Cover reveal: NIGHTLY OWL, FATAL RAVEN by Jessica McHugh

Coming in June 2018, a dystopian fantasy novel from talented and prolific author Jessica McHugh and published by Raw Dog Screaming Press. Yesterday was the grand cover reveal for this novel, which I’m very excited about. McHugh and RDSP are a match made in the most twisted and best of dreams.

“Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven combines speculative world-building and a deep appreciation of the works of Shakespeare. This is a Fantasy novel with a fully-realized world of brutal struggles but it is also crafted with lyricism.

While the female protagonist who fights to change a heartless and cruel world will be familiar to readers of Dystopian fiction, the brutality and bitter battles echo the Grimdark movement in Fantasy and add an epic feel to this gritty adventure.

McHugh does not shrink from portraying the ugly realties of war but there is a kernal of hope amid all the darkness. Betrayal, revenge, memory and transformation through knowledge are themes explored in the novel. Readers who enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Lois McMaster Bujold’s Paldin of Souls will be particularly interested in Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven.” — [Promotional Material]

The cover was designed by Jennifer Barnes, a co-founder of RDSP. Along with her husband, Jennifer does a huge amount of work to help make their publishing enterprise a success, and her contributions don’t always get the press or recognition they deserve. She’s done a great job on this cover, using a mixture of a dusk-like lightness with shadowy darkness to create just the right design/mood for capturing interest in the creepy and beautifully demented patterns of McHugh’s writing and vivid characters.

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Debuting 14th June 2018 • PRE-ORDER

Funerals are usually the end of the story, not the beginning.

Since the rise of The Council, an oligarchy of despots and deviants, the legendary Capesman undertakes daily soul collections from Cartesia’s wasteland cities and battlefields. He also frequents Malay Prison, where a vigilante named Shal plots her escape. Armed with a thirst for vengeance and a sharp Shakespearean tongue, Shal must navigate a maze of trauma to save Cartesia and protect her sister from the brutal machinations of Chancellor Doa.

It will require all of Shal’s strength and cunning to resurrect her former army, battle the betrayals of the past, and avenge her father’s death. Will she survive long enough to see the Council fall, or is the Capesman coming for her next?

 

About the Author: Jessica McHugh

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Jessica McHugh is a novelist and internationally produced playwright running amok in the fields of horror, sci-fi, young adult, and wherever else her peculiar mind leads. She’s had twenty-two books published in ten years, including her bizarro romp, The Green Kangaroos, her Post Mortem Press bestseller, Rabbits in the Garden, and her YA series, “The Darla Decker Diaries.”

Visit the Hook of a Book Facebook Event page for Nightly Owl, Fatal Raven to view videos by McHugh and enter a contest to win a copy of her new novel.

Debuting 14th June 2018 • PRE-ORDER

 

TRUTH OR DARE?, Edited by Max Booth III

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Truth or Dare?
Edited By Max Booth III
Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing – 31st October 2015
ISBN 9780986059452  – 234 Pages – Paperback
Source: NetGalley


CONTENTS:
“Shackled to the Shadows”, by Richard Thomas
“An Unpleasant Truth about Death”, by Eric J. Guignard
“Mantid”, by Kenneth W. Cain
“A Ribbon, a Rover”, by Jessica McHugh
“Iz”, by Eli Wilde
“Laal Andhi”, by Usman T. Malik
“The Bone Witch”, by Chantal Noordeloos
“The Pole”, by William Meikle
“Lucy’s Arrow”, by Jay Wilburn
“Change”, by Peter & Shannon Giglio
“Marco Polo”, by James Chambers
“The Dog Metaphor”, by Vincenzo Bilof
“The Whited Sepulchre”, by Nik Korpon
“Rattlebone Express”, by Sanford Allen
“The Shadow Life of Suburbia”, by T. Fox Dunham
“The Other Bonfire”, by Jeremy C. Shipp
“Oh Fuck, it’s the Cops”, by Joe McKinney

