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Pink Slime by H.E. Goodhue

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Settle in my reading friends and let me tell you the story of the “Pink Slime”. Once upon a time, fast food restaurants were immune to criticism.  Then one day, sometime in 2012, all that changed when ABC News ran an 11 part segment on what fast food meat looks like in its raw form.  The most charitable description? “Pink Slime.”  “Pink Slime” was defended as being a harmless additive to make ground beef go further, nothing more, but the controversy put all fast food restaurants under careful consumer scrutiny.  In 2014, horror writer H.E. Goodhue proposed that “Pink Slime” comes from space and is anything but harmless.

The novel Pink Slime is hard to describe. It’s most like a bizarro novel but less explicit (no anthromorphized/sentient reproductive organs running around) and with a stronger, more real world-ish plot. If you removed the aliens and the Pink Slime, this is the story of a formerly bullied young adult who has the oppportunity to get revenge on everyone who hurt him and in the process becomes corrupt from the power.  The thing is, Andy Holstein would not be able to get revenge without the Pink Slime. Immediately after reading it I described this book as being an easy read, which it is, but it’s not necessarily a “beach read”. Underneath the body horror and the Pink Slime, there’s a message about appropriate revenge versus becoming worse than the bullies. Also, “beach reads” aren’t usually this dark.

I don’t want to spoil everything about Pink Slime but let me give you a little taste (pun intended).  Andy Holstein is an overweight athletic store employee whose only genuine friend is a spacy, hyperactive character known as Squirrel.  Andy is in love with Cece, a frequent customer who he thinks is out of his league but is also nice to him.  Other than Squirrel and Cece, everyone who meets Andy bullies him for his weight and awkwardness.  The only place he feels welcome is the local fast food restaurant.  Through a convoluted series of events, Andy eats the Pink Slime and gains the ability to turn people into Pink Slime monsters.  This is all explained better in the novel, I promise.  With his new power Andy goes on a killing spree and…Well, you’ll just have to read the book to find out how it ends.

While I enjoyed Pink Slime there were parts and characters that seemed unnecessary.  The one that stood out to me was any scene involving the alien nicknamed Guy.  The alien nicknamed Guy was there for exposition purposes but in the end felt like he didn’t have to be there after all.  He even said himself that there were aspects of the Pink Slime that he wasn’t familiar with.  For a character that explains complicated events, you would think they’d have a good grasp on said events.  Unfortunately when you read the book, you can’t ignore Guy.

In spite of some…moments, I do recommend Pink Slime.   The book, not the gunk at fast food restaurants.

 

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!

Outbreak: The Hunger by Scott Shoyer

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Let’s imagine you are a fan of the zombie apocaypse horror/science fiction subgenres but you are cautious about reading unknown zombie apocalypse authors.  Your fears are completely understandable; I’m not even a zombie apocalypse fan and that makes me very discerning about what I enjoy.  We both have that in common, even if our reasons are different.  Trust me when I say that Outbreak: The Hunger is a fun read and in spite of its writing style flaws I do recommend it.

Outbreak: The Hunger begins scarily similar to the zombie apocalypse horror movie 28 Days Later (note the reference to the movie in the text) in which three animal rights activists are in a laboratory to free the animals.  They do exactly that, but of course it blows up in their faces when one of the friends is killed by an animal and another friend is badly injured.  The third friend is Jason, a very important secondary character who survives the night and stupidly spreads the zombie virus.  You’ll learn more about him later in the novel, so keep his name in mind.

The bulk of the novel is about John, a chef and father to daughter Fiona (Fi).  They are visiting the local zoo for daddy-daughter day thinking it’ll be fun, unaware that some of the zombie animals are there and ready to attack/spread the virus.  Does either one survive to the end? Let’s just say that you’ll have to read through the epilogue and then to the first chapter of book two, Outbreak: The Mutation to find out.

My biggest hang-up about Outbreak: The Hunger is the writing style. This is not a deal breaker for me, but it’s fair to mention it in case it bothers any of you. The book is partially in third person, like when the animal rights activists break into the laboratory, any backstory about people who handle the zombie animals (Ex: Animal shelter workers Julie and Jim), and any scene involving the military. The remaining chapters are in first person where John is talking about being attacked by the zombie animals at the zoo.  While the mixed points-of-view are necessary for telling the full story, it’s jarring to switch from third person to first person and back again.

