Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Only Skin Deep

THE GIRL WITHOUT A FACE by Rebecca R. Pierce left me with mixed feelings. First of all, I love the fairytale elements of the story, which is the reason I'm a fan of Pierce's stories. Veila's inner thoughts about her relationships with those around her kept me interested, especially with the introduction of her new friend, and, of course, the fae twists throughout the story.

Unfortunately, while this began as a coming-of-age-story, it ended as a love story, and I would have preferred one or the other. Either have Veila find her own way out of the curse, or spend more time on the romance, perhaps revealing more about her mysterious suitor. Seems almost sad Veila would be so desperate for someone to love her, she would accept a stranger without a backstory.

Normally, I would never get so hung up on the details of a short tale, but I've come to expect far more from the author. Strangely enough, I think the missing horror element Pierce usually mixes in would have given the story more depth.

As always,
AstraDaemon


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Picnic of Death

Dave is a middle aged waste of space. His days drip away in a haze of drinking, smoking and stealing from his mother. But one night the sound of screams disturbs Dave’s habitual living, and everything changes. Something evil is on the loose, snatching people from the comfort of their own homes. Dave’s neighbour’s, his family, his friends are suddenly vanishing. No one is safe. Unfortunately for Dave, it’s up to him to put a stop to it. Even if it kills him.

A LIFE TO WASTE by Andrew Lennon is another example of the author leading readers down a specific path, and then brutally shoving them off the path, straight into hell. I should have remembered Lennon never writes in a straight line, and every twist has a jagged edge to it.

Even though I had read the book's description first, I became so lost in the ruin of Dave's life, I forgot the story is about something other than Dave. As his personal drama unfolds, I wondered what it would take to undo the damage. Nothing could have prepared me for Dave's late night visitor. If I see an ice cream truck at night, I will likely crap myself.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, August 12, 2019

YA Science Fiction

HEART OF A SOLDIER by Rebecca Besser is a YA science fiction story about a couple falling in love, and risking their lives to help a loved one. Definitely a story for a younger audience. Besser has created such a fascinating setting, I think the author should consider writing a mini-series around the JMB.

FUELING A JOY RIDE is told through the POV of two young aliens stranded on Earth. The story is a bit of science fiction humor. Again, written for a younger audience.

While these stories are not what I'm used to reading by the author, they are a solid starting point for future fans. I recommend following up with the Re-Civilize novellas by Besser.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Sunday With Scribner: Redirection

EXTERNALIZE by Joshua Scribner is a supernatural tale about a girl's coming of age...sort of. Veronica is very hard on herself, and lacks the ability to stand up to the people making her life miserable. However, after a visit with the school counselor, Veronica learns to stop hating herself and focus her anger on those who mistreat her.

The twist is unusual, but set up well and explained perfectly. The ending is satisfying, knowing justice would be served.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Suicide or Murder?

THE OTHER ANN by Amy Cross is a dystopian story about a rift opening between two worlds, almost identical, but one has suffered an apocalypse. The survivors come through the rift, seeking refuge, and they're placed with their counterparts under the Rutherford Act. Ann, who is used to living in solitary is forced to take in her other self.

All goes well, until reports reveal some of the others are snapping and killing their host selves. Ann notices The Other Ann is acting strangely, and their case worker lets a secret slip, causing greater concern for the situation. Are their differences so significant, they are not nearly alike as they think? Or is the problem the two versions of Ann are too much alike?

The story flows quickly between the dialogue and action, and the ending, seemingly predictable, turns into one hell of a shocker. The very last scene is the most disturbing of all, in my opinion. Quite different from the paranormal stories Cross usually releases, but one of my new favorites.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, August 9, 2019

*SPOILER WARNING*

ON TIME DELIVERY by Jason Davis is a somewhat confusing story. I get the premise: truck driver must stick to strict delivery timetable or face dire consequences, but-- oh,no! --family emergency. I could also piece together the "meat" eaters weren't exactly human, and I enjoyed the suspense. Unfortunately the storyline lost me a couple of times.

The driver remained on schedule, so why did his employers go to elaborate lengths to set him up to fail? I don't understand if they were testing him or if they never planned to keep him as a driver to begin with.

Also, what exactly happened at the end? I could not follow the author's descriptions very well. I tried rereading the ending three times, but it simply didn't make sense. I suspect I know what kind of creature Davis attempted to describe, but I can't be certain. This is the first time I couldn't visualize what the author wrote.

If you haven't read anything by Davis yet, do NOT read this one. Go read his Invisible Spiders series instead.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Move Aside, Indiana Jones

Craig Sheehan is known by many names, but his profession is universally reviled: he's an antiquities plunderer, one who pawns his finds off to the highest bidder. After receiving a tip on the whereabouts of the Ark of the Covenant, he embarks on an expedition into Africa from which he never returns. His mysterious disappearance has left the world wondering: where did you go, Craig Sheehan?

