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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?


Review of the short film “Scythe”

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?


Review of Tonia Brown’s “Badass Zombie Road Trip”

From the title of this book, Badass Zombie Road Trip, I had a vision of an apocalyptic ride across undead highways in a classic car (maybe a convertible Caddy or a hot rod like an old Road Runner).  Even the picture used on the cover reinforced that vision.  Alas, it was not meant to be.  What I got instead was a tale of Jonah and Dale, best buddies, on the run to chase down a lost soul before the devil does them in.  Not a bad trade off, especially when Candy, a beautiful hitchhiker, is added to the mix.  She adds a bit of spice to the testosterone mix, especially since Dale, the Lothario of the duo, has his sights set on her as his next conquest, while Jonah, the meek and mild member of the pair, is falling hard for her in his own modest way.

The threesome has to make it cross country after a poorly thought out (and devilishly influenced) detour into California, where Dale soul is taken from him by Lucifer himself, collecting on a debt incurred during his childhood.  To save his friend, Jonah ups the stakes and tosses his soul into the mix if Satan will give them a chance to reclaim Dale’s soul.  Unfortunately for both of them, the Devil doesn’t play fair, so Dale is not only soulless, he’s lifeless too-though he can move around and talk…and he’s hungry for a bit more than junk food.

Jonah and Dale’s relationship is an interesting dynamic.  Dale is overwhelming, loud, obnoxious, and a letch, while Jonah is quiet, intelligent, sincere, and innocent.  They seem to fit together well, though Dale’s bullying tended to rub me the wrong way and I wanted Jonah to stand up for himself a bit more.  And that is where Candy, the intriguing hitchhiker who gets the boys into even more trouble, comes in.  She is beautiful, somewhat mysterious, and triggers strong interest from both of them.  Plus, she adds her own brand of trouble to the story that keeps things hopping.

Overall, the journey is an entertaining one, though it grinds through a few scenes.  Dragging a zombie across country that needs to feed on something…substantial…every now and then is definitely a cause for concern and plenty of misfortune.  The Devil is cunning and likes to cause as much woe for our road warriors as possible, which keeps things popping.  The dark humor here works and so does the relationship between the three main characters, who seem to mesh well, even when they’re causing each other major grief.  This is a quick read, and a fun one.

Badass Zombie Road Trip can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Badass-Zombie-Road-Tonia-Brown-ebook/dp/B006ZAJ4M4/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8


Review of David Dunwoody’s “The Three Egos”

The Three Egos starts out by introducing the reader to ‘Talent’, a man who has avoided his past entanglements with the Devil for centuries, but slips up at the wrong time and is thrust into hell to meet the Fallen Angel he made a deal with centuries earlier.  While he is punished and tortured beyond death many times on his way to meet God’s former favorite, nothing is permanent in hell and so Satan has a proposition for him.  If he and one of the other ‘Egos’, Chith, find the third Ego, the two of them can negotiate new deals with the Devil.

Dunwoody assembles a diverse cast of characters, including a werewolf named Lace, Sue, a woman who has been cursed to be the last of the Escariot family line (and the Devil’s unwanted amorous attention), an array of angels, both fallen and those still loyal to an absentee God, plus Hell’s Chief Inspector, Hallows, who gets to play chaperone to this mixed up band of anti-heroes in their journey to find Sephus, the third Ego.  It is a journey that will take them from hell to purgatory, to the outer reaches of creation, and on to heaven itself.

This story is packed with the surreal and fantastic, the strange and the compelling, with characters that range from purely evil to blessed, though it is hard to tell which is which at any given moment.  David Dunwoody has provided the reader something unexpected here, with a touch of the epic (flavorful hints of Dante’s Divine Comedy abound), though the characters are believable and approachable, with human frailties and foibles.  He’s rolling the dice that readers will make the leap of faith with him on a journey some will see as profane, especially with God being more or less AWOL as a Supreme Being that is perhaps not so supreme after all.  Despite this, or perhaps because of it, The Three Egos is a wild ride well worth taking.

For the most part, the pacing is fast-so fast that the reader may need to stop and re-read a few passages here and there to keep pace and not miss a key detail.  It does slow a bit more than I would have preferred during the second act but that only serves to be a respite before moving on to the tale’s shocking and somewhat abrupt conclusion.  My guess is your mileage may vary on how things wrap up with this saga, but that is perhaps another reason to appreciate what the author has attempted.  Some questions the story generates are answered, while others that encompass far greater matters remain to be pondered after the final words are read.

The Three Egos can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/3-Egos-David-Dunwoody-ebook/dp/B010J0VSTW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1457301977&sr=8-1&keywords=the+three+egos


Review of Martin Berman-Gorvine’s “All Souls Day”

All Souls Day provides the reader with an alternate history: what if the Cuban Missile Crisis escalated into war?  What if the nuclear holocaust that followed laid waste to much of what we know, except for one small town in Pennsylvania that was protected by the power of the ancient demon, Moloch?  In exchange for its protection, which shelters the townspeople from the burnt and irradiated outside world, the demon demands a virgin sacrifice each year, on the anniversary of the war, November 2nd, which gives this book its title.

This set up paves our introduction to the two main characters. Suzie, who is a ‘nice girl’ and cheerleader at Chatham High, and Amos, a ‘nerd’ who secretly has fallen for Suzie.  This is their senior year, over twenty years since Moloch took over and the sacrifices began.  As a nice girl, Suzie has the chance to be chosen on the night of her Senior Prom as the next virgin Moloch takes, while all Amos wants to do is moon over a girl he can never have.  Despite their differences, the two make a connection and along with some of their friends and some other members of their community, will try and stop the cycle of sacrifice and demon worship that has cursed their suburban paradise for far too many years.

The story is certainly creative, with a town somewhat frozen in time.  It is the mid-eighties when it takes place, but without any technological advancements, the town is reliant on horse-drawn carriages, farming, and slave labor from outside the wall Moloch has put up.  Muties, or mutants, are brought in by the small army Chatham’s Forge has formed, when they go out into the wastelands.  The high school, and the town by extension, has crafted a caste system, where you are assigned a rank once you enter high school.  So ‘nice girls’ are allowed to date ‘jocks’ but never ‘nerds’.  There are also ‘jesters’, ‘punks’, and ‘sluts’.  And instead of a traditional bible-belting preacher spreading the word of God, everyone worships Moloch.  The demon protects the town through his human servant, Pastor Justin, who exacts punishment on the faithless and disloyal.  The parallels between religious zealots of our day, whose devotion to their god goes as far as to sacrifice and kill for that deity, and these Moloch worshipers, are pretty straight forward.

