Oh, Vampires! Sigh. Not another vampire book, I thought! I quickly found that it didn’t matter as I sunk my teeth into Vampires, A Hunter’s Guide by Steven White & Mark McKenzie-Ray. The graphics and images alone in this book were enough to get my 83 year old grandfather interested and flipping through the gripping pages.

A short 80 pages, this book is part history, part fiction, and part survival guide. I’ve read a lot of vampire books – from the kick-ass rock hard vampire babe to the grizzled and decaying vampire king. So what I found the most surprising and pleasant in this reading was the exposure to vampire lore and types throughout the world. Not just the North American stereotypical version of the suave Dracula that we tend to think of, but hag-like creatures, ape-type monsters, Asian zombie-like suckers exist that we seldom hear of, but are just as terrifying.

White and McKenzie-Ray provide a nice blend of reality and myth. Often it’s hard to tell them apart. Are there lines to be drawn, anyway, when it comes to the cold, hard facts of the blood, power sucking species? The authors sprinkle in photos of vampire killing tools, totems representing vampires, and other references as evidence of the various vampire existences. They also provide tips and lifesaving advice on how to kill each type of vampire.

So, if you are fledgling vampire hunter, get this book. Protect its covers and memorize the tell-tale signs presented within its pages. You won’t regret it.

 

If you are a vegan, vegetarian, or any other veggie – an, you might not to read the next few sentences. This collection of short stories was like eating a thick, red, juicy steak. You just kept tearing into the perfectly seasoned, just-right grilled, hunk of meat. As each chunk rolled around in your mouth, the juices slowly dribbled out of your mouth, down your chin and dripped, dripped onto your white t-shirt. Delicious are the stories in The Book of Apex, Volume 4 of Apex Magazine, edited by Lynn M. Thomas.

The stories are mixed smoothly throughout the book; in some of the compilations I’ve read, there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to the order of the stories. Thomas has made it perfectly clear here, moving logically from demons to gods to supernatural phenomenon to witches and back again. It all makes sense and so, it was a joy to read. So let’s go to the stories themselves.

 

The Bread We Eat in Dreams by Catherynne M. Valente: I love Agnes G. She’s a little, keep-to-herself baker and gardener who happens to be a demon. Valente tells the story of Agnes G. through centuries until we come full circle to present. There is such a sweet, creepy, cranberry Hansel and Gretel feeling to this story.

 

The Leavings of the Wolf by Elizabeth Bear: Bear gives us a woman trying to overcome her failings and shattered dreams with the help of a god. She has created a real human with human frailties who discovers her inner strength.

 

The 24-Hour Brother by Christopher Barzak: What if. That’s what Barzak has asked in this story that follows Joe for 24 hours from birth to death. A fascinating look at a full life taking place in 24 hours and how it effects the whole family. It’s a bit of Benjamin Button in reverse.

 

Faithful City by Michael Pevzner: Pevzner creates a city so sinister, I’m still not sure whose side I’m on – the humans or the city. The city calls to the main character and he must answer the call. The question is – what will he find?

 

So Glad We Had This Time Together by Cat Rambo: Unreality TV! Ha, ha! I love it and I loved this story. This is what would happen if all supernatural beings took over Survivor. It reminded me of an episode of Charmed where the demons have their own TV show.

 

Sweetheart Showdown by Sarah Dalton: Ok, I’ve got to make another TV/movie comparison – this story is Hunger Games only it’s based on a beauty contest and the contestants battle to the death for the tiara. The beauties are vicious and delicious.

 

Bear in Contradicting Landscape by David J. Schwartz: Schwartz weaves a tail inside a tale here, literally. What our main character writes, comes to life, spooking his girlfriend and messing with his own sense of furry reality.

 

 

 My Body, Her Canvas by A.C. Wise: Is tattoo artist Sarah a sadistic torturer or a genius artist? Either way Wise’s main character is totally addicted to what she has to offer. The pain in this short is exquisite.

 

A Member of the Wedding of Heaven and Hell by Richard Bowes: Lions shall lie down with lambs in this story by Bowes. Could it happen? Can angels and demons coexist in a sort of détente wedding? Sometimes funny, sometimes thought provoking, find out the answer in this short story.

 

Copper, Iron, Blood and Love by Mari Ness: There was definite feel of the Native American tale to this one. Probably due to the crow who figures predominately in this fantasy story of love and sacrifice.

 

The Second Card of the Major Arcana   by Thoraiya Dyer: I could feel the hot sands in the desert as the creature searches ruthlessly for one who is wiser than she. All the fools have to do is answer the riddles correctly and they will live. Dyer has created a sinister sphinx here.

 

Love is a Parasite Meme by Lavie Tidhar: The lovers in this very short short are ghostly; they are the once vivid and sharp tintype that now has only shadows in the greys. Has love eaten away at these two, sapping their energies until they are nothing but smoke?