WHERE DID YOU GO, CRAIG SHEEHAN? by Antonio Simon Jr. is a theological story told through multiple interviews and video. The story is full of suspense, although predictable in some places, full of shocking surprises in others. I found the video quite disturbing, and I wonder what in the hell Sheehan was thinking on approach. The ending is the perfect touch.

If this were made into a movie, I'd watch it.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Remote Road Rage

BELTWAY BASHER by Abe Evergreen is a flash fiction piece which takes road rage to a new level. I don't want to sound sympathetic with Ben, but I would have liked to see him take on a lane merge with drivers who don't know how to zipper.

For a few pages, there are a lot of sociological and psychological aspects in this story to discuss. Very interesting, especially with the driverless vehicles becoming more common.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Wet and Lonely

DARK ON THE WATER by Erik Lynd centers on a grieving husband who lost his wife to a drowning accident near their lake house. There's more focus on his feelings than the past events with his wife. There is a moment with the neighbor, who has also lost his wife to suicide, when the lake appears to have a sinister secret. Unfortunately, the author lets the moment pass without any follow-through.

This is not a horror story. At best, one might be able to call it paranormal-suspense, but the lack of action is disappointing. Lynd has written much better stories than this.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, August 5, 2019

Cold and Lonely

SALEM by Shawn Weaver is not like anything else I've read by the author. While there is nothing wrong with the writing itself, I found this love story quite dull. It would be better off in a collection of some sort, rather than a stand alone short.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Sunday With Scribner: Score

SCREENED by Joshua Scribner centers on a football player obsessed with thoughts of getting laid. A voice in his head is trying to help him achieve the best possible outcome.

Leave it to Scribner to create a ghost with one hell of a story.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Must-Read Sci-Fi Thriller

EMILY ETERNAL by M.G. Wheaton is one of the best science fiction novels I've read in a long time, and one of the most creative stories I've read this year. This thriller is told from the POV of the artificial consciousness, which is fascinating all on its own, but the idea of a five-year science experiment attempting to save humanity in some form is just wild. Basically, the author has combined a crime drama in an E.L.E. setting with a sci-fi coming-of-age battle for survival. I never expected this level of drama in any way.

I read the book in one sitting -- could not put it down. Not only did I enjoy learning about Emily and her personal growth, but the thought of all life on Earth ceasing to exist in a matter of weeks kept me hooked. Humankind possibly being wiped out without a trace of existence already made the situation extremely intense, but when terrorists attack the laboratory just as Emily discovers a secret hidden in the coding she is recording and filing, I couldn't wait to find out what would happen next.

As if all that wasn't enough, Wheaton throws in yet another shocker towards the end. I began to think the author would need to write a sequel because I couldn't imagine how everything could be resolved before the last page. I knew better than to expect a tidy ending, but I couldn't have predicted the turn of events, even if I had Emily's capacity to solve problems.

On a side note, I appreciate the author's way of describing the technology within the novel. Sometimes I avoid science fiction because some authors throw in so much detail, I feel like I need a PhD to sort it all out. Wheaton avoids overly complex explanations, while keeping everything feasible. This is definitely a novel I can recommend to a wide range of readers.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, August 2, 2019

Heads Will Roll

WITCH ISLAND by David Bernstein has the setting and characters one would usually find in an 80s horror-thriller. While not even close to the outstanding level of writing Bernstein is capable of, this novel is still quite entertaining. Anyone looking for a deep meaning or complex relationships need to look elsewhere, but horror fans looking to pass a few hours on a plane, train or bus will not be disappointed.

The concept of the witch cursing her murderers and damning their descendents is somewhat similar to The Grudge. The way in which she exacts her revenge is more like the action in Freddy vs. Jason, where everyone is screwed.

I wasn't crazy about the ending. After all the pain and suffering on all sides, I would have preferred some resolution for the witch. In any case, I read this book in one sitting, and, as I stated earlier, this is a great way to pass some time.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Hopeless Hope

EDEN by Andrea Kleine begins with two sisters, Hope and Eden, kidnapped as teenagers. As adults, Hope finds out the man who assaulted them is up for parole. She then searches for Eden, who became a stranger almost immediately after they were found. Everything is told through Hope's POV, but she flashes back and forth between the kidnapping, her past and her current search.

At first, Eden appears to be the damaged one, but eventually Hope's life seems so much worse. At one point, when her father essentially told her to get over it, I wondered why she didn't just kill herself. Everyone seemed so focused on Eden's well-being in the beginning, and supportive of her Bohemian lifestyle later on, while Hope was left to twist in the wind for the rest of her life.

