Writer of Horror Fiction

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Review of Mark Tufo’s “Zombie Fallout”

It has taken me far too long to read the first Zombie Fallout book by Mark Tufo.  Tufo is one of the most prolific zombie writers out there, with nine books in this series plus spinoffs including a series of werewolf stories that take place many years after the zompoc.  Naturally, I’ve heard of Tufo for years.  This particular novel has nearly 1800 reviews on Amazon, which is a staggering number considering it was self-published.

This book has some similar characteristics to other notable books in this genre.  It is in a journal format, though the author strays from sticking with the main character’s perspective for certain portions of the book.  While this isn’t a major issue, it does point out the flaw in this type of storytelling-things the main character doesn’t know must be shared by other characters or in third person and it feels like a bit of a disruption when another voice jumps into for a chapter or two.

The prologue makes it clear the zombie apocalypse is about to get into full swing when a vaccination for a new strain of flu ends up bringing the dead back to life.  From there we switch over to narrator Mike Talbot, ex-Marine and family man, while he is getting ready to take a shower in his house.  This is interrupted when zombies show up on his front lawn and his family starts to freak out.  Mike is sort of a prepper/gun nut who has been fascinated by the idea of zombies for a long time, but it’s clear he isn’t prepared for the sudden all-out assault taking place on his neighborhood and threatening his family’s existence.

Things move pretty fast from the get go, with rescue trips to save family members and friends while Mike and his neighbors work to barricade the walled-in neighborhood from impending doom.  The story is, in many ways, pretty routine zompoc stuff, though the author throws a few curve balls into the mix.  This includes the idea that these zombies perhaps aren’t undead, but infected and still with a spark of life, and more importantly, perhaps a spark of intelligence.  There is also a hint of the supernatural, including a bit of prognostication and mental telepathy thrown in to give things a bit of mystery.

Overall, I can see why this series has been so popular.  Tufo uses snarky humor and heavily descriptive verse to describe the gore, the smells, and the overall madness engulfing his character’s life.  Despite some of the more odd things about Mike, he is, for the most part, just a family man trying his best to protect his loved ones in a time of ultimate danger-something very relatable.

That isn’t to say that I didn’t have some issues with the story or how it’s told.  Many of my complaints have been pointed in other reviews.  Though the story is fun and I’m intrigued as to how some of the more unique elements the author introduced here will be expanded upon in future volumes, I felt that many characters outside of Mike are somewhat one-dimensional.  This is in part due to the fact that a diary format is somewhat limited in stepping away from the single perspective it showcases.

Women in particular are given short shrift in this book.  Mike’s wife is somewhat of a stereotypical shrew who naturally is the only person on the planet he is afraid of, yet at the same time she appears to be helpless and lacking in common sense.  Despite having lived with a prepper for many years, she has no idea how to even load a weapon.  Neither does Mike’s daughter, for that matter, who, like her mama, has a mean temper and a stubborn streak a mile long.  Another woman who agrees to go a supply run outside the safety of the walls of Mike’s neighborhood does nothing more than cower in the truck while everyone else takes care of business.  All I could remember about the wife of Mike’s best friend was that she was a lousy shot-there is little else shared about her.

Mike is a funny character and his internal monologues and flashbacks are sometimes very amusing as he tries to make light of a desperate situation.  At other times his perspective is best described as a bit…off.  Comparing the horror of possibly being forced to shoot a loved one who has been attacked by a zombie to the more meager fear of speaking in public for the first seemed somewhat dismissive.  The obsession Mike has with his Jeep Wrangler and not using this durable off-road vehicle during the zombie apocalypse because it might get scratched plus having his family be fearful of his wrath if they use it even under desperate circumstances seemed a bit lacking in focus.  Mike would do anything for his family, and that comes across on almost every page, but there are occasional lapses in perspective like those above that seem a bit disjointed given the situation.

Despite the criticism I have, the book is fun and certainly does a good job of paving the way for future installments.  Without leaving things on a cliffhanger note, there is enough mystery hinted at to keep a reader guessing and wanting to know what is next-in particular related to the supernatural elements of this tale.

Zombie Fallout can be found here:      https://www.amazon.com/Zombie-Fallout-Mark-Tufo-ebook/dp/B003A022YO/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1473094523&sr=8-1


Review of Holiday of the Dead

Holiday of the Dead is a rather sizable volume of zombie short stories that mostly stick to the theme of being on holiday, though a few seemed to stretch that concept a bit.  For us Yanks, a holiday means a day of festivities, while with the Brits it is what we call a vacation.  There is a pretty healthy mix of both types of tales to be found here.  It isn’t just a mix, but a mixed bag, with a few stories forgotten as soon as I finished them.  Fortunately, quite a few others were memorable and demonstrated the author’s ability to have some fun with the theme and with zombie fiction in general.  When you have a book filled with nearly forty short stories, things are going pretty well when you come away feeling that at least thirty were worth the price of admission.

Often I try to provide a mini-review of each story in an anthology, but not with a tome this size.  There are far too many to recount in detail.  Suffice it to say, you will get an assortment of traditional and inspired here.  There are some very recognizable names in the table of contents, well know writers of zombie and horror fiction, including Iain Mckinnon, Eric Dimbleby, Tonia Brown, David Dunwoody, Eric Brown, William Meikle, Joe McKinney, and Wayne Simmons.  A couple of special guests, John Russo and Tony Burgess, add tales of their own at the end of the book.

Perhaps Holiday of the Dead could have been pared down a bit, but overall it was an entertaining read with only a few minor speed bumps.  The most inventive tales should more than make up for any issues you may have with the handful that don’t resonate.  Stories like Change Is As Good As Rest, Naked Fear, Daddy Dearest, Home Is The Sailor, Home From The Sea, Burj, The Day The Music Died, Where Moth And Rust Destroy, and Crossover kept things popping, though quite a few others were just as fun to dive into.

Solidly entertaining zombie shorts with a few misfires, but more than enough undead goodness between its pages.

Holiday of the Dead can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Holiday-Dead-John-Russo-ebook/dp/B004XJ7HZK/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=#navbar


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 Tonia Brown’s “Badass Zombie Road Trip”

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


Review of Martin Berman-Gorvine’s “All Souls Day”

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.

All Soul’s Day can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/All-Souls-Days-Ascension-Book-ebook/dp/B018F3CGWS/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1451876254&sr=1-4&keywords=all+souls+day


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 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