Saturday, March 31, 2018

Hoppers, Juggernauts, and a Demon Walk Into an Apocalypse…

The Killing Floor by Craig DiLouie has me comparing his work to HP Lovecraft’s stories, and Lovecraft is looking really tame compared to The Infection series. I had stated in a previous review that I wouldn’t want to find myself in DiLouie’s world; the second installment went one step further and gave me nightmares – specifically, the hoppers…and that’s just one of many mutated creatures resulting from the viral outbreak. DiLouie’s abominations have a bigger presence this time around, allowing more creativity with the plot.

While the original novel focused on six specific survivors trying to find a safe refuge, with a theme of people turning into monsters figuratively & literally, The Killing Floor dives further into the psyches of several returning characters, as well as a few new ones. This helped prevent any stereotypes from forming, and dug into the heart of the destruction. The devastated landscapes pale in comparison to the traumatized survivors, and only a couple of months have passed since the day of The Screaming, which has many characters doubting their ability to keep going for much longer.

DiLouie introduces a new twist, with Ray suffering a hopper sting, giving more insight into the actual mutation process; I’m not going into details about Ray’s part in the sequel, but he is THE key character, tying everyone’s fate together. The aspect of Ray’s struggle had me wondering if Todd (the kid who survived a zombie bite in book one) might play a more important role, if a third book is ever written. I enjoyed the new angles that DiLouie explored with the infected, the mutations and the theories on the source of the original virus. Travis is the scientist with a unique theory, backed up by tiny details that I almost missed, and I hope he is given more scenes in the future. Travis seemed more realistic any of the others, even throwing up in a garbage can at the suggestion of nuclear strike.

If the author continues along this avenue, I have no doubt that a third novel will be the most exciting of the three. If you haven’t already, I recommend reading Tooth and Nail as well.

As always,

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Story Stephen King Didn't Write

The Infection (Book 1 of 2) by Craig DiLouie tells the story of six survivors traveling in an armored vehicle, while trying to find a safe refuge, after a mysterious virus infects millions of humans. The infected people collapse into comas; when they wake up, three days later, they attack all the non-infected. After just a couple of weeks, some of the survivors discover that the Infected are mutating into something much worse than zombies. The main theme that is woven throughout the storyline is the violent transformation of humans into monsters.

“There were things in the garage, Sarge. Fucking monsters. Dark shapes that flitted around the cars, always just out of sight. Then we saw one…”

This novel made me think, “This is what happened to the rest of the world, while everyone was reading about what happened in the grocery store in “The Mist” by Stephen King.” I know I’m not the only one who has made this comparison; some other reviewers have even mentioned The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I understand why, but I think DiLouie goes into far more detail with his characters’ suffering than King or McCarthy. The story is told with third-person narration in the present tense; flashbacks provide the personal backgrounds of each of the six survivors. Their reasoning and motivation for their current behavior becomes quite understandable, after only a few chapters.

“They have all done the things one had to do to survive. They have all killed people or they would not be here.”

I usually try to imagine myself in the world that I am reading about, but I wanted no part of this setting. Living infected hordes are one thing, but DiLouie describes abominations that would rival HP Lovecraft’s leviathans. He goes to nightmarish extremes when pairing the brutal twists of the viral outbreak with the amorality of various people that the survivors encounter. Of course, even though I felt mentality assaulted by the end, I loved reading very moment of this traumatic horror novel.

As always,

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Postal Service Never Had It So Bad

The Last Mailman: Neither Rain, Nor Sleet, Nor Zombies by Kevin J. Burke is not at all what I was expecting from the title. It is not about a man delivering mail between survivor outposts or anything like that. It’s about survivors trying to tie up loose ends, so they can move on with their new lives; sometimes they find peace, and other times they lose the last of their hope. Even though this is a zombie novel, it’s so much more than just a story about surviving in a post-apocalyptic world. It’s about the frailty of people, how they adapt to extraordinary situations, and what the “mailman” truly represents.

DJ is the mailman for New York, but it’s NY in name only. There are several outposts renamed after major cities, and they have worked out a trading system, using planes to move goods between them. Some places are doing better than others, even with the spirit of cooperation. Sporting a population of around 800 people, NY is far larger than the 200 to 300 folks in Atlanta (also, not the original Atlanta). However, the CDC is still at work in some form in Atlanta, and they say they have cure that they will share in exchange for some fertile women. There is so much concern about repopulating the earth that child-bearing women are in high demand. Some of the women are happy to help out, while others see it as a form of rape. DJ is asked to escort some women from NY on a plane to Atlanta, and return with the cure. After all, he is somewhat famous for his excursions into the “wild” to retrieve mementos of past lives, and find any living relatives of the other survivors. Usually, he returns with suicide notes. DJ had been looking forward to retiring from his post, and doesn’t agree with using the women as currency.

To make matters worse, the pilot dies in mid-flight on the way to Atlanta, and reanimated pilots do not know how to land a plane. DJ is forced into a leadership role because he is the only one who is used to being on the outside among the undead. Unfortunately, the zombies aren’t the only ones on the outside. When the others in DJ’s group realize what some people have had to do in order to keep living, the cure seems more likely to be false hope for a future. The array of characters was just amazing; I absolutely enjoyed the interactions between all the players, although some of their behavior was a bit frustrating at times.

Towards the end, when DJ’s best intentions have all gone horribly wrong, and there are uber-zombies to contend with (in addition to the traditional zombies), the remaining folks all seem to have gone crazy. I’m not sure if Burke was trying to be funny, but I laughed my ass off during several chapters. I think I should have felt bad that the characters had been pushed to the madness, but they way they embrace their lunacy was hilarious and kind of uplifting. I think it showed a warped resilience of the characters, which is probably why they lived through the initial zombie apocalypse.

