Tuesday, July 14, 2015

REVIEW: Death’s Realm

BOOKS of the DEAD REVIEW

Title: Death’s Realm
Author: Various Authors
Publisher: Grey Matter Press
Purchase from: Amazon 

Review by: John Milton

Since their arrival on the scene in 2013, Grey Matter Press have delivered some truly memorable titles in the genre, my latest read from GMP, ‘Death’s Realm’ is another solid entry from the GMP stable.

As alluded to in this collection of sixteen tales, the central premise behind each story is death and indeed, what may await us all beyond that final physical chapter in our lives. ‘Death’s Realm’ comes with the following synopsis:

“There's something that awaits you on the road ahead. It lurks in the shadows at the intersection between the Here and the Hereafter. It's your own death.

It's at this crossroad between of this life and the next, where your life comes face-to-face with the specters, ghosts, haunts and lost souls of the dead. And it's here where they wage war for your very soul.

DEATH'S REALM contains sixteen stories of these battles between the living and the dead by an acclaimed selection of award-winning modern masters from the horror and speculative fiction genres.”

For me, the danger with such anthologies is that the principle subject matter can become somewhat repetitive. Thankfully, this is not the case with ‘Death’s Realm’, where the stories range from premeditated murder to Lovecraftian nightmares via ghosts, the walking dead and Somalian pirates!

In any such collection, there are going to be stories that capture the imagination of the reader more than others. The following were those that really stood out for me:

In ‘Haunter’, award winning author Hank Schwaeble delves into the psyche of a man haunted by his past, quite literally...

Lauded genre veteran and fast becoming known as the ‘King of Pain’, John F.D.Taff earns his crown in the touching and emotional ‘Some Other Day’.

‘Foxhole’ by J.G. Faherty sees soldiers in a future war fought on American soil fighting against the odds to survive but all is not as it seems for these brothers-in-arms.

Set during World War Two, ‘March Hays’ by Matthew Pegg is a deceptive story of horror, showing how far someone will go to protect the one they love.

Karen Runge and Simon Dewar team up in ‘High Art, to deliver a brutal tale of lust, murder and revenge.

Jay O’Shea’s ‘A Pirate’s Ransom’ takes the reader into the mind of a reluctant pirate as he joins a seasoned crew of marauders on an ill-fated seizure of a seemingly abandoned vessel. Despite being set off the Horn of Africa and me reading the story as I sat in near tropical conditions, O’Shea’s prose left me feeling the cold...

The variety and quality of stories contained in ‘Death’s Realm’ is quite exceptional but naturally, some tales will appeal to any given individual reader more than others. Additionally, it may be worthy of note that this collection ought to come with a caveat, as the subject matter may be a little sensitive for some.

At a little more than 300 pages and for only $3.08/ £1.99 on Kindle, ‘Death’s Realm’ represents real value for money, given the dearth of talent who have contributed to this outstanding collection of short stories.

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Monday, June 22, 2015

New Release: John F.D. Taff - Infestation

BOOKS of the DEAD PRESS are proud to announce the release of our newest title: Infestation by John F.D. Taff.

The book is currently available as an ebook from Amazon and Smashwords.

About the book:

Ben Bradley works for a typical midwestern American city that is falling apart just as his own family is, too.  As he tries to put his family back together, his city embarks on a dramatic new housing redevelopment plan that will change its face.  But there are so many undesirables that have to be gotten rid of first.  The current residents.  And the pests. A shadowy figure comes to town with the promise of ridding the city of its unwanted.  First, the vermin disappear.  Then the homeless.  Then the children. To save his family and his city, Bradley must face a legendary foe with a thousand years of experience in extermination.

Praise for Stoker-Nominated Author John F.D. Taff:

"Taff's prose shines in a longer format."  Gabino Iglesias, Reviewer at HorrorTalk.com and Author of Gutmouth

"John F.D. Taff really knows how to deliver!" Ann Hale, Horror Editor, Pop-Break.com

"Taff brings the pain."  Bram Stoker Award-Winning Author Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of Code Zero and Fall Of Night

"John Taff is a standout talent. Literary, affecting, chilling, and indicative of that old-school mentality meets new-school daring, you need look no further than this collection for evidence that not only is horror not dead, there are new proponents of the craft among us more than capable of giving it the jolt it needs to carry it into the future."  Kealan Patrick Burke, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Turtle Boy, Kin, and Jack & Jill

Buy Infestation HERE.


