Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Hard to believe this blog was actually created two years ago, Thanksgiving morning. It's come a little ways, I think. Thanks to everyone who has pitched in the last year or so to help make the Shroud Review Blog what it is, and we at Shroud Reviews and Shroud in general wish everyone a restful....and gluttony...Thanksgiving, and hope everyone gets a chance to enjoy it by sitting next to a nice warm fire and enjoying what is sure to be a new Thanksgiving movie classic...

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Samhane, (Stygian Press), by Daniel I. Russell

Samhane: the Gaelic festival celebrating the end of summer and the harvest, most often associated in modern times with Halloween. Or an unnoticed little burb that has been slowly descending into total batshitville for the past couple centuries.
We are gifted here with the twin tales of Donald, a fledgling writer whose new-used laptop holds a file that drags him off the grid into an underground organization specializing in torture for the amusement of paid subscribers, and Brian, a professional monster hunter who has found that the simple ghoul squishing he has been hired to do is a bit more…complicated. Now, Donald's wife and best friend have been brutally murdered and Brian's son, his only real reason for living, has been carried off by the world's filthiest clown.

Most people are satisfied with sticking to one type of monster, be it vampire, werewolf or centuries old mummified cucumber, but Daniel I. Russell is definitely not most people. Within the first quarter of the book, you see a serial killer, a forest ghoul, what may be a were-blob and a giant centipede, and that is before you get to meet the evils of a corporation, genetic engineering, biomechanics and a bad ass iridescent god of chaos. This variety works against the story as much as for it early on, with a first half that feels too fractured to be part of a coherent whole. But, if you stick it out, Danny boy brings it all together into a neatly sutured beast that satisfies quite nicely.

I'm particularly impressed with his ability and willingness to walk the line of acceptability. Without diving face first into full Hardcore mode, Russell does away with the usual expected sense of safety. No character, no matter how nice or seemingly important is completely safe, but the bleeding isn't egregious. Also, as much as he does love the ultraviolence and gore (my, oh my does it get wet within these pages, dear friends), he also shows a remarkable amount of restraint and willingness to allow implication to work on its own. It's a tricky balancing act that he pulls off with panache.

Speaking of implications, there is something in the ending that goes completely unspoken but carries marvelously chilling possibilities. I can't say it. Musn't say it. To speak such things would ruin…

I'll shut up right now before I do.

Visit Pre-order it today.

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mandrake, (Medusa Press), by Oliver Sherrt

Mandrake, originally published in 1929, tells the story of an American occult detective, Tom Annelsey, investigating evils perpetrated in the English villages of Haddeston and Grayden. Soon after arriving in Haddeston, he makes the acquaintance of a young woman, Ethel Derrington, and the local priest, Hamilton Sturt. During the course of his investigation, and his association with the Derrington family and Mr. Sturt, Annesley uncovers a terrible occult plot crafted by the sinister, and purportedly immortal, Baron Habdymos.

The story of Annesley’s struggle to thwart Habdymos’ black magic brings to mind horror classics more familiar with the average reader: Dracula (with its dark, ageless occult antagonist) and Frankenstein (with the Baron’s mad experiments at the forefront of the novel; in fact, Mandrake begins with Habdymos creating a monster to do his bidding).

The simplest description of the story and its quality is that it’s something Dean Koontz would have written had he been alive and writing in the 1920’s. Mandrake has an intrepid hero who quickly falls in love with the female lead (who is dealing with problems of her own), a small cast of secondary characters integral to the resolution of the plot, a chilling villain and an exciting and satisfactory climax. If one can get past the slight difference in writing style and some of the minor chronological quirks (Annesley and Ethel fall in love so fast it’s practically ridiculous by today’s standards!), it’s hard to believe Mandrake managed to slip through the cracks for so long.

Mandrake was originally published in 1929 and was reprinted this year by Medusa Press after languishing in obscurity for about eighty years. Oliver Sherry was a pseudonym used by Irish poet George Edmund Lobo. According to the brief introduction by scholar Richard Dalby, Lobo may have published as many as four horror novels under the Sherry pen name.

Medusa Press has done an inarguably good deed to the horror community by bringing an heretofore unknown piece of literary history to a group of readers who may be jaded by some of the ‘dark fiction’ coming out of the modern literary machine. The book itself, limited to 350 copies, will look great on any reader’s shelf with its hardcover wrapped in a matte dustcover decorated with a stark rendering of Habdymos threatening his victims.

Visit and buy it today.

