Review of Martin Berman-Gorvine’s “Day of Atonement”
Day of Atonement is the third book in Martin Berman-Gorvine’s Days of Ascension series. Amos and Suzie now have their own band of survivors living in the wilderness near their old hometown of Chatham’s Forge, where the goddess Asherah has built her empire several years after the events after the last book. Vicky remains with her two old friends, a castoff who continues to be punished by Asherah’s wrath after her time as a priestess. Asherah’s bloody reign has put women in control of things in Chatham’s Forge, where men are now considered drones-little better than slaves who do the bidding of the female population. Asherah’s priestesses have punished those who served Moloch as well as those who were once popular, such as cheerleaders and jocks, who are now considered the lowest of the low in this new world order. At the top of the heap are the nerdier castes-Irene is a skilled poetess at the high school that has been elevated to a position of high status. Molly, a classmate of hers, reveres Irene, but as a cheerleader, she is treated like dirt by everyone. Despite the stark difference in their status, they are thrust into the spotlight together as targets of the vengeful goddess’s wrath. Banished, they come across Amos’s small band in the wilderness, who are struggling to survive and find a way to defeat Asherah like they defeated Moloch years before.
Day of Atonement may have skipped ahead a few years, but in many ways things remain the same with different players. Asherah is, in many ways, no different than Moloch-she is perhaps even more blood thirsty than him. It is clear there are other gods spread across the landscape, and even more craving to return to power who can easily be summoned by willing servants who wish to destroy anyone who will stand in their way. All the while, Amos is struggling to understand the God his Jewish parents secretly worshipped during the reign of Moloch and where that faith fits into this demon-cursed world.
Going into this book, I believed it likely that this would be the third and final act of a trilogy, but it is clear the author has more ground to cover with the demonic deities he has unleashed. As this book progresses, questions of faith and devotion-not only to a demon (or god), but to one’s own self, are front and center. As Amos and his crew see hints of the God once believed in by their parents perhaps still having power, more questions abound. Vengeance, righteousness, faith, and truth are among the many ‘big picture’ considerations for the characters to focus on. What price your immortal soul? Are you willing to give it up for a bit of power or perhaps revenge on those who have wronged you in the past? Big questions. For some, the answers are easy, but for others, like Amos and Suzie, the struggle seems endless.
I am not sure where this series is headed. It has been an interesting journey thus far and the world seems to be getting larger for the characters who inhabit it. More demons, more power, and more temptations to face down. Amos, Suzie, and Vicky’s dynamic as the three main characters still remains troublesome-each of them have their own inner demons to conquer and they tend to go from being strong and confident characters the reader can admire to petulant children who whine and complain incessantly from chapter to chapter. Molly and Irene are a welcome addition to the mix as they bring a different and vital new perspective. Still, it’s clear the original trio will continue to drive the story. How they come to grips with the immortal powers that swirl around them will determine the fate of many, if not all, of the people in Chatham’s Forge and beyond.
I continue to be entertained by this creative story. The characters are challenging and not always likeable, but they continue to grow and transform along with the story itself. It will be interesting to see what fate, and the growing cast of immortals, has in store for them.
Day of Atonement can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Day-Atonement-Days-Ascension-Book-ebook/dp/B07BTGLYKN/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1530988241&sr=1-1
Review of Martin Berman-Gorvine’s “Day of Vengeance (Days of Ascension Book 2)
We return to the world of Chatham’s Forge in the second book of The Day of Ascension series, Day of Vengeance, where Amos, Suzie, and Vicky appear to be the only survivors of their efforts to annihilate Moloch and free the town from the demon’s influence. They soon discover this isn’t quite the case, although many of those who apparently came away unscathed physically have suffered in other, much more terrible ways. Others who weren’t living in the town, including the ‘muties’, have also survived, and are ready to exact revenge against those who made them suffer under the rule of Moloch.
Our trio of main characters discover a bigger and even more dangerous world than the one where they lived behind the walled protection of Moloch, with hints of other beings of great supernatural power roaming the world and one in particular which is hungry to fill the vacuum of power left by the departure of the patron demon of Chatham’s Forge.
Overall, the characters have grown and gotten tougher as well as more mature-at least this is the case with Amos, though Suzie has seemingly inherited some of his whininess from the first book. Vicky takes an interesting and far different path, and we are introduced to several new characters, both good and evil, whose personal sagas add to the overall flavor of this tale.
