Sunday, March 29, 2015

Reviews for the Week of March 30, 2015

NOTE: Please see bottom of MAIN page for submission info. Thank you.

SLOWLY WE ROT by Bryan Smith (2015 Bitter Ale Press / 393 pp / trade paperback, eBook, and limited edition hardcover by Thunderstorm Books)

I'm beyond burned out on zombies, both in films and fiction. But when I heard Smith was writing a new zombie novel, I knew it'd be worth the wait. While SLOWLY WE ROT isn't as different as his 2006 novel DEATHBRINGER, ROT turned out to be an emotional roller coaster ride that countless "zombie authors" would be wise to take note of.

It's about 7 years after the undead have claimed the world. Noah lives on the east coast of the United States in an isolated mountain cabin, spending his days reading pulp westerns and living off the land. He sees few zombies, but the ones that come around his property are easily dispatched.

His quiet life changes when his thought-to-be-dead sister Aubrey shows up with an older, ex-marine named Nick. She's in a rage and forces him away from the house. Noah decides to trek west and look for a lost college love, whose California address and picture he kept saved.

On his trip, Noah encounters a psycho survivalist, a small army and a sheltered community where things go in directions you'll never see coming, and although this novel focuses mainly on the humans, there's plenty of gory zombie action to satisfy the most hardcore of horror fans.

There are a LOT of road trip zombie apocalypse novels, but few can touch the depths of SLOWLY WE ROT. Noah's battle with the undead pales to his pre and post apocalyptic struggle with alcohol, and I found myself cheering him on at every turn. Aubrey is also nicely fleshed out, as is Nick. These three characters won't be leaving my mind any time soon.

Whether zombies are your thing or not, SLOWLY WE ROT is an exceptional novel and will easily be regarded as a classic of the subgenre. Don't miss it.

-Nick Cato

SHUTDOWN by Shaun Meeks (2014 J. Ellington Ashton Press / 286 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

It starts with the archaeological find of the century, an Egyptian tomb older than any previously recorded. Naturally, the thing to do is open it even though the people paying for the dig are explicit in their orders not to. Naturally, what’s inside is a bad surprise … if a brief one.

Skip ahead, and the contents of the tomb have been taken away to a corporate genetic research super-lab where a world-changing experiment is underway … a rival company hires some experts to try and get the secrets … and, of course, the experiment itself goes dangerously wrong.

Enter a hacker called Mouse, whose job is to infiltrate the building security and computers. He already fears he’s in over his head, and his employers will probably try to kill him after, but the offered money is too good to pass up. Little does he, or anybody – except for us readers! – know, but the situation’s about to become a whole lot worse.

The head of security is paranoid with good reason, one of the employees has a psycho abusive husband who doesn’t like her being late home from work, and when the SHUTDOWN happens earlier than intended, it not only strands Mouse and several others in the building, it releases the test subjects.

Plenty of ingredients for a big bowl of bad-stuff-gonna-happen stew! With a couple of dubious questions left nagging at my brain – for instance, if security is so top-notch, how does the psycho abusive hubby expect to get in? or is he too raged-up to think about it and just lucks out by happenstance?

Is it weird that my favorite characters actually were the test subjects, Adam and Eve? I really liked them, especially their powers and the descriptions as they finally fully cut loose.

My biggest issues with the book were an excess of omniscience and narrator voice instead of sticking to character POV, and a lot of fleshed-out backstory for characters who don’t have a lot to do or aren’t around much. It also could’ve used a good final edit pass for little bloopers.

That said, overall it served up a cinematic and fun read, with plenty of action, twists, turns, exciting special effects, and fun.

-Christine Morgan

CRYSTAL ROSE by T.S. Roberts (2014 Dark Silo Press / 84 pp / eBook)

You ever watch one of those creepy ghost shows on T.V? You know, like, Ghost Hunters International, Paranormal Home Inspectors, or The Dead Files? One of those badass shows with the team of paranormal investigators with all that high-tech audio and visual equipment, usually led by a somewhat attractive clairvoyant much like, Amy Allan or Nadine Mercey from two of the shows mentioned above.

