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Family Night by Tim Miller

First of all, I would like to give credit to Tim Miller for being versatile in his level of grossness and good taste or lack of and not always writing novels that are extreme body horror.  While I felt uncomfortable reading his newer novel Dead to Writes (April Almighty) I didn’t have the same squeamish feeling reading Family Night, an earlier novel.  Second of all, to get to the meat of my review, I honestly didn’t love Family Night even though it had the kind of plot that would usually make me fall in love with a horror novel.

I can’t help but continually compare Family Night to Dead to Writes and unfortunately Family Night is the weaker of Tim Miller’s cannibal serial killer novels.  You’ll have to excuse the fact that I make these comparisons in the following review, especially since I try to avoid doing this because I hate it when other reviewers do it, but here I think it’s the only way to write a complete review.  Family Night and Dead to Writes are so eerily similar in that both novels feature families of cannibal serial killers that I wondered if Family Night was a precursor of Dead to Writes and Miller is going to introduce us to an entire extended family of torture-friendly serial killer cannibals.  That’s not exactly correct, but I feel safe in saying that Miller’s shtick is writing about cannibal serial killers.  In Family Night there is a man, Eddie Mason, who is a Texas cannibal serial killer.  Apparently he’s one of the worst, having made kills of over fifty people.  The police are boggled by how he does it because he’s only one man, right?  Yes, Eddie is only one man.  This isn’t one of those “evil twin” novels.  He’s able to produce such a high body count because his two children Brandi and Jeffrey are apprentices in the art of killing.  Not to get too opinionated in a plot summary, but I would’ve loved to read more about the offspring, such as how exactly they were trained.   Miller tells us that Eddie started the killing trade like any other serial killer, first experimenting with animals and then moving to humans.  Once he got successful in making his kills, he named himself The Mask.  We don’t know how Brandi and Jeffrey were first talked into making kills and how it became so important to them  The only substantial thing we know about the children is that from their training they’ve come to believe that law enforcement officers are pests that need exterminated.

The thing that attracted me to Family Night was the novel’s official synopsis.  I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s inaccurate, but it gives the wrong impression of who’s important in the novel.  We don’t have an official hero character that survives to the end.  At first I thought it would be Julie Castillo, the not-a-homicide detective investigating the disappearance of a woman working at a strip club that then tangles with Eddie Mason and his crazy offspring.  She would’ve been the most logical choice.  When the longest-lasting survivor was Sarah Howard, Julie’s girlfriend who worked at a bar and grill, I had mixed thoughts on that.  The irony of a grill employee killing a cannibal serial killer is amusing to me, but not so much that I can’t find it a questionable plot twist.  Now, I’m not trying to say that Sarah can’t be strong in her own right, but I would think that as a detective Julie would have more strength and skill at dealing with serial killers than Sarah would.  The “hero” of the novel, then, is Officer Ray Smith, who is only significant as the one that discovers the crime scene.  In the end, Ray Smith kills himself because the events of “The Mask”/”The Alamo Cannibal” (a later nickname for Eddie Mason).  In short, this is a novel where rocks fall and everyone dies in a figurative sense.  I’m not sure I like this very much.  I’m all for bleak endings provided that the novel has led up to such an ending, but in Family Night it seems more like “So what was the point of this novel?”  I didn’t exactly love Dead to Writes, Tim Miller’s latest cannibal serial killer(s) novel, but the one thing it did so much better than Family Night is end with surviving characters and a point to finish the novel and then keep reading the series.

I’m wondering how I would recommend or not recommend Family Nights based on its own merits.  Since I’m personally interested in reading fiction about children/teen serial killers, I would say that it might appeal to myself and others for having enough of that quality throughout the novel to make it interesting.  It’s just that like I said earlier, I would’ve wanted more information about the offspring’s killer training to make it meet that criteria.  Keep this warning in mind if you, like me, want the young serial-killers-in-training to be front and center.  Readers that like sad or bleak endings are probably a better audience, to be honest.

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!

Clown by Matt Shaw

 

Did you know that I wasn’t terrified of clowns until I realized so many people were? To make a long story short, they made such convincing points of why everyone should fear clowns that I began to fear them as well. I mean, who in their right mind would wear globs of ridiculously tacky make-up and a much-too-large painted-on smile? Well, besides 95% of the girls I knew in high school, that is. Anyway, since then I am happily anti-clown.  Well, not exactly. Because I don’t like clowns, I automatically think of them as villains. As a literature girl I believe there should always be a good villain and why not make the villain a clown? Enter the novella Clown by Matt Shaw.

