Thursday, October 4, 2012

BEWARE THE NIGHT out now, and why you should buy it...

My new book, Beware The Night, a dark, coming-of-age novel, is out now at the Amazon Kindle Store. I think it's a pretty good book, has heart, can get quite frightening at times, and, like any piece of good writing, features some of my own personal demons within its pages.

I've been working on it for two years, now, and I am damn proud of the way it's turned out. As any writer  of dark fiction will tell you, coming-of-age horror novels are a dime a dozen, and they aren't easy to pull off; if your goal is produce something original, that is.

But why should you, dear reader, buy this book? After all, it's understandable that I, the author of said book, would promote my own work, endlessly, sing its praises, tell you it's the best book in the whole wide world!

But there is another reason why you should give my book a try. And that is the thrill of discovering a new favorite author.

Allow me to explain.

A few years ago, I was stuck in a rut, emotionally and professionally. The things that turned me on, energized me, made my day, had ceased to have that effect on me. Some call that depression, I call it a down period. Anyway, I discovered that I was bored of all the authors I usually depended upon to give me that indescribable feeling of losing yourself in a good story. And, for a person who lives to read and tell stories, that was a disaster of epic proportions.

So, after moping around for a while, waiting for my muse to come back and bite me in that secret place where stories come from, I decided to do the only thing I could do: go down to the nearest bookstore and buy a book. And since I was living in a hell hole in the middle of North Africa at the time, that wasn't going to be easy. But I somewhat knew my way around that city and decided to give it a try.

I headed to one of the few bookstores that offered used books in that country, went in, went straight to the used books section, and took a dive. That day, strangely enough, that little bookstore that pretended to be more than it really was (which was a place that paid more attention to the coffee it served its poseur clientele than to the selection of books it offered), had in stock quite a bizarre array of used titles. That strange evening I was introduced to authors I'd never heard of before, like Ruby Jean Jensen, whose book Victoria (an effective ghost story and one of her best) was among the collection on offer for a buck and a half; Robert W. Walker, whose thriller Cutting Edge I also found among the pile (and which turned out to be one damn fine book); Stuart Woods, whose book Palindrome was on sale for three bucks; and F. Paul Wilson, whose medical thriller The Select, was on sale for a buck fifty.

In a sense, that day, my life as a writer changed, as I discovered two new favorite authors, Robert W. Walker (a versatile, prolific, and highly underrated writer of thrillers) and F. Paul Wilson, whose books so amazed me with their breezy style, their flavor, that I dedicated my last novel, Phantasms, published earlier this year, to him.

Although I had been a frequent buyer of used books prior to that day, I'd never lucked out and discovered so many good books at once, and, for some reason, I discovered, or rather re-discovered, the thrill of finding a new favorite author, that thrill of delving into the mysterious world of books, diving into that musty pile of used paperbacks and grabbing unknown treasures, some of which changed my life, some of which re-kindled my fire, reminded me why I wanted to be a writer in the first place, why, when I was only seven, I used to sit down in front of the TV and jot down the stories I was seeing on screen, trying to reshape them through the wild imagination of a child.

And that's why you should seriously consider buying my new book, Beware The Night, because by reading it, you just might feel that thrill of discovering a new favorite author. Like I did that day.

Beware The Night is now available for sale at the Amazon Kindle Store.

From the back cover: "A New Kid In Town. A Demented Gang of Bullies. An Ancient Evil. The City of Crofton Is About To Face Its Worst Nightmare…

Adam and his father, the enigmatic Dr. Alfred Novello, arrive at the small city of Crofton, looking for a fresh start after the death of Adam’s mother. But soon, Adam meets a troubled kid named Macs (pronounced Max), who drags Adam into a terrible nightmare of ancient evil.

To make matters worse, Adam and his new friend attract the attention of a vicious gang of bullies who call themselves “The Ghosts”, and who want Adam dead!

With his father wallowing in his own grief, Adam and Macs have no one to turn to for help against the evil they are about to face, an evil that has been waiting for centuries to tear Crofton apart…

From the acclaimed author of “Coffin X” and “Phantasms”, comes this dark and thrilling coming-of-age novel. A must-read for fans of Stephen King’s It, Peter Straub’s Shadowland, Robert McCammon’s A Boy’s Life, and the cult classic The Monster Squad.

This is the third book in "The Crofton Cycle", a series of loosely connected books which feature recurring characters and themes.

A. Kale is the author of six books, including the acclaimed collection TOWARD THE 20TH GHOST, and PHANTASMS: A NOVEL.

Praise for A. Kale:

"If you're a fan of the paranormal, you'll want to give this one a look..." - Filmfanaddict!