Crystal Rose is just that. She’s smart, witty, and beautiful with an equally devastating past as to why she even possesses the psychic powers she has in the first place, and, the business is even named after her, Crystal Rose and Associates (and, boy, do they have some guts when it comes to paranormal investigations). But, much like the family members of a loved one involved in the impending doom abound, she doesn’t remember the horrid events that may or may not have transpired, or in what specific order they happened (if at all). The story unfolds when she and her friends (Leah, Julie, Owen) are called to a certain house, a historic home in Savannah, Georgia, in which she is immediately overwhelmed by the entity haunting it. Just so happens that the dark power haunting it turns out to be one of her ex-boyfriends, who decides to let her in on a little secret about herself as he tells her how much love they were in before he died and that her real name is Sarah. After the accident, Crystal Rose lost it all. The one and only true love of her life and her memory. Not even the rest of her crew knows who she really is. So, they more than anybody can tell when she starts acting funny and keeping secrets from them. And, maybe this isn’t quite the right time or place to be falling in love, or to be the one keeping secrets from each other.

This book has a lot going on at all times and it keeps the pace moving quickly. There’s an evil arch nemesis, Madame Zephyra, who is trying to take all the fame and glory for solving their paranormal cases in a more mainstream media sort of light, a family history buried so deep beneath the soils of some old haunted stomping grounds, and a love story sob-thick enough to peel the paint of the walls and make some of the biggest and baddest demons turn puppy soft. The house feels all too familiar, and the crew is really starting to realize what it takes to lend a helping hand to a friend in the time of need. Crystal Rose needs help and comfort and guidance, just as much as she needs to remember what really happened on August 27th.

These books from Dark Silo Press are a lot of fun, very well written, creative, and unique in all the right ways, and I can’t wait to dig into some of the other horrific books they have to offer.

-Jon R. Meyers

ABRAM'S BRIDGE by by Glenn Rolfe (2015 Samhain Publishing / 85 pp / eBook)

Li’l Ron makes a new friend, Sweet Kate, and soon comes to realize she is dead. He wants to help her find peace, but to do that, he will need to delve into the small-town secrets nobody wants to talk about or reveal. When he discovers his father may have been involved, Li’l Ron pushes on to learn the truth, no matter how hurtful.

ABRAM'S BRIDGE is a ghost / coming-of-age story. It has been done many times, but the author handles it beautifully, creating a tale that draws the reader in and leads to a satisfying ending. There are clich├ęs and tropes throughout, but the writing is good enough to overlook them.

At 85 pages, it’s a short read, but still packs a lot of story into few words. I’ve read short stories by the author before, and he’s very talented, so I’m looking forward to longer works by him.

-Sheri White

INTRUDER by Dan Foley (2015 Necon eBooks / Six StarTree Publications / 116 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

1970. The USS Hancock, a submarine armed with nuclear warheads, is about to depart for a three month patrol with a few new sailors among its crew. As the newbies adjust to undersea life, the Hancock's radar indicates a Russian sub is nearby. To avoid it, they dive to almost unheard of depths, and while down there, the angered spirit of a drowned German sailor from WW2 manages to board the sub.

Men on lonely watches begin to see things, and before long the entire crew of the Hancock understands something supernatural has taken up an unwelcome residence, and that it has found a way to drive each one of them out of their minds.

INTRUDER is a tense, claustrophobic thriller filled with a constant sense of impending doom, plenty of chills, and one wicked antagonist. There's a lot of military tech talk, but it doesn't slow down this quick-paced tale that even includes some finely placed (but brief) comedic relief.

Nazi zombies are so 2010. Bring on the Nazi ghosts!

-Nick Cato

THE RISING: DELIVERENCE by Brian Keene (2015 Deadite Press / 108 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

Love this series, love this author, love this publisher … but just one thing … whoever had proofreading detail might’ve maybe dropped the ball a few too many times. I kept getting jarred out of the story, which is really too bad because it’s otherwise great.

THE RISING: DELIVERANCE takes us back in time to the very first days of The Rising itself, this time filling us in on how Reverend Martin ended up hiding out in his church before meeting Jim. We get to see more of the events from his perspective, which is able to look at things less as a personal crisis and more as a philosophical problem.

