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Category Archives: Horror

The Burning Dark by Adam Christopher

The Burning DarkPremise: Captain Abraham Idaho Cleveland is a war hero ready to retire. For his last assignment he has been sent to the remote U-Star Coast City, a space station being dismantled for decommission. It rests near the strange star known as Shadow, with eerie purple light that has incalculable effects on those who look at it. The remaining crew aboard the Coast City are less than friendly, and skeptical of the Fleet Medal Cleveland wears, especially once he discovers the mission where he saved an entire planet from being destroyed by spiders has been wiped from existence in the database.

Shadow causes all sorts of electrical malfunctions and interference with communication, but its light also causes the crew to hear and see things that may or may not really be there. When Cleveland picks up radio communications on the banned subspace channels, he discovers a message from far away and long ago. With creeping shadows and malfunctioning electronics, he and the rest of the crew begin to think they are seeing ghosts. Or perhaps it’s just the negative effects from the looming purple star.

Themes: Ida Cleveland does all he can to uphold honor and respect, especially with records of his heroics being wiped from all knowledge. Nobody on board the station believes he actually earned the prestigious Fleet Medal, and because of this he feels he must prove his own valor to the rest of the crew. As a retired captain, the other soldiers don’t pay him the same respect as if he were still an officer.

Friends are hard to come by in the remote space station, especially when Cleveland is new to the crew. He befriends a medic named Izanami, but sees her only occasionally on the large station. The established crew already have their allegiances, and nobody wants to give Cleveland a chance especially with there being no record of him earning his medal. Lacking any true friends, he spends most of his time alone in his cabin listening on his piecemeal radio.

Pros: The Burning Dark is creepy, and it gets progressively creepier. Christopher made some intense characters in The Burning Dark, with the space station and the nearby star gaining personalities of their own. Everything is suspect when it comes to trusting senses or how characters perceive their surroundings, including interactions with other people aboard the Coast City. I like that there are multiple dangers all around for everybody in the enemy spiders, churning shadows, and the ever-present star Shadow and its odd purple light, all within the vacuum of space.

Cons: Without giving a spoiler, I think it was about halfway through the book (before the author gives away one important secret) that I actually figured out one of the main secrets happening on this secluded station. It doesn’t make the story less creepy or intense, but it’s the angle the story later takes that I felt could have been left more ambiguous. Thankfully, I didn’t think it went off the rails at the end, but it left me with the feeling of being set up for another book.

Recommendations: I’ve read a couple other books from Adam Christopher that I’ve really enjoyed, but I’ll say this is probably my favorite of his I’ve read to date. In The Burning Dark, he’s done a thoughtful crossover between science fiction and horror that sits firmly in either genre. The story takes an unexpected turn at the end, but manages to keep the reader on their toes. While The Burning Dark stands on its own as a story, I would gladly read another set in this universe of cyborg insects and subspace ghosts. Read at your own risk. You might find yourself jumping at shadows and hearing voices in radio static.

Adam Christopher’s website
The Burning Dark on Goodreads
Buy The Burning Dark on Amazon

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Posted by on April 18, 2014 in Horror, Science Fiction

 

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What God Hath Joined by Mike Lewis

Premise: The zombie apocalypse has hit, but Mike and his wife Samantha are prepared. They have fortified their home, stockpiled resources, and are well-armed against both threats of humans and undead. They are faring better than most.

When strangers are being chased by hungry zombies, Mike’s only option is to let them into his secure world. When he introduces these new people to his wife, their colliding worlds end in simultaneous hope and tragedy, depending on whose perspective you take. It is in Mike’s nature to help those in need, but his faith in God and his vows to his wife are of utmost importance to him, promises that he takes seriously.

Themes: Mike’s marriage to his wife takes on the key theme in What God Hath Joined, especially how he cares for Samantha through the horrible circumstances they are under and the things he must do for her.

This is also a story about faith in God and how that colors how you live your life, helping others and fulfilling promises. The problem is such beliefs are challenged when one conflicts with the other.