I love how this book doesn’t conform to the existing formula for zombies. The story takes place years after the zombie apocalypse has wiped out most of society. Mankind exists in tiny pockets of people, essentially as individual countries smaller than the size of pre-apocalypse city populations. It goes into a completely different direction and forces the reader to think about what the new societies are willing to do to exist.

For some of the characters, the past is a link that helps them weather the obstacles of the present and work toward the promise of a future cure. For the others, desperation is the real disease that infects the living and threatens the very foundation of their survival. The key strength of the storyline is Burke’s creative construction of internal and external conflicts for his characters, at once humanizing them and drawing readers into their struggles.

I hope we see more of Burke’s work in the zombie genre.

As always,

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Dystopian Fiction Or A History Lesson?

RISE is a story about a future world. Those who have a family history of violence are rounded up and placed in internment camps because they are seen as potential dangers to the public. One man, Aaric, whose grandfather brutally murdered his grandmother, knows it is only a matter of time before he's taken. Desperate, he tries to find an underground operation to falsify his blood and genetic tests so he won't be taken. When that doesn't work, he tries to prove that he is not bound by genetic fate and can "rise" above his own blood.

Written after the tragic Las Vegas shooting on October 1, 2017, this story is an ode to the nobility mankind is capable of. It is dedicated to those who lost their lives on that terrible day.

Rise by William Michael Davidson is quite the psychological story, with well-placed flashbacks and intriguing characters. I think Davidson should seriously consider writing a full-length novel with both Dempster and Aaric...I'd like to know Dempster's motivation behind the legislation, as well as some resolution for those sent away to the camps.

As always,

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

When Your Luck Runs Out...

When a devastating plague wipes out 96% of the population, student nurse Yvonne flees the medical centre and its unimaginable horrors to refuge with a group of youths at an abandoned naval base. Jaded and embittered, Yvonne's negativity soon creates frictions and drives a dangerous divide between her and the rest of the group. But when a mysterious, faceless stranger imposes himself between them, the fragile alliance is tested to the limits resulting in a tense final confrontation between Yvonne and the people she once called her friends.

Orphans of the Infected by Edward Chilvers is an apocalyptic delight. Yvonne's abrasive personality is strangely appealing. I disagree with the story's description..Yvonne is not being negative, just realistic. The arrival of Blake is definitely what the group needed to motivate them to make changes. I love how Yvonne settles all the disputes at the end.

I get so sick of stories with survivors who act like doormats and allow themselves to be victimized. Yvonne is a breath of fresh air in a rotting undead world.

As always,

Monday, March 26, 2018

Wahrer's Ad

Tsarevna and her team of raiders prowl the fringes, making excursions into Ashamine controlled space to prey on merchant vessels. When they discover an abandoned Ashamine battle cruiser, the pirates know the tech and resources on board will make them unimaginably rich. After boarding, however, Tsarevna discovers exactly why the human empire abandoned the massive ship, changing her existence forever.

Enthralled by Zachariah Wahrer is sci-fi flash fiction piece intended to tempt readers to read his series, the Dawn Saga. I must admit, I'm left with several questions and the series does look promising, but I wish the story had more to offer than a mere teaser.

As always,

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Lies Lies and More Lies

A horrific story about a girl stopped on a quiet highway to answer for her crimes.

Limited Days by Joshua Scribner is a creepy little piece about a chick who gets pulled over by an unusual law enforcement officer. The dialogue is somewhat repetitive and Morgan has about as much personality as a dog turd. The ending is interesting, but I didn't find any of it particularly horrific.

I usually love Scribner's short stories, but this one doesn't showcase the author's trademark suspense. I recommend those new to Joshua Scribner start with Ghost Train and just skip this one.

As always,

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Autism Aspect

When objects begin to disappear from porches, Lydia Strichter suspects the neighborhood hoarder, Dale Kreplick. He's a strange man with an even stranger habit of digging through people's trash. But when she sets out to prove the "Trash Collector" is behind these thefts, she discovers more than the culprit. She discovers some things can't easily be discarded.

The Trash Collector by Monica Shaughnessy begins with a disgusting example of human behavior, in the form of Lydia. The woman appears to have a bitter cruel streak, and I felt sorry for her neighbors. The hoarder Dale isn't as much the center of the story as Lydia's crap attitude. When Dale reveals his true motives, I almost cried.

Sometimes looking at things from someone else's view is a beautiful and much-needed experience.

As always,

Friday, March 23, 2018

Not My Preference

Fujita's Itch by Joseph Souza is a collection of three stories...the author's writing style has been evolving over the years, encompassing many genres, and these three stories represent the author's literary journey perfectly.

The first tale, Fujita's Itch, is a lengthy piece of bizarro fiction. I couldn't find anything to like about it, at all...just too damn strange for even me. The next story, The Stone Walls of Lebanon, is a brief crime drama and I loved every bit of it. Queensland, the last one, has a humorous edge to it. I can't help but wonder if there are indeed males who worry about that type of biological warfare. All in all, one diverse mix of stories.

Unfortunately, this mix lacked the intensity I've come to expect from Souza and the stories seemed kind of fluffy compared to his past work.

As always,

Thursday, March 22, 2018

North American Nessie

A remote fishing trip in the Canadian wilderness promises relaxation and fun for four friends. 

But after catching a fish that should have been released on a secluded lake, the horror truly begins.

And something has followed them back to the Outpost.

Outpost by Joe Hart is one hell of a fishing story. The author's mix of personality conflicts and suspense make for a sinister mystery-thriller, just a few pages long. Hart's creation could best be described as modern-day North American folklore.

