Monday, June 29, 2015

Family Drama Set In India

Flame Tree Road
by Shona Patel
416 pages
$7.49 Kindle version
Flame Tree Road is apparently a prequel for Teatime for the Firefly. I did not read the first book written by Shona Patel, but I am definitely adding it to my reading list after reading Flame Tree Road. I loved everything about this story: the setting, the characters and the emotional drama. I just wanted to read something other than horror, and I came away with a literary experience that's left me wanting to read more in this genre.

Taking place in 1870s India, the story follows the life of Biren Roy in a village that follows a caste system. When his mother is shunned due to her status as a widow, Biren makes a conscious decision to change the quality of women's lives in his country. He eventually moves to England, where he learns more about fighting for women's rights, but when he returns to his own country, he feels like an outsider. He is able to make a life for himself, while working towards his goal, but it comes at a high cost.

The POV is told in third person, mostly following Biren and his thoughts, but also allowing readers to see Biren through the eyes of those around him. The story often read more like a family drama than the struggles of just one individual. It was interesting to see how changes in world politics, as well as local politics, affected members of Biren's family dynamics. What I found most intriguing is the way characters facing the same challenges handled them in completely different ways, emphasizing the qualities that make Biren endearing to readers.

You don't have to have an interest in the history of India or its customs to enjoy Flame Tree Road - you need only to have a heart.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Something For Sunday

Behold The Dawn
by K.M. Weiland
333 pages
$6.99 Kindle version
"Marcus Annan, a knight famed for his prowess in the deadly tourney competitions, thought he could keep the bloody secrets of his past buried forever. But when a mysterious crippled monk demands Annan help him wreak vengeance on a corrupt bishop, Annan is forced to leave the tourneys and join the Third Crusade in the Holy Land.

Wounded in battle and hunted on every side, he agrees to marry—in name only—the traumatized widow of an old friend, in order to protect her from the obsessive pursuit of a mutual enemy. Together, they escape an infidel prison camp and flee the Holy Land. But, try as he might, he cannot elude the past—or his growing feelings for the Lady Mairead. Amidst the pain and grief of a war he doesn’t even believe in, he is forced at last to face long-hidden secrets and sins and to bare his soul to the mercy of a God he thought he had abandoned years ago."

This is historical fiction that takes place during the Crusades, set in "the Holy Land" in 1192, blending fact and fiction with detailed descriptions. The story begins in Bari, Italy, from the point of view of a Scottish tourneyer named Marcus Annan. His traveling companion, Peregrine Marek, is indentured to him after Annan saved his life in Glasgow, and Marek believes Annan would be better off seeking absolution in the Third Crusade.

After a tournament, Annan is approached by a monk known as The Baptist. This monk tells the tourneyer he must bring the man called Matthias of Claidmore to the Holy Land to confront Bishop Roderic about the crimes committed at St. Dunstan's Abbey, sixteen years ago. Annan informs The Baptist that Matthias is dead; the monk suggests that the Earl of Keaton may also have knowledge of Roderic's unholy transgressions which puts him in danger of the Bishop.

Annan reluctantly makes the pilgrimage, but refuses to seek absolution by taking the oath of a Crusader, despite Marek's insistence to ask God's forgiveness. When Annan does find the Earl, he is asked to protect the Earl's wife, Mairead, from the Norman knight, Hugh de Guerrant, who is one of the Bishop Roderic's corrupt knights. It soon becomes apparent that Countess of Keaton's enemies are also Annan's. With the help of Marek, the tourneyer attempts to take Mairead to safety before the Bishop has all of them killed.

Weiland uses the flowery language of historical adventure, and the thoughts of multiple characters, to underscore the Christian themes of that period in history. It is a tale of betrayal and redemption that ascends time and location while remaining anchored against the backdrop of the Crusades. Weiland also includes a glossary of words that are unfamiliar in modern times.

K.M. Weiland does such compelling work of presenting a conflicted male character that many readers fail to realize she is a female writer. An old, but good story.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Leave Scabs Alone...You Could Get Infected

Awakening
by J.D. Demers
285 pages
$3.99 Kindle version
"A mysterious contagion circles the globe in less than a week. Billions die, only to rise again to feast on the living. Zombies… And they are not the worst monsters to rise from the ashes of humanity. A new species is born, and they stand at the top of the food chain. Christian fights to survive in the first days of The Awakening. But there is more to him than anyone knows. He is immune to the infection, but revealing this may lead to his death. The Awakening is the first Chronicle of Christian Hunt and the heroes that sacrificed everything so his gift may save what remains of mankind. Join the Hunt…"

I've read literally thousands of zombie stories, and, from time to time, I get burned out on the genre. I was really hoping that Demers had something new to offer, and I wasn't disappointed. I was hooked from the moment that the main character, Christian Hunt, introduces himself as immune. The author added just enough twists to the infection to keep it fresh...well, as fresh as one can be with dead people.

