Saturday, June 27, 2009

Maurice Broaddus guest on the Werepig, plus free books!

Is there a better way to spend your Sunday than with the Sinister Minister, MAURICE BROADDUS? A favorite of the critics, he mixes his strong beliefs with a love of horror! From his numerous publication and books to creating his own festival Mo-Con, the Werepig will do his best to fit it all into just 90 minutes!

**Post your answer here to this Sunday's trivia question! Up for grabs are the following:

"Orgy of Souls", by Wrath James White and Maurice Broaddus

"Devil's Marionette", by Maurice Broaddus

Says Bram Stoker Award Winnger Gary A. Braunbeck:

"There are fewer greater pleasures in a reader's life than witnessing a writer whose work they have enjoyed reached a new plateau in their storytelling skills, and such is the case here; with the Devil's Marionette, Maurice Broaddus comes into his own as a writer of dark fiction. It is the brilliance we've all been waiting for, and Broaddus delivers in a voice that both whispers and roars and cannot be ignored."

And, as bonus, TFW and Shroud Book Reviews will throw in a copy of Nate Southard's sold-out novella, "Just Like Hell".

Want free books? Start listening to The Funky Werepig!

Saturday, June 20, 2009

One, (Virgin Books), Conrad Williams

“One” paints an uncompromising portrait of the world's end. Though bearing echoes of preceding post-apocalyptic works, it blazes an original trail by instilling a numbing atmosphere of stark, stripped down survival. Man has fallen down the evolutionary ladder, and it's doubtful as to whether he'll rise, ever again.

In a flash, ethereal fire wipes away everything. Richard Jane is an undersea diver employed by an oil company. He and his team are submerged at the time of the 'Event', protected by miles of sea overhead. It comes with a crackling hiss of the intercom, then an underwater downpour of dead, bleeding fish – everywhere. Jane and his team are the only ones to initially survive, their entire company on the surface killed.

Of his comrades, Jane alone makes it to shore. From there begins an agonizing trek to London. What's happened? Who's at fault? Was the cause natural, mechanical...or war? Eventually, Jane encounters others, even welcomes a nurse and a young boy as his regular companions, but deep inside one desire smolders into an obsession: get to London, find his only son Stanley, the joy of his life. Has Stanley survived the world's end, is he numbered among the dead...or has something much, much worse happened to him?

Years pass. Survivors band together in pockets all over London. Something like life continues, but it is hard, emaciated, caustic. Still nothing is known about the 'Event', except this: after it, something came on the winds, from the sky and beyond...and infested the dead. They now walk, blindly, senseless, devouring human men and dragging off the women for awful, unknown designs. A desperate plan has been hatched to raft across the London Channel, yet Jane still hunts the dark, wet corners of a crumbling London, despondently searching for a son he no longer believes has survived... but still can't let go of, regardless.

Though post-apocalyptic tales have been “done before”, Conrad avoids all the obvious cliches. Even the requisite “zombies” read differently, though they do bear a resemblance to those in “The Rising” and “Dead City” because wildlife is infected, also. However, Conrad proves an oft-argued point: a horror staple doesn't have to be dried up or over-told. The real center of this novel is Jane's sense of loss, his quest to find Stanley. In many ways, everything else serves as compelling backdrop matter.

Also, William's vision of a post-apocalyptic world is very realistic. There's no grand battle for humanity's future (“Terminator: Salvation”). There's no Mother Abigail drawing together good souls against a didactic evil like Randall Flagg (“The Stand”). There aren't even diabolical zombies readers can root against, such as Brian Keene's wonderful creations, led by the maniacal Ob (“The Rising”). There's no kitschy explanation of the “Event”. Just a horrible end, scrabbling survivors, new kinds of predators, and slim hope for all.