There are plenty of new developments and again the world has grown much bigger, though the story continues to focus mainly on Chatham’s Forge and the surrounding woodlands. There are indications that other demons, like Moloch, have sheltered other towns in the region and forced the members of those communities to follow their evil rituals to remain alive. The demon world becomes less hidden as well, with the introduction of a new and compelling potential replacement for Moloch. The author has set the table for an intriguing third act.
Overall, a solid second addition to this series. While the main characters depth have expanded, I felt that Vicky, in particular, seemed a bit too easily manipulated and Suzie a bit scattered with her jealousies, but those are more or less minor quibbles. Amos has grown-still immersed in self-doubt but stronger and more determined to be the hero people are starting to expect him to be. The writing is crisp and the story is quite unique. I was ready to gripe about women not having Adam’s Apples because the author refers to a woman with one here, but then I discovered they do, just not as prominent as the ones men have. One other minor distraction (yes, being nitpicky) is when an older character reflects back on when they got to cruise around town in their Mustang before the world went kerplooie, which wouldn’t be possible since the first Mustangs came out in 1964 and the old world ended in nuclear fire in 1962. Still, a minor distraction only.
I’m very interested to see what happens in the third installment in the series (trilogy?) and look forward to diving into it. This is the most sincere form of flattery there is for the second book in a series that I can think of.
Day of Vengeance (The Days of Ascension Book 2) can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Day-Vengeance-Days-Ascension-Book-ebook/dp/B0756S656T/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1527865747&sr=8-2
The Will To Survive, available now!
Not too long ago, I shared that I had the privilege to be a part of a writing project where the proceeds would be going to support hurricane relief. The Will To Survive is a labor of love for editor Felicia A. Sullivan, who brought together the talents of everyone who contributed to this project: those who write, those who format, and the artist who created the awesome cover.
The book is available both in kindle and paperback format. I have a paperback version of the book and with 22 different short stories, it weighs in at a pretty hefty 345 pages.
The two charities being supported with this work are: One America Appeal: www.oneamericaappeal.org and Global Giving-Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund: www.globalgiving.org/projects/hurricane-harvey-relief-fund/. Please consider picking up a copy of the book, but also consider directly donating to these worthy causes. You can find the book here: The Will To Survive.
The description on the back reads as follows:
When normal life collapses, peril waits around every corner, and one small slip could mean certain death. In THE WILL TO SURVIVE, unique and brilliant voices bring to life stories of post-apocalyptic danger sure to make the heart race, the flesh creep.
NOTE: THE WILL TO SURVIVE is a collective effort by a great group of authors, born from the desire to help their fellow citizens suffering the devastating effects of multiple hurricanes. Every short story has a survival element, and 100% of the proceeds are being donated to two charities, One America Appeal and Global Giving Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
Twenty-Two stories of tragedy, hope, and survival in one volume. It’s the end of the world. Do you have the will to survive?
Another way you can help us continue to build awareness and generate more interest in this book is to read it and write an honest review on Amazon and anywhere else you can post a review. My story, “The Collective” is nestled within the pages of the book and its a story that I have always felt was one of my more compelling. Nope, no zombies to be seen, but one that really focuses on the value of life, the value of living, and choosing whether it is worth going on when everyone else that you love is gone.
Please check this book out. It’s a great cause and if you enjoy TEOTWAWKI fiction, you’ll love it.
New Charity Anthology coming soon! “The Will To Survive”
I am happy to announce that I have contributed to another charity anthology that will be released on February 1st with all proceeds going to hurricane relief. Houston and Florida were hit with massive deadly hurricanes in late 2017 and Felicia Sullivan, who edited my revised versions of my Dark trilogy for Permuted Press, put together this project and got a ton of authors together to contribute to the project along with the artist who created the impressive cover you see below. My short, “The Collective”, appears within its pages and it is a story I have worked hard to find it a good home for several years after it was to be published in another anthology that didn’t come to fruition. The Collective is one of my ‘babies’ as it were-a story that is near and dear to my heart in many ways. This story has no zombies in it (it is more science fiction with perhaps a slight horror bent to it) and is a personal journey for one man faced with making an almost unbearable decision. It is one I could never imagine having to make myself, which is what made writing this story so challenging and yet compelling for me.
