Archive for May, 2014

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Publisher: DJM Entertainment

Release Date: August 1, 2014

ARC provided by author for an honest review

The Dead Lands, Dylan J. Morgan’s latest novel, is the tale of two sister planets, Hemera and Erebus. Lane is a bounty hunter for the corrupt government of Erebus, tracking down criminals marked for death by the government after being kicked out of the military following a horrific accident. A botched assignment finds him charged with murder and he is given an ultimatum by his former commander Colonel Paden – rejoin the army for a covert mission to Hemera or be sentenced to death. Lane decides to buy himself some time by accepting Paden’s offer and is sent with 20 soldiers to Hemera on a top-secret mission. It seems fairly straight forward – locate the president and help him rebuild his world. There is expected to be little resistance, since all life on Hemera was said to be annihilated following a brutal nuclear civil war 100 years ago. However, when Lane and the other soldiers arrive on Hemera, they quickly discover that all the stories about the planet were wrong.

Life has survived on Hemera, a barren planet that is littered with the mangled debris of a once thriving society that has since devolved into a feudal state.  Roving gangs of bandits go to war against each other for control of the planets scarce resources in a struggle for survival, but the true horror lies within the depths of the planets capital city Magna. Rumors swirl amongst the people of Hemera about what lives within the walled-off city, but one thing is certain: all of the planet’s inhabitants refuse to go anywhere near Magna.

This was the first book I have read from Morgan and I was absolutely captivated by his addictive science fiction/horror hybrid. Not only was the plot riveting, Morgan creates a cast of characters that are well-developed. You will grow attached to some and absolutely loathe others and Morgan does an excellent job bringing them to life and giving each one a distinct personality. Lane has made plenty of mistakes, but that is part of what makes him such an intriguing protagonist. He has to deal with his past demons while trying to survive in a dangerous new world with a group of people that do not trust him, and you can’t help but root for him to redeem himself.

While The Dead Lands reads a lot like a traditional science fiction novel, there is plenty of action and some frightening antagonists that add plenty of horror. Morgan’s decision to have a bulk of the story take place on another planet was an excellent idea. The characters faced with unspeakable horrors once they enter Magna and the horror is amplified by the fact they are in an unfamiliar environment, millions of miles away from home with no way out.

I absolutely loved The Dead Lands and its outstanding character development, engaging plot and genuinely creepy monsters. The Dead Lands is a stand-alone novel, but there are plenty of details that could allow for more stories about Hemera and Erebus. I don’t know that any sequels are planned, but I really hope that there is more to come from The Dead Lands universe!

The Dead Lands will be released on August 1st and this is one you will want to buy as soon as it becomes available, it’s that good! The Dead Lands is definitely one of my favorite reads of 2014 thus far and I will definitely be checking out more of Morgan’s work.

Rating: 5/5

Links

Dylan J. Morgan’s Official Website

Dylan J. Morgan’s Amazon page

trynottoburn

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Post Mortem Press

Length: 252 Pages

Submitted by the author for review

Rookie police officer Brandon Morales finds himself in Hell City after being shot to death in the line of duty by notorious serial killer Victor Gregory Rellik. His journey beings in utter darkness in which he is robbed of all of his senses. He can’t feel anything, see anything or even speak; all he is left with is the recollection of his run in with Rellik and a host of questions about his fate. As Brand runs through all the possible scenarios, he hears a voice.

“How long do you think it’ll be before he wakes up?”

Brand identifies the voice as belonging to a young woman speaking to her friend and listens to them offer up theories about who he is and what he did to end up in Hell City. Brand finally awakes in a run-down apartment shared by the two voices – Sam Reiss and Jane Calrin, two ‘mates of the city. Sam and Jane fill Brand in on the workings of Hell City, a bleak place with a dark sky devoid of any stars or moon, identical rundown apartment buildings and roads lined with flickering street lamps. The trio decides to stick together and brave the dangers of Hell City in an effort to find a way out and what follows is a harrowing journey through the darkest corners of the afterlife.

