Tuesday, 24 November 2015

God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlepig by Tad Williams

Bobby Dollar, aka The Angel Doloriel is not your idea of a typical angel. Think less flowing robes and shiny halo, more a tooled up wiseguy in a noir-ish setting you’d be more on the right track. Don’t be mistaken though, Dollar is certainly one of the good guys.
This novella, a Christmas story, was released last year and certainly feels very seasonal. If you haven’t read Williams’ Bobby Dollar series (The Dirty Streets of Heaven, Happy Hour in Hell, Sleeping Late on Judgement Day) there aren’t any real spoilers here ( but then, if you haven’t read the BD books you’re missing a treat)
So, to the story……..
It is Christmas Eve and Bobby Dollar is called to be advocate for the soul of Petar Vesic who has just died in hospital at the ripe old age of 98. That is what BD does – when a person passes over an advocate for Heaven and one for Hell vie for the soul of the deceased in a mini-court type scenario. Thing is Petar Vesic has not been a good person, he is acceptant of the fact he is going to Hell but he has a favour to ask……”save my Grandson”.
In short Bobby is given until sunrise on Christmas Day so it is a race against time for him and George the Werepig and, as you would expect, there are scrapes and surprises along the way
I’ll be the first to admit I’m a big fan of Tad Williams work, have been since discovering The Dragonbone Chair back in the late 1980’s. Usually his books are big sprawling epics but he does the smaller stuff well also (check out his books of short stories if you get chance). As a novella ‘Gentlepig’ certainly ranks as short but there is a heck of a lot of story in there. Normally this would be enough to guarantee a 4.5 or 5 star review but……………
Where this novella falls down slightly for me is that it really could have done with an extra proof read before publication. It’s nothing major, just little niggles that most people would overlook or ignore but being an editor and proof reader I cannot let these pass without mention.
So, in short, a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas short that could have done with an extra proof check

4/5 stars

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Dead Leaves by Andrew David Barker - a review

Last year's 'The Electric' by Andrew David Barker (previously reviewed on this blog) was a love letter to cinema and growing up in the 1980's. 'Dead Leaves' does much the same thing for Video Nasties - and does a grand job of it.

It is 1983 and to Scott Bradley, just out of school, on the dole and heading for a life of factory drudgery and his friends Paul and Mark Horror Videos are the be all and all of everything. Nothing much else matters other than getting to see the next Nasty. To them, what really matters is getting hold of The Holy Grail of Video Nasties - The Evil Dead. This is a world of pokey little video shops and dodgy dealers in a time when the clampdown on Horror Videos was in full swing.

This novella is also a story of friendship, of family and of growing up. Scott's dad wants him to get a job, constantly getting at him to fill in application forms for mundane (in Scott's mind) jobs when what he really wants is to go to film school. Anyone reading this book who was around at the time it is set will, as with 'The Electric' be taken back to a time when films weren't available 24/7. A time when you borrowed a film from the local video shop and had it for 1 day before returning it.

The friends have a plan to make money - there is a chance to get a copy of The Evil Dead so they can make copies themselves and sell them on. The only real problem is that they need to find £60 to buy their copy (remember, this is 1983)

Barker does a really good job of transporting the reader back to the early 80's (I was the same age as Scott in 1983 so I guess I know what I'm talking about) and his love of film shows through in what turns out to be another excellent story. I was looking forward to Dead Leaves from the moment I heard of it and it certainly lived up to my expectations. Now I can look forward to whatever Andrew David Barker comes up with next in the sure knowledge it will be well worth the wait.


Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Mister Fox The Legend by Sue Vincent and Stuart France - a review

Every year for the past four or five years myself, my partner and some friends have made our way out, once a year to The Wagon and Horses pub at Langsett, on the borders of Sheffield and Barnsley for The Night of the Hunter's Moon. An evening of entertainment and storytelling in the form of music and traditional dance on the grassy area outside the pub.

Let me set the scene..........

