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Review of Tony Faville’s “Kings of the Dead”

Kings of the Dead came out six years ago, and as was quite popular at that time with zombie genre books, was written in a journal format.  The popularity of that format has died down in recent years but with my attempts to read many of the books I failed to read in years past, I am reminded once again how many authors chose to go this route.  I’ve shared the advantages and disadvantages of this format in prior reviews, and of course, this book is no exception.  I do give credit where credit is due, of course.  Author Tony Faville remains true to the format, not moving to a third person narrative at any point, which some authors tend to do when they feel the relentless need to reveal things the narrator doesn’t know and thus can’t share with the reader.    To avoid this pitfall, Cole’s journal is written in by others when he is not available at certain points in time, which fills in those gaps in the story there would otherwise be if limited to his perspective alone.  This adds a few interesting twists to the story as Cole himself reads these entries, left as notes for him upon his return to his journal.  It serves as smoother tale because the author didn’t suddenly change writing styles, which I appreciated.

The story is fairly standard zompoc fare, told from the perspective of a man with former military and medical experience, who has prepared with a group of friends for the end of the world as we know it for several years as a hobby. Zombies crop up when the vaccine for a new strain of the flu ends up reanimating those who have taken it.  The zombies are mainly the slow shamblers here, with a mix of faster undead joining the fray as the story and timeline moves forward.

This is a fairly personal story.  Like some of the other journal written sagas, there is a good chunk of the author’s personality shining through the narrator.  This is a story of someone who is a fan of the genre writing a story of survival they have envisioned for themselves and their friends.  It does add something to the telling of the tell-a pseudo autobiography envisioned by the author were there a zombie apocalypse.  Authors are guided to “write what you know” and Tony does so here, having the personal knowledge related to weaponry, medical skills, and other related topics that would have an impact on survival in an undead world.  Credit to the author for not ‘over doing it’ as I have seen a tendency of some to do when it comes to slathering their pages with an excess of demonstrated expertise in a particular area that rapidly turns into overkill.  The flow here is more natural and the while the reader will know the author knows his stuff, they won’t be blasted with it on every page.

While the survivors hunker down, attempting to build a new home in their region of Oregon for much of the first half of the book, the story becomes, in time, more of a road trip as Cole, the narrator, ponders the meaning of existence in a dead world and chooses to take a journey of discovery.  Cole struggles with the loss of friends and trying to find a reason to carry on, but there are also glimmers of hope that give him, and the reader, reasons to carry on.

There are some rough spots in the story and some of that comes from the format-we don’t get to discovery something happening as it happens, but written as a report done the following day or in the hours following the actual event, which dilutes some of the emotional resonance.  Still, there is definite emotional potency here, especially as related to the people Cole deeply cares for and will do anything to try and keep safe, which in the an undead world is a very difficult thing to do.

As is the case with many journal oriented zombie tales, there is not necessarily a main focus outside of survival written on its pages-survival of the body as well as the spirit.  As such, it meanders a good bit, but the ending was quite satisfying and unlike many of the books of a similar make and model, the author doesn’t demand that you read three or four more entries in a series to make his point.  This book does so succinctly and with quiet grace.

Overall, if as a zombie genre fan you aren’t burnt out on the diary approach to zombie fiction, Kings of the Dead is a solid addition to your library.

Kings of the Dead can be found here:  https://www.amazon.com/Kings-Dead-Tony-Faville/dp/1934861839/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8

Review of Mark Tufo’s “Zombie Fallout”

It has taken me far too long to read the first Zombie Fallout book by Mark Tufo.  Tufo is one of the most prolific zombie writers out there, with nine books in this series plus spinoffs including a series of werewolf stories that take place many years after the zompoc.  Naturally, I’ve heard of Tufo for years.  This particular novel has nearly 1800 reviews on Amazon, which is a staggering number considering it was self-published.

This book has some similar characteristics to other notable books in this genre.  It is in a journal format, though the author strays from sticking with the main character’s perspective for certain portions of the book.  While this isn’t a major issue, it does point out the flaw in this type of storytelling-things the main character doesn’t know must be shared by other characters or in third person and it feels like a bit of a disruption when another voice jumps into for a chapter or two.

