Writer of Horror Fiction

Posts tagged “Apocalypse

Review of Shane Gregory’s “The King of Clayfield”

The King of Clayfield introduces us to a man who is the curator of a small museum in the town of Clayfield, Kentucky the day the Canton B virus comes to town.  The virus essentially fries the brain of people affected by it, turning them into what amounts to zombies.  But unlike most zombie apocalypse tales, the author made this plague a bit more varied with the effects of infection.  It is airborne, which means that if you are near someone who is infected you can also become infected regardless of bites.  An odd way to combat the potential infection is by drinking alcohol.  It seems to prevent the virus from taking hold of your brain if you get intoxicated.  There are different stages to the infection, with those who die from it coming back and acting more like traditional zombies.  Those who are initially infected behave like they are somewhat human, with sexual urges and established pecking orders-they are primitive and violent, but definitely not undead cannibals.  Those who die behave more like the traditional undead we are more familiar with.  Getting bit doesn’t seem to insure death, though it is uncertain whether anyone who dies, regardless of the cause, returns.  It was certainly an interesting, a complex set of variables that the author introduces.

The story is told in first person and the narrator makes it clear how unprepared he is to survive during the course of the book.  In fact, it is a running theme-from the first survivor he meets to everything he goes through, it is a reminder of how little those of us used to modern conveniences know about growing food, staying warm, getting water, hunting, and defending ourselves.  He even jokes that he should collect someone who is Amish on a supply run so they can teach him how to function in a society without electricity and running water.  The narrator meets up with several other survivors in his trek through his hometown and surrounding area, including a woman he went to high school with who becomes his closest companion as they face down challenges from both the living and the undead.  They search houses, collect supplies, deal with other survivors both friend and foe, all as they are focused on sticking to Clayfield rather than trying to find another place deep in the countryside to hide out from the growing population of the infected and undead.

The characters, for the most part, seem believable.  The main character comes across as somewhat passive at first and while he is forced to toughen up, he seems to acquiesce to the wishes of Jen, his newfound friend, for most of the story.  Jen was not a very likable character.  She is territorial and pushy, and the narrator seems to accept this as a matter of course, even when she does her best to push away Sara, a younger survivor who they find and that Jen perceives as a threat to her place in their small group.  Jen is erratic and foolish at times, taking risks that are plain stupid.

The story is an easy read and again, the characters are believable-reacting in ways that are plausible given their dire circumstances.  They were a mixed bag though, and no one leaving me with the urge to root for them.  Some of the minor characters, like Brian, were interesting, but weren’t along for most of the ride.  Jen is incredibly annoying, and how the main character responds to her more annoying still, but this isn’t to say it isn’t completely plausible.  The author does an excellent job making them plausible characters, just not altogether likable.  There are two sequels, so the main character, who ranges from timid to rash in his thinking and acting may become someone who I can root for in those novels.

The King of Clayfield can be found here:  http://smile.amazon.com/King-Clayfield-Shane-Gregory-ebook/dp/B006I9GYZ2/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1409105570


Review of Glenn Bullion’s “Dead Living”

Dead Living by Glenn Bullion starts out as a traditional Day Zero tale with several survivors narrowly escaping a hospital being overrun by the undead.  The story skips forward several years a couple of times to re-introduce us to the baby born on that fateful day who has grown into a young man with a special gift.  The undead, for some reason, do not realize that he is alive…or at least they have no interest in attacking or eating him.  Aaron has survived in the midst of the undead, in Baltimore, which is crawling with them, for many years after everyone he knew was lost to him.  As an adult he manages to cross paths with Samantha, another survivor who was abandoned on a supply run into the city by the rest of her team when she got separated from them.  Samantha is aloof, cold, and distrusts just about everyone, but after Aaron saves her she feels compelled to do the same for him and invites him back to the small community she resides in a good distance from the city. 

As the two new-worlders of the zombie apocalypse get to know one another they grow attached, though Aaron feels the need to maintain his secret talent from Samantha, for fear that she and the others in her community will think of him as a freak.  But his ability grants him the capability to wander freely amongst the dead, and that is a talent that his newfound group of friends are going to need to survive both the undead and the living, who, as always, are the real threat to survival. 

Dead Living was an easy read and took an interesting idea of the undead being indifferent to someone and ran with it.  Aaron’s gift gives him a tremendous advantage and his burgeoning relationship with Samantha has given him a reason to use it for more than just a way to hide away from the rest of the living, but to also help others.  The author adds another undead tidbit with the ‘thinkers’, who are the rare but very dangerous undead that can figure out simple things, like how to maneuver objects or turn doorknobs to get access to the living.  Naturally, the undead are an overriding threat (and when a thinker is around, they are doubly dangerous), but it is the living, including slavers who roam the wastelands looking for weak survivors to capture, that are the most dangerous element of Aaron and Sam’s world. 

The story does require a good deal of suspension of disbelief, especially when it comes to certain technologies that still work over two decades after the world has collapsed.  While it might be plausible that someone, somewhere is making bullets and producing gasoline, it seemed a bit of a stretch that there are still stores of such commodities still being found on scavenging runs.  It felt at times that the world was more like two to three years down the road from the first undead attacks rather than twenty three with what has come to pass for everyone still around.    

The relationship between the main characters is well developed and their newfound relationship is well paced, though Aaron’s fascination and thoughts about how beautiful Samantha was got a bit repetitive after a while.  For the most part, their growing affection for one another didn’t feel forced or uncomfortable though-it had a very natural appeal. 

The zombie gore is kept to a minimum in the story and instead the focus is on the challenges Aaron and Sam have in both relating to each other and to the world around them.  Aaron’s secret keeps things interesting, but Sam’s slow willingness to become more vulnerable around Aaron also keeps the story moving in the right direction.  Overall, a fast, entertaining read that will appeal to those who enjoy the human dynamic more than a heavy dose of zombie gore in their apocalyptic fiction. 

Dead Living can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Living-Glenn-Bullion-ebook/dp/B00B0MLXDK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1408842194


Review of Matheus Macedo’s “We With Daisies Lie”

We With Daisies Lie is a short story/novella about one man’s journey during the first few days and months of the zombie apocalypse.  Told in first person, it sticks with tradition, bringing nothing new to the table as far as the undead are concerned.  Whether you get bit or not, when you die you turn and the undead are slow moving.  The main character meets up almost immediately after the dead start to turn with a group of three younger kids led by a bully.  They search for places to survive and they overcome several incidents with the dead while dealing with turmoil within the group.  The living continue to be a major threat later in the story as the character grows stronger and more equipped to handle himself with the undead.  With new friends in tow, he tries to lead them to his grandparent’s farm and the fallout shelter they had made during the cold war, which is filled with enough supplies to last them several months.

The author makes a solid attempt at developing his small group of characters, though the length of this tale does limit most of them from being more than archetypes.  The main character and Emily, the girl he grows attached to, are the most fleshed out.  There were some good components to this tale, including the brief conversation the main character has with an ex-girlfriend on the phone after things go haywire.  She is surrounded by the undead in her sky rise apartment in New York City with no way to escape.  The blunt suggestion the main character makes was startling but at the same time made all the sense in the world.  Emily’s work on a poem was a nice touch as well.  There was also something that stretched believability related to an incident surrounding a stab wound to the gut.  I won’t provide further details, but suffice it to say it was a stretch buying what happens.  Otherwise, the story is a pretty straightforward analysis of how people cope with unbelievably horrible circumstances and what they must become to survive.  There were some typos and missed words here and there-the story could have done with another editing run through, but overall, it is a quick read with definite entertainment value.  The author shows solid promise here and I look forward to checking out his other works.

