Thursday, January 31, 2019

Dark Is The Heart: The Dead Tide Series Rages On


The Dead Tide series by Stephen A North is kind of like a zombie soap opera: lots of characters, a rotating POV, and plenty of dramatic scenes...with the undead. Usually, I struggle with a cast this size, and I have to write down notes just to remember the individual survivors and their backgrounds, but somehow North manages to create several unforgettable personalities within the multiple storylines. Also, the drastic change in settings with each POV switch makes every book more exciting, creating the sense of total chaos surrounding the survivors through spectacular action scenes. The best part is the unpredictable nature of the series. I never knew who was going to live or die, and I never knew what particular obstacles each character would face.


In the first book, DEAD TIDE, the focus seems to be more on the police officers forced to choose between helping the citizens of their city and assisting the politicians in their attempt to escape via a luxury ship. Although, there are other storylines which include both civilians and soldiers, as well as the controversial orders given to the military to ensure that the outbreak is contained. In the second book, DEAD TIDE RISING, it becomes obvious the worst is yet to come when the characters meet monsters who are more threatening than zombies.

The series continued to divulge more about the background of the surviving characters, revealing their own individual experiences within the same outbreak area. The human strengths and weaknesses are more than plausible, with North giving extra attention to the details, as the story progressed. Many people behave egotistically, but it's those moments when someone chooses to do the right thing, even when it's the hardest thing to do, which creates a strong bond between the survivors and the reader.


In the third book, DEAD TIDE SURGE, the multiple storylines finally converge, making it easier to navigate. I enjoyed the action scenes far more - not your typical slash 'n' dash that readers often find in horror novels. North has become rather creative with the death and despair surrounding the survivors. Take a deep breath because North's Dead Tide pulls readers in further with a fourth installment...

DEAD TIDE RAGE begins with a list of the characters from the entire series, which is a great way to refresh the memories of readers. The main theme throughout the book is the loss of sanity. Everyone is falling apart, literally and figuratively, doubting themselves and doubting others. Some are ready to end their lives, others are ready to kill everyone around them.

There is an ensuing battle for Tanglewood Island and almost everyone involved with the island wants to kill Sid. The crime lord has been a huge hindrance for the survivors, but Sid buys more time for himself by claiming to have a cure. The various groups are slow to realize they have similar goals, and lose many friends due to a lack of communication.

The original Black Ops group from the first book, which had been split up in the beginning, find themselves reconnecting, if only to acknowledge they will never be a team again. There is also the matter of the line of succession for the presidency, pitting politicians against soldiers. In his attempt at a military coup, General Kyler grossly underestimates Candace Fiore's determination to salvage the remaining government. The battle for power between the two results in a massacre.

North kills off many main characters. Some die heroically, some die tragically, but some characters die in small, random moments, and those unexpected deaths are the most shocking. With the remaining survivors scattered once again, the story appears to be winding down, until the Naval fleet survivors reappear with tremendous firepower.

This is most definitely the best novel in the series. North has gone above and beyond with his character development. Even if readers don't remember every detail from the first three novels, the pain and suffering of the survivors, both physically and mentally, highlights the price they've had to pay in order to continue living. The question remains, how much is enough?

If you haven't read this series yet, make the time. At first glance, Dead Tide may seem like just another zombie series, but North has created something far more complicated and devastating. Anyone who loves a suspenseful drama will enjoy this series. Allow yourself to feel the Rage.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, January 25, 2019

Out From Behind The Bitter Ache

Non-confrontational and passive by nature Bill Blake had always been willing to put up with all the slights and petty aggravations in the world. At least on the outside. However inside the anger he has towards the world is gnawing away at him. 

But he has finally found a way for it to be released when an old mystic gives Bill the ability to turn his anger into psychic energy. He now has a way to get even. It seems like a blessing- but is it?


THE DEMONS INSIDE by Austin Grisham is a warning about anger management. While I felt sympathy for all the grief Bill had to deal with on a daily basis, there's no excuse for the extremes he went to.

The supporting characters are the best part of the story. I love Rick. He is a great example of self-control. I hate Tiffany. She is the worst.

Grisham really knows how to work over a reader's emotions.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Strange What Desire Will Make Foolish People Do

When suspicion meets desperation, the inner demons of desperate souls are ignited. Trev, Natalie, and Phil embark on violent journeys filled with rage, deception, and horrifying acts that can either make them or destroy their 'perfect' worlds. Do they have what it takes to piece things back together or will their worlds continue to spiral out of control?

A TRINITY OF WICKED TALES: JILTED by K.T. Rose is a trilogy of pain, misery and drama, mixed with real-life demons and monsters.

JUNK FOR TWO focuses on Trev, trying to get his next fix, not realizing he has damaged his life beyond repair.

