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,