Lincoln Crisler is a United States Army combat veteran and non-commissioned officer and the author of two collections of dark stories, Magick & Misery (2009, Black Bed Sheet) and Despairs & Delights (2008, Arctic Wolf). He lives in Augusta, Georgia with his wife and two of his three children. You can visit his website at

Ex-Heroes, (Permuted Press), by Peter Clines

Let's be honest here. If you are at all like me, the second you realized that this was a book about zombies and superheroes you kinda piddled your pants a little. I want to play the jaded reviewer, full of pith and vinegar and calls for clichés on pikes. I really do. But, I'm only human and I never would have gone into this if I wasn't a giggling, drooling, prancing fan-boy at heart. A giggling, drooling, prancing fan-boy with a soft spot for skin tight Lycra, super human anything and dead things that refuse to stay that way.

You know the drill, so sing along: Dead people just won't stay dead, like good little corpses, anymore. They've so overwhelmed most of human civilization, leaving a relative few holed up in a makeshift fortress to wait out the siege. The good news is that they have some help: strong, smart, vampiric, electrified and super-suited help. The bad news is that they aren't the only ones left alive in LA and they aren't the only ones with super powers. Worse, as the back of the book tells us, these others are not heroes.

Peter Clines doesn't reinvent the wheel here, by any means. The zombies are slow and stupid (with minor, superhero allowances) and obey all of the traditional Romero inspired rules. It's basically a siege and survival story. Also, the heroes are nothing new: Superman, Electric Man, an Iron Man clone, super-healing abilities, even someone who is just a really good shot. Still, I don't give the proverbial "rat patootie". This isn't a novel of novelty, it is a story built upon archetypes, archetypes which play out according to form and expectation with a kind of poetry and symmetry that is a beauty to behold.

By removing the pretty shinnies of a novel theory of zombieism or that brand new super-amazing super-power, Petey is left with nothing but his ability to tell a story and the story he tells is a damn good one. Mostly, it stands because it is anchored in real people, ability to turn into a mini star or no, who are displayed with honesty, dignity and fragility.

This guy understands that all of us try to be something we can never actually be, whether that may be a pure, shining beacon of light and morality, a stone-cold realist or an all conquering powerhouse. The true glory, the true story, is in the struggle to achieve what will always lie just out of our reach. That's why I peed myself a little bit more when I finished reading it.

The equation is simple: Zombies + Superheroes + well-fleshed out, believable characters + an honest to goodness, goddamn uplifting story, instead of yet another "let's just say everyone dies at the end" chompfest = me needing new pants. Mr. Clines, from the bottom of my heart, this fan-boy thanks you.

Buy it today.

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

You Are Next and Next Time You See Me (Avon) by Katia Lief

In You Are Next and Next Time You See Me, Katia Lief (aka Katia Spiegelman, aka Kate Pepper) creates a compelling, emotionally driven protagonist and places her into tightly-written, suspenseful situations with plenty of plot twists and revelations to keep the reader guessing.

In You Are Next, Lief introduces Karin Schaeffer, a former police detective whose husband and three-year-old daughter were slaughtered by serial killer Martin Price. Scrawled on the wall in her child’s blood were the words “You Are Next”. She is left emotionally annihilated and when news reaches her that Price has escaped from prison, she plans to sit and wait for him to end her pain. However, even behind prison walls, Price has a long reach and places Karin’s family in danger. She and her former partner Mac work to shed light on the secrets of Price’s past and the key to finding Karin’s kidnapped niece before she becomes the Domino Killer’s next victim.

In Next Time You See Me, Karin and Mac are now married and live in New York with their son, Ben. After an awkward promotion at Mac’s security firm, the new family is devastated by the double murder of Mac’s parents and the implications that Mac’s brother may have been involved. Then Mac disappears and is assumed dead—until Karin thinks she spies him in Miami and works to uncover the truth behind her stalwart husband’s disappearance.

Both of these books have lean, twist-heavy plots that offer a fair amount of suspense. The strength of both is Lief’s ability to get into the emotional space of her main character. Karin’s emotional fragility in the first book makes her an extremely interesting protagonist. In Next Time… she seems to have become more grounded, but more reactionary, and thus less compelling.

Also, both novels rely too much on coincidence to build some scenes—this is especially true in the first book where a central chase scene nearly toppled my suspension of disbelief. Further, the second novel has just one too many twists in the end than is necessary. Nevertheless, both novels offer fine suspense and some interesting characterizations for fans of the genre.

Visit Buy You Are Next and Next Time You See Me today.