So please consider making an investment in this book-the kindle or paperback version when they are available. You will be helping a couple of wonderful charities and you will get a lot of bang for your buck with 22 different stories from some very impressive authors. Please check out the amazon page here: The Will To Survive.
When normal life collapses, peril waits around every corner, and one small slip could mean certain death. In THE WILL TO SURVIVE, twenty-two unique and brilliant voices bring to life stories of post-apocalyptic danger sure to make the heart race, the flesh creep.
It’s the end of the world. Do you have the will to survive?
NOTE: THE WILL TO SURVIVE is a collective effort by a great group of authors, born from the desire to help their fellow citizens suffering the devastating effects of multiple hurricanes. 100% of proceeds are being donated to two charities, One America Appeal and Global Giving Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.
Twenty-two stories of tragedy, hope, and survival in one volume.
Complete list of authors:
Sean T. Smith
Review of Stephen A. North’s “Like A Man” and “Purchase Order #2113-21A”
Like a Man and Purchase Order #2113-21A are a couple of quick, tightly written shorts by Stephen A. North, who has bounced back and forth between apocalyptic fiction and science fiction with his prior novels and shorter works. These two tales fit in well with his other stories, both with rough and tumble main characters coping with nightmarish circumstances and impending end of the world doom.
Like A Man takes place in Rio De Janeiro set in the present, and appeared in an apocalyptic anthology the author contributed to several years ago. I’d read the story then and enjoyed it for it’s surprising, startling transition from a sun drenched flirtation between a body guard and his boss’s girl to the sudden, abrupt, and brutal end of the world sequence it proposes with the alien creatures burrowing up from the depths of the earth.
Purchase Order #2113-21A could be an addendum to the universe Stephen created with his Drifter novel. A future filled with enslaved soldiers doing the bidding of others, it has a flavor of Blade Runner/techno near future gloom, though with an even darker glimpse of how ugly humanity can potentially become then either of the Blade Runner movies.
These are two quick shorts that definitely speak of larger worlds and potentially more involved stories if the author chose to expand them. As they are, they are good, quick bite-sized bits of apocalyptic goodness for those looking for a quick fix.
Like a Man and Purchase Order #2113-21A can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Like-Man-Purchase-Order-2113-21A-ebook/dp/B0756W8NXG/ref=la_B002K8VVMG_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1507757852&sr=1-1
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 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 Mark Tufo’s “Zombie Fallout”
It has taken me far too long to read the first Zombie Fallout book by Mark Tufo. Tufo is one of the most prolific zombie writers out there, with nine books in this series plus spinoffs including a series of werewolf stories that take place many years after the zompoc. Naturally, I’ve heard of Tufo for years. This particular novel has nearly 1800 reviews on Amazon, which is a staggering number considering it was self-published.
This book has some similar characteristics to other notable books in this genre. It is in a journal format, though the author strays from sticking with the main character’s perspective for certain portions of the book. While this isn’t a major issue, it does point out the flaw in this type of storytelling-things the main character doesn’t know must be shared by other characters or in third person and it feels like a bit of a disruption when another voice jumps into for a chapter or two.
The prologue makes it clear the zombie apocalypse is about to get into full swing when a vaccination for a new strain of flu ends up bringing the dead back to life. From there we switch over to narrator Mike Talbot, ex-Marine and family man, while he is getting ready to take a shower in his house. This is interrupted when zombies show up on his front lawn and his family starts to freak out. Mike is sort of a prepper/gun nut who has been fascinated by the idea of zombies for a long time, but it’s clear he isn’t prepared for the sudden all-out assault taking place on his neighborhood and threatening his family’s existence.
Things move pretty fast from the get go, with rescue trips to save family members and friends while Mike and his neighbors work to barricade the walled-in neighborhood from impending doom. The story is, in many ways, pretty routine zompoc stuff, though the author throws a few curve balls into the mix. This includes the idea that these zombies perhaps aren’t undead, but infected and still with a spark of life, and more importantly, perhaps a spark of intelligence. There is also a hint of the supernatural, including a bit of prognostication and mental telepathy thrown in to give things a bit of mystery.
