Review: Apocalypse Weird: Phoenix Lights (Alien Weird Book 1) by Eric Tozzi

PhoenixLights_FT_FINALAbout Phoenix Lights

March 20, 2015

The Aliens Have Come to End the World…

On March 13, 1997, the incident now known as the Phoenix Lights left thousands of witnesses at a loss to explain the sudden appearance of the massive V-shaped craft that hovered in the skies above Phoenix that day.

Now, eighteen years later, the Vs have returned. Bargains will be made with an intelligence beyond our grasp deep within a super-secret government blacksite. Can a crew of TV UFO Busters find out the truth about the visitors or are they going to get far more than they ever bargained for? Whereas once they were blind, now they will see.

Welcome to the invasion.

Welcome to the Apocalypse Weird.


About the Author

Eric Tozzi primarily writes science fiction, a genre especially close to his heart. For over five years he worked for NASA at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a documentary film producer and editor, covering Mars Exploration (go ahead, ask him if he’s a rocket scientist). Getting an up close, behind-the-scenes look at planetary exploration gave him great inspiration for my debut novel, The Scout.

The iconic science-fiction writer, Ray Bradbury, was a personal source of encouragement to Eric. Having directed an award-winning short film based on the story, “Kaleidoscope,” from his book, The Illustrated Man, Eric had the opportunity to spend time with Ray before he passed away. Ray’s passion for writing and space exploration fueled him to the finish line on my debut novel, The Scout.

To learn more about Eric’s work as a filmmaker, visit his website: www.erictozzi.com


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book for review.]

Phoenix Lights is the eighth release under the Apocalypse Weird banner, and easily my favorite of the bunch so far. Each AW author has tackled a regional apocalypse in their own strange fashion, with gamut of creature features running from zombies to demonic gods and goddesses, black magic, and freak weather. Eric Tozzi’s turn at the wheel guides our attention to Phoenix, Arizona and a cataclysmic alien invasion.

Given the pattern of prior Apocalypse Weird books, I was curious how in the heck aliens were going to figure into the overall map of global end-times, and the simple answer is that it does so awesomely. Tossing extraterrestrial invaders into the mix is a really fun and lively way to shake up expectations and provides a fresh take on wicked disasters befalling the human race.

And while the alien stuff is terrific, it would mostly be superfluous fluff without a strong human component at its center. Thankfully, Tozzi has those bases covered with an estranged brother and sister forced to work together while everything around them is turned to cinders. Gage is a contractor for a secret military facility – think Area 51 and you’re on the right track – while his sister, Kristina, works on the opposite end of things as the host of a reality series called UFO Busters, which tries to expose the government cover-ups surrounding extraterrestrial life. When we first meet her and her crew, they are attempting to break into the lab where Gage works. They’re forced together during the violently invasive first-contact scenario that puts them on the run for their lives and band together during the twenty-four hours of blindness that has greeted each apocalyptic scenario of the AW ‘verse. Then there’s Alice, a blind musician who is granted the gift of sight for a brief period, while the rest of the world’s populace are forced to endure their isolated darkness.

Almost directly from the beginning, Tozzi thrusts us into the action, and once all the pieces are in place and the game-board is upended, he just does not let up. Phoenix Lights is a hyper-kinetic, fast-paced read infused with moments of light horror and terrific action. The climax is an epic twist that not only promises more strange adventures for this volume’s survivors, but which also makes this an indispensable addition to the developing AW lore. Apocalypse Weird fans will no doubt be mighty happy with this installment, and for those who haven’t gotten into this line of stories yet, this is a terrific place to start.

Buy Phoenix Lights At Amazon
Review: Apocalypse Weird: Phoenix Lights (Alien Weird Book 1) by Eric Tozzi

Review: Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

within-these-walls-9781476783741_hrAbout Within These Walls

April 21, 2015

In her all-new supernatural thriller, bestselling indie horror author Ania Ahlborn asks: How far would you go for success? What would you be capable of if the promise of forever was real?