I liked the fact that Christian, who is narrating the story, is definitely not the ideal survivor. He makes a lot of mistakes that will have readers facepalming quite often, but it just adds to the suspense and action. The addition of retired soldier Fish and police dog Boomer make up for Christian's lack of survival skills, despite the fact that Christian served in the Army. The setting of Florida is also a bit different.

The cliffhanger isn't necessarily abrupt, but when I reached the end of the book, I couldn't believe it. The action is non-stop - even when characters are talking, something is always happening around them and to them. I flew through the story, and I'm very impatient to continue with Book 2. Whether you're into the zombie genre or not, I think horror fans will love the brutal action.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Honeymoon In Hell

The Undying Love
by Greg McCabe
316 pages
$3.99 Kindle Version
The Undying Love by Greg McCabe is a horror novel about newlyweds trying to survive a zombie apocalypse. In addition to the usual kinks in the first year of marriage, Diane and Jackson are trapped in an office building in downtown Houston, TX, surrounded by the undead. Their relationship is put to the ultimate test.

With the focus on the married couple, the zombies are mostly background...there are not many interactions between the survivors and the undead. However, the flight/fight scenarios are somewhat intense, particularly the initial hotel scenes.

Unfortunately, there are some slow spots where McCabe spends a lot of time describing the survivors' daily activities (which rarely amount to much more than food-related scenarios), as well as more inner thoughts than actual dialogue between characters.

The other thing that bothered me is the lack of drama. Everyone and everything is just too easy-going considering the circumstances. Zombiephiles may be disappointed with this rosy apocalypse. The ending was also too convenient for me.

McCabe is obviously a talented writer, and his debut is a pretty good read, but, in the future, I hope he doesn't play it so safe in the zombie genre.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, June 22, 2015

The System Has Been Compromised

Lightless
by C.A. Higgins
304 pages
$10.99 Kindle version
Described as the "deeply moving human drama of Gravity meets the nail-biting suspense of Alien," the marketing for this story couldn't be more off. It's a story about a woman trying to defend the spaceship she has worked on for years. Althea considers the Ananke her child, so, when terrorists force their way on the ship, Althea has to become a different person to defend her life's work.

I'm a fan of the Alien movies and I recently watched Gravity, and I wouldn't compare either one of those movies to this novel. The human drama is basically the same issue that has always plagued mankind: people trying to control other people. The only suspense is how long it takes to drag the story out of Ivan (one of the terrorists) through his interrogation at the hands of Ida Stays. Ida was probably the most developed character, and she was just the stereotypical government official gone mad with power. I think this story could have been so much better with a lot more action, as well as more personality from the characters.

However, I was dying to know what, exactly, Mattie (Ivan's partner) did to Althea's beloved ship...specifically the computer of the Ananke, and that was enough of hook to keep me interested throughout the story. I also loved the setting of "the System": colonies on the planets and moons of our solar system, controlled by a government centralized on Earth, with everyone being monitored everywhere by cameras...all the time. Dare to rebel against the government officials? Kiss your atmosphere good-bye. Too bad the story was limited to the one ship. Hopefully, we will see more of the System in the sequel.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Fog Is Never A Good Sign

In The Fog
by John Meany
245 pages
$2.99 Kindle edition
Frank and Dora Parker go fishing in their boat and a thick fog rolls down around them. On the lakeshore, a woman walks out of the forest, holding a knife, followed by a man dragging what appears to be a dead body. But only Frank sees any of it - his wife claims to see nothing. Frank thinks he's witnessed a murder, but everyone else thinks Frank needs to stop drinking so much.

I have no idea why I found this during a horror story search. It is a crime drama/murder mystery. The plot is spectacular: a man suffering from dementia and alcoholism witnesses a murder, and no one believes him.

The characters are well-developed, and the family dynamics really propel the storyline. Not a lot of action, but the personal interactions are impressive.

Better than any of the crap that Stephen King has written lately.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Interview With Lori Titus

The Bell House
by Lori Titus
166 pages
$4.99 Kindle version

I thoroughly enjoyed this story...I never knew what to expect at any point and that made it all the more thrilling. This is not your typical haunted house story, and the suspense is incredible. Titus does an excellent job of luring in readers with a love triangle involving brothers. The connections from one generation of the Bell family to the next added fuel to the fire, literally. Families have drama as it is, but when you involve curses and ghosts, you have the seemingly unstoppable force of the Bell house.

