Book Review: Follow Him by Craig Stewart

About Follow Him

True love doesn’t die – it devours. Just outside the sleepy town of Dreury, a mysterious cult known as The Shared Heart has planted its stakes. Its followers are numerous. More join every day. Those who are lost and suffering seem to be drawn to it; a home for the broken. When Jacob finds himself in need of such a home, he abandons his dead name and gives himself over to the will of The Great Collector. However, love refuses to let Jacob go so easily; his ex-fiancé, Nina, kidnaps him in the hopes that he can be deprogrammed. As she attempts to return Jacob to the life they once had, a terrible fear creeps in: what if there isn’t enough of her Jacob left? When The Great Collector learns of his missing follower, the true nature of The Shared Heart is unleashed. Nina discovers what Jacob already knows: that hidden behind the warm songs and soaring bonfires is a terrifying and ancient secret; one that lives and breathes and hungers. And it’s coming for them.
 

My Thoughts

Follow Him falls into that category of horror that draws on the paranormal in the form on an ancient evil, a metaphysical entity of enormous potency. The novel opens with Jacob coming out of a strange trance in which he saw for himself what the worshippers of The Shared Heart thought they knew. He could fly, he could soar, and he had come face to face with the beast. The experience was ecstatic, a privilege, only for the chosen few, and all who worshipped coveted the same. Jacob is lost, doomed and it remains for his ex-fiance to save him. When gutsy Nina appears on the scene, breaking into The Sanctuary to steal Jacob away, the story picks up speed in true thriller fashion.

Stewart has penned a novel with a complex undertow very much pointed at the dangers of religious and spiritual cults. I enjoyed the Biblical overtones. It is no accident that Stewart named his protagonist Jacob – Jacob first appears in the Book of Genesis as the son of Isaac and Rebecca, he who wrestled with God and forced God to bless him. Jacob is said to have experienced a vision of a ladder, or staircase, reaching into heaven with angels ascending and descending, known as Jacob’s ladder. Stewart’s Jacob follows ‘The Collector’, the beast’s messenger, and has out of body experiences that change him forever in the most unpleasant of ways.

The complexities of this theme are cleverly buried beneath an action-led, fast-paced plot laced with sensuality. Well-crafted characters, excellent snappy dialogue, and a sharp and witty narrative style make Follow Him great entertainment. Yet this novel remains ultra-disturbing in every respect. Follow Him is Iain Banks’ Whit on steroids. Recommended to horror/dark thriller fans after their next fix.

About Craig Stewart

Craig Stewart is a Canadian author and filmmaker who learned how to count from the rhyme, “One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.”

He’s a creator and connoisseur of everything horror; never afraid to delve into the dark, and then a little further. His written works include short stories, film scripts, articles, and most recently, a novel.

He has also written and directed several short horror films that have enjoyed screenings across North America.

 

Isobel Blackthorn is an award-winning author of unique and engaging fiction. She writes gripping mysteries, dark psychological thrillers and historical fiction. She is the author of The Unlikely Occultist: a biographical novel of Alice A. Bailey.

Book review – Twerk by Isobel Blackthorn

I had to share this stunning *****5 Star review of Twerk. The reviewer has summed up the essence of this novel much better than I could.

Stripper club

“With “Twerk”, Isobel Blackthorn has written a suspense novel set in the milieu of strip dancers with a superior mélange of brazenness and subtlety that, in my eyes, would be unattainable for a male author writing about the same theme. I’ll be short about the suspense aspect of the novel: Mrs. Blackthorn knows how to captivate a reader with a tale that is getting eerier with every page. The lust-driven killer in Twerk is a deeply sinister character. Mrs. Blackthorn describes his sadistic nature in scenes that definitely will chill your bones. Near the end of her story, she unveils the reason why this man is so ruthless and scary, and then you realize that the seeds of enjoying the fear, humiliation, and pain of others lie in all of us. Isobel Blackthorn has the gift of weaving tension in a spiral through her novel: she lets it smolder for a while, and then suddenly jumps to hair-raising levels. Afterward, she cuts back a little, only to go full throttle again when you don’t expect it.

