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Daniel I Russell - Writer of Horror Fiction

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Sunday, August 12, 2018

Review: Children of No One by Nicole Cushing

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Has anyone noticed my short absence? Probably not. I have two huge deadlines for non-writer related things for the end of the month, so I've been pumping the hours into those. However, I've tried to also keep up on the reading and currently have a whopping four books on the go! (btw that's quite a few for me)

I read Children of No One a couple of weeks back but never got around to jotting my thoughts down, and that needs fixing right now. This was my first selection from my reviewer recommended novellas post a few entries ago, and rest assured other featured authors, I will be getting around to you all.

So let us commence with the...

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(He's not a real pirate. Lost in the maze, he had to eat his own hand and eye to stay alive.)

Sadism, nihilism, poverty, wealth, screams, whimpers, sanity and madness collide in Nowhere, Indiana. For Thomas Krieg, Nowhere is a miles-long, pitch-black underground maze in which he's imprisoned dozens of boys for the past ten years—all in the name of art. For two brothers, Nowhere is the only place they clearly remember living. A world unto itself, in which they must stay alert to stay alive. A world from which the only escape is death. But for an English occultist known only as Mr. No One, Nowhere is much more...and much less: the perfect place in which to perform a ritual to unleash the grandest of eldritch deities, the God of Nothingness, the Great Dark Mouth.

Ever play pool? You're walking around the table, scanning the arrangement, planning your shot. You lean in, line it up, something doesn't quite feel right, so you straighten up and walk around the table once more, searching for another angle, another approach.

This is me right now, trying to write this review, as Children is a tad different from the action-heavy books I've read and reviewed of late. Perhaps this is what caused me to choose this book: something darker, grittier, dirtier.

Okay, here's my odd opening shot: I did and did not enjoy Children, for I feel it is a book written not to be enjoyed, and this is what makes it enjoyable.

Confused? Let's flesh this out.

The story has two strands, that of the boys trapped in the maze, and the adults that are artists and connoisseurs. While I empathised with the plight of the brothers, they weren't the emphasis of the story. It's hard to relate to them as they have no history, little character, they just live in the moment and the rules that are forced upon them. A couple of Pavlov's dogs, reacting the few stimuli granted to them, wondering if there had been anything before all this. True, they suffer (but there's no gratuitous violence here, should that be a concern for some readers), and we stick with it, but don't become overly attached.

Without hijacking this review to pimp my wares, this put me in the Entertaining Demons symbolic mindset. I pictured these children as the starved, injured, confused victims of war cruelly forced upon them by unseen forces. Even religious doctrine is given to them to justify their situation. Like the children in this book, and the faces on the news, we watch, then we turn the page or flick the channel. What do we take from their suffering?

Bring in the other side of the story. The visiting art fanatic, the genius artist, and his assistant. An interesting trio, but all ultimately detestable. I found it hard to saddle up with any of the three, but in a different manner from the brothers. So again, I'm reminded that here is a book that doesn't try to win you over; it doesn't want to be 'liked'. No comic relief sidekick, hero who overcomes the odds, or heartwarming change of a character who sees the error in his ways.

I was particularly drawn to the visitor, MacPherson, as we experience the unfolding mysteries alongside him. As we are asked where the line lies in art vs torture, with MacPherson, we are in turn presented with another line, that of appreciative art audience vs voyeur. I chose to buy and read this book. Doesn't that make me a little bit like him?

Finally, I want to shed some light (pun intended) on Mr. No One. This character gains momentum through the story, starting out as what I thought would be a lacky, hired muscle, right-hand man type to the main antagonist, the artist Krieg. For me, what No One ultimate represents is the void, the existential threat. This brings me back to the boys trapped in the maze. The tone of Children feels nihilistic, in that the great nothing, the great dark mouth is coming to swallow us all (and really...isn't it?) and our lives, be it creating art or crawling around in filth in a dark maze, are ultimately pointless. But as Frankl would suggest, despair is suffering without meaning, and while the boys indeed suffered, did they truly despair? Or did their lives have meaning? Even if that meaning is to be presented to art critics/voyeurs as an exhibit in suffering.

And I think I'll leave it there before I become too involved in my own discussion. The book sets aside the action and scares and sets out a more philosophical table. I could be wrong, but I felt the story was packed with existential symbolism that might even deserve a second read with this in mind going in anew.

While enough for a casual reader, Cushing delivers up a novella that gives back what you put in.

It gets four Sartres smoking pipes in cafes out of a possible five. As always, click on the cover to go to Amazon for a closer look and a purchase. Help support horror!

Next review is probably another retro one, looking at Psychomech by Brian Lumley from 1984.

Well done for reading down to here. Obligatory advert!

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Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 10:59 am :: 3 comments

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Wednesday, August 01, 2018

Early review: MEG

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The impending summer (or winter here in Australia) blockbuster is about to come ashore. Time for an early review. Early because it's about 7am. That's right, I'm reviewing the book. I'm not Stephen King. I don't get to see movies early. Ah well. At least the post title should get me a few more cheeky hits this week. Consider it a marketing experiment.