Told in first person, the story switches between Suzie and Amos through most of the story, with later additions coming from their friends and other townsfolk introduced throughout the book.  Some of the timelines are a bit out of whack, especially in the final pages of the tale, but they all come together in the end.  The story runs through Suzie and Amos’s senior year and the months that follow their prom up to All Soul’s Day in November.

The story was very creative and extremely fresh.  If I have to point out a gripe, it had to do with Amos’s character, who does gain a bit of redemption here and there for being picked on as a nerd, but struck me as an incessant whiner and despite some of his actions, a major wimp.  The caste system created by the community exaggerates the stereotypes most of us experience in high school.  So despite the fact that Amos doesn’t need glasses to see, he is required to wear prototypical nerd glasses and the predictable nerd attire.  The abuse heaped upon him is almost ritualistic and both his fellow students and teachers participate in the fun.  The author has done a great job of fleshing out the caste system and having virtually everyone who never experienced the world prior to the Nuclear War that started the reign of Moloch accept their caste almost without question.  Still, as much as I can appreciate Suzie’s determination to revolt both in mind and body against being a nice girl and the horrors that Chatham’s Forge has to offer, Amos perpetuates his stereotype and yet still stumbles into almost everything good that happens to him despite his cowardice and incompetence.  If they had an ‘emo’ caste, he would be its leader.  Still, you can’t help yourself in rooting for him, Suzie, and their friends whose desire is to either escape, or annihilate their little slice of hell on earth.

All Soul’s Day is the first book in The Days of Ascension series by the author, and while we aren’t quite left with a cliffhanger, it comes pretty close. The author has created an intriguing world and it should be interesting to see what is out beyond the borders of Chatham’s Forge.

All Soul’s Day can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/All-Souls-Days-Ascension-Book-ebook/dp/B018F3CGWS/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1451876254&sr=1-4&keywords=all+souls+day


Review of Steven Pajak’s “Mad Swine: Regeneration”

Mad Swine: Regeneration completes the trilogy with the aftermath of the journey of the surviving members of the Randall Oaks subdivision near Chicaog who chose to head to Finnegan Farms in the dead of winter.  Lead by the narrator, Matt Danzig, those that make it to the farm work hard to establish a new life for themselves with the hope of going back to their suburban haven they left behind to retrieve those who stayed behind.  But with one of the worst winters on record and the ‘crazies’ still out there, it isn’t a journey they will be able to make for some time to come.

My reviews of the two previous books categorized them as such: the first book was predominantly action-man vs. zombie and man vs. man.  The second book focused more on character development, with Matt becoming less of a Rambo and more of an everyman doing his best to keep it together so those who are counting on him can do so as well.  This final act blends both action and character development together better than the other two books managed to do, with a quick paced, action-filled completion to the story that also continues to provide the reader with more reasons to grow attached to Matt, his older brother, and the group of people he is responsible for both at the farm and back at Randall Oaks.

The infected/zombies in this book take more of a back seat than in the prior books, with the focus being more on the living menace that has been creeping around the periphery of the barricaded and sheltered places Matt and his group have called home.  They are beginning to discover that they are far better organized and dangerous that anyone had assumed when those make a brazen assault on the farm.  While I would say that once again, the author has not brought a lot to the table that makes this story different or unique compared to the rest of the zombie subgenre, he has continued to refine his writing skills and given the reader a sharper, more well defined and compelling set of characters with each book.

Of course, there are a few pieces of criticism to share as it relates to Regeneration.  One in particular has to do with timing of Matt’s return to Randall Oaks.  It is tremendously coincidental that he arrives mere hours (though it seems like minutes) before a surprise attack rocks the gated community.  It seemed a bit rushed and a convenience to move the story forward at a quicker pace.  Another frustration I had is with the lack of development of the main bad guy, who had potential to be much further fleshed out, especially based on the limited details shared about him.  He seemed to be a rather twisted individual.  The book could have afforded him a few more pages to shape him into more of a worthy opponent to Matt and his team and to move him away from a more generalized baddy.

Overall, Mad Swine: Regeneration is the most satisfying of the three books in the trilogy.  It does a solid job of continuing the character development that made Matt more human and relatable in the second book, while at the same time sharing traits with the first book and its love of action.  The author (or perhaps the publisher or his editor…) seems to like taking a few shortcuts when it comes to certain story elements.  The battle between the neighborhoods never showed up except in synopsis in the second book and the main villain seems somewhat under developed here in the final book.  It isn’t a major criticism, but worth pointing out.  I believe that adding those components could only serve to enhance the story.

This was a satisfying zombie trilogy, in particular to watch and see how the author continued to grow and refine his ability to pull the reader in and give them a reason to grow attached to certain characters.  The action and story is solid, and the pace is fast.

Mad Swine: Regeneration can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Regeneration-Mad-Swine-Book-3-ebook/dp/B011SJQ31Q/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8


Review of “Darlings of Decay”

Darlings of Decay is an anthology of zombie shorts and novellas written by female authors.  Often, the standard point made in a review of an anthology is that it is a mixed bag; good, bad, and so-so tales populate a book filled with a wide assortment of authors, whether the theme is specific or open ended.  Such is the case with this book, though not entirely for the standard reasons.  This isn’t a book filled with short stories that are all within a certain size range or even stories that are all complete.  Instead, it is a mix of shorts, novellas, and primers, for lack of a better term, from an assortment of authors offering up their take on the zombie apocalypse.

It wouldn’t be altogether fair to be critical of an author whose contribution is more of a primer rather than a whole story.  Unfortunately, stunted tales like those do leave something to be desired.  Granted, it is an attempt to lure the reader to the author’s completed work outside of the anthology, but they left me a bit frustrated at the sudden start and abrupt endings.  There were also a small group of novellas that felt rather expansive for such a book.  They were not necessarily primers, but were parts of larger works with bigger tales to tell, thus once again leaving things open ended unless the reader chooses to seek out the rest of the author’s work.

Darlings of Decay did offer up quite a few short stories that were not hints at bigger tales and some were noteworthy.  Chantal Boudreau, Tonia Brown, Catt Dahman, Lori R. Lopez, and Suzanne Robb all contributed some very entertaining short stories to this work.  As to whetting my appetite for something beyond the pages of this book, Jackie Druga’s “Zombie Battle” had a world building, epic quality to it that made me curious to see where the story would be heading after it cut off here.

Focusing on the quality of the stories, it was indeed a mix of well written, sharply creative tales and dull plodders that were predictable from start to finish.  It was clear that each author had to be responsible for their own editing, as there was no uniformity to each story on that score.  Some were clean while quite a few were clogged with obvious typos and awkward phrasing that could have been addressed with a uniform editorial sweep.

