Category Archives: Reviews

Festivus Book Pimping – Devouring Dark by Alan Baxter

By Festivus Eve it’s another Pimpus! Slithering up onto the slab today is another amazing Aussie author, Alan Baxter… whose names completes that alliteration rather nicely! Devouring Dark is the latest offering from Baxter that mixes crime and horror – crime noir, if you will – while offering grey characters whose choices aren’t so much between ‘good and bad’ rather between ‘bad and holy shitballs’.

Devouring Dark follows Matt McLeod and his dance with the darkness, with death, and the choice(s) he makes in how to deal with the power he has and where that leads. Hint: not good places. These are my favourite kind of stories as they deal with that power of choice and allows the reader those ‘what if’ moments where we wonder if we’d make the same choices, the same deals if we suffered the same fate.

Death in all its form runs deep through the book and provides an almost narrative on society’s views and take on death and how we deal with it.

Here’s the blurb:

Matt McLeod is a man plagued since childhood by a malevolent darkness that threatens to consume him. Following a lifetime spent wrestling for control over this lethal onslaught, he’s learned to wield his mysterious paranormal skill to achieve an odious goal: retribution as a supernatural vigilante.

When one such hit goes bad, McLeod finds himself ensnared in a multi-tentacled criminal enterprise caught between a corrupt cop and a brutal mobster. His only promise of salvation may be a bewitching young woman who shares his dark talent but has murderous designs of her own.

I mean: ‘supernatural vigilante’. It’s got a nice ring to it! And that cover is to die for! (Yes, I punned.)

If you’re looking for a tale of the darker kind, of crime bosses and corruption, and for those souls who have a direct line to death, then this is definitely a book for you.

Recommended for those who love horror, crime stories, supernatural tales, and just straight up action-based badassery.

Festivus Book Pimping – Dragonshade by Aderyn Wood

It’s a Festivus miracle! Two Pimpus of Bookus today? Time is short, my dudes, and there are sooooo many excellent books you should be reading and gifting to others. Seriously, what better present than something that ignites the imagination?

And we’re heading back into the realms of fantasy tonight with Aussie author Aderyn Wood’s most wonderful Dragonshade. As the title no doubt suggests, here there be dragons. But there is so much more at play here than mere dragons. Wood has delved into two cultures here, borrowing heavily from both Egyptian and Norse cultures to bring a vivid tapestry of both and what happens when those worlds inevitably clash – both good and bad. There is magic, too, also of the good and bad kind.

There is a stunning cast of characters in this tome, and a tome it is – the book taps out at just over two hundred thousand words, and normally I would balk at a book this size, but Dragonshade carries the weight of the words with ease – this doesn’t at all feel like an overlong story, in fact, it leaves you wanting more (no matter how well the threads of the story are tied up).

The battle scenes are epic in scale, but always there is the undercurrent of political sabotage, of betrayal, prophecies and gods, and a duck herder who might just be the one who can set the world to right.  

And here’s the blurb:

Prince Sargan is the worst swordsman in all Zraemia. His clumsy performance draws scorn from his uncle, pity from his sister, disappointment from his father, and sniggers from everyone else.
But soon, Sargan will enter the temple and begin his long-awaited path to the seat of high priest.
His brother will one day inherit the throne.
His sister will marry.
The enemy king will leave them alone.
And all will be right with the world.
Unless… the gods change the game.
And when the gods play, the game turns to war – the Great War.
Ancient prophecies surface, dark enemies rise, new allies emerge, old ones can’t be trusted, magic scorches the earth, reluctant heroes are made, and nothing is ever the same again.

Dragonshade was also an entrant in the SPFBO contest and missed out on a semi-finalist berth by this much <holds fingers together real close>. It got great feedback from the judges – scroll to the end to read the review here.

Recommended for those who love epic fantasy reads, dragons, intensive world-building, magic, dark fantasy, political shenanigans.

Festivus Book Pimping – Griffin & Price series by James A Moore & Charles R Rutledge

It’s amazing what a good (bad?) earworm can do, and so this morning’s Festivus Book Pimping comes to you via ‘Jolene’. Seriously, I’ll be shit-singing this for days now. <shakes fist at Charles>

We’re side-stepping out of fantasy for a moment and diving face-first into supernatural horror via the Griffin & Price novels masterfully penned by two of my favourite people – James A Moore and Charles R Rutledge (yes, despite the earworm).