The Bell House is full of dark family secrets and angry spirits, pitting the living against the dead…one of the most frightening novels of 2015. Titus has taken the horror genre to a truly terrifying level. After reading her new novel, I invited the author to the Lair:



Author Lori Titus
Q. Do you feel like you specifically write for the horror genre, or do you just write whatever story is in your head?

It seems that horror is what I have in mind! I can start off with any kind of story, but sooner or later, some kind of paranormal thing creeps in. I think on some level I have a fascination with things that are unexplained. But I also find that I can use it in a way to explain or make people think about real problems that go on in the world. Horror is a safe place to explore topics that would otherwise be taboo or uncomfortable, and I love that aspect of it.

Q. Do you have a specific message that want you want to get across to readers in The Bell House, or do you simply wish to entertain?

Well, my goal is always to entertain, but this one definitely has a moral.

My message in The Bell House was the importance of stories: the things that our loved ones and family say about us, the things we believe about ourselves, and the ideas that we believe about the world around us.  What we believe makes the difference between being a survivor or a victim.
Sometimes the most powerful stories are the ones that remain untold, gathering bitterness and grief under the surface. The inner stories, secrets, and unspoken beliefs we keep in our heads can uplift or destroy.

Diana’s life could have been changed in a positive way by choosing to be open to her son, her sister, and other people in her life. Travis believed that an ability that could have been thought of as a talent or a blessing was a curse. The negative consequences of their choices had a lot to do with perspective and the fact that they believed in the power of curses and negative entities.

Q. Who or what do you see as the influences on your writing?

I have a lot of influences, but as I mature, I realize that it’s not just the authors I read, but things that
I see in the world around me. I am more in tune with what people say, and images that I see in the media.  When you look around, there are horrific happenings going on in the world, and many of these topics can be explored in fiction. The early inspirations: Poe, Rod Sterling, King, Koontz, will always be favorites.

Q. Do you ever come up with anything so wild that you scare yourself that, leaving you to wonder where that came from?

Lazarus was definitely one of those stories that frightened me. That novella might have ended up being a full length novel, but I had started having nightmares by the time I was halfway through. It is still one of my favorites though, and I have plans to revisit that world and those characters again. It was a story idea that came to me fully formed, with plot, names, and atmosphere all intact. I still don’t understand how it happens that way.

Q. What do you think draws people to horror stories?

Horror stories are a thrill. It’s a vicarious way into danger that is still safe. And horror, when it’s done right always includes a bit of mystery too, so that the reader has some surprises in store. It’s all about engaging the reader with one thing while another is also going on, like a shell game. I think readers enjoy stories that pull them into the action.

Q. Do you have any upcoming appearances or other novels that you would like to tell us about?

I am very excited about my upcoming projects. I’m not sure when it will be released, because I’m currently working on the first draft, but the next novel is titled The Creed of Cain. It’s about a different group of people in the fictional town of Chrysalis, South Carolina, the same place that The Bell House occurs in. I can’t say too much about it, but the story deals with religious fanaticism and murder.


I encourage horror fans to add The Bell House to their reading lists.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Throwback Thursday Movie Review



The Dead by the Ford Brothers was a very pleasant surprise; I haven’t been watching as many zombie flicks lately because most of them seemed to be made by non-zombiephiles. I don’t know any technical terms about the filming process, and I usually just watch movies for entertainment value anyway…but I noticed right away that the quality of the film was more like a big screen film production than the home-movie quality some indie films seem to have…AND, no stupid camera movements like the shakes, which is also refreshing. Not sure what the budget was for this particular film that lasts just over 90 minutes, but someone definitely spent some money on this project, regardless of the claim that it was “low-budget.”


The movie starts with a guy in the African desert (American actor Rob Freeman as a US military engineer) shooting a zombie, and most of the movie that follows explains how he ended up in the desert, until the guy’s story reaches the point where he shoots the zombie. After that, it returns to present time; I thought it was a cool manipulation of the timeline. The guy is an American soldier stranded in West Africa after the last evacuation plane crashes in the ocean.

He is joined by an African soldier (African actor Prince David Oseia) who is searching for his son, after his village is overrun. I loved the comparison and contrast between these two survivors gave the plot some depth. I do think they could have spent a little more time on the military tension between the two, but the idea of them agreeing to work together was believable.
The village outbreak was a great zombie scene, but despite the great action sequences, quite a bit of the film is the two survivors driving through the wilderness with zombies constantly appearing in the peripheral. Although, there a many intense scenes during the drive any time they have to stop for repairs, etc. I was actually jumping a few times…catching me off guard is not that easy, so I was impressed with the suspense factor.


