Monday, January 23, 2017

Run to Ground [Book Review]

Genre - Horror
Year Published - 2016
Published by Crystal Lake Publishing
Length - 92 (digital) pages
Written by Jasper Bark

Rating: 4 Skulls

Plot Summary:
Jim McLeod is on the run...

…from his responsibilities as a father, hiding out from his pregnant girlfriend, and working as a groundskeeper in a rural graveyard.

He’s running from a lifetime of guilt and bad decisions, but principally he’s running from the murderous entities that have possessed the very ground at his feet.

Jim has no idea what these entities are, but they’ve done unspeakable things to everyone in the graveyard and now they’re hunting him down. There is nowhere Jim can hide, nowhere he can walk and nowhere he can run that isn’t under the lethal power of the things in the ground. If he stands any chance of survival he must uncover the link between his murderous tormentors, three mysterious graves and an ancient heresy that stretches back to the beginning of time.

Run to Ground is a tale of extreme folk horror. It opens the reader’s eyes to a terrifying new breed of gods and monsters, but be warned, within these pages you’ll find blasphemy, brutality and unbelievable depravity the likes of which you’ve never read before. Think that’s too grandiose a claim? Why not put us to the test. Go on, click the ‘Buy now’ button, we double dare you...

Run to Ground carries on the proud tradition of Jack Ketchum and Poppy Z. Brite, and is brought to you by Crystal Lake Publishing – Tales from the Darkest Depths

This is the first book that I am reviewing of the "10-book set" that I won from Crystal Lake Publishing last month.

This one was a no brainer as I was looking for a short read, (the book that I have been waiting all month for is finally being released tomorrow!) and Bark is another author recommendation from author David Dubrow, who hasn't steered me wrong yet.

I already own two of Bark's other works ('Stuck on You and Other Prime Cuts' and 'The Final Cut' - I just haven't read them yet), however this is the first book that I have read by Bark, and it definitely will not be the last!

As I said, I chose this one solely based on the author and its size, so I did not even read the above book summary, I just dove right in. Needless to say, it was a jolting dive! The story opens with a shockingly, gruesome discovery and never lets up!

Whoever says that originality is dead has obviously never read Jasper Bark!

I will say that this story goes pretty far out there and definitely will not appeal to everyone, so don't say that you haven't been forewarned.

My only real issue with this story is a minor one. The main character is named Jim Mcleod and another character is named Kit Powers (these are both real-life authors, whose names I am familiar with, but whose works I have not yet read). That being said, their names were a slight distraction which kept me from being fully rooted into the story. Other than that, this was a welcome introduction to Bark's writing-style.

This book also includes another story by Bark - 'How the Dark Bleeds' (a fascinating story about blood! I may have enjoyed this one even more than 'Run to Ground') It looks like this one is also in Bark's 'Stuck on You' collection. There is also an excerpt, at the end, of the 1st two chapters of Bark's 'The Final Cut'.

On top of all of the above, after reading 'Run to Ground' you learn that it is part of a story-cycle known as the "Heresy Series". ('How the Dark Bleeds' is also part of this series, as is 'The Final Cut')

This book also includes an essay by the leading academic expert on the Qu'rm Saddic heresy - Nicola Tanthur PhD.

So, whether you buy this book in print or digitally, you get your money's worth


Saturday, January 21, 2017

Skins of Our Fathers & Carnival Freak [Short Stories Double-Feature]

Skins of Our Fathers
Genre - Short Story
Year Published - 2013
Length - 10 (digital) pages
Written by Billie Sue Mosiman

Tagline: "He lived alone, fatherless and afraid, until the Girl-Thing found him..."

Rating: 3 Skulls

Plot Summary:
He lived alone as a creature in the forest until a female creature of a different sort came to him and became his friend. She was furry where he was naked and gray-skinned. She kept vigil over him when he slept at night in the cave, startling him from peaceful sleep. And then she lured him into disaster...

This is a super-fast read. (5 minutes maybe?) Not a whole lot to say about this one, other than it is a well written story (taking place when Native Americans were prevalent). I am not sure what sort of creature the main character is, but this story will make you wary of whom you should trust.

Carnival Freak
Genre - Short Story
Year Published - 2012
Length - 16 digital pages
Written by Billie Sue Mosiman

Rating: 5 Skulls

Plot Summary:
They came to see the freak show, but afterwards were offered a special showing for the price of one more admission. They were promised they could look upon The Freak of All Freaks, a monstrosity rarely seen by man.

Five of them dared to take the tour. All of them were hiding dark secrets.

One of them possessed the worst secret of all and wished she had left when she had the chance.