"Genuinely haunting..." - Bloodtype Online  

"The stories are compelling..." - Rogue Cinema"

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New Book Coming Soon!

My new book, Beware The Night, a coming-of-age horror novel, is coming out this October on Amazon Kindle, just in time for Halloween.

Reminiscent of Stephen King's It, Peter Straub's Shadowland, Christopher Golden's Straight On 'Til Morning, and Robert McCammon's A Boy's Life, this is a must read for fans of the genre. It is part of my "Crofton Cycle", a series of loosely connected novels, which all involve the city of Crofton and the dark secrets it holds.

Synopsis coming soon. But, for now, check out the cover art.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Round-Up#52 (Bumper Edition)

Film Review: Dark Shadows (2012): When I heard that Tim Burton was going to direct a film version of Dark Shadows, the Gothic Soap Opera from the 60's, and that Johnny Depp was going to play Barnabas Collins, I was thrilled, as I am a huge fan of Burton's and Depp's. A year later, I saw the first trailer for the film, and I was crushed. Burton and Depp (who produced the film) had chosen to do it as a dark comedy! I thought it was an insult to the legions of fans out there, myself included, and a lost opportunity. I thought Burton would bestow upon it the same eerie, visually sumptuous style he'd used to make Sleepy Hollow, one of Burton's masterpieces. But, alas, that was not to be.

I almost decided not to go see the film I was so disappointed. But, seeing that there was nothing else worth watching at the time, I took a risk, bought a ticket, and took the plunge.

I am glad I did. You see, Tim Burton's version of Dark Shadows is worth seeing, despite its flaws, which are many. The film's pacing is uneven, the tone is schizophrenic (is it a dark comedy, a reverent parody of the original series, or something in between?), and the climax somewhat disappointing. But it is also immensely entertaining, has some admirably quirky touches, and manages to be quite a unique movie-going experience, with its unabashedly Gothic overtones, dark sense of humor, and freaky 70's atmosphere. Add to that endearing performances from Johnny Depp (who is obviously having loads of fun playing Barnabas), Michelle Pfiffer, and a scene-stealing Eva Green as the over-the-top villain, and you get an entertaining ride.

Although there's no denying that, overall, the film is disappointing to fans of the original series, as it is nothing but a glorified spoof, and Burton's directing isn't as meticulous and energetic as usual (for some reason, he seems to be operating on auto-pilot on this one), the film still manages to have enough of his flair to be a moderate success.

Book Review: Stories. Edited by Neil Gaiman and Al Sarrantonio: I fell out of love with short story anthologies a long time ago. There are dozens of them published every year, and only a handful that are worth the paper they are printed on. The deciding factor, always, is the editor. Stories, an anthology of tales that span many genres, but with a special focus on the fantastic, and edited by author Neil Gaiman and author and veteran editor Al Sarrantonio, is, for the most part, one of the better ones.

In his introduction to the collection of stories, Neil Gaiman says that all good stories, regardless the genre, have to have this one factor: While turning the pages, the reader has to keep asking him/herself, "And then what happened?". Out of the 27 stories included here, 16 had me asking that question as I lost myself in the tales. 16 out of 27 ain't bad, right? So, in my book, that makes this collection a success.

Out of these 16 stories, stand-outs include "The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains" by Neil Gaiman, a thrilling story of revenge and magic; "Unbelief" by Michael Marshall Smith, a clever little tale about a hitman, with a neat twist; "The Stars Are Falling" by the incomparable Joe R. Lansdale, a touching and highly atmospheric story about a man who returns from a war to discover that the life he left, including a loving wife and a son, no longer exists; "Polka Dots And Moonbeams" by Jeffrey Ford, a wonderfully weird tale about two lovers stuck in time, that hops genres with astounding ease; "Leif In The Wind" by Gene Wolfe, a disturbing Sci-Fi tale that manages to pull off in 13 pages what many writers fail to achieve in a novel; "The Therapist" by Jeffrey Deaver, a clever tale about a psychopath who thinks he's possessed; "Parallel Lines" by Tim Powers, an entertaining ghost story; "The Cult Of The Nose" by Al Sarrantonio, a superb psychological horror story, and the best tale included here; "Stories" by Michael Moorcock, a touching and compelling tale about the lives of writers; "The Maiden Flight of McCauley's Bellerophon"  by Elizabeth Hand, a wonderfully moving story about a group of friends who set out to recreate a film for a dying friend; and "The Devil On The Staircase" by Joe Hill, a frightening story about a boy from a poor village who comes face to face with a devil, and how that encounter changes him forever.

So if you are in the mood for a bunch of good short stories, some of them true examples of the art form, then look no further. Stories is it.