The special effects were excellent, and I was really glad to see the zombies had the same qualities of the original Romero undead. For that reason alone, if you’re one of those zombie fans that thinks there is no hope for zombie indie films, you should really give this one a chance. There’s never an explanation of the source, but there is a great dialogue between two African soldiers that reflects on the outbreak. I did some issues with some of the behavior of the survivors (i.e. taking too many risks) that had me yelling at the characters, but that just shows how engrossed I was in this film.
 
The DVD extras left something to be desired with only one deleted scene & background scenes set to music (absolutely no commentary, which would have been welcomed). The Ford Brothers missed a golden opportunity by not including more special features.

This could work as a stand-alone movie, but I’d love to see more about this outbreak, especially considering the setting. I have already been recommending this movie to my fellow zombiephiles! Check out the trailer, and see for yourself.

As always,
AstraDaemon



Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Dolls Are The New Scary Clowns



Porcelain
by William Hage
23 pages
$.99 Kindle version

The Whateley Bed & Breakfast, near the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, is home to a wide collection of curiosities for viewing, including a fancy porcelain doll. However, when the Whateley's latest guest purchases the doll, horrific events begins to unfold.

There are so many stories and movies about demonic dolls that finding a story that stands out is getting more difficult, but Hage did a great job of writing something full of surprises.

I wish the story had been longer, simply because I enjoyed it so much. I think the author could turn it into a full-length novel, especially if he included other character POVs. (There was something about the detective talking about the Jersey Devil that made me think he has his own story to tell.)

I would love to see the author write more stories centered around the bed & breakfast...maybe even a prequel to this story.

Hage is definitely an author to keep on your reading list!

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Italian Drama



An Italian Wife
by Ann Hood
288 pages
$12.99 Kindle version

"An Italian Wife is the extraordinary story of Josephine Rimaldi―her joys, sorrows, and passions, spanning more than seven decades. The novel begins in turn-of-the-century Italy, when fourteen-year-old Josephine, sheltered and naive, is forced into an arranged marriage to a man she doesn't know or love who is about to depart for America, where she later joins him. Bound by tradition, Josephine gives birth to seven children. The last, Valentina, is conceived in passion, born in secret, and given up for adoption.

Josephine spends the rest of her life searching for her lost child, keeping her secret even as her other children go off to war, get married, and make their own mistakes. Her son suffers in World War One. One daughter struggles to assimilate in the new world of the 1950s American suburbs, while another, stranded in England, grieves for a lover lost in World War Two. Her granddaughters experiment with the sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll in the 1970s. Poignant, sensual, and deeply felt, An Italian Wife is a sweeping and evocative portrait of a family bound by love and heartbreak."

An Italian Wife is similar to historical fiction, with bits and pieces of what was happening in the world (ex: wars) trickling into the story because of the impact world events have on the various relationships. I loved the multiple POVs and they way they overlap storylines.

The family tree at the beginning of the book helped me keep track of everyone; I enjoyed how the story spans several generations. The book was divided into parts. The first part introduces readers to Josephine, the matriarch of the family in this novel, later to be called Mama Jo. Not only does her life have unexpected turns, but nothing turns out as planned for her children, especially the lives of her grandchildren. Of all them, Penelope reminds me the most of Josephine.

The title could apply to more than one woman in the family. None of the family members seemed happy with their relationships - always longing to be with someone else and/or BE someone else, but the ending was beautiful.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, June 15, 2015

Pospartum Depression Leads To Missing Infant



Remember Mia
by Alexandra Burt
352 pages
$9.99 Kindle version

Estelle Paradise wakes up in a hospital with amnesia, She has suffered a gunshot to the head, and her infant daughter is missing. She is the prime suspect. (Available July 7, 2015)

I've been trying to expand my reading beyond horror into mystery-thrillers, but I've never had a story in this genre frighten me so much. From the beginning of this novel, I feared for 7 month old Mia Connor's life, and I couldn't read fast enough (I did read it in one sitting). How appropriate that the sections were divided by quotes from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland because, the more Estelle Paradise Connor revealed about her inner turmoil, the further down the rabbit hole I felt I was falling.

Not only do I appreciate the horror of a missing infant, as well as the mystery surrounding Mia's disappearance and Estelle's car accident, I also appreciate the attention the author gives to the issue of postpartum depression...not to mention, the detailed description of waking up in a hospital with amnesia is well-written. I felt as though I was experiencing Estelle's confusion and desperation as my own. This is one of the most emotionally charged novels that I've ever read.

