<![CDATA[Ginger Nuts of Horror - FICTION REVIEWS]]>Thu, 23 Mar 2017 05:13:57 +0000Weebly<![CDATA[CHALK BY PAUL CORNELL: TWO REVIEWS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE ]]>Wed, 22 Mar 2017 04:28:03 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/chalk-by-paul-cornell-two-reviews-for-the-price-of-one
Yesterday saw the ebook launch of Paul Cornell's latest novel Chalk (the paperback version of the book is published next month).  And in true Ginger Nuts of Horror style, we have two reviews to celebrate the launch of the book, one from myself and one from our regular contributor Tony Jones.
Is this a meeting of minds or a case of one of us being wrong, read on to find out what we both thought of the book....

Jim Mcleod's Review of Chalk 

Chalk marks somewhat of a departure for author Paul Cornell, who is best known for his series of London based urban fantasy police procedurals, his work on Dr Who, Chalk makes a sharp left turn into a dark and gritty horror realism with this brutal tale of revenge and retribution.  

Set in the not too distant past of a Thatcherite United Kingdom Chalk's unreliable narrator and protagonist Andrew Waggoner recounts his story of his unhappy time at school and the sadistic event that set him on a path of revenge that will haunt him for the rest of his days.  

Chalk is not an easy read; it is an unrelenting read, that perfectly captures the feel of despair and unhappiness that was rife in the UK at the time of Thatcher's Britain.  Cornell's clever use of pop culture references from the period, such mentions of Dutch Elm disease, Rentaghost and that infamous "rubber johnny myth" of the era lend the book a sense of authenticity of time and place that could only have come from someone who grew up in the era.  The use of these dark days as a backdrop to Waggoner's story is an inspired move, as Waggoner's journey of revenge mirrors so much of the mentality of the time.  The me, me generation that Thatcher inspired, where you grabbed what you want regardless of who you hurt along the way, is a perfect metaphor for Waggoner and his drive to get revenge on those who wronged him.  

Cornell's use of number on hits from the UK charts as the novel's time signature is also a nice touch, as his use of music and musical tribes to mirror the internal struggle that Waggoner is going through.  He his desperate to like the more, for want of a better word "manly" music such as The Jam and Stiff Little Fingers, but he is drawn to the more poppier side of the charts, which highlights the confusion and need to be accepted that so many of us went through at that age.  

Chalk also draws on the cultural zeitgeist of the 80's in a more subtle way, the private school that Waggoner attends is a crumbling institution, archaic and uncompromising,  you cannot help but be reminded of Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall".  The teachers that walk the halls have been pulled straight out of a nightmarish vision of Grange Hill.  Cornell vision of life in a 1980s school is a harsh and realistic portrayal, with subtle nuances rubbing shoulders with major themes such as class division to paint a grim picture of life in the eighties for a teenage boy.  

Cornell's scene setting and anchoring the narrative in a realistic depiction of the UK, is all well and good, but the actual story itself needs to live up to the wonderfully Beige canvas to which he pins the narrative onto.    Chalk's narrative lives up to this admirably, aided in the main by the twisted and unreliable narration from Waggoner.  Cornell keeps the reader guessing as to what is actually happening, are we in Fight Club territory or have we slipped down the rabbit hole into a world populated by a primal magic of revenge.  Just when you think you have a grip on the truth, Cornell pulls the rug from under you and makes you reevaluate the situation.   This ambitious use of ambiguity is handled very well, and the way in which Cornell uses this to highlight the ambiguity of Waggoners actions is a smart touch.  

The meeting of the drab reality of era is counterpointed perfectly with Cornell peppering the story with a genuinely disturbing use of a wild and untamed primal magic.  Whether or not this is real or just a hallucination from Waggoner's mind, well that's something that you have to find out for yourself, suffice to say the way in which it evades the "reality of the story " is chilling to the extreme.  

Chalk is a savage and harrowing, yet moving read, Cornell never shuns from dealing with the brutal nature of bullying and the neverending cycle of the bully and the bullied, and skillfully sways the reader's feelings towards Waggoner from sympathetic to disgust at what he does. Chalk is an uncompromising novel, the flourishes of cruel and barbaric violence inflicted on Waggoner and others are truly shocking, thanks to the almost clinical and matter of fact way in which they are described adds to their shock value.  


It may only just be March but Chalk is already shaping up to be one of the books of the year. Challenging, profoundly disturbing and unwavering in its vision Chalk is a hugely evocative novel, one that dares to something original with the well-worn story of revenge.  

Tony Jones' Review of Chalk 

 
“Andrew Waggoner has a secret he will tell no one, except one person… himself…”
 
The advance whispers for “Chalk” were very pretty great and so I was delighted to find that this complex and manipulative tale of bullying set in a grim and drab version of Thatcher’s Britain really merited the hype. Everything about this very clever and challenging novel impressed me and I sped through it in a couple of very enjoyable evenings.
 
I think it’s important not to give too much away about the plot as it will spoil a few of the tasty twists which are boomeranged along the way. Set over the course of a school year, bullying is the constant theme which overshadows this 1982 set novel and much of it is pretty nasty and very realistic. You can feel the punches and kicks being delivered. Set in a small town in the Midlands where rural children are bussed to school, Andrew Waggoner is singled out and repeatedly bullied by five other boys. This is nasty, savage and very physical. Worse is to come though, after a school disco Andrew is physically disfigured after being tortured and this horrific episode leads the vulnerable teenager on a dark, dark path of revenge.
 
The novel then charts what happens to Andrew over the subsequent year. Written in the first person, narrated from some point in the future, Andrew is the classic unreliable narrator. You really cannot trust a word he says as he describes the crumbling school, his friends, girls, his squabbling parents and the weird episodes that evolve into near supernatural, almost hallucinogenic, episodes. What is real and what is not? It becomes increasingly difficult to tell….
 
