Sunday, November 13, 2016

Sunday Suspense: The Hunter [Review]

Ben is a normal, hardworking guy. He loves ATVs, the outdoors, and most of all, hunting. While pursing his favorite activity, he shoots and wounds a bull elk. It runs away, and Ben chases deeper into the woods. Instead of the elk though, Ben finds something decidedly creepy, something that changes him forever.

The Hunter by Zachariah Wahrer is great short story. The hook comes in the form of a lost hunter, and, by the time the main character realizes he is in trouble, it's too late for him to help himself. This story has a Cabin In The Woods feel to it towards the end. The Hunter is a story I wouldn't mind being turned into a full-length novel.

There is also another story included, the beginning of a new series, but I was only interested in The Hunter.

Wahrer shows some serious potantial in the suspense genre. He is an author I will be keeping my eyes on...

As always,

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Saturday Short: Pig People [Review]

I'm still trying to finish a sci-fi novel about time travel, so I decided to grab a short story for Saturday. I should have chosen more carefully...

The Pantomime by Keishi Ando was totally lost on me. The writing is very choppy and there is more description than action. By the time the twist is revealed at the end, I was too confused to be frightened in any way. This might be one of those stories better suited for the screen, rather than print. Virtually nothing is revealed about the main character, so the story seemed pointless.

This is one of those times I have to wonder if the story was originally written in another language and was screwed up in the translation process. The author resides in Japan, so there is that possibility.

Situations like this could be avoided with a good editor. Something to keep in mind.

As always,

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day

My Veteran's Day Story

My dad was in the Navy for about 24 years. He did three tours in Vietnam & was awarded a Purple Heart each time. (They give the medal the first time, then a little star each time after.) He has many awards and medals. For 13 of those years, he was a SEAL. (That's just a fraction of the things he accomplished during his career.)

He wasn't really around the first couple of years of my life because he was sent on so many missions. Even when he wasn't deployed, I didn't see much of him. To be fair, there were other factors involved, but, essentially, my dad's Naval career took a huge toll on his first marriage (my mom), my relationship with him, and what he experienced during his career also affected his health and many other relationships.

Growing up, I hated the Navy. I hated the military. I hated this entity that took my dad from me. I loved going to new places, but I hated that I could never really get close to anyone because we would move year after year. Up until I was about 14 years old, I was convinced that the majority of the pain in my life could be placed on the military.

The summer I was 14 going on 15, my dad took his second wife, my brother Lincoln and me to D.C., and, my God, I don't think any single experience comes as close to how much that changed my life, with the exception of becoming a mother. I saw things that still to this day make me cry as if it just happened.

I'm not going to tell you all the things that happened, only what I experienced with my dad.

We went to the Memorial Wall. I saw people of all races, all ages, all backgrounds, crying over a wall with names. I didn't understand. My dad cried. It was the first time I had ever seen him break down. It was frightening to see a mountain of a man crumble to his knees and weep.

He told me stories. Something he never did before. He told me about a mission in which two men volunteered to stay behind so the rest of the team could escape. He told me how one of those men was married with a baby on the way, but he gave up his life without hesitating, as well as the other. They told my dad, "Today is a good day to die." My dad was the one to deliver the news to the pregnant widow.

He told me his nightmares about the first man that he killed in hand-to-hand combat...he told me about his best friend being killed right in front of him. My God, the things my dad had been holding in...

He also told me a story about how they would nickname each other based on the names of their hometown newspapers. My dad's paper, the Wagner Post, was jokingly called the Wagner Wipe, so my dad was called T.P. Tom. Watching him laugh, with tears in his eyes, listening to his stories, as well as stories of other people visiting, something changed inside of me.

The hate I had been carrying had given me tunnel vision, but my visit to the Wall opened up my view. Suddenly (and yes, it was suddenly), I saw what had been in front of me all my life: sacrifices...ALL of them.

Oh, sure. We all know that soldiers miss birthdays, holidays and special occasions. If you grew up in a military family, you know how often milestones are missed. I blamed the military for taking that time away from my dad and me, but with my epiphany, I finally realized two things...

1) Nothing is taken, the soldiers give. And, 2)they give so much more than the obvious, they give up every little moment. Breakfast with the family. Seeing a tooth missing when a child smiles. The moments the rest of us often take for granted. Not just the big moments.

Their sacrifices can also include their emotional health, their physical health and their very lives. They basically write a blank check with their souls and hand it over so the rest of us can live our lives the way we choose.

If they make it home, they are often broken, sometimes discarded, not always thanked and rarely do we even learn their names. They often come home to the rest of us acting like a bunch of idiots. They go through hell and have to stand by us at the gas pump bitching about the price. They live through unimaginable horror and watch as someone in the grocery line acts like it's the end of the world because a coupon expired.

Just like that, with my new perspective, my hate turned into pride, with an abundance of gratitude. Ever since, there is not one day that I don't give thanks to the men and women who served our country.

Some of you I know. I see you, I see how your sacrifices have affected your lives. I know your names and include you in my prayers.

