Saturday, December 26, 2015

Saturday Stalking

Knottington by Jammie White is a pretty good suspense-thriller, but I think the author could have done a better. Andrea, the main character, tries to begin a new life after inheriting a house, but issues with an abusive ex-boyfriend, a love triangle and a sadistic stalker threaten to destroy her life. There is a lot of misdirection, which keeps things interesting, but some of it is too obvious.

I think this story could have benefitted from additional editing and more depth in general. I wish the characters had been further developed, to evoke more emotion from readers, but the use of alternating POVs keeps the pace steady.

White has a lot of talent, and I would definitely read another novel by this author.

As always,

Friday, December 25, 2015

Top Five Novels of 2015

This year I broke away from zombies and revisited many other horror sub-genres. I found numerous novels that I enjoyed, but the following five really stood out above the others:

#5 - The Girl Clay by Amy Cross has all the best elements at work in this story: horror, mystery, suspense and drama. The horror ranges from real-life issues to the supernatural.The two storylines, set ten years apart, are the perfect way to build suspense throughout the novel, until readers are finally shown all the connections. Last but not least, I loved the drama surrounding the girl Clay, specifically the detachment she maintains with everyone around her.

#4 - The 3 Egos by David Dunwoody is the author's best work. 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.

#3 - Sad Wings of Destiny by Thom Brannan is one of the more unusual works of fiction that I've read. In the case of Brannan's latest masterpiece, the hook with Jacob/Stephen is one of the most exquisite character reveals that I've read in any genre. I was instantly drawn to that character, even though I had a lot of difficulty getting into the story itself. I'm not really into superheroes or supervillains in literature - movies, sure, but not when it comes to my reading material. I was rewarded with a spectacular drama that incorporates science fiction, fantasy and horror in ways I've never imagined.

#2 - Unpaved Surfaces by Joseph Souza has an extremely well-developed cast of characters, and switching between their POVs gives the readers a 360 degree view of the impact of the child abduction at the heart of the story. This novel is guaranteed to take readers on an emotional journey they will not soon forget. I think this story would also make a great movie.

The biggest surprise of all...

#1 - The Bell House by Lori Titus caught me completely off guard...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. This story is full of dark family secrets and angry spirits, pitting the living against the dead…one of the most frightening novels of 2015.

As always,

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Top Five Anthologies of 2015

I've read a lot of anthologies this year, and a few of them were fundraisers for some excellent charities. However, I know how little time many of you have for reading, especially at this time of year, so I've limited my Top Anthology list to five:

#5 - Whines and Spirits by John A Connor has an excellent variety of twenty-two stories, each with their own unique plots. Connor is an upcoming author I will be reviewing again in the future.

#4 - Deadsville by Dale Elster and T.D. Trask is a collection of stories that take place in a fictional town in New York. The two make an excellent writing duo, and I hope they release another volume soon.

#3 - Fantasy For Good is a charity anthology that supports The Colon Cancer Alliance. The stories, written by some of the most well-known authors in the business, include a variety of fantasy sub-genres.

#2 - Times of Trouble is an anthology featuring a time-travel theme. I found this collection to be one of the best science fiction anthologies ever published.

Last, but not least...

#1 - At Hell's Gates: Bound By Blood, another charity anthology, which donates proceeds to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. There are actually three volumes currently available, each with its own theme, but this volume is my favorite of the three and focuses on the dark side of family.

There you have it, horror fans, my TOP FIVE ANTHOLOGY picks for 2015. Check back for my next top five: NOVELS.

As always,

P.S. Not all of the titles were published in 2015, but they are from my 2015 review list.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

A Real Shopping Nightmare

A Very Zombie Christmas by Rebecca M. Senese makes Black Friday look like a cake walk.

Surprisingly, the first half of this story was written in a somewhat serious manner. Melissa is working at a department store, when a zombie outbreak begins in the shoe department. She witnesses one of the other employees get bitten and join the ranks of the infected, but she has a hard time convincing her co-workers that they have a zombie problem -- everyone else just thinks it's the customers acting crazy during their Christmas shopping.

The first person to believe Melissa is a young man named Danny who helps her gear up, and together they fight their way to the security room, where a few other survivors have managed to reach safely. Assisted by another co-worker named Steve, Melissa and Danny search the store to find other survivors, including Danny's family.

During their search, the story takes a funny twist when Melissa realizes the zombies still have memories of shopping, and have retained their instincts to seek out a sale. Using the promise of 75% off items, the rescue group attempts to lure the infected into an area of the store where they can lock up the undead, and clear the rest of the store of any stragglers.

I would have given the story five stars because I thought it was pretty good for a humorous zombie holiday tale, but I thought the ending was a little on the weak side. I would have liked to see it end on a more serious tone, the same as it began, rather than the cheesy little wrap-up.

If you don't have time for a full length story, and you appreciate a blend of absurdity, the undead, and a Christmas theme, check out this story about a shopping nightmare.

As always,

Monday, December 21, 2015

Holiday of the Dead

38 holiday-themed zombie stories from new and established authors...