We With Daisies Lie can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/We-Daisies-Lie-Matheus-Macedo-ebook/dp/B00M4M32IY/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1408377720&sr=8-1&keywords=we+with+daisies+lie


Review of Stephen Kozeniewski’s “Billy and the Cloneasaurus”

 Billy and the Clonesaurus tells the tale of William 790-6, a clone who lives in a town filled with other William clones, in a world filled with even more William clones.  As with every other William clone, he is to be slurried, or decommissioned, on his first birthday, and replaced by the next iteration.  When an accident happens at the slurrying plant with William 789 and 790 is given another day to live, he spends it with his replacement and starts to resent the idea of his imminent departure.  Happenstance allows him to once again escape being decommissioned when his new iteration is tossed into the ‘whirling blades of death’ that are used to slurry clones instead of him and he is free to live for another year.  But Will, as he and every other clone call each other, finds himself a bit more curious than the average Will about the world surrounding him and the reasons every other Will does what they do for the corporation that controls everything.  790 sells dental insurance, and every other Will does everything necessary to make life possible for everyone else in town.  There are Wills who pick up the trash, there are Wills who run the gas stations, etc.  They hang out in their off hours drinking the same beer in the same pubs, watching the same Rugby games every weekend.  They are all the same level of docile worker doing whatever needs to be done to make the company profitable, and they have no reason to question why there are no animals and no one else left on the planet but other Wills, like themselves.  But 790 is starting to get curious, and after hearing another Will talk about a delivery run to another town and spotting something off in the distance on the side of the road that looks like a windmill, he feels the urge to check out this anomaly and see what is going on beyond his guarded, safe existence.  This leads 790 on a journey of self-discovery-learning why clones exist, why it appears that the exact same events are reported on at the same time every year, and what might have come before they came into existence.

Billy and the Clonesaurus is a dark comedy that tasted a bit like the movie Brazil in its own demented way.  It is grim future that 790 lives in, and as William 790 starts to call himself Billy as a form of minor rebellion against the status quo, he begins to realize the depths of the mystery surrounding him and the rest of the Wills of the world, or so he believes.  Escaping the town he lives in is only the beginning.  Beyond that, he has several shocking revelations and dreams of something better…something approaching freedom, not only for himself, but for every other William. 

While it may be hard not to laugh at the idea of such an obscene world, the thoughts of something like this occurring are also cringe-worthy and provide for good nightmare fuel.  As more layers of the deceit that have been heaped on 790 and the rest of the clones are peeled back, there are plenty of reasons to feel both revulsion and depression, because while the world that Billy lives in is filled with clones, the depths of the depravity he faces is very much a human characteristic. 

I’ve read the authors other works, both of which dealt with the undead.  While this story shares little with those other books, it has the same razor sharp edges to it that don’t show very much remorse when you get cut by them.  This is a trip into the Twilight Zone with a nod to the Simpsons with the story’s title.  It’s probably not a tale easily digested by everyone, but one worth checking out if you like your futures grim, dark, and yet surreal and just a tad bit looney. 

 Billy and the Clonesaurus can be found here:    http://www.amazon.com/Billy-And-Cloneasaurus-Stephen-Kozeniewski/dp/192504789X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0


Review of Jonathan Moon’s “Hollow Mountain Dead”

Hollow Mountain Dead is not Jonathan Moon’s first foray into the cross-genre mix of western and undead fiction, though I believe it is his first full-fledged novel on the subject.  He had a book filled with varied short stories along with a novella that took place in the old west that was a rollicking good horror story, but I can’t quite recall what the name of that book was, though I am certain I reviewed it somewhere back in the mists of time.

Mr. Moon has created quite a few different horror tales as well as dipping into bizzarro and other speculative genres.  This story, along with his past story that takes place in the mythical American old west, have a taste of harsh reality to them.  The darkness isn’t just within the monsters that pour forth from the gaping hole in the side of a mountain, it is embedded in most of the characters we are exposed to-even in the ones who do their best to become heroic when hell comes for a visit.  Only a select few seem redeemable here, though it is clear that most are as human as their harsh environment allows them to be.

A greedy, powerful mining magnate has cracked open a mountain with his crew of toughs and army of Chinese immigrant workers who are treated like slaves.  When he digs too deep, an old Indian warns him to stop and turn back, but greed casts a powerful spell on him and that is when, literally, all hell breaks loose.  A seeping gas bellowing out from seams within the earth turn those who are exposed to it into flesh eating monsters.  But this is not the only menace, because there is something further beneath the earth that is reaching out to those on the mountain, corrupting and luring them into evil.

The undead spread, wiping out a homestead and heading toward one of the two towns that sit on the mountainside while the few who managed to escape wave after wave of undead flee the mining camp.  Members of the Madoosk tribe have been tasked with stopping the evil have been preparing for it for ages and are ready for it, but they never expected hundreds of miners would get infected or that the plague with spread so fast.

The story moves at a fast pace and there are a multitude of characters.  While there are some flashbacks, much of the story is told with the urgency of present tense.  The undead are somewhat traditional in their tactics and how they spread, though the supernatural bent here brings some new elements to the table, including new ways to kill the undead that the Madoosk reveal.

As I mentioned, there are a great many characters on display, though that narrows to the select few who are tasked with defeating the undead after the first few waves of carnage pass.  There is plenty of gore for those who love that aspect of the zombie genre.  The feel of the old west is palpable on each page.  Many characters die, both throwaway and those more central to the plot, most in very brutal ways.  Again, there probably only a select few characters that most people will like or identify with because of who they were prior to the undead invasion, though a small few will grow on you.  Historically, Mr. Moon has been pretty relentless with his horror fiction, with no apologies for the slaughter and sprays of blood and gristle that oozes and spills forth from his pages.  This book is no exception to that rule.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.

In the end, a door is left open for more Hollow Mountain Dead with the ending of this tale.  This book was brutal, relentless, and vicious, and I am looking forward to checking out what comes next.

Hollow Mountain Dead can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Mountain-Dead-Jonathan-Moon-ebook/dp/B00LLPU8YG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1407427523


Review of Dean Giles “Alien Apocalypse Payback”

Alien Apocalypse: Payback concludes the three short story/novella arc of the Alien Apocalypse serial.  Leon Weber has faced down the alien enemy and figured out its weakness, has saved his son and discovered that not all of the alien’s offspring are inherently evil.  With a desperate plan in mind, he wants to defeat the alien once and for all, or die trying.

Like the other installments in this tale, the odds are stacked against the slim bits of humanity that still remain, especially as the alien entity continues to evolve and works at creating genetic mutations to do its bidding and find the few humans remaining so it can feed.  But Leon has discovered one of its very few weaknesses and has a slim chance to exploit it.

This was a satisfying series.  The author has created a rollicking science fiction tale that is dark and filled with despair and yet could easily be translated into a good old fashion alien invasion movie for the masses.  It was a fun and easy read and I would recommend checking out all three installments since all three are fairly cheap on the kindle and are a fun, if quick, ride.

Alien Apocalypse: Payback can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Alien-Apocalypse-Payback-Dean-Giles-ebook/dp/B00LBEQ7EW/ref=la_B005AQTGUY_1_9?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1406760050&sr=1-9


Review of Lee Brait’s “Oil To Ashes 1: Picnic”

Oil To Ashes 1: Picnic is a short story that I picked up free for the kindle.  Set in the not-so-distant future, we are introduced to Linc Freemore, who works for a company dedicated to the war effort.  A war that appears to be occurring between the United States (or perhaps, more generically, the “West”) and the oil rich countries of the Middle East.  The U.S. is actually being bombed in this war and gas has reached around $10 a gallon.  Linc is just trying to finish a project so he can get a day off, but his day starts off dealing with some gang violence and saving some school children who are almost ran over by a runaway car that was shot up.  Gangs have grown more courageous and willing to assault just about anyone, and later that same day Linc discovers that first hand when he comes to the rescue of a girl on a rural road who is being chased on foot by another biker gang.  Linc’s cowardly coworker flees, forcing him to take action and improvise ways to keep the girl safe and to stay alive.

