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    The Reckoning - Thomas F. Monteleone

    “If this is the Second Coming, then somebody was lying about something.”

    Another fantastic read, this sequel doesn’t reach the levels of destruction I was expecting after the end of The Blood of the Lamb. Armageddon up to the eyeballs, I probably would have guessed, but instead we get a faced paced, fairly complex thriller drawing heavily on biblical canon and history.

    Peter is now Pope, and is sweeping religious reform across the globe from his seat in the Vatican, his latest plan including legalizing marriage for the clergy. He is to set the initial example by marrying Marion as soon as this latest change is announced, but in a fit of anger he throws her out a window and kills her. Then runs downstairs and brings her back to life.

    Marion has had enough of Peter and many of the church members around him have found his casual dress, unconventional wisdom and flagrant violation of tradition more than they can bear, but Peter is unconcerned. He has discovered the Vatican’s Secret Library, with over 9 miles of shelving, and is frantically searching for ‘The Secret of the Seven’ among its volumes. The book of Revelation repeatedly mentions the seven seals, which we learn are all that’s standing between Peter and ultimate victory where The Adversary arrives and has his way with the Earth. It’s a globe-spanning race to the finish as a single seal is enough to defeat the indestructible Peter, who has eventually accepted his fate as the harbinger of the end.

    There are two notable scenes where Peter is confronted by The Devil, one in each book. In The Blood of the Lamb, the spirit manifests as a kind of geometric black hole in the desert and mirrors Christ’s temptations, drawing parallels between Peter’s struggle as the Christ figure in book one and that ancient scene from The New Testament. Here in the sequel he is again confronted, this time much further along the path of destruction, and this time Peter isn’t being tempted, more receiving instruction. Forces are aligning, and while the divine and the infernal cannot directly intercede, they’re present and accounted for. In a couple of books dealing with the biblical end of the world, there are surprisingly few supernatural elements across the page, but that works out about exactly as it should. This is our conflict, and we have to fight it.

    I didn’t feel this story quite reached the level of the first book, but this was an excellent read with lively, likable and believable characters, a feat in itself considering Peter at the beginning of book one is significantly different than at the end of book two, though you can still see some of his core. Stakes don't really get any higher, and these two books are superb examples of biblical, end-of-the-world storytelling.

    “He’d always seen the world differently and had to adjust to what other people called the real world. Still, he knew that just about everybody else was wrong and he was right.”

    4+ stars

    reckoning, the.jpg
    Last edited by bugen; 05-17-2016, 06:43 PM.
    “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
    -John Barth


      Tales from the Midnight Shift - Mark Allan Gunnells

      “There was always the Bible in the nightstand drawer, but whoever had dubbed that the Greatest Story Ever Told had apparently never read
      The Stand.”

      First off, this review grew to a size I wasn’t planning on. In looking over the ratings I’d given each of these stories over time, and I read this book slowly, I realized I was interested in touching on all of them and it just grew out of my control. TL/DR? It’s a damned good book.

      The collection starts very strong with “God Doesn’t Follow You into the Bathroom,” about a young girl confiding in her reverend the relationship with her boyfriend who is pressuring her into her first sexual encounter.

      Very good stories follow in “Jam,” about a massive freeway pileup and what happens to those trapped on the road, “Acts 19:19 Party,” dealing with book-burning, and “Playing Possum”, about a man having episodes where he sees a talking possum that attempts to help him straighten out his life.

      “The Barter System” was another good story, about a quarreling couple on the road who end up at the wrong service station.

      Stepping back up to great is “The Room Where No One Died”, about a man trying to figure out why one of the rooms in his house is haunted and how to free the ghost, and “The Gift Certificate”, when a man receives a certificate in the mail for a free, unknown service that was obviously meant for someone else, but his curiosity eventually gets the better of him.

      “Christmas Getaway” is another very good tale as a boy is terrorized by his mentally ill father, who seems to have hit a breaking point.

