Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Horns of Ruin Book Review

Title: The Horns of Ruin
Author: Tim Aker
Publisher: Pyr Publishing
Pages: 268
ISBN: 9781616142469

There's nothing that I enjoy more than a rarity from time to time: a good ol' fashioned stand alone novel, and with The Horns of Ruin, author Tim Aker delivers a one-off treat. And boy is it sweet!

Eva Forge is the last Paladin and scion of the dead god Morgan. The eldest of the three god-brother pantheon, Morgan was the god of the Warrior. Slain by his brother Amon the Betrayer, Alexander the middle brother of the pantheon of gods ascended into ruler of the city of Ash. Now as the remainder of the Cult of Morgan are being hunted down and killed, it's up to Eva to find the person behind it and uncover the truth before she herself is killed.

The Horns of Ruin was a quick read for me. Clocking in at around 270 pages, I found myself devouring it in two quick sit downs. Aker does a good job with voice and pacing the novel to read like a thriller/mystery/crime, set in another world, more specifically: a steampunk world. Writing from first person narrative not only helped in the telling of the story from Eva's perspective, but it also quickened the pace, leaving me breathless until after I turned the last page.

For the most part, I enjoyed the vivid worldbuilding that Aker brought to the page. The inclusion of zombies, and men with rockets fused to their backs, for example, were excellent extras that pulled the reader in by taking something familiar by concept, and making them alien by name. All the while reminding the reader that it's a different world; a world were steam and magic run everything.

I also enjoyed the magic system that Eva draws on in the story. The use of Morgan's story/ legend as a god to bring power to his scions was a nice touch. However, during some parts of the novel it felt as though the world was being built around the characters as Akers wrote; the whole of Eva's universe being explored by not just Eva, but also the reader as well, as the two pursue the assassins of the Cult of Morgan through the alleys, streets, ancient buildings and watery depths of Ash.

And as for Eva herself, I loved the character, and the fact that she basically stays the same hard headed, smart ass, who constantly continues to remind herself that she is the last scion and Paladin of a Dead God. And that -- as far as she's concerned -- the entire weight of the world is bearing down on her shoulders, and time is running out. She's a strong female lead, something that doesn't appear too often in science fiction and fantasy; a position that is usually reserved for the brawny, brainless male characters.

The Horns of Ruin is a strikingly imaginative novel, set in a steampunk world with dead gods, zombies, rocket pack men, and a mystery that will leave you guessing until the explosive end. I can honestly say that only then will you be able to catch your breath; it's that good. That's why I'm giving The Horns of Ruin a rating of 7.5 out of 10 Goggles.

If you're looking for a quick steampunk read that can be devoured in only a few sittings, then The Horns of Ruin won't disappoint.


Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Wide Game Book Review

Title: The Wide Game
Author: Michael West
Publisher: Graveside Tales
Pages: 408
ISBN: 9780983314103

There are fewer things that I look forward to than picking up a debut novel from an author whose work I've already read. For me, Michael West is one of those authors. In August of last year, I wrote a review for West's short story anthology Skull Full of Kisses, and loved it. As I've mentioned before, if a writer can prove their worth to me through the form of shorter works, then more times than not, I'm all over their debut novel.

Therefore, The Wide Game was a No-Brainer for me.

Here's the synopsis from the back of the book:

On the advice of his wife, Paul Rice is making plans to attend his 10th year High School reunion. Returning to his boyhood home of Harmony, Indiana, he finds that he is still haunted by memories of that time -- memories of Deidra, his first love, and memories of the Wide Game. It was ten years ago that Paul and his friends watched their day of fun become a race for their lives, a fight for their very souls.

Now, as he meets the survivors of that day once more, Paul makes a chilling discovery: the incomprehensible forces that toyed with them have yet to finish playing their own game.

After having read the synopsis for the first time, I thought that The Wide Game would be nothing more than a psycho-slasher thriller, with an upset ex-lover or escaped convict obsessed with the idea of revenge in whatever way possible. I mean, what better setting would there be for a slasher than a cornfield full of teenagers? I was glad to be proven wrong. The Wide Game is something far better than anything I could have hoped for.

As with Skull Full of Kisses, I found myself returning to the pages of the book for a second time, only a few days after having finished it the first time. Specifically to that of Harmony, Indiana; to Paul and Deidra; and to The Wide Game itself. And most of it had to do with the relationships between the characters; most notably: Paul and Deidra. Their relationship is at the core of the novel, and the thing that first grabbed my attention.

It seems as though what constitutes as Horror these days, -- both in prose and the screen -- is nothing more than a quick fix of blood, guts and shock value. With The Wide Game it is more than that, forcing the reader to think and digest as they go; a breath of fresh air for those who have finally decided to breath good air.

Real air.

Throughout The Wide Game, the setting switches several times between the present, and the past, beginning with Paul, and then delving in to the meat of the story: his adolescent love life, the situations that have defined him as an adult, and the Wide Game itself. As the story switches focus, the cast increases, and as I was being introduced to the different teenagers that populated the High School of Harmony, Indiana, -- specifically the cadre of friends that band together throughout parts of the novel -- I couldn't help but be reminded of the 80's film "The Breakfast Club." Although a subtle nod towards the culture of the 80's, West does a marvelous job with making the reader feel as though they really are in the 80's; deftly submerging the reader into the culture of the era, without bogging down the flow.

As with any first novel there are problems, but they are far and few between. Although an explanation is given for the reasoning behind the forces controlling the game itself, there's never a really in-depth explanation given. And then there's the pace of the tale: overall, it reads smoothly, but there are some parts that seem to bog down the flow of the story. However it's nothing that will deter from enjoying the characters, suspense and over all brilliance of the novel.

