Book Review: Visceral Vices by Shawn Chang

About Visceral Vices

Alexandrines singing of carnage, collapse, a capricious, convulsing wormwood bitterness reeking of decay, dolor, and delusions. Sonnets hissing with treachery, tragedy, a trickling, liminal longing that cannot-and will never-be fulfilled.Stories, alive with guttural shrieks and lilts, breeding demonic aura, human vengeance, and beasts and monsters that, like insoluble echoes or silhouetted revenants, are revived from pluperfect myths, modern inventions, and even spectral, Plutonian remembrances, never to be banished.And, brewing in the cascades of blood and bones, much, much more.Comprising 45 poems and 7 short stories, both previously published and new work, Visceral Vices is the author’s first solo collection, embroidered with leaden barbs, laced with miasmic poisons, and, snaking across corpse-filled fissures, mortally taut in suspension with the surreal, gnarled, writhing skeins of fermenting fancies, plaguing aches, and gratuitous murder.

My Thoughts

I set a very high bar for poetry and short stories. My literary self comes to the fore and I expect excellence. I want the likes of Byron or Shelley. I want Wilfred Owen. I want Robert Penn Warren. I want to feel challenged and moved and even swept away. Which is why I opened Visceral Vices with trepidation. I had not heard of Shawn Chang. Would his words reach my expectations? Could his fingertips brush that bar of mine?

Imagine my delight when I did finally open this book and encountered a formidable talent! Three sonnets in and I immediately paused to read this author’s bio. He is an award-winning Canadian poet whose output has been published in literary magazines and journals around the world. To have these various writings gathered up in one collection is a veritable feast for the reader. Chang composes with breathtaking precision. His writing is fresh, youthful, taut, poised, perceptive, penetrating and considered. I enjoyed “Vernal Kingdom”, “Idylls Bless’d” and “Miasmic Eclipse”, the well-executed short story “Sirens of Lerams”, and the dark irony of “The Ink of Iniquity”. There is so much to savour! I will be returning again and again to this collection. I am grateful for the candid Revenant at the end. Unrequited love and the yearnings of the tormented soul feed the Muse as ever they do.

Chang has a good grasp of Greek mythology which he deploys with aplomb and displays mastery of poetic devices in service to his ideas. The author is not shy of perhaps archaic language, the sorts of words slipping from contemporary view in favour of emojis. Chang harkens back, his poetry and his prose encouraging us to hold on to that which is too easily lost: literary refinement and artistry.

In all, Visceral Vices is dark poetry at its best. How much language can I throw at Chang’s to convey my appreciation and persuade others to take the plunge and see for themselves how good this is? Every aspiring dark fiction author should get themselves a copy of Chang’s book. Will Chang be North America’s next Joyce Carol Oates?

Find your copy of Visceral Vices on Amazon

Isobel BlackthornIsobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of unique and engaging fiction. She writes dark psychological thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary and literary fiction. Isobel was shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Prose Prize 2019 for her biographical short story, ‘Nothing to Declare’. The Legacy of Old Gran Parks is the winner of the Raven Awards 2019. Isobel holds a PhD from the University of Western Sydney, for her research on the works of Theosophist Alice A. Bailey, the ‘Mother of the New Age.’

The Unlikely Occultist Book Tour Wrap Up

When I booked a review tour for my biographical novel of Alice Bailey, it was with considerable unease. I knew few if any reviewers would have heard of the mysterious esoteric figure, which perhaps renders my novel of special interest only. That was my thinking. I was wrong. The Unlikely Occultist was very well received by all bar one reviewer, who signed up not realising what my book was about. She was very kind in saying so without hating on my offering.

As for the others, well, my hat is off to them all, not only for their considered words of praise, but for making a solid effort to read a rather dense story steeped in historical detail. I also commend Rachel’s Random Resources for yet again putting together an excellent tour.

Here are the highlights of The Unlikely Occultist book tour.