 

Decomposition by Rachel Swirsky: A lovingly gruesome tale of Vare’s revenge against his wealthy nemesis. Swirsky paints a dark tale of man’s depravity when searching for vengeance.

 

Tomorrow’s Dictator by Rahul Kanakia: Don’t drink the Koolaid! That really is the best advice if you want to maintain your freedom, your individuality, and your soul. Fresh, cool story.

 

Winter Scheming by Brit Mandelo: Mandelo has schemed up a fine, chilling tale in this short. We see through the eyes of an abuser, the predatory feelings, the rage, and then we feel the sweet, feathered revenge that the abuser receives.

 

In the Dark  by Ian Nichols: It’s amazing what a pint will do for a man, especially Morgan who braves the dark, singing. Eerie folk-like tale.

 

The Silk Merchant by Ken Liu: Ah, greed! So many have fell to their doom, destroyed their families, and their world by succumbing to that deep, deep pit of shiny silk. Liu story is so human it hurts.

 

Ironheart by Alec Austin: Austin slaps us into a world that is a hell hole of endless battle and reanimated corpses. He has reimagined what family would be in that nightmare world.

 

 

Coyote Gets His Own Back by Sarah Monette: Luther is a mean son of a bitch and proves it when he kills the coyote. But the coyote will have the last word in this short, easy going tale by Monette.

 

Waiting for Beauty by Marie Brennan: This is so, so hauntingly sad, as the Beast agonizingly waits for Beauty. Beautifully written.

 

Murdered Sleep  by Kat Howard: Kora flits along into a masked ball full of horned and snaked dancers. Dreamy and sleepy, Howard’s tale is very interesting.

 

Armless Maidens of the American West  by Genevieve Valentine: Valentine’s short here reminds me of the tales of the murderer with a hook who escaped from the mental institute who jumps out to mutilate young teens making out in their cars. Is he real or just an urban myth? Or in this case an American West myth?

 

Sexigesimal   by Katherine E.K. Duckett: Ok, I had to look up the title to see if it was real thing and, of course, it is. I’m still a little confused about its relevance to this great story by Duckett, but it rolls nicely off the tongue. This short presents a unique idea of what the afterlife might be like – a system of memory trading.

 

During the Pause   by Adam-Troy Castro: A Twilight Zone story by Castro about aliens trying to warn a less intelligent race of impending doom. Unique viewpoint.

 

Weaving Dreams   by Mary Robinette Kowal: Really interesting blend of the modern researcher and the magical witch, and her intern.

 

Always the Same Till it is Not   by Cecil Castellucci: This is a great take on the zombie story, with a splash of love and reason. Loved the perspective.

 

Sprig   by Alex Bledsoe: Even by the end of this story of the fairy, Sprig, we are still left to wonder – is she real, or just a poser with wings and ear buds?

 

Splinter by Shira Lipkin: A group of friends goes on an odyssey and experiences, what, a rift in the world, a drug-induced other-worldliness? Only one will survive.

 

Erzulie Dantor   by Tim Susman: Sisters facing devastation after a hurricane. At a time when they should be counting on each other for love and support, envy, greed, and spite burn at the heart of one sister. Great story.

 

Labyrinth   by Mari Ness: There is a certain feel of feudal Japan to this story. The adherence to tradition and honor in the dance to the death, even if it means the death of a loved one.

 

 

Blood From Stone   by Alethea Kontis: Practicing dark magic requires sacrifice, more and more sacrifice. Until the blood runs free. The characters in this short are evil and Kontis gives them everything they deserve.

 

Trixie and the Pandas of Dread   by Eugie Foster: Pandas? Dread? Somehow they just don’t seem to mesh and Trixie, a modern, hip goddess agrees. So, what’s she gonna’ do about it? Love it!

 

The Performance Artist by Lettie Prell: This gripping short gets down to the gut of many of the stories in this book – what does it mean to be human? What is the essence of life and death? Can a robot be alive with the essence of the artist? Can a robot just be?

Sweet, succulent magic. It seduces us and traps us; mesmerized, we can’t and don’t want to get away. And Heirs of the Demon King Uprising by Sarah Cawkwell is flush with it. Uprising is all about the magic. Although once free flowing, admired, and respected, magic is now outlawed in England. King Richard the Fifth rules with an iron hand with the aid of his Inquisitors who route out magic wherever it is found. However, small pockets of magic users exist, including Mathias Eynon and his betrothed, Tagan. Soon Richard must choose to complete the supreme sacrifice to cement his reign, a demonic bargain made by his royal ancestors. Mathias and Tagan are chosen to band together with other magical beings to fight this coming evil. Will the young lovers and their comrades be able to vanquish the demons or will the monstrosities prove victorious and bring hell to earth?

