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

 

Cover reveal: STEEL MAGIC by J.L. Gribble

I have been away for FAR too long, but I’m pleased to come back to making updates and posting new reviews starting with a cover reveal for a book from Raw Dog Screaming Press that I’m really excited to dig into:

_Steel Magic-Jacket.indd

Debuting 6th July 2016 • PRE-ORDER

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

Newly graduated warrior-mages Toria Connor and Kane Nalamas find themselves the last remaining mages in the city when a mage school teacher mysteriously falls ill and dies. But taking over the school themselves isn’t in the cards. They’re set to become professional mercenaries-if they make it through the next 18 months as journeymen first.

The debate over whether to hunt mutated monsters in the Wasteland or take posh bodyguard jobs is put on hold when a city elder hires them to solve the mystery of the disappearing mages. Toria and Kane’s quest brings them to the British colonial city of New Angouleme, where their initial investigation reveals that the problem is even greater than they feared.

But when a friend is kidnapped, they’ll have to travel to the other side of the globe to save her, save themselves, and save magic itself.

I previously read the first book, STEEL VICTORY, in Gribble’s Steel Empire series. It is a very entertaining urban fantasy / alternate history, and I recommend checking it out if you haven’t yet. Gribble’s characters stood out particularly strongly for me. So I’m eager to see what new directions they go in development.

Debuting 6th July 2016 • PRE-ORDER

About the Cover Artist:  Bradley Sharp

Bradley Sharp was born in 1977 in Oxfordshire, UK. From a young age he filled many sketch books, so it only made sense to study Graphic Communication at Nene University, where he received a BA Honors degree in 1997.

But the real world called Sharp away from academics, so he traveled around the globe a couple of times, working as a graphic designer. Now he makes a living by designing magazine spreads, but freelances with vector illustrations, allowing him to create something far-removed from what he does in his nine-to-five job.

Sharp finds vector to be an easy tool and believes anyone can use it. “I’d say my artwork is nothing more than glorified doodling. I like the logical inconsistencies of surrealism and find inspiration from many places such as music or the science fiction genre. Dog Star’s novels lend themselves well to my style. I look forward to working with DSB in the future, and hope fans will like the imagery as much as they enjoy the words.” Find Sharp’s work online at his website.

About the Author: J.L. Gribble

Gribble photo color

By day, J. L. Gribble is a professional medical editor. By night, she does freelance fiction editing in all genres, along with reading, playing video games, and occasionally even writing. She is currently working on the Steel Empires series for Dog Star Books, the science-fiction/adventure imprint of Raw Dog Screaming Press. Previously, she was an editor for the Far Worlds anthology.

Gribble studied English at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. She received her Master’s degree in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, where her debut novel Steel Victory was her thesis for the program.

She lives in Ellicott City, Maryland, with her husband and three vocal Siamese cats. Find her online on her websiteFacebook , on Twitter, and on Instagram.

 

Cover Reveal – THE UNDERSIDE OF THE RAINBOW: Poetry by B.E. Burkhead

I’m pleased to take part in the cover reveal for this gorgeous upcoming Raw Dog Screaming Press poetry collection by B.E. Burkhead. Look for it in July.

Unveiling the Rainbow

Artist Steven Archer has created a raw, textured cover to match B.E. Burkhead’s gritty, and unapologetic realism. In this poetry collection Burkhead shows readers what happens when they take off their rose-colored glasses and look at the world around them.

Instead of fields of freshly grown flowers, he writes of alleys with broken bottles and hypodermic needles, no happily-ever-afters, just blunt and honest truths, sometimes with endings, sometimes without. Just as life doesn’t hand out answers, Burkhead doesn’t sugarcoat its truths.

UndersideCover

Coming in July

You can pre-order this collection now!

“Underside took me on an unexpected emotional journey I relished long after reading. To me that’s the mark of a damn fine collection–and one that will remain in my library forever.” —Jessica McHugh, author of The Green Kangaroos

“There is a blatant honesty, an abject truth in B. E. Burkhead’s words, which is not buoyantly hateful, but bleakly hopeful.”—G. Arthur Brown, author of Kitten

About the Artist

Steven Archer is an artist and musician living in Baltimore, MD. When not recording, DJing, or producing art, he and his wife, author Donna Lynch, tour with their dark electronic rock band Ego Likeness. He has a BFA from the Corcoran School of Art in Washington DC and has shown his work at galleries and other venues throughout the east coast.  His work has also been shown internationally in the form of album art and magazine illustrations. He is the author and illustrator of the children’s book Luna Maris. For more information about Ego Likeness, please visitwww.egolikeness.com. Steven’s solo electronic project can be found at www.hopefulmachines.net.

About the Author

Born dead to a barren woman, B. E. Burkhead is a poet, writer and artist. He lives on the vestigial tail of Maryland with his wife, son and an army of starving cats. The Underside of the Rainbow is his first book of collected poetry.