Treat this book as a sample platter and you will likely not be disappointed in what it has to offer.  Nibble here and there-try the short stories and perhaps take a peek at the longer tales and decide whether what they have to offer are worth some bigger bites.  Keep that in mind and you should come away satisfied that you have discovered a few new talented voices in the zombie genre that are worth seeking out further works from.

Darlings of Decay can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Darlings-Of-Decay-Shannon-Mayer-ebook/dp/B00DQ1P3S4/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8


Great Review of At Hell’s Gates 3!

I thought I would share a review by a great friend of both the zombie horror and horror genre in general.  If you haven’t grabbed a copy of At Hell’s Gates 3 yet, take a look at Ursula K. Raphael’s review, which gives a concise synopsis of each tale included in this tome.  And of course, the fact that the proceeds from this book go to a very worthy charity should be some additional incentive for you to pick up a copy of your own.  So check out the review and then check out the book!

https://www.amazon.com/review/R13GO9GLZHCMX6/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm


Review of Brian Moreland’s “Darkness Rising”

Darkness Rising is the latest novella from author Brian Moreland, who has written a diverse slate of supernatural horror stories over the course of the past few years.  I believe I have read most of his works and my reason for coming back is because his tales are vivid with a healthy dose of gore and grimness that splash across the pages in bright, primary colors.

Darkness Rising starts out as a somewhat traditional revenge tale, or so it seems to lead in that direction initially.  Naturally, it takes its fair share of dark turns that lead the reader far astray from its original intent.  It is clear that our main character, Marty Weaver, who is a janitor at a local college, is a sensitive soul who has been trodden upon one too many times and is ready to take out his anger on three sadists who catch him reading poetry next to a lonely, quiet part of a local lake while he pines for the woman he loves.

Of course, the author has something else up his sleeve and the story takes several wicked twists and turns.  The sadists in the story are real pieces of work, reminding me briefly of the villains in the movie “You’re Next” thanks to their use of animal masks and their lust for pain and anguish that they heap on their victims.

Marty is a likeable character, someone who is easy to root for.  While the author pulls no punches when it comes to what he must face (as well as memories of a tragic past that won’t let go), he is provided with the opportunity to release the darkness that resides inside him, as the description of this story alludes to.  This leads us to an even darker tale, one where revenge is still wafting through the air, but in ways that even Marty cannot fathom.

All in all, this is an entertaining, quick read, though I had a desire to see certain elements expanded upon-including the ‘dark artist’ aspect of the horror that is revealed to Marty.  His backstory is an interesting one, and Moreland has a deft touch when it comes to crafting creatures built out of nightmares.  The love story aspect of the tale is perhaps a bit fluffy, for lack of a better term, though not too cloying or maudlin given what horrors the reader and Marty have to come to grips with throughout the rest of this tale.  This is a fun, horrific story of revenge and regret by an up and coming author.

Darkness Rising can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Darkness-Rising-Brian-Moreland-ebook/dp/B00Y05TVUG/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8


At Hell’s Gates 3: Bound By Blood to be released July 31st!

I had shared information on the upcoming third installment of the Hell’s Gates anthology a while back.  I am a proud contributor to this book, whose proceeds go to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a charity benefiting military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury.

There are a slew of terrific up and coming and established horror authors on the roster for this one, and the list is conveniently posted right on the cover the book below.  My short story, “Little Lost Lamb”, has the privilege of being the first story to appear on its pages, which is a tremendous honor.

The Kindle version of the book is being released next Friday, July 31st.  Stay tuned for more details on the print version of the book.  I would encourage each and every one of you to check out this as well as the other two tomes in this series.  If not only for a chance to read some great horror short stories, to also contribute to a very worthy cause.

You can pre-order your kindle copy now by clicking on the cover below.  It will take you right to the Amazon page.  And do me another favor while you’re at it: post a review after you have the chance to read it.  While I have always appreciated receiving reviews of the books I am involved with, I especially hope there are a lot of reviews shared of this work since posted reviews generate more interest, and more interest means more people buying copies…and that means more money will be donated to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

To get you even more interested in this great book, I will share the description below.  Remember, just click on the cover to go to Amazon and get your copy.  And know that while you are giving yourself a well-deserved scare with this book, you are in no small way also helping some of our most needy veterans get the help they deserve.  Thanks!

It may be thicker than water, but AT HELL’S GATES the blood will flow like a river…

In the third volume of the #1 Bestselling AT HELL’S GATES series, some of the finest children of the family of horror authors will show you what it means to be BOUND BY BLOOD. Each unique tale of bloodcurdling darkness shows how kith and kin survive the things that go bump in the night…or become them.

All proceeds from this horror anthology series go to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a charity benefiting military veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. The authors, editors, and supporters of this series are pleased to donate their time and effort to our nation’s proudest sons and daughters.AHG3-COVER


Review of Vincenzo Bilof’s “Saint Pain”

Saint Pain wraps up the Zombie Ascension trilogy by Vincenzo Bilof.  The saga is complete, though some of the story threads remain loose, or a bit frayed, by the end of the tale.  Digesting it still, I’m not sure if that left me frustrated or content with how the author chose to close things out.  Doors are potentially left open for more, though whether they should be shut for good or not is debatable.

The book starts a full year past where Queen of The Dead left off.  Vega and Vincent are set up in a neighborhood with an old cop who doesn’t trust the ex-drug dealer.  There are quite a few people with them, including Father Joe and an ex-pro football player named Bill.  There are rumors of Vincent’s guns still hidden somewhere in the city (though he is not sharing any info) and stories of others in Detroit trading women and children for food and other supplies.  While the living have been active, the undead seem to have become lethargic.  Still, the harsh existence everyone faces has them questioning whether or not it is worth continuing to fight to survive.  In the meantime, Jim Traverse has returned to Detroit, apparently to finish the annihilation of the human race that he started a year before.

When the undead rise back up due to some sort of unknown force driving them to kill once again, everything is stirred up and those that are alive are forced to choose whether to fight or give up.  Vega wants another shot at Traverse while Vincent seems to be unsure of whether or not he wants to let go or to continue battling with Vega at his side.  Only Bill, the football player, seems willing to fight to the bitter end and save whoever he can, regardless of the consequences.  The reason why he is compelled to do so was one of the more poignant elements of this book, once revealed.

With all its supernatural elements and almost surreal quality to this story, where the author brings things home is when the humanity of his characters is revealed and/or demolished.  The madness of some, the despair of others, and the resignation of those who know they are about to die but are still willing to fight…plus those who have already died and yet still fight on for some sort of redemption.  These components to the story drew me in and kept me intrigued.  The supernatural components of this story gives it a unique kink that will entertain those who crave something beyond the traditional zombie tale.  There are layers of manipulation and control…by both the living and the dead…over the undead and those who have power over them.  It is a twisty pretzel the author has created here and I am not ashamed to admit I was a bit confused in a few spots as to who was manipulating who.

