Archive for January, 2015

A Life of Death2

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Books of the Dead Press

Length: 228 Pages

Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review

Earlier this year I had the pleasure of reviewing Weston Kincade’s A Life of Death, a highly enjoyable coming of age novel that details the life of teenager Alex Drummond and his struggles with his paranormal abilities. Alex was put through the emotional wringer in Kincade’s first book, having lost his father at a young age, dealing with a nightmarish home life in the aftermath, and suffering a devastating loss. Despite all of these hardships, he was able to show a resiliency that made him an immediately likeable character.

The Golden Bulls is the second book in the A Life of Death series and focuses largely on Alex Drummond’s adult life and work as a detective in his hometown of Tranquil Heights. Despite Tranquil Heights reputation as a small, quiet town, a sinister serial killer is at work and has alluded the police for over 15 years. The victims are all residents of the town and every year on September 20th, a new body is found. There is evidence of a ritual sacrifice and all of the victims have been burned, destroying any evidence and making it virtually impossible for Alex to use his abilities to catch the killer.

Alex has a suspect in the murders and follows her to Washington D.C. under directives to catch the killer at any cost. While there, he meets up with his childhood best friend Jessie, who gives him a place to crash and assists Alex in his investigation. As they begin working together and discussing details of the case, Jessie begins acting weird and dismissing some of Alex’s theories leading Alex to believe that his friend may know more than he is letting on. The only lead he has to go on aside from the Tranquil Heights connection is that all of the victims had an ankh tattoo – a symbol of truth. Alex’s investigation leads him to explore the world of Ancient Egypt and as he begins piecing together the clues in his case, he gets the overwhelming sense that he is somehow connected. What Alex ultimately uncovers puts himself and everyone he cares about in grave danger in a plot twist that I definitely did not see coming!

The Golden Bulls offers flashbacks to Alex’s life immediately after the events of the first novel and while they are crucial elements to the story, the novel occasionally suffers lulls due to the frequent shifting of timelines. Just when the tension begins to escalate in Alex’s search for the killer, we are often pulled right out of the action by switching to his past and lengthy visions of victims from Ancient Egypt. The knowledge he gleans from these visions ultimately aid in his investigation, but having them grouped so close together hinders the main plot in my opinion.

I loved the fact that A Life of Death relied just as much on Alex’s real-life struggles as it did his visions and Kincade continues that balance with The Golden Bulls. As much as I enjoyed the first novel, I think The Golden Bulls is even better. Kincade crafts an intriguing mystery at the heart of the novel and a truly frightening serial killer, but it still contains the heart that made the first installment so engaging. Kincade is currently working on a third installment in the series and the revelations that come at the end of The Golden Bulls hints at a pretty interesting direction.

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Weston Kincade Official Website

Books of the Dead Press

Purchase A Life of Death – Book Two: The Golden Bulls on Amazon

TheUnhinged

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Samhain Horror

Length: 226

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

The Unhinged starts off with a fairly simple premise and one that many readers will immediately write off as not being horror. Aaron Dupree is a 24-year-old man who was recently released from prison on parole after serving a six-year sentence for his role as a getaway driver in an armed robbery attempt. Having cleaned up his act while in prison and looking for a fresh start in life, having gotten an honest job and a budding romance with a girl he met while working there. However, his plan for redemption hits a road bump when he is pulled over for speeding. Aaron pleads with the cop and thinks it is his lucky day when the cop agrees to let him off with a warning with one minor stipulation – that he gives the cop his number and does whatever he asks when he calls, no questions asked. When the cop finally calls Aaron with a job, it seems simple enough and Aaron has no choice but to go along with the cop’s demands. The job makes Aaron uncomfortable, but he follows through assuring himself that no one will get hurt and that when he is finished, he will be free of the cop and able to re-focus himself on turning his life round. However, Aaron quickly realizes that he is in over his head and that the world of horrors the cop unleashes puts him and every one he cares about in grave danger.

The Unhinged is one hell of a novel and Bernstein excels at crafting tension that kept me riveted all the way until the novel’s explosive conclusion. Throughout reading the novel, I couldn’t help but let my mind wander at how Bernstein would tie everything together. Would Aaron get caught while completing the jobs given to him and head back to prison? Would he somehow disengage himself from the cop through a clever plan? Just when it seems clear where the story is going, Bernstein throws a curveball and it takes the reader to totally unexpected places.

Bernstein also does an excellent job of building his characters throughout the novel, particularly the juxtaposition between the cop and the man with the scar. Despite them only being referred to by their descriptive monikers, they have distinct personalities. The cop, for all of his brutality and twisted plots, is more of a chameleon. He is able to blend into society and mask his violent tendencies which makes him a formidable adversary. The man with the scar is the polar opposite. There is little to no attempt to mask his personality and he is fueled solely by the need to hand out pain through sadistic violence. Bernstein forces the reader to question which is more terrifying – a man whose evil is concealed to a degree by charm or someone with absolutely no moral compass?

