Archive for Book Reviews


the-art-of-the-evil-withinThe Art of The Evil Within
Bethesda Games/Dark Horse Books
October 14, 2014
$28.90 HC, $16.62 Kindle
Reviewed by Jess Landry

Design is one of the most important elements in creating a successful video game. From the weathered look of a scar-laden character to the blood-stained walls of an abandoned asylum, it’s the most minute details that can help a game sink or swim. If The Art of The Evil Within is any indication of the horrors that await players of The Evil Within (the highly-anticipated survival horror video game from Resident Evil creator Shinji Mikami), then it’s going to be quite the ride.

This behind-the-scenes coffee table book examines the most relevant characters, locations and weapons of The Evil Within, breaking down the gruesome world into five chapters: Heroes, Villains, Environments, Props and Marketing.

Each chapter title is self-explanatory, with the first three being the most comprehensive. Readers are treated to detailed illustrations of the main characters and villains, from conception to the final designs. Blurbs from Ikumi Nakamura, the lead concept artist, pop up every now and again with helpful insights regarding design choices and rationale, touching upon subjects like how the facial features of a character were refined, how a certain villain blends elements of Japanese and Western horrors, and how the game actually started as sci-fi before survival horror was decided upon.

The Environments chapter features some gorgeous illustrations of the games various locations, the most important appearing to be the asylum, where the designers incorporated a lighthouse into its final product to stand out from other games that use an asylum as a location (Nakamura, in one of her blurbs, even goes so far as to acknowledge that some of the locations featured in The Evil Within are typical to the genre, but states that “typicality was just what made it so appealing”).

The final chapter, Marketing, showcases some impressive poster designs and stills from the game itself before a quick wrap-up message from Nakamura.

The design work featured in The Art of The Evil Within is spectacular; even the most grotesque elements have a beauty to them that should be quite striking in motion. The art book is quite comprehensive with its backstories on the heroes, villains and locations, so it’s best to be looked over once you’ve completed the game (if you intend on playing), as there are a few potential spoilers.

For the gamer looking for an impressive companion piece to the game or the person who appreciates the massive amount of design work a video game takes, The Art of The Evil Within is a beautiful display of graphic elements, from concept to culmination and everything in between.

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Eternal VigilanceEternal Vigilance: From Deep Within the Earth
Gabrielle Faust
Permuted Press
September, 2014 (Re-issue); $15.99 PB
Reviewed by Jess Landry

When Tynan wakes up after one hundred years of a self-induced rest, the world is a different place; everything the vampire once knew has been obliterated by a war raging for as long as he’s been asleep. An evil empire called the Tyst has taken hold of society and all its technologies, and its ruthless leader Cardone has plans to take his wicked reign even further by bringing forth a heinous vampire god called the Vicinus, threatening the lives of both human and vampire. When Tynan is reluctantly reunited the remaining few of his kind, he quickly learns that his unique abilities to absorb the life force and knowledge of those he feeds upon is the key to stopping Cardone’s plans and saving what remains of the population. But will Tynan fall into place as a hero or will he leave the world he despises to burn?

Eternal Vigilance: From Deep Within the Earth is book one of the Eternal Vigilance series by author Gabrielle Faust, currently being re-released through Permuted Press. Book one sets up a surreal fantastical world that’s rich in description; Faust paints the apocalyptic landscape of Tynan’s journey with lush gothic detail that’s as stunning as it is harsh. The story itself is well executed and no time is wasted in setting up the main conflict, Faust knows where she wants to take the reader and exactly how to get there.

Tynan is our conflicted anti-hero. Faust offers a glimpse into his past, how the choices he made caused a rift between himself and the few remaining vampires in this new world. Tynan, although strong-willed, is incredibly selfish and juvenile. He trusts no one, he’s immature, he hates the world around him and those who cast him out centuries ago. But there is still a tiny piece of humanity left within Tynan. Whether it’s from his aforementioned abilities or from something else, the humanity he so bitterly clings on to and the rest of his flaws make him a more realistic character. It does take a better part of the book to warm to Tynan and his attitude, but as the story progresses, it’s easy to see more admirable qualities start shining through and to picture the hero that may come into play in the sequels.

From Deep Within the Earth is a smart take on an apocalyptic world where vampires and humans must join forces to stop an evil that threatens to end them all. So if dark, gothic fantasy laced with vampires and the fight against technology is your thing (or if you want to start a trilogy with no wait time for the sequels), give Eternal Vigilance a try. You won’t be disappointed.