Shedrick Pittman-Hassett is a full-time librarian and part-time writer trying to do that the other way around. He has written reviews for Library Journal and has also had two articles published in the award-winning Knights of the Dinner Table magazine. Shedrick currently resides in Denton, Texas ("The Home of Happiness") with his lovely wife and the obligatory demon-spawn cats. When not writing, gaming, or watching cheezy kung-fu flicks, he can be found in a pub enjoying a fine brew.

Monday, November 15, 2010

In Sickness: Stories From A Very Dark Place, (Skullvines Press), by L. L. Soars & Laura Cooney

You know the drill, so say it with me... for better or for worse, for richer and for poorer and that diametric opposite of health with the oozing pus and blood-flecked phlegm. The part of the ritual designed to remind happy newlyweds that it isn't all puppies, flowers and making sweet, sweet love on an abandoned beach at sunset. That's what this anthology is about: love that is broken, splattered, gibbering and moaning lost and shattered dreams into the cold light of the moon. In other words, we're not in a happy place here.

For instance, look at Laura Cooney's insight into the self-destructive love of Rasputin, destined to end in bloodshed and rot, in “A Crown of Mushrooms” or "Number 808", an exploration of intertwined hearts and hate, bought and sold in cold, sterile rooms. The inimitable L.L. counters with "Second Chances", a man's desperate need to escape the bitter blue clay of his hometown, face down in a puddle of cheap whiskey, one foot nudging towards redemption and aimed firmly one away and a journey to "The No! Place", where a woman's mental and physical demons collide.

But it's their eponymously titled collaboration that really kicked the crap out of me. It's the slow dissolution of a once adoring relationship, through the steady erosion of minor annoyances and petty grievances. It's an honest and cruel, (mostly cruel due to its honesty), look at the thoughts we hold in that cripple ourselves and our relationships. The tiny bits we are fed build upon each other, stepping backwards in time to the elephantine root of it all as the players slouch on to the inevitable end.

Tom Piccirilli once described Noir as someone driving toward a cliff and accidentally slamming on the gas instead of the breaks, but what should we call a story about the people who aimed for it in the first place? Whatever that may be, I've found a beauty here.

Granted, some stories don't seem to fit the theme ("Head Games", brain-eating monkeys and all, is a great example), but I may very well be shoe-horning one in where it wasn't intended. All told, "In Sickness" gives the angry, depressed nihilist romantics of the world an angle on love that Harlequin won't be bringing to your grocery store shelves any time soon. Too bad, as it could give a new image to go with the old clichéd bodice ripper…

Visit Buy it today.

Anton Cancre is one of those rotting, pus-filled thingies on the underside of humanity that your mother always warned you about. He has oozed symbolic word-farms onto the pages of Shroud, Sex and Murder and Horrorbound magazines as well as The Terror at Miskatonic Falls, an upcoming poetry anthology by Shroud Publishing and continues to vomit his oh-so-astute literary opinions, random thoughts and nonsense at No, he won't babysit you pet shoggoth this weekend. Stop asking.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Stories From The Plague Years, (Cemetery Dance), by Michael Marano

Stories From The Plague Years is the first fiction collection from award-winning fantasy author, Michael Marano. His evocative, unique voice gives us nine, terrifying yet tender tales; bridging the gap between a time when our world collided with evil and sickness, to the present--filled with the lasting scars we all wear... and can still touch... if we dare.

Every story is worthy of note--building upon and/or complementing the theme his elegant prose has constructed. However, these were the best:

"Displacement" - Dean Garrison has spent two years at a university, aspiring to be a graduate of Political Science, but when his Professor Dr. Molino questions his ability, his world is shaken. He seeks solace in his love - Karen - and their mutual friend Evan. The further Dean searches for help, the more complicated his life becomes. Is there a cure for Dean's problems? Easily one of the best stories in the collection, Displacement amalgamates subtle elements from literature of yester-year--while remaining unique, taking it to the next level.

"Changeling" is a very short tale, but packs quite a punch. "The Boy" lives in a world bereft of humanity. "The Mother" and "The Father" do their best for him--using their own, unique methods. Changeling explores monsters in principle, and therein lays the power of this tale; as well as the ambiguity--tantalizing, even as the story is finished. Or is it?

"The Siege" - Charleston is a town with a past so palpable; you can still feel the remnants of the past. Or is this illusion? Marano gives us people, not wooden characters, through whose eyes we see reality as they travel from work to home. The beauty of this short tale is perception, and the price that it comes with.

"Burden" - Again, Marano seamlessly pulls the reader into the protagonist and swiftly envelopes you in a world where you have many friends and many lovers. As you walk to work one day, you see a former lover. He doesn't look well. At a bar, sharing drinks, you inquire about him. No one has seen him since he left town. But this is the least of your worries, once you find yourself being followed home... something wants you, but do you want it?