Most of you I do not know. I may never know your names or your sacrifices, but I thank you and your families from the bottom of my heart. Please know that there are many of us who will never forget.

I am the daughter of a veteran, the sister of a veteran, the wife of a veteran. I may very well be the mother of a veteran one day. My family has fought in every war involving the U.S. as far back as the Civil War (both sides) and then some.

I think it is fitting that Veterans Day is in the same month as Thanksgiving. We are taught to give thanks for our blessings on that day. I am asking you, on this day, to show your thanks by giving...give back to those who gave us everything, whether it was for a few years or a lifetime.

It can be as simple as saying thank you or buying a cup of coffee, or helping rake leaves or cooking a dinner. Just give.

And, please, for those who are currently serving, please do what you can to help make our country worth fighting for. More importantly, give our soldiers a home worth coming back to.

As always,
Ursula K Raphael
a.k.a AstraDaemon

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Wednesday Wisdom: Candide [Book Review]

Candide is one of the world's great satires, first published in 1759. Voltaire exposes and satirizes romance, science, philosophy, religion, and government...the ideas and forces that permeate and control the lives of men.

Every great once in a while, I revisit classic literature to remind myself of the fundamentals of well-written literature. One of my favorites is Candide by Voltaire.

This was one of the few satires that genuinely made me laugh. Candide is taught by his teacher, Dr. Pangloss, that they live in the best of all possible worlds. Right away, this is put to the test when Candide is banished for loving Cunegonde, who is considered above his station. Not only do horrible things happen to Candide, but terrible events also happen to everyone he knows.

What I found amusing is how Candide seemed to bring it on himself; he makes one bad decision after another, to the point of being predictable. The ending isn't exactly a happy one, but Candide finally finds a place in the world that doesn't bring on more problems.

I think this is a great book to entice young minds to read classic literature.

As always,

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Tuesday Terror: Jake's Law [Review]

In a lawless land infested with the walking dead, the man with the biggest gun makes the law. Former deputy Jake Blakely has the big gun, and he has the law - Jake's Law. 

I am a fan of Gurley's Judgment Day Trilogy, so I was looking forward to reading Jake's Law - the book description doesn't do it justice. It was non-stop action mixed with the right amount of drama. The focus is more on the personal war between Jake, former law enforcement officer, and Levi, an escaped convict, rather than the zombies, but the undead do have a few key scenes.

The story begins with Levi's POV, and rotates between the POVs of Jake and two other survivors, Reed and Jessica. Random events bring them together, but revenge motivates them all. Levi wants to rule over the other survivors, but Jake has already laid down the new law of the land, so, while the two men try to kill each other, Reed and Jessica find themselves unwilling pawns caught in the crossfire.

There is another story titled The Law Giveth, which I plan on reading in the near future.

As always,

Monday, November 7, 2016

Monday Murder: Two Stars [Review]

Let me start by saying that I rarely give reviews below three (out of five) star reviews, but it happens, and it sucks for both the author and me, the reader. I don't ever have the same expectations for short stories that I do for full-length novels, or even anthologies, but, at the very least, I expect to be entertained.

The Midnight Dinner Party by T.G. Emmerson is a story of revenge...except the revenge doesn't even really take place. So many problems with this piece...reads like a rough draft, for one. Story of revenge isn't very original, for another. Worst yet, the damn thing ended with "to be continued...," as if anyone would bother. None of the characters were developed at reason to feel sympathy for the victim's family, no reason to care what happens to the group of attackers. The author needs to find a better way to hook readers and keep them interested. As for me, I'm moving on to better stories...

As always,

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Sunday Suspense: Renfro's Lot [Review]

The Lot by Anthony Renfro is an extremely entertaining short story. The hook is immediate, the suspense is spectacular and the ending is swift and vicious. I was pleased just to have found that story, but Renfro also included two more.

A Zombie Christmas is humorous in a dark way. Very original. I loved it. Coupled with The Dead of Winter (I’ll be having nightmares), this story bundle would make the perfect gift for a horror fan who doesn’t have much free time for reading.

Renfro has a talent for packing a lot into just a few pages, so be sure to read his work.

As always,

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Saturday Squids [Review]

If you were entertained by the kraken in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and engaged by the huge find in Discovery Channel’s Colossal Squid special, you are sure to be interested in Here There Be Monsters: The Legendary Kraken and the Giant Squid. Author HP Newquist takes the reader on a journey from the legendary monster that preys on unsuspecting sea vessels to the discoveries of the giant squid and, most recently, the colossal squid.
In the prologue, Newquist depicts a personal encounter with the mythological beast and continues on to describe the various tales of sea serpents from around the world. Newquist explains why cartographers marked the unexplored regions of their maps with the ominous warning, “Here Be Dragons,” or similar phrases. The author also describes the reasons most stories about the strange beasts were dismissed as the ramblings of men too long at sea.
As Newquist guides the reader through the history of these myths, he progresses from sailors’ accounts of demonic creatures attacking ships to the first attempts by scientists to officially name and classify the enormous organisms. Many naturalists believed that the source of the legend was based on oversized specimens found washed up on beaches. Scientists were determined to find evidence that there was such a thing as the giant squid. Eventually, researchers came to suspect that there was another, larger species of squid – deadlier than the giant squid.
In addition to the stories and scientific research, Newquist includes illustrations and photographs of everything that is discussed in the book, including still pictures of live giant squid, and the recovered body of a colossal squid featured on the Discovery Channel. There is also a bibliography and links listed for further information at the end of the book. Lastly, the author poses the question, “Could there be bigger ones that we have yet to discover?”
As always,

