Monday, April 30, 2018

I Feel Jacked Up

Zack, Zack Goldman, pleased to meet you. I'm a runner. I know you don't know what that is. It's better if I just show you. 

See this wire? Yeah, this one here coming out of my arm. This is my connection to the net. You probably don't know that one either. I'll get to that. 

There was a time when wireless was the way to go. Everything connected in what they used to call clouds. The world was easier then. 

Then we found true virtual reality. Jammed that shit straight into our brains. Wireless wasn't fast enough. We're talking full on change in perception of worlds here. The MMOs that people used to play were immersive, you were part of their world. Kid's play. 

The net changed all that. World Dynamics created the first neural net. A virtual world built in the user's mind. Sure, it was electronic, and computers were a key component. Hell, you have to have a deck as part of your interface. But when you are logged into the net, the physical world is the world your programming creates. 

Sure, it's all still data, nothing but 1s and 0s. It's your user interface that sets the stage and builds the world you see. Like I said, I'm a runner. In the old world they might have called me a hacker. I specialize in data retrieval.

And I'm late. So, if you will excuse me, I have work to do.

The Nothing's Child by Jon M. Jefferson is a science fiction story wired with suspense. I felt really dumb at times because of all the tech talk, but I still enjoyed this sci-fi mystery. Zach is hired for a run, a job he thought had been successful. Much to his surprise and dismay, several groups of people are hunting him afterwards. Once Zach figures out what happened to his team, readers are introduced to yet another enigma.

Sometimes I felt like the narrator explained too much...I would have preferred more action. However, Jefferson created such a believable futuristic lifestyle, I think Zach should have his own series. I would also like to know more about the child. If the author leaves this as a stand-alone, I'm going to be pissed.

As always,

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Nothing Is What It Seems [Interview]

Mists of the Dead by Travis Adkins resembles a blend of Warhammer fantasy, zombie horror and Monty Python humor. This is nothing like Adkins previous work, Twilight of the Dead and After Twilight...more like something one would find in a hardcore RPG session. There is a lengthy setup as characters are introduced one by one, while Warrel the Suave has several detailed interactions in the process of preparing for a lengthy journey with a famous wizard.

Once the travel party is underway, I almost died laughing at the name of the God of Crossroads, but I managed to keep reading. The variety of creatures they encounter is amazing and the descriptions are so good, at times I felt I was right there with Warrel and the others.

The novel is well-written and has a lot to offer readers, but there were times I struggled to get through the slow pace. I had several false starts in the reading process because I needed to be in the right mood for this genre mix. I also disliked Warrel quite a bit...he has such a high opinion of himself, very irritating...but his annoying qualities made him a more interesting character.

I asked Adkins to stop by the Lair to answer some questions about his latest release to offer more insight into Mists of the Dead...

Author Travis Adkins with his wife, Rebecca.
Q. Mists of the Dead is quite a departure from your writing style in Twilight of the Dead, or any of your previous work, for that matter…where did the idea for this story come from?

The idea began, very roughly, as a short story I started writing to go into Permuted Press’ Undead Anthology volume 2 or 3, (wherever it would fit,) way back in the day. It had the characters Warrel, Kogliastro, and Gumgen, and began on the Smuggler’s Trail. Characters had no backstory, and the story itself was going to be straight-up swords & sorcery versus zombies.

But I abandoned it. I don’t like sitting down in front of my computer and just “making up” a story as I go along. It feels too cheap—like I’m cheating the potential reader. It feels no different than when you were a kid at bedtime, or sitting around a campfire, and asked a grownup to tell you a story. Some people are better at it than others, but nonetheless there is a flood of improvised stories that in the end mean nothing. They have no substance. I don’t want to contribute to that, which is why I’m nowhere near prolific as I’d like to be.

But, it seems, no idea of mine stays abandoned forever. In my mind, over time, the characters grew, new situations were presented, and the world expanded. I keep a plethora of notes and outlines. My notes are probably as long, if not longer, than the novel itself. I add notes to stories every day. And only when the story was fully-formed, and had meaning, and had structure, did the urge become irresistible to sit down and put it together. I think that’s mainly why I don’t consider myself a writer—I’m more of a “story-putter-togetherer.”

“Where did the idea for the story come from,” though was your question. And the best answer I can give in a short amount of space is, there is a multitude of ideas wrapped in a skin of plot to hold them together, and bones to give them structure. In many ways the events and situations are an allegory for my autobiography.

Q. When I read this story, it kind of reminded me of the Gotrek & Felix books from Warhammer. Which genre influenced you more: fantasy or horror?

Every genre influenced me, but certainly fantasy and horror are at the forefront. Also, in the interest of sharing equal time: the unsung genre that most contributed was Victorian poetry and prose. It was verse I had never truly explored until I met my wife, who teaches Victorian literature, and so I desired to read the books she taught so as to better converse with her on the topic. For many years I did not write; I only read. And read and read and read. I read everything from many genres. Nothing did not disinterest me. But when it came to Victorian prose, I was absolutely smitten. I found publishing houses that helped give me my fix: Norton and Broadview republish the classics, and a company called Valancourt releases the really obscure stuff.