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The Shore, (Leisure Fiction), by Robert Dunbar

In literary circles, it's often said that "style is the verbal identity of the writer"; that an author can be identified by the nature of their craft. Iambic pentameter suggests Shakespeare, lyrical prose evokes Bradbury, pinpoint word economy reveals Carver. In this way, Robert Dunbar's vivid imagery continues to blaze a distinctive trail. As he did in "The Pines", Dunbar captures the aura of a dying town perfectly, painting an entirely different portrait this time, one of winter and ice. Also, he explores the Leeds Devil's legend deeper, posing the question: what separates natural impulse from true evil?

Life has ground to a halt in the small shore village of Edgeharbor. Many shops have closed and left town, and tourism has dwindled. An overwhelming malaise covers everything, and growth is as frozen as the winter ground. Every year, the waters encroach further upon the shore. Edgeharbor is fading, but for Officer Kit Lonigan, it's a last chance to reclaim her pride - however illusory that may be.

People are dying, their bodies torn apart by something feral, wild.... perhaps evil. Complicating matters is a stranger haunting Edgeharbor's streets. He knows too much. Is he tracking Edgeharbor's shadowy killer? Or is he part of the darkness himself? Slowly, Kit is exposed to a terrifying world through him. He has touched this darkness, so intimately that he himself wonders if Kit is right - that he's just as dangerous as the monster he hunts.

In "The Pines", Dunbar captured the sweltering heat of an oppressive summer perfectly. Here, his trademark, imaginative prose pulls the reader into a frigid, uncaring winter in an isolated shore town. His management of the craft is masterful. In his descriptions, he doesn't just use lots of words - he uses the right ones, precisely. Also, he advances the myth of the Leeds Devil, making the reader wonder which is more evil: this evolving species, or good old fashioned, basic human cruelty?

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Solomon's Grave, (Dragon Moon Press), Daniel G. Keohane

"Solomon's Grave" is a dark, intricate Biblical thriller not fit for Sunday School, but more than adequate to while away the evenings in suspense. With a solid first effort, Keohane provokes thought and inspires dread, teaching an important lesson: Providence is often the most frightening thing a man can to evil.

Nathan Dinneck has returned home to fill a role he never expected - pastor of his childhood church. There's only one problem: his reoccurring nightmares. Images of demons and powerful angels fill his dreams. Eager and nervous about assuming his new post, he dismisses these visions as products of nervousness, nothing more.

Once home, however, things complicate badly. The dreams intensify into waking visions, interfering with his new job. When he encounters a statue in the church graveyard that bears a haunting resemblance to the angels in his dreams, reality starts to twist. Even worse, something is wrong in the Dinneck household. His father Arthur has stopped attending church and joined a new "men's group" which holds secretive meetings in an old storefront shop on Main Street. A chilly rift has formed between his father and mother, leaving Nate confused and worried.

Is this new group just a bunch of guys talking about sports, eating pizza and drinking beer, or is it more? Why is this new group's leader, an enigmatic man named Peter Quinn, so interested in the new pastor of Hillcrest? Add a secretive, withdrawn cemetery caretaker and a high school love he can't shake, and Nathan is faced with a dark mystery that may take his life, perhaps even his soul.

"Solomon's Grave" is a satisfying entry into the recently popular genre of "Christian/Biblical Horror". Though very different from the visceral, bloody "Orgy of Souls" (Broaddus, White), it succeeds where "Souls" does, in that it paints outside the lines of doctrine, fleshes out realistic characters, and the story itself is the priority, not an evangelical agenda. Keohane wraps up the immediate story well, but also leaves enough room at the novel's end for us to wonder what Nathan Dinneck's ultimate fate will be.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Martyrs & Monsters, (Dark Hart Press), by Robert Dunbar

“Martyrs & Monsters” is an eclectic collection boasting a variety of stories sure to satisfy lovers of both horror and literary fiction. These stories run the gamut, from bleak Noir tales, straightforward horror, intriguing takes on the origins of vampires and zombies, even science fiction and a bit of dark fantasy, also. Regardless of the form, Dunbar is a literary craftsman, a stylist, skilled at drawing meaningful characters, building suspense, and painting vivid, striking prose. And of course, it wouldn't be a Dunbar collection without a rendering of the Jersey Devil myth.

