Review of Martin Berman-Gorvine’s “Day of Vengeance (Days of Ascension Book 2)
We return to the world of Chatham’s Forge in the second book of The Day of Ascension series, Day of Vengeance, where Amos, Suzie, and Vicky appear to be the only survivors of their efforts to annihilate Moloch and free the town from the demon’s influence. They soon discover this isn’t quite the case, although many of those who apparently came away unscathed physically have suffered in other, much more terrible ways. Others who weren’t living in the town, including the ‘muties’, have also survived, and are ready to exact revenge against those who made them suffer under the rule of Moloch.
Our trio of main characters discover a bigger and even more dangerous world than the one where they lived behind the walled protection of Moloch, with hints of other beings of great supernatural power roaming the world and one in particular which is hungry to fill the vacuum of power left by the departure of the patron demon of Chatham’s Forge.
Overall, the characters have grown and gotten tougher as well as more mature-at least this is the case with Amos, though Suzie has seemingly inherited some of his whininess from the first book. Vicky takes an interesting and far different path, and we are introduced to several new characters, both good and evil, whose personal sagas add to the overall flavor of this tale.
There are plenty of new developments and again the world has grown much bigger, though the story continues to focus mainly on Chatham’s Forge and the surrounding woodlands. There are indications that other demons, like Moloch, have sheltered other towns in the region and forced the members of those communities to follow their evil rituals to remain alive. The demon world becomes less hidden as well, with the introduction of a new and compelling potential replacement for Moloch. The author has set the table for an intriguing third act.
Overall, a solid second addition to this series. While the main characters depth have expanded, I felt that Vicky, in particular, seemed a bit too easily manipulated and Suzie a bit scattered with her jealousies, but those are more or less minor quibbles. Amos has grown-still immersed in self-doubt but stronger and more determined to be the hero people are starting to expect him to be. The writing is crisp and the story is quite unique. I was ready to gripe about women not having Adam’s Apples because the author refers to a woman with one here, but then I discovered they do, just not as prominent as the ones men have. One other minor distraction (yes, being nitpicky) is when an older character reflects back on when they got to cruise around town in their Mustang before the world went kerplooie, which wouldn’t be possible since the first Mustangs came out in 1964 and the old world ended in nuclear fire in 1962. Still, a minor distraction only.
I’m very interested to see what happens in the third installment in the series (trilogy?) and look forward to diving into it. This is the most sincere form of flattery there is for the second book in a series that I can think of.
Day of Vengeance (The Days of Ascension Book 2) can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/Day-Vengeance-Days-Ascension-Book-ebook/dp/B0756S656T/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1527865747&sr=8-2
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
Donations for the horror film “Scythe” end tomorrow morning!
Nearly a month ago, I posted the information below. While some of the details (like the promotional incentives that were running at that time) are not the same, the fact that Jim and his team are looking for a last minute run to give them a chance to make their horror film remains the same. So check out the 15 minute teaser movie he made and give a few bucks if you can. If it doesn’t hit the goal, you are out nothing, but if it does, you get to say you played a small part in helping a movie maker’s dream come true!
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?
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 David Dunwoody’s “The Three Egos”
The Three Egos starts out by introducing the reader to ‘Talent’, a man who has avoided his past entanglements with the Devil for centuries, but slips up at the wrong time and is thrust into hell to meet the Fallen Angel he made a deal with centuries earlier. While he is punished and tortured beyond death many times on his way to meet God’s former favorite, nothing is permanent in hell and so Satan has a proposition for him. If he and one of the other ‘Egos’, Chith, find the third Ego, the two of them can negotiate new deals with the Devil.
Dunwoody assembles a diverse cast of characters, including a werewolf named Lace, Sue, a woman who has been cursed to be the last of the Escariot family line (and the Devil’s unwanted amorous attention), an array of angels, both fallen and those still loyal to an absentee God, plus Hell’s Chief Inspector, Hallows, who gets to play chaperone to this mixed up band of anti-heroes in their journey to find Sephus, the third Ego. It is a journey that will take them from hell to purgatory, to the outer reaches of creation, and on to heaven itself.
This story is packed with the surreal and fantastic, the strange and the compelling, with characters that range from purely evil to blessed, though it is hard to tell which is which at any given moment. David Dunwoody has provided the reader something unexpected here, with a touch of the epic (flavorful hints of Dante’s Divine Comedy abound), though the characters are believable and approachable, with human frailties and foibles. He’s rolling the dice that readers will make the leap of faith with him on a journey some will see as profane, especially with God being more or less AWOL as a Supreme Being that is perhaps not so supreme after all. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, The Three Egos is a wild ride well worth taking.
For the most part, the pacing is fast-so fast that the reader may need to stop and re-read a few passages here and there to keep pace and not miss a key detail. It does slow a bit more than I would have preferred during the second act but that only serves to be a respite before moving on to the tale’s shocking and somewhat abrupt conclusion. My guess is your mileage may vary on how things wrap up with this saga, but that is perhaps another reason to appreciate what the author has attempted. Some questions the story generates are answered, while others that encompass far greater matters remain to be pondered after the final words are read.
The Three Egos can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/3-Egos-David-Dunwoody-ebook/dp/B010J0VSTW/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1457301977&sr=8-1&keywords=the+three+egos
Review of 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 Brian Moreland’s “Darkness Rising”
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
Review of Vincenzo Bilof’s “Saint Pain”
Saint Pain wraps up the Zombie Ascension trilogy by Vincenzo Bilof. The saga is complete, though some of the story threads remain loose, or a bit frayed, by the end of the tale. Digesting it still, I’m not sure if that left me frustrated or content with how the author chose to close things out. Doors are potentially left open for more, though whether they should be shut for good or not is debatable.
The book starts a full year past where Queen of The Dead left off. Vega and Vincent are set up in a neighborhood with an old cop who doesn’t trust the ex-drug dealer. There are quite a few people with them, including Father Joe and an ex-pro football player named Bill. There are rumors of Vincent’s guns still hidden somewhere in the city (though he is not sharing any info) and stories of others in Detroit trading women and children for food and other supplies. While the living have been active, the undead seem to have become lethargic. Still, the harsh existence everyone faces has them questioning whether or not it is worth continuing to fight to survive. In the meantime, Jim Traverse has returned to Detroit, apparently to finish the annihilation of the human race that he started a year before.
When the undead rise back up due to some sort of unknown force driving them to kill once again, everything is stirred up and those that are alive are forced to choose whether to fight or give up. Vega wants another shot at Traverse while Vincent seems to be unsure of whether or not he wants to let go or to continue battling with Vega at his side. Only Bill, the football player, seems willing to fight to the bitter end and save whoever he can, regardless of the consequences. The reason why he is compelled to do so was one of the more poignant elements of this book, once revealed.
