Book Review – We Are All Monsters by Cassie Carnage

Twitter is a vast wasteland filled with all manner of bad hombres. Some would say build a wall around it and be done with the problem, but I say there are gems out there just waiting to be discovered. Such is the case with Cassie Carnage’s collection of horror shorts We Are All Monsters.

Now, in case you hadn’t guessed by her name and the title of the book, this isn’t romance or anything feel-good. It’s good, old-fashioned horror with monsters and all manner of bad things happening to otherwise decent folk. In other words, We Are All Monsters is great way to spend a couple hours letting your dark side rise up and enjoy life for a while.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’m a horror fan. I’ve certainly enjoyed the horror books I’ve read in the past, but I usually don’t go out of my way to seek them out. This one popped up in my Twitter feed as being on sale and it looked interesting enough that I grabbed a copy. While I wouldn’t say any of them outright scared me (don’t worry, not much does), there were a couple that left a hint of that tingle of nervousness. In my world, that’s a win.

In any collection of short stories, you can’t really expect them to all be winners. Not that any of the stories in We Are All Monsters are necessarily bad, it’s just that a couple of them rise above the rest. Personally, and this is just my opinion, The Dying Light was a great tale that ends with such a twist it makes you wonder if it couldn’t be expanded into a full-length novel. Black Hearts and Bloodied Lips could also set the stage for a much larger world. Walpurgisnacht had a great concept, too.

All in all, an entertaining read. If you’re into horror – and this isn’t overly gruesome horror – it’s worth a check.

And, in case you’re wondering if those Twitter plug work; well, it would appear they sometimes do.

WE ARE ALL MONSTERS by Cassie Carnage contains 10 original stories from a unique new voice in horror, plus a bonus preview chapter of the weird west monster hunter book THE THREE THIEVES OF NIGHT, which introduces you to their dark, corrupted world of gun slinging magicians.

Horror Stories Include:

HER ROTTEN EMBRACE
What the swamp takes, she also gives back.

CANCER’S REQUIEM
Cancer comes back to collect a widowed husband.

THE RING
What would you do if you could see ghosts, and your best friend dies?

DROSOPHILA (a horror poem)
Are there fruit flies everywhere, or only in the demented mind of Malachi?

THE DYING LIGHT
Two kids hear an urban legend about a monster in an abandoned copper mine. When they break into the mine, they accidentally wake it up.

HOT WATER
Sometimes, it’s not your imagination. Sometimes, there really is something inside your water heater…

BLACK HEARTS AND BLOODIED LIPS
Two monster hunters discover unexpected package while investigating a nest of vampires.

THE CORNUCOPIA
A homeless preacher finds a way to feed the starving people of his flock. But not all is what it seems, as the magical golden box that leaves a feast each night only does so after a human sacrifice.

WALPURGISNACHT
A mummified saint’s body, a witch, and a terrible curse.

OF ‘SQUATCH AND MAN
Three college guys go camping during a full moon and discover that one of them is not quite human anymore.

THREE THIEVES OF NIGHT PRELUDE (Bonus Section)
A psychic swordsman and a con man with an incessantly itching wound that won’t heal discover that their brother-at-arms is missing.

If you like Tales from the Crypt, Clive Barker, Stephen King or Anne Rice, you will love WE ARE ALL MONSTERS.

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Book Review – Junior Inquisitor by Lincoln Farish

Not a lot of people know this, but I grew up Catholic. Anglican Catholic, to be more specific. I have since fallen from the purer faith, but, at least in my eyes, Christian religion is indelibly tied to Catholicism. I know that’s not the case for a lot of people, but it’s just how I perceive the Christian world.

Any time you talk about religion, you have to be careful – people take their beliefs very seriously and I’m not trying to knock anyone else’s faith, just pointing out the eyes I used to look at the world of Lincoln Farish’s Junior Inquisitor.

I’ll get the meat out of the way and just say this: Junior Inquisitor is a hell of a lot of fun and if you’re into action and mystery, go buy a copy now.

This isn’t a religious book, per se. In the world of Junior Inquisitor there is evil present in the world. Not abstract evil, either. This is Evil with a capital E; the kind of thing Mike Myers would pronounce “Ayveel. Like the frooits of the deveel.” In fact, that kind of evil pretty much hits the mark that Mr. Farish is going for. In this world, most people aren’t aware of the underlying evil slowly eroding the world around them, but the Catholic church is well aware of it, and has been for some time. The Inquisitors are the tools the church uses to purge this evil.