      “Big Dog” is excellent, one of my favorites here, about a struggling writer who upgrades his word processor to something more modern only to hit the wall of writer’s block, and the lengths he goes to trying to remedy the situation. Loved this one, and a superb ending. Only slightly less satisfying was the wonderful tale of Exclusivity Press, about the ultimate collectible book publisher, in “Collector’s Market.”

      Then follows what I found to be the crowning jewel of the book, the near-perfect story “Accidents Happen” detailing a couple who is dealing with a tragedy where one of the men had accidentally killed a small boy with his vehicle and was exonerated by the courts, but is being consumed by guilt. Nasty, tragic and brilliant.

      It’s impossible to follow a story like that up, but “Snuff,” about the film type, and “The More Things Change,” about a well-adjusted gay teenager singled out by a guidance counselor for help that the boy doesn’t need, are both good stories.

      “Out of Print,” what I felt to be the least effective of the stories, still garners a rating of fair as it details the lengths book collectors will go to for that ‘must have’ book, taking place in online exchanges where the author even gets involved. This one I wanted to like much more than I did, but still found it a fine story.

      Finally, the collection ends with, “The World’s Smallest Man.” This one was electric, and while I did like a few of the stories here more, the style here pounds you straight through to the end – somehow addictive. It’s about a dwarf in a circus freak show who is upset by the newest member of the troupe, a magician who murders small animals on stage while massive crowds cheer him on.

      The writing throughout pretty much all of these is high-caliber but vulnerable. Difficult to put down stuff. Important here is the way the characters interact and support each other in terrifying circumstances. Mr. Gunnells uses a natural form of dialogue that’s about as real as it gets, and while there are the obligatory high levels of creativity throughout any good collection, what cemented this one for me were the mental and emotional wounds the characters were often operating beneath while dealing with the horrors.

      And this guy can end a story.

      4 stars

      Tales from the Midnight Shfit.jpg
      Last edited by bugen; 05-17-2016, 06:43 PM.
      “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
      -John Barth


        The Summoning - Bentley Little

        “We’re here to talk about vampires,” the mayor said. He scanned the room, waiting and prepared for a reaction, but there was none. No one smiled, no one laughed, no one spoke.

        A somewhat unique take on the vampire, The Summoning takes place in the small Arizona town of Rio Verde, where a fanatical preacher speaks to Jesus and begins constructing a black church as the headquarters for the Second Coming of Christ. The bloodthirsty Jesus instructs Pastor Wheeler how the church is to be constructed and gives him 40 days to complete it by any means necessary. Wheeler, already a kind of televangelist con artist, has his persuasive powers magnified as he recruits townsfolk to help with the construction and to make the appropriate bloody sacrifices to please the Lord. You'll find Christianity a major theme throughout the work, where Mr. Little plays heavily with biblical references creating lines such as, “Jesus fed.” and “Jesus loves blood this I know. For the Bible tells me so.”

        Meanwhile Sue, a young woman trying to get into college, becomes wrapped up in events and the town newspaper reporting on them as her grandmother reveals both she and Sue share the power of Li Lo Ling Gum, a kind of E.S.P. that helps them see the truth of things. Sue begins working for Rich, the head of the small newspaper, while Rich and his brother Robert, the head of the local police force, are community pillars thrust forward as the town begins tearing itself apart due to the influences of the pastor and Jesus. Sue’s grandmother is able to give tips on an ancient Chinese monster she thinks may be the cause of the town’s troubles, but who believes in monsters?

        I hadn’t read a vampire tale quite like this one, and found the pacing solid and the story interesting. It’s not a short book at 544 pages for the paperback, but reads quickly anyway. Not once was I even tempted with a short story, which can happen a lot on novels that can’t be finished in a single sitting (for me - I know there are monsters on this forum who could do it in a straight shot). There are also a few moments of the more disgusting horror that can crop up in the genre, effectively used here.

        It’s a good book, enjoyable from cover to cover, though I expect some of his other books to be even more effective. I promise to get to the next one soon.

        ”Would you call him and tell him that the next time he volunteers his time and reneges on his promise, I will personally rip his balls out by the roots and feed them to Jesus?”