Two of the strongest tales in this collection are “Gray Soil” and “Red Soil”, for their different takes on the birth of zombies and vampires – especially the implication in “Red Soil” that they share a common, ancestral line. Also, because of Dunbar's consistent literary voice, both tales read like the classic Stoker narrative, rather than just “more zombie and vampire stories”. “Getting Wet” and “Are We Dead Yet” garner high marks as well, rendering a bit of “Urban Gothic Noir” flavor – if you will – and especially grabbing is the surprise ending of “Getting Wet”.

In “The Folly”, Dunbar once again takes readers into the twisted labyrinth of the Jersey Devil myth, but it's a fresh telling, not a rehashing of his novels “The Pines” and “The Shore.” Also entertaining is the tale's Southern Gothic flavor, evoking thoughts of Flannery O'Connor and Tom Piccirilli's “A Choir of Ill Children”. “High Rise” invokes the tale of the succubus, also with another unexpected, sacrificial ending.

Perhaps the collection's strongest is “Like a Story”, simply because it proves Dunbar is more than just a detached stylist, he's a storyteller at heart. Invoking the classic “Stephen King boy's tale” with its authentic voice, “Like a Story” enters the world of two displaced orphans trying desperately to find a place in a world that doesn't want them. There's also an air of terrible discovery and loss of innocence, on par with one of the best Joe Hill shorts, “Van Helsing's Boys” (from “20th Century Ghosts”).

Short story collections are always a mixed bag, but in this case the “mixed” refers to variety, not quality. For something different and substantial in short dark fiction, “Martyrs & Monsters” is an excellent choice.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"The Strain", (William Morrow), by Guillermo Del Torro and Chuck Hogan

Reinventing an often-used story is a dicey thing. Depart from tradition, risk alienating hardcore fans. Retread a story that's been “done before”, risk the sharp tongues of critics who want “something new”. Sometimes, the best a writer can aim for is to tell a familiar story with fresh characters and circumstances, and tell it well. In “The Strain”, Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan repackage the classic vampire tale for a new generation...and they do it well; masterfully so.

Dr. Ephraim Goodweather is suffering a parent's worst nightmare: custody battle for his only son. As head of a rapid-response team for the CDC, Ephraim balances a necessity for an on-call life with the necessity of quality time with his son Zack. To make matters worse, his ex-wife's new boyfriend is a dependable manager at the local Sears, dull but reliable. Ephraim has little chance of gaining full custody.

Everything changes when a Boeing 777 lands at JFK, rolling to a dead stop on the tarmac. All lights off, shades signs of life are evident. Called to the scene, Ephraim is faced with a bizarre tragedy: over two hundred dead passengers, with no clues save razor thin, bloodless incisions on their necks and a huge cabinet full of dirt in the plane's cargo bay.

In Spanishtown, Holocaust survivor and pawnshop owner Abraham Setrakian senses the arrival of a familiar darkness. He's prepared most his adult life for this moment, amassing weapons and knowledge for mankind's final battle. It may be too late, however, as a slumbering darkness walks forth to consume everyone in its path.

“The Strain” doesn't offer radical new takes on vampirism. A “vampire virus” has also been done. These vampires bear more than a passing resemblance to those of “Blade II”, and the concept of elite, withdrawn Ancient Vampires is also not new. Both writers, however, know what's most important: characters readers care about, situations demanding empathy and emotional investment. In many ways, this first act reads like “The Stand” and “'Salem's Lot”, because the characters are so engaging and compelling. Sometimes in the rush for something “new” critics forget that if a story is told with deep pathos and a strong narrative voice, plenty of people will stop and listen.

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