Book review: Her Name is Mercie by Chris Roy

The joy of writing book reviews is stumbling on good stories, well told. When the stories take your breath away, all the better! Here is my review of one Her Name is Mercie, a collection of short stories by Chris Roy.

“Mercie Hillbrook lives a simple, quiet life working as a gas station attendant. Then her parents are killed. Her home is taken. The people responsible are excused for just doing their job. When an attempt to get justice her way lands her in trouble with the law, Mercie realizes she still has something to lose: her own life.

Then she finds reason to believe her parents were murdered… and she doesn’t care anymore.”

My thoughts:

As the cover suggests, Her Name is Mercie is a dark and thrilling ride, the lead story, almost novella length, an edge of seat experience that demands to be read in one sitting. Roy does not let his readers stray from his pages. He has you right there with the action, living it, feeling it. Mercie and her sidekick are likeable characters, and through their eyes, from the initial story set up to the dramatic ending, Roy explores the theme of injustice. Hard and racy and thoroughly entertaining, ‘Her Name is Mercie’ contains a perfect story arc. The writing is vivid and controlled, Roy demonstrating poise and restraint even as he delivers the gruesome details.

All the elements of a good short story are present throughout the collection; with writing that is taut and punchy, sparse and edgy, and with plenty of twists and turns and unexpected and satisfying endings. There are moments of visceral horror yet the horror element is never overplayed. A good craftsman, Roy sets his scenes with acute observations and a minimum of detail and a healthy measure of wit.

The second story, ‘Re-Pete’ is a gem. Told from the perspective of a young child with OCD, the result of a ghastly and recent trauma, the tale is funny and absurd, and packs a delightfully wicked punch, if ‘delightful’ can be used in the context. Roy enters the mind of young Pete with sensitivity and compassion. Pete, like the other protagonists in the collection, deserves better than the life he has been given.

Themes of justice and corruption and revenge against wrongdoers dominate the collection. In Her Name is Mercie, Roy’s protagonists, the victims of bad deeds, step into their own power.

Roy clearly has a gift, invoking in his readers immediate and deep engagement. With this collection he has thrown down the gauntlet, meeting the challenge of originality and displaying prowess across multiple styles – spooky, sinister, surreal, brutal and ironic – each story is distinct. I look forward to reading more from this author.

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Book review: The Torcian Chronicles: Defiance by P.J. Reed

I very rarely dip into dark fantasy, so it was a treat to read P. J. Reed’s debut.

“Mesham sits dejectedly in a tiny garret above an inn, as the lands of Torcia fall to the magically-enhanced army of the infamous Mivirian Horde. One of the last surviving ancient warlocks of Torcia, Mesham knows he is marked for death.

The Torcian king knocks on Mesham’s door later that evening and offers him the chance of rejuvenation in return for a seemingly impossible mission into the heart of Mivir. Mesham reluctantly agrees, only to realise the evil of Mivir has spread to the very top of the Torcian government.

As Mesham undertakes his quest to complete the mission, he finds himself hunted by his king, by the mighty Torcian warbands, and by the Horde.

But he cannot fail, for the fate of Mesham’s beloved Torcia rests in his hands.”

 

My thoughts:

The novel opens with a battle scene, more a massacre, providing the reader with a good sense of what is to come as a party of Mirivian Outriders descend on Sicam and his men. Realising the danger of complete annihilation, the Torcian king rejuvenates a decrepit warlock and sends him on a mission to save the kingdom. Mesham gathers around him a motley crew who are forced to defend themselves against all manner of monsters. Nowhere is safe. Even the trees are alive and menacing.

Reed writes well, building her world with the minimum of fuss, drawing in her readers with all the elements of a good dark fantasy novel, not least evocative descriptions of decaying cities and carnage, the horror unrelenting. Reed has created characters that are convincing and vividly portrayed, with enough betrayal, treachery and intrigue to hold the attention, and oodles of action and adventure right to the very end. Reed takes her readers on a frenzied ride through a kind of hell, terrifying, disturbing and jaw-dropping by turns. The magic in the story works well. Imaginative and gripping, with strong writing overall, I would recommend this book to appreciators of the dark fantasy genre. I enjoyed finding the spell list at the end.

 

You can grab your copy here.