However, there is the possibility Hope is an unreliable narrator and her take on events could be extremely inaccurate. Upon closer scrutiny, Hope continues to play the victim in her interactions with pretty much everyone in her life (i.e., all her problems are the result of someone else's actions, she takes zero personal responsibility), yet she criticizes Eden for not dealing with what happened to them. Hope tends to be self-destructive, but she judges Eden for her life choices.

The end of the novel is extremely anti-climactic, and any sympathy or concern I had for Hope had dissipated into apathy. I really wish readers would have been given Eden's POV as well. As the novel stands, I did read the story in one sitting, and I never lost interest in the unraveling of events. I just find it ironic Hope seems so hopeless. Eden, in contrast, seems to have found her namesake.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Full Moon Death Brawl

HUNTERS by Eric S. Brown is my new favorite story by the author. Every time Brown comes out with another Bigfoot battle, I wonder how close he is to running out of ideas. Pretty much every one of them is a deathmatch with Sasquatch, and the legend always wins, but Brown keeps finding ways to make each scenario stand apart from the others.

I really enjoyed his Yeti story, Blood in the Snow, in which Brown throws in some unexpected extras. Hunters also has some extra elements, which are freaking fantastic! This time Brown has thrown more than one group up against the Squatch, and blended folklore and the supernatural into the bloody mix.

I'd love to see the author include more subgenres of horror in his future stories. Whether you're a fan of Brown or not, this is definitely a must-read.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Barry and the Deadly Avocado

COLD DEAD HANDS by Jeff Strand has nothing to do with zombies or any kind of apocalypse. This a suspense-thriller infused with drama, centering on a group of people hiding in a freezer from some Droog-wannabes attacking a grocery store. The characters offer quite a variety of backgrounds and personalities, but Barry stands out, especially since the story is told through his POV.

I had no idea who would live or die, which is refreshing, and I enjoyed the dialogue immensely. I'm recommending this story to everyone, and I would love to see Strand's novella be turned into a movie.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, July 29, 2019

Three For One

GAS STATION OF THE DEAD by Anthony Renfro is an unusual apocalypse tale. The zombies can do things such as climb ladders, there is still electricity and running water, and a young man named Cal decides to deliver gas to survivors. Not only is the story very ho-hum, but the ending is one of the laziest attempts at writing that I've ever read.

I enjoyed the author's story, The Lot, but he pulled it from Amazon. (I hope he doesn't ruin it with revisions.)

There are also some bonus stories at the end:

DEVIL AT THE WHEEL is about two friends who take an uncle's car for a joyride, but the joy soon leaves the ride.

THE DRAGON is a combination of Alexa and the Necronomicon.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sunday With Scribner: Defining Family

NEVER FEAR AGAIN by Joshua Scribner is one of the author's full-length stories, and also one of his very best. Scribner offers readers a family drama in the form of a paranormal suspense-thriller, spilling over with emotions.

The setup is a little on the slow side, but necessary to accurately portray the normal personalities and relationships among the family of four, before everything goes to hell. The alternating POV between Roland, Kim, Nate and Mark gradually unravels the mystery wrapped around the house they recently moved into, without being predictable in any way. Last but not least, Scribner delivers a savage and haunting ending.

This is far more than a haunted house story. This is a tale about the extremes a parent will endeavor for his or her child...even if it's at the expense of another child's well-being, or the cost of a marriage. Spouse vs. child, lust vs. love, will power vs. magic.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, July 27, 2019

What A First!

ONE STAR by The Behrg affected me on a personal level, until I reached the ending and screamed the kind of "WHAT THE HELL?!!" cry only suspense fans will understand.

I've never read anything by The Behrg before, but a friend recommended this story to me, and now I understand why. Well played.

So, here I am, passing this story onwards like a filthy chain email...

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, July 26, 2019

Neverending Death

SHAMBLES by Rebecca R. Pierce manages to stand out from the plethora of undead stories. I'm impressed with the Pierce's post-apocalypse. This is not simply a story about a thinking zombie. Within a few pages, the author paints a portrait of a damned society crumbling into Hell, frighteningly believable too.

While this is not the kind of story I've come to expect from this author, Pierce still delivers a powerful message...food for thought.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Revenge of the Living Dead

SURVIVAL is the fifth book in the Undead Rain series by Shaun Harbinger. I've been following this storyline for five years. I also interviewed Harbinger in October 2015, in which he mentioned a spin-off series in the works.

The Undead Rain books follow the POV of a young man named Alex. He's hiking with friends in Wales when the outbreak arrives in their area. After much misfortune, Alex decides to look for his family, and joins another group of survivors. The group discovers a hybrid mutation and raid a government lab for a vaccine. However, the vaccine turns out to be a wild card, with various possible outcomes, depending on application.

