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Colin F. Barnes

The ramblings from a science fiction and thriller author

Currently reading

Map of Bones
James Rollins
A Clean Kill in Tokyo (John Rain, #1)
Barry Eisler
Kain (Sex, Drugs, and Cyberpunk, #1)
Brie McGill

Win a free copy of my novel Artificial Evil (Book 1 of The Techxorcist)

I have decided to put Artificial Evil up for a giveaway here on Booklikes. 50 copies are up for grabs. All you need to do is visit the link and enter. Good luck!

Falling Over

Falling Over - James Everington James Everington presents us with a cabal of off-kilter stories that linger with you long after reading. If you're a fan of weird fiction then you'll be well-served here. Everington has a canny ability to conjure very real, contemporary characters in situations that appear normal but have an undercurrent of wrongness about them. I won't go through each and every story in the collection suffice to say that there is no weak story here. One of the nice things about these stories and their inherent oddness is that they are fulfilling more than most on second and third readings.

In fact, I would advice a reader to spend more time with this stories, re-read, analyse, and you'll be rewarded with a variety of meanings expertly layered but a one of the best young short stories writers around at the moment.
Doctor Sleep - Stephen King Unfortunately, I was never gripped by the story. I found it to be a slow-burn that never really reached the heights that I had hoped for. I didn't feel the ideas were especially strong or different, and for large sections of the story, I didn't feel there was enough tension of conflict to keep me turning the pages. It's written perfectly well, and King gives us lots of excellent description throughout, but I struggled to sympathise with the characters and failed to get invested in the story. I ended up skimming through vast sections to find a thread that would really grab my attention.

I'm sure lots of King fans will love it, but it just wasn't the book for me this time around.
The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson, Laura Miller I'm struggling to put into words my thoughts on this book. It blew me away on so many occasions that my review just wouldn't do it justice. It is, without doubt, the best 'horror' novel I've read, and perhaps the best book in general, I've read. It certainly rivals Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked for that title.

Jackson's prose is mesmerising. She's an adept at subtle characterisation, internal monologue and use of repetition. All of which creates a kids of dream-state of poetry when reading, which drags you so far into the story, even single thing and person feels real.

This is not your average crappy haunted house book. You won't find gore or torture porn murders here. There are no cheap thrills. Instead, you get the raw examination of human nature, human fear, and a creeping sense of inevitability that still shocks when it comes. I can't recommend this book highly enough, and I'm mad at myself for leaving it so long to discover the genius of Shirley Jackson.
The Lottery (Tale Blazers) - Shirley Jackson Short, deceptive, brutal, and heartbreaking. Amazing peice of literature.
The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald I read this in a single sitting, although to begin with I wasn't sure I'd finish it. The first 30% bored me a great deal and it seemed to be going nowhere. There's a lot of superfluous stuff at the beginning that neither enhances the plot or the characters. I carried on though and was rewarded with an incredible experience.

I've experienced the book twice before: the first at school where I didn't read it, and the second time was during a course where I had to read and refer to specific sections. So, this third attempt was really the first time coming at it as a book to be read rather than studied. And that made a huge difference. As did my age.

I really feel like this is a book that is ill-suited to schools. Granted, some kids might get the themes and be able to relate, but I really think a unique perspective is gained by being of a similar age to the protagonist, Nick, who turns 30 during the course of the book. I for one found myself relating a great deal to Nick as I read through the first parts of the book. Later, as he crosses that threshold, which also coincides with Gatsby's revelations, I found myself right there in the book, in place of Nick, thinking the same thoughts and experiencing the same pains.

I'd have given it a five stars for the utter genius of this book, but the start was really hard going for me and I don't think added a great deal to the story. Either way, this one of the few classics that I can genuinely say I agree with its status.
Shiftling - Steven Savile Shiftling is an excellent example of how good the novella format can be. You take a single idea, a small cast of characters and really dig into the story without padding it into a novel. For darker fiction, I think the shorter format is perfect. It can hold the suspense more intensely over a shorter period of time compared to novels, which often dilute that intensity. That's not to say there aren't brilliant horror/dark novels, just that when you have a single, strong idea, the novella form makes it shine.

