Monday, August 31, 2015

Dunwoody Raises Hell

The 3 Egos
by David Dunwoody
277 pages
$2.99 Kindle version
Talent, once a man who made a deal with the Devil, escaped his fate and evaded Hell for thousands of years, until the day he let his guard down while searching for a dimensional door. At first glance, it seems this is just another story about a guy who regrets selling his soul, but that is only one tiny part of the story. I have been a fan of Dunwoody for years, and I think this is his best work yet. He's written a very complex novel about redemption and revenge, without overwhelming readers, and the characters are anything but typical, displaying the best and worst of human nature. Quite frankly, this is the best description of Hell that I've ever read.

When Talent is captured, I felt his pain as I read the detailed description of his mental and physical suffering. But Talent is only one piece of Dunwoody's carefully crafted puzzle. Chith is the first "ego," Talent is the second and the third is the elusive Sephus. Hallows is the Chief Inspector in Hell, Els is an angel, also Hell's High Court Chief Vicar. Lace is a werewolf - one of Hell's enforcers. Last but not least, Sue Christmas is the object of the Devil's unwanted affection, a.k.a. Suicide (aptly named as the story reveals). The way the characters interact with each other is the most compelling element of the story, but there is so much more to entertain and enthrall readers.

Satan is plotting his biggest move yet, God is missing and the Egos uncover several other secrets that have them questioning not only their own lives but also the purpose of mankind. The ending is somewhat anti-climactic...wrapped up too neatly considering the tsunami of drama and continuous battles between Heaven, Hell and Purgatory.

Despite my reservations about the ending, Dunwoody continues to show his expertise as a horror author, using suspense to send his readers in to an absolute frenzy, much like the characters in his book. Well done.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Thank Gawd, It's OVER!!

London Macabre
by Steven Savile
421 pages
$2.99 Kindle version
A group of stedfast men stand in the daemon’s way, led by Fabian Stark, a man himself doomed to die before even the first die is cast, and each of them cursed in their own way: Dorian Carruthers, Haddon McCreedy, Eugene Napier, Anthony Millington, and Brannigan Locke. The Grayfriar’s Gentleman’s Club.


(I noticed when I pulled this title up on Amazon, there is another version that was released by the same author in 2012. I was also given the impression that this novel might have been intended to be part of a series. So, I write this review not knowing what the author's intentions are regarding the release of this version.)

Let me just say that the concept behind London Macabre truly interested me, but it wasn't long before I began to regret reading this novel. The first problem I encountered is the number of main characters. I've read stories with a large cast before, but there isn't much character development, particularly with the relationships between the Gentlemen. Perhaps if there had been more personal history included, the tragedies that befall the Gentlemen might have had more impact. There is a lot of emphasis on the supernatural talents of each man, but not much else is revealed about their personalities. The one called Mason flashes back on his family connection to the Gentlemen, making him the most developed, but I still felt like more effort could have been spent on the characters.

The setup is painfully slow, and it doesn't help that the descriptions of the demons and Hell are a bit mundane. Maybe I am desensitized because of all the horror novels that I read, but for all the buildup, I didn't feel any dread or terror. I spent most of the novel wondering when I would have that a-ha moment that would justify the insane length of time it took me to get through this story.

The twists with the different dimensions, past lives and various angels show great imagination from the author, but there is so much emphasis on the metaphysical action and pseudo-religious themes, reading this story felt more like navigating an obstacle course than experiencing the mystery-drama that I was originally expecting. I think this might possibly be the first time that I felt an author put too much into a single story. I feel that if Savile had broken this story into two or three books, then he would have had the space to develop his characters and their relationships further.

If the novel had been written more like the last two or three chapters, I probably would have given it five stars. As it is, I don't know who I could recommend London Macabre to, so...proceed with caution, and clear your calendar.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Saturday Shorts: Snack-Size Stories

Forebodings
by Norman Wyle
162 pages
$1.99 Kindle version
Forebodings is a collection of six short stories by Norman Wyle that range from tales of the occult, to a science fiction horror story set in the distant future. Forebodings has something for every fan of the horror, thriller, and suspense genre.


I enjoyed the variety of this anthology:

HE LIVES is a suspenseful story about a horrific decision that has been unearthed.

THE BEST FRIEND is a gruesome tale about a friend who intervenes in a marital dispute.

DO NOT DISTURB is a fantastic vampire story.

THE DINER needs to be a full-length novel; I loved the originality of the monsters, and the story is my favorite.

FOR A BETTER TOMORROW is a sci-fi story about a hopeful discovery turning into a nightmare of epic proportions.

