Book Review: ‘Ugly As Sin’


By Stacey Longo

Ugly as Sin

Ugly As Sin by James Newman is the latest offering by Shock Totem Publications, billed right on the cover as “white-trash noir,” a tongue-in-cheek summary of the contents inside. It’s funny, fast-paced, and engaging.

Nick Bullman once had an impressive career as The Widowmaker, a wrestling heel whose feuds in the Global Wrestling Association were legendary. It’s rotten luck for Nick when two wrasslin’ fans who think it’s all real attack Nick, beating him and mutilating his face in the process.

When GWA CEO Lance K. McDougal III (a clear caricature of Vince McMahon, and that’s okay) wants to market Nick’s ruined face as a gimmick, Nick attacks him. The subsequent criminal and civil lawsuits ruin Nick, and he finds himself in a bad way . . . until his daughter, Melissa, asks him for help.

It seems Nick’s granddaughter, Sophie, has been kidnapped. Nick, who honestly has nothing better to do, agrees to investigate. Along the way, he picks up a sidekick, Leon, a meth head who is happy to team up with his favorite former wrestler. What follows is a heartwarming story of two men bonding over past mistakes, current circumstances, and future dreams. Just kidding. What actually follows is mayhem, murder, and the sinking realization that Nick’s actions in the past has had real consequences on his daughter’s and granddaughter’s lives.

Ugly As Sin comes full circle, when Nick realizes that in some ways, the villain in the story is a better father than he himself has been. No matter, though: the bad guy is still a monster, and Nick’s able to (spoiler alert) save the day and turn over a new leaf where his family is concerned. Chock full of colorful characters, action, and unsettling horror, Ugly As Sin is worth the read.

Book Review: “VWars: Blood and Fire”


By Stacey Longo


VWars: Blood and Fire is the second installment in the VWars series, edited and co-authored by New York Times bestselling author Jonathan Maberry, featuring such talented writers as Kevin J. Anderson, Larry Correia, Joe McKinney, James A. Moore, Yvonne Navarro, Weston Ochse, and Scott Sigler. The book is set up in a manner reminiscent of World War Z, in which the reader is treated to snippets of the escalating battle between the “Beats” (humans) and the “Bloods” (vampires). No need to worry if you haven’t read the first one (though I do recommend the first installment): the anthology is character-driven, engaging, and sucks the reader in from the first page.

Maberry leads off with “Apocalypse Tango” (broken up into seven parts and interspersed between other stories, as many of the tales in this book are), which introduces us to Luther Swann, an important figure throughout this book. This story maps out what’s going on—families are getting slaughtered, tensions are escalating, and Swann is unable to prevent what appears to be another war against the vampires.

“The Enemy Within” is a solid entry from Yvonne Navarro, who introduces us to Mooney, a vampire uncomfortable with her new status. She becomes immersed in local vamp infighting. Mooney is an intriguing character, and this story will have you hoping that Mooney gets her own novel someday.

Joe McKinney introduces us to thirteen-year-old Ernesto in “Tenochtitlan Will Rise,” showcasing yet another facet of the developing tensions. Through Ernesto, who is just trying to take care of his grandfather, we see how closely war can hit home.

“War Torn,” the piece from James A. Moore, creates an engaging voice in Johnny Lei. Lei is empathetic, and you’ll find yourself rooting for the misunderstood vampire, until he reminds you that first and foremost, he is a predator.

“Suicide Games,” also by Maberry, lets us know that there’s more to fear in this war than just vampires and humans.

Next up is “Solitude” by Kevin J. Anderson, a standalone piece about a veteran of Afghanistan who just wants to be left alone. It’s intriguing and haunting.

Maberry pops back in with “Let God Sort ’Em Out,” in which we’re treated to battle scenes, the internal struggle that our old friend Swann continues to deal with, and the introduction of a dynamic new character, Big Dog.

“Manifest Destiny” is Weston Ochse’s contribution, and showcases the cruelty and destruction of which both man and vampire are capable. Underlying in this piece is a cynical commentary on role the media plays in life-or-death situations.

Larry Correia gives us “Force Multiplier,” another standalone story, this one about the far-reaching destruction the war has wrought.

