Every once in a while I like to break out of my normal routine and do something a bit different. I watch horror films-quite a few, in fact, but I have only posted a review of a couple of them on my blog. I stick to reviewing horror novels, and primarily independent stuff from independent authors and smaller presses. After all, the “big” stuff gets along just fine whether I review it or not, while the smaller, lesser known works get a boost from every review they receive-good, bad, or indifferent. Recognition and awareness is key to gaining a wider audience. Especially if you are trying to turn your ‘little’ project into something bigger. So I thought I would do my part and check out a short film by a guy named Jim Rothman (twitter handle: @ScytheJim), who is working hard on getting the crowdfunding to turn a fifteen minute short into a full length horror feature. Jim shared his film with me for the promise of a fair and honest review. And unlike so many other reviews I do, where I can only give you the link to go purchase your own copy, I am sharing the link so you can watch the film, in all its glory, for free, right now, without spending another dime! Ain’t that somethin’?
Naturally, Jim is looking for donors to help fund this project, so while you don’t have to pay to watch the short, you might consider a contribution if you like what you see and would like to see more. And Jim tossed in a bit of an extra for anyone who decides to donate $50 at supportscythe.com if they do so on Monday. Whoever pledges $50 for the Baseball Cap and Blu-Ray package (again, ON Monday) will also get an autographed copy of the script. Not too shabby a deal. So, what’s all the hubbub about? Well, you can watch the movie here: Scythe Short Film.
Okay, so we’ve gotten all the promotional stuff out of the way! On to the review:
The setup with Scythe is fairly traditional slasher fare. Two college aged girls are sitting in an apartment, one, Amy, lamenting what kind of impact she’ll manage to have on the world at large while she studies for exams. She fears no one will remember her-that she will leave no impression on anyone else including future generations. The other girl, offering up another hit off the joint they’ve been smoking, gives Amy a pep talk about how she will end up doing great things, just before our main character decides it’s time to walk home. Next, we see the second girl turn on the television to watch a news report that a imprisoned killer has escaped and is on the loose in the local area.
Pretty routine set up, and in some ways, what follows is also pretty routine. Where this film ended up resonating for me, in its brief time on my computer screen, was in the build up of tension that takes place after Amy begins her walk home and is warned, via cellphone by her friend, of the escaped maniac on the loose. The filmmakers allow the energy to build, through the music, the surrounding environment, and through the main character’s expressions and body language. Amy’s fear ebbs and flows based on what is going on around her, and that was what yanked me along with her through her harrowing journey.
In a film like this, even in short form, its as much what you know as you don’t know, and playing the guessing game about what will happen next. We all do it-when will the slasher appear, and when will they administer the coup de grace? If it’s predictable, it’s usually forgettable. But when you guess wrong and you get that adrenaline rush because you’re startled, taken off guard, or even pee yourself a bit…that’s the payoff. And for a short film that was produced in an effort to show the capabilities of these filmmakers and the promise of something greater, the payoff was there for me. Much of it was in the promise of something greater rather than just what happens on the screen. In other words, I took the bait right off the hook (or off the Scythe, in this case, har har).
The production values (I have a friend who always looooved to use that term when describing a film-it made him feel all refined and movie savvy, I suppose) were solid. The acting was decent and the music, as I already mentioned, blends well with what is happening on screen. Whatever the budget they had to make this promotional piece, it didn’t feel cheap, shabby, or hastily constructed.
The bottom line for me is not that this little film was mind altering or in and of itself a great standalone film. It’s fun and entertaining, certainly, but more importantly, serves its purpose. That purpose is to draw you in enough to want to see what the creators could do with the budget necessary to make a full length version of Scythe.
But don’t take my word for it. Check it out yourself. If you like it, promote it. If you really like it, consider tossing a few coppers in the direction of the filmmakers so you can see even more of Scythe. And if you don’t like it…well, it was just 15 minutes out of your life, now wasn’t it?
From the title of this book, Badass Zombie Road Trip, I had a vision of an apocalyptic ride across undead highways in a classic car (maybe a convertible Caddy or a hot rod like an old Road Runner). Even the picture used on the cover reinforced that vision. Alas, it was not meant to be. What I got instead was a tale of Jonah and Dale, best buddies, on the run to chase down a lost soul before the devil does them in. Not a bad trade off, especially when Candy, a beautiful hitchhiker, is added to the mix. She adds a bit of spice to the testosterone mix, especially since Dale, the Lothario of the duo, has his sights set on her as his next conquest, while Jonah, the meek and mild member of the pair, is falling hard for her in his own modest way.