The Unhinged is a bleak novel and the descriptions of the antagonists’ brutality are pretty horrific. However, if you are a fan of extreme horror, this is one novel you will definitely want to add to your collection! I was unfamiliar with Bernstein’s work prior to reading The Unhinged, but after finishing the novel, I definitely plan on checking out his other books.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

David Bernstein’s Official Website

Samhain Horror’s Official Website

Purchase The Unhinged on Amazon

 

OutofTime

Length: 91 Pages

Publisher: DeadPixel Publications

Review copy provided by the author in exchange for an honest review

C.M. Saunders latest novella tells the story of Joe Dawson, a writer who enjoys modest success from his Joshua Wyrdd series that follows a young teen who uses an ancient time travelling device to solve ancient mysteries and helping those in need. He begins to feel pressure as his ideas begin drying up and finds himself in danger of being dropped by his publisher unless his new book is a massive success, so he decides to visit Rhyl, a small beach town in north Wales. He heard his mother talk about it a lot before her death, and he figures the seaside town may just offer him the chance to shake off his writers block.

When he arrives to the town, he sees the town’s glory has long since faded and the hotel he has decided to stay at is horribly old-fashioned. He is plagued by a sense that something is familiar about the woman who works the front desk, despite the fact he has never stayed there before. Dawson’s stay starts out normal enough, but when he awakes the next morning after a late-night marathon session of writing, he discovers there is something horribly wrong. He notices that there are no Wi-Fi networks available when he attempts to check his email. He thinks nothing of it, even though in this day in age there is usually always a Wi-Fi hotspot around, even if it is password protected. He turns on the TV to only find three channels. Slightly confused, Joe decides to venture out into town in search of food and is shocked to find the once desolate town of Rhyl thriving with life. Though he can’t quite place his finger on it, Joe realizes something is wrong but chooses to ignore the odd turn of events.

Joe quickly discovers that he was right about Rhyl, that there is something strange going on. Rather than feel lost and frantic, he finds that the discovery invigorates his writing and counts his discovery as a sort of blessing. Previously content with working out details for his latest Joshua Wyrdd book, Joe is quickly overwhelmed with thoughts of his Special Project – a work that he feels will cement him as a celebrity and make his dreams of fame and fortune a reality. However, his ongoing project is entwined with a dark secret that Joe has been harboring for years. As Joe resumes planning out his Special Project, he finds himself plagued by horrific nightmares that get increasingly worse every night. As Joe’s grip on reality and sanity slowly slip away, he makes a shocking discovery that explains his nightmares and the source of the strange occurrences he experienced in Rhyl.

C.M. Saunders’ Out of Time is an entertaining novella that has a pretty interesting twist that comes at the conclusion of the story. The only thing that hinders the novella is a lot of time is spent detailing the inner monologues Joe has with himself and the nature of his work and by the time all of the various threads of the plot come together, they seem a bit rushed. Saunders does an excellent job of wrapping up the different narrative threads in a tidy package, but I would have loved to see the explosive revelations given a little more detail.

Considering how much I enjoyed this novella and Saunders’ excellent “The Elementals and I” that appeared in Grey Matter Press’ Dark Visions Vol. 2, it is evident that C.M. Saunders is an exceptional writer capable of crafting engaging horror tales that rely on atmosphere over traditional scares. I am definitely looking forward to seeing what else he has planned and I hope that Saunders expands into full-length novels in the future.

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

C.M. Saunders’ Official Website

DeadPixel Publications Official Website

Purchase Out of Time on Amazon

TheHauntedHalls

Length: 234 Pages

Publisher: James Ward Kirk Publishing

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

Glenn Rolfe’s debut novel, The Haunted Halls, tells the story of the Bruton Inn – a hotel with an extremely dark past that helps fuel rumors of something paranormal roaming the halls. Despite claims by other staff members of extreme cold spots, seeing shadows and the eerie sensation that they are being watched, Rhiannon, Jeff and Kurt all seem to disregard the stories as nothing more than the stuff of local legend. However, as they each have bone-chilling encounters of their own, it becomes clear to them that something evil has taken up residence in the Bruton Inn. Their only source of hope is Lee Buhl, an urban shaman who neglects his true gifts in favor of chasing fame and fortune through a series of paranormal books. As the malevolent presence known as “The Ice Queen” – an entity hell-bent on returning to the land of the living – grows stronger, the characters find themselves in a fight for their lives.

Rolfe dials up no-holds-barred horror to masterful effect in The Haunted Halls, wasting no time in introducing the reader to the horrors that await those in Bruton Inn by starting off with a scene of a guest who falls victim to the Ice Queen in a gruesome and horrific attack. While you start off thinking this is going to be another run of the mill haunted house story, Rolfe adds his own spin on the theme that elevates it to something more. One of these touches is his characterization of The Ice Queen. The Ice Queen is an entity that seduces victims with her beautiful looks that mask the sadistic darkness lurking underneath and the description of how she influences others is pretty unique. She is not just your average spirit, but something much more frightening. Armed with the ability to blur the lines of reality, the Ice Queen unleashes a brand of psychological horrors that can only be described as downright horrifying.

