Bloody Good Horror Books 5*****Star review of The Legacy of Old Gran Parks!

I’m delighted to share this exceptionally warm and thoughtful review of The Legacy of Old Gran Parks from seasoned industry reviewer, Renier Palland.

 

“The Legacy of Old Gran Parks” by seasoned author Isobel Blackthorn is a droll, deeply satisfying and very understated horror novel published by HellBound Books. I’ve read some of Blackthorn’s work in the past and I haven’t been kind to her in a couple of reviews. Thank Buddha for her latest novel! “The Legacy of Old Gran Parks” is unique, extremely idiosyncratic and bathed in perfect prose. Blackthorn doesn’t just focus on “writing” a novel – she writes with such eloquence that one finds it difficult to critique her tempo and narrative techniques.

Blackthorn combines vengeance and wit to create a fictional world powered by strong plot machinations and a keen understanding of her characters. She injects her narrative with subtle symbolism and quasi-feminism. This amalgam forms an entirely new perspective on the revenge genre and its counterparts. Blackthorn deconstructs the novel like a set of Legos, then rebuilds both the plot and narrative to create a multi-faceted climax and denouement. This novel is much more than meets the eye. During my initial read-and-review process, I missed some of the finer details. Only after a secondary speed reading did I pick up on Blackthorn’s tongue-in-cheek satire.

The novel is billed as a dark comedy, but I disagree with this label. Blackthorn’s novel is a layered tour-de-force. The themes, although sardonic in their entirety, are actually much more insidious than Blackthorn imagined when she wrote the novel. There’s an element of darkness that broods underneath the hood, leaving you breathless once you actually delve deeper into the narrative.

Blackthorn’s characterisation is spot-on. The characters are perplexing, annoying (intentional) and they suffer from a derisive self-imaging machination. It’s as if the characters know Blackthorn, and they understand that she’s toying with them. This character/author intrusion is an intentional narrative device. Blackthorn poses the characters on an imaginary bookshelf and asks the reader, “So fucking what?” It’s a sign of a great author – someone who understands and knows what they’re doing with their characters and narrative.

Technically, Blackthorn didn’t make a single mistake. There was no verbiage, misused adverb or adjective techniques, or myocardial infarction of the plot. I didn’t have to restart the heart like I do with most novels. Blackthorn’s writing style flows like a river in a barren land. Unobstructed. Understated. Unequalled. As a fellow HellBound author (this does not affect the review), I notice just how great their editing techniques are. Unlike other imprints, where mistakes are made during proofing, HellBound delivers perfect editing. I’m not writing this to praise my own publisher – I’m merely stating my observations.

I once gave Blackthorn a 1 out of 5 rating for another book of hers. After a thorough editing process, I reviewed my critique and changed the rating. I was afraid that Blackthorn had to endure another less-than-average rating, but I am pleased to say that “The Legacy of Old Gran Parks” is her magnum opus.

It is definitely the best novel she’s ever written. And one of the best novels of 2018.

RATING: 5 out of 5

Bloody Good Books Reviews

Wow!!!!

Read more about Gran Parks here

Grab a copy here

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Book Review: Last Year, When We Were Young by Andrew J McKiernan

Here’s my review of yet another terrific collection of horror shorts, this time from award-winning Australian horror writer, Andrew J. McKiernan.

“WINNER: 2014 AHWA Australian Shadows Award, Collected Work

‘Last Year, When We Were Young’ brings together 16 tales that defy conventions of genre and style, every one with an edge sharper than a razor and darker than a night on Neptune.

From the darkly hilarious “All the Clowns in Clowntown” to the heart-breaking and disturbing title story, this debut collection from multi-award nominated author and illustrator Andrew J McKiernan pulls no punches.

“A troubling collection of weird and twisted tales. Sometimes funny, sometimes horrifying; always clever, always disturbing. Highly entertaining!” – Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of CODE ZERO

“McKiernan’s stories are hauntingly dark, evocatively written and viscerally compelling. With little regard for genre boundaries, McKiernan creates utterly convincing characters who will take you on a journey through fully realised worlds, and every journey is more than worth it.” – Alan Baxter, author of Bound and Realmshift

“These clever, compelling stories explore the dark edges of human existence. Utilising deceptive, often colloquial prose and an array of startling imagery, McKiernan has staked his own claim in a dark corner of imaginative fiction. Start reading him now; this guy will go far.” – Gary McMahon, author of The Concrete Grove

“McKiernan is a magician. He performs magic tricks in every story, spinning us around, making us believe one thing before showing us we were wrong all along. His stories are pure magic, staying with you like an echo long after reading.” – Kaaron Warren, author of Slights & Walking the Tree.”

