Saturday, April 23, 2011


by Richard Thomas
Published by Otherworld Publications LLC (April 1, 2010)

As the thriving business at Permuted press can attest, apocalyptic fiction is always in vogue. Every generation seems to feel that population growth, advances in weaponry, pollution and other ills have gotten as bad as they possibly can, leaving no option but the end of it all. Yet we're still here. That's why I'm much more fascinated with stories about the days after and end that was quite, focusing on the need to survive and, more importantly, rebuild.

That places us squarely into the world of Richard Thomas' Transubstantiate where we follow seven physically and psychologically damaged characters in the aftermath of a population control experiment gone awry. With 97% of the population dead and much of the remainder turned to violent and insane blisterheads, a small island community holds the only chance of rebirth. But, as this society also begins to collapse, a question must be asked: is the island more of a prison than a new Eden?

The first paragraph had my brains by the balls (yep, I'm so manly even my brain has balls). Lyric and enigmatic, it set the tone for the strain between the inevitability of nihilism and the possibility of hope. Then Mr. Thomas immediately proceeded to slam both brains and balls against the nearest wall by tossing me directly into a situation that had already gone to hell with no explanation whatsoever. To further cement my confusion, he presents the story in first person, from each of the seven main characters' points of view, and not always in chronological order. This Rashomon-ish experience is akin to being given the pieces of a puzzle and the places they fit but having to wait until you've got it all together before you get to see the big picture. Or you can think of it as a mystery where the mystery itself is revealed slowly through the process of the solving.

Either way, it messed with me. And I enjoyed every second of it.

Transubstantiate, when all the pieces fall into place, is an intricate and layered look at action and consequence, the struggle between mislaid control and frustrated effort of self-proclaimed gods of men and the people caught up in the maelstrom, told in a way that will make your head spin. Occasionally, it looses focus and keeping track of the characters and motivations can be a bit frustrating at times, not to mention the large amount of simple typos that overrun the printing, but I found the whole to be well worth the extra effort and vastly rewarding. If only they had done better than the uninspired and rather dull cover art.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Anton Cancre

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.

Monday, April 18, 2011


by Robert Dunbar.
Published by Uninvited Books.

Adolescence is often described as a journey of discovery, a journey in which we attempt to define ourselves. We collect the traits impressed upon us by others and then stretch and test those impressions in order to forge the adult we will become. In Willy, the latest novel by Robert Dunbar (The Pines, Martyrs & Monsters), we witness the coming of age of a troubled young man who must make this journey in relative isolation and under the tutelage of one who may not be the savior he appears to be.

Our unnamed narrator is sent to an obscure private school, the apparent end-of-the-line for both the disturbed boys that are deposited there and for the disaffected and cynical adults that maintain the crumbling facility. The narrator is a sensitive and introverted youth who has apparently had behavioral problems in other schools as well as thoughts of suicide. He is encouraged to keep a journal of his thoughts by his former psychologist—it is this journal that forms the narrative of the novel. Soon he meets his new roommate, Willy, a brilliant and charismatic young man who takes the narrator under his wing and forces him out of his self-imposed exile. Through the journal we witness the narrator’s blossoming as both a writer and as a person. Willy challenges him to reach beyond the “reality” of the isolated and warped school community. As Willy and the protagonist grow closer, the narrator begins to believe that Willy may be leading him toward a reality far darker than he is prepared to experience.

Dunbar’s characterization and prose brilliantly capture the internal world of the narrator. The world that we view through his eyes is stark, sinister, and secretive. Dunbar fully immerses the reader in the narrator’s point of view. There are no false notes, no instances in which the reader is taken out of the mind of the protagonist. However, this limited point of view makes portions of the book extremely cryptic. Many plot questions are left unanswered—or, if answers are available, they are hidden by a narrator who often lacks the capacity to report the full import of what he is witnessing. For some readers these questions will inspire multiple readings and spirited discussion. For others it may invoke frustration and confusion.

Nevertheless, Dunbar’s prose is lyrical, suspenseful, and immersive. Willy is a tour-de-force of style, character, and atmosphere and is definitely an example of an author attempting to stretch the boundaries of the genre.

Buy it here.

Or Visit Robert Dunbar.

Reviewed by Shedrick Pittman-Hassett

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.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Skin Map

By Stephen R. Lawhead
Published by Thomas Nelson

Kit Livingstone is a normal enough man living in London. Everything changes quite quickly when he gets sucked into an adventure involving ley lines that are spread throughout England. Kit is torn from his mundane life by none other than his great-grandfather Cosimo, and the two set off to solve the mystery of the ley lines by finding the Skin Map, a document tattooed to a man’s body which contains all of the necessary secrets of traveling the leys.