Matula offers a unique spin on the afterlife theme by adding his own rules. All of a person’s possessions they had when they died come with them and there is seemingly no escape from Hell City unless you are burned; consumed in a ball of fire after suffering a mortal wound. The final bell that signals the end of each day was also an interesting plot device. Everything is replenished after it rings; all injuries are healed and supplies revert back to their original levels. While this seems like it offers the characters an advantage over their adversaries, Matula adds an interesting twist that not only evens the odds, but places the characters in even greater danger.

Another strength of Try Not To Burn is in the detailed depiction of Hell City’s various locales and inhabitants. The city is populated by horrifying human-cyborg hybrids called Gral, which conduct violent raids and drag their victims away in what appears to be a recruitment attempt. Eden, the city’s serene looking garden, is home to invisible creatures that lurk in your peripheral vision and can attack with blazing fast speed. The horror continues underground with the introduction of giant snakes, leeches and other nightmare-inducing monsters.

Matula’s debut novel is an action-packed genre mash-up with a well-crafted mythology, inventive plot twists and a slew of interesting characters.  The only problem I had with the story was the introduction of one of the villains. There is a section told from his point of view and then he disappears from the rest of the story aside from a few mentions by other characters. This sets up the potential sequels well and is an interesting glimpse at his personality, but is a jarring transition within the context of this novel. Overall, Try Not To Burn is a highly enjoyable read and I can’t wait to read the other books in the series!

Rating: 4/5

Links

Michael David Matula’s Official Website

Post Mortem Press’ Website

Purchase Try Not To Burn on Amazon

 

Summer is now just a month away which means it is time for me to begin winding down my “Most Anticipated Summer Reads” series! Last month’s installment included books from John F.D. Taff, Tim Curran and Stephen Lloyd Jones. This time around I will be featuring Tana French, Mark Matthews and Hunter Shea!

secret place

Tana French The Secret Place (September 2) from Viking Adult

The Secret Place is the fifth novel in Tana French’s outstanding series of crime novels that focus on the Dublin Murder Squad and this time the focus is on Detective Stephen Moran as he attempts to solve the year-old murder of Chris Harper, armed with little more than a mysterious photo of the victim with the caption “I know who killed him.”

I debated on whether or not to include this book because it comes out right on the borderline of summer and fall, but I had to make an exception for one of my favorite mystery writers! French’s novels are highly addictive reads that are nearly impossible to put down once you start them due to the depth of her characters and absolutely brilliant plot twists. While French’s novels are not classified as horror novels, they usually offer terrifying glimpses  into the real-life horrors that other people are capable of. French also has a tendency to add subtle, creepy additions that would be right at home in a horror novel – Rob Ryan’s mysterious childhood memories in In The Woods and the unidentified noises originating in the Spain’s attic come to mind.

I highly recommend all of French’s novels in the Dublin Murder Squad series and I can’t wait to see what she has in store with The Secret Place!

milkblood

Mark Matthews Milk-Blood (Summer 2014) from Wicked Run Press

Milk-Blood is the upcoming horror novel from Mark Matthews and after reading his heart-pounding novel On The Lips of Children, this quickly became one of my most anticipated reads! Here is a synopsis from the author:

Lilly is ten years old, born with a heart defect, and already addicted to heroin. Her mother is gone from her life, and there are rumors that she was killed by her father and buried near the abandoned house across the street. The house intrigues her, she can’t stay away, and the monstrous homeless man who lives there has been trying to get Lilly to come inside.

For her mother is there, buried in the back, and this homeless man is Lilly’s true father, and both want their daughter back.“

I read Matthews’ prequel, The Damage Done (available for free on Amazon), and it blends the horrors of addiction with a supernatural element to create a unique and horrifying short story that sets the stage for Milk-Blood, which is sure to be a truly terrifying and gripping read from this extremely talented author.

Hell Hole

Hunter Shea Hell Hole (July 1) from Samhain Publishing

This is the second time Hunter Shea has made my “Most Anticipated Summer Reads” list (The Montauk Monster was listed in Part 1) which isn’t surprising considering the slew of excellent novels he has published.

