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Reviews of “Breathe” and “Chameleon” by Layden Robinson

Instead of two separate posts, since I read these two books one after the other, I thought it would make more sense to combine their review into one post.

Breathe is a collection of short stories from Layden Robinson that are very difficult to pin down.  Surreal horror with a perhaps bizarre slant might describe some of this work, though even that perhaps doesn’t quite encapsulate what these twelve shorts are all about.  Free form poetry?  Perhaps.  The utterings of a madman?  Quite possibly.

There is a preponderance of adjectives and adverbs slathered freely throughout these tales of nightmare and perhaps waking dreams.  Perhaps there are too many-some jarring and disruptive, as is the flow and pacing in much of these tales.  These are not stories for the faint of heart or weak of stomach.  Vampires, assassins, mannequins, giant tarantulas, and serial killers abound in stories of failure and perhaps redemption, though there are as many uncontrolled laughs bursting forth as there are profound meanings, or so it seemed to me.

It’s fair to say that this probably isn’t a book that will be everyone’s cup of tea.  It is something you have focus on, glean and decipher as you can, and determine what meaning there is for you.  I won’t lie and say I was satisfied with every story-on the contrary, some left me frustrated and exasperated.  Perhaps that is the point.  I wasn’t quite sure where to go with some of these tales.  Certainly, there is meaning to be found, but whether it will resonate for you will be determined if you are receptive to letting your mind get bent a little, then a little more, with each written word.

Check it out for yourself here: https://www.amazon.com/Breathe-Layden-Robinson-ebook/dp/B00LD8JYLE?ie=UTF8&ref_=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top

 

Chameleon is a standalone short by Layden Robinson that is as surreal and trippy as his short story collection, Breathe, though it is more cohesive and compelling from my perspective.  It is a magical journey of discovery-a quest, if you will, that is perhaps partly dream and partly reality, or maybe entirely acid trip.  Regardless, it is an adventure that challenged the main character at every turn and did the same with me the reader.  Demons, the devil, loss, tragedy, hope, peace, and redemption are things that come to mind here, though interpretations will vary.  This isn’t an easy story to review or even describe, except perhaps as an enchanting fever dream that pokes and prods at you because as soon as you think you have a fix on where it is going, it jars you and changes course.  The pace is brisk but the taste of each section, or compartment of this short story, leaves a flavor on your mouth, whether it be bitter or a vague hint of sweetness.  And then the taste changes when you turn the page once more.

Chameleon can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Chameleon-Layden-Robinson-ebook/dp/B00KHB71QI?ie=UTF8&ref_=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top


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 “Darlings of Decay”

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

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

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

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

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

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


Great Review of At Hell’s Gates 3!

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Review of Rachel Aukes’ “Deadlands Rising”

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Review of Stephen North’s “Beneath The Mask”

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


Review of Eloise Knapp’s “The Undead Haze”

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


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

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


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 Craig Jones’ “Son of Blood (The Secret of Skerries)”

Son of Blood (The Secret of Skerries) introduces the reader to Martin and his son, who live off the coast of Ireland on a small island with an ancient castle.  The island sits across from the quaint town of Skerries, where the local town folk know of the man and his teenage son, as well as their secret.  Martin has committed himself as protector over the town and is friends with the town’s mayor, who has gained power and wealth due to Martin’s steadfast loyalty and unique talents of keeping undesirables out.

Martin is a vampire.  His son is one too, although he has not fed on the living, and Martin hopes that Christian will never do so.  More than anything, Martin wants to protect his son and has kept him from interacting with the townspeople throughout his life, but much like his father, Christian has fallen for a pretty girl from the town and wants to be more than just the mysterious freak who lives on the island across the way.  The fact that the girl he is interested in is the mayor’s daughter who has friends who despise Christian and his father poses a serious threat him and his father’s peaceful relationship with the town.

