Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Stalking You Now - by Jeff Strand - Wonderfully demented novella

5 of 5 Stars

When you visit Jeff Strand's website at jeffstrand.wordpress.com, the first thing you notice is the greeting "Welcome to Gleefully Macabre!"  And that phrase pretty much describes the work of this writer who is as popular with other horror writers as he is with his growing fan base.  As he did last year, Jeff will once again emcee the 2013 Bram Stoker Awards® Banquet and act as Toastmaster at the World Horror Convention 2013. Both of these events are part of the Bram Stoker Awards Weekend, to be held in New Orleans from June 13-16, 2013.

His latest release is the Novella, Stalking You Now.  A demented little tension builder, told effectively in the 1st person.  It's the story of a deranged madman who stumbles over someone even crazier than he is.

When you pick up a Jeff Strand book, you know it's going to be a fun read and that's just what this is.  Plus, he uses one of my all time favorite words, "discombobulated."  Oh, it's a real word, go ahead and Google it.  I'll wait.

Subject matter and some colorful language makes this one for adults.  But I think even some of my non-horror frends will enjoy Stalking You Now, avalable now for the Kindle and in other digital formats soon.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Live Specimens - By Kelli Owen - Great Drive-In horror

4 of 5 Stars

To say I'm a fan of Kelli Owen would be an understatement.  To say I'm a stalker, might go a bit to far.  Who has time for stalking?

I first met Kelli either at Horrorfind Weekend, a couple of years ago, or at Horror Saturday at the York Emporium.  Either way, I found her to be charming, small of stature, (but big of heart) and somewhat unassuming.

In the last couple of years I've caught up with her writing and it's all been good stuff.  At last Summer's Horrible Saturday at the York Emporium, Kelli read a snippet of her current work in progress and I was suitably grossed out.  What she read for us was pretty much the opening sequence for her current novel, Live Specimens.

Juliet has finally left her abusive husband, Bill, taking her little girl, Mandy, with her, from Pennsylvania to her parent's place in Michigan.  They're almost there when Mandy see a lost puppy by the side of the road.   Given the weather, 43 degrees and a big Snow Storm on the way, and much to Mandy's delight, Juliet does a good deed, wrapping the puppy in a blanket and placing it in the backseat with her daughter.  What a heart-warming story.  Wrong!

The opening chapter packs in more raw action and intense drama than many horror stories do from cover to cover and that is just the beginning.  Kelli went all out in this story.  It's literally a cornucopia of gruesomeness.  As in real life, no one is safe.

I don't want to get into a lot of details on the story, because I'd hate to spoil the fun.  It reminds me of the kind of horror movies that used to play at the Drive-Ins I used to frequent back the the '60s of my youth.  Or maybe a really good SyFy Saturday night movie.

Live Specimens, is entertaining start to finish.  Another work that is not a literary masterpiece, but is certainly a good read for the horror enthusiast.  I'd even go as far as to say it was more fun than a basket of puppies ;-)

Friday, March 22, 2013

Gamers - by Thomas K. Carpenter - YA dystopian thriller

4 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

Some time ago, I was contacted by the author of Gamers, Thomas K. Carpenter, and was asked to read his book and provide a fair and honest review.  I tend to worry when that happens.  A few times it's lead to bad experiences and I'm not fond of giving any book a poor review.  The good news is, I liked the story and will likely, at some point, get around to reading the other books in the trilogy, Frags  and Coders.

It did take me a while to find the time to read this, things just kept getting in the way, but I'm very happy I finally squeezed it in.

In the not to distant future, LifeGame has become an all inclusive competition where scores separate those who will earn their Life Class and get into University and those who would get lesser, meaningless jobs.  Jobs that don't have as much responsibility, a title, or many benefits within LifeGame.

Some explanation about LifeGame from the text of the story...

"Why was LifeGame introduced?  Because the Greater States of America was losing it's competitive edge.  The first rule is what can be gamed can be improved.  The second rule is that everything can be a game and the last rule is to never look backwards because the past is a game that's already been decided."