Although the writing style can be problematic, Outbreak: The Hunger is a fun read.  At the risk of spoiling a key part of the novel, the characters are often as confused as the readers. There’s not a clear “This is what the zombie virus is and this is how it spreads from animals to humans” explanation.  Different characters contribute new information up until the end of the novel.  This means that you go through a similar journey as the characters (except without zombie animals).  Just keep in mind this helpful hint: Don’t care too much for anyone because the body count is pretty high. If you hate everyone or can handle characters you like getting picked off by zombie animals, you have nothing to worry about.

Author Scott Shoyer has been getting positive reviews by other zombie apocalypse authors such as Joe McKinney. I wouldn’t normally mention the reviews because they’re ego-stroking by friends, but here it’s relevant. Outbreak: The Hunger deserves more publicity than it currently has. I can’t promise that everyone will love it, but I can tell you that it impressed a reader who isn’t normally a fan of zombie apocalypse novels. Tell me what you thought of it.

The Angel of Vengeance (A Glimpse Into Hell) by Wade H. Garrett

I had to think long and hard about writing a review for The Angel of Vengeance (A Glimpse Into Hell) by Wade H. Garret.  If I was writing this review uncensored, I would state that it has some very good parts and some very bad parts and while I wouldn’t go into heavy detail I would tell my readers what they have to be aware of if they’re interested in reading this book.  The author has a one page disclaimer about the book, and for a good reason.  The thing is, I almost didn’t want to take a chance on writing an uncensored review because the author’s disclaimer essentially says “This book is graphic, gory, upsetting, politically incorrect, and offensive.  Don’t read if you’re sensitive.”  Eh, I’ve read worse.  The sticking point for me was that also in his disclaimer, he talked about receiving negative reviews for the book and responding to the reviewer.  Granted, the response was probably the most well-handled “Well, I like my writing so whatever” I’ve read in some time.  Still, reviews are not meant to stroke an author’s ego or keep the book high in the ratings (for example, on Amazon where I rented this book as a Kindle Unlimited, keeping the average rating of the book between four and five stars).  When I review a book, I may very well sing its praises.  More often than not, I’m critical of the book.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book, but it means that I’ve read the book, I’ve thought about the book, and finally I want to share both the good and the bad of the book for other readers.  It’s intimidating to read in an author’s disclaimer that they know what content is in their book and if it upsets you, well, you knew what you were getting into.  In the end, I am going to review The Angel of Vengeance (A Glimpse Into Hell) because I have thoughts on the book and I want to share them with my readers.

The Angel of Vengeance takes place in a basement torture chamber, predominantly as a long, extremely graphic conversation between the anti-hero character Seth Coker and a man named “Richard”, “Dicky” for short.  Here’s what you need to know:  The conversation is part conversation between Seth and Dicky and part of a way to flash back to all of Seth’s handiwork, some that is lying around the basement in various locations.  The conversation is broken down into stories that span two to three chapters followed by Seth showing Dicky what the bodies of his corpses look like in the present day.  Seth is one of those characters that you will be conflicted on because he is a vigilante, he is not a good guy, his sanity is probably shot, and yes, he loves torturing people…but he has a sense of justice about it.  Whenever Dicky asks Seth why he enjoys torture, Seth says that he’s doing it to bring justice to the victims of his victims.  The way Seth views the criminal justice system is that it’s broken and doesn’t punish the people that need punishment the most, so he comes in to set things “right”.