Survival's storyline begins about a month after Alex discovers the fate of his family. His group picks up a distress call over the radio, and they decide to intervene, knowing some of the UK military have gone rogue. Meanwhile, Lucy is having personal issues and her impaired state of mind could be placing the group in additional danger. Their new quest also brings them into contact with Brigadier Gordon, who is looking to dish out some deadly payback.

Unlike the previous installments, Survival is more of a novella, and Harbinger ends the fifth storyline with back-to-back catastrophic events. Obviously, there will be another book, but I'm wondering how the dock scene at the beginning of this one will factor into the rest of the series. Perhaps readers were given a glimpse of the jumping point for the spin-off?

In any case, I enjoyed this story as much as Wildfire, but I'm a little disappointed in Alex. After everything he's accomplished, he's still putting himself down inside his head. I think his character development needs a work over to properly reflect what he's been through. He may have begun this journey as a Eugene (The Walking Dead), but now he's a Daryl (TWD).

Can't wait for the sixth story!!

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Just A Puddle

THERE'S SOMETHING IN THE WATER by Simeon Gregory is a short story about contaminated water bringing about the apocalypse. Nothing is revealed about the organism in the water. The narrator mentions very little about the state of the world, after contaminating most of the population. No details about how the organism affects humans. Even for a flash fiction piece, there isn't much going on.

There is a moment of action, when the storyline finally picks up, followed by an abrupt ending. Gregory can do better than this.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Underground City of Demonic Shadows

ELDER ONES by James Loscombe comes across as an introduction to either a full-length novel or a possible series. I would read either one, if the author wished to expand upon this premise. I found the underground city with seals to be fascinating and terrifying at the same time. Not only does the author's writing style seem reminiscent of Lovecraft, but Loscombe takes some of mankind's most primitive fears and twists them into a modern cosmic nightmare. I really think this piece by Loscombe is too good to leave as a single short story, but I'm still recommending this to horror fans.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, July 22, 2019

Influencing Horror

In H.P. Lovecraft's, "The Dunwich Horror", we are recounted to the narrative of Wilbur Whateley, the child of a disfigured pale skinned person mother and an obscure dad (insinuated in going by the distraught Old Whateley as "Yog-Sothoth"), and the unusual occasions encompassing his introduction to the world and gifted improvement. Wilbur develops at a strange rate, achieving masculinity inside 10 years. At the same time, his magician granddad teaches him into certain dim customs and the investigation of black magic.

Many of the stories I've read this year have been Lovecraftian, to one degree or another. Since so many authors appear to be influenced by this famous author, I thought I would revisit one of his classics, THE DUNWICH  HORROR. Laying down the setting, Lovecraft emphasizes the disturbing history of Dunwich, and the mysterious nature of the wrongness of the place.

The story picks up the pace with the birth of Wilbur Whateley, with suggestions of his mother having a tryst with something unnatural. Wilber's growth and appearance are from anything resembling normal, and his behavior becomes more peculiar and frightening as he ages. The turn of events is so shocking, I had to reread the part with the dog more than once.

Dunwich soon finds itself plunged into a hellish nightmare, with something indescribable making its way through the nearby countryside,slaughtering cattle and families alike. Three professors (Armitage, Morgan, and Rice) attempt to battle the creature with some ancient magic. The revelation about the entity's origin is one final smack in the face.

No matter how many Lovecraft stories I read, my opinion remains unchanged: I'm more impressed with stories influenced by the author, rather than the stories he wrote himself. I'm tempted to read some of the stories which influenced Lovecraft.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sunday With Scribner: Scorned Lovers


Welcome to another week of Sunday with Scribner! Three more flash fiction pieces from Joshua Scribner:

CRAVING is a crime drama packed into just a few pages. Leland's reality check is fairly shocking, and the paranormal twist is the perfect ending.

HEART RIPPER should be called "Soul Crusher." I don't know how anyone could keep going through life being crapped upon the way Jason is, over and over. I expected him to become a shooter or something, at first, but the ending became too obvious, too soon.

WHAT YOU HATE is a bit of a crime drama, complete with a psychic working as a bartender. Customers keep falling victim to random violence, and Jeni has a feeling she might know why.

I've now read well over 60 stories by Scribner and I still haven't read all of his work...

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Blame Jane Fonda

BETTER THE DEVIL YOU KNOW by Rachel Asher is a riot. Any story which begins with demons worried about getting "bitch slapped by the almighty Lucifer" has me completely hooked. There are so many great lines in this short story, I couldn't stop grinning.

I felt some apprehension as the two demons moved in on their quarry. The foreshadowing is pretty good, but I felt some confusion at the revelation. Took me a moment or two to understand exactly what had happened.