IRIS centers on a young lady named Natalie, struggling with relationship issues and forcing her current love interest to bear the weight of her emotional baggage. This one really shook me.

PHIL is a very dark crime drama, and the casual brutality is shocking. As much as I enjoyed the story as is, I would have liked to read Rob's POV. I couldn't help but think Sara and Rob were up to something sinister as well, before Phil unleashed his fury.

If you enjoy dark suspense with realistic horror, you should definitely read this chilling trinity.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Melt the Cerebrae

DANIEL REGINALD LEWIS. 

For years he had been known only as Head-Explode Guy because of his iconic death in the cult scifi/horror film Brain Attack. But a convention organizer has finally succeeded where all others failed, tracking down the elusive actor and securing his appearance at this year's Horr-Onto Con, surely to go down as one of the greatest cons in history. 

But someone doesn't want Lewis to make that appearance. Someone afraid of what he might expose. Secrets a shadow organization never meant to go public and will go to any length to make certain they stay buried. Will this mysterious actor be able to expose the truth behind Brain Attack, or will he be silenced—again?


BRAIN ATTACK by A.P. Sessler is a story which should be made into a film. This story has the feel of an 80s chiller-thriller, but with the drama of a modern scifi-horror flick. While the originality is mind-blowing (pun intended), there are times where keeping track of the plot gets a bit difficult. There's nothing wrong with the story, I just think the details would work better in a movie.

I've read three stories by this author, and this is my new favorite. In the future, I'd like to see Sessler write stories with more science fiction worked into his horror creations. Anyone who has ever attended a horror and/or scifi convention needs to read this story!

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Pain and Suffering in the Lair [INTERVIEW]

About a year ago, in February 2018, I reviewed Children of God: Poems, Dreams and Nightmares From The Family Of God Cult, co-written by Craig DiLouie and Jonathan Moon:

"Children of God: Poems, Dreams and Nightmares From The Family Of God Cult is an astounding collaboration between Craig DiLouie and Jonathan Moon, featuring a fictional literary collection written by cult members coping with PTSD through writing. Do you understand? These two authors created The Family of God history and the cult's surviving members, complete with personal backgrounds, individual traumatic memories and their own voices. Take a moment to let that level of creativity sink in." (Read the full review here.)

I first became a fan of DiLouie through his Infection series and his novel Tooth and Nail. I learned to expect brutal military battles with nightmarish extremes and heavily traumatized characters struggling with amorality. In contrast, I never knew what to expect from Moon, whether it was psychological symbolism in Heinous or the supernatural undead in Hollow Mountain, but I became a fan knowing I was always guaranteed one hell of a reading experience.

When I learned these two apocalyptic authors had written something together, I was equal parts excited and fearful. I wondered what godless abomination the two could have created, and entertained the possibility I would be scarred for life after reading their novel. Nothing in my horror career could have prepared me for the overwhelming despair and suffering found within the Children of God.

I thought it would be a great way to start the year by bringing both DiLouie and Moon into the Lair, and digging into the dirt with the two...



Co-authors, Craig DiLouie (L) and Jonathan Moon (R)
Let’s get to it. How did this project come into existence? Is this something you discussed at a horror convention or some late night gathering over the net?


DiLouie: Children of God is a book of poems written by the survivors of an apocalyptic cult that committed mass suicide. Unable to talk about their experiences for years, they finally open up when a psychologist treats them using poetry therapy, which has proved successful for victims of trauma such as war veterans. The survivors use all sorts of poetic forms—sonnets, villanelles, rap songs, free verse, and so on—to tell for the first time why they joined the cult, what they hoped, and how it all went wrong.

Jon and I came up with it at Crypticon, a regional horror con in Seattle. We knew it likely wouldn’t be a big commercial hit, but we were in love with the idea and had to make it happen.

Moon: Craig is being modest. This baby is his brainchild and he was kind enough to let me play along. He had the basic idea and we brainstormed over Crypticon weekend. We spent weeks building the mythos and characters through phone calls and emails. Over the next few months we started almost deconstructing the larger story we had into all these different threads- each unique and able to add varying dimensions to that story.

This is quite a departure from the fiction you’re both known for. Did that make co-writing easier or more difficult?

DiLouie: As a novelist, sure, it was hard to find my voice with poetry, but as a writer, it was really just learning to ride a new type of bike. One I got into it, I had a lot of fun. Really, in the end, getting the story right wasn’t the poetic format but finding the characters and what they wanted to say. Once we created these people and believed in them, we tuned into their silent screaming and gave them a voice.

