Alright guys, as promised, here are the reviews I posted for all the Kindle books I got recently! Phew…quite a lot! I posted all of them along with their star reviews on Amazon.com, of course.
Ravage, Ian Rob Wright
Competent Zombie Apocalypse Novel
There’s not really much to say as a summary for this story. Nick, a good-natured, regular salesman living in England, finds his life turned upside down when his wife and son are infected and turned into zombies. Naturally, the rest of the country, and, it is implied, the world, is also suffering from the zombie plague, and Nick has to figure out a way to survive–as well as decide who to trust in a world gone zombie-mad.
So yeah, as you might be able to surmise from that, not very different from stuff like Dawn of the Dead or most other zombie books and movies. I’ll try not to spoil anything, but suffice it to say it’s fairly ‘by the numbers.’ There’s the expected moral dillemas about leaving survivors behind and killing those who have been infected, and of course the whole “remaining humans are just as savage as the zombies when civilization collapses!” theme running through the latter half of the book. At the very end we see the true nature of the virus and the evil purpose behind its dispersal, which I presume will play more heavily into the sequel, “Savage.”
Still, even if it doesn’t get stars for originality, I can give a few for competency. The protagonist and the other important characters are well drawn and likable, and there’s some tension among the group when they have to take some badass criminals along with them as they try to escape the zombie horde. The action and the gory deaths are all vividly written. There are a handful of grammatical errors in the Kindle edition, which was mildly disappointing given the book’s price, but nothing too egregious, like a period missing from the end of “turn violent like everybody else” on page 20. So, overall I’d rate this a satisfactory purchase. Not really something that will stay with you for a long time, but something that certainly can give a few hours of gory fun for the price.
Don’t Look Inside, Spike Black
Super-scary ghost/haunted book story!
An irresponsible, lazy babysitter tries to calm her young ward down by reading a story with her. But the first words of the chosen storybook are “don’t look inside,” and when the babysitter naturally does, all hell breaks loose! A pair of sharp cops is assigned to solve the mystery of the book and to keep it from hurting anyone else, but as the bodies begin to pile up it becomes apparent that one of the cops has a secret as well…
This may be one of the better purchases I’ve made recently. The writing and editing are great (no errors I could find), the characterization is neither too shallow nor so involved as to slow down the pace of the story, the supernatural horror and descriptions of the death it causes are done well, and there’s a big twist at the end that really surprised me–and I don’t want to spoil for any other readers! Suffice it to say that you’ll be kept on the edge of your seat for that part. The ending, too, is, well, explosive (in more ways than one, hehe). This is an excellent purchase for 3 dollars, on Kindle at least!
Lot 150, Billie Dean Shoemate III
Not very well written, but it does have heart, and an interesting twist!
I have to be honest–this story won’t win too many awards for its writing. While not terrible, there were, IMO, many awkward and clunky sentences. In terms of characterization, the author does succeed in making the protagonist pretty likable, along with his friends, though at times he dwells a little too much on their personal histories, which could get a little boring. Still, Mr. Shoemate didn’t spend *too* much time on that (due to the framing of the narrative, there’s enough spooky stuff to keep the reader interested even while the story stalls on character development), so it wasn’t too grating for me.
There’s also more than a few things this story does relatively well. The nature of the supernatural threat and the ways in which it claims its victims are described vividly and grotesquely, so you’ll definitely get some scares from this story. Also, I have a soft spot for redemption and bringing oneself up out of bad circumstances, and the author’s introduction describes how he did that sort of thing, so I felt a little sympathetic towards him, reading his book, and probably gave him a higher score than I otherwise would have…
But not entirely, though. “Lot 150” does something I thought was pretty cool, which would justify an “OK” review even if I didn’t like Mr. Shoemate’s life story personally. I don’t wanna spoil it for the readers, but suffice it to say near the end of the story there’s a big twist that reveals the protagonist was, shall we say, an unreliable narrator. I don’t wanna give away any more than that! It definitely kept me engaged throughout the latter part of the story, though. Thus, I can recommend it even if the author’s writing leaves something to be desired.
The Best Horror of the Year, Vol. 1, ed. Ellen Datlow
Excellent collection of short stories!