As always,

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Dip Into The Lake

In an effort to introduce readers to new authors and their various collections, Crystal Lake Publishing released four short stories as part of their Crystal Lake Shorts:

In Victorian London, a select group of writers, led by Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker and Henry James held an informal Ghost Club, the price of entry to which was the telling of a story by each invited guest.

This is one of the tales.

In the House of the Dead is a Ghost Club short story by William Meikle and told through the fictional voice of Bram Stoker. The story itself is revealed through letters and journal entries. Although there is little action to be had, the suspense is captivating and the ending is rather ironic, given the nature of the situation. I think Meikle did a good job capturing the spirit of Stoker.

On a trip through the Sipsey Wilderness Area in remote Alabama, a couple is rescued from the flooded river they’re canoeing by two burly men in overalls who seem to have their best interests in mind.

That’s until the two brothers deliver Blaine and Casey into the horrifying nightmare that is their twisted household—the patriarch of which is involved in a project that exceeds the human realm.

A Puddle in the Wilderness is a Varying Distances short story by Darren Speegle and I'll be damned if I can describe it at erotic chaotic alien mind trip? That sounds about right.

Teen sleuth Beatrice Beecham and her gang of friends have a new case to solve. In the coastal town of Dorsal Finn a timber wolf escapes from a smuggler’s boat at White Wharf. Livestock is found mauled, and the locals are crippled with fear by the hideous sound of snarls and howls in the moonlit nights.

Because Dorsal Finn is not like any other town, things are often drawn to it, strange creatures that are not meant to exist. Now Beatrice and The Newshounds have to find out if the creature roaming the fields and moors is actually an escaped wolf, or something far more sinister. And somehow stop it before the beast adds the residents of Dorsal Finn to its menu!

The Wolf of White Wharf is part of the Beatrice Beecham series by Dave Jeffery. This story is campy young adult fiction with some supernatural elements in an attempt to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, the story didn't live up to any of the hype. I honestly wouldn't recommend this story to anyone above age 13.

Fires are being started in abandoned warehouses in the older industrial area of San Francisco, and none of the professionals in the fire department can figure out how they're being started in order to catch the arsonist. 

What is the motive? 
Why is the arsonist setting fires? 
Some kind of psychological perversion?

Firebug is part of the Frozen Shadows anthology by Gene O'Neill. I enjoyed the spark accompanying the journal entries, but found the ongoing investigation somewhat suffocating. I'm not sure if the author wrote the opposing moods that way on purpose or not, but it highlights the differences between the two main characters: one starting fires, one trying to put them out. The supernatural element is so subtle, maybe it is a figment of the arsonist's imagination, but it's a brilliant touch to the story.

Crystal Lake Publishing hasn't been around as long as some of the other dark fiction publishers, but they have a diverse stable of authors with all kinds of stories and novels to choose from. If you're looking for something new, readers should definitely check out their website.

As always,

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

From Twilight Zone To Lifetime

Between Above and Below by Claus Holm is a collection of four stories:

THE BUNKER switches between the POVs of the people trapped inside of an old missile museum, which makes the intense situation more personal. The interaction between the characters is the most horrifying aspect of the story.

THE LADY AND THE LIONS is a surprisingly romantic coming of age story, with a tearful ending. This one has a Stand By Me feel to it, and I think it would make a good movie.

WENDIGO is an interesting twist on the popular Native American monster. The story-telling is nice touch, but I didn't enjoy this one as much as the first two. This story lacked any character depth...just not enough information revealed to make me care who lived or not.

THE GUARDIANS is a rather unusual Lifetime type of story with a subtle reference to THE LADY AND THE LIONS, but the personal growth is not limited to one character...a very clever behind-the-scenes drama.

Claus Holm has a wonderful way of writing dramatic prose without the usual gimmicks or plot devices and readers don't have to be a fan of any particular genre to enjoy his work.

Whenever I read something that doesn't necessarily fall into the horror category, I feel strangely refreshed. It's nice to read something cerebral without involving my adrenal glands. I especially enjoy the anthologies which provide diversity among the stories.

As always,

Monday, March 19, 2018

What's That Smell?

Rats in the Loft by Mark Lumby, author of Lord of the Harvest and Bag of Buttons, is such a descriptive story, I felt like I was in the attic with Peter...and I was terrified. The randoms sounds really creeped me out. When the mystery is finally unraveled, I was completely shocked. The final ending left me with mixed feelings. The entire story is a well-written tragedy.

I'm very rarely frightened by horror movies of any kind, but there is something about written stories that crawl under my skin and infect my mind. Sometimes I find myself wishing I could back out of the story - make a retreat to safety, but I am unable to put down my Kindle. Obviously, the authors are responsible for such captivating nightmares, but I often wonder if the stories develop their own sinister energy, making it impossible for readers to look away.

As always,

Sunday, March 18, 2018

What A Night

In The Basement by Razz Popo is bloody amazing. I made a plethora of incorrect assumptions based on the title and the description...neither doing the actual story any justice. There is no way I could have predicted any of the events and, even though I began to recognize certain elements towards the end, Popo still surprised me. By the time I finished the story, I felt as though I had been brutalized and dragged through the house myself.

Granted, I've only read two stories by Razz Popo, but I love this author's work! What appeals to me the most is his trademark mix of social issues and the supernatural. Unlike other authors who look for ways to make a real life problem even worse, Popo serves up the most exquisite and terrifying justice to bring balance to the chaos of his creations.

I would love Razz Popo to write a story with both Annie and Lana facing off with some real world evil...I can't get enough of these characters.