        3 stars

        Summoning limited.png

        *from the upcoming Cemetery Dance limited edition
        “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
        -John Barth


          ^I'm quite looking forward to getting that one.


            Me too! Picked up a limited but really like the art for the trade as well.
            “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
            -John Barth



              Ready Player One - Ernest Cline

              “It suddenly occurred to me just how absurd this scene was: a guy wearing a suit of armor, standing next to an undead king, both hunched over the controls of a classic arcade game.”

              Rejoice, nerds, for celebration is at hand! Mr. Cline’s book is a bizarre melding of cyberpunk and 80’s fandom, with plenty of reference thrown in to the 70’s and 90’s too. Tons of period video games, role-playing games, TV shows, music and movies are brought back from our youths to display again before us in all of their nostalgic glory.

              The world has evolved, and now much of humanity’s activity takes place inside OASIS, a free-to-access virtual world completely realized, especially with add-ons like immersive rigs, haptic feedback suits, and other tools to interface with the environment and enhance the experience. Halliday, the phenomenally successful game designer and creator of OASIS, has recently passed away with no close friends or relatives, and has left his fortune and control of OASIS to whoever can solve his final puzzle within the virtual world. Doing so requires god-level knowledge of all things nerd from books to games to film to music and our hero, the low-level avatar Parzival (Wade in real life) has prepped for just that. The contest has been active for 5 years with no winners, and people have lost some of their interest, when Parzival makes a connection everyone has missed.

              As Parzival completes the first part of 3 major quests, the rest of the world is notified that there’s someone on the scoreboard, the game is in fact real, and the frenzy of the hunt begins anew. He has his online friends as both companions and competitors, but the true threat is the massive corporation, Innovative Online, which has vast resources and no scruples about cheating to win. If they do, OASIS will be monetized and access will be cut off to most. Parzival, Aech, Art3mis, Daito and Shoto, friends who have never met, and the scoreboard leaders also known as the 'High Five,' will do anything to keep Innovative Online from ruining the greatest game ever made.

              The first 40-50 pages I was fairly ho-hum about, enjoying it but thinking perhaps the book was over-hyped, but then the whole package shot forward at Ludicrous Speed and didn't really slow until it was over. There was just too much to identify with. We may never have played that perfect game of Pac-Man, but we played the hell out of that game. We may not know the entire script of Star Wars by heart or remember exactly what logic was coded into the computer to avert the nuclear disaster in War Games, but we're only a trip down memory lane away from recovering a lot of this, and Ready Player One is waiting.

              “It’s showtime, old friend. If that sphere doesn’t come down like you promised, this is going to be pretty embarrassing.”
              “‘Han will have the shield down,’” Aech quoted. “’we’ve got to give him more time!’”

              The ultimate trivia game of all things nerd.

              4+ stars






              Last edited by bugen; 03-21-2016, 07:01 PM.
              “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
              -John Barth



                I was just reading up on Ready Player One earlier today. Nice to see another positive review.


                  The Scarlet GospelsClive Barker

                  “Some die too soon. Most live too long.”

                  The last five of Earth’s magicians are gathered together to resurrect their leader, a man previously destroyed by Hell. The master magician regains life and berates his followers for disturbing his peace, explaining to them their folly, but they’re panicked by the systematic erasure off all of their peers by a renegade Hell Priest. Pinhead has been roving the planet, killing everything with power and absorbing it for himself, and is now crackling with strength. He appears before the assembly and brutally dispatches them all, taking for himself the last of the magic on Earth. We’re still in the prologue.

                  Over the course of the book the occult detective Harry D’Amour from The Last Illusion and Everville teams with friends of various strengths and chases the Cenobite into hell itself to rescue his dear friend Norma, an elderly blind woman who can see ghosts. It's in this setting one of the most spectacular battles I’ve ever seen plays out in the mind’s eye, as Pinhead locates and presents himself to Lucifer.

