Kayla and the Devil by Bryan Smith

Bryan Smith channels his inner 19-year-old party girl in his latest urban fantasy novel, Kayla and the Devil. This modern Faustian tale transforms Nashville, Tennessee into a world where the Blood Countess, Elizabeth Bathory, is just a phone call away and Jack the Ripper hangs out in your local movie theater. Smith has flirted with fantasy before. House of Blood, and its sequel Queen of Blood, both have strong supernatural elements. Just earlier this year Smith offered up a frightening apocalypse tale, Darkened, which is also more fantasy than horror, so urban fantasy is a natural transition. Still, in terms of style, Smith proves he can step out of his comfort zone without sacrificing his own personal charm.

Kayla is a young, beautiful, and privileged college coed with an ugly problem. Despite her exceptional physical qualities no one wants to have anything to do with her. In fact, those that don’t outright ignore her are completely disgusted by her. Even the nerd who was once obsessed with Kayla acts like she’s got the plague. When she meets a super-hunk in the park, she thinks her luck has made a turn for the better, but Kayla couldn’t be more wrong. This handsome man is the Devil himself and he’s here to make her a deal she can’t refuse. You see, Kayla was kind of a bully in high school. Go figure, right? Well, she was nasty enough that someone, with the Devil’s help, put a shunning spell on her. Unless Kayla performs a despicable act at the Devil’s behest, she will endure a life of sexless, attention-deprived solitude. Even the bums on the outermost fringes of society mock her. So Kayla has to decide if she’s got what it takes to do the Devil’s bidding and end the spell or live as a pariah of pariahs for the rest of her days.

Kayla is not a likable character. She’s conceited, vulgar, and often downright cruel. She’s also in that annoying in-between stage of adolescence and adulthood, when you think you know it all and the world revolves around you. In the initial set-up, I worried I might not be able to tolerate her for the length of the story, but Smith knows how to spin a good yarn. Once he’s engaged you in the plot, he sneakily charms you with Kayla’s antics. It’s hard to say where I took the turn from passive observer to Kayla devotee, but at some point there was no denying, I was her loyal sidekick. Hell, I even grew to admire her I-don’t-give-a-shit attitude and feisty disposition. Kayla’s the type of bad bitch who won’t hesitate to tell an angel “get out of my way or I’ll kick in your heavenly balls.”

An important detail that makes Kayla’s character successful is her voice is consistent, so the reader is never taken out of the story. A college acquaintance uses the phrase “as if” which I find a little outdated, but other than that misstep, the language is believable. Kayla’s dialogue is so natural, I imagined Smith creeping around the Vanderbilt University campus, the setting of this tale, eavesdropping on the female student body for inspiration! I certainly hope that’s not the case, because I’m pretty sure you can get arrested for that.

Kayla’s not the only entertainment in this story. To keep her on task, the Devil sends two legendary baddies, Jack the Ripper and the Countess Elizabeth Bathory. While good ole Jack is on site to monitor her progress, when he isn’t indulging his unsavory desires, Ms. Bathory is there to provide guidance for young Kayla.

Despite the violent history of the Ripper and the Blood Countess, you won’t find their taste for blood explored in graphic detail here. Instead, Smith has toned down the gore for this story. Even though Kayla and the Devil is stripped of the viciousness typical of a Smith novel, it’s not a glaring omission. You won’t be aching for bloodletting because you’ll be too caught up in the story to notice. Smith builds momentum quickly and keeps the pace consistent. Once the plot kicks into high gear you’ve already committed yourself for the ride.

Kayla and the Devil is a light-hearted and fun read with a good sense of humor, but I was especially excited about the ending. You may think you got the plot figured out, but a few twists bring a surprising conclusion. Too often an ending can’t live up to the expectation born of a great story, but Smith manages to pull one last trick out of his hat for the closer. If you’re missing Kayla like I do, don’t worry, she’ll be back because Smith is turning this into a series. Who knows what misadventures he has in store for our potty-mouthed protagonist. Well, I have an idea, but I’m not gonna tell ya’. You never know, maybe someday we’ll get to see Kayla and Meli Destroy Frankenstein! Or Kayla and Meli versus Planet of the Apes. OK, probably not, but I’ll be along for the ride anyway!

The Kindle version has been available since early October, but this review comes just on the heels of the paperback release for you puritans out there. Enjoy!