Scott Sigler is up next with “The Hippo,” a fascinating piece about a serial killer hunting amid the vampire wars. This was probably my favorite story in the book—it finally let the reader get a glimpse of reporter Yuki Nitobe, who is mentioned in several other pieces, plus, it reminds the reader that not all of the monsters in this book are vampires. Humans are capable of some pretty awful things, too.

“La Belle Dame Sans Merci” shows some behind-the-scenes negotiations between Swann and the Crimson Queen, in which we learn that neither side, really, wants this war.

Finally, Maberry concludes with “Monsters in the Dark,” a brilliant character portrait of a vampire that is intriguing, opens up new questions, and leaves the reader wanting more.

Overall, VWars: Blood & Fire showcased some fabulous writers, kept me turning the pages, and got me excited about the next collection. VWars: Blood & Fire is available in bookstores and on Amazon here.

Book Review: ‘The Great Grammar Book’


By Stacey Longo

The Great Grammar Book

I am a copy editor for a Fortune 100 company by day, a copy editor by night for a small press, and a writer. As such, I am extremely rigid and unforgiving when I am asked to review and analyze a book about grammar and syntax. I am happy to say The Great Grammar Book (Second Edition) by Marsha Sramek exceeded my expectations.

The book uses familiar and easily understood language to go over the fine details of the English language, patiently walking the reader through each step, starting with parts of speech and ending with a comprehensive chapter on successful writing techniques. The example sentences used to demonstrate the nuances of the lesson being taught were full of interesting trivia, making this not only an informative review but also an interesting read.

My favorite things in this book were the pointers regarding commonly misused words. (Chapter Two, for example, patiently explained that “alright” does not exist in standard English—a pet peeve of mine when it crops up.) There were numerous examples highlighting common errors, all of which made me start mentally composing a list of people who would benefit from this book. Suffice to say, most of my holiday shopping is now done.

The only proofing error I found was in Chapter Five, “Using Apostrophes Correctly.” Chicago Manual of Style, 6.114 notes that the using the left single quotation mark “should always be construed as an error.” Basically, the tail of the apostrophe should always point to the omitted text, which didn’t happen in the section on omitted numbers (Spirit of ’76 was displayed as ‘76, for example). This is, of course, a minor error, but one I’m sure the author is chastising herself over as I type this.

The Great Grammar Book is fabulous for writers, editors just starting out (I found it to be overly simple for my editing level, but it never hurts to review the basics) and anyone who misuses the English language on a daily basis. I’ve brought it in to work with me to use as a reference when I’m tired and second-guessing myself. This book should be mandatory for every writer’s library.

The Great Grammar Book is available on Amazon here.

The Sex Appeal of ‘Style Icons’

By Stacey Longo

Style Icons

Style Icons, Volume I: Golden Boys (2014, Createspace Independent Publishing Platform) is the first in a series of coffee table books from Fashion Industry Broadcast, written by Paul G. Roberts. In this volume, the series examines the sex appeal of some major Hollywood actors of the 20th century.

The selection of actors offered is diverse and clearly carefully chosen. From the brooding handsomeness of Brando to the swashbuckling sexiness of Flynn, the book showcases a variety of talented, beautiful actors. It examines why these men were so appealing: on page 10, the author says, “It would be convenient to compare the greatest sex symbols to Greek gods … but a keener truth seems to be that we fancy our love gods deeply flawed.” I’d agree that this is true for most of the men in this book.

The book contains glossy photos, a biography on each actor, and links to videos (more on those later). The book opens with Marlon Brando, a personal favorite of mine. There’s a brief biography, and many smoldering photos to remind the reader of why he was so appealing. I particularly enjoyed a whimsical shot of Brando on the set of Apocalypse Now, where he looks relaxed and happy.

Next up is James Dean. The glossy photos capture his handsome face and bad-boy charm. Interesting note about the bio included here: I used to think Dean was bisexual. After reading this, now I think he was gay. This, of course, is irrelevant, because the main point is, he was a good actor and easy on the eyes.

Errol Flynn is featured next, and the pictures here emphasize his debonair reputation. Many actors today still emulate Flynn—indeed, in one photo, he reminded me of Cary Elwes; in another, Kevin Kline.

