April 30, 2014

A New Home for the Best Short Fiction: a review of "The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 8"

The Best Science Fiction and Fantasy of the Year: Volume 8
edited by Jonathan Strahan
Solaris Books (2014)
618 pages
ISBN13: 9781781082157

While there may be eight volumes in Jonathan Strahan's anthology series, this was my first time reading one, and apparently Solaris Books' first time publishing one. So with that in mind, I can't really offer any opinions on how having a new publisher may have changed the creative direction of the series. I'm guessing not much.

The anthology kicks off with a story that wound up being one of my favorites. "Some Desperado" by Joe Abercrombie offered that weird western vibe I've come to enjoy so much, as well it offered my first chance to read Abercrombie's work. I've certainly heard praise for his novels, so the short fiction may very well be indicative of what I can expect from his novels once I get around to reading them.

Kicking things off with something like a gritty, violent western tale also helped in setting the stage for what wound up being a diverse, even eclectic collection of stories from around the world. Well, the English-speaking world, anyway.

It's hard not to enjoy to a Neil Gaiman story, and "The Sleeper and the Spindle" offered a bit of an homage to fairytales, which I just gobbled up like four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie. Lavie Tidhar, whose novels I haven't fawned over like most readers, gave a very cool story of blackmarket books with "The Bookseller." And io9's Charlie Jane Anders' "The Master Conjurer" had a very fun take on magic in a modern setting. Previously, I'd only read her articles on io9. I guess she has a novel out, and I guess I must go find it now.

Like the best anthologies, it offers familiar names alongside new ones. And with the blend of sci-fi and fantasy, the book--and the series, I suppose--works great as a bridge for readers that devote themselves to one over the other. Did I really read the very best of the year? Pfft. Who cares? All I know is that I read some damned good stories, and when it comes to a weighty anthology like this (twenty-eight stories in all), to have the majority of them turn out so good, how could I ask for anything more?

April 29, 2014

In Praise of the Gutter and Derangement: a guest post by Nicole Cushing, author of "I Am the New God"

Nicole Cushing is one of those rising names in the horror genre that is offering up some truly surreal and mind-bending stories. With such strange and terrifying subject matter, particularly for her latest novella published by DarkFuse, I AM THE NEW GOD, it helps to gain some insight as to where her inspirations come from. So, with that in mind, Nicole was kind enough to stop by the blog today with a guest post on a personal subject.

And after you finish reading this, feel free to check out my review of I AM THE NEW GOD, which went live on the blog yesterday.

In Praise of the Gutter and Derangement
by Nicole Cushing

I've never been homeless, but I've been to a homeless shelter before. I've had friends and acquaintances who were homeless.

Hell, I was once mistaken for being homeless. In the winter of 2003-2004. I lived in a one bedroom apartment in Louisville, Kentucky and had forgotten my heavy winter coat back in my native Maryland. I couldn't afford to have it shipped back out to me, so I wore a thin, calf-length sweater over top of my work clothes. It was a bitter winter. The morning I was mistaken for homeless, it was about fifteen degrees Fahrenheit outside. A concerned, do-gooder-like woman came up to me while I stood at the bus stop. “Are you okay out here?” she asked.

Was I okay out there? The truth be told, I was just coming off the worst year of my life and trying to get things back together. My life had crash landed in Louisville. Emotionally, I was wreck. But that wasn't what she was talking about. She wanted to know what I was doing, standing out there in temperatures well-below-freezing, wearing nothing but a thin sweater over my clothes.

I explained I was just waiting for my ride to work. I think I spoke with a clarity of mind she wasn't expecting from someone on the streets, because she looked mildly embarrassed after I talked to her. I think she was a social worker, dispatched to get people off the streets and into a shelter. Maybe, though, she was just a kind stranger who wanted to help. Who knows? Maybe I should have broken down and cried and admitted I didn't have money for a coat and begged some off of her. But I never begged for money. Not even when I only had five dollars to make it through the week (and bus fare was a dollar a day).

When I climbed aboard the bus, I sat in my usual place (up front). Even on a winter morning, stale, sour body odor lingered around my seat. (It wasn't me, honest. I may have been poor but I wasn't stinky). Eventually I was joined by a woman reeking of rum who sat down next to me. She mumbled to herself. At least the bus had heat. At least I had food. At least I was safe.

I hadn't always been safe. Once I had to literally run for my life, from an assailant. There have been times when my safety has been threatened by people who were truly (frighteningly) unhinged. There have been times when my safety has been threatened by people who – on the outside – looked like Joe Normal. This is all stuff that happened in my twenties, for the most part. But growing up wasn't a picnic either.

Domestic violence is part of my family's story. Suicide is, too. These were things I learned to deal with in early adolescence. And then there's plain, old ordinary death. I often comment that my career as a horror author was predestined by an experience I had at my grandfather's funeral, when I was six. I walked up to his casket and patted his hand, perhaps in some naïve gesture meant to comfort him. I was shocked by how damned cold he'd become. At that moment, the visceral reality of death became very apparent to me. For this reason, death will never seem particularly dignified, abstract, or poetic to me. That experience, and the experience at not-a-few hospice bedsides, has convinced me that death is an ugly, sweaty, gurgly business. I'll never look at death as – primarily – a philosophical construct. For me, it will always be a physical reality, first and foremost.

