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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 Nebulon Horror by Hugh B. Cave

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Have you ever read a novel that you’d been excited about from the first time you read a synopsis of it, only to be disappointed?  The Nebulon Horror qualifies as this for me.  It’s not a bad book, but it’s dated in its language and the style of writing feels restricted.  The synopsis is accurate, but it would help considerably if it said “In this reprint of a 1980 novel…” so that readers have a better sense of how the time period may have inspired this novel.  1980 is not even what I would consider “old”; many fun horror novels have been originally published in the 80s and the reprints are just as relevant and exciting now as they were then.  The Nebulon Horror is a “different” novel.

The plot of The Nebulon Horror is perfect for fans of the evil child and/or occult subgenre(s). At its most simple, seven-year-old children in a particular school in Nebulon, Florida have become evil overnight and the adults in the town need to stop whatever is causing it unless they want to be the next victims.  The cause of this evil is the summoning of a long-dead and powerful human man’s ghost via a unique symbol that he responds to.  There’s scenes that are violent and gory (sort of, a point that I will address more in-depth), but the bulk of the story is about secrets that this community keeps from each other.

One glaring thing about this book is that the plot is slow-moving.  I was drawn to this book from reading the synopsis because I expected action-filled scenes with small interludes of characters being introduced or characters wondering “What’s going on?”  Simply put, it’s the opposite.  To be fair, the scenes with the evil/possessed children Jerri, Raymond, and their classmates were compelling.  The first chapter of the book, for example, was Jerri’s first sign of possession when she accused her mother’s boyfriend of molesting her and physically ripped his face apart in self-defense but when pressed for details said she couldn’t remember what happened.  The boyfriend survives his attack and becomes an integral part of the story, which I won’t spoil beyond this except to reassure you that he survives.  This attack/kill and then claiming innocence is common among all the children; there are multiple scenes of a normally-shy Raymond committing grisly murders of people in the community for example.  This plot point is why I kept reading in spite of feeling disappointed. When the kids are off at school or playing in the park and the focus changes to the adults, the plot becomes “draggy” and repetitive.  If you want to skip to the big reveal, go to Chapter 25 and read to the end.

Some literature lovers may enjoy the writing style-here referring to the language and word choices- of The Nebulon Horror.  As I said earlier, I thought the language was dated.  To give you a concrete example, in the first chapter there is an odd way of describing the difference in characters’ speaking styles.

“Born in New England of European-born parents, Vin Otto spoke an oddly formal kind of English, at least for this rural Florida town where speech was usually as casual as an old shoe.”

Vin Otto has a substantial reason for his formality of speech, but there are other examples of writing that seems “off”.  I have no idea what “…where speech was as casual as an old shoe” means, and it gets even weirder from there.  The word “queer” used throughout the novel is synonymous with “strange” or “bizarre” rather than its more familiar present reference to sexual orientation/gender studies, which may interest word lovers but did in fact throw me a bit.  When attractive women are described, there are euphamisms such as “well-proportioned”.  The second grade teacher, who is only 27, shamed evil/possessed Raymond by calling him “You wicked boy!”  These are little moments of writing that eventually add up.  Vin Otto, the character with textbook English, is less “old” sounding than some of this writing.  I get the sense that while this book was originally published in 1980, Hugh B. Cave wrote it much earlier.  One other thing I wondered was if Cave wrote a more blunt draft of this book but had to censor some words or phrases so these odd choices were the best he could come up with. Either way, the writing style does not make for enjoyable reading.

After kicking around the good and the bad of The Nebulon Horror, I have decided that it’s not for me but others may enjoy it.  I hinted at it when talking about the writing style, but a surprising audience for this book is readers that enjoy “wordplay”  and seeing how language changes through the years. I don’t recommend it for horror fans, however.

 

 

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.

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.

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