But the high-grade suspense in Twerk isn’t the most important ingredient that makes this novel special. It’s the candidness with which Mrs. Blackthorn writes about the way the sex workers of the bar “Hot Foxies” think and feel when they’re dancing seductively around their poles, or about their relationship with their own bodies, and the differences in using sexual power between men and women. In showing the small intrigues, backbiting, and slander behind the podium, where the dancers behave like an extended family, she proves her understanding of the dancer’s lives. I wondered how she had done such thorough research until I read Blackthorn’s daughter Vicky’s Foreword: Vicky is a dancer in a club, and her stories have inspired her mother to write this unusual thriller. I was intrigued by this openness and visited Mrs. Blackthorn’s website where I read under the title “Society, Strippers and Shame” a beautiful and heart-captivating text about how she handled the fact that her daughter chose to be an exotic dancer. I tip my hat for the courage and strength of both mother and daughter, and in my eyes, the authenticity that is tangible in Twerk, making the novel extraordinary, is a result of that courage.

But “Twerk” gives more than a detailed insight in a strip dancer’s life: for a male author like me, it was equally fascinating to read how Isobel Blackthorn dissects the distorted male sexuality in the killer’s character. Blackthorn knows that underneath the virility and macho veneer of the male, lurks manhood’s eternal proof pressure to squash insecurity. I like well-written books that present a reader with more than suspense alone: “Twerk” is definitely such a novel.” – Bob Van Laerhoven, Belgian novelist

Read more about Twerk here.

Read more reviews on Amazon

Book review: Graveyard Girls edited by Gerri R Gray

Graveyard Girls is a gripping anthology of short stories edited by Gerry R Gray

Graveyard Girls

About Graveyard Girls

A delicious collection of horrific tales and darkest poetry in one big, fat horror anthology from the cream of the crop; all lovingly compiled by the incomparable Gerri R. Gray! Nestling between the covers of this formidable tome are twenty-five of the very best lady authors writing on the horror scene today!

These tales of terror are guaranteed to chill your very soul and awaken you in the dead of the night with fear-sweat clinging to your every pore and your heart pounding hard and heavy in your labored breast…

Featuring stories from: Xtina Marie, MW Brown, Rebecca Kolodziej, Anya Lee, Barbara Jacobson, Gerri R. Gray, Christina Bergling, Julia Benally, Olga Werby, Kelly Glover, Lee Franklin, Linda M. Crate, Vanessa Hawkins, P. Alanna Roethle, J. Snow, Evelyn Eve, Serena Daniels, S.E. Davis, Sam Hill, J.C. Raye, Donna J.W. Munro, R.J. Murray, C. Bailey-Bacchus, Varonica Chaney and Marian Finch.

 

My thoughts:

Graveyard Girls opens with lusciously dark poetry from Xtina Marie, which serves as an apt point of entry into this collection of diverse and horrifying reads. The anthology then kicks off with ‘Deadlines’ by M.W. Brown, and I couldn’t help sympathising with the tough yet lovable Esther “Polar Bear” Jones who has a intruder and finds herself negotiating with this assassin. Brown has penned a thriller of a tale that never misses a beat, with satisfying and unexpected twists. ‘Demons Opus’ by Rebecca Kolodziej is well-crafted and original with good characterisation and a haunting musical theme. Then there’s the gritty ‘Hong’ by Anya Lee, featuring  fourteen-year-old Victoria, a girl with quite an attitude, vulnerable, rebellious, troubled; and the horror she is forced to endure all too real. But she is no victim…

Later there’s Gerri R Gray’s ‘Of Black Butterflies she Dreamt’ which opens with exquisite prose and does not disappoint. Breathtaking!

The arresting Christina Bergling’s ‘After the Screaming’ is also worth a mention, not only for the masterful writing. The story is an intense, in-depth study of the mental torture of early motherhood. Bergling puts the reader right inside the main character. Only a woman could have written this story!

There are so many excellent stories here, too many to mention. The anthology ends on the blood curdling selection of poems by Marian Finch, the perfect way to round off the horror.

Graveyard Girls is a chilling and vivid read, and the writing is top notch. Suspenseful, confronting, imaginative and at times innovative, Graveyard Girls is a terrific example of the talent and vision of women writers of horror, writers who explore taboos and experiment with tropes.

You can find Graveyard Girls on Amazon 

Book review: Essence Asunder by Feind Gottes

Essence Asunder by Feind Gottes –  welcome to body horror!

Feind Gottes review

About Essence Asunder

A gut-wrenching, stomach-churning journey into one man’s private hell – Essence Asunder is one brutal novella!
One man. Two fiends. A cold, dark basement. A table of torture devices. A garrote chair. Jacob Falgoust has woken into his own private Hell where Pain and Misery greet him with open arms. A reason wrapped in riddles of beauty and pain may be his only chance to escape the suffering. Jacob must find the answer before his very essence is torn asunder.