                  We also follow the Hell Priest Pinhead for a great deal of the book, finally learning a few things about his motivations, and I daresay for a few brief moments he almost garners sympathy. His plans and goals that we’re given glimpses of, along with the frustrations and obstacles in his path, serve to humanize the character slightly, but usually only between eviscerations.

                  I’ve seen a few comments about some stilted dialogue that occurs in conversation between the group of humans, and these comments aren’t wrong. I didn’t see it happen in the lengthier conversations, but in one-liners tossed back and forth it happened a handful of times where the lines clanged loudly against each other with a discordant, metallic impact. Other than these few lines, a mystery, the rest of the dialogue feels organic and the landscape painted for us is true to the brilliance we’d expect.

                  I’m left with a melancholy feeling, and the two quotes chosen here are among the many pillars of the story that can create or enhance such a feeling. Things are bleak, and that ray of hope can only be seen after all has been sacrificed, but even then it may only be a penlight. But that is not a condemnation. As is probably obvious, we should look for our wine and roses elsewhere.

                  An often enrapturing, sometimes bleak read showcasing some of the best imagery I’ve ever come across concerning the underworld, including a fight that fires the imagination all the way. The creative willpower given to many of the scenes, especially in Hell, is top-form Barker like only he could write, and the work stands tall.

                  “Isn’t there anything you care about?”
                  “All is death, woman. All is pain. Love breeds loss. Isolation breeds resentment. No matter which way we turn, we are beaten. Our only true inheritance is death. And our only legacy, dust.”

                  4 stars






                  Last edited by bugen; 05-17-2016, 06:45 PM.
                  “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                  -John Barth



                    Short StoriesOscar Wilde

                    “Who art thou to bring pain into God’s world?”

                    Mr. Wilde’s career in short stories was collected in three books published in the late 1800’s as follows:

                    The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888)
                    Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories (1891)
                    A House of Pomegranates (1891)

                    The Happy Prince and Other Tales

                    “The Happy Prince” – The story of a small bird befriending the statue of a prince staring out over his city and caring deeply for his people. The bird, shunned by his love interest, instead of migrating in winter to a warmer climate with the rest of his kind, is taken by his friendship with the statue and runs errands attempting to help the prince nurture his city.

                    A very short, simple tale, simply told, and simply one of the best stories I’ve ever read. This is an important fable that everyone needs under their belts. I will never forget how the story affected me, am linking it here, and strongly suggest this story be read as soon as the opportunity presents itself. If you’ve only got a few minutes to spare for reading today, I urge you to read this story instead of the review.

                    5 stars


                    “The Nightingale and the Rose” – The tale of a nightingale who overhears a boy lamenting the girl he loves will not dance with anyone who cannot provide her a red rose, which doesn’t exist anywhere in the area. The nightingale is told by one of the other roses that if she visits a particular tree and sings all night with one of the thorns pressed to her breast she will receive a red rose to give the boy so he may woo his love.

                    Another moving fable, filled with knowledge and cynicism and sadness for the plights of our world.

                    5- stars

                    “The Selfish Giant” – The story of a giant who tires of the incessant children playing in his garden and builds a wall around it to keep them out. When this is accomplished summer can never visit and the garden is shrouded in perpetual winter while the giant saddens. Eventually he finds summer has returned and discovers a breach in his wall and children playing, and on his approach the children run away in fear except one. The giant knocks down the wall and tells the remaining boy the garden is now his, and later the other children return, but never the first boy who originally stayed.

                    Another heartbreaker, and transcending the religion it accesses, the ending here took my breath away. The story comes with the highest recommendation.

                    5 stars

                    “The Devoted Friend” – A story told by a linnet to a water-rat, the tale is of a poor, good man, who will do anything for his friends. The issue here, quickly uncovered, is the poor man’s friend the miller, is rich, greedy, and has no issues taking advantage of others in far worse, even dangerous, circumstances.

                    A cautionary tale with a moral, this one is saturated with our limitless abilities to look out only for ourselves, while the good people are trampled underneath. It saddens me what happens here, but it’s real, it happens every day, and we must be vigilant to avoid being like the miller, the most natural tendency in the world.