The story is short, sweet, and to the point.  Better yet, it was a free introduction to the Linc Freemore saga and it appears that the second short story is also available via the kindle.

This short tale was a fun introduction that can somewhat stand on its own, though the author made sure to give you reason to want to check out what is next.  Linc is probably more than what he appears to be given his willingness to jump into a fight and become the hero.  A simple corporate schmo he is not.  The bits and pieces of the near-apocalyptic world the author has created is interesting and fairly plausible, which in some ways makes this story somewhat tantalizing.  A precursor to the world of Mad Max and company, where fuel is rapidly disappearing along with civility, law, and order?  Perhaps.

Oil To Ashes 1: Picnic can still be (at this time) picked up for free at http://www.amazon.com/Oil-Ashes-Freemore-Apocalyptic-Science-ebook/dp/B00F6KB7I8/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1406757781&sr=8-1-spell&keywords=oilt+to+ashes


Review of Stephen North’s “Dead Tide Surge”

Dead Tide Surge is the third book in Stephen North’s Dead Tide Series, and I have previously reviewed the other two installments, Dead Tide, and Dead Tide Rising.  I read both prior to their re-release by Permuted Press and so I do not know for certain if there were significant changes, specifically a transition from present to past tense being used by the author.  This is the first of this series that I have read that was not in present tense.  While the transition didn’t change the story or impact the characters or dialog, the immediacy felt with present tense falls away a bit here.  That isn’t meant as a criticism.  The majority of stories are written in past tense for a reason and there is value to crafting a tale in that format.  Most people find it less jarring and more aesthetically pleasing.  While this may be true, I can say that the present tense versions of the first two books in this series were more than satisfactory for me-the pacing was fast and the short chapters that shuffle the reader from one character to the next was abrupt, but in a good way for someone who enjoys a bit of disruptive force being used in the stories they read.  Despite the tense change, the short, sharp chapters remain.  Reading the Dead Tide series is like getting shot at by an automatic weapon, with perhaps a dozen different story lines crashing against one another and keeps the reader on their toes.  Certainly not a style that everyone enjoys, but it has allowed the author to manage the experiences of an ensemble cast scattered around the Tampa Bay area who are all dealing with the onslaught of the undead and it keeps them all top of mind as they appear on the pages with great frequency.

Dead Tide Surge starts up as abruptly as its predecessor left off, so if it has been a while since you read Dead Tide Rising, it may take a few chapters to catch on to where each character, or groups of characters, ended up by the end of book two.  But it has been nearly four years since I read the prior installment in this series and was still able to recall the bulk of what the characters who have survived to this point have been through.  My only hope is that I don’t have to wait several more years for the next installment.  Originally, I presumed this would be a trilogy, and at some points in this book it appeared as though some of the many story lines were drawing to a conclusion.  The author did a good job of adding enough surprises so that while some characters meet their demise, others have plenty of reason to go on fighting to survive through at least one more book.  Some of the many strands of this very complex web do cross paths and I could believe that the fourth book could be the final stand of this series, though who is to say?  Plenty of the characters have not interacted with one another as of yet.  The author will have to determine if everyone will be together on the same page before all is said and done.  My gut tells me Mr. North isn’t quite sure himself how things will end up-will there be hope or will it all end in blood and despair?

With all the tightly interwoven plot elements here, reading the first two books is pretty much mandatory to understand what is going on here in book 3.  And if you enjoy tales of zombie gore and violence that is character driven (driven by a large cast of characters, that is) then it is worth picking up the trilogy.

Dead Tide Surge can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Dead-Tide-Surge-Book-3-ebook/dp/B00KPKGCFC/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-1&qid=1406668944


I’m the featured author over at Zombie Authors Blog!

I was notified with the pleasant news that I am the featured author over at the Zombie Authors Blog for the next couple of weeks.  So while you may have found me here on my own slice of the blogosphere, please go check out what they have to say about me over at Zombie Authors:  http://zombie-authors.blogspot.com/

Thanks to Jule Romans for giving me the heads up on this nice bit of news.


Review of Shana Festa’s “Time of Death: Induction”

Time of Death: Induction introduces the reader to Emma Rossi, a nursing student living in southwest Florida when the zombie apocalypse begins.  While the prologue is told in third person and gives a hint as to who patient zero might be, the rest of the tale is told in first person from Emma’s perspective.  She works at the hospital that is first hit by the advent of the dead rising, but her shift ends before things get crazy.  Still, through the combination of a violent storm and the fast spread of the virus things crash down all around her at home, with her husband Jake and their little dog Daphne fleeing for their lives as their home is overwhelmed by the walking dead.

After a series of narrow escapes, Emma and Jake manage to hook up with a group of soldiers who have claimed a Target superstore as their barricaded base of operations.  But it is clear that while the location appears to be secure they are far from safe as the world around them crumbles in the blink of an eye.  When Jake disappears on a supply mission and things start to fall apart at the store, Emma is forced to race through one harrowing and tragic event after another.

While Time of Death: Induction doesn’t introduce any new elements to the zombie genre-the zeds here are slow moving, traditional Romero zombies and not the ‘infected’ or have any differing abilities, the author has created a solid, fast moving story of personal survival.  There is plenty of gore and death, and the addition of the little dog the main character wants to keep sheltered and protected will add a sense of impending dread for anyone who is an animal lover, since Daphne seems to get herself into more sticky situations than the main character.

The pacing of the story is fast, with the main character and various other survivors she is with dealing with one traumatic event after another as the body count continues to rise and hope becomes fleeting.  The writing is smooth with no significant editing concerns.  The author provides Emma with a strong voice-she is easy to identify with and appreciate as a regular person thrown into an untenable situation where she is forced to make one difficult decision time after time.  The story is heavy on the undead being the main challenge for the survivors rather than human confrontations, with the exception of a rather brief but intense interaction with some desperate outsiders to Emma’s group.  Beyond this, there are some arguments but they take a back seat to basic day to day and minute by minute survival against the undead.  While Emma and Jake are fleshed out characters, the secondary players were less detailed, which is often a challenge faced when a story is told in first person.  We don’t get to know many of the other characters too well before many are obliterated in the apocalypse.  This isn’t a stiff criticism but more of an acknowledgement that this is Emma’s tale and the story sticks closely with her worldview and perspective throughout.

This is the author’s first novel and this appears to be the first of a series or trilogy.  Shanna Festa has created an exciting, enjoyable tale of desperation and survival, and I look forward to checking out the second book when it becomes available.

Time of Death: Induction can be found here:      http://www.amazon.com/Time-Death-Induction-Volume-1/dp/1618682725/ref=tmm_pap_title_0


Review of Patrick Rutigliano’s “Surviving The Crash”

Surviving the Crash is a series of three novellas set in an alternate universe where the stock market crash of 1929 adds the additional horrific feature of the world also crashing into darkness.  Strange, alien creatures out of nightmare have come to earth and rule the night, devouring those who are foolish or unfortunate enough to be caught out after the sun goes down.  Hiding in the bowels of the buildings that have survived the destruction of these monsters isn’t enough to keep them at bay-they hunt by night and set traps to lure the living into darkness by day.

George is a man ready to end it all.  He’s barely hanging on, and about to jump off the ledge of a building he wanders into when he meets up with Francis.  Tough and defying all feminine stereotypes, Francis is a woman who is called upon by the local mobsters, who now rule New York City, when they need a dirty job done.  Francis calls George’s bluff on killing himself and gives him a place to crash while he sorts himself out.  George, who is a World War I vet, knows how to handle himself but he’s never met anyone quite like Francis.  And when she is called upon by the biggest crime boss in town to do another job, George decides to partner up with her.  Their assigned task is to begin the process of killing the monsters that rule the city with a little help from some of the mobster’s goons.  It’s an impossible job-a suicide mission-but is right up Francis’s alley.  Especially since she has no reason to trust the man she’s working for and suspects he has reasons beyond the desire to protect the city and those who still live in it.