In Laymon’s Terms Edited by Kelly Laymon, Steve Gerlach, and Richard Chizmar

From Cemetery Dance:

This massive, oversized tribute anthology for Richard Laymon features short fiction and personal remembrances from dozens and dozens of the biggest names in horror and Laymon’s biggest fans.

In addition, there are more than one hundred pages of “Rarities and Fan Favorites” from Richard Laymon’s personal files — stories, interviews, and more, including a 17 page photo album personally selected by Ann Laymon. Several of these rare pieces were scanned directly from Laymon’s original manuscripts and contain his handwritten corrections.

Featuring more than 600 pages of fiction and essays written in honor of the man, author, and friend, In Laymon’s Terms is personal, moving, and wildly entertaining. This is a unique hardcover that would have made Richard Laymon proud.

Richard Laymon is the most respected author in the genre.  This is a very simple and a very bold statement but it is also a statement that I believe to be completely accurate.  Listening to authors talk about Laymon is like listening to veterans talk about a sergeant who saved his entire platoon because of his selfless devotion to the cause.  The love they have for Richard Laymon is genuine and boundless.  I’ve even spoken to authors who may not necessarily care for his style but they are quick to add that, as a person, Dick was in a league of his own.  His love for the genre and his peers was unparelled and the man never took his success for granted.  Simply put, he was a class act.

Cemetery Dance did a fantastic job with this book.  The look and  feel of the book is absolutely breathtaking and it does the memory of Richard Laymon supreme justice.  The amount of material presented within the covers is staggering and every word of it drips with the love and adoration for a man who was criminally underrated by a few and insanely loved by many.

The beauty of this wonderful Cemetery Dance release is that it will appeal to Laymon devotees, as well as non-fans equally.  Sure there are stories here that could have easily come directly from Laymon’s pen (Keene’s Castaways and Smith’s Pizza Face) but there are a great abundance of tales that channel the spirit of Laymon without bearing much resemblance to his style (Ed Lee’s Chef).  A great deal of credit should be given to Kelly Laymon, Steve Gerlach and Richard Chizmar.  These are the editors who realized that there are genre fans out there that may not care for the Laymon style but are very curious about his impact on the genre and they did a wonderful job putting that on display in this collection. The stories range from despicable in the case of Torres’ Bestiality, to humorous in Piccirilli’s New York Comes to the Desert, to flat-out brilliant with Little’s Meeting Joanne. Every story really seems to take a theme present in Laymon’s work and exploit it to the fullest.  The quality of work in this collection is amazing, as every story is memorable and executed impeccably.  This is one of those rare collections where there really isn’t a weak spot to speak of.

Then there are the remembrances.  Ah yes, the remembrances. There is no way I can adequately explain the emotion evoked in these heartfelt essays.  For many of these writers, this was the opportunity to formally say goodbye to a friend that was taken from them too early. The magnitude of emotions displayed here will have your heart in your throat and tears streaming from your eyes.  There is no way around it. The recollections range in tone but all are a testament to the fact that Richard Laymon was a great mentor and friend to many. The reader will feel slightly voyeuristic as these authors lay their souls on the paper.  These essays are really that powerful.

As a complete Laymon nut, the real highlight for me was the inclusion of actual Laymon works that I have never read.  Reading Laymon’s dedication to pipe smoking in his short lived zine, ‘Smokers Blend’, was an absolute treat, while dissecting some poems from a college aged Laymon was more fun than I’ve had in awhile.  These are the real draw for the Laymon fan and make this collection well worth the price.  It adds a certain sense of validity to those years of clamoring about in used bookstores trying to find the Headline edition of In The Dark or selling various organs to afford that copy of A Writer’s Tale on eBay. This collection proves that we weren’t the only ones going crazy over the writings of Richard Laymon.

This is a most fitting farewell to a man who deserves to be appreciated in the same way that people appreciate names like King, Barker and Bloch.  His writing was mean and gritty with a subtle undercurrent of brutal humor which made his style so damn unique.  More than any other writer, Richard Laymon sucked me into the world of genre fiction and, based on the brilliant display of emotion in this gorgeous collection, I am not the only one.

Bloody Bytes: Black Friday Edition

It’s been quite a while since the last Bloody Bytes, but on the eve of the biggest shopping day in the US, we definitely need it! I’ve searched high and low, near and far, for Black Friday digital deals & steals. While I didn’t come across many legit Black Friday sales, I still have some great digital reads for cheap that you can enjoy this extended holiday weekend and a couple miscellaneous goodies as well. So, if you’re gearing up for the door buster events and training for tomorrow’s Black Friday chaos, here are some digital treats for yourself at a low price that won’t make you feel guilty.