With its heavy dose of introspection, this book did have a few parts that dragged a bit.  Vega and Jim Traverse have always been interesting characters to me, with Vincent less so.  His melancholia didn’t keep me intrigued every step of the way.  I did enjoy the introduction of Bill, who seems like a character who you could root for despite his flaws.  He seems the only person capable of holding on to some semblance of hope even when that seems pointless.

Saint Pain is a fitting ending to Vincenzo Bilof’s unique zombie trilogy.  Though some of the characters are frustrating and despicable at turns, they were vividly drawn and draw you into their story, despite how dark, dank, and depressing it all becomes.

Saint Pain can be found here:   http://www.amazon.com/Saint-Pain-Zombie-Ascension-Book-ebook/dp/B00WS2LAFC/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1437239968


Cover Art and Final Contributor’s List for “At Hell’s Gates: Bound By Blood” released!

I’m happy to announce that the third installment of the At Hell’s Gates anthology series has revealed the final list of contributors and the finalized cover art.  Sticking with the cover design style started with the first book, Bound By Blood is a different color but has the same compelling imagery.

The theme of Bound By Blood means that the stories that appear in this book are all about family. Here is an informal description of what to expect on these pages: There is no greater bond, especially in times of great fear, than that between mother and fathers, sons and daughters.  The third AT HELL’S GATES anthology will focus on parents and children.  The power of the parental bond is demonstrated as Rick Grimes is reunited with his son Carl in the middle of the zompocalypse or Grendel and his mother terrorize the mead hall in tandem.  It is even perverted when Jack Torrance turns on his family in the Overlook Hotel.

My short story, “Little Lost Lamb” is my contribution to this work.  Originally scheduled to be a part of another anthology for a book that ended up not getting published, I am thrilled this twisted piece of love (and hate), family style, has found a home.  I am quite proud to be a part of this book, mainly because the proceeds are, as they have been with the previous works, being donated to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.  You can find out more about this great cause here: http://athellsgates.com/our-cause/.

I don’t have a link to buy this book just yet, but stay tuned.  Once it is available, I will share the link over on my Bio and About Me pages-just click on the cover art.  For now, check out the impressive list of contributors and the awesome cover art below.

AHG3 is scheduled to release July 31st, 2015.

Returning Authors:
Shana Festa
Devan Sagliani
Sharon Stevenson
Stephen Kozeniewski
Lesa Kinney Anders
Stevie Kopas
Tim Marquitz
Sean T. Smith
Curran Geist
Paul Mannering
TM Caldwell
C.T. Phipps
S.G. Lee

New Authors:
Timothy W. Long
Chris Philbrook
Sarah Lyons Fleming
M. Lauryl Lewis
Douglas Draa
RJ Kennett
Christine Morgan
Kerry Alan Denney
Mikhail Lerma
Suzanne Robb
Brian W. Taylor
David Sakmyster
Patrick D’Orazio
Terry Maggert
S. P. Durnin

Other Contributors:
Formatting: Kindra Sowder, Burning Willow Press
Cover Art: Artwork by Martin de Diego Sadabo. Cover design by J.M. Martin. PoD Formatting: Alan MacRaffen
Editors: Dane Hatchell, Terri King, S. Kay Nash

AHG3-COVER

At Hell’s Gates: Bound By Blood


Review of Patrick James Ryan’s “The Night It Got Out”

The Night It Got Out is the first full length tale from author Patrick James Ryan, who previously wrote Blood Verse, a compendium of horror influenced short stories and poems.  He dives into the equivalent of the classic B-Grade monster movie here with zeal, telling parallel accounts of a virtually unstoppable creature whose only purpose is to kill anyone and everyone who stands in its way.

Don Girard is the police chief of Magnus Pass, the town where a cargo truck carrying the imprisoned beast crashes, freeing it to go on a rampage of blood, guts, and utter chaos.  Once the beast is freed, the government rushes in, with retired Green Beret Colonel Elliot Harmon leading the charge to kill or capture the beast.

Through flashback, we learn of Harmon’s unique relationship with the beast and the covert operations that created this genetically mutated killing machine.  Though the police chief and Green Beret combine forces in an effort to stop the monster, it’s clear that neither trusts the other, and the motivations of each might be at crossed purposes.

This book moves quickly, shifting from one killing field to the next.  From the cover of the book, the beast looks almost like a werewolf or something similar, but the way it’s described makes it more of an amalgam of various predators, including man, with razor sharp claws and teeth, plus incredible strength and speed.  It is intelligent, cunning, and hunts humans out of hatred as well as a food source.  Though there may have been some possibility of sympathy for this beast that has been manipulated and imprisoned by men its entire life, it was hard for me, as a reader, to see past its desire for unlimited slaughter to perhaps try and understand what it has been forced to become.

Since things move at such a rapid pace with this fairly short book, the reader’s relationships with both Girard and Harmon are rather clipped and terse, much like the relationship these two men share with one another.  The bulk of the other characters and what we get to know about them serve only to migrate us from one scene of blood drenched death to another, just like classic monster movies do.  We are given very brief glimpses into the lives of the creature’s victims, typically just before they are gone in a blink of an eye; eviscerated, decapitated, and devoured.

Of course, with the government involved, there is a subplot of secret government experiments and diabolical plots revolving the use of such an ultimate killing machine, but it is heavily overshadowed by the gore splattered action that crosses almost every page.

Overall, this is a fun, over the top gore fest.  Readers looking for more subtle horror would probably be more inclined to read the author’s other book.  Because The Night It Got Out splashes you in the face with buckets of blood, meat, and bones from start to finish.

The author continues to hone his craft with his second book and has done a bang up job with vivid descriptions with this story.  I did, however, find it hard to make an emotional investment in either main character, Girard or Harmon.  Perhaps it was the quick pace of the story and the limited time to get to know either of them, but I wasn’t drawn to either and found it hard to care what fate had in store for them.  With that said, that isn’t a major stumbling block with this type of fast paced, vicious horror tale.  Instead, just prepare to strap in and ride this gnarly carnage coaster until the end.