I wouldn't call this horror by any means, but Asher has created an entertaining piece of dark humor.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, July 19, 2019

Accurate Book Descriptions Are Important

EDEN GARDENS by Louise Brown is not a love story. As far as I'm concerned this is a 1940s soap opera told through the alternating POVs of two very different women, Maisy and Pushpa. Also, the story has very little to do with Maisy's relationship with Sunil, the son of her tutor. Rather, this novel highlights the misfortune the women were born into, and the various ways they deal with their personal situations.

I had zero expectations when I picked up this book, so I wasn't disappointed by the lack of romance. I feel the real theme is overcoming adversity and discovering inner strength. In some ways, this is Maisy's coming of age story, with Pushpa's perspective added for depth. In other ways, this is Pushpa's narrative about following traditions, struggling with social mores, caste division and class warfare, with Maisy's view added to emphasize the clash of cultures.

I read this novel in one sitting, and I remained captivated from beginning to end. I have no idea who decided how to present this book to readers, but I think the ones who will enjoy it the most are the ones most likely to pass it up because of the misleading description. If you enjoy family dramas with historical events and cultural settings, give this novel a chance.

As always,
AstraDaemon


Thursday, July 18, 2019

The Story of Karma

THE STORY OF A MARRIAGE by Geir Gulliksen is more the story of karma than anything else. The narrator, the cuckolded husband Jon, admits he left his first wife for his second wife, with zero consideration for his two-year marriage or his baby girl. Not only that, but the mistress/wife #2, Timmy (nickname), was also in a relationship when they met. I feel zero sympathy for either of them, since they both struck me as selfish, self-centered people who place lust above love, and base their pitiful relationship on their sexual encounters (which includes a lot of fantasizing).

In addition to throwing away two relationships to begin their affair, after they marry, they have two children together, who are forced to suffer the fallout of their poor excuse of a marriage. It also seems, based on Jon's way of describing daily activities, neither of them want to be around their own children, which makes me wonder why they even bothered having them. Timmy doesn't seem to care about anyone's needs or wants, except her own, and Jon seems hyper-focused on getting laid whenever possible. The two young boys (and their older half-sister) are just after-thoughts and/or work.

Needless to say, Timmy does whatever the hell she wants, when she wants, including having an affair with yet another married man, and spending little to no time with her family. Jon is falling apart, but what is happening to him is essentially what he did to his first wife. The ending is so spectacularly pathetic and disgusting, I wish both Timmy and Jon had been killed in a car accident, so their children could at least have something resembling a happy ending.

As far as the writing, Gulliksen does a great job with character development, otherwise, I couldn't feel so strongly about my disliking of Jon and Timmy. However, the author spends too much time describing minute details about insignificant garbage like eating an apple or appraising one's genitals in the bathroom mirror. Between Jon's self-pity, Timmy's apathy to her own family, and the ridiculous amount of details, I wondered who on earth I could recommend this book to.

To be fair, I do wonder if the difference in American and Norwegian societies affects my interpretation of the marriage and the affairs of the characters. I can't relate to their attitudes and reactions. I can't even imagine what kind of mindset Gulliksen had when he wrote this. I have also had this type of reaction in the past, when I've read similar novels written by non-American (and non-UK) authors, so I'm sure cultural differences between author and reader absolutely make a difference.

As much as I disliked this book, I am curious what else the author might create.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Jungle Fever

VIRUS by David Pope is a short story about a jungle expedition which falls apart before they can begin anything. The writing style is a little sloppy, which disrupts the pace of the narration. There are more than a few sexual descriptions, but not good enough to be considered erotic or relevant. The author spends more time describing the characters than offering any action or dialogue. The sequence of events is interesting, but, again, written on the sloppy side.

Seems more like the rough draft of an idea for an apocalypse story. The author should consider doing a revision, preferably with an editor. First impressions are important, even for short stories.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Deadly Cravings

THE FARM by Shahema Tafader is a flash fiction piece about a woman reliving an awful experience while she shares the memory with a group of women. As Nadia continues to describe the memory of the nightmare she endured while she was pregnant, my anxiety shot through the roof.

I enjoyed this short so much, I wish the author would consider writing a longer version. The ending is devastating.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, July 15, 2019

Terrifying and Tragic Transformation

For as long as Darius Fischer can remember, his grandfather had an air of mystery about him, and he harbored many secrets, secrets he kept hidden from his own family. Now that the old man has passed away, Darius is free to explore those secrets and dispel the mystery surrounding the man. But what he hinds only deepens the mystery.

THE MEMOIR OF DARIUS FISCHER by Ezekiel Kincaid is Grave Marker Book 18 (Grinning Skull Press). I want to tell other readers why I love this story, but I can't -- not without revealing spoilers. I can say the grandfather is Native American, and Darius, being an atheist, should have taken his grandfather's stories more seriously. At the very least, he should've discussed his intentions with his grandmother before digging around in the loft full of secrets.