                    4 stars

                    “The Remarkable Rocket” – The story of a self-important firework, believing all other fireworks beneath him, who becomes wet demonstrating his greatness and is passed over for the fireworks celebration because he wouldn’t light, eventually to be found and dealt with in a humbling way.

                    Finally, a story that indicates this writer was, in fact, a mortal human. It’s still good, again as a fable with a moral, but doesn’t reach the mastery of the rest of the book.

                    3- stars

                    Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime and Other Stories

                    “Lord Arthur Savile’s Crime” – The tale of a man who has his fortune read and is told he is a murderer, but as he is in love and hasn’t yet killed anyone he wants to get the murder out of the way before the wedding and sets out to fulfill his destiny. He bumbles his way through multiple attempts and eventually marries his love.

                    This one was a bit different, not quite flowing like the rest of the stories, but ends up a fair read in its own right.

                    2 stars

                    “Canterville Ghost” – Much longer than most of his short stories, this one’s a gut-bustingly hilarious tale of an American family, headed up by an official minister, relocating in London to a haunted house. The befuddled realtor eventually realizes the fact that the while house is haunted, the Americans regard such things as nonsense and will not be deterred from the purchase. What follows is the story of the ghost attempting to drive the family out, and the unflappable Americans, especially the young twin boys, fighting back with aplomb and scared not in the least, much to the ghost’s consternation.

                    Despite the humor, the story contains such astounding lines as, “From the eyes streamed rays of scarlet light, the mouth was a wide well of fire, and a hideous garment, like to his own, swathed with its silent snows the Titan form.”

                    And the sobering, sorrowful line, “Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.”

                    Brilliant, achingly funny and somber toward the end. Loved this story.

                    5- stars

                    “The Sphinx without a Secret” – The story of a man enraptured with a woman, telling the tale to a friend, where he fell in love with her but was afraid she was hiding a secret from him. He follows her to find out what she’s doing, afraid she’s engaged in some kind of clandestine affair.

                    Short and sweet, this is another of his sobering stories.

                    3 stars

                    “The Model Millionaire” – The story of a poor man, in love with a poor woman, but her father will not them marry until he has at least 10,000 pounds. He visits his painter friend who is recreating on canvas the picture of a humble beggar posing for the scene and tells his story.

                    It’s an oft-bizarre world we live in, and this one warmed my cold, cynical heart.

                    4 stars

                    “The Portrait of Mr. W. H.” - The final story of this second collection involves extensive theory-crafting as two men discuss the idea of William Shakespeare's muse, originated by a man named Cyril who went on to kill himself when he could not bring anyone to his way of thinking after extensive, painstaking research. A painting is discovered of an attractive young male with the initials W. H., with his hand resting on the sonnets, lending credence to Cyril's idea that the sonnets were not sent to either of the lords previously thought to be the subjects. As the original two men discuss this, one is convinced Cyril actually knew the truth and goes about trying to prove it to the other, who does not believe.

                    I found this the weakest story of any of the books, but this may be due to my misunderstanding and limited knowledge of The Bard. It's complicated, brings up a good deal of the verses contained within the sonnets, and I plowed through it rather than engaging properly. The story's end is rather touching and saves it as a whole, but this was one of only two Oscar Wilde stories that didn't hum for me. Interestingly, I did leave the story with the feeling that it is similar to the primordial stew that produced the esteemed Dan Simmons, but it would take a lot of fancy wording trying to explain why and I'd just mess it up.

                    2 stars

                    A House of Pomegranates

                    “The Young King” – The first story in his last collection returns to the fable root, as a young boy, raised in poverty but eventually found to be the King’s own grandson and next in line for the throne, is about to undergo his coronation ceremony having acclimated to his new life. The youth has a beautiful countenance and has learned to love the finest things, which seem made just for him based on his comfortability with them. On the eve of the ceremony the young king has three successive dreams which illustrate the differences between rich and poor, and is moved to the point of donning rags for the public, who do not behave as he expects.