In your first question you addressed the different writing style, and I think this is a good place to explain it. This writing style is my default now. It’s how I see words structured when I’m forming paragraphs in my head. Mists of the Dead was so Victorian, in fact, that the final editor (and owner of Henchman Press,) Leo Champion, asked me to break up some of the longest paragraphs—paragraphs that sometimes went on for pages. The ideas and concepts of a Victorian paragraph are meant to be ingested—and ruminated upon—as a whole. (Similar to how I say Kurt Cobain’s songs are meant to be understood.) I was resistant at first to break up my paragraphs, until Leo said, “The Victorians have been dead for a hundred years.” And then I understood I needed to poke my head up a little further from antiquity.

Q. Did you have a specific audience in mind when you were creating the character Warrel? Why did you choose someone like him to share this adventure?

I made a bard because, especially in Dungeons & Dragons-type fantasy, they are generally considered jacks-of-all-trades. I needed a protagonist who thinks, sees, and feels, questions everything, and wants to learn as much as he can. A bard takes interest in all things and has a grasp of many topics. And in Warrel, I wanted to make the quintessential bard—a poet, a musician, a romanticist, an acrobat, quick-witted, silver-tongued, and able to seduce anyone or anything—every hallmark of a bard, and make the character feel real, not just a caricature for a roleplaying session. What would a bard be like in the flesh?

I said earlier the book functions as an allegory, and one of my intentions writing it was to present a kind of humanist philosophy. Now Warrel isn’t the best humanist, because this is a story and he is a bard, but he learns and he thinks and he feels.

Q. What was your process for creating this world and the characters who live within?

I’d say more than half of my exposure to the fantasy genre comes from games—tabletop and video. And these games have many sequels and the worlds within stretch for eons without any real change. Sure, there are wars and other calamities, but nothing is ever invented. And I always questioned, “Really?” Why are these worlds stagnant for so long? You could look at a map, and aside from geopolitical changes, the landscape is generally the same.

So for my world, and in keeping with my Victorian theme, the first rule was: Change. And I don’t think it’s difficult for a reader to understand. This is every fantasy world you’re familiar with, with the exception that it’s finally entered an Age of Steam. They have railroads, telegraphs, and rudimentary photography. If it dips its toes in Steampunk, it’s only incidentally. I wanted to explore, much in the same way of Victorian controversies, the fear of all this newness, and in a fantasy setting what all this innovation means for magic users. Which species will thrive under the weight of technological progress, and which will succumb?

Q. Do you have plans to do anything more with this particular world?

I have notes and outlines for several other novels that occur on Erda. They’ll take place all around the same time. Different characters, some overlap.

I’m currently working on a novel called Wickhaven. In a departure from the narrative structure of Mists of the Dead, it will have several point-of-view protagonists, including a paladin of a dead god, an archer from the Gold Wall, and Bartolio, the half-dwarven librarian cleric we saw in Nimbo’s shop.

Q. What else can readers expect from you in 2018?

By request I wrote a story, (after a month of outlining and research,) for an anthology by Thom Brannon and Rob Pegler called Wizards of Mass Destruction. It should be out this year.

Thank you for sharing!

If you're not a true fan of the fantasy genre, don't even try to read this book...otherwise, prepare yourself for one hell of an adventure.

As always,

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Monkey Scratch

The green hell that is the Netherlands East Indies in 1859 is a dangerous place—but soldier of fortune Patrick "Blackie" Boyle is a dangerous man. Trapped between Malay fanatics on one side and Dayak headhunters on the other, menaced by sinister sorcery and entranced by a beautiful jungle queen, Blackie will need all his formidable skill as a fighting man to survive!

Red Shadows, Green Hell by David Hardy is a short story about a man facing a multitude of threats in an unforgiving terrain. There is a lot of description about the setting, but the characters lack any real depth. This makes it difficult to dig into the plot, and gives the impression the author is better suited for writing movie scripts, rather than a story.

Hardy's writing style is most likely to appeal to fans of the black and white adventure movies from the 1940s...maybe.

As always,

Friday, April 27, 2018

When The Dead Come Calling

It's 1869 and in the town of Lazarus, California, the dead don't stay that way. Luella Pembry arrives in town with a plan to stop the Risings taking place, for a price. Haunted by her own dark past, she enlists the aid of Sheriff Drake to help her find out what is causing the Dead to rise. Together, they race to unravel the mystery that threatens the town.

Lazarus by Lori Titus is a supernatural novella filled with mystery and suspense. Titus once again reveals her talent for creating a metaphysical drama, not unlike a terrifying soap opera. In this case, Luella comes to Lazarus to help them with their undead problem, but she finds herself drawn into a family history full of betrayal, deceit and murder. A ghost from the past requests Luella's assistance in tying up a loose end...with a noose. Luella knows she will likely die in the process, but she never refuses the dead.

I'm not necessarily a fan of stories set in this time period, but Titus avoids getting caught up in an elaborate setting and, instead, focuses on the characters and their interactions with each other. The result is a well-paced thriller about several dark secrets buried within the town.

As always,

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A Good Day To Die

Canton was a quiet, little town in the middle of nowhere until the night the monsters came. The Sasquatch emerged from the woods surrounding the town to wage war upon its residents. Now only the local sheriff and a group of young geeks might have a chance at stopping the Sasquatch from drenching the streets of the town red with the blood of anyone unlucky enough to be in their path.