There are brief, almost breath-taking spurts of violence which will make you wince, mainly because they are described through the matter-of-fact voice of Andrew. My favourite being the sports teacher losing an eye through a scissor kick in a football match that may, or may not have been intentional with the children staring at the spot where the eye dropped on the grass before being scooped up. The violence between the teenage boys is vividly described and one almost sees the playground as some sort of battleground.
 
As I grew up in rural Scotland and took the bus to school I can vouch for the accuracy of the bullying which takes place on the journey to and from school when some children are at their most vulnerable. And for Andrew Waggoner all this goes full circle as he nastily picks on a girl two years younger than him until he has almost beaten her spirit into the ground. The victim becomes the bully and it makes for uncomfortable reading.
 
The novel is set in Thatcher’s Britain, but it is music that sets the scene rather than politics. I remember this well from my own childhood: the importance of the No 1 single and the excitement of TV shows like Top of the Pops. Interestingly enough music helps explore identify in the novel, Andrew does not really know what he likes and the bullies like punkier music such as The Jam and The Stiff Little Fingers. However, there is a girl he is attracted to, who loves her chart music and he just does not know what to say to her. So this is all examined through very realistic teen angst and the inability to communicate.
 
Of course behind all of this Andrew Waggoner  has a dark secret, something he can tell no one and via this the terrific novel goes full circle. So I haven’t said much about horror in this review, however, it’s always present on a subliminal level as Andrew embarks on his own journey into increasing darkness.
 
Along the way there are many terrific touches. It’s a private school, but even though it seems pretty grotty Andrew’s parents struggle to pay the fees and annually hope their son will win a prize which will see his fees paid for the following year, he never does, and this just adds to his feeling of uselessness and failure.  The teachers and headmaster are vividly drawn through the eyes of this very troubled teenage boy and the school itself becomes alive and some of the set pieces with the bullies are stunningly vicious. Are they fourteen year olds or monsters?
 
This was a terrific, challenging and very original novel which will keep you both gripped and guessing until the last page. And what a brilliantly understated last page it has. Bullying is rife in high schools and these days we hear much about the impact of social media bullying, but what happened here in 1982 was much, much worse. Scars which Paul Cornell has built a top notch psychological horror novel around. Highly recommended.

Picture
Paul Cornell plumbs the depths of magic and despair in Chalk, a brutal exploration of bullying in Margaret Thatcher's England.
Andrew Waggoner has always hung around with his fellow losers at school, desperately hoping each day that the school bullies — led by Drake — will pass him by in search of other prey. But one day they force him into the woods, and the bullying escalates into something more; something unforgivable; something unthinkable.
Broken, both physically and emotionally, something dies in Waggoner, and something else is born in its place.
In the hills of the West Country a chalk horse stands vigil over a site of ancient power, and there Waggoner finds in himself a reflection of rage and vengeance, a power and persona to topple those who would bring him low.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

]]>
<![CDATA[RELICS BY TIM LEBBON ]]>Mon, 20 Mar 2017 05:44:09 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/relics-by-tim-lebbon
We all have secrets that we keep from our loved ones, it's just human nature, but when Angela Gough's fiance Vince's secret life threatens their idyllic life together Vince has to go into hiding, leaving only an enigmatic note as the only clue as to what has happened to him. Angela embarks on a quest to find her lover.  A quest that will bring her into contact with the secret world that stands in the sun sheltered place, where she will see the face behind the face of a London far removed from the one we know.  
While Relics by Tim Lebbon may sound like a typical Urban Fantasy, with secret worlds existing side by side with our mundane world, a world where the denizens of the Fae cross our paths unbeknownst to the general populace. It may even share the same setting as the Rivers of London or the London Falling series, but Lebbon's unusual mix of a love story, mythical creatures and the seedy underworld of human crime syndicates marks this book as something rather special.  

In many cases, prologues can be annoying or serve little purpose, hover the prologue to Relics, with its wink to a well-known genre writer, is a wonderful hardboiled way to start this novel, despite the fact that it gives away the fact that Angela survives the following story.  

One of the strengths of the Relics lies in the opening segment of the novel.  Lebbon's description of the relationship between Angela and Vince is powerful scene setter that lays the foundation for the non-stop thriller that ensues as Angela hunts for her lover.  One of the problems that a lot of Urban fantasies have is the lack of a driving force for why the protagonist continues to do what they do when they come face to face with mind shattering reality of realising that there is a secret world.  Most people would just give up without an overriding desire.  Lebbon gets around this by the convincing the reader that the love between Angela and Vince is all powerful.  While some may find this opening segment unnecessary, its inclusion serves to lay a solid basis for what comes later.  

Angela's journey of discovery into the secret world of "relics" and the Fae is delivered with perfect pitch and pacing.  Lebbon keeps the story flowing by drip feeding the reader with insights into the secret world, never fully playing his hand until a glorious final third act. 

Lebbon's gift of world building is exceptional, the London we all know lives and breaths between the pages of this novel.  And as we are introduced to the myriad of characters,  Lebbon layers on a high-octane tension-filled narrative that hooks the reader with ease.  

While Angela may be the story's main protagonist, it is Fredrick "Fat Freddy" Meloy who will probably become a fan favourite.  A no-nonsense, London "businessman" whose mythology is almost as epic as the creatures he so desires to own a part of, is the real stand out character of the novel.  Meloy is an uncompromising complex character, yes he is evil and has done a lot of nasty things, however despite this,  Lebbon's sensitive handling of him,  means that you might not like Freddy, but you cannot help but feel for him and his obsession.  Lebbon also ensures that Freddy doesn't just come across as a cliched version of one of the Kray twins.  