This is a story split across three parts of the same timeline. What could have been a fairly common trope and structure, Savile manages to weave the plots expertly, ratcheting the tensions with each short chapter, shining a light into the darkness of the protagonist's story one scene at a time, until it builds perfectly to the final reveal where all three plots merge into a fantastic climax.

I think readers aged 30+ will likely get the most from this book as Savile does a wonderful job of conjuring the 80s, citing the bands and records of the time. I related to a lot of this story, both in terms of the kids' angst, the camping out in hideouts, the mysteries of waste grounds (I'm sure we all in the UK grew up knowing about a bit of wasteland or dodgy woodland somewhere), and the curious, adventurous nature of being a young teen—and all the baggage and awkwardness that age can bring.

Throw in a creepy house, with a creepy owner (we've all known of those as a kid, surely?), and a legacy that continues to haunt the protagonist into middle-age, Shiftling is a solid, occasionally whimsical, creepy tale that won't be soon forgotten.

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 82

Clarkesworld Magazine Issue 82 - Neil Clarke I generally liked the issue. It wasn't quite as good as previous issues this time around, but the quality is still very high. I was however disappointed by the number of errors in The Dust Assassin. It was a great story, but the missing words and formatting glitches made it frustrating to read.

The standout story was the classic entry 'The Illustrated Biography of Lord Grimm.' An interested look at a superhero story from the perspective of the regular citizens caught in the crossfire of a war between the superheroes and the super-villian. At its essence it was a kind of origins story, but it also covered other themes. It's worth buying this issue for this story alone.

The Skeleton Key: A Short Story Exclusive

The Skeleton Key: A Short Story Exclusive - James Rollins This was a Sigma short story featuring the assassin Seichan in a singular adventure. I had a lot of fun reading this story. It's a little on the short side to do the plot justice as the cult and bad guy don't have much opportunity to be a real threat, but the detail of the French catacombs beneath Paris and the action were perfectly entertaining. It has to be noted that stories like this, and 'Tracker' are promotional tools for the related novels. Half of the book for these stories is the excerpt for the follow-up novel.

I don't have a problem with that, personally, as you're getting a short story and a glimpse of what's coming up. It's a win/win and enables the reader to sample the author' style and to see if the story is for them. I know some won't like this, but they're very cheap and at the very least you're getting a highly entertaining short story to read on your lunch break, commute, or wherever.

Two Penny Blue

Two Penny Blue - L.K. Jay This was a really enjoyable, quick read. Nicely combining the timelines and conflicts of two women 170 years apart, L.K. Jay has created a tightly plotted story that resolves to a satisfying conclusion. Highly entertaining, and I found the reactions of the Victorian character to modern day times humorous. But underlying the occasionally comic sections is a heart warming story.
Slaughterhouse-Five - Kurt Vonnegut Powerful book with lots of hard truths reflected on humanity by the mirror of irrevent fatalistic narrative. I read this in a single sitting, equally gripped and repulsed by the stories related in the fantastic non-linear timeline. This for me, like Camus' The Plague, The Stranger and Phillip K. Dick's A Scanner Darkly is more than fiction: all these books are mirrors made from truths and eased into our brains by the trickery of fiction. Amazing work.
Micro - Michael Crichton, Richard Preston Interesting concept let down by shonky prose, flat cliched characters and a plot that often broke the suspension of disbelief. Some of the botany and insect science was interesting, but the awful, unlikeable characters had me cheering inside as each one was eaten or butchered by the natural world. Fun in parts, but dull to read in others. Needed much better copy-editing in my humble opinion. Large parts felt rushed and the prose was so basic and repitious in parts that I felt this was aimed at 10 year olds.
Gone - Mo Hayder I'd probably have given this a 3.5 star if the option was there. I did enjoy the book in general, but there were just a few niggles for me.

Firstly, I thought it went on just a little bit too long. By the time we knew who the kidnapper was, I felt it took a while to wrap up, and it seemed to carry on when the emotional climax had passed some time previously. Aside that, my main quibble was that I thought some of the plot points hung on the ineptitude of the police force.

I'm sure in real life this happens all the time, and I do not for a minute doubt the author's research, but for me personally, there were a few incidences that I lost a little bit of my suspension of disbelief, as I had guessed a plot point before it came due to somethings the officers seemed to not have considered, but this were very few, and in the main did not put me off from what was an enjoyable read.