I did have a segment of chapters that I completely understood Seth’s sense of justice, twisted as it was.  “The Shattered Reflection of the Crescent Moon” “Human Octopus” and “The Gruesome Torture Device” tell the story of three men that, among other things, tortured and killed fifty-three shelter animals for no reason.  Oddly, the paragraph in “The Shattered Reflection of the Crescent Moon” specifically about the shelter animal torture doesn’t go into the same graphic detail that goes into Seth’s methods of vengeance.  It’s still extremely stomach-turning if you’re an animal lover and you don’t like reading about animal torture.  The thing is that if animal torture makes your blood boil, you probably feel like anyone who tortures animals deserves to be tortured the same way themselves so they know how it feels.  Maybe you even support Seth in these three chapters.  In real life when I have a clear head I would never say “Torture the animal-torturers worse than what they did, but in reading these chapters I felt that primal sense of “Kill!  Kill!  Kill!”

People who have a cause that’s near and dear to their heart will probably have a similar reaction to myself.  If you are anti-elder neglect or you’re anti-violence against women or you’re anti-child abuse, you might also find some segments where you support Seth’s brand of justice.

Although I did have three pet chapters (no pun intended) that I got into, I found myself wondering where Seth believed it was his duty to humanity to right every criminal justice system wrong through torture.  Of course if we believe Seth’s account, it’s that victims of violent acts shouldn’t suffer without getting some kind of peace and since he’s capable of it, that’s his life’s work.  That said, Seth is extreme in handing out justice and sometimes he has no connections to the people’s he’s helping/”helping”.  There’s a plot twist in the final few chapters where readers learn why “Dicky” is Seth’s latest victim and there is minor justification.  I won’t spoil it because it’s worth reading for.  More often than not, it feels a lot like Seth tortures people for the fun of it and uses “I’m correcting injustices” as a way to shield his twisted hobby.  It’s hard for me to get into Seth’s mindset.  I don’t know that anyone can.

After reading The Angel of Vengeance, I had some final thoughts for potential readers.  First, you absolutely need to take the author’s disclaimer seriously.  This is not extreme horror like you’d get from Edward Lee (which I’ve read a few works from and will tell you that the version of extreme horror by Mr. Lee is more ridiculous than thought-provoking and hard to handle).  There is nothing supernatural about this book.  There is not a sense of “This part is gory but you’re supposed to find it laughable” with this book.  There is some very dark humor in this book and if you read the reviews on Amazon, people have appreciated it.  The humor is more about the weird exchanges between Seth and Dicky than, say, slapstick.  Definitely keep in mind that this is not light reading.  Second, if you are a book reviewer, don’t be afraid to write an honest review.  This book challenged me, not because it had large vocabulary words but because enjoying it or appreciating it or being completely turned off was a moral dilemma.  In the end I had to write a review of it and express why I was so challenged by it.

Lampreys by Alan Spencer

I’m going to kick off 2015 right with a weird aquatic horror novel about lampreys.  For those of you who don’t know what a lamprey is, consider that a benefit for reading Lampreys by author Alan Spencer.  If you do know what a lamprey is, you are going to find the entire premise of this novella ridiculous. Actually, I don’t know a thing about lampreys either and I still found the premise far-fetched. I have to warn you of that right now. In spite of the weirdness, you should give this novella a chance because it’s so weird but in the end it works as fun reading material.

Lampreys begins with a scene in a secret research lab where a research assistant is completing her work for the day and is about to leave the laboratory when her boss’s voice comes over the loudspeaker saying “Mama” is hungry and she is sucked through a hole in the ceiling by something large. She is chewed up and the scene fades to black. We are then introduced to the main character Conrad Garfield, an English professor who is mourning a break-up and is sent on a volunteer trip to Africa because, as his brothers say, he’s too big of a wimp. Conrad is extremely bookish, the stereotype of an English professor. This is somewhat significant to the rest of the novella, so keep that in mind. When Conrad, his brothers, and the rest of the volunteer team are taken to Africa, they are warned it’s a hot zone. That’s when things get good.

Once we reach this point, we find out what’s going on in the secret lab. The owner/lead scientist Dr. Sutherland is certifiably insane. He allowed normal-sized lampreys to infect his body so he could be “in tune” with their desires. The lampreys are flesh-eating machines, so Dr. Sutherland has to order human organs and flesh for them to munch on. In addition, he sicced his “super lampreys” (larger-than-human sized creatures, including “Mama”) on his research assistants to keep them happy while he ordered massive shipments of body parts. When Dr. Sutherland wasn’t feeding his lampreys, he was combining lampreys with humans to make weird living weapons. I won’t spoil the gory goodness, but let’s just say that the human/lamprey hybrids were much more lamprey than human. If you like body horror, you’ll love reading these scenes.

