Writer of Horror Fiction

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Review of Stephen A. North’s “Tusk and Sedation Dentistry”

Tusk and Sedation Dentistry are two horror short stories with dentists as their main characters.  Tusk has us sitting down next to the young, beautiful neighbor of an older dentist who enjoys regaling her with tales of his adventurous youth.  You see, he has countless trophies from trips abroad adorning his office walls.  But one particular trophy, an oddly elongated tooth, has caught her eye and she is insistent on hearing how the good doctor came across this strange artifact.  Though reluctant, the dentist begrudgingly shares his journey of dark discovery.

Sedation Dentistry is like the sickly sweet dessert after devouring a darkly delectable meal.  Weighing in at only a couple of pages, this tidbit reveals how tremendously horrifying dentistry might be.  Spending every day starring into the deep, dank abysses that are people’s bacteria infested mouths and then being forced to stick your fingers inside those vile maws must be a nightmare for some.  Even worse must be the secret fear that those horrible ivory pillars could come slamming together at any second to grind the flesh off the bones of your fingers…

These two ‘toothsome tales’, as the author describes them, are a quick, painless read, poured through faster than it’ll take you to go through your next six month checkup.  Tusk leads us into a chultun-an underground chamber on the Yucatan Peninsula where our dentist friend is hunting for treasure with a couple of comrades.  This dark lair shares some disturbingly similar characteristics to the open, steaming holes that are the mouths he deals with as a dentist, including the sharp, pointed teeth.  Sedation Dentistry fooled me in the first couple of sentences, with its description of a cavernous, plague infested mouth that was as ominous as the caverns found in Tusk.

Quick easy reads for those chomping at the bit for a taste of horror.

Tusk and Sedation Dentistry can be found here:  https://www.amazon.com/Tusk-Sedation-Dentistry-Stephen-North-ebook/dp/B074PTDDJD/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1504145557&sr=8-1&keywords=tusk+and+sedation+dentistry

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Review of L.M. Labat’s “The Sanguinarian Id”

The Sanguinarian Id introduces us to Hael, a child found abandoned and left for dead in the woods outside of an asylum in England in the late 1800s.  Taken in by the doctors there, they are fascinated by this little girl who remembers little of her past and appears to be supernaturally resilient and strong.  They search for but fail to find anyone who knows who she is, which is completely satisfactory to Dr. Strauss and especially Dr. Mendelson, who run the asylum.  They have spent much of their time experimenting and torturing their mostly female patients and have devious plans for Hael as well.

This story combines elements of gothic horror with a journey of self-discovery.  Hael doesn’t truly understand what she is, but begins to grasp the truth while doing her best to escape her nightmare existence.  Despite her efforts to escape the clutches of the mysterious and purely evil Mendelson, it appears that their destinies are firmly intertwined long term.

The first part of the book takes place in Hael’s childhood years, and the author has given it a strong flavor of gothic horror like we get from the classics of the era: Dracula and Frankenstein.  The latter half of the book leaps forward a half century when we are thrust into the middle of World War II Germany, where Hael continues her lifelong quest for redemption and revenge.

The story is intriguing, pulling us deeper into the dark underworld Hael both lives in and tries to make sense of-she has been abused, beaten, terrorized, and violated throughout her life.  In turn, she has worked to extract revenge on those who have done this to her and those she cares for, while trying to find some sense of self.  She lives both in the real world painted black with despair and misery the Nazi’s have unleashed, and in the supernatural world-a world filled with pure blood and half-blood vampires and other monsters far worse.

This is the author’s first novel and in many ways is an impressive bit of storytelling, especially for someone who is barely into adulthood.  The depth of research and understanding it must have taken to develop this world and underworld filled with supernatural characters and creatures must have been substantial.  The author has developed a vibrant, bloody, dark, grim world and a character that successfully manages to give the reader someone to both respect and care for, while also fearing them and the dark acts they are capable of doing.

There is a fair bit of tell vs. show in this story and the dialog, at points, is a bit awkward.  The main character’s use of the word “bitch” on multiple occasions as an insult to her male enemies in the World War II era felt a bit out of place, though that is a minor complaint.  There are some awkward turns of phrase here and there while some of the story transitions are abrupt.  We go from knowing little to nothing about the monsters that inhabit this world early on in the story, to Kael having extensive knowledge of them later on.  We did not get to join her on that journey of discovery and it felt a bit like an opportunity lost.