Film Review: 30 Days Of Night: Dark Days: I liked the feature film adaptation of the graphic novel 30 Days Of Night, but I didn't love it. The film was suspenseful, atmospheric, even occasionally frightening, and stylishly directed by David Slade. But the characters weren't that appealing, and the vampires pretty annoying. The sequel, 30 Days Of Night: Dark Days, is a far better film, in my opinion.

Co-scripted by Steve Niles (the author of the original graphic novel, and who wasn't involved in the making of the first film) and stylishly directed by Ben Ketai, Dark Days, is far more loyal to the source material, and the characters much more well-defined. The pace is better, and, despite the much lower budget, the atmosphere is thicker and the fright-factor higher.

Following the adventures of Stella Oleson (Olemaun in the graphic novel) and her quest for vengeance for the death of her husband, Eben, the film's pace never lets up while never sacrificing characterization for cheap thrills. Kiele Sanchez shines as Stella, a strong-willed warrior struggling with depression and trying to stave off madness with all her will. Working with a low budget and a good script, director Ben Ketai manages to do what David Slade couldn't in the first film, which is tell a good story, as the film is visually compelling, tightly edited, and dramatically effective at the same time.

Fans of the original film (not the original graphic novel) may scoff at the smaller scale and shift of focus and tone. But fans of the original graphic novel and good horror films will probably enjoy this ambitious low-budget effort for what it is: one of the best vampire films of recent years.

Book Review: The Mammoth Book of Wolf Men. Edited by Stephen Jones: I'll make this short and sweet. The Mammoth Book of Wolf Men is, hands down, one of the most entertaining anthologies I've read in quite some time. Forget the cheesy cover, and jump into these tales of suspense and horror, featuring some of the most enjoyable horror short stories out there. Edited by Stephen Jones and featuring 25 short stories and novellas, this is a book to lose yourself in; a book that has something for every one.

Highlights include the opening story "Twilight At The Towers" by Clive Barker, a disturbing and thrilling story of espionage and lycanthropy; Ramsey Campbell's "Night Beat", an enjoyable homage to EC comics and pulp fiction; "The Werewolf" by R. Chetwynd Hayes, an atmospheric classic; "Guilty Party" by Stephen Laws, an entertaining and fast-paced tale, written in smooth, uncluttered prose; "Rug" by Graham Masterton, a frightening psychological horror story about loss of innocence; Karl Edward Wagner's "One Paris Night", a delightful action-horror tale; Manly Wade Wellman's "And The Hairy Ones Shall Dance", an enthralling victorian-horror pastiche, replete with psychics, ectoplasm, and a swamp; "The Nighthawk" by Dennis Etchison, a terrifying and highly atmospheric tale of psychological horror; "Boobs" by Suzy McKee Charnas, a clever, coming of age tale with a dark twist; "Out of The Night, When The Full Moon Is Bright", Kim Newman's imaginative and energetic re-imagining of the Zorro legend.

Enough said. If it's a horror fix you're after, and you want to get your money's worth, buy this collection. You won't regret it.

Extra! Cutthroat by Michael Slade: This edition's Extra! selection is the novel Cutthroat by Michael Slade, a superbly entertaining thriller. Violent, atmospheric, bizarre, and highly original, this novel about a special team of Canadian investigators hunting a seemingly invincible assassin, crosses genres with surprising ease, and ends with one of the strangest climaxes I've ever come across. Highly recommended.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Round-Up#51 (Special Superhero Edition)

Film Review: The Avengers (2012): I am a fan of comic books and the wondrous storytelling contained within their pages. But my taste has always leaned more toward DC Comics than Marvel. When it comes to feature film adaptations of comic books, DC, again, trumps Marvel (Daredevil, The Punisher, anyone?) Although Marvel Studios have been trying to improve the quality of their film output this past decade, with stellar films like Spider-Man and its sequel and the fantastic Captain America, still, most feature films based on Marvel Comics can't escape being hokey and cartoonish. I don't know why, exactly.

With The Avengers, Marvel tries to remedy all that by bringing us a movie that combines many of their most famous characters into one super-mega package. The result: Well, let's just say that watching the film was a pleasant, forgettable experience. Nothing more.

Under the helm of Joss Whedon (the uber TV writer/producer, known for creating such hit TV shows as Buffy: The Vampire Slayer and it's spin-off, Angel), The Avengers is an energetic, fast-paced romp through comic book shenanigans, with a soupcon of effective characterization occasionally thrown in for good measure. And it works, for the most part, with the heroes (especially Captain America and The Hulk, who are the most fleshed out characters here) all getting their turn to shine. But the film is strangely repetitive, without the innovative plot mechanisms and visual flair Whedon is known for. It seems that, with a huge cast, a gigantic budget, and an array of characters whose storylines are plotted out by studio heads for maximum profitability, has restricted Whedon from doing more with the material.