I don't share any of this to elicit sympathy (I mean, c'mon, my hunch is that many of my readers and colleagues could share similar stories. As bad as my stuff is, I don't think it's any worse than the autobiographical vignettes Gary Braunbeck shares in To Each Their Darkness. I have no intention of posturing myself as more-traumatized-than-thou. I'm not unique. The world is one big wound.)

Besides, things are much better now. I'm safe. I live modestly, in a fifty year old house in an unfashionable, blue collar subdivision. But I live in relative comfort. So I'm not sharing all of this in order to whine.

No, I share these incidents to set the stage for a brief manifesto, and to attempt to explain why I write the kind of horror I write. My mission, for the foreseeable future, is to take the reader to a place of deep, realistic disturbance – to take the reader into the heart of trauma, actually – and for the route to be direct rather than circuitous. I'm obsessed with the topics of insanity, poverty, the erosion/corrosion of decency (particularly at society's margins), the menace of authority, and the self-defeating (or, perhaps better-said, self-damning) tendency Poe called “the imp of the perverse”.

I'm not quite sure what subgenre my work falls into. (In a way, that really isn't any of my business. That's more a question for publishers, readers, and reviewers). My stuff is a bit literary, but doesn't seem to fit neatly under the designation of weird fiction (whose practitioners and readers highly value subtlety, something that's a poor fit for the kind of work I do, which seeks to depict trauma). It, at times, intersects with cosmic horror – but it's not just cosmic horror. At times, it seems graphic, but I don't think it sits neatly alongside most of what's called extreme horror. It's strange, but not Bizarro.

Honestly, I don't know what to call it. Other than, simply, horror fiction. (Or, if you insist, “dark fiction”).

In any event, my life experience has (I think) determined what sort of writer I'll be. I'm forty years old. I am not suddenly going to become a shiny, happy person. I started writing seriously, about six years ago, because a friend told me that no one should “die with their music still in them”. So when you read Children of No One or I Am the New God or any of my short stories, please understand: that's my music. The deranged chant of lunatics. The scraping of garbage in the gutter. It's a song that's been in my ear (sometimes barely audible, sometimes deafening) since I was a very small child. It's not the only tune I know, but it's the only one that feels true in the marrow of my bones. It's the only one worth passing on to you.

April 28, 2014

Big God on Campus: a review of Nicole Cushing's "I Am the New God"

I Am the New God
by Nicole Cushing
DarkFuse (2014)

College can be trying enough, but it's exponentially harder when your roommate is a psychopath. During my second year of college, I wound up sharing an apartment with a couple fellas who each turned out to be a couple fries short of a Happy Meal. Their ... eccentricities--a diplomatic word if ever their was one--escalated over the months to the point that I had to move out for my own safety and warn the landlord she might not be safe either. Fun stuff.

As insane as those two were, they pale compared to the escalating mania of Nicole Cushing's protagonist, Gregory Bryce. In the beginning, he's doing well in college, after a stint in a mental health facility, but after receiving a string of letters from a mysterious idolater claiming Gregory is destined to become the new god.

Always nice to receive an ego stroke, but quite another to be revered by a total stranger as a deity. Gregory dismisses it at first, but as he reveals he has stopped taking his medication, he begins to take the correspondence seriously, eventually replying and thus inviting a downward spiral into madness as he pursues the idea of becoming a god.

While the story progresses with a clear psychological thriller bent, there is the underlying and quite surreal notion that Gregory is not insane, but may actually be a god in the making. It's not overwhelming, but given Cushing's flare for turning the mundane on its head with her writing, that disturbing possibility stands in the shadows like a bogeyman.

The switching each chapter between Gregory and his would-be acolyte offers a fun juxtaposition to the escalating madness. As tensions grow and Gregory's mania worsens, the language deteriorates a little bit, too. Purposeful in highlighting Gregory's mindset, sure, but there are passages that are a bit of a slog on account of it.

Nicole Cushing really knows how to weave the weird into an unassuming character. She did it last year with Children of No One, and has done it again with I Am the New God. If she wasn't already a horror writer to watch in the coming years, she is now.

April 25, 2014

The Headless Bride: a guest post by Catherine Cavendish, author of "Linden Manor"

Last year, Samhain Publishing held a competition looking for novellas in the gothic genre. Catherine Cavendish submitted and won with her story, Linden Manor, which will be released early in May 2014. To give a little backstory, here's a guest post from Catherine. Enjoy.

The Headless Bride

My novella – Linden Manor – features the ghost of Lady Celia Fitzmichael, about whom a scary nursery rhyme was written, which haunted my main character, Lesley Carpenter. In it, Lady Celia is never mentioned by name. Instead, she is referred to as ‘The Scottish bride.’ And woe betide you if you laid eyes on her ‘blackened face’.
Writing this story inspired me to go in search of allegedly true reported sightings and tales of tragic brides who seem unable – or unwilling – to leave the place of their mortal death.
My quest has led me to all sorts of interesting stories. None more tragic than the frequently retold tale of The Headless Bride of Yellowstone Park.
The story goes that a fifteen year old girl from a well to do family fell in love with an older man who worked as a servant in her parents’ home. When her parents discovered the illicit romance, they were horrified and tried to stop the couple from seeing each other. But their daughter was wilful and obstinate. She would have her lover, and if her parents wouldn’t sanction their union, the couple would simply elope and cause a terrible scandal.