The ending was unpredictable. I loved how Burt used seemingly random information from earlier in the story to connect the pieces of the past to the present. I couldn't believe how much Estelle changed from one section of the story to another...excellent character development. I would gladly read more from Alexandra Burt.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Family Forced To Fight



The Hopes of the Three
by Hudson Maness
19 pages
$.99 Kindle version

An assassin hunts a normal family in their sleep, but the three fight back.

This is a fast-paced piece of bizarro flash fiction mixed with horror. There are four POVs, describing the brutal attack from every angle. The writing style emphasizes the key differences between characters, as well as building up the suspense, leaving readers to wonder: how in the HELL is this family going to make it through the night?!

I hope the author writes more like this.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Saturday Shorts: Stories For The Weekend



Horrors from Cedarstone: A Collection of Short Horror Stories (Volume 1)
by Sean Stone
66 pages
$2.99 Kindle version

Cedarstone is not a normal town. There are a lot of supernatural elements at play. It gets harder to keep the secrets hidden as time goes by...dangerous woods, cursed wizards, frightening visitors, scary noises...a horrifying place after the sun goes down.

I love everything about this anthology: the setting, the variety of monsters and all the unexpected endings...I never knew who would survive. I would love for the author to write more about Henry Montford.

Sean Stone is a great storyteller, and he also has a second volume of Cedarstone stories available.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, June 12, 2015

Zombie Dystopia



The Zombie Belt
by Gareth Latimer
57 pages
$.99 Kindle version

In the future of England, the south is divided between two warring factions: London and the South East belongs to the Islamic Caliphate of Britain, whilst the South West is the stronghold of the White Alliance. A multicultural promised land called PUK (People's UK) supposedly exists up north. Iwan Edwards is an operative in the White Alliance Army, and falls in love with Leanne Hussein, an activist within the Caliphate.

Set hundreds of years in the future, the United Kingdom has become a battle ground for various human factions, with the North and South divided by a "belt" of undead.

The beginning was a little weak, and some readers may find the stereotypes slightly offensive, but I enjoyed the story. It was quite different than most zombie apocalypse stories, especially with the futuristic setting.

The zombies are more background, with politics and soldiers taking front stage. There are also unanswered questions, such as: what happened to the rest of the world? Was the UK outbreak an isolated event that led to the internal warfare?

If you' re looking for something original, you've found it.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Throwback Thursday Book Review



Snow Day: A Novella
by Dan Maurer
100 pages
$1.99 Kindle version

For over 35 years, each winter, Billy Stone has the same horrible dreams. The dreams began after a childhood day in the snow ended in a terrible tragedy.

This story begins in 1975, jumps forward to 2013, and eventually evolves into a personal account of a man's terrifying childhood experience told through the POV of his 10 year old self. If you prefer Stephen King's earlier writing, I think you will really enjoy Maurer's writing style. I know that I haven't read anything like this in YEARS. I am impressed beyond words with Maurer's ability create a horrific masterpiece without gore or fantastical monsters.

I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I knew it was a horror novella, but I didn't bother to read the summary, so my only expectation was to be entertained. This novella is the perfect example of the kind of story-telling that sucked me into the horror genre in the first place, many decades ago. I can honestly say this is the best horror/drama/thriller that I read in 2013, and one of the best pieces of fiction that I've ever read, period...and to think, it didn't even have zombies!

In all seriousness, I am hoping that Snow Day will help propel Maurer into mainstream horror because I feel that, although the sub-genres such as zombie-lit and supernatural tales are doing quite well, the horror genre in general is in dire need of fresh blood (no pun intended).

As always,
AstraDaemon

Throwback Thursday Movie Review

I first saw this movie on the Sundance channel, and it was listed as "OK Garage." The TV listing had a more accurate description of the movie than this product description. I'm not sure which came first, the All Revved Up marketing or the OK Garage marketing, but they need to release the DVD under the OK Garage marketing...anyone who falls for the All Revved Up description will be expecting something else, and therefore disappointed with an indie movie that I think is surprisingly well done -- if you have the right expectations.

I had zero expectations the first time that I watched this movie, so I wasn't disappointed. The only reason I even watched it in the first place is because I love the three main actors (I thought it was great to see them all together in the same film): Will Patton as "Sean," John Turturro as "Johnny," and Lily Taylor as "Rachel." The plot is simple enough: a series of misfortunate encounters brings the three main characters together to demand a refund from a shady mechanic at the OK Garage. (By the way, I've watched it dozens of times, since then, and I still haven't gotten tired of it yet.)