Kit’s story is only one of several that are told in The Skin Map. One character who really starts to steal the spotlight is Kit’s girlfriend Wilhelmina. She winds up getting involved with the ley line travel (separated from her boyfriend quite unexpectedly) and is lost far in the past in an alternate-reality Prague. She meets a baker and sets up shop with him. Business doesn’t go well until she comes up with the brilliant idea of introducing coffee as a new and amazing product to the people of Prague.

Another character whose story is followed in The Skin Map is the man who wears the map on his very flesh. Arthur Flinders-Petrie is a man with secrets to keep and his own adventure adds another dimension to the novel. Instead of just hearing about the Skin Map through other characters, Lawhead lets the reader find out what the man himself was like.

At the beginning of the novel, it seems obvious that Kit is supposed to be the main character. However, as the book continues he seems to be shoved further and further away from the spotlight. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the ensemble cast certainly propels the story forward. The villain in The Skin Map also doesn’t get nearly enough pages devoted to him. This villain, Burleigh, is some kind of master of the ley lines (as evidenced by the fact that he winds up causing problems in the multiple realities Kit, Wilhemina, Arthur, and Cosimo find themselves in), but his story must be waiting to be fleshed out in the next book in this five-novel cycle.

One thing to put in the positive column about The Skin Map is the distinctive British flavor that Lawhead brings to his work. The opening parts about Kit and his run-of-the-mill existence in London were highly entertaining. The fact that the invention/introduction of coffee to a general populace served as such an important part of the plot also came across as a deliberate stroke of humor.

Things in the negative column are fairly minor. As mentioned before, Kit’s story comes dangerously close to being drowned out by the other stories, and the pace quickens probably a little too much in the last 75 pages.

Overall, Stephen R. Lawhead’s Bright Empires series is off to an exciting start.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Christopher Larochelle

Christopher Larochelle is a University of New Hampshire student coming close to being launched into the professional world in which he hopes to become a distinguished Writer of Stuff. He is an intern with New Hampshire Magazine, where some of his Stuff has begun to fill pages. He’s the guy with the comic book in front of his face, or the bass guitar or camera strapped around his neck, or maybe he’s at the computer typing something up for his shiny new blog here.

Out of the Shadows

by Joanne Rendell
Published by New American Library

Out of the Shadows, (written by English author Joanne Rendell and published by New American Library), opens with a window into the past: a nineteenth century doctor describes the effects of electricity on a cadaver to the wide-eyed Mary Shelley of Frankenstein fame. From here the story weaves through one century to the next, giving a dramatized account of Shelley's life and romance with Percy Shelley in bite-sized flash backs, balanced out with the main drama revolving around protagonist Clara Fitzgerald.

Clara is a scholar who has put her life on hold for her fiance Anthony, a scientist whose moral grasp is slipping before the allure of big pharma. Matters of the heart consume her as she struggles to determine if she is a descendant of Mary Shelley and to recover Shelley's missing papers. Anthony becomes distant and secretive, alienating Clara. With her sister, and Kay, an older woman who shares her love for the nineteenth century writer, Clara questions what her life has become. She is thrown into further distress by her attraction to Daniel, a kind friend who helps look after the ailing Kay.

This work of fiction is well-written and balanced between elements of history, character, plot, and mystery, best described as intelligent fiction geared for the female demographic; the flashbacks into Shelley's past prove interesting, though this reviewer wonders if Percy and Mary's epic love was not in fact, a more one-sided affair given Percy was married to someone else. Clara's relationship with Anthony proves more multi-faceted and realistic than the over-dramatic gestures of the emo-Shelley whose main problems appear to be living off of other people's money and that too many women love him.

More compelling parts of the narrative involve Anthony's downward spiral into questionable practices, and the parallels to Frankenstein are clearly presented, allowing Out of the Shadows to examine the pitfalls of mankind's never ending quest for eternal life and the consequences that come with our refusal to accept these natural cycles of life and death.

Buy it here.

Reviewed by Martin Rose.

Connect with Martin Rose's The Antichrist Diaries here.

Look for Martin Rose's work in the anthologies Fear of the Dark from Horror Bound publications and Art From Art from Modernist Press. More details are available here.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Zombie, Ohio: A Tale of the Undead

by Scott Kenemore
Published by Skyhorse

Peter Mellor wakes up on the side of the road, the wheels of his overturned car still spinning. He feels a bit numb, a bit dazed, and can’t seem to remember who he is or how he ended up in this state. Eventually, he discovers that the world is in the grip of the “zombie apocalypse” all the kids have been raving about…and that he apparently didn’t survive that car wreck after all. He’s a zombie (albeit an intelligent and self-aware one) and sets out to find his girlfriend and put his life (such as it was) back together. He also discovers that in the midst an undead uprising the most dangerous creatures (other than himself) are the people for whom the veneer of civilization that served as a leash and who now roam the countryside, are indulging in their heretofore hidden amoral desires.