It is a cold and slightly damp evening in Langsett but the crowds are gathered never the less. As the evening goes on there is the murmur of chattering voices and an air of anticipation. We are stood at the back (always the best place to see the beginning.

As 8:30 approaches people are getting a bit more excited, it won't be long now........


There in the gap through the trees a torch is lit (a fiery brand, not a battery powered one), a drum beat sounds in the distance and pipes start their wailing........

It begins, Night of the Hunter's Moon 2015 is under way.

It begins with what is, in a way, a parade to the pub grounds. People in capes and fox masks capering around in a torch lit procession. There is also a figure in cape and crow mask.

On arrival at the pub grounds the foxes and the crow perform a series of dances accompanied by drums, flutes, pipes and fire.......there is always lots of fire. The dances (and the dancers) tell a story that finishes with fireworks and all retire to the warm and welcoming embrace of the Waggon and Horses bar. Through the night people will play tunes on the instruments they have brought with them, friends and strangers alike. A good time is had by all.

As I say, I have been going for the last four or five years, it is something I start looking forward to from late summer onwards. The one thing I have always thought though, is I wish there was some way of finding out what the story enacted by the foxes and the crow is. So, imagine my joy when, on passing through the bar area I bumped into Sue Vincent and Stuart France who were selling copies of their Graphic Novel 'Mister Fox The Legend' a lovely book that goes a long way towards doing just that. It covers who (or what!) is Mister Fox, the legend of the Red Book of Langsett and the stories of some of the dances. The illustrations are lovely, especially the ones of the dances which well convey the fire and smokiness of the night.

I will be the first to admit I am a sucker for local legends and storytelling and this book had me from page 1. It is also one that will be got out every year before we set off  for Night of the Hunter's Moon. More than that though, it makes me want to find out more about Langsett and the surrounding villages. I feel there are a lot more stories to be told here.

I left the pub this year, book in hand, feeling I was a little more appreciative of what was happening this night and richer in the knowledge gained from stories read.

As an added bonus I was able to get the book signed by the authors.

I would like to thank the authors and the publisher, Silent Eye Press, for putting this book together and making things just that little bit clearer

10/10 stars

For anyone interested there are some photographs and short videos from this year's Night of the Hunter's Moon on my Facebook page

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Katerina by Erik Hofstatter - a review

This is a strange one to review. Katerina is billed as Erotic Horror but apart from odd moments I didn't particularly find it either erotic or horrific. The general gist of the story is that Karim, a medieval weapons collector living in Prague picks up a prostitute who turns out to have issues that are strange, to say the least and needs to find out more.

The fact that Karim has a huge dislike for prostitutes looms large over their 'relationship' but he cares enough to try and find out what is going on with her. And that is where the story has it's real strength - two believable characters that really drive the story. It's only short but there's enough to keep me intrigued.

The resolution of the story wasn't quite what I was expecting and could have possibly been a bit longer but still, that's just my opinion.

What I really took from this is the feeling that Hofstatter can really tell a good, character driven story and could benefit from trying to place books outside the Erotic Horror zone. He's certainly one to watch


Monday, 5 October 2015

C90 by James Josiah - a review

C90 is a tale of 2 mix tapes but also a tale of minor obsession and desperation, a tale of two sides.

When we first meet Ben in 1995 he is just on the verge of leaving school, taking exams and is making a mix tape for the probably unattainable Becky (who has decided to change it to Becki). There is hope here, he thinks the tape, the choice of song (and there are some crackers on it) will tell her how he feels. There is a lot of thought goes into the music and you do get a good feeling for the character of Ben. The thing is, and I mean this in the nicest possible way, at this point in his life (like many boys his age, myself included) he's a bit of a muppet. There were points in the story where I just wanted him to see the obvious before it's too late

And then we move on to 1999.

The Ben we meet here is now working in a factory, in a job he hates, and playing occasional gigs in a band. The mix tape this time is now for a car journey to next weeks gig. The music this time is from the metal end of the spectrum so not many songs I know but the same amount of care and concentration goes into putting it together.

