Category Archives: Horror Fiction Review

Highwayman – Craig Saunders

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I admit it. When it comes to my reading, I’m a completionist. For better or for worse, I finish what I start. I can’t remember the last time that my little idiosyncrasy has bitten me in the butt as hard as it did when I read Craig Saunder’s Highwayman. So many times I wanted to quit this mismashed bore of a story. But no. I trudged on through the mud of staccato bursts of sentences, multiple points of view storytelling that seemed to lead to nowhere, and a hazy plot that was about as entertaining as watching metal rust. Was it all bad? Not totally, but close. There were, indeed, parts where he’d get the ball rolling and I’d start to get into it only to come to a screeching halt and a new chapter of mundane happenings would be in front of me. I’m sure there’s a decent story somewhere in Highwayman. Maybe I don’t get what Saunders was trying to create. But, what I read a tedious lesson in patience with no payout for my troubles. Sorry, but I can’t recommend Highwayman to anyone.

2 Talking Deer out of 5
This ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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Dwelling (Book One of the Subdue series) – Thomas Flowers

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The Suicide Squad is the name a group of adolescents from the 90’s gave themselves after getting their hands on the comic book of the same name. Ricky, Maggie, Bobby, Jonathan, and Jake’s lives were changed forever that September morning when terrorists rammed their jetliners into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Ignited by patriotic fever, the boy’s enlisted to go fight in the desert. Their lives would never be the same. Ricky is killed in combat, leaving his now wife, Maggie, all alone. Jonathan lost a leg in the same attack that killed Ricky and suffers from PTSD and guilt for not being able to save his friend. Heavy drinking doesn’t seem to help the PTSD or the haunting vision of the dark creature he saw just before rocket was fired at their Humvee. Bobby is now a homeless vet that brought back more than haunting memories, and it rears its ugly head when the moon is full. Jake is a minister that has lost his faith due to the nightmares that followed him back from Iraq. The war has shattered all of their lives and they can’t seem to deal with it on their own. But the remaining members of the Suicide Squad are being called back to a mysterious house on a remote Texas prairie in the small town of Jotham. Do the answers they seek to rid themselves of their nightmares reside in the house, or are their current nightmares just the tip of the iceberg to whats about to come?

First and foremost, Dwelling is Book One of a trilogy and it reads as such. If you’re trying to decide whether or not to give Dwelling a try based off of reviews like this one, keep that little nugget in mind. I’ve read a handful of reviews from people bitching that the writing was good but nothing was solved or wrapped up by the end of the book, therefore they hate the story. People, people. Do a little research. Yes, Dwelling is open ended. Yes, you’ll have to continue to read the rest of the series to find out what happens. That’s why they call it a trilogy. Why am I ranting here? Because, I think that Flower’s has received some very unfair (and very silly) criticism for the way he wrote Dwelling. Look. It’s a very good book. The writing and pacing is amazingly mature for a newer author. The characters are well fleshed out and their problems that center around PTSD and loss from the war makes for a compelling read. The fact that Flowers is a vet himself comes through nicely in his writing. It adds that dose of realism that many authors lack when they write about a place that they’ve never been to. Dwelling is shadowy and haunting that feels all to real when you’re reading it. Yeah, there’s some shades of Stephen King’s It permeating through the story, but show me a chilling, coming-of-age tale that you can’t compare to It? There’s definitely a nod to King, but Dwelling is definitely it’s own monster. I’m looking forward to jumping into Book 2 – Emerging – and continuing the saga of The Suicide Squad. Won’t you join me?
4 1/2 Rocket Launchers out of 5
I received this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Among Prey – Alan Ryker

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Character development, character development, character development. What Ryker is able to do in only 65 pages, most authors can’t accomplish in 265 pages. Among Prey is told from multiple character’s POV and you’d think that it would be distracting to the story. Au contraire, it adds richness and depth here, another testament to Ryker’s storytelling prowess.

In Among Prey, we have Amber, a pill-popping worker at a build-a-doll store that meets Bobby, the 7-foot mentally handicapped behemoth that comes in one slow Wednesday morning. Where many people would be terrified at the silent hulking man, Amber takes a shine to him. That is until the day she realizes that the dolls Bobby has been building in her store look amazingly like the little girls that have been kidnapped in the area the past few months. The story wraps around itself nicely as we’re introduced to Carol, Bobby’s caregiving nurse and then Bobby’s POV. This one is a pageturner, folks. The ending may be a bit abrupt for some, but it left me satisfied that I had read a well-crafted thriller. Loved it.

5 Bruised Doll Heads out of 5
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Dream Woods – Patrick Lacey

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Vince and Audra’s marriage is more than on the rocks, it’s on life support. Audra has already left Vince once in the middle of the night and then couldn’t go through with leaving her twin boy’s, one of which is diabetic, and her husband all alone and returned. Vince is looking for anything that can save their marriage. He turns to a mysterious billboard that he sees on his way to work one morning. Its advertising Dream Woods, an old amusement park that burned to the ground when he was a kid. Apparently, it’s opened back up and Vince is encapsulated with excitement at the prospect of being able to share the awesome experience he had as a kid with his family. But is Dream Woods really open for business? Especially, after what all happened so many years ago?