Pros: The ending is a bit of a surprise, though the protagonist’s motives make it more believable. The setting is laid out well in such a brief story. All the characters felt like they were behaving realistically in a zombie apocalypse setting, with panic and wariness of strangers, but also with a bit of thankfulness for the human interaction. There is a big challenge to the reader to examine your own beliefs and consider how you might act under the circumstances. The Christian beliefs of the protagonist come across as genuine.

Cons: The dialogue felt stilted, especially as Mike verbalizes his motives. Though it is a short story, cutting out some of the infodumping dialogue of the protagonist and changing it to internal monologue or more natural conversation would probably have helped shape the character personalities and made the whole thing flow a little better. The ending is good, if not abrupt, and apparently there is electricity to watch movies and for an automatic garage door.

Recommendations: A Christian audience might overlook a story like this because of its content, but with it Mike may have single-handedly created a new sub-genre: Christian zombie fiction. But it isn’t overly preachy. What God Hath Joined is a surprisingly fun zombie short story with serious implications for faithfulness to religious beliefs and marital promises. Give it a shot with an open mind about your own beliefs, but you might end up liking it just because it’s a good story.

Download What God Hath Joined for your Kindle
I received a copy from the author to write this honest review. He’s also my brother.

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2013 in Horror, Short Story, Theology

 

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Teacher’s Pest by Charles Gilman

Teacher's Pest (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3)Premise: Robert Arthur has defeated Professor Gargoyle and The Slither Sisters in Crawford Tillinghast’s plot to take over the world: by bringing his strange monsters from the supposedly destroyed Tillinghast Mansion into the grounds of Lovecraft Middle School. With help from his friends Karina Ortiz, Glenn Torkells, and the two-headed rat named Pip and Squeak, Robert was able to defeat the Price sisters by winning the election for student council president. But Robert never wanted to be student council president, so he withdrew his bid and gave the position to the friendly Howard Mergler. The problem is that Howard is really a giant bug creature in disguise with the ability to control insects to do his bidding.

Howard’s new plot is to infest the school with massive swarms of insects all over Lovecraft Middle School. What a bad time for the janitorial staff to go on strike. As student council president, Howard is trusted by the adoring faculty and staff. There are few who know what he really is, and it is up to Robert, Karina, Glenn, and their pet rat to save the day yet again. Can they defeat a massive insect army led by a giant insect general intent on taking over the world?

Themes: The strength of friendship is put to the test in Teacher’s Pest. Pip and Squeak go missing and Robert will do whatever it takes to get them back. Glenn also grows distant after he is stung by a giant wasp, so Robert attempts to connect with his bully friend. But the reasons for Glenn putting off his friends might be the one thing that Robert can relate to, if only they could be forthcoming with each other. These friends are willing to put themselves in danger for each other.

Appearances are not a good way to judge people. On the outside, Howard Mergler is a well-dressed, polite, wonderful student. On the inside, he is a cruel bug-monster plotting to take over the world. On the flip-side, Robert is a loner with almost no friends, but after his previous fights and the bravery he displays in battling dark forces, he shows that great things can come from unexpected places.

Pros: Teacher’s Pest is full of action and a sense of real danger, more so even than the previous two books. There is some interpersonal conflict not found in the previous books that isn’t necessarily germane to the plot but adds a much deeper character development for the three main characters. Even with the intense action, I thought Teacher’s Pest was more appropriate for younger children than the other books, with less of a scary horror element and more of a gross out factor. Kids will love the bugs, rats, and eyeball monsters. As with the previous two books, the shapeshifting cover is awesome.

Cons: The main characters make some odd decisions that were out of character, excepting for the disjointed thought processes of middle school students. Both Robert and Glenn treat friends terribly at some point: Robert out of fear and Glenn out of embarrassment. The behavior is built up over a considerable time, especially in the case of Glenn, and then the explanation is almost too simplistic. There were also almost no references to the work of H.P. Lovecraft apart from an instance of chanting in another language, which is kind of a disappointment for Lovecraft fans seeking elements of homage to the horror great.

Recommendations: Make sure you read the first two books in the Lovecraft Middle School series to get a lot of setup information, some of which will be necessary to understand the plot, but most of which will just make the entire experience much better. This series has very high quality writing that is easy to read. It has horror elements that might be too intense for readers on the younger end of the middle grade spectrum, though Teacher’s Pest is more appropriate for younger middle grade than the first two books. It is packed full of bugs that are sure to gross kids out, in a good way. Robert and his friends show us that kids can do great things, especially when there are teachers and mentors who support them in their efforts.