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This Darkness Light – Book Review

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This-Darkness-Light-by-Michaelbrent-Collings-202x300This Darkness Light
By Michaelbrent Collings
2014; $0.99 ebook; $12.85 trade paperback
Reviewed by Andrew Byers

In a time of a (real-life) global pandemic of a hemorrhagic fever that has been propagated by international air travel, it’s a powerful opening to begin a novel with an outbreak of some terrible new disease killing the passengers of a jetliner.  And that’s just the opening scene.  I have to admit that initially I wasn’t sure how to classify Michaelbrent Collings’ latest: is it a techno-thriller?  Some kind of zombie apocalypse novel?  Now that I’ve read it, I can say that it includes a bit of all of those elements to produce an entertaining supernatural thriller.

Some mild plot spoilers follow.

Good thrillers with overtones of supernatural horror require interesting characters, good and bad, to drive the narrative.  Here we have major characters who include: John Doe, an amnesiac who has survived multiple gunshot wounds to the chest with no lasting damage, and Serafina, a trauma nurse who is obviously in way over her head, as well as Isaiah, a murderous vigilante with a complicated past who has been set on their trail by blackmailers.  The villains – including a mysterious Mr. Dominic who seems to be one of those ruthless, power-behind-the-throne types and some savage henchmen he has on the payroll – are genuinely creepy and the good guys only slightly less so.

Like many of Collings’ novels, THIS DARKNESS LIGHT alternates between deadly, high-stakes action and a darkly humorous tone (interludes of email exchanges between the unnamed and increasingly unhinged President of the United States and an enigmatic figure calling himself X are especially entertaining).  That works well to periodically ease the tension before ratcheting it back up.

As with some of Collings’ other fiction I’ve read, you have to allow yourself to go along for the ride; Collings enjoys placing the reader in circumstances where it’s not entirely clear at first what is going on.  Things get strange, bordering on the surreal, as more supernatural elements are introduced, before they gradually clarify.  What begins as a simple “protagonists being hounded by the bad guys” crosscountry trek becomes something much more than that as the world around them descends into chaos.  We’re not talking about simple crime and disorder either, we’re talking about the nature of reality itself unwinding.  Now *that’s* a great setting for a thriller.

Collings, as usual, displays his knack for depicting fast-paced action sequences: there are some truly memorable gun battles and car chase scenes here.  It also contains some fairly gruesome violence and gore; if that’s your thing, you’ll be right at home here.  It’s also not just goons with guns; what begins in a fairly straight-forward sort of way becomes increasingly supernatural as the plot goes on.

THIS DARKNESS LIGHT is an engaging mix of thriller and apocalyptic horror novel, with religious elements.  It’s a very quick read and recommended for fans of occult, apocalyptic thrillers.

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Nightmare-Carnival-Ellen-Datlow (1)Nightmare Carnival
Ellen Datlow, ed.
Dark Horse Press, September 2014
Trade paperback, 383 pp., $19.99
Reviewed by Michael R. Collings

The title Nightmare Carnival is both precise and descriptive. The fifteen tales collected in the anthology are nightmares—of the purposeful, literary sort—that, like the smell of circus peanuts, linger in the mind to be replayed again and again. And they are a carnival, with its etymological evocation of flesh, complete with exotic animals fanged and unfanged, ghoulish and ghastly clowns, lithe trapezists seemingly defying death (although death always wins), and an assortment of freaks…whether one applies the term to physical aberrations or psychological ones.

The first story, N. Lee Woods’ “Scapegoats,” is a powerfully horrifying glimpse into the human need to assign blame, even when we are ourselves the cause of whatever has damaged us. In this instance, the scapegoat is an elephant, condemned for doing what any creature—sentient or not—would do…striking back at something that has caused it pain. The initial conflict seems minor, but the consequences, and the need for someone or something to pay, grow with each paragraph, culminating in the first overtly horror-driven scene in the collection, one that is almost too revulsive to bear. And yet, we must; it speaks to and about us.

Priya Sharma’s “The Firebrand” and Dennis Danvers “Swan Song and Then Some” are about kindling passions. They focus on the compelling power of love, even when that love is tied inextricably with death. And they are about the underlying human need to experience vicarious danger, symbolized by the circus/carnival with its juxtaposition of pomp and glitter and color with the ever-present threat (or apparent threat) that wild animals might attack, that a trapeze artist might fall, that someone might actually die while entertaining paying customers. And in the latter tale, Alexandra fulfils that desire in all, singing her “swan song” as she plummets from the tent’s top rigging, holding one impossible, indescribable note as she plunges to the ground, and to her bloody, terrifying death…every night and two times on Sunday.

Nick Mamatas’ “Work, Hook, Shoot, and Rip” and Terry Dowling’s “Corpse Rose” both play with the carnival’s unique jargon. Words that seem pedestrian in the outside world become sinister, threatening, in the world of the carnival, and as characters—and readers—understand more and more about the words used, the darkness beneath the lights reveals itself.

