Review of “Twilight of the Living Dead”

Peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk, ice cream and chocolate syrup. Combinations as classic as those are things of legend. Think of some more, come on, I’ll wait.

Did you?

Great, but there’s probably one combination you may have overlooked. Nazis and zombies. Unless you’re a fan of horror and/or zompoc fiction. The Third Reich has been reanimating dead people in film, literature, and even video games. So with all of that out there in the open, how does the story written by Scott Baker stack up against the rest of the horde?

Really well. The story is based around a group of Nazi soldiers and civilians that sought refuge in a tower. It’s set during the final days of World War II. Beset on all sides by enemies (quite literally), the surviving Germans struggle with how to survive and whether or not being captured by the Allies would be better than being ripped apart by the undead.

In the same fashion as most zompoc, there is a power struggle between the human survivors. Unlike most zompoc literature, however, both sides are Nazis. What Baker does well in his tale is blur the lines of morality when bringing the Nazis to life. The reader will be rooting for the undead to tear the German soldiers apart, but will also feel sorry (slightly) while thinking that.

Baker also locks in the historical setting with excellent use of detail and dialogue that will make the reader visualize themselves in that tower with the Nazis.

The pace of the story is well timed as well. At no time does the story feels like it’s dragging. Either there’s vivid description about what is happening or there’s intense action that fuels the story right to the ending. The reader won’t fall asleep while reading Twilight of the Living Dead.

If I had to offer one criticism about this story, and that’s if my leg is being pulled, it would be about the ending of the story. While I will not spoil it for you, I will say it’s a bit predictable. Having said that I will also say that it in no way deters my feelings about this tale of Nazis and the undead.

Whether you’re a zompoc fan, an alternative history fan, or just a reader with an appreciation for the horror genre you’ll derive pleasure from reading Twilight of the Living Dead written by Scott Baker

I won’t guarantee that you’ll get as much pleasure as one of his zombies biting into the flesh of a member of the Luftwaffe. I’ve only read the Twilight of the Living Dead. I’ve never bitten into the flesh of a member of the Luftwaffe so I don’t have an accurate comparison. That doesn’t change the fact that you should definitely go out and find this literature gem and devour it (not literally).

Review of Sleeping Beauties

img_5038A small town is mysteriously the center of a supernatural event and their actions will effect the rest of the world. Sound familiar? If so, you’ve probably read some of the other works written by Stephen King. Throw in a virus that incapacitates more than half the worlds population, then you have a definite novel by the king of thriller and horror genres.

Sleeping Beauties is a novel that is co-authored by both Stephen King and his son Owen King. The storyline of the novel centers around the dilemma that all of the women that fall asleep in the stay asleep. When they fall asleep a cocoon is mysteriously woven across their faces. If the cocoon is disturbed in any way, the sleeping woman will attack the men around them. As the pandemic continues the situation grows dire for those women that are trying to stay awake.

As this happens, a mysterious woman walks into the town of Dooling, a small Appalachian town. Found by Sheriff Lila Norcross naked and walking in the middle of a road covered in blood, the mysterious Eve Black is taken to the county prison solely for women.

As the town and the rest of the world spirals into the madness of a world devoid of women, the solution presents itself to the citizens of Dooling. The citizens are grouped into two sides: those that are tasked with keeping the mysterious Eve safe and those that are tasked with killing her.

The first thing that impressed me with the story is that even though it’s written by two authors, you wouldn’t know just from reading it. Having read almost everything Stephen King has read, I wasn’t able to pick out which sections were written by him and which sections were written by his son.

Another aspect of the novel that I enjoyed were the rich, detailed characters. There are a few main protagonists that have their own story arcs that crossover with other story arcs. Each of them are integral to the overall story and the characters are fleshed out so well that I was generally concerned with whether they lived or died. The antagonists receive the same loving tender care from the Kings. The only difference is that even though they are technically antagonists, readers will still care for their plights. The main antagonist, Frank Geary, does everything with his daughter in mind. He generally cares for his daughter and would do anything to get her to wake up safe and sound.

