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

The Vagrants

image

 

So, I know that I sound like a broken record, but I’m really not much of a horror fiction gal. It’s just too much for my sensitive, little imagination to take sometimes. Or worse than that, it isn’t scary or creepy at all. Basically, unless your name is Joe Hill, I am going to be a pretty hard sell when it comes to reading horror.

Lucky me, though, Brian Moreland had a new book come out this month and he is on the same list as Mr. Hill. No joke. I have loved everything that Moreland has written and I was truly looking forward to starting his new book, The Vagrants.

The Vagrants brings us the story of Daniel Finley, a journalist who believes that he can save the homeless. Determined to completely submerge himself in their reality, Daniel lives among the homeless for six months. While living under a bridge, he learns the many spoken and unspoken rules of this world that our world chooses to ignore.

He also learns of something else; something deadly. One day, a mysterious man by the name of Mordecai shows up with his group of followers. Daniel keeps a safe distance from Mordecai and observes what seems to be a quickly growing cult. After observing some truly terrifying things, Daniel returns to his life, writes of his experience living under the bridge and becomes a published author.

Just when he begins to start enjoying his accomplishments, he is thrown into a dangerous position, trying to protect his father from mobsters. Concurrently, Daniel begins seeing some of the vagrants that he knew and he finds himself in a war between an Irish-American mafia and the deadly underground cult led by Mordecai.

While there is a certain Clive Barker story that I was reminded of while reading The Vagrants, this story stands on it’s own and is as equally creepy and unsettling. Moreland has a knack of dialing up the horror and gore without going over the top. Just when you start to feel your skin crawl, he draws back and leaves you with those mental images that have just burned into your brain. Never passing the point of good taste just for the sake of gore is an elusive ingredient in many horror novels, but Moreland nails it every time. He never spends too much time on a character’s background, only to kill them off in the next chapter, and he writes characters that are easy to invest in and identify with. The story moves at a great pace and has a satisfying ending. Look no further for your new horror author; I have already found him for you.

 

No Reflection

For starters, I don’t really read many horror short stories.  I find that most of them follow the same general formula: build up for a little bit, then drop the quasi-twist hammer.  It’s something that finds its roots in Tales From the CryptThe Twilight Zone, and O. Henry.  It doesn’t necessarily mean all horror fiction is bad, but it’s usually not my cup of tea.

Still, I dug into John Caliburn’s No Reflection, because I’m a sucker for short story collections.  As Fremont stated, it’s a decent first book.  It’s not without its problems, but there are some pretty good moments in here.

I liked “Delusional”, partially for a nod to Cthulhu, but mainly because it made me think of Vigo the Carpathian from Ghostbusters II.  I was waiting for the problem to be solved by curing a case of Carpathian Kitten Loss, but, alas, that was not how this story ended.  Still, it was a decent premise and a solid ending, even if Vigo never reared his ugly mug.

I also liked “Rustling Sheets”.  The idea of a carnivorous monster with razor-sharp claws taking up residence in the lower bunk is not something I would be okay with.  Unless he feels like sharing a little chipmunk meat in the middle of the night.  I could probably get down with that.  A man gets awfully hungry at night.

This was a pretty quick read, which helped.  But, as I mentioned earlier, it’s not without its problems.
Pretty much every story seemed to remind me of a similar story/movie.  Not that there’s really anything wrong with that (Koheleth famously stated “there is nothing new under the sun,” over 2000 years ago), but I didn’t feel like anything here separated itself from its influences.
It’s a bit strange to say about a book that barely cracked 100 pages, but these stories all could’ve been tightened up a little.  There’s nothing wrong with a two-page story if the story-telling is strong.  Some of these felt dragged out, which hurt the story as a whole (“Fear of the Shadows” definitely felt this way to me).
The writing could also be a bit stronger.  There were a lot of “or somethings” in here.  Too many of those tend to detract from the story.

All of that sounds like I hated this.  I did not hate this.  I didn’t love it, but it was enjoyable enough to keep me entertained.

This is a solid debut.  I’m curious to see what Caliburn does next.

No Reflection is currently available on Amazon.

No Reflection & Other Short Stories

“No Reflection”, written by John Caliburn is a solid first entry into the horror genre. His first published collection, No Reflection has seven short stories and wraps up with a short poem. At the end of each story, the author has added a short explanation of his motivation behind the story. At times, the explanation was a disservice:”A Child’s Imagination” being the best example of this. This story is very reminiscent of “Where The Wild Things Are”, which is nice in a nostalgic kind of way. The plot was going somewhere interesting and then it ended in a very maudlin, unsatisfying kind of way. This being a horror collection, I suppose I shouldn’t be expecting a happy ending, but I would have liked to see Caliburn really delve into his inspiration for this story. He said that he wanted to explore the awful reality that children are, sometimes, the ones that commit murder. I couldn’t help but think of the film “Who Can Kill A Child?” and I really believe Caliburn is more than capable of reaching that level of terror, so, I felt a bit underwhelmed with the ending of “A Child’s Imagination”.

In the story “Delusional”, Caliburn uses H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos as a background device. I found this to be particularly interesting, but my partner Dusty will be the one going into detail about this particular story.

As a woman, I simply cannot let “The Magician’s Assistant” escape my critical eye. It’s a great little story with a wonderfully gory coupe de grace, but the degree to which the female protaganist is reduced to negative, female cliches was too much to ignore. She see’s herself as a “Plain Jane Brunette”, her self esteem seems to be in direct proportion to how her fiancee sees her, she’s paranoid, jealous and, worst of all, a typical “woman scorned”. Instead of simply asking her fiancee if he’s stepping out on her, she just smiles, keeps her mouth shut and, ultimately, let’s her insecurities and neurosis unfold in a homicidal rage. Typical woman, right? Even though it’s a short story, I still expect to see a woman who is a whole human being and not just a negative stereotype. Perhaps I’m being a bit too touchy, but it really took away from what was a nice “Tale From The Crypt” kind of ending.

Overall, this collection of stories shows great promise of future endeavors. The themes that Caliburn was exploring are ones that all of us can relate to;the inability to foresee your poor choices and the consequences that they incur, the responsibility that children believe they carry in their parents’ happiness, the monster in our room that no one else can see, fear of the dark and the inability to escape our punishments for our bad deeds. I enjoyed these stories, however, I wish there had been a bit more depth and character development. That being said, I look forward to Caliburn’s future works.

http://www.amazon.com/Reflection-other-Horror-Stories-ebook/dp/B00FUVIVWS/