Now this is a great little short story! This one grabs you right from the get-go and doesn't let up. So step right up and read about the "secret freak", the "Freak of Freaks" and see what he has to tell you!


Friday, January 20, 2017

Sudden Death [Book Review]

Genre - Horror
Year Published - 2016
Length - 121 (digital) pages
Written by Theresa Jacobs

Tagline: "Play if you dare. Once you enter you cannot leave."

Plot Summary:
Death. There's An App For That.
When James’ roommate vanishes, he begins to investigate.
After finding his friend’s phone, frozen, locked in a mysterious game loop, James elicits the help of fellow students to uncover the mystery.
They soon discover that this is no regular game.
What they find is more than a game. Much more.
Whatever you do, don't click ‘download now’, or you’ll be next.

I first read Theresa Jacobs' "The Followers" in the anthology 'Shrouded Voices'. I loved that story, and I was excited to read what she came up with next. I became even more excited when I read that 'Sudden Death' was written in honor of Richard Laymon. (I would, most likely, read anything written in honor of Laymon!)

Alas, I was let down in disappointment.
'Sudden Death' has a great concept. I just feel that it would have been better written as a script to a supernatural/horror television show than this story.

Rather than immersing me further into the story, the dialogue of the characters (a group of college students) quickly became immensely annoying. On top of that, I felt that there was minimal character development. (Not feeling empathy for the characters was another huge disconnect.) While the story started out with a 'The Ring' kind-of vibe to it, it soon became extremely monotonous, and the plot took a ludicrous leap from point A to point B. (I cannot really explain without spoilers.)

On top of the above, this story could really use some professional editing. Aside from numerous grammatical errors, the font would randomly change color, which again, would take me out of the story.

Having previously read Jacobs' "The Followers" I know that she has some great stories in her. This one just wasn't for me.


Monday, January 16, 2017

Nightwalk 2 [Book Review]

For whatever reason my Blogger app is, once again, not allowing me to post the book cover art. 😔
(I love the cover of this one too - subtle yet horrific!)

Here is my review:

Genre - Horror
Year Published - 2016
Length - 301 pages
Written by D. Nathan Hilliard

Tagline: "Welcome back to Coventry Woods..."

Rating: 5+ Skulls

Plot Summary:
Mark Garrett is about to go home again...

Two years have passed since the disaster at Coventry Woods, and Mark has made a good effort at recovering from the ordeal. He has published a new novel, replaced his lost belongings, and bought a new house in New Mexico. Life is finally moving on. He's hidden the few scars that remain, and with Casey having left for college he looks forward to a comfortable future with his wife.

But the past is not done with Mark Garrett.

The enigmatic man in white has returned and announced the world is doomed. Another survivor of Coventry Woods has sealed its fate. The future's only hope is for Mark to go back to that terrible night, and once again navigate his way through a death infested hell. Only this time he won't be trying to escape. His mission is to intercept and kill a man he's never met.

Now the clock is ticking as Mark races against a nuclear deadline. He must save the future, while at the same time trying to minimize his impact on a past that will not hesitate to eat him alive. And as he soon discovers, any change he makes can cause unexpected complications. . .

. . .especially when he gets stuck with the last travelling companion he would have ever wanted.

I am not sure how many times I need to say this, but if you are not reading Hilliard's work, that needs to change, immediately! Hilliard consistently puts out nothing but the best! A sequel is not the easiest to accomplish, yet Hilliard makes it seem effortless.

Back in 2015, I rated Nightwalk as my favorite horror novel of the year, and now we have its sequel, which is funny, because if I were to have requested a sequel to any of Hilliard's past work, it probably would have been Spiderstalk. However, I am immensely grateful that Hilliard chose this story, as I am not sure that we have yet seen the last of the mysterious "man-in-white".

Speaking of the man in white, Hilliard has flawlessly created a reason/need for this sequel. While the above plot summary is crystal clear, I will say that Garrett is given a mission that is crucial to the survival of our planet. Garrett is given a choice - stay in the present and live his life, for possibly another 8 or 10 years, before the world is devoured, or go back-in-time, to the absolute horrors that he barely survived two years ago, and try to save the future of our world. And the kicker. . . he will only have 2 hours and 21 minutes to do so! (If you have already read Nightwalk then you know the reason for this deadline. If you have not yet read it, what are you waiting for?!?)

Hilliard has accomplished a perfect-pace with this story, while at the same time adding a dash of Final Destination for good measure. Just when I was thinking I enjoyed the different characters from the first book, bam, Garrett runs into a new group of survivors, which of course opens up a whole new can of worms.