This man is a clown and he loves it. He loves making children laugh when he performs at their birthday parties and he even said he’s not in the profession strictly for the money. The conflict: Some kids are too mature for clowns, as revealed when a birthday he was hired for fell through for him.  He was the type of person who was so even-tempered he didn’t even realize the cancellation-with-no-phone-call hurt him until at least five minutes (probably even longer, although no time frame was given) after finding out.  The even larger conflict:  This man probably has DID/Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) and his second personality is a serial killer.  The novel is told from the perspective of the man and the perspective of his second personality interchangeably and it can get confusing to know who’s talking.  Overall, the best way to know is that the man is a non-violent, good-hearted, but unfortunate character and his second personality is foul-mouthed and only interacts with people if it benefits him.  In the end, the second personality gets so strong it overpowers the man and only one personality can “win”.  I won’t spoil the ending because it’s interesting enough for everyone to read for themselves, but let’s just say that I was surprised.

I had a few small problems with this novella but I also liked it.  Before I go into my reasons, I want to put it out there that Matt Shaw is a hit-or-miss author for me.  Some of his novellas have a compelling villain but there’s no character that emerges as the hero or that you can root for.  If you’re like me and like the traditional good vs. evil angle, Matt Shaw may not always deliver for you.  This one is similar where in fact there aren’t many supporting characters outside of the man and his second personality, but you can cheer for the man because he’s likable.  Furthermore, I appreciated that when this novella was advertised on the cover as psychological horror, it was exactly that.  I’m just thinking that with an author like Matt Shaw, it’s not a case of “I love everything he’s ever written!” or “Oh my god, this guy thinks he’s a writer?”  Clown was particularly interesting, but I felt like based on other novellas I read from him, it’s an outlier.

Now let’s get into the meat of this novella (no pun intended).  There were qualities that deeply bothered me and I definitely need to share them with all of you before offering the redeeming aspects.  You don’t have to answer this question if you don’t want to, but before reading Clown, ask yourself if you can read about poorly portrayed mental illness without being offended.  It is the psychological angle that kept me reading but I also felt like there are unfortunate implications with the way DID was portrayed.  I’m not an expert, but I know that there are different types of DID.  The man had an extreme version where not only was his second personality a serial killer, but he was out-of-the-loop with actions “he” committed when the second personality came out.  For example, the second personality revealed that after he killed children, he organized their corpses in the basement and painted a particularly graphic image of each one.  The man didn’t even know what happened when the second personality took over even though the secondary personality “talked” to him about what he was doing.  From what I’ve read about DID, it’s either that you know about all your personalities and they know about you or you make sudden changes and don’t remember anything from one personality to the next.  It’s not like the way Matt Shaw portrayed it in the novella.  In addition to this, I feel uncomfortable calling this an evil clown novella because it’s a little more complicated than that, but the synopsis doesn’t pay it justice.  There is an evil clown, but it isn’t the man except when he’s controlled by the second personality.  I also give a loud “Boo!” to Matt Shaw for making it sound like the second personality was a physical entity walking beside the man wherever he went.  It didn’t add to the drama of the novella; in fact, it made the novella more confusing than it had to be.

My final thoughts about Matt Shaw’s Clown is that if you can get it “free” on your Kindle Unlimited, do that before you purchase it.  I like it in spite of its (major) flaws, but I’m sure there are going to be people who are immediately turned off for some reason or other.  It is worth a read according to me, but like any book that I’ve enjoyed in some sense, I advise you all to exercise your own judgment.

When we move away from the portrayal of DID, there are some seriously redeeming qualities of the novella.  As I said in a previous paragraph, the man was a likable character.  When readers were meant to feel sorry for him, they could because he was put in unpleasant situations and made honest attempts to put aside his “Poor me, poor me” sentiment.  When the secondary personality overruled him, you could still separate that personality from the man.  The villain of the novel that you were supposed to hate was always the second personality, not the man.  Furthermore, I know this isn’t part of the plot or characters in the novella, but the writing style was readable and had a decent flow.  I know it seems like a weird thing to compliment an author/novella on, but this was a self-published novella and, uh, there are things about self-published novellas.  Mainly that they are assumed to be of poor  writing quality.  I could definitely think of changes that would make Clown better than it is, but there weren’t major spelling, grammar, or formatting errors.