Jon was instrumental in all this. One of the first things he said was, “We’re going to take these people seriously.” Which was the perfect mindset for doing it right. As a result, we told their stories with respect and something like love, allowing the horror to reveal itself in a natural way.
Otherwise, I find it easy to co-author something when you let the other writer do their thing. I took on several characters and wrote their poems, while Jon took on others. That provided even greater variety in the voices and emotions for the ensemble cast of characters.

Moon: This came together remarkably smooth in my opinion. I dabble in poetry, so it was fun to build the story through poems. Working with Craig was very easy for me despite our styles being so different. I felt like it was a welcome challenge to us both to get outside of our various comfort zones to create something as intense as what we envisioned together. We shared the goal of creating something powerful early and once we had the core story we each had the freedom to create the various lenses through which we present it.

How did you approach the research? Did you find yourselves becoming emotional or overwhelmed with the source material?

DiLouie: The storytelling was emotional for me in that you have these people who are just a little broken but then find a family and a simple view of the confusing world that makes sense to them. They believe with all their heart things are going to change, and Jesus is coming back in their lifetime. That level of belief and commitment leads to increasing isolation and self-immolation until the decision comes down from the group’s leader that they aren’t waiting for Jesus, Jesus is waiting for them. So you have this beautiful thing—family, sacrifice, hope, faith, love—that slowly becomes perverted into something evil largely due to these things being driven to the edge for a goal that just wasn’t going to happen.

Otherwise, I read a lot about cults and why people join them. The thing is people in cults don’t see themselves as cultists. To them, they’re in a family of like-minded people. I was fascinated about the psychology of it, how somebody could slowly and willingly lose their identity and take a belief to the point of self-mutilation, murder, and suicide. I’m hoping readers will come away from Children of God not just with a good story but with some understanding of these people. Even at the end, even after everything the survivors went through, some of them still long for being back in the group. They may have left the cult, but the cult never left them.

Moon: I have been fascinated with cults since I was young. To me they represent so many things about humans and our behaviors in groups outside of mainstream society in one way or another. I have always wondered about them as group thought examples and since watching the news reports of the Heaven’s Gate cult when I was in high school I have focused as much on how each individual in that group can personally get to the point of full dedication, even to the point of violating their own socially excepted morals. We strongly focused on the religious aspect, which as Craig mentioned, follows a trajectory from positivity and hope to depraved and tragic violence. This was honestly a challenge to me in getting into that kind of an all-consuming devoted mindset our characters shared.

What has been the general reception of this novel? Do you think the mix of writing styles is a strength or weakness?

DiLouie: The poetry collection has been very well received, but honestly, poetry is a hard sell, and it’s difficult even to break into the horror poetry community unless you dedicate yourself to the form. Jon and I also recognized we may be good storytellers but not razor-sharp poets, though that fit the fact average people were expressing themselves through poetry.

None of that mattered. Jon and I knew all that going into it and didn’t care. We wanted to create something beautiful and horrific, and I believe we succeeded. So while Children of God hasn’t been widely read and likely never will, those who have read it understood it and were affected by it. That for us was a big win. That’s what we wanted. I’m really proud of it.

Moon: I concur fully with Craig here. We knew it was experimental, and could be a hard sell overall, but we were too excited to not follow it all through. None of my work is written with hopes of massive sales or fame, just not my style. Most of my own work is created just to get the story out of my head. I have a small crowd of awesome and dedicated fans and as long as they are digging what I’m doing I am fine. So far most who have read CoG have enjoyed it. I call that successful. I too am proud of what we created together. I think our styles blend with the cast of characters to the point I bet most people couldn’t pick which of us created which characters. Just all gelled together.

What are you hoping to achieve with this book? Are you pushing the boundaries of horror or experimenting with a mix of genres?

DiLouie: We wanted to show the tragedy of horror coming from something beautiful being twisted, while experimenting with many poetic forms to tell a story of faith and love disintegrating into madness.

Moon: I definitely feel like we focused on a more realistic form of horror, pulling it from emotions which I think many people can relate to on one level or another.  The cult members came from all walks of life, each susceptible to the cult for their own reasons. To me we demonstrated how most people, given the right circumstances, could be caught up in something like this. For sure a new kind of terror for me to work with.

How many readers have confused this for nonfiction?

DiLouie: The conceit is the survivors of a doomsday cult wrote the poems, which Jon and I edited. This makes the poetry collection epistolary literature—“found footage fiction.” Some readers have confused it with nonfiction. I’m conflicted about it to be honest. While belief it’s real heightens the enjoyment a la The Blair Witch Project, I don’t like fooling readers. Honestly, I’m hoping readers will add belief it’s real to their willing suspension of disbelief, if that make sense.

Moon: I have had more people ask me, “is this for real?”, than anything else I have ever written.

Will fans ever see another collaboration from the two of you?

