Monthly Archives: October 2014

Dead Islands (Necrose Series) by Tim Moon

I would normally bypass zombie novellas because ewwwww, zombies, but Dead Islands (Necrose Series) by Tim Moon is a needed change from my now-quickly-becoming-usual aquatic horror.  It’s a quick, decently intense read.  No, I’m not going to go to bed dreaming of regular humans vomiting until they die and then reawakening as mindless flesh eaters.  Well, I might, but not because of Dead Islands.  Still, I thought it was much more gripping than I imagined it would be.  The biggest downfall about the book is some blatantly poor grammar that I, not even a trained or hired editor, could see quite clearly.  Reading these supernatural creature horror novels is supposed to be my free time when I don’t think about grammar and other technical business, so I was highly disappointed in that aspect.  I’ll explain this more clearly later on.

Dead Islands is a country-traveling horror novella, which is probably one reason it’s creepy.  It’s bad enough that in this novella the entire country of China is infected with a zombie virus, but it’s even worse that the virus quickly spreads across the world.  Readers only see the virus in its infancy in China as told through the eyes of a tourist (who doesn’t feature in the novella past the prologue) and then how it travels from a Chinese airplane into Kona, Haiwaii through the eyes of protagonist Ben Chase.  Ben Chase is returning from an English teacher position in China and of course he gets caught up in situations where the virus spreads from person to person while magically keeping his health and humanity.  Throughout the novel you’re going to wonder if the only reason Ben survives is that the author requires him for the rest of the series because by all means he should’ve shown signs of possibly contracting the virus.  Ben is one of those “special snowflake” characters.  If you can overlook the unbelievability of Ben’s survival, it’s worth it to read to the end.  Yes, Ben and his group of friends and fellow survivors do get sent to a military quarantine center and live to potentially return for the second novella in the series.  Meanwhile, this novella ends with a cliffhanger of sorts.  I won’t spoil it, but let’s just say that it seems the military is being negatively affected by the zombie virus in ways they never intended to be.

The positive points of Dead Islands are as follows:

  • Ben Chase is an English teacher.  I know there’s very little in this novella about that, but I think it’s so cool!  Yay English teachers!  Plus, if you think about it, how many other zombie novels or novellas have a normal everyday man character battling zombies?  Just because everyone can see that Ben Chase and his friends are going to survive to the end, it’s still interesting to follow how they do it.
  • Have you seen the horror movie Quarantine Two: Terminal?  It’s not the world’s best horror movie and probably not even in the top 100 of best zombie movies, but I thought it was quite disturbing.  The effective point of the above-mentioned movie is that part of the horror took place while the characters were in the air and part of it was when they were locked in a terminal.  Well, Dead Islands felt very similar to Quarantine Two: Terminal.  For example, let’s briefly look at the scene where Ben and his friend Ty are riding on an airplane to get to Kona, Hawaii.  At some point during the trip, Ty leans over to Ben and tells him that the man in front of them died from vomiting all over the front of his seat.  Ben looks at the mess and there’s globs of green gunk mixed with red liquid.  The man died from extremely bloody vomiting.  Less than thirty minutes later, the dead man (zombie, but of course nobody is smart enough to call him that) begins attacking a woman.  Here’s the run-down of my thoughts on this.  I am terrified of vomit, which means watching it, reading about it, hearing it, hearing people make “vomit sounds”…so basically, just vomit in all its disgusting forms.  Reading about this turned my stomach all in knots and I’m not sure I’ve quite recovered yet.  As far as I’m concerned, this is a legitimate horror novel.  Thank you Tim Moon!
  • I swear Ben, Ty, and their female friends are the dumbest characters when it comes to zombies!  Author Tim Moon politely calls them out on their stupidity by making them self-aware of their lack-of-zombie knowledge.  In one scene midway through the book, long after the two friends have seen people and corpses chewed up by the zombies, Ben and Ty are talking about what the flesh eating people might be and Ben suggests that maybe they’re zombies.  Ty laughs it off as ridiculous.  Tim Moon subtly tells his readers that he knows these characters are the dumbest and he’s playing that up.