With his marriage on the rocks and his life in shambles, washed-up true-crime writer Lucas Graham is desperate for a comeback, one more shot at the bestselling success he once enjoyed. His chance comes when he’s promised exclusive access to death row inmate Jeffrey Halcomb, the notorious cult leader and mass murderer who’s ready to break his silence after thirty years, and who contacted Lucas personally from his maximum-security cell. With nothing left to lose, Lucas leaves New York to live and work from the scene of the crime: a split-level farmhouse on a gray-sanded beach in Washington State whose foundation is steeped in the blood of Halcomb’s diviners—runaways who were drawn to his message of family, unity, and unconditional love. There, Lucas sets out to capture the real story of the departed faithful. Except that he’s not alone. For Jeffrey Halcomb promised his devout eternal life…and within these walls, they’re far from dead.


About the Author

Born in Ciechanow Poland, Ania has always been drawn to the darker, mysterious, and sometimes morbid sides of life. Her earliest childhood memory is of crawling through a hole in the chain link fence that separated her family home from the large wooded cemetery next door. She’d spend hours among the headstones, breaking up bouquets of silk flowers so that everyone had their equal share.

Beyond writing, Ania enjoys gourmet cooking, baking, movies, drawing, and traveling. She currently resides in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her husband and two dogs, Beau the Scottie and Galaxy the Yorkie.

Learn more about Ania on her site, http://www.AniaAhlborn.com, where you can sign up for a direct-from-the-author newsletter on new releases, promos, and more.

Want to connect? Follow Ania on Twitter @aniaahlborn, or find her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/aniaahlbornauthor.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

Ania Ahlborn’s latest, Within These Walls, might be the best horror book of 2015 thus far. Well written, and filled with depth of character and authorial confidence, it’s certainly among the best of the trio of Ahlborn’s releases that I’ve read (although her next novel, Brother, due out in September sounds like it could pose some stiff competition).

Taking center stage here is Lucas Graham, a washed-up true crime novelist whose marriage is on its last legs, and his angst-fueled twelve year old daughter, Virginia. Graham receives an offer from inmate Jeff Halcomb to pen the definitive account of a cult murder-suicide that occurred in Washington in 1983. The catch – because isn’t there always a catch? – is that Lucas has to move into the home where the grisly murders occurred. Graham convinces himself this is a fair trade, and one that might not only salvage his career but win back the love of his wife.

What follows is a complex but consistently engaging story of familial detachment, a charismatic cult leader and his sad followers, and a haunted house that hides the secrets of its past. The main narrative is fueled by a series of flashbacks to 1983, which thankfully never feel misplaced nor pose as a distraction that threaten to derail the steady pacing of the novel, along with excerpts from news broadcasts, police reports, and write-ups from paranormal investigators. Each of these elements provide necessary background and serve to enrich the core of this story, while Ahlborn entwines various threads of her narrative into a stunningly dark and brave finale that left me jarred.

If you’ve not yet read any of Ahlborn’s work, now is the time! Or, if you’re a fan of Stephen King, grab a copy and sit a while with this one; I think you’ll feel at home with it. Within These Walls is a gritty, haunting, and atmospheric read, and one that I expect to be a contender on a lot of Best Of lists by year’s end.

Buy Within These Walls At Amazon
Review: Within These Walls by Ania Ahlborn

Review: Monster by Keith Ferrario

monsterAbout Monster

April 7, 2015

They’re the only humans. But they’re not alone.

Adam Hayes pilots a small team to a remote Antarctic research station. Their mission: to investigate the loss of communications. Once there, the group of five find the station deserted, the radio smashed, and several strange piles of empty clothing. Forced to stay the night by a blinding snowstorm, they set out to solve the mystery of the missing crew. Eventually they will learn the horrifying truth—the station is not empty after all, and something unimaginable, dug up from the deep ice, roams the complex. Now they must fight for their lives against a cunning, thinking monster—and those who would unleash this terror on the rest of the world.