Junior Inquisitor revolves around one Inquisitor as he stumbles into a hornet’s nest of evil. Excuse me; ayveel. Most of the tale is about him as he tries to do his job, but the story ultimately includes more Inquisitors as Sebastian attempts to purge a host of witches from the face of the planet.

Now, it should probably be noted that Farish’s witches aren’t Wiccans. There’s nothing kind or gentle about the witches in Junior Inquisitor and the magic they do is based on power pulled straight from deals with various demons and devils. In other words, these aren’t nice people we’re talking about.

So, while Junior Inquisitor takes place in a world that feels like our own, it’s very much set in its own world. And that world is inhabited by some terrifying things that not only go bump in the night, they also capture you and enslave your soul.

As I pointed out in the beginning, I’ve got a Catholic background even though I no longer count myself as one of theirs. But that background – even though Farish is using Roman Catholicism instead of Anglican Catholicism – made this book all that much more tangible, right down to the bureaucratic nature of all large organizations.

Part horror, part action, Junior Inquisitor is all fun. Even if you aren’t Catholic (or religious at all, really), it’s hard to not cheer on the exploits of a character that faces down the terrible things lurking in the darkness and shoots them.

Brother Sebastian is halfway up a mountain in Vermont, hell-bent on interrogating an old woman in a shack, when he gets the order to abandon his quest for personal vengeance. He has to find a missing Inquisitor, or, more likely, his remains. He’s reluctant, to say the least. Not only will he have to stop chasing the best potential lead he’s had in years, this job—his first solo mission—will mean setting foot in the grubby black hole of Providence, Rhode Island. And, somehow, it only gets worse…

If he’d known he would end up ass deep in witches, werewolves, and ogres, and that this mission would jeopardize not only his sanity but also his immortal soul, he never would’ve answered the damn phone.

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Book Review – Pawns by Patrick Hodges

I used to have this story rattling around in my head about a ship from the future that gets damaged in a firefight and crashes on a planet where magic was very real and very dangerous. It would have been an interesting examination of the inherent equality built into technology versus the inequality where magic – and therefore power – was concentrated in the hands of the few. At some point or another, I may still write it, but the key point of high-tech coming into contact with high-magic was the unique part about it and Patrick Hodges just beat me to the punch.

Such is life.

Patrick Hodges has finally made the jump from YA fiction (which was very good stuff anyway) in the real world to more adult YA fiction centered in a fictional world. This is a very good thing as far as I’m concerned. Joshua’s Island was an excellent examination of bullying and the general crap people deal with when they’re growing up, but Pawns is a much larger story. Some of themes are still there, at least in a nascent form, but the themes are background to the story instead of the driver of the story.

Pawns – Book 1 of The Wielders of Arantha saga has, at its heart, the same kinds of studies of growing up and learning to adapt, but packages it in a sci-fi realm where magic and technology are suddenly thrust together. So, now my opening paragraph makes sense.

Pawns is a unique mixture of sci-fi and fantasy, set on a faraway planet where the rules are different from what our intrepid Earthlings expect. It’s a tightly woven story told from multiple points of view and, while it’s the first in a series, gives us a solid tale.

And that’s the only real downside to the story. This book, like most first books in a series, is primarily here to introduce the characters and situation and get the ball rolling. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a solid story here, but Pawns’ primary purpose is to build a world. And, to be fair, it’s a heck of a world, richly detailed and populated with interesting characters. I don’t know how many books Hodges has planned for the series, but this one will definitely be the one to start with.

The fact that it’s a great read is just icing on the cake.

Seven hundred years in the future, the Jegg – a powerful alien race – invade Earth, wiping out half of the Terran Confederation.

In a hidden base under the Sahara Desert, a team of scientists works to mount a resistance against the invaders. Their plan is to fit an Earth ship with Jegg folding-space technology, and travel to the other side of the galaxy to find a mysterious energy source… one that could help them defeat the Jegg.

But just before departure, catastrophe strikes. Only two of the crew survive and make it to their destination: the team leader’s wife Maeve, and her teenage son Davin. What they find on the distant planet will forever change both the future of their family and their planet, as they enter a race against time… and against impossible odds.

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Book Review – Mudmen by Shitij Sharma

Mudmen: The Quest for Humanity is one of the more unique books I’ve read. It starts with a question I think everyone has asked themselves at some point or another point in their lives: could I do a better job than God?