THE DARK RIDERS has a little bit of everything in it, with a strong western flavor - the ultimate showdown.

I hope to read more from Noah Wyle in the near future.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, August 10, 2015

An Apple A Day Keeps The Vampires Away

Applewood
by Brendan P. Myers
244 pages
$3.99 Kindle version
In a small Massachusetts town, Scott Dugan and his tightly bonded group of friends struggle with the same pains that plague millions of teens like them -- bullies, broken families, money problems, relationships. But the evil that revives to spread through their town confronts them with a far darker and more destructive adversary.

At first delighted by the disappearance of the town bullies, Dugan and his outcast friends soon realize they must do battle against a growing vampire army led by the town's long dead Civil War hero. Along the way, they'll find clues in the diary of a young boy not unlike themselves, and strength in their own unique bonds of friendship. But victory, if it's even possible, will come at a terrible cost. Some, like Dugan, will never be the same.



Brendan P. Myers has written a story that features a group of young boys, not unlike Stand By Me, with a horror a bit like Phantasm. Applewood has a slow beginning, but it didn't take long for me to get into the story. The novel begins with an unusual murder in present time, then flashes back to the childhood of the main characters, which draws readers into the heart of the story and surrounds them with drama, suspense and horror. Also, the background of the characters makes everything more emotional.

The writing style of Myers is excellent, blending two mysteries into one fantastic vampire story. There is a sequel, Fledge, which follows the character Scott, but Applewood easily functions as a stand-alone. Even if you aren't into vampires, I recommend this story to all horror fans, including readers of YA fiction.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Sociology of Haters & Trolls

Reading The Comments
Joseph M. Reagle, Jr.
240 pages
$15.39 Kindle Version
Reagle visits communities of Amazon reviewers, fan fiction authors, online learners, scammers, freethinkers, and mean kids. He shows how comment can inform us (through reviews), improve us (through feedback), manipulate us (through fakery), alienate us (through hate), shape us (through social comparison), and perplex us. He finds pre-Internet historical antecedents of online comment in Michelin stars, professional criticism, and the wisdom of crowds. He discusses the techniques of online fakery (distinguishing makers, fakers, and takers), describes the emotional work of receiving and giving feedback, and examines the culture of trolls and haters, bullying, and misogyny. He considers the way comment -- a nonstop stream of social quantification and ranking -- affects our self-esteem and well-being. And he examines how comment is puzzling -- short and asynchronous, these messages can be slap-dash, confusing, amusing, revealing, and weird, shedding context in their passage through the Internet, prompting readers to comment in turn, "WTF?!?"


As a reviewer/blogger, I was really excited to read this book. I thought it was great that someone decided to focus on the comments that shape and influence numerous types of websites, as well as the effect they have on the people who use those sites. However, I think Reagle missed his opportunity to truly explore new ground and, instead, wrote one anecdote after another. Considering the controversy over Amazon reviews in particular, I'm surprised at how little he covered the sociological aspects of this new culture that has developed as the internet has evolved.

A lot of the information provided seems like unnecessary filler, such as details about products for sale, instead of spotlighting the different types of reviewers and other online commentators. As a result, the insight that Reagle provides loses its impact on the reader. The most enlightening section is Chapter 3, which discusses the various forms of manipulation that occurs through reviews, comments, likes, etc. I wish the rest of the book had been more like that chapter.

In any case, if you are a reviewer, blogger or someone who relies on the internet to make a living, I recommend reading this book - it's entertaining, if not informative.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Saturday Short: Road Construction Can Be A Killer

The Night Has Teeth
by Randy Speeg
18 pages
Currently FREE on Kindle
Carrie and her husband Steve are traveling to her parents house for what is supposed to be a relaxing holiday weekend. However a sudden severe thunderstorm and a very unexpected detour will lead them to somewhere else entirely and an encounter with a horror neither could have ever imagined. This is one get away that will teach them there really is...no place like home.


Steve is driving his wife Carrie to visit her family in West Virginia in a rain storm. During the drive, Carrie thinks she sees a bigfoot digging on the side of the road. Her observation and her reflections on her strange past is a great way to bring readers along for the ride. The character's thoughts build the suspense, so, by the time the action takes place, the nightmare is in full swing.