Realising the girl meant business, her father relented and the two were married in a quiet ceremony before going away to the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone for their honeymoon. The girl’s father gave her a considerable sum of money for them to live on until her new husband could find work.
Almost immediately, things went badly wrong. After a first day, spent happily together, sightseeing and enjoying each other’s company, the husband fell in with a group of gamblers and lost all their money. He confessed what he had done and insisted the girl telegraph her father for more funds. Understandably her father refused to help and, when his daughter broke the news to her wastrel husband, a furious fight ensued, heard by many of the Inn’s other guests.
At some stage during the night, the husband left. A ‘Do Not Disturb’ sign placed on the couple’s door kept staff at bay for a couple of days. They assumed the girl was grieving for her lost love. But, when she hadn’t been seen for a couple of days, the housekeeper decided to gain entry.
A terrible sight awaited them. There, in the bath, the housekeeper found the girl’s headless and bloody corpse. Her screams brought help from other staff. The police were summoned and an extensive search was mounted to find the husband. They never caught up with him.
Meanwhile, staff at the hotel mounted a detailed search of the building, trying to find the missing head. Finally, a persistent foul odour led them to its hidden location - in the Crows’ Nest of this unusual building. It was not a pretty sight. Her tangled blonde hair framed a rotting face, with wide eyes and a horrified stare.
Not long after her burial, a member of staff was up late, when he heard a strange noise coming from the lobby. As the clock struck midnight, he investigated and looked far up, towards the Crows’ Nest. There, slowly descending the stairs, floated a headless figure, dressed in white. He stared in disbelief as he realised she had something gruesome under her arm – her severed head, complete with tangled blonde curls and horrified stare. She floated along the corridor until she arrived at the door of the room where she had been murdered. Then, she vanished.
His was the first of many sightings, still reported to this day. So, if you stay at the Old Faithful Inn, don’t have nightmares…
Now, here’s a flavour of Linden Manor:
Have you ever been so scared your soul left your body? 

All her life, Lesley Carpenter has been haunted by a gruesome nursery rhyme—“The Scottish Bride”—sung to her by her great grandmother. To find out more about its origins, Lesley visits the mysterious Isobel Warrender, the current hereditary owner of Linden Manor, a grand house with centuries of murky history surrounding it.

But her visit transforms into a nightmare when Lesley sees the ghost of the Scottish bride herself, a sight that, according to the rhyme, means certain death. The secrets of the house slowly reveal themselves to Lesley, terrible secrets of murder, evil and a curse that soaks the very earth on which Linden Manor now stands. But Linden Manor has saved its most chilling secret for last. 

Linden Manor is available from:

About the author:

Catherine Cavendish lives with a longsuffering husband and mildly eccentric tortoiseshell cat in North Wales. Her home is in a building dating back to the mid 18th century which is haunted by a friendly ghost, who announces her presence by footsteps, switching lights on and strange phenomena involving the washing machine and the TV.

When not slaving over a hot computer, she enjoys wandering around Neolithic stone circles and visiting old haunted houses.

April 24, 2014

The Force Is Strong In This One: a review of "Dark Forces" edited by Kirby McCauley

Dark Forces: The 25th Anniversary Edition
edited by Kirby McCauley
originally published in 1980
re-released via Cemetery Dance
ASIN: B005CRQ938

When I was on a real tear a couple years ago, reading as much short fiction in a summer as I could, this anthology was recommended to me more than a couple of times. Had I not already been swamped with a line-up of collections and anthologies to read at the time, I would have added this one to the pile sooner. Now, having read it, I see that I should have made it a priority.

Dark Forces is not only a truly entertaining book from front to back, but serves as a valuable time capsule for its time, having been published in the very early 80s it manages to show how some of the then up-and-comers fared alongside some true legends in the horror genre.

Right off the bat, the book gave me the chance to revisit Stephen King's The Mist, which is the very last story and the one I immediately jumped to. I don't often re-read books, but for this gem of a tale I'd make an exception. Honestly, if you haven't read The Mist yet, then do yourself a favor and just go buy this anthology. It'll be worth the pricetag for that one novella alone.

Ramsey Campbell's "The Brood" reminded me that I need to pick up one of the novels I have of his sitting on my bookshelf and get to reading his work again. The guy is a wee bit amazing with the tales of terror. Robert Bloch's "The Night Before Christmas" on the other hand was a bit of a letdown, though not because it was poorly written--quite the opposite--but the author of Psycho felt a bit too clever in this one. Then Charles L. Grant's "A Garden of Black Red Roses" offered a really great glimpse of a guy whose work I need to get to know, as he deftly spins a quiet, smalltown horror story here. Joyce Carol Oates is another writer with a skilled hand at disquieting stories, and "The Bingo Master" manages to do just that, though it's one of the few tales I felt took a good long while in getting warmed up.

It's been nearly thirty-five years since Dark Forces originally came out--nearly ten since Cemetery Dance republished it for an anniversary edition here--and there are times while reading that it does feel dated. Not out-dated, mind you, but there is a kind of nostalgic kick that comes with reading some of these stories. Or mayne it's just the brand of new horror that I've been reading with a harder, slightly meaner tone, which has me seeing this book with a rose-colored hue. In any case, I wholly recommend it to horror readers who have yet to give it a try, especially those who maybe have only read recent works lately. It might serve you well to dip into the past for this one.