Relics' rich cast of mythical beasts, monsters and the Fae folk is truly wondrous, from Faries, nymphs, fox gods, witches, Nephilim, and even a satyr, the sense of wonder and dead that is elicited as we   to them is spectacular.  The journey to the other side in Relics elicits the same sense of wonder and dread as that scene in the Nightbreed film where Booth travels through Midean.  

The feeling of building dread that Lebbon brings to the narrative, is exceptional and when it explodes into a thrilling final act, it is clear that Lebbon had a lot of fun writing the book.  In true cinematic style the final battle between the two factions, I would hesitate to say good and evil, as Lebbon masterfully blurs the lines between them on both sides of the fight, is an over the top action packed blood-soaked battle for survival and retribution. 

If you are looking for a fast-paced, thrilling story that mixes James Ellroy gritty crime fiction, with an early Clive Barker sense of wonder, then Tim Lebbon's Relics is a perfect book for you.   

Picture
Beneath the surface of our world, mythological creatures and their artifacts still exist—corrupt people pay fortunes for a sliver of dragon bone, a basilisk's scale, or an angel's wing. Angela Gough is an American criminology student in London whose fiancé Vince disappears, and her investigation leads her into a black market specializing in arcane relics. She meets Mary Rock, a criminal of mythic status who also wants to find Vince… to kill him. Angela and a growing team of adventurers must stop this horrific trade, yet they face a growing menace as the hunted creatures begin to fight back.

]]>
<![CDATA[UNSEEMLY BY JASON PARENT ]]>Thu, 16 Mar 2017 06:23:18 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/unseemly-by-jason-parentBY TONY JONES 

“A nasty business on a remote Scottish island…..”

“Unseemly: a Novella of Horror” the latest release from Jason Parent pulls in at a brief forty odd pages and around 75 minutes of reading, so you could argue it was a longish short story rather than a novella because of its length. However, I’m not going to quibble too much as it was an enjoyable mix of fantasy and horror which successfully dipped into the myths and folklore of old Ireland and Scotland.  Celtic mythology isn’t the most popular basis of horror stories, so I’m always interested when I come across a new one. 
Since Jason appeared on the horror scene around 2012 he has published a variety of novellas, novels and has featured in a number of short story anthologies. Last year Adrian Shotbolt, writing for The Ginger Nuts of Horror, gave “Wrathbone and Other Stories” a very good review and I would say that this release “Unseemly” fits in very well with the stories in that collection, whether it has enough going for it to merit an individual release I am not sure. Corpus Press are selling the paperback for £3.99, so judge for yourself whether this offers value for money for what’s on offer. However, you can’t argue with the 99p Kindle price in the UK.
 
The plot is pretty straight forward and opens with Peter on a remote Scottish island which remains unnamed, meeting a former business partner he's done dodgy stuff with in the past who has lured him there with the promise of making easy money to help pay his mounting debts. His ex-partner believes the island hides a secret…. Why does nobody seem to work? Why is everyone so well to do? Rather than heading into Wicker Man territory which was always one distinct possibility poor old Peter and his chums have a more supernatural world of pain waiting in front of them.
 
“Unseemly” is written in two parts, much of the first half is set in a local pub and sets the scene, for the major kick off in the second half which gets way, way darker as we head into the ancient myths surrounding the legends of faeries and I’m not talking about Tinkerbell.  In the end of the day there is only so much you can do with a story that weights in between 40-50 pages, but the author sets the scene well, loads up on atmosphere and it has a real killer ending. So it’s well worth spending your 99p on and is a pretty easy and undemanding read.
 
If you’re interesting in YA horror Ginger Nuts reviewed “The Call” by Peadar O'Guilin not so long ago, which was a tremendous twist on the Irish faerie myth. It’s a subject I’ve long been a fan of, flip back 25 years and I was devouring the books of Bridget Wood who between 1991-94 wrote a four book series called “WolfKing” which if my memory serves me correctly was amongst some of the most violent fantasy horror I have ever read and the series made a life-long impression on me I have never forgotten. Maybe Jason Parent is a fan of Bridget Wood? His “Unseemly” story certainly dips its toes in her nightmare world and when you get to the final page poor old Peter and his fellow chancers may well be a character in one of Bridget Wood’s novels. Should you be interested the Bridget Woods books have recently been rereleased on Kindle under the author’s other pen name Sarah Rayne.
 

Picture
Some discoveries are better left unmade.

Peter thought he was done with grave robbing, but when a former business partner lures him out to Dungarradh, a small Scottish island with a big secret, he finds himself waist deep in more than local folklore. Is the disappearance of his teammate truly the work of the legendary fae, or is a sinister force at play?

A brand-new tale of dark fantasy and horror, from the bestselling author of WHAT HIDES WITHIN and SEEING EVIL.

]]>
<![CDATA[THE NIGHTLY DISEASE BY MAX BOOTH III]]>Wed, 15 Mar 2017 07:20:56 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/the-nightly-disease-by-max-booth-iiiBY JOHN BODEN 
There are a lot of things to endear this book to me, to many folks, I think.  There is the identification with the main character, Isaac. He isn't really a people person, he works shitty hours at a thankless job and he has that perverse Midas touch where once in a while, everything he touches turns to shit.  The Nightly Disease is an almost diorama of a cycle in the life of poor Isaac.

Our man is the night auditor for a hotel in Texas. He works the night shift and doesn't really like his co-workers...or anyone maybe. Except for the girl with bulimia who binges on the breakfast buffet, barfs it all up and leaves.  He has a crush on her.   When the stress levels get unwieldy, Isaac goes up on the roof and masturbates onto the cars in the lot below.  Possibly shouting an angry "Take that!" as his seed rains down upon the cars and trucks.  He fantasizes about violence and revenge against the seemingly endless chain of fucking morons that make up his nights.   His usually bad luck starts to dip when one of his co-workers is killed owls.  Yep, owls.