The one thing that I was disappointed with was the pacing of the novel. It begins with the characters in their normal day to day lives. Then the event happens and the females of the world, once asleep, never wake up. From there, the middle of the novel is split between the world of man and the world of woman. In the world of men, it’s all set up for the climactic battle at the end between those protecting Eve and those that are attempting to assassinate her. I won’t spoil what happens when the females fall asleep because it’s generally interesting and something that I found extremely intriguing. However, I felt that the middle of the novel was too long. As a reader, my favorite sections were the beginning and the end.

In the long list of books in Stephen King’s library, this is not the best. It is not the worst either. If you are interested in reading an average novel by the two Kings, then reading this book would be a safe bet.

The Devil’s Playground by Alice J. Black

Have you ever experienced a reoccurring dream or nightmare? If you haven’t then I find that odd. Most of everyone has experienced this type of dream. When I was a child, I had one such reoccurring nightmare. I would be walking to elementary school down the alley next to the house. With each step, the ground cracked like it was thin ice. I’d take off running, but it didn’t matter, the ground would disappear from under me and I’d fall. I’d fall on spikes and wake up just before they punctured my skin. It lasted until I graduated high school.

the devil's playgroundThe main character, Jake, in Alice J. Black’s The Devil’s Playground suffers from a reoccurring nightmare. It stems from the mysterious disappearance of his father, but it doesn’t stop at his high school graduation, it sticks with him throughout the rest of his life. The best thing in the character’s life happens: he gets engaged with the love of his life, Sam. Then the worst thing in Jake’s life happens: he suffers an accident that lands him in a coma. Even worse, he’s stuck inside that reoccurring nightmare, the Devil’s Playground.

What follows next is one of the most intense adventures that a character can experience. While Jake is in the playground, Sam also goes through the very real experience of dealing with the aftermath. Her fiancé is in a coma, there’s suddenly a void in her life. Black crafts such an interesting story that makes you want to read both character’s story arcs. Even though Jake’s fate will sometimes hang in the balance, the section changes and the reader is equally fascinated with the emotional journey of Sam.

Without giving anything away, one of the most interesting parts of the story is the Devil’s Playground itself. Jake awakens to find himself literally in a living Hell. The reaction after Jake realizes that he is not actually dreaming is priceless, but it’s just one of the many things that make this story memorable. The Playground is filled with grim versions of reality, sadistic hallucinations, and the bloodthirsty creatures that inhabit it. 

That’s where the book shines. When Jake’s section begins there is this buildup of tension and dread that will either payoff or cliff hang. The novel transitions to the emotional wreck that is Sam. This both allows the reader some time to calm themselves and to push Jake to the back of their minds while they sympathize with Sam and her feelings of utter hopelessness. Of course the novel will transition back to Jake’s story and the tension will begin to rise again. 

As a horror writer, even I had moments when I’d hear a noise outside and develop uneasy feelings. There was one such moment where I had to put aside the story and listen for the source of the noise. This was the first time in a very long time that I’ve been creeped out by a novel. 

The nice thing about this novel is that it doesn’t focus on blood, gore, foul language, or sexual content like most of the horror genre of our times. Yes, the Devil’s Playground does contain scenes where there is blood and gore, but it’s a practical use to them. Black isn’t excessive with the usage of them. 

If there was one thing that I did not like about The Devil’s Playground it’s that not everything is explained. The reader is wanting more. Which, admittedly, is not a terrible thing because there is definitely room for a sequel should the author desire to continue on with the story. 

If you’re a fan of horror, thriller, or dream novels then this is one for you to read. It can be found on Amazon.com as well as www.burningwillowpressllc.com.

