Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins #review

Title: Catching Fire (book #2 of The Hunger Games)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Publisher: Scholastic, 2009

It’s always tricky to review a novel that has had so much hype surrounding it, and Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins is no exception. We continue from where things were left off in book one for our plucky heroine, Katniss Everdeen, who discovers that her reward as victor of the Hunger Games is not all it’s cracked up to be.

She’d hoped to enjoy a life of quiet comfort with her family, and perhaps pursue her intended love interest, Gale, but there’s the not-so-small matter of her much-televised engagement to Peeta. And, of course, the rather dastardly President Snow, who’s coercing her to get married.

In surviving the Hunger Games, Katniss has unwittingly become the figurehead of a rebellion and the districts are on the verge of open revolt. She has no choice but to go along with Snow’s plans, because he has threatened her loved ones.

While the first half of the story leads you to believe that Katniss will begin to get actively involved in overthrowing the Capitol, she and all the victors from the past 25 years find themselves swept up in a Reaping again – this time as unwilling participants in the Quarter Quell games.

In this sense, Catching Fire is doomed to repeat the theme of The Hunger Games and doesn’t cover much in the way of new ground. It lacks some of the uncertainty and tension that we faced in the first book.

Once again, and perhaps regrettably so, Katniss is robbed of the opportunity to explore the moral issues surrounding the act of having to kill others to survive while providing entertainment for the masses. This time it is thanks to a hostile arena that conveniently does the killing on players’ behalf – verging on deus ex machina to a degree. When she does kill, the act hardly seems to make a dent on her emotionally or intellectually and the victim is reduced to a mere name.

As a character, Katniss doesn’t grow much; she is still as self-absorbed as she was in The Hunger Games and I was often left wondering about what redeeming qualities (beyond her propensity for self-sacrifice to save others) she possessed. Her childish outbursts at key moments didn’t make me warm to her either. I suspect she appeals to readers in her blandness, as a sort of everywoman.

Catching Fire is still an engaging read despite pacing issues of the first half, touching on many issues that make dystopian settings so fascinating.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The First Ravensmoot: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction edited by Marius du Plessis #review

Title: The First Ravensmoot: An Anthology of Speculative Fiction
Edited by: Marius du Plessis
Publisher: Fox & Raven Publishing, 2013

With the publishing industry in such a state of flux, it’s lovely to see South African small presses step forward to take an active interest in speculative fiction. In this anthology, Marius du Plessis has gathered six outstanding authors from around the globe, including South Africa, each with a strong voice and vision.

“Passing Visions” by Martin John Stokes introduces us to a clinical psychologist named Indiana Golding whose patient proves to be troubled by something way beyond Golding’s ken. It was clear from the start that the man’s arrogance was going to prove his downfall.

I’m no stranger to Nyki Blatchley’s writing and in “The Triarchy’s Emissary”, we follow the female warrior Edralit’s quest to protect an empress. What I love about Blatchley’s writing is that he often features strong female leads and isn’t afraid to treat LGBT themes in a fantasy setting.

“The Dead City Blues” by Yelena Calavera takes us to a changed Joburg where only the Dreamers have survived the apocalypse – and the big dangers lies with nightmares yet to be confronted, which if you’re not careful, take on tangible and dangerous forms.

“Pigs in Golfs” by Mia Arderne juxtaposes a vicious serial sexual predator’s doings with the lives of a couple, and mixes in a whiff of illegal street racing. I must admit I was put off by what I felt to be the almost gratuitous violence against women, and this story didn’t work for me though it was well written.

“The Terminal Move” by Dilman Dila reads like the kind of story you’d hear an old shaman share by the fireside, and tells us about Laceng, who helps his tribe overcome evil, zombie-like creatures and a race of giants in order to claim a new homeland.

Anton Sim’s “Project Hydra” is a suitably creepy offering and very little becomes more nightmarish than a dystopian corporate hell. Sim writes with an underlying touch of dark humour that left me wanting more – a perfect way to conclude this anthology.