Despite these quibbles, this is a strong first entry in this potential series of books and a very promising start to the career of the author, who will continue to refine her writing style and sharpen the dialog with the more stories she creates.  Her foundation in storytelling is solid and I look forward to seeing more from L.M. Labat in the future.

The Sanguinarian Id can be found here:  https://www.amazon.com/Sanguinarian-Id-L-M-Labat/dp/1937769445/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=


Review of Stephen A. North’s “Dead Tide Rage”

Dead Tide Rage continues the saga Stephen A. North started with Dead Tide back in 2008.  This is the fourth installment in the series, which tells the stories of a wide assortment of folks in the days following the start of the zombie apocalypse in the Tampa Bay area.  There is no telling if this is the actual end of the road for the saga-while some characters disappear from the tale here (and have been doing so since the first book), there continues to plenty more to carry things forward.  This isn’t any sort of spoiler.  The author has never pulled his punches when it comes to the fate of those who inhabit the pages in this series.  And of course, if you are reading this review and haven’t checked out any of the prior installments, I would suggest you start with Dead Tide, or DTR won’t make a huge amount of sense.

The author changed the tense with the third installment of this series to past vs. present and he sticks with past tense with DTR.  Regardless of the tense used, there is an immediacy found in each book of the series-things move at a fast clip.  You are in deep in the action, regardless of what character’s perspective you are subjected to in that moment.  Many of them are familiar by now, but there are a few new additions to the cast.  If it has been a while since you’ve read Dead Tide Surge (the third book), the author has provided a dramatis personae at the beginning of the book as a quick refresh.  Keeping up with everybody can get a bit confusing, but if you have made it this far, you likely have a good handle on who is who.  There are plenty of folks that have survived long enough that you probably have your favorites, and the ones you are hoping die an ugly and brutal death.  It should be noted, there is plenty of diversity-women, men, and children of different races and socio-economic classes, coming together or falling apart on a daily (and hourly basis) regardless of who they were before the zombies rose.  No one comes away clean in this tale.  Of course, this means the story isn’t locked into any single group’s survival-there really are no permanent groupings anyway-things change far too quickly and the ensemble cast drifts on and off each other’s radar unless they make a conscious effort to stick together…and even that doesn’t work out all that well too often.

The reality of a review of a fourth book in a series is that you, the reader, likely have made up your mind about this series by now and you are reading this because you want to see if this book matches up well with the others that came before.  My answer to that is yes-this book fits seamlessly with the others, like a new puzzle piece.  Again, there is no telling if the puzzle is complete-the outer edges aren’t quite straight.  I almost feel as though the author could call it a day with this book or write four more books in the series if he chooses.  As with most apocalyptic tales, the idea of a happy ending is pretty subjective.  Orson Welles once said “If you want a happy ending that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”  I’m not sure Stephen A. North has decided where to end his story, or if he is all that interested in a happy ending for his characters.  But the ride, so far, has been a pretty interesting one.

You can find Dead Tide Rage here:  https://www.amazon.com/Dead-Tide-Rage-Stephen-North-ebook/dp/B073HR3TFL/ref=la_B002K8VVMG_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1499300622&sr=1-1


Review of Stephen Kozeniewski’s “Hunter of the Dead”

Hunter of the Dead does its best to shed new light into vampire mythology with a story spanning the ages from the early days of vampires and the inquisitors who wage a constant war with them to today, when a strange monster, shrouded in mystery, has come forth, slaying both vampires and inquisitors alike.

The story passes through multiple time periods, flashing back into the history of characters both significant and petty, while the main story focuses on events occuring in present day Las Vegas.  Cicatrice, the strongest immortal in the world and leader of the most powerful house of vampires, is locked in a war with all other rival houses, including house Signari, led by Father Otto, Cicatrice’s greatest rival.  Cicatrice has just found his true heir, Idi Han, a freshly turned but incredibly powerful young vampire who shows remarkable skills and control over her powers.  We are also introduced to Nico Salazar, night manager of a convenience store who is thrust into the world of night dwellers when his store gets attacked by a strange, vampire-like creature and only by luck and the assistance of an employee does he manage to survive.  It turns out that his ragged compatriot is Carter Price, an inquisitor who looks like he’s been run through mill a few too many times to be classified as much of a vampire slayer.