Anyway, it's time for the

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(Didn't lose a hand to MEG, but caved to unrealistic pirate body type expectations)

On a top-secret dive into the Pacific Ocean's deepest canyon, Jonas Taylor found himself face-to-face with the largest and most ferocious predator in the history of the animal kingdom. The sole survivor of the mission, Taylor is haunted by what he's sure he saw but still can't prove exists – Carcharodon megalodon, the massive mother of the great white shark.
Written off as a crackpot suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, Taylor refuses to forget the depths that nearly cost him his life. But it takes an old friend in need to get him to return to the water, and a hotshot female submarine pilot to dare him back into a high-tech miniature sub.
Diving deeper than he ever has before, Taylor will face terror like he's never imagined, and what he finds could turn the tides bloody red until the end of time. MEG is about to surface. When she does, nothing and no one is going to be safe, and Jonas must face his greatest fear once again.

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The MEG: Sounds pretty exciting, eh?

First up, the book has to be better than the movie as you can use the power of imagination to picture Jonas as someone who isn't Jason Statham, the Kristen Stewart of action movies, who seems to only have one emotion: slightly confused. Personal actor tastes aside, the character of Jonas was surprisingly likeable, as I went into this expecting a typical last action hero type. The earlier chapters give Jonas a few personal demons to conquer, and a devilish wit, complemented wonderfully by the helicopter pilot Mac. These two could fit well into, say, a buddy cop comedy.

But we're not really here for the people, unless they're getting munched. I seem to be on a giant nature running amok high of late. Last review was ruddy big king cobras, now it's ruddy big great white sharks. The origin of the Meg's appearance, and accompanying science to back it up, is believable to a degree and like last post's Venom, isn't too heavy handed with the info.

When the trailer first hit, a coworker and I had a discussion regarding the size of the Meg. "Too big, that shark." How could a creature that size sneak up? Have an effective jump scare? You'd see it a mile away, or it would have to move so fast to overcome this...nah, we thought, dubious. 

I think I might stand corrected. 

The book alternates between shark and imminent shark food POV, and so the sudden appearance of the MEG is always foreshadowed. This approach builds the tension. To have a crew be attacked and survive and feel that relief...only to switch back to MEG, following her underwater as she goes deep for an impending massive strike...it's riveting stuff.

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The MEG: I'll have what she's having.

This book, if you make a list of all the things you'd like in high-action story about a giant shark, I pretty much guarantee that MEG has it covered, unless you're into some really kinky shark shenanigans. This version, complete with bonus mini novella MEG: Origins, is around the 400 pager mark, and it absolutely flew. Not since my teenage Laymon days have I ever fell asleep with a book in my hand, woke up, and still tried to fight my eyelids and get another few chapters in. I do like my shark stories! And smoke me a kipper, this beaut has a whopping four sequels for me to wade through!

BUT...there's a problem, and one that, appropriately enough, I always refer to as JAWS syndrome (again, see my retro review of Venom in the last post). The Kindle, and especially here as the bonus novella came after the main feature, isn't as good as telling you how close you are to the end of the book as a paperback. The feel of the last few pages between your fingers is always a better indicator than a percentage onscreen, what with adverts, etc.

The ending of MEG took me completely by surprise. I'm not going to spoil it, but at least an epilogue would have been nice. The book expects the reader to make a handful of assumptions, and I'm not keen on that. As I mention, yes, sequels, and Alten here is quite open in the last few pages on how that would come about, but otherwise. Yeah. JAWS syndrome. The book just kinda...stops. It didn't end with (wait for it...here it comes) bite.

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The MEG: Predicting more bad puns, never won the lottery

But it was still a rollocking read. That ending just keeps it from hitting a five, as well as some glaring editing errors (and come on! This is how many years and editions old now? And this is the huge movie tie in edition! Missing speechmarks and the like are high school level stuff ups, publisher).

It gets 4.5 ampullae of Lorenzini out of 5. Read the book and you'll be an expert on them.

Read MEG? What did you think? Or perhaps you're just looking forward to the movie (and looking at the character list, I can see this being VERY different from the novel). Let me know in the comments.

Here's me obligatory advert:

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Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 8:51 am :: 2 comments

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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Retro Review: Venom by John Tigges

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Nita Galforth wanted nothing more than to be happy with the man she loved. But any thoughts of a peaceful future would have to wait until she could forget the insidious thing that had been done to her in the past. Her memories were cloudy, but as she slept, horrifying nightmares crowded her mind -- images of frenzied natives writhing to the music of an ancient ceremony, of a little girl stripped and tied to an altar, and of a huge king cobra, its fangs dripping with venom, poised to strike....

A few years ago, I got into a spot of bother with someone regarding my opinion of a horror anthology from the 70s, in that I found the stories cliched and a tad hockey. However, I was aware that we're talking about stories from well over thirty years ago. A tired, overdone trope may have been a novel idea back then, but having seen the same thing done to death over the years, my jaded editor eyes just wanted to get through the damn thing.

Additionally, with changes in the political and cultural climate (and these changes seem to come faster and faster these days) some older books, in particular the pulpier end of the spectrum, are creatures of their time. If one of these books were presented to a publisher now, my money would be on a very quick rejection. Obviously, back in the day, these were the books filling shelves.

For example, today's offering is Venom by John Tigges. 

I do volunteer work at a residential home, and they always have a box of books near the door for a gold coin donation. I always carry some change for this box, as often you can find some quality retro horror. And with the interest spurred from Paperbacks from Hell of late, those amazingly garish cover just catch the eye something special. Look at that cover above. How could I not buy it?