Gabby and  Zaela are best friends and are getting ready for the upcoming Final Raid which will go a long way in determining who gets to go on to University.  There are a lot of very imaginative peaks into the future in Gamers.  For example, you don't drive, but there are "FunCar lots with hundreds of bubble shaped cars with four puffy tires."  The cars would drive themselves while the occupants played games.

Of course we soon learn, from a subversive group called the Frags, that there may be more sinister intentions behind the LifeGame and our heroine Gabby winds up right in the middle of the action.

Gamers is what it is, a YA dystopian thriller that may not be as good as say, the Harry Potter series or The Hunger Games books, but it's certainly a completely entertaining entry into this particlar market and I would highly recommend the book for the younger audience or for any adult who enjoys this type of story.

All three books in the trilogy are currently available in paperback and e-book from a number of online retailers.  Gamers is actually available for FREE from Amazon.com, so you can check this one out before deciding to spend money on the other two books.

Monday, March 18, 2013

The Hungry 3: At the End of the World - by Steven W. Booth and Harry Shannon - More of Sheriff Penny Miller and friends

4 of 5 Stars

Review Copy

First, let me say, if you haven't read The Hungry and The Hungry 2: The Wrath of God, you should correct that right now.  If you must read The Hungry 3: At the End of the World as a stand-alone work there is just enough back-story to catch you up, but you would be missing all the"fun" that got the group to where they are now.

Of course, as you can see from the cover of the new book, Flat Rock, Nevada's Sheriff, Penny Miller is still alive, kicking ass and taking names.  She's joined by her one-time prisoner and now romantic interest, Scratch, her ex-husband, Terrill Lee, and the man who knows more about the virus that caused the zombie apocalypse than anyone one else alive, Sgt. Karl Sheppard.

We still have the snappy one-liners that have become a staple of these books.  Stuff like."..lost it like a third-grade girl at a tarantula farm." Personally I love that stuff, but there doesn't seem to be quite as much of that kind of banter in book three.

Staying ahead of what's left of the living dead, our heroes arrive in Hope Springs, Colorado, population 473,  and make their way to a lodge owned by Greta, an old acquaintance of Scratch.  Seems Scratch lived in this town at one time and knows some of the locals, which knowing Scratch, isn't necessarily a good thing.  His history in the village also leads to some of this books biggest surprises.

All in all, The Hungry 3: At the End of the World, is about what you would expect for the third book in this version of the zombie apocalypse.  The main characters are joined by some fresh meat, including having to deal with a particularly nasty survivalist group.

I get the feeling this will be the last in the series, at least for a while and that's a bit sad.  Given the ending though, that door is definitely not nailed shut.

If you haven't read any of the stories in this series, you're missing some good-time zombie fun.  That's what you get from Stephen W. Booth and Harry Shannon at the helm.  A fun read, with zombies.  And, after all, isn't that what we're all looking for out of life?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Cannibal Corpse , M/C - by Tim Curran - Post apocalyptic fun

4 of 5 Stars

Tim Curran's epic Zombie adventure is bloody, raw and violent.  Mecilessly violent. Diabolically violent.  You will need a strong constitution just to read the book.  Do I need to say it's not for children or the easily offended? 

The M/C in Cannibal Copse M/C is for motorcycle club.  Hey, even with the cover, I didn't know that until I was reading the book.  M/C mentality is central to the theme in this one, but due to the "Outbreak" times have changed.   

Our  protagonist, Slaughter, finds himself  "longing for the good old days when you patched with a good club, pushed some blow and crank, took to the road on your steel horse with your brothers, and your enemy stayed down dead when you shot him."

Where Slaughter goes, carnage follows.  It's unrellenting and if  I have any complaint about this fast-paced post apocalyptic thriller it's that there are times when even I found it to be more than over the top.  It's obvious Curran is not a beliver in the modicum - less is more.