 

Have you ever woke up from a dream that seemed so realistic while you were sleeping that you’re left in a fog when you awake, half in reality and half stuck in the dream, and it takes you a little bit to clear the fog out of your head? At first, the dream feels so realistic and then, after a while, you realize how silly it was and you can’t believe that you ever thought it was real. That’s kind of how you feel when you start reading Dream Woods. You have to be ready for it. Lacey’s latest isn’t a straight forward story told in the realistic here and now, and that’s what tripped me up for the first 1/3 to 1/2 of it. It should be read as a messed up fairy tale. Think of it as if C.S. Lewis wrote about an old, Disney World-esque theme park in rural Massachusetts and then Clive Barker and Bentley Little got a hold of the first draft while tripping on acid and made some revisions. As you can imagine, you have to let your imagination go and have fun with it. It’s not meant to suspend your disbelief. It’s meant to steer you into an almost comic book/nightmare type of world. If you can get past that, you’ll enjoy Dream Woods. Lacey’s story is energetic and well written. But it’s kind of stuck in the middle. It’s not straight forward enough to be taken seriously and it’s not so over-the-top that it’s a pure fantasy, and maybe that’s what Lacey intended. The characters are well rounded for a novella length story. But, Audra comes across as more annoyingly ungrateful than a lost soul trying to find herself and that makes it hard to root for her. The gore is poured on by the bucketful, but the people that are being offed are the extras on the set. You don’t get to know any of them and it becomes kind of numbing when faceless people are killed by the trainload. I go back and forth on this book. There were parts that I could really get into and then there were paths that Lacey took that I wish he would’ve went a different direction. That doesn’t mean that I think it’s bad. Not at all. But, it’s kind of like being in the mood for a traditional pizza and then getting some version with broccoli, goat cheese and pine nuts on it. While that may not be a bad thing, it’s not what you had in mind when your taste buds were all primed for pepperoni and mushrooms.

 

 

3 Blood Stained Mascots out of 5
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The Final Reconciliation – Todd Keisling

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So, as a fellow metal-head, I feel a kindred spirit with Todd as he unfurls The Final Reconciliation, a story about a journalist who is interviewing Aidan Cross. Cross is an aging guitarist who is institutionalized for going off his nut over the tragic show his band played 30 years ago. Aidan was the guitarist of the prog-metal band, The Yellow Kings. After hardcore touring in support of their EP, the band lands a two-album deal and head to Los Angeles to record their official first record. After a show in Texas, they pick up a groupie named Camille, who was waiting behind the club for the band. She immediately takes a shine to their lead singer, Johnny. Soon, the band learns that Camille is not your ordinary groupie trying to sponge of the band in hopes that they’ll be famous. No, she has a different agenda and the band are simply pawns in her evil plan.

The Final Reconciliation pulls out it’s inner Lovecraft and marries it with story about a heavy metal band. Metal bands have been influenced by all things macabre and Lovecraft is a favorite of many, i.e. Metallica. Keisling has done his homework. As someone who knows a thing or two, not much more, but a thing or two about metal bands, touring, and recording, he executes the story flawlessly. This is where so many writers can go astray – writing about something that they don’t know enough about and the cracks show. This isn’t the case here. Kudos to Keisling. Not only did he get his facts right, but he delivered one hell of a story, in the process.

5 Guitar Solos out of 5
This ARC was provided by Crystal Lake Publishing in exchange for an honest review.
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Covenant – Allan Leverone

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Lindie and Justin relocate from North Carolina to the small town of Covenant, New Hampshire to start their new jobs. They purchase a “fixer-upper” and immediately get to work remodeling. One afternoon, Justin goes to get them something to drink. After too much time had passed, Lindie goes looking for Justin and finds him at the bottom of the basement stairs in a pool of blood with a pair of hedge trimmers protruding from his body. In the aftermath of the “freak accident”, Lindie is badgered by a persistent detective that can’t buy her explanation and can’t go out in public without hearing the stinging whispers of small town New England gossip. By chance, she begins to learn of the history of her “fixer upper” and it’s not a pretty story. Edward Collins, the recluse tycoon had the house built to some peculiar specifications. Those specifications helped him with his favorite past time – the torture and murder of prostitutes. Edward has been dead for over a hundred years, but it’s hard to keep evil at bay forever.

Covenant is a fun haunted house tale and my first read from Leverone. He commands the story well and you begin to feel for Lindie. At it’s best, Covenant has shades of Amityville Horror in it. There are times that the dialogue feels a little forced and the introduction of a meth-head killer on the run in the middle of the story seemed awkward. It does tie together nicely at the end. All in all, a decent read from Leverone.

3 1/2 Floating Steak Knives out of 5
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Dead of Winter – Brian Moreland

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In a remote fur-trapping outpost in Quebec, someone…or something is killing the inhabitants of Fort Pendleton and eating their bodies. Tom Hatcher has seen this before. The inspector from Montreal has recently captured the Cannery Cannibal after his gruesome murder spree of 12 prostitutes. Father Xavier has seen these dark forces at work, as well. He has spent his life exercising demons from poor, helpless souls. Anika Moonblood is also privy to the dark spirits that haunt these woods. Her tribe have been dealing with the evil manitous for generations. With the help of Father Xavier and Anika, can Tom Hatcher get to the bottom of these ghastly deaths in time to save people of Fort Pendleton or will evil prevail?

Dead of Winter is one action-packed thrill ride from cover to cover. It is also Moreland’s debut, which thoroughly amazes me. It is so well written and thought out. You can really tell that Moreland has done his research. Native American folklore is marriaged beautifully with Catholic exorcisms and set in the unique backdrop of the frigid and desolate backdrop of the remote Canadian wilderness of the late 1800s. I thought the characters were great and Brian packs a ton of twists and turns into 300 pages to keep you flying through it. If I were to look hard and try to come up with a complaint, I can only think of one minor one. His protagonists seem to be way too progressive in their thinking in abuse towards woman in the late 1800s. Although, it would be very normal to be appalled at certain things today, I have my doubts that many people would’ve put up a fuss in the northern frontier in 1878. But again, it’s a minor complaint. The rest of it is superb and it kicked off my 2017 with a bang.

5 Gnawed Severed Arms out of 5
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