Thursday, December 29, 2011
Saturday, September 3, 2011
They just don't understand their own kids and the need to be able to express themselves. They want their kids to grow up to be clones of themselves. And as long as you have parents like that, you will have the need for schools like the Southern Illinois Music Re-Education Center, a private institution dedicated to brainwashing the young adults placed in their care by frustrated parents; however, if those parents only knew the atrocities that were being inflicted upon their children—psychological abuse, rape, and murder—they just might regret their decision to force their children to conform by any means necessary.
This is the setting for Bryan Smith's Rock and Roll Reform School Zombies, which in itself might seem bad enough, especially for those confined within its walls, but all hell is about to break loose.
Melissa Campbell doesn't think things could get any worse. Torn away from her boyfriend and enrolled by her parents in the Southern Illinois Music Re-Education Center, she never expected to be raped by one of her teachers. She's the lucky one because at least she didn't catch the eye of the headmistress. If she had, she might very well be six feet under, a journey one of her housemates has already made, and another who is in the process of making that journey. You see, not only does the headmistress have an eye for the young ladies, she has a taste for hookers and a taste for murder, the ultimate climax in her twisted sex games. Not wanting to face her attacker again, Melissa sneaks a phone call to her boyfriend, pleading with him to come get her and take her away, but afterward she doesn't think that he's going to come through for her, so she has to rely on her one friend in the house to help her get out of there.
Little does Melissa know, her boyfriend, Wayne Devereaux, and his best friend, Steve Wade, are on their way to get her out of there. Neither has a clue as to what they are getting themselves into, only that Melissa is not happy where she is. As they head toward the school, a meteor burns through the sky, crashing into the fields not too far from the school. Meteors crash into the earth all the time, right? So as long as they don't land on you, no harm done, right?
Whether it's from the radiation or some sort of bacteria released upon the meteor's entry into the earth's atmosphere, four dead girls rise from the grave with a hunger for fresh meat. And as is the way with all things zombie, the population begins to grow exponentially, kinda like that old Faberge commercial—they told two friends and they told two friends and so on and so on—and before you know it, the house is overrun with the living dead.
Will Wayne and Steve get to the house in time to save Melissa, or will they become zombie chow before they get through the front door? Will Melissa gain her freedom from the torments of the house, only to become the main course in a zombie smorgasbord?
I wasn't sure what to expect with Rock and Roll Reform School Zombies. I mean, years ago I rented this movie called Hard Rock Zombies, and it turned out to be a bad, campy movie, and even though I knew Smith's novel was classified as horror, I wasn't sure if this was going to be a serious horror novel or something on the quasi-humorous side. I quickly learned that I had nothing to worry about.
Unlike most of the zombie fiction I've been reading, Rock and Roll Reform School Zombies starts at the beginning. There are no zombies running amok when the book starts, and it isn't until the meteor passes that the dead start to rise from their graves. It harkens back to Romero's Night of the Living Dead when news commentator is asking one of the scientists what might have started it all. I was glad to see that, with one or two exceptions, Smith treated zombies in the more traditional manner—mindless shamblers with a hunger for flesh. Had they the more modern twist that seems to be invading so many of the zombies films I've been seeing, i.e., zombies that could easily beat out the fastest runner of the Boston Marathon, I doubt I would have finished reading it.
I also found it interesting that the only likable characters in the book are the kids; they are fully fleshed out and you find yourself rooting for them as they go up against the zombies. Smith's adults, on the other hand, tend to be flat cardboard characters, the bad guys with no redeemable qualities whatsoever. You are meant to dislike them, and Smith goes to the extreme to make sure you don't. You want to seem them fall prey to the walking dead; they are so bad that you don't even want to see them come back as zombies, but as is the nature of the living dead, you know they will. And they do, which only serves to fuel the survival instinct in the kids. I could very easily see a smile on the faces of these kids as they send the zombies back to the hell they came from, especially after they made their lives a living hell when they were alive.
I genuinely liked Rock and Roll Reform School Zombies. Bryan Smith has created a fun, fast-paced tale of the dawning of the zombie apocalypse, and I would definitely recommend it.
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
The book starts out in the town of Ashbrooke in the year 1946. Ashbrooke is a little backwater town, heavy on the religion, so when the Fink and Zimner Freak Show and Circus roll into town, a majority of the town folk were downright furious that such a shameless display of the evil and debauchery should set up tents in their little town, and they had every intention of making their feelings known.
The circus folk, however, are well aware of how the town folk feel, as they were greeted with hostility every time they passed through. So what makes them think this year is going to be any different? They don't, but they came prepared with the Apa Vie, a tonic that promised a good long life if used properly. Madame Zadora is against the selling of the Apa Vie because she knows what can happen should it fall into the wrong hands.
When the town folk, led by the less-than-holy Pastor Harry Farwell, and the circus folk meet, things get a little out of hand. Well, that's an understatement. Things actually go to Hell in a handbasket, and by the time it is over, all but one of the circus folk are dead, and the pastor has had his hand severed. In the skirmish, the pastor has the misfortune of being splashed with the Apa Vie, and by the next day, his hand has grown back, which he takes as a sign from God that he has done the right thing.
Jump sixty years later, and another circus is pulling into town. This time around, the majority of the town folk are looking forward to it, but there is one man who would love nothing better than to run them out of town—the local sheriff. The circus sets up on the same grounds where the previous circus met their end, and the only thing still around from the previous performers is a decrepit caravan wagon—and a case of Apa Vie. When the Apa Vie bottles are broken and the mystical fluid seeps into the ground, it reanimates the charred, decaying corpses of the previous circus, and they rise up seeking revenge.
Can the town of Ashbrooke survive the wrath of the Circus of the Damned?