Over 500 pages crammed full of flesh-eating horror and dark humor from the cream of UK, US and Canadian talent. Theme parks, serial killers, seaside resorts, Christmas, Thanksgiving and fishing trips.

Not only is this a great sampling of some of the best authors from the zombie genre, but an incredible showcase of what the horror sub-genre has to offer. Too many people think zombie stories are comparable to zombie movies, when, in fact, undead stories have evolved far more than the undead in the film industry.

This anthology exceeded my expectations...various locations, an array of holiday settings - everything from weekend getaways to major holiday celebrations, and some of the best zombie action that I've ever read.

I would definitely put this collection in my top ten list for anthologies.

More holiday horror later this week...

As always,

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Krampus Schmampus

It's that time of year when all I hear about is Krampus or Elf on the Shelf (oooh - how about a celebrity death mathc between those two?!), so I am reminding horror fans there are some great holiday classics available for those of you who enjoy bumping in the night. (Um...not sure that came out right...)

One of my favorite twists on a familiar tale is a story by Rebecca Brock: A Christmas Carol of the Living Dead, a truly frightening version of Ebenezer Scrooge and his Christmas Eve visits from the three ghosts.

Instead of just adding zombies to the original story, Brock changed up the plot. She immediately writes about "The Uprising," and Marley rises as one of the undead. Scrooge feels people should be more concerned with patrolling the walls than celebrating Christmas, but Scrooge insists on charging for the stone replacements, which no one can the walls grow weaker.

The descriptions of Marley's ghost, and the three Christmas ghosts were outstanding! I loved Brock's visual take on the after-life consequences of the undead infection. The past ghost shows an attack by Scrooge's undead grandmother, a horde of zombies attacking a holiday party, and his ex-fiancé' Belle succumbing to a bite. The present ghost reveals that Tiny Tim had his leg cut off to stop the spread of infection, and the North wall collapses. The future ghost warns Scrooge that he will become one of the zombies, and the Cratchit's try to hold out in their attic...unsuccessfully.

What I found most interesting is that in Brock's version, Scrooge is responsible for the initial outbreak. It was an HP Lovecraft type of twist.

Check back this week for more holiday suggestions.

As always,

Friday, December 4, 2015

From Ursula

There are men and women who have served and are currently serving in our military. Most of them will never be known outside of their families and friends; we won't learn their names. Most of them will never be called out as heroes, even though they deserve to be recognized for their sacrifices. A lot of them will never even be thanked, even though they are appreciated by many of us.

There are also men and women who are civilians, who will most likely remain strangers to most of us. They too will never be called heroes, even though they strive to make our country a better place to live in many ways, from community service to the simple act of being kind to strangers.

I want all of those people to know that, even though I am one of those people who will most likely never know your name, you are all heroes to me. I acknowledge I am able to live the life I have not only by the love and support of people I know, but also by the time and efforts of people I don't know. As a matter of fact, my life is largely impacted by strangers, but your anonymity doesn't make me any less grateful.

You all matter. WE ALL MATTER.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for all that have done and all that you continue to do to make this country a place worth calling home.

As always,
Ursula K. Raphael

Thursday, November 19, 2015

No Going Back

In Project Hindsight by Steven Pajak (author of the Mad Swine series), Joe gets a phone call at two in the morning from Rachel, an old girlfriend who's been missing for thirteen years. She eventually reveals that she was forced to be part of a secret government project, and the two of them are being hunted by agents sent to retrieve Rachel.

Several friendships and other relationships are torn apart and utterly destroyed because of Project Hindsight. The story is filled with drama and action, and the ending is absolutely brutal.

Steven Pajak continues to perfect his style of horror, this time focusing on the sick ambition of men and their ruthless way of taking whatever they want. Pajak continues to be one of my favorite authors.

As always,

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Casual Approach To WW2

I thought Clara by Kurt Palka was to be a story of love between an aristocratic young woman and the cavalry officer, but it is one of the most emotionless books that I've ever read...ever. Inspired by a collection of documents, the author seems more interested in showing off what he knows about that part of history, rather than showing any real talent for story-telling. It could easily have been a story about androids for the lack of human emotions.

Clara, the woman at the center of the novel, seems very cold and unfeeling throughout most of the novel. She shows more interest in her books than in her own children or husband. The character development is almost non-existent, and, despite the time period, there is little drama within. The story reads more like an essay than a novel.

I haven't been this disappointed with a book in a long time.

As always,

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Crossing Through Hell

The Dead Run by Adam Mansbach begins with a man, aptly named Mulligan, attempting to cross from Mexico to the U.S.; he blacks out and comes to with a beautiful woman tearing into his thigh with her teeth. The story then cuts away to Jess Galvan, who tries to save a young girl from gang rape, only to end up in a Mexican prison. The POV continues to move from one character to another, including Galvan's daughter Sherry Richards and Sheriff Bob Nichols.