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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Cover Quiz: John F.D. Taff – Infestation

On June 22nd, 2015 Books of the Dead Press will be releasing John F.D. Taff’s newest title, Infestation. The wonderful people at Small Dog Design created three covers for us, but John and I are not sure which cover we like best.

And that’s where you come in.

We would like you to help us choose the book cover for Infestation.

Simply leave a comment on this blog post, letting us know which cover you like best (A, B or C). The cover with the most votes will be the cover we use. It’s that easy.

Tell your friends. Spread the word. You've got until Monday.

Here are the choices:

BOOK COVER A
BOOK COVER B

BOOK COVER C

About the book:

Ben Bradley works for a typical midwestern American city that is falling apart just as his own family is, too.  As he tries to put his family back together, his city embarks on a dramatic new housing redevelopment plan that will change the its face.  But there are so many undesirables that have to be gotten rid of first.  The current residents.  And the pests. A shadowy figure comes to town with the promise of ridding the city of its unwanted.  First, the vermin disappear.  Then the homeless.  Then the children. To save his family and his city, Bradley must face a legendary foe with a thousand years of experience in extermination.

About the author: 

John. F.D. Taff is the Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of the critically acclaimed novella collection, The End in All Beginnings. Taff has been writing dark speculative fiction for 25 years. He has more than 80 stories in publications that include Cemetery Dance, Horror Library V, The Hot Blood Series, Shock Rock II, Dark Visions - Volume One, Ominous Realities and Death’s Realm. His collection of short stories, Little Deaths, has been well reviewed and named the “No. 1 Horror Collection of 2012” by HorrorTalk. His historical ghost novel, The Bell Witch, was released in April 2013, and the thriller novel Kill/Off was released in December 2013. A standalone novella, The Sunken Cathedral, will be published by Grey Matter Press in July 2015. You can learn more about John from his website at johnfdtaff.com, or follow him on Twitter @johnfdtaff.


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Monday, May 25, 2015

REVIEW: Peter Benchley - Jaws

BOOKS of the DEAD REVIEW

Title: Jaws
Author: Peter Benchley
Publisher: Fawcett
Purchase from: Amazon 

Review by: John Milton

If you’ve not seen the movie, then you’ll undoubtedly at least have heard of it! However, have you read the book?

‘Is it horror?’ Despite the protestations of one of my dearest friends, “What’s scary about a big fish?” I would respectfully submit to you that yes, ‘Jaws’ is in fact a horror. If you are of the opinion that a masked man stalking teenagers in smalltown America, picking them off one by one is horror; then a man-eating shark preying on unsuspecting bathers off the coast of smalltown America is no different.

For me, if there was a physical embodiment of fear, it’s a shark. This is an absolutely primal fear of an animal whose basic design has not evolved or changed in millions of years. Sharks are effectively living fossils, an apex predator so perfectly acclimated to its ecosystem that they have survived for millions of years at the top of their food chain. So yes, ‘Jaws’ is a horror novel.

Released in 1974, ‘Jaws’ hit the bestseller lists and stayed there for nearly a whole year.

The author (Peter Benchley) drew his inspiration for this novel from a number of real-life incidents, most notably the 1964 landing of a 2000kg Great White Shark caught off the coast of New York state and the infamous Jersey Shore attacks of 1916.

As stated previously, ‘Jaws’ is the story of a small American coastal town, reliant on summer tourist trade that is preyed upon by a man-eating Great White Shark; and the subsequent hunting of said shark by the town’s police chief, an Ichthyologist and the local seasoned shark hunter. Many will already be familiar with the Spielberg film adaptation but I would suggest to you all that the novel is by far the superior of the two.

‘Jaws’ the novel provides far greater depth to the characters involved with the backstory to Ellen Brodie and the Chief’s marriage, the Mayor’s shady dealings and other aspects that I choose not to reveal to those who are not familiar with the book. As opposed to the film, the book offers significantly different relationship dynamics for the lead protagonists and a palpable feeling of tension on board the boat that viewers of the film will already be familiar with. Overall, there is a generally darker tone throughout the book and an ending that is poles apart from the distinctly showbiz finale of the movie.

This is one of my shorter reviews but I fail to see the point in a book review that simply gives the whole plot of a novel away, effectively ruining it for any potential reader!