Friday, November 4, 2016

Friday Fiction: Spiral [Review]

Spiral by Martin Fossum was a random short story selection. A guy and his girlfriend decide to relocate to a different city and, even with a positive beginning, the main character soon finds himself on a downward spiral. While nothing too out of the ordinary takes place, there is just enough mystery to keep a reader hooked until the end. I expected something supernatural to happen, but Fossum proves that real life problems are dark enough.

If you are looking for a quick read to pass the time in a waiting room or a short bus ride, Spiral is a solid piece of fiction.

As always,

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Throwback Thursday: Dante's Backstory

Most people in the literary community are familiar with Dante’s Inferno in some way. If you haven’t read this volume of The Divine Comedy, you may have seen the commercial for the video game Dante’s Inferno Divine Edition, which is based on the epic poem by Dante Alighieri. It is a story that describes the nine circles of Hell (limbo, lust, gluttony, avarice & prodigality, wrath & sullenness, heresy, violence, fraud, and betrayal), as conceived by the medieval age, beginning with the day before Good Friday in 1300 A.D.

Dante wrote The Divine Comedy during his exile from Florence. Until recently, no one knew for certain where he had been or what he had done during those years away from his home. However, author Kim Paffenroth (who also happens to be a professor of religious studies), wrote a book titled Valley of the Dead (The Truth Behind Dante’s Inferno) which tells the tale that inspired Dante to write his poem of horrors. In a captivating prologue, Paffenroth presents us with the story of how Dante survived a zombie plague, illuminating the lessons that the poet learned.

Don’t let the mention of zombies fool you into thinking this is just a gore novel with a twist. Unlike the spliced-together novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Paffenroth has written an original narrative with a style comparable to classical literature, bringing together historical fiction, drama and horror to chronicle Dante’s personal account of the pestilence and human suffering that inspired Inferno. Don’t expect the same zombies or character types that can be found in Paffenroth’s Dying to Live: Life Sentence, the second in his zombie series based on a group of people surviving an apocalypse in a museum.

In Valley of the Dead, Dante stumbles upon a village in the midst of an epidemic that is unknown to him. There he meets a pregnant woman named Bogdana, and together they travel west into a valley, attempting to escape an army that believes destroying all of the towns it finds is the only way to stop the spread of infection. Along the way, they are joined by an army deserter and a monk, and the four of them soon form the opinion that the survivors are the ones that are cursed, not the undead. Some of the most frightening and disheartening moments of the book are the exploits of the living, and not the zombies as one might think.

This novel digs deep into the human soul, and exposes all the nobility and ugliness that people are capable of. It goes beyond the bloodshed of most zombie literature, and provides some insight into the theology of Dante, one of the greatest literary icons of the Western world. Paffenroth is certain to grab the attention of the academic crowd with Valley of the Dead.

As always,

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

To Be Or Not To Be...Cloned

Double, a short story by Tuulia Saaritsa, was a random selection…and completely awesome. When I read the description about a clone experiment, the sci-fi aspect appealed to me. Saaritsa manages to convey a very emotional personal experience in just a few pages. The interaction between the two clones is, at times, controversial, and addresses many issues that might arise from such a scientific endeavor. Tuulia Saaritsa is officially on my radar, and I think many readers will enjoy this dark and dramatic tale, whether or not you're into science fiction.

As always,

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Second Chance Gone Wrong

Caught by Lisa Moore piqued my curiosity: a novel featuring a drug smuggler, marijuana to be specific, recently escaped from prison and stupid enough to try it again. Last year I read a novel, Mules, a fictional account of the brutality within the drug trade, and I thought Caught might be something like that. Nope. Moore does a great job of writing about a common subject, but with an original voice and style that stands out in this particular sub-genre.

David Slaney, a 25 year old Canadian convicted of marijuana possession, busts out of his cell, evades the cops and tracks down his business partner, only to find himself attempting the same job he was arrested for in the first place. His character comes across as an intelligent guy, but he seems hellbent on making one bad decision after another. However, Slaney has some amazing luck ditching the authorities every time they get close to nabbing him again. The 1970s setting really captures the atmosphere surrounding this endeavor.

There's a heavy sadness that weighs over Slaney, living in his secret world with fake identities and relationships that fall apart as a result of his life choices. But, what really makes the main character fascinating is the tapestry of complications and emotional conflicts which eventually lead to a rather quiet, understated ending.

If you enjoy well-written fiction, simply for the pleasure of a solid story, I recommend taking a chance on Caught.

As always,