Worth mentioning that I'll only feel I've 'made it' as an author when I have some fancy embossing on a cover. Even the trail of venom trickling down her cheeks is embossed! Nice touch, Leisure from the 80s.

Yes, the 80s. This was released in 1988. The year I was seven. The year my cousin and I lied in the videoshop in order to grab a copy of Killer Klowns From Outer Space ("My dad told us to come get it for him." HOW DID THAT WORK?!). While many a classic emerged from the period (which I still like to think of the heyday of horror...but rose-tinted glasses much? I was a terrified child at the time) many movies and books were cheap and cheerful romps. Venom definitely falls into this category. But it's flaws scream from the page, and again, this may be due to the period in which it was written, and the way popular novels have changed overtime. It feels unfair to drag it over the coals in 2018...but...

I will. 

First up, breasts. Breasts are part of the world. They were there in the 80s, they're here now. However, there is a time and place for them to appear in a novel. Should you have a woman in your book, whether she turns into a snake or not, she has breasts. Therefore, those breasts will be in every chapter, they are, after all, attached. What we don't need is a reference to those breasts at least once in every chapter. The character has a shower, and she examines her breasts. She lies down, and notices how her breasts moved. Nipples stiffen at every available opportunity. I never thought I'd get sick of breasts, but it eventually happened. Breasts.

Next up. Indian characters being described as greasy. Again, like the breasts, this happens quite a bit. Every time a character shakes hands with an Indian, they go to wipe their hand on their clothing, expecting it to come away greasy/slimy. This jumped out at me as a bit...odd. Wouldn't float nowadays!

A few mad coincidences abound too. Such as an expert and former member of the snake cult that worships this particular snake spirit showing up just as snake-woman shenanigans begin. Every male character seems to be an expert in everything. People showing up just in the nick of time.

I'm dwelling on the negatives too much, so let's swing it around. The antagonist is a ruddy big king cobra. How many times have a wittered on about needing a strong villain? Well this has a ruddy big king cobra, and that works. So simple, yet so threatening. We don't need motivation, or deep psychological trauma, etc. Just a ruddy big king cobra sneaking about and biting people. The author clearly had a hoot writing the snake chapters, with a particular stand out scene of a Mexican stand off between man and snake. Plus cobras standing upright with that hood, looking you in the eye, a single bite enough to finish you... Yeah, I enjoyed the snakes scenes.

There's also the requisite background snake knowledge throughout the book, as the partner of snake-woman is a biologist, whose expertise is...snakes...king cobras to be exact. Am I going to have to go back and add this to happy coincidence paragraph? Anyway, fun facts of cobras are sprinkled throughout and never get too much or dump enough info to retract from the plot.

Have to mention the ending. It was mounting nicely, yet I had that awful feeling, knowing that the book ended on the next page. Was this going to be a JAWS ending scenario? Even worse, was this going to be a Koontz ending scenario?

Yes. Yes it was. I also think it was pinched from American Werewolf in London. That's right. I don't shy away from controversial opinion.

 So should you buy this? Yes, I think you should actually. I don't think you can get this digitally, only 2nd hand paperback. Which is excellent! Kindle screens would never do this cover justice. Run your fingers over the embossed title, the sexy braille of 80s horror.

It's a wonderful example of 80s pulp horror, warts and all, and deserves to be read in its original format, with yellowed pages and a Leisure paperback order form still in the back.

I give it three breasts out of five.

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Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 10:00 am :: 0 comments

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Review: Hollow House by Greg Chapman

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This book stinks.

No, no. Not like that. The novel opens with the residents of a normal, quiet suburban street noticing a grotesque stench that appears to be seeping from the one creepy abandoned house on the block. I believe in the real world that this is quite a common occurrence, which adds some weight to the proceedings. Where Chapman takes us though is a tad more supernatural than finding out why someone's post is filling up unanswered...

Look at the sticker on the cover. Bram Stoker nominee for first novel, and they don't just hand those out willy nilly. This particular book lipped by me, as I read all of Chapman's works and remembered buying this, but it somehow didn't find its way onto my Kindle until a considerable amount of time later. In that time, the book had been awarded the prestigious finalist place and the glowing reviews had started to accrue, so I was quite keen to jump into Hollow House when it finally did appear.

This was a breath of fresh air, despite the stink of rot that seemed to permeate from my Kindle. The books I've read and reviewed lately, while all fantastic, have been set in a single character POV (I'm still counting Sloman's Broken on the Inside here as each story was in a single POV). Chapman brings in a host of characters early, which allows for some head-hopping, which was a nice change. It reminded me of King, in for example, The Regulators, in that we're presented with a common suburban street and those that live there, like we peek through the curtains at the lives being played out inside each home. However, as I reached around the 60% mark, most of these characters were still running around and without the presence of a big bad antagonist figure at this point (kudos for the man to be confident to keep you guessing for this long!) I felt the book lost a little focus. The easiest remedy would have been to streamline the book by cutting a few of the lesser characters, but this would have been detrimental to the novel and the cast Chapman has created. Instead, I would have preferred the opposite, for the book to truly go down the King route and perhaps be twice as long, have us spend MORE time with each character. But the book does pull its strings together in the last act with a satisfying finale and an ending that I felt was reminiscent of the first Nightmare on Elm Street movie...a bit.