Jeffrey Ford’s “Hubler’s Minions” diminishes the carnival to its smallest possible manifestation: a flea circus. These fleas, however, are not ordinary—nothing presented in Nightmare Carnival is ordinary. They rise from the dust bowls of the 1930s to infect and devour, first animals, then fellow performers. And, if they get their way, all of humanity.

It would be possible to highlight any of the stories in Nightmare Carnival, point out excellences in each. Datlow is a first-rank editor, and her choices ring true throughout. Several stories are told from in third-person present-tense (e.g., “She walks away….”), which I normally find distracting and less effective than past-tense narratives…except that here, there are  specific reasons for that choice, pay-offs for readers that validate authors’ decisions and Datlow’s selections. And that comes as near as I can to a negative comment on the anthology. In all, it is strong, with fascinating characters, conflicts, and settings; it is intriguing that the term carnival can be made to mean so many things and incorporate to many varieties of horror…including one bona fide werewolf.

If you have a lingering fear of clowns, perhaps stemming back to reading Stephen King’s IT on a dark and cloudy night; if you are not certain why lions can be so intimidating, even locked in their cages; if you wonder what life must be like for those for whom the anonymity of a carnival back lot is the only choice; if, in a word, you suffer from any form of “carnival nightmares,” don’t let this book pass by.

It’s a killer.

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DisorderedMinds2_3125Disordered Minds
By: Paul S. Huggins
Published on August 11th, 2014

Reviewed by: Catherine Bader

Great title for six great stories!  These tales will have you questioning what’s real and what’s not.  How far does the human mind go before the humanity is lost and delusion, horror, maniacal dysfunction – and murder most foul – take its place. Places where the human soul dissipates in a cloud of dust.  These tales will take you out of the realm of humanity – hold on to your seat.

Starting with To My Dearest Mother, the author takes you into another state of mind – somewhere human beings should not go. It begins as a writer seeks a solitary place to write – to get his creative juices flowing.  He takes a trip to a beautiful, secluded area in which he had attended a funeral in years past. He rents a house. What does he find there? Well, you don’t think I’ll tell you, do you?  Just remember, the mind is a terrible thing to overuse – losing control is not a pretty thing.

Next, Crowded Out.  May I say from the start that this one hit me straight between the eyes? Personal to say the least.  But I have never told my story with such terrifying accuracy.  Incredible reading.  If you have this phobia – be very afraid.

Pushed or Jumped. Ah-ha.  Be careful to be polite, no matter what.  Be careful to keep your temper, no matter what. Temper can be a most gruesome thing, untended.  People can lose their temper over some of the silliest things.  Just remember, what’s silly to you isn’t always silly to others.  And this story is no laughing matter.  Enjoy it.

The Hanging Garden. When you think of a hanging garden – well, you think of one of the world’s wonders (Hanging Gardens of Babylon) and you think of green grass, beautiful trees, lovely flowers….   Don has a favorite place to go that surpasses all expectations of beauty. The only trouble he’s had over time – it seems to be a place of suicides – hangings.  (Hanging Gardens…..?)  Sorry, my pun.  You will find this story dreadfully satisfying.

A Batchelor’s End.  Gerald is going to his bachelor’s party, which means he’s getting married soon!  But right now, he’s sadly lost. Can’t find his way around in a paper bag.  But he finally sees a beautiful mansion out in the boonies and presupposes that this is where his party is to be held.  Wow, he thinks – what a place.  When you’ve got a lost bachelor, a gorgeous mansion, the dark of night – all these things should start your brain thinking.  This is, of course, a horror story……

Last, but not least, Duality.  The death of his mother brings a young man to an old village in an out of the way place.  He wants to see where she grew up and to find his roots.  When he gets there, he finally learns the story of his legacy. But he is shocked by the results and so will you be…….

Per a short biography, Paul S. Huggins comes from the United Kingdom in the county of Suffolk.

A quote:  ….Paul was “…scared to death at an early age by a movie called ‘Dawn of the Dead’…”

‘Nuf said.

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Biters – Book Review

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By: Harry Shannon
JournalStone Doubledown #4
April 2014

Reviewed by: Michael Collings

Biters substantiates the axiom that the best zombie books are not about zombies at all—and this one is an excellent zombie tale.

The eponymous creatures are not quite zombies. They are the survivors of a mutated virus. In their madness they look, act, and eat like zombies, so the differences are minimal. Also like zombies, they create more of themselves through a simple bite…although they are rarely satisfied with just a nibble.  They are incipiently present, of course, throughout the novel, most often as a muted threat, as ragged hordes straggling across the Nevada landscape on the lookout for humans for dinner.