My thoughts:

Last Year, When We Were Young contains some of the finest horror writing I have come across. Edgy, intelligent in conception, and delivered with poise in an easy and engaging literary style, McKiernan has penned a compelling collection of shorts brimming with darkness and menace.

My favourite is ‘Daivadana’, a story of  Mark Reynolds, a son sent to Tajikistan to do his father’s bidding and discover what is going on inside a new high rise development in a city rebuilding after war. He meets Jahandar and his son, Kurshed and through each, learns of the ancient religion of Zoroastrianism, its power and particularly its propensity for summoning evil. Here is one of those perfectly balanced stories, containing all the elements of a well-written thriller with all the elements of well-written horror, at once elegant, stylish, intriguing and fast-paced. McKiernan displays a deep knowledge of his subject and makes use of that knowledge to full effect, peppering his story with insights:

‘He realised, what really matters is not what colours the players wear, but who gets to hand out the costumes in the first place.”

Throughout this collection, the reader will encounter the weird, the unusual, the grotesque, the disturbing and the tragic. McKiernan never slips into horror for horror’s sake. Instead he exercises restraint. Each story is unique and strong, the reader taken to a variety of settings, the collection diverse and rich and haunting. Highly recommended.

You can find your copy here

You can find Andrew J McKiernan here

 

Book Review: Crow Shine by Alan Baxter

I’m delighted to share my review of this short story collection by Australian horror author, Alan Baxter.

“The dark fantasy collection features 19 stories, including the Australian Shadows Award-winning “Shadows of the Lonely Dead”; and original title story “Crow Shine” in addition to two other never before published stories.

“Alan Baxter is an accomplished storyteller who ably evokes magic and menace. Whether it’s stories of ghost-liquor and soul-draining blues, night club magicians, sinister western pastoral landscapes, or a suburban suicide–Crow Shine has a mean bite.”—Laird Barron, author of Swift to Chase.

“Crow Shine, by Alan Baxter, is a sweeping collection of horror and dark fantasy stories, packed with misfits and devils, repentant fathers and clockwork miracles. Throughout it all, Baxter keeps his focus on the universal problems of the human experience: the search for understanding, for justice, and for love. It’s an outstanding book.”—Nathan Ballingrud, author of North American Lake Monsters.

“Alan Baxter’s fiction is dark, disturbing, hard-hitting and heart-breakingly honest. He reflects on worlds known and unknown with compassion, and demonstrates an almost second-sight into human behaviour.”—Kaaron Warren, Shirley Jackson Award-winner and author of The Grief Hole.

“Buy your tickets, step up, and enter the world of Alan Baxter’s debut collection, Crow Shine. Here fates are brutal, justice is swift and merciless, yet even the most ruthless characters are sometimes – just sometimes – strangely touching. Crow Shine will terrify, surprise, and stun you.”—Angela Slatter, World Fantasy and British Fantasy Award winning author.”

My thoughts:

Alan Baxter has penned a collection of gritty, sharply written tales filled with dread. The horror seeps from every paragraph, often simmering just behind the scenes. Baxter creates a strong sense of place and atmosphere, drawing on both urban and rural settings in the USA and Australia. There are the satisfying twists readers of horror shorts expect. There’s the unwavering prose and moments of poetry indicative of quality horror writing.

The title story, ‘Crow Shine’ is an ironic tale whose antagonist, the crow, ever the watcher, will have its way. There’s an allusion to Mephistopheles selling his soul to the devil through the demon drink, when protagonist Clyde uses his grandfather’s recipe to make moonshine and thence is able to play the Blues.

‘Crow Shine’ sets the tone for the rest of the collection, Baxter in full control of his characters as they tumble into darkness, decadence and the pits of hell.  In ‘The Darkest Shades of Grey’ David is possessed by demons after meddling with ouija, and drifts further and further into inner conflict and torment. Here, Baxter is concerned with the possible consequences of using the occult for entertainment, a warning to us all.

I would recommend this collection to all who enjoy good horror shorts and especially to those wanting to discover the best in Australian horror today.

Get your copy here

Find Alan Baxter here

The Drago Tree review to make my day!

Sometimes reviews are long and detailed and demonstrate a deep engagement with the story. Other times they are short and sweet, but the engagement is still present, in the words the reviewer chooses to convey how they feel. Which is why I am thrilled to share this review, just in via NetGalley, of The Drago Tree, my literary love story set on Lanzarote. Really, reviews don’t come any better than this!