The threesome has to make it cross country after a poorly thought out (and devilishly influenced) detour into California, where Dale soul is taken from him by Lucifer himself, collecting on a debt incurred during his childhood. To save his friend, Jonah ups the stakes and tosses his soul into the mix if Satan will give them a chance to reclaim Dale’s soul. Unfortunately for both of them, the Devil doesn’t play fair, so Dale is not only soulless, he’s lifeless too-though he can move around and talk…and he’s hungry for a bit more than junk food.
Jonah and Dale’s relationship is an interesting dynamic. Dale is overwhelming, loud, obnoxious, and a letch, while Jonah is quiet, intelligent, sincere, and innocent. They seem to fit together well, though Dale’s bullying tended to rub me the wrong way and I wanted Jonah to stand up for himself a bit more. And that is where Candy, the intriguing hitchhiker who gets the boys into even more trouble, comes in. She is beautiful, somewhat mysterious, and triggers strong interest from both of them. Plus, she adds her own brand of trouble to the story that keeps things hopping.
Overall, the journey is an entertaining one, though it grinds through a few scenes. Dragging a zombie across country that needs to feed on something…substantial…every now and then is definitely a cause for concern and plenty of misfortune. The Devil is cunning and likes to cause as much woe for our road warriors as possible, which keeps things popping. The dark humor here works and so does the relationship between the three main characters, who seem to mesh well, even when they’re causing each other major grief. This is a quick read, and a fun one.
Badass Zombie Road Trip can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Badass-Zombie-Road-Tonia-Brown-ebook/dp/B006ZAJ4M4/ref=cm_cr_arp_d_product_top?ie=UTF8
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
All Souls Day provides the reader with an alternate history: what if the Cuban Missile Crisis escalated into war? What if the nuclear holocaust that followed laid waste to much of what we know, except for one small town in Pennsylvania that was protected by the power of the ancient demon, Moloch? In exchange for its protection, which shelters the townspeople from the burnt and irradiated outside world, the demon demands a virgin sacrifice each year, on the anniversary of the war, November 2nd, which gives this book its title.
This set up paves our introduction to the two main characters. Suzie, who is a ‘nice girl’ and cheerleader at Chatham High, and Amos, a ‘nerd’ who secretly has fallen for Suzie. This is their senior year, over twenty years since Moloch took over and the sacrifices began. As a nice girl, Suzie has the chance to be chosen on the night of her Senior Prom as the next virgin Moloch takes, while all Amos wants to do is moon over a girl he can never have. Despite their differences, the two make a connection and along with some of their friends and some other members of their community, will try and stop the cycle of sacrifice and demon worship that has cursed their suburban paradise for far too many years.
The story is certainly creative, with a town somewhat frozen in time. It is the mid-eighties when it takes place, but without any technological advancements, the town is reliant on horse-drawn carriages, farming, and slave labor from outside the wall Moloch has put up. Muties, or mutants, are brought in by the small army Chatham’s Forge has formed, when they go out into the wastelands. The high school, and the town by extension, has crafted a caste system, where you are assigned a rank once you enter high school. So ‘nice girls’ are allowed to date ‘jocks’ but never ‘nerds’. There are also ‘jesters’, ‘punks’, and ‘sluts’. And instead of a traditional bible-belting preacher spreading the word of God, everyone worships Moloch. The demon protects the town through his human servant, Pastor Justin, who exacts punishment on the faithless and disloyal. The parallels between religious zealots of our day, whose devotion to their god goes as far as to sacrifice and kill for that deity, and these Moloch worshipers, are pretty straight forward.
Told in first person, the story switches between Suzie and Amos through most of the story, with later additions coming from their friends and other townsfolk introduced throughout the book. Some of the timelines are a bit out of whack, especially in the final pages of the tale, but they all come together in the end. The story runs through Suzie and Amos’s senior year and the months that follow their prom up to All Soul’s Day in November.