Sherry is kidnapped on her way home; her mom is a recovering cult member. Meanwhile, Nichols finds a dead girl in the desert near the border with the "kiss of the devil" stabbed into her chest. Nichols is contacted by Ruth Cantwell, the doctor who was treating Sherry's mother after the mother and daughter escaped from a cult. It's not clear at first how the three storylines fit together, but they do converge, it makes for a great horror-thriller with a touch of the supernatural.

Aaron Seth is the cult leader with one hell of a god-complex, but he is not as frightening as the demonic forces at work in the desert. There is an abundance of action, drama and carnage, and the entire story takes place within a 24 hour time period. The Dead Run is also the first book in a new series based on Jess Galvan. I cant wait to see what Mansbach has in store for the reluctant "boy scout".

As always,

Monday, November 16, 2015

Story Within A Story

Thirty Girls by Susan Minot is a powerful novel based on real-life events that took place in Uganda, in 1996: an abduction of the girls from St. Mary's College of Aboke. The POV moves between Jane, a journalist, and Esther, a girl from St. Mary's. Jane is on the rebound from a divorce; her ex-husband died from a drug overdose. Esther has escaped from her captors and she is trying to heal mentally and physically at a rehabilitation facility.

The two women suffer pain and loss in completely different ways, but their suffering bonds the two together. The novel explores the various ways of interacting and connecting with other people in unfamiliar situations. Jane learns more about herself as she investigates the story of the girls that escaped from the rebel army, and her self-discovery is moving. However, Esther's journey makes a lasting impression - I can't imagine what it would be like to be torn from my bed in the middle of the night and be subjected to the atrocities that Esther was forced to endure.

The novel is not a political statement - it's a story about human nature and how we perceive life based on our personal experiences. I recommend this novel to anyone who needs to take a step out of their comfort zone.

As always,

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Hell's Gates Open Again For Horror Fans

At Hell's Gates: Origins of Evil is the second volume of an effort to raise money for the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. I have already read volumes one and three, and I have yet to be disappointed. Whatever method they are using to choose the stories, it's working well. There is something for every horror fan, including science fiction and fantasy subgenres mixed with classical horror elements, and, if you're not normally a fan of the horror genre, you will be after reading any of the anthologies.

This particular volume had numerous stories bordering on the bizarro genre, so, once again, the volume is unique from the other two:

PULSE BY MARK TUFO is a fantastic thriller about a bug zapper, kind of like Borne Identity meets the SyFy channel.
COOKIES FOR THE GENTLEMAN BY C.T. PHIPPS is a dark and hopeless tale about an unwanted visitor.
BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY BY EVIN AGER introduces an Army MP with a Lovecraft-type of deployment.
HISTORY'S END BY FRANK TAYELL is proof that even the smartest person can make a really stupid mistake.
A MOTHER'S NIGHTMARE BY J. RUDOLPH is a sad zombie story that will tear your heart out.
PATIENT 63 BY STEVE KOPAS is one of my favorites; this is an excellent outbreak story.
TYRANNICAL ASCENSION BY SHANA FESTA is a twisted apocalypse story that I enjoyed a lot.
INK BY JAMES CRAWFORD is another favorite of mine about the dark meaning of a tattoo.
THE MAN WITH FOUR SCARS BY STEPHEN KOZENIEWSKI is Clan of the Cave Bear meets Night of the Comet, and is one of the very best stories in this volume.
DADDY'S GIRL BY IAN McCLELLAN caught me off-guard with the twist; well-written.
THE INFECTED BY SG LEE shows how a zombie virus is born.
FORGET ME NEVER BY SHARON STEVENSON tells the tale of a starlet's dark secret to success.
MIRAGE BY SEAN T. SMITH is a story that Ray Bradbury would be proud of.
THE MILLSTONE BY LESA KINNEY ANDERS is another favorite in this collection; it's one of the best vampire stories that I've ever read.
GENESIS BY KIT POWER is an intense thriller-prequel to the novel "Godbomb!"
LOCKDOWN BY TIM CALDWELL features a zombie outbreak at a school.
COLLECTION NIGHT BY CURREN GEIST is a gut-wrenching sci-fi story...a damn good one.
THE COLD BY DEVAN SAGLIANI is one of the most unusual stories in the entire anthology.
A DIFFERENT COCKTAIL BY CLAIRE C. RILEY is about a cult meeting that goes horribly wrong for one young man.
A SONG TO SING IN BABYON BY BOBBY METEVIER & MATTHEW BAUGH is very weird...told from a demonic POV.
THE GOUGER BY PAUL MANNERING is a brutal ending to a brutal anthology.

The variety and originality of the stories makes this a perfect gift for horror fans, while contributing to a good cause.

As always,

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

My #1 Pick For 2015

On September 6th, 1965, Sutter Wayne Thomas, 8, went missing from the Mecklenburg County Fairgrounds in Charlotte, North Carolina. He remained missing for eight years, and when he returned, horribly scarred and disfigured, he remembered nothing of where he had been, who had taken him, or what had happened to him. His abductor was never apprehended, or even identified.