Yet in another sense, zombies—Biters—are at the center of the tale. In the beginning, the main characters seem fully alive, vigorous, survivors of a world dissolving into turmoil. Buck Ryan is one of them, although more mobile than most, driving his old Chevy truck through the death-lands of Nevada toward a small enclave, surrounded by wire fencing and lit by strings of Christmas lights. His destination: a strip joint named The Pussy Parlor, operated by an old flame, Sarah Gallagher.

It takes a few highly atmospheric pages for the principle action to emerge, but shortly after arriving at the Parlor, Ryan is off again into the wilderness, full of plans to hijack a shipment of medicine, drugs, and other critical supplies salvaged from other small communities that didn’t survive the biters’ attacks. He will kill Sarah’s current lover—pimp, cohort, whatever term works best—and split the profits with her.

Once beyond the confines of the fence, Ryan again faces the desolation that humanity has become…in the image of a dilapidated farmhouse and its sole occupant, an emaciated dog; in the image of betrayal as three men attack and savage another small group of refugees; and in the image of betrayal compounded by betrayal as he confronts the man he was sent out to kill.

By this time, the underlying suggestions of the title and the setting become increasingly clear: the true biters—the true villains of the piece, as it were—are not wandering mindlessly through the Nevada desert: they are huddled within the enclave, within The Pussy Parlor, within Buck Ryan and every other ostensibly healthy human in the story. All are zombies. All act only according to their own appetites. All are infected…with greed, hatred, lust, to murder and destroy in a world that is all but dead.

And in the end, only Buck Ryan is given a choice—whether to join the human-biters or to remain fully human.

It is not an easy choice.

Biters is not an easy book. It is harsh, direct, sparing no details needed for the story to move to what almost seems a pre-ordained conclusion (in a cosmic sense, perhaps, certainly not in the sense that the story is predictable). The characters are strong, including the single biter kept captive in a cage outside the Parlor, almost an icon for everyone in the town, who seem free but cower behind their wire-walls as well.

Biters is coupled with Brett Talley’s remarkable The Reborn (for my review, see:, comprising a volume of horrors as startling as it is well written.


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where-all-light-is-left-to-dieWhere all light is left to die by Robert S. Wilson

Some short fiction writers have told me they are not fond of single author collections even if it is their own. They claim that the short story collection corrals the works into a hodgepodge that doesn’t respect the power of a stand-alone short story. You read one and off you go on another without digesting the first tale. But what are you going to do? The sad fact is, without anthologies and collections, short fiction has a short life. One exposure in a magazine and poof! Gone! And we all know short fiction doesn’t pay the bills. Edward Bryant, one of the greatest short fiction writers in fantasy, science fiction, and horror told me that he wanted this engraving on his tombstone: “Died broke. Only wrote short stories.”

But the fact remains that short fiction often brings out the best in a writer. It challenges the writer to flesh out their ideas and emotion in a few pages while still involving and entertaining the reader.  When it works, it can be astounding.

In the single author collection, Where All Light is Left to Die, Robert S. Wilson shows that he can compete with the big names in the field of worthwhile short fiction. There are thirteen works ranging from science fiction to fantasy and horror and a couple that are hard to classify. All of them can be referred to as dark fiction, a description of the type of stories that bring out the more undesirable and fearful moments in our emotional landscape.  The first story in the collection, “The Death Catcher”, is typical and one of the best. It is about a man who can bring dead souls back to the bodies but with questionable results for both the dying and the catcher. It exhibits a number of similarities in the author’s stories; a cautious sensitivity for relationships and families, a mindfulness of the effects of loss and death, and a fondness for the thoughtful ending. “The Boy in the Elevator” is an uncomfortable tale of child molestation with a weirdly satisfying ending. “Forcipules” is an ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ type tale that might also have a hint of dark comedy for anyone who is afraid of bugs. Not all the stories are successful. “Self-Aware” is an attempt to bring detective thriller and science fiction together but it doesn’t work for me. It misses the emotional connection that the other stories have. “The Resurrection of Tommy Derringer” fares better but seems like an intro to a longer and more involved story. However, most of the other stories succeed quite well and should heighten your anxiety factor to an uncomfortable level.

Besides the short fiction, Wilson has included two novellas and one novelette; “The Quiet”, “The Nesting Place” and “Through the Mindhole”. All three shows that the author can branch out and expand his ideas in more complex ways.  I read “The Quiet” two years ago and had mixed feelings. Yet this revised and expanded version proves that the author has certainly developed his skills nicely. My favorite of these longer works, and best in the collection, is “Through the Mindhole”, a complex story involving a detective who is transported to an alter universe in a version of himself that is precisely his opposite in many disturbing ways. That one novelette is worth the price of admission.

Overall, this is a good collection and a nice introduction to a young and promising writer. Anyone who appreciate short fiction should check out All Light is Left to Die and expect to enjoy some pleasurably scary moments of dark fiction.

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