The prologue makes it clear the zombie apocalypse is about to get into full swing when a vaccination for a new strain of flu ends up bringing the dead back to life.  From there we switch over to narrator Mike Talbot, ex-Marine and family man, while he is getting ready to take a shower in his house.  This is interrupted when zombies show up on his front lawn and his family starts to freak out.  Mike is sort of a prepper/gun nut who has been fascinated by the idea of zombies for a long time, but it’s clear he isn’t prepared for the sudden all-out assault taking place on his neighborhood and threatening his family’s existence.

Things move pretty fast from the get go, with rescue trips to save family members and friends while Mike and his neighbors work to barricade the walled-in neighborhood from impending doom.  The story is, in many ways, pretty routine zompoc stuff, though the author throws a few curve balls into the mix.  This includes the idea that these zombies perhaps aren’t undead, but infected and still with a spark of life, and more importantly, perhaps a spark of intelligence.  There is also a hint of the supernatural, including a bit of prognostication and mental telepathy thrown in to give things a bit of mystery.

Overall, I can see why this series has been so popular.  Tufo uses snarky humor and heavily descriptive verse to describe the gore, the smells, and the overall madness engulfing his character’s life.  Despite some of the more odd things about Mike, he is, for the most part, just a family man trying his best to protect his loved ones in a time of ultimate danger-something very relatable.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t have some issues with the story or how it’s told.  Many of my complaints have been pointed in other reviews.  Though the story is fun and I’m intrigued as to how some of the more unique elements the author introduced here will be expanded upon in future volumes, I felt that many characters outside of Mike are somewhat one-dimensional.  This is in part due to the fact that a diary format is somewhat limited in stepping away from the single perspective it showcases.

Women in particular are given short shrift in this book.  Mike’s wife is somewhat of a stereotypical shrew who naturally is the only person on the planet he is afraid of, yet at the same time she appears to be helpless and lacking in common sense.  Despite having lived with a prepper for many years, she has no idea how to even load a weapon.  Neither does Mike’s daughter, for that matter, who, like her mama, has a mean temper and a stubborn streak a mile long.  Another woman who agrees to go a supply run outside the safety of the walls of Mike’s neighborhood does nothing more than cower in the truck while everyone else takes care of business.  All I could remember about the wife of Mike’s best friend was that she was a lousy shot-there is little else shared about her.

Mike is a funny character and his internal monologues and flashbacks are sometimes very amusing as he tries to make light of a desperate situation.  At other times his perspective is best described as a bit…off.  Comparing the horror of possibly being forced to shoot a loved one who has been attacked by a zombie to the more meager fear of speaking in public for the first seemed somewhat dismissive.  The obsession Mike has with his Jeep Wrangler and not using this durable off-road vehicle during the zombie apocalypse because it might get scratched plus having his family be fearful of his wrath if they use it even under desperate circumstances seemed a bit lacking in focus.  Mike would do anything for his family, and that comes across on almost every page, but there are occasional lapses in perspective like those above that seem a bit disjointed given the situation.

Despite the criticism I have, the book is fun and certainly does a good job of paving the way for future installments.  Without leaving things on a cliffhanger note, there is enough mystery hinted at to keep a reader guessing and wanting to know what is next-in particular related to the supernatural elements of this tale.

Zombie Fallout can be found here:      https://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Fallout-Mark-Tufo-ebook/dp/B003A022YO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1473094523&sr=8-1

Review of Holiday of the Dead

Holiday of the Dead is a rather sizable volume of zombie short stories that mostly stick to the theme of being on holiday, though a few seemed to stretch that concept a bit.  For us Yanks, a holiday means a day of festivities, while with the Brits it is what we call a vacation.  There is a pretty healthy mix of both types of tales to be found here.  It isn’t just a mix, but a mixed bag, with a few stories forgotten as soon as I finished them.  Fortunately, quite a few others were memorable and demonstrated the author’s ability to have some fun with the theme and with zombie fiction in general.  When you have a book filled with nearly forty short stories, things are going pretty well when you come away feeling that at least thirty were worth the price of admission.

Often I try to provide a mini-review of each story in an anthology, but not with a tome this size.  There are far too many to recount in detail.  Suffice it to say, you will get an assortment of traditional and inspired here.  There are some very recognizable names in the table of contents, well know writers of zombie and horror fiction, including Iain Mckinnon, Eric Dimbleby, Tonia Brown, David Dunwoody, Eric Brown, William Meikle, Joe McKinney, and Wayne Simmons.  A couple of special guests, John Russo and Tony Burgess, add tales of their own at the end of the book.