I thought the title, OK Garage, worked on more than one level. There is nothing "ok" about anyone in this movie; for example, there is a small scene where a bartender who only has a few lines in the entire movie (who happens to be played by Turturro's cousin, an actress you might recognize from The Sopranos) tells Sean that she doesn't date...she'd sleep with him, but she won't date him (the way she blurts it out caught me off guard - I had to watch the scene more than once to catch what she says to Sean). Basically, everyone in this movie has some weird quirk about them, and it's refreshing; I get so tired of movies where everyone looks & acts perfect and live wonderful (unrealistic) lives. I also enjoyed the fact that the characters don't have the right answer for everything; they say disturbingly messed up things to one another (like Johnny admitting to Rachel that he watches his female neighbor undress), and it really propels the storyline in a unique manner.

Some of the scenes might seem unnecessary, such as Patton's scenes with Sean playing with his lizards as his boss accuses him of being a woman-hater, or Johnny discussing masturbating into a sink with another guy...but, not only does it add depth to the individual characters, it also helps you realize the personal obstacles they had to overcome to band together at the end, and right the wrong done to Rachel.

Johnny first meets Rachel through Sean, who lives in the same apartment building with Rachel. Johnny likes Rachel, but (even though the guy seriously needs to get laid) he sabotages himself if women show the slightest interest in him, and he's no different with Rachel (and Rachel likes to say crazy stuff as well, which makes for some great scenes between Turturro and Taylor). Rachel comes across as someone who doesn't like to rock the boat, even if she has every right to speak up and defend herself, but she doesn't want to be a troublemaker. As a result, Rachel is ripped off by a mechanic at the OK Garage, and Johnny convinces Sean that they have to do something to help her get her money back.

What none of them realize is that the mechanic is involved in a car theft ring, as well as some other a-hole characters that cause other problems for Sean and Johnny. In the end, by helping Rachel, Sean and Johnny end up helping themselves as well. I absolutely loved how all the various storylines came together at the end of the movie. Some of the scenes made me laugh; I'm not sure if they were supposed to be funny, but I found the characters to be very entertaining. Even the supporting cast did a fantastic job.

Will Patton has one of the absolute best lines/scene at the very end of the movie, as Sean poses a question to Johnny about Rachel. I don't want to give it away, but it is one of the best endings that I've ever seen in an indie movie.

Ignore the stupid "All Revved Up" marketing, and just watch this as a quirky indie movie to avoid being disappointed. If you are a fan of Patton, Turturro and/or Taylor, this is a must have for your movie collection.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Who Decides What Is Real?



Changing Realms
by Shona Bradbury
100 pages
$.99 Kindle version

Elizabeth has lived two different lives as long as she can remember. In one life, she was diagnosed as schizophrenic and institutionalized at a psychiatric hospital in northern California, and eventually released into out-patient psychotherapy. In her other life, Elizabeth lives as the daughter of an English nobleman in the mid-sixteenth century.

I chose to read this story because I was looking for something different. It came up during a science fiction search, but I think this was more drama and suspense than sci-fi. Regardless of which genre you would call it, the story is very entertaining. I was hooked from the beginning, with the idea of a woman living two lives in two different time periods. Essentially, when she goes to sleep in one life, she wakes up in the next. She thinks her soul has been split into two by some magic spell, but with the diagnosis of schizophrenia, readers will have to decide if she is really experiencing a time shift of sorts or if she is just mentally ill.

Towards the end, the main character has a revelation in her medieval life, which, I thought, is a fantastic twist. That same revelation, when brought to light during a therapy session, twists yet again. I was kept guessing right up to the last page, and I'm still not sure what to think about the woman's predicament. However, I am certain readers will appreciate the creativity of the author.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Jungle Zombies



Pray For Darkness
by James Michael Rice
328 pages
$2.99 Kindle version

In this novel, a group of tourists find themselves trapped with a tribe infected by zombie ants. Their riverboat captain is killed, leaving them stranded and they have to fight their way back to civilization with a tribe of hungry corpses on their trail.

I love how the book begins with the group in hiding from the infected, and then flashes all the way back to the beginning of their ill-fated adventure in the Amazon jungle. Knowing ahead of time that the group is going to be screwed big-time, and that they have already lost one of their fellow survivors, built up the suspense to a point where I felt I couldn't put the book down, at least, until I reached the part where they are in hiding. It proved to be an incredibly intense read.

Unlike many other authors, Rice does not depend on excessive violence or graphic sexual content to propel the story, but rather creates imagery and characters that will make readers feel as if they too are in the jungle. For the first time in my life, I was actually rooting for ALL the characters, and the ending left me devastated, but thoroughly entertained.