But, in the end, as far as summer blockbusters go, this is one of the better ones;  a true crowd pleaser, even if it is all just a little too silly.

Film Review: Captain America: The First Avenger: Hands down, the best feature film based on Marvel Comics since Sam Raimi's Spider-Man, Captain America manages a near impossible feat: take a character that oozes jingoism and silliness, and make it human, appealing, and entertaining.

Thanks to Joe Johnston's directorial flourishes (he is one of the best filmmakers working in Hollywood who can recreate the golden age of the 30's and 40's through an art-decoish/pulp-style filter), and an effective script, this is a tremendously entertaining, stylish comic book movie, filled with kinetic set-pieces, gorgeous period detail, and endearing performances (even the usually unimpressive Chris Evans manages to shine as Captain America).

If you are a fan of golden age superheroes, this is a must. And for a feature film based on Marvel Comics, this is surprisingly classy, high-quality work.

Extra! Batman: The Stone King by Alan Grant: This edition's Extra! selection is the novel Batman: The Stone King by Alan Grant, a Justice League of America adventure that offers an extremely fast-paced and entertaining story, even if it's somewhat dark, which, combined with the writer's style (which is admirably somewhere between a comic book and a pulp novel), make this a hugely entertaining book.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Round-Up#50 (Special DRACULA Edition)

Book Review: Dracula: The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt Vs. Dracula: The Undead by Freda Warrington: When it was announced that an "official" sequel to Dracula by Bram Stoker, one of my all-time favorite books, was coming out, I was ecstatic, especially since it was reported that the book would be penned by a descendant of Stoker's and would be based on Bram Stoker's notes. I bought a copy of the book, cracked it open, and all was revealed.

Dracula: The Un-Dead is an entertaining, fast-paced, occasionally thrilling book, but it is anything but an "official" sequel to the greatest Victorian Gothic novel ever written. In fact, it reads more like one of the dozens of attempts to capitalize on and modernize Stoker's original, harrowing tale. The fact that it was co-written by a member of the Stoker family is irrelevant; what matters is the story itself, and the story contained within this novel's pages does not show an ounce of reverence toward the source material. Dacre Stoker and his co-author Ian Holt take Stoker's original story and basically cut it to shreds, reshape it, and create a book that reads like an attempt at a Hollywood blockbuster, complete with explosive set-pieces, gory effects, and graphic love scenes. Come on!

That's not to say it is a bad book. Far from it. This is one compelling piece of dark-fantasy, written in straight-forward prose, and with nary a dull moment. But when the plot centers on Countess Bathory wreaking havoc in London, killing members of the band of heroes (Harker, Mina, Holmwood, and Van Helsing), while Dracula turns out to be alive and well, and, shock, horror!, a hero who wants to protect Mina and her son, Quincey, you can hardly call it a continuation of Stoker's masterpiece. Did I also mention that Bram Stoker himself makes an appearance?! Throw in Jack The Ripper, an obsessed detective, and lots and lots of chases, and you get a modernized, oversexed, somewhat cheesy attempt to create a blockbuster sequel.

The Bottom Line: An entertaining, fast-paced novel that should be read as yet another attempt to modernize Stoker's tale. But a proper, true to the source material, sequel it is not.

Now we come to that other sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula, which was commissioned by Penguin to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of Stoker's original. Released quietly in 1997, with almost no publicity whatsoever, Freda Warrington's Dracula The Undead, is a well-written book that is infuriatingly uneven.

On the one hand, Warrington goes to great lengths to stay true to Stoker's style, and, for the first two thirds of the book, the novel reads like a true Dracula fan's dream come true, with spot-on characterization, a dark, foreboding tone, and clever plot machinations. Then, Dracula rises once more, and all is lost, with Warrington falling into Anne Rice-mode, turning Count Dracula into a misunderstood anti-hero and Mina's destined lover. What a shame, because up to that point, Warrington had got everything right, from Dracula's sinister plan to resurrect himself, to the tortured lives of the band of heroes who defeated Dracula, to the marvelously creepy scenes in the Scholomance, to the exquisitely Gothic tone. But, alas, Warrington seems to have a bone to pick with Stoker, as she injects the story wth feminist overtones, defensive, psycho-sexual babble, and a misplaced romance between Mina and the Count.

Still, if one were going to choose between this book and Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt's "official" sequel, Warrington's book is  the better choice. At least she doesn't attempt to please everyone (especially the Hollywood crowd) with her book, only herself. Recommended, but with reservations.