Surviving the Crash is essentially one novel broken into three distinct, chronological chapters.  Francis is the tough as nails heroine-tougher than any of her male counterparts by far, which could have come off as contrived if it weren’t for the fact that the author does such a good job of making her a both believable and thoroughly likable badass character.  She is human and shows occasional vulnerability that George can see, though no one else does.  He is her confidant. To everyone else, including the creatures which hunt and terrorize the human race, she is something to be feared.

Each tale takes things up a notch, transforming this story from becoming a run of the mill apocalyptic tale with some unique monsters to fear to something far more exciting and suspenseful.  There is a bigger picture, and Francis and George will find out what part they play in the last stand humanity may ever make.  The author does a good job of developing his characters, allowing Francis and George to grow and change thanks in part to their relationship and their interactions with the people and creatures of the dark world in which they live.  I believe the author could have crafted multiple tales that somewhat mirrored the first novella-a series of serialized adventure tales-giving us more of the same.  That might have been fun.  Instead, he chose to increase the tension and the profound significance of Francis’s journey, which culminates in a very dark and enjoyable ride straight into the depths of hell.

Surviving the Crash is both an entertaining adventure tale and a chilling horror saga.  I loved the characters and feared for them.  The world they live in is dark, dank place filled with plenty of reasons to give up hope and despair.  But with a heroine like Francis on our side, it seems clear that there is always reason to hope.

Surviving The Crash can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Surviving-Crash-Patrick-Rutigliano-ebook/dp/B00KWPO5CC/ref=la_B006WSAVUS_1_13?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403213430&sr=1-13


Review of Brian Moreland’s “The Vagrants”

The Vagrants is the latest work from Brian Moreland, an author who I have come to rely on to create tales of creeping horror and gore that also has intelligence about them.  His work is well researched for a taste of authenticity and despite the supernatural phenomena that occurs on the pages, there is a sense of believability to his characters.  The Vagrants has a similar flavor to it and the author has once again chosen to introduce us to a new geographical environment-this time the urban sprawl of Boston, where the crosshairs are on the homeless.

Daniel Finley is a journalist who has decided to spend several months living amongst the homeless population of the city, behaving as one of them to see what it is really like and to craft a novel that will expose the hidden plight they suffer through.  At first, his experiences are normal, as far as being homeless goes-he lives under an overpass among a group of people with a variety of tragic tales-some of which are junkies and dangerous, though most are simply down on their luck people who still have hope that they can turn things around.  But then a traveling self-proclaimed ‘prophet’ comes to the underpass with his zombie-like followers and starts converting the homeless to his cause.  He speaks of the end of days and the destruction of those who do not serve his dark gods.  Daniel is almost pulled into the hypnotic tribe of his followers but manages to escape Mordecai’s clutches.

The novel he writes is a success but it seems that everything Daniel looks as he resumes his normal life off the streets, he sees Mordecai’s followers, calling for him to join them.  That, along with the disappearance of a professor who is as intrigued by the homeless as Daniel and several other strange events occurring in his life lead to a confrontation with Mordecai, with gruesome results.

This is a shorter work than the rest of the tales the author has produced (except for a short story that introduced The Witching House) and perhaps that was why I was left wishing for something more.  The supernatural element here is creepy, as the author tends to do extremely well, though it is a bit more clipped and mysterious-there is little in the way of a the ‘big reveal’ we’ve been treated to in the past.  Still, the story has the same dark, gritty, razors edge flavor that Mr. Moreland’s larger works have, and leaves room for a more detailed tale down the road.  For fans of his work, it will entertain like all the rest.

The Vagrants can be found here:   http://www.amazon.com/Vagrants-Brian-Moreland-ebook/dp/B00K1WUCIC/ref=la_B002BM3020_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403149249&sr=1-5


Review of Rebecca Besser’s “Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death”

Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death is a compendium of grim short stories, each with their own interpretation of the title of this work.  No one is safe here, with a rogue’s gallery of villains that range from the tragic to the demonic that all lust for blood, flesh, and the demise of all who cross their paths.

I read the paperback version of the book, which note that there are 4 bonus tales vs. the electronic version.  I will provide a brief synopsis of each tale without providing any spoilers.

Deadly Mistakes tells the tragic tale of a man out for revenge after a clerical error at a law office that lets a murdering monster free to slaughter his wife.

Turn of Events turns the tables on the traditional sad tale of domestic violence.

Stalkers Beware provides some new ideas of how to deal with all those pesky groupies if you are a rock star.

Hope of a Future takes a look at a bleak apocalyptic future where hoping for even the most simple things can make things even more grim.

Game Gone Wrong mixes science fiction with the very prevalent fear of the government watching your every move, and doing whatever it takes to find out what you know.

Mystery Meat is a simple tale of a meat packing facility trying to find out where several bins of prime cuts of meat came from that no one knows about…with morbid results.

Father’s Revenge is a succinct, blunt tale of a father’s revenge when his wife betrays him, as seen through the eyes of his daughter.

Innocent Blood starts out much like the previous tale, but with the desire for revenge going dreadfully wrong.

On Account of Bacon speaks of how unspeakable tragedies can occur for the most innocuous reasons…or in this case, thanks to a delicious breakfast meat.

Evil Mountain asks the question ‘what do you get when a werewolf, vampire, witch, zombie, and dragon walk into a poor, innocent villager’s hut?’  Nothing pleasant, I can tell you that much.

The Heart of Heroism tells the tragic tale of Billy Jack, a mentally handicapped man-child who simply wants to be a superhero and gets his chance when the zombie apocalypse starts up in the tenement he lives in with his overbearing father.

Historical Significance is a traditional ghost tale with a demonic twist.

Memories starts out asking the question ‘Have you ever heard a rabbit scream?’ and goes deeper down the rabbit hole from there.

Overall, this set of macabre tales are solidly written, though some are stronger and more compelling than others.  Each share a very fatalistic perspective, though they range from the gore splattered to the sinister.  Hope of a Future, Innocent Blood, Evil Mountain, and The Heart of Heroism were my favorites of the lot, while a couple of the very short tales didn’t do it for me, like Turn of Events and Father’s Revenge.  When the author works with more than a page or two, she is able to craft characters that are real, vivid, and accessible.

Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Twisted-Pathways-Murder-Rebecca-Besser/dp/0615858163/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1401418967&sr=8-2&keywords=twisted+pathways+of+murder+%26+death (paperback) and here: http://www.amazon.com/Twisted-Pathways-Murder-Rebecca-Besser-ebook/dp/B00E1LPQZS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401418967&sr=8-1&keywords=twisted+pathways+of+murder+%26+death (kindle).


Review of Rachel Aukes’ “Deadland’s Harvest”

Deadland’s Harvest starts off where 100 Days In Deadland left off, with Cash and company doing their best to survive in the wooded park where they have taken up residence.  This after the mayhem that closed out the first book and wiped out Camp Fox, the National Guard base where most survivors in the area had migrated to after the dead rose.  Clutch is still alive, but working on learning how to walk again after the injuries he suffered in the mayhem at the end of 100DiD.  The survivors are fewer, but the human dangers from the first book are no more, making the undead once again their main concern.

On a mission to save a group of refugees stuck in a building surrounded by zeds, Cash and Clutch discover that there are hordes of the undead roaming the countryside, moving south toward their current safe haven.  After flying a surveillance mission it becomes clear to Cash that these hordes are massive, with tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of the undead in them and they are wiping out everything in their path.  Nothing remains except rubble and desolation.  And soon they will trample the park and anyone who remains there.

The survivors make a decision to seek the assistance of a riverboat captain, who has taken on other survivors on his boat that floats on the Mississippi river, out of clutching grasp of the zeds.  This leads to new complications and more human conflicts as the two groups struggle to coexist with one another while at the same time the hordes continue to advance on their position.

