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Manifesto: UF, edited by Tim Marquitz & Tyson Mauermann

Manifesto UFPremise: Strange creatures lurk in the shadows in shady back alleys and street corners, waiting to ensnare and devour unsuspecting victims. Battles between good and evil are being fought by angels and demons out of sight of humans. What we see every day is far from what is actually happening in this world and beyond.

The dangerous and illicit activities of inhuman things are ripe for these fantastical stories. With vampires, were-creatures, ghosts, angels, demons, dragons, wizards, trolls, goblins, and more, the imagination is free to run wild. These are the things that make up the tales told in Manifesto: UF.

Themes: Redemption plays a huge role in this anthology, since many of the main characters have fallen from grace or are making up for shortcomings from times past. In order to regain balance of power or to redeem their previous mistakes, it means helping others who cannot help themselves.

Many characters are also seeking justice for themselves or for the innocent. With enduring conflicts and forsaken people, making up for this becomes possible by conquering the evil at the root of the turmoil. Even if it means sacrificing a piece of themselves, the tradeoff for is sometimes worth the price.

Pros: Strangely, I felt pretty strongly about most of the stories in this collection on both sides of the spectrum of liking and not liking them. There were a few that make me want to go find more from the author, such as RL Treadway’s “That Old Tree” that gives personality into a tree long past its reasonable age, intertwined with the lives of those around it in order to give it an ultimate purpose. I loved the emotion of “Green Grow the Rashes” by William Meikle brought out by a haunting song and the discovery of the joys of existence. Teresa Frohock manages to impart soul into song through a frantic search for a lost thread from the tapestry of Armageddon. There is something in here for most readers, at least if you are willing to winnow through the broad variety of styles and subjects.

Cons: With a few exceptions, most of the stories contain profanity, gory violence, drug use, or explicit sex, with at least one containing all of the above. A few of the stories have an anti-religion slant that is not just indifference toward religions, but intentionally and relentlessly inflammatory that highlights this view in a way is unnecessary, especially since in at least one case I think it actually takes away from the story itself. There were a couple of stories that also felt incomplete, leaving me questioning what was supposed to happen next.

Recommendations: With so many urban fantasy books being written for a younger audience, this set of short stories especially targets adult readers. Manifesto: UF is not for the faint of heart or the thin-skinned. There are several gems in here, such as Teresa Frohock’s enchanting “Naked the Night Sings” and Nikolas Sharps’ humorous “Toejam and Shrapnel” that help to redefine the sub-genre as more than just young adult. While not as seamlessly compiled and unified in voice as Marquitz’s previous Fading Light anthology, Manifesto UF does a better job than most anthologies in showcasing each author’s writing style and will more likely leave you with the knowledge of whether you will love or hate an author’s work. Rest assured this collection contains work from some talented writers. You’ll just have to read through it to find the ones you like.

Tim Marquitz’s website
Manifesto UF on Goodreads
Buy Manifesto: UF on Amazon
Download Manifesto UF for your Kindle
I received a copy from one of the authors to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2013 in Fantasy, Short Story

 

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What God Hath Joined by Mike Lewis

Premise: The zombie apocalypse has hit, but Mike and his wife Samantha are prepared. They have fortified their home, stockpiled resources, and are well-armed against both threats of humans and undead. They are faring better than most.

When strangers are being chased by hungry zombies, Mike’s only option is to let them into his secure world. When he introduces these new people to his wife, their colliding worlds end in simultaneous hope and tragedy, depending on whose perspective you take. It is in Mike’s nature to help those in need, but his faith in God and his vows to his wife are of utmost importance to him, promises that he takes seriously.

Themes: Mike’s marriage to his wife takes on the key theme in What God Hath Joined, especially how he cares for Samantha through the horrible circumstances they are under and the things he must do for her.

This is also a story about faith in God and how that colors how you live your life, helping others and fulfilling promises. The problem is such beliefs are challenged when one conflicts with the other.

Pros: The ending is a bit of a surprise, though the protagonist’s motives make it more believable. The setting is laid out well in such a brief story. All the characters felt like they were behaving realistically in a zombie apocalypse setting, with panic and wariness of strangers, but also with a bit of thankfulness for the human interaction. There is a big challenge to the reader to examine your own beliefs and consider how you might act under the circumstances. The Christian beliefs of the protagonist come across as genuine.

Cons: The dialogue felt stilted, especially as Mike verbalizes his motives. Though it is a short story, cutting out some of the infodumping dialogue of the protagonist and changing it to internal monologue or more natural conversation would probably have helped shape the character personalities and made the whole thing flow a little better. The ending is good, if not abrupt, and apparently there is electricity to watch movies and for an automatic garage door.

Recommendations: A Christian audience might overlook a story like this because of its content, but with it Mike may have single-handedly created a new sub-genre: Christian zombie fiction. But it isn’t overly preachy. What God Hath Joined is a surprisingly fun zombie short story with serious implications for faithfulness to religious beliefs and marital promises. Give it a shot with an open mind about your own beliefs, but you might end up liking it just because it’s a good story.