With all its supernatural elements and almost surreal quality to this story, where the author brings things home is when the humanity of his characters is revealed and/or demolished. The madness of some, the despair of others, and the resignation of those who know they are about to die but are still willing to fight…plus those who have already died and yet still fight on for some sort of redemption. These components to the story drew me in and kept me intrigued. The supernatural components of this story gives it a unique kink that will entertain those who crave something beyond the traditional zombie tale. There are layers of manipulation and control…by both the living and the dead…over the undead and those who have power over them. It is a twisty pretzel the author has created here and I am not ashamed to admit I was a bit confused in a few spots as to who was manipulating who.
With its heavy dose of introspection, this book did have a few parts that dragged a bit. Vega and Jim Traverse have always been interesting characters to me, with Vincent less so. His melancholia didn’t keep me intrigued every step of the way. I did enjoy the introduction of Bill, who seems like a character who you could root for despite his flaws. He seems the only person capable of holding on to some semblance of hope even when that seems pointless.
Saint Pain is a fitting ending to Vincenzo Bilof’s unique zombie trilogy. Though some of the characters are frustrating and despicable at turns, they were vividly drawn and draw you into their story, despite how dark, dank, and depressing it all becomes.
Saint Pain can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Saint-Pain-Zombie-Ascension-Book-ebook/dp/B00WS2LAFC/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1437239968
Review of David Jacob Knight’s “The Phone Company”
The Tether. The name drums up an image of something that holds you in place, latches on to you, and links you to others that are also connected in a similar fashion. The Tether in The Phone Company is the name of the latest mobile device being offered by the eponymous organization to their customers. PCo, for short, didn’t make the Tether, but they have taken full advantage of its endless capabilities as a device to connect everyone to each other. Just sign up, get connected, and work to become one of the Top 12 of the PCo family. Its aps are remarkable, giving its customers almost magic-like abilities to peak into the world of their neighbors, to control machinery, and to retrieve virtually any information instantaneously.
PCo has set up shop in Cracked Rock, Montana, building a data center on the cemetery where the town founders have been buried. While there are protests about what they have done, most of the citizens are too excited about the free phones being offered to students and other members of the community to have a problem with it. Cracked Rock is a town that is hurting. Several years earlier a boy went on a shooting spree at the local middle school, tearing the town apart. While this was happening, Steve, one of the teachers in the high school, avoided his kids being victims because they were facing another nightmare at the local hospital: the death of Janice, his wife, due to lung cancer.
Steve and Bill, his best friend and a deputy sheriff in town, are about the only two members of the community not thrilled with the new Tethers and the increased presence of PCo. Both are given free Tethers as public servants, but Steve would rather stick with his old phone that both he and his wife used years before and Bill isn’t interested in agreeing to the background check the Tether requires to grant him access to all the neat law enforcement tools it has to offer.
It doesn’t take long for this thriller to migrate to more of a supernatural horror, with strange events occurring all around town. It seems that everyone is discovering unique aps on their phones, like JJ, Steve’s son, who discovers he can inhabit the bodies of soldiers and rebels doing battle in a variety of wars across the globe. Sarah, Steve’s daughter, realizes she has a popularity ap that not only gauges her popularity against the other girls in her high school, it also provides guidance on what she can do to claw her way to the top of the list.
If you have read the author’s previous work, The Pen Name, it becomes clear very quickly that both these tales inhabit the same eerie world. The mysterious publishing company from the first book pays a brief visit here, and the main character from that tale had been laid off from the phone company prior to being sucked into his own mystery. The author’s prior work seemed a bit more subtle as the world around the main character unraveled in bits and pieces. In Cracked Rock, things seem to tumble down the rabbit hole in a more abrupt fashion, though everyone seems fairly happy with the results. The mysterious Provider, who is behind the all-consuming need to be connected, is spoken about with a reverence bordering on religiously zealotry by the faithful.
This story, like its predecessor, has flavors of Lovecraft mixed in with King and begins as a thriller that migrates more into the realm of supernatural horror before the story is complete. The writing is solid though Steve, the main character, doesn’t feel as strongly developed as Ben was in The Pen Name. Perhaps because it felt like Steve didn’t seem to sense what was going wrong all too quickly in the pages of the story. He seems to be more of a passive reactionary to a great deal of what is happening, at least until everything has gone off the rails entirely. He is unhappy, discontented, but slow to engage with Graham, the ever present PCo representative, and all too willing to hope for the best.
Overall, The Phone Company is still a very intriguing story. It pokes and prods at how worthwhile it is to live in a world where we are hyper-connected to one another, where there is an ap for everything and our lives are on display for everyone via social media. We bemoan our loss of privacy and yet cannot look away, or stop contributing to the deluge of information shared with one another. The book takes that in a supernatural direction, turning the need for connection into a religious fervor that devours everyone who submits.
The Phone Company can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Phone-Company-David-Jacob-Knight/dp/1503361993/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1420306490&sr=8-1
Review of “At Hell’s Gates, Volume 1”
At Hell’s Gates is the initial horror volume in a series anthologies produced with the proceeds going to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The overall theme of this series is general horror, but this volume leans heavily on zombie apocalypse related tales from authors with books already out on that subject matter. The stories told here are tied in with their other works, giving a short story that sometimes lies at the periphery of the world they have created or serves as an new slant on characters a reader of those works is already familiar with.
Overall, the work here is solid and the writing entertaining. This book serves more as a sampler platter of various author’s works rather than standalone tales except in a few cases, although little is lost in translation if you hadn’t read any of the books from the author’s bibliography. For example, I have read Stephen Kozeniewski’s work, The Ghoul Archipelago and his short here is based on the world we see in that novel, but I have not read anything from Stevie Kopas, but her tale of murder and insanity stands on its own quite well, though it is a part of a bigger world the author has created in her novels. The only criticism I have of the layout of this work, at least in the e-version, is that the introduction of the authors comes after the stories, when the ‘teaser’ description of the story and how it relates to their greater works should have come prior to each tale. A minor quibble, but one worth mentioning.
Anthologies are always a mixed bag, and some stories grab you more than others. That is inevitable with such a wide assortment of writing styles, authors, and story types, and such was the case here. I didn’t dislike any of the stories, but a few stood out and will remain with me for quite some time. The aforementioned author’s tales fall into that group, as well as stories by Paul Mannering, Tim Marquiz, Frank Tayell, and Jacqueline Druga. Their stories made the leap from the page into my imagine more so than any of the others. Of course, anyone who enjoys a good zompoc tale will likely find a good primer for a larger series of books by various authors to check out-with traditional slow moving zombies as well as infected and fast moving, talking zombies being found within these pages. And while some of these stories weren’t as compelling as standalones, they did intrigue me enough to perhaps take a closer look at the bigger stories being told.
With future volumes having specific themes, it is more than likely that the stories will be standalone tales of horror rather than shorts tied into a larger saga as was the case here. This is a solid start to a promising anthology series with the proceeds going to a very worthy cause.