I can also tell you, Kincaid has mixed theology, mysticism, folklore and more with the precision of a master. The author delivers his demonic concoction in the form of journal entries and clinical notes, written by Darius and his psychiatrist. The personal experiences are ghastly, the observations are insightful, and the ending is both beautiful and tragic.

This is definitely making my Top 2019 list.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday With Scribner: Early Warnings

3 CAUSES FOR ALARM by Joshua Scribner features three snapshots of life-changing events:

ALWAYS AROUND had me freaking out almost right away, and the ending only made it worse.

WAKE UP is basically the author playing with the emotions of a parent.

PRECISE is a very unique story. I thought I would simply read a story about a boy with crappy parents. Scribner really needs to consider turning this one into a full-length story. Definitely my favorite of the three.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Modern Fables

There was an old man and there was a puddle. 

There were many stories about the old man—he was the captain of an Alaskan fishing vessel until the rough waters of the Bering Sea sunk his ship and killed his entire crew; he was a WWII hero and fought at the Battle of Okinawa; he escaped from the Marine Creek Psychiatric Hospital—but no one knew who he was, or why he fished in a puddle of water barely as deep as your knees after a good rain, until a boy named Joe (the only boy who was ever nice to him) set aside his perceptions and learned the old man's secret. He also learned that magic and greed are not congruent. 

BONUS: Included with the purchase of The Fishing Hole is Homeless Donna, a story very loosely based on true events about a lady down on her luck in Lake City, TX, before the community surprises her with a gift that will pave her way to a brighter future.


THE FISHING HOLE by S.O. Bailey is a sad story. Any time a character fails to heed a critical warning, I cringe inside. I know we wouldn't have stories without fictional people screwing up, but Joe's mistake is extremely sad. Let this story serve as a modern fable, and hope we learn the lesson before it's too late.

HOMELESS DONNA is an offering of hope, kindness and forgiveness.

Neither story is much like Bailey's previous work, but I'd like to see the author write more stories like The Fishing Hole.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, July 12, 2019

The Lone And Level Sands Stretch Far Away

A decade ago, twenty-six Towers of unknown origin rocketed into the Earth, destroying almost everything in an event known as “The Impact.” Most of the remaining population slowly began to change, their minds altered to conform to the will of strange creatures that stood atop the mysterious structures. Humanity began to turn on itself and these brain-washed individuals became known as Red Eyes. Now, ten years later, Sam, Alex, and Luna trek across a ruined world, searching for a man they believe is responsible for it all - a man named Empire, a man no one can seem to kill. But time is running out. The Towers are stirring once more. What is their purpose? Where did they come from? Who is Empire? And what is the Last Tower?

THE LAST TOWER by Elias Witherow is, interestingly enough, a family drama set in a sci-fi post-apocalypse with some serious cosmic horror scattered across the pages from beginning to end. I can't help but notice Witherow always builds his stories on the cornerstone of a relationship element. In this case, two brothers, one attempting to destroy the world, the other fighting to save mankind, with a childhood friend standing in the middle. Somehow the destruction of civilization doesn't seem as tragic as otherworldly gargoyles spoiling the bond between the three young men.

The imagery is filled with abominations I hope never to see in my nightmares. While there are plenty of action scenes -- some filled to capacity with ungodly brutality, the story is an emotional crucible in a mind-shattering hell. I felt as if I were in Tower 15, about to have my soul ripped out of me. Witherow delivers the ending like a dirt shower after your broken body has been tossed into a grave.

Consider yourself warned.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Trigger Warning

WHAT GOES AROUND by Tammy Ruggles is a flash fiction family drama about a toddler molested by a neighbor. The parents try to follow the rules and do everything by the book, but the community supports the pedophile and the justice system fails the little girl.

Ruggles captures the frustration and devastation of the parents in a realistic manner, without being graphic in any way or exploiting the youngest character for shock value.

In the end, Karma vs. Free Will.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Definitely For Sci-Fi Fans!

HAIL LORD ZALTEER! by Austin Grisham is HILARIOUS. If you enjoy Flash Gordon, you'll get a kick out of the different species described in this flash fiction piece. I suspected Grisham had a tongue-in-cheek surprise for readers and he does not disappoint.

After reading all the posts about storming Area 51, I think everyone needs to read this short. While it's not the author's usual style, Grisham continues to entertain.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Up Against A Wall

ONE BAD NIGHT by Jason Davis is not what I expected from a story with a truck theme. I thought this might be a little like the movies Joyride and Breakdown, but the revelation from the tanker's driver had me second-guessing everything.