If you follow me on Google+, you may remember a brief quote that I posted from Chapter 4 of this book, just the other day. I am going to repost it here, as I have an additional quote, from Chapter 10, to add as well, that unknowingly goes along with my first quote. Here they are:

"Tyrannosaurus Rex.
The Tyrant Lizard.
The Big T.
When you absolutely, positively want to ruin somebody's underpants, just drop them in a dark back alley with one of these bad boys and consider your mission accomplished."

". . .Then she exploded.
And by "exploded" I mean she launched into an extended, profanity-laced tirade so full of obscenities and vile invective that it would have made a biker gang slink away in shame. She cast aspersions on my parentage, and she cast aspersions on my parent's parentage. Then she continued by saying unkind things about my humanity, my intellect, my manhood, my character, my hat, my sexuality, my dog, my appearance, my demeanor, my hygiene, my place on the evolutionary scale. . ."

You get the point. I just love Hilliard's writing style. I couldn't help but share those small excerpts.

If those do not whet your appetite, then just wait until you get to the mind-boggling epilogue - WOW!

Another amazing read from perhaps the best independent author that you just may not yet be aware of.


Friday, January 13, 2017

Portent [Book Review]

Back in October, I was able to personally meet author David Dubrow (one of the nicest guys I've ever met!). We met for lunch, and while we were eating we discussed some of our favorite horror authors... When Dubrow mentioned James Herbert I had to admit that while the name sounded familiar I had never read anything by him.

Being that Dubrow is the one who recommended both Adam Howe and R. M. Huffman to me (two of my newest favorite authors), I figured that it would only benefit me to check out Herbert.

Funny thing is, every single time I go into my local used bookstore, they have a different Herbert book! So, I started collecting his books without having even yet read him. [Trust!]

I, so far, now own Once, Nobody True, '48, Haunted, The Magic Cottage, The Survivor, and of course Portent.

I, obviously, decided to start with Portent, so let me get on with my review.

Plot Summary:
Something incredible is about to happen...
First there are the lights: strange, alluring, eerily beautiful, floating up as if from the heart of the planet itself.

Then, moments later, the disasters: coral reefs exploding into shrapnel, cloud banks bursting with torrential floods, killer hailstorms, tsunamis, vicious flash fires.

From San Francisco to the Indian city of Varanasi, from the gentle Dorset hills to the Great Barrier Reef, the earth is spewing destruction and humans are dying hideous, excruciating deaths.
For climatologist James Rivers, it seems almost as if the planet is angry. Then he meets the children and learns that the horrifying truth exceeds even  his most unthinkable private terrors. . .

Generally, when purchasing a used book, I check for markings within. I must have forgotten to do so when I bought Portent. Upon opening the book, the very first page had SKIP scrawled across the top. Hmmmmm. Was Skip the prior owner's name or was the prior owner telling me to skip this book? I decided to forge ahead...

The first thing that struck me about Herbert's writing is his solid characters! He builds them up, quickly, only to kill them off!! Never have I gotten so rapidly attached to a character, only to have them not survive - crazy!

As for the book itself - it was a heavier read than I originally expected (it has a slow burn, behind the story itself), but I definitely enjoyed it and will be looking forward to my next Herbert book. (*If you have read any of the above mentioned, be sure to tell me which you liked best!)

Also, my wife loves apocalyptic movies - with the right director, this book would make for a phenomenal end-times film!


Sunday, January 8, 2017

Vacation Under the Volcano (Magic Tree House #13) [Book Review]

Today, I interrupt my usual book review post to bring you. . .

Vacation Under the Volcano (Book #13 in the Magic Tree House series) brought to you by my youngest son [age 10]

Genre - Children's Fiction
Year Published - 1998
Length - 74 pages
Written by Mary Pope Osborne

(Son's) Rating: 5 out of 5

Plot Summary:
Who wants to vacation next to a volcano?

Jack and Annie are about to find out when the Magic Tree House whisks them back to the days of the Roman Empire.
They arrive in Pompeii and soon discover that it is the very day the city will be destroyed. Now Jack and Annie must race against time to find an ancient library before it is buried in ash!

Before I write my son's review, a little backstory...

My children are allowed to stay up as late as they want to, on Friday nights, if they are reading. (Nothing else, simply reading) This drives my youngest nuts, as he does not really like to read. (My wife and I are both avid readers, and we have 4 kids - of those 4, only 1 loves to read. One is not really a reader, one is a casual reader - reads books here and there, and then my youngest who wants to read, but really just hasn't found the right book/genre/series. Until now... He is loving these Magic Tree House books!)