For another sequel to Bram Stoker's Dracula, there is my novel, Phantasms, which features the Count in a supporting yet vital role, and, in my book, he is an absolute villain! Here is the official synopsis:

"The greatest prison in the universe, the one that houses the world's most evil creatures - including Dracula himself - is under attack, and the creatures of the night, the phantasms are about to escape, into our world.

Now, a band of warriors with supernatural powers, led by an aging occult expert, have to travel through worlds and time to reach The Castle that holds the key to stopping the evil, before it reaches our world. But The Castle is protected by The Red Death, the mythic figure that inspired Edgar Allan Poe's famous short story. And so the warriors have to find a way to defeat The Red Death, enter the castle and solve the mystery, before the world comes to an end!

Featuring characters from Bram Stoker's Dracula and the stories of Edgar Allan Poe, PHANTASMS is an epic tale of "Good Versus Evil" and a must-read for fans of the genre."

You can buy it from Amazon here.

Extra! Curse of The Vampire (also known as Bloodscreams#1: Vampire Dreams) by Robert W. Walker: This edition's Extra! selection is a forgotten gem from the early 1990's. Curse of The Vampire by Robert W. Walker (writing as Geoffrey Caine) is one of the most entertaining vampire novels I've ever read, with its appealing Van-Helsing-like central character, Abraham Stroud (a psychic former cop who dedicates his life to fighting evil), mesmerizing atmosphere, and inventive plot. This is the first part of a four-book series (all available from Amazon), but it can also be enjoyed as a stand-alone story. Highly recommended.

That's it for me. Till next time, keep browsing those shelves.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

My new novel PHANTASMS out now!

My new novel, PHANTASMS, is now available at the Amazon Kindle Store!

I have been working on this book for quite a while, now, and I am very proud of how it turned out. With a large cast of characters, a serpentine plot, and plenty of scary monsters, it is my love letter to the dark fantasy genre, both classic and modern.

And did I mention that it features characters from Bram Stoker's Dracula?

Intrigued? Here's the official synopsis:

"The greatest prison in the universe, the one that houses the world’s most evil creatures – including Dracula himself – is under attack, and the creatures of the night, the phantasms are about to escape, into our world. Now, a band of warriors with supernatural powers, led by an aging occult expert, have to travel through worlds and time to reach The Castle that holds the key to stopping the evil, before it reaches our world. But The Castle is protected by The Red Death, the mythic figure that inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s famous short story. And so the warriors have to find a way to defeat The Red Death, enter the castle and solve the mystery, before the world comes to an end!"

The book is now available to buy from the Amazon Kindle Store, which means that it is available to almost everyone on the planet, since Amazon Kindle books work on phones, PCs, Mac computers, Blackberry, you name it.

PDF review copies are available to reviewers and bloggers. Just drop me an email.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

COFFIN X breaks the top 40 on Amazon. Get your free copy today!

My latest novel, COFFIN X, has entered the Amazon Kindle charts, and has broken the top 40. So, in celebration, I am offering the book for free for two days only. So hurry up and grab your copy here!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

The Round-Up#49: The Best of 2011

The Best Books of 2011:

Note: Not all of these titles were published in 2011, but they were all reviewed in 2011.

Deeper by Jeff Long: The Descent was one hell of a novel (excuse the lame pun), and it single-handedly turned me into a Jeff Long fan. So you can imagine how I felt when I realized that Long had written a sequel, called Deeper. To say I had high expectations would be an understatement. To say I was satisfied with the sequel would be open to discussion. You see, Deeper is a very good novel, occasionally even great, but it left me somewhat ill at ease.

I won’t discuss the plot much, aside from saying that it features the return of Ali and Ike, the two protagonists of The Descent, and, boy, have they changed. The novel opens with Ike going back underground, looking for Satan, and years later all hell breaks loose, literally, when Hadals, the demonic species that was discovered in The Descent, ascends to the surface and starts kidnapping children. To say any more would be unfair to you and the novel. But I’ll say this: If The Descent was dark, Deeper is much darker. The Satan featured here is even more malevolent and vicious than the one depicted in The Descent, and Long makes his characters suffer; really suffer, and it isn’t pretty. And, basically, that’s the problem with Deeper. It’s too damn dark. Although The Descent wasn’t exactly Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, it still had a sliver of hope shining through its narrative. But here things are bleak from the get-go, and they only get bleaker as the story goes along. That’s not to say that the novel isn’t good or it’s ending unsatisfactory, but it sure is one dark book.