Deadland’s Harvest maintains the fast pace of its predecessor and the narration has a natural flow and feel to it.  While Cash has become a seasoned survivor who has been hardened by the trauma she faced in the first book, she has formed a family bond with Clutch and Jace, and will do anything to keep them safe.  While this story is told in first person, the author manages to continue to let the secondary characters tell their own tale and grow as the story progresses.  Avoiding many of the pitfalls that challenge the middle book in a trilogy, Deadland’s Harvest does a solid job of standing on its own, though with an intriguing promise of what is to come in the final act in this three part saga.

Kudos to the author for using the idea of massive hordes of the undead moving and migrating together, like other creatures who are avoiding the cold of winter.  I do wish there was greater detail on the hordes shared, as the concept was an intriguing one.  Also intriguing is the theme the author has carried over from the first book, which is to use Dante Aligheri’s works to set the stage for her story.  100DiD traversed the nine circles of hell while DH examines the seven deadly sins.  The final book promised to explore the seven virtues.  The reader need not know anything further about Dante to appreciate the story, just the fact that this is a solid zombie action tale.

Deadland’s Harvest can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Deadlands-Harvest-Deadland-Saga-Volume/dp/0989901815/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1400809307&sr=8-1


Review of Steven Pajak’s “Mad Swine: Dead Winter”

Mad Swine: Dead Winter does not pick up where Mad Swine: The Beginning left off.  In fact, this sequel provides a review of the events that happen directly after the abrupt ending of the first book with a relatively quick synopsis by the main character more than a couple of months later.  I stated in my review of the first book that it cut off abruptly with a cliff hanger ending that left me very curious as to what would happen next.  Unfortunately, the focal point on this story does not start out with, or even focus on, the war between the neighborhoods, only its aftermath, which makes me puzzle over whether the author wrote about the battles that occurred and either he or someone in his circle of advisors suggested he cut it and focus on the long term survival of the community that the main character, Matt Danzig, is leading through the apocalypse.  I would have liked to have read the story of the actual battle for Randall Oaks.

This criticism does not mean that the actual story that the author wrote here doesn’t have its own positive qualities.  In and of itself, the tale told here is solid, and in fact some elements of this book work better than the first.  The lack of ammunition and the desire to stay quiet and not draw the attention of the infected leave the survivors with more challenges and less ability to utilize the arsenal that the main character and narrator had at his disposal in MS:TB.  This makes for a more pure and raw survival story of average suburban folks vs. more of an armed military camp scenario that there was a taste of in book one.  Matt’s personal relationships are explored with more depth and there is a bit of romance thrown in as well for him after the trauma of losing his wife and children in the first book.  He is, understandably, reluctant, but the sense that everything could fall apart at any minutes does pervade his and everyone else’s reality in Randall Oaks.  The struggles with the bitter cold of winter and diminishing supplies are the main nemesis for the citizens of the community, with the infected playing a close second.  The competing neighborhoods are no longer a factor in this tale, but the urgency to figure out how to make it to spring without freezing or starving is crucial.  The infected, which were explained to not be the undead in the first book, continue to have all the traits of the undead in this one.  Where they slept in the first book like regular humans, they seemed to have moved past that stage here, where the virus or plague has further transformed them.  Another interesting and threatening aspect of their existence is revealed that seemed quite creative.  The theory that the undead will freeze in bitter cold comes somewhat into play, with the undead going dormant in the cold, but even more interestingly, when they get buried under snow they will still become alert when a living human presence is nearby, which makes for some very interesting ambush scenarios.

Overall, I think the author’s story telling skills have grown with this sequel, though I can’t deny my disappointment that I was not treated to the battle of the neighborhoods that the first book appeared to promise was on the horizon.  As a standalone, this tale definitely has its merits, and its focus on Matt more as a man struggling to lead people against nature and inhuman monsters is compelling, though it serves, like so many second books in a trilogy, as a transition between the sudden and abrupt actions of the first book and the potential threats that promise to inhabit the third book.  The hope is that both the personal struggles that Matt suffers through in the second book and the heated action and excitement of the first book will join forces in book three for a very compelling conclusion.

Mad Swine: Dead Winter can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Mad-Swine-Dead-Winter-Volume/dp/1618680463/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1399223763&sr=8-1-fkmr0


Review of Jason Bovberg’s “Blood Red”

Blood Red introduces us to Rachel, a 19 year old college student living with her father and step mom. Waking up one morning, she finds her step mother passed out on her bed with some sort of red glow emanating from inside her skull. For all intents and purposes, she appears to be dead, though her skin feels strange and when Rachel gets near the source of the red glow, it burns her. Racing across the street, she discovers much the same thing has happened to her boyfriend and his mother. There are other corpses out on the street-it is as if their lives were all snuffed out in the same instant, replaced by the strange red glow. Realizing her father is not home, Rachel takes off on a hunt for him, hoping and praying that he is somehow still alive. Her journey leads her to other survivors like herself-confused, frightened, and many gruesomely injured after trying to revive their loved ones and coming into contact with the red glow. The local hospital is filling up with the ‘dead’ and dying, along with the few bewildered survivors who remain behind. Planes are dropping out of the sky and out of control fires are destroying much of Rachel’s Colorado town. But even worse, as the day goes on, it appears that something is happening to the corpses. They appear to be slowly waking up…but they are also being transformed. Not into zombies, or even remotely close to the people they were before. They are becoming something far stranger, and far more horrible than anyone could ever imagine.

Blood Red is possibly one of the most unique zombie novels I have ever read, if it even can be categorized as such. The creatures that inhabit the pages of this first of a trilogy are far different than the traditional dead walkers who crave human flesh. The author has introduced something new and incredibly creepy to the mix that needs to be read about to fully comprehend. Providing details may be deemed a spoiler, but since he has created something entirely new, I will leave it in his hands (and words) to describe his creation, spoilers or not.  

Despite the uniqueness of this tale, the driving force behind what will compel most readers to check out this story remains much the same as with other apocalyptic fiction tales, which is the quest to survive and to comprehend what is happening in a world that has fallen into chaos. Rachel’s journey is both heartbreaking and disturbing. Like many characters that inhabit the pages of novels where the impossible becomes reality, she finds a way to not only cope with her situation, but strives to understand it. With a level head on her shoulders, she becomes somewhat of a leader-discovering things about the strange new threats that surround the meager pool of survivors still inhabiting her town. She is vulnerable yet strong-a character who feels real and genuine. The key characters that surround her felt much the same-solid, using whatever coping mechanisms they have to deal with the situation, for better or for worse.

While some readers may be turned off by the present tense format of this story-it is a style rarely used, I found it to be of minimal to no distraction. The author was able to put you in the action and keep the pace and tone aggressive, to match the immediacy and intimacy of Rachel’s situation. Blood Red was different, intriguing, and I was left very curious as to what will happen next.

Blood Red can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Blood-Red-Jason-Bovberg-ebook/dp/B00JK1UW4E/ref=la_B00JJ36NNW_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1398292709&sr=1-2


Review of Stephen Kozeniewski’s “The Ghoul Archipelago”

The Ghoul Archipelago is a story that jumps around a bit at first, giving the reader the impression that the story is speeding ahead through time with each new batch of characters introduced.  It does take a bit of reading before we get to see how all these loose strands the author is introducing weave together.  The vast majority of the story takes place in the South Pacific in the first few weeks and months after the rise of the undead.  We are introduced to an assortment of characters whose stories will intersect in time, and who are coming to grips with the end of the world in their own various ways.

Reverend Sonntag, leader of a group of missionaries, sees the rising of the dead as a sort of second coming-the transition to the next world, with the undead as something we should either worship or have the desire to become.  Rand Bergeron, a billionaire behind an extremely successful virtual reality sex device, sees business opportunities to be developed with the few select societies in the South Pacific that haven’t been annihilated by the undead.  “Howling Mad” Martigan and his crew of smugglers are simply trying to survive the pirates who’ve found a way to use the undead to their own advantage while at the same time getting their cargo to the ruthless gangster who they are sure has survived the end of the world and who will destroy them if he doesn’t get what he is promised.  Surviving members of the U.S. Navy and Marines, led by a power hungry politician who claims he is now the President of what remains of the United States, have their own designs on taking over the region where the story takes place.