As always, if one of my kids wants me to read what they are reading, they have to write me a book review first.

Here is my son's review - verbatim (again, age 10):

"I think that Vacation under the Volcano is a great book! When I read this book, it is like I am really there! It is a magical book! If I were to rate this book, it would be 5 out of 5 stars. This book is great! It is like I am on an adventure! *Book #13 will blow your pants off!"

*Now you know why I had to share this review. ;-) How could I refuse after that?

So there you have it. If you have younger children who are looking for a good series of books, give The Magic Tree House series a shot!


Friday, January 6, 2017

The Ultimate Guide to Surviving a Zombie Apocalypse: Revised and Updated

Genre - Self Help
Year Published - (Revised Edition) 2016
Length - 108 pages
Written by David Dubrow (writing as F. Kim. O'Neil)

Rating: 5 Skulls

Plot Summary:
Let's face it: most of us are not prepared to face a basic disaster survival situation, let alone a zombie uprising. What are you going to do when all the trappings of civilization are ripped away by rotting, undead hands? During a Zombie Apocalypse, the electricity stops running, water stops flowing from the tap, and the rule of law becomes the Law of the Jungle. Hordes of ravenous, cannibalistic ghouls roam the streets, seeking human flesh. It would be a miracle if you survive the first night, let alone a month. Your life expectancy has just dropped to next winter...if you're lucky.

That's where this book comes in. It provides you with not just the information you need to survive the coming Zombie Apocalypse, but the confidence such knowledge brings. After reading this book, you will learn:

• The different classifications of zombies, along with their strengths and weaknesses
• How to cope with the overall zombie-caused breakdown of society
• Combat-proven zombie-fighting tactics and techniques
• How to find food, water, and shelter in a zombie-overrun world
• Skills for surviving other apocalyptic dangers, including rogue government agencies, zombie animals, and other humans competing for scarce resources
• How to prepare a Zombie Bug-Out Bag to get you through that critical first week of the Zombie Apocalypse

This revised and updated edition contains new information, including a chapter on the very worst case of a worst-case scenario: surviving the Zombie Apocalypse in a major metropolitan city like Chicago or Atlanta!

If, like the author, you're the least bit concerned about surviving the coming Zombie Apocalypse, you need this book.

It's a no-brainer.

In case you missed my original review of the original edition, back in October, this is my revised review for this new Revised and Updated Edition, which now includes a whole new chapter on dealing with zombies within a major city, as well as additional added sections.

This book covers everything that you can think of, and I mean EVERYTHING!
(It is amazing the things that you don't think of, yet when reading this manual, stand out as vitally crucial!)

In this book you will learn about the different kinds of zombies (the viral, the supernatural, and the voodoo types)
If that isn't enough, you will be taught proven survival methods, such as finding food, water, and shelter, and many, many other skills.

This book is completely engrossing and really should be required reading!

For those of you who may have already read Max Brooks' 'Zombie Survival Guide', you may be asking yourself if you really need to read this book as well, and the answer is an emphatic YES! You will learn far more in this book and feel much more confident in your ability to survive any type of apocalypse (not just zombie).

Also, if you are a fan of David McIntee's 'We Will Destroy Your Planet. . .', then you will definitely want to read this book as well.

Before I log off and start preparing myself a zombie bug-out bag, I just want to reiterate that this book may one day save your life!

I am now passing this manual along to my oldest daughter, who is preparing to write an essay for her AP Language class. Her essay is on who she would choose in a zombie apocalypse, why, and what roles they would play. (Why didn't I have essays like that, back when I was in school?!?)
She is definitely going to be the most prepared!


Thursday, January 5, 2017

Beneath the Ziggurat [Short Story Review]

Genre - Horror/Short Story
Year Published - 2017
Length - 24 (digital) pages
Written by David Dubrow

Rating: Near Perfect!

Plot Summary:
Beneath the Ziggurat takes the reader on a Lovecraftian journey through pre-Columbian Mexico, where dread lurks behind every step of rainforest and the old gods still hold terrible sway. Descend into a nightmare of brutal Spanish conquistadors, bizarre aboriginal tribes, and unspeakable alien horrors in a tale that David Angsten, author of Dark Gold and Night of the Furies lauded as “an instant, timeless, phantasmagoric classic.”

Does anyone remember, years ago, there was a book publisher that had stickers on the front of select books that stated, "Guaranteed to love this book or your money back"? (I only remember maybe 3 or 4 books having that sticker, and I remember all of them being good books.)
Anyway, Dubrow could slap one of those stickers on this story and not have to worry about losing a dime!