I also won’t spoil the ending, but the lamprey experience changed Conrad to a point, in a good way. Our bookish hero remained interested in literature and teaching, but the way he approached the subject matter became more personal. Also, the sad sack “I can’t move on from my unfaithful girlfriend!” person Conrad had been was gone. If nothing else, the lampreys made him realize he had control of his life and nobody had the right to decide the direction it took. Conrad is not always a likable character, but I promise he becomes more three dimensional throughout the novella.

I did have problems with believability of the novel. “Super lampreys” are out there, but as a fan of fantasy novels I can definitely get the need for unusual, inventive creatures. More than the lampreys, I didn’t buy mad scientist Dr. Sutherland’s lamprey/human hybrids.  Humans can’t survive having living creatures shoved into and/or stitched to their bodies.  There is no way, even in a clearly fantay/horror novel, that this technique is plausible.  The only way author Alan Spencer could make the lamprey/human hybrid believable in context of the novella is to increase the novella to a full-length novel with more explanation.  In order to enjoy this novella, you can’t question the logic at all.

Although I’m highly critical of the novella, I would still recommend reading Lampreys.  It’s the horror equivalent of a beach read.  Sometimes you want to be grossed out and entertained, no logic required.  Lampreys doesn’t make sense, but it is a fun read.

Consumed by Matt Shaw

I love a good cannibal serial killer novel.  You’d be surprised to learn that although I’m not a “gore hound” and in fact would rather read supernatural or psychological thriller novels, there is something I crave about a good cannibal serial killer horror novel.  It kills me to admit that in spite of having the potential for a delicious cannibal serial killer novel, I did not love Consumed by author Matt Shaw.  This is the best way I can describe Consumed:  It was disturbing as promised, but not disturbing in the way I like my cannibal serial killer novels disturbing.

The plot is pretty standard.  Five twenty-somethings who were once good friends but are beginning to fall apart go on a road trip in hopes of rebuilding their friendship.  The main character is Michael, an aimless, hard-headed person.  Michael’s best friend is Joel, an auto mechanic (oh, the irony!) who would smoke his life away if he could.  Lara is a sharp-tongued woman who had once dated Joel and still feels the burn of their break-up.  Hayley is a beauty queen who is so consumed (pun not intended but rock with it) with how she compares to other women that she doesn’t notice larger issues.  Charlotte is a sweetheart who should not even be a part of the group and is viewed as a little sister that needs protected from the real world.  Dan is just there, not someone who had a role other than being the first to die.  The road trip doesn’t start off well with Lara and Joel bickering and continues to get worse when the car breaks down and they are rescued by two twenty-something brothers Johnny and Stephen who take them to the family house for a meal.  Little do the five friends know that they’re the main course.

There are scenes of cannibalism in the novel, which I appreciated since that was why I wanted to read this book in the first place.  Descriptions of a young woman eating a man during intercourse is sick and twisted, just the way I want my cannibal serial killer novels.  What, I can’t enjoy a little bit of gore?  In addition, there were entire pages dedicated to how some of the characters were sliced and diced.  If you like details rather than fade-to-black sequences, Consumed is your book.  Maybe.

How do you feel about incest?  How do I put this without requiring a trigger warning?  To put it bluntly, there is a lot of incest.  None of it is fade-to-black either.  It’s not as frequent or physically sickening as scenes in another extreme horror novel Dead to Writes (April Almighty Book One), the novel that I hold up as the sickest extreme horror novel I’ve read to date, but reading the descriptions of father-on-daughter violence feels voyeuristic and wrong.   The problem with Consumed is that it should be the cannibalism that turns your stomach but in fact the incest is (I’m guessing) the reason this novel is considered extreme horror.  I’ll ask you again, how do you feel about incest?  Do you believe incest can carry a horror novel from beginning to end?  Do you believe that incest is a ploy to make the villainous characters more sympathetic, even if there’s nothing else about them that is sympathetic?  This may just be a personal concern, but I don’t think the way incest was written in Consumed was well-handled.  Conventional wisdom says that you aren’t supposed to root for the villainous characters at any point of the novel.  It was hard trying to negotiate the conventional wisdom with what the daughters suffered from their entire lives.  Suzanne and Tammy, the daughters, are almost as into cannibalism as their parents.  As readers, we shouldn’t like them.  When they are raped by their father, we still don’t like them but we see them as victims and it’s just weird.  Consumed would’ve been a stronger novella if the author left out the incest and just let us hate the family.