There was one major thing I didn’t like about Dead Islands and unfortunately I do have to give it its own paragraph.  The grammar in some spots, spread throughout the novel, is horrific.  Let me give you an example.  On page 5, we have “Darius emerged from the shadows of the alley and into the sun, it took him a minute to process what lay before him.”  This sentence would be perfectly acceptable has there been a period splitting up the idea where Darius emerged into the sun and where it took him a minute to process what lay before him.  This comma is inappropriately placed.  Now, I understand the mistakes can slip through both the author and the publisher, but it’s no longer a mistake when it shows up through the entire book.  I call attention to it because readers should not be clearly seeing errors such as this in their fun reading material.  If I can pinpoint errors when it’s not even my job to do so, why can’t the author and editor do the same?  It’s these sort of grammatical errors that make traditionally-published, “dead tree” books cautious of getting into the self-pubbed market and the least authors and their editors can do is take away simple problems complaints through closely, thoroughly editing the work.

Dead to Writes (April Almighty Book 1) by Tim Miller

 

I have no idea how to describe this book.  I think the best way to put my feelings about it into a more clear perspective for you is that it is absolutely not one of those books I recommend anyone reading when they already feel physically sick and please, for all that is good and holy, don’t read it in a crowded public space.  This is extreme horror at its most effective (a point that I cheer) but I was hesitant on even reviewing it because I felt wrong sitting in Panera reading it on my Kindle app.  This is the book that would solidify how horror novel/horror genre in general haters feel about all the offerings.  It’s an excellent read for anyone who likes body horror/torture scenes and cracked barely human families.  In addition, I cheered for April Kennedy as a strong female character when she used her sexuality and manipulation skills to buy herself time from an impending death by the family of torture-happy cannibals.  On the other hand, some of these scenes were just…blah.  I keep going back and forth between whether I would heartily recommend it for in-private reading or say “Oh my god, never again!  Don’t subject yourself to this!”

Dead to Writes begins simply enough with a man named Marty McDougal completing an upload of his novel Tunnel of Doom to the e-book selling website Crashbooks.  He has delusions of the book immediately becoming a best-seller and bringing in so much money for the family that they could move up in the world.  Problem:  Marty McDougal sucks as a writer.  College student April Kennedy, a horror buff on the Crashbooks mailing list, thought Tunnel of Doom looked interesting enough based on the title and purchased it, but of course it ended up being a book fail.  Herbert, a horror novel reviewer who took his job seriously using the principle that even the worst written book deserved a thorough review of the problems with it, submitted a review dealing primarily with the bad grammar of the book. About thirty minutes later when Herbert checked his review for comments, he received one that read “You’re dead.  M. C. McDougal.”  Herbert wrote it off as the author being disgruntled that not everyone loved his “genius” work.  Meanwhile, Marty McDougal was seething in his rage at some of the personal insults used in other reviews of his novel and plotting…well, let’s just say this is the meat (no pun intended) of Dead to Writes.

I have two competing thoughts about this book (Dead to Writes, not the fictional Tunnel of Doom) and I don’t know how to reconcile them.

On one hand, Dead to Writes is delicious in a sick and twisted way.  There are scenes of torture that blow my mind because they’re so graphic and so convincing.  I like it when a writer gives me the sense that they know exactly what they’re writing about.  I know, this is part of the “sick and twisted” aspects of the book, but go with me here.  Tim Miller is so convincing in his gory descriptions that no matter how much I want to slam the cover shut on my Lenovo tablet and forget I ever read this, I need to keep reading.  I’m hooked.  Few horror novels have done this for me in recent months, so props to Miller.  Also, I love that there’s no distinction between “good” and “evil” in Dead to Writes.  Under formulaic horror novel conventions, the McDougal family would be your evil villains and April Kennedy would be your hero.  Technically April Kennedy is still the hero because this is the first book in a series about her hunting down people like the McDougals.  However, April isn’t sugar and spice the way you’d expect most heroes to be.  She uses the fact that the McDougal men and their mother (!) like to sexually abuse their victims before killing them to her advantage.  By appealing to the family’s twisted sense of appropriate behavior, she is able to knock them off one by one.  There were moments when I felt uncomfortable by April, but overall I applaud her for being strong-willed in spite of being shaken by her own abuse at the hands of the McDougals.  April Kennedy is a strong female character if I ever saw one, so cheers to Tim Miller for that.