Overall, I can see why this series has been so popular. Tufo uses snarky humor and heavily descriptive verse to describe the gore, the smells, and the overall madness engulfing his character’s life. Despite some of the more odd things about Mike, he is, for the most part, just a family man trying his best to protect his loved ones in a time of ultimate danger-something very relatable.
That isn’t to say that I didn’t have some issues with the story or how it’s told. Many of my complaints have been pointed in other reviews. Though the story is fun and I’m intrigued as to how some of the more unique elements the author introduced here will be expanded upon in future volumes, I felt that many characters outside of Mike are somewhat one-dimensional. This is in part due to the fact that a diary format is somewhat limited in stepping away from the single perspective it showcases.
Women in particular are given short shrift in this book. Mike’s wife is somewhat of a stereotypical shrew who naturally is the only person on the planet he is afraid of, yet at the same time she appears to be helpless and lacking in common sense. Despite having lived with a prepper for many years, she has no idea how to even load a weapon. Neither does Mike’s daughter, for that matter, who, like her mama, has a mean temper and a stubborn streak a mile long. Another woman who agrees to go a supply run outside the safety of the walls of Mike’s neighborhood does nothing more than cower in the truck while everyone else takes care of business. All I could remember about the wife of Mike’s best friend was that she was a lousy shot-there is little else shared about her.
Mike is a funny character and his internal monologues and flashbacks are sometimes very amusing as he tries to make light of a desperate situation. At other times his perspective is best described as a bit…off. Comparing the horror of possibly being forced to shoot a loved one who has been attacked by a zombie to the more meager fear of speaking in public for the first seemed somewhat dismissive. The obsession Mike has with his Jeep Wrangler and not using this durable off-road vehicle during the zombie apocalypse because it might get scratched plus having his family be fearful of his wrath if they use it even under desperate circumstances seemed a bit lacking in focus. Mike would do anything for his family, and that comes across on almost every page, but there are occasional lapses in perspective like those above that seem a bit disjointed given the situation.
Despite the criticism I have, the book is fun and certainly does a good job of paving the way for future installments. Without leaving things on a cliffhanger note, there is enough mystery hinted at to keep a reader guessing and wanting to know what is next-in particular related to the supernatural elements of this tale.
Zombie Fallout can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Fallout-Mark-Tufo-ebook/dp/B003A022YO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1473094523&sr=8-1
Review of Holiday of the Dead
Holiday of the Dead is a rather sizable volume of zombie short stories that mostly stick to the theme of being on holiday, though a few seemed to stretch that concept a bit. For us Yanks, a holiday means a day of festivities, while with the Brits it is what we call a vacation. There is a pretty healthy mix of both types of tales to be found here. It isn’t just a mix, but a mixed bag, with a few stories forgotten as soon as I finished them. Fortunately, quite a few others were memorable and demonstrated the author’s ability to have some fun with the theme and with zombie fiction in general. When you have a book filled with nearly forty short stories, things are going pretty well when you come away feeling that at least thirty were worth the price of admission.
Often I try to provide a mini-review of each story in an anthology, but not with a tome this size. There are far too many to recount in detail. Suffice it to say, you will get an assortment of traditional and inspired here. There are some very recognizable names in the table of contents, well know writers of zombie and horror fiction, including Iain Mckinnon, Eric Dimbleby, Tonia Brown, David Dunwoody, Eric Brown, William Meikle, Joe McKinney, and Wayne Simmons. A couple of special guests, John Russo and Tony Burgess, add tales of their own at the end of the book.
Perhaps Holiday of the Dead could have been pared down a bit, but overall it was an entertaining read with only a few minor speed bumps. The most inventive tales should more than make up for any issues you may have with the handful that don’t resonate. Stories like Change Is As Good As Rest, Naked Fear, Daddy Dearest, Home Is The Sailor, Home From The Sea, Burj, The Day The Music Died, Where Moth And Rust Destroy, and Crossover kept things popping, though quite a few others were just as fun to dive into.
Solidly entertaining zombie shorts with a few misfires, but more than enough undead goodness between its pages.