Lovecraft Middle School website
Teacher’s Pest on Goodreads
Buy Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3: Teacher’s Pest on Amazon
Download Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #3: Teacher’s Pest for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on May 5, 2013 in Childrens, Fantasy, Horror

 

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The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black by E.B. Hudspeth

The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer BlackPremise: Dr. Spencer Black spent his childhood in the 1870s robbing graves with his father and brother. From there he attended the Academy of Medicine in Philadelphia and became an esteemed young surgeon until his strange and disturbing theories proved too strange for most scientists to accept.

Dr. Black finds ways to fund his research, from joining traveling carnivals to doing private showings of his horrifying taxidermy specimens. When his work becomes too much for his family to bear, Dr. Black becomes estranged from his brother. The specimens that he gathers from all around the world lead Dr. Black to some strange beliefs that ancient and mythical creatures may very well have existed, and his obsession is to make them live again. He is labeled a madman by most people and a miracle worker by others.

The first part of The Resurrectionist is a biography of Dr. Spencer Black with correspondences between Dr. Black and his family and colleagues included. The second part is The Codex Extinct Animalia, a collection of labeled anatomical drawings of mythical creatures with explanations of their existence.

Themes: Dr. Black’s descent into madness shows the reader the extent to which obsession can harm someone and those around them. Not only are his relationships with his colleagues and family tarnished, but some are also physically affected, some under unexplained circumstances.

There is a vein of science versus religion, science versus nature, or something of the sort in the biography. As Dr. Black delves deeper into his work, his claims against the existence of God become more vocal. His ability to create new creatures, and life itself, grow more insistent, even as other scientists decry his work.

Pros: The drawings in The Resurrectionist are splendid: the work of an artist who has obviously had practice drawing people and animals. The idea encompassed in The Resurrectionist is unique. The only thing I can think to compare the plot to is Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Hudspeth does a good job capturing the obsession of Dr. Black in his work, especially how it negatively harms his relationships.

Cons: Aside from the drawings, there just isn’t much depth to the story in The Resurrectionist. The idea is there, but it is like a short story attached to a book of drawings. As Dr. Black pushed those around him away, I found myself siding with everyone else instead of him. Some of the anatomical claims about certain bones fitting together and evolutionary anomalies causing ancient genes to reemerge in certain cases just didn’t make sense, as splicing animal parts together through taxidermy doesn’t support claims that they once existed that way. It also wasn’t clear which creatures claimed to have existed because of natural specimens or which were created by Black.

Recommendations: The Resurrectionist is the kind of book you can pick up in the store, flip through the pages, and know if it is something you would be interested in. The Codex of drawings in the back might be enough for some people to pick it up, but the biography was just too short for my taste. The weaknesses in the text wouldn’t be enough for me to purchase a copy myself. I only wish the writing had been more fleshed out because I think E. B. Hudspeth had a good idea and the potential to execute it, but didn’t take the time to do so. More story to back up the drawings would have made The Resurrectionist much better.

E.B. Hudspeth’s website
The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black
Buy The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black on Amazon
Download The Resurrectionist: The Lost Work of Dr. Spencer Black for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on April 23, 2013 in Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror

 

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The Slither Sisters by Charles Gilman

The Slither Sisters (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2)Premise: The Slither Sisters picks up where Professor Gargoyle left off, with Robert Arthur at his new school trying to learn the mysteries of Lovecraft Middle School and the strange creatures that inhabit it. Robert soon discovers that there are gates leading from the school to an alternate dimension that is actually the old Tillinghast Mansion, where Crawford Tillinghast and his scientists were thought to have perished under questionable circumstances.

After coming back from their mysterious disappearance, Sylvia and Sarah Price run a campaign for class president. Robert and his friends Karina Ortiz and former bully Glenn Torkells will have to find a way to hinder this small step on the way to the Price sisters and the dark powers behind them taking over the school. As Robert uncovers these secrets it will be up to him and his friends to protect the students and teachers who are unaware of the sinister plots going on around them.

