Tag Archives: Horror Fiction

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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They Thirst – Robert McCammon

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I’m not sure how this one slipped through my fingers. I could’ve sworn that I’d read They Thirst many, many years ago, but for some odd reason I couldn’t remember much at all about it. So, I figured it was time for a re-read. Well, now I know why I don’t remember much about it – I never read the damn thing, in the first place! And oh what a treat this has been. Imagine discovering a new book by your favorite author written smack dab in the time period of when they did their best writing. That’s what They Thirst was for me! Now, McCammon lists this as one of his early books that he’s not very proud of and, yes, you can see a few things that might not fly these days. But, keep in mind, this was written back in 1981. Many things written in ’81 wouldn’t fly today! So, in my opinion, McCammon should be very proud of this one.

Andy Palatazin is the head of homicide in L.A. and is working night and day to catch The Roach, a serial killer that roams the streets strangling prostitutes. Soon, Andy will have to deal with an evil that has followed him to the states from the old country. One that makes The Roach seem like child’s play. Gayle is a reporter for the Los Angeles Tattler, a National Enquirer type of tabloid rag that Andy despises having to give any type of interview. Gayle, who is hot on the story of The Roach, longs for her big break that will allow her to work for a respected newspaper. Soon, Gayle will come face to face with a far greater story of evil. In East L.A., Father Silvera works tirelessly to keep the drug dealers out of his parish. Soon, Father will discover that his parishioners have a much greater evil overtaking them than addiction. For Wes, an up-and-coming comedian, he’s looking at a bright future with his African girlfriend, Solange, who also happens to be sensitive towards the spirit world. Soon, Wes will find that Solange’s talents are much more than parlor tricks. At the top of the hill overlooking L.A., an evil has moved into the abandoned castle that eccentric horror movie actor, Orleen Kronstein, resided in many years ago. And this evil is looking to grab L.A. by the throat.

They Thirst is a fun-filled romp of a vampire story done right. The characters and the atmosphere are perfect. Think of how the movie The Lost Boys was done (six years after They Thirst was written, mind you) and you’ll get an idea of the tone of this one. McCammon’s greatest strength is his wonderful characters that you feel like you know and They Thirst is no different. Top notch all the way. Sink your fangs into this one immediately!
5 dug up coffins out of 5
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Savages – Greg Gifune

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Greg Gifune has outdone himself yet again. He has established himself firmly as one of the finest horror authors out there and anyone that has read my reviews knows that he’s definitely one of my favorites. Simply put, I have yet to read anything mediocre by him. If he has a clunker in his catalog, it hasn’t passed my eyes yet. And that brings me to Savages which, in my opinion, is an absolute masterpiece.

A group go sailing in the remote South Pacific when a storm sinks the boat they were on. Drifting for days, one of the crew dead, a passenger missing, and the captain along with another passenger badly injured, they fight dehydration, the scorching sun, and hungry sharks to finally drift onto an uninhabited and uncharted island that no one even knew existed. With no supplies, no tools, no food, and barely any clothing on, the harsh reality of their bleak situation hits home like a ton of bricks. Just when they thought that things couldn’t get any worse, they discover that their deserted island isn’t so deserted and it’s inhabitant isn’t happy to see them.

The strength in Ginfune’s tale is it’s realistic characters and the way he ratchets up the dread as the story goes along. I’m not joking. You could literally cut the tension in this book with a knife. He also adds some fantastic top secret WWII setting in here. Damn this was so good. I’m going to stop drooling all over this one and give it to you straight – quit reading reading reviews trying to decide what book you want to buy next. Your search is now officially over. Immediately grab this one and start reading!

5 Hidden Tunnels out of 5
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Ghoul – Marc Alexander

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Ghoul was originally published in 1980 under the name Mark Ronson. Fast forward to 2016 and the same story is published under the name Marc Alexander. Why? I have no clue. But what I do know is that Ghoul one of the better pulp horror to come out of the early 1980s. It reminds me greatly of the type of slow-burn horror that J.N. Williamson or Charles Grant used to write and there are days that I miss that style. So, if you’re one that likes that kind of horror…

In the fictitious Middle Eastern country of Abu Sabbah, Julia Sword is an archeologist that discovers a sealed tomb after a landslide uncovers it in the Valley of the Jinn. Sound spooky? It’s supposed to. It seems that this valley was named after King Solomon had a problem with an evil Jinn and had the power to seal it away so that it wouldn’t cause any more trouble. Add a few thousand years and Julia is on the brink of busting open this hidden tomb thinking that it contains an unknown Egyptian mummy. Her rich father is the bankroll for this expedition and Julia has an admirer in the King of Abu Sabbah, King Hamid. It all plays like a female Howard Carter scenario. In fact, Carter is mentioned a couple of times throughout the telling. Now, throw in the Middle Eastern version of The Spy Who Loved Me James Bond type, Israeli Head of Intelligence, Moshe Leohr and the Arabian spy love interest, Leliah, as well as the evil uncle hell bent on taking over, Sheikh Ahmid. If that wasn’t enough, we have a tall drink of water love interest for Julia, named Andrew, and a Manson-like cult hanging out in the valley just waiting for shit to go down with the opening of the tomb. Last, but certainly not least, we have an attempt by the bad guy uncle to extract information out of the Israeli by hooking up a set of jumper cables to his balls. Yes, that would make me sing like a canary and throw my own mother under the bus, if that was what was needed to bring that particular torture to a stop.

While my description does sound a bit hokey, it actually works better than what you’d think. The story really does have a nice slow burn to it with a decent payoff at the end. Yes, the King is unlike anything you’d hear about in the Middle East on CNN today (or in 1980, for that matter). Things are a little too liberal and friendly to the English to be believable, but it is a fun, pulpy horror offering that screams I’m From The Eighties. Pop some popcorn, don’t think too much about the holes, and enjoy the ride!

4 Hidden Tombs out of 5

*This ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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