Perhaps Holiday of the Dead could have been pared down a bit, but overall it was an entertaining read with only a few minor speed bumps.  The most inventive tales should more than make up for any issues you may have with the handful that don’t resonate.  Stories like Change Is As Good As Rest, Naked Fear, Daddy Dearest, Home Is The Sailor, Home From The Sea, Burj, The Day The Music Died, Where Moth And Rust Destroy, and Crossover kept things popping, though quite a few others were just as fun to dive into.

Solidly entertaining zombie shorts with a few misfires, but more than enough undead goodness between its pages.

Holiday of the Dead can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Holiday-Dead-John-Russo-ebook/dp/B004XJ7HZK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=#navbar

Review of Kim Paffenroth’s Dying to Live: Last Rites

It has been several years since I read the two prior entries in this trilogy of zombie books, so Dying To Live: Last Rites gave me some vague recollections of the four main characters reintroduced here when I started reading this one, but fortunately, this book in many ways is a standalone novel, separate from the other two books with the story it tells.

Two characters, Will and Rachel, are living, while Truman and Lucy are zombies who have worked to retain and regain elements of who they were in life-they can speak and interact with humans.  Most importantly, they can refrain from giving in to their base urges to kill and devour the living.  Truman more so than Lucy, who still loves to kill and revels in its purity, believing that most humans are selfish, despicable creatures, although she more or less tolerates and even respects Will and Rachel, especially due to the relationship they have with Truman.

The four have been banished from the community they lived in and have been traveling by boat on rivers in the wilderness the world has become.  Rachel grows deathly ill and they find another community called New Sparta near the water that can help her, but only under certain conditions.  The zombies are to be sold off and Will and Rachel will have to pay for the care she receives and the housing and food they will need.  They’ve stumbled into a much more complicated, larger, and more “civilized” society than the one they are used to, with many of the perks of our modern world having returned including electricity, credit, regular jobs, etc.  Of course, their objective initially is to get their two undead friends back to safety, but a myriad of distractions and enticements create some challenges for the two of them, while things are far worse for Truman and Lucy.

Once again, the author has created some interesting dilemmas like those that ran through his first two books in this trilogy.  Dilemmas based on what it means to be human and also retaining what we call humanity, regardless of who, or what, you actually are-living or undead. It’s clear that the two sentient zombie main characters see humans as selfish and self-destructive beings, even those they care for.  Many are far worse than Rachel and Will, but it seems as if this internal focus is ingrained in the living, almost by necessity, to keep the fragile spark of life alight.  The undead, including the other zombies the two meet while enslaved in New Sparta, are not subject to this selfishness, or so they believe.  But with sentience comes certain needs and desires, even if biological urges have been almost all eliminated.  Love, connections to others, and an urge to understand their existence still remains, plus the desire to devour the living still remains…and in most there is no remorse for them either, especially since all memories of what the undead were before they passed on are gone.

Dying To Live: Last Rites may be the third book in Kim Paffenroth’s trilogy, but in many ways it stands on its own as its own examination of life, compassion, and self-sacrifice.  The author has expanded the amount of the sentient zombies from beyond the first two books substantially and that may be a turnoff for some readers who are looking for zombies to mostly remain dim cannibal monsters.  If this were a pure action/horror type trilogy the author could take things in some interesting, Planet of the Apes-type directions with the undead past this story, but these books have always been much more about the examination of the differences between being human and being humane.  Those who have enjoyed the first two novels will likely enjoy this one as well.

Dying To Live: Last Rites can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Dying-Live-Rites-Kim-Paffenroth-ebook/dp/B004T334A2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1466867283&sr=8-3

Review of Craig DiLouie and Jonathan Moon’s “Children of God”

Children of God by Craig DiLouie and Jonathan Moon is an unexpected surprise from these two horror writers.  I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever read something quite like this, even though I’ve read quite a bit of poetry.  This is a book that shares the tales of tragedy lived through by ten survivors, most of who can only do so through the poems they craft years after the events that destroyed the lives of everyone they knew and with whom they shared a slavish faith.

