Category Archives: Reviews

Review – Cigarettes & Wine by J. E. Sumerau

Imagine the terror and exhilaration of a first sexual experience in a church where you could be caught at any moment. In Cigarettes & Wine, this is where we meet an unnamed teenage narrator in a small southern town trying to make sense of their own bisexuality, gender variance, and emerging adulthood. When our narrator leaves the church, we watch their teen years unfold alongside one first love wrestling with his own sexuality and his desire for a relationship with God, and another first love seeking to find herself as she moves away from town. Through the narrator’s eyes, we also encounter a newly arrived neighbor who appears to be an all American boy, but has secrets and pain hidden behind his charming smile and athletic ability, and their oldest friend who is on the verge of romantic, artistic, and sexual transformations of her own. Along the way, these friends confront questions about gender and sexuality, violence and substance abuse, and the intricacies of love and selfhood in the shadow of churches, families, and a small southern town in the 1990’s. Alongside academic and media portrayals that generally only acknowledge binary sexual and gender options, Cigarettes & Wine offers an illustration of non-binary sexual and gender experience, and provides a first person view of the ways the people, places, and narratives we encounter shape who we become. While fictional, Cigarettes & Wine is loosely grounded in hundreds of formal and informal interviews with LGBTQ people in the south as well as years of research into intersections of sexualities, gender, religion, and health. Cigarettes & Wine can be read purely for pleasure or used as supplemental reading in a variety of courses in sexualities, gender, relationships, families, religion, the life course, narratives, the American south, identities, culture, intersectionality, and arts-based research.

For those of us who lived in the 90’s, for those of us who came from smaller towns, for those of us that felt constricted with the need to hide our ‘strangeness’ from others, Cigarettes & Wine puts you right back there, ready or not. Our unnamed protagonist navigates their teen years dealing with love, friendship, sex, and growing up.

Nothing about adolescence is cut and dried, despite what we might think at the time.  It’s like stepping on eggshells in a minefield. Adding in issues of gender and identity only make it more difficult. Our narrator is unapologitic for who he is, which I think is putting a positive example out there for any youths reading this book. There is no sugar coating here: drinking, smoking, and sex happen; also heartbreak, elation, fear, and happiness.  These are all things that happen, and I think it’s an excellent thing to see portrayed honestly, and not demonized or glorified.  It’s also good to see the topic of poly relationships pop up.

The storytelling is solid and the narrative flows well. It definitely kept me interested. The fact that it is also a part of the Social Fictions Series, crafted from interviews and research, back it with authenticity.  I appreciated the fact that it also had topics of discussion and assignments for a classroom setting. It’s not just dealing with ‘LGBTQ+ subjects’ it’s dealing with people in all their various forms in different ways that can be gleaned from this story and its characters. Overall, Cigarettes & Wine is an enjoyable and thought provoking story that I highly recommend.

Buy here==>

https://www.sensepublishers.com/catalogs/bookseries/social-fictions-series/cigarettes-and-wine/

https://www.amazon.com/Cigarettes-Wine-Social-Fictions-24/dp/9463009272/

 

Review: Cinema by Jason Gehlert

Cinema by Jason Gehlert

Cinema is Jason Gehlert’s fifteenth entry into his library of work and his unique writing style brings horror to a new level! This collection, separated into sprawling short stories and poems, brings back several of his iconic characters as well as some thrilling new heroes. Laanes Available paints a disturbing tale about reckless teens stranded in a rundown bowling alley. Echoes is the centerpiece of the collection, featuring a group of teenagers fighting for survival inside a cave and features William, a Down Syndrome character you’ll likely not soon forget. Gehlert’s Immortal hitman Jeremiah Black (from his novel of the same name) returns in a pair of unique tales, and Malcolm Ellis for the macabre tale, My Black Valentine. Cinema also features artwork by artist Mary Ellen Doering, and marks the fifth collaboration with Black Bed Sheet Books. “Gehlert’s Cinema is a unique collection of horror stories that will keep you up at night with the lights on!” – From award-winning G.A. Minton, author of TRISOMY XXI.

I’ve been reading a lot of anthologies lately.  Not a bad thing, but I have been hankering to dig into some novels and get lost for a longer term. I decided to belay that for Cinema by Jason Gehlert, and I made the correct decision. I’ve read Gehlert’s books before, and enjoyed them immensely, so I sat back to see what sort of madness he had for me this time.