I have a lot of thoughts on Consumed, but I think author Matt Shaw’s author note placed right before the story says much more than I could say.  Apparently  Consumed isn’t even Matt Shaw’s normal style of writing.  He had been receiving feedback from readers about them wanting some serious gore and rocked with it.  His attempt with Consumed satisfied the extreme horror fans enough that the majority of ratings for the novella were overwhelmingly positive, but I’m not okay with it.  I like Matt Shaw’s writing when it’s psychological (ex: Clown) or supernatural (ex: The Cabin and The Cabin: Asylum).  I would normally recommend Matt Shaw.  I will probably recommend some of his future works once I get ahold of them.  I do not recommend Consumed.

Welcome to Happytown (April Almighty Book Two) By Tim Miller

How do you feel about cannibal serial killer clowns?  If you threw up in your mouth a little reading that, you will not like author Tim Miller’s Welcome to Happytown.  If you are sick and twisted like me and thought “Hey, I’ve gotta know more!” then trust me, you will be a happy horror literature buff.  As the Amazon description and my review title says, Welcome to Happytown is the second book in the April Almighty series.  While I was ambivalent on the first April Almighty book Dead to Writes, this one was delicious.  It’s not perfect and you’re absolutely going to hear an explanation for that, but think of it as your favorite candy.  You know it’s bad for you (the book flaws) but oh my god you can’t get enough (the book as a whole).  The narrator for this book is omnicient but primarily tells the story in April Kennedy’s thoughts.  The cannibal serial killer clowns (more on that later) get their fair share of voice time, but we’re not in their twisted minds too long for it to be uncomfortable.  In addition, the thing that works in this book’s favor is that the majority of character deaths are well-deserved.  Nobody is an innocent victim.  Even April makes choices that are questionable at best, evil at worst.

Your spoiler-free summary is as follows:  Bad things happen when April Kennedy is your friend.  That is literally the only aspect of Welcome to Happytown that isn’t a spoiler.  Right from the beginning when viewers are told that April, her best friend Stacy, her new friend Kimberly (known as “Kim” through the majority of the book), and her adversary/Kim’s boyfriend Todd are going on a road trip, you know it won’t end well.  You also know that there will be lots of sex and death.  How to put this in a not-too-weird way?  April developed a very unique ability to make men ejaculate when she talks dirty or threatens them and then hack their minds in such a way that they could (and have!) kill themselves if she told them to.  April knows her ability is too easily used for evil and basically shut herself down to human affection (even the real deal) knowing that she could slip up and kill good people.  If this is mentioned within five pages, you know it’s foreshadowing.  The rest of the book: April and her friends break down in a creepy little town that they can’t leave unless they go through the Funhouse.  A bunch of pychotic cannibal serial clowns make the Funhouse their home and torture headqarters.  Main characters die or get turned into clowns.  The community decides to get rid of the Funhouse for reasos that aren’t entirely clear.  April goes on a killing spree of the townspeople.  In the end, April is punished for her actions but we don’t learn her fate.  Lead in to Book Three?   It is nearly impossible to write a non-spoilery review for this book.  Be warned that my take on the book will definitely spill some surprises.  The book is still worth reading, however.

There are two things I liked about this book.  First, none of the so-called good characters are saints.  Second, these clowns are definitely a Tim Miller creation.  There was also a major problem in the “Did this book make sense?” department, which I’ll discuss as part of my clown discussion (pardon the redundant language).