                    Stuffed with lessons that a great many have forgotten today, this directly relates to the class warfare we’re currently dealing with and has no shortage of comments on the situation, at least one of which I found quite surprising but true nonetheless. Loved it.

                    4+ stars

                    cont'd in next post
                    Last edited by bugen; 06-14-2015, 11:47 PM.
                    “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                    -John Barth




                      “The Birthday of the Infanta” - The King of Spain’s daughter, the Infanta, her mother having died shortly after her birth, is a young, playful, shining little girl who takes a liking to the performance a dwarf gives on her behalf. She asks specifically for him to dance for her later, and the enamored dwarf accepts her gift of a beautiful flower and is on cloud nine as he’s thinking about his love for the princess while the beautiful creations of the world, the birds and the flowers, make fun of him. He enters the castle and wanders alone through a number of rooms until he encounters a monster, himself reflected in a mirror. Learning the truth of the mirror he’s devastated by his appearance and when the Infanta arrives and demands her performance from the dwarf, his eyes have been opened to the world.

                      Careful with this one. It’s another example of true fiction.

                      4+ stars

                      “The Fisherman and his Soul” - A poor fisherman encounters a mermaid and professes his love to her, but her kind is forbidden to companion those who have Souls, so the fisherman finds a priest to help. But the priest declares sacrilege, for nothing is more important than the Soul. So the fisherman finds a witch, and convinces her to divulge the secret of ridding himself of his Soul, which he does not use. After doing so the fisherman dives into the ocean for his love, and while his Souls pleads to the fisherman to not send him away, and if he’s going to, to please give the Soul a heart, the fisherman will not stating he needs his heart to love the mermaid. The Soul goes away weeping, to return once every year in hopes of convincing the fisherman to take it back.

                      Here there be indictments of man, but also professions to the power of love. Even the priest, who would not help the lovesick young fisherman, comes to realize the error of obstructing truth in the service of his (current) understanding of God’s will.

                      4 stars

                      “The Star-Child” - Two poor men are gathering wood during a harsh winter when they come across a baby wrapped in white and gold tissue. One says to leave the child, for they cannot afford to feed another mouth, but the other takes the child home to his wife. She scorns him for his weakness, but eventually turns to him tearfully that he’s done the right thing, regardless of the hardships to come. They raise the child, who becomes haughty and prideful as descended from a star. A beggar woman appears, claiming to be his mother, but the youth makes relentless fun of her and drives her away. He realizes his mistake and attempts to track her down, but is eventually captured by a magician who demands the boy to retrieve him three pieces of gold. The boy, having learned humility, saves the life of a rabbit who helps him retrieve the gold, but in returning home the boy gives the gold to a starving leper and takes a beating from the magician for not returning with the gold. On the expedition for the third and final gold piece, if the boy does not return and hand it to the magician, it will mean his life.

                      This is a great example of why fables are important. 10,000 years from now when we’re all but 100% machine, traveling galaxies and assimilating the universe, we’ll still be telling each other fairy tales. Because you may take relentlessly complicated ideas, the ‘grey’ areas we’re so fond of recognizing, and put them into stories that we can understand and learn something from. Yes, in many situations the right thing can be arguable, but when you boil things down to the essence, distilling the murkiness away, some of these ideas aren’t nearly as hard to absorb as we might at first think.

                      5 stars

                      Somehow managing to live decades without reading this man’s stories, I now understand the scope of the mistake. The writing here may be a stretch for a horror board, but there is a ghost story present as well as numerous supernatural elements, witches and magicians, so it at least partially qualifies. If I’ve wasted anyone’s time here, please excuse me, I only wish to promote some of the best written material I’ve ever seen. The book is commonly available as part of the 100 Greatest Books Ever Written series from Easton Press, but can also be found free as ebooks as the three titles mentioned above.

                      Finally, I firmly believe if the entire world were to read or have read to them “The Happy Prince” tonight - everyone, with no exceptions - we’d wake up into a better world tomorrow. A bit, anyway. Take advantage while you can.

                      “No, I am not at all cynical, I have merely got experience, which, however, is very much the same thing.”

                      A 5 star career in short stories.