As I said earlier, I really wanted to like this more than I did. I like the premise behind it, as it brings to mind campy classics like Hard Rock Zombies and Killer Klowns from Outer Space, and if the circus aspect has been done before in a zombie novel, I haven't come across it yet. So what was wrong with it? For one thing, the characters come across as cardboard cutouts, stereotypes of the kind of character they are meant to be, with very little development to flesh them out. They lack dimension, and the words that come out of their mouths are so stilted it's laughable.
In addition to the dialogue being laughable, the book itself is painful to read in places. The author does not seem to have a grasp of basic writing skills, as there are run-on sentences, mixed tenses within a sentence, misspelled words galore, all evidence that this book wasn't placed in the hands of a proofreader or editor. Had it been, the book might have been elevated to an enjoyable read.
Aside from the actual writing, I also found situations in the book to be very contrived, something that might have been forgivable had the book been better written. A group of survivors are holed up in an old church, and when they have the chance to escape, they move to the back of the building, where there's a convenient secret door that will lead them outside. Obviously it wasn't so secret if they made right for it. There's a zombie monkey crammed into the glove compartment of a car, ready to spring like a blood-hungry Jack in the Box. How the hell did it get the car door open, climb into the glove compartment, and pulled the panel closed?
As poorly written as the book is, I can't say it was all bad because I did like the idea behind it. As I was reading it, it brought to mind John Carpenter's The Fog, a movie I love. Is it worth reading? If you don't mind a book that reads like a very roughly written first draft, because that was my overall impression of the book, I'd say, "Go for it." However, if you are put off by poor writing, this might be one to skip.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
Daley paints a portrait of a picturesque little town, but like most towns, no matter how quaint they seem on the outside, there's always a darkness that lurks in the heart of some, if not all, of its residents. Of all the town's resident, Nicolas Nehalem has perhaps the darkest heart. Despite the worn exterior of his house, the interior is meticulously maintained, which only serves to deepen the horror of what lies beneath. Beneath the cellar, in a subcellar of his house is a torture chamber with two occupants.
It's obvious from their physical condition—caged, with missing fingers and toes and emaciated to the point their ribs are visible—that Olive Thrift and Cathy Eldritch have been held captive in Nehalem's Chamber of Horrors for quite some time.
Daley makes it a point to emphasize the third cage in his description of the subcellar, and Nicolas' apparent displeasure that the third cage is unoccupied. This sets the stage for what could be a thrilling psychological horror novel, but you are left wondering what this has to do with the book's description, which promises vampires and zombies.
Daley then introduces the reader to Daniel McGee, a summer resident of the town of Cloven Rock. He is in the process of renovating his home with the hopes of making it a full-time residence. While working in the basement, he discovers the existence of a sub-basement, which he proceeds to explore. However, upon his initial attempt to check out the place, he never reaches the bottom. The sudden drop in temperature combined with the impenetrable darkness and the mysterious sounds propel him toward the surface. Right away you assume this might be the lair of the promised vampires, but no. When Daniel returns in the company of friends to continue his exploration of the basement, he uncovers the lair of the mutated spider/crab hybrids, one huge one and a bunch of smaller ones that have hatched from a bunch of egg sacs.
One of Dan's friends is devoured by the huge monstrosity, and another of his friends has been bitten and stung by the creature. The bite or the sting, it's never clear which, triggers a metamorphosis, and the young lady turns into a rage-filled lunatic who turns on her friends. But that's only the beginning. Shortly, she becomes encased within a cocoon, within which she undergoes a physical transformation and sets out on a bloody rampage.
So where, you might ask, do the promised zombies and vampires come into play? Disappointingly, they don't. Cameron, the young lady who was bitten by the creature, transforms into a vampire-like creature, but actual vampires? Not in this book. And there is not a zombie in sight. Those who Cameron bites become enthralled to her and do her bidding, but I would hardly call this a zombie. A vampire-like servant to the vampire-like creature? Yes, but zombies? That's pushing it.
The fact that the book does not deliver what it promises is a disappointment and a failure, and it's the first of many in Terror Town. The first major failure, in my opinion, is the number of monsters Daley attempts to incorporate in this novel. Sadistic killer, mutant spiders, vampire-like creatures and their servants. It's too becomes too much; the reader ends up rolling his/her eyes and thinks, "Okay, what else is he going to throw in here next?" Sometimes less is more. Pick one baddie, two at the most, and go with it.
Another fail in this book is the excessive gore. I'm not usually one to complain about the amount of blood and guts spilled in a book—I loved the whole extreme horror of the Splatterpunk movement—but it needs to be done well. The descriptions contained within Daley's novel are almost laughable, with the skulls that broke with a POP! It's like a bad B movie where they want to see just how far they can go to sicken the viewer (reader), but in the end it becomes a joke. Think Dead Alive, one of the goriest movies ever made; the blood fest is so excessive you can't help but laugh at it. It's almost as if Daley is attempting to overachieve in order to detract from the sloppy writing. Notice I said sloppy, not bad.
While the book on the whole is not badly written, it is in desperate need of an editor and a proofreader to clean up the text. Daley, in his attempt to creative as graphic an image as possible, tends to overwrite. When describing teeth, he says they are "like needles, like knives." Needle brings to mind images of a rattlesnake with their thin, venom-injecting fangs; knives generate an image of pointed, wider, dagger-like teeth, the teeth of a carnivore. Pick one, needle or knives, not both.
Another area where the book could have benefited from an editor/proofreader's eye is with author's misuse of words and the cleanup of additional words contained within sentences. There are numerous instances where the wrong words have been used—"option" where it is clear "opinion" should have been used—and repeated instances where additional words appear in within a sentence, for example, "he pointed it the gun at". Happening once or twice can be forgiven, but the number of times this type of error occurs is sloppy. There's also a point where Hellboy, William's pure-breed boxer is described as having a stumpy little tail, typical of boxers, but later on, when the creatures are struggling to emerge from the basement, the dog is described as have its tail between its legs. Last time I checked, a stumpy little tail couldn't drop between the legs.