On the other hand, I am thoroughly disgusted by Dead to Writes and I feel extremely dirty for reading it.  The scenes of rape were hard to swallow.  Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t included for the sole purpose of shock value.  The McDougal family needed that kind of development because otherwise they’d be a generic cannibalistic family. I just didn’t want to read about a certain bodily fluid on every page and eventually it seemed overkill.  We knew after the rape of the first victim in the beginning of the novel (before any of the bad reviews of Tunnel of Doom came in and Marty vowed revenge on his critics) that the McDougals were cruel.  Having at least two drawn-out scenes as punishment for the negative reviews that weren’t even written by April or Herbert following that was I think the reason I felt so uncomfortable with this book.  I wouldn’t normally cry “Trigger warning!” over a book in the horror genre because you should know what you could encounter by getting into the genre, but I want you all to know that if you’re uncomfortable with rape, stay far away from this book.

In conclusion, there is no conclusion I can reach about Dead to Writes.  I love it for certain reasons but then I don’t feel comfortable about having read it for other reasons yet I want to continue reading future books in the series but then I’m not sure I can stomach another book as explicit as Dead of Writes but…but…but…Author Tim Miller contributes so much to the self-published extreme horror subgenre.  I love having a new voice to read.  I rented a second novel by Tim Miller on my Kindle Unlimited app and I’m excited to dive into it because he seems like a solid author.  The same details that made me cringe and made me feel uncomfortable are what makes him a stand-out.  In the case that I don’t have a clear recommendation, I’ll leave this review here and allow you all to use your own judgment.

 

Deep Devotion by M.C. Norris

After becoming bored with supernatural horror novels, I turned to creature horror novels.  To make a long story short, I can’t get into novels about land creatures and nobody will ever convince me that I’m missing out, but I’ve been falling madly in love with aquatic horror, specifically where it involves things with tentacles and parasitic offspring.  The ocean is a scary place.  If you’ll excuse me going off track a little, allow me to say that I used to love going to the beach and swimming around but now you couldn’t pay me to step a foot into the water.  By foot, I mean my foot, not the distance.  Aquatic horror plays on everything that terrifies me about the ocean, which is a) why you can’t get me into the ocean ever again and b) why I can’t get enough of the literary subgenre.  Deep Devotion is a worthy contribution to the aquatic horror subgenre, though it isn’t without its flaws.  Follow me into the ins and outs of this novel, and please try not to throw up over the parasitic octopus parasite things that you’ll be hearing a lot about.  If I can handle it relatively well with my fears of the ocean and my fears of food poisoning, I think anyone can.

Deep Devotion begins simply enough at an exotic seafood restaurant Ryuu where a young man named Collin proposes to his girlfriend Sarah.  The two are so excited about starting their new life, but of course readers know better.  Minutes later, Collin collapses on the floor and vomits up his lobster and crabcakes (which, spoiler alert, are important to future events in the novel).  Sarah freaks out and takes him back to his apartment (because in horror novel land, nobody is capable of making genuinely intelligent decisions).  Collin gets even worse, going into a catatonic state except when he talks about needing to return to the sea.  He is picked up by an ambulance and a nurse, Kate Browning, discusses the situation with Sarah.  Sarah eventually reveals that when she looked in Collin’s eyes at one point, she couldn’t see him and knew this was more than a regular case of food poisoning.  Kate takes Sarah’s concerns seriously because there were other patients in the hospital that she had worked with earlier in the day who had the same reaction.  Long story short, the crabcakes and other crab dishes served at Ryuu were infected with microscopic one-eyed tentacle parasites that could affect their hosts’ minds and couldn’t be removed through force.  The only way to speed up the process of removing them from their human hosts was to take the hosts to the ocean and let the parasites remove themselves.   Problem:  The parasites were offspring of a monstrous octopus/squid/dinosaur entity who was not happy about humans interfering with them in any way.  The only way that Kate and a marine biologist she teamed with could save the patients was to kill the mother entity.  Are they successful?  Well, I’m not going to spoil the very ending for you.  I guess you should check out Amazon for a copy of the book.  It’s worth the cost.

I have to be honest with you and state that although I recommend it, Deep Devotion isn’t 100% perfect.  It’s missing this something that makes other horror novels gripping.  I’m not quite sure what the word I’m looking for is, so bear with me as I try to explain it.  I would say that as soon as the focus of the book moves from the food poisoning/parasite infection to Kate’s relationship with the marine biologist, there’s less of that desire to keep reading word-for-word.  Don’t get me wrong, the love story isn’t the main focus of the novel as a whole.  It does, in fact, have significance to the very last page of the novel.  If you want to know about the octopus/squid/dinosaur entity’s capacity to recognize human emotions, you have to accept Kate’s relationship as being genuine and meaningful.  It’s just that, well, why did there need to be that love story interrupting scenes of urgency and in some cases straight-up horror?  This may be because when I go into a horror novel I expect horror above everything else and I keep my horror separate from my romance, but I felt like the relationship was when Deep Devotion lost its energy.  I admit that I skipped around so that I didn’t have to read the blah blah blah descriptions of the relationship formation.