I started this one last night, after putting the kids to bed, and completely lost myself for the next 30 minutes or so!
This book has solidified the fact that I absolutely love a great first-person narrative!

Check out this out: (the opening page of the story - used with permission, of course)

"My hands shake, but that is due to age. As my life creeps toward its end, the fear that has gripped me for decades has loosed its fingers. See you the splashes of ink, the words that meander upon the page? As I said, it is age. I will die soon. I should have no more to fear. Matlaltemoc was the name given me on the fourth day after I emerged from my mother’s womb, shrieking as all newborns do in confusion, terror, and loss. The date was 6 Acatl 1 Ehecatl 11 Malinalli, or, as Friar Rodrigo would have it, April 15, in the Year of Our Lord 1511."

Does that not completely thrust you, immediately, into the life of Matlaltemoc?
After this, you will learn that Matlaltemoc (Mateo for short), a Tlaxcalan, Mexican Indian, is being forced on a quest set in motion by Tezcatlipoca, a dark Aztec god of terror and evil.

As I was reading this, it brought to mind how I felt when I first discovered Burroughs - the narrative is that good!

Dubrow's writing brings a kind of melodic fluidity to the narrative. (I kept reading segments aloud, much to my wife's dismay) Dubrow leaves the graphicness of certain situations to your own imagination, and the story is better for it.

I honestly do not see a way that this story could be improved - it is that good!

This is the stand-alone short story to beat this year, and I am not sure that it will be.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Simple Things [Book Review]

Genre - Horror/Anthology
Year Published - 2016
Length - 303 (digital) pages
Written by Various Authors
(Stories Collected by Franklin E. Wales)

Rating: 4 Skulls

Plot Summary:
Simple Things is a consignment shop unlike any other. Inside you’ll find home furnishings, housewares, fashion accessories, toys, books and a number of one of a kind items. But be forewarned; all of our things have a dark and sinister side. Some cut, some bite, some steal your chance for a restful night.

Stories from Ross Baxter, Martin Reaves, Gregory L Norris, Jacki Wildman Wales, Paul D Marks, Roy C Booth & Axel Kohagen, Catrin Sian Rutland, K Trap Jones, Jo-Anne Russell, David Tocher, Frank Martin, Lori Safranek, Billie Sue Mosiman, Nicholas Paschall, Terry M West, Joseph M Monks, Sherri Sabastian-Gabriel, Robert Essig, Ken MacGregor, Roy Bishop, Robert Teun, Laura J Hickman, E F Schraeder, Anthony Servante, and V Franklin

Something that you might not know about me is that I enjoy consignment shopping (particularly antiquing). So, when this book crossed my path, I was immediately intrigued by the concept and what a brilliant concept it is!  From the very beginning "Come In, We're Open" you are welcomed by the proprietor and his selection of "Simple Things". These stories will make you think twice about second-hand merchandise!

There are several authors, within this collection, whom you may already be aware of and several new (to me anyhow) ones. Unfortunately, Wales did not write one of the stories himself (though his wife contributed a story), but he makes for a great proprietor, who briefly tells you about each item before the story begins.

The stand-out stories, for me, are:

Martin Reeves' "Madness Decanted" - a story about an unquenchable thirst... this is the first story that I have read by Reeves, and he has an excellent writing style!

David Tocher's "Feather Canyon" - a story about a small tea-tin with a single human tooth... another first-time author for me - this one may be the most horrifying of the bunch.

Billie Sue Mosiman's "Safe Haven" - a story about a 50's memorabilia coffee mug... A long time fan of Mosiman's, she does not disappoint with this one!

Joseph M. Monks' "Ashes" - a story about an incense burner... I loved this one!

Ken MacGregor's "Impure Breed" - a story about a Chinese food container... Crazy!

Some other great stories include:

Baxter's "Whisper" about a Kiddie Helicopter Ride (some of these stories have the perfect titles, by the way!)

Booth & Kohagen's "Home Sweet Hell" about a Welcome mat.

Rutland's "Book of Dreams" about a cotton duvet (comforter).

Jo-Anne Russell's "The Dentist" about a glass jar of teeth.

Safranek's "Handbags" about... purses.

Essig's "The Beauty Mark" about a black eye-liner pencil.

Teun's "Jacob's Call" about a child's toy telephone.

Servante's "Cat Eyes and Puries" about 5 glass marbles (this one has a great twist!)

All of the above are stories that will stick with you. There are still several more great stories within this collection... Including stories about an 18th century mahogany wing-backed chair, a flat-iron steak knife, an antique quill pen and inkwell, a set of hardcover books, and several other unique items.

Again, I loved the concept of this book, and it has a solid collection of stories.