Download What God Hath Joined for your Kindle
I received a copy from the author to write this honest review. He’s also my brother.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Horror, Short Story, Theology

 

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Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous, edited by Tim Marquitz

Fading Light: An Anthology of the MonstrousPremise: When the sun is blotted out and darkness settles in, the most terrible of monstrosities can take hold. Creatures from other planets or the darkness within us can lay in waiting for the opportunity to strike and devour everything. Will we give into the darkness or grasp onto the last remnants of the fading light and continue to fight for existence?

Aliens, ancient creatures, and the dark hidden traits deep inside people are the foes faced through this anthology of the weird. Fading Light uncovers the things that dwell in the darkness and reveals the horrors they are capable of. It tells the stories of those monsters, but also the people that face them when it matters the most for their own sake and for the sake of humanity.

Themes: One grand theme stretching across the stories in Fading Light encompasses the various aspects for survival, from the everyday physical needs to the challenges on mental faculties that can sometimes be much more important in order to survive.

Our reactions to change, especially for the worst, are brought bubbling to the surface in Fading Light. How do different people react to situations that they never even conceived of?

Fear can be paralyzing to many, but for some the instinctive reaction is to fight. This fight or flight response is triggered as these characters face strange creatures and unspeakable terrors.

Pros: Fading Light is a splendid hat tip to H.P. Lovecraft. Many of the stories take similar strands from his stories and weave them into more modern tales that I am certain the horror master would approve of. Just about every piece in this anthology can stand on its own, even apart from the rest of the collection, as a well-written short story, which is something I think every contributing author should be proud of. More than anything, this collection felt fresh, with something more to contribute than other anthologies I have read. There is a consistency in thought through the anthology, though the mood changes from story to story.

Cons: If you are looking to Fading Light for a comparison to the language and style of Lovecraft, then this is probably the one place where it doesn’t compare. The style is much more modern, which can be a pro or a con depending on the reader. There was more profanity in the dialogue than I care for, which is something that I find unnecessary especially in horror writing. I think it adds a false sense of edginess that comes across as trying too hard. There were a couple of plot devices I felt were overused, especially the Sun being blocked out by some kind of cloud or gas or whatever. For those unfamiliar with weird tales of this ilk, Fading Light might be a little depressing.

Recommendations: As a collection of weird tales, Fading Light brings a fresh sense of uncomfortable giddiness to the realm of anthologies. As a tribute to H.P. Lovecraft, this was a wonderful homage without the need for mimicry. Though it had some repetitive elements and more modern language than Lovecraft, Fading Light made me uneasy in a way that only good horror can. Tim Marquitz shows us his ability to gather quality tales and weave them into something cohesive. Horror fans will most likely love Fading Light.

Tim Marquitz’s website
Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous on Goodreads
Buy Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous on Amazon
Download Fading Light: An Anthology of the Monstrous for your Kindle
I received an ebook copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on February 24, 2013 in Fantasy, Horror, Short Story

 

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There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister's Husband, and He Hanged Himself: Love StoriesPremise: Even in the midst of Communist Russia, perhaps especially in such a place, people desire human connection. In this collection of dark short stories, each person lives a life in close quarters with others, yet still can’t seem to manage healthy close relationships. Women reach out to married men for romance, men cheat on their wives looking for excitement, children desire affection, and all under the haze of alcohol to block out the pain they wallow in.

We bump against people every day. We make decisions that lead to unforeseen consequences. Those consequences are passed on through generations for more decisions to be made, and so on. This is the human condition. Underneath it all is a need for everyone to have love.

Themes: These short stories are proclaimed to be love stories, and that they are. But they are more. Each short story tells the tale of a person’s search for love, but also their desire to be loved and accepted, not always requited by others, but always searching.

On a general scope, the stories of There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself show us what life is like under an oppressive communist regime and the misery it can bring to the people. In their group apartments, basic needs are hard to come by as they share lives never quite having enough to get by, yet still somehow surviving.

Pros: More than anything, I felt a very human experience through these stories. They are far from flashy or even very exciting, but on the grand scale the views of these very ordinary people’s lives seem to create a spectrum of emotions both in the characters and in the reader. Whether it is pity, sympathy, sorrow, or hatred, you will feel something from reading these so-called love stories. You may not be able to relate directly to the characters in their circumstances, but there will be some sense in which you can relate to what they are feeling in spite of their circumstances.

Cons: Some of the things in There Once Lived a Girl can be difficult to relate to because of culture gap from not living in a communist country. Most of the amoral decisions made by characters, including promiscuity, women chasing after married men, men beating and cheating on their wives, and an overall drunkenness in the culture seemed to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. This was probably the most difficult thing to see past while reading this collection, not to mention it is fairly depressing.

Recommendations: There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself brings to light the lives of everyday people living in misery under the oppressive Soviet Union. The stories illuminate our interconnectedness and what it really means to be human. We each have, on some level, a desire for love, acceptance, and self-worth that can only be fostered through relationships with other people. Through these characters, Ludmilla Petrushevskaya makes us see other people with more sensitive eyes and with the realization that each of us has our own story to tell. Give this collection of dark short love stories a chance and you might just find yourself appreciating the loved ones you have even more.

