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Book Featurette: Hunting Witches

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Mark and Nika Pendleton have just moved into the small town of Elders Keep. But the presence of the newcomers has awakened the evil that lives in the forest. Now, the Pendletons are in more danger than they’ve ever known as forces beyond their comprehension conspire against them. Pray for the Pendletons before it’s too late.

What readers are saying about Hunting Witches:

“An old time witch hunting story reminiscent of times in ancient history with a modern feel to it. It has scary parts and humorous parts. It has plenty of blood and guts when you want it. It is filled with emotion and a tale that will totally draw you into every printed word.” -Confessions of a Reviewer

“Elder’s Keep is the type of town you’d like to pass on by and never look back. Yet, some of us, including myself, can’t wait to return. In “Hunting Witches,” we meet Mark and Nika Pendleton, a modern couple who can’t wait to buy their old-fashioned, southern dream-home in Elder’s Keep- a seemingly sleepy town with a turbulent undercurrent. Familiar characters return, as the sheriff of the Keep struggles to maintain the balance between personal and professional, and struggles between the dark and the even darker forces at work in the Keep. References to witchcraft, folklore, Christian, Pagan, and even Satanic tradition, are woven throughout the work and are a pleasant surprise to scholars of folklore and/or religion. Five is a number oft-repeated … This is an engaging work, part of a series that I hope will continue. We get yet another glimpse into the mythology of the town of Elder’s Keep, and I hope that we get to dig in further.” -Lydian Faust

“I’m not usually a fan of horror but this story really captures some of the mysterious and creepy feelings that permeate the landscape and culture of West Tennessee. The romantic relationships are fun to read and entirely believable. Hope there is a sequel!” -Amazon Reviewer

“When a young couple moves to an idyllic Tennessee town, happiness ensues, right? This is a novel with roots in a collection of short stories by the same author. You’ve likely read the synopsis, and telling anymore would inevitably bring spoilers, and I will not do that. You must get this book, and help out an indie author who has a seriously twisted, and often humorous voice. It is speaking loud and needs to get louder.” -Chuck Knight

“King has Derry, Martin has the Keep. We all give things a second thought when they go “bump”. Read the anthologies for character backgrounds and just because they are great. Definitely worth the wait.” -Amazon Reviewer

You can get YOUR copy of Hunting Witches for $4.99!!

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Jeffery X. Martin is the published author of several stories that are sure to shock, including those in the Elders Keep universe. He also published a fantastic tale in The Black Room Manuscripts. You can find his work, including his latest novel, Hunting Witches, on Amazon’s blood-soaked altar. When Mr. X is not writing creepy mind-benders, he’s the host and/or contributor to several podcasts and review sites, including but not limited to, Popshifter, Kiss the Goat, and the Cinema Beef Podcast. He is a frequent contributor to Machine Mean, reviewing for us The Wolf Man (1941), The Invisible Man’s Revenge (1944), Revenge of the Creature (1955), and Squirm (1976).

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Book Featurette: Where the Monsters Live

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WARNING: contains mature content and violence not suitable for all readers.

When police fail to find the man responsible for raping a six-year-old girl, her father leaves home on a harrowing undercover journey into Miami’s sex offender colony under the Julia Tuttle Causeway to hunt down the “Rabbit Man,” and put him in the ground. Vengeance is a monster that lives within our own hearts.

What readers are saying about Where the Monsters Live:

“Efficient, powerful prose in a short story that delivers about as much emotion and punch as a book ten times its length. It’s a challenging character and his actions really need to be evaluated and thought over by the reader, which I think all good art should do. I have been a fan of Ralston’s work for some time now, and this one did not disappoint. Check it out if you are looking for a good, fast read.” -Chad Clark, author of Down the Beaten Path and Behind Our Walls

“Who knows what lies in the hearts of men? Duncan Ralston certainly does in this dark fast paced horrific read. Read it in one sitting.” -Amazon Reviewer

“While the subject matter, sexual abuse, may indeed be too traumatic for some audiences, this story tackles the difficult subject deftly. The protagonist, a man driven to hunt down a monster, must struggle not to become a monster himself. A quick and thoroughly engaging read.” -Lydian Faust

“I’ve been reading Ralston since Salvage. I feel that this is one of the best stories, he has told, so far.” -Kurt Thingvold.

You can get YOUR copy of Where the Monsters Live for $0.99!!!