As always,

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Grand Finale [When They Came Trilogy]

When They Fell by Kody Boye is the third book in his alien invasion trilogy, which includes When They Came and When They Saw. The story begins where the second one left off, with Asha asking "Are you okay?" over and over and over. I can't even get into this installment without first emphasizing how much I looked forward to watching her die or get her tongue cut out, or something...anything to get her to shut the hell up. While Asha's skill with a rifle improved over time, her social skills did not.

Aliens have been raining hell on Earth for about seven years, with all manner of death and dismemberment, while survivors find themselves fighting each other as well as the invaders. Yet, Asha feels compelled to question the well-being of Ana Mia every five damn minutes. Her brilliant contribution to the war is to ask through out ALL THREE BOOKS, "Are you okay?" because, you know, she cares so much.

Not much has changed for Ana Mia. Not only does she have Dr. Phil for a girlfriend, but she is continually abused by the human survivors. They force her to use her special gift to lure the enemy into various traps, put her into life and death situations, and then accuse her of being a traitor because she used her gift. Damned if she does, damned if she doesn't. As if that isn't bad enough, Ana Mia is like a walking kiss of death, with her loved ones dying left and right.

Her alien contact, Grayson, appears to have his own agenda in this war, passing messages to Ana Mia about the alien Queen. Since she can't even trust her human companions, Ana Mia has given up on the idea of peace for either species. She has accepted her way of life will always be fighting, which is exactly what she does...right to the very end.

Anyone who is a fan of the TV series Falling Skies will appreciate the detail Kody Boye puts into the continued suffering of his characters. I'd love to see this trilogy optioned into a movie.

I am such a huge fan of Kody Boye's writing style, I plan on reviewing another one of his book series in April.

As always,

Friday, March 16, 2018

When They Came, Book 2

***WARNING: May contain spoilers from Book One.***

When They Saw by Kody Boye continues to follow Ana Mia through her personal experiences after years of living in a post-apocalypse. While I enjoy the story of the conflict between humans and the Grays, I didn't enjoy this installment as much as the first. I found a few characters annoying to the point of distraction, but, in fairness to the author, Boye creates very believable human reactions. He also does a good job highlighting the daily struggle to maintain any kind of relationship when everyone is suffering from some form of PTSD (and the psychological trauma is very well-written).

I'm sick to death of Asha asking Ana Mia if she is okay. I think it's safe to say that Ana Mia isn't even in the same zip code as okay. I'm starting to feel like Asha is a drain on the main character, not a source of strength. After everything Ana Mia has been through, I am struggling to understand why she takes so much crap from Dubois...I nearly lost my mind over the punch to the face. At this point, I'd welcome the POV of anyone's exhausting to be in Ana Mia's head.

With all that said, I'm excited to read the third book. I'm hoping the mystery behind the Reapers will be revealed. I'd like to know more about the different alien species, period. There is a fascinating sociological aspect to Boye's alien trilogy which drives the ongoing horror deeper into the mind.

There's a dark part of me wanting Asha to get killed off. I think Mary-Anne would make a better companion for Ana Mia. Even with her revelation about her former illness, Mary-Anne just seems stronger in spirit than Asha. I loved the character in the first book, but I'm not seeing much emotional growth in Asha and I think that's what is eating at me.

I have to give Kody Boye extra credit for writing a character in such a way, the girl annoys me, even after I put the book down.

As always,

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Six Years After That First Hour

A year ago, I interviewed author Kody Boye about his prequel short story, That First Hour, which terrifies readers with a brutal alien invasion. The trilogy itself takes place six years after meeting Jason Parks. Both science fiction and horror fans are certain to enjoy this series.

When They Came is the first book. Even after reading the prequel, I was caught off guard by the devastating way of life the survivors must now endure, several years after the initial Harvesting. Although he is only a supporting character, readers do find out what happened to Jason, as well as Henshaw.

The main character, Ana Mia, has decided to join the Midnight Guard, to protect Fort Hope. Unfortunately, she is injured while on duty and soon realizes the walls will no longer keep them safe. The invasion and harvesting is only the first stage...the dead appear to be the lucky ones.

Kody Boye has created an unusual post-apocalypse soaked in bloody suspense and twisted into a dystopian mystery. With three known alien species and no explanation for their actions, readers can only guess what new hell awaits Ana and her loved ones. The survivors are a mix of civilians and military, as well as the Midnight Guard, scavengers and bandits, with everyone fighting for the scraps of civilization.

I can't wait to continue this series...

As always,

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Huggins Will Rip Out Your Guts [Interview]

Beyond Isaiah by Paul S Huggins follows several survivors throughout a zombie outbreak in the United Kingdom. The POV switches are a great way to pull readers into the chaos and emphasize how an entire country is caught off guard by such a swift and devastating event. However, as the timeline progresses, this novel feel less like one continuous story and more like a collection of stories set in the same undead apocalypse. The characters do cross paths, so their individual experiences eventually merge, but the deeper connection between the survivors is lacking.

Don't misunderstand me, I enjoyed reading Beyond Isaiah...just don't expect to find any comfort in this story. Huggins takes his readers to the ground and rips their guts out...the way a horror author should.

I managed to grab Huggins for a few minutes in the Lair...

Q. How big is the zombie genre in the UK? Do zombiephiles over the pond think they will fare better or worse than the United States?

The UK zombie genre seems to go in fits and starts, there was a major recurrence around 2004 to 2005 that coincided with Worldwide fascination. There was a bit of a dead patch (excuse the pun) but more recently there does seem to be a resurgence, in the last year or so.

Our saving grace in the UK is that we are an island, our downfall would be that we are quite overpopulated. On the plus side we have been fighting off attacks for many centuries, as such the mechanics for defense are already in place, a great many castles. I don’t think the central areas would fare very well, the midlands, London etc. But more remote places like Scotland and parts of Wales are quite remote with rocky terrain, these places would have pockets of survival zones I am sure. If it happened, I don’t think anywhere would fare any better or worse, every part of the globe would be decimated.