Kenemore (Z. E. O. and The Zen of Zombie) infuses his debut novel with the perfect mix of horror, gore, humor, and (yes, it must be said) brains that make it a tight and entertaining read. Peter, even during the darkest period of his strange existence, is an extremely sympathetic character—especially as we learn more and more about the type of man he was before he was transformed into a brain-addicted denizen of the undead. While portions of the book are extremely dark, and there is plenty of blood and viscera for the gore-hound, it is Peter’s flip sense of humor that infuses the novel with life. It is Kenemore’s insightful peek at human nature at the extremes that infuse it with intelligence.

While billed as “a tale of murder, mystery, and the walking dead”, the novel actually deals very little with the subplot of Peter’s apparent murder. Peter does discover that his fatal crash was not an accident, but he really only spends a small part of the story worrying about that. The truth comes to light the facts serve the story well, but to term the novel even part murder mystery is a stretch.

Despite the mystery misnomer, Zombie, Ohio is a great bit of zombie-infused fun for both devotees of the genre and for folks desperately seeking an antidote to sparkly vampires and angst lycanthropes.

Buy it here.

Or Visit.

Reviewed by Shedrick Pittman-Hassett

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.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Shadows: Supernatural Tales by Masters of Modern Literature

Edited by Robert Dunbar
Published by Uninvited Books

A candle flickers as an unnatural form floats through a darkened room and leaves the imprint of a human body on a perfectly made bed. Frightened, a wayward traveler flees a dilapidated inn and its restless spirits. Vowing to never return, the traveler has escaped.

Or has he?

Many horror readers avoid early 20th century literature like it’s a lumbering zombie that is too decomposed to offer a real scare. Readers may flirt with literary writers by reading a story here or there, but then they rush back to contemporary tales of gruesome hillbilly cannibals or atomic-powered killer zombies on speed.

To counteract the reluctance of modern readers to dive into early literary horror, Editor Robert Dunbar has gathered ten tales penned by some of the greatest writers of the early Twentieth Century. The volume, Shadows: Supernatural Tales of Modern Literature, offers a unique glimpse into early literary horror fiction. These are writers that just happened to write a horror tale here or there. And they wrote some humdingers.

Reader, beware, these are dense tales from a time before televisions, radios, computer games, and iPads when common folk and landed gentry would retire to gaslit rooms with a brandy or a cup of cocoa and read for an entire evening. These were ordinary people that occasionally liked to be frightened by a tale of ghostly visitations or a haunted house on barren Scottish moors. The stories feature well-crafted descriptions, revealing internal monologues, and the occasional, and well-timed insertion of narrator commentary. As such, the tales require effort (and sometimes patience) for a modern reader but in the final analysis, each story is a story very well told.

Shadows: Supernatural Tales of Modern Literature features many eminent writers such as Virginia Woolf, Edith Wharton, D.H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, Henry James, and many more. They introduce to the slow-burn horror of the early Twentieth-Century. Here, we find haunted houses, ghosts that possess the living, sexual rapacity, possession, murder, and schizophrenic doppelgangers.
And, contained in these pages are two stories considered by many scholars to be the best ghost stories ever written: Oh, Whistle, and I’ll Come to You, My Lad by M.R. James and The Beckoning Fair One by Oliver Onions.

One must remember that these were contemporary writers writing for a contemporary audience. Taken with this knowledge, one realizes that the readers actually lived in drafty and darkly lit manor houses, remote farms in the countryside where the wind whipped through fields of grain, and even in London’s East End tenements where Jack the Ripper had prowled only a few decades before. Scary stuff, indeed.

This book is required reading for all horror fans. Grab it and lock yourself in a room lit by a flickering fire while sheets of rain pound against your windows. Wait for that hair on your neck to creep with electricity and then stand on end. Pray that you survive until dawn, and hope that there is a second volume in this series.

Buy it here.

Book Review by R. B. Payne

R. B. Payne is a dark fiction writer. His stories have appeared in Doorways, Dark Discoveries, Necrotic Tissue, and the recent Stoker-nominated Midnight Walk anthology. He is insanely enthusiastic about writing book reviews for Shroud magazine. But rather than continuing to blurb himself by pretending that someone else wrote this bio, he would prefer you seek out his stories and read them late at night. For the record, he lives in Los Angeles and lurks at He would love to hear from you as long as it’s not a beating heart delivered in a cardboard box.