30 years later, Sutter is a highly-successful true crime author and a public relations agent for missing children, lending his fame and fortune to the efforts for their safe return. For the most part he has adjusted to the world around him, though any lingering effects from his ordeal flare to the forefront when on the exact anniversary of his abduction, another 8-year-old boy goes missing from the exact place, at the exact time, in the exact way Sutter had.

Heritage by H. Perry Horton is the best fiction that I've read all year. The novel begins with a news article, drawing in readers while laying down the foundation of the story. The story follows the POV of Sutter - a former kidnap victim and now a public relations agent for families of missing children, Patrick - the current missing boy, and Dale - a detoxing junkie who might know where Patrick is being held. There is disturbing imagery of the tortured little boy, but the description is subtle - no graphic details of the actual violence. I am impressed with how Horton terrifies readers without exploiting the pain and suffering of the characters for shock value.

Possibly due to the number of horror/mystery/thriller books I have read, I guessed correctly which character is the perpetrator and how the person gets away with it, but it didn't ruin the story for me at all...and, even though I figured out who the killer is, I couldn't have predicted the ending if my life depended on it.

I've never been so traumatized by a fictional character before reading Heritage. I've had nightmares from stories before, but this novel is so horrifying, I couldn't even read it one sitting. I kept having nightmares that the killer broke into my house to get to my son.

Horton is an exceptional horror writer, a true master of suspense, and I sincerely think this novel should be given an award. I look forward to reading more from this author.

As always,

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Death Is NOT A Sure Thing

This collection has more humor than horror - a dry, dark humor that doesn't appeal to me. By the time the stories become interesting, they're over, so that didn't help. There are a few stories that I really enjoyed: THE DEATH TRAP BUS, A GOOD WAY TO DIE, MURPHY'S INSURANCE LAW, A CHARITABLE DEATH, THE WAR ON HALLOWEEN and TIL DEATH DO YOU PART. If it had been just those stories, I would have given at least four stars, but I felt like I had to trek through a lot of muck to get to the must-reads.

Most of the stories are simply boring - not much change in one plot to the next. Even though there are different POVs, the character development is almost non-existent...people tended to react to the undead in the same nonchalant attitude from one story to the next. However, I am not saying, "don't bother reading this," I'm just saying that this anthology didn't impress me that much.

In all fairness, the horror anthologies that came out this year have been the very best that I've read in my life...the bar has been raised very high, indeed.

As always,

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Elster + Trask = Incredible Anthology

Deadsville, a collaboration between T.D. Trask and Dale Elster, is a great collection of suspenseful and horrific short stories. It begins with an undead poem by Trask to set the mood. My impressions of the stories:

THE PIT by ELSTER - regret and revenge
KNACKER MAN by TRASK - the sound of death
WHAT HAPPENED ON BLACK HILL ROAD by ELSTER - the evil version of The Giving Tree
KNEW IT ALL ALONG by TRASK - one of my favorites; premonition of hell
STILL WATER by ELSTER - another favorite; boy makes hard decision
THE OTHER REDEEMER by both - a test of faith
TREE BRANCHES IN THE WATER by TRASK - like a branch in the face
A JOB'S A JOB by TRASK - Hilarious!! Loved it!!
A CRACK IN THE WINDOW by ELSTER - broke my heart
KNOCK KNOCK by TRASK - surprising ending
HEAD SHOT by ELSTER - a great zombie story
THE CHILDREN IN THE MEADOW by TRASK - the most terrifying story in the anthology
DEAD BIRD by ELSTER - an excellent vampire story and a great end to the collection

I think Elster and Trask are great together, and I sincerely hope they write a second volume.

As always,

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Harbinger of the Undead Rain [Interview]

The Undead Rain series by Shaun Harbinger continues with the third book, Lightning, and the fourth book, Wildfire, is slated for a November release. Four friends are hiking in Wales, when news of a zombie outbreak finally reaches them, but they are somewhat in denial until a couple of soldiers from the SAS confirm their worst fears, so the group finds their way onto a boat.

Unfortunately, in Storm (Book 2), Alex gets the bright idea to go ashore to look for his family, even though he doesn't have a clue where they might be. Naturally, everything goes wrong for him as soon as his feet hit the ground, and he is separated from his boat. Luckily, he meets another group: Sam, Tanya and Jax.

The third book, Lightning, picks up immediately where Storm leaves off. Alex, the narrator of the series, is still searching for his brother Joe and their parents, but he finds himself on a mission to raid a government research lab for a vaccine that can reverse the hybrid mutation.

The author, Shaun Harbinger, gets it. You can't just throw in undead and gore and expect to call it a zombie story. Harbinger includes all the elements of classic horror: suspense, mystery and one horrifying surprise after another. Using this traditional formula, Harbinger provides thrilling terror without the need for graphic violence on every page.

As a result, I decided to invite Harbinger to the Lair...

Q. Why a series about zombies? Did you feel you had something original to expand the genre?
A. I’ve been a zombie fan for as long as I can remember. I can’t remember exactly when I first saw Romero’s “Night of the Living Dead” but I must have been at an impressionable age because its influence has stuck with me all this time. The story of a group of people thrown together and forced to survive has always appealed to me.