Proud Parents by Kristopher Rufty

Greg and Sheila Heyman have a monster of a son. No, really. Their son Gabe is a scientific experiment created by an underground organization. They don’t care that at six years old Gabe is more animalistic than human and requires live animals for food. He’s their son and they conveniently ignore all of his monstrous qualities. Their unusual but routine existance is shattered when Gabe matures into a teenage creature that needs to kill his own food. Will Greg and Sheila allow their son to make his kills as science intended, or will they finally put the kibosh on him?

Proud Parents is a difficult book to review because it’s exactly what I wanted to read when I purchased it and the writing is engaging from beginning to end but…I really didn’t like it. I want to tell you that my two main problems with the book are the characters of Greg and Sheila and the explanation of Gabe’s creation, which absolutely are problems. I’ll definitely explain why because those two qualities are the easiest to explain. There was another major problem I had as well but it’s harder for me to pinpoint it. The best way for me to explain it is that the synopsis of this novel was excellent and 100% accurate but the synopsis was considerably stronger than the novel itself.

Greg and Sheila Heyman were the worst characters I’ve read about in a month, and this includes characters from novels and short stories I’ve read for college. My college reading has the defense of being required reading while Proud Parents as “fun” reading does not. I completely understood that after Greg and Sheila couldn’t get pregnant through natural means they would fiercely protect their science experiment offspring like their own blood and that could mean doing unethical actions, but that they never questioned such things as killing people for Gabe to have fresh blood was just wrong.   There was only one example where it possibly crossed Sheila’s mind that even to keep Gabe alive there had to be limits and that was in chapter 44 when Sheila internally ran over the problem of her husband immediately turning to “We have to lure people into the house so we can kill them and give them to Gabe.”  Kristopher Rufty worded it better than this obviously, but that’s the gist of it.  Furthermore, that is literally the only time that either of these people have any hesitation with their actions and in the end it doesn’t matter because Gabe is more important than morality.

The whole business of Gabe’s creation is far-fetched even for speculative fiction.  If you read chapters five, six, and 45 you find out the whole story.  Gabe was created as a part of Project: Newborn as an extremely underground experiment.  There were six families plus the Heymans who participated in the experiment and four mothers died giving birth while only two were successful.  Of the two that survived, only one family had a normal offspring.  You see, these weren’t normal offspring.  The scientists involved in Project: Newborn mixed human, primate, and reptile DNA thinking that the human DNA would take over.  Furthermore, they expected that any hybrid offspring that was more creature than human would die in a short amount of time (not specified, although Dr. Henry Connors, one of the scientists involved in Gabe’s creation, was surprised that he had survived up to age six).  Gabe was predominantly a lizard with his scaly green skin but he had the climbing skills of a primate and at a distance if people ignored his scales and claws and fangs he did resemble a young child.  Slight problem:  Gabe went through puberty midway through the novel and it was insanely disturbing to read about his bodily changes because he then functioned like a teenager but was still in a six-year-old’s body.  In general I like the idea of a human/primate/reptile hybrid because authors are forced to use their imaginations since few already-published novels use those types of entity combinations, but I didn’t like how it was used in Proud Parents.  To give credit to Mr. Rufty, once Gabe was created and going through mutations, that made some sense to me.  Just like humans go through changes, I would assume primates and reptiles do as well.  Still, I always come return to the idea that if these hybrid offspring weren’t supposed to live up to six years of age while Gabe was not only surviving but becoming immortal (or at least able to regenerate after major injuries), then what was so different about Gabe allowing him to do so?

Here’s the thing:  This book had a delightful synopsis that actually summarized the story accurately.  I appreciate that because I have read other books about non-human offspring where the synopsis said one thing and the book told a completely different story.  I want to give credit where credit is due, so thank you Kristopher Rufty and Samhain Publishing for being honest with your synopsis and novel.  I just felt like the synopsis told a stronger story than the actual novel.  While the novel had filler descriptions of neighbors that became involved with the Heymans (usually as food), the synopsis cut out that blabber and focused specifically on the problem of Gabe being a monster.  I would recommend that if you’re curious about reading Proud Parents, just read the chapters about the Heymans, Gabe, and Dr. Henry Connors.