Day of the Sasquatch by Eric S. Brown is a brutal novella about the battle between townies and the legendary Bigfoot. The violence is graphic, the action is nerve-wracking and the outcome is devastating. Brown offers up just enough background on his characters to make each of them relatable or endearing in some way, then he splatters the pages with their brains and guts. Gotta love an author who doesn't show favor to any of his characters.

The POV rotates between the appearances and confrontations with the Sasquatch in different parts of town, revealing to readers just how screwed everyone really is. Knowing more than the various groups of people had me screaming bloody murder through most of the story. The ending is like a kick in the face, after crawling through an obstacle course full of corpses.

If you are a sensitive reader, move along because Eric S. Brown is here to remind everyone how traumatizing the horror genre can be.

As always,

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Blood and Food [Interview]

I've been on Instagram for just over two years (@astradaemon) and it's been the most positive experience I've had with social media to date. I've met people from all over the world, viewed countless amazing photographs, but, most importantly, I've found more authors!

One such author is Ruth Miranda from Portugal. She liked something I posted, so I viewed her gallery to see what she is about...the lady has a great mix of food and books. (Who wouldn't be interested in that combination?) I traveled from her IG account to her Amazon Author page and one story caught my eye...

'Chaos' Nilsson has it all: a successful career in the music industry, fame, money, the girl. 
He also has a monkey on his back, brought about by the visions that plague his mind and haunt his every waking moment; visions that will only be quietened when he numbs himself with generous amounts of alcohol and drugs.  
After an accident that nearly costs him his life, he embarks on a journey of self discovery, in search of his roots and the secret to the blood coursing through his vein.

Blood by Ruth Miranda is so much more than a horror story with supernatural creatures. This novella is a family drama centered around a young man named Caius, who has recently survived an extremely traumatic experience and he now requires therapy. During his sessions, Cai reveals he is suffering from brutal visions...memories of life he's never lived. He soon realizes his family has been keeping several secrets from him, the kind of secrets that tear apart loved ones and destroy lives.

Miranda alternates between the visions and Cai's sessions, creating the right amount of suspense to lure readers in, only to be faced with blood, teeth, lies and deceit, as Cai attempts to find the truth behind his many "gifts." The story pours along rather quickly with the visions continuing, even as the young man travels far from home.

The cast of characters and the detailed lore behind each one is making the wait for the sequel I decided to kill some time by inviting Ruth Miranda to the Lair...

Q. Where did the idea for Blood come from? Did you do any research for your characters’ special traits?

It actually came from the photo used for the book cover. I was playing around with ideas for another book cover when I happened upon that image, and suddenly, a story came into my mind, the main characters already very defined. I did not research any traits, used mostly my own life experience.

Q. There are so many layers to this story…do you have a specific message you are trying to get across to your readers?

I don’t think so. My main goal with Blood was to entice the readers into start making up assumptions in their minds, as to what was going on. I actually started doing that before publishing the novella, by sharing teasers on my Instagram that really helped spike up curiosity. But in the end, maybe what I am trying to say with this story is that perhaps nothing is thicker than blood?

Q. Why did you choose to write within this sub-genre of horror? Is this also what you prefer to read?

I read everything, except sappy romance. My favourite authors are Stephen King, Agatha Christie, Donna Tart, Anne Rice. But I mostly write in the Paranormal genre, usually Paranormal Romance, or Paranormal Fantasy. I do like to mix up several sub-genres, but to be honest, I never looked at Blood as horror, to me it was a Paranormal Urban Fantasy, very much like my previous novels, The Preternaturals Series – although these are very much romance infused, and Blood lacks that.

Q. For some reason, many of the authors I know are chefs, bakers, etc., even if they write in different genres. Do you think this is a coincidence or do you think there is a serious connection between food and the written word?

I see books and writing as food for the mind, so yes, I think there’s a bit of a connection there. I love cooking, but I mostly love eating, and I have a slight obsession with feeding my family balanced meals with the occasional treat. I’m also very much of a wine lover, which goes together so well both with books and food, doesn’t it? I think they all come together in the end. The first novel I published actually delves a bit more into food, it’s a Mystery Romance and food does play an important part in it.

Q. You seem to be equally passionate about cooking and writing. How do you find time for both?

Well, I am a stay at home mom, so I can indulge in writing all day long while my son’s at school. And seeing that my husband works full time, I think it’s only fair I get to do the cooking on work-days. Most of my food is every day, simple fair, and because I can afford the time, I usually spend a bit playing around with food, so I get to serve something that is nourishing but also delicious and interesting to eat. As for my writing, even when I’m lying down to sleep, I find myself coming up with stories, or lines, sentences and even whole chapters that end up in paper the next day, after they’ve stewed in my head. But not working outside the home does provide me with time for all this.

Q. The Lair has a lot viewers who will enjoy your new Blood series. Is there anything else you would like them to know about your writing? What do you have planned for the rest of this year?