And one last bit of interest: the same person who did the cover for Michael's short story anthology Skull Full of Kisses, also did the cover for The Wide Game. Another spot on (in my opinion) portrayal of West's work by horror author Bob Freeman, whose novel Descendant, I recently reviewed.

I loved every single page of The Wide Game, it's that simple. That's why I'm giving it 9 out of 10 TARDIS's. It's an excellent debut novel, and I wouldn't be surprised if it makes it's way onto my Best of 2011 list.

If you're tired of the monotonous plague that has destroyed the label of Horror, enjoy being scared out of your skull, and falling in love with the characters, then The Wide Game will make an excellent addition to your library.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Wide Game: News, Book Trailer and Pre-Order

Last August I did a review for Michael West's short story collection Skull Full of Kisses. Since then, I've been eagerly awaiting the newest release from West: The Wide Game, which just so happens to be his first novel through the same publisher, Graveside Tales.

Here's the synopsis from the back of the book:

On the advice of his wife, Paul Rice is making plans to attend his 10th year High School reunion. Returning to his boyhood home of Harmony, Indiana, he finds that he is still haunted by memories of that time–memories of Deidra, his first love, and memories of the Wide Game. It was ten years ago that Paul and his friends watched their day of fun become a race for their lives, a fight for their very souls.

Now, as he meets the survivors of that day once more, Paul makes a chilling discovery: the incomprehensible forces that toyed with them have yet to finish playing their own game.

Above is the recently released cover art for The Wide Game, created by the awesome Bob Freeman who did the cover art for West's short story collection, and author of Descendant (click for my review of the book).

And for those book nerds and geeks out there who enjoy watching book trailers, the book trailer for The Wide Game went live Friday. Masterfully filmed and edited by Darkrider Studios. For your viewing pleasure, here's the book trailer:

The Wide Game is set to drop on February 15th, but if you want to be comforted in knowing that you've already reserved your copy, you can do just that here. And for those of you interested in procuring your copies in other ways, here's the ISBN: 9780983314103

Look for my review of The Wide Game sometime in the next week.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Muscle Memory Book Review

Title: Muscle Memory
Author: Steve Lowe
Publisher: Eraserhead Press
Pages: 76
ISBN: 9781936383016

In short fiction, it takes a lot to find the right words, or for that matter the proper way to convey a story. Limitations help to prove the authors abilities, and quite honestly, short fiction is the determining factor for me when it comes to a new author. If they can successfully pull of a short story, novella, or novelette and leave me wandering, or thinking hard after finishing it, then they get my stamp of approval. And more times than not, I end up going back that authors stuff, in every capacity available.

Steve Lowe is now one of those authors. From the get-go, reading the synopsis for the novella, it just sounded awesome. In a world where it seems tropes are the common thing; overdone and horribly at that, it's nice to see an author able to take an old favorite and breath new life into it. Steve does this brilliantly in Muscle Memory, with the Ol' Switcheroo. Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Freaky Friday; Like Father, Like Son, and Vice-Versa, and then take those and flip 'em on their heads. Throw in a dash of government conspiracy, aliens, male breast feeding, and a talking sheep, and you've got Muscle Memory. 

Here's the blurb from the back of the book:

Billy Gillespie wakes up one morning to discover his junk is gone. In its place is his wife's junk. Billy is now Tina, and Tina is dead. That's because Billy's dead. His lifeless body is still in bed and empty beer bottles and a container of antifreeze litter the kitchen counter. Over the next 24 hours, Billy and an odd assortment of neighbors, all experiencing their own bouts of body switcheroo, try to figure out what happened and why. Can they do it before the Feds find Billy's body? Was it aliens that caused this, or God, or the government? And did Edgar Winter really sleep with his sheep? Pro football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw has those answers in a story that asks, What Would Kirk Cameron Do? 

When he's not pulling on your heartstrings, he's making you laugh your ass off. And he does a remarkable job of both with believable characters, and a populated town that took me back in time to my hometown; very recognizable people that just added a whole other layer of down-right hilarity to the mix.

Muscle Memory was well paced; I ended up reading it in just over an hour, and let me tell you, that was an hour well spent. The plot is interesting, the characters are hilarious, and the ending, well, the ending blew me out of the freaking water. Never would I have seen it coming. Through all of the seriousness and funny that covered the pages, what hit me the hardest out of it all was the ending. Very powerful stuff.

Two things should be mentioned: First, Muscle Memory is part of Eraserhead Press's New Bizarro Author Series; one of a handful of shorter Bizarro pieces by new Bizarro authors looking to be read. Two: All throughout the month of Febraury, Steve will be donating all of the money made through sales of Muscle Memory and his other book Wolves Dressed as Men, to a local Foster Care program which he and his wife are a part of. For more details, visit his site/blog

Reading Muscle Memory was an experienced for me, and if Steve's other future works are as powerful as this little Bizarro piece was, then I'm definitely looking forward to whatever he manages to write up next. The man can write short fiction, which is why I'm giving Muscle Memory 9.0 out of 10 TARDIS's.

Although I received Muscle Memory as a review PDF, you can rest assured that I'll be picking up a couple of copies of both of Steve's books, not only because it's for a good cause, but because he's one hell of a writer. So if you've got a big heart like me, why not pick up a few copies of both? With Valentine's Day just around the corner, you could always get one for the lover in your life who happens to have a messed up sense of humor!