Holiday of the Dead can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Holiday-Dead-John-Russo-ebook/dp/B004XJ7HZK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=#navbar
Review of Kim Paffenroth’s Dying to Live: Last Rites
It has been several years since I read the two prior entries in this trilogy of zombie books, so Dying To Live: Last Rites gave me some vague recollections of the four main characters reintroduced here when I started reading this one, but fortunately, this book in many ways is a standalone novel, separate from the other two books with the story it tells.
Two characters, Will and Rachel, are living, while Truman and Lucy are zombies who have worked to retain and regain elements of who they were in life-they can speak and interact with humans. Most importantly, they can refrain from giving in to their base urges to kill and devour the living. Truman more so than Lucy, who still loves to kill and revels in its purity, believing that most humans are selfish, despicable creatures, although she more or less tolerates and even respects Will and Rachel, especially due to the relationship they have with Truman.
The four have been banished from the community they lived in and have been traveling by boat on rivers in the wilderness the world has become. Rachel grows deathly ill and they find another community called New Sparta near the water that can help her, but only under certain conditions. The zombies are to be sold off and Will and Rachel will have to pay for the care she receives and the housing and food they will need. They’ve stumbled into a much more complicated, larger, and more “civilized” society than the one they are used to, with many of the perks of our modern world having returned including electricity, credit, regular jobs, etc. Of course, their objective initially is to get their two undead friends back to safety, but a myriad of distractions and enticements create some challenges for the two of them, while things are far worse for Truman and Lucy.
Once again, the author has created some interesting dilemmas like those that ran through his first two books in this trilogy. Dilemmas based on what it means to be human and also retaining what we call humanity, regardless of who, or what, you actually are-living or undead. It’s clear that the two sentient zombie main characters see humans as selfish and self-destructive beings, even those they care for. Many are far worse than Rachel and Will, but it seems as if this internal focus is ingrained in the living, almost by necessity, to keep the fragile spark of life alight. The undead, including the other zombies the two meet while enslaved in New Sparta, are not subject to this selfishness, or so they believe. But with sentience comes certain needs and desires, even if biological urges have been almost all eliminated. Love, connections to others, and an urge to understand their existence still remains, plus the desire to devour the living still remains…and in most there is no remorse for them either, especially since all memories of what the undead were before they passed on are gone.
Dying To Live: Last Rites may be the third book in Kim Paffenroth’s trilogy, but in many ways it stands on its own as its own examination of life, compassion, and self-sacrifice. The author has expanded the amount of the sentient zombies from beyond the first two books substantially and that may be a turnoff for some readers who are looking for zombies to mostly remain dim cannibal monsters. If this were a pure action/horror type trilogy the author could take things in some interesting, Planet of the Apes-type directions with the undead past this story, but these books have always been much more about the examination of the differences between being human and being humane. Those who have enjoyed the first two novels will likely enjoy this one as well.
Dying To Live: Last Rites can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Dying-Live-Rites-Kim-Paffenroth-ebook/dp/B004T334A2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1466867283&sr=8-3
Review of Craig DiLouie and Jonathan Moon’s “Children of God”
Children of God by Craig DiLouie and Jonathan Moon is an unexpected surprise from these two horror writers. I can’t honestly say that I’ve ever read something quite like this, even though I’ve read quite a bit of poetry. This is a book that shares the tales of tragedy lived through by ten survivors, most of who can only do so through the poems they craft years after the events that destroyed the lives of everyone they knew and with whom they shared a slavish faith.
Going in, we know that the Family of God cult, led by David Prince, came to a horrific end via a mass suicide and bloody massacre on August 17, 2008, when well over three hundred members holed up in their mountain compound died with barely thirty surviving. Years later, as a form of therapy, a psychiatrist suggests the survivors write poetry as a way to express themselves. This book shares what theses ten survivors who chose to offer up their words had to say.
How the two authors craft an overarching vision of what led up to that day of tragedy, through it, and beyond is haunting, vivid, and gut-wrenching. This diverse group of poets includes children, a former prostitute, seminary student, an elderly woman abandoned by her biological family before joining the cult, a mentally impaired man, an organist, gangbanger, war veteran suffering from PTSD, and a young man who lost his immigrant parents in an accident years before joining the Children of God. Their poetry speaks of sacrifice, devotion, desires for a better world, regret, and a heavenly reward beyond this realm promised but never realized.