Stephen King’s “The Outsider”

 

As a friend told me when I was trying to explain to her my fascination with this novel, she told me I was biased. And I guess I am biased because I’ve been reading Stephen King since I’ve been in the sixth grade starting with IT and then Gerald’s Game. In retrospect, I really shouldn’t have been reading those books when I was so young, almost twenty years ago mind you, but there it is. I am a fan of everything King has written. I’m not his #1 fan (Misery reference) but I’m close.

Having said that, the novel I’m now reviewing is one of my favorite of Kings. If I had to rank it among his other work, because everyone ranks everything these days, I’d have to rank it in my top ten King novels.

The novel centers around a police investigation into the brutal murder of a young male child. For those of literary weak stomached this might not be for you. In the early part of the first section there are police transcripts of the dialogue between the investigators and the eye witnesses. Each claim that the murder suspect was the one they spotted leaving or going to the scene of the crime. Then there is the forensic evidence that all points to that very same murder suspect. The problem is that once arrested, the suspect provides an iron clad alibi for his whereabouts that day, in particular to the time of the abduction and murder of the young boy. This, of course, is where King takes the readers on a different tangent where what the character’s faith in modern science is challenged by the supernatural force that is The Outsider.

There are just a few aspects of the novel that I would like to touch on. The first is the detail that King is famous for, and sometimes harshly criticized. The detail that King employs in this novel is necessary to paint a vivid picture for the readers. The brutally of the crime at the beginning, while grotesque and horrifically detailed, only serves to show what kind of monster the police believe the suspect to be. From that point on, there are moments that King has created such a clear picture in my head that I had to shut the book for a moment and watch a happy video on YouTube.

Another aspect of the novel I enjoyed were the character development throughout the novel. One of the main characters, Ralph Anderson, is such a set in his way type of detective that he couldn’t believe in the idea of the Outsider right up to the point of encountering the being. His world, universal, view on what is and what is not is constantly challenged and you see that change Ralph. Each character ranging from the minor characters all the way to the major characters are fleshed out to a degree that I felt empathy for the characters when they suffered and occasionally died.

King is never one to shy away from killing his darlings and when characters do bite the bullet, it’s always a surprise. Some of the deaths were such a shock that I had to cue up those happy YouTube videos again.

The last thing I’d like to touch on what I really liked about the novel was the surprise entrance of a character from one of King’s other novels. King typically involves characters, symbols, plots, and other aspects of his other novels. This one though was so major that I laughed out loud when I realized who he was crossing over into this tale. The crossover fit so naturally and so smoothly that King might as well of added a sub title for The Outsider with the title of the cross over character’s book but add a .5 at the end. I wouldn’t deprive what character or book(s) that King crossed over because that would ruin the surprise and joy the reader would get when he/she reaches that particular moment.

If I had to be critical of King for one thing in the novel, it would be that it was heavily influenced by Brian Stoker’s Dracula. Whether King intentionally planned it that way or not, the plot is essentially the same, modernity verse supernatural theme is present in both, and the use of letters in Dracula and the use of police witness interrogation transcripts in The Outsider is also similar. The vampire is even mentioned by name in King’s work. When friends ask what I thought of the book I call it the modern day Dracula. Now having said this, it is both a good and a bad thing towards the book. That’s all I’ll say on that.

Overall, the book is a must buy for both King fans and fans of horror. Or really for those that like a good supernatural who done it mystery novel. Kindle price is a bit high in my opinion which caused me to purchase the book in hardback at Walmart for about the same price. Believe me though, it’s worth the price tag. If you read one book during the summer, I’d suggest this book over any other. Just make sure that you have something handy to defend yourself when you open your front door and find a doppelgänger of yourself.

Have you read King’s new novel? What did you think of it? What do you think of King in general? Leave a comment below and make sure to share with all your King friends!

Gunslinger Girl by Lyndsay Ely

548480339.jpegThis is the debut novel for author Lyndsay Ely, but when you read it there isn’t an indication of that fact. Except when you read the author bio of course. It’s so expertly written and edited that you would have thought it was Ely’s fourth or fifth novel. If this is the level of talent that Ely exudes in her first novel, one can only imagine what the future holds for her.