April 23, 2014

#AfterpartyBlogTour Brand New Drugs: an interview with Daryl Gregory, author of "Afterparty"

PR By the Book and Tor Books are in the middle of a blog tour with Daryl Gregory right now, promoting Daryl's latest novel, AFTERPARTY. For my part, I had the chance to ask him a few questions relating to the novel. But before all that, here's a little info on the man and his newest book:

About the author: Daryl Gregory is an award-winning writer of genre-mixing novels, stories, and comics. His first novel, Pandemonium, won the Crawford Award and was nominated for a World Fantasy Award. His other novels include The Devil’s Alphabet (a Philip K. Dick award finalist), Raising Stony Mayhall (a Library Journal best SF book of the year), and the upcoming Afterparty. Many of his short stories are collected in Unpossible and Other Stories, which was named one of the best books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly. He lives in State College, PA.

About AFTERPARTY: After a smart drug revolution allows anyone with internet and a chemjet to invent mind-bending drugs, 17-year-old Francine gets hooked on one such drug, Numinous. Credited with leading people to God, Numinous is used as a sacrament by a new church that preys on the underclass. A victim of the church, Francine is thrown into jail where she undergoes terrible withdrawal from the drug and meets Lyda Rose. But Lyda has a dark secret: she is one of the original creators of the Numinous drug which she thought no longer existed. When Francine commits suicide, Lyda sets out to make things right.

With the help of an ex-government agent and an imaginary, drug-induced doctor, Lyda begins a fast-paced chase across Canada and the United States to find the last surviving creators of Numinous—and stop whoever is still making the drug.

And now, onto the interview:

Gef: Afterparty is a novel involving drugs and is set in Toronto, Canada. Now, in case you've been paying attention to the news over the past year, there's already a guy synonymous with Toronto and drugs. Do you feel outmatched in that regard?

Daryl: Rob Ford is an excellent example of real life outstripping fiction—even science fiction.

Gef: Seeing demonstrations of 3D printers are impressive enough, but I never would have clued in to the idea of a pharmaceutical equivalent. And this isn't even some far off concept, either. When you first caught wind of this burgeoning technology, what went through your head--besides a novel idea.

Daryl: Because this book takes place in the very near future, I wanted the technology to be so plausible that you might think it already existed. In a lot of cases that meant combining a few existing technologies to make a new one. So, 3D printers + Silk Road-style ecommerce (to purchase chemical precursor packs) = the “chemjet,” a device to print designer drugs onto edible paper. I thought this was a completely novel idea, until I talked to a chemistry professor and found out they’re very close to doing this now.

Gef: A lot of stories have the "devil on my shoulder", but Afterparty features a "god in my head" with the synthetic drug, Numinous, giving users an unmatched high for the main character--and drug's creator--Lyda. What was it about this quasi-religious experience that compelled you to include it in the story?

Daryl: Lots of people—one survey had it at 50% of respondents—have experienced the numinous, the sudden feeling that you’re in touch with a presence external to yourself. It happens to believers and atheists alike, in all cultures. We can see the brains of Catholic nuns and Buddhist monks lighting up in fMRIs when they pray or meditate. People with temporal lobe epilepsy can experience the numinous every day. There’s a researcher in Canada who’s reported inducing the feeling with magnets.

People who’ve had the experience often move on, writing it off as a weird mental event like déjà vu, though much more intense. But one of the distinguishing characteristics of the numinous is that it doesn’t feel like a hallucination. Dreams don’t feel real once we wake up, but the numinous often does. Barbara Ehrenreich, an atheist and rationalist, just published Living with a Wild God, about a numinous experience she had in her teens. If you’re religious, the experience can be taken as proof that God is out there, communicating with you. Even if you’re not religious, it feels like something is contacting you.

I liked the idea of a drug that duplicated or mimicked something we consider to be so essential to humanity. If we could swallow a pill to make us a better, more loving person, shouldn’t we take it? And if it works for us, shouldn’t we convert others—dosing them if necessary? The idea of chemical evangelism is scary, but it’s the kind of thing that science fiction is built to tackle.

Gef: I remember back in the 90s, as the internet was first hitting its stride, the Anarchist's Cookbook and the idea of anyone being able to build a bomb at home was this big bogeyman floating around. But someone creating a weapon of mass destruction in his garage is far less desirable to the average American (or Canadian) than say ... replicating recreational drugs in the privacy of his/her own home. Is there a reckoning in the works for this kind of technology hitting the population at large, or will governments crack down to a degree that makes busting marijuana grow-ops look like a quaint exercise?

Daryl: There will undoubtedly be crackdowns, especially on the restrictions of precursor chemicals, but it’ll be a losing battle. The chemjet technology I’m imagining will have such a lower overhead, and smaller footprint, than growing marijuana. This is desktop technology—no grow lights! No potting soil! Once people can download recipes to try out and share their modifications, we have something equivalent to the app developer community. The scary part is that we’ll be beta-testing on people’s brains. The risk of serious harm is huge.

Gef: Chances are Afterparty could become a summer read for quite a few folks this year. What books, assuming you have the time to sit down with one through the summer given your schedule, are you looking forward to this summer?