The title ‘Cinema’ is fitting.  Each story plays out very visual and textured, much like a good creepy movie would be; maybe showing some old rundown theater in a dirty back corner of town.  The illustrations provided by Mary Ellen Doering were a nice touch, which I think helped set the stage. Starting with a story of a fisherman for hire, you aren’t sure if he’s going with ‘Old Man and the Sea’ or maybe ‘Ryme of the Ancient Mariner’.  As per usual, it goes in a different direction entirely, and away we go into the darkness. The book is broken up much like a movie, with acts and intermissions.  It’s a device that works because each Act has a different tone to it.  Each story in Act One gives us twists and turns, keeping us interested.  In Echoes, we find our hero to be not whom most would expect.  In the Roade to Ruin, we find our hero to be exactly what we expect, but what he has to go through keeps you on the edge of your seat. (or bed, if you like to read in those sort of places)

The Intermission is a nice little palate cleanser.  Full of poetry, dark and moving, it helps ready for Act 2 without forfeiting the tone of the anthology. I’ll admit, while I sometimes enjoy poetry, I’m not one to speak to much on it.  I still think the peak of poetic genius lays with Shel Silverstein, so I’m probably not a great authority. I read each one, though.  Each and every word.

Act 2 starts with a seriously creepy piece of body horror in Incision.  Then we get to a treat.  Combining the worlds of his previous work in Jeremiah Black and The Ferryman, we are taken on a hell of a ride in Ferrymen: Judgement Call.  This is a world I wanted to read more of and hope there is more of it in the future.  The Devil’s Troll and Laanes Available, both delightfully disturbing lead up to My Black Valentine, where , Jeremiah Black shows up one more time in a ‘just one more before we go’ gesture. He tussles with love, devotion, and various open wounds.

Overall, this is a fun collection of stories and poetry. Each story is a ride all in of itself, leaving a lasting impression. I highly recommend this anthology.

Buy it==> https://www.amazon.com/Cinema-Jason-Gehlert/dp/1946874019/
http://downwarden.com/blackbedsheetstore/authors/jason-gehlert/cinema

Review – Tongues By Sam Joyce

 

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Journalist Catherine Cobb is caught up in something so much more than she expected when she goes to a little Texas town.  Investigating Aryan groups, she quickly realizes that there is something more dangerous than the racists she is there to interview.

A sporadic rash of sudden violence quickly erupts into something more wide spread and she tries to simply get out with her life.  Things get so much worse as she stumbles headlong into a plot involving government agents, a dark occult practitioner, and forces that threaten the world at large.

Catherine quickly learns that no one is safe, nor can anyone be completely trusted.

The thing about starting a new book, especially going into one cold, you’re really not sure what to expect.  Coming out of the gate with issues like Neo-Nazi’s and racism might put one on guard when digging into a new read but it pays off.  Instead it drives you into the real meat of the story. There is plenty of action and occult shenanigans to whet the appetite as Joyce spares no details on his characters and the mechanisms of what drives the evil in Tongues. The story keeps you moving forward and you’re never quite sure when the next turn will come or where you will end up. A fun and dark read.

Click here for reading action ==> Tongues

 

 

 

Review – The Final Girl by Brandon Ford

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The Colonial Theater, a single-screen movie house on the edge of town, is holding a special midnight screening of a brand new splatter flick. But before the opening titles make it to the screen, the popcorn-laden aisles run red with blood as a masked killer begins slaughtering the moviegoers with the aid of a spiked meat tenderizer.

Among those filling the torn seats: a movie blogger in search of fodder to appease his limited readers, a victim of a recent betrayal who’ll do just about anything for an escape from a home she no longer feels welcome, a fugitive on the lam looking for sanctuary from the city streets, and a pair of post-adolescent twins who’ve managed to creep into the theater unseen.

I’ve reviewed a couple of works by Brandon Ford already (here & here) so when it came time to dig into The Final Girl, I had a good feeling about it.  Being a part of a horror community, as well as loving old cult flicks, this story centering around a remake of a cult flick piqued my interest from the start.  The narrative centers around a collection of unrelated characters drawn to an aging theater that is playing a special showing of a remake of an old cult slasher movie called ‘Bloodletting’. We jump from one set of characters to another and get to know them as they are heading to the Colonial Theater. As usual Ford does a fantastic job of giving us characters we want to see through until the end.  Or in this case see if they are still standing at the end. You have characters in desperate straits, the normal people just getting through their day, the tragic, and the horny. Will they get to the movie? Will they survive the movie?  Will the popcorn be overpriced?