Hell Hole is the story of New York City Cop Nat Blackburn and his journey to Hecla, Wyoming on a mission from President Theodore Roosevelt. Hecla is an abandoned mining town that draws in explorers and fortune-hunters seeking to recover the supposed gold hidden deep within the depths of the mine, but those who venture into the mine are never heard from again. Nat and his partner Teta arrive in Hecla only to encounter “black-eyed children, strange lights and ferocious wild men” lurking within the cave.

I am a bit of a history buff, so Hell Hole’s historical western setting drew me in right away and I can’t wait to sit down and read Hell Hole this summer!

darkvisions1

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Grey Matter Press

Length: 256 Pages

Submitted by the publisher for review

Dark Visions – Volume One is one of the first anthologies released by the stellar horror publishing company Grey Matter Press. A few weeks ago I posted a review of their latest, Ominous Realities, and mentioned that they are putting out some of the best anthologies around. After having just read Dark Visions – Volume One, I still stand by that statement. Edited by Anthony Rivera and Sharon Lawson and nominated for a 2013 Stoker Award, Dark Visions – Volume One contains thirteen horror short stories that immediately grab your attention and refuse to let go.

I am a huge fan of horror short stories because I love seeing an author build a complete world full of vibrant scenes and characters in such limited space. It builds tension and keeps you turning the pages until you reach the final conclusion, often leaving a sense of ambiguity that allows the story to linger long after it is finished. Dark Visions- Volume One delivers all of the best traits of the format and a diverse selection of authors to create a must-read collection.

Just like Ominous Realities, this collection features writers that I already enjoy and writers that I have not heard of before. There were a few stories from the writers I discovered in Dark Visions that really stuck with me in a profound way and I wish were novels instead of short stories (though that’s just me being greedy).

Jeff Hemenway’s story, “The Weight Of Paradise”, is an absolutely stunning story and ranks as one of my more recent favorites. The story focuses on Alfie, a man who was diagnosed with leukemia and near death before his scientist girlfriend Sophie discovers a cure. While the discovery helps cure him of his disease, it has horrible consequences for everyone involved.

I can’t speak for the author’s motivations for writing the story or his inspiration, but this story instantly made me think of a certain type of horror monster as soon as I read it. Alfie and his friends share some remarkable similarities to these monsters, but there is a fresh and horrifying twist that makes their origin unique (if I am right in my assumption). The story itself is well-written and engaging, but it is the ending’s emotional sucker-punch that really makes “The Weight of Paradise” shine.

“Second Opinion” by Ray Garton is probably the scariest story I have ever read involving writers since Joe Hill’s “Best New Horror”. Garton wastes no time in grabbing your attention by starting his story with a simple yet horrifying question – “Do you know what it’s like to cut up your best friend with a hacksaw?”. What follows is a haunting recollection by an author named Greg, where he explains just what drove him to murder his best friend. What really scared the hell out of me with this story was the fact that it was, for the most part, plausible. Garton throws in a dash of the supernatural, but most of the story is something that could realistically happen in real life. I always wanted to be a writer, but after reading Garton’s tale, the prospect scares the shit out of me!

Milo James Fowler’s “What Do You Need?” is the haunting story of a man named John who wakes up in a mysterious room devoid of any windows, doors or other means of escape. There is little in the room except basic necessities, an ominous television broadcasting nothing but static and a telephone. The telephone does not seem to work in any capacity until finally a voice asks, “What do you need?” There is no other communication from the person on the other line, despite John’s multiple requests for answers, just the same phrase every single time he picks up the phone.

I loved “What Do You Need?” for its psychological elements. I couldn’t even begin to imagine being trapped in an inescapable situation, and Fowler does an excellent job putting the reader into John’s shoes and conveying the desperation someone would feel in that situation. Another reason I probably connected so much with this story is it had the atmosphere of a classic “Twilight Zone” episode and that is one of my favorite TV shows of all time.

Brian Fatah Steele’s “Delicate Spaces” focuses on a small group of paranormal researchers who are drawn to the Rayburn Hotel in order to investigate the numerous reports of unexplained phenomena that occur there. Most of the incidents seem to occur in the back hallway of the hotel where two mysterious items are stored. The items in question are a decorative mirror and a tapestry with an abstract design that hangs on the wall directly opposite the mirror. Most of the sightings that originate from the Rayburn Hotel occur when visitors look at the tapestry in the reflection of the mirror, causing them to see things that are not really there. Many of the sightings are seemingly harmless, until a woman says she sees an army in the tapestry and flees the hotel.