My Thoughts

[I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.]

Keith Ferrario’s Monster begins with the discovery an unknown substance buried very deep in the Antarctic ice. As a huge fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing, I was immediately lulled in by Monster‘s description. I’m a big fan of horror that uses extreme locations as its primary setting, and have a particular fondness for arctic climes. So, I figured this book would be right up my alley. Unfortunately (for me at least), the arctic horror is only, literally, half of the story.

Monster is divided into two parts. In the first part, we’re introduced to Adam Hayes, who pilots a small team to the Antarctic base after the researchers housed there have stopped communicating. This is a solid enough story and hit many of the right notes for me and then…it just sort of ended.

Part two acts as a pretty hard reboot halfway through, introducing us to all new characters in an all new setting. All of the momentum and tension that Ferrario built up in the tight confines of the research base completely disappears as readers are put back at square one and thrust into a medical mystery.

And this is really the main problem I had with Monster. It reads more like two novellas that were glued together by a faint thread. It’s not until the book is nearly finished that Ferrario starts layering in the connections in explicit detail, but by then the story has been bogged down in reorienting readers to an entirely new situation and unveiling all the subterfuge and conspiracy stuff that’s been happening around them.

Unfortunately, there’s just a little too much subterfuge for my liking here, on behalf of both the characters and Ferrario himself. Part Two snapped me so far out of the reading experience that I wasn’t able to ground myself in the story again, and I wasn’t nearly as interested in the happenings of the book’s second half as I was in the first. At a point where the driving force behind the story is at its highest, to suddenly have the rug pulled out from us and forced to start over felt more like a disheartening cheat than authorial cunning. Monster should have been rocketing toward its conclusion, instead of limping along with all-new introductions of everything. By the time the ending did near, I found myself increasingly indifferent to its resolution.

I’ll give Ferrario credit, though – upending reader’s expectations so ferociously and flipping the script entirely half-way through is an incredibly ballsy move. For me, it didn’t quite pay off, even if I do think the core idea behind the plot is not only solid, but damn intriguing.

Buy Monster At Amazon
Review: Monster by Keith Ferrario

Review: First Activation by Darren Wearmouth and Marcus Wearmouth

first activationAbout First Activation

March 10, 2015

Brothers Harry and Jack leave Manchester for New York City for their annual weekend getaway. But upon arrival, they find a silent, deserted JFK, where the few ground crew they can spot have all been slaughtered.

Harry and Jack are military veterans, but they’ve never encountered anything like this.

As they witness the carnage and stumble across murderous madmen in a post-apocalyptic New York City, it becomes clear that escape is the only option—that is, if there is anywhere sane to escape to…

Revised edition: This edition of First Activation includes editorial revisions.


About the Authors

Darren Wearmouth spent six years in the army before pursuing a career in corporate technology. After fifteen years working for large telecommunications firm and a start-up, he decided to follow his passion for writing. He currently lives in Manchester, England and would love to hear from you…

Via email: dwearmou@gmail.com
On Twitter: @darrenwearmouth
On Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/darrenwearmouthauthor

Marcus Wearmouth was born in Yorkshire and graduated from Northumbria University with a degree in Engineering. He spent six years in the British Army working on missile systems for the Royal Electronic and Mechanical Engineers. After leaving the forces, he started an engineering consultancy specialising in structural subsidence. Marcus loves spending time with his two wonderful children, Andrew and George. He currently resides in Harrogate, England, and is secretly a very gifted bagpiper.

http://www.dampwearmouth.comhttp://www.facebook.com/firstactivation


My Thoughts

[Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher, via NetGalley, for review.]

First Activation has really strong premise that gets saddled with some middling characterization and improbable behaviors by its leads. Now, that said, I mostly enjoyed the book and found it to be a pretty effective page-turner that could have benefited from a deeper content edit, despite shaking my head a few times and second-guessing certain actions throughout the story.