Going in, we know that the Family of God cult, led by David Prince, came to a horrific end via a mass suicide and bloody massacre on August 17, 2008, when well over three hundred members holed up in their mountain compound died with barely thirty surviving.  Years later, as a form of therapy, a psychiatrist suggests the survivors write poetry as a way to express themselves.  This book shares what theses ten survivors who chose to offer up their words had to say.

How the two authors craft an overarching vision of what led up to that day of tragedy, through it, and beyond is haunting, vivid, and gut-wrenching.  This diverse group of poets includes children, a former prostitute, seminary student, an elderly woman abandoned by her biological family before joining the cult, a mentally impaired man, an organist, gangbanger, war veteran suffering from PTSD, and a young man who lost his immigrant parents in an accident years before joining the Children of God.  Their poetry speaks of sacrifice, devotion, desires for a better world, regret, and a heavenly reward beyond this realm promised but never realized.

A story takes shape through their words and despite being a fairly short book, it paints a vivid picture of what takes place, especially on THE day where the cult comes to its brutal and horrible end.  It’s easy to say that such slavish devotion to a charismatic leader is misplaced and to convince yourself that you could never fall for such lunacy, but all one has to do is to take a look at the world at large to see how desperate so many of us are, and how willing so many are to believe in false prophets and leaders who promise extreme and distorted visions of a better world.  Which makes this book of poetry all the more poignant.

Children of God can be found here:  https://www.amazon.com/Children-God-Dreams-Nightmares-Family-ebook/dp/B01ENXYWU8?ie=UTF8&qid=&ref_=tmm_kin_swatch_0&sr=

Reviews of “Breathe” and “Chameleon” by Layden Robinson

Instead of two separate posts, since I read these two books one after the other, I thought it would make more sense to combine their review into one post.

Breathe is a collection of short stories from Layden Robinson that are very difficult to pin down.  Surreal horror with a perhaps bizarre slant might describe some of this work, though even that perhaps doesn’t quite encapsulate what these twelve shorts are all about.  Free form poetry?  Perhaps.  The utterings of a madman?  Quite possibly.

There is a preponderance of adjectives and adverbs slathered freely throughout these tales of nightmare and perhaps waking dreams.  Perhaps there are too many-some jarring and disruptive, as is the flow and pacing in much of these tales.  These are not stories for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.  Vampires, assassins, mannequins, giant tarantulas, and serial killers abound in stories of failure and perhaps redemption, though there are as many uncontrolled laughs bursting forth as there are profound meanings, or so it seemed to me.

It’s fair to say that this probably isn’t a book that will be everyone’s cup of tea.  It is something you have focus on, glean and decipher as you can, and determine what meaning there is for you.  I won’t lie and say I was satisfied with every story-on the contrary, some left me frustrated and exasperated.  Perhaps that is the point.  I wasn’t quite sure where to go with some of these tales.  Certainly, there is meaning to be found, but whether it will resonate for you will be determined if you are receptive to letting your mind get bent a little, then a little more, with each written word.

Check it out for yourself here: https://www.amazon.com/Breathe-Layden-Robinson-ebook/dp/B00LD8JYLE?ie=UTF8&ref_=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top

 

Chameleon is a standalone short by Layden Robinson that is as surreal and trippy as his short story collection, Breathe, though it is more cohesive and compelling from my perspective.  It is a magical journey of discovery-a quest, if you will, that is perhaps partly dream and partly reality, or maybe entirely acid trip.  Regardless, it is an adventure that challenged the main character at every turn and did the same with me the reader.  Demons, the devil, loss, tragedy, hope, peace, and redemption are things that come to mind here, though interpretations will vary.  This isn’t an easy story to review or even describe, except perhaps as an enchanting fever dream that pokes and prods at you because as soon as you think you have a fix on where it is going, it jars you and changes course.  The pace is brisk but the taste of each section, or compartment of this short story, leaves a flavor on your mouth, whether it be bitter or a vague hint of sweetness.  And then the taste changes when you turn the page once more.

Chameleon can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Chameleon-Layden-Robinson-ebook/dp/B00KHB71QI?ie=UTF8&ref_=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top

Donations for the horror film “Scythe” end tomorrow morning!