The story was very creative and extremely fresh. If I have to point out a gripe, it had to do with Amos’s character, who does gain a bit of redemption here and there for being picked on as a nerd, but struck me as an incessant whiner and despite some of his actions, a major wimp. The caste system created by the community exaggerates the stereotypes most of us experience in high school. So despite the fact that Amos doesn’t need glasses to see, he is required to wear prototypical nerd glasses and the predictable nerd attire. The abuse heaped upon him is almost ritualistic and both his fellow students and teachers participate in the fun. The author has done a great job of fleshing out the caste system and having virtually everyone who never experienced the world prior to the Nuclear War that started the reign of Moloch accept their caste almost without question. Still, as much as I can appreciate Suzie’s determination to revolt both in mind and body against being a nice girl and the horrors that Chatham’s Forge has to offer, Amos perpetuates his stereotype and yet still stumbles into almost everything good that happens to him despite his cowardice and incompetence. If they had an ‘emo’ caste, he would be its leader. Still, you can’t help yourself in rooting for him, Suzie, and their friends whose desire is to either escape, or annihilate their little slice of hell on earth.
All Soul’s Day is the first book in The Days of Ascension series by the author, and while we aren’t quite left with a cliffhanger, it comes pretty close. The author has created an intriguing world and it should be interesting to see what is out beyond the borders of Chatham’s Forge.
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!
Darkness Rising is the latest novella from author Brian Moreland, who has written a diverse slate of supernatural horror stories over the course of the past few years. I believe I have read most of his works and my reason for coming back is because his tales are vivid with a healthy dose of gore and grimness that splash across the pages in bright, primary colors.
Darkness Rising starts out as a somewhat traditional revenge tale, or so it seems to lead in that direction initially. Naturally, it takes its fair share of dark turns that lead the reader far astray from its original intent. It is clear that our main character, Marty Weaver, who is a janitor at a local college, is a sensitive soul who has been trodden upon one too many times and is ready to take out his anger on three sadists who catch him reading poetry next to a lonely, quiet part of a local lake while he pines for the woman he loves.
Of course, the author has something else up his sleeve and the story takes several wicked twists and turns. The sadists in the story are real pieces of work, reminding me briefly of the villains in the movie “You’re Next” thanks to their use of animal masks and their lust for pain and anguish that they heap on their victims.
Marty is a likeable character, someone who is easy to root for. While the author pulls no punches when it comes to what he must face (as well as memories of a tragic past that won’t let go), he is provided with the opportunity to release the darkness that resides inside him, as the description of this story alludes to. This leads us to an even darker tale, one where revenge is still wafting through the air, but in ways that even Marty cannot fathom.
All in all, this is an entertaining, quick read, though I had a desire to see certain elements expanded upon-including the ‘dark artist’ aspect of the horror that is revealed to Marty. His backstory is an interesting one, and Moreland has a deft touch when it comes to crafting creatures built out of nightmares. The love story aspect of the tale is perhaps a bit fluffy, for lack of a better term, though not too cloying or maudlin given what horrors the reader and Marty have to come to grips with throughout the rest of this tale. This is a fun, horrific story of revenge and regret by an up and coming author.
Darkness Rising can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Darkness-Rising-Brian-Moreland-ebook/dp/B00Y05TVUG/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8
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
Not so long ago, I had the privilege of submitting a short story to the upcoming third installment in the ongoing series of horror anthologies called At Hell’s Gates. I have reviewed the first two books, At Hell’s Gates: Existing Worlds and At Hell’s Gates: Origins of Evil (both reviews can be found here, on my blog). I had a short story that I felt fit the theme of book three, At Hell’s Gates: Bound By Blood. It’s a devious little short I entitled Little Lost Lamb. Fortunately, it was accepted, and now I have the privilege of being a part of this charity project.
The proceeds from the sales of these books go to The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. You can find out more about this worthy cause over on the At Hell’s Gates website: http://athellsgates.com/our-cause/ and donate directly to the cause. Of course, the hope is that you’ll also buy a few copies of these anthologies. If you are a fan of horror, they are worth checking out, plus you can feel good for contributing to a great cause as you read a series of twisted and disturbing stories. And fear not, after the third volume is released, others will be coming, including future themes Fall of Madness and A History of Violence.
More to come on Volume 3 once it is released-where you can get it, the finalized cover, etc. But for now, I wanted to share with you a really killer book trailer covering the first three installments in this series. I would expound further on how killer it is, but instead, I thought I would just share the link so you can go check it out on youtube without further ado: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r6XbRnX1gvQ&feature=youtu.be
At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two focuses on the theme of ‘Origins of Evil’. The first volume was an anthology that served in many ways as an introduction to the world’s the contributing authors had created in their various novel-length horror series. Many of the stories served as add-ons or addendums to those tales-they were short stories with a very large shadow looming behind them. Volume Two has mainly standalone offerings from each contributor.