In the end I refuse to make a “Read this!” or “Never touch this with a million foot pole!” judgment because there are good and bad points about this book.  If you like reading books about offspring that aren’t entirely normal, maybe you’ll find the science/”science” compelling enough to give this one a try.  I do love the “evil kid” genre of entertainment media and I feel safe in saying that that is why I purchased this book.  It’s true that I thought there wasn’t solid justification for how Gabe was created and managed to survive and become stronger but I feel like another reader may not have problems with this.  The only thing I’d definitely recommend is reading the reviews of this book on Amazon or Good Reads (if the book exists on there) before purchasing it.

Amazon Kindle Unlimited for Horror Fans

Recently Amazon unveiled a new Kindle option called Kindle Unlimited. It’s similar to a Netflix streaming movie subscription in that if you pay 9.99 per month, you can download as many books labeled “Kindle Unlimited” as you want. The catch is that the majority of available books are self-published or published by a small press. The mainstream, traditionally-published only reader needs to be warned that Kindle Unlimited may not be their best bet for an e-book subscription service. This reader would be better off checking out Entitle, a similar service that does offer mainstream, traditionally-published e-books. Kindle Unlimited is a delicious resource for self-published and small press-published horror novel fans, however.

Are you a fan of unknown and/or potentially authors that could be the next big thing in the horror genre? Kindle Unlimited is a great way to read these authors without risking your hard-earned money. Your 9.99 monthly subscription fee guarantees that you can try as many e-books as you want. Well, within reason.  The deal is that you can check out up to ten books at a time and if you want more, you can return however many you need in order to download more.  Technically there is a limit.  If you’re interested in recommendations of titles that I personally read and that are available as Kindle Unlimited reading material, check these out.

Do you like your horror novels about a female protagonist turned antagonist? Sadie the Sadist by Zane Sachs is a yummy read. I won’t spoil anything in this brief blurb, but I’ll get you excited with this teaser: Even as Sadie loses touch with reality and human decency, she’s still a semi-sympathetic character. Yes, even when she’s covered in other characters’ blood.

Maybe creature horror is more your style. From the Depths by J.E. Gurley is a decent short read. The synopsis describes monstrous, mutated sea creatures and a dinosaur-esque entity. The actual story delivers on the promise. The death scenes and human vs. sea monster fights could’ve been better but there’s enough of them to be gripping. I think the thing that worked well was that the novella didn’t end happily. It did, however, end in a satisfying and believable way.

If you like horror mixed with a police procedural, Michael McBride’s Innocents Lost blends the two genres well. I didn’t actually love this novel but there were a few good points about it. First, McBride started out as an unknown writer but by virtue of coming under established horror authors’ radars, blew up in the genre. He’s solid at writing. The style feels like any traditionally-published author rather than some amateur self-publisher looking to make a quick buck. I loved that once again, the ending wasn’t happy but was believable and satisfying. This one didn’t do it for me but he has other novels available as Kindle Unlimited releases. Yes, I plan to give these others a chance.

I could ramble about other novels I got to experience but admittedly they aren’t horror. One nice point about Kindle Unlimited is that you can read in genres you might not try unless you had free access to reading material. This subscription allows you to do such a thing without having to worry about the risks attached to paying 2.99 or whatever exorbiant price e-books are going for now. Again, you’re looking more at self-published books, but this gives you an opportunity for exposure to new genres.

Note: Don’t expect to find much in the way of criminology books. I already checked and I’m “Meh” on the available selection.

With a subscription to Kindle Unlimited, anyone who wants more exposure to unknown and up-and-coming authors has the chance to find potentially good reading material. Just don’t expect many (if any) traditionally-published e-books. Kindle Unlimited is actually a better fit for horror fans since most horror is in e-book format anyway.

The Whisper Confession App

Have you ever considered an anonymous secret-sharing application as horror reading? I know I wouldn’t have thought so but the app Whisper is scarier than any horror material I’ve read to date. To put it politely, I’m surprised 90% of the confessors aren’t in prison. Before leaving Whisper behind, I posted a few of my own confessions. It’s one thing to hear Tumblr and BuzzFeed users say that only “serial killers” use Whisper and quite another to experience it firsthand. Don’t get me wrong, my secrets were legitimate. I wouldn’t necessarily want to share them under my real name on an app that people used for hook-ups and worse but they were definitely real secrets. For the purpose of writing my review I’ll share a few not-so-personal secrets that I remember writing.