This event is a harbinger of bizarre events that involve but are not limited to drunkenness, dildos, black market sneakers, switchblade, murder, robbery, waffles, corpse hoarding and owls. There are a lot of goddamn owls.  Isaac find himself in a tight cocoon of criminal activity and lies and as he desperately struggles to free himself and salvage the sad little thing that is his life, he discovers that he might be worth a little more than he ever thought.

The Nightly Disease is snarky and surreal, bitter and biting, and above all relatable.  Booth writes with a sly bark that let's you know he's maybe kidding, a little but probably not, that he really means the horrible things he says, probably. maybe.  

The Nightly Disease is available from Dark Fuse 
Picture
Sleep is just a myth created by mattress salesmen.

Isaac, a night auditor of a hotel somewhere in the surreal void of Texas, is sick and tired of his guests. When he clocks in at night, he’s hoping for a nice, quiet eight hours of Netflix-bingeing and occasional masturbation. What he doesn’t want to do is fetch anybody extra towels or dive face-first into somebody’s clogged toilet. And he sure as hell doesn’t want to get involved in some trippy owl conspiracy or dispose of any dead bodies. But hey…that’s life in the hotel business.

Welcome to The Nightly Disease. Please enjoy your stay.

]]>
<![CDATA[DEAD AIR BY MATTHEW M. BARTLETT]]>Wed, 15 Mar 2017 07:07:22 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/dead-air-by-matthew-m-bartlettBY JOHN BODEN 
 
Any self-respecting fan of the weird horror should be familiar with the name Matthew M. Bartlett.  Not only has he carved quite a name for himself in the wildly weird end of the pool but he has created what could be a signature mythos, his tales (often times scalpel-sharp shardy things that edge under the fingernail of your mind and cause painful unease) involve the town of Leeds and usually in some respect WXXT, an sub natural/supernatural occult radio station. 

First coming to my attention via the amazing collection, Gateways To Abomination and then with last years brilliant Creeping Waves, Bartlett has quickly become one of my very favorite authors.   With Dead Air, we get a collection of early works concerning our favorite fucked-up town in new England.  These are admittedly early experiments or forays into the events and lives that fall within the broadcast area of WXXT.   I must admit I was slightly hesitant, looking at it as the literary equivalent to the music industry ploy of "Hey Band X is shit hot right now, their last three albums have been huge, let's get all their early demos and package them up and put them out to sell!!"  While it usually proves financially shrewd in effort and outcome, from a product quality standpoint, there is often suffering.

This is not the case here, while there were maybe less than a handful of tales here that didn't wow me, the majority were filled with disturbing images, abominable actions and creepy characters.  Of the forty or so tales here (some quite short) there is more grotesque fodder for thought than many full fledged novels.  Dead Air contains fragments and character descriptions, public service announcement and advertisements.  This makes a boil down of sorts difficult and not all that helpful.  What you have here is almost the work of a deranged documentarian.  The work  is simmering with  historical hysteria and lovecraftian lineage.   It is a curtain yanked back from a small town cowering in the glow if burning family trees and secrets unkept.  It is brilliant., brilliant, brilliant!
I love that now, even three books into his world of haunted radio signals and occult activities in a small town, a town where men turn into goats and the dead usually aren't all that quiet or still, I find that I can't wait for the next one.  I find the overall premise so intriguing and haunting that upon finishing the most recent offering, I am wanting the next.  He can't put them out fast enough for me.
If you're unfamiliar with Bartlett's work, you need to remedy that,  start here or there. Just start reading him.  Also worthy of mention are the wonderfully creepy illustrations by Yves Tourigny and the gelefully crayola creepiness of the cover art by Brendan O'Connell.

Dead Air is available directly from the author or Amazon.
Picture
Five years prior to the publication of Gateways to Abomination, Matthew M. Bartlett put out a book called Dead Air. That book is now extremely scarce. This volume contains most of the unpublished work from that book, a few dark poems, and stories and fragments that later appeared in Gateways to Abomination and Creeping Waves. It also features magnificently creepy artwork by Yves Tourigny, as well as Tom Breen's original introduction. Witness the early days of dread magus Benjamin Stockton, and of his demonic radio station WXXT, with all its guts, worms, wriggling things, and voices from the dark

]]>
<![CDATA[13 VIEWS OF THE SUICIDE WOODS BY BRACKEN MACLEOD]]>Tue, 14 Mar 2017 10:14:21 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/13-views-of-the-suicide-woods-by-bracken-macleodby Adrian Shotbolt 
'13 Views of the Suicide Woods' collects Bracken MacLeod's shorter works into a formidable collection of varied treats. His novel 'Stranded', released last year was amongst my favourite books. I perhaps don't read as many novels as I do short story collections, novellas and anthologies, but when I do and they are as engrossing as 'Stranded' then I am a happy reader. This collection represents a fine account and progression of a writer that is on an upward trajectory in the field of dark fiction.

One of the things that separates the good from the very good when it comes to short storytelling is the ability to capture a reader’s imagination in so few words. Some writers are able to do this with some ease, whilst at the same time creating an atmosphere that envelopes you like a thick mist and refuses to let you go until you have finished reading. Nothing typifies what I've just said more than the first story inside this collection. For those of you unfamiliar with the Suicide Woods, the Aokigahara forest in Japan lies in the shadows of the enormous Mount Fuji. It is a place where people are drawn to to end their lives, resulting in it being one of the worlds top places to.... top yourself! The Aokigahara forest is a place of immense beauty but has a haunting quality to it as well, similarly with Bracken's story. Coincidently enough, I watched a short Japanese documentary on the woods prior to getting this book. The documentary follows a resident geologist who throughout his studies has uncovered numerous corpses, suicide letters and belongings of those who have chosen this route.