Hayder's prose is generally excellent, and her characters sufficiently complex to keep a reader's interest. I was more drawn to Flea, the female Underwater officer, than I was Caffrey, whose own character didn't feel too deep in this one, but then I expect we learn more about throughout Hayder's other Caffrey books.

The Walking Man was both an intriguing character and handy narrative tool and Hayder used him brilliantly to alter and manage the pace of the book, and give Caffrey time and space to reflect and ponder. Really good stuff.

If you like realistic and superbly written police fiction, I think you'll really like this one.

Anatomy of Death: In Five Sleazy Pieces: 3 (PentAnth)

Anatomy of Death - Stephen Bacon, Johnny Mains, John Llewellyn Probert, Stephen Volk, Mark West Anatomy of Death (In five sleazy pieces) – A review

I was kindly given an ARC of this by the editor Mark West to review. It’s an anthology of five horror stories and is published by Hersham Horror Books.

Stephen Bacon’s ‘Pseudonym’ kicks off the book and although in itself it isn’t a sleazy horror story as per the tagline of the book, it centers on an author who, in his heyday, was made famous for writing those kinds of horror books.
The story’s protagonist, after many years, finally gets a reply to his request to interview the author, Gilbert Hudson (A play on Shaun Hutson perhaps?), in his rural home. Upon arrival the protagonist doesn’t find what he expects. Stephen Bacon does a great job in the build up, lavishing us with great memories of those pulpy 80s horror books about tentacles, slugs and leeches etc. He draws us into a mystery with a satisfying conclusion. For those who remember the horror books of the period will no doubt get a kick out of this one. I didn’t think the reveal quite hit the highs of the earlier buildup, but that’s certainly no detriment to a fun and well-written story.

Next up we have a story that caused me the most problems of the book. I fear this story might be quite divisive and very much dependent on personal taste. Johnny Mains gives us the marvelously sleazy title ‘The Cannibal Whores of Effingham.’ It’s gory, pulpy, darkly comic and weird. My main problem with it was that for me personally, I couldn’t really follow the narrative—which to be fair I think is part of the aim. It feels like one of those drugged-up 60s psychedelic horror films where you’re not entirely sure what’s going on. I didn’t really know who was a protagonist or antagonist. Within the first page, utter chaos rains down and keeps going at full throttle until the very end with frantic head-hopping and mad scenes one after the other. In some ways it reminded me of American Psycho.
I’m not saying it’s a bad story at all, just that for my personal taste I didn’t really get invested in the style of it. But I know that fans of gruesome bizarro fiction will get a kick of Mr Mains’ wild story. It certainly fits the brief and will no doubt appeal to sleaze aficionados.

In a dramatic change of style, the third story from John Llewellyn Probert, ‘Out of Fashion,’ takes us to the clogged streets of Victorian London. Written in a subtle and flowing style, I was immediately hooked. The slightly pompous, but inventive Professor Morley Cavendish is disturbed by one of his students knocking at his door after-hours. Within his arms is the unconscious body of the boy’s girlfriend. Her corset is stuck, and not by natural means. The story quickly gets into a Lovecraftian bent with a suitably horrible monster and the realization by Cavendish of a far wider consequence of the things that came out of the Thames.
With no disrespect to the other stories, this, along with Mark West’s story was my favorite of the collection, but then I’m a sucker (no pun intended) for Lovecraft style fiction, and Mr Probert has done a fine job in conjuring the right atmosphere and creating engaging and vivid characters. I’d love to read more of Probert’s work in this style. Highly entertaining.

The fourth story in the collection by acclaimed writer Stephen Volk is highly disgusting. And that’s testament to Volk’s quality and no slight on the story. I rarely have this problem with horror. I’m desensitized to most things and rarely get a reaction beyond mildly entertained, but this one made me feel physically sick, which given the kind of story it is can only be taken as a glowing reference.
Volk starts us off with a first person narrative of a fairly dull individual who has learned one skill: how to be a brown-noser: how to appease his bosses to make his life easier. He’s proud of this skill, but it soon comes back to bite him on the arse (pun intended).
When a new employee starts at the business, the narrator soon realises that he can’t schmooze his way around the new man and intends to get rid of him, which for the time being he accomplishes. But he didn’t imagine what would come next in an ordeal so grim and so expertly written that you’ll no doubt cringe all the way to the grissly end.
It’s the finest story of sleaze I’ve ever read and don’t wish to read again. Volk’s skills and imagination are considerable. It’s weird that I should recommend this story given my reaction to it, but like Mains’ madcap tale, I know this will be popular with the right kind of reader.