I love bloody, gory horror movies. I am a woman.

I had no intention of this being a turn-on.  On the day I wrote this, I found a series of quotes about how teenage boys get their girlfriends to sleep with them by showing them a scary movie and freaking them out so bad they turn to their boyfriend for comfort.  Screw that!  I’m a huge fan of bloody, gory horror movies because they’re disgusting and stomach-turning.  Of course, I don’t want gore just for the sake of gore.  I will absolutely give low ratings to movies that are completely meant for shock value and nothing more.  *Cough Human Centipede Two cough*  However, I don’t shy away from it when it adds to the storyline.  I do have squicks, but I’m a big girl.  If I can’t handle it then I look away or put down my computer lid if I’m watching the movie that way.  I sure don’t need to turn to someone else.

Within five minutes after posting this secret, I get at least three private messages from these teenage boys asking me where I live and when they should come pick me up?  Really?  Ugh!

I like to kiss my cats on the lips.

Surprisingly I got no weird comments for this one.  All the comments followed the sentiment of “I love cats!” and “Same!”  It’s weird that people are weird about every other topic except animals, and then they’re just a flurry of “Oh my god, so cute!”

I like reading about mass muderers, morbid as that sounds.

I was totally asking for the creepy comments with this one, but there’s also a story behind why I posted this secret.  So I’d bought a few books on my Kindle that related to teenage mass murderers.  What an interesting subject!  I’m a Criminology student as well as an English student.  If the college and the department were better funded and had more options for specialized classes based on interests, I would absolutely want to focus on juvenile delinquency!  This is one aspect of it.  I don’t know what sparked my interest in “evil” kids but it’s like the one type of non-fiction reading I love.  Okay, here’s the problem:  People think that if you read about it, that obviously means you want to be like the people you’re reading about.  This is 100% false, but of course you can’t reason with them.  People get weird about subjects such as mass murderers.  I posted this secret because it’s an unpopular opinion and requires loads of justification.

Not all the comments were creepy.  Some comments served as reference material for future reading.  If you give me the name of someone I’ve never heard of, I totally want to know who they are and what they did.  Some comments were in agreement.  It turns out that otherwise normal, well-adjusted people are just as interested in the subject as I am.

Then you get the really weird comments.  I got offers to meet people who were apparently planning their own mass murders.  Some people thought it was perfectly normal to tell me “I’ve been dying to commit this particular crime!  Read about me!”  Ummmmm, no thanks.  Oh, never mind the people who, once again, wanted to hook up with me.  Ugh!

I do believe in a parallel universe and parallel Jessica. I bet she’s living in a ritzy apartment with a prestigious career and living a dream life.

This was actually my reply to someone who was questioning the existence of parallel universes and parallel selves.  I didn’t officially give them my name because, as above, creepy people, but I did share this thought.  This person sent me a very involved private message.  It was actually quite philosophical, but a little weird to ask someone you never actually met.  Essentially this person said I was the only respondent that sounded disconnected from myself by referring to my parallel self as “she” instead of “me”.  To me, it really is “she”.  Even if Parallel Jessica is technically me, she isn’t me.  She’s nothing more than an alternative that never will be.  Why should I identify with her?  Of course, I’m not going to explain this to someone I don’t know.  It is something I might blog about in a completely different blog but definitely not something I’d share on Whisper.

To be fair, I walked into that one by typing that spacy-sounding response.

I don’t know how to officially rate the Whisper app. It’s effectively creepy reading material because it’s real. You know how when you read a solid horror novel and it’s unsettling for maybe a few days? Whisper gave me that feeling every time I checked in. I used it for a good month until I learned it was draining my cell phone battery and using my monthly data allowance. That was literally the only reason I stopped reading it. On the other hand, Whisper is creepy because people who only know you by your secrets want to date you. If they knew me in real life, I don’t think they’d actually notice me. It’s not real, if that makes sense. And let’s not forget that if you confess about your interest in horror and murderers, you can get personal messages about people who aspire to be murderers by luring in other horror fans as victims.

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