The first story in this collection sets a high bar for what is to follow. It is the title story of the collection in which a police unit goes in search of a missing father (Skip, who's been abandoned by his wife) thought to have entered the local forest to end his life. The parallels with MacLeod's tale and the Aokigahara forest are in full view-from the ominous sign at the forest's beginning, warning people to think about what they are doing, to the box of suicide hotline flyers which have all been taken. The story motors along perfectly with an uneasy, dark atmosphere surrounding it. The scenes with Skip as he has a change of heart whilst in the unfortunate position of hanging from a tree will leave you gasping for air and the final chapter is beautifully written. It left me feeling emotionally drained but eager to continue reading.

After a brief flash fiction piece, 'The Texas Chainsaw Breakfast Club or I Don't Like Mondays' is up next. It is a story I read some time ago and one I was only too pleased to peruse once again. It feels like a mash-up of two distinct movies from long ago in 'The Texas Chainsaw Massacre', obviously! And from 1985, The Breakfast Club! It is another highlight in the collection. This particular story also shows a self-confidence in writing ability where MacLeod is able to pull two things that sit at opposite ends of the movie spectrum together and stitch them into a narrative that is something both fresh and original. Each of the characters has their own voice and who doesn't love a good 80s style slasher? Very cleverly done and well-written. I just wish it was longer!

Elsewhere there are stories filled with pulpy goodness, crime fiction and other darkness, definitely a little something for everyone. Details at the back of the book list the publication dates of these stories and it then becomes clear that there has been an upward progression with MacLeod's writing, a confidence to work with longer pieces and a certain style and flair to his writing that all came together with last years 'Stranded'. For new readers to Bracken's work, this collection is a great place to start and although I'd perhaps recommend the before-mentioned novel, 'Stranded' as the authors definitive work, '13 Views of the Suicide Woods' is a fine, fine collection indeed. One you'd be foolish not to read.
 

Read our interview with Bracken here 

Picture
From the author of Mountain Home and Stranded, comes Bracken MacLeod’s first collection of short stories.

These stories inhabit the dark places where pain and resignation intersect, and the fear of a quiet moment alone is as terrifying as the unseen thing watching from behind the treeline. In the titular story, a young woman waits for her father to come home from the place where no one goes intending to return. A single word is the push that may break a man and save a life. The members of a winemaking community celebrate the old time religion found flowing in the blood of the vine. A desperate man seeking a miracle cure gets more than a peek behind the curtain of Dr. Morningstar’s Psychic Surgery. A child who dreams of escaping on leather wings finds rescue in dark water instead. Looking back over a life, a homeless veteran must decide to live in the present if he wants to save his future. In a Halloween Hell house, a youth pastor must face the judgment of a man committed to doing the Lord’s work. Fiery death heralds the beginning of a new life. A man who has been carrying pain with him his entire life gives up his last piece of darkness. And a still day beneath the sun illuminates the quiet sorrow of the last feather to fall.


Bracken MacLeod is the author of Mountain Home, White Knight, and, most recently, Stranded, which has been optioned by Warner Horizon Television. He lives in New England with his wife and son.

]]>
<![CDATA[POWERS OF DARKNESS: THE LOST VERSION OF DRACULA]]>Mon, 13 Mar 2017 05:12:45 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/powers-of-darkness-the-lost-version-of-draculaREVIEWED BY JOE YOUNG 

The English translation of the Icelandic writer Vladimar Ásmundsson’s Makt Myrkranna.

By Hans Corneel De Roos.
Foreword by Dacre Stoker.
Afterword by John Edgar Browning.
Published by 
Overlook Duckworth/Peter Mayer Publishers.

DRACULA.

It’s one of those names which automatically fills in its own back-story. In 1897 Bram Stoker created what has turned out to be a phenomenon, a 19th Century horror novel which is still enjoying global popularity in the 21st Century and will most probably still be entertaining people for centuries to come. It is as seemingly immortal and indestructible as the Count himself.

I’d say it’s a fair bet that there will be very few locations and very few peoples globally who are unfamiliar with at least some aspect of the Dracula legend, either of Vlad Tepes or Stoker’s creation, or indeed of vampires in general, so it could be fair to say that it’s all a bit commonplace. Regardless of the saturation, when the word was put out at the Ginger Nuts of Horror that there was an ‘alternative version’ of Dracula coming up for review I pounced on it hungrily.  Here’s why:
At the present time I am on the silent approach to 52 years old, which may seem unimportant in the grand scheme of book reviewing, but bear with me as in this instance I feel it is worth pointing out, as very early in my life, probably around 48 of those years ago, I first encountered Dracula on film. At that time it was black and white Bela Lugosi in perhaps his finest hour (or indeed 85 minutes), and I saw only a small part of it from my vantage point on the staircase peeking through the rail. I saw enough to influence my taste in entertainment for the rest of my life. Don’t get me wrong, Dracula hasn’t been an obsession of mine, more an appreciation. After seeing Lugosi’s Dracula I saw many other silver screen versions, the Christopher Lee ones in particular always thrilled me with their Technicolor bloodlust, but then, for me, came the novel. My age not quite in double figures I delved into the novel expecting the Dracula Vs Van Helsing battle Royal, but the novel was very different. To the modern reader it could be considered archaic, to my peers of the day it was largely incomprehensible, yet I was lost to the bizarre fantasy of it. Having read Moby Dick, War and Peace and having a copy of Paradise Lost which I took to school to read in the playground I was no stranger to what many consider to be heavyweight and somewhat dusty antiquarian prose, but Dracula was something apart.