At Hell’s Gates can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/At-Hells-Gates-Volume-One/dp/150254539X/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top
Review of Craig Jones’ “Son of Blood (The Secret of Skerries)”
Son of Blood (The Secret of Skerries) introduces the reader to Martin and his son, who live off the coast of Ireland on a small island with an ancient castle. The island sits across from the quaint town of Skerries, where the local town folk know of the man and his teenage son, as well as their secret. Martin has committed himself as protector over the town and is friends with the town’s mayor, who has gained power and wealth due to Martin’s steadfast loyalty and unique talents of keeping undesirables out.
Martin is a vampire. His son is one too, although he has not fed on the living, and Martin hopes that Christian will never do so. More than anything, Martin wants to protect his son and has kept him from interacting with the townspeople throughout his life, but much like his father, Christian has fallen for a pretty girl from the town and wants to be more than just the mysterious freak who lives on the island across the way. The fact that the girl he is interested in is the mayor’s daughter who has friends who despise Christian and his father poses a serious threat him and his father’s peaceful relationship with the town.
Son of Blood could be deemed a young adult paranormal romance with a healthy horror twist to it. I’ve read some of the author’s other works and he doesn’t shy away from the gore, giving his vamps not only a desire for blood, but flesh as well. These vamps are far more traditional bloodsuckers than what we have seen as of late in this genre, and Martin, for all his love for his son and desire to shelter him away from the curse that has taken him is truly a monster and a remorseless killer. He claims to feed on only those who would not be missed, like the destitute and homeless, as if he is doing society a favor by eradicating them, but mixed in with those unfortunates are others who have loved ones who acutely feel their loss.
Martin and Christian’s relationship is by its very nature, strained, but despite the fact that Martin knows he is cursed by his affliction, his only real desire is to do everything he can to make sure Christian does not suffer that same fate. Of course, that means keeping his away from those who his son might be tempted to feed upon. Naturally, since Christian has grown into a teenager who has been kept isolated all his life, he is compelled to make connections with others his own age, and in particular with Sinead, the mayor’s daughter, who is as intrigued with him as he is with her.
The story moves at a brisk pace and is an easy read. The main characters-Martin, Christian, and Sinead, are fairly well developed. Unfortunately, some of the other minor characters are not as fleshed out. Owen, the bullying friend of Sinead who despises Christian and thinks of him as a freak, is more or less a stereotype of most teen bullies we’ve seen in other tales, though the forces spurring him to hurt Christian offer up a bit of a twist.
Overall, this is an entertaining tale geared toward an audience who long for vampires with a bit more traditional heft and bite to them than what has been unleashed on the world over the past few years in the young adult genre. While a teen romance drives this story, it is a far darker tale than we’ve seen and more than likely will grow darker still with future volumes.
Son of Blood (The Secret of Skerries) can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Son-Blood-Secrets-Skerries-Book-ebook/dp/B00MWCPE82/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=1-3&qid=1412733720
Review of Joseph Souza’s “Darpocalypse”
Darpocalypse, the second book in The Living Dead Series by Joseph Souza, jumps ahead from the prior book in time and introduces us to mostly brand new characters who did not appear in the prior novel. Dar, the suicidal teenager, is the only one who remains. She has become the merciless leader of the Boston Commons compound where a group of survivors live thanks to her quick thinking in urging a city engineer to fence the area in before the surge of undead swept over the city. Gritz, a Delta Force colonel, is the lone survivor in a failed mission to stop a nuclear power plant from going critical as the undead overwhelmed the area. He has been put on a new mission by the President to get to Boston to find the “ghost” that is in the compound and bring them back to Washington DC to save the city from annihilation. Annabelle is a washed up rock star performing for Dar on stage in Boston to entertain the survivors, and also goes out into the dead city to gather supplies because she is immune to the infection and more importantly, is a ghost who can walk among them. Mike Brabas is a man on death row waiting to be executed until the dead rise, and then accidentally discovers that he too is a ghost. Now his delusions of grandeur and terroristic tendencies have him pointed toward Washington D.C. with every intention of creating a new world order with him as its leader.
Darpocalypse is a total shift from the first book in this series. It moves from first person to third and many of the things that happened and were significant elements of the first book have been pushed aside. No longer do any infected animals appear here, although the infected humans still go through a transformation where they appear to have transcended into some sort of state of grace momentarily, speaking about the chosen or regrets they had in life, before transforming yet again into the ravenous monsters that zombie fans know and love. The nuclear fallout pushing south from Maine appears to have had no impact on Boston either. Dar still has visions of heading west to find her father and the first scroll-the journal her uncle wrote that might have the scientific information to save everyone who remains, though that is secondary to her efforts to rule what remains of Boston with an iron fist. Thom, her father and narrator from the first book, has supposedly set up camp out in Washington State with a ghost of his own, though he is not a part of this book at all.
There were few redeemable characters in the first book except for some secondary ones. This book also provides us with its share of the despicable, but mixed among them are far more likable people, which made it easier for me to root for someone. In the first book, I found that very hard to do. Annabelle, the former drug addled and suicidal ghost of Boston has found life in this deadly world, with her new found talent that allows her to hunt for supplies and be Dar’s right hand helping the people of Boston. She cares for everyone and wants nothing more than to insure the survival of the camp. Colonel Gritz is a bit too much of a super soldier-the perfect human weapon-but he is also someone who wants to do what he can to insure both the survival of the human race and save his country from the brink of annihilation. Of course, Brabas is a despicable sociopath through and through, but the one character who I truly despised in this story was Dar. I loathed her in the first book and didn’t think it possible increase my aversion to her any further, but the author somehow managed to turn up her loathsomeness to an eleven. To be fair, as I mentioned in my review of the first novel, there is nothing wrong with despicable characters. This is no indictment to either what the author has written or the story itself. Admittedly, Dar in her cruel and disturbing way, is doing what she believes necessary to keep the people she is responsible for safe. But in doing so, she is far closer in personality to most villains that live in tales of apocalyptic despair than any sort of hero. She throws anyone who defies her into a pit filled with zombies to fight for their lives, along with anyone who enters her stronghold-they must all prove they can survive against the undead. She picks and chooses who lives, and cows anyone who even looks at her cross-eyed into complete and utter submission. Slivers of humanity sneak through on occasion-with her young son and when she reveals her desire to keep the whole of her community safe, but that only assures the reader that she is not some sort of demon, but still a human being. A vile, hate-filled, wretched human being who is willing to sacrifice anyone who will stand in her way, which she believes is the only way to keep others safe. Add to this the inexplicable fact that everyone, and I do mean everyone, bows down before her in a state of awe and fear when she is clearly some sort of megalomaniac who should be put down like a rabid dog makes her an even more disconcerting character.
Darpocalypse is a solidly told story that veers closer to the traditional zompoc tale than its predecessor, though it retains a few select supernatural elements that insure it stands apart from the rest. Yes, the author has created perhaps one of the most despicable heroes in any zompoc book I have ever read, but he has wrapped an intriguing story around her that compels me to pick up the third book to see how this wild, intriguing saga concludes. And if I wish for Dar’s ugly, brutal demise the entire time I am reading it, so be it.