‘Bloodletting’ being a slasher flick showing in an old and mostly forgotten theater, you can expect there to be some blood.  Oh yes, there is blood.  While not so much a gore fest, it is a bloody tale and gives us the same amount of thrill and excitement that any good movie of the genre would. And like usual, you start taking bets on who gets it, and when. The pacing is right and the action is in all the right spots. I thoroughly enjoyed The Final Girl and definitely recommend it.

Click Here for Buying satisfaction ==> The Final Girl

Click Here for website action ==> Brandon Ford’s Sleepless Nights

Review – Coffee At Midnight by Brandon Ford

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  The clock strikes 12:00. A full moon hangs beyond the windowpane as the fireplace flickers and pops. Time to curl up in your favorite easy chair with a steaming mug and a cozy blanket. It’s going to be a long night.
  Follow a bevy of buxom ex-call girls as they embark on a cross-country road trip and happen upon a crashed UFO. Join a trio of friends as they assemble for a rooftop barbecue and share their darkest secrets. Watch as an intoxicated bridesmaid stumbles her way through a crowded wedding reception to give an impromptu toast, but instead bears her soul. Listen in on a heated telephone conversation between a jealous boyfriend and his coed girlfriend as she shares a strange story concerning a bizarre favor.
  Between the covers of this unusual collection, you’ll find these stories and many more, all guaranteed to tempt, tantalize, titillate the senses. In Brandon Ford’s COFFEE AT MIDNIGHT, you’ll experience a grab bag of ooddball situations and meet an array of quirky characters. So make sure the coffee’s strong, the fire’s warm, and the blanket’s soft. This’ll be a night you won’t soon forget.

When you start out with three hillbilly hookers running from aliens, you know that a story collection is going to take you places. Coffee At Midnight did just that. Stories that were at times slices of poignancy and other bordering on disturbing, they were all entertaining. Each story seemed to be an intimate look at people. From the hidden truths of Confessions On A Tar Beach to the desperation and madness of Elise. Ford also made sure to heap on the dark humor, such as The Claw End. This was a fine collection of stories that kept me going one right after the other.
I appreciated the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) turns the stories would take. By the end I just figured I would just go along for the ride and see where it took me. You might look HERE to see a previous review of another of Brandon Ford’s books that I did; Open Wounds.  Once again he has proven to not only entertain me, but engage me as well.

Click here for buying ==> Amazon

Click here for his websites ==> Brandon Ford’s Sleepless Nights, B-Movie Bonanza

Reviews and Interviews – Nicholas White

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Not Quite Your Regular Interview With Nick White

The Sly Lake Gang is the story of four estranged friends brought together through circumstance to face down a merciless killer -a monster connected to a strange incident from their childhood. Apathetic insurance professional Donald Borland reaches out for his adoptive brother Darren Lemay after a horrific accident. Darren, ever the leader, marshals the forces of their childhood friends Monica King and Dr. Patrick Williams. After a miraculous recovery, Donald and his friends return to their childhood stomping grounds: Clarkson, a sleepy retirement community nestled in Northern Ontario that harbors a powerful and unnatural force. Meanwhile Patrick’s old friend Jason Brower, a small town hero and police constable, is trying to save Clarkson from a bizarre and seemingly inhuman murderer. He reaches out to his friend and learns the dark secret that Patrick and his cohorts have kept quiet for nearly twenty years, kept by the pseudo superheroes who call themselves The Sly Lake Gang.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for character driven stories.  It’s always a bonus when those characters are thrown into a good plot.  The Sly Lake Gang by Nick White was a great example of this.  Starting out with an email exchange between two of the Gang, you get quick access to the characters.  As the story unfolds you learn more and more about the gifts that make these now estranged friends ultimately inseparable.  The villain of the story was unique because we got to ride around in his head.  It was creepy and thrilling to get such an intimate understanding of the process he was going through from both the in and outside.

This was a highly entertaining book that kept you going until the end. Here’s hoping for a sequel.

Tell us a little bit about yourself without once using the letter ‘e’.  NFL fan. Whiskey fan. Comic book fan. Lazy Shut in. Odd duck. Witty if drinking.

Sly Lake Gang centers around a group of people instead of just one main character. Did you find it more challenging than just focusing on one main P.O.V?   I found it somewhat difficult to be doing a third person narrative – bouncing between one character and another, but it became sort of a fun exercise. It breaks up the long swathes of writing you don’t want to do. I had always been a fan of the idea that the ‘narrator’ is lying to you. It is a challenge but eventually you can show the way character ‘x’ looks at a situation vs character ‘y’.