I'm sure there will be some debate on whether or not the infected could be considered zombies, but there is no doubt in my mind that zombiephiles will be pleased with the source of the infection. I also think this novel will appeal to horror fans in general, especially those who enjoy stories that feed on people's most basic fears.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Get Your Sugar On: Sci-Fi Erotica


The Brede Chronicles Book 1 by P.I. Barrington was one of my top ten sci-fi picks for 2014. The story follows Alekzander Brede, a bad-ass alien, and Elektra Tate, the street orphan who loves him. After she appears to betray him without reason, Brede punishes her by taking away their son, and vengeance destroys what they once had.

I became a fan of Barrington's after reading Isadora DayStar...I didn't expect her to be able to top that...and then Barrington wrote The Brede Chronicles - a science fiction bodice ripper set in a dystopian future complete with aliens.

Her new series is packed with action and drama, and most of it is unpredictable, much like the characters. Barrington has created a complex world without relying too heavily on technological details. In other words, it's entertaining and descriptive without being overwhelming -something that both hardcore and casual science fiction fans can enjoy.

There is one particular "secretion" scene which is weirdly erotic...Barrington's characters are true xenophiles, and she has given new meaning to the word "sugar".

As far as Isadora DayStar...she is an unusual choice for a protagonist -- she's a former soldier, a drug addict, a thief, and an assassin, who often prostitutes herself to alien species to make ends meet because she's not very good at killing her marks. Her whole existence is based around her addiction to a drug that she encountered during her military service, and it is an utterly pathetic existence at that.

I loved the imagery of this futuristic universe, with rather unusual descriptions of Isadora's main world, Rho (a moon that never sees the light of a sun). Instead of focusing on the technology, Barrington highlights the changes in the social structure of the human race. (For example, religion is outlawed, and additional laws had to be enacted regarding sexual contact with other alien races.) It shows incredible imagination on the part of Barrington. Between the various species, interplanetary travel, and new moral codes of the existing human race, I was enthralled by the plight of Isadora as she finds herself in big trouble after a deadly bacteria infection causes her to abandon ship en route to another planet.

Isadora was an excellent story about struggling with inner demons and self-redemption, but instead of being set in a modern world, Barrington had the great idea to write the drama with a science fiction theme, which I think readers will appreciate immensely.

I would love to read a crossover novel with both DayStar and Brede together. Until then, I will continue waiting for the sequels...

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, June 8, 2015

Crazy Weekend, Editing Issues



I haven't had much time to read and review this week. I did finish a great novel by Lori Titus called Bell House, but it won't be released until July, so I can't review it just yet. Since I haven't posted anything in the past couple of days, I thought I would write a quick note about an issue that came up while I was reading another novel...

When I read a story, I base my reading experience on things such as character development, consistency, grammar and spelling errors, the pace…so on and so forth. You get the idea.

I try not to compare stories, unless I’m using something for a point of reference, but a great story with bad editing is likely to get a similar rating as an okay story with great editing.

However, the first kind would have a review highlighting the best story elements with some constructive criticism, while the second kind would emphasize what needs fixing with a mention of what is good.

If you’re going to spend the time and energy on full-length novel, you should always invest in a good editor.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, June 5, 2015

Infected, Cannibals and Zombies: What's The Difference?

One of the oldest debates in the horror community is defining a zombie. Is it someone who simply doesn't have control of his or her free will? Is it someone who is alive but controlled by a virus? Do they have to have died at some point? If they eat flesh and have no self-control, but they are alive, are they a cannibal or a zombie?


The Liger Plague by Joseph Souza might possibly be a new angle in the zombie debate; if the living infected in 28 Days Later fall into the realm of zombies, readers should at least consider adding Souza’s latest creation to the list. The Liger infected are unable to control their actions, they feed on human flesh, and they “hunt” much like traditional hordes. Due to the mysterious nature of the deadly hybrid virus, it’s possible Souza’s first novel in his new series didn’t reveal the entire transformation of the infected.

The majority of the story takes place on Cooke Island, where Tag, an ARMY scientist who specializes in the study of biological weapons, owns a summer home. Just as he is about to join his wife and daughter on the island for an art festival, Tag receives a warning that a new deadly virus is about to be released on the island. What follows is Tad’s struggle to quarantine the island, find his family & fight the infected…not to mention all the survivors looking to gather supplies by any means necessary.

Tag’s two main companions on the island are Fez, a kid who can’t find his parents, and Versa, the most unpleasant character that lives on the island. (If I were Tag, I would have thrown Versa into a crowd of ravenous infected, and been done with her, right at the start.) Tag’s adversaries include a bunch of bikers, some religious nuts, the local law enforcement and the government agents on the mainland. Tag is not by any means the only capable survivor, but he appears to be the only one who understands how much worse the situation will be if the Liger virus finds a way off the island.