The Night It Got Out can be found here:     http://www.amazon.com/Night-Got-Patrick-James-Ryan/dp/0692329781/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1434824559


Review of Eloise J. Knapp’s “The Undead Ruins”

The Undead Ruins doesn’t pick up immediately after the second book in the trilogy, The Undead Haze, but about a decade after the start of the zombie apocalypse and years after Cyrus reconnected with Blaze near the end of the previous book.  They have spent the past few years working for the leader of three rebuilt towns as mercenaries for hire, doing the tough jobs no one else wants, including executing those who have disobeyed the laws about hiding undead family members.  As has always been the case, Blaze and Cyrus are aloof, not befriending many of the people they now interact with except for a select few that have a military background like Blaze.  She still has every intention of finding her lost brother, the brother that Cyrus knows about and has kept secrets about since the events that took place in the prior novel.  That isn’t the only secret he’s keeping from Blaze-secrets if revealed might mean his death at the hands of his closest companion.

At the start of this trilogy, Cyrus V. Sinclair proclaimed himself a sociopath.  Much of the frustration with the author from the bulk of reviews I have seen have been with this proclamation.  Either he is not a textbook definition of a sociopath or he softens in the second book to the point where even Cyrus is no longer sure what he is anymore.  Whatever he truly is, since all three of these books were written in first person, we have only the narcissistic and egotistical Cyrus to rely on for his diagnosis.  It would be fair to say that Cyrus liked the idea of being a sociopath and indeed has some of those tendencies, though even he had to acknowledge he has transformed into something else by the time the events of this book take place.  Blaze, Cyrus’s companion and sometimes nemesis, is perhaps closer in definition to a sociopath, although the love she shows for her brother puts a chink in her armor with that designation. More important, Blaze would be unlikely to care what someone labels her.  She is what the world has made her.

Things start out fairly calm at the beginning of this book, with Blaze and Cyrus dealing with grunt work no one else wants to do.  They aren’t necessarily popular with most of the town folk due to the roles they take on, but they are needed and appreciated by the leadership.  Unfortunately, with an attack on one of the towns, there are hints that the crazies they thought had faded into history have returned, stronger than ever and with a new and even more vicious leader.  With this new turmoil comes the possibility that the lies that Cyrus has been telling Blaze to keep the peace between them will be revealed.

It is interesting how the voice of Cyrus has changed during the course of these books.  A smug, unrepentant loner when we first meet him, he still remains aloof but has transformed in many ways.  He still loathes cowardice and weakness, but has gained a respect for those who fight to survive and the necessity of civilization, even if aspects of it make him nauseous.  The relationship between him and Blaze has gotten more complicated.  They are not lovers, but soldiers who have been through wars together.  They would fight and die for one another but at the same time it seems clear that one would kill the other if it suited their needs.

Overall, this has been an entertaining trilogy.  The main character made a proclamation about himself early on that does not play out as he expected.  If it had, this story would have run the risk of predictability.  A criticism I had for the first book came back to haunt this one when the author slips away from first person for a brief moment-a chapter-near the end of the novel.  It could be argued in both cases of the necessity of these diversions although I believe that the author could have found a way to keep on telling the story from Cyrus’ perspective and gotten the same point across.  I had few other quibbles when it came to the writing itself.  It was interesting that here in the third book about Cyrus that the story is as much about someone else, Blaze, as it was about him.  It added depth to the tale and made their relationship that much more compelling.

The Undead Ruins can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Undead-Ruins-Situation-Book/dp/161868471X/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-2&qid=1433201326


Review of “Oil To Ashes Part 2 and Part 3” by Lee Brait

Oil To Ashes continues with part two of this three novella story about Linc Freemore, a man living in a shattered society where the United States is at war with the Middle East.  It doesn’t matter if it is a single country or a coalition, all the reader needs to know is that Linc has worked tirelessly for a company providing supplies to the soldiers overseas while things have deteriorated back home.  Biker gangs are plentiful and the police are scarce.  There are terror attacks and bombings, while oil has diminished and everyone is desperate.  Part 1 took Linc out on a road outside the city where he attempts to save a woman who has been attacked by a biker gang.  He manages to escape, only to discover that the gang now knows who he is and wants to get revenge on him and his family.  Part 1 ended abruptly and Linc’s efforts to save his family are spotlighted here in Part 2, Oil To Ashes: Truce.  With a backdrop of a potential truce between the West and the Middle East, Linc is forced to do battle with more biker gang members who want to tear his family apart.

For such a short tale, there are ample twists and turns in this story, with a much larger backstory being revealed bit by bit, including how the biker gangs are associated with corrupt corporate officials who are interested in war profiteering more than anything.  Unfortunately for Linc, wherever he turns, he ends up getting buried deeper in the trouble he kicked off in part one.  A biker with a brother who wants revenge turns into a larger family looking for a way to either use or kill Linc.  Linc gets himself and those he loves into nearly impossible situations and manages to find a way out of them.  While it isn’t revealed what his background is, it is once again clear that he has some military experience dealing with life and death situations.

Part 2 ends as abruptly as Part 1 did, but fortunately Part 3 was immediately available for free on the kindle.

Oil To Ashes: Truce can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Oil-Ashes-Truce-ebook/dp/B00M5LSUMM/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1431386149&sr=8-1&keywords=lee+brait

Oil To Ashes: Warehouse wraps up this trilogy of novellas about Linc Freemore, a man who, on the surface, appears to be a working class everyday Joe caught up in a very bad situation.  It became pretty clear in Part 1 of the trilogy that he has to be ex-military with, as they say, ‘a very particular set of skills’.  Up to this point, he has gotten in and out of more trouble than even James Bond, and the threat of danger to his family is far greater than it has been.  The story has also come full circle, making much clearer who is behind the plot to destroy Linc and what forces are diametrically opposed to those who want him dead, though they have little interest in keeping Linc’s family safe, either.  Instead, they choose to use him to advance their cause against the corrupt corporate leaders who continue to profit off the war with the Middle East that appears to be coming to an end.

Much of this novella takes place in and around the warehouse that Linc must gain access to so he can fulfill his part of a dangerous bargain he made with people holding his wife and son hostage.  Yet again, he goes through perils that would kill most men, and yet does not reveal how he is capable of enduring such trials.  A desperate urge to protect ones family can only take you so far if you have no training to deal with combat situations and torture.  Still, this is an entertaining final chapter in this tale.  While this story is complete, there is a promise of more from the author with hints on how a new story about Linc might unfold.

Oil To Ashes: Warehouse can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Oil-Ashes-Warehouse-Freemore-Apocalyptic-ebook/dp/B00UY66YOG/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1431386149&sr=8-3&keywords=lee+brait


Review of Rachel Aukes’ “Deadlands Rising”

Deadlands Rising wraps up the Deadland’s trilogy.  Cash, Clutch, and the diminished group of close nit survivors that they call family are working on making it to the promised safe haven in New Eden, to the west of where they have been fighting to survive in Iowa for the bulk of the first two books.  New Eden is a fenced in community in Nebraska surrounding an old abandoned missile silo.  Marco, last of the squad from New Eden sent out to find survivors, promises to lead the group to safety behind its walls.