Still, Jeff Long is one of the most underrated writers around, and his skills as a storyteller are on full display here, as he weaves a hypnotic and atmospheric web of death, violence, and metaphysics. So, fans of The Descent will want to read Deeper to know what happens next. Recommended, but definitely not for the faint of heart.

Dweller by Jeff Strand: I picked up this book solely due to the fact that it's written by Jeff Strand, one of the co-writers of Draculas, one of the best horror books of 2010. Before reading Dweller, I wasn't really familiar with the author's work. After reading Dweller, that will have to change, as Strand is an immensely talented author, who is able to transcend genres and come up with highly original plots, as evidenced by this near-masterpiece.

The story is simple: A young boy, a loner and an outcast, stumbles upon a frightening creature that dwells in the woods near his home, and, slowly, they become friends. This strange relationship survives the test of time and the boy, now a man, and the beast stay the best of friends. But when the man gets involved in a relationship with a young woman, all hell breaks loose.

That synopsis just skims the surface of this thought-provoking, multi-layered, and well written novel, which is unlike anything I've ever read. It's a coming-of-age drama, a horror tale, a tragedy, and a meditation on the nature of evil that dwells in the hearts of all men, all rolled into one gut-punching novel. Unmissable.

Run by Blake Crouch: In keeping with the spirit of this bullet-train of a novel, let's get right down to it: Run is powerful, terrifying, touching, and brutal.

The plot - about a family on the run after most of America's population contracts a psychological/spiritual plague that compels them to kill everyone in sight who's not affected - is not original. But author Blake Crouch isn't really out to break new ground when it comes to premises and plotlines; what he wants to do, and which he succeeds at magnificently, is pull you into a story that grabs hold of your attention, slams you in the chest and leaves you breathless and shaky at the knees. Thanks to a set of characters so well-drawn and three-dimensional that you feel every nick, wound, bruise and pain they suffer, and a pace so masterful that you just can't stop reading, halfway through this ambitious novel genre-boundaries are blurred and you discover that you've fallen under its merciless spell.

For Crouch, this is a ground-breaker, as his writing here reaches new heights; the prose is breezy, the pace near-perfect, and the way the story flows is sheer magic.

But be warned, this is a brutal, violent, emotionally devastating piece of fiction. So before turning the first page, get ready and get comfortable, because you ain't gonna get up till the heartbreaking and strangely uplifting climax.

Available at the Amazon Kindle Store.

Dracula: Asylum by Paul Witcover: Designed as a sequel to Universal's infamous 1931 film adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula, starring the immortal Bela Lugosi, Dracula: Asylum is a rare book, in that it took me by surprise. As a huge fan of the 1931 film directed by Tod Browning, I sought out the book primarily due to it being an official sequel to that film, expecting a fun, quick read, with a thick-accented Dracula roaming the streets of London, drinking blood and spouting one-liners. What I got was something else entirely.

Author Paul Witcover uses the 1931 film and Stoker's novel as a starting point and then proceeds to transcend both, with a novel so well-written, so ambitious in its complexity and ideas, that it becomes a masterpiece of dark fantasy that manages to achieve the impossible: Add a new twist to the Dracula mythos.

The book takes place in London during WWI, following Dr. Lisa Watson, a psychiatrist who is transferred to the Seward Sanitarium for shell-shocked British soldiers, hoping to help her fiancée get back his memory, which he's lost due to the traumatic experiences he suffered in battle. Now he thinks himself Sherlock Holmes and doesn't remember anything about his true identity. Meanwhile, in the catacombs of the asylum, Renfield, who is still alive, but has become a mentally damaged mute, discovers that the corpse of Count Dracula, his master, is still there, with a stake through its heart, waiting to be revived. So he pulls out the stake, reviving the dark Count, and all hell breaks loose, as Dracula, whose slumber for the past twenty years has strengthened his psychic powers, plans to destroy the world.

Although the above synopsis doesn't do the story justice, the less told about the twists, turns and revelations of the plot, the better. Suffice it to say that if you think you know where the story is going, think again, as Witcover has a multitude of ideas and surprises under his sleeve, and, with his rich, stylized Gothic prose, lays them out one by one, continuously delving into darker psychological territory. Witcover's Dracula is the most cunning, malevolent version of the Count since Bram Stoker's; an evil, shrewd master of darkness and manipulation who is much more dangerous than previously thought. This Dracula's evil is almost biblical in scope. While the main characters, Lisa and Denis, are three-dimensional and flawed, and Witcover allows us to go under their skin to see the light and darkness within them.

Despite the novel's overly dark tone and Witcover's lifting of a couple of ideas from the films They Might Be Giants and Dracula 2000, the writing is so rich, the attention to detail so admirable, the story so original and well-plotted, that this novel deserves to be called a masterpiece of dark fantasy that transcends genres. And, if there's any justice in the world, it should become a classic.