The chapter on Clark Gable was what I’d expected—several shots from Gone with the Wind, certainly his most famous role, along with candids of him with Carole Lombard and Marilyn Monroe.

The Cary Grant chapter was much like the others—a brief bio and several photos. The treasure in this chapter was a shot of him with Marilyn Monroe. She is posing, and he has a bewildered look on his face. It was a nice glimpse of Cary Grant, the man, not just Cary Grant, the actor.

I especially enjoyed the chapter on Rock Hudson. The photos emphasized how attractive he was, and the bio emphasized the tremendous impact he had on bringing AIDS to the spotlight. As I still remember the shock of seeing his gaunt face on the cover of People back in 1985, it was good to see him young and sexy again.

The Steve McQueen chapter offered no surprises, and served as a reminder of how cool he really was. He was followed by Paul Newman. It’s impossible not to love Paul Newman: besides being a genuinely nice guy—those eyes!

The chapter on Elvis Presley was sad. Though many of these icons died young, it’s tragic to look back on Elvis’s life, see how much he had going for him, and knowing that his life ended so soon. Yes, he was handsome, and the photos will remind you of that, but he was unhappy, too.

Finally, we have Rudolph Valentino to close out the book. His sex appeal was legendary, though photographs don’t always capture that essence of sexuality about him. Luckily, there are links that the reader can visit to see the man in action.

I did have some small issues with the book—it definitely needs another text edit, and it ends abruptly and without photo credits. (In all fairness, I have a review copy, so it’s possible that further edits were made after this version.) The video links throughout the volume will certainly enhance the e-book version of Style Icons, Volume I: Golden Boys, but in the print version, the location of the “play” icon in the center of each image was frustrating. However, this extra element of video links embedded throughout the book did make me want to purchase the e-book version.

Overall, Style Icons, Volume I: Golden Boys was an enjoyable read, and a respectful and intriguing look back at some of the screen’s most alluring leading men. You can buy it on Amazon by clicking here.

Book Review: ‘The Witch of Painted Sorrows’ by M.J. Rose

By Stacey Longo


The Witch of Painted Sorrows, the latest offering from M.J. Rose, paints a tempestuous a portrait of a woman fleeing her corrupt husband to seek refuge with her grandmother in Paris. Sandrine, who has never known love, finds passion ignited within her when she meets Julien, discovers a talent for painting she never knew she had, and begins indulging both of these desires. The question becomes whether she is simply discovering her true self, or is there another, supernatural element involved?

Sandrine’s husband is responsible for her beloved father’s suicide, and Sandrine, unable to live with him a moment longer, escapes to her grandmother’s house to hide from him and find herself. Grand-mere is nervous having her granddaughter there, and fears that exposing Sandrine to the ghosts of their ancestors will set off a chain of events that can only end in despair and death for those possessed by the past. Sandrine is unwilling to accept that her newly awakened passions might be the result of a centuries-old courtesan witch. Her struggle to find herself and learn more about her fiery ancestor results in a climax embracing the basest of emotions: lust, love, hate, and vengeance.

Rose immerses the reader in a lush, vibrant scene of late nineteenth century Paris, and the reader immediately becomes a witness to the sumptuous scenes as they unfold. Senses are heightened as characters are drawn into a complex tale of witchery, ancestry, and fate; and Rose deftly guides us to a crescendo, resulting in an unexpected yet satisfying ending. It’s impossible not to feel affected and a bit emotionally drained after reading this story. Rose has brought her unique style and captivating tone to this tale, once again hypnotizing her readers in a world of beauty and mystery.

‘O Little Town of Deathlehem’ is Horror for the Holiday Season


By Stacey Longo


If you’re wondering what to get the horror fan in your family this holiday season, look no further than Grinning Skull Press’s O Little Town of Deathlehem, a robust collection of holiday horror stories. Edited by Michael J. Evans and Harrison Graves, this anthology, is sure to please the most twisted of souls.

Starting off strong, the anthology opens with “One of His Own” by Catherine Grant, a Krampus tale that offers an almost tender-hearted look at the Christmas demon. Almost. It’s followed by “Christmas Wine” by Matt Cowan, a fun little story about having to make a terrible choice around the holidays. As you turn the page to the next story, and the next, you’ll be happy to realize that each tale is a delightful holiday present of its own.