This is not a good guy vs. bad guy situation, and it is so much more than a misunderstanding. Davis has taken a single moment and transformed it into a clash of heartache and desperation. How far would you go for your loved ones?

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, July 8, 2019

Fridge Must Be Lovecraft Model

WATER, ICE, AND VICE by Antonio Simon Jr. is one of the most horrifying short stories I've ever read. What happens to Jeremy is beyond tragic, and the guy just can't seem to catch a break. His roommate, Scott, is a huge POS and deserved far worse. Cthulhu must own stock in Jovian Electro-domestics.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Sunday With Scribner: Terror Trio


This flash fiction trio by Joshua Scribner is just some of his older stories. Although I prefer his most recent work, Scribner has always been able to pack a lot of terror into just a few pages:

TERRIBLE NOISES caught me completely off guard. Nothing could have prepared me for the ending. I wish I hadn't related so much to the main character in the beginning.

EXECUTOR is a tragic family drama. Being spiteful and selfish always backfires. Some people shouldn't be so quick to dismiss their dreams.

DEADLY TALENTS offers three bites. Spiritual Instinct is an interesting twist on past lives and genetic memory. Escorts features animal totems, with a surprise ending. Dear Special Detective Clark seems related to the first story, but I think it's more science than hereditary.

As always,
AstraDaemon




Saturday, July 6, 2019

A Halloween Feast

THE LEGEND OF JUDY ROSE by D.W. Nathan is a new release told as a flashback to an old man's childhood. Within the memory, an adult tells the young boy and his best friend about Judy Rose, a girl born wrong and sealed away from society.

One of the friends gets the idea to look for her bones. Unfortunately for the boys, Judy doesn't appear to be dead, but she does appear to be very hungry. While the confrontational scene doesn't last long, the imagery is horrifying.

Not only does Nathan deliver a tale of terror fit for any fireside, but the author promises readers a novel is on the way.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, July 5, 2019

When The Palace Is A Dungeon

MARY MAGIC by Abe Evergreen is a short story set in a dystopian future with a Presidential Palace and women in charge of everything. Men make up the working class, following orders as if their lives depended on it.

Mary is the President's daughter and, as such, she is essentially kept in a gilded cage. The eleven year old girl longs to climb a real tree and feel the grass under her feet, so she stages a well-planned out escape.

While the characters are a little flat, Evergreen obviously put a lot of thought into this future society. The little details are so fascinating, I would love to see the author turn this story into a mini-series like Dark City.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Life After Death

I AM THE NIGHT by Ruth Miranda is a companion story for her Blood trilogy. You don't need to read the entire series to enjoy this novel, but you'll get more out of it, if you read the first Blood book in advance. I Am The Night is narrated by Marcus, offering fans of the series his perspective on events leading up to his confrontation with Caius, as well as the beginning of his relationship with Marianne.

I already liked the character Marcus in the trilogy, but after reading his personal experiences as an abuse victim and a vampire, he is now my favorite character from the series. I wouldn't mind another companion book centered on Marcus, taking place after the third novel in the trilogy.

Last but not least, Miranda once again touches on current social issues with her preternaturals, examining how people identify themselves in various situations and the way they choose to interact with others. I found the vampire's epiphany about love to be quite a revelation, after everything he has had to overcome by himself. Additionally, the supporting characters impart significant discoveries within the journey Marcus undertakes.

Fans of the series definitely need to add this one to their Blood collection!

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Spark In The Dark

THE CARNIVAL by K.T. Rose is a flash fiction piece about a young musician who is trying to earn enough money to relocate. He has yet to truly begin his career and he is already feeling empty, until a stranger triggers a flashback with the gift of an apple.

Rose blends poetry, music and storytelling within a few pages, and succeeds in creating a spark for the soul. Hopefully this short will inspire readers to embrace their passions and never give up on their goals.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Sin Always Begins With A Tree

Timothy Carpenter was the lone survivor of the pirate ship Ravager. In custody, the tale he had to tell was too outlandish to believe -- native curses, a deadly fog, and something within the fog. Admiral Buchanan of the HMS Lionheart read the pirate's account of the things that transpired with mounting disbelief. But now the fog is rolling in, and he's about to realize just how much truth is in the man's words.

RED BLOOD, WHITE WOOD by Rob Smales, Grave Marker Book 17 (Grinning Skull Press), includes a variety of supernatural horror, everything from an angry witch doctor to an ancient creature seeking revenge. Set back in time, among uncharted seas, with men going missing one by one, there is a subtle hint of Lovecraft throughout the writing style.

The story is told through a written account of pirate's nightmarish experience, when his ship is run aground, after his crew have violated the trust of an island tribe. Even though it's apparent no one survives, Smales manages to slip in one more nasty surprise at the end.