This was a very well-edited collection of short stories–the editor, Ellen Datlow, made some very good choices, IMO. All are written quite well, and there’s a good assortment of straight-up supernatural horror along with more psychological creepy stories. My favorite was “The Hodag.” All in all, a satisfactory purchase indeed, I think I’ll give the rest of this series a look!
Endless Darkness: 26 Hand-Picked Horror Stories, ShortnScary Stories
Somewhat poorly edited collection, but still scary
This collection of short stories, unfortunately, is some ways from perfect, at least in my opinion. The stories generally seem somewhat amateurish and poorly edited. For instance, “The Hole” by Peter Hartke has several capitalization/punctuation errors, such as the sentence”flying out in A small geyser” (there should be a period at the end and A shouldn’t be capitalized), and in “Tears for Anathema” by Aaron Valla, there’s occasionally confusion between ‘it’s’ and ‘its.’ Many other errors are scattered around the texts as well. Even so, I can’t be too hard on this collection. At 99 cents, it’s quite cheap, and it seems to be a good way for new authors to get their feet wet and actually publish stuff. As both the editor and the chosen authors get more experience, I’m sure these problems will lessen, and there are some genuinely scary stories in the bunch; my favorite was “An Unholy Halloween,” which succeeds at being quite creepy. So all in all, I’d say this is an “OK” purchase. It’s not bad for what it is, but just keep in mind that 99 cents is a pretty fair price for it.
Sightings, Mark Lukens
Pretty scary alien abduction story!
I have to be honest, I didn’t like this quite as much as I liked the other Lukens book I read recently, “Ancient Enemy.” Still, this is a pretty solid alien abduction story. The youthful characters are skillfully portrayed and drawn out, though I didn’t much care for the moon-landing conspiracy protagonist. There are also some extremely frightening moments, especially near the end, when (SPOILERS)
the aliens start mutilating the human protagonists like they did to some animals earlier in the book. Those scenes are very gory and portrayed in an appropriately grotesque fashion, so readers can rest assured they’re getting their money’s worth in terms of scares! The ending is also appropriately frightening, and while the true nature of the aliens and their purpose isn’t entirely revealed, there are enough hints dropped to make this story a pretty interesting and original take on standard alien lore. Very good stuff overall–I recommend it!
Ancient Enemy, Mark Lukens
Honestly, there’s no other word for this book. Out of the batch of Kindle horror novels I bought recently, this is the only one I’ve read so far that I literally could not put down. A brief summary: A young woman and a Native American boy (not related) are fleeing from some mysterious force when their car gets hijacked by a band of bank robbers needing a ride! It’s the darkest part of winter and they need a place to stay for the night, so the bank robbers force the lady to go to a nearby out-of-the-way cabin. But when they find a corpse there, it seems whatever the woman and the boy were fleeing from has followed them! Now they have to figure out a way to survive as the malevolent spirit does its hardest to turn them against each other–and the Native American kid. Is he responsible for their plight? Or is he the only way out of it? That, friends, is something I’ll leave you to figure out ;D
I was really impressed with this story. The writing and editing were solid (I didn’t catch any egregious mistakes at least), with truly spine-tingling portrayals of bloody deaths and supernatural malfeasance, especially involving the reanimated recently-dead! The characterization wasn’t exceptional, but good enough that I ended up caring about the woman and her young ward, as well as one of the more sympathetic bank robbers (the others were pretty thuggish, and thankfully got what was coming to them–in grotesque fashions!) The best part of the book though, at least in my opinion, was how Lukens kept the true nature of the supernatural threat ambiguous until the very end. The Native American kid it’s apparently following was very quiet, so the characters and the readers don’t figure out whether or not he’s allied with the evil spirit or fighting against it until the conclusion, pretty much. That was enough to keep me on the edge of my seat and turning page after page nonstop until the truth was revealed!
For all these reasons, I heartily recommend this little tale of terror, especially at only 2.99. While I didn’t like the other Lukens book I got recently (Sightings) quite as much, it was still pretty good in my view. Thus, after reading one competent book and one excellent one from this author, I think I’ll be keeping an eye on him, and I encourage the rest of you to do the same!
Shepherd’s Cross, Mark White
Not bad, but not great.