While I appreciate stories that add to a bigger world, there is something about the stand alone tale, especially in the horror genre, that makes it compelling. Sometimes the smaller slices of hell are the most dark and make you despair the most. That is why this volume has stepped up its game over the first volume. So many of these stories sucked me in, chewed me up, and spit me back out. Brutal like an assault in a back alley, they leave you dazed and curled up in the fetal position, whimpering and shivering in fear.
If purchasing this anthology was nothing more than an excuse to donate to a worthy cause, I’d have been happy to chip in. The cause is an excellent one: The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. But this anthology is also worth the price of admission because the stories on its pages are worthy of the investment, charity or no charity involved.
Here is a quick synopsis of each tale included in this work.
Pulse by Mark Tufo: A scientist builds a better mousetrap. Well, a better way to kill bugs. Unfortunately, it has an affinity for killing other living beings as well.
Cookies for the Gentleman by C.T. Phillips: A tale madness and desperation that spirals into a very dark, grim place for narrator…a place that threatens to suck the reader in along with him.
By Any Means Necessary by Evin Ager: An army grunt guarding terrorists at a secret military prison discovers the inmates are being used for some very unscrupulous supernatural testing.
History’s End by Frank Tayell: The best intentions to save mankind from itself can have the most drastic, unforeseen consequences.
A Mother’s Nightmare by J. Rudolph: Could you cope with the loss of all you hold dear? What would you do if you were faced with crushing despair that comes with the destruction of all that you love?
Patient 63 by Stevie Kopas: Infection transforms most of the world into subhuman monsters. Humanity fights back, discovering a cure. The question then becomes whether the infection is the villain or humanity itself?
Tyrannical Ascension by Shana Festa: We return to the author’s Time of Death zombie apocalypse series and are introduced to the man who would be king, or at least someone who has designs on such status in a world overrun by the undead.
Ink by James Crawford: The world’s most elite tattoo artist creates his masterpiece on a living canvas. The man blessed with this art is also cursed with an unquenchable desire to find the hidden meaning behind its dark beauty, to the everlasting despair of anyone who crosses his path.
The Man with Four Scars by Stephen Kozeniewski: Assures the reader that the undead have been with us long before Romero introduced them. A caveman discovers a recently crashed meteorite and the strange effects it has on his tribe.
Daddy’s Girl by Ian McClellan: Reiterates the sage advice that it is best not to judge thy neighbor for their sins when you yourself are a sinner…even if your neighbor might be a malevolent supernatural being.
Operation Devil Walk by David Mickolas: That the Nazis sought out supernatural assistance to give them more power to defeat their enemies is well established. Their hatred for Jews is undisputed. The idea of combining those two things is horrific.
The Infected by S.G. Lee: A naïve young doctor falls for the manipulations of an ultra-competitive and ultra-sleazy coworker while working on experimental medical treatments that could extend the viability of organs used in transplants.
Forget Me Never by Sharon Stevenson: Fame is never everlasting. Or is it? Some are willing to kill for it and to even keep killing to maintain it.
Mirage by Sean T. Smith: A twisty, tragic sci-fi tale of giving up and giving in…when your goal is tantalizingly just out of reach…or is that perhaps just a mirage?
The Millstone by Lesa Kinney Anders: We all have our burdens. It’s said that if you save someone’s life, you are responsible for them for them forever. Is the same true if you destroy their life?
Genesis by Kit Power: How far would you be willing to go to show God how cheated you feel when you beg, plead, and pray for intervention, only get ignored time and again?
Lockdown by TM Caldwell: What’s a teacher to do when the dead have risen and are roaming the halls of the school? Especially if you are on lockdown and you have a room full of panicked grade-schoolers to look after?
Collection Night by Curran Geist: How far would you go to protect your wife and child? How dark could the nightmare become before you lost your nerve?
The Cold by Devan Sagliani: Life can suck. Whether by your own doing or if you choose to blame everyone else for your failures, it can always suck just a little bit more…especially if you accidentally dabble with the supernatural.
A Different Cocktail by Claire C. Riley: Sure, I’d be skeptical too about a ritual that promises to bring forth a vampire master, but if you want to get lucky with a goth girl, why not partake in the ‘blood’ you’ve been offered that is supposed to summon him? What’s the worst that could happen?
A Song to Sing in Babylon by Bobbie Metevier & Matthew Baugh: The old world is dying and change is painful…not only for the human race but those who have hidden in the shadows for generations. Humans believe that God is punishing us while the others believe they are being rewarded with a world transformed into something more accommodating. But what if they’re both wrong?