There is a lot going on in this story, with the authors own unique take on the world of vampires and immortality being shared on its pages.  Kozeniewski does bring some fresh takes to the genre, with his own brand of dark humor steeped in heavy doses of gore drenched horror.  The main characters are solidly developed-in particular Idi Han-the young vampire whose powers are growing at a far more rapid rate than normal, along with her resentment toward being seen as some sort of savior of her kind.  Also intriguing is Carter Price, the washed out, rough and tumble inquisitor that likes to go it alone in a profession that typically requires massive teamwork to survive given how much power immortals wield.

This story is jam packed with characters and flashbacks that lend a healthy appreciation for the history of the immortal bloodlines and the wars they’ve waged with one another and humankind.  The advantage with that is that the story moves at a very fast clip-there is very little downtime in its pages.  Unfortunately, this also means that some of the flesh on its bones I would have liked to have seen within the pages is hard to find.  This is a tale that could have been further developed with a much larger work, or perhaps sliced into multiple novels about the diverse characters populating its pages.  The Hunter, a malignant and yet fascinating monster, could have garnered for more pages and storyline here, but so to could have Idi Han, Cicatrice, and Carter Price.  It is clear that there is more to tell with each of them and given that the author has left the door open for a sequel (or a series of books), perhaps we will see a great deal more of each of them in later works.

Overall, the writing here, as is typically the case with Kozeniewski, is rock solid.  He knows how to weave a creative, darkly funny, and diabolical tale.  Perhaps it isn’t much of a criticism that his story could have been more fleshed out-after all, leaving the audience wanting more isn’t the worst sin in the world.

Hunter of the Dead can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Hunter-Dead-Stephen-Kozeniewski/dp/1944044310/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1491760206&sr=8-1&keywords=hunter+of+the+dead


Review of Travis Adkins “Mists of the Dead”

Mists of the Dead, by Travis Adkins, takes the tradition of high adventure and adds a liberal helping of modern day zombie horror to bring something to the page that is both familiar and yet fascinatingly unique.

We are introduced to Warrel, a roguish charmer of a bard who has it made being the house balladeer in a tavern run by man of questionable means.  Still, Warrel yearns for a life of adventure.  His chance for something more occurs when Kogliastro, the most famous wizard in the world, decides to leave his fortress behind and venture out into the wide world once again.  With a bit of finesse, Warrel is able to convince the magic user of his potential usefulness as a scribe on his journeys, and thus begins a saga that will take the old mage and young, impetuous bard (along with their dwarf warrior companion) to a strange new land filled with both mystery and the eponymous mist.

Being someone who grew up on Dungeons and Dragons, this tale has much that was familiar to me, from the magical items and spells the character’s use and discover, to the chosen professions of not only the three adventurers but others they meet in their travels.  The world the author has created is filled with gods and monsters of his own creation as well as those taken from the pages of the manuals I devoured as a fanatical fantasy gamer in my youth.  Adkins puts his own spin on the mix, in particular related to the gods of Erda, the world in which Warrel lives, and how his characters communicate.  Warrel in particular uses an entertaining mix of the classic ‘ye olde’ common tongue and modern vernacular that put a smile on my face at is creativity.

While the story can be easily classified as traditional fantasy, Adkins does not forget his own history, which includes at least two traditional modern-day zombie apocalypse novels.  The zombies our adventurers meet don’t share the traits of magically enchanted undead, raised up by dark priests and necromancers, but adhere in many ways to the zombies we are familiar with these days-those who die within the mists rise up and are compelled to devour the brains of the living.