This was, in my view, a solidly ‘competent’ novel. It did succeed in making the heroes likable, the villains detestable, and the Satanic, supernatural threat sufficiently frightening and gruesome (especially some of the deaths). The writing wasn’t particularly good, though, and I think I may have detected some errors in the Kindle edition here and there, though I can’t recall them at the moment. More importantly, while I’ll try to avoid spoilers, it was just too obvious who the villains were. We could tell they were up to something from pretty much the moment we were first introduced to them. Thus, there was a bit less of an element of suspense or mystery to this story. Also, the author seemed to get a bit preachy at times with his valorization of small-town life.
Still, even accepting those, there are quite a few scares to be had here, and it’s obvious the tale was written with care and heart. It’s not a bad buy for 2.99$, so I give this story an “OK.” I suspect the author may improve considerably as he continues to write and gain experience in the field, so I may be keeping an eye on him!
Charnel House, Fred Anderson
Good, spooky haunted house story!
This novella is a little different from most other haunted house stories I’ve read recently, which is enough to propel it from competent to pretty good in my book. It starts off with a recently-unemployed loser getting drunk and hitting a kid on the road, and to avoid getting in trouble he tries to bury the body at an old, abandoned house on the outskirts of town, which everyone avoids because of all the murders that have occurred there. Needless to say, there’s a lot of gory description of corpses, followed by (as experienced horror readers may expect) the revelation that the boy isn’t quite as dead when he gets laid down under the house!
Following a series of scary supernatural events–which leave it open to the reader’s interpretation as to whether or not it’s all in the protag’s head–we’re taken back several years in the past to learn more about the unfortunate boy. I don’t wanna spoil anything, as usual for my reviews, but suffice it to say the kid was involved in a very weird time loop, one that eventually allows the house to consume both him and the guy who “killed” him.
Quite an interesting premise, eh? The protagonist for the first part is pretty solidly unlikable, being a racist, cowardly loser, but he’s realistically and vividly portrayed, and thankfully isn’t boring, which is a greater sin for a character (a sin committed, unfortunately, by some of the other books I’ve read so far). His unlikability alsoworks in the story’s favor since the reader can’t wait to see how he’ll meet his untimely end, and it doesn’t take too long for that to happen, either. This, combined with the gruesome descriptions, generally skilled writing, and innovative take on the haunted house make “Charnel House” earn pretty high marks in my book! I can definitely recommend it wholeheartedly.
Apparition, Michaelbrent Collins
The idea of parents killing their own children is frightening enough, but Mr. Collins takes that concept and runs a terrifying distance with it, infusing it with a bit of supernatural lore courtesy of a child-eating monster from ancient mythology. The protagonist, Shane Wills, has to protect his children from it after it possesses their mother, who tries to kill them but fails. As it turns out, however, the spirit is more than a little persistent, and plans to use Shane to finish what his wife started! The rest of the novel concerns Shane’s efforts to stop this from happening, along with the interventions of the restless spirits of the monster’s other victims, culminating in a not entirely unexpected but still very scary conclusion.
The writing and editing are generally very good, I don’t recall seeing many if any particularly egregious errors. Shane, his kids, and the other characters are drawn quite well, and Collins succeeds in making us care about them, at least for the most part. The monster itself is very scary, especially its connection with roaches, present throughout the story. And the ending…well, I don’t wanna spoil it, but suffice it to say the ending isn’t just scary and unsettling but outright terrifying. In fact, it’s just the sort of closing scene I’d expect from a bona-fide horror movie before they cut to the credits! I’m quite happy with this purchase and will likely check out other books from Michaelbrent Collins. Great stuff!
Inhabited, Ike Hamill
OK story held back by unlikable characters and poor editing
There’s nothing much to be said about the basic narrative; it won’t win too many points for originality. Two separate teams–one a bunch of kids wanting to strike gold, another a professor’s team investigating paranormal activity–head into some mines near their town which have seen a suspiciously high amount of deaths over the years. They soon find out why, because the mines are ‘Inhabited’ by some mysterious and malevolent force, which promptly begins picking them off as soon as they get themselves lost.