        –

I wish I would’ve had copy of this back around the time it was initially released, because it would be the perfect thing to read through the nights around Halloween. The short stories of this themed horror collection Truth or Dare of course share a framework around the party game. But they also share a common universe in setting and characters, the high school students of Greene Point High in Ohio who gather around a bonfire on Halloween night to reveal untold tales or meet the twisted challenges of peers.
While the shared aspect works fine as a setup, the collection doesn’t really hold up to many strong linkages between stories, and it is hard to envision how the events of all the stories could possibly all have occurred during this one supposed night. Yet, this aspect is something that can just be basically ignored, and each of the stories work fine with separate consideration as part of a shared theme collection rather than a shared universe narrative as well.
The stories reminded me of the quality and breadth that readers could expect from typical horror short fiction markets, including Nightmare Magazine, which I’m most familiar with, and the collection includes well-established authors and new-comers alike. A few of the stories didn’t impress me much, but on the whole the collection kept me entertained and provided the slight chills that scary stories and horror provide.
Truth or Dare opens with Thomas’ “Shackled to the Shadows”, which does a good job at setting the overall tone, first person narration, and a general structure shared by many of the loosely connected stories. With this story one already gets a sense that there are many levels of horror surrounding this high school game: the pains of being an outsider within the harsh realms of teenage existence, the monstrosity that people can manifest and the hatred it can in turn engender from victims. Beyond the internal viciousness of the characters there is also the impression of external malevolence, supernatural and ancient. In this opening story and beyond the reader sees that there is the horror of the story itself, but like all good campfire tales they conclude with hints of an even greater horror awakened, to come.
After the opening story heavy on tone, Guignard’s “An Unpleasant Truth about Death” relates an interesting plot about a near (or perhaps actual) death experience that highlights the dangers of intense curiosity and touches upon the power that games like Truth or Dare have, a superstitious hold of rules that one doesn’t take seriously on the level of rationality, but breeds deep fear in the soul upon transgression.
Though entertaining, Guignard’s story (or the one related by the character at least) has the feeling of being contrived – to have that creepy effect on the reader (or the fictional audience in the story). This isn’t a bad thing, I think it’s partially something integral to these kinds of stories, and it reminded me somewhat of the way classic creepy folklore goes, having an emotional effect but then triggering questions about how some plot detail could really happen – or why. This kind of effect casts doubt on whether the scary story is true, giving the audience a rational out to discount danger and allay fear. But what if it did happen?
Perhaps you can recall Schwartz’s classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark collections? Many of the stories in Truth or Dare reminded me of that style, tone, and plotting, but for an adult audience. Jessica McHugh’s “A Ribbon, Rover” is a great example of that, with a compelling plot that seems inventive yet also something born of ageless tales, mirroring the character of the story itself. I’ve read one novel of McHugh’s prior, but this is closer to actual classic horror and I look forward to reading more in that vein from her lovely mind. “The Bone Witch” and “Rattlebone Express” are two others that recalled those feelings of fairy tale and folklore in excellent modern fashion.
“The Bone Witch” also had slight tones of humor in it, despite a rather horrific situation and outcome. “Change” later in the collection from the Giglios also has this certain lightness, which provides some nice variety amid the more darkly emotional stories or the creature horrors of stories like “Mantid” and McKinney’s closing piece.
A few stories also delve into deeper waters of real horror, or in the case of “Iz” tackle the general issue of what makes a monster, what they do both to threaten society or perhaps provide for society. “The Pole” almost literally brings up Nazi skeletons in the closet and “Marco Polo” tackles the very real horrors of abuse. Malik provides a story (Laal Andhi, or Crimson Storm) of horrors from Pakistan, linking uncanny events with the real violence of terrorism, where macabre events from childhood end up imprinting damage on a young boy leading him to senseless and hopeless conflagration in the future.
A satisfying collection that would particularly fit reading in situations (beyond Halloween time) like a summer camping trip, Truth or Dare features a really good idea with the game as a theme for the horror genre. Even if Booth’s collection fails to make a cohesive narrative taken all together, it succeeds well in providing a range of tales that horror fans would enjoy and perhaps some new authors to discover.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

