Hekla’s Children

James Brogden’s book HEKLA’S CHILDREN is a deeply unsettling and complicated work, layering an intriguing mystery with a thoughtful fantasy topped by a screeching horror tale that may or may not be allegorical, but is chilling and memorable.

The mystery begins when young Nathan Brookes is leading a small troop of four adolescents on an orienteering hike through a large British park. There should be no danger involved and so Brookes lets his charges roam on ahead and he takes a shortcut to meet up with them. He sees the group in flashes and then they disappear. They are not where they are supposed to be. All four youngsters have vanished.

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Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales

Prolific, insightful and often surprising editor Ellen Datlow chooses birds as the topic of BLACK FEATHERS: DARK AVIAN TALES, her latest anthology of mostly new stories.

Birds often connote beauty, freedom, and song. But as Datlow points out in her stylish Introduction, “there’s a dark side to the avian.” She notes the many birds of prey; that birds often kill other bird’s eggs; and some are also known to kill small animals. These and several other foreboding avian characteristics, along with several species of birds themselves, are the basis of the works featured in this anthology.

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Darkness Whispers

A mysterious older gentleman wanders into a small town and wreaks havoc by granting the residents their secret desires, all at the cost of simply doing him a small favor.

No, it’s not Stephen King’s NEEDFUL THINGS, although you’d be forgiven for thinking that. The plots are eerily similar, but honestly, it wasn’t a terribly original plot to begin with. The whole “make a deal with the Devil” and “be careful what you wish for” scenarios were showing signs of age back when Rod Serling was pulling them out for every fourth episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE.

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The Apartment

No, not a novelization of the 1960 Jack Lemmon/Shirley MacLaine comedy, THE APARTMENT is a slow-burn horror/suspense story that, if it were indeed a film, would be more suited to be directed by Alfred Hitchcock rather than Billy Wilder.

Mark and Steph are a mismatched married couple living in Cape Town with their toddler daughter. One night, the family is subjected to a home invasion. Although they are left physically unharmed, the psychological stress wears on the couple. They decide to get away for a week with the hope that it will alleviate much of the dark cloud that has surrounded their lives since the break-in. Steph contacts a website that assists would-be vacationers in “residence swapping,” a way for folks to stay somewhere exotic without paying hefty hotel rates. Soon after, Steph receives an email from a couple in Paris that would like to swap residences for a week. Jackpot, right? Well, no…

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Six Scary Stories

6scarystoriesPulling the next submission off my precariously balanced tower of books-to-review, and —

Hey, what’s this? SIX SCARY STORIES by Stephen King.

Huh. I didn’t know King had a new collection of short stories out. And this is a slim volume (only six stories, after all), so I can probably knock it out in an hour or so. Wonder why my friends (huge King fans) haven’t been talking it up …

… um …

I see.

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The Fireman

firemanJoe Hill’s latest novel, THE FIREMAN, effectively presents this popular young horror author at his creative best, as well his self-indulgent worst. And it’s the striking creativity of the story that makes you wish the end result were so much better.

Can a person really die from spontaneous combustion? No, unless they are stricken with Draco Incendia Tyrchophyton – the disease central to the novel (more commonly known as “Dragonscale”) that marks its victim with beautiful black and gold bruises before it causes them to burst into flames. No one is sure how it began, but it has turned into a plague spreading across the country and hitting cities one by one.

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Warlock Holmes: A Study in Brimstone

warlockholmesAmerican author Gabriel Denning signs his name “G. S. Denning” to assume a more British persona in WARLOCK HOLMES: A STUDY IN BRIMSTONE, his comedy/horror version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s immortal detective. The concept is limited. So, not surprisingly, most of the humor in this debut work is forced and overplayed. Holmes purists, beware.
 
Like the Conan Doyle originals, Denning’s book is a series of short stories. In the title story Dr. John Watson meets and soon shares lodgings at Baker Street with Warlock Holmes. It isn’t long before Watson discovers his new friend’s unique ability. Holmes has an impressive – although often irritating – knowledge of demons. In fact, as Watson eventually learns, Holmes is possessed by the spirit of Professor James Moriarty, a master demonic criminal.

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Kill Switch

killswitchAfter seven novels, Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger of the Department of Military Sciences (DMS) has faced some of the most fantastic and formidable threats ever created by Maberry’s fertile imagination. If KILL SWITCH, the eighth and latest series entry, suffers from anything it is, ironically, an embarrassment of riches as Maberry attempts to once again outdo himself.

While on a mission in the Antarctic, Ledger and two members of his Echo Team discover an odd looking machine. When activated the machine nulls all electronic devices and software. But exposure to the activated machine has other strange effects that Ledger and his team only later understand.

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The Passenger

passenger1941: A German U-boat is dispatched to the coast of Iceland to pick up and transport two prisoners. One is a British submarine commander, and the other is a Norwegian university professor. The commander of the U-boat, Siegfried Lorenz, is told very little about the prisoners and given only the most basic of instructions. Unfortunately, through a series of tragic events, and through no fault of the commander’s, the prisoners don’t make it to their destination alive. Then things start to get a little weird …

The crew hears voices. They see apparitions. The U-boat suffers mechanical problems. People disappear, are injured, or die mysteriously.

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The Dragon Factory

dragonfactOne of the many pleasures of 2009’s PATIENT ZERO, Jonathan Maberry’s outstanding novel that introduced the character of Joe Ledger, was how the author took an outrageous premise and made it completely credible. In THE DRAGON FACTORY, his 2010 follow-up now available in a new mass-market edition, Maberry amps up the outrageousness factor by several degrees. But again, thanks to his energetic prose and narrative drive, he has us believing it.

Ledger has been approached by ominous government security goons before, but this time, he senses that something is seriously wrong. Rather than comply with their demand to come with them, he distracts them with a few well-placed punches and flees. While on the run, Ledger learns that the U.S. executive branch, currently run by the vice president while the president recovers from surgery, is out to dismantle the Department of Military Science, the fiercely patriotic, but under-the-radar agency for which Ledger works.

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