Darpocalypse can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Darpocalypse-The-Living-Dead-Volume/dp/1618680838/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
Review of Jonathan Moon’s “Hollow Mountain Dead”
Hollow Mountain Dead is not Jonathan Moon’s first foray into the cross-genre mix of western and undead fiction, though I believe it is his first full-fledged novel on the subject. He had a book filled with varied short stories along with a novella that took place in the old west that was a rollicking good horror story, but I can’t quite recall what the name of that book was, though I am certain I reviewed it somewhere back in the mists of time.
Mr. Moon has created quite a few different horror tales as well as dipping into bizzarro and other speculative genres. This story, along with his past story that takes place in the mythical American old west, have a taste of harsh reality to them. The darkness isn’t just within the monsters that pour forth from the gaping hole in the side of a mountain, it is embedded in most of the characters we are exposed to-even in the ones who do their best to become heroic when hell comes for a visit. Only a select few seem redeemable here, though it is clear that most are as human as their harsh environment allows them to be.
A greedy, powerful mining magnate has cracked open a mountain with his crew of toughs and army of Chinese immigrant workers who are treated like slaves. When he digs too deep, an old Indian warns him to stop and turn back, but greed casts a powerful spell on him and that is when, literally, all hell breaks loose. A seeping gas bellowing out from seams within the earth turn those who are exposed to it into flesh eating monsters. But this is not the only menace, because there is something further beneath the earth that is reaching out to those on the mountain, corrupting and luring them into evil.
The undead spread, wiping out a homestead and heading toward one of the two towns that sit on the mountainside while the few who managed to escape wave after wave of undead flee the mining camp. Members of the Madoosk tribe have been tasked with stopping the evil have been preparing for it for ages and are ready for it, but they never expected hundreds of miners would get infected or that the plague with spread so fast.
The story moves at a fast pace and there are a multitude of characters. While there are some flashbacks, much of the story is told with the urgency of present tense. The undead are somewhat traditional in their tactics and how they spread, though the supernatural bent here brings some new elements to the table, including new ways to kill the undead that the Madoosk reveal.
As I mentioned, there are a great many characters on display, though that narrows to the select few who are tasked with defeating the undead after the first few waves of carnage pass. There is plenty of gore for those who love that aspect of the zombie genre. The feel of the old west is palpable on each page. Many characters die, both throwaway and those more central to the plot, most in very brutal ways. Again, there probably only a select few characters that most people will like or identify with because of who they were prior to the undead invasion, though a small few will grow on you. Historically, Mr. Moon has been pretty relentless with his horror fiction, with no apologies for the slaughter and sprays of blood and gristle that oozes and spills forth from his pages. This book is no exception to that rule. Not that there is anything wrong with that.
In the end, a door is left open for more Hollow Mountain Dead with the ending of this tale. This book was brutal, relentless, and vicious, and I am looking forward to checking out what comes next.
Hollow Mountain Dead can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Hollow-Mountain-Dead-Jonathan-Moon-ebook/dp/B00LLPU8YG/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1407427523
Review of Patrick Rutigliano’s “Surviving The Crash”
Surviving the Crash is a series of three novellas set in an alternate universe where the stock market crash of 1929 adds the additional horrific feature of the world also crashing into darkness. Strange, alien creatures out of nightmare have come to earth and rule the night, devouring those who are foolish or unfortunate enough to be caught out after the sun goes down. Hiding in the bowels of the buildings that have survived the destruction of these monsters isn’t enough to keep them at bay-they hunt by night and set traps to lure the living into darkness by day.
George is a man ready to end it all. He’s barely hanging on, and about to jump off the ledge of a building he wanders into when he meets up with Francis. Tough and defying all feminine stereotypes, Francis is a woman who is called upon by the local mobsters, who now rule New York City, when they need a dirty job done. Francis calls George’s bluff on killing himself and gives him a place to crash while he sorts himself out. George, who is a World War I vet, knows how to handle himself but he’s never met anyone quite like Francis. And when she is called upon by the biggest crime boss in town to do another job, George decides to partner up with her. Their assigned task is to begin the process of killing the monsters that rule the city with a little help from some of the mobster’s goons. It’s an impossible job-a suicide mission-but is right up Francis’s alley. Especially since she has no reason to trust the man she’s working for and suspects he has reasons beyond the desire to protect the city and those who still live in it.
Surviving the Crash is essentially one novel broken into three distinct, chronological chapters. Francis is the tough as nails heroine-tougher than any of her male counterparts by far, which could have come off as contrived if it weren’t for the fact that the author does such a good job of making her a both believable and thoroughly likable badass character. She is human and shows occasional vulnerability that George can see, though no one else does. He is her confidant. To everyone else, including the creatures which hunt and terrorize the human race, she is something to be feared.
Each tale takes things up a notch, transforming this story from becoming a run of the mill apocalyptic tale with some unique monsters to fear to something far more exciting and suspenseful. There is a bigger picture, and Francis and George will find out what part they play in the last stand humanity may ever make. The author does a good job of developing his characters, allowing Francis and George to grow and change thanks in part to their relationship and their interactions with the people and creatures of the dark world in which they live. I believe the author could have crafted multiple tales that somewhat mirrored the first novella-a series of serialized adventure tales-giving us more of the same. That might have been fun. Instead, he chose to increase the tension and the profound significance of Francis’s journey, which culminates in a very dark and enjoyable ride straight into the depths of hell.
Surviving the Crash is both an entertaining adventure tale and a chilling horror saga. I loved the characters and feared for them. The world they live in is dark, dank place filled with plenty of reasons to give up hope and despair. But with a heroine like Francis on our side, it seems clear that there is always reason to hope.
Surviving The Crash can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Surviving-Crash-Patrick-Rutigliano-ebook/dp/B00KWPO5CC/ref=la_B006WSAVUS_1_13?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403213430&sr=1-13
Review of Brian Moreland’s “The Vagrants”
The Vagrants is the latest work from Brian Moreland, an author who I have come to rely on to create tales of creeping horror and gore that also has intelligence about them. His work is well researched for a taste of authenticity and despite the supernatural phenomena that occurs on the pages, there is a sense of believability to his characters. The Vagrants has a similar flavor to it and the author has once again chosen to introduce us to a new geographical environment-this time the urban sprawl of Boston, where the crosshairs are on the homeless.
Daniel Finley is a journalist who has decided to spend several months living amongst the homeless population of the city, behaving as one of them to see what it is really like and to craft a novel that will expose the hidden plight they suffer through. At first, his experiences are normal, as far as being homeless goes-he lives under an overpass among a group of people with a variety of tragic tales-some of which are junkies and dangerous, though most are simply down on their luck people who still have hope that they can turn things around. But then a traveling self-proclaimed ‘prophet’ comes to the underpass with his zombie-like followers and starts converting the homeless to his cause. He speaks of the end of days and the destruction of those who do not serve his dark gods. Daniel is almost pulled into the hypnotic tribe of his followers but manages to escape Mordecai’s clutches.