DiLouie: I enjoy collaborating on works or series where each author does their own thing and it all comes together. With Children of God, this approach worked beautifully. That being said, I have so many projects on the go I’m not sure how much time I have to contribute to any more collaborative projects. If I do, I’d love to work with Jon again. He’s a good storyteller, brings pride but not ego to his work, and has a wonderfully twisted imagination and turn of phrase.

Moon: I also really enjoyed working with Craig, and if the right idea cooked up between us I would always be down to work with him again. It would have to be down the road a bit because I am 8 kinds of busy right now. I have only collaborated with a few people- Craig and Tim Long- both were wonderful experiences for me. Chances to work with fantastic writers to create something together is all win.

What do you have planned for 2019?

DiLouie: This year, I wrapped up my self-published WW2 series Crash Dive, which sold very well, and next year I’ll be launching another. I also enjoyed publication of my dark fantasy novel One of Us in hardcover, audiobook, and eBook from Orbit, one of the best sci-fi and fantasy publishers in the world. In February, it’s coming out in bookstores in trade paperback. This is a Southern Gothic misunderstood monster novel author Claire North described as “The Girl with All the Gifts meets To Kill a Mockingbird,” which nails it. Then my next novel with Orbit, Our War, will be published later in 2019. This one is about a brother and sister forced to fight as child soldiers on opposite sides of a second American civil war.

Moon: I will be earning my Master’s in Anthropology in 2019! Fiction-wise I have a few projects just about ready to release, just held captive by my own self-doubt. Between fall 2018 and summer 2019 I hope to release my first collection of poetry (In Memory of Autumn Leaves), a collection of all my work with Jordan Krall’s Dynatox Ministries, and two or three novellas. I have an EPIC fantasy novel, okay two novels so far, I have been working on for the last 3 or 4 years, hopefully 2019 will see it get closer to done. Also, been working on a brutal and emotional population control novel for a few years which I’ll have time to work on after I finish my Master’s thesis.

Special thanks to DiLouie and Moon for making time for this interview! Once again, I am recommending CHILDREN OF GOD to any readers interested in the cult phenomenon or any horror fans looking for something different from the usual slash and dash.

"A journey like none other that lives and breathes its progression of faith and destruction." ~HorrorNews.net

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, January 21, 2019

Burden My Soul

The year is 2009, and the world’s financial and publishing sectors are in chaos. In the midst of this disarray, a burned-out horror writer finds himself haunted by a variety of ghosts, both real and metaphorical. And as the ghosts increase their attacks, his struggle to make a living quickly becomes a fight to hold on to his family – and his very sanity.

THE GIRL ON THE GLIDER by Brian Keene is nothing like any of his work I've read previously. On a related note, readers should probably read all of the Keene stories published before this one, in order to truly appreciate the personal POV.

The setup is painfully slow, not unlike watching an artist create a landscape and waiting for all the strokes to form something recognizable. The details are obviously necessary, but the pace is similar to watching paint dry.

While a few parts freaked me out enough that I jumped when my 13 yr old walked into the room (dressed in black), I didn't really feel much of anything for this story. Simply isn't my flavor of Keene.

I'm still recommending this one to fans of the author...there is some terrific literary insight to be had.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, January 20, 2019

All The Shaking Hands

ABANDON SHIP by Abe Evergreen is a flash fiction scifi-fantasy story about a fire on a space vessel. The title gives away the issue at hand, but the accelerated level of FUBAR the crew must face is horrifying. The descriptions are excellent, and there are more than a few moments where I found myself gasping.

At one point, I thought the fire might not have been an accident. I had reason to believe the entire situation was orchestrated by space pirates. The ending caught me off guard.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Follow The Reaper

An engaged Oregon couple venture further into the Dove Creek Park than ever before. They discover more than tall and magnificent sequoia trees, and realize they're being watched. They begin to doubt if they'll make it out of the forest alive, and if they will ever be married.

RUBBERNECKERS by S.O. Bailey is a story about a couple with, apparently, very little common sense. Walking a six mile trail near dusk, without phones or flashlights, didn't inspire a lot of sympathy from me. This is one of those times I wonder if the characters ever read a horror novel/movie because they may as well have had a flashing sign: KILL US.

The ending is completely shocking -- I expected something like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but I guessed wrong. The worst part is knowing this situation most likely exists in real life. People always make the scariest monsters.

As always,
AstraDaemon


Friday, January 18, 2019

Runnin' Through Our Brain

Michael, a typical teenage boy living in a small town has a new guest in his home...and it is not friendly. This evil entity is nothing but a curse on his family as they try to survive in what has become a living nightmare. This demon didn't just show up by accident though. Someone in the family has a past... and it has now been brought to the present. Feeding off of the family's fear, nobody is safe alone. Follow Michael's journey through a living hell and see if they can survive darkness without spreading this curse.