                      Last edited by bugen; 05-18-2016, 06:01 AM.
                      “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                      -John Barth



                        Dark Screams Vol. 5 - Richard Chizmar, Brian James Freeman (Ed.)

                        “The rude truth I discovered is that Hollywood hates horror, doesn’t understand it, is embarrassed by it, but likes to tell you how it’s done.”
                        -Mick Garris

                        “Everything You Always Wanted” by Mick Garris is the longest story by far, taking up a bit more than half the book, and tells the tale of a semi-successful middle-aged filmmaker, with a particularly effective film under his belt as a young man but is now well over the hill, who attends a fan convention in Indianapolis. He meets a mysterious, attractive woman and has the best sex of his life but is left to deal with terrifying after-effects. Solid horror.

                        “The Land of Sunshine” by Kealan Patrick Burke was the most cerebral tale here, feeling a bit like vintage Ramsay Campbell, but it was also one I failed to absorb like I’d hoped. Consumed by the guilt of his infidelity a man turns inward while his life takes on surreal aspects as he attempts to reconcile. A poetic, strong-but-defeated writing style present in this one: “Exhausted, he slipped out of his wet shoes and carefully lowered himself down onto the bed, where he sat for some indeterminate amount of time, long enough to see the sun not rise and the sky not lighten from anything other than permanent dark.” Powerful, somber stuff.

                        Ratcheting the energy back up, “Mechanical Gratitude” by Del James is a knockout. So much so that after reading it I went scurrying back to my copy of The Language of Fear to see what the hell I’d been ignoring all this time. Memories contained in a classic '68 Camaro are picked over as we learn how lovingly the car was treated and how often the backseat was used by the amorous owner and his wife, still together 40 years later. The tale spins darker as the wife receives a call from the hospital and drives off in the Camaro, reminiscing along the way. Superb ending here to a superb story, with a few lessons for us as well. This is my favorite story from all 5 Dark Screams volumes – read it if you get a chance.

                        “The One and Only” by J. Kenner features a college man with a recently broken heart on a bender with friends in New Orleans to get over it, who run into Marie Laveau’s granddaughter, mixing a broken heart, voodoo and booze. Another great story.

                        “The Playhouse” by Bentley Little was bizarre and effective, as a realtor attempting to sell a house has an experience in a ‘playhouse’ in the back yard that is beyond her ability to understand. When it happens a second time her world is upended, and while there’s little resolution here it was with a certain glee that I began to understand what was going on. Great story and a fitting end to the series of books.

                        4 stars

                        As a whole, considering all 5 books as part of a larger unit, this is as varied an anthology as anyone is producing these days, but is well paced so there aren't sections that bog down under the weight of language for the sake of language. Like a mix-tape from yesterday each story has it's place and seems prominently featured, perhaps a by-product of splitting it up into 5 volumes. The authors are quite varied, everyone gets a chance, and it’s some of the less well-known names really putting the smack down. Del James, Ray Garton and Jack Ketchum contributed phenomenal work, but everyone here has something to say and it’s a beautiful thing they’re given the opportunity to do so. Mr. Chizmar and Mr. Freeman have shepherded in a collection worthy of the contributing talent, and worthy of Cemetery Dance.

                        Volumes 1-5 averaged: 4 stars


                        Previous reviews:
                        V1 –
                        V2 –
                        V3 –
                        V4 –
                        Last edited by bugen; 05-18-2016, 06:02 AM.
                        “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                        -John Barth



                          Off topic a bit, but I've noticed a couple of my Easton Press books sagging, and as a result the gilting on the pages is beginning to rub off. Specifically on some of my thicker volumes like the complete works of Poe. Have you noticed this at all?


                            Hmm, no I haven't. You're right though, this could be a concern when larger text blocks sag without structural support from a case. I've looked at some of my Easton's and the largest, The Count of Monte Cristo, doesn't seem to be sagging in the least. Looks like a 2003 edition though, so it hasn't lived too long.