The Wearmouths craft a fun little survival story about two Brits heading to New York for vacation, but suddenly find themselves thrust into an apocalyptic scenario upon landing. JFK Airport and the surrounding area are lifeless and the dead bodies are piling up. A sort-of plague compels people to kill one person and then commit suicide, in a twisted bit of ‘get one, give one’ horror show. I found it to be a really inventive hook, and it’s a refreshing change of pace from the usual zombie fare that most apocalypses seem to involve nowadays. It’s the kind of premise that instills an automatic distrust of other survivors and keep the tension high.

The two Brits, Jack and Harry, find others survivors to aid them, but they never truly feel like the fish out of water that they are. Imagine being stuck in a foreign land, surrounded by suddenly crazed, homicidal, suicidal maniacs, and being completely lost. Honestly, that would frighten the hell out of me, but Jack and Harry never seem to be put out by the situation. The narration is told through first-person, so we also never get into any of the other character’s heads and can only guess at their emotional states and motivations, which makes things a bit more frustrating. There are casualties that hit pretty close to home, too, but nobody seems bothered by that either, as character behaviors spin on a dime to suit the plot, rather than being an organic change or deeply explored and rooted within the story.

Despite this, I still wanted to know what the heck was happening. I had questions and I wanted answers. How did this apocalypse begin, who was behind it, and why? The high concept of the story was enough to keep me reading, even while some other aspects of the story and its cast felt a bit ham-fisted and poorly thought out. I wanted to know what was coming next, and for that I have to give the authors their due.

Overall, this is a pretty solid two-star read (meaning “it was OK” on the Goodreads scale), hampered by the questionable motives and actions of its cast, which can sometimes be ridiculously inexplicable.

Review: First Activation by Darren Wearmouth and Marcus Wearmouth

Review: Apocalypse Weird: Hoodoopocalypse (Hoodoo Book 1) by Kim Wells

HoodoopocalypseAbout Hoodoopocalypse

March 6, 2015

Kalfu, the ultimate evil-twin and Voodoo Loa of the afterworld and crossroads kicks off his plans for possession of the Southern Mississippi corridor. Dark half of Papa Legba, Kalfu sets off events that cripple New Orleans, tries to take control of the over 9 million visitors to the Big Easy a year, and seeds his Hoodoo mafia, the Guédé, across Louisiana and the world. If the fire, category HUGE hurricane spawned by magical means, and roving mobs of mayhem-inducing zombi astrals don’t get you, the angry goddess and nuclear meltdown might. Laissez the End Times Roulez, y’all. The Apocalypse just came to the South.


About the Author

Kim wrote her first critically acclaimed (if you call her fourth grade teacher a critic, and she does) short story when she was 9 years old. It was about Christmas in a Cave, and it featured such topical, ground-breaking subjects as homelessness & cave dwelling. She’s been writing ever since. The state of publication depends on who you ask.

She has a Ph.D. in Literature, with specialties in American Lit, Women Writers, Feminism, Sci-Fi/Fantasy & Film Studies but please don’t hold any of that against her. She sometimes teaches academic writing and how to read literature at a university in her hometown and tries to convince college students that it really is cool to like poetry.

She lives in the South, has twin children (one girl, one boy) and a husband who is the model for all her best romantic heroes. She also has two cats– one black and sassy, one stripey and fat.

Find her at http://www.kimwells.net,
on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/kimwellswrites
Twitter, https://twitter.com/dandeliondreams
and Pinterest http://www.pinterest.com/daydreamsdandel/


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the author for review.]

With the apocalypse in full-swing in Los Angeles and Texas, Kim Wells brings the mayhem to the Louisiana’s French Quarter. In Hoodoopocalypse, we get voodoo, spellcasting, the birth of a massive hurricane, an angry demon god and his violent acolytes, a mysterious magic shop and…gladiator fights?

Yup, gladiator fights. Mad Max has apparently been a solid influence on the Apocalypse Weird writers, and Wells gets all nice and Thunderdome-y here, turning the Superdome into a bloody combat zone where fighters square off against one another, as well as lions, hyenas, and trigger-happy gunmen. Oh my.

There’s a good amount of fun on display here, and those AW readers that have been paying attention to the growing series of books under this banner will recognize a ton of nods to Chris Pourteau’s entry, The Serenity Strain. Those looking for some serious glimpses of interconnectivity between the disparate apocalypses need look no further than these two efforts.

Wells puts on display a lot of tantalizing hints as to where future installments of her Hoodoo series will go, and I’m eager to see her cash in on a number of these elements and the cross-over potential with the neighboring apocalypse in Texas. One weird element that I was really looking forward to was sadly fleeting, but I won’t spoil the details, only that it comes during the book’s climax and that it’s an element that I hope to see more of in the next volume.

Still, what Wells does pull together here is a nice primer for future Hoodoo stories, and it looks to be a solid epic in the making in its own right should the Tarot cards land properly. Hoodoopocalypse itself is yet another solid entry in the shared universe of Apocalypse Weird titles, and already has me craving more Cajun craziness.

Buy Hoodoopocalypse At Amazon
Review: Apocalypse Weird: Hoodoopocalypse (Hoodoo Book 1) by Kim Wells

Review: Doll Face by Tim Curran

doll_faceAbout Doll Face

March 3, 2015

Six friends are returning home from a night out when they end up in a town called Stokes. They discover they are trapped there, as Stokes does not really exist. The actual town had burned to the ground more than fifty years ago. The Stokes they are in is a nightmare version of the former town, engineered by a deranged and undead mind, a supernatural machine of wrath that will destroy them one by one….unless they submit to its dominance and become living dolls.


About the Author

Tim Curran lives in Michigan and is the author of the novels Skin Medicine, Hive, Dead Sea, and Skull Moon. Upcoming projects include the novels Resurrection, The Devil Next Door, and Hive 2, as well as The Corpse King, a novella from Cemetery Dance, and Four Rode Out, a collection of four weird-western novellas by Curran, Tim Lebbon, Brian Keene, and Steve Vernon. His short stories have appeared in such magazines as City Slab, Flesh&Blood, Book of Dark Wisdom, and Inhuman, as well as anthologies such as Flesh Feast, Shivers IV, High Seas Cthulhu, and, Vile Things. Find him on the web at:

http://www.corpseking.com


My Thoughts

Tim Curran’s latest finds six twenty-something’s lost in the small-town of Stokes after an ill-advised shortcut off the highway following a night of partying. The de facto leader of the group, Chazz, is driving drunk and hits a man…who just so happens to not be a man at all, but a strangely configured collection of doll parts. And the town of Stokes? It shouldn’t exist at all, after a fire wiped the town off the map. Separated by attacking doll creatures, the group stumble through Stokes while Curran delivers one scare after another.

Few horror authors deliver as consistently, or get under my skin quite as effectively, as Tim Curran. He is a master at description, and he fills Stokes and its inhabitants with carefully sketched details, and his gory details are enough to send up shivers. I’ve often referred to him as Michigan’s answer to Stephen King, and I think that Doll Face captures this assessment fairly well. The premise is rather outlandish, and would likely prove to be ridiculous, if not outright comical, in less capable hands, but Curran is able to, somehow, make it work. The murderous, doll-like villains are certainly not your average Barbies or even your basically creepy Hummel figurines. They’re axe-wielding, rapey psychopaths hell-bent on murder, their lust for blood utterly insatiable. Curran kicks it up a notch further with an intriguing history of Stokes as a factory town, infusing his story with a solid dose of industrial horror and truly awful spidery creations and rampaging Frankenstein-ish weirdos.

Anyone familiar with horror in general, and Curran in particular, know that these six lost souls are largely cannon fodder. Most of them are pretty well-developed, thankfully, and it makes losing them a bit hard to take given the perversely macabre ways of their dispatch. One meets an end that is not only revolting and squirm-inducing, but truly heart-breaking.