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Thunderstorm Releases Ronald Kelly Essentials

Starting this past October, Thunderstorm Books is releasing the Ronald Kelly Essentials – a collection featuring all 8 of Kelly’s books published by Zebra in the 90s.

While Thunderstorm will not be publishing these in any particular order, the collection will be released with their original (pre-Zebra) titles, will boast the same top-notch production values as Thunderstorm’s Black Voltage titles, and will also feature the incredible art of Alex McVey. When complete, the spines of the collection will create a finished piece by McVey, a feature that I’m always really excited to see.

The attention to detail in this collection looks phenomenal, and includes everything from a “The Writing of…” feature, detailing the thoughts and process behind each novel, and a new novella/novelette using characters and settings from each story, in each volume. Any fan of Kelly can get behind this idea. If you haven’t heard of this author (because you live under a rock), you can (and should) start rectifying that right now.

The Essentials will be released on a quarterly basis, starting with Undertaker’s Moon and Fear, are limited to a print run of 125, and priced at $65 each.

As a bonus, direct customers who buy all 8 volumes, will also receive a free hardcover chapbook featuring new stories by Bryan Smith, Scott Nicholson, Nate Southard and James Newman. A fantastic incentive.

For more information, check out Thunderstorm Books and Ronald Kelly’s website.


Tell us about YOUR All Hallow’s Read plans!

If you’ve been following along on our October journey this month you know we’ve been making daily All Hallow’s Read book suggestions for everyone in your life, so you can be prepared to terrify all your loved (or loathed!) ones during the week of Halloween.  (And if you need a specific suggestion, please feel free to ask away! Some of our staff are practically human scary-book encyclopedias.)

We’re dying to know what you horror-fiction folks have planned for our favorite new holiday tradition! Let us know in the comments what you’re doing or what books you’re gifting for All Hallow’s Read this year!

In the spirit of giving great literary scares and horror fare, we here at the DT offices want to extend our holiday book-giving to include our readers.  We’ve been excited to pick out books for our own family and friends, but it wouldn’t be complete if we didn’t get to celebrate All Hallow’s Read with the folks who make this website such a fun venture!  We’ll select people at random from the comments on this post to receive some fantastic fiction, as our All Hallow’s Read gift to you.

One of our favorite authors around here is Bryan Smith. His work has always been a treat to those of us who like our horror bloody, fast paced, and well written. So we’re giving away two copies of his new e-book, Kayla and the Devil an urban fantasy novel we know you’ll enjoy.

If you’ve been paying close attention to our Facebook and Twitter feeds, you’ll know the amount of love and respect we have for Ronald Malfi. And as we’ve always intended to bring you only the best in horror, we’re going to give away two e-book copies of his new novella, Borealis – a haunting and beautiful read that shook us to the core.

When it comes to Paranormal Romance and Erotic Horror, Melissa Ecker’s Giving Up The Ghost delivers in spades. Her prose is tight, her characters are immediately memorable, and her love scenes mind-numbingly intense. Apart from her prowess in writing erotic fare, she’s also more than capable of scaring the pants off of her readers. We’re going to give this e-book to two of you, along with the chance to get scared stiff. (I had to say it…)

Earlier this year, Colum reviewed 3 fantastic new novellas from Thunderstorm books’ Elemental series. We’ve got 2 signed bundles of those little books to give away: Kelli Owen’s The Neightborhood, Bob Ford’s Samson and Denial, and Mary SanGiovanni’s For Emmy.  You’ll love them as much as we did!

Dreadful Tales is also going to give away a bundle consisting of 4 hardcover copies of Locke and Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez. Yep. You heard that right. One lucky person is going to receive a complete set of Volumes 1 – 4 (Welcome to Lovecraft, Headgames, Crown Of Shadows, and Keys to the Kingdom.) Why? Because we love our readers!

So let us know your plans in the comments! Or even just drop in to say hi.  We can’t wait to share so many awesome books with you folks!  The lucky giftees will be chosen at random from the commenters and announced next Saturday to kick off Halloween weekend…stay tuned!

All Hallow’s Read is a book-giving tradition thought up by author Neil Gaiman. We’re making book suggestions all month long in case you need ideas!