” I think if you like history and finding out more about iconic figures, then this is definitely one you should try.” https://bytheletterbookreviews.com/2019/08/20/the-unlikely-occultist-by-isobel-blackthorn-rararesources-iblackthorn/

“She is truly an inspiring lady who fought back against adversity time and again to remain true to her beliefs” https://maitaylor567291325.wordpress.com/2019/08/20/the-unlikely-occultist-isobel-blackthorn/

“An interesting and enjoyable read about a very charismatic woman who wrote more than twenty-four books on theosophical subjects.” https://eclecticreview.com/2019/08/21/the-unlikely-occultist-a-biographical-novel-of-alice-a-bailey-by-isobel-blackthorn-iblackthorn-rararesources-nonfiction-biography-isobelblackthorn/

“The combination of fact and fiction brings her name and influence to the table and perhaps even a 21st century view on the woman and her legacy.” https://cherylmmbookblog.blogspot.com/2019/08/blogtour-unlikely-occultist.html?spref=tw

“Isobel Blackthorn’s use of fiction cleverly achieves this; Alice Bailey’s name and work is brought into the mainstream rather than hidden in the shadows.” https://fromundertheduvet.co.uk/2019/08/22/book-review-the-unlikely-occultist-a-biographical-novel-of-alice-a-bailey/

“Even if you’re someone who might be tempted to dismiss spiritualism in all its various guises as ‘bunkum’, do at least give this book a chance. It’s so intelligently written that I’m sure you’ll at least see if not understand why so many people give it credence. In summary, this is a persuasively written novel that cleverly combines fact with a little fiction in order to thoroughly entertain as well as enlighten.” http://www.booksarecool.com/2019/blackthorn-fascinating-persuasive/

“I enjoy Isobel Blackthorn’s writing, so while this might not have been a book I’d normally read, the writing is beautiful and I’m glad I took a leap.” https://jessicabelmont.wordpress.com/2019/08/22/blogtour-the-unlikely-occultist-isobel-blackthorn-iblackthorn-rararesources-gilbster1000-amreading-bookblogger-bookreview/

“I found myself flying through the pages and intrigued by the whole plot, so much so that I went on to learn about Alice Bailey and her real life. She was a fascinating woman and you should look her up.” Stacey https://whisperingstories.com/the-unlikely-occultist-isobel-blackthorn-book-review/

“Bailey’s life was fascinating no matter what you do or don’t believe. A writer and teacher, she was one of the first people to coin terms like ‘New Age’ and ‘The Age of Aquarius’, Bailey also claimed to have had her books dictated to her by a Tibetan Master of Wisdom – a human-like divinity steeped in Eastern esoteric religion.”  http://www.jameshartleybooks.com/a-life-of-alice-bailey/

” The author supplements the facts of Ms. Bailey’s life with well-written fictional accounts of Alice’s day-to-day life, which brings this enigmatic person to life.” https://www.jenabooks.com/sharing-a-new-book-15/

“Blackthorn has a story to tell, and she’s going to take her time with it. It’s as relaxed as it can be, and sort of moseys through the plot, allowing the reader to soak in all the information at hand. That should also be mentioned. This is a lore and information heavy novel, in its own way. If you have no idea who Bailey is, you’ll learn something, and that’s exactly the type of novel I’ve been loving of late. If that’s something you’re attracted to as well, check this out.” http://www.vainradical.co.uk/blogs/the-unlikely-occultist-book-tour-review/

“drew me in from the beginning and I instantly became connected to Alice’s world. It was such a wonderful read that I just couldn’t out it down.”https://babydollsandrazorblades.wordpress.com/2019/08/24/book-review-the-unlikely-occultist-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“this book was definite learning experience for me!” https://ktrobson.home.blog/2019/08/25/the-unlikely-occultist-by-isobel-blackthorn-review/

“I really did enjoy this and am looking forward to doing some investigating into Alice” https://curledupwithagoodbook.co.uk/blog-tour-review-the-unlikely-occultist-by-isobel-blackthorn/

” I had not heard of Alice Bailey but boy was she an interesting character! I loved finding out about her and I even found myself on online after I’d finished the book to find out more – that for me is the sign of excellent characterisation – she certainly piqued my interest!” https://donnasbookblog.wordpress.com/2019/08/25/blogtour-bookreview-for-the-unlikely-occultist-by-isobel-blackthorn-rararesources/