The original novel of Dracula did for me what any great book should do; it took me out of my reality into a world of the fantastic, where time and external issues melted away. There’s a quality in reading any book which is often lacking in film or TV versions, and in the case of Dracula it is that I felt Jonathan Harker’s journey was my own, that I was experiencing the travel to new destinations and meeting exotic peoples and situations, that it peeled away reality and exposed new possibilities. At that age I knew few people outside of school, and my travel experiences were limited to within England, so the novel had a much deeper effect than it may have had were I older and more of a globetrotter.

This, what I’m going to tentatively refer to as a ‘new version’ took me on that journey again.
Now, before I get into the review proper it is probably wise for me to point out that although this ‘new version’ is something of a find and indeed a revelation, the story of it is complex and looks to be far from finished with, as it appears that since this new book was printed there appears to be an even earlier version of the Dracula story on which this new book could be based. Investigations are ongoing, but the Makt Myrkranna (Literally ‘Powers of Darkness’) shares many similarities with a Swedish version Mörkrets Makter dating from 1897, predating the Makt Myrkranna by several years. It remains to be seen just how the Swedish version holds up in documentation and I have few other details on that other than that it exists and has several of the commonalities to Makt Myrkranna which don’t appear in Stoker’s original.

Onwards to Powers of Darkness. It’s an exceptional work, apparently, at least, in part collaboration with Bram Stoker himself. For reasons which can only be hinted at there are some basic changes which would appear to make little sense, changing Jonathan Harker’s name to Thomas Harker is one example. Other changes are much broader in scope; with much more content focusing on the actual character of Dracula than there was in Stoker’s original version, in this case making the Carpathian Count a much more grandiose figure with far greater indulgence of his aristocratic social standing. I approve of that, mainly because I found the original version to have too heavy a bias in favour of Jonathan Harker. This version’s Harker is also presented with something of a lighter touch, actually appearing to enjoy some of the events he experiences during his stay at the castle. Other characters are also given a different treatment in that new characters are introduced, such as a seductive blonde vampire who may well be Dracula’s wife, whilst some who died in Stoker’s version survive in this one and other characters such as Van Helsing get precious little presence in what appears to be a rather rushed final few chapters. There is however one character completely omitted from Makt Myrkranna which I found to be extremely disappointing… Renfield. I’m not sure why Ásmundsson had chosen this particular cull, but to my way of thinking it was a bad move. Perhaps the serialisation gave limitations to character content, which could also explain the rushed chapters, but that wouldn’t explain the inclusion of the aforementioned blonde vampire. I think it is more likely that Renfield’s zöophagic tendencies may have been offensive to the Icelandic sensibilities of the time. Curiously enough Renfield appears in the earlier Swedish version.

Aside from the actual story content Hans Corneel De Roos, quite possibly the foremost expert on Stoker’s creation, has provided copious annotation throughout, and the book is laden with illustrations and photographs, not the least of which are the supposed actual floorplans for Castle Dracula with outline descriptions of what goes where and why. This floorplan alone, to me as least, is worth the price of the book. There’s so much extra content, forewords, afterwords, articles and background information that the new version of the story proper doesn’t begin until page 67. I love this, as it makes not only this new version even more interesting but also gives exceptional insight into the original version and of course has several pages of reference sources to the rear of the volume for those who wish to delve further.

I’m very tempted to discuss more of the plot, however even though the story will be largely familiar to the majority there are so many differences that to do so would require a huge spoiler alert. Suffice to say that any true fan of Dracula aside from argumentative purists would probably love this new take on the familiar tale as much as I have.

Going through it for this review was not the simplest of tasks, mainly because it is actually not just one book but two, possibly even three. First of all, obviously, is the alternate working of Dracula. It is something I will read again, simply for the pleasure of it while giving my analytical side the night off. The second book is the authoritative definitive reference book of pretty much all things Dracula, which along with the annotations, illustrations and floorplans is essential reading for connoisseurs of vampire lore. I said it is possibly three books; this is because the book as a whole is something of an adventure story in itself, one of discovery and the quest for truth. I cannot even begin to contemplate the determination required to undertake the translation and documentation of such a wealth of information.

Although reluctant to call Powers of Darkness a ‘masterpiece’ I think it’s as close to one as I’m likely to read.

It’s a beautiful volume and I can’t recommend it highly enough.



Picture
Powers of Darkness is an incredible literary discovery: In 1900, Icelandic publisher and writer Valdimar Asmundsson set out to translate Bram Stoker's world famous 1897 novel Dracula. Called Makt Myrkranna (literally, "Powers of Darkness"), this Icelandic edition included an original preface written by Stoker himself. Makt Myrkranna was published in Iceland in 1901 but remained undiscovered outside of the country until 1986, when Dracula scholarship was astonished by the discovery of Stoker's preface to the book. However, no one looked beyond the preface and deeper into Asmundsson's story. In 2014, researcher Hans de Roos dove into the full text of Makt Myrkranna, only to discover that Asmundsson hadn't merely translated Dracula but had penned an entirely new version of the story, with all new characters and a totally reworked plot. The resulting narrative is one that is shorter, punchier, more erotic, and perhaps even more suspenseful than Stoker's Dracula. Incredibly, Makt Myrkranna has never been translated or even read outside of Iceland until now. Powers of Darkness presents the first ever translation into English of Stoker and Asmundsson's Makt Myrkranna.Powers of Darkness will amaze and entertain legions of fans of Gothic literature, horror, and vampire fiction.