Q. Where did the idea for Beyond Isaiah come from?

I was a fan of both David Moody and Iain Mckinnon. Many years ago, I built up a great online relationship with and have subsequently met them on numerous occasions. They gave me the drive to be more proactive with my writing. I had always been a fan of the zombie genre since I first saw that wonderful film ‘Dawn of the Dead’ in the early eighties. It was merely imagining what it would be like here in the UK, as most of my inspiration came from US movies and books.

Q. Why did you choose the format with multiple POVs?

I put a little of myself in every character, I imagine how I would react and what I would say. It wasn’t something that I did on purpose, but it did seem to work out well and fitted over the long timescale. I think it injects a lot more empathy for each character, whether they are good or bad.

Q. What are some of the other horror genres you write about?

The supernatural always peaks my interest and I have written quite a few ‘Ghost’ stories over the years, I also like witchcraft, not surprising as I grew up in a village renowned for a famous case of it.

Q. What can readers expect from you in 2018?

I intend to be very busy. My entire back catalogue is currently being or has been produced for Audible. I’m writing quite a few short stories, I have a half-finished novel which adds witchcraft, ghosts and revenge as the main subjects, tentatively called ‘Past Life Aggression’. I have also been asked to write a zombie related novelette, thankfully I have the time, energy and ideas to keep me very active.

Big thanks to Paul S Huggins!

As always,

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

March Movie Review

Most of us are used to zombie movies where the survivors have some decent firepower…but imagine trying to fight off an undead horde with a musket, and you’ll have the gist of Exit Humanity. Taking place in 1870’s Tennessee, and centered on a Confederate soldier named Edward Young, the movie begins with a brief scene with Edward facing off with an undead Yankee. Moving forward six years, Edward has lost his wife to the outbreak of “dead-alives,” and his son is missing. In his search for his son, Edward reluctantly agrees to help another man, Isaac, rescue his sister from the nutjob known as General Williams. The General is gathering people to intentionally infect, so his snake-oil doctor can test his “cures.” Further into the movie, Edward and Isaac cross paths with a woman who has a supernatural explanation for the undead.

There’s more emphasis on the despair from the post-Civil War era than the actual fighting against the zombies, and there isn’t as much gore as some horror fans might prefer…basically it’s a historical fiction movie with zombies…but it’s a zombie movie that isn’t about the usual humans vs. undead battle, and I think viewers are going to pleased with the effort put into the script. The cast includes Bill Moseley from Devil’s Rejects and House of 1000 Corpses, as well as some other actors that you might recognize.

As always,

Monday, March 12, 2018

Civil War Undead

Uncivil Dead by Jeremiah Coe is a Civil War story about Union and Confederate soldiers forced to make a last stand together against a zombie outbreak. Some Southerners living in a little town called Walnut Woods were sympathetic to the cause of the North, and gave information about nearby Confederate troops. Concerned that the residents of Walnut Woods would face retaliation, one-hundred Union soldiers were left behind to protect them, and to help escaped slaves make their way to the North. The garrison was actually located outside of the town, so the outbreak spread throughout Walnut Woods before anyone realized what had happened.

At first, both Union and Confederate soldiers think they are dealing with rabid cannibals, but it doesn’t take them very long to figure out they are dealing with the walking dead; it does, however, take the Union soldiers nearly halfway through the book before they realize it takes a head shot to kill the zombies…the Confederate soldiers weren’t nearly as fortunate. There is a Union doctor who tries to study the infected by tying them to trees, but he can’t find the cause or a cure.

Eventually the two opposing forces come to the conclusion that they need each other to survive the outbreak, but it’s too little, too late. Coe kept me guessing about who might make it to the end of the book, which was refreshing — I don’t care for predictable storylines. The virus was just as mysterious; it spread to both humans and animals, but the source was never mentioned or even hinted at. Coe writes in such stunning historical detail that I did some research to see if there was a real Walnut Woods where troops from both the North and South went missing without explanation, but, apparently, Coe just has a very vivid imagination. SPOILER ALERT: While Coe took some major liberties with the timeline of known American History, the North still wins.

Uncivil Dead did not have a lot of gore and not many confrontations with the undead until the last few chapters. As a matter of fact, the build-up was quite slow in the beginning, but once the two sides joined forces, the story really took off. I think Uncivil Dead is going to appeal more to the zombiephiles that have a genuine interest in the real Civil War.

As always,

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sci-Fi Sunday: Abandon All Hope

Deep Space Dead by Edward Chilvers is an entertaining mix of horror and science fiction. I expected a story about zombies in space, but this novella is so much more. Not only is there a brutal loss of one colony, but the second attempt also fails as the colonists deal with alien mutants, food shortages, rioting and betrayal. In addition to the tragedy in the community, the main characters are struggling with failed relationships and family drama on a personal level. Difficult decisions have to be made and all of them will cost more lives.

I'm satisfied with the ending if this is a stand-alone, but Chilvers could continue the storyline into another book if he wanted to. I would definitely look forward to reading more about Hearthstone...perhaps the next story could be told from Guya's point of view?

I'm moving on from short stories to the full-length novels on both my request list and my personal reading list, but I've been struggling to find time to write reviews. I'm hoping I can catch up on posting this week.

I can't stand to admit this, but I have authors who have been waiting over a year for review requests. However, I'm determined to catch up on all the new sequels for each series in my collections for each genre.

Keep checking back!

As always,

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Saturday Short: Snow

An epic and sudden blizzard is blanketing Mount Tom Regional High School . . . in October. A dangerous man is stalking the hallways, and three teens harbor a secret that may get everyone killed if they don't figure out how to stop the snow and the rampage.