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Duncan Ralston is no stranger to Machine Mean. He has previously reviewed for us The Invisible Man (1933) and Ash Vs. Evil Dead. Mr. Ralston is not just a wonderful human being, but also the author of gruesome tales like Salvage: A Ghost Story, and the horror collection, Gristle & Bone. He’s been published in a various of anthologies, including The Black Room Manuscripts, The AnimalEaster Eggs and Bunny Boilers, and VS: US Versus UK. His latest book will sure to knock your socks off, Woom. You can follow and chat with him at  www.facebook.com/duncanralstonfiction and www.duncanralston.com. You can read his review on Invisible Man here.


Book Featurette: Two Minds (An Extreme Horror Novel)

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My name is Samantha Brown, and I am 31 years old. I work in an office in the city. My older sister, Beth, went missing 3 weeks ago – disappeared without a trace. I’ve seen you once, but you didn’t see me. Or, at least, I don’t think you saw me. I saw you leaving my sister’s flat early one Saturday morning when I was pulling up in my car. Me and Beth had planned to go shopping that day, and she had forgotten about our arrangement. She was hungover and grouchy and refused to tell me anything about the mysterious man that I had just seen leave her flat. We never did go shopping, we argued and I left. I didn’t call her, and she didn’t call me. One week later, she disappeared. Ever since then, I have been obsessed with the man I saw leave her flat; call it women’s intuition, call it what you will, but I have a bad feeling about you. You were too good-looking, and my sister was cagey about who you were. That wasn’t like her. So three weeks later, I see you in a bar. I approach you, and there we have the beginning of our story….

“Two Minds” is told through the viewpoint of the two characters living the story. The woman – convinced the man she is talking to is responsible for her sister’s disappearance – and the man… Who is he? Did he have anything to do with the sudden disappearance of Samantha’s sister or is he nothing more than an innocent bystander?

Only one thing is for sure… After this night, neither of them will be the same again.

What readers are saying about Two Minds:

“I’ve been a fan of Matt’s for a very long time. When I stumbled across Sam’s work not very long after, the two people who introduced me to Matt said I’d enjoy Sam’s writing as well – (thank you Suzanne and Cathy!) – and they were right. IMO, Sam West’s stories have been getting increasingly better this year, and this collaboration came at the perfect time for both of them. I wish the ending were a little… ‘beefier’ (for lack of a better term, or perfect tongue in cheek?). But – I love how it was written. It’s a great style, and I bet we’ll see more authors experimenting with it. Authors… your introduction(s) made me laugh out loud at work. Thank you for helping convince my boss I’m a lunatic for sitting down to read ’50 SHADES OF F***ED UP’ on my break and giggling.” -Shadow Girl

“I enjoyed this book it had a lot of masochistic in it. I really thought it couldn’t get any better.” -Amazon Reviewer

“I’m no stranger to Matt Shaw and I’ve read a few things from Sam West so I was expecting something really good out of them. I was not disappointed. This book was pretty good, and Sam and Matt worked well together, each writing from a different character’s perspective. For me, the book is really in two parts. In the beginning, we have a cat and mouse aspect, but we’re not really sure who is which. Samantha wants to know what happened to her sister and is going after the man that might have done something to her. Is she the dangerous one? What will she do if she finds out he did what she thinks he did? Then, we have Jack. Did he do something to Samantha’s sister? Is he the dangerous one? It’s almost very Hitchcock-like in its concept. Then, there’s the second part. This is the extreme horror part, rather than the psychological horror in part one. I don’t really want to reveal how you arrive at the extreme horror aspect, but I assure you… It’s there. Great concept. Great execution. Great collaboration.” -Shaun Hupp

You can get YOUR copy of Two Minds (An Extreme Horror Novel) for the mere price of $2.99!!!