The first two novels of the trilogy followed the path of most zombie sagas with an equal mix of catastrophe and despair served up on almost every page.  This novel follows a slightly different track.  The author has modeled all three works after Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, with the first representing hell, the second purgatory, and this, the third book, heaven, or paradise.  The seven virtues laid out in Paradiso are laid out as section headings of this book, with the flavor of the third act is distinctly different from the first two.  Paradise is more of a wish than reality for the survivors, with the threat of the undead diminished, but never too far away.  The zombies have either migrated with the hordes to the south where it is warmer or have started to freeze solid in the bitterly cold Midwestern winter.  They are less of a threat and have been replaced with new dangers that are perhaps even more dire for the few living humans who remain.  I gave the author credit for crafting massive, almost unfathomable hordes of the undead churning up everything in their path in the previous book.  A slow moving, undeniable destroyer of all in its path was a concept I’d not seen used to effect in other zombie novels.  In the third book, she takes another intriguing result of a world ravaging plague and squeezes as much potential terror out of it as possible.  Wild packs of dogs, abandoned by their owners, have managed to survive by feasting on the dead-devouring the undead they could cull from the herd.  Infected with a variation of the plague, they do not turn but have the equivalent of rabies.  With as fervent a hunger as the undead and a bite that is equally lethal, they serve as both symbols of fear and tragedy.  Innocent, those not destroyed and devoured alongside their masters get to suffer a fate far worse than death, through no fault of their own.

Of course, rabid animals are not the only threat in the conclusion to this saga.  Facing a brave, or terrifying, new world in the aftermath of the plague is one of the biggest struggles the characters face.  What will happen and who will be guiding humanity’s attempts to rebuild are the daunting questions they must face, along with the consequences of the paths those who lead decide to follow.

The author does an excellent job of bring this story to a conclusion which should satisfy most readers…especially those who have likely grown weary of what I would dub the ‘never ending story syndrome’ that is rife in apocalyptic fiction and in other genres as well.  Authors who insist on leaving plotlines open and loose ends loose so more of the story can be told in either another trilogy or another book with no promise of completion.  Rachel Aukes wraps things up nicely here, with no loose ends.  While the author pulled no punches when it comes to how grim things got for the main characters, a spark of hope remained throughout the story, even when it threatened to be snuffed out for good on numerous occasions.

The connection to The Divine Comedy is, for the most part, in the background enough that someone unfamiliar with Dante’s masterpiece will not get distracted by it, though those who are familiar with it should appreciate the author’s efforts at sharing the zombified version of a journey through hell, purgatory, and the attempt to rise up into paradise.

Deadlands Rising can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Deadland-Rising-Saga-Volume/dp/1508583064/ref=tmm_pap_title_0


At Hell’s Gates Anthology Book Trailer

Not so long ago, I had the privilege of submitting a short story to the upcoming third installment in the ongoing series of horror anthologies called At Hell’s Gates.  I have reviewed the first two books, At Hell’s Gates: Existing Worlds and At Hell’s Gates: Origins of Evil (both reviews can be found here, on my blog).  I had a short story that I felt fit the theme of book three, At Hell’s Gates: Bound By Blood.  It’s a devious little short I entitled Little Lost Lamb.  Fortunately, it was accepted, and now I have the privilege of being a part of this charity project.

The proceeds from the sales of these books go to The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.  You can find out more about this worthy cause over on the At Hell’s Gates website: http://athellsgates.com/our-cause/ and donate directly to the cause.  Of course, the hope is that you’ll also buy a few copies of these anthologies.  If you are a fan of horror, they are worth checking out, plus you can feel good for contributing to a great cause as you read a series of twisted and disturbing stories.  And fear not, after the third volume is released, others will be coming, including future themes Fall of Madness and A History of Violence.  

More to come on Volume 3 once it is released-where you can get it, the finalized cover, etc.  But for now, I wanted to share with you a really killer book trailer covering the first three installments in this series.  I would expound further on how killer it is, but instead, I thought I would just share the link so you can go check it out on youtube without further ado: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6XbRnX1gvQ&feature=youtu.be


Review of “At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two-Origins of Evil”

At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two focuses on the theme of ‘Origins of Evil’.  The first volume was an anthology that served in many ways as an introduction to the world’s the contributing authors had created in their various novel-length horror series.  Many of the stories served as add-ons or addendums to those tales-they were short stories with a very large shadow looming behind them.  Volume Two has mainly standalone offerings from each contributor.

While I appreciate stories that add to a bigger world, there is something about the stand alone tale, especially in the horror genre, that makes it compelling.  Sometimes the smaller slices of hell are the most dark and make you despair the most.  That is why this volume has stepped up its game over the first volume.  So many of these stories sucked me in, chewed me up, and spit me back out.  Brutal like an assault in a back alley, they leave you dazed and curled up in the fetal position, whimpering and shivering in fear.

If purchasing this anthology was nothing more than an excuse to donate to a worthy cause, I’d have been happy to chip in.  The cause is an excellent one: The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.  But this anthology is also worth the price of admission because the stories on its pages are worthy of the investment, charity or no charity involved.

Here is a quick synopsis of each tale included in this work.

Pulse by Mark Tufo: A scientist builds a better mousetrap.  Well, a better way to kill bugs.  Unfortunately, it has an affinity for killing other living beings as well.

Cookies for the Gentleman by C.T. Phillips: A tale madness and desperation that spirals into a very dark, grim place for narrator…a place that threatens to suck the reader in along with him.

By Any Means Necessary by Evin Ager: An army grunt guarding terrorists at a secret military prison discovers the inmates are being used for some very unscrupulous supernatural testing.

History’s End by Frank Tayell:  The best intentions to save mankind from itself can have the most drastic, unforeseen consequences.

A Mother’s Nightmare by J. Rudolph:  Could you cope with the loss of all you hold dear?  What would you do if you were faced with crushing despair that comes with the destruction of all that you love?

Patient 63 by Stevie Kopas:  Infection transforms most of the world into subhuman monsters.  Humanity fights back, discovering a cure.  The question then becomes whether the infection is the villain or humanity itself?

Tyrannical Ascension by Shana Festa: We return to the author’s Time of Death zombie apocalypse series and are introduced to the man who would be king, or at least someone who has designs on such status in a world overrun by the undead.

Ink by James Crawford:  The world’s most elite tattoo artist creates his masterpiece on a living canvas.  The man blessed with this art is also cursed with an unquenchable desire to find the hidden meaning behind its dark beauty, to the everlasting despair of anyone who crosses his path.