Nearly a month ago, I posted the information below.  While some of the details (like the promotional incentives that were running at that time) are not the same, the fact that Jim and his team are looking for a last minute run to give them a chance to make their horror film remains the same.  So check out the 15 minute teaser movie he made and give a few bucks if you can.  If it doesn’t hit the goal, you are out nothing, but if it does, you get to say you played a small part in helping a movie maker’s dream come true!

Every once in a while I like to break out of my normal routine and do something a bit different.  I watch horror films-quite a few, in fact, but I have only posted a review of a couple of them on my blog.  I stick to reviewing horror novels, and primarily independent stuff from independent authors and smaller presses.  After all, the “big” stuff gets along just fine whether I review it or not, while the smaller, lesser known works get a boost from every review they receive-good, bad, or indifferent.  Recognition and awareness is key to gaining a wider audience.  Especially if you are trying to turn your ‘little’ project into something bigger.  So I thought I would do my part and check out a short film by a guy named Jim Rothman (twitter handle: @ScytheJim), who is working hard on getting the crowdfunding to turn a fifteen minute short into a full length horror feature.  Jim shared his film with me for the promise of a fair and honest review.  And unlike so many other reviews I do, where I can only give you the link to go purchase your own copy, I am sharing the link so you can watch the film, in all its glory, for free, right now, without spending another dime!  Ain’t that somethin’?

Naturally, Jim is looking for donors to help fund this project, so while you don’t have to pay to watch the short, you might consider a contribution if you like what you see and would like to see more.  And Jim tossed in a bit of an extra for anyone who decides to donate $50 at supportscythe.com if they do so on Monday.  Whoever pledges $50 for the Baseball Cap and Blu-Ray package (again,ON Monday) will also get an autographed copy of the script.  Not too shabby a deal.   So, what’s all the hubbub about?  Well, you can watch the movie here: Scythe Short Film.

Okay, so we’ve gotten all the promotional stuff out of the way!  On to the review:

The setup with Scythe is fairly traditional slasher fare.  Two college aged girls are sitting in an apartment, one, Amy, lamenting what kind of impact she’ll manage to have on the world at large while she studies for exams.  She fears no one will remember her-that she will leave no impression on anyone else including future generations.  The other girl, offering up another hit off the joint they’ve been smoking, gives Amy a pep talk about how she will end up doing great things, just before our main character decides it’s time to walk home.  Next, we see the second girl turn on the television to watch a news report that a imprisoned killer has escaped and is on the loose in the local area.

Pretty routine set up, and in some ways, what follows is also pretty routine.  Where this film ended up resonating for me, in its brief time on my computer screen, was in the build up of tension that takes place after Amy begins her walk home and is warned, via cellphone by her friend, of the escaped maniac on the loose.  The filmmakers allow the energy to build, through the music, the surrounding environment, and through the main character’s expressions and body language.   Amy’s fear ebbs and flows based on what is going on around her, and that was what yanked me along with her through her harrowing journey.

In a film like this, even in short form, its as much what you know as you don’t know, and playing the guessing game about what will happen next.  We all do it-when will the slasher appear, and when will they administer the coup de grace?  If it’s predictable, it’s usually forgettable.  But when you guess wrong and you get that adrenaline rush because you’re startled, taken off guard, or even pee yourself a bit…that’s the payoff.  And for a short film that was produced in an effort to show the capabilities of these filmmakers and the promise of something greater, the payoff was there for me.  Much of it was in the promise of something greater rather than just what happens on the screen.  In other words, I took the bait right off the hook (or off the Scythe, in this case, har har).

The production values (I have a friend who always looooved to use that term when describing a film-it made him feel all refined and movie savvy, I suppose) were solid.  The acting was decent and the music, as I already mentioned, blends well with what is happening on screen.  Whatever the budget they had to make this promotional piece, it didn’t feel cheap, shabby, or hastily constructed.

The bottom line for me is not that this little film was mind altering or in and of itself a great standalone film.  It’s fun and entertaining, certainly, but more importantly, serves its purpose.  That purpose is to draw you in enough to want to see what the creators could do with the budget necessary to make a full length version of Scythe.

But don’t take my word for it.  Check it out yourself.  If you like it, promote it.  If you really like it, consider tossing a few coppers in the direction of the filmmakers so you can see even more of Scythe.  And if you don’t like it…well, it was just 15 minutes out of your life, now wasn’t it?