WHEN EVIL MOVES IN by John Wilber is a tease of a story. The sudden onset of horror 13 year old Michael must endure is enthralling and chilling at the same time. While this works as a flash fiction piece, I hate seeing such an original idea given so few pages. I'd love to see the author create something longer with this entity, perhaps with a more detailed backstory.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Banish The Broken From My Bones

It is 1936. 

The Great Depression is still strangling America. People are out of work. Out of options. And everyone is desperate. 

But in the small town of Rath, Minnesota, another kind of evil is holding sway.

Something terrible has woken, and the little community will never be the same.


THE EXORCISM OF SARA MAY by Joe Hart is a coming of age story mixed with drama, suspense and the supernatural. The author does such an excellent job of drawing the reader into the community of Rath with the personal POV of Lane, the slow pace didn't bother me at all. Set within The Great Depression, the connections between characters felt very deep and meaningful. When an evil force threatens those relationships, the pain and suffering among loved ones is devastating, to say the least.

I've always enjoyed Hart's stories, and this has become one of my favorites. The author has an incredible talent for weaving family themes and well-developed characters with psychological conflicts and North American folklore. I recommend this to anyone looking for a story which will reach into your soul.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Strange Societies

Only true warriors can police Earth-Government, warriors who can kill without hesitation, but Klay, genetically enhanced and constantly ridiculed because he is different, doesn’t possess the killer instinct, so when he’s called upon for his final trials in combat, he will fail the test and die. However, Master has given him the skills for battle. Klay just needs a little motivation, which comes in the slender form of fellow student Zasha. With her life in danger, he will do anything to save her, even kill for her... if only it were that easy.

THE TOURNAMENT by Dean Giles is not what I've come to expect from the author. There is not a lot of personal details revealed about the main character, Klay. I had trouble visualising him based on the limited info...I only know that he is augmented with machinery of some sort. While I understand the story is about Klay's test trial, I think readers will want to know exactly what has been done to his body in the first place...especially since Klay was ostracised for it.

I did enjoy the complexity of his test, his inner struggle with taking a life, and the way he overcame the obstacles in his way. The science fiction setting is superb. I'm sure a lot of sci-fi fans will enjoy this one, even though I feel GHOST IN THE MACHINE is his best story.


I also recommend his ALIEN APOCALYPSE mini-series.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

You Can't See Beyond The Veil

The white one bedroom house on Stewart Street has many hidden secrets. An evil from within the basement is unlocked and begins to psychologically torture one of the residents. Sam is battling his inner demons and must face something perhaps even more sinister than losing his mind. It visits him each morning at 3 am. The Devil's Hour.

DEVIL'S HOUR by Simeon Gregory is full of suspense and terror, from a kid's POV. There is plenty of misdirection throughout the story, as well, but the one thing missing is anything resembling a backstory. As a result, there are definitely a few loose ends, once the story winds down.

I would have preferred to know more about Sam's family background, the history of the night visitor...seems like a lot of unrelated details are thrown in, when there could've been more focus on the basement (as an example).

Still a good story to read, especially before bedtime.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, January 14, 2019

I Wanna Suck, I Wanna Lick

His ugly best friend just took home the hottest girl in the bar. This should have been a red flag.

TAIL by Joshua Scribner is a flash fiction piece which serves as a warning about one-night stands. This is also one of the very best stories by this author. I had no idea what Scribner would spring on his readers this time, and he managed to creep me out on several levels.

I'd love for Joshua Scribner to write more stories with this kind of suspense.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Ain't Got Time For What You Feel

Raped and left for dead, Linda was exiled from the Barrens. Somehow, she learned to survive in a world filled with the walking, hungry dead. 

And now. . .Linda is coming home to settle up with the people of the Barrens. 

Bullets will fly and there will be blood.


COLD VENGEANCE by Eric S. Brown is a flash fiction story taking place in a post-apocalyptic setting. The only safe place from the Snarlers is the Barrens, but the people inside aren't safe from the cruelty inflicted by the living. Linda, cast out and left for dead in her youth, discovered the Barrens is not the only holdout.

Told mostly through flashbacks, centering on Linda's survival and determination, she is about to complete her revenge plan, when she finds herself injured yet again...and trying to escape the undead. The story, despite the short length, is filled with suspense and action in equal measures.

I would love to read a full-length novel about Linda and the Barrens.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Waiting to Follow the Worms

When the first body appears drained of blood, Paul Walker automatically thinks the killer is a vampire. But vampires aren't real, or so he's been told by the local constabulary. But when he witnesses the murder of his sister by one of the vampires, he realizes the creatures are real; they're just different from what the books and movies have led him to believe. Now he only needs to convince the local police before the town is overrun. As he races back to town, though, he realizes he might be too late.