                            The Three Musketeers isn't nearly the same size and is sagging, but contact with the shelf doesn't seem to have affected the gilding. I think it will, though, over time, especially if shuffled around. Same with The Fountainhead and Crime and Punishment, both large books, but so far I can't see any ill effect. I did manage to find one, though: Moby Dick is sagging and has some minor abrasions.

                            There's the possibility that the thickness of the gold layer isn't the same today as it was for yesterday's releases, but I hope that's not the case. My shelves are actually polished pretty smooth, so that probably helps when there is contact. Will keep my eyes open for this and let you know what shows up.
                            “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                            -John Barth



                              I suppose the shelving makes a big difference. I moved mine onto a particle board shelf, not that it's abrasive but it's not extremely smooth either. May have to get some cut glass or acrylic to support it. The Poe collect is relatively new too, direct from Easton maybe 3 years ago. Kind of off-putting because it was not a cheap purchase.


                                Academic ExercisesK.J. Parker

                                “Thanks to my lifetime of exhaustive study, I’m the least qualified man in the world to offer an opinion.”

                                The storytelling here is rich but not indulgent, detailed but not fussy. It moves fast, but these tales can stretch the word ‘short’ in short stories. Even the shortest have plenty of meat to dig into, and because they all take place in the same world and can relate to each other, it gives the impression of a fully detailed universe without actually being a novel.

                                Three of the stories here aren’t stories, they’re essays, and while this is often a danger word for me they were all well-written and interesting, with one of them absolutely outstanding. “On Sieges” explains some of the history of siege warfare, why it works and when it doesn’t, and “Rich Mens Skins; A Social History of Armour” tells us a lot about the historical and practical place of armor in warfare. “Cutting Edge Technology,” however, was an enrapturing look at swords throughout history and was one of my favorite pieces in the book. If you pick this up, don’t skip the essays, at the very least check out the one on swords.

                                The fiction here ranges from good to excellent with no exceptions, but it wasn't too difficult to single out a couple of them for higher merit.

                                “The Sun and I” details the manufacture, manipulation and eventual adoption of a fake religion becoming a real religion. When we’re looking at young men we recognize and relate to sitting around the house and dreaming of a better world, and enacting plans to get there, we alternate between cheering them on and wincing at their missteps. Importantly here we get to see the author take a crack at decoding religion. Why this? Why that? Well, it’s because this is this and that is that and can’t you see how everyone benefits here? It’s really quite something, and when it’s all said and done you have to wonder about our world and how we came to follow the traditions we have. Not that there is any similarity in style or humor, but I think Douglas Adams would have liked to have read this story.

                                In “Blue and Gold,” another favorite and the final story of the book, we follow the world’s greatest alchemist, a kind of self-admitted buffoon who knows just enough to be extremely dangerous, as he’s given the dual tasks of transmuting lead to gold and creating an elixir of eternal life. This story, along with the rest of the book, is filled with intrigue and power plays, but this kind of espionage is always handled in a laid-back, ‘whoops’ kind of way as opposed to a cock-sure James Bond. Yes, we’re human and will always be stabbing each other in the backs for personal gain, but world-making events tend to occur here because someone got drunk and collapsed to the left instead of to the right, as opposed to subtle machinations of the elite. Or in other words, the world’s messed up not because of a few bad, tyrannical apples, but because we're all of us the way we are and that’s the way it’s got to be.

                                “He was there to keep me from getting out, and I’m a free man, a citizen of the universe, not a chicken in a coop. I never set out to hurt anybody, not ever. Well, not often. And when I do, it’s never the primary purpose, just an unfortunate inevitable consequence. Mostly.”

                                The book is well worth it, and it’s a rare occurrence to finish a collection of stories that so thoroughly populates a single world, the area so often reserved for novels and series. Mr. Parker (Tom Holt) has a rich, distinctive style, a flair for the absurd, and the skill to get it across while mostly maintaining a straight face. From my experience this one is a bit more challenging and runs a little deeper than most collections.

                                4 stars






                                Last edited by bugen; 05-18-2016, 06:25 AM.
                                “Reality is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.”
                                -John Barth