I plan to write another two novellas related to Blood this year, focusing both on events that come after those taking place in Blood and those before it. I am also working on an Arthurian saga, two volumes are already written and am on the third and hopefully final one, but I don’t think these will be published before the end of the year, probably only by 2019. These also connect with Blood in a sense that some characters overlap, and the “universe” created for them is the same, as it is with The Preternaturals Series. So there’s still a lot of work ahead for me, which is great, I love what I do!

Thank you for visiting the Lair!

I will be keeping track of Ruth Miranda as the new titles come out, so readers can expect to see more of her work here in the future.

As always,

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Don't Date Co-Workers

An old injury, a co-worker and a cat - with an ending that will shock all three of them.

Bernard is a successful, but broken, middle-aged car salesman with a smooth plan in mind. Nancy is an attractive co-worker who invites him to her home for her own special plans. A short story with a strange and surprising horror-filled twist.

And there's only one witness that can tell the story.

The Hand by J.F. Watership is strange and somewhat predictable, but oddly entertaining in a way only horror fans will appreciate. Nancy is socially awkward, Bernard appears to be anti-social and the cat is more of a distraction than anything. All I can say without giving away any spoilers is this: if I had read this kind of story in my 20s, I would have been afraid to go anywhere with anyone.

As always,

Monday, April 23, 2018

Like Finding a Turd On Your Lawn

In this short tale of brutality, a teen, living in a world gone awry, contemplates his vicious lifestyle.

Cursed by D.W. Nathan is more of an enigma than anything. A group of boys are torturing another boy as they drag him off to be killed. The story is narrated by one of the cruel boys, but not much is revealed. Readers aren't told much about their "lifestyle." The setting is dystopian, but it's unclear why the kids seem to have the run of the place. There is a moment suggesting people have turned into cannibals to survive, but, again, the narrator focuses mostly on the state of the victim.

I think Terry could've provided a better ending than the narrator's half-assed epiphany. I even thought something supernatural might happen at the top of the hill, but, no, the author dragged readers up those rocks for a fart-in-the-wind ending.

As always,

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Best of All Possible Worlds

Cara Sheels is a gifted scientist, and she’s discovered time-travel. She uses the invention to go into the past and to alter just one thing that should change the world, saving it from an inevitable demise.
But in Cara’s haste, she never considers what could happen if she succeeds, changing the past, changing our future. When she returns, what awaits her in the new timeline? What terrifying consequences might have brought back?

Portals by Brian Spangler is a time-travel story with a similar paradox as in The Time Machine (H.G. Wells), but Spangler creates an original approach to the problems brought up in the science fiction genre. The author also describes a variety of futures generated by Cara's efforts in the past, each one with its own devastating outcomes. I'm surprised Cara doesn't just kill herself, but I'm also wondering why the characters never seem to take the universal paradox into consideration.

As always,

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Scary AF

It’s four in the morning and Emily is heading home on a London Underground train. But the Night Tube is running slow tonight – delays caused by a signal failure, as usual.

The train stops again, stuck in a tunnel between Tube stations. And then the lights go off. The motors cut out. Silence from the driver.

All the doors slide open at the same time, exposing the passengers to the tunnel.

To let them out? 

Or to let something in?

Signal Failure by David Wailing is not a story you want to be reading on the subway. Wailing took an inconvenience and turned it into traumatic nightmare. Although, I'm still unsure what exactly took place in the tunnel and the fate of the train remains a mystery, the suspense had me in a full panic. Not much detail is given about the passengers, but I feared for them, just the same.

I am pleasantly surprised at how Wailing transformed a common horror theme into a very original and extremely terrifying story. I couldn't help but wonder if Emily's mother experienced something similar. I would LOVE to see Signal Failure become a movie.

As always,

Friday, April 20, 2018

Always That One Guy...

Frank Clemens and his twin brother Zane have been through a lot together. They survived an abusive childhood and life on the streets, but these experiences made them very different. Frank became a successful businessman whereas Zane remained one step ahead of trouble.

When Frank's family leaves him and then disappear, things start to look grim and Frank suspects Zane might be responsible.

Guilty Knowledge by Ryan King is a decent suspense-mystery, but it is also somewhat predictable. Once I realized what was going on, the story went downhill for me. I think if there had been more Zane scenes, I might not have guessed what the twist is.

I'm still trying to figure out where the mud was coming from...

As always,

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Needs More Mona, Less Nate

She wears a leather jacket, drives a muscle car, and can drink a fifth of whisky. To Nate Rankin, Mona's a rock star. But is she human?

Mona by Mason McDonald is about a young woman who is more than she appears to be. The story could've been much better if more focus had been on Mona herself, instead of spending so much time describing what everyone thinks of her. I thought Mona's secret is a clever twist, but I wish the author had included more horror.

As always,

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Could This Be Our Future?

Paul Sanders is a desperate man. He and his daughter, Isobella, are weeks away from living in the Gutter.

Enter Jono Falanges, a greasy stockbroker who promises Paul all the money he needs, and more. The only catch is, Paul must invest Isobella’s health on the stock market.

Investing Isobella by Jason Werbeloff is a horrifying science fiction story set in a dystopian future in which finances can be genetically linked to individuals. Essentially, Paul becomes so concerned with his unemployment status, he takes everything else for granted. His personal decisions raise all kinds of interesting ethical questions: What does a person value the most? How far would someone go for peace of mind? Does the loss of a loved one justify murder?