In my opinion, ‘Jaws’ is an incredibly satisfying read that easily drew me into the world created by Benchley. My only warning with this book would be to save it for dry land; this is not a book you want to be reading on the beach!


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Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Price of Admission

Publishing is a tough game and getting harder every passing day. In our ever-changing world of publishing most successful authors have more than mere talent; they have drive.

When authors come to me looking for a publisher sometimes their drive is easy to see. Other times it’s impossible to see, because––quite frankly––it doesn’t exist.

You wrote a book. Congratulations. That’s the ante, the price of admission… not the endgame.

Authors write.

Publishers publish.

Sounds simple enough. But when authors want to work with a publisher they must understand that they must WORK WITH THE PUBLISHER. Not have the publisher do all the work while they sit back and watch it happen.

Most successful authors are doing the things they need to do: Twitter, Facebook, blogs, conventions, giveaway––anything and everything that helps sell the book.

There’s no business in art. But once you want to sell your art, there’s no art in business. It comes down to selling.

Selling the book.

Selling the author.

Selling the brand.

Selling for today and selling for tomorrow.

Signing an author is a gamble for any publisher. But signing an author that has a track record of poor sales and minimal interest in gaining sales… that’s not a gamble. That’s suicide.

If you’re an author that wanted to WORK WITH a publisher, but then decided to avoid the actual work, shame on you. The publishing industry already has too many pompous, conceited, pretentious egomaniacs. You shouldn’t have wasted your publisher’s time, money and effort.

If you’re an author, doing what you can to help sell your book, your brand, yourself… then good for you. Whether your work sells or not, understand that you’re not part of the problem; you’re part of the solution. And the publishing industry needs more people like you.  


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Monday, May 18, 2015

REVIEW: Kim Newman - Anno Dracula

BOOKS of the DEAD REVIEW

Title: Anno Dracula
Author: Kim Newman
Publisher: Titan Books
Purchase from: Amazon 

Review by: John Milton

I initially had my reservations about this book. The cover looked decidedly contrived, on reading the blurb I formed the opinion that I was going to be subjected to a rip-off of ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ and I thought this was going to be a particularly low-brow read.

“It is 1888 and Queen Victoria has remarried, taking as her new consort the Wallachian Prince infamously known as Count Dracula. His polluted bloodline spreads through London as its citizens increasingly choose to be vampires.

In the grim backstreets of Whitechapel, a killer known as 'Silver Knife' is cutting down vampire girls. The eternally young Genevieve Dieudonne and Charles Beauregard of the Diogenes Club are drawn together as they both hunt the sadistic killer, bringing them ever closer to England's most bloodthirsty ruler yet.”

I don’t think it has ever been more appropriate to use the idiom: “Never judge a book by its cover”.

Set in 1888, this book seamlessly marries up the wonderful fictional worlds of Dracula, Sherlock Holmes and many others, drawing in characters from other vampire tales and notable fiction of the time; as well as factoring in events from history and other factual occurrences. If you can spot all the references to other works, then I would suggest that you are a bigger geek than I am! The author (Kim Newman) helpfully provides an annotation at the end of the novel as a “Who’s Who” for the reader!

‘Anno Dracula’ has as its basis the supposition that Dracula was not defeated by Van Helsing et al. In fact, Dracula goes on to marry the widowed Queen Victoria and becomes Prince Consort. Vampirism is not only rife throughout London but is socially acceptable, desirable to many and becoming more dominant in Victorian society. Vampires throughout the novel include Oscar Wilde, the notorious outlaw Billy the Kid, Elizabeth Bathory, and there are numerous cameos from vampires of fiction such as Lestat and Graf Orlok. There are also star turns from numerous other figures from Victorian stories but I choose not to reveal these for fear of ruining the experience for you.

It is no secret that my first passion was history and was indeed what I had planned to study at university before finding an aptitude for my current profession. Although this work is fiction, it is rich in historical fact also… and twists much of it to its own end. The novel is not strictly speaking steampunk but is set in an alternate Victorian era as it were.