Had the manuscript been turned over to a trained eye, what turned out to be a barely passable read could have been elevated to an okay read. Had Daley tightened up his story line a little more, choosing to keep his creature count to a minimum instead of the Monster Mash it was, the okay read might very well have made the move to a good read. But as it stands now, it's just a mish-mash mess that should be passed over, not passed on.
Friday, July 29, 2011
When Gordon Consolidated Enterprises starts breaking ground on what promises to be the largest building in New York City, they need to dig deeper than usual to set the foundation. The construction crew unearths the decaying remains of an ancient ship, bringing construction to a screaming halt. What they don't realize is that in the process they have awakened an ancient evil that was locked away and buried aboard that ship, an evil that is reaching out to the citizens of New York and claiming them for its own. The first to fall victim to this evil is Simon Albert Weitzel, who has been "called" repeatedly to the construction site. This time, however, he has no recollection as to how he got there from his home in Brooklyn. So how does this tie in with Abe Stroud, who is clear across the world taking part in an archeological dig in Egypt?
While excavating the Egyptian site, Abe unearths a chamber full of mystical skulls made of various substances. One is a crystal skull, and while staring into the empty sockets of the skull, Abe is visited with a vision. In it he sees Weitzel and one other fall victim to the power contained within the ship, but he does not know what it means. The Egyptian site turns out to be more valuable that first expected, and the Egyptian government, having been burned too many times by American researchers and archeologists, request that Abe leave the country immediately.
Abe's plane touches down in New York, where there is a layover before he can head home. When he steps off the plane, he is greeted by an armed escort who have been ordered to take Abe to the Commissioner of Police of New York City. What they could possibly want Abe doesn't know, but he is about to find out. Turn out the Commissioner has heard all about Stroud and wants to enlist him to investigate the ship and what seems to be an airborne virus or bacteria that seems to be emanating from it and placing the people it infects into comas. At first Stroud doesn't want to get involved, but when he learns who the first victim was, he knows it is tied into the vision he had in Egypt. As Stroud and a small team of scientists begin their investigation, the thing in the ship reaches out to Stroud, calling him Esruad, which only serves to deepen the mystery. It seems to know Stroud, even if Stroud doesn't know it.
It soon becomes a race against time with Stroud's research moving at a snail's pace even as whatever is infecting the people of New York starts to move at an accelerated rate, broadening its reach to include animals and vermin. If that wasn't bad enough, more pressure is put on Stroud and his team when those in comas begin to awaken and start herding those uninfected by the disease into the bowels of the ship. Will Stroud be able to unravel the mystery before this evil lays claim to his soul?
Zombie Eyes is probably the most ambitious of Robert Walker's Blood Dreams series in that it attempts to create an evil that actually threatens the world if not stopped. In past adventures, Stroud was up against creatures of a physical type, but here, the threat seems at first to be biological in nature. It is ultimately revealed to be one of a spiritual nature, and the reader finds himself wondering just how Stroud is going to combat this entity and win. Can it be done, or has Stroud finally met his match?
It is that very ambitiousness that I think is the book's downfall, and by downfall I don't mean failure, so before you go jumping to the wrong conclusion, let me say that I did like Zombie Eyes, and the story progresses to a satisfactory and believable conclusion. For me, however, it came off as the weakest of the three books in this series. Why? In Stroud's previous outings, there was more of a sense of urgency in the books, a sense of action and chase as Stroud physically hunts down the evil. In Zombie Eyes, things move along at a great pace when they are inside the ship, but when they return to the museum/lab everything comes to a screeching halt as they research the artifacts that they have brought back with them. There were several times where they were returning to the museum and I got a flash of Batman and Robin racing back to the Batcave. That doesn't make it a bad book, just different that what I have come to expect based on Vampire Dreams and Werewolf's Grief. Because the pacing fluctuated, it took me a little longer to get through it than the previous two. This may not bother some readers, but I was so tempted to jump ahead to where they are back in the ship.
My only real gripe with Zombie Eyes, and it's my usual gripe when it comes to horror and supernatural suspense books, is the romance element. Keep it in your pants until the evil is vanquished or get it out of your system before the you get involved with chasing down the Big Bad Monster. This especially holds true with Walker because his central female characters are usually strong, almost masculine in character no matter how they are physically described, which isn't a bad thing, but when it comes to the woo-hoo moment, you forget that they are actually women and expect Stroud to reach for something that isn't there. The romance element usually comes into the story at the wrong time, as well. In this situation, we just get finished learning how physically and mentally exhausted Stroud and Cline are, how they can barely stay awake, but the moment they get back to the hotel, they miraculously find the energy to go at it. It's an eye-rolling moment and a cue to skip ahead until one or the other (or both) are sound asleep.
All in all, though, Zombie Eyes is a thrilling addition to the Blood Screams series and I would recommend it. Do you need to read the first two in the series? Not necessary, as each story does stand on its own, but highly recommended so you aren't left scratching your head when they passing reference to the vampires of Andover or the werewolf hunt is made. And here's hoping Robert Walker continues writing this series. Long live Abraham Stroud!
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
Normally when reviewing a collection of tales I would touch on each of the stories within the collection; I am not going to do that here, partly because there are 25 of them, and partly because most of the tales are so brief I fear I would be giving too much away.
For the most part, I enjoyed T.W. Brown's re-imaging of the Tales of the Brothers Grimm, I just wish I was more familiar with all of the Grimm's Fairy Tales. The tales are all well written, and keeping with the style of the original tales, they are all simply written, which I liked. But my excitement at the prospect of reading twisted fairy tales waned a little the further I progressed into the collection. Part of it had to do with my lack of familiarity with the complete works of the Brothers Grimm. Brown does provide the original titles for the tales retold in this collection, but the titles are given in their native language, and not knowing German, I had some difficulty telling which tale was being rebooted. Some of them were obvious, such as Hansel and Gretel, others not so obvious. Were I more familiar with the original works, this probably would have been an easier task.
My other issue with the collection is that all of the tales had been updated. They are all set in a post zombie apocalypse world, and that wasn't what I was expecting. What was I expecting? The original tales in their original settings, only with zombies. The current flood of zombie mash-ups currently available set me up for this disappointment. I admit that Brown, to some extent, did what I was so hoping these other authors would have done when writing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Undead World of Oz, etc., and that was rewrite the story entirely, including the zombie elements, thereby making it his own; he didn't take the original text and tweak it slightly and insert paragraphs throughout to bring in the zombie element, so for that I applaud his ambitious undertaking. My only wish is that he retained the original setting of the tales.
With that being said, I had to force myself to forget that these were reboots Grimm's Fairy Tales with zombie elements and approach them as short tales of the zombie apocalypse. Once I was able to do that, I found I was able to appreciate the stories more.
I don't wish to detract from Brown's ambitious effort here. The fact that the cover emphasizes "Volume One" leads me to believe it is his intent to "zombie-fy" the complete works of the Brothers Grimm, so I applaud him for undertaking this project. Will I pick up Volume 2 when it is published? More than likely, yes, now that I know what to expect and what not to expect. As I mentioned earlier, the stories are all well written, and since the style in which they are written mirrors the simple telling of the original tales, it makes for a quick read. Perhaps, by then, I will have better familiarized myself with the complete works of the Brothers Grimm.
Whatever failings there are to appreciate this collection for what it is are strictly mine because of my lack of familiarity with the original tales and for delving into the volume with preconceived expectations. If you are a fan of all things zombie, this is something you should consider adding to your collection.
Monday, July 25, 2011
Michael Howard is just like any other gay teenager living in a small town. That sense of isolation and of not belonging weigh heavily on him, and he longs for the time when he can pack his bags and leave. To compound his feelings of isolation, he lives with a drug- and alcohol-dependent mother and his maternal grandparents, who have made it obvious they want nothing to do with him. Running away from home is not an option because he has nowhere to go. He never really knew his father, who lives somewhere in England. When his mother commits suicide, it seems his prayers have been answered: the father he has never known comes from England to take him home. Michael is elated at the idea of going to live in London and getting to know his father.
Arriving in England, Michael feels like he has finally come home. However, the dream of getting to know his father is short-lived. He spends one night with his father before being sent to a boarding school, Archangel Academy. And that's where his life changes forever. That's where he meets Ronan. These two were fated to meet; unbeknownst to either boy at the time of their meeting, they have been dreaming of each other. But their relationship is in trouble from the start. Ronan has a dark secret that he longs to tell Michael, but he's afraid of how he will react. That dark secret is that he is a vampire, as is Ronan's ex, Nakano, who refuses to accept the fact that their relationship is over. At the time of Michael and Ronan's meeting, only one other person on campus (besides Nakano) who knows Ronan's secret is Ciaran, Ronan's brother.
While this might seem like the typical love triangle, there's more going on below the surface at Archangel Academy. As in the human world, prejudices exist within the vampire world. We learn that while Nakano and Ronan are both vampires, they are two different breeds of vampires. Nakano's breed is of the more traditional variety; Ronan is a Water Vamp, a crossbreed between a vampire and a water-dwelling humanoid. The Water Vamps can walk in the sunlight, but they need to feed on blood and return to the sea of their birth once in awhile; Nakano's kind need to feed on blood on a regular basis, and while they can walk about in the daylight, they can only do so on the grounds of Archangel Academy, which right away informs the reader that there is something about the school, but what exactly it is is not revealed—at least not in this book. The Water Vamps are considered inferior among the vampire world. The conflict for the novel is set: vampire against vampire, and a seething jealousy of an ex toward his replacement. But there is something else at work here, some other power that seeks to protect Michael and guide him toward Ronan. And while this mystical power attempts to keep the young lovers together, Nakano and his kind try to break them apart and claim Michael for their own. Who wins? You'll just have to read and find out.
I've always been of the mindset that you don't mess with vampires. They are an iconic part of the horror genre, and if you are going to make changes that go against what is traditionally known about the race, you need to explain it in an manner that will be acceptable to the reader. L.J. Smith's vampires were able to walk in daylight because of bespelled rings given to them by the witches. Griffo's vampires can walk in the daylight because one breed has inherited the traits on the non-vampire ancestor, and the other breed can as long as they remain on the grounds of the school, for whatever reason that may be. I'm assuming Griffo has this planned out and it will be revealed in Book 2 of the series. Even Rice's Lestat was susceptible to the sun's killing rays until he partook of the blood of the ancient Akasha, the Mother of All Vampires. Griffo also doesn't attempt to sanitize the vampire's means of sustenance. They are killers, but he does soften it some by explaining that Water Vamps don't need to feed as often, and when Ronan does feed, he chooses an elderly individual who is already close to death. Nakano, on the other hand, is more feral, defying the orders of his superiors and feeds on one of his fellow students, which threatens to exposed them all. There is a little tweaking followed by an explanation that makes Griffo's vampires palatable.
All if the trappings of the vampire romance are present, vampire meets boy, vampire loses boy, but does vampire get boy, or is boy seduced by the dark side? It's predictable, and if the book wasn't well written, you could lump it in with another series that shall remain nameless (HINT: see the title of this review) that I can't stand.
The main character in Unnatural is someone anybody teenager can relate to, gay or straight. In fact, we aren't told of Michael's sexual orientation until after we get to know him. We only know that he feels different, that he feels he doesn't belong. Anybody who has gone through the coming to terms with their own sexual orientation knows the signs, but for those who don't they are actually given the chance to get to know Michael as a person and to feel sorry for him and the situation he finds himself in at the books opening. In fact, with the exception of Nakano, all of the characters we are introduced to come off as "human", full of life and emotion, we see them at their best and their worst. Nakano doesn't seem to have any redeeming qualities; even when he is being tender with Ronan in an attempt to win him back, we know he is only doing so because he knows Michael can see them. Nakano is dark, as dark as they come, and Griffo seems to go out of his way to make certain we don't like him.
In addition to fully fleshing out his characters, Griffo also pays careful attention to detail, painting each scene with lavish descriptions so the reader can actually place themselves in the scene. When an writer pays that much attention to detail, there's always a chance to losing the reader, who just wants to get on with the story, but everything in Unnatural is well-balanced, and the novel doesn't slow it's pace at all. Griffo also has a talent for ending each chapter at a point that urges the reader onward.
My only problem with Unnatural (and 9 times out of 10, I always have a problem with a book) is the use of italics to indicate change in character. The chapter may start from Michael's point of view, but then there is some internalized thought from Ronan, which leads to a switch in POV that is sometimes confusing. There were times I actually had to go back and find out when exactly the POV changed and from whose POV I was reading from. It is possible that it's a formatting error as I did read the book on my Kindle. I want to get my hands on a print copy to see if the POV changes are a little more clear cut.
Starting Unnatural, I was going in with prejudice; I was so ready not to like it. In fact, I wanted not to like it, but I did like it, damn it. Archangel Academy is a series I will be following, and when I mentioned that I wanted to get my hands on a print copy, it isn't just to check the formatting; this is one series that will be taking a permanent place on my shelves, right next to Kelley Armstrong, Casey Daniels, Mark Del Franco, Kim Harrison, Anton Strout, and Carrie Vaughn.
Sunday, July 24, 2011
In the neighboring community of Jackson County, the citizens are unaware of what has befallen the residents of Babble Creek. Nor are they aware of the Hell that is about to be unleashed on their own community. But the quiet community has more to fear than the invading Bigfoot horde, for it seems those who have been attacked by the creatures have become infected with a virus, a virus that turns them into mindless savages with a insatiable craving for warm flesh. As the battle rages, the townsfolk not only have to defend themselves against the fury of the furry army, but against people they had once considered friends. Will Jackson County survive, or will it suffer the same fate as Babble Creek?
Since I had already read and enjoyed Brown's Bigfoot War, I was quick to purchase Bigfoot War 2: Dead in the Woods and move to to the top of my reading queue, although to be honest, I wasn't expecting much. In the first installment, Bigfoot lays waste to a small town. I expected more of the same, which in itself wouldn't be a bad thing. I mean, Bigfoot War was B-movie fun, non-stop action and loaded with blood and guts. In short, my kind of book. But with Part 2, Eric S. Brown realized that if he wanted to keep his audience, he needed to deliver more than what he already given us. . . And deliver he does.
When Brown takes Dead in the Woods to the next level by pulling in a currently trending element in today's horror fiction, I thought I was reading a faulty copy of the novel, that maybe an excerpt of another novel had accidentally been pasted into this one when it was being formatted. It came so out of left field, I sat there with a "What the f...?" expression on my face. Nevertheless, with a roll of the eyes, I persevered, quickly realizing that he was trying to pull in a new audience with this element. Combining these two elements in the one book is a bit far-fetched, but it does make for a fun read. I mean, if Bigfoot exists, why not?? I'm not going to spell out what else is introduced, but you can probably figure it out.
Like its predecessor, Dead in the Woods is non-stop action. It also stands out in that it does not follow formula. There is no designated hero or heroine; everybody is fair game in Brown's Bigfoot series, so be forewarned, don't go getting attached to any particular character, because they just might not make it through to the end.
The only drawback I had with Dead in the Woods was with the proofreading. There aren't many errors, but the ones that there are were enough to make me stumble while reading it, pulling me out of the flow of the story. That aside, is Bigfoot War 2: Dead in the Woods worth reading? I think so. It's one of those books you can take to the beach or lounge by the pool with. Do you need to read Part 1? While it's not necessary, as the action in this book stands on its own, I would strongly encourage it. And will I be reading Part 3 when it comes out? You betcha. With the combined elements contained within Dead in the Woods, I'm dying to know what Brown is going to pull into Part 3.
Claire Orion has it all: the money, the lifestyle most of us would envy, and, from the sounds of it, a string of men that would make a prostitute blush. But thanks to a misdiagnosis of cancer when she was younger and a verbally abusive father who constantly berated her for being less than a woman (because the surgery to remove the non-existent cancer left her unable to have children) that no man would ever want to marry, Claire feels her life is empty, which is why, when we meet her for the first time, she is planning her last hurrah before putting an end to her miserable life.
Dressed to the nines, Claire sets out for what is supposed to be her last supper, but thanks the ineptness of the restaurant's host, she has the good fortune (or misfortune) of meeting Garrett O'Bryan, a handsome man who is immediately taken with Claire. They end up spending the evening dining together and enjoying each other's company (Not in that way, so get your minds out of the gutter!). At the end of the evening, Claire does intend on inviting him up, but he declines. It seems Garrett has other plans. He makes Claire promise to meet him for Sunday Brunch. Reluctantly, she agrees, and being a woman of her word, there go her plans for the rest of the evening.
Each time she meets with Garrett, she tries to get him into bed, and each time he declines, which frustrates her to no end. It actually seems as if Garrett is interested in her, but she can't seem to wrap her head around that. After all, years of being told she's only half a woman no man would want have left her scarred.
So, does she finally get frustrated with trying unsuccessfully to get Garrett into bed that she goes ahead and kills herself? Is Garrett able to make her realize that there are men who can see past the fact that she can't have children and see her the person she once was, the person she buried all those years ago? You'll just have to read and find out.
With Arms of an Angel, Linda Boulanger has created a moving tale of a woman's journey through the darkness of her own soul. Right away you are moved by Claire, and you want to know what happened to this young woman, a woman who seems to have everything life could offer, that would drive her to want to take her own life. Once you find out what she has endured at such a young age, you want somebody to come along and show her that life is worth living and that she has so much to offer the world. Is Garrett that man, or do the scars run too deep for Claire to be saved?
For those who might be put off at the prospects of reading romance, don't be, not when it comes to Boulanger's tale. For one thing, it is short, so you won't have to suffer through it for long (which was my initial reaction when I first started it), BUT once you have started reading it, you forget all about the fact that it has been classified as a romance. At least that's the way it was for me. The romance came off as secondary. The focus of the novella was a woman's rediscovery of herself and overcoming the stigma her father had ingrained in her, that women are only good for reproduction and little else. It's about rediscovering life.
My only complaint with Arms of an Angel, and it's the same complaint I have with most well-written novellas, is that it was too short. It comes to a satisfying conclusion, but I found I wanted more. I wanted to know what happened after, which is the sign of a good writer.
I have to give kudos to Linda for opening my eyes that not all romance is insipid saccharine to be taken in small doses or eye-rolling bodice rippers. Part of me knew that already, but having to weed through them is the hard part. Should you pick up Arms of an Angel? Definitely. It's one of those novels that leave you with that "feel good" feeling at the end.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Collin Stewart’s fall from grace wasn’t a long one, but it was enough to knock the wind out of him and leave him with scraped palms and a bruised pride. The only one he felt, though, was the bruised pride. After all that he’d done to try to win Maureen back, to find out she was still carrying a torch for her dead husband was a sucker punch to the gut. Never would he have thought her capable of such deception, but he had been wrong. So wrong. She had ripped his heart out. Again.
All around him night had fallen, but he sat on the sidewalk, legs stretched out in front of him, in a pool of light cast by the faux carriage lanterns secured to the wall to either side of the door. He was vaguely aware of time passing, just as the passing cars in the street behind him barely registered. Nor did he notice the creeping shadows as they moved across the front of the building, thrown against the siding as a car across the street pulled out of a driveway and its headlights skimmed over the fence and garbage cans lined up at the edge of the front yard. Collin saw only the events of the evening as they replayed themselves across the movie screen of his mind, examining each moment minutely to determine where, exactly, things had gone wrong. It wasn’t like him to lose control the way he had, and he needed to figure out what it was that had caused him to unleash his anger and allow it free reign.
Things had been going relatively well, or as well as could be expected when her little brat was around. God, how he hated that kid. While Joey had a good blending of both his parents’ features, Collin only saw Alex when he looked at the boy, and that alone was enough to make him lose control. That man had stolen Maureen from him when they were in college, and seeing the man’s face peeking out through the face of the boy was almost more than he could stand. Every time he saw the kid, it was all he could do to keep from punching him in the face, but he controlled himself for Maureen’s sake, as well as his own. To harm the boy would ruin any chance he had getting Maureen back where she belonged. He supposed that was why he always ragged on Maureen about Joey’s lack of respect. He just wanted the kid to behave. Was that asking too much?
But as it was, each time the boy acted out, it was like Alex was still rubbing his face in the fact that Maureen had chosen to marry him instead of Collin. Whenever the boy acted like a smartass, which was most of the time when he was around, Collin had to use all of his restraint not to pound the boy’s face into an unrecognizable bloody pulp. It was the only way he could think of to stop seeing Alex in the boy. Collin knew his feelings toward the boy were irrational, but that’s how much he hated Alex Crawford.
Upon closer inspection, however, Collin realized it wasn’t the boy who had triggered his lapse of control this evening. Joey had been on his best behavior, more or less, so he couldn’t blame the boy.
Dinner had been subdued, which was a good thing. Had there been lively dinner conversation, the kind Collin envisioned a normal having as they ate, there was a chance Joey would mouth off, so it wasn’t dinner. It was after…
“Hey, buddy, you okay?”
The man’s voice disrupted the flow of images playing through Collin’s head, and it took him a moment to register that the voice was coming from behind him and was not, in fact, part of the memories he was revisiting.
“You okay,” the voice asked again.
Collin flinched, blinked away the images, and turned, bracing himself with one hand as he twisted to address the person talking to him. “Yeah,” he said, hissing against the pain that was suddenly biting at the palm of his hand. “I’m okay.” He struggled to get to his feet. “Misjudged the step is all. Lost my balance.”
The man gave a nod and continued on his way.
Alone once again, Collin brushed himself off and looked back at the house. The lights were still on in the living room, but there were no shadows visible at the window. Still, he couldn’t be sure that Maureen wasn’t watching from some other window. He briefly considered ringing the doorbell and apologizing to Maureen, but discarded the idea almost as quickly as it entered his mind. Things had gotten ugly, and he wanted to give her time to cool off before he approached her. He also needed to find out what had caused things to go downhill so quickly. He turned and, without another look at the house, left the yard, being considerate enough to close the gate behind him.
The street was quiet, but as he approached the corner he could hear music filtering out onto the street from the pool hall. A group of kids in their late teens were gathered outside, joking with each other as they smoked. He gave them a cursory glance as he passed them by on his way to the car, noticing one guy with his arm wrapped possessively around the waist of a young woman in tight jeans. He felt a pang of jealousy as she nuzzled the young man’s neck, and a familiar tightening in his briefs. At least somebody’s gonna get laid tonight, he thought bitterly as he continued on his way.
The light in the crosswalk was a bold, red DON’T WALK, and as he waited for the light to change to WALK, he watched a bus pull across the intersection. The bus was all practically empty: an old woman toward the front of the bus and the driver stared out the window, watching the world pass by with a vacant stare, and further back, two women in their later twenties chattered away. Once the bus passed, Collin had a view of the avenue. Across the way to the left, in the middle of the block, a bar was open. The music behind him drowned out any sound that might be issuing from the bar. To either side of the neon-stained windows, the store fronts were locked up tight, security gates pulled. A block away, on the far corner, a twenty-four hour fruit stand/grocery mart was open, their lighted windows a beacon in the otherwise darkened streets. A lone individual was unpacking a crate, loading the contents onto one of the outside display cases. To the right, for the next four or five blocks, there was nothing but darkened storefronts and the cyclopean glow of the traffic lights. Beyond that, there was a lighted marquis to the movie theater, but it was too far away to see what was playing. If he could block out the kids he had just passed, he could very well have been the last man on earth. Traffic was nonexistent, and there was not another soul on the street. To confirm that, he glanced at the fruit store again, and sure enough, the man had disappeared. It was eerie, considering it was a Friday night; the streets should have been bustling with activity, people making their way to the movie theater or to the clubs that dotted Fort Hamilton Parkway.
Collin didn’t want to go home. There were too many memories of Maureen there, memories he wasn’t quite ready to face yet. This neighborhood was deader than a ghost town.
The light blinked from the red DON’T WALK to the white WALK. Collin stepped off the curb and crossed the wide expanse of Fifth Avenue. The street before him was lined heavily with trees, their spreading canopies of foliage so thick overhead that they blocked out the glow of the streetlights. Fishing his car keys from his pocket, Collin started down the shadowy corridor, walking halfway down the street before veering to his left and stepping off the curb. He circled around the back of his Lincoln Town Car, opened the driver’s side door, and slid behind the wheel. After locking the door, he slipped the key into the ignition, but didn’t turn it. Instead, sitting there in the safety of his car, the tinted windows aiding the shadows in keeping him hidden from prying eyes, he turned his thoughts back to the events of the past few hours.
After dinner, he and Maureen sat in silence while Joey laughed hysterically at whatever sitcom was on the television. Collin couldn’t even remember the name of it or what the premise was; it was that forgettable. She’d taken the little brat up to bed, and what had he done while she was upstairs. He’d gotten up and gone into the kitchen for something to drink. That’s when things started to get fuzzy. Something he had seen in the kitchen, something…
Whatever it was, it had triggered a memory he thought he had buried long ago; he could hear his father’s voice whispering in his ear, She’ll never love you. Not like I do. And then phantom hands were touching him in places a father should never touch a son. He hated his father for what the man had done to him, but worse, he hated himself for liking it. Even now, as the memories caressed and stroked him, he felt his body responding to the ghostly touches.
Tears streamed down his face as he fought to suppress the sobs. What the hell had he seen? His hands were on the steering wheel, his grip so tight his knuckles were white. The echoes of his father’s voice, the memories of his unwanted advances crowded in the car with him, pressing against him, making it difficult to breath. “You’re dead, you bastard,” he gasped. “I buried you, God dammit! I buried you! Why can’t you stay dead?”
Long buried emotions fought their way to the surface like a ghoul clawing its way out of the grave. They broke through, leaving him a sobbing mess behind the wheel. Body hunched over, head resting against the stitched leather of the steering wheel, he was powerless to do anything but let the emotions out in a flood that could rival The Great Flood. The only difference, here there was no Noah and no Ark to save him. There was nobody he could turn to, nobody to throw him a life preserver. He had to ride it out. Only then would he be able to bury them again. But right now he needed to bury himself. Darkness reached out to pull him in, but not even the concrete bunker he had built in his head, the one with the steel door that had kept him safe as a child, could keep his father from following him into that shelter of his mind. There was nowhere to run, nowhere to hide from the ghosts of his past.
Thursday, June 30, 2011
The sun was almost down and the shadows crept over the earth in pursuit of the receding light, eager to lay claim to the land for the next few hours. Even though it was late in the season, the fairy-like lights of the fireflies still flickered here and there across the less-than-spacious front yard, in the shrubbery beyond, and occasionally in the air. It wouldn’t be long before their lights went out for the long winter ahead.
The fireflies weren’t the only thing clinging tenaciously to the last vestige of summer. The flowers they planted along the length of the porch still sported blooms, vibrant colors against the bland brown of the log cabin, and further out, wild flowers sprouted up between the majestic trees. The pines never lost their color, but the oaks. . . The oaks had yet to turn. Not a trace of orange, yellow, or gold could be seen amongst nature’s canopy, which was unlike the trees they had seen on the drive up. Autumn was arriving all across the northeast coast, arriving everywhere except for her. It was as if Mother Nature had placed a dome over this particular area of the forest, a barrier against the approaching seasonal change so she could enjoy summer’s beauty for just a little longer, before winter came and blanketed everything in a pristine coating of white.
Standing on the porch, Jake Dougherty breathed deeply of the crisp mountain air and took in the beauty that surrounded him. God’s country is what his father would have called it, land uncorrupted by the touch of humanity, save for the cabin they were staying in and the SUV parked on the dirt path that passed for a driveway. But even that cabin, as beautiful as it was, was as closed to primitive as you could get. The water was piped in from a natural spring, the sewer he assumed passed into a septic tank somewhere behind the building. There was no electricity. They used oil-fueled hurricane lamps and candles for light, and the rooms were heated by a series of fireplaces. It was as near to perfect as one could get. There was only one thing spoiling it.