What I thought to be a predictable twist turned out to be the most unexpected ending that I've read in a long time! I hope to read more by Randy Speeg.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, August 7, 2015

Love Hurts

The Preservationist
by Justin Kramon
336 pages
$9.99 Kindle version
To Sam Blount, meeting Julia is the best thing that has ever happened to him. Working at the local college and unsuccessful in his previous relationships, he’d been feeling troubled about his approaching fortieth birthday, “a great beast of a birthday,” as he sees it, but being with Julia makes him feel young and hopeful. Julia Stilwell, a freshman trying to come to terms with a recent tragedy that has stripped her of her greatest talent, is flattered by Sam’s attention. But their relationship is tested by a shy young man with a secret, Marcus Broley, who is also infatuated with Julia.


The character development is excellent. I couldn't predict the behavior of Julia, Marcus or Sam, and the supporting characters provided some great misdirection. I was guessing all the way to the end, and I enjoyed not knowing what would happen next.

I think the using three POVs to tell the story helped keep me on edge, and each switch is clearly labeled. However, the POVs overlap on the story's timeline, so I was a little confused at first. I think readers will get a kick out of seeing the same situation from three different perspectives...and yet Kramon doesn't reveal everything about his characters' inner thoughts - that is the real key to the suspense.

I hope to read more by Justin Kramon.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, August 2, 2015

How A Serial Killer Thinks

The Killing Lessons
by Saul Black
400 pages
$12.99 Kindle version
The Killing Lessons is a suspense-thriller about a San Francisco homicide detective, Valerie Hart, who has been hunting a serial killer for some time. Her career is in jeopardy, due to a lack of progress in the case, and her personal life is a train wreck. When a random home invasion appears to have the same modus operandi as the murders in her case file, Hart is determined to catch the killer, even if it kills her in the process.

Nell is the child who manages to escape from the grisly attack upon her family, but she is injured and trapped in a remote cabin with a crippled stranger. Unfortunately, the serial killer finds out there is a witness, he hunts Nell down as he tries to evade Detective Hart, and readers must bear witness to the deadly race between the two opposing forces.

Saul Black does an excellent job of portraying the horrific suffering of the victims, without being overly graphic, while contrasting the killer's determination with that of the detective to create a sickening masterpiece in terror. I wanted Hart to find the killer, not just to stop him, but to redeem herself...the way she devalued herself made it painful to read her POV. In comparison, Nell - the young girl - is truly the strongest female character, and her struggle to survive gave me more hope than anything Hart was doing.

There is also another female character, Carla York, a federal agent determined to kick Hart off the case and destroy the detective's career...I found her to be more of an antagonist than the actual serial killer. Black cleverly orchestrates drama between York and Hart to keep readers guessing about York's true motivation until the very end.

The ending is well-written, but not nearly as shocking as the events leading up to the finale. However, I enjoyed this story a great deal, and I will never look at the alphabet the same way again.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Saturday Shorts: Zombies On Parade

The Dead Walk
A Zombie Anthology
200 pages
$2.99 Kindle version
The Dead Walk is a zombie anthology full of strange stories about the undead:

THE WALKING MAN by Guy Burtenshaw features the solitary life of a man in a dystopian undead world.

SPIDERS IN FROM THE GARDEN by Jason R. Davis is a creepy combination of spiders and zombies.

AFTERLIFE DEATH by Jeremy Thompson is a story that I enjoyed due to the science fiction element with reanimation.

PLAGUE FERRY by Matthew Pedersen has a very intense zombie story with a science fiction setting.

THEY WALK THE NIGHT by Kevin A. Harris is a voodoo story.

THIRTY SECONDS by Eugene Gramelis is a sad story of betrayal and one of my favorites.

REQUIEM FOR THE LIVING by Timothy A. Wiseman has the POV of an infected.

A FLASH OF LIGHT by Stuart Conover is another favorite of mine with a unique POV of a zombie.

ZOMBI 6: SALVATION by James Park is a diatribe in the form of a letter.

SURVIVALISM by Amy Braun features a survivor trapped in a straight jacket.

SIX by Daniel DeLong is about a couple of trapped survivors trying to get a signal out.

THE SEASON by Brendan Wilhelm is one of the best stories in the collection; I wish it had been longer.

THE LE KA MASSACRE by Joseph Rubas involves a military cover-up.

ZEN AND THE ART OF BICYCLE DELIVERY by Michael Seese is funny in a twisted way.

VIRULENT by Eric Morgner is also one of the best stories, with survivors hiding from zombies in a mine; I wish this was a full-length novel.

The authors get points for originality, which is difficult in the zombie genre, but there just aren't that many stories that really popped out and grabbed me...most are just okay, but stories like Virulent and The Season make it worth reading.

As always,
AstraDaemon