Daryl: Summer is my season of optimism, in which I always plan to catch up on all the books I should have already read. Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch is sitting on my bedside table like a beautfiul anvil. I also want to read George Saunders’ collection the Tenth of December, and read the next two of Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach trilogy. I just finished the first book, Annihilation, and it was so. damn. weird. Can’t wait for the rest.

A big thanks to Daryl, Tor Books, and PR By the Book for their efforts. And if any of you would like to get your hands on a copy of AFTERPARTY, you can always find it on Amazon.com. And be sure to watch out for all the other blog tour stops this week!

April 22, 2014

If You Thought Yodellers Were the Scariest Things on Mountains ...: a review of Colin F. Barnes' "Dead Five's Pass"

Dead Five's Pass
by Colin F. Barnes
DarkFuse (2014)
108 pages

I've never really understood the appeal of mountain climbing. It's a mountain. It's steep. I get it. Maybe if there was something up there I wanted I might be enticed into trudging my butt up some snow-capped peak, but all the cool shit is down here among civilization. Climbing a mountain is like hitting a high score on that old Galaga game at the arcade: sure, you did it, but the only people who care are the others playing the game.

Take the poor saps in Dead Five's Pass for instance. A young couple are the first to run afoul of some strange menace near the top of the mountain. It's the kind of terrible fate that seems more fitting for Wall Street executives, not thrill-seeking coeds looking for some neat little geographical anomaly. And that anomaly is attracting quite a few climbers and they're all in trouble if two skilled, albeit psychologically wrecked, rescue workers can't get up there to save them.

Carise and Marcel used to be a dream team in the rescuing department, but that was before Carise suffered a miscarriage, deep depression, alcoholism, and terrible guilt over a stranded boy's death. Now they hardly speak, haven't teamed in years, and Marcel's new lady love, Janis, is incensed with the idea they must team up again to save the young men who have traversed the mountain pass in search of the new cave found via satellite photos. The story of Carise and Marcel might feel a little soap opera at first glance, but it doesn't take long for Barnes to squeeze the humanity out of their circumstances. And this story needed a healthy dose of humanity, because what's up in that mountain is the furthest thing from human.

The style of horror feels akin to The Thing and Phantoms and some of those other horror stories involving terrible monstrosities lurking just beneath the surface of civility. In this instance, the Lovecraftian vibe is clear. Heck, I was surprised there wasn't a direct reference to it. With as many tentacles and mind-warping visages lurking in the shadoes, it's a wonder Barnes managed to dodge the obvious. By the end, it doesn't feel like a Lovecraft story, but a Barnes story. And lemme tell ya, that's not too shabby.

I could have used a little more polish on the Marcel/Janis relationship, as it felt a bit perfunctory and left in the lurch once the rescue efforts started getting extra gruesome. Aside from that though, Colin F. Barnes offers one bone-chilling climb up a mountain of madness.

April 21, 2014

Can you feel the testosterone spotlight, babe... cause you’re standin’ in it: an excerpt of D.J. Donaldson's "Bad Karma in the Big Easy"

About D.J. Donaldson: Don is a retired professor of Anatomy and Neurobiology.  His entire academic career was spent at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where he published dozens of papers on wound healing and taught microscopic anatomy to over 5,000 medical and dental students.  He is also the author of seven published forensic mysteries and five medical thrillers. He lives in Memphis, Tennessee with his wife and two West Highland Terriers.  In the spring of most years he simply cannot stop buying new flowers and other plants for the couple’s backyard garden.

About BAD KARMA IN THE BIG EASY: Best-selling mystery author D.J. Donaldson (New Orleans RequiemLouisiana Fever) invites readers back to the Bayou with his latest New Orleans adventure Bad Karma in the Big Easy.Plump and proud medical examiner Andy Broussard reunites with gorgeous psychologist Kit Franklyn as they face off with their most gruesome foe yet.

A killer lurks in The Big Easy, his victims found among the many bodies left in the wake of the devastating Hurricane Katrina. But with the city’s records destroyed, and the police force in complete disarray, Broussard must take matters into his own hands. Soon, he and his courageous sidekick, Kit, find themselves on a dangerous and labyrinthine journey through the storm-ravaged underbelly of the ever-mysterious and intensely seductive city of New Orleans; leading them to a predatory evil the likes of which they’ve never encountered.

Written in his uniquely brusque style, Donaldson’s Bad Karmacombines hard-hitting, action-packed prose with a folksy, sweetly Southern charm. Add Donaldson’s brilliant first-hand knowledge of forensics and the sultry flavor of New Orleans, and the result is a first class forensic procedural within an irresistibly delectable mystery that will leave fans hungry for more.

Now, here's an excerpt from the novel, to give you just a little taste. Enjoy.