Don’t worry, the jury is still out on that one.

I think at some point in their development, every writer goes through a deeply philosophical phase. Most books don’t go too deep into philosophical territory for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is takes a steady hand to make such huge things small enough for most people to wrap their heads around.

Mudmen follows the events that take place after the world comes to an end and the whole of humanity is reduced to ashes. One person winds up with the ability to rewrite reality and sets out to do exactly that. Unfortunately for him, reality isn’t as easy to recode as, say, editing the text on the back of a box of cereal or pirating music. Reality, it turns out, is complicated stuff. Lot of ins, lot of outs, lot of interested parties, as the saying goes.

Out of the miasma this little guy creates comes something altogether unexpected: The resurgence of humanity. Of course, the humans do what we’re best at: steal the power of the gods for ourselves, even though we’re completely incapable of figuring out what to do with it.

This is book one of a three book set. Truthfully, it weighs in at 88 pages or so, so novella may be more technically accurate. Not that such triviality is all that important. The important thing to realize is this is just the first third of a longer piece. Truthfully, I would have like to see the whole work released as a single installment, but that’s just me. This first third gives us an introduction to the characters and rules of the Mudmen. Presumably, the remainder of the series will fill out the world more. Sharma asks some big questions in book one; let’s hope he provides some big answers as the story continues.

Rich in metaphor and deeply layered meaning, Mudmen isn’t a story to be undertaken expecting a few gun fights, a car chase, and some steamy sex. This is musings on the nature of being, the nature of the universe, and the nature of humanity.

What if you thought you could play a better god than God?

Mudmen is a story unlike anything you have ever seen before. It all starts with a half-crazed dwarf scribbling furiously on a piece of paper while the world outside his little cottage is ravaged by a great storm. There is an artifact in his possession which gives him power over all else, but that artifact is stolen by the very creatures that he gave birth to in his frustration – these creatures are what we come to know as the Mudmen.

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Book Review – Walk-In by Val Tobin

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Val Tobin has a thing for the occult. She handles it well and makes the worlds of magic and UFO abduction feel real and tangible. Having tried to do this myself, I can tell you it’s no mean feat to integrate the paranormal with the mundanity of day-to-day life. This is actually the second of Val’s books that I’ve stumbled across. The first – The Experiencers – was cracking good read with aliens. Walk-In takes the reader in a different, but no less intriguing, direction.

Now, whether or not you believe in the paranormal aspects of Tobin’s work, you have to admit she’s done her homework. Magic’s an easy thing to completely screw up in a book. It can go from an interesting plot adornment to deus-ex-machina in the blink of an eye if it isn’t handled well. Tobin’s magic is still based on rules and – at least from my own research – seems to be based on real-world practices.

Into this world of magic and spirits, Tobin drops a psychic reader, a powerful (and evil) psychic, a witch, and a journalist who’s out of his element, but ready to understand. She manages to weave a mystery about a missing woman with a story of a budding romance and wrap it all up in a paranormal bow.

I can’t really comment too much on the romance aspects; that’s never been my genre, but I can say Val Tobin has crafted a believable world of unbelievable things and filled it with interesting characters. Hints of horror skulk around at the edges and there’s enough intrigue and action to satisfy almost anyone.

All in all, a highly entertaining read. Plus, it looks like there might be a sequel.

Questions plague psychic reader Viktoria Kovacs when her twin sister, missing for five years, appears at her door. Why did her sister leave? What happened to her memory? And how did she end up living with the mysterious millionaire who claims to be her protector?

When journalist Aedan McCarthy visits the occult shop where Viktoria works, he’s researching a novel, not looking for love. Unprepared for the jolt of electricity that sparks between them, Aedan wants to explore the possibilities.

But evil lurks, and not everyone is who they appear to be. Getting entangled with Viktoria might cost Aedan his soul.

A fast-paced romantic thriller with paranormal elements, Walk-In provides edge-of-the-seat entertainment.

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Book Review – The Kenpo Karate Compendium by Lee Wedlake

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Most martial arts books aim to teach you martial arts by showing you pictures of people doing things. Some do it really well, others do it exceedingly poorly. Some of the books out there that purport to teach a martial art through pictures are trying to teach a shitty martial art poorly. In those cases, you’ve got the double whammy of suck.

monkey_steals_the_peach
Don’t try this at home.

I have a huge library of martial arts books ranging from obscure treatises on Savate to modern explanations of Krav Maga and everything in between. Some are good, some not so good, but most of them can be counted on to have a gem or two ferreted away between the covers.