Here’s a good man, a man of faith, a man who’s served God for decades, who’s believed. Now this, and this is not much like what he’s been led to expect of the end times. It throws a lot of questions at him, and not a lot of comfort. It also shows his own struggles with despair, loyalty, courage and temptation.

As a bonus, this reissue of the 2010 edition includes two short stories. As a bonus, I say (and the author’s note says), but they’re far more than a bonus. They’re two VERY different takes on that bad ol’ Siqquism and everybody’s favorite legions-of-the-undead mastermind, Ob.

The first is “The Resurrection and the Life,” a historical piece going back to the first Rising … the one-man show involving Lazarus. Only, as a rather troubled Jesus soon realizes, his good friend Lazarus isn’t quite the same. It’s almost as if someone else, some other spirit, occupies his corpse …

The second brings us a fun bit of silliness holiday special in “The Siqquism Who Stole Christmas.” Sorry to say, this was where my inner proofreader had the most fits over the wrong homonym (but at least it was consistent, there’s that). Ob finds himself in another newly-deceased host, several miles up in a sleigh on a crisp winter night. From there, well, from there it just keeps on getting wackier.

Keene doesn’t want to be known as The Zombie Guy. That’s fair enough, and he’s woven satyrs, Lovecraftian nightmares, urban horrors and hauntings, primitive island savages, and more into the elaborate and expanding tapestry of his literary mythos. He’s certainly not JUST a zombie guy. But there’s something familiar and comforting about a revisit every now and then, and I was glad to see this one happen.

-Christine Morgan

THE ADHD VAMPIRE by Matthew Vaughn (2015 Bizarro Pulp Press / 74 pp / trade paperback)

As a fan of humorous horror, I love the premise of this one: Horace Dracul, the half brother of Dracula, gets loose on a cruise ship filled with geriatric sex addicts. He begins to feed off the elderly staff, but eventually meets his match in the form of a female (former) spy who also happens to be a cyborg.

While there are a couple of scenes that had me laughing out loud, Vaughn spends a bit too much time on adult diaper and feces gags, at times to the point you'll think he believes the only thing old people do is shit themselves. Yet with its over abundance of poop jokes aside, Vaughn's debut novella is full of cult-film style heart and is ridiculously entertaining.

I'll be keeping my eye on Vaughn. Once a few kinks are ironed out I can see some funny (and strange) stuff coming our way...

-Nick Cato

BURIED (THE COLONY, BOOK 6) by Michaelbrent Collings (2015 Amazon Digital / 217 pp / trade paperback & eBook)

I thought this one was the conclusion of the series, and let me tell you, that had my anxiety levels spiking the closer I got to the last few pages. I wasn’t seeing ANY good way for the story to end, was expecting some hideous kill-everybody rocks-fall gotcha.

My relief upon discovering that there’ll be a next one … was only exceeded by my snarly frustration at another teasing cliffhanger. Aaaaaaaaaaargh!

So, where were we? At the end of Book 5, things had gone from already way beyond worse to really really really bad. Book 6 undergoes some drastic character and POV changes; if you’re all caught up so far, you’ll understand why. We last saw our ever-diminishing group of survivors pinned down in another doomed-looking scenario, about to all be wiped out.

Lucky for them, and for us too because otherwise there wouldn’t be much more story, a timely rescuer intervenes.

(by the way, for those of you just tuning in, the premise here is not just the zombie apocalypse but freaky mutating evolving xenomorph zombie monsters with some sinister hive-mind thing going on, and the entire series is taking place over a dizzying span of a few days)

The surviving survivors – I don’t want to give too many spoilers about who’s made it this far, but they are not in good shape, rocked by their ordeals and loss and despair – are taken to an underground survivalist bunker/shelter. For the first time since the world went insane, they could almost start to feel safe … if not for the disturbing psychic connection between some of their own number and the ravening hordes outside.

And, of course, as is the way with these things, no sanctuary can stay that way for long. There are some reasons to still need to venture outside. There’s the possibility – or certainty – that the undead menace will find them sooner or later, and be able to adapt enough to break in.

Keeping up the relentless high-octane action pace of the previous books, this one zooms right along with no pit stops or potty breaks until the above mentioned sudden to-be-continued end. By now, I really do think the author just enjoys tormenting us ...

-Christine Morgan

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