I didn’t set out to expand the genre. I just wanted to write an entertaining series in a genre I loved. I hopefully threw in a few original ideas, though. There’s a documentary that Alex, the main character, mentions about how viruses control their hosts. That’s an actual documentary that I saw a long time ago. I wondered how that virus behavior might translate to a zombie apocalypse. So I have the rain thing, where the virus makes the zombies seeks shelter from the rain in an attempt to slow the rotting process.

Another thing I do differently from a lot of works in the genre is to have a hero who is the antithesis of a prepper. Alex is an out of shape geek whose life before the apocalypse consisted of working in a crappy job and spending his weekends gaming. That was good for me because it meant I could use him to reference the pop culture. A lot of zombie stories seem to take place in an alternate universe where nobody has ever heard of zombies before. For example, in The Walking Dead, there’s a big reveal that everyone is infected and becomes a zombie after they die. In the real world, that wouldn’t surprise anyone. They’d just say, “Yeah, that’s what happens in every Romero movie.”

I wanted my series to take place in this reality, where everyone has seen zombie movies, read zombie books, and heard of zombies. And then the zombie apocalypse happens.

Q. Who or what has influenced your writing, and what do you hope to accomplish with this series?

A. I’ve always been an avid reader. I was reading horror books at an early age, particularly the works of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, James Herbert, and Graham Masterton. I remember reading Ramsey Campbell’s “Dark Companions” short story collection as a kid and being scared witless by it.

I also used to read a lot of sci fi and fantasy and the men’s adventure series that were popular at the time. I was kind of nerdy as a kid and I read a lot. Nothing much has changed there.

But I think I’m mostly influenced by the horror writers. For me, their books were always the most interesting. Their stories stuck in my mind in a way that the others didn’t. And the movie “Night of the Living Dead’ is a big influence, as well as some others like the old Hammer films.

My goal with the Undead Rain series is simply to entertain readers. When I get a review that says, “I really enjoyed this book” or someone emails me to tell me they can’t wait for the next book in the series, then I’m happy.

The books are in the Top 100 horror and post-apocalyptic charts on Amazon and I’m currently in the Top 100 horror authors, which is amazing. It has far surpassed my hopes with regards to reaching a large number of readers.

Q. Is there anything you find particularly challenging with the undead genre?

A. I think the genre has an inherent problem for writers in that there is no specific villain. The bad guys are a mass of rotting dead people. There’s no specificity there. There’s no, “We must foil Doctor X’s plan for world domination” type thing. When the bad guys are thousands of monsters roaming the country, and not a specific person in a specific place, the focus of the story can be hazy.

A lot of writers have come up with ingenious ways to combat that problem.

In the case of the Undead Rain series, everything starts out vague. Because it’s written in first person, we only know what Alex knows about the zombie apocalypse. At first, it’s all about survival. By the time we get to “Lightning”, a specific villain rears his ugly head. So as well as the hordes of zombies, we have a bad guy that we can visualize. Then, as the book develops, that concept goes even further and something happens that has a terrible effect on Alex and his friends in “Wildfire”.

Another challenge with the undead genre is that you have to come up with a believable reason for characters to do the things that drive the story. In reality, most people in a zombie apocalypse would find a safe place and stay there, avoiding trouble as much as possible. That doesn’t work for an action story, so there has to be something that pushes the characters outside their safety zone in a believable manner.

In “Storm”, Alex has to travel inland on a dangerous mission to a radio station with Sam, Tanya, and Jax. In reality, that would be a crazy thing to do, but in the story, Alex has to do it because it’s his only chance of getting back to Lucy and the boat.

It’s a case of having to motivate the characters but also keeping that motivation believable.

Q. Can we expect to see more of Alex?

A. This series is a quadrilogy. The first three books (“Rain”, “Storm”, and “Lightning”) are available right now. The fourth book (“Wildfire”) will be released on November 23rd.

After that, there might be more of Alex in the future. I like him as a character. He’s grown a lot during this series and I may take that further.

Q. Are you working on any other projects? What else can fans of this series look forward to?

A. I’ve planned a spin-off series. I can’t say too much about it at the moment but one of the main characters is someone who has already been mentioned in the Undead Rain series.

As well as the spin-off series, I have ideas for other horror novels that I’d like to explore. There’s a “family moves from the city to a house in the country and all is not as it seems” idea that I’ve planned out in my notebook. That description sounds generic but hopefully I can make the story fresh and entertaining.

I’ve also been thinking about writing an occult detective series. I’ve sketched out a few characters for that.

There’s definitely more to come in the future!

If you haven't begun this series, now is the perfect time. Each book picks up immediately after the previous one, so the storyline is seamless. Start now, and you should be ready for the fourth book!
As always,

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Jealous Bitches

Eyes On You
by Kate White
320 pages
$7.99 Kindle version
Eyes On You by Kate White is not just a story about jealousy and threats, but also betrayal, trust issues and complicated relationships. Told from Robin's POV, there is a suffocating feeling throughout the novel, and the intensity of her situation increases with the suspense. While I felt bad for Robin as a victim of stalking and sabotage, she seems to lack the emotional depth of a main character. It made it difficult to empathize with her. She also came off as superficial and materialistic at times, which didn't evoke a lot of sympathy.