Whether or not you can learn a martial art from a book is debatable. I would argue that it’s really not possible to understand motion from static images, but once you’ve got a solid grasp of a martial art, you can start to pick things up from books and videos. The caveat, of course, is what you learn will be tainted by your understanding of whatever art you’ve been studying. In other words, you’d be doing Jeet Kun Do as a Kenpo practitioner, not as a Jeet Kun Do practitioner.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? I’m not sure. I’m of the opinion that if you can make it work, it’s all good. Others would likely disagree.

But, I digress. Lee Wedlake’s The Kenpo Karate Compendium: The Forms and Sets of American Kenpo isn’t one of those books that aims to teach you a martial art. It’s written for people who are already proficient at Kenpo and shows some extra details and notes that may or may not have been picked up during live training.

Kenpo’s a fractured system. It started out in Hawaii, moved to Utah, and exploded after that. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view), that explosion has lead to a lot of different schools doing a lot of different things. My school broke from Ed Parker’s school at some point in the distant past, but we still use a lot of his techniques and forms. In fact, the bulk of the first forms from Parker Kenpo are still extant in AKKA Kenpo. There’s more divergence as the belts go higher, but especially the early ones are almost exactly the same as what Lee Wedlake wrote his book about.

That kind of fracturing isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s nice sometimes to go back to the source and see that it hasn’t changed as much as we sometimes like to think it. It’s also nice to get some insight from someone else. Not knocking my own Kenpo instructors here, but it can be a great thing to break out of the norm and see what someone else has to say.

The bottom line for a book like this is it isn’t a great book for beginners. This is for people who want to dig into the original forms and pick up what’s changed here and there over the years or catch those little details that get lost from time to time. It’s also nice to have a different take on something.

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Book Review – Darkly Wood II by Max Power

Max Power is back and in full force with his very first sequel. Over the years, he’s written five books (including this one), but this is the first time he’s written a sequel to any of them.

That’s a good thing. Darkly Wood (check my review here) was a great horror story with other horror stories interwoven with it. It was a very unique story that handled the exposition of the titular wood through a series of old tales about the horrible thing that had happened there over the years, even as it was dragging us – and the protagonist, Daisy May – through the muck and claws of the woods.

Darkly Wood ended like any good horror story should – leaving you wanting more. The main story was finished, but it added more questions and begged for a sequel. Now, three years later, we get a sequel that answers some of the questions and introduces more. Darkly Wood II: The woman who never wore shoes picks up the story of Daisy May when her granddaughter wanders into the woods and history repeats itself.

This time, though, the stakes are higher and there’s a twist.

Power himself has claimed this isn’t a horror story. He sees it as a romance with horror elements and there’s certainly a bit of romance lurking in the dark corners of the story, ready to snatch you up and lovingly shred you. Certainly, Darkly Wood II uses the romance elements to both humanize and demonize his primary antagonist and give us tantalizing hints as to why he is the way he is, but the magic of the story lies in how we learn more about why the woods are the way they are.

As before, Power weaves stories of the woods into the narrative of the story, but this time the stories become important parts of the whole. Rather than simply provide exposition and allow us to see Darkly Wood as a long-time menace, the old stories become important elements in the final narrative.

Max Power is a masterful story-teller, so masterful you don’t always realize just how well-woven the tale is until the whole of the story hits you full in the face. If you haven’t read Darkly Wood, it’s not strictly necessary to start there, but it would definitely help.

If you like your horror stories with a bit of soul instead of a lot of blood, check out Darkly Wood II. It has some intense scenes, but it’s not meant as a scream-fest. This is the creeping, gnawing horror that sneaks up you in the middle of the night. Well written and entertaining, Darkly Wood II is a great read.

This chilling sequel to Darkly Wood brings us back to the mysterious wood perched above the sleepy village of Cranby. The mystery returns with love and terror walking hand and hand through the seemingly innocent paths of the place that has generated many fearful tales. This time however, there is an even more sinister presence. Much time has passed since Daisy escaped the terror of the wood and on the surface little has changed. But behind the tree line, a new danger lurks. Fans of the original will be taken to darker depths and first time readers will discover the true art of storytelling from the mind of the award winning author Max Power. Heart stopping, fast paced, unrelenting danger lies waiting for you between the pages. Sometimes love is all you have. Sometimes, love is not enough. Darkness is coming…

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