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Horror & Dark Fantasy Book Reviews

 

 

Just Shadows
by Tara Fox Hall

(Review by Teresa Kubalanza)

Just Shadows is a creative collection of short stories. Tara Fox Hall has included seventeen different short stories ranging from carefully described scenes of horror to more in depth tales of murder and terror. Each narrative is different in plot and characters, keeping the reader alert and surprised by the twists in each of the stories. While the shorter vignettes provide creative descriptions that bring to life images in the reader’s mind, the longer stories take the reader on short excursions into the world of horror fiction that is both entertaining and creepy. Hall manages to create a different ambience in each of the stories, but maintains a certain level of unease throughout.  

In “Cherie,” Hall takes the reader to another land where the lives of vampire and a young girl cross paths. The story is creative and elegantly written and could easily be expanded to a full length novel. “The Perfect Day” is an entertaining story about a group of women taking a spa day that reveals the true murderous intentions between them. “The Hunt” is one of the best stories of the collection and will keep you holding your breath.

Pros:   Well-written, keeps you interested, varied, imaginative, and fun. The short length of the stories requires little commitment and can be read anywhere.

Cons:  For those looking to be absorbed in a book, this is not your book. The short stories lack the character development, relationships, and storylines more common in full-length novels. Although the stories are creepy and true to the horror genre, they are not overly frightening or startling.

For fans of:    Entertaining and quick reads, crime fiction, and paranormal horror fiction.

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The Other Room
by James Everington

(Review by Andrew Saxsma)

James Everington brings us a fresh helping of weird fiction with his release of The Other Room, a collection of short stories that dances in the realm of, well, the strange and unusual.  Each tale explores roads less traveled, rooms that shouldn’t be entered (though you may have the room key), and what happens when words lose their meaning, plus other bizarre stories.

"The Other Room" – Mr. Waits, a businessman attending a work-related learning conference, finds that his room key opens the room across the hall from his (on accident of course).  But, he’s mystified yet to find that not only is it an exact copy of his room, flipped like a mirror reflection, but it also contains his personal belongings.  Soon, people begin to recognize him as someone else, giving him respect and admiration he’d so longed for.  But things aren’t what they seem, and they soon begin to fall apart, leaving Waits desperately searching for a way back home, or just a way out. 

"Home Time" – A college student, brand new book in hand and a date later in the evening, walks along the cool streets all the while taunted by the very sunken memories of bullies and the very real (or not so real) children who torment him.

"Some Stories For Escapists #1" – The Werewolves – A short little story about the metamorphosis of werewolves from recognizable beasts of lore into something tame, lazy but bloodthirsty nonetheless. 

"First Time Buyers" – Married couple Kat and Alex, along with their dog Sheba, are the first to move into their home in a newly developing neighborhood during a collapsing home owner’s market, leaving the couple to wonder about the unfinished skeleton buildings surrounding them.  Kat begins to see a strange figure lurking about in the shadows, rummaging through garbage, and terrifying her during her walks.  Little does the couple know, they may have more in common with this creature than they may think.

"Schrodinger’s Box" – This tale is a literal take on the paradox known as Schrodinger’s Cat, an experiment in which one can infer that one is neither truly alive or dead because of a state of unknowing.  This story applies that, but to humans!

"The Watchers" – Regina catches the eye of every man who glimpses her, because beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder in this story.  Any man who looks upon her sees their ideal woman, their “fantasy gal” in the flesh, no matter how fanciful the taste.  Sufficed to say, Regina doesn’t know what she really looks like, due to her appearances always changing to fit the minds of the men in her life.  But as she finally begins to find herself, terrible entities begin blinking into her life, threatening to end her self-discovery. 

"Some Stories for Escapists #2" – The Plague – Another quick tale about man’s acceptance of the nature of disease and how something so dangerous and fatal has become commonplace. 

"The Final Wish" – Nervous guilt gets what it deserves in this quick story of revenge, but from whom?