How much of yourself do you put into your characters? Would you consider a character in Sly Lake to be more you than the rest?  They all are to some degree. I mostly take a trait I certainly know I have (or people say I have), and shuffle things around. I take something I know I do and exaggerate it, or elaborate on it. That goes for any villain I write too. I take some bad behaviour, which we all might have practiced at one point in our lives, and push it to the limit. Gun to my head; Donald Borland.

What upcoming projects are on the horizon for you?   Well I think my next book is cool. I suspect my mother will agree. I am working on a sequel to Sly Lake Gang – but in the interim I tried to write a thriller that didn’t have any sci-fi or supernatural elements. I’m just about done that one and I am excited about it.

What do you judge to be the best Canadian beer?   This is deep. I’ll preface that as I drunk I love all beers in the spectrum. An everyday beer; I’d go “Amsterdam: Natural Blonde”. It’s local, but I am sorry it doesn’t have a cliché Canadian name.

Who are some of your influences? Bonus points for naming the influences to your influences.  Stephen King, (feel like no {one} needs to write that anymore), and his influence, Richard Matheson. Those two in particular because they teach you how to create a great psychic space in your book – without alienating your audience with ’’50 buck words’ so to speak. It’s vivid but it is never syrupy. I also love Cormac McCarthy. The style is wonderful and I dig him for the same reasons as Matheson. And the other end of the spectrum, where it is syrupy, Lovecraft. The idea of the antagonist not being evil; just indifferent to you living or dying.

Ask yourself (and answer) a question.  What do you look to do when you write a villain in terms of believability? I enjoy writing two types. A grey man, who walks between one choice and another, and opts for the bad guy choice. The other is the man being dragged into being the bad guy through no fault of his own; Frankenstein’s Monster, Brundlefly…

Ask me a question.  Night Shall Overtake is optioned for a movie deal. Gimmie a couple directors who could handle it. —Guillermo Del Toro, David Lynch, or Ridley Scott.  Though, for shits and giggles, I’d like to see what Mel Brooks did with it.

True or False: Agatha Christie was just Alfred Hitchcock in drag. Please explain your answer.  Excellent question. False. I feel if Hitchcock was in drag – he would own it. Maybe even kill it.

The Sly Lake Gang is available for your consumption at all the fine retailers you expect good books to be.  Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and at the Black Bed Sheet bookstore.

Don’t forget to stop by and say ‘Hi’ at his website.

Open Wounds by Brandon Ford

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I had issues with this book.  I’m just going to start with that.  I’m glad I had issues with it, I’ll be up front with that as well.  This was a powerful book and I wasn’t expecting that.  It took me places, that frankly i didn’t want to go. But like Kate, I had little choice.  I couldn’t make it stop nor could I turn away.

Kate Montgomery was fourteen years old in 1981.  She lived in L.A. with her parents until her father’s gambling addiction and poor decisions takes its ultimate toll on the family.  The resulting divorce places her in a car with her mother going to her mother’s home town of Philadelphia.  She isn’t thrilled to be there but tries to make the best of it.  Hard to love grandparents and few friends don’tt make things easier.  Her one solace was a leather-bound diary which become the most important thing to her.

As Kate tries to navigate her new life and new school she meets Marie and the two outcasts become fast friends.  Kate’s mother, a career housewife up until the divorce, finds a job as a bar waitress.  This leaves Kate home alone at night much of the time.  As she becomes closer to Marie they begin to share their secrets and vices.  Maire introduces her to weed and boys.  Both of which become a blessing and burden for her as time goes on.

The real downward spiral for young Kate started when she comes home to find her mother and her mother’s new ‘friend’ in the living room.  Grady was a bad decision dressed in stale smoke and beer breath.  The longer he stayed around, the farther Kate’s mother fell farther into the same habit of co-dependency with the first asshole that showed her some attention.  His not so subtle attraction to Kate pushes her to withdraw from her school work and leads her to her own series of bad decisions.  Her withdrawal and obvious disdain for the drunken lout does little to dissuade him from crawling into her bed one night.

The worst was only yet to come as Kate’s life quickly begins to unravel and the darkness in her life only compounds on itself.  One by one the people in her life either abandon her or push her away. She finds a new way to push all the horror in her life momentarily aside.  The blade on her soft flesh slices only the once before she finds in it a moments euphoria.  Keeping a small paring knife handy, her way of escape leaves scars.

 

As disturbing as it is powerful, Open Wounds refused to let me put it down.  I admit that some of the most difficult parts for me was when Kate put knife to skin. It wasn’t the knife slicing the flesh of her arms and thighs that disturbed me the most, it was confronting my own memories of doing the same thing when I was younger.  My own life did not mirror hers but those feelings of hopeless frustration are universal.  The only difference is degree.  I wasn’t expecting that, nor was I expecting the unflinching journey that the characters in this novel walked either.  Well written and engrossing, I cannot recommend Open Wounds enough.  This is certainly a must read.