[Title, artist, and author information from RDSP]

THE VALLEY OF HAPPINESS AND OTHER STORIES, by George Williams

24382826The Valley of Happiness and Other Stories
By George Williams
Raw Dog Screaming Press – 27th February 2015
ISBN 9781935738671  – 158 Pages – Paperback
Source: Raw Dog Screaming Press


CONTENTS:
“Striper” (Originally published in Journal of Curriculum Theorizing)
“Ghostly”
“Dummy”
“Televangelist at the Texas Motel” (Originally published in Gulf Coast)
“Slave for a Day”
“Deadly”
“Ginny Shay”
“Moon”
“The Valley of Happiness” (Originally published in Boulevard)
“Goat”
“The Bay of Drake” (Originally published in Reed)
“Buy Now, Pay Nothing”
“Beestings”
“Wabash” (Originally published in Boulevard)

The back cover of this new collection from Williams (Gardens of Earthly Delight) has a blurb of praise from Library Journal saying that he “…shows a darkly comic sensibility more akin to that of the filmmaking Coen brothers…than to more obvious literary influences…” and I agree that this describes his work excellently.
Each of the stories in The Valley of Happiness and Other Stories take a setup or core plot that seems very familiar, classical even in the American landscape of storytelling, but then gives it a tweak into some direction surreal, absurd, or just plain weird.  Dialogue spoken with ‘straight man’ seriousness sounds slightly comic, unfamiliar in the surrounding situation.
For instance, the opening story “Striper” begins as a quiet tale of friends fishing, and a sudden tremendous haul of a gigantic fish that seemingly shatters all known records. The folky nature of the story is drawn into the realms of the fantastic, the unusual by the size of the fish, and phone calls from scientific institutions wanting to examine and preserve it. But Williams will take things some steps further, the fish speaking, and the fisherman who caught him struck with novel feelings and needs leading to his physical transformation and refuge in the waves.
 “Dummy” deals with a ventriloquist and his dummy who go on a rampage of crime and destruction. The creepiness of the ventriloquist dummy (or dolls in general) have appeared in thrillers and horrors on small screen, large screen, and in print for long enough that it is a common trope. But Williams looks at things again slightly off kilter, in the minimalism of his text not stating outright who these people are, what the dummy is, but linking it into the psychology of the man.
The minimalism of Williams writing is one of the things that I loved most about his stories in his last collection. In this he continues that mastery of staccato dialogue and bare-bones evocative description. Yet, it is also apparent from a couple of the stories that he can do flowery just as well, particularly with “The Bay of Drake”.
 With this story Williams seems to have skewing both the story AND his characters into comic absurdity. Narrated by a member of explorer Francis Drakes’ crew, the story is written in a more antiquated and verbose style than all the others. We soon find that the crew has come ashore to California of modern day, with an invitation to a party for ‘play boys’ hosted by one ‘Huey Heifer’. The juxtaposition of the older with the modern, the uncertainty of whether Drake’s men have been lost in time or if they are just method actors REALLY devoted to their role, the calash of modern culture through the eyes of a more repressed age… they all play here to highlight the best of Williams even absent the minimalism.
Other stories here range from social commentary (“Slave for a Day”) to violently disturbing (“Ginny Shay”) to bizarrely empowering (“Beestings”), while others court closely to the literary focus on relationships (“The Valley of Happiness”) or a Bonnie-and-Clyde-esque genre crime story (“Wabash”). At approximately a quarter length shorter than his previous collection Gardens of Earthly Delight, I actually enjoyed this one more, just the right amount of this style for me without it losing its potency.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this from Raw Dog Screaming Press in exchange for an honest review.

MR. WICKER, by Maria Alexander

22545259Mr. Wicker
By Maria Alexander
Published by Raw Dog Screaming Press, 16th September 2014
ISBN: 1935738666 – 236 Pages – Paperback
Source: Raw Dog Screaming Press