VAMPIRE WORMS by Neil Davies is another excellent creature feature in the Grave Marker series from Grinning Skull Press. The author balances the right amount of personal history with looming danger to present one of the most original and tragic vampire stories I've ever read.

If Davies ever felt inclined to write a sequel, I'd love to know what becomes of the survivors. I'd especially like to see a POV from the military, perhaps Lt. Colonel Draper. These monsters are just too damn gruesome to contain to one story.

As always,
AstraDaemon


Friday, January 11, 2019

Nothing Will Quite Be The Same

Alex and Steve leave home together to begin their courses but in less than a week Alex goes missing when some hunk called Tarquin steps onto the scene. Just when everything was going so well, suddenly it wasn't…

After completing their studies and passing yet more exams, the other Kilkorne chums, Rachel, Maisie and Fred prepare for college by going shopping, unaware that the screaming may be about to start all over again.


BRITISH ZOMBIE BREAKOUT, PART FOUR: LAST GASP by Peter Salisbury begins with a time jump. The teens are moving on with their lives, while Rachel continues to milk her celebrity status, even at the expense of her relationships with the others. With no explanation, Alex and Steve are taken into military custody, just in time to bear witness to a new outbreak.

I enjoyed this installment far more than the second and third stories. The events taking place on the army base are more in line with what zombie fans would expect from an undead threat to survival. The teens locked up in the tower offers a great perspective of the unfolding events. I'm hoping the author might consider continuing the series, especially since some of the characters were finally developing their personalities.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Demon You Disrupted

British Zombie Breakout – Part Three: Zombies Go Global. The Minister's plots deepen, the virus goes AWOL, and Alex and Steve are on the run again. Where will zombies turn up next and can they be stopped from infecting the world? Will Rachel ever appear on TV or will Steve beat her to it?

BRITISH ZOMBIE BREAKOUT, PART THREE: ZOMBIES GO GLOBAL by Peter Salisbury continues with political intrigue and bio-terrorists. While there's no lack of suspense or action, the characters have never really been developed beyond their initial introductions in The Castle. Very little has ever been revealed about their lives prior to the Kilkorne outbreak, and their personalities are very basic, despite the chaos surrounding them. As such, I have been losing interest in the series.


I thought this would become a great YA fiction mini-series, but I think the second and third installments need an overhaul. There isn't much incentive to move on to the fourth and final story, unless the characters are given some serious depth.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Turns A Boy Into A Fightin' Man

British Zombie Breakout Part 2: Escape From Kilkorne. Zombies are still on the rampage, killing and infecting anyone in their path. A close-knit band of ten uninfected fugitives must prove they are clean by escaping the stricken village where they are trapped by the army. A quarantine cordon surrounds the whole area, with an entire army camp between the village and freedom.

What chance of survival do the fugitives have while zombies are still at large in the English countryside and when a corrupt politician and the Chief Scientist at the Breathedeep Biological Research Facility are intent on their capture, dead or alive? Who will prove to be the more ingenious, the authorities, the fugitives or the zombies?


BRITISH ZOMBIE BREAKOUT, PART TWO: ESCAPE FROM KILKORNE by Peter Salisbury is the second installment in his zombie mini-series. Steve, one of the students, proves yet again to be the most resourceful of the group. Not only is he responsible for saving the other kids in The Castle, but he's found a way to detect infection without a blood test, as well as avoiding anything contaminated.

The military continues to be manipulated by the politicians, and Steve's survivor group, which includes the adults, are struggling to stay ahead of the ongoing battle between the undead and the soldiers. While not much has been revealed about the exact nature of the zombies, there is reason to believe they are capable of predatory thinking.

The ending suggests the story will continue in a new direction with the third installment...

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

They've Got The Kingdom Locked Up

The authorities should have been more careful after the first zombie breakout infected half of England and disrupted lives right across the country. Unfortunately, either someone got careless, again, or the disease was far more virulent than anyone expected. The remote fishing village of Kilkorne with its picturesque castle and harbour was the last place to expect an attack, despite its proximity to the experimental facility where the disease was invented. Once the second outbreak had been officially announced by the Ministry, anyone resisting capture was to be shot as being infected with zombieism. Alternatively you could surrender and be kept in a quarantine camp, where last time the survival rate was zero.

Refusing to accept either option, five teenagers and five adults separately begin journeys from opposite sides of the village. They attempt to stay one step ahead of an insane horde of highly infectious, half dead creatures, the army's orders to shoot on sight, and the Ministry's instructions to burn down the village. Furthermore, the endeavour was not exactly helped by a suspected case of haunting.