"A Writer’s Words" – A writer, unsure if he’s taken the correct train home, battles his mind and nerves as words begin to lose their meaning to him.  A frightful ‘what if’ of sorts.

"Some Stories for Escapists #3" – The Haunted House – The final quick story about the origin of a haunted house.

"Red Route" – A dangerous take on the even more dangerous Lincolnshire Roads where road signs depict the current number of fatalities.  To quote the author’s notes, "Do any of us stop to think as we get in the car that it’s most likely the riskiest thing we’ll do all day?”  This story might leave you asking yourself just that.

"When the Walls Bend" – A student, newly renting the bottom floor of a house before school starts, gets a peculiar request from his landlord who asks to store a closed box in one of his closets.  Curious of course, the student opens the box to find a stack of video tapes, and when he begins viewing the tapes, his out-on-his own experience takes a turn for the worse.

This story collection is rich with deep and real characters, something the author, in my opinion, hits right on the nose.  The story elements flow smoothly, and never feel rushed.  And a quick comment on the length of the stories, each one feels right, meaning, it ends at the appropriate length at the right time.  I would like to mention that the author loves those ambiguous endings, those cliffhangers that seem to satisfy more than it leaves you wanting questions answered, which is rare, but a treat when you find them.  The Other Room has a very Lovecraftian feel, that is sure to please any fan of the macabre and the weird.

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Shining in Crimson: Empire of Blood #1 by
Robert S. Wilson

Sometime in a dystopian future, the United States is no more and is now the Empire, ruled by one man, the Emperor. Oh, and there are vampires. The Empire has struck a deal with a society of vampires that gives them a cordoned off and nearly destroyed Las Vegas. In return, the Empire releases convicts into Vegas so the vampires can feed. Seems like a happy partnership, right?

One convict, Hank, is dropped off and his only mission is to survive and make it out of Vegas so he can get back to his son. During the night, Hank accidentally sips some of the blood of an attacking vampire and reaps the benefits of being a vampire for a limited time: strength, speed and quick decision-making. This makes him formidable. Now, an ancestor vampire council member wants Hank for his own personal agenda and the Emperor wants Hank as a Mediator (a negotiator between the Empire and the vampires and is the only one who is exempt from having their blood sucked). And guess what: those aren’t the only storylines in the book.

Shining in Crimson takes the vampire lore to a new level by placing the setting in the near future and giving a rich background to the group of vampires. Also nice were the balanced plots of the vampires and the non-vampires with no major focus on either. The author also does a good job of devoting the right amount of story to each of the characters that make up the crux of the novel. Not only do you learn something new about each character each time they come around, you also have great depth about the history of the vampires. One thing missing from this first book in a trilogy is history of how the United States went into the dystopian society. There are minute references to the past, but hopefully more of the history will be fleshed out in the subsequent books.

While you get deep exposition about the characters, there are long passages of inner-thoughts and activities that are told to you instead of shown. This might annoy some and doesn’t really distract you from the story, but I occasionally felt more dialogue could have been added.

Overall, Shining in Crimson by Robert S. Wilson is a different take on the vampire genre, especially compared to the vampires that are out there now (you know what kind of vampires I’m referring to). With well-fleshed characters, multiple storylines and a vampire history that makes sense, Shining in Crimson: (Empire of Blood #1) is a well-written horror novel. I am anticipating the second and third books in the series.

Pros: Deep history of vampires, unique vampire society, rich characters, great storylines

Cons: lack of history on the human side, small amounts of dialogue

For fans of:
Vampires
Dystopian societies
Unique partnerships between humans and vampires

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Zombie, Ohio by Scott Kenemore

Any horror fan worth his weight in horror gold has probably envisioned what they would do in a zombie apocalypse. If you haven’t, then take a few moments and think about how you’d stockpile supplies, locate weapons and save your friends and family. Okay, that just assumes you’re human. Now think about how you’d survive if you were a zombie. That’s right, let’s do that one-eighty because Scott Kenemore did it with Zombie, Ohio.

