Author: Darren Todd

Epeolatry Book Review: Stories Of High Strangeness


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Title: Stories of High Strangeness
By: Marc Shapiro
Genre: Paranormal/Horror
Publisher: Copypasta Publishing
Synopsis: A zombie goes looking for something more important than his next meal. A one hit wonder faces certain death or worse because he refuses to play ‘Free Bird’. An X rated ghost story plays out on the floor of a porno film dubbing stage. A low-level drug dealer comes up with the perfect plan to wipe out the competition. A stud in a post- Apocalyptic world has one small problem.
What is it that I do? I’ll take the fifth on that one. Suffice it to say my stories are weird, bizarre and occasionally unclassifiable. If you’re brave enough, this is the ticket to ride the dark skies of Stories Of High Strangeness.
There’s some squishy stuff, some Merchant Ivory stuff, some extreme, some subtle. If there’s a master plan it’s to mix pathos, hope, melancholy, humor and real characters into a stew of shadows, light, carnage and feelings of ‘What the fuck!’.
The Gods I bow down to? Rod Serling, Charles Bukowski, H.P. Lovecraft, Robert Bloch, Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury. I live and die by the vibe of Black Sabbath, Dio, the soundtracks from The Exorcist and The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and the more manic strains of 60’s psychedelia.

He stepped up and back into the frozen tableau. One arm reached out toward Ann. She was transfixed, a look of fear, confusion, and that deadliest of emotions, curiosity, playing out across her face. She looked at Bob, whose own face offered no answer. Her jeans once again fell to her ankles. She kicked them away. Ann took a hesitant step forward, then another. A third brought her to the Ninja’s outstretched hand. She looked at Bob.
There was nothing to keep her in this world.

Short story collections provide an excellent means of getting a solid feel for an author’s style in a way that doesn’t always happen when reading a novel.

Stories of High Strangeness by Marc Shapiro indeed offers a thorough sampling of Shapiro’s style and body of work. With many stories falling under the flash fiction umbrella, the collection is a cornucopia of both horror and weird fiction. If one story fails to appeal, another, quite-different tale awaits.

The spectrum is bloody and broad: from a father-son machete-wielding duo to a south-of-the-border madman collecting heads.

The stories pull few punches in terms of gratifying sex and gore, and—in that vein—Shapiro also seems to offer up a good variety of tales without a sense of reservation or repetition. That is: his heart is clearly in the work no matter what else.

However, the stories tend to be telly, leaving little room for inference. Likewise, most are rife with narrative summary where perhaps more description, action, and dialog would have done the excellent plots a higher service. The language is accessible, with several clever turns of phrase, but can bog down a bit in cliché, as well.

A few errors pepper the collection, though most cosmetic and forgivable.

Reminiscent of Tales from the Crypt or Creepshow, Stories of High Strangeness’ appeal lay largely in the plots and ideas Shapiro creates, if lacking somewhat in grace.

You can pick up a copy of Stories of High Strangeness on Amazon!

Epeolatry Book Review: And The Wolf Shall Dwell


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Title: And the Wolf Shall Dwell
Author: Joni Dee
Genre: Spy Thriller
Publisher: Blue Poppy Publishing
Release Date: August 4th 2017

Synopsis: Imagine being knocked over by a strange old man on a cold London morning…
The man delivers a garbled message about the Queen…
Moments later he falls under the wheels of a train…
The media calls it suicide, but you know better – something doesn’t quite add up….

That was the start of the day for John Daniel, a foreign professional working in the city of London.
Meanwhile, retired MI6 agent Adam Grey receives a call from an old informant:
“Your service is rotten…”

Soon Adam is dragged out of retirement, and John is dragged into the murky world of international espionage, politics, and jihadi terrorism.
An intense and explosive thriller that hits frighteningly close to the truth for a work of fiction.

“John looked into the blue eyes of the middle-aged man. He looked well, event too well for his age, but his eyes reflected fatigue and exhaustion. The wrinkles on the face, on second glance, seemed as if they were a result of miles and miles of tension and worries. Yet underneath it all, the eyes looked sincere and there was something in his face that made John trust him, almost instinctively. Years of practising fakeness? John doubted it and yet was not sure he should share with Grey the old man’s final words…. Are indistinctive words, said while in flight, worth mentioning?”

Spy stories tend to come in two flavours: action packed or a slow burn. One that glosses over the politics in favour of fights and chases and one that steeps the reader in the cloak-and-dagger intrigue of the spy game.

And the Wolf Shall Dwell, by Joni Dee, falls into the second variety, but does so well. When navigating any lesser-known world, it helps to have a greenhorn companion, which comes by way of the main character, John. He is thrown into the formerly invisible sub-culture of intelligence services and international terrorism, as is the reader alongside him.

In juxtaposition is the old-timer tapped for one more round, formerly retired Adam Grey. If Joseph Campbell could hang a sign on him, it would be wizened guide, though Grey is more than a stand-in mentor but an interesting character with his own story.

While not normally a consumer of spy novels, Dee’s work offers several solids that could appeal to all readers. For one, his descriptions of setting (largely taking place in the UK) reveals a comfortable but detailed command of place, which forms a clear image in the reader’s mind.

Also, Dee’s dialog is excellent, blending valuable information and story development with a terse realism any reader can appreciate.

Readers unfamiliar with the spy genre, however, might find some of the lengthier descriptions of world-building tedious, and with a more plot-driven story, sometimes character development gets pushed the sidelines.

With some of the narrative summary, as well, Dee missed several opportunities to use action to uncover his world rather than simply telling the reader what was what.

For fans of the genre, however, And the Wolf Shall Dwell does not disappoint and carries a worthwhile tale through to an open-ended but solid conclusion.

You can pick up a copy of And the Wolf Shall Dwell on Amazon.