I did read this book in one sitting, but I didn't wonder who as much as why...I wanted to know the motivation behind the attacks. I've actually known someone who has been in a similar situation, and I think they handled it better than this fictional character...which is kind of sad. Robin doesn't have the most likeable personality to begin with, and her lack of common sense makes me wonder how she could pass herself off as an investigative journalist.

I wouldn't be surprised if some readers actually root for the attacker. ;)

As always,

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

No One Is Safe With Pajak

by Steven Pajak
190 pages
$5.99 Kindle version
The Mad Swine series by Steven Pajak is still one of my favorites, but zombie fans may argue on the message boards about whether or not they qualify as undead - even some of the book's own characters debate over calling them zombies! The "crazies" are infected living, much like 28 Days Later, but due to an ability to regenerate while they sleep, they still need to be killed with a headshot (or decapitation). The infection is suspected of starting with a mutation in the H1N1 vaccines, but some people were immune to the initial outbreak, although those survivors can still be infected by the "crazies." Also, any bodily fluid can spread the mutated virus, and not everyone realizes right away when they are infected...essentially creating a devastating apocalypse in a small amount of time.

In the first book, The Beginning, the main character, Matt, is at work on a college campus when he realizes there is some kind of virus making people go crazy and brutally attack others. Matt tries to gather his family members from their various locations in the city, but he underestimates the speed and devastation of the virus, and his emergency plans go down the toilet almost from the onset of the attacks on campus. Matt is determined nonetheless, and eventually he makes it back to his suburban community where the neighbors try to make a stand together.

The second book, Dead Winter, begins a few months later, and doesn't go into much detail about the battle for survival between communities. After being left with such a dramatic cliff-hanger in the first story, I couldn't believe Pajak placed so little importance on the conflict between the two groups, especially considering the original emphasis placed on people pulling together to survive an apocalyptic outbreak - people who didn't necessarily have close relationships (if any at all) to begin with. By basically skipping over a significant period of time, Pajak missed the opportunity to further develop his key characters, and make the storyline more personal for the readers.

I'm happy to say that Pajak brings all his talent to the third installment, Regeneration. It's six months after the initial outbreak, but it feels like a lifetime and then some. Matt and his fellow survivors are trying to keep it together at the Finnegan farm, but they have suffered another round of losses, and their future is looking even worse than their current circumstances. Matt and Brian venture away from the farm to round up the remaining residents of Randall Oaks, only to discover another group has taken over.

The concept of yet another group of bad guys is not very original in a zombie series, but the ensuing battle is exceptional. Not only is the action brutal and realistic, but Pajak shows no mercy to his main characters. Wesley's POV informs readers what takes place at the farm while Matt is away, which means nothing is left out this time, but it made me wish that Pajak had included a POV from Sam or Kat to show readers how the new group took over Randall Oaks.

The epilogue makes it obvious that this series is to be a trilogy only, and I wasn't disappointed with the ending in any way. If you haven't read this series yet, you should. The monsters aren't always wearing rotting faces.

As always,

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Desperate To Have A Baby

Until You're Mine
by Samantha Hayes
369 pages
$11.99 Kindle version
Until You're Mine by Samantha Hayes introduces a theme that some may remember in the headlines: women so desperate for a baby that they attack pregnant women. The prologue is a great hook which introduces readers to a desperation some women feel when they are unable to conceive. however, until the end of the book, it is not clear who the childhood flashback belongs to, and the mystery creates a suspenseful atmosphere for the story to develop within.

The three POVs belong to Claudia - stepmother to twins, Zoe - their nanny, and Lorraine - the detective hunting for the person killing expectant mothers and carving the babies out of them. I enjoyed the side stories of the women, such as the marital issues between Lorraine and Adam, and the strained relationship between Cecelia and Zoe. I also found the connections between characters enthralling, even though the characters themselves are mostly unaware of those connections.

The author obviously uses misdirection throughout the story - too much and too often, in fact. Misdirection only works if the readers are unaware that they are deliberately being misled. Instead of building suspense, it took away from it. However, the pace remains steady throughout the novel, and I felt compelled to finish the book in one sitting. The epilogue is straight-forward, yet the very last sentence is the most sinister moment of the entire novel, as far as I am concerned.

Even though the male characters take a backseat in this story, I think this crime thriller will appeal to both male and female fans of the genre.

As always,

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Higher Expectations For Known Authors

Marty Weaver, an emotionally scarred poet, has been bullied his entire life. When he drives out to the lake to tell an old friend that he’s fallen in love with a girl named Jennifer, Marty encounters three sadistic killers who have some twisted games in store for him. But Marty has dark secrets of his own buried deep inside him. And tonight, when all the pain from the past is triggered, when those secrets are revealed, blood will flow and hell will rise.