Snow by Howard Odentz is a brilliant mix of horror and of the best short stories I've read in a long time. I love the mix of characters: an updated version of the Breakfast Club, complete with all the current social issues high school students have to deal with.

However, the threat they have to deal with is one of the oldest existing legends in the history of mankind. Odentz portrayal of this historical figure is the most original version I've ever come across. The details of the library attack scene are the perfect touch. I found every part of this story enthralling.

This is the kind of fiction I can recommend to everyone I know.

As always,

Friday, March 9, 2018

Saturday Shorts: Thomas Tessler

Remorseless by Thomas Tessler is a collection of short stories and flash fiction, featuring the rotten things people do to one another:

BACK IN MY ARMS I WANT YOU is a story told from the POV of an abusive ex-boyfriend.

PREMATURE NOXIA is an unusual tale about voyeurism.

THE INN OF DISTANT SORROWS appears to involve a doppelganger.

IN THE SAND HILLS is a bit of bizarro fiction.

FOR NO ONE...succubus?

IF YOU SEE ME SAY HELLO is favorite.

GOO GIRL is one hell of a white out.

CLUB SAUDADE centers on a struggling musician.

SOMETHING SMALL AND GRAY AND QUICK triggered one of my phobias.

THE WOMAN IN THE CLUB CAR has the look of deliberate misdirection.

THE GOD THING is not for the squeamish.

FINE UNTIL YOU CALLED should be avoided by hypochondriacs.

THE VENTRILOQUIST is the ultimate self-destruction.

10-31-2001 is a flash of evil.

THE INFESTATION AT RALLS features Van Helsing.

Unfortunately, only one story stood out...the rest were interesting, but not really thrilling or terrifying...mostly just people being ugly.

As always,

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Dead Tropics

Dead Tropics by Sue Edge is the first zombie story I’ve read that is strictly from a mother’s POV, and has children present throughout the story as main characters, rather than just passing plot devices. Lori is a mom in Australia who drops her kids off at various places before she goes to work at the local hospital as an ER nurse. On her way to work, the radio reports an accident involving one of the mines. The original victims are taken to the hospital where Lori works, and it’s not long before Lori finds herself in the middle of zombie outbreak. She doesn’t have much trouble getting to her children, but getting them to safety is an absolute nightmare.
I thought this was a pretty good attempt, but it wasn’t quite the story I was hoping for. Lori came off as too perfect…some of the scenarios were just too convenient. I had trouble believing that a character who struggled with hiking up a steep hill could run for hours on end with no sleep and no food. I didn’t think that an ER nurse could pull off a limb amputation, outside of a hospital setting with only paramedic supplies. Her sister just happens to live in a giant “tree house.” How completely fortunate for Lori – we should all be so lucky in an apocalypse. I also felt like the author was afraid to kill off her characters. But, hey – at least she was a better mother than that OTHER Lori…ahem.
I will say that I read this book in one sitting, and despite my criticisms, I look forward to reading more from this author…I’d just like to see her take more risks with her characters in the future. I think many people will enjoy the action; I appreciated that author included the range of ages you would expect in an average community, and I thought one of the best scenes was when Lori was struggling to warn a school principal about an approaching zombie horde.
If nothing else, I think it is worth reading a story about a mom fighting zombies in Australia, just for something different.
As always,

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Interview With Horror Author Craig DiLouie

I know some zombie purists might argue that Craig DiLouie’s novel, Tooth And Nail, is not a zombie book, but if you think 28 Days Later can be counted as a zombie movie, then it’s all good. Obviously, I am talking about the living infected in a story about an Army unit trying to navigate through New York City.

Hong Kong Lyssa is an airborne virus that kills most of the people who contract it, although some do recover. Unfortunately, it seems that some of the infected mutate into violent maniacs called Mad Dogs. Where Lyssa had an incubation period, Mad Dogs spread the infection through bites that change the victims almost immediately…that is, if the victim can survive the savage attacks by the hordes of Mad Dogs. This is happening all over the globe, but there might be a cure in a lab in New York City.

Lieutenant Todd Bowman needs to lead his men to the research facility to secure the only chance the human race has against possible extinction. After the horrors in Iraq, his men just want to return to their homes, and make sure their families are alive and well. They are all torn between survival and the reality of having to gun down their fellow Americans – infected or not.

Tooth and Nail tells an apocalypse story from the soldiers’ perspectives; instead of just being the guys who make things difficult for the survivors in other books, DiLouie’s soldiers are the ones trying to fight their way out of a hell of epic proportions. We learn about their personal struggles with following orders they do not think are right, and maintaining their platoon long enough to complete the mission. The story is not told from any one character’s POV (I imagined the story being voiced to me by Rod Sterling from Twilight Zone), which adds to the suspense – the readers doesn’t know anything more than the soldiers…who knows what lies around the next city block?

Craig DiLouie answered some questions that I had about this novel...

Q: I have to ask…did 28 Days Later play any part in your decision to write this novel?

A: I had written a psychological thriller about conspiracy theories (Paranoia, 2001) and a science fiction novel (The Great Planet Robbery, 2008), but had always loved the post-apocalyptic genre, particularly the zombie kind. As a reader, I was disappointed by the meager offerings in the horror section in every bookstore I visited, which was usually dominated by vampires. I felt like the big publishers were really missing the boat on post-apocalyptic fiction in general and zombie fiction in particular. Then I discovered David Moody, Permuted Press and the efforts of a growing list of authors writing for small presses, and the genre opened up to me both as a reader and a writer.