Helltown by Dennis O'Neil: Part of the DC Universe line of novels that came out a few years ago, Helltown focuses on the origin story of one of DC Comics' lesser known but most intriguing characters, The Question. But that's not all this book is about. No. This is a damn fine novel that combines action, pop philosophy, atmosphere and strong, smooth writing to produce something truly enjoyable.

The story: Vic Sage returns to his hometown, Hub City, in search of his parents' identity (he was brought up in an orphanage), to discover that it has become a cesspool of violence and hatred run by criminals and corrupt politicians. Soon after his arrival he attracts the attention of the mayor and his thugs, which leads to him being beaten almost to death and rescued by a mysterious warrior who calls herself Shiva. He is then taken to an enigmatic mentor named Richard Dragon, who, at the request of Shiva, begins to transform Sage into a warrior. But Sage feels that something is missing in his life, questions that need to be answered. So he decides to return to Hub City, and, as a vigilante named The Question, find those answers, no matter what the cost.

The Question, as envisioned by veteran comic book writer Dennis O'Neil, is a complex, enigmatic character, that is both unique and reminiscent of the greatest characters to ever grace the pages of comic books. He is a conflicted character on a dark quest, an intriguing, norish hero. But what truly sets him apart are his flaws, his humanity, and his background. Here is a character that's neither rich nor formally educated, has no sidekicks or friends, no gadgets other than his costume and mask (that change color at will). He is human, has no superpowers, and isn't really a great detective. But that's what makes him interesting. O'Neil, who also penned the ground-breaking comic book series about The Question back in the Eighties, has a masterful command of the complex nature of the character and his inner struggles. He also anchors the story in reality, giving the book a gritty, somewhat bleak feel, which suit the character and his quest. And despite the appearance of Batman, who plays a major role in the story, he doesn't overshadow Vic Sage/The Question, which is a testament to O'Neil's strong writing.

Although the main villains of the book are borderline caricatures and the main mystery is so slight it's almost a McGuffin, this is a multi-layered, well-written, compelling book that is a must for fans of DC Comics, comic books, and mysteries. An overlooked gem.

The Criminalist by William Relling Jr.: Stories about psychics who help solve crimes have become a cliche. From numerous TV shows (most of which are lackluster) to dozens of paranormal romance series that feature psychic detectives, this sub-genre has been seemingly bled to death. But then comes William Relling Jr.'s The Criminalist to prove that there is life yet to this kind of tale.

The plot: Kenneth Bennet, a clairvoyant who is grieving for the recent loss of his wife, has a vision that provides him with vital clues to catching a serial killer preying on children in a small town. So, Bennet, who has been warned by his psychiatrist that he is on the verge of physical and mental collapse, drags himself to the small town afflicted by the murders to offer his help. But local law enforcement refuses his help, which leads him to try to solve the case on his own, while trying to come to terms with the loss of his wife and maintain his slowly dissolving sanity.

Describing the plot of this novel isn't easy, as it's multi-layered and centered on characters rather than events, which is somewhat peculiar for the genre. But Relling Jr. uses the genre and the psychic angle only as a McGuffin, and, instead, focuses on the lives and psyches of his characters, which are, for the most part, interesting and three-dimensional. Though on the surface the novel is a murder mystery, in truth it's a novel about grief and life choices. With the Kenneth Bennett character, Relling Jr. creates a living, breathing man who is flawed, devastated, almost paralyzed with grief, and who happens to be psychic, something which grounds the tale in reality and makes the proceedings much more interesting, with Relling Jr. following Bennett as he tries to gain control of a life spiraling out of control; and the journey is both tragic and touching. Relling Jr. also has a penchant for fleshing out almost every character, even ones that make a brief appearance, something which, while it doesn't always work, gives the novel a depth sorely lacking in many novels of the genre.

While the novel has its flaws (the pace is uneven, the plot meanders, the serial killer is never really fleshed out, and the ending is somewhat of a disappointment), this is a clever, touching, and engrossing book, and the best novel about psychics since Stephen King's The Dead Zone.

From The Corner of His Eye by Dean Koontz: Dean Koontz can be a hell of a frustrating author sometimes. Some of his books are superb, filled with imagination and storytelling prowess, driven by inventive central concepts and an irresistible atmosphere of menace. On the other hand, some of his books, especially ones published later in his career (from the mid-90's, onwards), are so repetitive, preachy, and thinly plotted, that one wonders how they could have been written by the same man. From The Corner of His Eye is one of the good ones. In fact, it's one of the very good ones. It combines Koontz's masterful ability to keep the reader intrigued, turning the pages effortlessly, with a plethora of imagination and likeable characters and a plot that defies categorization.