D.J. Donaldson

FROM GRANDMA O’S, KIT headed for her apartment in the French Quarter, relieved that Broussard didn’t attach much significance to her doubts about those pictures. But he was aware now that her word wasn’t always reliable when she vouched for what she knew. And that was bothersome.
Kit lived in an apartment behind a photo gallery on Toulouse Street. One of the perks of living there was it came with a parking space in an old wooden garage, three blocks away on Dauphine. Even on a normal night when the Quarter was full of life and lights, she kept one hand on her key ring Mace canister as she navigated from the garage to the gallery. Tonight, with no tourists in town and most of the shops and restaurants closed, there were many more dark doorways than usual, so as she walked, she felt isolated and vulnerable.
Turning onto Toulouse, where only a few of the streetlamps were working, she faced a shadowy gauntlet of black storefronts and dim recesses where danger might lurk. Picking up the pace, she moved quietly forward, into the waiting gloom, her Mace out and ready.
She’d walked about ten steps when she caught movement out of the corner of her left eye at the junction of the sidewalk with the building to her left. As she jerked her head down to see what it was, two rats the size of small nutrias scuttled across the sidewalk and into the street. Feeling a shudder ripple down her spine, she resumed walking. But as she swung her right foot forward, another rat ran into her path. She accidentally kicked it hard, the toe of her shoe sinking deeply into the furry body before she sent it squeaking into the air.
The rat hit the pavement two feet away and let out another squeal. It righted itself, sat up, and glared at her for a moment, before scuttling after its brethren.
At the Bourbon Street intersection half a minute later, the landscape brightened. In contrast to Toulouse, Bourbon was an oasis of life. That’s not to say it was anywhere near normal. Compared to its pre-Katrina status of permanent mayhem, the dark shops liberally dotted among those open for business gave it a struggling third-world look. Among the places bustling with activity was Bunny’s, a bar and grill that had been open around the clock for over a dozen years, including the hours during the height of Katrina’s fury when Bunny had to serve up burgers cooked on a camp stove
Looking at Bunny’s neon sign, Kit was reminded again that if she had only been able to get word down to Bunny’s while she was struggling to save Mrs. Lucas, she could have gotten help to squeeze that respirator bag. But there had just been no way... no way at all.
She changed direction and angled across the intersection, heading for the bar. As she drew near, she heard “Okie from Muskogee” playing on Bunny’s jukebox spill out the front door and into the street. After the dark isolation of Toulouse, Kit followed the sound like an ameba seeking light.
Inside, the place was dimly lit. Most of the tables and the seats at the bar were occupied. These days, Bunny’s customers consisted of a few regulars who lived in the Quarter and had refused to evacuate, supplemented by off-duty national guardsman and construction workers trying to repair the levees and put the city back together. The clientele was exclusively male. Seeing Kit in the doorway, they made her the focus of their attention.
Bunny came from behind the bar and headed her way.
“Hello Darlin,” Bunny said, embracing her. She let go and took a step back so she could see Kit’s face. “Can you feel the testosterone spotlight, babe... cause you’re standin’ in it.”
“I feel it.”
“How you doin’?” “Not too bad. Business looks good.”
Bunny leaned close and lowered her voice conspiratorially, “But they aren’t really havin’ fun. Guess too many of ‘em are away from home.”
Looking at Bunny with her double chin, it was hard to believe she had once been Bunny LeClaire, one of the hottest exotic dancers on Bourbon Street. But she had pictures of herself in costume all around the place to prove it. Kit was one of only a few who knew her real last name was Lefkowitz.
“Can I throw a burger on the grill for you?” Bunny asked.
“Can’t stay. Just stopped in to say hi and soak up a little civilization after coming down Toulouse.”
“Hope you’re careful walkin’ in those dark areas.”
“I try to be. A few minutes ago, I accidentally kicked a rat.”
“I’ve kicked a few in my time, mostly the two-legged kind and always on purpose as they hit the road.”
“Someday you’ll find the right guy.”
“They always seem right at first. Why is that?”
“Protective camouflage. Lots of predators use it to get close to their prey.”
Bunny picked up Kit’s hand and slapped it affectionately.
“Girl, you got a way of goin’ right to the heart of things. Protective camouflage... I have to remember that.”
“It’s not often I get a chance to leave the impression I’m clever. I better go before I ruin it.”
“Oh, that Westie breeder friend of mine in Mississippi called today. The litter we’ve been waitin’ for has been born. And there’s one healthy male unspoken for. If you want him, we should let her know ASAP.”
Bunny had been working on Kit for months trying to convince her to get a puppy to replace her dog, Lucky, who had died of old age in June. Kit had been resisting because she felt it dishonored Lucky’s memory to replace him so quickly. But after talking to the Hendrins and John Munson, she could no longer ignore the empty feeling growing inside her.
“Tell her I want him.”
Bunny’s eyes glistened with approval. “I’ll call her tonight.”
On the way out the door, Kit ran into an attractive redhead that lived in one of the two apartments above Bunny’s place.
“How’s the crowd?” the redhead asked.
“Not bad... all male, so get ready for a lot of stares if you’re going in.”
“You say that like it’s a bad thing.”
It was far from obvious, but the redhead was actually a man in drag Kit knew only as He Daisy. Daisy had many wigs, but usually favored the flaming red one he was now wearing. He wasn’t into soliciting men, but simply liked to dress as a woman. By trade, he was an artist who supplemented his trust fund income with sporadic sales of his paintings. Though he had an unusual lifestyle, he was a gentle, kind man Kit counted as a friend. “Does this color lipstick make me look like a tart?” Daisy asked.
“Not at all.”
“Too bad. I was hoping it did.” Daisy laughed. “Well, I’m going to get something to eat and go upstairs and work. You have a good one.”
As Kit walked back to Toulouse, crossed over, and went another half block to the photo gallery fronting her apartment, she wasn’t sure at all that a little Westie puppy was big enough to fill the hollow space in her heart.
Tourists comprised most of the business that came through the doors of the Nolen Boyd gallery. No tourists equaled no business. So Boyd had decided to take a long European vacation while the city got back to where it could once again entice enough visitors for him to justify reopening.
Mace canister in hand, Kit walked past the dark front of the gallery and stepped up to the eight-foot tall, heavy cypress door leading to the back courtyard. She took a quick look around.
Seeing no one lingering or approaching, she quickly keyed the lock and opened the door.
The gallery and the adjacent building formed a long passage leading to the rear courtyard, where Kit’s apartment was located. The passage had a lattice ceiling on which a hundred-year-old wisteria had spread its branches. During the day, this made the passage a delightful, light-dappled avenue. But at night, the Wisteria would have caused it to be a very dark twenty-foot stretch were it not for the little lights Boyd had rigged along the left wall.
Above the big cypress door, Boyd had installed a coil of razor wire to keep anyone on the outside from climbing over the door. So as the door shut and locked behind her, the tension Kit felt from being on the Quarter’s dark streets flowed out of her.
Even though she was now safely home, she kept her Mace ready.
Walking toward the courtyard, which was brightly illuminated by a dark-activated mercury vapor light, Kit remembered how happy Lucky always was to see her, his little tail wagging furiously, his mouth open in an expression of pure joy. How she missed that little varmint.
But what to name the new one? Lucky II? That’s no good.
She reached the end of the lattice ceiling and stepped out from under it. Suddenly, she heard a sharp scratching sound from the lattice. Before she could turn to see what it was, a soft object hit the top of her head. Something heavy thudded into the ground behind her. At the same instant, the thing that had hit her seemed to be melting over her hair.
As she struggled to complete her turn to see what the hell was going on, the melting liquid slid down over her face... It covered her eyes... so thick she couldn’t see through it.
Down it went over her nose and mouth. And it was making a crinkling sound. She lifted her hands to wipe the stuff away.
That’s when she discovered it was not liquid.