I have only one complaint, and it’s that Doll Face gets a little too long in the tooth. The middle portion of the book dragged as the group basically finds themselves running in circles from one danger to the next, and I wished that Curran would just get to the point already. Still, that last third of the book is terrifically well-done and the climax is positively outstanding, with a chilling final sentence. While it’s not my favorite Tim Curran book (Dead Sea still holds top honors), it is certainly well worth reading. Go get it!

Buy Doll Face At Amazon
Review: Doll Face by Tim Curran

Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben

Harlan-Coben-The-StrangerAbout The Stranger

March 24, 2015
#1 New York Times bestselling master of suspense Harlan Coben delivers his most shocking thriller yet, proving that a well-placed lie can help build a wonderful life– and a secret has the same explosive power to destroy it.

The Stranger appears out of nowhere, perhaps in a bar, or a parking lot, or at the grocery store. His identity is unknown. His motives are unclear. His information is undeniable. Then he whispers a few words in your ear and disappears, leaving you picking up the pieces of your shattered world.

Adam Price has a lot to lose: a comfortable marriage to a beautiful woman, two wonderful sons, and all the trappings of the American Dream: a big house, a good job, a seemingly perfect life.

Then he runs into the Stranger. When he learns a devastating secret about his wife, Corinne, he confronts her, and the mirage of perfection disappears as if it never existed at all. Soon Adam finds himself tangled in something far darker than even Corinne’s deception, and realizes that if he doesn’t make exactly the right moves, the conspiracy he’s stumbled into will not only ruin lives—it will end them.


About the Author

Harlan Coben is the bestselling author of sixteen previous novels, including the #1 New York Times bestsellers “Long Lost” and “Hold Tight.” Winner of the Edgar Award, the Shamus Award, and the Anthony Award, Coben lives in New Jersey with his family.


My Thoughts

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy from the publisher, via Netgalley, for review.]

I’m a bit divided on my thoughts regarding Harlan Coben’s latest, The Stranger. On one hand, it’s a crackling thriller rife with suspense, conspiracy, and a bit of small-town internecine politics. But on the other hand, I spent a lot of my reading time struggling to comprehend the motives behind, what at first felt awfully flimsy, the inciting incident revolving around the revelation of a faked pregnancy.

This secret is revealed to the husband, Adam, by The Stranger in the novel’s opening pages. Adam then spends a good amount of time going back and forth on whether or not his wife, Corrine, faked her pregnancy and miscarriage, but the more he hunts for the truth the more he comes to realize that the secret is legit. After Corrine disappears and is accused of stealing money from the school’s lacrosse treasury, Adam becomes desperate to find her and to uncover the truth behind the stranger.

It’s a solid mystery with all kinds of twists and turns, but Coben’s idea of the faked pregnancy doesn’t really carry much legitimacy until very late in the novel, when we finally get a good understanding of why Corrine would go to such weird lengths. As a result, I found myself far more interested in the other secrets the stranger reveals to other families, which eventually leads to murder and puts serious emphasis on the crisis Adam finds himself in the middle of.

I also found the motives behind the stranger’s actions to be nicely complex, and gives his actions some weight that readers may find themselves hard to disagree with.

What price do we pay for anonymity in the age of information, and what secrets are worth keeping? Is there more damage in hiding the truth than in confronting it head-on? These are big questions, and Coben is able to spin a tight and effective thriller, with all the various twisty threads tied up neatly.

For me, The Stranger was a solid three-star read, simply because something just felt severely off in the way Adam suspected yet rebelled against thinking the worst, and the concerns surrounding the faked pregnancy jangled my suspension of disbelief for a little too long. I think if we’d been less reliant on Adam’s perspective and got to know Corrine better, and understood her motives sooner, it would have made the narrative less choppy and easier to sink into. Still, this is a perfectly serviceable thriller and compulsively readable, if not a completely perfect one.

Buy The Stranger At Amazon
Review: The Stranger by Harlan Coben