Science fiction has often predicted reality...knowing that makes this story all the more frightening.

As always,

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Tuesday Terror: Morbid Tale #5

Beth thought she’d escaped the cult-like traditions of her childhood home in Drumfort, Illinois. College life has given her what she yearned for; the ways of the world, for knowledge, and the freedom that it brings. No more of that nonsense and ridiculous blind faith that has kept so many trapped back home.

But when a strange being disturbs her dreams she returns home to find out why. And when she is chosen for the Sacrifice she must hold firm to her unbeliefs if she is to survive.

The Unbeliever is the most recent Morbid Tale written by Zachery Miller. There are so many layers and themes in this story. Miller blends horror and folklore, religion and psychology, and family drama. You could call this a thriller, a coming of age...a warning. At first glance, it appears to have a happy ending, but, upon closer examination, Beth does make a sacrifice after all. More than one, in fact.

For some reason, I'm curious what this story would have been like if told from the POV of some other character, instead of Beth's perspective. The town had such an odd assortment of people, Miller should consider revisiting Drumfort in another tale.

I'd lose my mind if the author found a way to tie all the Morbid Tales together.

As always,

Monday, April 16, 2018

Monday Murder: Morbid Tales Returns

Tonight, little Amy lays in bed, hurt and sad at how unfair life has been toward her. From a dark corner, the darkest place in her dimly lit room, a silhouette watches, listens, and speaks.

Fearful and distraught, and nowhere to run, she has no choice but to stay. But who is this thing, this creature, this…it? It asks a question, Amy answers, and with her words many will die tonight.

The Silhouette by Zachery Miller is the fourth addition to his Morbid Tales. I love everything about this story. Amy is a very relatable character...I'm sure most readers probably have known someone like her, maybe they were her. I found the demon, Many, intriguing and intimidating at the same time. The deaths are heavily influenced by modern culture, a detail which gives this tale the appearance of an urban legend to be passed around. Miller doesn't show his characters any mercy...he is the silhouette.

As always,

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday Suspense: A Morbid Tale

Trish and Henry mistakenly turn onto a dead-end street. The wrong street, at the wrong time of twilight, and find themselves in the grip of the Nightcomer. But in this cul-de-sac of horrors these two people, so busily caught up in their lives, will find that there can be only one kind of ending on a dead-end street.

The Nightcomer is the third story in the Morbid Tales series by Zachery Miller. This one is considerably more horrifying than the previous two. I only expected one monster, not the Home Owners Association from Hell. I'm still trying to figure out why anyone would leave the safety of their car, and wander around a strange neighborhood, especially if they think they're lost. The ending is brutal...wouldn't surprise me if Miller walks the streets at night with a bloody wheelbarrow.

This author doesn't do happy endings.

As always,

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Saturday Short: Another Morbid Tale

About a year ago, I stumbled upon Zachery Miller, a horror author who grabbed my attention with The Shopkeep. I asked for a full-length novel; he wrote a mini-series instead: Morbid Tales. There are now five stories and I'll be reviewing the rest of the short tales over the next few days.

The Amorphous Horror is number two. Laura is listening to her grandfather tell her stories about his imprisonment in Nazi Germany. Something is thrashing about in the locked basement. Laura knows where he keeps the key. She decides she needs to find out the truth behind his last day in the concentration camp.

Slightly predictable with only a few terrifying moments, this story is still very entertaining. Miller's setting reminded me of the "creepy German guy" scene in the movie The Monster Squad, blending real-life tragedy with supernatural folklore.

Although Miller's writing style is somewhat charming in a dark way, his work hints the author may be on his way to seriously establishing himself as a modern-day Edgar Allan Poe...for example, in this tale, he balances the reckless curiosity of youth with the agonizing secrecy of old age to keep his readers captivated.

Keep checking back for more Morbid Tales...

As always,

Friday, April 13, 2018

Reading For TWO Charities

When normal life collapses, peril waits around every corner, and one small slip could mean certain death. In THE WILL TO SURVIVE, twenty-two unique and brilliant voices bring to life stories of post-apocalyptic danger sure to make the heart race, the flesh creep.

It’s the end of the world. Do you have the will to survive?

NOTE: THE WILL TO SURVIVE is a collective effort by a great group of authors, born from the desire to help their fellow citizens suffering the devastating effects of multiple hurricanes. 100% of proceeds are being donated to two charities, One America Appeal and Global Giving Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund.

Twenty-two stories of tragedy, hope, and survival in one volume.

The Will To Survive, edited by Felicia A. Sullivan is a fantastic way to sample some of the best authors in apocalyptic fiction, as well as contributing to two different charities:

ALL THE OPTIMISM OF HAMLET by M.L. Katz centers on two neighbors (one inspired by the editor) desperately trying to stay afloat.

CODE EMP by M.P. McDonald features a family who happen to be in the right place at the right time, under some frightening circumstances.

THE SHIMMERS by Kelly Hudson is a terrifying mix of horror, science fiction and drama; one of my favorites.

THE WORST CASE SCENARIO by C.A. Rudolph is the dragged out thoughts of a prepper, more setup than story.