Nothing is as it seems and so many people are not who they appear, and learning who to trust will be important for the survival of Robert, his friends, and everyone else at Lovecraft Middle School.

Themes: Leadership and responsibility are traits that are bestowed on people, sometimes without a choice. With so many people at Lovecraft Middle School being clueless as to the dangers around them, Robert finds that it will be up to him to protect them.

Appearances are deceiving, especially at Lovecraft Middle School. Anybody could have their bodies taken over by creatures from another dimension, while others might be on Robert’s side without him even knowing it. Knowing who to trust is a challenge, but the truth can be discovered through dangerous research and perseverance.

Pros: Just like the first book, the cover is really cool, with a transforming lenticular image changing from the seemingly innocent sisters to their snake-like alter egos. This cover will not be as off-putting as the Professor Gargoyle cover as it isn’t as scary or demonic. The Slither Sisters includes some H.P. Lovecraft tidbits, such as tiny Cthulus infesting our world under the guise as hermit crabs. We get the same fast-paced book as the first, with a little bit of extra character development. The conflict is better fleshed out than book one, I thought the twist ending actually helped make The Slither Sisters even better than the first book.

Cons: Again, the cover is a spoiler for the antagonists of this story, though we got some hints at it from the first book in what the goal of the enemy is. The only character I wish we would have gotten some more fleshing out with was Karina. Hers is the most mysterious of the main characters and we still don’t know much about her.

Recommendations: The Slither Sisters is the second book in the Lovecraft Middle School series. It picks up where Professor Gargoyle ended and takes the story to new depths. Thankfully, these are just the right length for middle grade readers, though adults will probably enjoy Lovecraft Middle School just as much, especially H.P. Lovecraft fans. Kids should have some parental guidance, but this book was not nearly as scary or creepy as Professor Gargoyle. The Slither Sisters is even better than its predecessor, but readers will want to read Professor Gargoyle first in order to get a foundation of characters and plot.

Lovecraft Middle School website
The Slither Sisters
Buy Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2: The Slither Sisters from Amazon
Download Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #2: The Slither Sisters for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on April 21, 2013 in Childrens, Fantasy, Horror

 

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Professor Gargoyle by Charles Gilman

Professor Gargoyle (Tales from Lovecraft Middle School, #1)Premise: Robert Arthur is at a new school, Lovecraft Middle School, where he struggles with the same things every middle school student does: new classes, homework, meeting new people, bullies, teachers, and…monsters.

As he makes friends with the most unlikely of characters, Robert soon learns that his new school holds some old secrets that might help explain some of the strange things that are happening to him. Some of his new friends might also have some secrets of their own to help reveal some of the school’s mysteries. What funereal things and monstrous creatures will Robert encounter at Lovecraft Middle School as he uncovers its secrets?

Themes: The problem of bullying is confronted right from the beginning as Robert enters his new school, yet still must deal with Glenn Torkells, the kid who has been bullying him for years. But when they both encounter the same strange occurrence together, their relationship might end up changing because of it.

Making new friends is always difficult, but seemingly more difficult when kids enter a new school. When another student goes out of their way to befriend another, it can be alarming, yet relieving in spite of their own quirks. Karina Ortiz does this for Robert as she talks to Robert when no one else does.

Living in a single-parent family can also be a struggle, especially when it is time for parent-teacher conferences and your mother works to support the family. When interactions between the parent and child are limited, those precious moments can mean a lot to both the parent and the child.

Pros: The cover has the cool factor of having a moving image showing the transformation of Professor Gargoyle. The story is fun and easy to read, especially as an introduction to the H.P. Lovecraft mythos, but also as a fast-paced action story for middle school kids. This first book manages to introduce some horror elements without being too scary. In fact, it is more humorous than anything, taking on common middle school problems with an element of peril. The action is pretty good and light enough for the intended younger audience. I think most H.P. Lovecraft fans will especially enjoy this more modern and lighthearted spin on his work. Did I mention the cover is cool?