The plot: Junior Cain, a handsome young man with a twisted mind, throws his wife off a cliff to inherit her money. After her husband dies in a car accident, Agnes Lampion gives birth to a young boy who grows up to be a prodigy with a strange and magical ability to glimpse other realities that exist parallel to ours. After getting raped by a white man, Phimie White, an African-American young woman, gives birth to a baby girl, Angel, and dies in the process. Detective Tom Vanadium, an enigmatic man with a penchant for unnerving murder suspects with his mind-boggling coin tricks, doesn't believe that Junior Cain's wife's death was accidental, and so embarks on a journey to harass the prime suspect, her husband, till he breaks and confesses. Together, all those people's live are about to intertwine, with consequences that might change the face of the world we live in.

I know the synopsis is murky. But to tell any more of the plot would be unfair to you and to the book's wonders. As part of the thrill of reading this lengthy novel (it's over 700 pages long) is unravelling the layers of the plot one by one, discovering surprises, some pleasant, some disturbing, along the way.

Although Koontz gets on his soapbox one time too many, and the novel is about 100 pages too long, these flaws don't detract from the fact that this is a wonder of a novel; a book filled with stories within stories and memorable characters. The novel is also one of Koontz's most tightly plotted in a long time, with one delicious twist leading to another. And despite Koontz's genre-hopping (the book is part Sci-Fi, part mystery, part ghost story, part love story, and part historical novel!), he pulls it off, delivering a book that has a satisfying ending and is never confusing.

So who is this book for? Fans of Koontz, of course, are the primary audience here, as, by now, they are used to his style and his penchant for juggling genres. But it's also a good introduction to Koontz, a good choice for people who like long, multi-layered novels, and readers who like their novels atmospheric, fast-paced, and well-plotted. No matter what your preferred genre is, this is must-read book, that's entertaining, humane, suspenseful, and immensely rewarding. One of Koontz's best.

The Best of Extra! 2011:

Extra! Cutter's Way: This Extra! selection is the film Cutter's Way, starring Jeff Bridges and John Heard, and directed by Ivan Passer. This is one atmospheric and intelligent thriller, with well-rounded characters wonderfully brought to life by a great cast, a smart script, and stylish, assured direction. A forgotten gem from the 80's.

Extra! The Door in The Floor: This Extra! selection is the film The Door in The Floor, starring Jeff Bridges, Kim Basinger and Jon Foster, and directed by Todd Williams. A fascinating, touching, and disturbing film about damaged people and the loss of innocence, this is a superb film featuring wonderful performances by Bridges and Basinger, and masterfully directed by Williams. An undiscovered classic.

Extra! 30 Days of Night (Film Novelization) by Tim Lebbon: This Extra! selection is the novelization of the film 30 Days of Night by Tim Lebbon. Novelizations are usually hit or miss, ranging from the entertaining to the trashy. But that's not the case here. Tim Lebbon takes a flawed script and turns it into a suspenseful, dark piece of horror fiction in which the characters come to life (unlike the ones in the film) and the atmosphere is so thick you can almost touch it. This is a very good horror novel in its own right, and is a rare beast, in that it is actually better than the film. A must read for horror fans and fans of the 30 Days of Night franchise.

Extra! Dracula's Daughter: This Extra! selection is the 1936 film Dracula's Daughter, the sequel to the 1931 classic film starring Bela Lugosi. Dark, disturbing, and surprisingly daring for its time, this stylish film directed by Lambert Hillyer is worth re-discovering.

Extra! Bring On The Night by Jay and Don Davis: This Extra! selection is the horror novel Bring On The Night by Jay and Don Davis, a superbly entertaining vampire novel from the 80's, with plenty of atmosphere, well-drawn characters, and one hell of a villain in Kane, a ruthless vampire stalking the streets of Chicago. Worth re-discovering.

Extra! New York Dead by Stuart Woods: This Extra! selection is the novel New York Dead by Stuart Woods, a superb, super fast-paced murder mystery, filled to the brim with sex, plot twists, and action, and one of the most fun books I've ever read. A must read.

Extra! Whiskey Sour by J.A Konrath: This Extra! selection is the novel Whiskey Sour by J.A Konrath. This is a fun, fast-paced mystery/thriller with a wicked sense of humour and one hell of a central character in Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, an insomniac, middle-age detective, with a troubled life. Also, the novel is strangely touching considering the subject matter. A must read.

And, of course, there's my latest novel, Coffin X, a horror/dark fantasy novel, which is available at Amazon.

That's it for me. Till next year, keep browsing those shelves!