Early on in the saga, Slaughter is given a chance to wipe clean his considerable record with what authority there might be left in the world, more important, he's given a chance to keep his brother from the death penalty.  He is reunited with several members of his M/C  DEVIL'S DISCIPLES and sent on an impossible mission to what's left of the NORAD site in North Dakota to attempt the rescue of the one woman who may be able to turn the tide against what has happened to humanity.

I have no idea how the author was able to continue to find new and increasingly disturbing ways to describe the images and scents on Slaughter's quest westward.  He must have left his thesaurus in shambles along the way.

Here's a great quote from Cannibal Copse M/C that provides a nice synopsis of the story.  "...here in the Deadlands a few days could be an awfully long time.  In a few days you could meet a crazy old Indian barbecue king who could tell you wild tales about a Skeleton Man and you could trip your brains out on peyote and have visions and hold court with Black Hat and face down a town full of zombies only to be taken prisoner by the Red Hand and be forced to fight against a giant wormboy only to barely escape a worm rain and hook up with a neurotic young woman whom you begin to feel protective of only to see her dragged off by mutants.  And then there was always the bit about the woman squeezing out worms and becoming some kind of f___ing seer.  Yeah, a few days in the Deadlands could be like a lifetime of revelation and pain and horror."

Not the great American novel, but if you're looking for pure escapism, it's tough to find better.

If you subscribe to Amazon Prime, this one is still free in their kindle lending library.  I any case I found it to be a nice diversion from the horrors of everyday life.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Slander Hall - by Matthew Tait

4 of 5 Stars

In Slander Hall, five people visit a modern day ghost town in the suburbs of Pheonix.  Some in search of answers, some closure and some looking to make a buck documenting what they find.

Slander Hall was a gated community and home to Wendell Zacchaeus and his followers, members of the Soul Evolution cult.

For me, Soul Evolution is reminiscent of the real-life, San Diego based, Heaven's Gate cult whose members committed mass suicide 16 years ago, in March of 1997, in order to reach what they believed was a alien space craft following the comet Hale–Bopp.  No comet this time, but aside from that there are some interesting similarities.  Both the real, and Tait's, cults had their big events in the late 80's and both involved spaceships.

Central to this story is Cedar Jarrell, the lone survivor of the Soul Evolution cult.  Now, Fifteen years after the mass suicide of the members of Soul Evolution, Cedar returns to Slander Hall with four others.  What follows is a very strange story in involving creatures, ghosts, aliens and as I mentioned, a spaceship.

In the author's words, "The mythos of the Soul Evolution cult was no longer a myth.  Here the 'Next Level' presented itself...in all its glory."

I won't pretend to understand what I've just read, but that didn't make the trip any less enjoyable.

I'd definitely recommend getting to know Matthew Tait, another in a growing list of fine new voices in Australian Horror, and Slander Hall is an excellent place to start.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

The Clearing - by Thomas Rydder - A fresh take on the Werewolf story

5 of 5 Stars

Review Copy

A relatively new voice in horror, Thomas Rydder delivers in a big way in The Clearing, his first full-length novel.

Beth and her adopted daughter, Lizzie, live in the quiet community of Hemingway in Western Pennsylvania.  And there's the newest member of their little family, a shelter dog which Lizzie named Flapjack.

Rydder does a great job of characterizing the close relationship between Lizzie and Flapjack.  But then things begin to change as Flapjack starts hearing creatures within his brain, calling to him to join them, to leave the comforts of his life and to lead the brotherhood.

I guess it's no secret that The Clearing is a Werewolf story, especially since the writer actually wanted to call it "Werewolves and Flapjacks" which I kinda like as a title.

Without giving too much away, The Clearing, is a very well-written horror story.  One which takes ordinary people and places them in extraordinary situations.  There is a body count that includes characters that you might not expect to be torn to shreds.  And for romantics, there is a budding romance between Beth and Sheriff Frank Cutlip.

When the Sheriff's brother, Adam is bit and turns, the quest becomes a race to somehow save Adam and destroy the pack.