The series consists of three books (so far): Blind Shadows, Congregations of the Dead, and A Hell Within. Each follows the trials and tribulations of Brennert County Sheriff Carl Price and his best friend, ex-mercenary turned PI, Wade Griffin. Set in the town (and surrounds) of Wellman, Georgia, a lot of super and preternatural happenings pit Griffin and Price against a host of monsters and nasties.

I love this series, and the two main characters have a rapport beset with humour and sarcasm that’s right up my reading alley. The writing is slick, the monsters are quite literally killer, and the brewing tension between Sheriff Price and the otherworldly Blackbourne clan only ups the ante. The secondary characters add extra depth to the stories, and only build on what is an incredible cast (I’m looking at you, Jolene).

You should be reading this series.

Blind Shadowsblurb:

When private investigator Wade Griffin moved away from his hometown of Wellman, Georgia he didn’t think he would be back. Too many memories and too many bridges burned. But when an old friend is found brutally murdered and mutilated, nothing can keep Griffin from going home. Teamed with another childhood friend, Sheriff Carl Price, Griffin begins an investigation that will lead down darker paths than he could ever have imagined.
Soon Griffin and Price find that there are secrets both dark and ancient lurking in the back woods of Crawford’s Hollow. As Halloween approaches, something evil is growing near the roots of the Georgia mountains, and the keys to the mystery seem to be a woman of almost indescribable beauty and a dead man who won’t stay dead.
As the body count mounts and the horrors pile up, Griffin and Price come to realize that the menace they face extends far beyond the boundaries of Wellman and that their opponents seem to hold all the cards. But the two lawmen have a few secrets of their own, and one way or another there will be hell to pay.

Blurb for Congregations of the Dead:

It’s one of the hottest summers on record and a storm is brewing over the small town of Wellman, Georgia.
Still reeling from the horrific events of the previous October, all Sheriff Carl Price wants is to get back to a normal life. Unfortunately things aren’t working out. He’s got the Brennert County’s DA breathing down his neck for answers about what happened in Crawford’s Hollow. He’s been served with a lawsuit by the Blackbourne family. And just after he witnesses a child abduction, the one person who always puts his life into a tailspin shows up to add to the pressure.
Meanwhile, against his better judgment, Wade Griffin agrees to look for a teenage girl who’s gone missing. It’s not his kind of case, but he’s trying to establish his private investigations business and perhaps abandon his past as a mercenary. But Griffin’s luck isn’t any better than Price’s and he ends up crossing paths with the man behind most of the organized crime north of Atlanta.
Both lawmen have their plates full, but then they learn that there is something abroad in the night. Not the supernatural menace they dealt with before, but something even darker. Just what is the secret of the charismatic Reverend Lazarus Cotton and what is he hiding in his small mountain church?
Once again, Griffin and Price must call upon all their deadly skills just to stay alive and even in the middle of a pitched battle against things that shouldn’t exist they are reminded that sometimes the darkest evils reside within the human heart.

And the third in the series, A Hell Within:

Something dark is looming in Brennert County, Georgia. Sheriff Carl Price and ex-mercenary-turned P.I. Wade Griffin know well the other-worldly undercurrent that runs through the small town of Wellman, but with the Blackbournes trying to rebuild their strength, it seems they can breathe a little easier, Just a little. Griffin starts working a case when he stumbles across a massacre at a drug lab, and when Price is called to the scene of a brutal triple homicide, it has all the markings of Blackbourne retribution. Before the blood is dry, two more people are torn apart. As the body count rises, Griffin and Price find themselves in the middle of a turn war where bullets and black magic are the weapons off choice. Caught between the worlds of monsters and men, Griffin and Price enlist the help of associate Carter Decamp to put an end to the brewing battle. But the gates of Hell have been opened and the beasts won’t be denied their chance to feast.

And as a post-Festivus bonus, there’s a Griffin & Price novella to be released in the latest SNAFU: Resurrection anthology. Over 20,000 words of wicked horror in the form of Call up the Dead, due for release December 27 – pre-orders available here.

Recommended for those who love supernatural horror, horror, fantastic beasties, otherworldly monsters, crime, urban horror, and just general top-notch writing with killer characters.

Not recommended for those who have an aversion to violence, demonic shenanigans, gore.

Festivus Book Pimping – The Nevernight Chronicles by Jay Kristoff

All right folks, I’m cutting it fine with recommendations and the looming of Festivus so I’m going to try and pump these pimps out… okay, could have worded that a little better, but onward!

