Acadia’s Law: Book Review

Acadia's Law Cover

Synopsis: Ask yourself: How would YOU survive an epidemic?
Acadia King is a young widow suddenly faced with answering this question, and in ways she could have never dreamed possible at the start of her evening. It has been two long years since the death of her husband. Caving to the pressure from her good friends to go on a blind date, Acadia’s plans for a night of simple pleasures are about to get complicated. Not only does Acadia meet a younger, impossibly hot man named Rod, a viral epidemic that turns people into homicidal crazies has begun to sweep across the Twin Cities and the hotel bar erupts into a savage battleground. Acadia and Rod, along with Rod’s two offensive linemen and a blonde groupie, barely escape with their lives. Acadia, having no other choice besides ditching them on the side of the road, reluctantly leads the group back to her home on King Farm.
Forced together on the farm, pragmatic Acadia refuses to be further tempted by Rod “The Ram” Ramaldi, smiling player and golden-boy superstud. In fact, he disgusts her. After all, what man in his right mind has time for fooling around with love when every minute should count towards survival preparedness? 
Overnight, the epidemic tears loose the thin veneer of civilization. Infected crazies are not the only battle the survivors on King Farm will fight against when greed, betrayal, and lawless chaos start to rule. Threatened on all sides, Acadia vows to protect the family and friends she has left, at any cost. Her promise is put to the test immediately, but does Acadia have the skills and strength to be the leader their small band needs to live?

I’ve seen a number of genre mashups in the past several years. Space cowboys vs. gangsters, aliens vs. cowboys, vampires vs. Abe Lincoln, you get the idea. Some of these are great stories that bring new life to a tired genre. But if an author smashes two genres together without a good reason, they are as appetizing as a peanut butter and salami sandwich.

Acadia’s Law is a zombie apocalypse vs. Romance mashup, and I admit, I was skeptical. I’ve seen some good romantic subplots in The Walking Dead. Hell, I’ve written a few more in my head that involved Norman Reedus, but romance seems to take a back seat in most tales of the end of the world. There are a lot of women reading and writing in the zombie fiction genre, and Tracy Ellen offers a delicious story that’s action packed, romantic and funny, with plenty of danger and squishy undead gore.

I’m always happy to see women as protagonists. Acadia King is a businesswoman and self-described dictator. She works her network like a pro and can organize a small army of people to fortify her ranch when she realizes a “4377” emergency is looming. She wasn’t counting on three professional football players–one of whom she’d had a little fun with in an elevator–following her home from a night out on the town. She deals with it, and him, as best she can. She’s intelligent, sarcastic, and some of her one-liners are hilarious.

Acadia is one cape short of a superhero. A character with this much going for her needs to have some flaws to make her a bit more real. She has self-esteem issues, and is still grieving her husband’s death, so I’m hoping that the next books show her dealing with crises and making mistakes in a very human way.

I found a few things in the novel that dumped me out of the story abruptly. The author uses a lot of clichés. “Hell bent for leather,” and “just what the doctor ordered” and “bet the farm” are just a few examples. While I can give a pass to these things said in dialogue by a character, there were so many that they stuck out. In addition to this, two of the football players’ speech and manners are so clichéd it is often offensive.

The action scenes are fantastic. This is no pretty romantic tea party with zombies on the sidelines! Ellen is talented at showing scenes of bloody chaos. The outbreak in the hotel and the flight to safety had me right there in the lobby watching the outbreak in shock. Another scene involving a shotgun, a zombie and a very small space was delightfully horrific. As for the rest of the book, not all the bad guys are shambling biters, and not every perceived threat is real.

Overall, the book was a bit slow to get started, but once I was past the first quarter of the novel, the pacing was good and the action (both zombie and, um, otherwise) was better. Books are judged by their covers.The cover art is amateurish, and I fear that readers will turn away from a good, independently published book because of it. I hope the author invests in a capable cover artist for the next books in the series.

I recommend this book to zombie fans, especially women who want to see a little more than just a wink and a nod at romantic entanglements between characters. It is absolutely written for a mature audience, not suitable for younger readers.