After not experiencing any of the alleged activity during their stay, one of the researchers decides to conduct a last-ditch experiment in the hallway with low-frequency generators. This experiment leads to the shocking revelation of what exactly is occurring at the Rayburn Hotel and it is definitely something you will not see coming. I don’t usually get scared that easily, but after reading “Delicate Spaces”, it is only a matter of time before the events of the story wind up in my nightmares!

I also loved “Mister Pockets” by Jonathan Maberry and “Show Me” by John F.D. Taff. These stories were the ones I was looking forward to reading the most when I first received Dark Visions and they were every bit as good as I hoped. This is an absolute “must read” anthology chock full of scary tales and you are guaranteed to find at least one new author you will love!

Rating: 5/5

Grey Matter Press’ Official Website

List of authors and stories featured in Dark Visions – Volume One

Purchase Dark Visions – Volume One on Amazon

otloc

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Books of the Dead Press

Length: 150 Pages

Submitted by the author for review

On The Lips of Children is the latest horror novel from author Mark Matthews and focuses on Macon, his girlfriend Erin and their daughter Lyric as they venture to San Diego for a marathon. Macon plans to use the trip to show Erin that he can provide for them and plans on using the family getaway to propose. However, during a late night warm-up run to the beach, everything quickly falls apart as the family falls victim to a sinister family that lives in an abandoned drug tunnel. What follows is a struggle for survival that tests the resolve of both Macon and Erin as they try to escape the unspeakable horror that awaits them in the tunnel.

Matthews does an amazing job of building a sense of dread throughout the novel. Right from the beginning he gives you a glimpse of Lupita, the mother of twins Q and T, and her life trapped in the collapsed drug tunnel. She is left alone with her two infant children and a slew of hostages her husband Dante kidnapped to fuel his meth addiction. Afraid that Dante will not return from his attempt to find an exit to the tunnel and with no way to feed her children, she makes a drastic choice that has ramifications throughout the novel. This bleak scene of isolation and violence gives the reader an inkling of the horror that awaits and plants a seed of doubt in your mind every time you meet a new character. The hotel manager in the beginning gives off a creepy vibe and immediately you begin to wonder – is he somehow involved? Matthews uses this strategy to his advantage and the result is a gripping plot with plenty of twists that make for an exciting and heart-pounding read.

Matthews also does an amazing job bringing the characters to life through flashbacks and inner monologues. After seeing the hardships that Macon and Erin have gone through in their lives, I couldn’t help but feel a connection with them and root for them to exact some sort of revenge on their captors for the horrors they were forced to endure.

Normally I tend to gravitate to horror novels that feature a supernatural element, but On The Lips of Children proves that our own capabilities for violence and darkness are every bit as frightening as any supernatural force. This novel was my first introduction to Matthews’ work and I absolutely loved it! I am definitely looking forward to his future books and this is an absolute must-read for any horror fan.

Rating: 4.5/5

Links

Mark Matthews’ official website

Purchase On The Lips of Children on Amazon

Night of the Chupacabra cover

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Night After Night Publications

Length: 300 Pages

Submitted by the author for review

Night of the Chupacabra by Michael Hebler is the first book in a six novel series based on the mysterious cryptid known as the Chupacabra, a beast that is said to feast on the blood of goats and other livestock. The book focuses on Drake Byrne and his family as they head out west to San Francisco in search of a better life. Everything seems to be perfect for Drake at the start of the novel; he has a loving family and an exciting new adventure ahead of him. Then one night a mysterious creature ravages the camp in a fit of bloodlust and Drake loses everything. His family and friends are killed – with the exception of his wife, who fled the attack amidst the chaos – and Drake is left for dead while the camp burns around him.