A story takes shape through their words and despite being a fairly short book, it paints a vivid picture of what takes place, especially on THE day where the cult comes to its brutal and horrible end. It’s easy to say that such slavish devotion to a charismatic leader is misplaced and to convince yourself that you could never fall for such lunacy, but all one has to do is to take a look at the world at large to see how desperate so many of us are, and how willing so many are to believe in false prophets and leaders who promise extreme and distorted visions of a better world. Which makes this book of poetry all the more poignant.
Children of God can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Children-God-Dreams-Nightmares-Family-ebook/dp/B01ENXYWU8?ie=UTF8&qid=&ref_=tmm_kin_swatch_0&sr=
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 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 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
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
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 “At Hell’s Gates, Volume 1”
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
Review of Donna Burgess’ “Notes From The End Of The World”
Notes From the End of the World follows the exploits of characters Cindy and Nick during the initial days and months of the outbreak of the N-Virus. They are two teenagers who live in a small suburban town in South Carolina facing the onslaught of the dead coming back to life. But not in the way most stories in this genre are introduced, or how they usually proceed. This is more like a slow burn, where the virus creeps into their lives much like the shamblers do in the story.
Cindy and Nick go to the same high school and Nick is dating Cindy’s older, more popular (and stuck up) sister. The story is told in first person, predominantly from Cindy’s perspective, although Nick’s experiences is also shared in various chapters, giving insight into how his world is crumbling alongside Cindy’s. Even Cindy’s older sister shares the spotlight with a few select blog posts scattered throughout the book.
With most zombie apocalypse stories you can categorize them as either initial outbreak tales or sagas of long term survival in the months and years that follow. Some encapsulate both, but generally speaking, those that speak of the initial outbreak are sudden, abrupt, and show the world falling apart within days, if not hours. Not so with Notes From the End of the World. The N-Virus impacts the lives of everyone slowly, over many months, with the world not slipping into darkness overnight, but by dribs and drabs. And as is often the case, we see most people in denial, going about their daily lives even as select members of the population begin wandering the streets, ravenous for flesh. The police routinely deal with these shamblers, and funeral homes have gotten into the new business of setting up facilities where a loved one who has turned can be kept behind fences to be viewed by the living who can’t quite come to grips with reality. Cindy continues to go to school, even as the occasional zombie wanders the campus and less and less of the student body show up every day.
This is a YA zombie story, with Cindy’s unrequited love for Nick taking center stage along with the other heartaches that come from the steady loss of life around her. Initially, she is a volunteer at the local hospital, where the dread that comes with the undead being more prominent. Her father is a doctor who works at the hospital but does his best to shelter his family from the impending reality that the world is slowly, inch by inch, coming to an end.
Though Cindy is in some ways a petulant teenager, her character seems genuine here, in turns accepting the terrible fate that awaits her and everyone she cares about and at other times caught up in the jealousy surrounding Nick’s relationship with her sister and her love for him. At one point in the tale, Cindy is in a class at school when a discussion occurs between the teacher and the few remaining students asking why people are in such denial about the N-Virus and its impact and it is suggested that everyone is going through various stages of coping with grief that typically come from dealing with a long term ailment. But when soldiers indiscriminately start shooting both shamblers and the living who cross their path, it becomes clear to all that nothing will ever be the same again.
While this is a YA tale that focuses on Cindy’s affection for Nick and the difficult relationship she has with her sister, it brings an interesting variation to the telling of the traditional zombie tale that a wider audience should appreciate with the slow, shambling despair that comes with the inevitability of a plague of this magnitude. There is no immediate and harsh dose of reality that comes with an overnight transition from a normal world to the end of times. Instead, like a cancer spreading inch by dreadful inch, there is at various times denial, anger, and depression, with acceptance coming, as it usually does, far too late for most.
While there are some typos and some other grammatical errors here, they don’t distract from the overall enjoyment of this tale. A zombie fan who doesn’t like YA fiction might not be interested with this one, but others should find the author’s take on the advent of the zombie apocalypse rather novel.
Notes From the End of the World can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Notes-End-World-Volume-1/dp/0692300252/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1415559184&sr=8-1
Review of Stan Timmon’s “Ammon’s Horn”
Ammon’s Horn sounds like some kind of a mythological creation and while it a term derived from Egyptian mythology, it refers to part of the hippocampus for the purposes of this tale. It is an area of the brain that is impacted as someone is affected by the ‘noids, or a form of extreme paranoia.