This is a fast-paced, exciting light vs. dark tale. One of the characters reminded me a bit of The Three Musketeers’ Aramis – or perhaps Johnny Depp’s Captain Sparrow – the flamboyant, foppish, lady lover who we love to hate and hate to love. Cawkwell has given us good-guy characters that are easily likeable. She has also provided us a couple of baddies that call out for boos, hisses, and tomatoes. The central villain, Inquisitor Charles Weaver, is fairly evil to the core which actually seems to make him both odious and appealing at the same time.

If there were any failings with Uprising, I would have to say it was our main heroes, Mathias and Tagan. Son of an executed magic user, Mathias’ mother fades to oblivion and he ends up being raised by a master magician. Tagan is the daughter of a blacksmith, raised on the forge. Both of these characters seemed to need more development. They just needed a bit more maturing, perhaps.

However, the story and settings are fully thought out and have a rich feel to them. The pacing is quick, lively, and suspenseful. Cawkwell’s Uprising will keep you on the edge. You won’t want to put this one down.

 

 

I’ll get to the gist of this review right away – Jason, you are a fantastic writer! In the introduction by Geoffrey Girard, he calls you “…a dumbass…” because you have focused on publishing, rather than writing. I can only say that I totally agree with him!

Every story in Irredeemable shocks, probes, touches, thrills, and titillates. Sizemore has created retribution, revenge, and, yes, even redemption in these stories. Each story is infused with the supernatural and the spiritual as Sizemore introduces us to many rich, tortured characters. Have they killed their wives, their kids, their pets? Have they succumbed to bribery and temptation? Devils and demons are here as well as young prankster kids who are just starting out on their evil paths. Vivid characters all. I think I’ve met some of them at Walmart.

The misty hollows call out to you here and the hair on your arms and the back of your neck tingles. But you feel the same prickles in an elevator in an urban setting as well. The horror lurks everywhere; you don’t have long to wait.

Read this book. In the bright light. Through your hands that shield your eyes. Like watching a freshly smoking accident, you won’t be able to peel your eyes away.

Heartwood by Freya Robertson reminded me of a train. Not a smooth, lightening bullet, train, but a heavy duty, gnarly freight train. It started out slowly, chugging and plugging along, and then little by little it built up speed until it was barreling along, all power and there was no stopping it until it came to its final screeching halt. I didn’t want to put this book down once it got its speed up.

As the image on the cover suggests, Heartwood is all about noble knights on a quest. The knights set out to save their beloved Arbor, a tree that is the magical holy symbol of their religion and has kept the land of Anguis united for hundreds of years. The Arbor grows in Heartwood, a military base and religious enclave that has been erected surrounding the tree. After an attack on the tree by mysterious warriors, the Militis of Heartwood (holy knights raised to protect the tree) and other leaders must find ways to energize and heal the tree, and bring peace back to Anguis.

There are quite a few main characters that battle in this exciting romp, and it’s refreshing that there’s a nice balance of tough, seasoned females, rather than a preponderance of hardened male lead characters. Chonrad, the Lord of Barle, represents the calm, fair-minded aristocracy. A widowed father, Chonrad struggles with his deeply buried bitterness over not having been chosen to serve as a Militis as a child. Procella is a high ranking Militis knight, fanatically loyal to her religion and her duty to serve. Beata is a young dean of Heartwood, brilliant fighter who finds love and her ability to lead as she participates in the quest. Then there are the knight twins, Gavius and Gravis. Identical in appearance, they emerge as light and dark, confidence and uncertainty, gaiety and gravity. (Were the names chosen to represent these attributes?) Dolosus was chosen late in life to serve with the Militis and has lost an arm due to a wild, negligent streak. Can he triumph even with being disadvantaged in battle? All the characters must face a challenge, overcome it, and then rejoin the fight to repair the Arbor.

The main foes in Heartwood are water warriors. These guys are pretty sweet. Watery, green glowing eyes, they emerge from the water to attack the Arbor and ruthlessly slaughter those in Heartwood. Their armor, city are cool and Robertson has come up with some inventive baddies here; they are quite a bit more interesting than the good guys. Which leads to a bit of the problem with Robertson’s female lead characters, they all cave in to their emotions. Oh, they put up a bit a struggle with their feelings, but all of them eventually succumb to a male character’s advances. It was somewhat of a letdown each time when you were so hoping for a much stronger character to emerge. Robertson relied quite a bit on the romance novel formula for these characters.

Also, although the story was exciting, leading to the major climax at the end, the many intervals switching back and forth from character to character were so similar to each other that it became somewhat predictable rather quickly. Character travels a short distance. Some supernatural or psychic occurrence shakes him or her up, causing them to question their integrity. Then each character had to overcome their lack of confidence or faults. What I enjoyed and was surprising were the number of characters Robertson surprisingly kills off. She certainly kept us off guard in that respect.