The novel he writes is a success but it seems that everything Daniel looks as he resumes his normal life off the streets, he sees Mordecai’s followers, calling for him to join them. That, along with the disappearance of a professor who is as intrigued by the homeless as Daniel and several other strange events occurring in his life lead to a confrontation with Mordecai, with gruesome results.
This is a shorter work than the rest of the tales the author has produced (except for a short story that introduced The Witching House) and perhaps that was why I was left wishing for something more. The supernatural element here is creepy, as the author tends to do extremely well, though it is a bit more clipped and mysterious-there is little in the way of a the ‘big reveal’ we’ve been treated to in the past. Still, the story has the same dark, gritty, razors edge flavor that Mr. Moreland’s larger works have, and leaves room for a more detailed tale down the road. For fans of his work, it will entertain like all the rest.
The Vagrants can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Vagrants-Brian-Moreland-ebook/dp/B00K1WUCIC/ref=la_B002BM3020_1_5?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1403149249&sr=1-5
Review of Rebecca Besser’s “Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death”
Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death is a compendium of grim short stories, each with their own interpretation of the title of this work. No one is safe here, with a rogue’s gallery of villains that range from the tragic to the demonic that all lust for blood, flesh, and the demise of all who cross their paths.
I read the paperback version of the book, which note that there are 4 bonus tales vs. the electronic version. I will provide a brief synopsis of each tale without providing any spoilers.
Deadly Mistakes tells the tragic tale of a man out for revenge after a clerical error at a law office that lets a murdering monster free to slaughter his wife.
Turn of Events turns the tables on the traditional sad tale of domestic violence.
Stalkers Beware provides some new ideas of how to deal with all those pesky groupies if you are a rock star.
Hope of a Future takes a look at a bleak apocalyptic future where hoping for even the most simple things can make things even more grim.
Game Gone Wrong mixes science fiction with the very prevalent fear of the government watching your every move, and doing whatever it takes to find out what you know.
Mystery Meat is a simple tale of a meat packing facility trying to find out where several bins of prime cuts of meat came from that no one knows about…with morbid results.
Father’s Revenge is a succinct, blunt tale of a father’s revenge when his wife betrays him, as seen through the eyes of his daughter.
Innocent Blood starts out much like the previous tale, but with the desire for revenge going dreadfully wrong.
On Account of Bacon speaks of how unspeakable tragedies can occur for the most innocuous reasons…or in this case, thanks to a delicious breakfast meat.
Evil Mountain asks the question ‘what do you get when a werewolf, vampire, witch, zombie, and dragon walk into a poor, innocent villager’s hut?’ Nothing pleasant, I can tell you that much.
The Heart of Heroism tells the tragic tale of Billy Jack, a mentally handicapped man-child who simply wants to be a superhero and gets his chance when the zombie apocalypse starts up in the tenement he lives in with his overbearing father.
Historical Significance is a traditional ghost tale with a demonic twist.
Memories starts out asking the question ‘Have you ever heard a rabbit scream?’ and goes deeper down the rabbit hole from there.
Overall, this set of macabre tales are solidly written, though some are stronger and more compelling than others. Each share a very fatalistic perspective, though they range from the gore splattered to the sinister. Hope of a Future, Innocent Blood, Evil Mountain, and The Heart of Heroism were my favorites of the lot, while a couple of the very short tales didn’t do it for me, like Turn of Events and Father’s Revenge. When the author works with more than a page or two, she is able to craft characters that are real, vivid, and accessible.
Twisted Pathways of Murder & Death can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Twisted-Pathways-Murder-Rebecca-Besser/dp/0615858163/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1401418967&sr=8-2&keywords=twisted+pathways+of+murder+%26+death (paperback) and here: http://www.amazon.com/Twisted-Pathways-Murder-Rebecca-Besser-ebook/dp/B00E1LPQZS/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1401418967&sr=8-1&keywords=twisted+pathways+of+murder+%26+death (kindle).
Review of Thom Brannan’s “Lords of Night”
Lords of Night gets right to the heart of the story by introducing us to the main character Jack and his band of protectors, with their assortment of colorful nicknames, smack dab in the middle of their journey into the barren wastelands of what was once the eastern seaboard of the United States. They are somewhere between New York City and Washington D.C. when the story starts off, on mission to save the human race. Besides Jack, there is Five Oh, Dusty, Sandman, Rook, Zero, and the Ranger, who are all highly skilled ex-military men (except for the Ranger, who has his own unique set of skills). Much of the story is told in flashbacks, giving us a history of each of the secondary characters in their own words and how they dealt with the day the dead rose up and the world changed forever. Jack’s story, on the other hand, is told through the journal entries he makes during their trip, giving the reader both his back story and an understanding of why he is so special and critical to the survival of the human race.
While this book could be categorized as zombie apocalyptic fiction, the zombies here are very much secondary-little more than a nuisance controlled by far more powerful creatures. The author introduces the reader to the locust people-humans transformed into malicious monsters who serve their masters, the aforementioned Lords of Night. There are seven of these powerful fiends who serve the ancient enemy which came to earth from the stars long ago. They have re-awoken their master and Jack was a witness to its rebirth. The teenager has special talents that seemingly escaped the notice of the ancient enemy’s minions at first, but have since grown and have drawn them to him. While he doesn’t understand much of his role in things, he knows that within him is the potential key to stopping an enemy to mankind that is older than time itself which has plans for humanity that are far worse than complete annihilation.
Lords of Night moves at a rapid clip through the mission Jack needs to accomplish and the assortment of characters surrounding him are an interesting bunch, especially the Ranger and Zero. Zero is a cocky, lazy, talented marine recon sniper who (as the author aptly points out) is reminiscent of Hudson from the movie Aliens with his snarky ways and can’t-do attitude, as well as his ability to come through when absolutely necessary. The Ranger, another larger than life character, might be insane but in the best way possible given the perils Jack and the rest of the team face. His talented shooting ability and fearless loyalty in the face of all odds make him perhaps the most appealing character in the book. While these two steal the show, all six of Jack’s guardians are interesting, in fact far more so than Jack. The teen is likable and his story is compelling, but he is far less fun to read about than his companions.
The story is, turn by turn, more creative than most and gives the reader a unique spin on the typical apocalyptic horror novel. Again, the zombies found on these pages are secondary-the true menaces are the locust people and their masters, who have an evil intelligence and maliciousness that challenge Jack and his crew every step of the way. The history and ongoing saga of the ancient enemy gets almost a bit too complicated at times, including the nuances of the part Jack is to play, though it all becomes clear in the end. Twisty as it is, the story is sewn up quite effectively before the last page is turned.
Fans of apocalyptic fiction that are receptive to authors taking creative license on the traditional should enjoy Lords of Night. The main characters are well developed and the backstory is complex. The author perhaps is a bit over-protective of his characters-it takes quite a bit to send them to their demise, though that is in some ways a forgivable offense considering how entertaining they are as a team. That and the sometime slow pace found earlier in the story are my two main (and minor complaints) in what is otherwise a rollicking adventure tale.