In these heavily violent stories you probably want at least one heroic, clearly “good” character to cheer for.  Tim Miler isn’t going to give you that in Welcome to Happytown.  April Kennedy is your heroine but her killing spree is anything but heroic.  Kimberly is a sweetheart/pushover and look where that got her!  Hint: Clowns can reproduce if they have a woman’s body to use as a vessel/incubator in a short amount of time (like, under an hour).  Stacy was insignificant, which surprised this reader because she had been April’s best friend and rock.  Todd?  Well, Todd’s turning just goes to show that the bully always wins, even if “winning” is similar to losing.  At least he got disfigured in the process, I guess.  These characters don’t fit the traditional mold.  That’s actually a good thing.

If you read my review of Dead to Writes (April Almighty Book One) then you knew I was uncomfortable with certain scenes.  I didn’t mind the torture scenes or the cannibalism scenes, but the rape scenes were too much.  The characters were completely innocent with no bad qualities that I could see.  For all readers knew, they hadn’t even written negative reviews of a book (the reason the cannibal serial killers went on their revenge spree) in the first place.  Welcome to Happytown had a different vibe, even where there was a very long, very weird rape scene of April’s friend Kimberly.  I felt bad for Kimberly because, well, ewwwww!  The entire atmosphere of the scene was different, however.  I didn’t get the sense of injustice and true violation like I got from Dead to Writes.  A part of me wonders if the author toned the scene down to be less “real” and another part of me wonders if I’ve come to expect a certain style from the author.  More realistically, it seems like these characters being so flawed makes readers a little less sympathetic to them.  I worry that this could be dehumanizing in some aspects (analyzing sexual assault in real life, for example), but for getting through Welcome to Happytown and appreciating the book for its fictional qualities, I can’t thank Mr. Tim Miller enough.

Now, let’s talk about the cannibal serial killer clowns.  I have this craving for novels about evil clowns in general so it’s pretty much a given that I’ll read any novel dealing with evil clowns.  Cannibal serial kiler clowns are the best type of clowns, I’ve decided.  What’s interesting about Tim Miller’s clowns is that they’re a new type of entity.  These aren’t clowns like what we’re familiar with, people wearing tacky make-up and horrible outfits.  These clowns are entities that have always been clowns.  According to the head clown Uncle Monkey, these entities have been around since Ancient Egypt and nobody, not even the clowns themselves, know exactly what they are.  Todd and Stacy, when they become clowns, have to make a full-body change and forget their old identities because they’re no longer human.  It’s convoluted but I, who always look for flaws in novels, didn’t question it too much.  Props to Tim Miller for creating a new monster!

The only problem I have with the novel is that certain major aspects aren’t explained well but you’re supposed to accept them as if they are. For example, Kimberly giving birth to a clown later named Tiny Bubbles was just weird.  The act of reproduction and giving birth  was exactly like it is with humans except performed in about an hour and the clown offspring grows sort of in the uterus but explodes through the stomach, leaving behind a trail of female reproductive organs and innards.  As horror fans we expect weird scenes like this, but I’m sure we also like some explanation.  I have a few questions off the top of my head.  Is this a normal method of clown reproduction?  Is it normal for the baby clown to eat its mother/vessel’s organs after exploding out of her body?  How exactly does all this occur in less than an hour?  How are these clowns fertile if they’re non-human entities?  Inquiring minds need to know, Mr. Miller!

Sacrifice Island by Kristin Dearborn

More often than not I’ve had positive experiences with reading novels published by DarkFuse and that can be a bad thing. I hold DarkFuse novels to a higher standard than other small press-published novels since I trust that if the company has delivered in the past, it’ll always deliver.   It’s an unfair standard, I admit, but I don’t think I’m unique in my views.  If you were to ask other book lovers/book reviewers about their automatic buy books (you know, the ones that they will buy even before they know anything about the book based on who its author is or who published it), I’m sure others would tell you the same thing.  Because DarkFuse is a company that I adore, that’s why I’m so disappointed in Sacrifice Island. It’s decent in the respect that there is a creature and there’s heavy supernatural elements directly relating to that creature and therefore it’s fun, but it’s not “Oh my god!” incredible.  On its own terms that would rank Sacrifice Island as a decent read that after much hemming and hawing I would tell you all that in spite of its flaws, you have to read it at some point because it’s fun. The problem is, I expected more from a DarkFuse novel.