Rest assured, you're going to see the description and the reviews and think the words 'haunted house' over and over, but this is very far from the case. True, the Kemper house sits like a rotten tooth, presiding over the rest of the street, but you won't find any clinking of chains, footsteps in the dead of night, or any other haunted house cliches. Chapman brings more mystery to the subgenre, a smattering of action, and even a hint of cosmic horror...but nothing too heavy as to dominate the plot. The book doesn't place all its eggs in a particular idea or approach, and is all the better for it, emerging as a horror all-rounder. Unlike some of the books I read, I would have no problem recommending this one to everyone.

And I think that's a good point to end this review on.

Four out of five air fresheners. A distinctive smell emerges from a distinctive book. Click on the cover above for purchase!

Have you read Hollow House? Share your thought in the comments.

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Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 7:13 am :: 0 comments

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Book reviewer book recs: July

I called, you answered!

With the Kindle empty once again (although with a planned work outing to go watch MEG next month, I realised I had limited time to read the book first, so promptly bought and am blasting through), I put out the call to a gaggle of trusted, talented and 50% good looking book reviewers for any new books they give the thumbs up to. The focus was novellas!

These will no doubt be on my tbr pile over the next few weeks with reviews to appear on this very page.

Support your horror authors! Click on the covers to purchase via Amazon.

Review of Hollow House by Greg Chapman is due any day now, and feel free to check out my own offerings by clicking the covers to the right. Read any great novellas lately? Let me know in the comments!

The Switch House by Tim Meyer (rec'd by @SadieHartmann)

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CONGRATULATIONS! You've won a role on LET'S SWITCH HOUSES! Your life is going to change. We promise. Your dreams will come true. Everything you've ever wanted, we have it. This is a chance of a lifetime. Come inside. Switch with us.

Angela and Terry return home after several grueling months of filming the popular television show, LET'S SWITCH HOUSES!, only to find their residence in ruin. Sure, the décor and framed photographs are the same; the color of the walls hasn't changed; the furniture sits unmoved. But something is off. Their quiet New Jersey home feels tainted. Angela can sense it. Crawling inside her. Infecting her mind. Poisoning her thoughts.

Then the nightmares begin. Awful, lucid visions that cause her to question her own reality. What happened at 44 Trenton Road while she was gone? Just what did she do, that bizarre woman who claims she can communicate with the beyond? Who is she exactly? Angela aims to find out, but the further she investigates, the deeper into madness she descends. How far will she travel before she loses the trail of clues? Or worse—before she loses her mind.

THE SWITCH HOUSE is a short novel for fans of supernatural thrillers with a dark twist. Includes three bonus short stories.

Siphon by A.A. Medina (rec'd by @gjkendall)

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Dr. Gary Phillips, the resident hematopathologist at Claybrook Medical Center, is a lonely man struggling with the duress of an all work and no play lifestyle.

Burdened with an unhealthy infatuation with his co-worker, a burning disdain for his boss, and an abusive relationship with his grandfather, Gary just can't catch a break.

That is, until a workplace accident ushers in a bizarre, but empowering experience that evokes a new sense of self, forcing repressed memories to surface while encouraging him to pursue his fantasies with unconventional methods.

Broken Shells by Michael Patrick Hicks (rec'd by @AdrianShotbolt - one of many, but seconded by @SadieHartmann!)

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Antoine DeWitt is a man down on his luck. Broke and recently fired, he knows the winning Money Carlo ticket that has landed in his mailbox from a car dealership is nothing more than a scam. The promise of five thousand dollars, though, is too tantalizing to ignore.

Jon Dangle is a keeper of secrets, many of which are buried deep beneath his dealership. He works hard to keep them hidden, but occasionally sacrifices are required, sacrifices who are penniless, desperate, and who will not be missed. Sacrifices exactly like DeWitt.

When Antoine steps foot on Dangle’s car lot, it is with the hope of easy money. Instead, he finds himself trapped in a deep, dark hole, buried alive. If he is going to survive the nightmare ahead of him, if he has any chance of seeing his wife and child again, Antoine will have to do more than merely hope. He will have to fight his way back to the surface, and pray that Jon Dangle’s secrets do not kill him first.

Children of No One by Nicole Cushing (rec'd by @BensNotWriting)

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Sadism, nihilism, poverty, wealth, screams, whimpers, sanity and madness collide in Nowhere, Indiana. For Thomas Krieg, Nowhere is a miles-long, pitch-black underground maze in which he's imprisoned dozens of boys for the past ten years—all in the name of art. For two brothers, Nowhere is the only place they clearly remember living. A world unto itself, in which they must stay alert to stay alive. A world from which the only escape is death. But for an English occultist known only as Mr. No One, Nowhere is much more...and much less: the perfect place in which to perform a ritual to unleash the grandest of eldritch deities, the God of Nothingness, the Great Dark Mouth.

Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 6:53 am :: 0 comments

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Thursday, July 05, 2018

Conjoined by Greg Chapman

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Welcome to the second visit to Primogen: The Origin of Monsters.

This week I'm looking at the third story in the book, Conjoined, by Greg Chapman. Recognisable for his art style, which not only graces the cover and pages of this very book, but also many other anthologies, comic books, colouring in books, and pretty much everything else (you can take a look at his art store here), Chapman is also a well-established author, his novel Hollow House (which I'm currently reading - review to follow) was nominated for a Bram Stoker award, and he constantly pumps out novels, novellas, and short stories. 