The Gouger by Paul Mannering: Somewhat reminiscent of the Stephen King short story, “The Mangler”, the Gouger is a grinder used to liquefy fish guts and anything else fishermen bring to the Makula Bay Fishing Co-op. It’s also Tommy Malone’s favorite machine. He loves to watch it consume and dreams of it consuming the world.
Overall, horror anthologies tend to be a mixed bag. I tend to rate them on overall experience, though it often takes only one story that leaves me squirming in discomfort to satisfy me. Naturally, not every story resonates with every reader, and for me this anthology was no exception. A few stories just didn’t hit the mark for me. With that said, the majority did, and I’m happy (or perhaps disconcerted?) to say that several left me squirming. So this book is a double whammy: the proceeds are going to a very worthy charity and the book itself is a worthy read.
At Hell’s Gates: Volume Two can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/At-Hells-Gates-Volume-Two/dp/1508448833/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top?ie=UTF8
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
I shared not too long ago that a short story of mine had been sitting in limbo for years. Originally intended for an anthology that was never published, it went through several gyrations with other potential homes and publishers. Long story short, my self-help guide for the Apocalyptically-challenged has arrived and appears in the “Zombies Galore” anthology, just released this week by Knightwatch Press. It appears with several other tales of zombie goodness that are definitely worth checking out for those who craving for the undead is only equaled by the undead’s craving for living flesh. Well, and even those who aren’t quite that hungry. My contribution is a guide book rather than a short story, though it will regale the reader with exciting bits and pieces of stories of survivors who learned how to cope with both the flesheaters and warmbloods who tend to make themselves pests during the end days. So go on an check it out. I have posted two cover images below, because there are separate links for the kindle and paperback versions of this book. Just click on one or the other and it will shoot you over to Amazon where you can acquire this wondrous tome of zombie gory-goodness and guidance through the treacherous parts of the undead apocalypse. And here is a list of the contributors so you can see what you are in for:
- “Monday Matinee Madness” by H.G. Bleackley
- “Cinnamon Road” by A.A. Garrison
- “Son of Anubis” by Christian A. Larsen
- “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Zombie Slayers” by Patrick D’Orazio
- “Pascal’s Wager” by David Johnson
- “Birthday Boy” by T. Fox Dunham
- “The Palace of Dead Rock Stars” by Theresa Derwin
- “Road Whore” by Timothy Frasier
- “Fire Team” by Al Halsey
- “The Dripping Nose That Wouldn’t Wipe” by James S. Dorr
- “The Last Line of Defence” by J.S. Lawhead
- “So They Ain’t Yankees” by Melanie Browne
- “Life Sentience” by Kaye Inglis
- “The Chicken in Black” by Nathan Robinson
- “Zombie: Death Day” by Johnny Andrews
- “Hungry” by Nicci Murphy
So give it a try. I think you’ll come back for seconds.
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
Several years ago a good friend of mine over at the now defunct Library of the Living Dead Press was looking to create survival guide that would be chock full of semi-serious and totally comedic advice on surviving the zombie apocalypse. I decided that it would be my responsibility to create a guide that would be the end all of self-help zombie slaying manuals. So in plagaristic fashion, I decided to swipe from one of the best known self-help guides available to create my very own “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Zombie Slayers” replete with cited examples of said successful zombie slayers personal tales of victory over the undead. This wasn’t so much a short story as a down and dirty guide to not only zombie slaughter, but how to live high on the hog during the apocalypse.
Unfortunately, the tome that this wondrous guide was supposed to be a part of never was published and as such my guide book sat dormant for several years. Then some other good friends of mine who had published “Zombies Gone Wild” (which one of my shorts of a more comical sort appeared in entitled “What’s Eating You?” about zombies with eating disorders) wanted to create a follow up to that delightful little anthology. Unfortunately, that particular antho was shelved as well, leading me to believe that fate, or some giant zombie loving super being was doing their super mightiest to prevent my guide from ever seeing the light of day.
But fear not! “Zombies Gone Wild, Part 2” has been transformed into “Zombies Galore” and is being published by Nightwatch Press. In fact, it is getting a big unveiling on August 30th. Now I can’t attend this unveiling, but rest assured that I will be sharing more information on where you can find this delightful book that will be filled with my helpful guide as well as many other exciting tales of zombie gore and glamour. So stay tuned. But for now, check out this announcement to whet your appetite: http://exlibrislarsen.com/2014/08/20/zombies-galore-anthology-launch-set-for-august-30-in-walsall/
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
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
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