Sacrifice Island is about a not-a-couple couple, Alex and Jemma, who are travel writers with a focus on the world’s most haunted places. This article they are writing is for the last chapter of their soon-to-be-published book Spirits Around the World and they heard rumors of strange happenings on a secret island near Palawan in the Philippines. Little do they know that the stories of tourists who traveled to the island and didn’t return alive or at all were occurring during the writing of their book and they are at risk the moment they step on Palawan. Without spoiling the more exciting points of Sacrifice Island, let’s just say that there is truth to the rumors. Palawan is a tourist destination that seems like a fun up-and-coming alternative to cliched vacation spots with nothing sinister behind it, but the secret island’s name (Sakripisiyuhin Island) should be as much of a red flag to readers as it is to Alex. The two travel writers find that the more they research the secret island, the more in danger they are of becoming like all of the other victims.  Ooh, spooky!  Well, sort of.

One thing I genuinely liked about Sacrifice Island was that it introduced me to a new type of supernatural creature.  I am not familiar with Filipino folklore so I love that I get to learn about a country’s stories and legends while reading horror fiction.  So, what exactly is this creature?  Alex explained in a succinct-ish overview that the creature on the island is an aswang, a vampire-like creature that kills a person’s physical body for food and then eats their ghosts as well. Kristin Dearborn has a brief article after her story that details more about the aswang, which is quite interesting.  Apologies to anyone who is of Filipino origin should I get any of this wrong, by the way.  Also, please feel free to contact Dearborn and set her straight.  Disclaimer over, let’s talk about this particular aswang.  According to Dearborn, the aswang is a usually female vampiric human/monster shapeshifting creature.  It would traditionally be able to fly but her specific creation needed to be trapped on Sacrifice Island so she took liberties with the folklore by taking that ability away.  Nowhere does she mention about the aswang being able to eat the ghosts of people it killed, but she does say that it likes to eat the newly dead. I would not mind reading more novels about this creature because it sounds way more interesting than the vampire character from European lore.  I wouldn’t even mind if Dearborn wrote a follow-up novel that goes more in depth on the aswang.  Unfortunately, Dearborn knows much more about this creature than what she includes in this novel and the absence of information is noticeable.

Now I have to discuss the obligatory “Dear god, why DarkFuse, why?” aspect of this book.  Sacrifice Island was all about the absence of information.  I would assume that the intention is to add to reader suspense, but that’s not the result of it all.  I had questions that distracted me from the reading.  These are some of my major questions:

  • If Jemma was so sensitive to the supernatural (ghosts in particular), wouldn’t she have been sensitive to the aswang’s precense from the beginning?  There’s no excuse for the author to leave out the explanation for how Jemma can sense certain aspects but not others.  As a reader who is open-minded about the supernatural, I would believe it’s possible to have limitations.  In my fiction, I want the character to be developed enough that I know why they have these limitations.
  • In the end of the novel, Jemma becomes an aswang while the former aswang (named Virginia) dies.  To Kristin Dearborn’s credit, there is explanation for how a human can become an aswang that involves a transference ritual.  It was never clear in the novel how Virginia and Jemma do that transfer.  All readers know for sure is that immediately after, Jemma becomes a hungry entity that wants to punish tourists to Sacrifice Island by means of eating them.
  • Jemma’s travel writing partner Alex dies right before she becomes the new aswang.  Who serves as Jemma’s “keeper” (essentially the human that will deliver tourists to her)?  It made sense that Terry would be Virginia’s keeper since they were married for a long time but would Terry do it for a woman he didn’t know well?

DarkFuse novels don’t usually leave me hanging.  I think it’s even worse with Sacrifice Island because Kristin Dearborn doesn’t have any follow-up novels to it so we’re left wondering all of these things with no satisfactory conclusion.  I know that movies and TV shows are fans of cliffhangers, but it really is different when the product is a novel.

Instead of giving you all an official recommendation, I’m just going to leave this “Boo, DarkFuse!” review here and we’ll see what you all 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.

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.

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