I'm a sucker for stories set in Victorian times, all those gaslights and fog shrouded alleys. In Conjoined, Chapman spins a classic tale which may be considered psychological in one sense, and toying with the debate of belief in religion versus science in another.

The book explores new origins for well-known monsters, as shown in our first story, wherein Gary McMahon presented his own take on the vampire mythos. Which classic creature does Chapman take on? The only hints you're getting is that this particular one is a literary creation rather than being born of cultural legend, and while I owned a copy of the original story as a child, I just couldn't finish it. Maybe Chapman has inspired me to go back and give it another go?

But he did inspire me to write my next tribute flash piece. While the original story is set around the turn of the century, I bring the medical processes up to date, even though some truly ancient things are still hanging around. I call this story...

The Scan

(Inspired by Conjoined by Greg Chapman)

Okay, so this is your…second scan with us, Mrs. Jenkins? Oh, I’m sorry, I’m terrible with names. Memory like a sieve, and we get so many patients coming through.
Yes, just Wednesdays. That’s why we’re seeing as many people as possible. I’ll be lucky if I even get a lunch break today. I’ll just pop this on here. Can you unbutton your jeans for me and pull them down a little? There we go.
Now I’m sure you know what’s coming.
Yes, sorry about that. I’ve tried to warm it up for you, but this room just can’t seem to heat up. Feels like I’ve just taken it out of the freezer, doesn’t it? Don’t worry, it’ll warm up as we complete the scan.
I see that your due date is early November, so bub should be developing nicely by now. You’ll be able to see a bit more this time. The sex? I’m afraid it’s still a little too early to determine, but there’s no harm in looking. Dad wants a boy does he? Most do! I’m sure he’ll just be as happy with a little girl though.
I’ll try and get some good images of bub for him. Oh, he’s around here somewhere? Hope he makes an appearance soon. Problem with only coming down Wednesdays: have to rush everybody through. You’ll have the pictures in case he misses the show, Mrs. Jenson.
What? Sorry! Like a sieve, I swear!
Ignore the lights. These old hospitals. The NHS can’t afford beds, let alone having the old wiring looked at.
These buildings…haven’t changed for centuries.
I can cope with the odd flicker. It’s the poor sods on life support I worry about.
Still…let’s try and ignore the lights. We’ll get used to it, eh?
There’s baby. Can you see the screen okay? Bub’s turned away from us at the moment, but you can see the head, the spine here. Such a shy baby! Come on, let your mummy have a good look at you.
Ah ha… Just want to quickly check the blood flow through the umbilical. No, nothing to worry about, just procedure. If bub was small for this stage we’d be a little more in-depth, but nothing in your notes indicates cause for concern. That all appears healthy. You pass with flying colours!
There’s a leg. Let me just take a quick measurement of the femur…
Never had that happen before. It’s the wiring, I swear. Got a bit of a jolt from the machine. No, no, I’m fine. Caught me by surprise.
There’s the other femur. Might as well grab the measurement. Femur…left. We rarely get two legs different sizes, but everything we can send to the doctor, you know? And here’s…here’s the other femur. Again. Looks… I’ll take another measurement.
Hmm. Must have measured it wrong the first time. Doesn’t help when the screen keeps flickering! Can you see okay?
Sorry! I’m really sorry. Another jolt. And these bloody lights.
Been a long morning.
Still no sign of bub’s dad. He’s missing all this.
Okay, there’s baby’s heartbeat. All looks absolutely fine. Nothing to worry about there. Would you like to hear it?
Hang on.
Yeah! That’s your bubby’s heart! You didn’t get that in the first scan?
Well that’s because…just wait…it doesn’t usually…no that’s completely—
It does sound like galloping, doesn’t it? No, no. No need to be concerned. Lie back down. It’s not what you’re thinking. Let me listen.
Trust me, Mrs. Jenson.
No. Really. I’d have known straight away.
Sorry. You’d think I’d remember. That’s such a unique name.
No. Really. If that were the case…we’d know immediately. You have a very healthy bub. I’ll just take a few more measurements and you can be on your way. Pictures? Of course. All for Daddy, eh? It’s a shame he missed this.
I didn’t see him.
Oh look! The lights are back on. Makes life easier. I’ll just process a few more images. Mrs. Jek—sorry, what’s your name again?

Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 12:08 pm :: 0 comments

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Monday, July 02, 2018

Review: Manifest Recall by Alan Baxter

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My experience with Manifest Recall started at around 4am one morning last week, when something had awoken me in the early morning. Rather than head back to bed for a couple more hours disturbed rest, I settled on the sofa and booted this up on my Kindle.

I think I reached just shy of halfway as dawn started to emerge from underneath the blinds. That says something.

Baxter has me on the back foot here as I try to type my thoughts. I usually read straight horror (if you'll allow me to use this loose term), while Manifest Recall is a delicious slice of action-packed crime with a tasty horror sprinkling. I try to consider how elements are fit together, and whereas a hearty dose of gunfire and car chases might pick up the pace of a horror novel, they can detract from the sometimes subtle, nuanced atmosphere of a tale of terror. In Recall, the author flips this around, using horror elements to give the reader a break from the all out action, develop the character of our vigilante hero and provide some of the book's stand out images.