Overall, Du Plessis has proved to have a keen eye for high-quality material and has presented a diverse selection that is well worth adding to any serious lover of speculative fiction’s collection. This is a publisher worth keeping an eye out for.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bloody Parchment 2014

The SA HorrorFest Bloody Parchment short story competition, event and anthology has been going for quite a while now. While not exclusively a horror-themed event, Bloody Parchment nevertheless gives precedence to horror and dark, speculative fiction. 

I'm also pleased to announce that the 2014 short story competition is now officially open, and if you fancy yourself a horror writer, then head over to the official Bloody Parchment blog for further information. 

We're busy pulling together the 2013 competition winners in an anthology we hope to release in time for the 2014 event. And, yes, I get this question often... "Can I enter more than one story?"

Yes, you can, but I'll be straight up and say, I'd rather see one faboo entry from each author than multiple shizzy ones. 

And that's pretty much it. Do show your appreciation for the past finalists, by picking up the previous volumes: 

PS, if you absolutely MUST ask me a question, you can email me at

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Luna's Children – Rachel A Brune

Tonight's guest is Rachel A Brune, who's one of the Luna's Children contributors. Her short story "Night Run" is about a retired country werewolf Rick Keller who reluctantly leaves his northern Vermont sanctuary to come to the aid of an old friend, whose work with a NYC church youth group is jeopardized by strange energies gathering in the stone cathedral.

She explains: "The character of Rick first appeared in my 2011 NaNoWriMo project. I love werewolves and Cold War spy novels, and the two kind of collided in my head. While I was revising and editing the novel, Cold Run (Untold Press), I saw the submission call for an urban Green Man anthology and drafted 'Night Run'. I was rejected by that project, and another one, before the story found a home with Luna's Children. Victoria also appears in the novel, as a minor character, and I thought this was a great chance to spend some time with her, and to see how basically the only thing that will motivate Rick to leave his comfortable retirement is a friend in trouble."

Pick up your copy of Stranger Worlds or Full Moon Mayhem.

The air in the church had a quality to it that I had rarely imbibed outside of old-growth forests. I inhaled deeper, worried. If something out there was wrapping my senses around themselves, I was in trouble. I reached down inside and gently stretched for the change, coaxing it close to the surface, inviting it to tell me the truth of what I saw.
“You feel it?” asked Victoria, whispering.
“Yes,” I said, whispering back. It seemed like the right thing to do. “It’s amazing.”
“You know what it is?” she asked.
“No,” I said. It smelled of dirt and growing things and the midday August sun as it soaked into the deep forest. It called the change out of me, and here on the cusp of the moonrise, I trembled as I forced myself to stay upright.
“Are you going to be able to you get rid of it?” she asked.
“Get rid of it?” I asked. “Why the fu—heck would you want to do that?” I caught myself from swearing just in time. I was in a church.
“Attendance at the Center has gone down continuously the past three months,” she said. “Even the regular masses have been affected.”
“What? Why?”
“The kids can’t explain,” she said. “They just say something’s creepy, and then one day they stop coming.”

Rachel A Brune writes short fiction, long fiction, songs, screenplays, poetry and operations orders. A former Army journalist, she lives in North Carolina with her husband, two dogs and three cats. She blogs her adventures, writing and otherwise, at

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Bobby by Elizabeth Pienaar #review

Title: Bobby
Author: Elizabeth Pienaar
Publisher: Human & Rousseau, 2013

Okay, this is a review quite by accident, as this is a book that fell on my desk, and it’s not my chosen genre (in fact, this is about as far from GrimDark fantasy as you can get). But I will pack all my bats, vampires and bloody swords into my closet and give this a fair and honest review.

First off, though this book is aimed at a young adult readership, I must state that there’s a huge difference between what South African publishers think is appropriate for young adults and what UK or US publishers deem acceptable. Consequently, I’d peg this novel appropriate for ages 10 to 12 or thereabouts, considering that most kids I’ve spoken to are already reading adult books from 12 onward (if not sooner).

Also, a word on the cover art, I suspect they’re aiming at girls. Personally, the cover art was not to my taste, and I’ll leave it at that, because once again, I’m clearly not the intended target market which I suspect might be schools and libraries (in which case this cover art is possibly totally fine for the South African market).