If you are a reader who enjoys mixing genres and/or can overlook the relationship, there’s not much else I can gripe about.  I mean, yes there was content I wanted more of.  You know what kept me interested in this novel?  I was a big fan of the infection/possession from the offspring and the mystery surrounding what was happening to the patients.  More of that, please.  I don’t necessarily mean that M.C. Norris needs to pull this edition and rewrite it to have more of these elements, but this was what I mean when I say I want that something.  One thing I thought was interesting about this novel was that it was relatively “clean” as far as the bloodshed content.  Don’t get me wrong, there was copious amounts of blood concerning the parasitic tentacle offspring removing themselves from their hosts’ bodies, but it wasn’t a bloodbath for the sake of having blood and gore in the novel.  I realize this makes very little sense if you haven’t also read Deep Devotion, but I guess what I’m trying to get at is that the disgusting straight-up horror elements of the novel are necessary to the story.

The best way to summarize how I felt about Deep Devotion is that if you read all the positive reviews about it on Amazon, they’re much nicer than my own review but they’re not wrong.  This is definitely an aquatic horror novel I recommend you all add to your collection of horror novels.  It’s on Amazon in print and Kindle editions and also Severed Press, its publishing company’s website.  A bit of an aside, but one of my favorite horror authors, Tim Curran, is published by Severed Press. Interestingly enough, Mr. Curran also has an aquatic horror novel (well, novella titled Leviathan) that I highly recommend.  In short, I feel safe recommending not only the book Deep Devotion but the publishing company Severed Press.

Seaspawn by Edward Parker

I am on a creature horror kick right now.  Although the trend in self-published creature horror seems to be dinosaurs and robot entities (god knows why; they’re kind of blah), I particularly like aquatic horror. The idea that the majority of the ocean hasn’t even been explored and you don’t know what’s living in its deepest darkest depths is already the most terrifying concept I can think of.  What happens when (fictional) people learn the answer to the mystery?  Seaspawn is a speculative fiction horror novel in asking “What if these humanesque creatures overpopulated the ocean and needed to spread out to land?”  I was totally hooked by the synopsis but in the end I am 50/50 on whether I liked how this book played with the idea.

Up front, I’m going to tell you that I hate the way Edward Parker wrote this book.  In the first seven or so chapters, readers are introduced to various characters who are vacationing in St. Meads, a tourist beach community.  The novel opens with a small team of lobster fishers on a boat called The Esmeralda who are slaughtered by a seaspawn they were unfortunate enough to catch.  In the second chapter readers meet the Collins family, who are visiting St. Meads at exactly the wrong time.  A few chapters later the focus is on Keith Evans, a local restaurant owner who had money problems way before the seaspawn and did not need yet another problem to compound his cursed life.  There are other characters as well but I would have to reread the novel to explain their purpose.  As a good reviewer I have a responsibility to provide factual, accurate information, but let’s be honest for a second.  If characters aren’t appealing enough for me to remember, they’re just not important.  The point is that there is no one character that you can follow initially and in the middle and end of the novel when everyone’s paths converge, it’s not particularly important who they are.  Here’s the thing:  I loathe this style of writing and it was a potential deal-breaker for me.  If you are a reader that can follow multiple characters’ storylines and you get into that deal, maybe this won’t be a problem for you.  I just have to warn you because it did not endear me to this book and if there was nothing else redeeming then I would’ve given up.

The redeeming factor is the seaspawn themselves.  An old homeless man named “Mick” refers to them as mermaids, which they are definitely not.  What they are is the fictional creation of author Edward Parker, and they’re pretty creative.  They are humanesque in some ways.  They have all the basic human body parts that allow them to feed, fight, and basically function on land as they would in the water.  They are such a threat because they are semi-immortal; the only thing that can kill them is firebombs dropped on the St. Meads’ community.  I would assume that the idea Parker is playing with is that of the “four elements”, water is more powerful than everything but fire.  Anyway, when these seaspawn come out of the ocean for new land, they are dead-set on making it theirs.  They aren’t scared of humans even though they’re not familiar with humans and being physically attacked by their human victims/prey doesn’t phase them at all.  I like reading about creatures that are bloodthirsty and emotionless.  Parker could’ve easily written a novel where some of the seaspawn become pets of the tourists and break from their animalistic instincts, but instead he writes them to be all about the food and generally unpleasant little things.  I enjoyed reading about these creatures and I’m disappointed that they weren’t featured in a better-written novel.