You may recall the fabulous cover illustration of this from when Reading 1000 Lives took part in the Mr. Wicker cover reveal awhile back. Since then Mr. Wicker has earned a 2014 Bram Stoker Award nomination for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. In her debut novel, Alexander draws from mythological sources, particularly Celtic, to form a richly imaginative story that combines elements of fantasy, horror, romance, and historical novels.
In the throes of depression and instability horror writer Alicia Baum succumbs to suicide. Rather than offering any release, she finds herself in a timeworn library before a strange man who speaks of lost memories and a desire born from destiny to have her stay beside him, Mr. Wicker, in this mysterious realm beyond life where he can reunite her with all she has lost. Alicia, despite recognizing this sense of incompleteness within herself that has fueled her mental instability, chooses instead to flee from the uncertain strangeness of Mr. Wicker and his abode. Eternal rest ever elusive, Alicia awakens back to the reality of life, placed in a psychiatric ward under the care of doctors who would never accept her odd experiences.
But, Dr. James Farron has heard child patients in his care whisper in their dreams about the uncanny Mr. Wicker, and overhearing Alicia do the same draws him into serving as her advocate and protector, from her own mind and the corruption of hospital staff. In return he hopes to finally discover the secret to the Mr Wicker phenomena and save his patients.
A synopsis of Mr. Wicker‘s plot simply can not do its intricacies and many layers justice, and too much information can spoil the fun. In a way, Alexander has constructed the novel like a puzzle, and some pieces can be found outside of the novel proper on her website to uncover new secrets and connections. This construction fits well conceptually with the intermixing of genres that Mr. Wicker for the most part manages to handle rather well. She handles the balance between horror, fantasy, and romance rather well, particularly for a first novel. The story was originally envisioned as a film script and the fluidity of events amid the intertwined structure of character-history-reveal shows the marks of this.
My only major quibble is with the extended interlude toward the novel’s end that makes up the more ‘historical’ genre aspect of the novel. Revealing Mr. Wicker’s past, this section is actually one of my favorite portions of the novel in terms of the language and development on its own. But within the whole it ends up breaking the flow of everything around it, not fully integrated into the whole. Personally I can see this historical interlude working well on the screen, but within the book it felt almost a disruptive info-dump of revelation that may have felt more natural interwoven as all other elements of the novel are.
Rather than being the clear-cut villain as I expected, Mr. Wicker is in fact far more complex, full of bittersweet tragedy. The significance of his name will be familiar to anyone who’s seen either of the Wicker Man films or knows that aspect of Celtic history. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Wicker’s corvoid companions. While I knew of their place in Norse mythology, I hadn’t realized that the raven had similar counterparts in Celtic.
Alicia’s allure as a character arises from her opposing dualities. She is drawn alternatively between life and death, between the influence of Mr. Wicker and Dr. Farron, fear of her present mind and desire to reclaim past memories. Alicia has moments of strong independence and making clear decisions, but then also times where she foolishly blunders or shows utter dependence on a male character. Mr. Wicker and Dr. Farron are (selfishly in one case, more altruistically in the other) each intent on claiming her, either as a sort of property or as a case for care, respectively. For much of the novel Alicia permits herself to be defined in this way, but she ultimately reaches her own self discovery and road to follow, so I’d encourage any readers at first put off by this to stay with the story.
While extremely likable as a character, Dr. Farron is rather predictable and one dimensional, as are the secondary characters of the novel, particularly another doctor who serves as the moral opposite of Farron. To be fair, the unique development of Alicia and Mr. Wicker could also arise from this story’s origin as screenplay, where development of more than a couple characters is simply not recommended.
Ultimately fans of dark fantasy who enjoy a touch of mystery and romance will find Mr. Wicker worth a look, an intricate Celtic knot that Alexander has woven quite well for a debut. I think a tale destined from the start for the page rather than the screen will even more deeply reveal her magic and talent for storytelling.

Disclaimer: I received a free advanced reading copy of this from Raw Dog Screaming Press in exchange for an honest review.

Books of Note: THE SALT ROADS, by Nalo Hopkinson and STEEL VICTORY, by J.l. Gribble

As I now get back into catching up on reviews of things I have read, I wanted to mention two books that I’m excited about, but haven’t gotten to read yet.

The first was first released back in 2004, but just had an e-reader release from Open Road Media at the very end of January: THE SALT ROADS, by Nalo Hopkinson. I’ve heard nothing but utter praise for Hopkinson, including from writer Juno Diaz, so I’ve been looking forward to reading her work and regretted having to turn down the chance to review it. But I still feel comfortable in recommending it as something worth looking into if you missed it.

9781504001168From Open Road Media:

Nalo Hopkinson’s third novel invokes the goddess of love in the name of redemption

Hopkinson’s time-traveling, genre-spanning novel weaves a common thread of spiritualism and hope through three intertwined stories of women possessed by Ezili, the goddess of love, as she inspires, inhabits, and guides them through trying personal and historical moments. Jeanne Duval is a talented entertainer suffering from the ravages of a sexually transmitted disease; Mer is a slave and talented doctor who bears witness as Saint Domingue throws off the yoke of colonial rule in the early nineteenth century; and Meritet is a woman of the night who finds religion her own way. Though the three are separated by many miles and centuries, a powerful bond draws them together.

Epic, wrenching, and passionate, The Salt Roads is laced with graceful, lyrical prose. Hopkinson has crafted a one-of-a-kind novel that spans hundreds of years and multiple countries to tell a mystical, heartrending story of self-worth, respect, and salvation.”


 

The second title I’m really looking forward to is STEEL VICTORY, an upcoming title now available for preorder from Dog Star Books (Raw Dog Screaming Press), written by J.L. Gribble. Out in June, today was the cover reveal and exclusive spotlight on the novel at Dirge Magazine. It looks fantastic with another superb cover for this small press by Brad Sharp. I look forward to getting my paws on a copy.

Steel VictoryFrom Raw Dog Screaming Press:

“One hundred years ago, the vampire Victory retired from a centuries-long mercenary career. She settled in Limani, the independent city-state acting as a neutral zone between the British and Roman colonies on the New Continent.

Twenty years ago, Victory adopted a human baby girl, who soon showed signs of magical ability.

Today, Victory is a city councilwoman, balancing the human and supernatural populations within Limani. Her daughter Toria is a warrior-mage, balancing life as an apprentice mercenary with college chemistry courses.

Tomorrow, the Roman Empire invades.”