At its heart, this is a story of a dog, Bobby, who ends up homeless and unwanted at a shelter after his owner, Natasha, is murdered; and a girl, Jessie, who is absolutely devastated when her white shepherd dog, Dash, dies. There’s a whiff of paranormal match-making when the deceased Natasha and Dash conspire to bring Bobby and Jessie together, which pretty much sums up the plot.

Highlighted issues are obviously animal rights issues, especially with regard to the way people treat animals like commodities, which did twist at my heart.

However the secondary story arc, about Jessie’s loss and subsequent depression was, in my opinion, not handled well. I kept asking myself what really was wrong with the teen if she couldn’t get past her grief for her dog, because if I were absolutely honest, the child behaved in a manner completely out of proportion to the kind of grief your average person felt.

Now I’ve lost companion animals in my time that I will occasionally still shed a tear over, but nothing to the extent that I’d make myself sick over the dog or cat. Jessie’s obsession with the deceased Dash comes across just ever so slightly creepy, and I’ll be honest that as a reader I struggled to care about her, especially in the light of her self-centredness. I suspect the author wanted to show how much Jessie loved her dog, but there was something unnerving about how she focused so much on the animal to the exclusion of anyone else in her life.

If I think back to my teen years (and looking back in my journals, there were many interests, largely dominated by boys, friends and assorted social shenanigans). Even someone who seeks to isolate herself would frame her state of being against this backdrop of what they’re not – teens are at least socially aware to that degree. And here I also speak from the perspective of someone who has suffered severe depression. It seemed odd to me that Jessie’s entire life revolved around the dog, unless of course the dog itself took on a deeper meaning which was not fully explained.

Bobby is the real star of the show, and I’m almost tempted to say Jessie doesn’t deserve him. He stoically aims to be a good dog, and every step of the way after Natasha dies, he’s shunted aside and neglected. My heart bled for him, especially since he tried so hard to please people. So, as far as characterisation goes, the author does a good job making me empathise with Bobby, but unfortunately not Jessie. Bobby does act as a catalyst for healing, so there is that.

So, for the final verdict, if you’re looking to buy a young reader (10 to 12 or thereabouts) a light, uplifting read with an underlying theme of animal welfare, this might be a good choice. Be aware that the main human viewpoint character suffers from severe depression and is inclined toward self harm. (It might be something you want to discuss with the reader if they're fairly young). But if you’re looking for something edgy, with more grit, then this is probably not the book for you.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Luna's Children: James Hoch

Today's guest is fellow Luna's Children contributor James Hoch, who shares about his contribution to the anthology: "After seeing the call for submission to the anthology, I started researching about werewolves, trying to come up with a unique idea. The most interesting topic I discovered came from a 13th century account by St. Thomas Aquinas who said that 'All angels, good and bad, have, by reason of natural power, the ability to transmute our bodies.'  Hmm, transmute … change into what? Further research revealed that in 1692 an 80-year-old man from Jurgenburg claimed that werewolves were actually Hounds of God sent to do battle with demons. Aha … and that led to my short story, 'Hound of God'."

Pick up Full Moon Mayhem ... and Stranger Worlds.