My thoughts:

The horror in Essence Asunder grabs you from the first sentence and does not let go. This novella is as gruesome and confronting a read as you are ever likely to encounter and is not for the faint-hearted! For those brave enough to turn the pages, a dark, voyeuristic fascination will descend in your mind as you live, if vicariously, a protracted torture scene – visceral and grotesque.

Meet Jake, aka Jacob, the victim of a punishing campaign of pain, meted out by Dr. Mad Hatter and his monstrous assistant. Enduring unimaginable acts, Jacob slips in and out of consciousness and has flashbacks to his beloved Evangeline. He is desperate to discover if she is safe.

Slowly, very slowly, the reader finds out who Jake really is. The story culminates in a satisfying revelation that leaves the reader wondering whose side to take, and then just when you think you get it and know everything, there’s the final twist.

Gottes has penned an extraordinary novella of unrelenting tension and sustained body horror. The writing is strong and the story well-crafted. Essence Asunder will take your breath away. Be warned!

 

Book review: Darkest Sunlight by Xtina Marie

What a novelty it is for me to review Darkest Sunlight, a poetic narrative by Xtina Marie.

“The heart was made to be broken.” – Oscar Wilde
To allow your heart to soar, you must risk the depths. Darkest Sunlight is the third poetic narrative from Xtina Marie. In this journey, readers will begin in the darkest of places yet revealed to us by this critically acclaimed poet, only to then find themselves thrust into the brightness of love before their eyes and minds can fully adjust. It is this shocking contrast which best conveys what it is to love, lose, and love again.
In Dark Musings, Xtina explored sadness. In Light Musings, she explored the intricacies of a loving heart. In Darkest Sunlight, Xtina Marie compares the opposite ends of the spectrum, and in doing so, she found a place darker than black.

My thoughts on Darkest Sunlight

Darkest Sunlight is a collection of poems exploring inner torment, lust, obsession, malice, revenge, rage and insanity, as well as heartfelt and erotic love. Marie delves into the underworld of dark intentions and their fulfilment, but also into the nature of love, of longing, of satisfaction and completion. Throughout are touches of dry humor and clever twists, as the reader is taken on an inner journey that is sure to evoke memories and reflections.

Among my favorites are ‘Junkie’ and ‘His Muse’, both demonstrating Marie’s incisive wit. In Darkest Sunlight Marie displays her profound understanding of what it is to be fully human, with all of our depravities and secret desires laid bare.

The entire collection employs the simple form of the classic nursery rhyme with its pairs of rhyming couplets. The meter varies, Marie employing various combinations of dimeter and trimeter lines, but always with that rhyme that harkens back to childhood. Using this poetic form to convey very adult themes is an ironic move, one that draws the reader into the verse almost like an enchantment. Further, Marie’s compositional style displays considerable prowess, for who can compose an entire book-length collection of prose and sustain such a rhyme with finesse? Poetic form constrains; the poet must function within it and create meaning whilst maintaining fluidity and flow; all this, Marie achieves with aplomb. Darkest Sunlight is a triumph and one that will appeal to lovers of this form of poetry.

 

 

 

If this poetic narrative had to be summed up in one word it is ‘passion’.

 

The Legacy of Old Gran Parks’ Book Tour wrap up

First, I would like to thank Faye Rogers for her efforts in organising this book tour and all those book bloggers who read my book and wrote some fabulous reviews. The tour has had its highs and lows. Here are my reflections:

When a new book comes out, it is the job of authors and publishers to go on the hunt for reviews. The more the better and the one place we want them all to end up is on Amazon, because Amazon counts reviews and based on the number (not the quality) it will activate its own internal promotion of your book. We need 20-25, or better still 50, to be taken seriously. Less than 10 looks sad. To make matters even harder, Amazon splits the reviews up, so a review posted on the UK site or the AU site does not appear on the US site. Dedicated book reviewers will take the trouble to post on all three Amazon sites, cos that’s what it takes these days, and every book blogger worth their salt knows this.

In the past, when I’ve had a new book coming out, I have written hundreds of individual emails to book bloggers soliciting reviews. I’ve trawled the internet on the hunt for reviewers, joined Facebook groups and kept my eye on Twitter. It’s exhausting and the average take up rate is about 5-10%. On the blogging side, book bloggers are swamped, the good ones especially.

To take the pressure off authors and publicists, some bloggers have set themselves up as book tour organisers and for a fee they will organise a tour. When I started to investigate these service providers I was hesitant, but I began to see it as the only way forward. I would still solicit reviews, but at least some of the strain would be off my shoulders.

I had no idea what to expect when I hired a book tour organiser to set up a 14-stop review-only tour. I wasn’t prepared for the disappointment. Despite the organiser’s best efforts, out of 14 bloggers, 2 chose to post an extract and 4 chose to do nothing at all. That has left me with 8 reviews and out of that 8, only 6 have so far shared their review on one of the Amazon sites.