PHASE 6 by A.J. Norris features a mother determined to rescue her daughter; action-packed.

DOUBLE OR NOTHING by Clabe R. Polk is a fantastic behind-the-scenes natural disaster story and another one of my favorites.

WOOLY by Shane Gregory is an extremely bizarre science fiction story with a fascinating ending.

BROTHERS BY DUST by Timothy Johnson is an excellent post-apocalyptic story about a boy and his dog.

THE COLLECTIVE by Patrick D'Orazio is a science fiction story which would impress Ray Bradbury.

THE LAST CHARTER by Steven Bird is a teaser; the author created a great intro for a full-length thriller. *hint, hint*

THE SPREAD by Sean Schubert is a short story which takes place in the Alaskan Undead Apocalypse universe.

FRACTURED HOPE by Chris Pike is a tragic coming of age.

RUSTY'S RUN by Nick DeWolf is told from the POV of a dog and had me bawling for most of the story; highly recommended for dog lovers.

INTO THE VALLEY OF THE SHADOW by Sean T Smith is a story about a man determined to fight for his family, until his last breath.

ABOVE THE LINE by Josh Hilden is another fantastic post-apocalyptic tale...I think the premise would make a great movie.

MAKE MY DAY by Mike Sheridan is an absolutely delightful story about a change of heart.

REPLICA by Stephen A North is a devastating sci-fi dystopian future; well-written.

SHOWDOWN AT RIG CITY by Jamie Mason is another dystopian story full of suspense.

THESE THINGS THE KITTEN SAID by D.J. Goodman is a beautifully-written apocalyptic fairy tale...the ending made me cry a little.

A SINGLE STONE by Joshua Guess centers on a handicapped man fighting to stay alive.

THE ANGEL OF LAFAYETTE by Jonathan Yanez is one of the most unusual stories in this collection; I want a Dread t-shirt.

LAST BUS OUT by Brad Munson is the most horrific story in the collection...kind of like something H.P. Lovecraft would write.

This is one hell of a collection, with some of the best authors in genre fiction, for a great price and TWO wonderful charities. Buy your copy today!

As always,

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Liam Isn't Your Typical Farm Boy

Liam earned a full scholarship and escaped the small town of his birth. When his father passes away, he’s sucked back into the life he’d worked so hard to leave behind.

Reluctantly he leaves school and travels home to the farm he grew up on. The farm where working with his hands was worth more than the knowledge he garnered from the books he read to escape reality.

He tries to help his mother settle his father’s estate and plan the funeral despite her emotional guilty trips, but things go horribly wrong in a short span of time. In a last attempt to do something right and ease his guilt, he heads back to school to try and rescue his girlfriend, Stella. But everything has changed in the world beyond the vacant acres he’s been protected by while dealing with his home life.

The world as he knew it has crumbled into something unbelievable. Zombies have taken over and ripped society to shreds…literally. Making it back to Stella becomes impossible.

When he realizes the futility of his journey, he’s forced to a safe zone to preserve his life. Once there, Liam has to make a decision that will change the course of his life forever. 

Re-Civilize: Liam (Zpoc Exception Series Book 3) by Rebecca Besser is my favorite one in the series so far. Even though Liam mostly keeps to himself throughout the story, his thoughts and feelings about his personal experiences seem to run quite deep. The way he chooses to interact with other people, whether it's his mother or complete strangers, is interesting...I'm thinking his ability to make decisions without getting overly emotional is going to keep him alive far longer than the other characters. His POV provides readers with more information about the military encampment.

I can't wait to see what Besser has planned for Liam. I'm hoping he remains a central character through out the additional storylines.

As always,

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Re-Civilizing Teenagers

Elaine is an average teen girl. All she wants is to be noticed by the boy she likes and for her parents to relax enough to let her go on a date with him. She’s tired of her boring life where the most excitement she has is her parents fighting, which she hates.

When the zombie apocalypse wipes out the world as she knows it, she makes her way home, where she has always been overprotected and safe.

This time, home is not the fort of comfort she has always known. Instead it’s a den of danger where she’s bitten by her zombie mother.

Wounded and scared, she manages to hide. Her father comes to her rescue and attempts to get them to a safe zone he heard about on the radio. They run out of gas and end up having to find shelter. They end up in Chad’s house.

Chad tells them how he’s immune to the zombie virus, and that he believes Elaine is too, because she hasn’t turned into a zombie from her bite.

They make plans to travel together to the safe zone once Elaine is strong enough. When Chad goes to find them a new vehicle and supplies, he finds a small boy named Tad.

At the safe zone, Elaine has to deal with being separated from her father and Tad, while being forced to make a decision that will change who she has always been…and her relationship with Chad.

Re-Civilize: Elaine (Zpoc Exception Series Book 2) by Rebecca Besser is the second novella in a mini-series following the lives of immune teenagers, expected to protect the rest of the survivors who aren't so lucky. Elaine's story begins as the virus is spreading through her community, continuing to when she crosses paths with Chad (from the first book). Her version of events are much the same as Chad's, but, somehow, less emotional.

I believe the difference between Chad's and Elaine's POVs has something to do with their family backgrounds. Her home life seems much more stable. Elaine's biggest complaint is her mom's health food obsession. Not to mention, her Z-day doesn't seem nearly as traumatic as Chad's. When her group arrives at the safe zone, Elaine seems oblivious to the dangers of their situation.