"Winter Requiem" is one of the best tales of the collection. Marano--his voice in full force - bridges the past with the present. A Prince hastily leaves his castle with the town mob's foot-steps not far behind. David is a struggling musician. Age and his body's ailments make even the simplest symphony hard to compose. A stranger offers David some help. Will his eagerness to do what his heart desires, out-weigh the cost demanded?

"Shibboleth" - yet another diamond in this collection finds two men in a world eerily familiar to our own. The only problem? Something terrible has happened, and past is prologue to the price those who are trying to survive must pay. Shibboleth captures humanity at its best and its worst. With his trademark voice, rarely has humanity been captured so well within literature.

Stories From The Plague Years is written with a voice wholly unique and powerful, a prose that pulls the reader into the people he creates from the first sentence. These stories don't have twists that shock and surprise--they have a depth rarely found in fiction. Marano complements this ability with a terrifying realization; leaving the reader actually feeling guilty for being alive... we are all survivors of The Plague Years, we are not meant to be--and to sell this as Marano has, leaves many of his peers in the dust... regardless of the year.

Visit Buy it today.

Review by Ben Eads

AGAINST ALL THINGS ENDING: The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, (Putnam/Penguin), by Stephen R. Donaldson

The ninth book in Donaldson’s ten-book sword and sorcery fantasy epic opens with the resurrection of Thomas Covenant, our hero. But was this a good idea? Normally, one would think so, but considering what has gone before in the previous eight volumes, perhaps not, since it has also awakened the Worm of the World’s End. Kind of a drag before your first cup of coffee after returning from the dead.

In Against All Things Ending, the focal point of the story is no longer Thomas Covenant, but rather his lover and savior, Linden Avery, who is searching for her missing son, the mysterious Jeremiah, whose secrets may carry with them the salvation of all. As a matter of fact, Covenant is surprisingly weak and passive in this book.

The foundation of the complex plot that defines Donaldson’s style is constructed with the sturdy building blocks of choices and their consequences. In our present day and age of helpless victim-hood, it is most refreshing to read of consequences that protagonists actually have the moral fiber and strength of character to accept and deal with.

There was a long gap between this book and the previous one in this series, and Donaldson bridges that with a detailed summary of each of the earlier tomes at the front of Against All Things Ending. Reading it over will undoubtedly bring those who have read his previous works up to speed nicely; however, if you haven’t read the series up to this point, and are attempting to begin with this book, it will be tough going. Some authors, when writing a series, craft them so that each book is able to stand on its own. This is not one of them. Readers must begin at the beginning.

That being said, Donaldson is always worth the time investment and after reading the first volume, you will be eager to collect the entire set. You’ll want to catch up before the story concludes in The Last Dark, Book Four of The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant and the tenth book in the series.

So what are you waiting for?

Visit Buy it now.

Carson Buckingham is a writer living in the great American Southwest and she reviews horror/paranormal suspense novels.

They Had Goat Heads, (ATLATL Press), D. Harlan Wilson

D. Harlan Wilson's They Had Goat Heads - a series of collected short fiction - presents jarring imagery and stream-of-consciousness scenes of nightmarish quality. In some cases, his stories serve as thinly disguised social commentary and psychological insight.

"Monster Truck" in particular, describes the nature of our mechanized day to day existence, and serves as a cautionary tale of the potential dangers of such a life.

Other noteworthy tales include the title story, "They Had Goat Heads," a story of awakening, as well as "The Storyteller," which reads like a blow by blow of a day in the life of a hard-working writer, and the mysterious "PO Box 455," which cleverly hints at the threatening nature of what inhabits the inside of Box 455 without ever articulating the danger involved. Surreal imagery abounds with memorable lines like "a herd of walri chasing a double-decker bus," or the dream-like narrative of "Giraffe." In "The Sister," illustrated by Skye Thorstenson, we have the opportunity to see Wilson's words re-imagined; the story is fascinating in its own right, and Thorstenson adds a richer viewpoint, an artful merging of graphics and narrative.

Absurdist/bizarro fiction will not suit everyone's palate, but there is something to be savored in the innovative use of story. The secret of Wilson's exceptional prose is his use of language, stripped down to its emotional center and allowed to do the dirty work of assaulting the reader without the interference of complex plot devices, or explanations for the extraordinary. D. Harlan Wilson delights in turning language to new and exciting uses.

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Martin Rose lives in New Jersey, where he writes a range of fiction from the fantastic to the macabre, holds a degree in graphic design, and enjoys blurring the line between art and life. More details are available at