“As the story proceeds, Alice’s contribution to the theosophical society is explained in detail. Her life was nothing short of a ship in a storm. It was heart-wrenching to read the hardships she went through” https://thebookdecoder.com/2019/08/26/the-unlikely-occulist-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“The Unlikely Occultist is a book for someone who loves history or when you want to be fascinated by a wonderful and stubborn lady who just wants to make the world a better place.” https://indeboekenkast.com/english-books/romans/the-unlikely-occultist/

“I really enjoyed this book, I had never heard of Alice Bailey but Isobel Blackthorn really brings her to life here.” https://thedivinewrite.wordpress.com/2019/08/26/the-unlikely-occultist/

Visit The Unlikely Occultist here

Isobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of unique and engaging fiction. She writes dark psychological thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary and literary fiction. Isobel was shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Prose Prize 2019, for her biographical short story, ‘Nothing to Declare’. The Legacy of Old Gran Parks is the winner of the Raven Awards 2019. Isobel holds a PhD from the University of Western Sydney, for her research on the works of Theosophist Alice A. Bailey, the ‘Mother of the New Age.’

Book review: Bloody Sheets by Andy Rausch

Bloody Sheets by Andy Rausch

When a young black man is lynched in a small Alabama town, his estranged father — a crime world enforcer — sets out for revenge, embarking on a blood – soaked journey that will leave the ravaged bodies of dead Klansmen in his wake.

“Rausch unleashes a flurry of gut-punches both painful and thrilling, his prose brimming with righteous anger and stark, no-bullshit wit. This racially charged and crackling tale reads like a startling mash-up of Jim Thompson and Iceberg Slim, making Bloody Sheets that rare achievement: hardboiled and hard-hitting, but transcendently heartfelt as well.”

My Thoughts

I had no idea what to expect when I opened this novella and I was pleased to find good strong prose and a no-holds-barred style laced with acid wit. A raw, straight ahead vengeance tale for fans of pulp fiction, Bloody Sheets is grit on steroids. Enter the deep south of the United States, a small-town in Alabama riven with racism and hatred, a location where the Ku Klux Klan are strong and active. When a young couple in love defy local mores – she’s white, he’s black – a father seeks revenge and calls in a favour from ex-con Coke. What unfolds will take your breath away and be warned, this novella is not for the faint of heart!

Bloody Sheets is a fast-paced, one-sitting read, with witty and sharp dialogue and graphic scenes of extreme violence. The title is apt and metaphoric, the story strong on setting. Rausch even manages to endear his badass hero to his readers and provides a stark portrait of racial hatred and its inevitable consequences. I loved the final twist.

Not exactly a morality tale, but there is enough in Bloody Sheets to make you pause and think.

Andy Rausch is an American film journalist, author, screenwriter, film producer, and actor. He is the author of several novels and novellas including Elvis Presley, CIA Assassin. He also wrote the screenplay for Dahmer versus Gacy and is the author of some twenty non-fiction books on popular culture. Books: Riding Shotgun, Bloody Sheets, A Time for Violence, Layla’s Score.

 

You can usually find Andy on Twitter @writerrausch1, and he maintains a blog at https://authorandyrausch.wordpress.com/

Grab your copy on Amazon

Isobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of unique and engaging fiction. She writes dark psychological thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary and literary fiction. Isobel was shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Prose Prize 2019 for her biographical short story, ‘Nothing to Declare’. The Legacy of Old Gran Parks is the winner of the Raven Awards 2019. Isobel holds a PhD from the University of Western Sydney, for her research on the works of Theosophist Alice A. Bailey, the ‘Mother of the New Age.’

Launching Blackthorn Book Tours

I am thrilled to announce Blackthorn Book Tours, a review-only book tour service dedicated to dark fiction.

After almost a decade promoting my own novels I have a real understanding of how hard it can be sourcing reviews. I have pitched single emails to over two-hundred book bloggers for a single title. A 5% take up rate is said to be good. Out of that 5% maybe half will review. It’s demoralising, so I turned to paid book tour providers and booked tours. For a modest sum, the stress was removed, I could relax, and I got to enjoy the thrill of the tour and receive about twenty solid reviews of my book each time. But when I searched for a book tour service for my dark fiction, I couldn’t find one. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough.