]]>
<![CDATA[YOU DON'T BELONG HERE BY TIM MAJOR]]>Wed, 01 Mar 2017 09:44:23 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/you-dont-belong-here-by-tim-major
Time Travel sounds like fun, well that's what most people think before they embark on a jaunt through the timelines.  Jump back in time and accidentally step on a flower and what do you know, a half-mad celeb is in charge of the US.  Go forward in time and run the risk of being captured by a race of underground dwelling troglodytes.  Trust me time travel is not a good idea, and no matter what the face changing so called Dr tells you don't do it.  
Daniel Faint, the protagonist of Tim Major's You Don't Belong Here, should have heeded my warnings.  You see Daniel is not just a dabbler in time travel; he is a thief who stole a time machine and decided to take a job as a house sitter in a remote Cumbrian village while he figures out how to use the machine.  

However he faces a few problems, the time machine can only work in a forward time direction, and every time he uses it he suffers a blackout, people start recognising him who he doesn't now, and someone seems to be watching him from the shadows.  Can Daniel get his life back on track and rest his personal timeline, so he has the life he wants.  


Time Travel stories are to science fiction as Haunted House stories are to horror.  Almost everyone has done one, and in the vast majority of cases, nothing new is ever said or explored in any great depth.  They may be well written, but once you have read the keynote texts in the genre, there is in general very little to be gained from reading yet another one.  

While You Don't Belong Here may contain many of the elements that are prevalent in time travel stories Major has crafted a fresh and intriguing novel that brings something new to this well-worn genre trope.  

You Don't Belong Here is a demanding novel, but one that ultimately rewards the reader for their patience and concentration.  Major's almost languid writing style that reminds me of a Humphrey Bogart noir thriller.  Major takes him time with the plot, and the narrative reveals allowing the reader to become invested in daniel's plight.  This in turns makes it possible to understand and at a push root for him, he might not be a classic hero, and he certainly isn't a time honoured good man, but he is a man who is trying to change his life, more akin to a weak man caught up in a time Tsunami.  And this the main strength of the novel, it is so easy to have a likeable "hero" and grab the readers attention; however, it takes a great writer to make a character who is so intrinsically flawed As Daniel into a person that the reader can connect with on a base level.  

The novel's pacing and pitch are perfect; it allows Major maintain an air of mystery and suspense, while still keeping the action flowing and the characters to breath.  As said earlier this is book that requires your full attention Major drops in hints and teasers to what is really going on.  You need to pay attention, but at no time does the story feel like it is dragging, and it never becomes a slog, and when it becomes clear as to what is going on you will be rewarded with a great sense of satisfaction for reading this innovative and clever novel.  

You Don't Belong Here  is a novel that dares to do something different with a well-worn concept, an intelligent idea carried off with great success, in years to come when people talk about great and influential time travel novels, this is one that should be mentioned along with the greats of the genre. 

Read Tim's excellent article on creating a musical playlist for this novel here 

Picture
Daniel Faint is on the run with a stolen time machine.

As the house-sitter of a remote Cumbrian mansion, he hopes to hide and experiment with the machine. But is the Manor being watched by locals, his twin brother or even himself?

Daniel is terrified about what the future may hold but, as he discovers, there can be no going back.

]]>
<![CDATA[THEY THIRST BY ROBERT Mccammon ]]>Tue, 28 Feb 2017 11:19:39 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/they-thirst-by-robert-mccammonBy Tony Jones 
“Robert McCammon’s vampire epic ‘They Thirst’ reappraised, 36 years on"
There was a lot of interest in our recent review of Robert McCammon’s The Border (2015) a fantastic mix of science fiction and post-apocalyptic fiction which is sadly currently out of print, but keep an eye out for the e-book hopefully later in the year. In light of this we are revisiting the author’s vampire classic They Thirst which was published way back in 1981 and has recently been republished in trade paperback by Subterranean Press, along  with a few of his other novels. So 36 years on how does They Thirst  hold up? Picking up novels from your childhood and teen years, can often be a disappointing experience as often they’re best left as memories….
Not with They Thirst though, which is damned great, better than that actually, it is utterly superb. The chunky trade paperback hefts in at a meaty 616 pages but rarely has a dull moment, with expertly interwoven multiple characters, believably sketched story lines, atmosphere and some great villains. And who really is the elusive ‘Headmaster’?  It is in many ways a classical vampire story. Lesser writers would fail miserably with a story of this scope falling into repetitive vampire clichés, however, in the hands of McCammon who is one of the great’s of the horror genre. The tired and familiar horror topic of vampires is tackled with great verve, originality and style. He plays it 100% straight also, with his vampires obeying the classical rules: fear of sunlight, crucifixes, holy water and cast no reflection. Maybe you think you’ve read this sort of stuff before? You probably have, but not ramped to the bombastic level McCammon cranks it up to in They Thirst .
 
Stephen King’s legendary Salem’s Lot” deals with a vampire infestation which effectively wipes out the small town of Salem’s Lot and in this yarn McCammon multiplies this by 10,0000 and over the course of 600 pages Los Angeles is brought to its knees by a vampire infestation so intense death is on a huge and unimaginable scale. Incredibly page 1 takes place on Friday October 25th and the novel concludes on Friday 1st November. One week sees the near total destruction of the city as the, regimented, almost army like, swarms of the dead, multiply and kill off a swathe of major characters along the way.
 
When I read a novel from this period I often count the frequency a character seeks out a telephone box, or cannot find a telephone box, or curses because the telephone box is busted, but I think it only happened twice in this novel. Apart from the telephones, it was very hard to pinpoint when it was written, apart from the odd “can you dig it” phrase the writing was as stylish as anything on the go today. A couple of other funny things dated it, the “heart-throb” wedding of John Travolta and OJ Simpson still being in the springs of his first illustrious career! Disco music booms away in the sweaty Los Angeles streets, as the vampires begin their silent takeover, house by house, flat by flat, district by district and as the police do not really care what is going down in the Latino areas, where much of the novel is set, before you know it there are a lot of vampires.
 