 

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. Originally published at www.bookie-monster.com

 

 

Salem’s Vengeance: Book Review

Salem's Vengeance

Synopsis: Sixteen-year-old Sarah Kelly never expected to meet the Devil’s daughter. She only sought innocent dancing in the moonlight, not a coven entranced by their dark priestess. 
When her friends partake of a powder meant to conjure spirits – and the results go horribly awry – Sarah is forced to make a choice. To keep their secret risks her own damnation, but to condemn them may invoke the accusing remnants of Salem to rise again.

Horror writers invent scenarios to scare us. Readers are delighted to be frightened because the horror to which we willingly subject ourselves is fictional. Evil perpetrated by other humans in our past and present are very real. Aaron Galvin uses the historic Massachusetts witch hysteria in 1692-93 as a prelude to the novel, Salem’s Vengeance.

I took my eReader to the auto shop, intending to kill some time reading while I waited for my repairs. When the attendant called my name to pick up my car, I was shocked. It wasn’t time! I’d only been sitting there reading for a few minutes! No. I’d been there few minutes shy of two and a half hours, completely engrossed in this story.

Sarah Kelly, a sixteen-year-old young woman, joins her friends Emma, Ruth, and Charlotte for a midnight dance under the full moon. She loves the danger of sneaking out of her house, the freedom of dancing with her friends, and the respite from her puritanical father.

This night is different. Other dancers arrive from “the North” and an enigmatic woman called Hecate is officiating. Sarah sees the “strange customs” of the woman at the dance, and watches as Ruth and Charlotte are given a black powder with alarming effects. Sarah doesn’t feel right and resists joining in. Hecate gives Sarah a journal and tells her, “Learn your truth… as I did.” Sarah and Emma flee for home, but events are set in motion for another witchcraft hysteria, this time in their small town of Winford.

Sarah reads the journal, a first-hand account of the events in Salem some 20 years prior. The secrets revealed in the pages, and the madness overtaking Winford threaten to sweep Sarah and her family into another panic.

Salems Vengeance is beautifully written. The author did a fine job of evoking 17th-century English usage into a form that recalls the period without making it sound pretentious. Sarah squabbles with siblings, teases her friends and titters at handsome young men in ways perfectly appropriate for a sheltered child of Calvinists.

As for the historical aspects of the story, I didn’t dig too deeply but what I found on a cursory fact-check was accurate in the modern understanding of the witch trials in Massachusetts.

I highly recommend this novel. If you enjoy YA fiction, or historical fiction, or straight-up horror, you’re going to like this. Danger, mysterious strangers, a touch of romance, thrilling action and gruesome supernatural-inspired horror all combine to make a fantastic read.

 

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of the review.  This review originally published at www.bookie-monster.com

Best Night of the Year: Book Review

Best Night of the Year Cover

The Best Night of the Year by Gerald Dean Rice

It’s that time of year again! October is my favorite month, and The Best Night of the Year delivers three spooky short tales of Halloween horror.

Synopsis:

The Best Night of the Year contains 3 tales of terror from the author of Fleshbags. Two police officers make a routine yearly stop and get a treat that will last them the rest of their lives. A man trying to bond with his stepson while trick-or-treating welcomes a lone child to join them. A gravedigger discovers a trick that puts his life on the line. Stick around ‘till the end for an excerpt of the upcoming novella, “Axe to the face.”

“Mona” kicks off the collection. It seems the women of the Echols family have a history of bad behavior on Halloween night, and two deputies show up to do a welfare check.  Carl and Wendell are just doing their jobs, but given the history of the house and the owner, they can’t very well just say “hello” and move on. True to the spirit of the night, Mona makes an offer. Is it a trick or a treat? You’ll have to read it to find out.

“They all know what your mama did. And her mama. And her mama. So on and so forth, like ‘at. You’re already guilty by virtue of your last name.”