I can't wait to read Liam's POV...I'm hoping there will be more action in his story.

As always,

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Teenage Angst In A Zombie Outbreak

Chad hates everything about life. He hates his sister for being a brat, his parents for being in denial and pretending life is perfect, and the world he lives in for the adherence to social pressures and norms. He wants it all to go away.

When the zombie apocalypse wipes out the world he’s used to, he’s left alone…and bitten. He’s sure he’ll die and become one of the undead. Instead, he becomes severely sick and recovers…still fully human.

Believing he can’t be the only exception, the only one immune to the zpoc virus, Chad goes out into the world to find others like himself. Once he does, he’s sucked into a plan to re-civilize for the good of all the survivors.

Chad and the other exceptions are expected to protect and provide for the weak and vulnerable survivors. He’s not sure he wants to take on the role expected of him in the new society, but he knows that if he refuses the survivors will die.

The fate of the human race weighs heavily on Chad’s young shoulders and he has to make a decision that he can live with in the new, re-civilized world.

Re-Civilize: Chad (Zpoc Exception Series Book 1) by Rebecca Besser is a novella about a young man who discovers his is immune to a zombie virus, which has quickly spread throughout the rest of the population. As Chad's story unfolds, the backstory about his family life helps define his personality and explains his reasoning throughout his struggle to interact with the other survivors. Told strictly from the teenager's POV, the author does a good job of conveying his frustration and helplessness as the military dictates how he will live within the safe zone.

I look forward to the other installments in the series, with each one having a different teenage POV. Although the main characters are high school age, it would be a mistake to approach the Zpoc stories as young adult fiction. I believe zombiephiles of all ages will enjoy Besser's latest creation.

As always,

Monday, April 9, 2018

Powerful Imagery and Emotions

A peaceful weekend for four college students at the lake ends when the country is thrown into war. A woman is visited in her kitchen by an invisible man. A man wakes up and finds he is the last person left on the planet – because of faith. 
29 short stories about tears and scares, about watching horror movies with yourself in the movie, burning down houses and getting a message from your dead child via cell phone. 29 short stories about darkness and light, about love and death, about everything you might find in the borderland between being awake and dreaming...

Dreams and Awakenings by Claus Holm begins with a lengthy introduction from the author and would've been better placed at the end of the anthology as an "author's note." Holm's writing is so well-crafted, I recommend just skipping straight to the stories and read the intro afterwards.

Many of the stories are relationship dramas with supernatural twists. Some of the stories are flat-out terrifying. A few are filled with dark humor. All of them are exceptional storytelling.

I've read at least three of Holm's collections, and this is my favorite...definitely making my Top 2018 list for anthologies. I would love to see the author write another volume of Dreams and Awakenings.

As always,

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Forgot To Include The Story

Verne's Momma had one rule which could never be broken. He could not reveal to any outsider what went on within their house. Verne knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that to violate that rule was to bring unholy tortures down onto his head.

And so not a word passed his lips. Not during the twenty-five years he lived in the dank basement, curled up on the thin mattress.

Not during the ten long years of his prison sentence.

Until he made the mistake...

Death Watch by Lisa Shea isn't really a horror story. Very little is revealed about Verne's time in the basement or why exactly he ended up in prison...just disjointed memories...bits and pieces about the situation, even less about the characters. Seemed rather pointless.

As always,

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Saturday Short: Property

Property by Jack Binding is a flash fiction dramatic tale of getting caught up in the rat race, until one decides to simply stop racing. The writing style is dark and heavy, smothering both the passenger and readers, with a devastating ending. The author uses both misdirection and foreshadowing, but it's nearly impossible to tell the two elements apart.

I'm curious what a longer story by this author would look like...

As always,

Friday, April 6, 2018

What A Joke

Janie is a troubled young woman who struggles with her own past and future when she discovers that her mother has terminal cancer.
But what is it that Janie’s so scared of? And can Nan’s red rug save her?

Indefinite Fear by R.H. Dixon is a flash fiction piece of setup...felt like I read the introduction of something that lead absolutely nowhere. Instead of a story, most of the Kindle file is just an excuse to advertise for something else. Pretty damn sad when an author would rather push "bonus" chapters, instead of offering readers an actual story.

I've enjoyed Dixon's writing in the past, but this will probably be the last time I bother with this author.

As always,

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Throwback Thursday: Wormwood

Wormwood by Michael James McFarland reminds me of The Jakarta Pandemic, but with the most wicked reanimating virus I have ever come across in any plot. Wormwood was as emotionally devastating as the ending of Dead Sea by Brian Keene. Divided into eight parts, the POV switches between characters, depending on who is the focus of each section, and has a great mix of action, gore, drama – everything you could want in an apocalypse story.

The cast of characters had a terrific range; McFarland didn’t rely on typical stereotypes, and the imperfections of the group of neighbors living on Quail Street added to the realism of the story. Wormwood hooks the readers with a description of graphic video footage in the beginning, and then the survivors keep the story going with striking dialogue and thoughts of inner turmoil, emphasizing how quickly some people can change when others exploit a bad situation.