 

 

 

 

 

Book review: The Erotic Odyssey of Colton Forshay by James H Longmore

What a naughty and absurdly dark novel this is!

“Colton Forshay dreams himself into a bizarre sexual dystopia, a world in which nothing is as it should be. Sickening sex acts and sexual violence are the norm and in which the currency is deviant sexual acts. At first disturbed, then intrigued – and aroused – by his dreams of this other world, Colton is drawn deeper in and begins to spend more and more time there; so much so that his wife forces him to visit a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist encourages him to explore the dream world – and our hero goes on an odyssey with his dog/son, Eric, to discover the disturbing truth behind his dream world.”

My thoughts:

What could be more normal than a weekend party at a neighbor’s house? James H Longmore’s The Erotic Odyssey of Colton Forshay is anything but. The story opens at a neighborhood barbecue, where a guest is sacrificed in an unimaginably gruesome fashion amidst wanton depravity. Everyone is there, from housewives lounging in the altogether to a teacher from a local high school and a reverend. Colton, mourning the loss of his wife, Alicia, and somewhat disturbed at having fathered a child-dog, Eric, goes along and participates in the orgy.

When Colton wakes from a wet dream beside his real-world wife, Zeenah, she insists he see her psychiatrist to deal with his sex addiction. He agrees, but the therapy is to no avail. Every time he sleeps he returns to the same dreamscape, peppered with characters taken from his waking life. The two realities bleed into each other as Colton’s dreaming takes over his waking reality in what amounts to a bizarre possession.

Things slide downhill in his dreamworld as Colton is coerced into attending an orgy at the Presidential palace, to participate in a version of Devil’s Roulette. The narrative reaches a steamy and grotesque climax as Colton attempts to escape with his life.

The Erotic Odyssey of Colton Forshay follows a traditional story arc, cleverly constructed, the intertwining of the two realities well-executed. Every sort of debauchery is interwoven into the action, the natural realism of the prose underscoring an incisive critique of middle-class suburbia, its shadowy desires laid bare, along with a fascinating insight into the nature of consciousness. Fast-paced, hilarious and unrelenting, with a satisfying twist at the end, Longmore has penned a thoroughly entertaining and intelligent work of bizarro fiction. I recommend this book to lovers of horror and dark erotica, and to those interested in discovering the best the bizarro genre has to offer.

Grab you copy here

Discover James H Longmore here

Book review: It’s a Bright World to Feel Lost in by Mawson

I could not resist reviewing this charming picture book for adults by the irresistibly cute Mawson bear!

“Are you feeling a little lost? Got that ‘left in the spare room’ emptiness about you? Mawson does too.
He sits atop his cushion and ponders about baffling things.
The world is a baffling place for a curious teddy bear to live in. Friends approach him about their own dilemmas. They seek instant answers that will make everything all right. Mawson does his best. But after he ponders deeply, most things remain for him just as baffling as they were before.
Take a moment out of your day to pawse with him and explore the world. For the many frazzled readers who feel, secretly, much the same, he offers the comfort that the world is a bright place to be.”

My thoughts:

Mawson has penned a simple and moving tale of love and devotion, of belonging and losing the one you were born to protect. Brief text explains charming and evocative photographs of Mawson and his friends. Mawson is the most ponderous and baffled of bears. He tries to make sense of the world around him, but is challenged at every turn. Each page contains a message to dwell on and there is a satisfying twist at the end.

The shift in perspective as a loveable teddy bear reflects on how he needs to be loved stimulates a different way of viewing the world, encouraging us to put ourselves in the bear’s shoes. When we do, we are suddenly faced with our own selfishness and lack of empathy. Sure, Mawson is just a bear, a fluffy toy, and not a real animate being, or is he? Isn’t he a metaphor for all those living creatures we neglect? And what about those times when we feel neglected? Where do we turn?

It’s a Bright World is a meditation on the nature of love, missing, grieving, solace and healing. The story contains a powerful message: those who provide comfort are too often taken for granted.

It is possible to read this little book in about ten minutes, but then, you might find yourself dipping back in, again and again, leaving your copy on the coffee table to return to at whim. It’s a Bright World is that sort of book.

You can purchase a copy here.

Visit Mawson’s blog

 

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

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