As far as the quality of the product, I purchased this in hardback which I highly advise. The book, published in January 2018 by Jimmy Patterson Books which is an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, weighs in at 422 pages. What I like about the actual book itself, the binding of it allows you the ability to open it up and lay it flat without the book closing. The book jacket has a nice feel to it. The artwork is phenomenal as well. Kudos to Brandon Hill. The formatting is also nice. At the beginning of the chapter there’s a rustic look to the page which adds to the feel of a dystopian western feel. Overall, it added to my appreciation of the book overall.

I know you didn’t read this wanting to know what I thought about the book itself, but the contents inside of it. So let’s jump into the pages of Gunslinger Girl and see what I liked about it.

The story is set in a future about two decades after the Second Civil War ends. The United States is no longer around having been replaced by the Confederation of North America, CONA for short. Readers are plunged into the narrative of a teenage girl named Serendipity “Pity” Jones. Pity lives on one of the many communes that scatter the CONA west. Her commune is responsible for raising crops to send back East.

Readers will sympathize with Pity as she is berated and belittled by her father and two brothers. Her mother, who Pity takes after, died long before the book begins. Certain circumstances arise forcing Pity to wind up in Cessastion. Think New Vegas in the video game Fallout: New Vegas, with the colorfulness of Hunger Games. Pity becomes part of a theater act and known as “the fastest sharpshooter in tomorrow’s West.”

Pity then becomes involved in a twisted behind-the-scenes political game where she’ll have to make some decisions that test her moral compass. She’ll have to rely on that compass and back it up with the six shooters on her hip if she wants to survive.

Pity’s story is an excellent coming of age novel that’s set in a dystopian western that incorporates futuristic technology you’d find in Hunger Games. There’s also the playful grittiness involved that you’d commonly find in a western, The Quick and the Dead (1995) for example.

I won’t spoil the plot any further. I wouldn’t want to have Pity hunt me down and force me to join the theater.

The book is marketed towards Young Adults, but I would recommend this book to anyone that likes futuristic westerns. It’s got romance without being explicit, death, action, adventure, political themes, and the hints of a really interesting sequel. I’m not ashamed to say that, as a 32 year old man, I had a tear or two in my eye when I finished reading it…. maybe just a sliver of a tear. I can’t remember when I’ve spent an entire Sunday reading, it was that good of a read.

Here’s hoping that this novel is just the first in Serendipity Jones’s story. Have you read this book yet? Let me know in the comments below on whether you share my opinion or have a different one.

You can purchase Gunslinger Girl here and read it for yourself.

El Sendero by Mark Reefe

el senderoFor those that haven’t read the first in this trilogy written by Mark Reefe, I’d advice that you do so now before you die. Otherwise, Finn McCallan might come down to Hell and give you a beating worse than what you’re normally accustomed to. For those that have read The Road to Jericho, but have not  had a chance to sink their teeth into El Sendero then what are you reading this review for? You’re wasting valuable time. Go out and read this amazing book now and then come back and read my review. Don’t worry I’ll wait.

I’m assuming that either you’ve already read the books and would like to know what I thought or you’ve not read the books and want to know my opinion before you make that choice. So the short answer is yes, you should definitely purchase these books. Buy them on eBook or better yet, purchase them in paperback. They’ll make a great addition to your bookcase next to the Ted Dekker and Stephen King books. Because if you like Dekker and King, you’ll find a comfortable home in the books of Reefe.

El Sendero picks up some time after the events of The Road to Jericho with Finn having settled into a life with his love, Carmen, and her mother on a ranch south of the Mexican/United States border. That life comes to a crashing halt when Miguel, who was an ally in the first book, comes to the ranch looking to enlist Finn’s help in uncovering the mystery behind the disappearance of an entire town. Reluctantly, Finn goes along and together they travel to El Sendero where they uncover a sinister supernatural plot to destroy the world.