The story introduces us to Danny, a police profiler in Chicago and Gemma, his star reporter fiancé as they start suspecting all is not well in the world. Multiple reports start filing in of otherwise normal people committing sudden brutal acts of violence and then remembering little to none of them, often shortly before they commit suicide. Digging deeper leads to a suspicion that these events aren’t just happenstance-a full moon or temporary madness, but something that is getting worse and spreading across the country, creeping from the east coast west toward California, where the President has retreated. When Gemma reports on it, plenty of people deny its reality, thinking it more groupthink paranoia rather than some sort of brain ailment having an external cause. She dubs the term ‘noids after a taxi driver, gripped by madness, almost runs over a pregnant woman and said he did it because he was all ‘noided out.
The story follows the initial run ins with the ‘noids that Danny and Gemma suffer through before they travel west at the urging of a mysterious government agent who knows a great deal about what is really happening and what dark secrets are behind this strange plague that has gripped the population.
Ammon’s Horn takes a very different slant on the end of the world, apocalyptic scenario, with its monsters and anyone around them not really knowing what they are; if they are infected or knowing if or when they might snap. Someone infected with the ‘noids can wreak tremendous havoc and then not remember what happened, leading to even more mayhem when it grips them again. This story has the flavor of a Stephen King thriller, with deeply drawn main characters that come to life on the page in vivid detail. The acts of violence are brutal and sudden, perpetrated by people who are, to a great extent, innocent as the brain inside their heads begin to deteriorate and play vile tricks on them. Danny and Gemma are interesting, well thought out characters, with Danny’s own paranoia at what is happening all around him keeping him guessing as to his own state of mind throughout the story.
This was a well written, intriguing tale with some very compelling twists and turns including a jaw dropping ending that forced me to re-read it more than once to make sure I understood what had just happened. There are hints and clues throughout that will likely lead to a variant of reader’s paranoia about what is truly happening and who is to blame for the sickness that seems to have gripped everyone in its path.
Ammon’s Horn can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Ammons-Horn-Stan-Timmons/dp/161868096X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1411316061&sr=8-1
Review of Joseph Souza’s “Darpocalypse”
Darpocalypse, the second book in The Living Dead Series by Joseph Souza, jumps ahead from the prior book in time and introduces us to mostly brand new characters who did not appear in the prior novel. Dar, the suicidal teenager, is the only one who remains. She has become the merciless leader of the Boston Commons compound where a group of survivors live thanks to her quick thinking in urging a city engineer to fence the area in before the surge of undead swept over the city. Gritz, a Delta Force colonel, is the lone survivor in a failed mission to stop a nuclear power plant from going critical as the undead overwhelmed the area. He has been put on a new mission by the President to get to Boston to find the “ghost” that is in the compound and bring them back to Washington DC to save the city from annihilation. Annabelle is a washed up rock star performing for Dar on stage in Boston to entertain the survivors, and also goes out into the dead city to gather supplies because she is immune to the infection and more importantly, is a ghost who can walk among them. Mike Brabas is a man on death row waiting to be executed until the dead rise, and then accidentally discovers that he too is a ghost. Now his delusions of grandeur and terroristic tendencies have him pointed toward Washington D.C. with every intention of creating a new world order with him as its leader.
Darpocalypse is a total shift from the first book in this series. It moves from first person to third and many of the things that happened and were significant elements of the first book have been pushed aside. No longer do any infected animals appear here, although the infected humans still go through a transformation where they appear to have transcended into some sort of state of grace momentarily, speaking about the chosen or regrets they had in life, before transforming yet again into the ravenous monsters that zombie fans know and love. The nuclear fallout pushing south from Maine appears to have had no impact on Boston either. Dar still has visions of heading west to find her father and the first scroll-the journal her uncle wrote that might have the scientific information to save everyone who remains, though that is secondary to her efforts to rule what remains of Boston with an iron fist. Thom, her father and narrator from the first book, has supposedly set up camp out in Washington State with a ghost of his own, though he is not a part of this book at all.