It was a plastic bag.  

April 20, 2014

Bitten By Book's Ultimate Steampunk Giveaway: Books, Movie, Jewelry, Cards and More!

Bitten by Books has a great giveaway happening this week. Between now and the end of April 25 you can throw your name in the hat for a chance to win a slew of steampunk goodness. Among the plunder is: Fiddlehead by Cherie Priest, ARC’s of The Clockwork Wolf and Disenchanted & Co. by Lynn Viehl, His Clockwork Canary by Beth Ciotta,a DVD copy of The Adventurer: The Curse of the Midas Box, plus a Steampunk hat Hat from Nitty Gritty Threads, Steampunk Kitty Necklace from A Charming Time Jewelry, Mustache note cards, A Steampunk journal, Mini Steampunk Key bookmarks and a bunch of swag!

You can entry through the entry form below or click on the link above. Either way, it's open to readers worldwide. Good luck!

April 18, 2014

Chasing Tale [4/18/14]: Bad TV Stars Make Worse Authors

Chasing Tale is a recurring feature of the blog in which I highlight the latest books to appear on my bookshelf. Some I find at bookshops, some are bargains on the Kindle Store, while others are review copies sent my way from authors, publishers, and publicists.

Last week, I was asked if I'd be interested in reading the latest book from a reality TV star. I think the person's claim to fame stems from one of those "Real Housewives" shows. My answer? While I was quite polite in declining, I wonder if the undercurrent of "Are you some kind of fucking moron?!" came through to the person who asked me.

TV stars have a sketchy track record when it comes to writing books--or rather dictating books to poorly paid ghost writers--but I'm guessing it's even worse with the glut of pseudo-celebs spawned from the fetid swamps of reality TV. And let's just set aside the capabilities they possess towards the English language for a moment to ask one dismal question: Do people who sit down to watch such dopey dreck even buy books?

I get the attempt to cash in on the popularity of Duck Dynasty or Honey Boo-Boo or the riveting life story of some American Idol reject, but these books are doing little more than propping up wobbly table legs or serving as gag gifts to actual readers. HA, fooled you! You thought you were getting that novel you really wanted and instead you got a book of poetry by one of the Bachelorettes (That's a real book, by the way).

Some may see me wasting my time by reading genre fiction, but those people lack the understanding that true drivel is not found in genre, but in the nonfiction section.

No sir, I will happily while away my time with books like these, thank you very much:

Queenpin by Megan Abbott - Abbott has a new novel out this summer, a rather gruesome one too by the sounds of it, but this one I snapped up is one of the nostalgic noir titles that put her on the map. Plus, I haven't read a whole lot of crime fiction lately with female characters in the spotlight, so cheers for that.

Peckerwood by Jedidiah Ayres - This one from Broken River Books looks like smalltown noir with the dial turned up to 10, and it comes highly recommended from a couple authors whose work I enjoy greatly, so I'm sure I'll get a kick out of it. I already love that bony two-finger salute on the cover.

The Greenland Breach by Bernard Besson - This one is described as a "cli-fi spy novel." What the aitch is that? Oh, climate-fiction ... gotcha. Anyway, this is a tranlation of a French novel. I read a French novel last year with pleasing results, so let's hope this goes two for two.

Blood Groove by Alex Bledsoe - This is one I've had on my wish list for a while and I finally snagged a copy. I guess it is one that is under-appreciated by Bledsoe's readers, perhaps preferring the more adventurous tales than a stylistic vampire tale set in the 70s. Me, I want this one.