The reader is given bits and pieces of the various character’s tales at first until their paths begin to intersect.  There is no main character here.  Instead, it is a rather large ensemble with a few key players who the author does a strong job of developing into anti-heroes and villains.  Sonntag’s zealotry, Bergeron’s greed, and the military’s quest for control and order clash significantly with Martigan and his crew of quarrelsome crewmembers and a stowaway with an intriguing side story.  Outside of a few members of Martigan’s crew and a hard luck survivor who goes by the name of Tuan Jim, many of the characters here aren’t very likable and it is hard to say that anyone is a real hero, though the crew of smugglers, who go from one living or undead mishap to the next, grow on the reader as they suffer through one unbearable travail after another.  In particular, Butch, the stowaway, and Hannibal Mo, the chief engineer, are the characters who I found myself rooting for the most.

This is a well told tale despite its slow start, with some unique game changers for the zombie sub-genre.  Bergeron’s experimental approach when it comes to utilizing his virtual reality technology with the undead is something that everyone seems to want to take advantage of, in ways both repulsive and terrifying.  The undead are, on the surface, fairly traditional, though with the advent of this new technology, they are taken in some very new and disconcerting directions by the author.

Overall, a very solid entry into the zombie genre, with enough twists and new ideas to keep those who are looking for a new perspective on the classics to have fun with the story.  The characters drive this one, and there are some good ones with some crackling dialog.  A standalone novel, The Ghoul Archipelago is worth checking out for fans of adventure, horror, and of course, the undead.

The Ghoul Archipelago can be found here:    http://www.amazon.com/THE-GHOUL-ARCHIPELAGO-Zombie-Novel-ebook/dp/B00FTP5URO/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top


Review of Sean Schubert’s “Containment (Alaskan Undead Apocalypse Book 2)

Containment (Alaskan Undead Apocalypse Book 2) is the sequel to Infection, the first book in this trilogy, which will be completed with Mitigation, which has already been released.  The author returns to where he left off, with the two bands of survivors who were racing against death through the first few days and weeks after the first zombie rose up combining forces and doing whatever they can to find and to maintain a safe haven.  We are also introduced briefly to a military leader and the failed efforts to prevent the undead from crossing a bridge north of Anchorage, granting the monsters access to the rest of the vast state.

Neil, who led one of the groups in the first book, takes on the mantle of leadership in this book, while Dr. Caldwell, who was the leader of the other group, stepping aside and becoming more of a consultant, or moral guide for Neil.  As this new entity travels in and around Anchorage, their numbers grow and diminish thanks to other survivors they happen across and the hordes of undead they must face off against.  Of course, the newcomers and old members of the team alike add conflict and provide new challenges for Neil and the others.  Officer Malachi Ivanoff, the loose cannon police officer in the first book, finds a new friend in one of the newcomers the group comes across, and ample reasons to continue down his path of destruction and mayhem.  Other relationships hinted at being formed in the first book continue to grow and face challenges.  In general, Neil’s group, like a living organism, adapts and modifies itself to suit its challenging environment.

While the objective, as is the case in most apocalyptic tales, is survival, the story meanders for the most part, with no specific objective outside of finding food, water, and a safe haven.  The author, to his credit, makes Alaska-both Anchorage and the surrounding natural beauty, play a far more prominent role here than in the first book.  In Infection, the city of Anchorage had the feel of Any Town, USA.  There was nothing unique about this environment the undead had invaded.  Containment shares more of the unique flavor of the largest and northern-most state in the U.S., especially when the survivors step outside the confines of Anchorage and are forced to wander a bit into the wilderness.  The isolation of Alaska is both a blessing and a curse.  While the military has failed to contain the undead in the Anchorage area, there is no hint at outside intervention, either from Canada or the rest of the United States, despite the fact that the story takes place several weeks after Anchorage has been annihilated by the undead.  The characters conjecture about where the military might have made a stand and where potential larger bands of refugees might be located, but there are few tangible hints as to what is happening in the wider world around them.  It would be safe to guess that the third book in the trilogy should provide greater insight into the global picture though it seems there should have been more here.

The characters in Containment, as was the case in Infection, are well developed.  We get to know the original characters even better and the same treatment occurs with some of the new people with whom they cross paths.  Unfortunately, the level of introspection each character goes through slows this novel down a great deal in multiple places.  The action often comes to a screeching halt while either a character ponders the meaning of what is happening, a bit of their history is revealed, or in the case of a few devious characters, what they are plotting.  Still, this is a classic tale of survival in the undead apocalypse and the reader is given the opportunity to get to know these characters in depth and detail that has strong appeal.

Containment, though slow at points and with a plot that meanders a bit, provides the reader with a set of characters that are well-rounded and have a great deal of depth.  Neil and the rest of the group are easy to identify with-they are not heroes or skilled survivalists but ordinary folk trying to find their place in a world filled with the undead. It will be interesting to see what happens to them in the conclusion of this trilogy.   

Containment (Alaskan Undead Apocalypse Book 2) can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Containment-Alaskan-Undead-Apocalypse-Book/dp/161868048X/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1395493625&sr=8-2


Review of P.A. Douglas’s “The Remnant: Into The Collision”

The Remnant: Into The Collision thrusts the reader right into the madness of what the universe has become for Byron Russo, a working class grunt who, like everyone else, is waiting for the world to end.  When a man comes crashing through his living room window and wants to kill him for no better reason than to see what it feels like, it is the wakeup call Byron needs after spending a couple of weeks sitting on the couch, watching and waiting for the meteors to come that may spell the end of the all life on earth.

At first, the concept here seemed similar to that of the movie “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World.”  Byron is a down on his luck slob who lost his wife and his little daughter and needs to snap out of the funk that has wrapped itself around him, not only for the past two dazed weeks of his existence, but for most of it long before the world threatened to put an end to his miserable existence.  Of course, this being an apocalyptic novel with a far darker bent than the Steve Carrell movie, Byron’s shortened existence isn’t likely to be filled with romance and pleasant moments spent contemplating the sweetness of life.  That is made clear from the opening paragraph, when Byron is forced to defend himself and kill another human being so he can stay alive.  Thus begins his awakening into his stunning new reality.  It is one in which he realizes that he still wants to make a go of it and survive for as long as possible.  With this in mind, he makes his way to the local grocery store, where he witnesses more acts of human savagery as well as the same complacency he was guilty of just a few hours earlier.  He also stumbles across another like-minded survivor named C.J., a young man who looks and talks like a thug but is pretty normal, all things considered.  C.J. introduces Byron to the group he is with, who are looking for a place to escape the madness on the streets.  Byron, who had no more of a plan than to hunker down at the factory where he works, is joined by this group who seem pretty normal.  Of course, normal under life-threatening duress can get warped fairly quickly.  They make it to the factory, which makes scuba breathing gear and has been abandoned, like most work places, since the impending destruction of the planet was revealed.  It is the ideal place to set up shop and wait to see if the world will end when the meteors come.

It isn’t a spoiler to reveal that the meteors don’t destroy the world, but wreak havoc on the atmosphere when they crash into the moon instead, altering its orbit.  One of the side effects of its new trajectory is thinner oxygen.  While not immediately lethal, it does have some horrible side effects for those forced to breathe this new air.  This makes Byron and friend’s new factory home, with its amble scuba breathing devices, a very good place to hole up.

The Remnant: Into The Collision deals with the very human struggles the band of survivors must face, including coping with outsiders who will annihilate anyone who is capable (or incapable) of standing in their way.