During this time, I was reading a novel about the last Roman legion on the Rhine holding back the German tribes, which in turn are being pushed by the Huns. The Roman soldiers fight to the last against impossible odds to protect the Empire, and when the standard falls, you get the Romantic sense that the Empire has already fallen with it. The idea of a military unit fighting against the odds to save a dying nation is stirring to the spirit as well as the intellect because there is a sense of higher purpose than simply survival for a few. They could try to save themselves (and are in the best position to do so), but they don’t, they continue to obey orders and fight for their country.

So the idea of Tooth and Nail was conceived … I wanted to write a novel about how the U.S. military would actually respond during the zombie apocalypse. 28 Days Later did not directly inspire the novel, but did establish “viral apocalypse” and “infected” as a legitimate and exciting part of zombie lore (which is evolving whether some like it or not). To me, the idea of a rabies-like virus was more realistic and therefore frightening than shambling undead, so I went into that territory.

Q: I come from a military family, married military, so I appreciated the accuracy and detail of Tooth and Nail. How is it that you live in Canada, but you know so much about the inner workings of the U.S. Army?

A: I was born in the United States and I’m now a citizen of both countries. I learned the inner workings of the U.S. Army through meticulous research. I read dozens of actual military manuals and other publications to learn the basics of small unit tactics, hand signals, radio protocols, equipment, slang, weapons, formations, chain of command, etc. It was extremely vital that I present the military and every other aspect of the story realistically for several reasons.

The most important is that the more realistic I could make the novel, the more willing the reader’s suspension of disbelief, and the more they would enjoy it. The more realistic I could make the setting, the more frightening the monsters would be that inhabit it. Not only did I want to present the Army realistically as a character unto itself, I wanted to present realistic things happening in realistic ways: In real life, soldiers get PTSD, vomit at the site of extreme gore, panic, refuse to shoot civilians, etc. Rifles jam, smoke obscures visibility, people communicate by radio, operations are planned, choices in decision-making create ethical dilemmas, etc. This realism flavors the novel and makes it even more gritty, dark, disturbing.

Another reason is that I had made a commitment to present the military perspective in a realistic way, and I knew members of the military would be reading the novel, so I really wanted to get it right out of basic respect. I researched everything and asked a friend who had served in the 101 Airborne to vet it for accuracy. I have been told by servicemen that the novel is accurate right down to the barracks banter, and many assumed I was in the military myself, which was probably the most gratifying feedback I’ve received on the novel out of all of its positive reviews.

Q: I think what I loved best about this novel is that the story is told from the perspective of the soldiers; usually, the military are portrayed as “out of control” in most zombie novels. Was there a particular reason you chose to give them their own voice?

A: I wanted to present a different side of the zombie apocalypse to differentiate it from the rest of zombie lore and tell a story I had always wanted to read—the military point of view. Many zombie novels deal with a ragtag band of survivors shooting their way through a post-apocalyptic landscape filled with zombies. My question is always: How can these people survive after the apocalypse when the world’s most effective military failed during it? What happened to the Army? The classic story usually presents renegade soldiers who go AWOL at the first opportunity and start raping and pillaging.

I wanted to show what the military would really be doing—they would be doing their jobs. Sure, some soldiers would go AWOL out of fear or opportunity, some units would dissolve if they were not supplied or lost their chain of command, and some units might refuse orders if they felt that following them was suicide. But most would do their jobs as they had been trained and sworn an oath to do. The result is a unique take on the zombie apocalypse that provides constant tension and plenty of action.

Q: Were you trying to include commentary about our politics and government, or was that just the result of writing about soldiers trying to survive what they think might be the end of the world?

A: I always resent it when authors such as John Ringo inject their politics into their novels; I have very strong personal political views but I’m not interested in propagandizing. Any commentary on politics and government that is included in Tooth and Nail are the opinions of the characters, not me, even if I may agree with some of the opinions.

They belong to the people in my fictional world. Which is what you would expect: Talk to five Americans, and you’ll get six opinions on anything. The apocalypse would bring out extreme views of all stripes, some we might agree with, others we would find offensive.

Q: What do think is more frightening, the Mad Dogs themselves or how quickly everything falls apart as the result of illness?

A: I often wonder what is more appealing to me as a reader and writer: the zombies/infected themselves, or the apocalypse? For example, suppose a zombie outbreak occurs on a cruise ship and does not affect the rest of the world. I don’t think I would get as involved as a reader. Plus I don’t think cannibalism and gore are necessary, while they are staples in what is normally considered good zombie fiction. So I think that makes me more of an apocalyptic fiction fan than a zombie fiction fan. 

For me, zombies are simply The Threat, forcing ordinary people into extraordinary circumstances, with enormous stakes (the end of the wrold). That Threat could be infected, zombies, vampires (yes, even vampires, think Daybreakers, Stake Land, The Passage), werewolves, aliens, an asteroid, anything. Infected/zombies are a unique type of threat that to me are simply the most interesting and frightening. The genre crosses so many others—horror, apocalyptic fiction, survival horror, science fiction and, in the case of Tooth and Nail, military fiction as well.

So again, I believe the apocalyptic aspect of the novel is more frightening to me than the infected themselves. My wife is a survivor of the World Trade Center attack in 2001. We lived in New York City when it was attacked and she was in the North Tower when the South Tower collapsed. Coming out of the building, which was a harrowing experience unto itself, she saw the devastation and said the scariest thing she saw at first glance was the crushed police cars and first responders walking around in a daze. We look to people like soldiers and first responders to provide us with security in an emergency and when they break it’s terrifying. It means there is no more law and order. It means collapse, zero security, isolation, you’re on your own, there’s no help.

Emotionally, that’s a big step off a very high diving board without knowing what’s underneath you. So I think one of the most terrifying aspects of Tooth and Nail is the increasing isolation of the soldiers and their growing impotence to protect civilians and even themselves.