The Impostor #1: Half a Hero by Richard Lee Byers - I first heard of Byers a few years ago when an urban fantasy novel he wrote was published by Night Shade Books called Blind God's Bluff. Not sure what happened to that series in the wake of NSB's shakeup, but this series of super-hero novellas looks pretty cool, so I got the first one.

The Christmas Ghost Stories of Lawrence Gordon Clark: Deluxe Edition - I actually already read this collection earlier in the month, but Spectral Press forwarded along a PDF copy of what they have planned for the deluxe hardcover edition and it just makes it all the better.

Night of Wolves by David Dalglish - I think David and I are in the same anthology, Fading Light if memory serves, but I've never gone out and gotten one of his books. Then I saw this one was free on the Kindle Store, so that took care of that.

Bad Karma in the Big Easy by D.J. Donaldson - The folks at Astor + Blue sent me a review copy of this New Orleans set mystery novel. I think I have the preceding novel somewhere on my TBR pile, but things have a way of getting away from a fella.

The Last Bastion of the Living by Rhiannon Frater - For as much praise Rhiannon Frater gets for her zombie novels, I've never read one. Then she came out with a 99 cent sale on this one a week or two ago and I thought I'd give it a go.

Ugly Little Things by Todd Keisling - I was lucky enough to win all four of Todd's short stories in his Ugly Little Things series: "Radio Free Nowhere" (which I listened to as part of an audiobook anthology last year), "The Harbinger", "Saving Granny from the Devil", and "When Karen Met Her Mountain." Very cool stuff by the sounds of it. I already loved one of the four so far, so ...

All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky by Joe R. Lansdale - Here's a YA novel from one of my favorite authors. I've read a couple stories of his that feature young protagonists, but I think this is the first novel he wrote geared towards a young audience. Ought to be interesting.

The Axeman of Storyville by Heath Lowrance - BEAT to a PULP released this novella as a freebie a week or two ago. Love the cover and Lowrance can spin a yarn, so I'm happy.

A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride - This is one of the novels I've been eager to read ever since I first heard about it. McBride's Frank Sinatra in a Blender was one of my favorite reads of 2013 and this one sounds like it could be even better.

Infinity House by Shane McKenzie - This one looks to be firmly rooted in the horror genre. Even the cover makes me queezy a little bit.

Hot Rock by Annie Seaton - I won a giveaway just a little while ago that was hosted by Bitten By Books, so when perusing Annie's lineup of books this romantic one with a time-travel twist caught my eye. Hey, if you want me to read more romance, throw in some tropes I already love.

The Waiting by Hunter Shea - A new short novel from Hunter Shea and Samhain's horror line that sees a worried husband who sees a boy's ghost lurking around his comatose wife. Eesh, sounds deliciously creepy.

Switchblade Goddess by Lucy A. Snyder - As Lucy A. Snyder got the funding for her fourth Jessie Shimmer novel, I figured I ought to buy the third. I have a little catching up to do.

The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski - This is one of Swierczynski's earlier novels, but it sounds like a doozy, with a femme fatale keeping a poor schmoe hostage in her bid to stay alive.

Vile Blood by Max Wilde (aka Roger Smith) - This premise for this one sounds so effing bonkers I can't believe I hadn't heard of it until last week. Smith writes riveting thrillers, but this one is straight-up horror and has got some big-time praise from some amazing authors.

April 16, 2014

The Hardest Part of Being Haunted: a review of Hunter Shea's "The Waiting" (+ a giveaway)

The Waiting
by Hunter Shea
Samhain Publishing (2014)
112 pages

The opening chapters of The Waiting are gut-wrenching, and in the case of a bride on her wedding day that is taken quite literally. Overcome by searing pain in her abdomen, Cassandra Pagano, collapses and is hospitalized with a seriously debilitating condition that sees her comatose and in need to long-term care as her body heals from not only the sickness, but also the surgery that saved her life.

Her new husband, Brian, dutifully watches over her when she's brought to their new home, along with his mother-in-law and a registered nurse, hoping for Cassandra's full recovery. But a spectre arrives in the house and the question becomes if it's a guardian angel or a malevolent spirit.

This creepy novella from Hunter Shea doesn't waste time, as that opening scene with Cassandra is pretty brutal. From there it just piles on the anguish and the torment, with much of the story seen through Brian's eyes as his wife incrementally deteriorates before his eyes over the weeks and months of caring for her, and alternating chapters from the mother-in-law's vantage, and even brief interlude's from Cassandra. It plays on atmosphere, paranoia, the struggle between managing the terrors at home with the mundane turmoil of life in general, and all handled quite well.

My one hangup came from not really understanding until very late in the story just what the "rules" were for the spirit. It seemed to be linked to the house, then to Cassandra, then to the house again. Moments surrounded that part of the book seemed to contradict each other at points.

Aside from that, it's a very good outing from Hunter Shea, and a reminder to me that I need to read more of his stuff.

Available at Amazon.com

GIVEAWAY: Hook of a Book is hosting a blog tour for Hunter Shea right now, so you should check that out for more Hunter Shea goodness. Plus, there's a giveaway in which lucky winners will walk away with books. You just need to fill out the Rafflecopter form below. You gotta love that, right?