However, all is not bad news. Those reviewers who did read my book wrote honest reviews and there are many delightful comments peppered throughout their paragraphs. I’m grateful to each and every one of these bloggers, and to the tour organiser, who cannot be held responsible for the actions of those book bloggers who agreed to be part of the tour and then failed to follow through. Here are some of the highlights:

“This was my first time visiting the mind of Isobel Blackthorn, and it certainly wasn’t boring! The dark humour, gritty scenes and unusual characters all combine to make an entertaining read….Like the recently successful Jane Harper (author of The Dry and Force of Nature), Blackthorn knows how to convey the sinister nature of the Australian setting, making blistering heat tangible, the seaside seem lethal, and the all-encompassing forests claustrophobic….Overall, this is a darkly humorous tale expressed through brilliant prose and intriguing characters!”

Get Litty – https://www.getlitty.co.uk/single-post/2018/04/18/BLOG-TOUR-The-Legacy-of-Old-Gran-Perks

“This is the first book I have read from Isobel Blackthorn and it won’t be my last. It is such a well written book that I was gripped from the first few pages.The strapline of the book is ‘A Dark Comedy to Tickle Your Spine…’ and it lives up to your expectation.”

Helen Loves – http://helenloves.co.uk/blog-tour-review-the-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“The Legacy of Old Gran Parks has a wonderfully dark, nasty feel to it…The legacy of Gran Parks is a legacy of fighting back against abuse, and taking responsibility for dealing out your own style of justice.”

Liam of Book-worm-hole – http://book-worm-hole.blogspot.com.au/2018/04/review-legacy-of-old-gran-parks.html

“The Legacy of Old Gran Parks is a very unique, very fascinating but ultimately savage and dark read that I very much enjoyed. If you are a fan of Tarantino movies, you are more than likely going to enjoy this book which starts out a little bit eerie and odd and then turns violent and dark. It was a book unlike any I have read before but I actually really loved it.”

Faye of Big Little Books – http://www.bigbooklittlebook.com/2018/04/legacy-old-gran-parks/

“showed me an insiders view of rural Australia which I easily pictured even though I’ve never been.”

Parchment and Quill – https://parchmentandquillchronicle.wordpress.com/2018/04/12/blog-tour-book-review-the-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“The Legacy of Old Gran parks—is one of the rarest piece of story I ever read. It was unique and got an eerie exotic feel. A truly remarkable, and an unforgettable piece. Highly recommended to everyone.”

Bibliophile Angel – https://bibliophileangelblog.wordpress.com/2018/04/15/blog-tour-the-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-by-isobel-blackthorn/

“I really enjoyed the writing and plot ”

Read Between the Scenes – http://www.readbetweenthescenes.com/2018/04/blog-tour-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-by.html

“a marvellous read and I’d recommend it to anyone who asks.”

Infinite Pages – https://infinitepagesbookreviews.wordpress.com/2018/04/19/the-legacy-of-old-gran-parks-blog-tour/

If you want to review any of my books, I will give you a free electronic copy.

Book review: The Amnesia Girl by Gerri R. Gray

The horror genre is vast and catches comedy in its net. Gerri Gray’s The Amnesia Girl is a shining example of top-class comedy-horror.

“Filled with copious amounts of black humor, Gerri R. Gray’s first published novel is an offbeat adventure story that could be described as One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Thelma and Louise.

Flashback to 1974. Farika is a lovely young woman who wakes up one day to find herself a patient in a bizarre New York City psychiatric asylum. She has no idea who she is, and possesses no memories of where she came from nor how she got there.

Fearing for her life after being attacked by a berserk girl with over one hundred personalities and a vicious nurse with sadistic intentions, the frightened amnesiac teams up with an audacious lesbian with a comically unbalanced mind, and together they attempt a daring escape.

But little do they know that a long strange journey into an even more insane world filled with a multitude of perilous predicaments and off-kilter individuals waiting for them on the outside. Farika’s weird reality crumbles when she finally discovers who, and what, she really is!”

My thoughts:

The Amnesia Girl is a witty, vivid, off the wall read that grips the reader from the first. The narration is so good, two paragraphs in and I had to set my kindle aside and pace the floor, waiting for my excitement to settle. An early reference to Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar sets the tone, although Gray’s rendition is the earlier work’s alter ego, the antidote to all the suffering and injustice mental patients are forced to endure. A whacky and terrifying array of mental patients in the asylum is trumped by the even whackier and sinister psychiatric nurse and doctor.