First Festivus Pimpus for today is the first two novels of Aussie author Jay Kristoff’s Nevernight ChroniclesNevernight and Godsgrave. I came late to the party for these novels, yet that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it meant I got to read the two in quick succession. The only drawback being the third in the series, Darkdawn isn’t due for release until late next year. But don’t let that hold you back from diving deep in the darkness that is these chronicles.

Nevernight follows the life of Mia Corvere from child to assassin for the Red Church in all things murder. Vengeance is the driving force behind Mia’s assassin schooling, having watched her father executed and her mother and little brother exiled to an island prison. It’s Mia’s travelling companion, Mister Kindly – a shadow cat that allows her to slip between the shadows and bend them to her will… of a kind. The world-building is intricate, and the characters (first and secondary) are brilliantly fleshed out. Kristoff makes you care for them, and as the self-named bastard that he is… well, I’m not going to spoil that for you.

Blurb for Nevernight:

In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family.

Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined.

Now, Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic—the Red Church. If she bests her fellow students in contests of steel, poison and the subtle arts, she’ll be inducted among the Blades of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the vengeance she desires. But a killer is loose within the Church’s halls, the bloody secrets of Mia’s past return to haunt her, and a plot to bring down the entire congregation is unfolding in the shadows she so loves.

Will she even survive to initiation, let alone have her revenge?

So Nevernight leaves off on a hell of cliffhanger, so I couldn’t wait to dive into Godsgrave to see how further Kristoff could fuck with my emotions – I think it’s like sport for him. And I wasn’t disappointed. Now a fully-fledged assassin, Mia is thrust into the world of the gladiatori, where she must fight on the sands for the truth and the chance for revenge upon those who destroyed her familigia. Godsgrave ramps not only the tension but the stakes. Giving you more to care about and thus more to lose. Truths are revealed and paradigm shifts are made (and all the while, I’m sure Kristoff is laughing his arse off).

Godsgave blurb:

Assassin Mia Corvere has found her place among the Blades of Our Lady of Blessed Murder, but many in the Red Church ministry think she’s far from earned it. Plying her bloody trade in a backwater of the Republic, she’s no closer to ending Consul Scaeva and Cardinal Duomo, or avenging her familia. And after a deadly confrontation with an old enemy, Mia begins to suspect the motives of the Red Church itself.

When it’s announced that Scaeva and Duomo will be making a rare public appearance at the conclusion of the grand games in Godsgrave, Mia defies the Church and sells herself to a gladiatorial collegium for a chance to finally end them. Upon the sands of the arena, Mia finds new allies, bitter rivals, and more questions about her strange affinity for the shadows. But as conspiracies unfold within the collegium walls, and the body count rises, Mia will be forced to choose between loyalty and revenge, and uncover a secret that could change the very face of her world.

These books aren’t going to be for everyone – they are dark and brutal and don’t shy from violence or sex (there is a lot of sex happening, I’m just sayin’, and the descriptions of said sex can go on for pages). There are footnotes throughout both books that provide a greater understanding of the world and what’s going on. Most of the time this works, but not so much when the tension ramps up – at time it did take away from it, especially in those moments where the info wasn’t necessary to the forward momentum of the story. But I found you could skip some of these without losing anything from the story.

Oh, and the covers are beautiful.

Recommended for lovers of dark fantasy, grimdark, horror, assassin tales, vengeance/revenge stories, subterfuge, great world-building.

Not recommended for those who struggle with in-your-face violence, graphically-depicted sex scenes (of all iterations), swearing/cursing (although, that worked a treat for me).  

Festivus Book Pimping – Faerie Apocalypse by Jason Franks

Hark, the Faerie Apocalypse sings! Well, likely more screaming than singing, but work with me here. Breaking through the Pimpus of Festivus veil is Aussie author Jason Franks’ most weirdly wonderful Faerie Apocalypse (IFWG Australia). As you can probably tell by the title, this is some darker reading but Franks has fleshed out this oddly-magical world with characters that verily leap off the page, and the storytelling is masterfully done.

We follow the story of four unnamed protagonists, each with their own story of venturing into the Faerie world. I wasn’t sure whether not knowing the names of the protags would work, but the writing is so well done that the names don’t matter – the stories, the journeys (gods how I hate that word) do.