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Matt Shaw is no stranger to Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us The Invisible Woman (1940) and Don’t Breathe (2016). Mr. Shaw is the published author of over 100 titles – all readily available on AMAZON. He is one of the United Kingdom’s leading – and most prolific – horror authors, regularly breaking the top ten in the chart for Amazon’s Most Popular Horror Authors. With work sometimes compared to Stephen King, Richard Laymon, and Edward Lee, Shaw is best known for his extreme horror novels (The infamous Black Cover Range), Shaw has also dabbled in other genres with much success; including romance, thrillers, erotica, and dramas. Despite primarily being a horror author, Shaw is a huge fan of Roald Dahl – even having a tattoo of the man on his arm; something he looks to whenever he needs a kick up the bum or inspiration to continue working! As well as pushing to release a book a month, Shaw’s work is currently being translated for the Korean market and he is currently working hard to produce his own feature length film. And speaking of films… Several film options have been sold with features in the very early stages of development. Watch this space. Matt Shaw lives in Southampton (United Kingdom) with his wife Marie, his bastard cat Nellie and three rats – Roland, Splinter, and Spike. He used to live with Joey the Chinchilla and Larry the Bearded Dragon but they died. At least he hoped they did because he buried them. You can follow Mr. Shaw and delve into his work by following his site at www.mattshawpublications.co.uk AND on Facebook at  www.facebook.com/mattshawpublications.co.uk. You can read his review of the infamous Invisible Woman here.

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Sam West is a horror writer living in the UK. His stuff is hardcore, so be warned. He believes that horror should be sick and sexy and he is more than happy to offend a few people on his writing journey. He hopes there are other like minded souls out there that enjoy a good dose of depravity and perversion. Because that’s what rocks his world. That, and his wife and young daughter who do brilliantly to put up with his diseased mind. You can contact him at samwest666@outlook.com.


Book Featurette: Into Fear

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22 tales of despair and dread. Zombies, Godless beasts, Eldritch horrors, serial killers and more lurk between its pages in wait to lure you into dreams, into nightmares, Into Fear! Featuring a Foreword by Tim Dedopolus, author and co-owner of Ghostwoods Books. 22 stories – Dreadmill, Gamarada Rock, Be Nimble, A Class of their Own, The Heartstone, Ball of Thread, Isophase Light, Le Ciel De Chocolat, Yo-Ho-Oh-No!, Daryl Duncan, Head Librarian, In the Bleak Midwinter, Continuity and Permanence, Good Morning, Mr. Murray, Bait Box, Conductive Salts, Zabobon, Titanomachy, The Beast of Bowline Moor, Shunned Stew House Special, The Ring of Karnak and The Royal.  Afterword by critically acclaimed author Thomas S. Flowers.

What readers are saying about Into Fear:

“This is an excellent collection of stories- an eclectic mix of dark humor, gothic/classic horror, folklore, fantasy, and sci-fi tinged tales. One of my favorite tales is “Daryl Duncan,” about a man without a memory who awakes to find a copy of “Metamorphosis” and blood dripping from the ceiling. Fans of grim humor will find much to love in Into Fear.” -Amazon Reviewer

“This is quite an eclectic mix of stories and genres. I think the tagline for the book of ‘tales of dread and despair’ is spot on, rather than calling this an out and out horror story book. Don’t get me wrong, it is horrific in many parts, but the overriding feeling in the book is exactly what it says on the tin; dread and despair.” Nev Murray, Confessions of a Reviewer (read Nev’s full review here.)

“Some of the best short stories I’ve read in years, and definitely one of the top ten single-author collections I’ve read ever. Chant has put together something special here – a mix of stories from dark fantasy to pastiche, atmospheric dread to full-on horror, and literary mashups. Do yourself a favor and grab this book!” -Duncan Ralston

You can get YOUR copy of Into Fear for $2.99

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Daniel Marc Chant is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us both The Mummy (1932) and The Creature Walks Among Us (1956), as well as Eli Roth’s strange horror flick Clown (2014). Mr. Chant is the published author of several terrifying tales, including Maldicion, Burning House, and his venture into feline horror, Mr. Robespierre.  Daniel is also one of the founders of The Sinister Horror Company, the publishing team that brought us such frights as, The Black Room Manuscripts Vol 1 & Vol 2, and God Bomb!. You can follow Daniel on his blog, here. And you can read his review on Mummy here.


Book Featurette: Behind Our Walls

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The world has fallen to ash.

Governments have collapsed, police and armies no longer exist and the people of the world have been left behind to fend for themselves in the midst of escalating violence and nuclear fallout.

One community of survivors find each other, come together and try to rebuild, to start over. Confronting the threats from without and within, they do everything necessary to find the only thing left, the most scarce resource of all.

Hope.