This Ben has had problems with alcohol in the years since we left 'young Ben' but is now trying to stay clean.

 Overhanging this half of the story is the death in a motoring accident of a friend of Ben's and the upcoming funeral. There is a sense of loss to it and sometimes of futility but also a feeling that things may work out eventually.

At 68 pages this is only a short tale but it felt a lot more than that. There is depth to it that leaves me wanting to know more. Will Ben succeed in life, will there be more mix tapes, will he finally give Becky (yes, she's still around and seems to have gone back to spelling her name the old way) the mix tape she deserves?

C90 - a tale of love, loss and bangin' tunes


Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Always A Dancer and other stories by Steve Lockley (a review)

Always A Dancer is a very good bunch of short stories that covers all bases in what I would want from a ghost story/horror collection. What made me pick it up in the first place? Three things

     1) I'd not read anything by this author before and I like to try something new

     2) It's by Fox Spirit Books who I always trust as a quality publisher

     3) The cover art (really liked this imagery that goes with the title story)

As for the stories, not a bad one among them but several stuck in my mind more than others. Among these;

     Always A Dancer - the title story and something of a supernatural, other-worldly tale. The kind of story that makes you wonder what is happening but the ending, when it came, was a thing of completion and, I guess, beauty in it's own way.

      Funny Weather - The next story after Always A Dancer, this was a totally different change of tack. A tale of remembered youth with creepy gypsies, the kind I guess people of my age remember. A good sense of underlying nervousness ran through this. Not a comfortable read

     Wassailing - A very 'English' tale suited to a cold winters night by the fire. Basically 'what happens when a townie buys a house in a small English village and wants to fit in. A very creepy tale and possibly my favourite.

    The Last Frost - Another turn of pace and style with this Ghost Story. I didn't see the ending coming but when it did it very much felt right.

    Imaginary Friends - Just because we all secretly love a Creepy Clown story - and Mr Bobo, for me ranks up there with Pennywise and the Killer Klowns From Outer Space. And again the ending really caught me out.

As I said, these were the stand out stories for me but the others were all of a good and decent standing. A quality collection and I will certainly be looking out for more from this author.

Just what the Autumnal evenings need                                                                                9/10

Monday, 21 September 2015

Caledonia by Amy Hoff - A Review

Police Officer Leah Bishop is not in a good place in her life until the morning she wakes, hung over once again, to a knock on her door. The messenger on her doorstep gives her a letter/job proposition from Caledonia Interpol. In no time at all she is leaving Edinburgh and heading to a new life in Glasgow...........and 'new life' could be the understatement of the decade.
On arrival in Glasgow she is met by Detective Inspector Dorian Grey (yeah, THE Dorian Grey in all his Victorian finery) and he introduces her to Caledonia Interpol, the equivalent of the Faerie Police. They need her help as both a Police Officer and as something of an expert in Scottish Folklore. There is a serial killer murdering Faeries and they believe it is a human.

Caledonia Interpol is full of creatures from Scottish Myth and Folklore but don't be put off by the mention of Faeries - these are certainly not Tinkerbell and co.

The Glasgow of 'Caledonia' is the gritty, dark underside, the seedy bars, the characters a mix of the fantastical and the local 'neds' but the mix works well. Leah fits into the team fairly quickly but still has moments when it is obvious she is slightly blown away by meeting what she thought were just the stuff of stories.

So, in short - a police procedural with Faeries and Monsters but when you get into it, it is a lot more than that. This is a story that draws you in, that leaves you wanting more* and that makes you want to believe. There is a quote on the front that  "Fans of Neil Gaiman, Gail Carriger or Nicole Peelerwill want to take notice...." and, while I am not familiar with the works of Carriger or Peeler, I would certainly compare it favourably to Gaiman's 'Neverwhere'.

Highly Recommended


* Caledonia is also an online series, links below