Cons: Probably the most disturbing thing about Professor Gargoyle is the cover itself. While the cool moving image on the cover shows some depth to the namesake character, the demonic image will probably be a deterrent to parents letting their kids read this book, and for the younger end of the recommended age I think it is rightfully so. And on top of this, the cover is a terrible spoiler for the character. While the history behind the school is minimally explained in general terms, I assume more will be revealed in later books.

Recommendations: Professor Gargoyle is not only a good introduction to this series but also to the mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft. The neat cover alone was intriguing enough to pull me in, and what I found was a fun introduction of a mysterious new series where nothing is as it seems and danger can be averted through teamwork and ingenuity. With the demonic elements I would recommend that kids are a little older before reading Professor Gargoyle, and with some parental guidance. Don’t let the scary image on the cover keep you from giving it a shot, though I doubt that will be a problem for fans of the horror master. In this first book, just like Lovecraft Middle School itself, Gilman has created something new out of something old with Professor Gargoyle.

Lovecraft Middle School website
Professor Gargoyle on Goodreads
Buy Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle on Amazon
Download Tales from Lovecraft Middle School #1: Professor Gargoyle for your Kindle
I received a copy from the publisher to write this honest review.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Childrens, Fantasy, Horror

 

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The Troupe by Robert Jackson Bennett

The TroupePremise: Vaudevillian pianist George Carole has an amazing gift for his age. At sixteen he plays with a variety of artists, but he eventually catches up with the troupe leader he believes is his father: Heironomo Silenus. What he discovers is that, even for vaudeville, his father’s troupe performs strange acts that cannot really be explained, and that those performances change the people and the world around them in remarkable ways.

What George learns as he follows Silenus is that they too are on the run because George is not the only one chasing them. The troupe is toying with ancient and dangerous secrets, to the extent that the very fabric of existence is in danger. Light and music are important for the universe, and it is these things that Silenus seeks. But those chasing him want them too, and they will destroy everything in their way to get them.

George soon learns that his gift is more important than he thought, and the secrets the troupe is holding and chasing are of the utmost importance for everyone and everything.

Themes: As George seeks to know his father, the theme of family is explored in depth and from many angles. When he learns that Silenus is his father, the man turns out to be nothing he expected. His ideals of family are broken and the relationship he sought becomes more difficult to piece together.

With the bold task of explaining existence, The Troupe ponders the questions a creation has for its Creator, however that might look. Explaining life and death and the reasons for everything, this grand undertaking of the ultimate question becomes the reason for the troupe to continue their performances. Each member of Silenus’ troupe asks these questions in their own way.

Grief from loss simmers to the top as a theme of The Troupe. With strange occurrences around every corner, the motive becomes clear why the troupe continues on as is does, running from secrets and searching for answers. Silenus leads his crew on a seemingly wild goose chase for those answers.

Pros: Not only does Bennett create compelling characters, he infuses them with flaws and conflicts. But most of all he summons with them strong emotions. Robert Jackson Bennett does something in The Troupe that is uncommon: he made me feel things. At separate times, I laughed, I was fearful, and genuinely sad, all in the same book. We read realistic and common interactions between the characters, such as a boy’s infatuation with a girl for the first time, a father’s love for his child, and a man’s obsession for a goal. There are so many different magical elements here that the reader is left wondering if this really is the world we live in, with its dark corners and pinpoints of light.

Cons: There is quite a bit of profanity in The Troupe, most of it coming from Silenus, though it is fitting for the harshness of his character. There were so many fantastical things thrown into this magical book that there were a few times I got a bit lost and questioned the need for a couple of those elements. The story has some horror-like qualities that lead the reader into a somewhat depressing direction.

Recommendations: In The Troupe, Robert Jackson Bennett has done something that few authors have done with great success. I feel about The Troupe similar to the way I felt about reading Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell the first time. While not quite as comprehensively historical as Susanna Clarke’s masterpiece, the magical elements and complete characters created a similar-feeling world. It is a magical story with so many twists and turns with realistic, emotion-evoking interactions between characters, I was ready to go back and read it again as soon as I turned the last page.

Robert Jackson Bennett’s website
The Troupe on Goodreads
Buy The Troupe on Amazon
Download The Troupe for your Kindle

 
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Posted by on March 23, 2013 in Fantasy, Horror

 

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