Lords of Night can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Lords-Night-Thom-Brannan/dp/1618680307/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1393486184&sr=8-1
Review of Stephen Kozeniewski’s “Braineater Jones”
Braineater Jones introduces the reader to the eponymous character while he floats face down in a swimming pool with the dawning realization that he has been shot and worse yet, has died from his injury. Not having a clue what happened to him, he realizes that he is in a mansion and does a quick search, finding a few clues to his possible existence.
Fleeing from a couple of men who he believes have returned to the scene of their crime, this newly created zombie finds himself in the Welcome Mat part of the town of Ganesh, or The Mat as everyone calls it. It is the hangout of deadheads and deadbeats alike-a place where the trolley cars don’t go and where the police don’t show up when a crime has been committed. With no memory, Braineater stumbles across a few other deadheads who are willing to help him, or at least set him up with alcohol, which is the only thing that keeps the sriffs from becoming true brain eaters. If they pickle their brains in booze, they don’t turn into the monsters we all know and love. With the help of a ‘sponsor’ who goes by the name of Lazar, the narrator dubs himself Braineater Jones and offers up his services as a Private Investigator. And if he does a few jobs here and there for Lazar, he’ll have enough booze to keep his brain moving and his unlife going forward and at the same time he can try and figure out who the hell he once was, before he was plugged and dumped in the pool.
Braineater has plenty of questions, and the fact that his memories aren’t coming back to him like the eventually do with the rest of the undead is pretty suspicious. With the help of a partner who is nothing more than a dead head with no body and despite plenty of other stiffs trying to stop him, including a hot (or rather cold) dame who spells trouble from the get go, he’ll get to the bottom of the mystery, even if he does end up double-dog dead for his troubles.
Braineater Jones is a pulpy noir mystery novel set in the back alleys of a strange city a few years prior to World War II, with all the slang and classic detective set ups you could ever want…with the added tidbit that the main character is dead. Braineater is a wise guy through and through, and while many of the other characters are also dead, they could fit perfectly into a classic mold of a Raymond Chandler or Dashiell Hammett hard-boiled novel.
This is an interesting cross-genre tale that gives zombies some interesting slants. The author makes the main character as clueless as we are as to why he is up and walking around and makes him explore the reasons for that through his detective work, which allows us to learn as we go. There are hints to voodoo being the culprit, though Braineater’s fixation is on why he has come back and less on why there is a community of the undead as a whole. There are plenty of twists and turns to keep things interesting and a setup for a potential series of books. The zombie purist may not appreciate the liberties the author took with his depiction of the undead, though fans looking for a creative take on the classic zombie setup should appreciate how different the world of Braineater is and how entertaining both he and the rogues gallery of characters are in this story. This was a fun, easy read that made me smile and also had me rooting for a zombie, which isn’t something I do very often.
Braineater Jones can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Braineater-Jones-Stephen-Kozeniewski/dp/1940215188/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1389578672&sr=8-1
Review of Alan Draven’s “Nocturnal Offerings”
Nocturnal Offerings is another return (sort of) of the author’s town of Bitternest, a foggy city in Louisiana not too far from New Orleans. But this story, which is broken into two parts, starts out in Montreal, which happens to be the author’s hometown. Nick Kubrick, a radio host from Bitternest, has headed north to visit his brother Chris who has moved to Canada. But upon arriving at his brother’s house, he realizes that his sibling has disappeared-his house appears to be abandoned, mail from the past several weeks clogs his mailbox, and a little girl who lives next door said some men came by and took him away in a hearse some time ago.
While pondering this mystery, Nick stumbles across an acquaintance that he went to high school with that now also lives in Montreal. Lance is a successful architect who designed the gated community he and his wife lives in and he invites Nick to stay with him while he is in town. Nick soon discovers that the neighborhood is just a bit ‘off’. Everyone who lives there are beautiful, there are no children, no pets, and no one over the age of forty. His sense of foreboding is capped off with a midnight visit to a part of the neighborhood where the women who live there dance naked in the moonlight. But he isn’t quite sure whether it was a dream he was having or the start of an odd new mystery filled with witches and rituals making this strange place even stranger.
On top of these two puzzles, Nick stumbles across a young girl who is running from some strange creature, or so it seems, as he drives into Montreal. He later discovers that there have been three deaths in the city over the past few days-bodies are found with the skin peeled off and the hearts removed. A serial killer appears to be on the loose and he wonders if the girl he had come across could have been its next victim.
The first part of the book focuses on the mystery around the strange suburban neighborhood and its equally strange inhabitants whose sexual appetites are pretty over the top. Nick meets up with a librarian who he befriends that is willing to help him uncover what is going on in Elysium Cove, along with helping him try and figure out what has happened to his brother.
The book moves back to Bitternest later on, where the murders that happened in Montreal seem to lead to the possibility that a serial killer might be crisscrossing North America with Louisiana as its final destination.
The author has continued developing an intriguing world where Bitternest, Louisiana is the centerpiece. While it’s clear he has an appreciation for his hometown of Montreal, he seems more comfortable writing about this eerie, foggy place which dark forces call home. What brings Nick to Montreal-visiting his brother-seems quite secondary to what ends up being the driving force behind why he stays. Figuring out what happened to Chris takes a backseat to the odd neighborhood with the strangely beautiful women. It seems a tremendous coincidence that Nick stumbles across an old acquaintance so far from home. It almost seemed as if the author decided that a tale of a missing brother wasn’t all that interesting and dismissed it so he could devote his efforts to fun and games with the devilish women of Elysium Cove. Not that this particular tale wasn’t entertaining, but the stage was set for there to be more during Nick’s time in Montreal.
Nick is a rascal. That isn’t a term that is heard much these days, but that is perhaps the best way to describe him. His affection for the young, pretty librarian who helps him out doesn’t seem to temper his lust for the lascivious women who seduce him during his stay at the mysterious subdivision in Montreal. The fact that the librarian maintains her affection for him despite his admitted indiscretions with those strange women required a bit of suspension of disbelief, even if supernatural forces were the culprit for his dalliances.
The return to Bitternest for the second part of this tale felt like the more natural environment for overall story being told. The author has a fondness for Montreal that bleeds through in his descriptions of it and its inhabitants clashes with the gritty doom of his tales. Bitternest is a far more welcome abode for these dances into darkness. Bitternest isn’t just a setting; it is an ever present character whose moods and whims influence each story that takes place within its boundaries. It pulses with lifeblood of its own. That is the case here, even with this slight tale of a monstrous serial killer whose path may have led them from Montreal down to southern Louisiana in a strange cycle that takes place every twenty seven years. Nick is at home here-a character who does his best to debunk myths and rumors of monsters on his radio show-much like Kolchak from days of yore, but who seems to keep discovering that the things which go bump in the night are horribly real. He hooks up with a private detective hot on the trail of a serial killer with some secrets of his own, despite Nick’s promises that his hunting days are behind him.