Keeping it vague as to not spoil some of the surprises, the protagonist of the book, Eli Carver, is haunted by his past: the dead, who sometime offer him advice, or mock him, depending on the situation. A certain classic scene in a London porno theatre springs to mind!

Staying with the darker elements of the story, Baxter has created a cracking villain in the shape of mobster Vernon Sykes. I initially pictured him as Vincent D'Onoffrio playing Kingpin in Daredevil, but this representation quickly paled once the full extent of his coldblooded deeds start to be drip fed to the reader. This character really surprised me, and the author made some ballsy choices...ones that make you sit up and really take notice of this read. As I often joke, I love a hard gut punch from a tale.

My only real quibble is that the transition from the second to third act is a little abrupt. The plot has developed nicely and at a perfect pace, but following a fortunate break in Eli's journey, we are suddenly thrown into a high-octane finale. The book had a beat to it, and it felt like perhaps a planned scene had been cut as the author was hungry to get to the all out conclusion. Maybe I'm being super picky, but there's not much else to bitch about.

I'm giving it 4.5/5 bullet-riddled limbs. My advice? Get it, read it, enjoy it...if you can keep up! Just click on the cover.

Have you read Manifest Recall? Let me know what you thought in the comments.

Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 9:20 pm :: 0 comments

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Tuesday, June 26, 2018

I Know I Promised You a Story by Gary McMahon

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Welcome to the first intimate look of the contents of Primogen: The Origin of Monsters. As outlined in the last Primogen post, I aim to read each story in turn and create an addendum, if you will: a piece of flash fiction to provide you, dear reader, with a flavour of the story contained within. And of course, should these posts over the next few weeks get the juices flowing, feel free to click on the cover above and take a look at the book on Amazon.

First up is Gary McMahon, with I Know I Promised You a Story.

In his short and atmospheric opener, Gary dabbles with the vampire mythos, but rather than gloomy castles and misty graveyards, he sets his gritty piece on a council estate in 1978. I imagine many of us horror writers raised in the 70s and 80s can relate to the young protagonist. I know I certainly did.

I thought about the circumstances of the boy and some of the things vampires have represented over time, or the events that have been attributed to their nefarious actions. To me, vampires are a metaphor for evil and torment, and human suffering the blood they crave. But this relationship can't be one-way...

The Invitation 
(Inspired by I Know I Promised You a Story by Gary McMahon)

They have it wrong about us, you know. Always have. Hanging cloves of garlic by your windows and nailing crucifixes over your beds. Romantic fiends descending the ancient brick of a Transylvanian castle, cape billowing in the moonlight. Stakes through the heart, and hissing at the creeping dawn.

Harbingers of disease? Better to blame the creatures of the night than the great unknown, yet to be unravelled by the scholars with their microscopes and developed cultures. By placing us in test tubes and distilling down to our cores, would they compare our existence to a virus? To avoid extinction, we reproduce: passing on our appetites like DNA and transforming the host. However, we are not so virally crude to invade, to weaken...to destroy. Symbiosis is a delicate relationship, ruled by numbers. Left unchecked, we would overrun, ensuring our own demise alongside those that currently sleep in their stacked houses, safe from the night and the dangers that stalk within.

We can slip into your bedroom and watch from the crevice of an open wardrobe, listen to your thoughts from under the bed, and curl up beside you in your safe, warm cocoons as you stare at the ceiling, weighing your fears and worries. All the while we lurk close by: drinking in your suffering and smiling. We don’t need to be invited in; we’re already here, waiting for you to turn off the television, climb the stairs, and enter your sanctuary. As you begin to undress for bed, you also shed the burdens of the day, eager for sleep, for a few hours of sweet respite. You sigh, and we gather like hungry dogs, sniffing at their master’s feet come dinner.

We’ve watched you, young man, as you’ve watched us. You surround yourself with talismans of protection, more effective than any crucifix or vial of holy water. Any psychiatrist worth his fee would recognise a defence mechanism, a coping strategy, a place to divert one’s thoughts away from the trials and hardships of life. The darkness surrounds you like a bubbling sea, eager for you to dip your toe in the water. The vampires observe from their eyes on the flickering black and white screen, from the pages of your books. You construct models in our imagined image, totems of worship, yet further idols of protection. We assess you through these plastic and painted eyes surrounding your bed. We siphon off the errant scraps. With that first taste, we know.

This boy has risen above the cattle. He can host.

We can enter your homes as we wish, but the legends have a couple of things right. We must feed from you, but you must also feed from us. A willing exchange as you decide to taste the darkness we offer. Spread the misery. Feed.

This is the invitation which we place before you. Can we come in?

Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 9:31 pm :: 0 comments

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Monday, June 25, 2018

Review: Broken on the Inside by Phil Sloman

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Imagine it's a normal day. You're on the bus heading to work, in a cafe slurping on a coffee, or even sat in the dentist's. You look around at the other five people on the bus, or in the cafe, or in the waiting room. Five people; all very different in age, sex, weight, how they present themselves. On one side, a trim older man, immaculately groomed and dressed, while on the other, a slightly over-weight girl in her early twenties, wearing the uniform of a fast food restaurant. 