‘Anno Dracula’ introduces us from the start to a character very much based in historical fact: Jack the Ripper. Here, The Ripper is preying on the vampire prostitutes conducting their business in the dingy backstreets of Whitechapel. With Sherlock Holmes interned at a work camp along with notable minds and authors of the time such as Bram Stoker, investigation of the murders falls to Scotland Yard and the powerbrokers at the mysterious Diogenes Club; the latter directing Charles Beauregard to uncover the true identity of Jack the Ripper. From the very beginning of the novel, the identity of The Ripper is known to the reader. However, this does not detract from the feel of the book which is, as stated earlier, rich in both historical fact, and characters from fiction and notable figures from the era, with a plot that develops well as the story progresses. The novel itself reads as a detective story set in the 19th century with a distinct horror element.

Finding fault with this novel is difficult. Newman has obviously spent time researching this thoroughly and his prior preparation and planning has shone through. I have only one true criticism of the book and that is the finale. It felt rushed and over too quickly. Perhaps this is what Newman was aiming for; leading the reader to that point where they were left wanting more. If so, objective complete and I will most definitely be buying the follow up books.

It is quite clear that Newman is keen for this story to be adapted for the big screen and in fact, a script for Anno Dracula has been penned; an excerpt of which was available appended to my copy of the novel. The film rights have been optioned but Newman has stated "I don't know if there's much movement on it...Over the years, I've had a few comics people say they'd be interested and even an occasional game nibble, but no one has ever come up with a solid deal."

If you haven’t guessed, I was thoroughly impressed with this novel. Adhering to factual accuracy as much as is possible in an alternative universe populated by vampires is no mean feat but Kim Newman achieves this and also manages to tell a fantastic story at the same time.


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besthorror@gmail.com 

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Monday, May 11, 2015

REVIEW: Adam Baker - Outpost

BOOKS of the DEAD REVIEW

Title: Outpost
Author: Adam Baker
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Purchase from: Amazon 

Review by: John Milton

Horror books. These things are ten a penny and quality ones (much like their cinematic cousins) are few and far between. So, I am left picking and choosing my way through so much detritus like a shopping trip to TK Maxxx, looking for something I might actually like and eventually I’ll find something...

‘Outpost’ is the debut novel from Adam Baker, a British author who has worked as a gravedigger and cinema projectionist. A heady brew indeed...

The back cover of the novel sets the scene as follows:

“They took the job to escape the world. They didn't expect the world to end. 

Kasker Rampart: a derelict refinery platform moored in the Arctic Ocean. A skeleton crew of fifteen fight boredom and despair as they wait for a relief ship to take them home. But the world beyond their frozen wasteland has gone to hell. Cities lie ravaged by a global pandemic. One by one TV channels die, replaced by silent wavebands. The Rampart crew are marooned. They must survive the long Arctic winter, then make their way home alone. They battle starvation and hypothermia, unaware that the deadly contagion that has devastated the world is heading their way...”

Although the setting is post-apocalyptic, the feeling of the novel is very much survival-horror. Who will be the first to go? Who’s next? Additionally, for me, with the frozen isolated setting and the general tone of the novel, it felt very much like John Carpenter’s ‘The Thing’. However, to simply pigeonhole Baker’s work as derivative would be too cruel as the author has taken what could be considered an overused horror theme (end of the world, last humans alive, battling insurmountable odds and hordes of flesh-eating undead) and breathes new life into it. Instead of focusing on the ensuing worldwide carnage, he chooses to focus on the human aspect of the group at hand and explores themes of isolation, self-loathing and other elements of the human condition but primarily, the instinct for survival.

The characters in ‘Outpost’ are a mixed bunch but ultimately, the people on the rig are life’s losers and the bottom of the barrel. For a book of this type, these characters are fairly standard but the lead characters are not what you would expect and I choose not to reveal any more for fear of ruining one of the book’s first reveals.

Given the incredibly limited and bleak setting that Baker has chosen, he has conjured up a variety of situations for his characters to encounter and the imagery has stayed with me long after finishing the book itself. Following from this is my main criticism of the book; I’m unsure of the ending. It was altogether a little bit too “Hollywood” for me and I think that something a little darker may have been more in keeping with the book itself but then again, that is simply my opinion.

If you choose to, I would suggest that you will find deeper themes running throughout the novel; Good v Evil, the ultimate punishment of sinners, etc but that might just be me...

It is fair to say that ‘Outpost’ had me absolutely hooked from the first couple of pages. Baker’s style is immensely readable and his impressive debut novel has turned me into a real fan of his work.



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