Son of Blood could be deemed a young adult paranormal romance with a healthy horror twist to it.  I’ve read some of the author’s other works and he doesn’t shy away from the gore, giving his vamps not only a desire for blood, but flesh as well.  These vamps are far more traditional bloodsuckers than what we have seen as of late in this genre, and Martin, for all his love for his son and desire to shelter him away from the curse that has taken him is truly a monster and a remorseless killer.  He claims to feed on only those who would not be missed, like the destitute and homeless, as if he is doing society a favor by eradicating them, but mixed in with those unfortunates are others who have loved ones who acutely feel their loss.

Martin and Christian’s relationship is by its very nature, strained, but despite the fact that Martin knows he is cursed by his affliction, his only real desire is to do everything he can to make sure Christian does not suffer that same fate.  Of course, that means keeping his away from those who his son might be tempted to feed upon.  Naturally, since Christian has grown into a teenager who has been kept isolated all his life, he is compelled to make connections with others his own age, and in particular with Sinead, the mayor’s daughter, who is as intrigued with him as he is with her.

The story moves at a brisk pace and is an easy read.  The main characters-Martin, Christian, and Sinead, are fairly well developed.  Unfortunately, some of the other minor characters are not as fleshed out.  Owen, the bullying friend of Sinead who despises Christian and thinks of him as a freak, is more or less a stereotype of most teen bullies we’ve seen in other tales, though the forces spurring him to hurt Christian offer up a bit of a twist.

Overall, this is an entertaining tale geared toward an audience who long for vampires with a bit more traditional heft and bite to them than what has been unleashed on the world over the past few years in the young adult genre.  While a teen romance drives this story, it is a far darker tale than we’ve seen and more than likely will grow darker still with future volumes.

Son of Blood (The Secret of Skerries) can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Son-Blood-Secrets-Skerries-Book-ebook/dp/B00MWCPE82/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-3&qid=1412733720


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


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 Jack Icefloe Jackson’s “Romance For Men: Pandora’s Box”

Romance For Men: Pandora’s Box introduces the reader to the author and main character, Jack Icefloe Jackson, who is, without a doubt, one of the most vile, depraved, wretched human beings ever to exist on this planet.  He is also irremediably raunchy, sleazy, and worse than the worse excrement to ever walk upright.  With that said, this story of his exploits is satire at its most debase and hilarious.  Not meant for the squeamish or anyone with taste, this book explores Jack’s adventures as a newly assigned agent for the United States Government responsible for saving the world.  You see, Jack has a unique set of skills that no man has ever had in the history of the universe.  Jack is short, fat, bald, and gross.  He also has a penchant for throwing dynamite at anyone who annoys him.  All this plus the fact that he treats every woman as nothing better than a resting place for one of his, uh, appendages, makes him scum.  But his seemingly unnatural talents makes him the one person who can unlock the code to Pandora’s Box, which threatens to destroy the world if left unsatisfied.

Yep, I managed to avoid actually saying anything too offensive in the above paragraph that is even remotely on par with the graphic nature of this book.  So let me be clear.  This book is sick, disgusting, and with the right frame of mind, hilarious.  Jack is a parody of a parody of the concept of men as pigs.  This is satire mixed with sarcasm mushed together with huge dollops of parody.  Read it with this in mind and you may survive the reading, though chances are you won’t make it out unscarred.  You might go blind too, or at the very least suffer from a rash that even the strongest penicillin won’t be able to get rid of.  

This is a quick read, laugh out loud funny, although you will probably be far too embarrassed to do so anywhere near anyone of the female persuasion.  Letting a woman you love or even remotely care about know you are reading this book might get you banished from nooky-land for the rest of eternity.  So my friends, tread carefully when you read this tome of wondrous knowledge.  Oh, and make sure you wash your hands after you do so, because you are gonna feel dirty after touching this book…even if you get it on the kindle.  You may have to sterilize the device to get it to work again properly.

Romance For Men: Pandora’s Box can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Romance-For-Men-Pandoras-Volume/dp/0990381315/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1407946592&sr=8-1