As if on cue, the shrill voice of his wife of ten months broke the stillness that lay over the land. “Jake, did you remember to pack the camera?”
With a sigh, Jake reached in the breast pocket of his flannel shirt and pulled out a pack of cigarettes. “Yes, dear,” he replied. He no longer tried to conceal the annoyance that peppered his tone whenever he spoke to her, especially since she seemed to be oblivious to it.
The door opened and he cringed inwardly and slipped the cigarettes back in his pocket as his wife came out to join him on the porch. She was a petite blonde with a flawless complexion despite the years she must have spent outdoors. Her skin was deep reddish brown, the product of a lifetime of sun worship, but it bore none of the damaging signs that would normally accompany that kind of exposure to the sun. As reluctant as he was to admit it, she was a truly beautiful woman, and any man would consider himself lucky to walk down the street with her on his arm, and so would he—if he was into that sort of thing. But Jake wasn’t.
Or at least he hadn’t been until this time last year.
Which is what he couldn’t understand.
He still had a hard time accepting the fact that he was married and, as Ivy Dougherty came to stand beside him, her belly fully of baby leading the way, that he was going to be a father. It was like living in a dream—or a nightmare, depending on your perspective. And for Jake Dougherty, it was a nightmare he hoped he would wake up from soon. But after ten months, if it hadn’t happened by now, he didn’t think he was ever going to wake up.
“Well, I looked everywhere and I can’t find it,” she said, placing her hands on her hips as if she expected him to go in and get it.
“Did you check in that blue sports bag?”
She turned a blank gaze on him, as if he had spoken in some language other than English. Whenever she looked at him that way, it was all he could do to keep from driving a fist into her face. He wasn’t violent by nature, but she was carrying this dumb blonde routine a bit far. Nobody could be that stupid. “That blue nylon bag on the bed.”
“Then don’t say you looked everywhere when it’s obvious you haven’t.”
“Don’t be that way,” she pouted, lower lip pushed out, doe eyes turned up to try soften up his mood. She took a step in his direction, intent on sliding her arm through his, but he stepped away.
“Well, then don’t be so fuckin’ stupid.”
Before their exchange could escalate into an all-out argument, the door opened and Rafe Vargas stepped onto the porch, his wife, Daisy, hot on his heels. Despite the chill in the air, Rafe was shirtless, and the sight of the man’s bare torso, the deep caramel-colored skin with a thick coating of black fur covering the pecs that tapered off and ran in a thin trail down the man’s stomach to disappear past the waistband of his tight jeans, inexplicably took Jake’s breath away. Something stirred within him, but before he could put a name to the feeling, it was gone, disappeared at the same moment someone touched his arm. He looked down to see Ivy’s hand resting gently on his forearm. A shiver slithered along his spine and he jerked his arm away. The sudden movement caused his wife to lose her balance; she teetered on the top step and would have fallen if it hadn’t been for Daisy. Despite the fact that she was just as pregnant as Ivy, Daisy was quick to come to her sister’s aide, throwing daggers in Jake’s direction as she shoved him aside. Jake, grudgingly giving ground, met her gaze head on, willing them both to fall. Not that the fall would hurt either of them, but it might hurt the babies, and with the babies out of the way, maybe they, he and Rafe, would be freed from whatever hold these two women had on them.
As Rafe slipped between him and the two women on his way down the steps, he practically brushed against Jake in his effort to avoid coming into contact with either of the women. Their eyes met briefly. Jake could see the fear in the other man’s green eyes, a quiet, pleading desperation. It was the same look Jake imagined a fox might have in its eyes when it found itself caught in a trap and gnawed at its leg in an attempt to free itself and escape the death it knew was coming. It was the same look Jake saw in his own eyes whenever he looked in the mirror.
“Where ya goin’,” Jake asked.
Rafe paused, one foot still resting on the bottom step, and looked back at Jake. “We’re gonna need some more fire wood.” Jake noticed the way the man’s gaze danced back and forth between him and the wives.
“You want me to give you a hand with that?” Jake prayed Rafe heard the distress in his voice, his need to be away, but when the man responded, he realized he was on his own.
“That’s alright. I got it.” Before the words were even out of his mouth, Rafe was pushing away from the step. Without a glance at Jake, he hurriedly made his way around to the back of the house.
Under the watchful eyes of the Witches of Eastwick, Jake watched Rafe until the man disappeared from view. For a moment, he considered following the man out back, but he didn’t want to seem in desperate need of escape, so instead he went down the steps and started across the lawn. What he wanted to do more than anything else was to get into the SUV and head back to the city—Fuck everybody—but he wouldn’t, he couldn’t, leave Rafe to the mercy of those women. He felt a bond to the other man, one he couldn’t explain, that went beyond mere friendship.
He continued across the lawn, heading for the forest and that shadows beyond that waited for him to pass before they swallowed him whole. Halfway across the grass he stumbled as his head was filled with an annoying drone, a swarm of angry bees buzzing around in his skull. Looking around to see what might have caused him to trip, he shook his head, trying to clear it. It wasn’t the first time his thoughts had become clouded by this angry swarm, but this time he was able to think past it, which surprised him. There was only one thing that would clear it altogether, and that was distance between him and the woman he called his wife. The SUV called to him and he looked longingly at the huge forest-green vehicle. That would allow him to put a few miles between them in the shortest amount of time, but then thoughts of Rafe pushed their way into his head, and he knew he wouldn’t do it. Throwing a hate-filled glance in the direction of the porch, he turned and headed towards the tree line. He wanted—no, he needed—a smoke, and he didn’t want to hear his wife bitch about it.