It’s clever storytelling with sardonic Australian wit that deconstructs everything you ever thought about fairy tales (or faerie tales – absolute bonus for that spelling, too). Faerie Apocalypse draws you in with its fable-esque narrative then continues to hammer any thoughts of hope from you – this isn’t a bad thing. It’s sharp, it’s twisted, and the threads between all four protags and those special faerie world characters are skilfully woven.

And as killer lines are shaping up to be a thing in the Festivus Book Pimping, how’s this: The magus racked the uzi.

Back cover blurb incoming…

Over the centuries the Faerie Realms have drifted away from the mortal world. But for some, the Doors will open. For some, there is a Way to travel there, if they want it badly enough.

If they dream it hard enough.

In this era, only lovers, poets, and madmen can access the Realms of the Land–and for good reason.

A succession of mortals travel to Faerie: a veteran seeking beauty; a magus seeking power; an urchin seeking his wayward father; an engineer seeking meaning. These mortals bring the horrors of our age to the Land, and the Folk who live there respond in kind.

Franks has taken a risky approach to the narrative, and it pays off. There will be those, however, who probably won’t quite take to the quirks, to the brutality, to the mirror Franks places on humankind… the worst of humankind, no matter their intentions. But it’s these types of books that really stand out for me, that hit at the heart of humanity and aren’t afraid to show it in all its ugliness, in all its beauty – you can’t have one without the other.

Faerie Apocalypse was one of my favourite reads this year, you should check it out.

Recommended for readers who like dark fantasy, horror, re/deconstructed faerie tales, boundary-pushing narrative, all-round kick-arse storytelling.

Not suited for those who struggle with violence, horror, and all things dark and nasty. (Huzzah!… Ahem.)

Faerie Apocalypse was one of my favourite reads this year, you should check it out.

Recommended for readers who like dark fantasy, horror, re/deconstructed faerie tales, boundary-pushing narrative, all-round kick-arse storytelling.

Festivus Book Pimping — Plague War Trilogy by Alister Hodge

Keeping with the spirit of Festivus Pimpus, there ain’t no silent night in the Plague War trilogy (Severed Press). Stepping away from the fantasy genre for a moment, Australian author Alister Hodge has crafted an apocalyptic horror based on home soil – and with the plethora of apocalypse/post-apocalypse tales set in either the US or <insert generic setting here> it was a real treat to read a trilogy set in my backyard.

Hodge has created a virus-born cataclysm that produces zombies — first infection via bat (no vampires here). And these aren’t your run-of-the-mill shuffling kind of zombies, but the fast, nasty-as-shit kind that make survival pretty damn hard. As it should. I mean, we’re talking end times here, and Hodge taps into one of the reasons I love apocalyptic fiction –choice. The ‘who we become’ in these moments, who we want to be and who we are at our core. Where the mark of the person comes to the fore in moments such as these.

Now, I have to admit I’ve only read the first two in the trilogy – my paperbacks are taking forever to get here – but if the third is anything even remotely as good as the first two, then it’s going to be a hell of a final ride. Hodge doesn’t shy from making the tough decision of killing characters (even favourites), and he gets that exactly right. The apocalypse doesn’t discriminate – we’re all meat.

So here’s the blurb for book one – Plague War: Outbreak

In an Emergency Department, Doctor Harry fails to resuscitate a young woman suffering from an infected bite wound. While her body awaits transfer to the morgue, Harry is stunned to witness the corpse lurch off the bed and attack his staff. It’s not an isolated incident. Lysan Plague has crossed the species divide from bat to human and mutated with devastating effect. Burning across the country in a tide of bloody violence, it overwhelms an unprepared police force and government. Bite victims re-animate as plague ‘Carriers’, creatures lost to conscious thought, consumed by rage and an urge to feed on the non-infected. No-one is safe in the apocalypse, and only those who are willing to fight will survive. Harry forms an alliance with several other survivors, but will it be enough for them to hold out until the Army regroups to fight back?

And for Plague War: Pandemic

Hope is battered, but not lost.
After jumping the species divide from bat to human, Lysan Plague has torn across mainland Australia in an orgy of bloody violence, decimating the population and smashing an unprepared army onto the back foot.
Off the coast of Victoria, a mission to capture Queenscliff Fort and regain a military foothold on the mainland is about to launch. Mark is a soldier in the first landing party.
Erin awaits evacuation from King Island to Tasmania, however, her safety is far from assured. While storm winds drive a plague-riddled ship in their direction, a sadistic guard begins to target women within the camp.
The time for retreat is over. Neither Mark or Erin will back down from the coming fight, but when faced with monsters, both human and undead, will determination be enough for them to survive?