Overall, this is a satisfactory entry into the Bitternest saga, though there was a desire for more from the Montreal side of things-especially with the missing brother side of the story. Bitternest is a fun place to visit and I look forward to future trips to this foggy, grim place chock full of nightmares.
Nocturnal Offerings can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Nocturnal-Offerings-Alan-Draven/dp/0615906842/ref=tmm_pap_title_0
Review of Brian Moreland’s “The Devil’s Woods”
The Devil’s Woods is Brian Moreland’s second foray into the mysteries of the Canadian wilderness and Native American mythology. His first book, Dead of Winter explored darkness in Ontario from the 19th Century, while The Devil’s Woods explores deviltry in the 21st century out west, in an abandoned Cree Indian Reservation and the nearby town of Hagen’s Cove, which has been a place where people, especially young girls, have been disappearing for over a century without a trace.
Kyle Elkheart, a half-Cree horror novelist living in Seattle who grew up on the reservation, is called home by his uncle and grandfather. His brother Eric and his sister Shawna are the last surviving members of their tribe and their estranged professor father went missing weeks earlier after having spent time exploring the Cree lands-deep into the forbidden woodlands that surround the reservation. Kyle is reluctant at first, but needs a vacation from the nightmares that haunt him every night and the visions of his deceased wife, who passed away two years prior. The lands surrounding their homeland are beautiful though, and Kyle is pleased he is able to make the trip and hopefully get out of the funk surrounding his writing. He is bothered by the fact that he is attracted to Eric’s pretty girlfriend, who has joined them on the trip, and that he seems to be the only person concerned about the disappearance of their father. He sees walking visions of the dead on the reservation and is warned in no uncertain terms by his uncle about the evil that lurks in the woodlands, but suspects that his father may still be out there, uncovering some of the oddities that have caused this region of the country to be dubbed the Canadian Bermuda Triangle.
Every day and every hour seems to reveal bits and pieces of the mystery, especially when a family that has come searching for another member of Kyle’s father’s missing expedition goes missing themselves. There are perhaps monstrous creatures that live within the woods which haunts Cree folklore, but that is not the only evil that Kyle and his family must confront if they are to survive their trip into the Canadian Wilderness.
The Devil’s Woods is another solidly written horror yarn by Brian Moreland, who does an excellent job of crafting believable tales of the supernatural. My favorite of his was his first book, Dead of Winter, and this novel follows in its murky, grim footsteps with demonic glee. The author isn’t afraid to spill some blood and craft horribly wicked creatures that feel like they stepped right out of ancient myth and legend. The evil in this book is quite malevolent while the character development is also solid. The characters, for the most part, are believable and their actions are very plausible. I was perhaps not sold on some elements of the burgeoning romance that Kyle is starting to have with his brother’s girlfriend, but while it felt somewhat predictable it still fit in well with the telling of tale.
The story offers up a few good twists that will keep most readers on their feet and a solid, well-paced supernatural story that is both fun and satisfyingly gruesome. The author’s storytelling abilities always make it a pleasure to return to the sick passages of his twisted mind and this tale was no exception. I look forward to what Brian dreams up next.
The Devil’s Woods can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Devils-Woods-Brian-Moreland/dp/1619215659/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1388021906&sr=1-1
Review of Peter Clines’ “Ex-Communication”
Ex-Communication is the third book in Peter Clines’ Ex-saga of zombies battling with the survivors and the superheroes who protect them in Los Angeles in the years after the zombocalypse. The heroes, along with a new group of super soldier allies, have returned to The Mount (Paramount Studios) after contending with their most recent menace out in the desert. They have built high walls that surround a larger chunk of the city to give the thousands of survivors living with them more space to spread out and to feel safe.
Their latest superhuman nemesis is a being that calls itself Legion. It is a former LA gang member who has gained the ability to control countless hordes of the undead and likes tormenting those who live in the Mount by sending an endless brigade of the undead at them. Legion can speak through the undead and make them handle weapons, climb, and do all sorts of things the sluggish ghouls couldn’t do on their own. In addition to Legion, there are a couple of other new challenges for St. George, Stealth, and the rest of the supers to contend with. Zzzap, the superhero who can transform himself into pure energy, has been seeing ghosts…well, specifically one ghost who happens to be a former superhero that wants to return to the land of the living and needs help…including the body of someone who is recently deceased. They are also dealing with a young girl who has come to Los Angeles who shares similarities to the ex’s (zombies) in that she is dead and moving around, but is unlike all the others in that she can think, speak, and is an otherwise normal teenage girl.
Things only get more complicated from there when an angry, vengeful demon enters the picture, intent on consuming the souls of the remaining humans still alive in the Los Angeles area, including the superheroes at the mount.
The Ex series continues to provide an interesting twist on the zombie genre with its mix of complex superheroes and challenging villains. The main heroes are well fleshed out and the author continues to use flashbacks to great success to provide a slow reveal as new good and evil elements are introduced to the storyline. While for the most part the good guys are good and the bad guys are bad, there is plenty of gray area to keep the reader guessing on what to expect.
Ex-Communication can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Ex-Communication-A-Novel-Peter-Clines/dp/0385346824/ref=tmm_pap_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1386871552&sr=8-1
Review of Vincenzo Bilof’s “The Queen of the Dead: Zombie Ascension Book 2”
The Queen of the Dead: Zombie Ascension picks up where Necropolis Now, the first book in the series, left off. The various surviving characters are trapped in Detroit and are mostly making their way to a local military air base after the events that unfolded at the mental institution at the end of the last book. The core players remain in the tale, but the author, much like he did in the first book, adds a few secondary characters who play a variety of roles that intertwine with the main cast. Vega, the female mercenary whose job in the first book was to capture Jim Traverse, a serial killer with a plan to end the world, remains focused on her task, though it seems that her reasoning is less about finishing the job and more about doing what both comes naturally to her and is all she knows: being a soldier for hire. Especially since there is little else to do in a world that is dead or dying all around her. Vincent, the gang banger from the first book, gives her a reason to carry on. They share similarities as characters-both are professionals who do what it takes to survive and to get the job done in their own ways. They both have regrets and far too many scars to mention. Griggs, the ex-cop and pornographer, seems to be enjoying the apocalypse and much like Traverse, has plans for Mina, his girlfriend who is likely the cause for the zombie apocalypse due to her cannibalistic tendencies and mysterious, supernatural past.
Several new characters enter the fray to varying extents. Father Joe is a priest trying to save who he can while strangely being capable of not raising the interest of the undead around him. Rose is an assassin who has been sent in after Traverse, even though her talents lean more toward seduction versus combat. Jack is a poor schlep who plays in a band with his brother, who wants to see the world burn and has commanded Jack to join him in slaughtering as many people and zombies as possible before they both get torn to pieces. There are a few other secondary characters, each with their own unique story to tell. The author develops each of them enough to give us something to latch on to, though some fade into non-existence with little to show for having existed in the first place.