There was one other thing I genuinely liked about this novel, but I’m cautious to explain what it is because it’s the “end” of the novel and it would be a huge spoiler. I’ll leave you with this: Consider that these creatures are called seaspawn. What does the word “spawn” suggest to you?

I’m going to avoid giving an official recommendation because I realize that the things I disliked about this novel are liked by other readers. There’s nothing horribly wrong with this novel from a storytelling perspective (as in, everything is justified and Parker leaves no loose ends) and there were no obvious grammar or spelling errors that I picked up on. I would just recommend that if you purchase this novel, be sure to read other reviews so that you know what to expect in advance. Finally, I want to add that I am not turned off from this author. Edward Parker has written other novels that sound interesting and I’d be willing to give them a chance. He has excellent concepts in his novels, so I’d like to give him a fair chance to impress me with other works.

Must-Read Article: Haunted House Myths Confirmed and Debunked

Usually I would be posting about an entire website or horror reading material (book or magazine) but I think the article “Haunted House Myths Confirmed and Debunked ” written by author Carly Ledbetter for the Huffington Post is totally worth reading.  I implore you to avoid the comments because some people are such thick-headed skeptics that they blow off the article by yelling “Science!  Science!  Science!”  Did you know that science hasn’t been able to prove or deny the existence of spirits because the occurings, even residual hauntings, don’t conform to the scientific method?  When one studies the supernatural, there has to be an alternative way to approach it because supernatural experiences don’t happen on a time table.  Until scientists learn to get over the traditional scientific method to study the existence or lack of the supernatural, they are irrelevant in the discussion.  As such, if you’re interested in this article, read the article but avoid the comments.  The interview was conducted with a ghost hunted who drew some interesting conclusions about hauntings that I think everyone can get behind (even skeptics who are not thick-headed).

Carly Ledbetter sat down with  paranormal expert John E.L. Tenney, star of a new TV show called Ghost Stalkers on the channel Destination America and asked him about six of the most common occurrences during a haunting/”haunting”.  Of the six, the only two that he confirmed in his career were “You’ve felt someone tap on your shoulder when no one is there” and “You suddenly smell the perfume of a loved one”.  Neither of these sound particularly terrifying.  I actively follow true ghost stories online and neither of these events are mentioned at all.  These so-called true stories involve violent events after encountering an entity.  They’re interesting and unnerving, which is why I keep coming back, but for the “real deal” on hauntings I trust Tenney’s judgment over strangers on the internet.

One point that Tenney makes that boggles my mind is when he says the report “People have died in the house” is false.  He explains that most houses have had at least one death and the death of anyone doesn’t automatically mean there will be a haunting.  I don’t want to disagree too vehemently but how come I, the least supernaturally sensitive person in the world, have seen my first-ever cat (a tortoiseshell named Susie) in two separate incidents within a month after her death?  I don’t believe that it’s the house that is haunted, which I guess is what he dances around outright staying.  If you’ve watched any modern supernatural horror movie that deals with a haunting, you’ve probably heard “Ghosts haunt people” or related statements.  The idea is that no matter where a person moves, they won’t be able to shake the ghost because the ghost is connected to them.  Keep in mind, my old tortie was a sweetheart, not an evil, angry ghost like you see in the movies.  If she happened to check up on me once in a while, I don’t think it would be the worst thing that could happen.  In that respect, I agree with Tenney that it’s not the house that’s haunted.  However, I think that the death of a person (or an animal, such as my first-ever tortie) would encourage an appearance of their ghost at some point.  Tenney would’ve made an even stronger point had he thoroughly explained what he means by a death in the house not automatically being a trigger for hauntings.

The thing I found most interesting about this article is how Tenney explains the hauntings he’s investigated in his experience.  He said that up to 98% were attributed to “normal” causes but he still believes he could encounter a haunting.  That unexplained 2% is enough to make it a possibility.  I appreciate that he knows hauntings aren’t as widespread or violent as media makes them out to be, but he still keeps an open mind.  Check out the list for yourself and see what you think!

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