First, the good–this novel actually manages to be scary, and does a good job of portraying the tension one feels when trapped in dark, mysterious caves. For that reason I decided not to give it an entirely negative rating. Still, the editing seems to be quite poor; there are many misspellings, like “diary” being spelled “dairy” occasionally, for instance. Also, none of the characters were particularly likable, IMO, except for maybe the old miner guy at the end. The young people were annoying, and Roger especially got on my nerves; I spent much of the novel hoping he would get smeared by the force in the mine. That force is never really explained, BTW, aside from some conjectures given by the end of the novel.
That was apparently the author’s intention, though, judging from the afterward, so I didn’t take off stars for that. In fact, I gave this a 3 rather than 2 star review because I was feeling generous today. Despite this book’s many flaws, it never got so bad or boring that I had a hard time reading it, so I thought it wouldn’t do to give it any less than an “okay.” It managed to keep me entertained, so as far as I’m concerned it was worth it, especially for just 99 cents.
The Claiming, Ike Hamill
Better than “Inhabited,” though not perfect
Leona and Maria think they’ve found a great home for themselves and their kids, Lizzy, Khyra, and Reed. Unfortunately, they end up not liking their new jobs, and the new house seems more like a trap than an opportunity. That assessment is confirmed when they find out why nobody else lives in their area…and when Lizzy starts seeing strange robed creatures following her everywhere…and when the deaths and disappearances start!
Overall, I’m broadly satisfied with this novel–I thought it was generally better than the other Ike Hamill book I reviewed recently, “Inhabited.” However, I’m not entirely certain its 2.99$ price tag is justified, compared to the 99 cents of Inhabited. First, let me explain the good parts of the story:
The characterization is very good: all the characters, ranging from the wife and wife couple to their kids, were well drawn out and ended up being likable (a stark contrast to Inhabited, where most of the cast ranged from forgettable to annoying). And even as Hamill builds up his characterization, he doesn’t forget to keep the plot moving and sprinkles in enough scary incidents to keep the story from getting boring (another flaw I’ve criticized in other horror novels). As you might surmise from this, the pacing for this novel is also quite good, with the hints of dark forces gathering around the little family slowly building up in intensity until a very bloody conclusion–and a surprising one, IMO. As usual, I won’t spoil anybody, but suffice it to say that (as with Inhabited) the true nature of the supernatural threat and its objectives isn’t concretely explained, but the characters do postulate some theories, and there’s a lot of chaos at the end involving both Leona and another minor character, one of Reed’s friends, that leads to a satisfying conclusion that nonetheless unsettles the reader.
Now, for critiques. Unfortunately, the editing still leaves a bit to be desired, in location 2766, for instance, there’s a sentence “Kyra said your obsessed” where “your” should be “you’re.” There are a handful of other small errors like that scattered throughout the text; not truly damning but annoying nonetheless. And while I liked the relatively positive portrayal of the lesbian couple, some of the reactions of the other characters, such as Steve, struck me as unrealistic–again, no spoilers, but when you see how apparently readily he takes to the strange phenomena occurring around him, you might agree.
Thus, overall, I’d say this is a competent and engaging scary story, but not an excellent one, and at 2.99 I would have hoped for better editing. So I can recommend it if you’ve got a surfeit of free time and money, but you may want to look elsewhere if you want the absolute best value for a Kindle novel of this price.
The Aeschylus, David Barclay
When the Vice President passes away, his daughter, Kate McCreedy, comes into his inheritance…as well as his problems, as one of his oil company’s rigs go silent! When she arrives, along with a heavily armed security team (reminiscent of Aliens, IMO), they find out the rig has been taken over by a strange fungus that turns people into zombies! As they try to stop it, they find out that the Nazis had discovered and tried to control this stuff during WWII, and that story is explored in a series of flashbacks. Using data and materials from the scientists the Nazis captured, they manage to fend off the fungus–for now–in an exciting, explosive finale!
This struck me as a very solid novel all around. The editing was good, the characters likeable (though I’m not sure if Kate’s romance with the miner guy would have much of a long term future), the villains (both the fungus and the evil Nazi SS guy) appropriately scary. Now, it wasn’t the most original story ever–the basic premise (isolated outpost goes silent, overconfident military sent in to investigate, discover way more than they were prepared for) struck me as pretty reminiscent of Aliens, as I said above, but the WWII angle added a bit of interest, so it still kept me engaged. I also liked how Barclay allowed the narrative to jump between the two time periods without allowing things to get confusing. I’m definitely satisfied with this purchase!