“The Best Night of the Year” takes us into the mean streets of trick-or-treat. A man and his stepson work the neighborhood and pal up with a kid who is door-knocking by himself. They flee the spoiled brats and grumpy adults in search of candy. Who is the real monster here? The children hiding in their costumes or the adults who only pour out bounty to the beautiful?

“Where’s your momma?”

He turned his whole body to face me. “Momma didn’t bring me. I came by myself.It’s the only day I get to come outside and I can stay out aaaaalll night as long as I want. It’s the best night of the whole year!”

“Do Not Dig” completes the trilogy. Gravediggers have a rough job, and who would mind if they take a nip or two while they work? And if n one is around at night, well, the boss isn’t really going to care what goes on as long as the work gets done. One of the team takes a side job, and the money is very, very good.

I leapt back when I saw the broken locks on the open coffin and Mr. Alvo’s arm hanging out. His body had been moved. Like the whole works had been dropped in there instead of being carefully lowered.”

“He was moving, sir,” Munroe said, standing at the lip of the grave.

I’m giving this collection a thumbs-up for a dark Halloween read. The setting of the haunted house, the dangers of trick-or-treating, and whistling past the graveyard are all time-worn favorites. The stories aren’t quite turn-on-the-lights scary, but they do add a good dose of creepy seasonal fun. I particularly liked the title story, where I was certain that the real monster was the one in the tiara. My least favorite was “Mona” simply because I never understood the motivation –the what was there, but not the why. It seems that a chunk of the story was missing and it just hinted at something more sinister without delivering on the history of the family or the house.

I recommend this book to Halloween enthusiasts who like a good Creepshow-inspired tale to spice up their favorite holiday. And remember, give out the good candy to all the kids, no matter how freaky their costume. The collection costs less than a buck, so drop over to Amazon and pick up a copy for your eReader.

 

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. Originally published at www.bookie-monster.com

 

Sleepers II: Book Review

Sleepers 2

Sleepers II by Jacqueline Druga

 Warning! If you have not yet read Sleepers #1, skip this review and come back later.

In the final chapter of Sleepers #1, the survivors are forcibly split into two groups. One group goes to the ARC in the former NORAD headquarters, and another group is left behind on a hospital rooftop. Of course, this left me yelling, “Don’t split the party!” at my eReader, a fairly good indication that I was completely engaged in the story.

Sleepers II opens with the helicopter ride, with Alex, Danny, and Randy carrying Phoenix to the ARC. Though they don’t fully trust the people there, the doctrines state that Phoenix is the hope of mankind, so they make the decision to go. The hope is that a vaccine can be created to protect survivors from the sleeper virus.

This event forces the narrative to split, switching between Mera, Alex, and Randy’s point of view. Mera is a strong character with a strong voice, as is Alex, so it wasn’t difficult to follow their stories. While Mera, Jessie, and Beck fight to survive near Denver, Alex, Danny, and Randy take Phoenix and attempt to thwart the future doctrine that the Phoenix child is critically injured before it reaches the safety of Project Savior.

Alex was one of my favorite characters from the first book. I was glad of the chance to see the world from his eyes, and his actions and his emotional arc were a good counterpoint to Mera’s. Alex is a natural leader and it shows. I also wanted to read more from Randy’s perspective. As a time-traveler with knowledge from the future, his story is doled out in small doses, just enough to give readers a glimpse of what is going on behind the scenes.

There’s no respite from the victims of the sleeper virus. No matter where they go, the parties are discovered and pursued by the relentless, but perhaps not entirely mindless, hordes. Oh yes, it’s going to get frighteningly gruesome. But if you wanted flowers and rainbows, you wouldn’t be reading horror now, would you?

The standard caution for any post-apocalyptic book applies here. Characters you like are going to die. Sometimes, others that everyone gave up for dead survive despite impossible odds. When secondary characters are introduced, some are obvious “red shirts” and I knew better than to get attached. Some are characters who will be critical to future events, and their survival is guaranteed. But when a new character is given depth and emotional weight, and you start to hope they will make it, their loss is crushing.