Darkness Rising by Brian Moreland disappointed me. When I read his novel, The Vagrants, I couldn't wait to read more by the author, but his novella lacked the level of creativity that I'd come to expect from Moreland. Marty's special "talent" is extremely original, but the majority of imagery within Darkness Rising reminded me of various horror movies pieced together - kind of like Frankenstein's monster.

The novella is well-written, and, perhaps, readers that are new to Moreland will enjoy this story more than I did, but I feel I would be doing a disservice to the author if I said this was a great example of his's not. He can do so much better than this, and I sincerely hope that he pushes himself harder on his next project.

(Authors who have been reviewed by me in the past actually have it harder than newbie authors because my expectations are higher, especially if I am a fan. That said, I hope Brian Moreland doesn't put me on his shit list.)

As always,

Monday, September 28, 2015

Profound Love In Literature

Suddenly, Love
by Aharon Applefeld
240 pages
$12.99 Kindle version
Suddenly, Love by Aharon Appelfeld is a very intimate accounting of the love that develops between an elderly man and his much younger caretaker. There is almost no physical contact of any kind between the two characters and limited conversation, and, yet, what is left unspoken speaks volumes. Although it is a work of fiction, the historical elements add a depth to the characters which brings the two to life on a very personal level.

I'm truly surprised by how captivated I was by this unusual relationship. I don't have a specific reason for choosing this story to read, other than wanting to read something that stands out from the typical mainstream romance novels. The setting is mostly contained to Ernst's apartment and the narration tends to favor Irena's POV. However, as Ernst share his writing with Irena, the literature within the literature is deeply moving...a profound sharing of souls.

As always,

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Wednesday WTF: Misleading Readers

Fog Island Mountains
by Michelle-Bailat-Jones
176 pages
$6.99 Kindle version
Fog Island Mountains by Michelle Bailat-Jones is described as a reinterpretation of the Japanese folktale tradition, and I strongly disagree. This is not story-telling, this is just telling, and a bad telling at that. The story revolves around the diagnosis of terminal cancer to Alec, husband and father, but more is revealed about the motions the characters go through, than their actual feelings, which is really disappointing considering the gravity of the situation. Perhaps it is the haphazard writing style: the POVs are told through a narrator and they change often and without any warning, and the relationship of the narrator to the other characters is never made clear.

My main purpose in reading any fiction book is to be entertained in some way, regardless of genre, and that didn't happen. I have no idea what the author was trying to achieve by writing this book, nor do I know what target audience she had in mind.. The award given to this novel is given to stories with the topic of serious illness, but do not take that as an indication of the quality of the writing. I normally love stories with foreign settings, but I could find nothing to enjoy about this family drama.

I feel that absolutely nothing is resolved between any of the characters. Many issues are introduced, such as sibling conflict, unplanned pregnancy, infidelity, and, of course, terminal illness, but the author never stays with any one topic long enough for the family dynamics to make an impact, one way or another. I feel like the author was introducing characters to fill the pages, rather than using them to propel the storyline.

I wish this story had lived up to the description on the back cover.

As always,

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday Terror: Finders Keepers

The Keeper
by Luke Delaney
560 pages
$6.50 Kindle version
Within the first ten pages of The Keeper by Luke Delaney, readers will find themselves ensnared within a shocking and terrifying suspense thriller. The simplistic way in which Louise Russell is snatched from her home by Thomas Keller, only to wake up naked in a cage, is more nerve-wracking than a brutal and bloody assault...because monsters rarely look like monsters and they strike when their victims are least likely to expect to be attacked. Knowing that time is running out for Louise is almost as painful to bear as the torture inflicted upon her by her captor.

The main POVs come from Detective Sean Corrigan, the perpetrator Thomas Keller and the victim Louise Russell; there are a few other minor POVs that offer a great deal of insight into the main characters. However, Delaney doesn't reveal the source of Keller's behavior until the very end. Readers must follow the bread crumbs along with Corrigan.

There were sections of the book where the descriptions seemed to be dragging on, and the conversations between characters seemed a bit forced, but the novel held my attention from beginning to end. The epilogue made me realize that Corrigan is a character from a series; unfortunately, this detail has been left out of the marketing in the US.

I don't understand why publishers think they have to use different book covers and descriptions for the UK & US. This author would probably do much better in the US if the marketing mentioned that this is part of a series. I had no idea this is "Book 2" until I went to the Amazon UK site.

If you were an author of a series, wouldn't you want readers to know that fact?

As always,

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Sunday Suspense: Stranger Danger

The Perfect Stranger
by Wendy Corsi Staub
421 pages
$6.99 Kindle version
I've never read anything by Wendy Corsi Staub before, but I enjoyed this story enough that I am now interested in reading her previous novels. The concept of bloggers being stalked and killed because of what they posted publicly was very intriguing to me. In this case, the bloggers are a support group of breast cancer survivors, and some of them may have provided too much personal information online. When one of their group is murdered, a few decide to meet in person for the funeral, but, after being questioned by police, they suspect it may have been one of them.