One thing though, spoilers for the ending:
By the end of the book, Katie has figured out that “The Carrion” is likely responsible for global warming, and that makes her think it was sent to Earth by some unknown alien force in order to terraform the planet to suit extraterrestrial specifications! This is confirmed at the end of the book, where one of the infected villains gets captured by the residents of a spaceship inside of the crater where the Carrion came from. These seem to be different from the creators of the Carrion, however, and seem to want revenge on the Carrion masters for whatever reason. That struck me as a pretty cool idea, I’d like to see exactly what happened with the Carrion, its creators, and their foes! I guess that’s something only Mr. Barclay knows the answer to, though 😄
The Puller, Michael Hodges
Perhaps this was my fault–I initially had very high expectations for this book, and I don’t know why. The description seemed quite interesting to me when I bought it, but now that I look back on it, it was nothing exceptional. It seems like my ‘gut instincts’ were wrong in this case, because I thoroughly regret the purchase.
As other reviewers before me have pointed out, the editing is remarkably poor; incorrect diction and grammar abound (such as several cases of “could of” rather than “could have” or similar). The protagonist is a pretty decent, upright person, but there’s nothing memorable about him aside from that, and none of the other characters in the book seemed either memorable or particularly likable to me–nor did it seem that they did much for the plot. Indeed, the worst thing about this story is that it wasn’t until a good quarter of the way in before it started becoming even remotely interesting. Most of the beginning was occupied with (IMO) utterly inane, boring background of the protagonist, descriptions of his personality, etc. etc. etc. that was a chore to read. There were a few hints of the monster scattered in the early parts, but not nearly enough to make the “character establishment” any less of an annoyance to get through. A skilled author can build up his characters and give whatever background is necessary to the plot while establishing an atmosphere of dread (or at least making it interesting) at the same time, and unfortunately, Mr. Hodges wasn’t up to the task–though hopefully he’ll improve in the future.
Now, when the monster finally does show up, things get a little interesting, with quite a bit of gore and a reasonable amount of tension as our protagonist tries to figure out a way to escape it. The finale was also nice, as the various animals the hero was kind to over the course of the story help save him in the end. Still, the payoff really comes only in those last few pages, and so much boredom to wade through made it not worth it, at least for me. I simply cannot recommend this.
Peekers, Keelan Patrick Burke
This very short story isn’t what I’d call terrifying, or even just scary and disturbing. It is, however, profoundly spooky, creepy, and unsettling, and an excellent demonstration of what a skilled author can do under a strict word limit.
The protagonist is summoned by his neighbor to check on his neighbor’s wife, who should be on a trip home but has suddenly shown up in their upstairs bedroom acting very strangely. It soon becomes apparent that she’s not the only one–and the reason this story is called “Peekers” becomes clear.
Not much else is made clear, though, but in this case that’s a good thing–the only thing the story makes sure of is that there’s a palpable sense of dread at the end, and that’s good enough for me. It’s really very good and I’ve pretty much no critiques. Check it out, it’s cheap in terms of both money and time spent!
Seal Cove, Divitto Kelly
Rather poor writing, but makes up for it in entertainment value.
Another day, another (relatively) cheap Kindle horror novel for me to review. “Seal Cove” is a fairly by-the-numbers sea monster story. After several chapters introducing us to the characters (most importantly a cool Irish Catholic priest, a marine researcher and devoted family man and his wife and kids, and the proprietor of the local theater who loves horror movies), the hapless residents of a seaside Nova Scotia town encounter a humungous amphibian-type thing washed up on the beach. It promptly wakes up, starts eating people, and is finally stopped by our plucky local heroes.
In my initial estimation, there was little to recommend this. The first quarter of the book was a slog for me. It focused on building up the characters, which was understandable and necessary. However, most skilled horror authors will also build up dread and tension *while* focusing on characterization at the beginning. Paul Cooley’s “The Black” provides an excellent example of how to do this, IMO. In “Seal Cove,” however, aside from a handful of scenes involving mutilated sealife that the monster ate before moving on to humans, the beginning was mostly just the prosaic details of the characters’ lives and personalities, which didn’t really appeal to me much.