Seeing many of my peers in the dark fiction scene also struggle to get reviews, I decided to create Blackthorn Book Tours, throwing in my lot with PR Manager and mover and shaker Henry Roi of Close to the Bone Publishing, and already we have a long list of top reviewers who have jumped aboard. We kick off our enterprise on September 1st with Bloody Sheets by Andy Rausch.

 

Following close on the heels are these three book tours:

You can find out more about our book tour service here https://isobelblackthorn.com/blackthorn-book-tours/

 

Book review: Blurred Vision by Chris Botragyi

About Blurred Vision

Six men wake up in a hazy room. Trying to piece together the jigsaw of how they ended up there, it becomes clear that they are being held prisoner on a spacecraft.

But why were they abducted?

One by one, they are dragged out of the room and into the darkness. From a brilliant professor to a young, headstrong resistance leader, they all have to face their greatest fears and come to terms with their past… and the dangerous future they face.

My thoughts

I rarely read science fiction and therefore am no expert when it comes to the genre. What I liked about Blurred Vision was the ambition and scope and complexity of the narrative. A group of six men wake up to find themselves incarcerated in a strange metal box. Slowly they begin to regain their memories, only to discover they have been abducted by aliens. Early on in the story one escapes and is brutally dismembered. One by one, the backstories of the various characters is revealed, along with the story of the aliens themselves. Good characterisation, a fast pace from the first and an abundance of action make Blurred Vision an entertaining read.

The narrative feeds into alien conspiracy theories, especially the idea that aliens are attempting to steal military knowledge and that the United States military is covering up their communications with extra-terrestrials and are engaged in alien experiments. But that theme is overshadowed by a larger conspiracy theory, fictional this time, one of epochal proportions and tipping its hat at, I imagine, the evangelical Christian scene. This theme takes over as the narrative takes on a Biblical storyline and cause of the alien invasion is eventually revealed. To say more would spoil the story.

Blurred Vision is the kind of science fiction that shades into horror and would appeal to fans of both.

 

Find Blurred Vision on Amazon

 

Book review: Forever by Natalie J. Case

About Forever

Born in the dawn of man’s history, Amara is neither human nor vampire and yet fully both; a killer, a child, a lover, a monster.

Wandering the world, she seeks redemption and vengeance in equal measure. Discovering love in its many forms and loss in its deepest agony, her life circles around two others who return to her again and again, until their fates are set right.

“The ancient game is played out as three souls, born together in the lost pages of time, are as they were meant to be. But to tell that story, my story, I must go back to the beginning. To the time before I came to be.

Before any of us had come to be.”

My Thoughts

The cover of Forever speaks of a gothic read, of hauntings, perhaps, or maybe something even darker. Forever is a vampire story, the third I have read this year, and not being a fan of paranormal fiction, I was relieved to find behind this gloomy and disturbing cover, a satisfying dark and engaging story written with a deft pen.

The protagonist, Amara, is not a regular vampire. She is part human, and this sets up an internal conflict as by turns she fights against and gives in to her vampiric tendency to drain humans of their blood. Amara is on a journey of discovery when, as a misfit repelled by what she sees her vampire kin do, she takes the difficult path of leaving them behind to find her way in the world of humans. When she leaves the Family of bloodthirsty vampires headed up by three brothers and sets off on her own she cannot know the adventures and conflicts that lie ahead. Soon she befriends a mortal, Jesse, who has a deep interest in the ancient traditions. When Jesse slays one of her own, Vahe, the two are hunted by the Family. A love interest grows between the pair as they flee, only to find themselves having to confront the powerful Crenoral, Amara’s step-father. From here, the story continues as Amara searches for ways to belong to her human family, and to say more would spoil the plot.

Forever, a tale that is highly atmospheric and spans eons of time. There is plenty of bloody action packing the pages and Case displays excellent world building skills, a requisite for any fantasy author, dark or otherwise. Throughout the novel, Case explores themes of alienation and belonging, and of identity, tackling the age old dance of passion versus morality, as Amara resists her own innate and powerful desires. I particularly enjoyed the first person perspective of an older wiser Amara reflecting back on her life.