Despite these couple of disappointing glitches in Heartwood, I really liked the book as a whole. The characters were enjoyable, the world felt rich and its history well built, and the ending was really full and satisfying. It’s so rare lately when a book gets wrapped up and doesn’t leave you hanging for the sequel.

Black Library recently released a deluxe and a limited version of Arjac Rockfist: Anvil of Fenris by Ben Counter.  The Deluxe version was delegated to only 500 copies and priced at a staggering $120.00 per unit, while the Limited was $60.00 per unit and set at 3,000 copies.  This is the second book in, what I consider their premium limited edition series, Lords of the Space Marines. The first was Mephiston: Lord of Death, which was only released as a limited edition and sold 2434 books.

You probably are thinking the price for these books are simply ludicrous, however, as a collector I’m willing to spend the extra dough especially on these Lords of the Space Marine books. The quality of the book is impeccable, the casing is sturdy, the added artwork is exceptional, and so far the market value of these books continues to grow astronomically.

I’m going to throw out a few of my shoddy pictures, comparing the deluxe version of Arjac Rockfist, to that of the limited Mephiston.

 

Here is the pair of them, side by side in their original cases. The Arjac case is stunning and the entire package weighs double that of Mephiston, it is both a little taller in height and twice the size in width.

IMAG0833

IMAG0834

Another bonus with Ajac, is on all four sides of the case is additional artwork.

IMAG0836

IMAG0838

Here is the entire package for the Deluxe version of Arjac Rockfist: A stone-effect sarcophagus box, the hardback novella, an exclusive mini-book, and an exclusive resin rune shield.

IMAG0840_1

This right here is the unique little Inlay Board, holding the audio CD and protecting the rest of the books inside.

IMAG0841

 

Now we can see the two comparisons fully between a Deluxe version Arjac and a Limited Mephiston. This is also when I become a tad displeased as I realized that the additional artwork card is only provided within the Limit Editions, but not in the $60.00 extra Deluxe version which makes no sense to me.

 

IMAG0842_1

Here are the actual books with their dust jackets removed.

IMAG0843

The books themselves are near identical in size and length.

IMAG0844

IMAG0845

The Signature / Limited Edition pages are near identical for the pair also.

IMAG0847

The internal artwork on these is pretty jazzy.

IMAG0848_1

 

 

IMAG0851

Here is the additionally included chapbooks.

IMAG0852_1

Anvil has the significant advantage here, with an additional short story and some artwork.

IMAG0856

IMAG0857

IMAG0858

IMAG0859_1

IMAG0861_1

IMAG0863

So, my final thoughts are this: If you don’t have the extra $60.00 for the deluxe edition, you truly aren’t missing out on that much and both are stellar pieces to throw on your Warhammer bookshelves as eye candy. It really boils down to how much of a fanatical collector you are and do you want to spend the extra cash for a thicker case, even more exclusive limited availability, and a few other perks. The limited Arjac is identical to the limited Mephiston and that is why I used it for a comparison.  Interesting note, as of right now, you can still purchase the limited Arjac while the Deluxe sold out in hours and sells on ebay for double the original price.

Talus and The Frozen King by Graham Edwards is a good start to what could possibly become a great series of mysteries. The cover promotes the book by saying “Introducing The World’s First Detective.” And I truly got that feeling when main character, Talus, a bard and our “first detective” utters the phrase, “…there’s no time to lose!” I had visions of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (only wearing bear skins and with greasy hair) chasing the baddies in their black hansoms down a darkened, narrow, cobblestone English road! The similarities are very apparent – Talus observes everything and deduces the truth from each clue. His sidekick, Bran, originally a fisherman, is our somewhat bumbling Watson, typically preferring brawn to brains. There is even a Moriarty, “Mishina”, a shaman, who plays to Talus’ weakness for solving challenging mysteries.

What I really found unique here was the world into which these characters are thrust – the cold, icy, coastal realm inhabited by isolated tribes of Neolithic peoples. Edwards brings them to life with their rituals that seem very alien to us. Mud-painted faces, stone tools, bone weapons, are all rich details that add to the raw feeling of the island of Creyak where someone has murdered the king.

Talus is a very interesting character. He searches for his humanity, his brilliance often seems to dull his true emotions for as he analyzes each clue, he begins to analyze his relationships with friends and lovers. His physical appearance is appealing, too, with his bald head, rail thin body, and tattered robes. Bran is our more down-to-earth, emotional character. He has suffered great loss, both emotionally and physically. Strong and human, Bran is the perfect complement to Talus’s logical mind. They work as a pair to expose the murderous plot and at the same time discover some truths about their own pysches.

Bran will continue to follow Talus on a quest north, to the top of the world. They will most certainly find more adventures and mysteries to solve as they continue their journey. The game’s afoot, Bran!