The Man with Four Scars by Stephen Kozeniewski: Assures the reader that the undead have been with us long before Romero introduced them.  A caveman discovers a recently crashed meteorite and the strange effects it has on his tribe.

Daddy’s Girl by Ian McClellan: Reiterates the sage advice that it is best not to judge thy neighbor for their sins when you yourself are a sinner…even if your neighbor might be a malevolent supernatural being.

Operation Devil Walk by David Mickolas: That the Nazis sought out supernatural assistance to give them more power to defeat their enemies is well established.  Their hatred for Jews is undisputed.  The idea of combining those two things is horrific.

The Infected by S.G. Lee: A naïve young doctor falls for the manipulations of an ultra-competitive and ultra-sleazy coworker while working on experimental medical treatments that could extend the viability of organs used in transplants.

Forget Me Never by Sharon Stevenson: Fame is never everlasting.  Or is it?  Some are willing to kill for it and to even keep killing to maintain it.

Mirage by Sean T. Smith: A twisty, tragic sci-fi tale of giving up and giving in…when your goal is tantalizingly just out of reach…or is that perhaps just a mirage?

The Millstone by Lesa Kinney Anders: We all have our burdens.  It’s said that if you save someone’s life, you are responsible for them for them forever.  Is the same true if you destroy their life?

Genesis by Kit Power: How far would you be willing to go to show God how cheated you feel when you beg, plead, and pray for intervention, only get ignored time and again?

Lockdown by TM Caldwell: What’s a teacher to do when the dead have risen and are roaming the halls of the school?  Especially if you are on lockdown and you have a room full of panicked grade-schoolers to look after?

Collection Night by Curran Geist: How far would you go to protect your wife and child?  How dark could the nightmare become before you lost your nerve?

The Cold by Devan Sagliani: Life can suck.  Whether by your own doing or if you choose to blame everyone else for your failures, it can always suck just a little bit more…especially if you accidentally dabble with the supernatural.

A Different Cocktail by Claire C. Riley: Sure, I’d be skeptical too about a ritual that promises to bring forth a vampire master, but if you want to get lucky with a goth girl, why not partake in the ‘blood’ you’ve been offered that is supposed to summon him?  What’s the worst that could happen?

A Song to Sing in Babylon by Bobbie Metevier & Matthew Baugh: The old world is dying and change is painful…not only for the human race but those who have hidden in the shadows for generations.  Humans believe that God is punishing us while the others believe they are being rewarded with a world transformed into something more accommodating.  But what if they’re both wrong?

The Gouger by Paul Mannering: Somewhat reminiscent of the Stephen King short story, “The Mangler”, the Gouger is a grinder used to liquefy fish guts and anything else fishermen bring to the Makula Bay Fishing Co-op.  It’s also Tommy Malone’s favorite machine.  He loves to watch it consume and dreams of it consuming the world.

Overall, horror anthologies tend to be a mixed bag.  I tend to rate them on overall experience, though it often takes only one story that leaves me squirming in discomfort to satisfy me.  Naturally, not every story resonates with every reader, and for me this anthology was no exception.  A few stories just didn’t hit the mark for me.  With that said, the majority did, and I’m happy (or perhaps disconcerted?) to say that several left me squirming.  So this book is a double whammy: the proceeds are going to a very worthy charity and the book itself is a worthy read.

At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two can be found here:   http://www.amazon.com/At-Hells-Gates-Volume-Two/dp/1508448833/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8


Review of Stephen North’s “Beneath The Mask”

Beneath The Mask is a recreation of a prior Stephen North story, a re-envisioning of his first book with the same title. Sergeant Alex Cray of the Florida National Guard is dealing with what appears to be a biological attack on the Tampa Bay area. He and the rest of the soldiers facing the situation have seen people dying from some sort of plague that leaves them with sores on their faces and a homicidal streak that borders on madness. It is clear that this situation is spreading to other parts of the country and globe and even more shocking, it is perhaps coming from something beyond our world.
Strange events unfold with little explanation around Alex. While the citizens in the area are desperate to survive, there are others who appear in the area that look human, though they seem transformed and almost alien in their physical perfection. Sergeant Cray is forced to kill to defend himself and the various people he comes into contact with that he feels are worth saving as things continue to deteriorate around him. At first he fears the plague that has permeated the area and like the rest of the soldiers, is supposed to continue wearing his MOPP suit-the protective bio-containment outfit that prevents airborne viruses from infecting you. But it doesn’t take him long to realize that life behind the mask is no longer worth living. After stripping his containment suit, Alex is forced to continue stripping away other masks that civilization has put in place for him. He puzzles over the deterioration of his and others humanity while seeking answers as to what the truth is behind the strange people and strange vessels that have arrived in the area that look like nothing anyone on earth could have created.
Beneath The Mask has been transformed from a traditional first day apocalyptic tale of survival into a story that combines elements of this and that of a futuristic thriller. The author wrote another story, The Drifter, which had a noir/Blade Runner type flavor to it, though it mostly takes place elsewhere and else when and there are hints here that these two sagas will be tied together in a series of adventures, as elements from the second book have bled through here, in Beneath The Mask.
Stephen North’s writing preference is typically first person, present tense, and this story is written in this format. While there are some challenges with this style, because the reader can only see what Alex sees and hears in each instance, it steeps you in the moment, dealing with everything the main character faces with no additional time to react. There is no time to debate whether to pull the trigger or to leave someone for dead when things are constantly shifting and moving all around you. The story is not driven by one particular objective, although Alex’s instant to instant reactions are shaped by the strange realities he has discovered and must come to grips with, which drives him to focus on certain objectives-most of which have to do with staying alive. His alliances are also driven by gut instinct and the desire to retain a kernel of humanity within him, even while he is forced to do mostly unspeakable things to keep himself and those he cares for alive.
The author has created the start of a rollicking adventure tale that has the potential to transcend timelines and realities. Alex does seem almost too reactionary in this story-pulled by outside forces in different directions on a constant basis, rather than focusing on anything beyond moment to moment survival. Of course, the author puts a steady flow of roadblocks in front of him to provide him with all sorts of adventures, but he is almost philosophically detached from one of the only overriding objectives he returns to throughout the book-the desire to see if his parents are still alive. Of course, there are far greater missions for Sergeant Cray to involve himself in, but I would have liked to see him push a little harder in an effort to achieve this objective. Despite this minor concern, the author has created an all-to-human hero that fails as much as he succeeds, still tries to do what is right even when nothing he does seems to matter, and still is able to fight to retain a grip on what makes him human even if at times there seems to be no good reason to do so anymore.
Beneath The Mask can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Beneath-Mask-Drifter-Book-1-ebook/dp/B00QL64P8A/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1421418407&sr=8-3&keywords=beneath+the+mask