That's just an outline, there are so many twists and turns and discoveries along the way that it made The Clearing an excitingly original page-turning adventure I just didn't want to put down.  Even though the book is fine as a stand-alone novel, I understand a sequel is in the works and that's one I'll be on the lookout for.

The Clearing was released on March 1st from Greyhart Press.  Be sure to check out their FREE ebook program.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Phoenix Girls - Book 1 - The Conjouring Glass - by Brian Knight - A YA adventure about magic in the Pacific Northwest

4 of 5 Stars

Review Copy

I first read Brian Knight last year.  At the time it was a few shorts and a novel on the Misadventures of Butch Quick.  An adult series that was fresh and fun and which I hope to see revived at some point.

This time around, Brian Knight has released his first effort in a new YA series .  A charming book called The Phoenix Girls  Book 1  The Conjuring Glass.

From the very beginning there was a special vibe with this story.  And, I found the illustrations to be top notch.   A nice touch, especially for an eBook.

In the Prologue we have a flashback to an earlier time with a group of four girls seeming to end their alliance.  "Break the circle, kill the magic."

From there, we move to current day where Penny Sinclair is moving to her new home in Dogwood, Washington. to live with her Godmother.  This following the death of her Mother and a short time in an orphanage.

The Conjuring Glass is the story of two young girls, each new in town, and their growing friendship, yet it's so much more.  The story covers the familiar territory of how difficult it is making friends in a new town, how mean others can be to outsiders, especially the town bully, "Rooster" Price.  It's all pretty standard fair, until Penny discovers a fox that speaks to her.  And that is just the beginning of an adventure that leads to a world of magic and hints about her parents past.

At times the story seems to drag a bit, but there is a lot of action and plenty of villainy from characters like, Tovar the Red and the Birdman. As well as a number of missing children from Dogwood and neighboring communities.

Although there is a story here, and a pretty good one at that, the work creates many unanswered questions.  I guess you have to save some answers for the sequel(s).

I'm sure I would have enjoyed this more, if I was much younger.  It seems the target audience is teenage girls, which I'm not and never was, but all in all a good story is told and it's one I can most certainly recommend for that YA audience.

The Phoenix Girls  Book 1  The Conjuring Glass is available from JournalStone Publishing, one of my favorite small presses right now.  Be sure to Google them, as they have a lot to offer.  In addition The Phoenix Girls  Book 1  The Conjuring Glass just showed up on Amazon.com this week.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Fifty Shades of Decay - Edited by Stacey Turner - An anthology of Zombie Erotica

4 of 5 Stars

Fifty Shades of Decay was born of an idea that took form at Killercon in Vegas. The end result is a collection of 51 shorts of zombie erotica. That's right, Zombie Erotica.  With the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey and our ongoing love affair with zombies, it was only a matter of time before someone did a mashup of the two genres.

With an anthology this ambitious there are bound to be a few stories that don't quite get the job done and there were a few of those, but there were enough stories that succeeded that the end result was a very entertaining read.

Many of the shorts are delightfully disgusting, some managed to gross me out and cause me to become aroused at the same time (for me, they were the ones that really captured the spirit of the anthology), some of the stories were very sweet and others were filled with raw sex and terror.

Here's a great line that captures the spirit of  this project, from "Body Bag", by Shaun Meeks.  "She was moving, moaning, asking to be pleased.  And she was dead."

A couple of things I really enjoyed about Fifty Shades of Decay.

1) 51 different authors.  The vast majority were new to me and I discovered several, that I'm excited about seeing what else they have to offer.

2) 51 different concepts of zombie erotica.  That in itself was pretty amazing.  Hat's off to editor Stacey Turner for presenting such a varied assortment of stories.  The theme was consistent, but the stories all came at the subject matter in unique ways.

Needless to say, Fifty Shades of Decay is strictly adult fair and certainly not for everyone, but if you'd like to spice up your zombie experience then this is just what you're looking for. Available now from Angelic Knight Press.