And lastly, to cap off this eclectic mix is Mark West’s ‘The Glamour Girl Murders.’ Set in London, 1976, the story follows up-and-coming photographer, and foot fetishist, Bob Parker, as he attempts to break into the glamour/porn industry with his skills behind the lens. Back-dropped to Parker’s story is the series of murders of glamour girls, of which Parker finds himself right in the middle of.
I’ve read a number of works by Mark and one of his great strengths beyond a riveting narrative is really nailing the atmosphere of a by-gone era, whether that is the 80s or 70s. I felt as if I were right there following Parker as he travels around London going about his business. Every description hit home and conjured strong images in my mind. It’s a great study in how to use setting as a character.
I won’t say much more about the story as I don’t want to give too much away, but Mark does a fine job of feeding enough information and detail to keep the suspense running from start to finish in a fine murder/thriller story. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable tale that caps of an anthology of mixed subject matter. Each story, in their own unique way, gives homage to the cult of sleaze horror.
Although a couple of the stories weren’t to my personal taste, overall this is a fine collection and I’m sure horror fans will find a lot to like about this Hersham title.

The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel

The Copper Promise: Ghosts of the Citadel - Jen Williams Ghosts of the Citadel is the first of a four-part serialised collection of novellas. This harkens back to serialised fiction of old. There are more and more rumblings around the interwebs of how this is the future of short-form fiction on eReaders. After reading this, I can say for certain I hope that is true.

There used to be a time when reading was about having fun, exploring new worlds and being enchanted by massive freakin’ fantasy creatures. We still have that to some degree, but things are so much more serious now. (See Game of Thrones as an example of this ‘serious fantasy’ — my eyebrows are knitted together and my voice is low like Brian Blessed when I say that. Grrr, serious.) This is all fine and dandy. I, too, like a good Grrr, serious fantasy novel every now and then, but it’s nice to contrast that with pure unadulterated fun.

Of the story itself, we follow a trio of adventurers into the aforementioned Citadel. Jennifer Williams starts the story with a little bit of a prologue in chapter 1 to set up a bit of the world and lay down a few story lines. I was gripped from the very first page. Despite this novella following pulp traditions, there is no lack of skill in the prose, imagery or craft. In Lord Frith, Jennifer expertly creates a character with a multitude of motivations and goals (Can’t say too much about the beginning as it would spoil the story), so that when he pops up later in the story, it all ties together perfectly.
We are then taken into a vignette scene of true dungeon-crawling wonderfulness with two comic characters, Chednit and Gallo who get into a spot of bother in the eerie gloom. From this scene onwards we get tons of marvellous atmosphere, tension, and quite often, hilarity.

We then zoom to a frothy, swill laden tavern where we meet the two cornerstones of the story, and the main character in which the series is named after: The Copper Cat, aka Wydrin. She is a spiky, charming, dagger-wielding go-getter who has burned her way into my subconscious along with her disgraced Knight, Sebastian. The dialogue throughout between these adventurers is witty, snappy and a joy to read. Jennifer clearly knew her characters well when she wrote this, as they leap off the page with fully formed three dimensions. Wydrin will soon be a classic fantasy character and one of my favourites and probably yours, too.

Ghosts of the Citadel, being a novella, is a short read. I completed it in two sessions and loved every minute of it. There’s great pay off at the end, plenty of daring-do, and wondrous adventure throughout. The pacing of the story is perfect. We have great fight scenes with frenetic energy, then calmer scenes that are no less enjoyable. Jennifer proudly claims some classic tropes in this dungeon-crawler and twists them in her own style which makes for an incredibly enjoyable and believable world. I cannot wait to get my hands on the next instalment; these novellas are going to make a wonderful collection, and I heartily recommend you check this one out.

Killing My Boss

Killing My Boss - Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff I'm the co-author of this book.