I dare you to read this one at night, on a boat, in the fog...

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, July 1, 2019

A Quick Drop & A Sudden Stop

THE HANGING TREE by Erik Lynd is a very short story. (Most of the e-file is a preview of Lynd's horror novel, Asylum.) The author had me hooked as soon as Old Man Rudy began his ramblings about the Hanging Tree's dark history. The dynamics of the friend group, and the conflicts between their families fueled the suspense.

The turn of events isn't really surprising, but the ending is somewhat abrupt. I would have read an entire novel about the boys and the tree. Lynd does an amazing job of fleshing out the main characters in just a few pages, but he left me wondering about the nature of the tree and its companions. The author could do so much more with this premise.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Sunday With Scribner: Crazy Comes In Many Forms


Welcome to another round of Joshua Scribner! Here are three quickies you can finish in minutes:

PARASITIC LOVE is a paranormal flash fiction piece about a jilted lover. Quite a punishment for breaking wedding vows.

NIGHT OWL is just a few pages about a would-be politician approached by an unusual backer. Simply too brief to be much of anything, and more bizarro fiction than anything resembling horror.

JUST REMEMBER WHAT I SAID centers on a woman remembering the death of her brother. She struggles to remember what her therapist told her. The ending is a huge surprise, as well as deeply disturbing.

Check back next week for more Scribner shorts!

As always
AstraDaemon


Saturday, June 29, 2019

The Tree of Death

BIG CAT by Bowie Ibarra, author of the Down The Road series, is an entertaining suspense-thriller featuring a predator terrorizing a rural area near San Uvalde. Nothing supernatural or over the top, just a lot of unfortunate people who have forgotten their true place in the food chain.

True to his writing style, Ibarra has included some sexual content, giving the story an 80s slasher motif. However, the serial killer hunts on four legs and doesn't wear a mask. Due to the naughty bits, I don't recommend this story to anyone under the age of 14.

The rotating POV creates some intense, scream-at-the-book moments, especially with the personal drama between the main characters. Even though some of the personalities are somewhat cliché, especially the two idiot cops and the airhead named Chip, the variety keeps readers guessing about everyone's chance of surviving to the end.

The moral of the story: don't get caught with your pants down.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, June 28, 2019

You're Going To Need More Than Beef Jerky

BIGFOOT VS. PREPPERS by Eric S. Brown is yet another deathmatch between a group of humans and the legendary creatures. While this novella offers the same formula (Bigfoot tribe attacks, humans totally screwed), Brown still manages to change up the ways the characters are brutally slaughtered. He also includes quite an assortment of personalities among the preppers.

There is one question, asked multiple times by the folks at the compound, which kept me hooked throughout the bloodshed: why didn't anyone ever see a Sasquatch during all those years they spent on the mountain? I wanted to know what triggered the hairy beasts, after so much uneventful time had gone by.

The ending had me scurrying back to the story, Day of the Sasquatch, looking for a connection. I'll admit, I haven't read Brown's Bigfoot Wars yet. Maybe a more seasoned Brown fan will be able to figure it out.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Fantastic Revenge Novel

GYPSY by Dan Foley (Grinning Skull Press) was published in 2017, but I've decided to add it to my Top 2019 list, since I only recently discovered this gem. The author has taken a common plot device, rape, and used it to orchestrate a suspenseful and entertaining tale of revenge, without being sexually graphic or overly violent. While I don't necessarily consider this horror, as much as a supernatural crime drama, this story beats the pants off Richard Bachman's Thinner and offers readers something far more substantial than I Spit On Your Grave.

I love the way Foley's characters, Tim and Celeste, find a way to connect over their personal tragedies, as they use the extreme differences in their lives to exact revenge against a group of scum who absolutely deserve their deaths. The couple take teamwork to a metaphysical level. The details with the dreams and tarot cards are the perfect touch. Somehow Foley managed to surprise me with the ending, which is just one more aspect I love about this story.

I'm recommending this one to all fiction readers. Even if you're the type to "wait for the movie," make an exception for this novel.

As always,
AstraDaemon


Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Tarnation

MOON OVER TOMBSTONE by Carmenn Alexander King Kocznur features a couple of outlaws who have been reunited after decades of being apart. Bill notices Chester isn't looking so well and wonders why his companion travels with a coyote. Chester claims the coyote speaks to him, and he feels a change coming on.

I had no idea what to expect, no idea where the storyline would lead me, even after the appearance of a supernatural visitor about halfway through. The first half of the story seems largely unnecessary...Kocznur could easily present this as a flash fiction piece, minus the long setup.

I will admit, I very rarely read any stories with a western theme in any genre, as such, this one is not really my cup of tea. However, anyone who enjoys a justice-served theme may appreciate the ending.

As always,
AstraDaemon