I wasn't sure who the killer was and I was even less certain about the motive. The mystery kept me interested, but there were far too many slow moments to call this a thriller. However, the group of women are something else: distinct characters, well-developed personalities and easy to match up to their online personas, introduced to us through occasional blog entries between chapters. I thought the multiple POVs were a great way to keep the storyline going, but the changes were a little haphazard at times.

I've been told this is not Staub's best work, but I thought it stood out from many other mystery novels, and I liked the real-life drama in this fictional setting. If you're looking for something different, it's not a bad way to pass a few hours.

As always,

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Saturday Night In Hell

At Hell's Gates
Bound By Blood
Volume 3
574 pages
$2.99 Kindle version
At Hell's Gates donates proceeds to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. This third volume focuses on the dark side of family:

LITTLE LOST LAMB by Patrick D'Orazio is a suspense story about a religious foster couple accepting a challenge.

THE MEEK SHALL INHERIT by C.T. Phipps is a post-apocalyptic tale about a diabetic father rescuing his wheelchair bound daughter from a cult.

MONSTERS by Sharon Stevenson recalls a father-son moment in an apocalypse.

THE RIDE by Sean T. Smith is a drama about breaking a vicious cycle of violence.

THE OLD MAN AND THE SEESAW by Stephen Kozeniewski is one of the freakiest zombie stories that I've ever read.

SPENCER FAMILY TRADITION by Stevie Kopas is the most disturbing family tradition EVER.

ROAD TRIP by Curran Geist is a fantastic sci-fi story filled with horror and is one of my favorites.

A MOTHER'S HEART by S.G. Lee is a twisted adoption story with a dramatic ending.

BEAUTIFUL SAVAGE by Devan Sagliani is an interesting perspective of a zombie outbreak.

PLANETOIDS, PRIVATEERS, AND OLDER THINGS by S.P. Durnin is a sci-fi story that would impress Lovecraft...with a touch of humor.

DAMAGED by Tim Marquitz is a story about domestic abuse with a supernatural twist.

THE MOTHER TONGUE by Terry Maggert is a vampire story with a religious theme.

THROUGH MOURNING by Brian W. Taylor is about a father missing his daughter.

NIGHTMARES DO COME TRUE by Suzanne Robb is a fantastic and horrific twist on werewolf lore.

LOVE THAT BINDS by Mikhail Lerma is a father-daughter moment in the apocalypse.

THE COFFIN IN THE REEDS by RJ Kennett warns that some things should be left unopen.

IN MINT CONDITION by David Sakmyster is a classic suspense story that is another favorite of mine.

ARM-RINGS AND HACK-SILVER by Christine Morgan is a tale about dysfunctional Norse family.

BLOOD TYPE by Paul Mannering takes the vampire genre to a new, scary place.

NEIGHBORS GOOD AND FAIR by Douglas Draa is a novella about a folklore nightmare.

FROM DARKNESS WE COME by Kerry Alan Denney is a frightening kidnapping.

DOMINIC by Shana Festa is a terrifying zombie short.

SACRIFICE by TM Caldwell is a great fantasy story about demonic possession.

A MATTER OF PERCEPTION by Lesa Kinney Anders is one of the best in the collection, with incredible narration from a young boy.

WE TAKE CARE OF OUR OWN by Sarah Lyons Fleming is a hellish homecoming.

THE MOTHER IN THE LAKE by Chris Philbrook has a Lovecraft element and is one of the most chilling stories in this anthology.

SUGAR AND SPICE AND SOMETHING NOT SO NICE by M. Lauryl Lewis shows how awful a dog bite can get.

NO MAN LEFT BEHIND by Timothy W. Long features a battle of epic proportions...great story to end on.

At Hell's Gates: Bound By Blood is an excellent assortment of both new and established horror authors who twist and distort several sub-genres to create numerous versions of Hell. This includes quality storytelling without the stereotypical genre gimmicks, and horror fans will enjoy this creative effort for a worthy cause.

As always,

Monday, September 7, 2015

Monday Mayhem: I Call Bullshit

Zombie Gods of Death
by Greg Tom
The story begins five years in the past with Tony Young in combat overseas. A zombie outbreak occurs during the battle, and the government covers it up. It is immediately apparent that this story needs professional editing. The settings aren't described well, the dialogue seems forced and the characters leave a lot to be desired.

The plot interested me: a group of terrorists called the Shinigami are deliberately infecting college students, and a group led by Tony Young attempt to stop them. The story is actually told from the POV of a student named Ian Zombie, who is more of a leader than Tony. Rather than develop the relationships between survivors of the college outbreak, the author jumps weeks at a time to keep the story going. There isn't much action, even with terrorists and zombies, and what does take place is a bit ridiculous. For example, they are constantly jumping into water, during the school year in Michigan; I live in Michigan, and I assure you the water is COLD, but no ever gets hypothermia.

There are far too many "too good to be true" moments for this to be a convincing outbreak scenario.
The ending is left open...maybe a series in the works. If that is the case, I hope the writing style is drastically improved.

As always,