Very well written, with complex characters created with a sympathetic eye, Forever will appeal to fans of vampire fiction with an epic flavour who are after a classic read.

 

Book review – Living on the Inner Edge: A Practical Esoteric Tale by Cyrus Ryan

 

About Living on the Inner Edge: A Practical Esoteric Tale

A mystical story, breaking traditional boundaries, new thought, practices, insights, and a way of knowledge. Everyone walks their own path but in the New Age of Spirituality the idea of Group Work was born from the works of the Tibetan Master D.K., where he introduced the idea of group work on the physical plane and in the higher spheres of the Soul, and the Gurdjieff/Ouspensky Work which was accomplished through intense group meetings and personal interaction. Living on the Inner Edge is a foray into the world of experimental Group Work which lasted for over 30 years, constantly evolving and synthesizing the essence of different Esoteric Traditions into a new body of discipline that achieved extraordinary results.

My Thoughts

The gnostic or esoteric way of knowing relies on the development of the esoteric sense, a way of perceiving into and through words and experiences to arrive at their deeper meanings, to grasp the essence in terms of inner truth and spiritual purpose. The development of the esoteric sense requires an innate disposition or some sort of pre-existing esoteric hardwiring, along with training in meditation to cultivate the ability to indwell for sustained periods, and guidance in the form of esoteric knowledge. To begin with, the esoteric way of knowing forges a connection between the personality and the soul or Essential Nature and starts the long process of aligning the will of the personality with that of the soul. This process of discriminating between personality and soul natures is the first major step on the path of spiritual evolution and takes immense effort, discipline and perseverance, all of which occur both inside and beyond meditation experience and should become central to daily life.

Living on the Inner Edge portrays this journey and makes it a lived reality for the reader. Many books detail the hows and whys of meditation, few explore the experiential side. Ryan’s testimony sounds a clear note in our current age of confusion.  Importantly, Ryan cautions against blind adherence to any spiritual teachings, repeating them, parrot like, as if that were an indication of spiritual progress.

The memoir opens in Toronto in 1975 when a spiritual group is formed around a teacher, RN, and goes on to depict the evolution of the group, the highs and lows, the tests and the successes and failures. Above all, Living on the Inner Edge describes not a search for meaning but the laying bare of an authentic unfoldment of the soul within, the Essential Nature, of the author. Ryan makes several journeys to India, visits various sacred sites, and has extraordinary experiences along the way that make for an entertaining read. His depiction of the dangers, the struggles and the challenges that face the dedicated seeker are portrayed with insightful explanations. The strange manifestations of the astral, the latching on of Elementals, the confrontation with the consuming Dwelling on the Threshold, are all described in rich detail. The path is long, enlightenment is far away, and the journey begins when the seeker strips away the delusion that they have already arrived at some point of high achievement.

Ryan has a gift for explaining the complex and abstruse in the most lucid and accessible fashion without losing the true essence of meaning. There is an awakening, stimulating, attuning charge to the writing, the memoir told by someone with decades of practical experience and a sincere heart.

This memoir will appeal to readers with at least a passing knowledge of Theosophy and the esotericism of the East, as found in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, and a healthy dose of esoteric empathy. Living on the Edge is a journey on the inner planes, where unfoldment occurs at that interface of exoteric and esoteric realities. At the end, Ryan provides appendices containing further explanations and meditation techniques, in what amounts to a very sound and useful guide.

Find Living on the Inner Edge on Amazon

Find Cyrus Ryan at http://www.northernschoolofesotericwisdom.com/

 

Isobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of unique and engaging fiction. She writes dark psychological thrillers, mysteries, and contemporary and literary fiction. Isobel was shortlisted for the Ada Cambridge Prose Prize 2019 for her biographical short story, ‘Nothing to Declare’. The Legacy of Old Gran Parks is the winner of the Raven Awards 2019. Isobel holds a PhD from the University of Western Sydney, for her research on the works of Theosophist Alice A. Bailey, the ‘Mother of the New Age.’ She is the author of The Unlikely Occultist: a biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey.