Archive for May, 2016

blood sacrifices

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Samhain Horror

Length: 282 Pages

Release Date: April 5, 2016

Review copy provided in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour for Blood Sacrifices

I have heard nothing but great things about Brian Moreland’s books from both other readers and horror authors for a while. So when I was approached to join the blog tour for Blood Sacrifices, a collection of four previously digital-only titles, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to start reading his work.

The Girl From The Blood Coven is the first story in the collection and takes place in June 21, 1972 in the pine country of East Texas. After a night of dealing with the usual traffic accidents and drunken domestic disputes, all Sheriff Travis Keagan can think about is drinking an ice-cold beer and watching the rest of the Texas Rangers game. Sheriff Keagan is enjoying a dinner at the Lazy Armadillo, a local bar and it seems like a typical, mundane night in Buck Horn. However, the night takes an ominous turn when a girl soaked in blood arrives claiming that her family was massacred. Her name is Abigail Blackwood and she lives in the towns infamous Blevins House. Abigail claims that all twenty-four of the other residents were massacred by a single entity that definitely wasn’t human. When Sheriff Keagan heads over to investigate, its dark and gloomy with lighting flashing through the sky and creates a perfect backdrop for the horror that is about to unfold. When they arrive at the Blevins House, Keagan and his officers discover a scene of carnage that stuns them. It isn’t long until Keagan finds himself involved in a deadly cat and mouse game.

One thing that immediately stood out with this story is the effortless characterization and a perfect depiction of small town life. Moreland is able to achieve both of these things through the eyes of Sheriff Keagan when he arrives at the Lazy Armadillo. He knows everyone in the restaurant by name and knows just about everything there is to know about their personal lives. These quick one sentence descriptions of the townspeople not only make the characters come alive, but give readers an accurate portrayal of just how small of a community Buck Horn really is.

I was also impressed with the spooky atmosphere that surrounds the Blevins House. The house has a reputation around town and the stories that swirl around the Blevins House are scary enough to make the sheriff feel uneasy. The house was owned by Lenora Ravenmoon Blevins, a witch with a reputation around town as a trouble maker. The house itself is pretty spooky. It is an old, three-story rock house that is set on two hundred acres of forest land, making it an isolated location that adds an air of eeriness to its checkered history.

This was a perfect short story to start the collection with its breakneck pacing that grabbed my attention instantly and left me excited to continue reading Blood Sacrifices.

The Witching House is a continuation of the events that occurred in The Girl From The Blood Coven set in the present day. While the Blevins House always had a reputation, it wasn’t until the massacre back in ’72 that the houses legend reached mythic proportions. The townspeople of Buck Horn avoid the property at all costs and the mere mention of ghosts or witchcraft causes people to cross themselves as a precautionary measure. Otis, the sole survivor of the massacre at the Blevins House returns in The Witching House and takes care of the infamous house as an adult, though he doesn’t live on the property. People call Otis crazy and wonder why he continues to maintain the property, but that’s because they don’t know the sinister truth that drives him to maintain the house.

The storyline of The Witching House alternates between Otis’ story of taking care of the house and the history behind what really happened in 1972 and the story of Sarah Donovan, who goes with her boyfriend and his friends to check out Blevins House. Sarah’s boyfriend Dean and his friends are adrenaline junkies and have dubbed themselves the Ghost Squad, since their favorite activity is to explore abandoned buildings that have a reputation for being haunted. Sarah wants to fit in and prove to her boyfriend she is adventurous, but her decision to go along with this expedition proves to be a mistake as the group finds themselves face to face with an unimaginable evil.

I loved The Girl From The Blood Coven, so I was glad that the sequel was next up in Blood Sacrifices. One thing that I enjoyed about this novella was the switch in perspectives. While The Girl Girl From The Blood Coven is told from the perspective of a local resident, The Witching House is mainly from the perspective of a group of outsiders. It may seem like a minor thing, but I thought it was cool how the Lazy Armadillo is portrayed as being a warm and welcoming place in The Girl From The Blood Coven, but that Sarah sees it as an ominous place when she stops there.

Trying to pick a favorite novella out of Blood Sacrifices is close to impossible, but if I had to choose, I would go with The Witching House. Moreland does an amazing job building tension as the group makes one startling discovery after another upon entering the Blevins House. Just when I think things can’t get any creepier, Moreland continues to up the ante with some of the scariest scenes I have ever read, especially when the group comes face to face with the entity responsible for the massacre in 1972. Moreland puts his own unique spin on the witchcraft genre and I think horror fans will love the entity he creates in The Witching House which is pure, unfiltered nightmare fuel. The novella works well as a standalone story, but I can’t help but wish there was a novel length story centered around the Blevins House!

Darkness Rising opens with a couple who are savagely attacked by a group of killers wearing animal masks, which instantly reminded me of the movie You’re Next. Opening with this brutal scene helps prepare readers for the violence and depravity that is about to unfold, but not before meeting some key characters.

Marty Weaver is a maintenance guy at St. Germaine. He is the same age as most of the students but he doesn’t go there, but he is saving his money to enroll and get his degree to achieve his dream of being a professor. When he isn’t working, he is hard at work on his poems. The poems are his outlet at expressing himself and his true passion. He is also in love with Jennifer, a student at St. Germaine that he has been tutoring. They have a flirtatious relationship, but Marty is unsure of whether to confess his feelings to her as he thinks she is way out of his league. He is picked on relentlessly by students and his co-workers and it takes every bit of self-control to keep Marty from snapping as he battles his inner darkness. The only things that help keep him grounded and offer him happiness is his relationship with Jennifer and his poems. Mentions of his dark side make the reader wonder just what Marty is hiding.

One night, Marty heads down to read poetry to the lake, a ritual he developed back when he was a teenager. It was a special place for his family and reading his poems helps him deal with his struggles. While at the lake, Marty is cornered by a sadistic trio that taunts him and makes it clear that they intend to torture Marty. This chance encounter will change Marty’s life forever.

I absolutely loved the character of Marty. He is a character that I was rooting for the entire length of this story. Marty has dealt with hardship for his entire life from being constantly teased, losing his parents and suffering horrible abuse throughout his stay in foster care as a child. I felt terrible for everything Marty had to endure, but those awful experiences help prepare him for his encounter with the trio of killers he meets in the woods. Marty is a badass despite his seemingly harmless nature, and  he fights back against his attackers with a vengeance even when faced with impending death.

I also loved the originality on display in Darkness Rising. It is a revenge tale at heart, but Moreland puts a brilliant and original spin on the genre that I definitely didn’t anticipate. Darkness Rising is a perfect blend of both real-world and supernatural horror and offers plenty of twists that will keep readers on the edge of their seats! Also, while there are plenty of examples of evil and depravity that permeate Darkness Rising, Moreland balances these with some powerful moments of hope that help make this novella a powerful read.

The Vagrants is the final novella that makes up Blood Sacrifices and was one that has been on my “to read” list for a long time. Daniel Finley is a journalist chronicling the daily lives of the homeless and has been living with them for the last 6 months. His goal for living with them and reporting on their lives is to write a book that would shine a light on homelessness. Throughout his time living on the streets, Daniel begins to form friendships with some of the people living in his camp and finds his preconceived notions of them stripped away as he spends time with them and learns their stories.

During Daniel’s last month of living on the streets, a nomadic group named “The Seekers” arrive and are led by an enigmatic man named Mordecai. Daniel begins to chronicle The Seekers instead of documenting regular homeless life. Within 2 weeks of their arrival, the Seekers take over the settlement and Mordecai converts all of the residents to members of the Seekers group. Daniel finally goes to check out one of Mordecai’s sermons and despite Mordecai’s best efforts to get him to join, Daniel resists and is left behind as Mordecai leads his group to another city.

The story then flashes forward 2 years after Daniels time on the streets and his work chronicling the homeless is being published into a book. He is enjoying success beyond anything he could imagine and has a girlfriend. After leaving a meeting with his agent to celebrate his publication, Daniel runs into a homeless man who mentions the same Judgement Day promised by Mordecai which causes Daniel’s blood to run cold.

Not long after, Daniel has a chance encounter with Dr. Rupert Holloman, a professor at Harvard who wants to use Daniel’s book to teach a class. Dr. Holloman tells Daniel of a hidden world beneath Boston centered on abandoned subway tunnels and shows him a mural in one of the tunnels that is connected to the Seekers and features Mordecai at the center of the painting. It is here that Daniel realizes from Holloman’s stories that Mordecai’s group has reached cities all over the country. Ever since that initial encounter with Holloman, Daniel is being followed by homeless who are trying to get him to join the Seekers and keep referencing Mordecai’s vision of the apocalypse.

While Daniel is back in town, he also attempts to reconcile with his father who he hasn’t seen in years. It is during this visit that Daniel learns his father owes the Irish mob boss Drake O’Malley a ton of money. These events place a lot of pressure on Daniel as he finds himself caught between the mafia and the Seekers in a situation that will push his sanity to the limits.

The Vagrants was definitely a highly entertaining novella and lived up to the hype I had built for it in my mind after reading the synopsis. Mordecai is an interesting character and there is an air of mystery that surrounds him up until the novella’s final moments. Despite his slight frame, he is a formidable fighter and is able to take on men twice his size. He also is a charismatic speaker and is able to hypnotize anyone who crosses his path, even those who initially resist him. This ability to cultivate a large cult following in such a short amount of time makes him a truly frightening character and the mystery behind his motivations kept me hooked.

After I finished reading Blood Sacrifices, I couldn’t stop thinking about how great these stories were. This was my first experience reading Moreland’s work and I was blown away by his storytelling abilities. Every novella featured in this collection displays traits of everything I love about the horror genre and is packed with action. I also loved the fact that even when I thought I knew where the stories were going, there were no shortage of surprises lurking just around the corner. Moreland also conjures up some of the most frightening antagonists/monsters I have read in quite some time, especially the witch from The Witching House. I suspect sometime in the near future some of those scenes will work their way into my nightmares. Blood Sacrifices is an essential addition to any horror fan’s library and one of my favorite collections so far this year!

Rating: 5/5

LINKS:

Brian Moreland’s Official Website

Samhain Horror’s Official Website

Purchase Blood Sacrifices: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Samhain Horror, or your favorite bookstore!

Blood Sacrifices tour graphic

Use these hashtags to help spread the word about Blood Sacrifices! – #BloodSacrifices #4TalesofTerror #BrianMoreland

Blood Sacrifices Synopsis

Blood Sacrifices houses four tales of terror by one of the masters of horror, Brian Moreland. Previously only available in digital format, these stories are compiled into one book and can now be ordered in print!

Some evils require sacrifices.

From the author of Dead of Winter and The Devil’s Woods come four tales of blood-tingling horror:

The Girl from the Blood Coven

In this short prequel to The Witching House, when Abigail Blackwood claims her hippy commune family has been massacred, Sheriff Travis Keagan and his deputies investigate. They discover there’s more than weed smoking going on at Blevins House. Much more.

The Witching House

Sarah Donovan is scared of just about everything, but she helps her adventurous boyfriend investigate the old, abandoned Blevins House, scene of a forty-year-old unsolved massacre. Little do they know the house is hungry for fresh prey

Darkness Rising

When Marty Weaver encounters three killers who like to play sadistic games with their victims, his own scarred past is unearthed. And when his pain is triggered, blood will flow…and hell will rise.

The Vagrants

Beneath the city of Boston, evil is gathering. While living under a bridge with the homeless, journalist Daniel Finley witnessed something that nearly cost him his sanity. Now, with a book published about the experience, he’s caught between the Irish mafia and a deranged cult preparing to shed blood on the street.

This is a collection of books previously published in digital format.

Praise for Brian Moreland

“For horror fans wanting a healthy dose of the small-town stuff a la Stephen King, be sure to pick up a copy of this (The Girl from the Blood Coven) memorable and frightening short story, a wonderful teaser that will whet your appetite for the main course, The Witching House, where the twisted story continues.” – DarkEva/Hellnotes

” Very much in the tradition of HELL HOUSE, THE WITCHING HOUSE is a creepy, modern turn on the haunted house story.” – Tim Potter 

“Far and away the best new piece of fiction I’ve read this year. With Darkness Rising, Brian Moreland reminded me why he’s one of my two favorite (not King, Laymon, Ketchum…etc.) authors out there (the other being Ronald Malfi). I’m a huge fan of his novel, Shadows in the Mist, but I think this novella rivals it.” – Glenn Rolfe, author of Blood and Rain, on Darkness Rising

“Brian Moreland writes a blend of survival horror and occult mystery that I find impossible to resist. I know, when I’ve got one of his books in my hands, that I’m going to be lost to the world for hours on end. He’s just that good.” –Joe McKinney, author of Dead City and Flesh Eaters

“A thrilling, wholly-engrossing read that masterfully crosses multiple genres and leaves the reader breathless. Moreland weaves one hell of a history lesson, rich with brilliant characters and incredible plot twists. Highly recommended!” – Brian Keene, bestselling author of The Last Zombie and Ghoul, on Dead of Winter

Dead of Winter is an exceptionally well crafted horror novel that tells a gripping story of dark religious doings, a horrific serial killer, and a sympathetic Inspector, in a dark and fascinating historical setting of 19th century Canada. The atmospherics are outstanding and the story offers plenty of surprises right up to its shocking and violent conclusion. Highly recommended.” Douglas Preston,  New York Times bestselling co-author of The Monster of Florence and Cold Vengeance

Brian Moreland’s fiction is taut and spellbinding, often blending varied themes to form a dark genre very much his own.  From his WWII occult thriller Shadows in the Mist, to the haunting chiller The Devil’s Woods, Brian’s work is at once versatile, original, and deeply engaging.” Greg F. Gifune, author of The Bleeding Season

The Devil’s Woods is an awesome horror novel, filled with nerve-wracking suspense and thrilling action!” Jeff Strand, author of Wolf Hunt

About Brian Moreland

Brian Moreland photo

Brian Moreland is a best-selling and award-winning author of novels and short stories in the horror and supernatural suspense genre. In 2007, his novel Shadows in the Mist, a Nazi occult thriller set during World War II, won a gold medal for Best Horror Novel in an international contest. The novel went on to be published in Austria and Germany under the title Schattenkrieger.

Shadows in the MistDead of Winterand The Devil’s Woods are his currently available novels, as well as his Kindle short-story The Girl from the Blood Coven and the novella it led into called The Witching House.  Now, he has released the full-length The Devil’s Woods. His novella, The Vagrants, was released in 2014, and another, Darkness Rising, in 2015.

He loves hiking, kayaking, watching sports, dancing, and making guacamole. Brian lives in Dallas, Texas where he is diligently writing his next horror novel.  When not working on his books or books for other writers, Brian edits documentaries and TV commercials around the globe. He produced a World War II documentary in Normandy, France, and worked at two military bases in Iraq with a film crew.

 Brian lives in Dallas, Texas. You can communicate with him online at www.brianmoreland.comhis Dark Lucidity blog, Twitter, or Facebook.

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the-monster-underneath

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Samhain Horror

Length: 219 Pages

Release Date: April 5, 2016

Review copy provided in exchange for an honest review as part of the blog tour for The Monster Underneath

I remember reading some early praise for The Monster Underneath from Ronald Malfi, Rena Mason and John Everson and thinking that this was a book that I just had to read. So when Erin from Hook of a Book Publicity offered me a spot on the blog tour, I jumped at the chance!

Max Crawford has offered therapy to inmates for over 6 years at the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville through a secretive government program. He has unique abilities to read minds and enter the dreams of the inmates and he utilizes these gifts in order to help rehabilitate violent offenders. His goal is to talk his patients through their crimes in the hopes that they will feel remorse for what they have done and begin to rehabilitate so they may reenter society. His identity is largely kept a secret in order to protect him and his family should some of the more violent inmates ever be released. He hardly ever meets them face to face and solely interacts with them through their dreams. The reason he gets their consent first is it makes his therapy more effective.

Max has been content using his abilities in secret at the tiny jail in Huntsville, but one day his life is changed when FBI agent Charles Linden shows up and asks for Max’s help. Linden is well aware of Max’s gifts and wants him to help get a confession from one of the country’s most notorious serial killers, William Knox. At first glance, he seems relatively harmless. He is a husband and father who is well-respected within his community and is a well-regarded English professor at the University of Texas in Austin. Despite his squeaky clean public image, he is the prime suspect in a series of murders of young women that stretched from Dallas to Arkansas. Other than the fact that his victims were all women, there was no clear motives for his crimes. The FBI has been unable to break Knox no matter what tactic they try, which is what convinced Linden to reach out to Max in a last-ditch attempt to get a confession. Max normally has the consent from inmates to enter their dreams, but Linden wants this to be a more covert operation. While this makes Max uncomfortable, he has no choice but to agree to Linden’s plan if he hopes to help get justice for the victims’ families. Max enters Knox’s mind with the goal of gaining his trust by any means necessary and once he is inside Knox’s mind, he is in a race against time to uncover the truth about the murders.

I liked the concept behind The Monster Underneath and while I have read a few books with a similar premise, this one stood out to me. Most of the stories I have read that were fairly similar involved detectives who used these abilities to either prevent attacks or to catch a killer that is still on the loose. Max’s abilities and his background as a therapist intrigued me because he strictly worked with criminals who are already in jail. Also, while he is able to enter prisoner’s minds at will, he tends to only works with inmates who have granted him permission to enter their dreams. This is interesting because when Max meets with his patients, he already has knowledge of their crimes and how they were committed. A lot of his work when he enters their dreams is figuring out why they made certain choices and trying to help them feel remorse in an attempt to rehabilitate them should they ever be released from prison.

This is interesting because when Max meets Knox, he has the same abilities and knowledge to draw on, but he is plunged into a situation that is vastly different from what he is used to. He is attempting to gain Knox’s trust without prior consent and he is using his abilities to figure out the details of a crime through a person’s dreams for the first time. Max’s previous work and knowledge allows him to identify things easier, but his case with Knox is tricky because he needs to sift through what is fiction conjured up by Knox’s mind and what may be real memories of his crimes.

I loved the way Franks handled the dream world and the sort of rules that govern them. While there aren’t too many similarities I couldn’t help but think of Russell James’ Dreamwalker while reading some of these scenes. I also enjoyed the way Franks describes Max’s abilities. Mind reading comes like second nature to him and he really has to work on keeping other people’s thoughts from merging with his own. However, the ability to enter dreams was something he had to work at. I like that it wasn’t something easy, but rather an ability he had to develop. A great example is the very descriptive scene of how Max first discovers his ability to enter dreams, which he ironically discovered while trying to read the thoughts of one of his patients at a sleep clinic he worked at during college. Franks puts a lot of detail and thought behind the description of Max’s powers and the protocols that Max establishes as a result of his experiences with his abilities. I don’t want to spoil too much of this because it is one of the many things that make The Monster Underneath an entertaining and unique read.

I also loved the interactions between Max and Knox. Their relationship is the major sense of tension throughout the novel and although Max is trying to keep Knox locked up, they develop a toxic and bizarre pseudo-friendship. As Max gets deeper and more involved in Knox’s dream reality, the lines that separate the real world from Knox’s dream world begin to blur a little bit. The case is extremely stressful for Max and for the first time in his career, he starts to doubt himself.

The only issues I had with the novel were a few instances where the transitions between chapters took me out of the story. I also had a few issues with the ending, but it didn’t really impact my enjoyment of the novel too much. Overall, The Monster Underneath is a gripping psychological thriller that I couldn’t put down!  The novel works well as a standalone story, but while I was reading, I couldn’t help but think of more books containing Max and having him possibly team up with Agent Linden again. While Linden can come off as abrasive at times, I do think it would be cool to see them work together more closely on a case from start to finish. So, I was excited to read in Wag The Fox’s great interview with Matthew Franks that there is indeed a follow-up currently in the works!

Rating: 4/5

LINKS:

Matthew Franks Official Webpage 

Samhain Horror’s Official Website

Purchase The Monster Underneath: Amazon (US), Amazon (UK), Amazon (Australia), Barnes & Noble, Samhain Horror or your favorite bookstore!

The Monster Underneath tour graphic

Use these hashtags to help spread the word about The Monster Underneath! – #TheMonsterUnderneath #psychologicalhorror #dreamsvsnightmares

The Monster Underneath Synopsis

Reality can be the difference between a dream and a nightmare…

Max Crawford isn’t a typical prison therapist. He uses his unusual psychic ability to walk with convicts through their dreams, reliving their unspeakable crimes alongside them to show them the error of their ways.

Max always has to be on his toes to keep himself grounded, but the FBI agent waiting for him in his private office immediately puts him on edge. The bureau wants Max to go way outside his comfort zone to enter the dreams of suspected serial killer William Knox.

To get a confession and secure the future of his prison program, Max must gain Knox’s trust by any means necessary—and survive the minefield of secrets waiting inside a murderer’s mind. Secrets that could turn Max’s reality into a living nightmare.

Praise for The Monster Underneath

“An assured, gripping, totally engaging debut, Matthew Franks will have you burning through the pages of this taut supernatural thriller at breakneck speed. If Christopher Nolan and Stephen King ever teamed up to write a novel, this would be it. Highly recommended!” Ronald Malfi, author of Little Girls

“What if you could see inside the dreams of anyone you came in contact with? Would you dare to look? Could you handle the things you’d find within? The Monster Underneath is a real nail-biter – one of those ever-spiraling stories that you just can’t put down until you reach the surprising end!”John Everson, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Covenant and The Family Tree

The Monster Underneath is an intense and clever debut in which reality is more terrifying than the nightmares and twisted dreamscapes of a madman. Author Matthew Franks is a name to remember, his stories you won’t soon forget.” Rena Mason, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of The Evolutionist and East End Girls

“Matthew Franks’ debut novel takes you through the darkest, twisted alleys of a killer’s mind and then drags you several steps further, beyond the status of observer and into the disturbing realm of accomplice. A harrowing tale of murder and delusion and moral ambiguity.” Hank Schwaeble, Bram Stoker Award-winning author of DamnableDiabolicaland the dark thriller collection, American Nocturne

About Matthew Franks

Matthew Franks headshot

Matthew Franks lives in Arlington, Texas with his beautiful wife and children. He studied psychology and creative writing at Louisiana State University then obtained a Master’s Degree in counseling from Texas State University. When he’s not working on his next story, he’s counseling adolescents or trying to keep up with his three highly energetic daughters. You can connect with Matthew at: authormatthewfranks.com.