Naturally, given my own life-long fascination with both fantasy adventure and the undead, I am probably a biased reviewer of this tale, but I must say that the characters are solidly fleshed out, as is the world(s) the author has created.  If perhaps there is an area I would be critical of, it is the length of time it takes for Warrel to go from committing to leaving his home behind to travel with a famed wizard and actually doing it.  While the detail the author commits to Allswell, the city that Warrel calls home, and the cast of characters he has relationships with is tremendous, it perhaps takes a bit too long for the real adventure to begin. With that said, for me, Mists of the Dead was both an exciting journey into the unknown and to places I am very familiar with and love returning too.

Mists of the Dead can be found here:  https://www.amazon.com/dp/B06XC5Q794


Review of Bryan Way’s “Life After: The Void”

Life After: The Void carries the story of Jeff Grey and company forward about three months after the events of the first book, where the dead rose and he and several other people attending a high school band competition managed to turn the high school they were at into a barricaded fortress while the world outside goes to war with the undead.

Jeff remains bitter after the loss of his girlfriend and is dealing with a somewhat awkward burgeoning relationship with another friend, Mel, despite many awkward misgivings and some fairly contentious interactions.  Jeff, along with his National Guardsman friend Anderson, and older survivor Rich are the leaders in their reasonably stable new community.  They have provisions and routines to keep them safe, though the tension in the group is palpable.  The undead, for the most part, have become background noise, slaughtered when they get close but thought of more in theory than reality.  Except when, occasionally they overwhelm the survivor’s reality and become more of an immediate danger.

It is the humans outside that are the real threat, as they have always been and ever will be.  Jeff has been grasping the fact that nothing will ever return to normal despite the seeming static routines of his new existence.  This is compounded by the guilt and rage he feels at the loss of his brother and girlfriend, while his parents are a thousand miles away.  The group makes their way outside the barricades they have built and have to deal with the living in a variety of ways, coping with marauders, the military, and rescue missions.  Throughout these experiences, we see the world through Jeff’s eyes, though we know what those around him think of him.  Jeff is a self-admitted asshole, bitter and more often than not itching to get in a fight, or at least a debate, or how best to survive and to live.  The events he has to face and the tragic experiences he has had to cope with wage a constant war with his ability to keep it together.  He is a trusted and relied upon member of his group, but at the same time he seems to have a contentious relationship with just about everyone who crosses his path.  A teenager still, he is reluctantly being forced into the role of leader and does so often like a bull in a china shop.

My understanding is that there were a few short stories that the author wrote that take place between the first book of this series and this novel.  I am sure they would have added to the depth of the story, but having not read them didn’t make me feel as though I was lost in any way when I started this book.  This is definitely a sequel though, with the expectation that the reader already knows the main characters introduced in Life After: The Arising.

The action is a bit more tempered in this second entry of what I am guessing will be (at least) a trilogy, since the urgency of immediate survival in the hours and days that followed the first onslaught of the undead has subsided.  The characters have settled into life where they still have electric power and plenty of supplies, but of course are trapped in both a world and a barricaded fortress that is somewhat claustrophobic.  There are bursts of action in the book but much of the first half deals with the human dynamics of a group of people forced to unify and create a new existence with rules and routines that everyone can live with.  The author focuses a good deal on the interpersonal relationships between Jeff and pretty much everyone else.  His awkwardness with the children, annoyance with other leaders, and anger with just about anyone who confronts him are front and center.  The action picks up as the story progresses, but Jeff’s battles with those around him as well as his inner demons continue throughout, especially when he is forced to confront some very hard truths about himself and his place in this new world.

Jeff is a hard character to like in many ways.  He was in the first book and remains true to the personality the author created there in this book.  Abrupt, gruff, itching for an argument, and perceived as a know it all, it takes more than being forced to take a leadership role in a desperate survival scenario to force him to grow up and come to grips with his failings.  It is the life he must live, interacting with others in regular, routine daily activities versus coping with swinging a sword and blowing a zombie’s head off that are slowly chipping away at his desire to be contentious with just about everyone.  Much like with the first book, I believe that whether the reader enjoys this tale will likely hinge on what they think of Jeff and appreciate the path he is on-whether it be to redemption or ruin.  It is certainly an interesting path, regardless.

Life After: The Void can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Life-After-Void-Bryan-Way-ebook/dp/B01LX8ZPSQ/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1486918475&sr=8-2&keywords=bryan+way


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