In the part titled, The Navaros, McFarland zeros in on one family’s personal reaction to the approaching outbreak ( a few days back in the timeline), which was heart-wrenching. In another part, when a search party is sent out for more medical supplies, readers catch a glimpse of the devastation beyond the cul-de-sac, and new survivors enter the story. Those characters carry the theme of losing one’s faith. Only one character, Shane, shows us a glimmer of hope, suggesting that even an underdog can rise to the occasion.

As always,

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Introverts Beware

What happens when you abandon your family? Do they abandon you? Does a soul eater or a mythical monster come looking for you? James is about to find out. He's home alone, having once again turned down an invitation from his family to share in an evening out. He's about to come face to face with a thief of a distinctly supernatural kind.

Soul Thief by Jeff Chapman is an exciting flash fiction story about a frightening creature hell bent on attacking James. The author begins the ongoing action with a mere tickle and doesn't stop until bullets are flying everywhere. Chapman leaves more than one unanswered question...I'm kind of hoping readers might be given another story to wrap up the loose ends.

As always,

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

What's Your Poison?

Once narrowly escaping a town gone mad, a man threatens a boy with his life to get to the truth about his missing son.

Rattlesnake by Michael Hebler is a flash fiction piece about a man named Theo, who is drunk and sitting across a fire from a young man who looks just like his missing son, in what appears to be the aftermath of an apocalyptic least, that's how an inebriated Theo perceives ongoing events. The dialogue offers up a few clues as to what really happened, even though Theo is doing most of the talking.

Hebler does a pretty good job of contrasting actual events with Theo's accounting, proving to readers, the POV of the main character isn't always accurate or trustworthy.

As always,

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Reliving

John Ajvide Lindqvist’s thriller, Handling the Undead, opens during an intense heat wave in Sweden. Stricken by headaches, people are unable to turn off anything that runs on electricity. Just when they reach their breaking point, the heat subsides and anyone who died within the past two months comes back to life, but they are nothing like the undead that most zombie fans expect. This novel is less about the undead and more about people’s reactions to having their loved ones become “the reliving.”

The story is told through the emotions and experiences of three families: one that loses a grandfather, one that loses a mother, and one that loses a little boy. Readers are shown the intimate details of their lives before everything is turned upside-down, making it easier to empathize with the unimaginable decisions each family must make. While the reliving do not crave flesh, they do emit a psychic field that allows the living to hear all thoughts, something that becomes even more unbearable than seeing loved ones in a state of decay. The Swedish government decides it would be best to set up a housing area apart from the rest of society that is strictly for the reliving.

I wouldn’t call this a horror story. Handling the Undead is more like a suspense novel packed with supernatural events and theological commentary about the way societies and cultures view death and the afterlife. The relationships between the living and the reliving are thick with psychology but the novel still moves at a decent pace as the story builds the strange events, describing the settings with a mix of drama and dialogue. Unfortunately, I was three-quarters into the book before there was any real action. Anyone expecting blood and gore will be disappointed but the ending will leave you thinking about the social implications of immortality for a long time.

As always,

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Personal History of Rachel Dupree

Ann Weisgarber’s The Personal History of Rachel DuPree is historical fiction set in the South Dakota Badlands, 1917. The story is narrated by Rachel, and, as she describes the difficulties brought on by the summer's drought, her past is revealed through her flashbacks and memories. She explains the unusual marriage agreement between herself and her husband, Isaac, an arranged marriage made fourteen years prior in the Chicago boardinghouse where she worked for Isaac's mother. We also learn about her first experiences in the Badlands, as well as her first impressions of Native Americans.

In addition to the challenges of living on a remote farmstead with starving cattle, they are the only African-Americans in their part of the Badlands, and Rachel often wonders what impact this will have on their five surviving children. Her conflicted feelings, from the beginning of her relationship with Isaac, leaves her weary of the sacrifices the family has made, including the death of two children, for Isaac's obsession with owning more land.

Influenced by her background in sociology, and inspired by an old cook stove in a sod dugout, Weisgarber spent a four-week writing residency at Badlands National Park, as well as several other visits to South Dakota, to get a feel for the pioneers of that time. She also studied the history of the African-American culture to learn what life would have been like for an early 20th century African-American woman in a remote area of the United States. Weisgarber’s dedicated and extensive research efforts highlight a perspective of American history that is rarely shown in historical fiction.

Weisgarber does an excellent job of emphasizing the harsh conditions of the drought alongside extremely upsetting descriptions of the family's thirst and hunger, and the concern that Rachel has for her unborn eighth child. Beginning with the emotions Rachel felt as she watched one of her daughters lowered into a well to retrieve what little water was left with a ladle and bucket, through her social interactions with neighboring farmers, Native Americans, and local racists in South Dakota and Chicago, until the end when she realizes that Isaac isn't the man she thought he was, Weisgarber presents a strong female protagonist with worries and concerns that portray the struggle of many women in that time period while illustrating the racial issues of the unsettled West.

By moving effortlessly between Rachel’s memories and her struggles to survive in a harsh landscape and featuring characters of great determination, Weisgarber weaves a story with many subtle layers that highlight issues today’s readers can still identify with.

As always,