If you’ve never got round to reading this novel in the past, or tried McCammon at all, this is a terrific place to take the plunge. 1981 saw this, his fourth horror novel in four years, published and McCammon was beginning to sell alot of books in a period where horror dominated the bestseller charts. His legacy lasts a long shadow over today’s generation of horror writers, many of which owe him a great debt. I couldn’t help seeing lots of similarities, for instance,  in Chuck Hogan’s and Guillermo del Toro’s “Strain” trilogy or even some of the ideas used in Netflix’s fun (but trashy) “Van Helsing” television series. Of course, McCammon is famous for doing his own literary thing and his wide range of other novels have featured vampires sparingly, with the exception of his “I Travel By Night” and sequel “Last Train From Perdition” only published last year. Both novels featuring a vampire adventurer in the times of the American Civil War, but in this case the vampire is the good guy.
 
So on the simplest terms They Thirst  is about vampires taking over Los Angeles, but the expansive plot really sucks the reader in and the city of Los Angeles almost becomes a character itself. In the prologue we are taken back to the mid 20th century, Hungary, where a young boy witnesses his mother killing his father, not realising he is a vampire. Flip forward fifty years and this little boy is a now a Senior Los Angeles Detective investigating a serial killer nicknamed “The Roach” whose story eventually connects to the vampires. Detective Palatazin is a terrific character, troubled, ground down, tired, dedicated and willing to give up his life to fight the shadow which has always loomed over him. There is a terrific array of support characters, ranging from teenage horror film fan Tommy to spunky, but trashy journalist Gayle. And lets nor forget the charismatic Solange, who names the book “They Thirst” in a creepy séance when speaking to the dead and her TV star boyfriend who is destined for a nasty end. McCammon has a real knack of expertly creating believable backstories for all his characters, and I was particularly sorry for some of these get the chop. You could argue it was slow in places, however, the characters are so well developed I barely noticed. And if I was being hyper critical (and I mean HYPER) you could argue that the ending came together too neatly. Not me though, I loved it.
 
If you’ve never read They Thirst  I would highly recommend it. This terrific novel surely deserves to be much better known in the grand scheme of vampire novels. Out of interest, a large poll on the review website ‘Good Reads’ does not even rate They Thirst  in its top 200, with King’s Salem’s Lot inevitably at number one. I recently also reread the King novel and in my opinion They Thirst  has aged the better of the two books. It might be controversial to say this but the SK novel seems dull and overlong and cowers at the feet of They Thirst . It ranks as one of the definitive vampire novels and whether you believe in Acts of God you’re going to shake in your shoes when the ending rolls in.

Picture

When an army of vampires descends on Los Angeles, a lone detective is the only man who can stop them
 
An abandoned castle looms over Hollywood. Built in Hollywood’s golden age for a horror actor with Gothic taste, it has taken on a sinister appearance ever since the owner’s brutal murder eleven years ago. No living thing dwells there, but an undead tenant has recently taken up residence. A bloodsucker with ambition, Prince Vulkan dreams of a world populated by vampires alone.
 
A spike in disappearances and grave robbing arouse the suspicion of a local detective, who cannot imagine what someone would want with dozens of stolen coffins. As he works to unravel the mystery, time is running out to save the city—and the planet—from undead domination.

                                                           Purchase a copy from Subterranean Press 

]]>
<![CDATA[STARR CREEK BY NATHAN CARSON]]>Sat, 25 Feb 2017 17:42:15 GMThttp://gingernutsofhorror.com/fiction-reviews/starr-creek-by-nathan-carsonREVIEW BY JOHN BODEN 
 
2016 was truly the year of the Coming-Of-Age novella. A sub-genre that is very much my favorite.  When John Skipp mentioned to me that I ought to read Nathan Carson's Starr Creek, that it was a odd twin to my own novella, Jedi Summer With the Magnetic Kid, I took it to heart and struck up a friendship with Carson.  Long story shot, I got his book and tore through it an a few evenings (I mainly read at bed time) and Man, what a fun romp it is.

We open with a small group of friends plotting an excursion into the woods to take acid and explore,  while they make their plans there is a more sinister plan unfolding involving a man named Puppy and revenge against a biker who wasn't very nice to him.  While those two threads threaten to converge in a hostile and horrific manner, we meet two boys with a penchant for porn and the creature they discover in the woods. 

Starr Creek is a veritable smorgasbord of all things glorious about growing up in the 80's: muscle cars, heavy metal cassettes, dirty magazines and junk food and probably for some drugs.  Carson uses these nostalgic linchpins to hold together a wild adventure that involves alien creatures, unbridled violence and a strange commune.  The writing is rich and very clearly from the heart--as the best writing should be. He has an unwavering eye for nostalgia, for the interaction between youth and adults and events, all realistically painted.

While I finished Starr Creek, wishing it were a bit longer, It had the hook baited enough that I will sign up for and read anything Carson puts out.   If you've got that coming-of-age itch,  Starr Creek will scratch it...and probably draw blood.

Starr Creek is available from Lazy Facist Press.
Picture
"STARR CREEK is a phenomenal weird fiction debut. Laird Barron meets Jack Ketchum in David Lynch's TWIN PEAKS. I loved it!" - Brian Keene, best-selling author of THE COMPLEX and THE RISING

"Carson is a fresh new voice in Lovecraft country, and his prose dazzles." - Wendy Wagner, author of STARSPAWN and SKINWALKERS

Starr Creek is the debut novella by Portland writer and musician Nathan Carson. Set in 1986 rural Oregon, Starr Creek features Heavy Metal teens, Christian biker gangs, and hopped up kids on 3-wheeled ATVs. They all collide when strange occurrences unveil an alien world inhabiting the Oregon woods.

]]>