BRITISH ZOMBIE BREAKOUT, PART ONE: THE CASTLE by Peter Salisbury is a strong start to a series that would definitely appeal to YA fiction readers. I love how the author immediately establishes that this is not the first zombie outbreak that the characters have had to deal with. However, the characters do not seem to fare much better, apparently having gotten too comfortable living somewhat normal lives again. Therefore, it's no surprise when their evacuate-by-boat plan falls through. The two groups of survivors, some adults and some students, then decide to make for the village's nearby castle.

The POV switches back and forth from the adults to the children, until the groups merge onto the same location, which kept the action flowing, but I would have liked a third POV from the soldiers who appear to be shooting anything on two legs.


Check back for reviews of each installment!

As always,
AstraDaemon

Monday, January 7, 2019

Trouble in the Heartland

Truman Bonner is used to battling personal demons, but an encounter with a parasitic imp leaves him shaken to the core. He locks the imp in a secret cell beneath Deadwood, hoping never to encounter the evil entity again. Then Truman's wife disappears from their homestead after a late-night argument, and Truman and his son, Isaac, set out to bring her safely home. Confronted by a series of harrowing supernatural ordeals, the trail leads them back to the imp's macabre prison. Casualties mount, innocence is lost, and before the family is reunited, more than one person will have made a deal with the devil.

BOTTLED SPIRITS by Adrian Ludens is a western supernatural story set in the Badlands of South Dakota. After the initial imprisonment of the imp, the pace is a little slow and the storyline meanders a bit, but, once everything falls into place, readers are able to see how interconnected the characters are, giving the story the depth and drama of an old world saga.

The author is so careful with historical details, this novelette comes across as an alternative history of Deadwood, implying the imp is the reason for the Badlands' reputation. One could easily imagine Ludens telling this story by a campfire, with coyotes howling in the background.

Bottled Spirits is the perfect example of the originality and creativity readers can expect from the Grave Marker series.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Hyena, Take Your Role

A man fights to survive on an island inhabited by a monstrous female with an insatiable appetite for lust. Reader discretion is advised.

DOGFACED EVE by Antonio Simon Jr. has a mind-blowing hook for the first sentence:

"The moment he perfected the angles he was falling headlong through the sigil he'd drawn."

I never guessed the island would exist in another dimension, but that and the she-creature gave the story an instant cosmic horror theme. There are other Lovecraftian elements as well: misanthropy, isolation, and, most of all, helplessness. The author uses those elements to create a nightmare which leaves the character broken, literally and physically, and drags readers into one man's personal hell.

I've never been a fan of using rape as plot device, whether the victim is male or female, but Simon does not use the violence as a means to an end. Rather, the author uses it as the beginning of the end, for both the man and the hybrid.

As always,
AstraDaemon


Saturday, January 5, 2019

A Princely Racket

Elizabeth had always fantasized about two of her handsome co-workers, but she knew better than to start anything while she worked side by side with them. Now that she's about to leave the bank for a new job, her wildest, naughtiest fantasies are about to become a reality. But a home invasion wasn't part of what the threesome had planned, and now her wildest dreams are about to become her worst nightmare—in more ways than one.

THE BATHTUB by Andrew Richardson reminds me a bit of 80s horror movies: the characters get screwed in more ways than one. While the erotic backdrop is an interesting way to reel in readers, the setup is unnecessarily long. Even after the initial invasion, there's more dialogue than action.

Elizabeth soons find out Brad and Paolo, her co-workers, have been hiding some disturbing secrets. I found myself more interested in Elizabeth's thoughts and feelings than whether or not she survives the attack. In fact, I didn't feel much sympathy for any of the characters.

The ending is spectacularly brutal, making up for the slow pace of the story. I didn't see it coming, even though, in hindsight, there is some foreshadowing. If you're a Jigsaw fan, you'll probably enjoy soaking yourself in The Bathtub.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Friday, January 4, 2019

Play the Game of Life

Detective Connor Price has an annual PT test looming for his department, and he jogs every chance he has in order to get back into shape. However, his years in homicide have plagued him with a paranoia that makes even the mundane difficult, such as a casual run at his favorite park. 


Connor does his best to ignore the seemingly baseless suspicions that he has of others, but tangled up with the paranoia is an acute intuition. An intuition he shouldn't ignore.

JOGGER by S.O. Bailey is full of suspense throughout the story. I have a theory about the ending, but I can't discuss it without revealing any spoilers. However, I will say, I suspect the author may have used some misdirection, and only a true fan of mystery-thrillers will understand what I'm referencing.

This is the third story I've read by the author, and definitely my favorite!

As always,
AstraDaemon

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Living Secret Lives

Josephine Wattley had called the police three times already and was still no closer to finding her son. “I don’t think you understand,” Josephine coughed into the receiver, “I can’t find him. Something’s wrong. Ronnie’s always been a good boy.”