There were few redeemable characters in the first book except for some secondary ones. This book also provides us with its share of the despicable, but mixed among them are far more likable people, which made it easier for me to root for someone. In the first book, I found that very hard to do. Annabelle, the former drug addled and suicidal ghost of Boston has found life in this deadly world, with her new found talent that allows her to hunt for supplies and be Dar’s right hand helping the people of Boston. She cares for everyone and wants nothing more than to insure the survival of the camp. Colonel Gritz is a bit too much of a super soldier-the perfect human weapon-but he is also someone who wants to do what he can to insure both the survival of the human race and save his country from the brink of annihilation. Of course, Brabas is a despicable sociopath through and through, but the one character who I truly despised in this story was Dar. I loathed her in the first book and didn’t think it possible increase my aversion to her any further, but the author somehow managed to turn up her loathsomeness to an eleven. To be fair, as I mentioned in my review of the first novel, there is nothing wrong with despicable characters. This is no indictment to either what the author has written or the story itself. Admittedly, Dar in her cruel and disturbing way, is doing what she believes necessary to keep the people she is responsible for safe. But in doing so, she is far closer in personality to most villains that live in tales of apocalyptic despair than any sort of hero. She throws anyone who defies her into a pit filled with zombies to fight for their lives, along with anyone who enters her stronghold-they must all prove they can survive against the undead. She picks and chooses who lives, and cows anyone who even looks at her cross-eyed into complete and utter submission. Slivers of humanity sneak through on occasion-with her young son and when she reveals her desire to keep the whole of her community safe, but that only assures the reader that she is not some sort of demon, but still a human being. A vile, hate-filled, wretched human being who is willing to sacrifice anyone who will stand in her way, which she believes is the only way to keep others safe. Add to this the inexplicable fact that everyone, and I do mean everyone, bows down before her in a state of awe and fear when she is clearly some sort of megalomaniac who should be put down like a rabid dog makes her an even more disconcerting character.
Darpocalypse is a solidly told story that veers closer to the traditional zompoc tale than its predecessor, though it retains a few select supernatural elements that insure it stands apart from the rest. Yes, the author has created perhaps one of the most despicable heroes in any zompoc book I have ever read, but he has wrapped an intriguing story around her that compels me to pick up the third book to see how this wild, intriguing saga concludes. And if I wish for Dar’s ugly, brutal demise the entire time I am reading it, so be it.
Darpocalypse can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Darpocalypse-The-Living-Dead-Volume/dp/1618680838/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
“Zombies Galore” has been released!
I shared not too long ago that a short story of mine had been sitting in limbo for years. Originally intended for an anthology that was never published, it went through several gyrations with other potential homes and publishers. Long story short, my self-help guide for the Apocalyptically-challenged has arrived and appears in the “Zombies Galore” anthology, just released this week by Knightwatch Press. It appears with several other tales of zombie goodness that are definitely worth checking out for those who craving for the undead is only equaled by the undead’s craving for living flesh. Well, and even those who aren’t quite that hungry. My contribution is a guide book rather than a short story, though it will regale the reader with exciting bits and pieces of stories of survivors who learned how to cope with both the flesheaters and warmbloods who tend to make themselves pests during the end days. So go on an check it out. I have posted two cover images below, because there are separate links for the kindle and paperback versions of this book. Just click on one or the other and it will shoot you over to Amazon where you can acquire this wondrous tome of zombie gory-goodness and guidance through the treacherous parts of the undead apocalypse. And here is a list of the contributors so you can see what you are in for:
- “Monday Matinee Madness” by H.G. Bleackley
- “Cinnamon Road” by A.A. Garrison
- “Son of Anubis” by Christian A. Larsen
- “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Zombie Slayers” by Patrick D’Orazio
- “Pascal’s Wager” by David Johnson
- “Birthday Boy” by T. Fox Dunham
- “The Palace of Dead Rock Stars” by Theresa Derwin
- “Road Whore” by Timothy Frasier
- “Fire Team” by Al Halsey
- “The Dripping Nose That Wouldn’t Wipe” by James S. Dorr
- “The Last Line of Defence” by J.S. Lawhead
- “So They Ain’t Yankees” by Melanie Browne
- “Life Sentience” by Kaye Inglis
- “The Chicken in Black” by Nathan Robinson
- “Zombie: Death Day” by Johnny Andrews
- “Hungry” by Nicci Murphy
So give it a try. I think you’ll come back for seconds.