I recall my favourite contemporary psychoanalyst (what, you don't have one?) Darrien Leader in a presentation, telling the tale of a young clinician who was required to assess a well-dressed, affluent lady. She doesn't look like someone undergoing a psychosis, the trainee had said.

So which of these people are suffering an acute psychosis? Which of these five are in the grip of terror and confusion as delusions cause hallucinations and vice versa?

The cover of this book by Phil Sloman gives a slight hint.

I had no idea what I was getting into when I started this, as I rarely read blurbs and (sorry, Kendall Reviews!) reviews in-depth before starting a book. I don't want to know a thing. From the page count, I expected a novella, so was surprised when the first story ended and the next began. Following the second piece, I was onto the theme, and I was keen to see if Sloman could pursue this through to the end of the book without the idea going stale. I believe he does this with a cracking sense of characterisation, which is absolutely top notch, and by catering to different tastes with each tale.

Like horror stories of technology gone awry?
Like dark humour?
Like psychological horror?
How about some gross out body horror? That float your boat?
Finally, what about...more technology...that's gone awry? But completely different from the first one?

Something for everyone indeed. I have to disagree with Kendall Reviews (see, I did read it) and hang my #1 ribbon onto the last story. The previous four resolve incredibly well but the final piece steps out from the pack by remaining ambiguous right to the end. It keeps the reader guessing in the best possible way, and leaves you wanting more.

In summary, goddamn this Phil Sloman and his book. It's a perfect example of how strong the horror game can be, particularly on reaching levels of characterisation other authors may require chapters to reach. Goddamn him.

I give it 5/5 individuals suffering due to Government cuts to local mental health services.

Broken on the Inside should be available by clicking on the cover, if I've done my HTML right.

Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 6:26 pm :: 0 comments

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Primogen: Origin of Monsters

Howdy, folks. Welcome to the slightly updated blog!

Last week saw the arrival of Primogen: Origin of Monsters arrive in the letter box. Sometimes you just know something special has come along when you open a good looking book. The names in the contents, the artwork (a full page illustration for every story by Greg Chapman, no less), and just the theme, of inventing an origin story for a host of classic monsters, comes together to create one hell of an anthology.

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But of course...I would say that, wouldn't I? It's not hard for an author to heap praise upon a book that he appears in! 

So I thought...what can I do differently? How can I get readers to part with their hard-earned cash on this book?

As I've been working on (and damn near obsessing about) my psychology thesis, my fiction suffered due to what I call 'screen sickness', as in, I got sick of staring at a screen! I needed to get the ol' creative juices flowing again. To write without having to intext reference.

The idea is to read each short story in turn and immediately write a short piece inspired by that story. Sometimes this can happen in the world of that story by looking at events from a different angle, or exist completely separate but share a theme.

Following granted permissions, watch this space for the first of the stories... It's already written and ready to go.

If this is something you'd be interested in reading, or if you have read the book yourself already, please leave a comment!

Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 10:14 am :: 0 comments

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Sunday, June 10, 2018

Review: Mechanisms of Despair by Gary Buller

Looks like I'm resurrecting the blog to post reviews, seeing that Amazon won't let me leave reviews there yet (and these will be transferred once I apparently spend enough. So much for spending my hard earned $ at Book Depository and getting more book for my buck). Could do with giving it an overhaul anyway, been a long time...

Anyway, today's quick review: Mechanisms of Despair by Gary Buller.

A short collection of stories and I didn't really know what to expect being unfamiliar with the author's style. Let's just say that the title is fitting, with a bunch of stories with the salient theme of loss and suicide. This really should could come with a suicide hotline helpline. 'If you have been affected by any of the themes of this book, please call...'

The standout of this book is the almost Lynchian nightmare scenes of bizarre imagery and the saturation of dread, like each story has been drowned in dread and emerged soaking wet and dripping from the page. Claustrophobic grief and hauntings. Even the more traditional style stories, featuring the tropes of zombies or a masked killer, are handled extremely well. The zombie story in particular, which is a flash piece and if I'm being brutal, doesn't do anything tremendously unique with the genre, leaves a lasting impression because of the images the author paints: silhouettes in the early morning fog, a war torn sky. Fantastically written.

To readers, I can recommend this quick read. To the author, where's a novel? 

Buy from Amazon US here...sales go towards The Alzeimer's Foundation in the US and Sarcoma UK.

Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 3:57 pm :: 2 comments

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Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Come Into Darkness - behind the scenes...of aforementioned darkness

With my self-imposed writing hiatus ongoing (due to studies. I'm drowning in psychological lab reports and statistics right now), it's nice to see that my existing works live on, finding new readers with very little effort from this poor salesman. Like a pet or small child, they can be left alone to do their own thing.

A few months ago saw my re-release of the novella Come Into Darkness, to form an independent novella series alongside Critique and Retard. With a fourth planned in the same psychological style, I thought it would be great to see them as a more coherent set, complete with snazzy covers. Out into the world they went, and back to the journals and articles I went.

Still just 99c, folks.

One of those new readers is the delightful Frankie Yates, who chose to review Come Into Darkness on her new blog right here: https://krankieblog.wordpress.com/2016/04/16/come-into-darkness-by-daniel-i-russell/. Thank you, Frankie! And thank you for the share, the incomparable Messtress of Madness (mess as in severed eyeballs), Dawn Cano.