Five years after the attack,  Drake is now hideously disfigured after his first encounter with the Chupacabra and finds himself in the town of Dillmore Valley, determined to locate his wife. Drake’s disfigurement  instantly puts him at odds with the residents of the town and quickly finds himself on the run after an incident at the town’s saloon convinces the town and its sheriff that he is a murderer. However, something far more sinister has arrived in Dillmore Valley and it will leave nothing but death and destruction in its wake.

Initially, I had my doubts about the Chupacabra being scary enough to drive the novel as it is usually reported as being rather small, but Hebler managed to tweak the mythology to make the creature downright terrifying. Hebler’s Chupacabra is about the size of a man with spikes that run from its head to its tail, red eyes and a stinger-like appendage that it uses to drink the blood of its victims. It is also extremely fast, smart and can heal itself which makes it a lethal predator throughout the novel.

I also loved the origin story Hebler created for the Chupacabra. Despite numerous reported sightings in real life, there is no real definitive explanation of exactly what it is or where it came from. This ambiguity allowed Hebler to create an intriguing background for the monster. I don’t want to spoil the answers outright for any potential readers, but Hebler weaves in Native American tradition to explain one component of its origin. The other part is one of the biggest twists in the novel and I can honestly say I didn’t see it coming! Drake’s earlier interactions with the monster in Dillmore Valley were a bit confusing, but after it is revealed what the Chupacabra is, it all makes sense and makes Drake’s struggle more complicated. I wish Hebler would have given more insight into these earlier interactions after the big reveal, but it is possible the issue could be explored in future novels.

Night of the Chupacabra is a thrilling horror and western mash-up that I found almost impossible to put down. Despite a few spots that were a little confusing, the novel is an action-packed read with a great cast of characters and plenty of surprising twists and should appeal to fans of many different genres. I am looking forward to checking out the other books in the series and it will be interesting to see where the series goes once it moves from the 1800s into the 20th century.

Rating: 3.5/5

Links

Michael Hebler’s official website

Purchase Night of the Chupacabra on Amazon

sanitariummagazine20

I have been a huge fan of horror fiction for a while, but I am only now beginning to discover the world of horror and dark fiction magazines. Sure, I was familiar with the great horror mags like Fangoria and Rue Morgue, but I had no idea that there was a whole community of magazines dedicated to publishing original works of horror fiction until recently. Sanitarium is one of the very first literary magazines I discovered while checking out one of my Goodreads group’s “magazine” section, so I was pretty excited when Sanitarium publisher Barry Skelhorn got in touch and offered to send me the latest issue. Sanitarium is a monthly literary magazine that features between 8-10 short stories, dark verse, interviews and reviews. Not only is the magazine loaded with great content, the design is stunning as well and embodies the spirit and persona of the horror genre.

Each story is preceded by a title page that displays the author and title of the work on a battered case file from “Clayton Hill Sanitarium” complete with a physician name and code number. The stories themselves are displayed on weathered looking paper and shows an attention to detail that really makes the magazine stand out. What makes literary magazines like Sanitarium great is that it introduces horror fans to talented authors they may not otherwise discover.

Issue #20 had some really awesome stories, but Adam Kennedy’s “Twenty-Four & A Bottle of Rye” was easily my favorite of this issue. “Twenty-Four & A Bottle of Rye”  is the unique story of Maxwell, a Marin County coroner who is responsible for picking up the bodies of those who jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. Maxwell seems to describe his profession with a sense of detachment, but it is clear his work has left a mark on his life. He is haunted by the image of a girl he couldn’t save, which causes his life to spiral out of control and he tries to get rid of the images by drinking himself into a stupor, but it never lasts for long. Kennedy’s brief but powerful imagery of the spirit that haunts Maxwell made for a captivating and creepy read. Also included in this issue is an awesome interview with novelist Shaun Hutson and a “Where The Horror Happens” feature with David Flora, who details his writing process and gives readers a glimpse of where he crafts his novels.

After reading and enjoying my first issue of Sanitarium, I will be definitely looking forward to future issues! I highly recommend picking up an issue (Issue #20 is on sale now, #21 should be out near the end of May) and discovering what Sanitarium has to offer. I don’t think you will be disappointed.

Sanitarium Magazine – Official Website