 

 

You will find The Drago Tree in paperback and e-book formats worldwide in both English and Spanish. Here’s one of many bookstores:

https://www.bookdepository.com/The-Drago-Tree/9781922200365

Book review: Them by James Watts

Continuing my run of horror novel reviews, I am delighted to share my review of Them by James Watts.

“Ray Sanders returns home from Florida to bury his mother.
Soon, the supernatural evidence behind his mother’s demise begins to surface in the form of dreams and mysterious happenings.

During all of the madness, Sanders must face his destiny and vanquish the generations-old evil that has plagued his family since the 1800’s…

In 1854, Louis Sanders, with the help of Elias Atkins, dug a well to provide water to the family farm. What they did not anticipate was the water to be infested with Odomulites – ancient sins. These malevolent beings – were trapped in our world on their way to the spirit world – formed a pact of protection with both Sanders and Atkins; the families would serve as guardians of the Odomulite nests and in return, a blind eye would be cast when the Odomulites took host bodies to inhabit and feed upon.

It was this pact, which in 2016 would propel Sanders and Julie Fontaine – a young woman with a special connection to the Spirit World – into the heart of the last active nest to rid the town of its insidious Odomulite population.”

My thoughts:

It is impossible not to be hooked by this story; dread underscores every page, thanks to a gripping prologue. Watts has penned what I would describe a straight-ahead horror novel reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand. Fast paced, emotionally real and raw at times, at others almost wistful, Watts fills his pages with close observances and small details that bring his cast of characters alive and builds a warm, down-home wholesome feel that is juxtaposed with the menace lurking all around.

The prose is vernacular and pleasant to read with satisfying descriptions of a grotesque evil that haunts and taunts those dwelling in Maple Grove, Alabama. Watts’ characters are gritty, many have attitude and the setting of Maple Grove is vividly portrayed. I could smell the air and hear the characters speak.

Watts gives his readers what they want, solid, four to the floor horror that never misses the mark. Told from multiple points of view, the plot is peppered with little twists and turns, the pace kept fast as the story flits from character to character. Adding texture to the narrative, Them brims with 1970s popular cultural references, which I found charming.

As for the menace that pervades Maple Grove, I thought the way ‘they’ invade the characters’ dreams was clever.  Them contains an interesting mix of supernatural possession and creature horror, which I found Watts handled well, especially when he offers the reader a full explanation.

Gruesome and terrifying, Them is not a book to read in a basement.

Review: Captor by Anita Waller

I’ve had a short detour into the realm of thrillers with Anita Waller’s smashing read, Captor.

 

“Liz Chambers is a devoted mother who works for a successful law firm. She has two children, a husband and a blossoming career. But behind closed doors, Liz is harbouring a secret that could destroy her life.

Then the unthinkable happens, and in a frenzied attack, her young son is snatched from the home of the childminder charged with looking after him.

As Liz’s life unfolds, it becomes clear that someone is out for revenge.

Desperate to get her baby boy back, Liz must work out who is responsible for his kidnap, and why.

But as the body count begins to mount, Liz’s concern grows for the safety of her child.

Who has taken her baby?

And why is Captor so determined on revenge?”

My thoughts:

What makes a good thriller? Relatable characters, a relatable plot, and a fast pace with plenty of twists along the way are all essential elements of a good thriller. Deviate from the strictures and the author will risk alienating thriller readers who don’t want detailed backstory, long paragraphs of reflection or thick descriptions. Thrillers have to create an edge of seat tension in the mind of the reader and they absolutely must not falter or meander in any way. Reading Anita Waller’s novel, it is plain she has mastered every element of the thriller genre with finesse.

Captor does not miss a beat. The twists come at just the right moment and drive the plot forward at breakneck speed. The protagonist, Liz Chambers, is sufficiently complex and flawed to make her likeable if selfish and blinkered, and Waller leaves it to her readers to judge Liz’s past and present deeds. Indeed, it is Liz’s questionable acts and decisions that provoke the reader to think and ponder what they might do, or not do in a similar situation.

The story unfolds rapidly once Liz’s baby son is taken, and from then on Captor is laced with a satisfying mix of mystery and complexity. The parallel narrative works well too, in keeping the reader informed and building up tension. I defy any reader to put this book down before they get to the end!

I thoroughly enjoyed Captor, and look forward to reading more from the author.

 

You can find the author here: http://www.bloodhoundbooks.com/anita-waller/

And grab your copy here