What readers are saying about Behind Our Walls:

“I read Chad A. Clark’s short story collection, Borrowed Time, a couple of years ago and really enjoyed it. So, when I learned that he was expanding one of those stories into a novel, I was excited to get to read it. You don’t need to have read the short story first, and the story is included at the end of the novel, since the novel is a sort of prequel to that story, laying out the what happened before ‘Tomorrow’s Memory.’ Behind Our Walls is a unique take on post-apocalyptic fiction. There are no zombies, no dictatorships, no aliens. The threats are not external and easy to unite against. The world has simply fallen apart and we are watching it reform around Sophie, our young protagonist. Many of the themes popular in post-apocalyptic fiction are present here–extreme situations bringing out the worst and best in people, trust as a limited commodity, resource management for survival. But I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel before that focused on “what happens now” so fully. Backstories and causes of the downfall of the world take a serious backseat to grappling with how society will reform in the new reality. The novel begins with Sophie on the run in the company of her parents, her sister Corrine, her sister’s fiance Adam, and a man named Rowen. Without getting too spoilery, I think it safe to tell you that they meet other travelers and that people are lost, new alliances are made, and betrayals happen. I was engaged by the story and cared about the characters throughout. There good tension and suspense regarding what decisions different characters might make and what struggles they would face. I recommend the book for those who enjoy post-apocalyptic or survival stories but are looking for something a little different in that genre.” – Samantha Dunaway Bryant

“An excellent debut novel by Chad A. Clark for fans of postapocalyptic fiction. The characters and their actions are believable and each is well-defined. Behind Our Walls is a quick read and does what most excellent stories do — leaves you wanting more. Looking forward to future works from Mr. Clark.” -Amazon Reviewer

“I would say that the story has a young adult feel to it, but be warned there are some dark moments, albeit not so explicitly described as to make this 18+ (in my view). As a self-published work the formatting sometimes reveals the odd typo, but nothing too numerous or jarring to shake the reader out of the story. I would recommend this book to those who love post-apocalyptic scenarios but are looking for rich character interaction as opposed to violent gore or horror elements. It was an engaging read and I think we’re going to be seeing some more first class output from Chad Clark in the future.” -Amazon Reviewer

“The interesting thing about post-apocalyptic fiction is that it becomes a sort of character study. You’d think we’d want to know more about “how” the world ends, a virus, flesh-eating zombies, alien invasion the likes of War of the Worlds, something. But sometimes, the best apocalyptic stories are stories about us. Stories about what we do when faced with uncertainty. When the warm fuzzy blanket of banality falls to a cold stone floor, what will you do? This is my first foray into the mind of Chad A. Clark, and it won’t be my last. The work here was very daring. While most writers focus on the Hollywood action of ‘how-it-all-happened,’ Clark focuses on ‘what to do we do now?’ Now that the wall has fallen, do we rebuild another? I find it interesting that while most would indeed write a book with a modern definition of ‘apocalypse,’ being the end of the world, humanity, etc. etc., instead, Clark gives us a story that defines the original Greek definition of ‘apocalypse,’ which means a disclosure of knowledge, an unveiling, a revelation. And he presents his revelation in a tradition mode of storytelling, delivering both suspense and drama, around the family unit.” -Thomas S. Flowers (me)

You can get your copy of Behind Our Walls for the low-low price of $0.99!!!

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Chad Clark is a frequent flyer here on Machine Mean. He has reviewed for us before with commentary on House of Dracula (1945) and House of 1000 Corpses. Mr. Clark is a midwestern author of horror and science fiction. His artistic roots can be traced back to the golden era of horror literature, Stephen King, and Robert McCammon being large influences. His love for horror began as well in the classic horror franchises of the eighties. He resides in Iowa with his wife and two sons. Clark’s debut novel, Borrowed Time, was published in 2014. His second novel, A Shade for Every Season was released in 2015, and in 2016 Clark published Behind Our Walls, a dark look at the human condition set in a post-apocalyptic world. His latest book, Down the Beaten Path, released in September 2016. You can keep up with all of Mr. Clark’s works by following him on Amazon here.

 


Upon Waking: book in review

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There’s something to be said about realism in horror. The late great Wes Craven often spoke about hard truths during many of his interviews, even if said piece or film he was working on had supernatural elements, the story in itself was ultimately real. Raw. Not an untruth. Recently, I had the pleasure of reading J.R. Park’s newest adventure, Upon Waking. And I was reminded very much of what Craven had said, about how the most terrifying things are real and how people used to ask him how he could live with himself (and I’m paraphrasing a lot here) putting these “evil” thoughts and imaginations out there (“out there” being the “real world”). And I adore his response, Craven is like, “What world do you live in? Cause it sounds really nice. I think I’d like to live there.” This particular segment during his interview in Nightmares in the Red, White, and Blue stroke a cord with me. Because he’s right. Horror, those terrifying words of macabre, are not aimed to be untruths, to create something that could never exist; but rather, quite the opposite.

What Mr. Park has created here with his new novel, Upon Waking, is very much a truth, as squeamish as some of his scenes are. Cassie, our villain in this story (and there’s no spoiler there) isn’t some mythical monster, she’s real, horrifying so. She’s a next door neighbor. The woman you pass on the street without so much as a second glance. You don’t see her. She blends in the crowd. But she’s watching. Perhaps you. And it that’s the case, well…I’ll pray for you. Cassie has a house. It is very much a house of horrors, but it is also decorated in the mundane, almost banal in its sterility. This isn’t the house of H.H. Holmes, with all the mazes and hidden compartments and traps and such. This isn’t a funhouse. There are rooms, most of which you’ll find locked until Mr. Park is ready to show you the nightmare held within. Once he does open the door, everything is on full gruesome display.

When I first started reading Upon Waking, I was almost lulled by the style and chosen format of his book. Its almost like poetry, in form and prose. But its a trick. A fantastically disgusting trick. And when you’re finished witPrinth this 160 or so pages read, you’ll need to look back at some of the “chapters.” Notice the quotations around chapters? Well…the author here didn’t really use chapters per say, instead (with a stroke of genius, I must say) of chapters he gives us moments. Moments of characters that have or interact with Cassie and her horrible plain-Jane house.

 

And there’s more. I think one of the more mesmerizing things in this book is the how J.R. Park was able to write some of these grizzly scenes in very candid detail whilst maintaining this sense of un-urgency. He takes his time. Slow. Methodical. So much so you almost miss the plot of the story. Walking, or tip-toeing more like, through the halls of Cassie’s house, I nearly forgot about Gary and his search for his missing son. As one reviewer has already pointed out, Upon Waking deserves a re-read, despite as much as you probably don’t want to, for fear of losing your lunch or spoiling dessert. You’ll need too. Because there is a devilish twist at the end, leaving the reading pondering “was she…is she…?”

If you’re looking for a short but gut punching read, you’ll want to check out J.R. Park’s Upon Waking. Its like a cross between Madame LaLaurie and The People Under the Stairs. You’ll squirm. You may even gag. You might need to look away. But for those depraved enough, you’ll take it, and you’ll probably enjoy it too, you sick sick puppies.

Get can get your copy of Upon Waking here.

My Rating: 4/5


PALE HIGHWAY: book in review

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Before I dive into this review, I had to brew myself a fresh cup of joe, to put myself in tune, hopefully, with the ways of Nicholas Conley. The ground bean vapors, I pray, will act as my spiritual guide in writing this review. I’m not sure how many of you know who Nicholas Conley is, but for those who don’t let me say, if I may, how fantastic of a guy he really is. and not just because how you might find his name on the back of my first novel, Reinheit, but also because of his charm towards all walks of life. Nicholas is an adventurer, both in the literary world and in the literal world around us. He is a fan of science fiction, comic books, and horror movies. His new novel, Pale Highway (of which I will be reviewing here) was based in large of his experiences with Alzheimer’s patients while working at a nursing home.

Before we begin, here’s the blurb provided on the back of the book to give you a somewhat general idea of what Pale Highway is about:

“Gabriel Schist is spending his remaining years at Bright New Day, a nursing home. He once won the Nobel Prize for inventing a vaccine for AIDS. But now, he has Alzheimer’s, and his mind is slowly slipping away.

When one of the residents comes down with a horrific virus, Gabriel realizes that he is the only one who can find a cure. Encouraged by Victor, an odd stranger, he convinces the administrator to allow him to study the virus. Soon, reality begins to shift, and Gabriel’s hallucinations interfere with his work.

As the death count mounts, Gabriel is in a race against the clock and his own mind. Can he find a cure before his brain deteriorates past the point of no return?”

So there you have it, the general premise of things to come.

Nicholas Conley’s Pale Highway is a fantastic read in a brand I typically do not indulge in, yet somehow, through his characterization and prose, in the guise of Gabriel Schist, Nicholas was able to hold me spellbound all the way to the completion of the story. When I say, “not my typical brand,” this is true, I typically do not read disaster, world plague type books (well, except for perhaps Stephen King’s The Stand). Nothing personal to the sub-genre, but it has been my experience, for the most part, those kinds of books typically skim over character development in lieu for action sequences, and too often (sadly) hateful rhetoric and needless doomsday-isms. LET ME BE VERY CLEAR AT THIS JUNCTION, Pale Highway does none of those things. In fact, the “plague” acted as nothing more than to keep the momentum of the story, to keep motivations rolling towards its ultimate conclusion. The real story is in the tired, tragic life of one Gabriel Schist. In that story, we find so much more than the arc of one man’s life, we also find perhaps a “highway,” if you will, pointing us toward deeper, more meaningful questions, not about what we’ll wear this weekend on a date, but rather, questions of what we’re doing with our lives, how we’re treating those we love and strangers alike, who we are spending time with. In the immortal words of Henry David Thoreau, “It is not enough to be busy. So are the ants. The question is: What are we busy about?”

The prologue puts us a little bit into the future, giving the reader a small glimpse of things to come. A Black Virus has swept into the halls of Bright New Day and into the lap of one Gabriel Schist, a Nobel Prize winning genius/scientist suffering with Alzheimer’s, who, somehow, is supposed to stop the epidemic. From here, we know the score. Something bad is on the way, and given Mr. Schist’s cognitive condition, the odds are not in his favor, but instead of playing up some sort of blockbuster-ish global terrorism BS as so many other biological Armageddon books typically do, no, from here we move into the lives of the people residing in the beds of Bright New Day, a nursing home along the coast of New Hampshire. And we also get to experience, if only marginally yet beautifully written, how it is to live in a nursing home, how it is to have your basic cognitive functions slowly slip away. You can tell right away, this story was written from experience, and I suspect that the character known as Harry could possibly be a mirror of Nicholas himself.

Be-that-as-it-may, one of the finer qualities of the book was how Nicholas carefully walked the reader through Gabriel’s life. We get to see, inch by painful inch, his story unfold, from the lows to the highs, so much so that certain elements are so systematically revealed, there is a real mesmerizing quality to the pages.

Without revealing too much, and I want to leave a lot of detail out of this review, mostly because I want a first time reader to discover these things on their own, in their natural environment and revelation. However, if we were to look upon this work as a musical composition, I’d say Nicholas hit a range of notes, colliding together in a spectacularly rich, dramatic, heartbreaking, and joyous crescendo. There were moments of happiness. There were moments of tragedy and helplessness (lots of helplessness, and not too surprising considering the subject matter). Lots of regret and understanding purpose. And, especially towards the middle and later half, moments of dementia, unsure if things seen are real or the figment of Gabriel’s imagination, hallucinations caused by his rapidly decaying mind.

And…I will not spoil the rest. You’ll have to find out on your own what happens. Overall, my only complaint, and this is marginal, was the absence of the daughter, Melanie, from a majority of the story. There is a beautiful father-daughter scene in chapter 2, and I had hoped to see more of them. But the focus was not on Melanie, but rather Gabriel, thus, we did not venture far from his perspective. And that’s okay, it doesnt ruin anything at all. When she finally does come back into play, those moments really captured the emotional momentum, literally bringing tears to my eyes. Thank you for that, Nicolas, really. And bravo, sir. Bravo.

My Review: 5/5

You can get your copy of Pale Highway on Amazon, here.

 


The Stand: book in review

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And before you ask, yes, this is the complete and uncut edition review. In case you were wondering, because I know you are. When mentioning broadly that I was reading The Stand, it was by far the first question many mentioned, or stated thereof: “Make sure you’re reading the uncut or you’ll have to start all over again.” And they’re right. If one was to read The Stand for the first time or at least the first time in a decade or two, you may want to invest in this behemoth, M-O-O-N, that spells 1,000 plus page journey into the heart of the 1990s psyche. The Stand is as the New York Post commented roughly 25 years ago, “In many ways, this is a book for the 1990’s, when America [was] beginning to see itself less and less in the tall image of Lincoln or even the robust one of Johnny Appleseed and more and more as a dazed behemoth with padded shoulders. Americans seemed delighted but in an odd way humiliated when Vaclav Havel, a tiny man from a small country, entered the great halls of Congress and delivered an uninflated Jeffersonian address. ‘The Stand,’ complete and uncut, is about the padded shoulders and the behemoth and the humiliation.”

I believe, for better or worse, this above 25 year review remains true today as it did then. The Stand is ultimately about humiliation, or perhaps something more, perhaps humility as well and not just the embarrassment of a plagued ego. There is both hope and fear in that notion. Hope that we can still better ourselves. Fear that it’ll take a plague that wipes out 99% of our population to do so.

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The Super Flu, or Captain Trips, within the confines of the book, was the mother of all plagues designed, more or less, to consume the ego of humanity. What could be done within the pages of Stephen King’s masterpiece? Not a damn thing. You died, or you didn’t die. That is all. There were no preparations to be made. No magic cure. No vaccine. No decontamination. The world ended and there was nothing America (as is the focus of the book) could do about it. With all our plans, our designs of purpose and political gain, the world (via The Stand) slipped comfortably into chaos, lashing out at times with cruel attempts to maintain control. I recall reading through the opening chapters and thinking, “Why didn’t the government warn people?” Thinking about it now, what could they say? News was already spreading. Hope seemed like a cheap sale to most, others gladly took it and clung to it. Not to sound to villainous, but these were the best parts of the book, watching people react, both good and bad, in the face of catastrophe. This is more or less the same reason why I enjoy Romero-esk zombie stories as well. Zombies are cool, but what’s even cooler is watching how people react in the face of such cataclysmic odds. What will they do? And in King’s book, after 99% of America’s population dies, what will the survives do? And what I found also interesting in this aspect was discovering the “no man is an island” concept. While this does not speak for everyone, but for the majority, we are a community based life. We are a commutative species that depends upon not just our own wits, but the wits of others too. We crave belonging. We crave companionship. We crave community or as they say “common-unity.”

In King’s epic The Stand, this basic need of common-unity is broken down into three groups. Yes, you heard me, three. The first two are easily recognized. Good, Mother Abigail and her Colorado haven. And the second, Evil, Randell Flagg’s strict Las Vegas commune. The third is not easily recognized, because it remains in the shadow, for a time. This third group are the moderates, the “silent majority,” to quote Nixon. This was the group watching the events between Abigail’s and Flagg’s group unfold. They were the quiet watchers, unsure of which group to follow, or to follow any group at all. Towards the end of the book, we begin to see this silent majority take shape as members from both Good and Evil camps begin to cut tides, searching for their own undiscovered country, their own America. This was, I think, out of concern. Like Frannie and Stu, there is an unsettling feeling watching the Bolder community grow and expand and mutate back into some symbolism of what America had once looked like. But wasn’t the old America, the old ways the same ways in which brought about Captain Trips in the first place? The same despite need for control and the terrifying escalation in which that desire ultimately brings?

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So, in a way, you can say that The Stand is basically about the death of all certainty, for nothing can be for certain, and what life would look like or could look like in the aftermath.

Just like most of King’s stories, The Stand was a character infused story driven by situation. His characters are some of the most real personas found within the pages of pop culture. Some I enjoyed more than others. Nick Andros was entertaining to read, though he was a bit naive.  Stu Redman was also a favorite, being a Texan and all.  There was also Larry Underwood, Glen Bateman (for some reason, I always picture Ben Franklin when reading the bits with Glen), and I even liked the more so-called wicked characters, both Harold and Trash were both favorites, though more or less pitied. I was not really a fan of Frannie Goldsmith. I found her to be actually rather annoying in the story. My all time favorite character by far was Mr. Tom Cullen. I’m not sure if that’s an odd character to hang your hat on. Cullen certainly did not play a pivotal role in the opening or even middle acts. Though he is there in the those transitions, his character becomes more important later on in the final stages of King’s apocalyptic play.  And by apocalypse, I mean not the obvious understanding (doom and gloom), but rather, the literal Greek definition, the “unveiling of knowledge,” the lifting of the veil, so-to-speak. In this, Tom Cullen is strangely gifted. His character, at first glance is obvious thin layered, or so he seems. Being a mentally challenged character, we may have a tendency to quickly dismiss him as a simple persona. However, there are layers to Tom, more than meets the eye, as they say. He has a power, and not just in prophesy, but also in faith. Tom has an unadulterated faith in the goodness of people. Child-like, almost. And certainly a quality worth respecting in our adult haggard age.

My Rating: 5/5

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Often called The Hemingway of Horror, Thomas S. Flowers secludes away to create character-driven stories of dark fiction ranging from Shakespearean gore feasts to paranormal thrillers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, his debut novel, Reinheit, was soon published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Apocalypse Meow, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His military/paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series, including Dwelling, Emerging, Conceiving, and Converging, are published with Limitless Publishing, LLC. In 2008, he was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army where he served for seven years, with three tours serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2014, Thomas graduated from University of Houston-Clear Lake with a Bachelors in History. He blogs at machinemean[dot]org, where he reviews movies and books and hosts a gambit of guest writers who discuss a wide range of strange yet oddly related topics. You can follow from Thomas at a safe distance by joining his author newsletter at http://goo.gl/2CozdE.