Q: One of the things that disturbed me is how many of the soldiers were concerned with being damned for what they had to do in order to complete their mission, but none of them really struck me as religious or spiritual. Is this just the result of the horror of their reality, or were you trying to avoid preachy characters?

A: Some of the soldiers are like most people in that they are generally concerned about an afterlife, but none are overtly religious. They are more concerned about being “damned” in that what you do makes you what you are and will follow you the rest of your life. These are people with a conscience. They are soldiers and understand that actions in war have consequences, and are sensitive to those consequences, particularly those consequences that affect themselves. They are basically afraid of destroying what makes them who they are, what makes them human. This is alluded to in the quote from Nietzsche at the start of the novel, paraphrasing: Beware of battling with monsters because fighting monsters might turn you into one, too.

Q: I’m always hoping the great zombie stories I read will make it to the big screen, and your novel is no exception…mainly because I don’t think Hollywood has a clue about zombies. Do you think Tooth and Nail would adapt well to a movie? If so, who would you like to see playing Bowman?

A: I’d love to see Tooth and Nail adapted to film. It has constant tension, tons of action, dramatic themes and a virtually unique take on the apocalypse. As for actors, assuming they’re good at what they do, I’d like to see all unknowns or relatively little known actors. The book has a cinema verite, almost documentary feel to it, and I would love to see that transplanted into film; having big name actors would ruin that effect. Think Generation Kill with zombies. That’s what I’d love to see.
Thank you for the opportunity to talk to your readers about Tooth and Nail. I hope they will enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

Thank you for stopping by!

Craig DiLouie is a regular here at the Lair. If you enjoyed this interview and you're interested in the author's various novels, search here.

As always,

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Tuesday Terror: Mutated Undead

Sudden Death by James Carlson has nothing sudden about it. You don’t simply READ this book, you PHYSICALLY EXPERIENCE this story. I felt as exhausted as the survivors by the time I reached the end, but in a good “I won’t be sleeping anytime soon” kind of way.
I can’t believe the storyline spanned less than two weeks…Carlson put his characters through every imaginable hell and several that readers won’t be expecting. The only problem that I had was trying to understand the heavy police jargon in the beginning, but it doesn’t continue for very long, once the infection overwhelms the London law enforcement.
While the bond between the survivors leaves something to be desired, no two characters die the same way. Brilliant.
As always,

Monday, March 5, 2018

Monday Mayhem: Weird Tales

The Zombie Whisperer and Other Weird Tales by Steven E. Wedel is not strictly a zombie anthology, but rather a collection of four stories including two about the undead. Wedel does an incredible job of providing entertaining short stories for any horror fan, and I hope the author writes more zombie stories in the future. The two stories worthy of The Zombiephiles are The Zombie Whisperer and Dead Betty.
The Zombie Whisperer is about a man named Dr. Dragoon, who claims to be able to make a psychic connection with zombies. Jana, and her group of survivors, put the doctor to the test. In this apocalyptic scenario, greed is the driving force.
Dead Betty was some of the sickest, most graphic undead action that I’ve ever read, and I’ve read the Extreme Undead Collection by Armand Rosamilia. Do yourselves a favor, and skip eating before you read this story…calling it descriptive would be an understatement – just goes to show that you shouldn’t screw around with the undead (pun intended).
I’m really glad that I picked up this anthology, even if all the stories were not undead tales…still a great horror collection.
As always,

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Sunday Survival: Owner's Apocalypse Manual

The Zombie Survival Manual by Sean T. Page is very detailed without being overwhelming. Many other survival books are so difficult to get through, it would be easier to take on an undead horde with your bare hands. This manual is much easier to navigate.
It’s entertaining without lowering itself to cheesy humor. It’s like a cross between an RPG guide and an Ology book (ex: Dragonology). There’s even a test at the end, and a couple of certificates that you can hang up in your doomsday shelter.
Last but not least, Sean Page is not someone jumping on the zombie bandwagon. He is an excellent horror writer, but his specialty is writing survival manuals. He has created a sub-genre of his very own. Check out his Alien Invasion Owners’ Resistance Manual, if you require more proof. Page ALWAYS does an incredible amount of research for his books.
There is a strong British influence within this book, but it is applicable to most countries. I definitely recommend Page’s manual to my fellow zombiephiles, regardless of your Z-plan.
As always,

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Without A Care

A lung-busting cough. A freeloading boyfriend. A pregnancy she's not ready for. 

Mia has plenty to be worried about but nothing to put her mind at ease. That is, until her mother sends her a package of Guatemalan worry dolls. According to legend, putting the dolls under your pillow at night can take your worries away. But when Mia tests them out, they take away more than just her nagging thoughts.

Worried About by Brandon McNulty is a great flash fiction piece about young woman who is desperate to get some sleep, but Mia can't stop thinking about all of her problems...until the dolls remove the problems from her life.

McNulty lays out the story in the style of the old Twilight Zone episodes or Tales From The Darkside. You don't have to be a horror fan to enjoy the bizarre nature of the dolls.

As always,

Friday, March 2, 2018

Tongue-In-Cheek, Throat-In-Teeth

Corporate Cannibal by Gayle Katz is a zombie short story with a twist I've never read before. I like the's so hard to find zombie stories with new ideas. Unfortunately, Erica kind of ruins everything with her lackadaisical attitude. An office building full of zombies isn't enough to qualify this as horror. The story comes across more like dark comedy.

I understand, when authors choose the categories to represent their stories, they want to appeal to as many readers as possible. The thing is, if I do a horror search, I'm expecting horror. I will always have that one key expectation, no matter how hard I try to read something with an open mind. As soon as I get the sense I'm reading some other genre, it's difficult not to feel disappointed.

As always,