Souza somehow manages to paint a sickening picture of the infected (don’t bother eating while you read this novel), while drawing sympathy for the Liger victims at the same time. By allowing the infected to retain the ability to communicate, readers are given a chilling insight into the true horror of the Liger plague.

In the sequel, Lethal Chain, some time has passed since the end of the first novel. The terrorist has his own POV this time, and readers are shown some of his background. Some of the information is revealed through the investigation of two reporters. Swain is one of those reporters, and she believes that Tag has been framed...unfortunately, it appears that Tag's wife thinks he is guilty of unleashing the virus on Cooke Island. In fact, Tag has been blamed for everything, and he is desperate to contact his family, as well as clear his name, but the terrorist keeps playing games with Tag's life. Fez continues to help Tag, and proves to be a reliable back-up time and time again.

I wasn't as impressed with the characters as I was the first time, but I did enjoy the addition of Swain. She and the terrorist seem to have some similarities in their pasts, but she chose a completely different path in life. The multiple storylines keep things interesting, especially when they overlap, but the action isn't as exciting as the first novel, and it felt like the story dragged a little in a few places. When the storylines finally converge, it was almost anti-climactic, but Monica (Tag's wife) proves to be just as much of a bad-ass as her husband.

I didn't think of Lethal Chain as much of a sequel as an interlude...although it wasn't clear if there will be a third installment. I certainly hope there will be.

I also recommend The Living Dead series by Joseph Souza.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Intrigue, Tragedy and Love



A Triple Knot
by Emma Campion
480 pages
$7.99 Kindle version

Joan of Kent, cousin to King Edward III, is going to be betrothed to a potential ally, but she is not resigned to her fate as a political pawn, especially after her father's execution at the hands of her own kin. She then pledges her love to another man.

Reading historical fiction has always been a personal indulgence of mine, but I get nervous selecting a novel by an author that is unknown to me. Luckily, Campion has an excellent writing style. She allows the emotions of her characters to tell the story, and this works quite well for a plot centered on the drama of personal relationships and unwanted love triangles.

Even when the POV switched between characters, there were no jarring moments as the story flowed between secrets, confessions, confrontations and revelations.

I wouldn't dare compare Emma Campion to Philippa Gregory...I think Campion deserves to be recognized as a talented storyteller in her own right.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Hump Day Horror

Every now and then, I need to remind myself why I became a fan of the horror genre. It wasn't because of the monsters (real or perceived) or the violence and/or gore...it was the unknown.

Robert S. Wilson takes the biggest unknown - death - and terrifies readers without monsters, gore or violence...just the darkness waiting to snatch the dying light.

In this story of a catcher, one who brings others back from death, he himself has to be rescued by another catcher. He also falls in love with someone he has caught. Eventually, the unknown catches up to him, and he can't ignore it any longer.

Great flash fiction for fans of The Twilight Zone or Tales From The Darkside.


Joe McKinney has a way of describing this post-apocalyptic world without being too wordy, and yet the images stay with you, even when you've finished the story...very disturbing images.

This story takes place 30 years after a zombie apocalypse...a man-made plague. The town of Arbella can barely contain the population of ten-thousand people, offspring of the First Generation to survive the initial outbreak. A group has set out to see if it is possible to safely expand their borders; however, their decades of isolation has left them unprepared for First Contact.

The people of Arbella live by a strict Code, which has helped them survive and thrive, but a betrayal of trust will jeopardize the expedition. There is also the mystery of the exotic airships, which appear to be able to herd the undead hordes.

McKinney basically brought together science fiction and horror to create what I believe is his best story to date. He ties in the cause of the plague to the reason there are still zombies 30 years later, and provides one hell of an explanation for the movement of the hordes.

Last, but not least, McKinney includes four short stories that are extremely entertaining. They include a type of survivor called a Faker, which is devastatingly haunting.

You don't have to be a zombie fan to appreciate the sci-fi horror between these pages.



I admit, being a resident of Michigan, the setting intrigued me, but the way the author took an American folklore legend and twisted Paul Bunyan into a raging undead monster was too good to resist!

I'm not sure what this says about me, but I really enjoyed all of the bad guys in this story - they just seem to have far more personality than the "good" guys...Angus, for example, is one sick cannibalistic psycho, but he appears more focused than other characters, such as Captain Haley and pregnant Marina.

There are such sharp differences in the various groups of survivors that, whenever they cross paths, it's quite an orchestration of chaos. Williams is one hell of a horrific story-teller!

I'm not sure if this is a stand-alone or not, but I hope this story will be continued.