Opus Questions with D.K. Ryan

Drearily this past week, we were privy to our first taste of authors contributing to The Black Room Manuscripts regarding their favorite books. When it comes to writing, one must read. No, seriously. To showcase a range of talent, you have to be a “prolific reader.” Not only in our own genre of choice but also in other genres. And when it comes to horror writers, we are often found to have a wide assortment of favorite books we like to keep on our shelves. Research for knowledge and information we can tap into to help shape our own stories. So to keep things interesting and to be a bit villainess, I’ve asked my guests to tell us what their two favorite books are and why. That’s right. You heard me. Only two!!! (laughs manically). So, without further ado, here is D.K. Ryan

D.K. Ryan:

When Thomas S. Flowers asked me to name my two favourite books and why, it was the same as asking which of my children I love best.

Being the owner of close to four thousand books, along with a growing collection on my Kindle, the question is anything but simple. My reading life started out with horror, but along the way I’ve also enjoyed many, Thrillers, Crime, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, the latter of which I love almost as much as the blood and gore that regularly slips through my fingers.

So how does a person wean out a possible two from such an enormous collection? Well. I have to be practical, I have to be honest, and more than anything, I have to take you right back to where it all started. I could have sat back and chosen horror all day long to fill this very short list but if I did that I’d be a fake and the actual reason for my choices would never be known.

As I said above, my reading life started late, nineteen to be exact, and using a book for anything other than to prop up a wonky leg on a table seemed ridiculous and certainly a waste of time, for a young party animal like myself.

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Then something strange happened. My brother, who was the total opposite and found joy sitting for hours in his own head, left a copy of James Herbert’s, The Dark on a chair in our bedroom. Thinking that I could use it for no good, I picked it up and for whatever reason, I opened it and started to read. Over the next few hours, the horror within, ignited something. The scenes that were obviously fictitious, didn’t matter, because to me they were real, and I wanted more. My arrogance had completely disappeared along with my ignorance, and in their place, a revelation took place, one, I’m pleased to say, has never left. I became a person who looked at books the same way my brother did, using them to transport me off to different lands and for a long time, the outside world failed to exist. So for that reason, The Dark is the first of my two.

The second is again down to my brother. He became my unofficial go to guy when I wanted something new to read. It had become like a drug. Nothing else could satisfy my cravings more than paper and words. This time it was Terry Brooks who shared his work with the recently converted.

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In 1986 he released a book called, Kingdom for sale, his first in what was to become the Landover series, about a Chicago lawyer, who’s lost his way and is bored with life and where it’s taking him. He comes across an advert claiming a kingdom is being sold for the sum of one million dollars. Ben, (the lawyer) has lost his wife and unborn child in a car accident and with nothing to lose takes up the offer to buy and rule this magical kingdom.

This book for me, held something more than, The Dark. It combined both real world and fantasy world, and the struggles of a skeptic, coming to terms with his loss while at the same time asking himself if he really ‘has’ lost it and needs to be locked up for good.

I’m pleased to say that I’ve accumulated quite a collection of Terry Brooks’s work, as well as James Herbert. There are so many more books I could have chosen, and in time I hope to share them all. For now, a more fitting question would have been to name my top one hundred. But Thomas is a writer of horror and somewhat twisted himself, hence the difficult task of naming just two.

Though, I’m happy to say, that what this has done is take me back and remember how those two books made me feel. They made me feel comfortable, and in a sense, relieved, that I’d finally found something, in reading that is as strong today as it was in a quiet bedroom reading, The Dark.

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I want to thank D.K. Ryan for taking the time and letting us know a bit about his favorite two books and the history behind his choices. D.K. Ryan is the author of two Zombie Rodent Tales (Egor and the Cruise Ship Nasty, and Egor and the Ouzo Taverna) and a soon to be re-released novel, Family Perfect. But D.K. Ryan is probably best known for his spectacular work on Dead as Hell Horror Podcast with his book review segment, Paper cuts. D.K. Ryan also co-pilots Horror Worlds, a site dedicated to helping promote up and coming horror authors.