The Haunted Halls often jumps from present day to the 1980s and the events that led to The Ice Queen taking up residence within the Bruton Inn. While it would be easy to get confused with the timeline jumps, Rolfe manages to blend these transitions in seamlessly and the narrative thread is never dropped. The back story that is developed does not hinder the pacing of the story as it is chock full of its own horrific moments, although they are less paranormal in nature.

I also enjoyed Rolfe’s creation of atmosphere regarding the Bruton Inn. What makes the Bruton Inn so mysterious and an intriguing setting for the novel is that it is not your stereotypical old hotel that is haunted by ghosts of the past. While many haunted house stories seem to draw from a vast past filled with evil, The Haunted Halls uses a singular contemporary event as the basis for the evil that begins growing within the Inn.

The Haunted Halls is a terrifying novel that is full of blood and guts but most importantly – a very engaging plot. Rolfe has definitely come out of the gates swinging on his debut and has established himself as one of many excellent up and coming horror writers. 2015 seems to be a pretty busy year from Rolfe as his novella Abram’s Bridge was just released through Samhain Horror and he has another novella on the way in April titled Boom Town and a novel titled Blood and Rain. After finishing Rolfe’s imaginative and adrenaline-fueled debut, it is safe to say that all of these titles will definitely be added to my 2015 reading list!

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Glenn Rolfe’s Official Website

James Ward Kirk Publishing’s Official Website

Samhain Horror’s Official Website

Purchase The Haunted Halls on Amazon

BraineaterJones

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Red Adept Publishing

Length: 234 Pages

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

I am a huge fan of all things zombies – books, TV shows, movies, you name it. However, with the huge popularity of the zombie genre from The Walking Dead’s stranglehold on popular culture to the slew of movies and books dedicated to the undead, it sometimes seems that the zombie genre is in danger of being over-saturated. However, Stephen Kozeniewski’s novel Braineater Jones manages to bring something new and exciting to the table.

The novel kicks off with the very simple sentence: “I woke up dead this morning.” A man wakes up dead face down in the pool of a mansion. He discovers he is not breathing and that his blood is seeping into the water of the pool with no idea of how he ended up in this predicament. He enters a mansion in search of clues about his identity and murder and quickly finds himself trapped when two men enter the premise seeking to rob the home. After being discovered and narrowly escaping re-death, he finds himself in The Welcome Mat – a slum located in Ganesh City that is home to the undead. Armed with little more than a notebook, a list of nagging questions and booze, he must begin piecing together the details of his identity.

He winds up in a tenement where the man lists a possible list of names, aliases, that its clients use. The man uses the term “braineater” – which he hears after being attacked by a gang of homeless people under a bridge – with one of these aliases to become Braineater Jones. While staying at the hotel, a mysterious man known only as Mr. Lazar kicks in Jones’ door and gives him the first true hints as to what he is and what it will take to survive. He learns that amnesia is part of the re-animation process, but that it normally only lasts a short while. Based of the information he gathers, he realizes his memories should be coming back, but for some reason he is still not able to recall anything about his past life. He gets brief flashes of what may be his old life, but they are fleeting and he is unable to make any sense of these visions that often accompany a violent migraine.

After accepting a job as a private investigator from Mr. Lazar in exchange for booze, Braineater Jones takes on a few simple cases to help out the residents of the Welcome Mat, but quickly finds himself in numerous dangerous situations that ranges from run-ins with a gang known as The Infected and a voodoo priest all the way to stumbling across a vast conspiracy surrounding the source of control over the Welcome Mat. As Braineater Jones begins unraveling the conspiracy, he learns the shocking truth of who he really was and who was responsible for his murder.

Braineater Jones may not be a straightforward horror novel, but there is a lot to enjoy for fans of the genre as Kozeniewski takes the zombie mythology and morphs it into something wildly imaginative. The novel is a mix of horror and noir with just enough humor that makes for an extremely entertaining read that is hard to put down. Braineater Jones doesn’t just succeed on its originality, but also its extremely rich world-building and unique and vibrant characters that help the Welcome Mat come to life.

I have read a lot of books this year after launching The Horror Bookshelf and Braineater Jones easily ranks as one of the most enjoyable novels I have read. Kozeniewski’s novel is clever, full of fun and for zombie fans looking for something new and exciting, Braineater Jones is an absolute must read. While Braineater Jones works well as a stand alone novel and Kozeniewski has plenty of other projects going on, I can’t help but hope that this is only the first of many books featuring zombie private investigator Braineater Jones!

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Stephen Kozeniewski’s Official Website

Red Adept Publishing’s Official Website

Purchase Braineater Jones on Amazon