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The Many (The End is Nigh) by Joe Stone

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I may have given up on supernatural/demon horror novels completely if not for The Many (The End is Nigh).  After hitting many dead ends in these horror sub-genres that I used to crave, I had the unpleasant thought that nobody was writing anything good and I needed to move on.  When I move on from sub-genres, it’s not permanent but when I return I have decreased enthusiasm and patience.  Thank you Joe Stone for writing an exciting supernatural/demon horror novel and giving me renewed hope!

The Many is an ensemble novel in which we are first introduced to four characters with separate but related stories until all four meet each other and share the same story.  Usually I wouldn’t recommend this style of writing because I can’t keep track of what events happened to what character, but in The Many the four characters are distinctive enough to remember who and what is happening overall.  The four characters are Tommy (a high school student with no luck in getting the girls), Jason (a man with close ties to his mother), Amy (a married woman in search of other men), and Nick (a police officer).  A recommendation: Follow Amy’s story the closest because she starts and ends the book.  These four characters witness different aspects of the demonic virus but the thing they share is that the entities get into their heads and taunt them about their secret sins as a way to (attempt to) possess them.

By now you’re probably curious about this demonic virus.  It’s not fully explained in the novel, but that just means we’ll have something to look forward to in the sequel.  From what I understand, it has something to do with Lou Parsons and his grudge against the Lenton, Massachussetts community’s priest. Lou Parsons either summons demons or is a demon himself and his goal is to take over the community and make it his.  His method is to use powerful body-hacking, landscape-changing demons to take over “regular” people’s bodies while he works on influencing Tommy, Jason, Amy, and Nick to do his most important work (which involves killing the priest).  By the end of this book, Lou Parson’s reach has extended from Lenton to all over Massachussetts.

I said it in multiple places of this review and I’ll say it again, reading The Many was such a relief. It has elements of other pre/post-apocalyptic novels such as the world being normal one day and spiraling out of control the next and that the cause of the apocalypse is supernatural, but hen it offers a twist.  The creatures have zombie-like qualities such as feasting on human innards and flesh, but they’re not zombies and they have more of a sense of consciousness.  This is much more unnerving than reading about mindless flesh-eaters.  I like that by the end of the novel, I was excited for the next book because I have no idea what direction it’s going to take.  Sometimes predictability is comforting, but I don’t read the horror genre to be comforted.  I like that I don’t know what’s going to happen next.

Since I’m excited and that hasn’t happened for a while, I feel safe in saying that if you are also a fan of supernatural/demon horror but you’re in a reading slump, you really should give The Many a chance.  If you do, let me know what you think!

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.

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.

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.

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