Farika has no memory of who she is:

“But whatever memories her brain might have retained of her now-forgotten past were as grayish-white opaque as the smokestack clouds that rose high into the air with the promise of forming into something substantial, only to dissipate into nothingness.”

To my mind, such writing is gold, pure gold.

Thankfully, Farika and her friend, Mara, manage to escape, and they embark on a wild ride from New York to San Francisco, encountering many bizarre characters along the way, from prostitutes to religious fruit loops to radical extremists; everyone’s a nut job, no one can be trusted and the macabre is ever present. At times I was thinking Tarantino or the Coen brothers, others of Rocky Horror, and yes of course, Thelma and Louise. Above all, Gray has captured a slice of vintage USA with a hilarity that charms and a narration that glows. There are plenty of twists and turns as the plot drives forward, heading towards a satisfying ending when things come together and wrap themselves up in a tight knot.

I don’t want to have to defend horror, but I suspect if you want to find out where all the literary fiction authors are hanging out after being rejected time and again by publishers, it’s leaning against a graffitied wall of some dark alley, conjuring dread and revulsion. The Amnesia Girl is another demonstration of the places women writers of horror take the genre. An absolute delight!

 

 

Review: Worship Me by Craig Stewart

I’m thrilled to share my review of Worship Me by Canadian author Craig Stewart. Worship Me is a fast-paced horror novel that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Something is listening to the prayers of St. Paul’s United Church, but it’s not the god they asked for; it’s something much, much older.

A quiet Sunday service turns into a living hell when this ancient entity descends upon the house of worship and claims the congregation for its own. The terrified churchgoers must now prove their loyalty to their new god by giving it one of their children or in two days time it will return and destroy them all.

As fear rips the congregation apart, it becomes clear that if they’re to survive this untold horror, the faithful must become the faithless and enter into a battle against God itself. But as time runs out, they discover that true monsters come not from heaven or hell…

…they come from within.

*****

Worship Me is a story of terror and demonic conversion. A foreboding atmosphere greets the reader from the opening paragraph and by the second chapter, when Clara and her minivan collide with a cat, the reader is hooked. Stewart displays the twin talents of superb story telling and excellent pacing, along with satisfyingly rich and evocative descriptions.

Every story is born of an idea, or a premise, and Stewart’s is a strong one; he has the ability to conjure in the mind of the reader that his is a story worthy of being told, a story albeit as old as religion itself. Worship Me satisfies on a literary level, Stewart peppering his narrative with witty turns of phrase, especially in his character descriptions:

“Gary’s wife, Tina, lived on the bright side of things; you could tell she was a permanent resident there by the inexplicable glow that she carried wherever she went.”

All the characters in Worship Me are crafted with a sharp eye; the result is a cast of believable and largely unlikeable church goers of varying degrees of devotion; the congregation of a typically small-minded tight knit and remote community.  Enough complexity in the early part of the story holds the attention, the pace quickening about a third of the way in, when a preternatural wind gathers pace “like a bulldozer careening through a supermarket.”

From then, the story becomes a gripping, heart-palpitating read, the reader turning this way and that, maybe even away from the page, certainly feeling as frantic as the characters, who each display their unique traits, for better or worse, as they battle to make sense of and handle the situation they are in.

For anyone familiar with Nick Cave, think a book length O’Malley’s Bar. The terror is unrelenting.

 

Shopping List 2 – an outstanding horror collection

 

“HellBound Books Publishing brings you an outstanding collection of horror, dark, slippery things, and supernatural terror – all from the very best up and coming minds in the genre. We have given each and every one of our authors the opportunity to have their shopping lists read by you, the most wonderful reading public, and have the darkest corners of their creative psyche laid bare for all to see…

In all, 21 stories to chill the soul, tingle the spine and keep you awake in the cold, murky hours of the night…”

Mine is called ‘Ignominy’

About a year ago I signed up for a free online creative writing course as research for running my own. In those ten weeks participants were invited to write the bones of a short story. I came up with plain Jane on a train. Yeah, I guess I was feeling a bit cynical and detached as I was really just being a spy, but I jumped through the hoops and engaged anyway.

 

Then I tinkered with this Jane and her train journey, and the more I did, the darker the story became. The result is ‘Ignominy’, a dark tale about a train journey, describing where Jane has been, who she meets, and what happens as a result.

I ended up loving Jane so much I employed the same style in a novel-length work, which I am hoping will be published next year.

You can order a copy of this anthology, available in all formats, and enjoy all the other dark tales it contains here.

Enjoy!!!