And the final, Plague War: Retaliation

The Australian Army has won its first victory, but the gore-spattered streets of Melbourne await. Buried under a mega-swarm, Lysan Plague has transformed the state capital into a slaughterhouse of epic proportions.
Meanwhile, famine threatens, and more troops are needed before the final assault. When Mark’s platoon is sent to a rural town to re-establish food production and conscript soldiers, they face violent opposition from an outlaw motorcycle club, ‘The Spartans’.
Across the water, Tasmania is in the grip of a terror campaign led by the Patriot’s Party who aim to sever ties with the mainland.
With supply lines and troop numbers secured, the Army prepares to attack the Melbourne swarm. But with a traitor in their midst, will this epic battle seethe armed forces obliterated in an orgy of violence?

As I mentioned earlier, I’m a sucker for great apocalyptic fiction and zombie fiction, and Hodge has created a pretty fucked-up world here that doesn’t shy from the brutalities of the ‘quietus’, but it’s the characters that carry these books, and the decisions they make that really hold it alltogether… well that, and the damn fine storytelling.

You really should be reading this.

Recommended for those who enjoy horror, zombie tales, apocalyptic and post-apocalypse fiction, apocalyptic fiction with an Aussie flavour, great characters, military fiction, killer fight scenes. 

Festivus Book Pimping — We Ride the Storm by Devin Madson

Jingle Bells, mofos! It’s Festivus Booking Pimping time again, and up on today’s humble stone is Devin Madson’s epically awesome We Ride the Storm, the first in her Reborn Empire tetralogy. And it’s a hell of a story – one of the best pieces of fiction I’ve read. Like ever.

In my last Pimpus, I spoke of killer opening lines, and Madson more than delivers with hers: It is harder to sever a head than people think.

That should give you some idea of the tone of the book, but you’d be mistaken in thinking the act of beheading is barbarous, cruel in its intent. Far from it. And that’s the thing with Madson’s work, it’s beautiful in its storytelling, the language and imagery a joy to read, and her characters burrow deep beneath your skin and take root.

We Ride the Storm is told through the eyes of three point-of-view characters, each told in first-person narrative. A symbol at the beginning of each chapter marks through whose eyes you’ll be viewing the world for a time, but the voices are distinct, individual, unique. And you will have favourites (yup, in the plural).

Here’s the back-cover blurb:

War built the Kisian Empire and war will tear it down. And as an empire falls, three warriors rise.

Caught in a foreign war, Captain Rah e’Torin and his exiled warriors will have to fight or die. Their honour code is all they have left until orders from within stress them to breaking point, and the very bonds that hold them together will be ripped apart.

Cassandra wants the voice in her head to go away. Willing to do anything for peace, the ageing whore takes an assassination contract that promises answers, only the true price may be everyone and everything she knows.

A prisoner in her own castle, Princess Miko doesn’t dream of freedom but of the power to fight for her empire. As the daughter of a traitor the path to redemption could as easily tear it, and her family, asunder.

As an empire dies they will have to ride the storm or drown in its blood.

We Ride the Storm has also just become a finalist in the ‘Self-Publishing Fantasy Blog Off’ (SPFBO), gaining a top ten spot out a whopping three hundred entries. That’s the quite the feat, and a testament to the brilliance of this book.

Yes, this book is self-published, and for those who think SP-books are of lesser quality, you couldn’t be more wrong. We Ride the Storm is self-publishing done right. And that divine cover is original artwork by the uber-talented John Anthony Di Giovanni, with layout and cover design by Shawn T King (the two officially known as the ‘dream team’). As you can probably tell, the setting for the book is non-Euro centric, and the descriptions of the lands of Kisia and Chiltae are superb. And there are horses, lots of horses.

The magic is low-level, and there are hints at a greater magic that underlies those such as Cassandra and secondary character, Leo. But as the first in the Reborn Empire, the intrigue of what’s at play carries damn well throughout the story.

I cannot recommend this book enough (GO BUY IT! NOW!), and for those waiting on the next instalment in the series, We Lie With Death is on schedule for a March 2019 release.

Recommended for (everyone) those who love dark fantasy, political machinations, grimdark, epic fantasy, clash of cultures, and just damn fine writing.

Not recommended for those who have an aversion to violence – war is not filled with rainbows and unicorns… although unicorns do come with their own weapon…