The author does a good job in keeping us emotionally connected to the characters, new and old. One of the points that puzzled me from the first book — the question of doctrines and time travel — was a cleverly planted lure for events in this second book. Well played, Ms. Druga.

It bothered me that Mera Stevens doesn’t seem to have learned anything. You’d think that spending months running from sleepers would give her a bit more situational awareness. Her refusal to listen or pay attention to others and her childish temper tantrums make it tough for me to like her. Her only saving grace is her protective nature towards her children, whether they are hers by birth or not.

I recommend that you read this series in order. Because of the chain of events, hints and plot points that span over several novels, this book will not stand alone. You have to have the whole story for everything to make sense. The Sleepers series is currently up to book 4, and I’m looking forward to the next adventure.

 

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of the review. This review was originally published at www.bookie-monster.com

Sleepers: Book Review

Sleepers

Sleepers by Jacqueline Druga

Review by S. Kay Nash

 Oh boy. If you’re a parent and you’re planning to read this book, grab a hanky because you’re going to need it. Here’s the synopsis:

A normal spring morning cascades into a nightmare world for Mera Stevens as 1.8 billion children simultaneously fall ill and then vanish from the face of the earth. Her son, Jeremy, is one of them.

Increased natural disasters, onslaught of disease and other phenomena throws the world into chaos as it balances on the brink of extinction.

With communications down, Mera gathers the courage and strength she needs to trek across a dying country in search of a daughter she desperately hopes is still alive.

1.8 billion children. Gone. Mera Stevens’ son is one of them. The first few chapters are absolutely heart-wrenching.

Mera is certain that God caused the deaths of the children and the terrible storms and natural disasters that followed. She and her husband bury their son’s ashes. They make plans to drive cross-country to pick up their daughter, who is in college in the Pacific Northwest. When their middle son arrives from his military academy on foot and frantic, the full horror of the virus and the events of the previous 24 hours is unleashed.

From this point, the novel is a straightforward zombie survival plot. They run to safety, find shelter and supplies, and meet other survivors along the way. Of course, every shelter is unsafe, they are overrun by “sleepers” and have to kill everything that moves and stumble on, harried and tired and wounded. The author doesn’t skimp on inventive ways to make the undead stay that way so if you enjoy a good splattering, you will not be disappointed.

Mera pursues her goals with a single-minded zeal that doesn’t live up to her physical capabilities. Her love for her kids and her will to find her daughter and keep her son safe is her driving force. She relies on the people around her to do what needs to be done, because banding together and cooperating is the key to survival for everyone.

The strength of the characters carry this book. Halfway through the novel, I was ready to backhand Mera Stevens. The character is an alcoholic who doesn’t listen to people, fixates on unimportant things in the middle of a crisis, and will not let anything go. She’s irritating, sometimes irrational, and absolutely certain that her way is the right way.

When an author takes a character and makes you want to slap some sense into her, it’s a good thing. Mera is flawed, challenging, and is by far the best character to show us this story from her point of view. By the end of the novel, I was cheering for her. Alex, who is not your typical survivalist, is another favorite.

Things get a little weird when time-travel is introduced. One of the themes of the novel involves faith in Christianity, and the rapture as described in Revelations. For Mera and her son, these events are clearly the work of God. When they become aware that the events are man-made, and the writings of a modern-day survivor have become the doctrines of the future, we hit an interesting paradox. No one wonders if the doctrines of the modern day are survivor’s tales from a different time-travel experiment from 2,000 years ago.

This is the second edition of Sleepers, released by Permuted Press. Most of the things that caught my editorial eye were some ebook font-spacing issues that are a product of the medium itself. Unfortunately, “Kindle typos” are common enough that I have an acceptable threshold for them. I didn’t have any problem with the few I ran across.

I recommend Sleepers to zombie and end-of-the-world fiction fans who love to connect with strong, well-rounded characters in a tried-and-true survival situation. Sleepers is the first in a series. The cliffhanger ending is the perfect hook for the second book.

 

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of the review. This review was orginally published at www.bookie-monster.com