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!

-Meli

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.

C.

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!

Darkened by Bryan Smith

When it comes to post-apocalyptic literature, authors have devised numerous ways to destroy humanity. If it isn’t mankind’s scientific hubris that gets us in trouble, our careless disposal of toxic wastes will. If not self inflicted, then certainly an alien invasion or other cataclysmic event is destined to destroy the world. Whether a serious novel that redefines the post-apocalyptic landscape or just a fun romp into a broken world of man-made monsters, the important part of the story, and what keeps readers coming back, is the people who survive. The characters are typically broken, morally ambiguous and not always likable. A powerful component of the post-apocalypse scenario is it allows for self-reflection as the reader considers what lengths they would go to to save themselves and protect the ones they love. Bryan Smith takes this well-worn genre convention and turns it on its head by blending science-fiction and fantasy into a novel horror fiction fans will love. Originally published as Deadworld (Bitter Ale Press Feb 2011), Smith’s Darkened gives a super-charged, B-movie inspired Armageddon serious consideration. The plot device is fantastic and the reader will have plenty of fun playing around in this world, but the plight of the characters is no less sobering.

From the prologue:

…that unbridgeable gap between our reality and the unknowable began to decay. Until the denizens of that dark place came howling into our world, bringing with them a storm of death and destruction, and planting a seed of rot that would infect each of the intermingling alien worlds.

This is my story.

This is everyone’s story.

This is how the world died…

 

Our doomed expedition begins with an anonymous narrator who explains that, as a survivor of the End Times, their hope is “this manuscript might serve as a cautionary tale.” From there, the reader must guess which survivor is recounting the story as we shift to a third-person omniscient perspective, the identity of our anonymous tour guide hidden until we edge closer to the end of the tale. An added bonus for those of us who like surprises and a fair challenge since Darkened has many characters, any one of which is captivating enough to be the main protagonist.

Emily, the songwriter and musician, awakes the day of Armageddon head abuzz with the aftermath of her depression-induced bender the night before, freshly dumped, and unemployed. Over 800 miles away from her home in Nashville, Tennessee her long lost love shares a similarly pathetic existence. Warren “awoke to a familiar buzzing… a subtle crackling he recognized as the sub-aural sound of untold thousands of brain cells dying as a result of last night’s overindulgence…” It’s after 1pm and he’s missed class again. But it doesn’t matter anymore because he’s flunking out of Rutgers University anyway and this afternoon, as if he couldn’t get any lower, he discovers a breakup note from his girlfriend. Almost simultaneously, Zeke Johnson, news anchor, discovers a portal into another realm through a camera lens as he awaits the end of commercial break in Atlanta, Georgia. Jasmine Holtz, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, finds that her “daisy’s center, normally a cheerful bright yellow, had darkened considerably.” And then there’s Aaron Harris, a Layomesque psychopath who is so preoccupied with winning, or violently forcing, Emily’s sexual affections that he barely notices the coming apocalypse until winged demons dive bomb him from a darkened sky.

Aaron isn’t the only psycho in Darkened. The resultant anarchy of the apocalypse brings all the thieves and killers out of the woodwork. Whatever social restraint they showed before no longer applies and it’s in this dark world they really thrive. A completely nude Mary Lou kills her boyfriend Billy in cold blood when he refuses to shoot Zeke the anchor man after robbing him at gunpoint, simply stating “that’s what happens when a man don’t do what I tell him.” From there Mary Lou takes off toward Nashville, Zeke in toe, making him beg for his life for her entertainment and subjecting him to the simple psychological tortures of being her prisoner.

Once all hell breaks loose, people cling to the closet person they know. Warren’s recent ex Amanda enlists his help to get her home to her family in Florida. Emily reconciles with her ex Jake and they take in a strange young girl who appears to have been abandoned in the chaos. Jasmine flees her home after a beastly attack and Zeke is still prisoner to Mary Lou’s whims. Each individual has their own path and destination. These disjointed threads all find their way to one united center as we near the end of Darkened.

The suspense of finding out what happens to each individual drives the plot at an electric pace. Will Emily and Warren be reunited? Will Aaron exact revenge on Emily for rejecting his advances? Can Zeke finally escape the sinister clutches of Mary Lou? What will become of Jasmine? And who is our anonymous narrator!?

