretends he is her master.  Lydia finds her role a difficult one to return to, just as the rebels found it increasingly difficult to go along with the demands of the British.

This is a good book to turn to for some cerebral fun with some action thrown into the mix.  No zombies or animated scarecrows arrive for the action as in previous books.  As the title suggests there are plenty of demons.  One scene with King George would be laugh out loud funny if it were not for the seriousness of the situation.  Overall it’s a satisfying ending to the series and even leaves an opening for a series set during the Civil War.

Around a Dark Corner

Around a Dark Corner
Book Review by: A.R. Braun

Jeani Rector’s Around a Dark Corner is a refreshing collection of short stories that genuinely creeped me out. The book has the look of a small press publication, and if you can get by all the typos and the overuse of passive, to-be verbs like “was” and “were,” you’ll be able to enjoy this work. I found myself liking a little over half of it. She’s done her homework as far as research, and there are some great descriptions of what happens to the body after death. Especially gut-wrenching were “The Dead Man,” “A Medieval Tale of Death,” “The Spirit of Death,” “Horrorscope,” “Maggots” and “Flight 529.”, a story of a plane going down through the protagonist’s point of view.

The story that stood out to me as far as greatness was “Horrorscope.” I’m always going to give kudos to any writer that names her story after an Overkill song–I don’t know if this was intended–and the rantings of a madman in second person had me cringing in my seat.

Although she seems to have mastered the short story, I didn’t care for the long short story, “Lady Cop,” and the novella, “A Teenage Short Story.” The long-winded stories came off a bit simplistic and heavy-laden with what seemed like rushed content just to fill up space. I have to ask myself why a high school girl would care about a murder in 1935, but I won’t give away the ending or too much content.

I recommend Around a Dark Corner because a little over half the short stories sent shivers down my spine and had me wincing.

Review: “Who Mourns For the Hangman?” by S. A. Bolich

Who Mourns for the Hangman? By S. A. Bolich

"Who Mourns for the Hangman?" by S. A. Bolich

"Who Mourns for the Hangman?" by S. A. Bolich

Published by Damnation Books

“Who Mourns for the Hangman?” is a novella by S. A. Bolich set in the 19th century. A hangman by the name of Scraggy Barton has been called to a town in order to hang a young man known only to him as “Young James.”

Scraggy is a hangman with a reputation.  His noose glows with the power of providing justice to the people.  If his noose glows, the person is a criminal, worthy of the death that he is about to receive.  Having received a letter regarding this “Young James,” the noose glowed stronger than it had in the past.  But will Scraggy be able to let it do its job?

This novella is extremely rich in imagery. While most writers and books on writing tell new writers to stay away from it, Ms. Bolich has masterfully used smidgens of dialect to color her story so that the readers’ suspension of disbelief even easier.  The emotions of Scraggy Barton as he is faced with a situation that he never once expected are clearly described and heavily felt in the stomach of the reader.

The characters in “Who Mourns for the Hangman?” are fully fleshed out and visible in the mind’s eye as the reader ingests the words of the story.  And, to answer the titular question, it is we, the readers, who mourn with the hangman as he remembers his life and choosing his work of distributing justice over that of being a father to his son, a husband to his wife.

I will be searching out more of Ms. Bolich’s work.  You can find her online at her website, The official site for S.A. Bolich and follow her writing blog, Words From Thin Air.


Kari Wolfe is a freelance author, reviewer and stay-at-home mother of the cutest little girl in the whole wide world (ok, she is a little biased).  You can contact her directly at kari.j.wolfe (at) and can find more of her work on her blog, Imperfect Clarity.

Peckinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance

Pekinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance
Book Review by Jonathan Parrish


A recurring theme, hammered into your head. You wallow in it, you might say.

I couldn’t be happier. Possibly as happy as a porcine in feces. Possibly my own.

D. Harlan Wilson’s Pekinpah: An Ultraviolent Romance is not a happy read; so (to paraphrase Gary Larson) if your fridge is covered in Family Circus cartoons, you will not like it. If, on the other hand, you thought Naked Lunch was one of the best reads you’ve had, then this book has a lot of potential for you.

The book is an homage to director Sam Pekinpah, the master of slow-motion ultraviolence – a director whose imagery persists in your memory. Single scenes stake claims in parts of your mind even when the movies as a whole fade (while Convoy has not remained intact in my memory, the cafe fight scene has).

Appropriately then, Wilson weaves words into a brutal tapestry, creating a presence that will remain with you long after you stop reading. Pekinpah is confrontational and crude, with clipped sentences and stark images. The images are gritty and the progression is erratic, a series of prose paintings.

“Sky the color of uncooked fowl. Dead signage with no titles. Abandoned. Expansive gravel pit. Tread marks from pickup trucks. Tumbleweed. Skeletal trees, skeletal bushes. Telephone poles. Dead smokestacks on the outskirts. Cinderblock outhouse and concession stand in the middle of the pit, haunted by the ghosts of hotdogs, caramel corn,  candy bars, Slurpees, eight lb. bowel movements… The movie screen looms over the pit. A dispossessed employee.”