Other personal favorites in this collection include “All I Want For Christmas” by Raymond Gates, about a writer struggling to finish his novel who unwittingly accepts help without considering the source. John Boden’s “The Antiphon” was a fabulous, lighthearted look at what can happen if you make a spelling mistake when addressing a letter to the big guy at the North Pole. And “Special Delivery” by Simon Bradley reveals a different, more human, and not always jolly side to dear old Saint Nick that you won’t soon forget.

Overall, O Little Town of Deathlehem is an enjoyable read of high-quality stories that is sure to please the hardest people to buy for on your Christmas list this year.

Book Review: “Blood Cult of the Booby Farmers” by Peter N. Dudar


By Stacey Harris



Blood Cult of the Booby Farmers by Peter N. Dudar wins, hands down, the best title for a novella ever. And what would you suspect from a story with such a title? Inbreeding, perhaps? Parasitic half-formed twins? Boobies? Good news: Dudar delivers all of these delights, and more.

BCOTBF is the tale of Tobias and Mathias, two brothers who, along with their father, are struggling to keep their farm from foreclosure. Add to this the problem of feeding Mathias’s parasitic, always-starving twin, Bubba, and you’ve got yourself a real dilemma. Tobias is in charge of keeping Bubba fed, and he does so by kidnapping lactating women. Problem is, Mathias keeps killing these women, and the planted corpses among the fields soon make their presence known.

This tale is not for the weak of heart. There is rape, torture, cannibalism, and gore galore, and honestly, I wouldn’t let my mother read it. (Hell, I don’t even want her to find out that I’ve read it.) You will not want to recommend that your local church book club read this book. (Or maybe you will, if your aim is to be excommunicated. If that’s the case, recommend away.) However, if you’re a fan of extreme horror, and have a perverse sense of humor, BCOTBF is just the book you’re looking for.

BCOTBF is twisted and sick, an homage to grindhouse and B-quality horror. It’s a bit silly, a little campy, and definitely grotesque, all essential elements for an entertaining read. It will absolutely appeal to the teenage boy in every man, and is a satisfying read for any gender willing to get down and dirty.

And yes, as promised, it is chock-full of boobies.

Book Review: Vlad V’s ‘The Button’


By Stacey Longo

The Button

The Button—Book I of II (2014, Lucid Dream Press) is the latest offering from author Vlad V. and is an intriguing start to a well-written mystery that will leave you clamoring for the sequel.

Brothers Pete and Gary Godfrey are hiking one day when they discover a cave containing artifacts from different time periods, including a sleek, mysterious cube, inset with a button. A temptation that would tug at anyone’s primal instinct (who doesn’t see a button and want to push it?) Pete is eventually unable to resist depressing the button, setting off an irreversible chain of events that ensnares the reader in a captivating puzzle. Without giving too much away, suffice to say the government quickly becomes involved, as well as an underground reporter who is determined to find out the truth about the enigmatic cube. The siblings’ relationship, varying from strained to serious but interwoven with humor and love throughout, adds an important element of humanity in this novel. The book opens and closes showcasing the bond between these two brothers, providing the backbone to this robust tale.

Vlad V. does an excellent job of keeping the reader interested and involved, offering clues, creating a likeable character in Pete and offering possible redemption for Gary, and carefully laying the foundation for the next book. A combination of both science fiction and mystery, The Button will keep you in suspense from beginning to end.

About the Author: Vlad V. is the author of Brachman’s Underworld and Yorick, both solidly written books also recommended by the reviewer. He is a former journalist and freelance writer currently studying history and English at the University of Massachusetts.

Book Review: ‘Accidents of Marriage,’ the newest offering from Randy Susan Meyers


By Stacey Harris


Randy Susan Meyers’ latest riveting offering, Accidents of Marriage, takes the reader through the strained workings of an unhappy marriage to the shattered remains after this marriage implodes. Ben and Maddy are struggling to raise three children and keep their relationship balanced, while the dark cloud of Ben’s temper always looms overhead. It’s Ben’s hotheadedness that results in a terrible accident which lands Maddy in the hospital with a traumatic brain injury.