Darkened’s gigantic Lovecraftian creatures, winged demons, tears in the fabric of reality, and hyper-accelerated aging of inorganic objects are the stuff of science-fiction dreams. With several gripping threads for readers to follow and a suspenseful yet energetic pacing, Darkened is a must read for horror fans looking for a book with fresh ideas. Bryan Smith fans will find that Darkened is even more ambitious than previous efforts in regards to the scope of his story. Even though he is skilled at character development, his anonymous narrative device gives him further opportunity to exhibit the wide spectrum of personalities kicking around in his head. In addition to our cast, the world Smith has created, with its multiple alien dimensions, is the novelized version of a sci-fi epic geared specifically to fans of the macabre.

Darkened is this readers favorite Smith novel yet, and since it’s available in Kindle eBook format for the low price of $2.99 there’s no excuse not to pick it up!

House of Blood by Bryan Smith

The synopsis and opening of this book would have the reader assume that Bryan Smith’s House of Blood is simply a throwback to the old trope that finds young people terrorized and slaughtered by an inbred cannibal family. The description for Smith’s authorized edition, which was released for Kindle by Bitter Ale Press in April, even ends with a statement that plays on the tagline from one of the most popular and well-known cannibal family films Texas Chainsaw Massacre – “Who among them, if any, will survive the night?” There is no doubt Bryan Smith would do justice to a cannibals-run-amok concept as a seasoned veteran of horror fiction, but as a twist on the old formula, House of Blood is actually more a dark fantasy novel than straight horror. Although certainly horrific, Smith offers a simple premise that proves complex as the reader peals away rotten layer upon rotten layer like a hellacious onion from the garden of an angry God.

At the center of this story are a group of five college kids who lose their way after a road trip turned disastrous. The individuals struggle with infighting, personal demons, and lingering bitterness that threatens to unravel their friendship. Dream, Alicia, Chad, Shane, and Karen are thoroughly exhausted and reduced to petty bickering by the time we catch up with them. Still over a hundred miles outside their home in Nashville, Tennessee all the way from Key West, Florida, the driver of the packed Honda Accord, Dream, takes an ill-fated turn leading them to the titular House of Blood. Each character has taken the gloves off, resorting to personal attacks and shocking revelations about each other at this point, so Smith is able to reveal a significant amount of back story for them. And because the reader has this intimate understanding, by the time they reach the house of horrors you have a vested interest in their survival. Well, some of them.

Smith exhibits strong character development in House of Blood for the most part. The tortuous experience in the house exposes strengths and weaknesses in each of them. While you start out booing and hissing at one, you will find yourself cheering them on as a hero later and vice versa. Of course, there are a few that were doomed to be fodder for the slaughter from the get go. The house is also populated by a number of sadistic weirdos and tragic victims outside our group of travelers that add to the complexity of this tale and solidify the deep history of the house. There is the sadistic Master of the household and his equally vicious Mistress, Ms. Wickman, who is likened to the beautiful and cruel Ilsa from the Nazi exploitation films. Joining them are the victims who have accumulated over time, some occupying torture chambers in the main house, others exist in the perverted underground city known as Below. There is a great deal of action and a suspenseful plot, but it wouldn’t be as engaging without Smith’s well-crafted characters. They are not always likable, but consistently entertaining and Smith is able to reveal details about them in an organic way. The reader feels like they’ve come to know these people without the novel being bogged down with back stories that upset the pacing.

In addition to the strong cast of absorbing characters, House of Blood delivers enough buckets of oozing, blood drenched viscera to live up to its name. House of Blood offers up a disgusting smorgasbord of torture, sexual violence, and shocking brutality. Smith really pushes the limits of cruelty in this book by subjecting his victims to Ms. Wickman’s sexual sadism and sacrificing their lives in cannibalistic blood rituals to the Gods. While excessive, it’s believable within the context of the world he has created which allows him to explore the darkest realms of perversion.

More inspiring than the cast and the despicable acts that play out in the pages of House of Blood is the surprising direction the story takes throughout. With his science fiction / fantasy angle, Smith has created a tale that isn’t just another book riffing off the psycho family device.

This is highly recommended for readers with a taste for extreme violence, a bit of graphic sex, and a penchant for the wild and strange.

You can pick up the authorized version of House of Blood released by Bitter Ale Press for the Kindle here for just a few bones.