The chapters describe what could be perceived as a series of scenes from a hypothetical movie. As Sam Pekinpah is no longer with us, the movie would, if it was ever made, need to be directed by David Lynch and it would be more disjointed than Eraserhead. John Woo, despite taking the mantle of slow-motion ultraviolence, would make the movie too pretty.

“Last line of the chapter—a quotation—a string of dialogue—a dark, gravely voice-over with a faint air of empathy and caring:… “We must first understand violence before we can control it.””

As disjointed as the individual pieces are, the chapters in Wilson’s book all come together into a melange, an existential love-letter to Sam Pekinpah. A more than fitting tribute. Strange. Erratic. Captivating.

Stepsister Scheme Review

Amber Stults

The latest fantasy series from Jim C. Hines features three princesses – Danielle (de Glas) Whiteshore, Ermillina Curtana and Talia Malak-el-Dashat.  The stories that circulate around Lorindar about Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty are based on fact but the true tales do not have happily ever after endings.

This first book in the Princess Novels takes place several months after Danielle’s wedding to Prince Armand of Lorindar.  If one overlooks the pigeon attack against Danielle’s stepmother and stepsisters, the wedding was perfect.  The book reveals the stepsisters’ plan for revenge and sets up future adventures for the princesses.  The Little Mermaid and Little Red Riding Hood will appear in the next two novels.  For now, the princesses must travel to Fairytown to rescue Prince Armand and defeat the stepsisters, Charlotte and Stacia.

Each princess has traits that complement the trio.  Danielle believes the good in others will prevail, has unparalleled tenaciousness and can converse with animals.  Snow is flirtatious, a healer and a powerful mirror sorceress.  Talia is slow to trust but has unshakable loyalty and is a martial arts expert.  All three are quick witted, strong willed and analytical thinkers.  It’s no surprise a tagline for the series is “Do we look like we need to be rescued?”

An exhilarating read, Hines combines a detailed plotline with fully developed characters.  Upon rereading the first few chapters, I found cleverly hidden clues to explain how Stacia and Charlotte can suddenly wield magic.  The action takes place at breakneck speed and I found myself rereading some passages to fully appreciate the artistry behind the chosen words.

Hines includes humor and political intrigue with the action.  For instance, Lorindar’s Queen Beatrice and King Theodore have spies who work separately from each other.  Queen Bea, as the princesses call her, has saved the life of King Theodore many times and not always with his knowledge.  The politics between Lorindar and Fairytown can be problematic and provides another obstacle for the princesses to navigate in their search for Prince Armand.

The content of The Stepsister Scheme has a dark tone at times so don’t pick up this book expecting to read the adventures of Disney Princesses to younger children.  Though the messages of empowerment and female camaraderie are important it’s probably best to read this one for yourself before deciding whether or not your children should read it.  For now, I’m counting down the months until The Mermaid’s Madness is released.

WWW: Wake

When I lucked into an ARC of Robert J. Sawyer’s book “WWW: Wake” I knew exactly what to do with it. I lent it to the guy who first introduced me to Robert J. Sawyer’s work and asked him to review it for me. Wake is scheduled for release April 7, 2009.

Wake Review by Aaron Clifford

Wake, the first novel in the WWW (Wake, Watch, and Wonder) series by Robert J. Sawyer is exactly like the 1995 movie, Hackers. For many people this may seem like a ludicrous idea, comparing a high gloss techno teen angst movie with a novel crafted by a celebrated author and futurist, but for me the only thing that separates the two is time and perspective.

Let me explain.

When Hackers was released over ten years ago I was living a carefree life; revelling in the joys of an untamed internet, spending my free days off drinking Jolt Cola, rollerblading, and playing video games. It just so happens that Hackers was about a bunch of teens who spent their days rollerblading, drinking Jolt Cola, and… You get the idea. Needless to say I felt as if someone had somehow reached into my brain and slopped all of my favorite things onto the big screen. I couldn’t believe my luck.

Fast forward to present day and set Wake down in front of an older, slightly wiser, me and you will notice the same effect. Now I am interested in the internet and social networks, the ever growing influence of the Chinese market on Western business and technology, cognitive science, and artificial intelligence. Wake takes all of these things and wraps them in the plausible and touching story of Caitlin, a blind girl who is given the opportunity to see for the first time.

The WWW (Wake, Watch, and Wonder) series is described on Sawyer’s blog as being “about the World Wide Web gaining consciousness, and the relationship humanity builds with this nascent global brain”. But “gaining consciousness” doesn’t really cover the feeling that Wake conveys, it felt more like I was witnessing a birth. Caitlin’s struggles to perceive an unfamiliar world are mirrored by the nascent intelligence of the internet. By the end of the first book in this trilogy I found myself not wondering if this could actually happen, but why it hadn’t already.

Reading Wake was like meeting the movie I used to get drunk with on the street thirteen years later to find that it is all grown up, doing well for itself, and has a lot more interesting things to say about the world we live in and the nature of intelligence. I can’t believe my luck.


Aaron Clifford is a writer who sees the world through pixellated panes. Almost every free moment is spent online as an avid blogger, independent game developer, and developer of web applications for writers. Aaron has written for Niteblade before (“Lady” in the June 2008 edition) and is also a two-time National Novel Writing Month winner.