Seamlessly told from the perspectives of Ben, Maddy, and Emma, their 14-year-old daughter, Meyers takes us through the cycle of Maddy’s transformation from victim to survivor, and the impact her accident has on the family dynamic. Blame is thrown like paint across a landscape, and nobody escapes the feelings of guilt, shame, and hopelessness that accompany it. The reader will find Maddy both likeable and oblivious (after all, she works with abused women, yet can’t seem to recognize the signs in her own marriage). Emma comes across as a true teenager, at times entitled and shallow, but as her role within the family changes after her mother’s accident, alarmingly burdened with the responsibility of keeping things running smoothly. She’s an empathetic character with a teenage attitude: the reader feels pity for her, but sometimes, her selfishness is aggravating. Kudos to Meyers for capturing the essence of the average American teenage girl.

Most surprising is Ben, who begins in this novel as a truly unlikeable and selfish man. His struggle throughout the book to do right by his family and better himself improves his character immensely, to the point where the reader almost feels sorry for him. Almost. Let us not forget he is the one who put Maddy in the hospital to begin with, and while the reader can draw a conclusion as to whether Maddy should forgive him, it is ultimately Maddy’s decision, after all.

Accidents of Marriage is an intriguing read that will leave the reader questioning what they themselves might do in such a complex and intense situation. This novel’s captivating narrative of family transformation makes Ben, Maddy, and Emma impossible to forget.

The book will be released on September 2. You can preorder through Amazon by clicking here.

Book Review: NOS4A2 by Joe Hill


by Stacey Longo


Joe Hill’s third novel, NOS4A2, is a witty, terrifying ride into the creepy world of Charlie Manx, who creates a Christmasland of horrors and carts off young children in his Rolls Royce Wraith to join in the fun. If your idea of fun is akin to hunting humans, that is.

Vic McQueen is our heroine. We meet her as a young girl, when she discovers that while riding her bike, she can escape from her unhappy home into other places and worlds. She is, in fact, the only child to escape Christmasland, a fact that does not sit well with Manx and his assistant, Bing.

Vic escapes Manx’s clutches with the assistance of Lou Carmody, an overweight, socially awkward comic book aficionado, and the two soon find themselves together and raising their son, Bruce Wayne. Nope. Not kidding. They named the kid after Batman. It is this kid that Manx and Bing target, and this kid that Vic and Lou must work together to save.

Names seem to be pretty important to Joe Hill, and also serve to showcase his fabulous sense of humor. Charlie Manx is reminiscent of another Charlie M, one with a big, murderous family from the late 60s. Bing is the name of both a search engine (fitting, since he searches out kids that, in his mind, are better off in Christmasland than with their horrible parents) and of a famous holiday crooner. I like to think of the NOS4A2 Bing like the latter: as Crosby’s son would spill in a nasty tell-all book, Bing was not the nice guy he appeared to be; nor is this one. Vic McQueen is a tough, sexy, rebellious motorcycle enthusiast, and her childhood parallels that of late actor Steve McQueen. He too had fond memories of a childhood bike, ran away from home, and had daddy issues.

The understated hero of this novel is Lou Carmody, who was by far my favorite character. His love for Vic and his son are unquestioning, and quite frankly, you’ll like Vic a little less because of the way she treats him. Though it is Vic who must return to Christmasland to face her demons, she wouldn’t get there, get it done, and get out without Lou’s unwavering support and assistance.

The problem I’ve had in the past with Joe Hill’s work is his endings. I wasn’t crazy about how Horns wrapped up, and I positively hated the ending of Heart-Shaped Box. (I have heard the same complaint from others about Hill’s father. Personally, I feel you do not have the right to complain about Stephen King until after you have written a bazillion bestsellers yourself. Until then, shut up.) And here’s where NOS4A2 differs: I loved, yes loved, this ending. Yet again Hill lets his delightful funny bone shine through, and he did it in a wonderful way. Here’s a hint: if you didn’t read the Acknowledgements and A Note on the Type following the last chapter of this book, then you did not read NOS4A2 all the way through.

Overall, I found this to be well done, a little wordy at times, but worth the ride.