THE GREEN KANGAROOS, by Jessica McHugh


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By Jessica McHugh
Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing – August 2014
ISBN 9780986059469  – 184 Pages – Paperback


With a plot tapped into addiction and attempts at recovery, The Green Kangaroos is an intense, inventive look into selfishness at its most extreme, most ugly. Like A Clockwork Orange it is less about the horror of the deviant and more about the horrors perpetrated by those trying to correct the deviancy. The year is 2099 and Perry Samson is unapologetically addicted to atlys, a powerful drug that is most potently euphoric with injection straight into the sexual organs, in Perry’s case the testicles. Even as Perry steps deeper into self-destructive depravity to attain fixes of atlys-induced happiness, his younger sister (with the help of their parents) pursues a radical recovery treatment for Perry in the undying hope that her brother can be reformed.
Works dealing with the powerful gravity of addiction and the dangers that it can bring directly to the addict or indirectly to friends, family, even strangers aren’t uncommon. What sets apart McHugh’s novel is the consideration that the agendas of those trying to cure the addict may be just as defined by destructively addictive tendencies, to a selfishness just as violent. Perry is generally unlikable, crass, and utterly selfish. Yet, he possesses a strong, honest self-perception. Atlys is a drug that makes him feel unbelievably happy, that fuels desires and centers him, regardless of whether it is helping or hurting him. Perry understands his predicament, that using this aptly named drug as a means of navigating through his existence is ultimately poisonous and destructive. He is fully aware that his need is pushing him further into situations he wouldn’t have considered before – including selling his flesh literally (‘potsticking’) and figuratively (prostitution) to fund some more of the drug. While he regularly lies to others to suit his desires, never does Perry lie to himself.
In contrast are the members of Perry’s family, particularly his little sister Nadine. Nadine is shown as firmly committed to the idea of saving her brother, but the matter of her motivations is less clear. She seeks out a new treatment option that to any rational person would be clearly too-good-to-be-true. Despite having a sense of this deep down, Nadine (and the parents) lie to themselves with the righteousness of their hopes and goals, and ignore any sense of dangers. They avoid asking questions or fully recognizing their predicament (or Perry’s) in the care of the doctors who run the recovery program. As the novel progresses it becomes increasingly clear that Nadine is not really looking for Perry’s salvation, but rather is pursuing her own selfish desires to have a ‘normal’, non-addict brother. She will lie to herself, risk herself and others to attain this state of happiness. Not wanting to reveal too much of the plot, the main doctor at the treatment facility has gone through the similar extremes of an addiction to the recovery process at the cost of anything, including the bodies of those he seeks to help.
McHugh’s The Green Kangaroos is thus a really perceptive and profound novel despite its short length and the gritty crassness of its subjects. The futuristic setting and speculative aspects of the recovery program are well imagined and integrated into the plot. At first given its setting in 2099 I wanted to see more of what general society was like, how it was different other than the bits of underworld jargon and environment that McHugh shows. But soon I realized the tight limitation of revealing this universe to Perry’s world and the institution of recovery help keep the focus of the novel intense, tight.
The language is certainly not something that will be to everyone’s taste. It is frequently vulgar and visceral in its depictions of sex and drugs in the underbelly of society. Yet, this shouldn’t be surprising for the topic or style of McHugh and this novel’s setting. In terms of the writing, there were a few instances where dialogue in particular seemed forced, the only critique to this that I can reasonably perceive. At first some of the similes feel too absurd, too much like provoking for reaction. However, I quickly realized these occur in Perry’s first person point of view chapters, and he is simply that kind of guy. McHugh’s writing definitely shines though in her descriptive passages. You can tell she has a love for words, and I most love the playfulness of her prose. This is really what drew me to her work originally. For instance, right from the start with the prologue, she plays on the word ‘junk’ in its multiple meanings and then parallels that at the start of chapter one with our introduction to Perry. McHugh’s imagination is strong and energetic, and she constructs a story well here from the words on up to the plot and themes. I’ll look forward to reading more, even when it is a genre or style that isn’t at the top of my usual reading tastes.