There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself on Goodreads
Buy There Once Lived a Girl Who Seduced Her Sister’s Husband, and He Hanged Himself on Amazon
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on January 27, 2013 in Fiction, Romance, Short Story

 

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Trucker Ghost Stories, edited by Annie Wilder

Trucker Ghost Stories: And Other True Tales of Haunted Highways, Weird Encounters, and Legends of the RoadPremise: Late at night on the long haul, a trucker sees many things on the road. With the deep darkness and lights reflecting off windows, combined with a lack of sleep, strange happenings can become reality. The sounds of wind and things banging on the sides of parked truck sleepers can be investigated to be the mind playing tricks or things much more insidious. Who knows what might happen when ghosts, UFOs, and creatures lurk at night? When these haunted highways and menacing creatures come out at night, the trucker is sometimes the only person around to witness them.

Themes: Trucker Ghost Stories is a collection of tales recording actual events (supposedly) as reported by truckers on the road, usually late at night. Is it a lack of sleep and tricks of light or the real thing?

With so many stories there are a number of themes that could be drawn out of them, but the most common for the ghost stories include revenge or redemption of spirits. For the UFO stories, it is curiosity and experimentation. And for monsters, more evil intentions are apparent.

Pros: There was more than one story that I thought was actually pretty spooky, especially if you consider the belief of the trucker writer in its authenticity. If you are on board with the idea that these events might have occurred, you might catch yourself or someone you read this to jumping at the slightest sounds afterwards.

Cons: Keeping in mind that each story is written by a trucker, the writing for many of the stories isn’t very good, and more than a few is downright abysmal. Some of the stories weren’t really all that scary.

Recommendations: Trucker Ghost stories is a fun and quick read of supposed actual events gathered into one collection. While not every story was compelling or believable, and some were just poorly written, many of these tales were interesting. Some were downright creepy. If you are looking for a fun collection to pick and choose stories from to tell around a campfire or an overnight sleepover, you wouldn’t have to look very hard to find some good ones in this book. I think the stories are more fun if you try reading them out loud to others in the dark.

Trucker Ghost Stories on Goodreads
Buy Trucker Ghost Stories on Amazon
Download Trucker Ghost Stories for your Kindle

 
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Posted by on October 28, 2012 in Horror, Short Story

 

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Imaginary Friends by Terry Brooks

Imaginary FriendsPremise: Jack McCall is a thirteen year old boy with good friends and a loving family that one day starts having headaches. What he learns from the doctor is devastating: he has cancer. His best friend Waddy Wadsworth is not as concerned as he is, since you hear stories of people getting over this type of thing all the time.

Jack lives on the edge of Sinnissippi Park, where his imaginary friends Pick and his owl Daniel return to him from earlier in his childhood and lead him on an adventure to save the park from an evil imprisoned in a massive tree. Not only is he supposed to save the park, but Jack is led into a struggle to save himself.

Imaginary Friends is a short story first released twenty years ago in the anthology Once Upon A Time, and is the inspiration for Running with the Demon,the first book in Terry Brooks’ Word and the Void series.

Themes: In Imaginary Friends, Jack is forced to face his adversary head on. This is a story about overcoming adversity and what someone can achieve when they have the will to fight for their lives.

We also learn in this short story how friends can give us encouragement to go on, whether real or imaginary. Imaginary Friends tells us that good friends will be there whenever we need them regardless of time spent apart. Friends also challenge us, believe in us, and encourage us to better things.

Pros: Running with the Demon is one of my favorite books by Terry Brooks. This short story was written before the novel and was the inspiration for that story. Pick and Daniel were as I remembered them in the book, especially Pick’s cranky personality and curmudgeonly language. I hadn’t read this short story before and it was to my pleasure that this was made available because it gave me some insight into Terry working out the details for a new world. The biggest pro for me is that for a short period of time Terry is giving all the proceeds to his webmaster and friend Shawn Speakman to help him pay for his cancer treatment bills.

Cons: Pick is described differently here than in Running with the Demon. In this story he is a tiny elf with a red beard. In Running with the Demon, he is described as a sylvan made of twigs knitted together with a mossy beard and leafy head. Without giving away either story, the thing trapped in the tree is different between the two stories as well. The ending was a little predictable, at least for me.

Recommendations: Imaginary friends is a heartwarming story about overcoming cancer and the inner battle for survival. It is fitting that for a short period of time Terry has made this story available for sale in ebook format to help his webmaster and friend Shawn Speakman pay for his cancer treatments. Not only will you get a story that helped set the stage for one of my favorite of his novels, you will be helping someone else in the process. On those grounds alone I could recommend this story, but Imaginary Friends is a nice short story with characters and setting inspiring one of my favorite Terry Brooks books, Running with the Demon,and is a testament to the power of the human spirit.

Terry Brooks’ website
Imaginary Friends on Goodreads
Buy ebook of Imaginary Friends for your Kindle

 
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Posted by on January 2, 2012 in Fantasy, Short Story

 

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