Review of Eloise Knapp’s “The Undead Haze”

The Undead Haze is the follow up to the author’s first novel, The Undead Situation, where we were introduced to self-proclaimed sociopath, Cyrus V. Sinclair. Cyrus is the narrator here, as he was in the first book, and thus we get to see the world only through his eyes. His claim of being a sociopath are dampened from the get go here, even by his own admission. In reviewing the first novel, I made it clear that it was debatable whether he was truly a sociopath. But since the story is told by the main character, we only have his proclamation to go by as to whether it is true or not.
Here, it becomes clear that Cyrus’s feelings for Blaze, the woman he lost track of before the end of the first book, don’t jive with that of a true sociopath. It is more likely that Blaze is closer to a text book definition of sociopath, at least based on how she acted and reacted to others, including Cyrus, the first book. The majority of this novel is spent with Cyrus wanting to find Blaze because of the feelings he has developed for her. Naturally, because of the state the world is in, there are some tremendous perils brought on by both the living and the dead. Cyrus crosses paths with someone who has the potential to help him find Blaze, if she is still alive, though he will have to go through hell on earth in the process.
Much of the criticism I saw in reviews of the first novel were due to Cyrus’s proclamation that he was a sociopath when there were aspects of his personality that left that up for debate. Much of the criticism I have seen in reviews of this novel are due to the fact that Cyrus shows far more vulnerability and humanity than a sociopath ever would. He works hard to convince himself that he has no need for others, that he is still using them, and is purposefully callous on occasion, but he shows far more fear, a willingness to open himself up to others, and more of a desire to help others than ever before. Again, since both stories are told in first person, all the reader has to go on is Cyrus’s proclamations about himself, rather than based on any truth that may have been revealed had his story been told in third person. The only thing for certain is that Cyrus V. Sinclair is a bit more complicated than a one word description of his personality type.
The Undead Haze, is in some ways a more complicated story, like its protagonist has become, than the one found in the first book. Cyrus is forced further and further outside his comfort zone. He is beaten and bloodied for long stretches of this tale. He’s weak, vulnerable, and at the mercy of others who he must rely upon. He is obsessed with another person, feeling something akin to love, which becomes the driving force in his life. This is what drives this story and will likely determine whether a reader likes this book more, or less than the first one. Cyrus is still, for the most part, a disagreeable character, but one who is far more human than before. He questions whether or not what he seems to becoming is who he truly is, rather than the sociopath he believed himself to be in the past.
Naturally, this is a character driven story, with the events that unfold on its pages being secondary to how Cyrus experiences them. There are traditional zombie slow movers with a mix of fast movers (those that have recently turned) which are one threat to Cyrus, but they are not the worst danger for him. It the human dangers that are far worse.
The author’s writing has gotten sharper and she has nurtured Cyrus into something far more complex than the one dimensional, smug jerk he was in the first book. While in many ways he is still irredeemable, he has expanded greatly beyond what he was to begin with in this book. It will be interesting to see where he ends up going in the third act of his saga.
The Undead Haze can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Undead-Haze-Situation-Book-Volume/dp/1618680730/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1420788356&sr=1-2


Review of David Jacob Knight’s “The Phone Company”

The Tether. The name drums up an image of something that holds you in place, latches on to you, and links you to others that are also connected in a similar fashion. The Tether in The Phone Company is the name of the latest mobile device being offered by the eponymous organization to their customers. PCo, for short, didn’t make the Tether, but they have taken full advantage of its endless capabilities as a device to connect everyone to each other. Just sign up, get connected, and work to become one of the Top 12 of the PCo family. Its aps are remarkable, giving its customers almost magic-like abilities to peak into the world of their neighbors, to control machinery, and to retrieve virtually any information instantaneously.
PCo has set up shop in Cracked Rock, Montana, building a data center on the cemetery where the town founders have been buried. While there are protests about what they have done, most of the citizens are too excited about the free phones being offered to students and other members of the community to have a problem with it. Cracked Rock is a town that is hurting. Several years earlier a boy went on a shooting spree at the local middle school, tearing the town apart. While this was happening, Steve, one of the teachers in the high school, avoided his kids being victims because they were facing another nightmare at the local hospital: the death of Janice, his wife, due to lung cancer.
Steve and Bill, his best friend and a deputy sheriff in town, are about the only two members of the community not thrilled with the new Tethers and the increased presence of PCo. Both are given free Tethers as public servants, but Steve would rather stick with his old phone that both he and his wife used years before and Bill isn’t interested in agreeing to the background check the Tether requires to grant him access to all the neat law enforcement tools it has to offer.
It doesn’t take long for this thriller to migrate to more of a supernatural horror, with strange events occurring all around town. It seems that everyone is discovering unique aps on their phones, like JJ, Steve’s son, who discovers he can inhabit the bodies of soldiers and rebels doing battle in a variety of wars across the globe. Sarah, Steve’s daughter, realizes she has a popularity ap that not only gauges her popularity against the other girls in her high school, it also provides guidance on what she can do to claw her way to the top of the list.
If you have read the author’s previous work, The Pen Name, it becomes clear very quickly that both these tales inhabit the same eerie world. The mysterious publishing company from the first book pays a brief visit here, and the main character from that tale had been laid off from the phone company prior to being sucked into his own mystery. The author’s prior work seemed a bit more subtle as the world around the main character unraveled in bits and pieces. In Cracked Rock, things seem to tumble down the rabbit hole in a more abrupt fashion, though everyone seems fairly happy with the results. The mysterious Provider, who is behind the all-consuming need to be connected, is spoken about with a reverence bordering on religiously zealotry by the faithful.
This story, like its predecessor, has flavors of Lovecraft mixed in with King and begins as a thriller that migrates more into the realm of supernatural horror before the story is complete. The writing is solid though Steve, the main character, doesn’t feel as strongly developed as Ben was in The Pen Name. Perhaps because it felt like Steve didn’t seem to sense what was going wrong all too quickly in the pages of the story. He seems to be more of a passive reactionary to a great deal of what is happening, at least until everything has gone off the rails entirely. He is unhappy, discontented, but slow to engage with Graham, the ever present PCo representative, and all too willing to hope for the best.
Overall, The Phone Company is still a very intriguing story. It pokes and prods at how worthwhile it is to live in a world where we are hyper-connected to one another, where there is an ap for everything and our lives are on display for everyone via social media. We bemoan our loss of privacy and yet cannot look away, or stop contributing to the deluge of information shared with one another. The book takes that in a supernatural direction, turning the need for connection into a religious fervor that devours everyone who submits.
The Phone Company can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Phone-Company-David-Jacob-Knight/dp/1503361993/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1420306490&sr=8-1