A GOOD BOY by Haldan Black is a flash fiction story about a psychological affliction which affects many families. The realism of Josephine's personal horror is heartbreaking. The ending is somewhat predictable, but no less devastating.

I applaud the author for bringing attention to a problem which is often hidden behind closed doors, but affects many different kinds of people.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Faces Look Ugly

With no memories of his identity or where he came from, Baal finds himself trapped in a strange street surrounded by anomalies. The only person available to walk him through is some weird creature by the name of Miles Douglas. The only choice he has is to uncover the truth of the strange place before he loses his sanity.

A FRIEND SO STRANGE by Eric Kibue is an odd piece of flash fiction, mixing theology and the supernatural, and in need of a good editor. The story is interesting, but the writing is roughly done.

If Kibue enlists an editor to polish this piece, I believe fans of Constantine might enjoy Baal's dilemma.

As always,
AstraDaemon

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

TOP 2018 STORIES


I read hundreds of stories in 2018: horror, science fiction, romance, crime drama and many other genres. I read short stories, stand-alone novels, series, novellas and anthologies. I read stories by authors I have been reading for years, and I discovered many new authors as well. Looking back, I have to admit, the short stories were usually the ones which often left me feeling gut-punched, kicked in the face and dragged into a shallow grave...filled with spikes.

With pleasure, I present to you fine folks (in no particular order),

AstraDaemon's Top 10 Stories for 2018

Psychopomp by Erik Lynd is a great addition to the zombie genre. Lynd manages to blend horror and mythology in a chilling tale about a mortician who is confronted by a talking corpse.

Bones by Howard Odentz is nothing like what I expected. I thought it would be the story of a troubled young man haunted by a ghost. Instead, Odentz has created a family drama with a supernatural twist. While I suspected there was a hidden layer, the depth of Cooper's pain is a horrifying surprise.

The Fire of Night by Brad Lenaway is an excellent short story and, if the author reads this, please consider making this a novel or even a series. The setting is in the future, after a war between the U.S. and North Korea. Although briefly mentioned, the political backstory is fascinating. I'm not sure I've ever read something so devastating and believable. This is a story I recommend to all readers, regardless of your genre preference.

Ruined by Kiersten Knighting is the telling of a popular Greek myth through the eyes of a rape victim. Considering how victim-blaming has been rampant throughout history, I think it's great to see someone give a voice to this iconic person. Knighting does an excellent job giving the character a voice, as well as drawing attention to the bias of the original myth.

No Thanks by Antonio Simon Jr. is a very original flash fiction story about a man who is clearly fed up with everything about his life. His explanation of events leading up to his office shooting spree is an excellent example of a narrator who can't be trusted and, yet, Simon's disgruntled worker is very convincing.

The Quay Avenue Bridge by Phillip Garcia is an excellent ghost story, worthy of being made into a horror movie. Garcia does a fantastic job of laying out the history of the bridge and the freak accident which begins everything. As the author transforms the tragedy into an urban legend over the generations, Garcia masterfully reveals another devastating accident to continue the curse of the bridge.

Queen Joanna by Kate Danley is a short horror story full of suspense and drama, with a touch of the supernatural. Both Joanna and King Stephen are tormented by the darkness looming over their arranged marriage. I am impressed with how well-developed the characters are. Danley's writing style is best described as a blend of Phillipa Gregory and Bram Stoker.

Three Seconds by Kane Banway is the best piece of science fiction I've read in 2018. In fact, I don't think I've been this horrified and fascinated since I read A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury. Banway took a common scifi theme of teleportation and turned it into a pre-apocalypse of the human race.

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.

The Beautiful Ones by Kody Boye is the first book in a new series centered on a dystopian society. Essentially, those deemed Beautiful and Handsome are expected to marry and bear children to keep up genetic standards for the Glittering City. The story follows the POV of a sixteen year old girl, Kelendra, chosen from one of the outlying settlements to be one of the Beauties.

Honorable Mention (published in 2017, but read in 2018):

Blood Relations by Lori Titus is the author's best work yet. While fallen angels, religious fanatics and supernatural creatures have been quite common in the horror genre for decades, Titus has found an original way to incorporate these themes into story filled with murder, drama, mythology and the metaphysical.

Additional authors to look for in 2019: Phil Rossi, S.O. Bailey, Rebecca Besser, Alan Sessler, Thom Brannan and Suzanne Robb.


I'd like to make it crystal clear, most of the stories I read throughout 2018 were very impressive. The Top 10 are the stories which stayed fresh in my mind, even after reading all the hundreds of others. The past year has been an awesome year for fiction readers.

I would also like to add, many of these authors have many other great titles to choose from, so, please, click on the links and see for yourself.

Happy New Year! I look forward to bringing you more amazing stories in 2019!

As always,
AstraDaemon