This is a supernatural thriller, or as close to that as possible without being obvious. It isn’t your traditional zombie apocalypse tale though there are elements it shares with those stories. The motivation of many, if not most of these characters, is not survival. It is annihilation for some-the destruction of the human race as a goal. For others, it seems that perpetual motion is their only goal-moving forward because it is all they can do while the world around them spins out of control. Through the power Mina has as some sort of herald of doom makes her a monster, she is also as innocent as a child, manipulated by the men in her life. Both Traverse and Griggs see her as a way to obliterate everything in their paths, though they have very different designs on why they would do that.
Vincenzo Bilof has a lyrical way of writing about gore and his characters. Certainly, there is no doubt that not everyone will like his penchant for simile and metaphor at most every turn, but there is a fluidity to his writing that makes this dark, dim, gruesome world he has crafted poetic. His story, though it will come to a conclusion (more than likely) with the third and final book, isn’t about a beginning or an end. It is definitely about the journey. The zombies are there, in the background, entering the fray as needed, but it is the characters, with their internal and external struggles, that always remain top of mind here. This could be a journey through hell, like Dante’s Inferno-one test after another for the main characters to face and either overcome or to fail at…though it is hard at times (many times) to decipher whether they have failed or succeeded at any of them. Perhaps Father Joe could be defined as a hero, though one with as many dark spots on his soul as many others in the book. Beyond him, there are heroic elements in several of the characters but villainous ones as well. I remarked in my review of the first book that I didn’t like most of the characters-not as a criticism but an assessment of who they were as human beings. I have grown more attached to a couple of the original characters and dislike some with an even more fervent passion. At the same time, I welcomed most of the new characters with an appreciation for what they have added to this story. Except perhaps for the insane general, who was, overall, a nuisance in my humble opinion. The rest have given the story new flavor and balance to offset the grim motivations of some of the others.
The Zombie Ascension series qualifies as a fairly unique entry into the zompoc subgenre despite not meddling too much with the undead themselves. Its supernatural slant will not appeal to all zombie purists though it is, thus far, a well thought out mythology that has me intrigued for more answers as to the ‘why’s and how’s’ of Mina’s power and what happened to Traverse on his mission to Egypt. This is the third book of the author’s that I have read and his voice has grown stronger with each book. He has me hooked with both his writing style and the story he is telling here and I look forward to checking out the third book in the trilogy.
The Queen of the Dead: Zombie Ascension can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Queen-Dead-ZOMBIE-ASCENSION-ebook/dp/B00ET0EJJK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385424667&sr=8-1&keywords=vincenzo+bilof
Review of Jaime Johnesee’s “Bob The Zombie”
Bob The Zombie is a short story that reads more like the first chapter of a much larger tale, and given the fact that the author has already produced a sequel, it is clear that this is destined to become something of a serialized saga of this Griswoldian zombie.
Bob is a hapless zombie who was killed in a tragically comedic way and was brought back to life at the request of his mother, who didn’t realize he would come back as a rotting version of himself that needs to staple various body parts back on when they fall off, which they do with great frequency. Bob has made new friends-others like himself who lives on the edges of society. Zombies aren’t like the slobbering Romero monsters here. They do need meat to continue their undead existence, but they tend to refrain from chowing down on humans.
There is a flavor of urban fantasy to this tale. Zombies aren’t the only supernatural characters. Though mostly just hinted at, there are plenty of other beasties out there, including vamps, mermaids, and ghouls. What is the difference between ghouls and zombies you ask? Well, zombies have free will, whereas ghouls are controlled by the witch who brought them back to life. And if they don’t rein them in every now and then, they tend to go all Night of the Living Dead on humans. That particular nugget plays a part in this brief tale, but again, this short reads more like the introduction to a longer story, including hints of what is to come.
So the main thing to keep in mind if you choose to take the plunge and give Bob The Zombie a try is that there is much more to the story, and unless I missed my guess, we will be getting it in single short story installments for some time to come. Bob is a likable character and it’s clear there is more to learn about him as well as the rest of his not-so-menacing horde of buddies.
Bob The Zombie can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00D0VPURO/ref=cm_cr_ryp_prd_img_sol_0
Review of David Jacob Knight’s “The Pen Name”
Ben Little is a struggling author whose writing career is going nowhere. The copies of his first book, which he ordered for the convention he’s attending, didn’t show up. Add on to that the fact that he hasn’t worked a day job since being laid off by the phone company several months back makes for a very depressing situation for him and his family. But Ben’s luck is about to change. A famous author who is also at the show happens by his table and chats with him and later, after Ben returns home with his wife, a publishing agent with an intriguing offer knocks on his door. The famous author from the convention wants to work with Ben on a novel, but to do so he has to sign a very long and complex contract with no time to review it. He’ll get a $5,000 advance and another $10,000 upon completion of the work, but he either agrees immediately or the deal is off. Nervous but knowing that this could be life changing-the debts have piled up and his son needs special care for some physical ailments he has-he signs the contract.
From that point forward, Ben is under the gun to write his chapters after being emailed outlines from the other author. The plan is to finish the book within a month, even though Ben’s first book took him years to complete. It seems a daunting task, but one that could be life changing for him and his family. Part of the contract he signed but didn’t read states that the agent for the other author will be taking him on different research expeditions to give him a better feel for what he is supposed to write about. But these trips entail some rather grim journeys that have Ben wondering what is really going on with his co-author and the strange German publishing company behind the contract he’s signed. There is blood, violence, and blackouts that leave Ben wondering what is happening to him during and after these surreal field trips. At the same time, his mind seems to be unraveling as he digs deeper into the mystery behind his publisher, his co-author, and even some of the other authors who have been ghost writers for the publisher.
The Pen Name could be categorized as a supernatural thriller or a flat out horror, dependent on your perspective. Regardless, it is a taut, mysterious story filled with scenes of slowly mounting dread intermingled with abrupt, jarring, and disturbing action sequences. There are dark, supernatural forces at work but at the same time there is a taste of conspiracy that feels more like big brother than the work of the devil or some other malignant being. Part of what makes what is happening to Ben so disturbing is the fact that while he feels like a puppet on the publisher’s evil strings, their efforts to push him into creating his most compelling writing through their terror tactics does just that. Ben’s life is eroding before his eyes, his mind deteriorating, but he is doing the best writing of his career. And as the noose tightens around his neck, he realizes that he must finish the story he has begun, both the one on the page and the one he is living through, no matter what the consequences.
The Pen Name is an easy to read tale that keeps you intrigued throughout. The story, and Ben’s mind, unravel slowly, and leaves the reader puzzling over what is real and what is imagined. There is plenty to second guess and puzzle over concerning Das Verlag, the publishing house whose main exploit seems to be running livestock slaughter houses…especially the slaughter of pigs. Of course, not all mysteries are revealed, though there are some nice twists in the end, but I guess if I had any sort of complaint it would be to have better understood what Das Verlag was all about…or at least a little bit more. Even so, this is a well spun tale and an enjoyable horror/thriller well worth checking out.
The Pen Name can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00EK599ZS/ref=cm_cr_thx_view