Holiday of the Dead is a rather sizable volume of zombie short stories that mostly stick to the theme of being on holiday, though a few seemed to stretch that concept a bit. For us Yanks, a holiday means a day of festivities, while with the Brits it is what we call a vacation. There is a pretty healthy mix of both types of tales to be found here. It isn’t just a mix, but a mixed bag, with a few stories forgotten as soon as I finished them. Fortunately, quite a few others were memorable and demonstrated the author’s ability to have some fun with the theme and with zombie fiction in general. When you have a book filled with nearly forty short stories, things are going pretty well when you come away feeling that at least thirty were worth the price of admission.
Often I try to provide a mini-review of each story in an anthology, but not with a tome this size. There are far too many to recount in detail. Suffice it to say, you will get an assortment of traditional and inspired here. There are some very recognizable names in the table of contents, well know writers of zombie and horror fiction, including Iain Mckinnon, Eric Dimbleby, Tonia Brown, David Dunwoody, Eric Brown, William Meikle, Joe McKinney, and Wayne Simmons. A couple of special guests, John Russo and Tony Burgess, add tales of their own at the end of the book.
Perhaps Holiday of the Dead could have been pared down a bit, but overall it was an entertaining read with only a few minor speed bumps. The most inventive tales should more than make up for any issues you may have with the handful that don’t resonate. Stories like Change Is As Good As Rest, Naked Fear, Daddy Dearest, Home Is The Sailor, Home From The Sea, Burj, The Day The Music Died, Where Moth And Rust Destroy, and Crossover kept things popping, though quite a few others were just as fun to dive into.
Solidly entertaining zombie shorts with a few misfires, but more than enough undead goodness between its pages.
Holiday of the Dead can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Holiday-Dead-John-Russo-ebook/dp/B004XJ7HZK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=#navbar
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
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
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
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
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
At Hell’s Gates is the initial horror volume in a series anthologies produced with the proceeds going to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The overall theme of this series is general horror, but this volume leans heavily on zombie apocalypse related tales from authors with books already out on that subject matter. The stories told here are tied in with their other works, giving a short story that sometimes lies at the periphery of the world they have created or serves as an new slant on characters a reader of those works is already familiar with.
Overall, the work here is solid and the writing entertaining. This book serves more as a sampler platter of various author’s works rather than standalone tales except in a few cases, although little is lost in translation if you hadn’t read any of the books from the author’s bibliography. For example, I have read Stephen Kozeniewski’s work, The Ghoul Archipelago and his short here is based on the world we see in that novel, but I have not read anything from Stevie Kopas, but her tale of murder and insanity stands on its own quite well, though it is a part of a bigger world the author has created in her novels. The only criticism I have of the layout of this work, at least in the e-version, is that the introduction of the authors comes after the stories, when the ‘teaser’ description of the story and how it relates to their greater works should have come prior to each tale. A minor quibble, but one worth mentioning.
Anthologies are always a mixed bag, and some stories grab you more than others. That is inevitable with such a wide assortment of writing styles, authors, and story types, and such was the case here. I didn’t dislike any of the stories, but a few stood out and will remain with me for quite some time. The aforementioned author’s tales fall into that group, as well as stories by Paul Mannering, Tim Marquiz, Frank Tayell, and Jacqueline Druga. Their stories made the leap from the page into my imagine more so than any of the others. Of course, anyone who enjoys a good zompoc tale will likely find a good primer for a larger series of books by various authors to check out-with traditional slow moving zombies as well as infected and fast moving, talking zombies being found within these pages. And while some of these stories weren’t as compelling as standalones, they did intrigue me enough to perhaps take a closer look at the bigger stories being told.
With future volumes having specific themes, it is more than likely that the stories will be standalone tales of horror rather than shorts tied into a larger saga as was the case here. This is a solid start to a promising anthology series with the proceeds going to a very worthy cause.
At Hell’s Gates can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/At-Hells-Gates-Volume-One/dp/150254539X/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top