Now, after all that was finished, the action did start to heat up, but alas, was marred by a few too many typographical and occasionally grammatical errors for my taste. I’m not sure if it was just the Kindle edition, but among the small errors I found:
Long lines of dashes pop up occasionally, like on page 39 of 231 in my Kindle edition–“even when they weren’t necessary.————————————————————-Despite the heavy rain beating against the windows…” I’m not sure if these were supposed to be section or chapter breaks or something else, but they show up strangely on my Kindle machine.
Some of the word choices and turns of phrase strike me as quite strange. The above quote, for instance, is actually “A wholehearted maritime renaissance,” bragged Shaw, who enjoyed sporting big words, even when they weren’t necessary.” ‘Renaissance’ isn’t really what I’d consider a particularly ‘big word,’ at least not for an adult. And another one, “How about a heavily discounted lunch for us hardworking volunteers, Bob?” posed Blake.” (p. 74). ‘Posed?’ Why not just ‘asked? These kinds of odd (IMO) word choices pop up throughout the novel.
Under ordinary circumstances, then, I’d give “Seal Cove” 2 stars. Still, what the book lacks in craftsmanship it makes up for in good old-fashioned fun. It’s genuinely funny in parts (I burst out laughing at the scene where the priest catches a couple of boys stealing manga from the local library…and the manga happen to be “Fruits Basket” and “Tokyo Mew Mew”), and the ending segments involving electrocuting the monster are quite exciting. So I can’t honestly recommend it if you’re looking for either a real terrifying novel or a top-notch thriller, but if you want a sea monster story that will make you laugh a bit, you could do worse than “Seal Cove.”
Goat Dance: Douglas Clegg
A truly spine-tingling horror novel. In the town of Pontefract, Virginia, a little girl almost drowns in a cursed lake–but doesn’t, and is instead ‘infected’ by a dark power residing there. Some years later, one of the town’s former students of its prep school returns after getting a message from his old girlfriend–whom he finds has been dead when he arrives! Along with a professor, a policeman, and several other characters, this wayward son of Pontefract attempts to find out what’s really going on, and defeat the evil force rising to consume the town–the evil of the “Goat Dance!”
There’s a great deal to recommend for this book. The characters are well fleshed out, the writing clear and gruesomely descriptive when it comes to the monsters and deaths, and the narrative arc engaging. The only flaws in this book I would really harp on would be the somewhat cliched nature of the villain and that the plot can be difficult to follow. While its association with maggots was cool (and gross, and creepy!), we’ve already seen the ‘evil vengeful Native American spirit,’ often created by a “lost” tribe of them who were evil in some way, before. Additionally, I found myself confused a couple of times when the story went from the present day (the 1980s) to distantly past decades. Still, those are ultimately minor caveats–I can definitely recommend this tale of terror with no other reservations, and see why Douglass Clegg has such an impressive reputation!
Spook House by Michael West:
While it wasn’t exceptionally bad, I just couldn’t get into this one as much as I could several other stories I’ve read recently, despite it being of similar quality, and having some decent illustrations (even in the Kindle edition) as well. The characters didn’t stick out to me and the monster (in the first part), or the monsters and villain (in the latter part) didn’t seem especially inspired–“ancient gods” from another world and the obviously evil and crazy human servant who wants to bring them back. There’s a bit of semi-scientific justification for the beasties included as well that I didn’t really find engaging either. This seems to be part of a series, and maybe I would have liked it better if I read the first book. As it was, however, I didn’t, so I found myself struggling to get through Spook House. It doesn’t help that there were a few spelling and grammar errors scattered through the Kindle text, like “viscous animal” (should have been “vicious”) in location 2142.
Still, there was at least some effort put into this, and some entertainment to be found. The Department of Homeland Security gets involved in the effort to stop the crazy villain, and the black government agent guy was at least a little amusing. Similarly, the finale, where the villain takes his human sacrifice to the titular “spook house”–a cursed farm once owned by one of his evil associates that was turned into a haunted house attraction, allowing him to waltz right in while a crowd is there because they think he’s an actor–was pretty fun, so I don’t think any less than 3 stars would be fair.
Phew! That about does it for this week. Next week I’ll write a game design entry, offering my thoughts on a small game some acquaintances of mine made for a ‘game jam’ contest. Until then, enjoy these reviews!