There are many things I’d like to discuss about this novel, but I can’t because I don’t want to spoil anything for those that haven’t read this great book. What I will say is that the writing, editing, and formatting of this book was fantastic. There was one editing mistake later in the book, but it was minuscule and didn’t effect the turn out of the story.

The best part of El Sendero had to be the characters. The way Reefe writes these characters, you’d think they could leap off the page and interact with the reader. Which could be a good or a bad thing depending on the character. I’d like to party with Miguel, drink bourbon with Finn, taste the chorizo breakfast tacos with Flora, and do some other things with Carmen that I can’t detail in this particular review. On the other side, I wouldn’t want to encounter La Prophetisa in a dark alley or a dark cathedral.

The ending to this story leaves the reader wanting more which is a good thing because book three, The Valley of Hinnom, is coming soon.

For those that enjoy religious thrillers this and The Road to Jericho is going to be one you’ll want to read. There isn’t much that I didn’t like about this book except that it was too short and I wanted more. If I had to pick something that I didn’t like it would have to be one character’s disappearance from the narrative later on in the book. That really didn’t deter the story and probably helped things progress towards how it ended. Overall, I’d give El Sendero a 5 out of 5. Can’t wait to see how Finn fairs in the last of the Hell Walker Trilogy.

El Sendero and The Road to Jericho are both published by Burning Willow Press.

Star Wars: Ahsoka

1200334096Written by E.K. Johnston, this prequel book is set between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and Episode IV: A New Hope. If you’ve watched the animated series, this story takes place between the shows Star Wars: The Clone Wars and Star Wars: Rebels. It follows the story of Ahsoka Tano, Anakin Sywalker’s padawan that left the Jedi Order during the events of the animated television show Star Wars: The Clone Wars.

If you’re a fan of the animated series then this is a novel that will definitely pique your interest. The character of Ahsoka Tano has never graced the big screen in any of the nine films and has only been seen in the animated series. With the exception of Bail Organa, the Grand Inquisitor, and a few flashback cameos there are only new faces to the Star Wars Universe.

Having escaped the Jedi mass murder known as Order 66, the reader gets a sense of how Ahsoka has managed to escape capture and remain hidden from the Empire’s grasp. She settles on a moon called Raada and does her best to blend in to the farmers on the outer rim as an engineer. Of course, the Force has something else planned for her and eventually, the Empire makes its way to the moon with the intent of hijacking the farming operation and using the farmers as a workforce to farm food for Imperial Stormtroopers. Ahsoka must make the choice of aiding the disgruntled farmers face off against the Empire or fleeing the moon in order to evade being discovered.

For fans of Star Wars: Rebels, we all know that Ahsoka becomes the Resistance’s Spymaster known as Fulcrum. This book ends leading straight into the Rebel’s television show. For fans of the character of Ahsoka Tano, this is an amazing book that captures the voice and personality of the palawan. Johnston really pulls this off by having moments where Ahsoka struggles with trying to conceal her Force powers and trying to decide what the best course of action is. In order to decide, she reminisces about what Anakin, Obi-Wan, Yoda, or even R2-D2 would do in that situation. Even though the readers know that all of Ahsoka’s mentors are still alive, Ahsoka doesn’t and simply by remembering them she grieves for their loss.

The story builds to the scene where Ahsoka decides to fully embrace the Force and become part of the fight against the Empire and it’s such a brilliant scene. I’m not sure that even Dave Filoni could create as vivid a scene than Johnston did in her book. This is a fitting bridge that explains the lost Ahsoka era that fans so desperately craved when Star Wars: The Clone Wars ended so abruptly.

This is a book that you’ll want to read if you’ve seen the animated series and ever wondered what happened to Ahsoka. Even if you’ve never seen the animated series, this is absolutely a novel to at least read through once or twice.

I would encourage you to purchase and read this great entry into the Star Wars Universe. You can purchase it here in eBook or physical.