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