While the background apocalypse in this story treads new ground, the saga of humans in conflict is very traditional and shares similarities to other novels in the genre.  The air they breathe becomes the monster at their doorstep rather than some slouching beast threatening to tear them limb from limb.  Its treachery is much more insidious and devious, slowly robbing those who have no breathing devices of their faculties and turning them into drooling automatons with sluggish minds and muted reactions to the world around them.  When the trap door that is civilization swings open and those who remain alive fall into what lies beneath, the truth of their nature is revealed.  For a few survivors, like Byron, whose past life is filled with regrets, this new world is ripe with opportunities for redemption.  For others, like Richard Perry, a National Guardsman, it is an opportunity to become as depraved and vile as his withered heart desires.

This is where this tale will divide its readership.  While Richard’s abhorrent behavior may be quite plausible given his circumstances and willingness to follow his most primitive urges, having them laid out on the page will not agree with everyone.  The abrasive nature of his and his men’s actions speak to the true depth of depravity humanity is capable of, while Byron’s efforts to become a better man demonstrates what we are all capable of, regardless of how harrowing the circumstances we find ourselves facing.

The Remnant: Into The Collision can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Remnant-Collision-P-A-Douglas-ebook/dp/B00IKMLEPA/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top


Review of Thom Brannan’s “Lords of Night”

Lords of Night gets right to the heart of the story by introducing us to the main character Jack and his band of protectors, with their assortment of colorful nicknames, smack dab in the middle of their journey into the barren wastelands of what was once the eastern seaboard of the United States.   They are somewhere between New York City and Washington D.C. when the story starts off, on mission to save the human race.  Besides Jack, there is Five Oh, Dusty, Sandman, Rook, Zero, and the Ranger, who are all highly skilled ex-military men (except for the Ranger, who has his own unique set of skills).  Much of the story is told in flashbacks, giving us a history of each of the secondary characters in their own words and how they dealt with the day the dead rose up and the world changed forever.  Jack’s story, on the other hand, is told through the journal entries he makes during their trip, giving the reader both his back story and an understanding of why he is so special and critical to the survival of the human race.

While this book could be categorized as zombie apocalyptic fiction, the zombies here are very much secondary-little more than a nuisance controlled by far more powerful creatures.  The author introduces the reader to the locust people-humans transformed into malicious monsters who serve their masters, the aforementioned Lords of Night.  There are seven of these powerful fiends who serve the ancient enemy which came to earth from the stars long ago.  They have re-awoken their master and Jack was a witness to its rebirth.  The teenager has special talents that seemingly escaped the notice of the ancient enemy’s minions at first, but have since grown and have drawn them to him.  While he doesn’t understand much of his role in things, he knows that within him is the potential key to stopping an enemy to mankind that is older than time itself which has plans for humanity that are far worse than complete annihilation. 

Lords of Night moves at a rapid clip through the mission Jack needs to accomplish and the assortment of characters surrounding him are an interesting bunch, especially the Ranger and Zero.  Zero is a cocky, lazy, talented marine recon sniper who (as the author aptly points out) is reminiscent of Hudson from the movie Aliens with his snarky ways and can’t-do attitude, as well as his ability to come through when absolutely necessary.  The Ranger, another larger than life character, might be insane but in the best way possible given the perils Jack and the rest of the team face.  His talented shooting ability and fearless loyalty in the face of all odds make him perhaps the most appealing character in the book.  While these two steal the show, all six of Jack’s guardians are interesting, in fact far more so than Jack.  The teen is likable and his story is compelling, but he is far less fun to read about than his companions. 

The story is, turn by turn, more creative than most and gives the reader a unique spin on the typical apocalyptic horror novel.  Again, the zombies found on these pages are secondary-the true menaces are the locust people and their masters, who have an evil intelligence and maliciousness that challenge Jack and his crew every step of the way.  The history and ongoing saga of the ancient enemy gets almost a bit too complicated at times, including the nuances of the part Jack is to play, though it all becomes clear in the end.  Twisty as it is, the story is sewn up quite effectively before the last page is turned. 

Fans of apocalyptic fiction that are receptive to authors taking creative license on the traditional should enjoy Lords of Night.  The main characters are well developed and the backstory is complex.  The author perhaps is a bit over-protective of his characters-it takes quite a bit to send them to their demise, though that is in some ways a forgivable offense considering how entertaining they are as a team.  That and the sometime slow pace found earlier in the story are my two main (and minor complaints) in what is otherwise a rollicking adventure tale.     

Lords of Night can be found here:  http://www.amazon.com/Lords-Night-Thom-Brannan/dp/1618680307/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1393486184&sr=8-1


Review of D.S. Sager’s “Evil Vein: Dark Beginnings”

Evil Vein: Dark Beginnings is an apocalyptic origin tale that introduces the reader to a scientist bent on trying to give his terminally ill wife a new lease on life.  When the lab he works for threatens to shut down and ruin his work, he decides that he will share his ‘Blue Gem Serum’ with his home town in Northern California.  The serum allows for the genetic mutation of any life form it comes into contact with, making it stronger, more adaptable, and more intelligent and vicious.  When the scientists dumps it into the local water supply, the crab population immediately undergoes a dramatic genetic transformation, turning them into a hybrid that looks like a cross between its predecessor and a scorpion, complete with a lethal sting that transforms its human victims into the living dead.  The monsters become land dominant and start attacking the people in the town of Tylerton soon after.

The duel threat of the scrabions (as they are later dubbed) and the undead unleash an assault that is viewed through the eyes of multiple characters, some of which meet a very unfortunate end rather gruesomely and others who manage to survive the first waves of assault.  This story takes place over a period of a day or so, with the town caught in the crossfire of an army of constantly adapting and cunning genetic mutations and its own transformed population of the living dead.

While the tale of how patient zero is exposed to whatever the cause of its own un-death is one that has been done before, it is far rarer to include another threat that is ends up being far greater danger to humanity than the undead.  In fact, I would be hard pressed to describe this novel as a zombie apocalypse story, since it is in fact more of a genetic horror/sci-fi tale that happens to have zombies in it.  The scrabions take over as the primary danger-the one that the military personnel trying to quarantine Tylerton struggle to deal with and that the CDC is hard pressed to find a way to stop or destroy.  That this is the driving force behind this story might irritate any zombie purists out there, but the mixture of the two monsters is well done.

The ensemble cast caught inside Tylerton as it is torn apart is a mixed bunch, as is usually the case when an author introduces the reader to a platoon of characters.  It was hard to keep track of all of them at first, at least until they started grouping up.  With nearly five hundred pages to work with, the author doesn’t shirk at character development, though it slowed the pacing a bit at first.  It took a bit for the momentum to build, but by the time I was a third of the way into the novel it had become one of those hard to put down thrill rides.  The reader is provided with ample background on both those characters facing the threat of the undead and scrabions as well as the military leaders and members of the CDC trying to understand and contain the menace that has conquered Tylerton.  Some characters were naturally more compelling than others, while a select few were downright annoying.  It is tough to juggle so many different actors crossing the stage with their stories being interwoven in bits and pieces until they join forces and their stories coalesce.  In the end, the author does a relatively solid job of herding them all in the right direction.

The depth of detail (on the genetic mutations, the town, and the characters) the author provides in this novel is both its blessing and its curse.  While it may seem like a stretch that a genetically mutated crab’s bite causes zombism, the science and the scrabions ability to adapt to its environment and perceived threats are intriguing and the implications terrifying; not only for this story, but for our innate fear of such dabbling by modern science.  What sort of horrors will geneticists create in the name of progress?  Unfortunately, the zombies are left to suffer in many ways-they seem only a moderate threat when compared to the scrabions, who continue to adapt to any form of attack unleashed on them-making themselves stronger and resistant to things like fire and other forms of assault.  They are cunning, work like a colony of ants to go after their objectives, and seem for all intents and purposes unstoppable.  Never would I have thought that a cross between a crab and scorpion could be this scary.