An excerpt:
The demon broke free from one of the bedposts and struck out at the priest. Father Rick raked his long, razor sharp nails down Stephen’s chest making the demon scream louder than ever. “The priest is killing me! Stop him,” he said in Stephen’s innocent voice.
Father Rick dodged a kick from the demon just as the bedpost broke off, releasing the demon.
“Now, let’s really get down to it,” the demon whispered. Imitating a boxing announcer, he shouted, “In this corner …weighing in at three hundred pounds we have Father Dickwad, aka The Werewolf Priest. And over here, we have … me … Satan’s soldier who is going to tear the asshole apart.” The demon inside the skinny teenage boy mutated further. Stephen’s skeletal frame screeched eerily as arms became lengthened and muscles enlarged, raising the teenage boy to a height of seven feet. The demon’s teeth protruded from Stephen’s mouth, resembling the razor sharp fangs of a saber-tooth tiger.
Father Rick lunged at the demon, missing only to slam into the wall.
“Not too smart are you? You’re nothing but a dumb animal,” the demon said, spitting out the words clumsily.
The two creatures circled one another, filling the room with a continuous volley of snarls and growls.
Brought up on Thriller, Twilight Zone and Outer Limits, James has kept all his dark friends chained up inside his imagination only to let them out little by little in his novels and short stories. For 38 years, he enjoyed a productive career as a music educator. Retirement gave way to a new creative outlet–writing. SynegEbooks is the publisher of his Crimson Pursuit vampire series and his supernatural post-apocalyptic thriller, HECKEL CASEY, is published by Imajin Books. His sci-fi/technothriller, TATS, is available from Amazon.  Hoch’s short stories have appeared in Horror Zine, SNM Horror magazine, Pill Hill Press, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, Sanitarium, SNM Books of Blood V, Dark Eclipse, and Dark Oak Press.  You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and his website

Friday, August 8, 2014

Featured author: Tera Shanley

Today I welcome fellow Lyrical/Kensington author Tera Shanley to share a little about her novel Silver Wolf Clan, which is book #1 in her Silver Wolf Clan saga.

Tera Shanley writes in sub-genres that stretch from paranormal romance, to historic western romance, to apocalyptic (zombie) romance. The common theme? She loves love. A self-proclaimed bookworm, she was raised in small town Texas and could often be found decorating a table at the local library. She currently lives in Dallas with her husband and two young children and when she isn’t busy running around after her family, she’s writing a new story or devouring a good book. Any spare time is dedicated to chocolate licking, rifle slinging, friend hugging, and the great outdoors. For more information about Tera and her work, visit

What happens when monsters turn out to be real? One summer night while camping in the woods, Morgan Carter finds out in a big way. A tall mysterious stranger, Greyson Crawford, risks his life to try and save her sister from the vicious wolf attacking their camp. When he’s bitten and disappears into the night, Morgan can only assume the worst.
Greyson shows up a year later, and he’s a different animal altogether. His eye color shifts constantly and the rumble in his throat sounds more animal than human. She hasn’t any idea where he’s been all this time, but a good guess as to what he’s become.
Grey is determined not to let the darkness of his new existence affect Morgan and the little girl in her care. He hasn’t been able to stop thinking about Morgan but knows he should stay away and let her live a normal life. That’s easier said than done, though. A new danger pulls him from the shadows to keep her safe, and he’s no wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Can she accept what lurks just below his surface? More importantly, can she survive him?

Buy links
Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Kensington Books

Author links
Facebook, Blog, Twitter, Website, Goodreads

Watch the trailer...

An excerpt:

Grey’s arms and legs were on fire, burning from his very veins, blistering every nerve ending on the way out. Why was the pain tearing through his chest? He tried to hail the woman but nothing came out except a quiet groan. Was he dying? He arched his neck toward her sister. Her body was so mangled it was all but unrecognizable as human. The girl’s eyes were open, fixed, staring back at him. She was dead. Would he die, too? What was that thing? That monster?
Maybe this was all a dream. Maybe he still slept, back in his campsite a quarter of a mile away. He’d been sleeping there only a few minutes ago. Maybe he was just having a vivid night terror and he’d wake at any moment to the relief that this wasn’t real. The girl slid over to him, but he was already panting in pain. Fire in his blood burned him up.
Her mouth moved, but he couldn’t hear anything over the roaring in his ears. Like helicopter blades, the sound drowned out everything. Her lips were full, and when his vision blurred, he tried to focus on her face. She was beautiful. Tiny. Delicate like a hummingbird. Even through spilling tears, the moss green color of her eyes was clear and compelling.
Her voice overcame the screeching in his ears. “What’s your name?”
“Greyson,” he rasped. “Greyson Crawford.” Someone should know who he was. Notify Dad what had happened there in the woods of Enchanted Rock. “What’s yours?” It was getting so hard to breathe. He had to know. He’d leave the world on her name.
“Morgan. My name’s Morgan.”