 

==> Find it here on Amazon<===

 

Remember kids:  Stay in school, don’t drink and drive, and always keep a Swedish friend around when building IKEA furniture.

 

Nightcrawler by John Reinhard Dizon

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Nightcrawler by John Reinhard Dizon

Due to her father’s sudden death, Sabrina Brooks leaves behind her partying ways to take the reins of the Brooks Chemical company.  Working hard to prove herself to those within the company, she can’t completely shake her dream of getting into law enforcement.  Instead Bree decides to take different route; a blending of the two.  Combining her knowledge of chemistry and her drive to help those in need she becomes Nightcrawler; an unwavering force for those in need.  Unfortunately the stakes are raised almost immediately.

Her initial campaign against the drug gangs of New York is put into jeopardy when the police begin a manhunt for the Nightcrawler, whom they deem a dangerous vigilante.  Seeking guidance from her friends and councils, such as Pastor Mitchell, she agrees to put away that part of her life.

Until…

A terrorist group called the Octagon begins a campaign of terror and extortion against the city.  Once again Bree dons her Nightcrawler armor  to stop a tanker filled with chemical agents from releasing into the water.  Bree stops the attack but each time she steps out as her alter ego, she strains not only herself but the relations and trust of those who know her secret.  These relations are strained even further when it turns out the Octagon is extorting one of her own trusted VP’s at Brooks Chemical to launder the money they make through their acts of terror.

While investigating a series of suspicious forest fires as Nightcrawler, Bree finally gets in over her head and is rescued by her good friend Officer Hoyt Wexford.  After finding out her secret, they work together as the Octagon feverishly race to their next diabolical act of terror.

This is an action packed and well mapped thriller that shows a strong heroine fighting against the odds.  It does well to show how Sabrina’s nocturnal activities force her to balance them with her personal life.  Bree’s religious and personal beliefs are one of the central points of the book as she works heavily with the church and Pastor Mitchell.   There was also an interesting infusion of the LGBT community into the main plot.  It was refreshing to not take for granted that every main and minor character was straight.  Though I didn’t personally agree with Pastor Mitchell’s final speech on the subject, it didn’t detract any from who he was as a character or the thrilling ride that I went on with Sabrina and company.

Overall, I’d say that Nightcrawler is a fun and thrilling read that I found hard to put down.

Remember kids: stay in school, don’t drink and drive, and it’s all fun and games until someone looses an eye.

Blah, blah, blah…..shameless plugs….stuff….

So I’ve been trying to get some writing in only to constantly be distracted by all this Olympics going on.  Found out that not only is there a sport called Skeleton, but its pretty intense to watch.  Nothing like laying head first on a sled and speeding down a frozen tube at 80 mph.  When I watched I wondered what the constant jangling sound was, then I realized it’s their brass balls.

And of course the hockey, but hockey often distracts me.  That’s nothing new.

Last week was the pilot episode for my radio show, Saint Zero’s Headphone Bleed.  It was a rocking good time, and despite it being scabbed together, there were no major glitches and I even had listeners.  But it would be cool if I could have more. (hint, hint)  I’m doing it again Saturdays at 11pm (cst).  It will be two hours of random music, paused only by bad jokes and awkward stammering.  How does that not sound like a good time?

Since I really don’t have much else to go on about, I’ll just keep shamelessly plugging some stuff.

Author Jason Gehlert is coming out with a new, and quite frankly awesome, book called Red Triangle.  If you like sharks and San Francisco, then you have no reason not to read it.  If you hate sharks and San Francisco then you still have no reason not to read it because, you know, horror.  Expect it May 1st.  Jason’s website ==>  http://www.jasongehlert.blogspot.com/

Aaaand speaking of things with words, Black Bed Sheet Books has been taking on a slew of new talent lately.  Not only is my new novel due out this summer but so are a number of others.  Screw doing things this summer, let’s just read and get scared.  While you’re waiting though, might as well get caught up on what’s available and check out the bookstore.  http://downwarden.com/blackbedsheetstore/

I would also like to announce that I am open to reviewing your work.  So if you have a book, album, or just your kids macaroni art; hit me up at michaelr4224@yahoo.com and I’ll be happy to give unbiased opinions of it via the blogosphere.

Remember kids: stay in school, don’t drink and drive, and long live rock and roll.

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