The story is solid with some entertaining twists and turns.  The characters, for the most part, are believable and diverse.  Providing the viewpoint of the General in charge of maintaining the battle lines around Tylerton was an added bonus that gave a unique perspective.  In many ways, his story was more intriguing and impactful than that of the survivors, and will lead to some compelling storylines in the sequel.  The duel threat of genetic mutations and the undead gives this book its own flavor that sets it apart from the pack.

Evil Vein: Dark Beginnings can be found here:      http://www.amazon.com/Evil-Vein-Dark-Beginnings-Volume/dp/1618681869/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1391730659&sr=8-1


Review of Scott Carleton’s “Collapse: A Survival Thriller”

Collapse: A Survival Thriller is a novella that tells the story of Matt Avery, a regular guy working in a downtown office building who gets caught up in the middle of a blackout and the riots that follow.  With the roads jammed and roaming bands of looters and others who are looking for a reason to get violent, Matt is forced to take to the road on foot to get back home.  With him is his hotheaded co-worker who feels that the rules of society no longer apply.  Matt is a prepper and is prepared with survival items in his office, in his car he must abandon at work, and is focused on getting home to wife and child, where he has more supplies to ride out the storm.  This short tale tells of the perils he faces and the preparations he has made so that he and his family could survive when things go bad.

I was provided a copy of this novella by the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.  The story is easy to read and I was able to finish it within a couple hours.  The premise behind the tale is more generic than anything.  The city is anonymous, the cause for the blackouts is limited, outside of hints at a failing power grid, and the riots are caused initially by a woman being accidentally shot by the police when they were trying to maintain order in the city.  My interest in apocalyptic fiction mostly leans toward those with a fictional bent.  Zombies, alien invasions, and nuclear holocausts populate many if not most of the apocalyptic tales I read.  This is a far more straight forward and generically plausible meltdown of society scenario.  While the author made an effort to give Matt and his co-worker some depth, both characters are, unfortunately, as generic as the background on the story itself.  Outside of his knowledge of Matt as prepper, there is very little detail about him that made me interested in what was happening with him.  His co-worker, a thinly veiled sociopath from the get go, acts as an obvious foil to the character, with his urges to throw off the shackles of the rules of civilization barely restrained from almost the beginning of this tale.  Unfortunately, the story felt far more like an educational pamphlet on prepping than it did a story about real people.  There are hints within its pages of an author with some potential to create something with more gravitas and emotion than this piece and I hope to see something like that in the future.

Collapse would be most interesting to someone who is looking for a beginners guide on being prepared for disasters, both man-made and natural.  For a fan of apocalyptic fiction though, the story is a bit forced and fits too easily into the format of a guidebook on prepping rather than a story of people desperate to survive the rapid breakdown of society.

Collapse: A Survival Thriller can be found here:   http://www.amazon.com/Collapse-Survival-Thriller-Scott-Carleton/dp/1624090206/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1389659728&sr=1-3


Review of Evan Ramspott’s “Plagued: The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment”

Plagued: The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment is a mouthful of a name for a novella written by Evan Ramspott.  The story introduces us to Tom and Gary, brothers who have come to the town of Biter Hill, one of the few locations within the Plagued States where the zombie slave trade occurs, to search out records on their lost sister, Larissa, who was infected ten years earlier and who may have come through the town as a slave at one point.  Thorough records are kept on the zombies who pass through and they have been ordered by their father, a powerful senator, to find her.  They return to this same place, year in and year out, in an effort to fulfill their father’s wishes.

Tom feels guilt for what happened to Larissa, since she was in his care when she was bitten.  But Tom was twelve at the time, and had no experience with dealing with zombies.  He struggles with the idea that he shouldn’t be held responsible, but feels guilty nonetheless.  It doesn’t help that his father and brother both blame him, in their own particular ways, for what happened.

Tom comes across a half-breed zombie in a slaver’s cage while in Biter’s Hill.  She looks like a normal uninfected human.  There are claims that half-breeds are creatures born of a human who is infected while pregnant, some other, unknown reason for their existence seems more likely.  Though she is savage, there is a connection between the creature and Tom.  She also seems rather interested in the picture of his sister when she sees it.

Tom is separated from his brother when the prison in Biter Hill maintaining most of the zombies who are being held for the slave trade has a breakout.  Tom has to flee with several zombie hunters and slave traders at that point; including the one who has the half-breed who Tom has discovered is named Penelope.  Together, they must enter into the wastelands in an effort to find their way to another place of safety.  Tom suspects that Penelope knows something about his missing sister and uses his clout as a senator’s son to get the ragged band of survivors to head to a place where he believes Larissa have migrated to in the decade since she’d turned with the promise of rescue and wealth if they do.  And he is going to need Penelope’s help to find her.

Plagued is definitely a different type of zombie apocalypse tale.  It is focused on Tom’s personal journey and the relationship he forms with Penelope along the way.  The craggy old slave trader Peske was probably my favorite character though, as someone who is gruff and seemingly uncaring about anyone else, he does what it takes to keep everyone alive and seems to have a soft spot for his half-breed who he insists isn’t for sale.  Tom is well developed as a character and Penelope, as a confused creature of two worlds generates both intrigue and sympathy.

It’s clear that this will be the first of perhaps a series of zombie stories set in this world, and this is a positive start.  The zombies themselves are fairly Romero-esque and traditional, but the introduction of half-breeds other factors like potential cures and being able to eliminate a zombie’s ability to spread infection once they are captured adds some unique elements to this saga.  This is a quick read and the world the author created, long past the initial terrifying days of the zompcalypse, had an air of believability to it as the survivors adapt and cope with the fact that the undead are most likely a permanent fixture in their universe.

Plagued: The Midamerica Zombie Half-Breed Experiment can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Plagued-Midamerica-Half-Breed-Experiment-America-ebook/dp/B00DTCT26O/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top


Review of Peter Clines’ “Ex-Communication”

Ex-Communication is the third book in Peter Clines’ Ex-saga of zombies battling with the survivors and the superheroes who protect them in Los Angeles in the years after the zombocalypse. The heroes, along with a new group of super soldier allies, have returned to The Mount (Paramount Studios) after contending with their most recent menace out in the desert.  They have built high walls that surround a larger chunk of the city to give the thousands of survivors living with them more space to spread out and to feel safe.   

Their latest superhuman nemesis is a being that calls itself Legion.  It is a former LA gang member who has gained the ability to control countless hordes of the undead and likes tormenting those who live in the Mount by sending an endless brigade of the undead at them.  Legion can speak through the undead and make them handle weapons, climb, and do all sorts of things the sluggish ghouls couldn’t do on their own.  In addition to Legion, there are a couple of other new challenges for St. George, Stealth, and the rest of the supers to contend with.  Zzzap, the superhero who can transform himself into pure energy, has been seeing ghosts…well, specifically one ghost who happens to be a former superhero that wants to return to the land of the living and needs help…including the body of someone who is recently deceased.  They are also dealing with a young girl who has come to Los Angeles who shares similarities to the ex’s (zombies) in that she is dead and moving around, but is unlike all the others in that she can think, speak, and is an otherwise normal teenage girl. 

Things only get more complicated from there when an angry, vengeful demon enters the picture, intent on consuming the souls of the remaining humans still alive in the Los Angeles area, including the superheroes at the mount.   

The Ex series continues to provide an interesting twist on the zombie genre with its mix of complex superheroes and challenging villains.  The main heroes are well fleshed out and the author continues to use flashbacks to great success to provide a slow reveal as new good and evil elements are introduced to the storyline.  While for the most part the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad, there is plenty of gray area to keep the reader guessing on what to expect.

Ex-Communication can be found here:   http://www.amazon.com/Ex-Communication-A-Novel-Peter-Clines/dp/0385346824/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1386871552&sr=8-1