Zombie, Ohio concerns Peter Mellor who, from the first page of the novel, realizes he’s been involved in a car accident. He wakes immediately after, but has extreme amnesia, remembering strange and obscure things and not recalling anything recent in his life. Peter soon learns he is a zombie. However, Peter is an intelligent, self-aware zombie with critical thinking and the ability to pass as a human for a while. Unfortunately, this college professor finds out his car accident wasn’t an accident at all and—as a zombie—feels the need to investigate his death. He must do this while staying alive…or dead in a lawless section of Ohio.

Kenemore has written zombie humor books like The Art of Zombie Warfare and Z.E.O: How to Get A(Head) in Business, which are part of his Zen of Zombie series. In his first novel, he’s penned a fun, entertaining and originative zombie tale that includes humor, tension and mystery. If Zombie, Ohio was written in anything but the first person, the book may have been less effective in its tone.

Throughout the book, Peter Mellor throws out his take on zombies and humans, often philosophizing on the natures of both and the differences and similarities. These observations tend to be funny, but some will actually make you think. You follow the exploits of Peter as he experiences everything new as a zombie, from eating brains to thoughts on killing humans to trying to remember simple things like the name of his best friend. Each moment you’ll wonder how he’s going to handle this or how is he to handle that.

Zombie, Ohio is a unique novel showcasing the undead from the point of views of someone undead. With engaging characters, bad guys you’ll hate and an Ohio that has gone to pot, Kenemore’s book is well worth the read.

Pros: Watching the main character slowly turn into a zombie, interesting take on the undead while staying within the culture, the right amount of brain-eating, simply a fun read.

Cons: Not much information about what happened outside Ohio.

For Fans of:
Zombies
The Zombie Apocalypse
Reading about lustful brain-eating

Zombie, Ohio: A Tale of the Undead paperback at Amazon

Zombie, Ohio: A Tale of the Undead for Kindle

Other Books by Scott Kenemore

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Bigfoot War by Eric S. Brown

Looking for a different type of monster book? How about one that tackles the Bigfoot Legend? Try Bigfoot War. Jeff Taylor is back from a tour in the Middle East looking for revenge against a Bigfoot who killed his family when he was twelve. Unfortunately, Jeff and some of the residents of Babble Creek only manage to anger a whole group of Sasquatches. Hence, a Bigfoot War ensues.

The story is told from the points-of-view of the townspeople. Each view is titled by the name of the character so you don't lose track, which is good since the views shift rapidly (every page or two.) This gives the story a great sense of immediacy and tension and the feeling of something must be done now, so who's going to do it? You don't know who's going to succeed and who's going to fail. Brown does a nice job of balancing action and character development, giving us just enough to care when someone is first introduced, and slightly deepening the character each time he shifts back to them.

When you read a story where monsters attack at a nearly-constant rate, you'd expect the gore and violence to become similar, even after a few descriptions. Not Bigfoot War. Despite the ferocity of the monsters, Brown uses varying imagery to relay attacks and deaths. And people will die; don't think they won't. This book is called Bigfoot War and has a picture of a very angry Bigfoot for the cover, after all: what did you expect?

Although on the short side (novella-length), Bigfoot War is a fast-paced, monster book that showcases the destruction of a lesser-used monster in horror fiction, Bigfoot. The action is continuous and the characters don't really get a break once the Sasquatch Armageddon comes trampling.

Pros: The shifting points of view make the story easy to follow, good balance of action and character development, rapid-paced action, Bigfoot.

Cons: Short, some characters die when you least expect it.

For fans of:
80’s Horror Fiction
B-movie monsters
Quick Reads
The Legend of Bigfoot

Bigfoot War paperback at Amazon

Bigfoot War for Amazon Kindle