In light of this, and because I find myself stranded in a library while my car is being fixed (in a garage. This library isn't THAT accommodating) I was thinking about the birth of the novella, and hoped to share a few little behind the scenes thoughts and experiences. As any long term reader of mine will know, in particular those of you who have read through the quite substantial collection Tricks, Mischief and Mayhem, I view my stories as photographs in my own album of memories. While the plot might be right there in front of you, for me it represents subjective times, places and people. Strange sights and good conversations. As far as I know, while I have discussed Retard in this way, I haven't yet shared my stories behind Come. If you haven't read the book, this will probably make no sense, nor interest you! If you have...it probably still won't interest you. But I'm going to do it anyway. I have an afternoon to kill.

1. Origins

Worth: Having his job interview

My stories start with a seed every time. When I worked for my first law firm back in the UK, and this was around 2006/07, we'd hit the pub around the corner after work on a Friday. That sometimes led to a bus into town to hit more bars...and ultimately ended up at a club. I can't even remember the name of it, but it was up some stairs and was one of the most depressing drinking spots I've ever been in. Now this was in Southport, which isn't the classiest of joints. Yet every week, sticking out like the proverbial sore thumb, was this old man. You sometimes get older gents in clubs, trying to talk to everyone. He seemed nice enough, but damn, his appearance was just so bizarre. He had a messy comb-over and some kind of weird deformity down low, so it looked like he had a sack of spuds shoved down the front of his trousers. That wasn't the thing that stuck with me though. He always wore a dark crimson blazer, the kind of thing you see toffs wearing at the Boat Race with straw hats. It was just dusty and antiquated, yet worn by this old fella in a dodgy Southport back alley club, drinking WKDs and trying to chat up the fresh totty.

I thought, here's a guy who looks like a butler from a haunted house. I knew I had to use him. Worth. Who better for a guide through the nightmare of Metus House? (I just remembered Metus means...something important)

Just like his real life counterpart, Worth seems to be in an existential dilemma. He doesn't seem to enjoy his lot, but having done it for so long, is perhaps starting to try and like it, as he knows he can't escape it. He was originally a poet...but I don't think that fully took shape in the book.

2. More origins

I try to have fun, although that might be hard to believe at times.

While Come Into Darkness can never be labelled an intelligent, or even deep, story, I do hope it's a fun one. It was my homage to my favourite horror movies, mashed up, the choicest cuts sliced out and slapped together.

A man bored of the excess tasted in his life and a craving for more? Frank Cotton from Hellraiser much? A cackling, tormenting guide that can manipulate the world at a whim to punish you more? Is that a bit Krugerish, or am I dreaming? The various games and contraptions are a bit obvious...but then I love the SAW movies. Because of SAW I met my now fiancee and have a house full of kids! Of course I want to give it a nod in appreciation. The most influential story to my story was Dicken's The Christmas Carol. The past, present, and future approach makes for a great three act set up, plus the forced self analysis is a topic I realise I tread pretty regularly (looking at you, Critique!).

3. When SAW sent me into a tantrum

Remember this from SAW V?

I had to leave Come Into Darkness half finished as I moved to Australia. This was the first book I finished over here. I had literally finished the book THAT DAY and had the brandspanking new SAW V booked at the videostore to watch in the evening with a beer as a reward.

On seeing this trap close to the finale, I was nearly sick. It was so so close to a scene I had midway through the book. While there was a clear influence from the franchise, I straight away worried that I'd be accused of a direct rip off.

I eventually got over it. It helped that the poor sucker subjected to this abuse in the book gets even more later on...

On a further note regarding this particular scene, I was in my favourite pub back in Southport (there, again) with a coworker, sat in a busy corner, watching a band, and explaining the mechanism of how the torture device worked, obviously reveling in the grimaces and squeals of disgust I received in return. Little known to us, that corner was apparently the meeting point for swingers on that night, leading to a guy's wife trying to make out with my friend right there and then. Turns out we were in the wrong as we sat in the wrong corner of the wrong pub on the wrong night. We left shortly after.

4. Advice from Balzer and Hintz

The original title was Fear of the Dark, due to Mario's phobia following early incidents with his father. When the novella was picked up by the clean cut, take-them-home-to-meet-your-mother types, Balzer and Hintz (har!), it was pointed out that someone had already pinched that title:

While being lost among metal heads is somewhere I always aim to be, it wasn't such a good idea when it comes to book sales and search engines.

Following the glory hole scene (now you're thinking of buying, eh?), we renamed it Come Into Darkness, and tittered like schoolboys on hearing the world boobies.

5. And finally...

Before I start a book, I set myself goals to meet: things I haven't done before. I hope this stops me getting stale and writing the same book over and over. Gets me out of my comfort zone. 

With Come, I wanted to strip it right back: have the whole story occur in one night, and to only have one POV. That might sound easier, but after writing a few novels, I felt that it was more of a challenge. It made me think about pacing more, for one.

The real kicker was trying to write a book full of horrible people and still have the reader engaged. No one in this book deserves sympathy...apart from maybe one (and I'll admit, that came out of nowhere as I was writing the damn thing). Did it succeed in this regard? I'm hoping so.

On that optimistic note, I'm going back to my articles and research.

See you when I escape!

Posted by Daniel I. Russell :: 1:22 pm :: 5 comments

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