Soze Says

I'm a frustrated writer and avid reader of horror, thriller, fantasy and sci-fi (in that order). One day I'll do less of the latter and more of the former. No, really ...

The Invasion review

The Invasion - Brett McBean

I've heard the name Brett McBean throughout various horror channels for some time. His novels all sounded interesting to me, and as a fellow Aussie, I was determined to give him a shot.

The short story is I'm very glad I did.

The slightly longer story goes like this.

McBean quickly proved himself to be a talented wordsmith in his latest novel, The Invasion. Not surprisingly given the title, this is the story of a home invasion that takes place in suburban Australia, with the tired revelers at a small Christmas party set upon by a group of predators whose agenda is at first unknown. It's the kind of tale which usually lends itself to a 100 minute feature film. but McBean here successfully adapts this sub-genre of film to book, and - especially for the first half - ratchets up the tension in an incredible way.

McBean's character work - at least among the protagonists - is especially strong. From the home's owner, a successful author with major marriage issues, to her gay younger brother and his long-term partner, McBean manages to breathe life into these characters, so that by the time horrible things befall them, the reader is caught and invested in their fortunes. He also goes to great lengths to make the house in which the events take place a character all of its own. This was both a strength and a weakness for mine, as early passages detailing each room of the house fit in well, but as the narrative progressed, there were a few too many occasions where everything ground to a halt for those same passages to take place.

A further slight disappointment for me was the pacing suffering a notable lag in the third-quarter of the book. Thankfully, however, McBean course corrects perfectly with an ending that bumped my score up a half-star.

Finally, the less said about the home invaders, the better, as a strength of the novel is gradually learning why they are doing what they are doing. And really, that's where The Invasion shines. Because who, after all, has not started at a bump in the night? Or wondered whether that was the squeak of the side door opening? Who hasn't asked themselves what they would do if someone came into their home uninvited in the dead of night?

Now if you'll excuse me, I need to hunt down some more novels from McBean.

3.5 (Rounded up to 4) Diminished Smart Phone Batteries for The Invasion.


Bird Box review

Bird Box - Josh Malerman

Better late than never on this one ...


A perfect example of a 3.5 star read for me in that I was engaged in this different form of an apocalypse and enjoyed Malerman's efforts to make the reader experience what was befalling his characters without the benefit of their eyesight, but at the same time, felt the very conceit of the story took away a level of intensity I associate with great horror novels.

Some have complained about the lack of a concrete description of the creatures, but for mine, this would only have undermined the whole point of the tale. So full credit to Malerman for resisting the temptation to reveal all - since what the reader conjures in their minds is likely to be far worse than anything he could have described on the page.

So, let's hear it Goodreads. Surely it's time to do away with this exceptionally limited 5 scale rating system? Shout it out if you agree ...

3.5 Tear Sodden Blindfolds for Bird Box.


Letting the Demons Out review

Letting The Demons Out - Ray Wallace

Ray Wallace is one of my favourite indie horror authors who consistently manages to impress me with his quality prose and disturbing imagination. Letting the Demons Out is no exception to these rules, as he gathers 16 of his short works of fiction into this collection.

Most are straight out horror, with a number being Lovecraftian in theme. Most of these are excellent, with the particular standout being the opener, One of the Six; though I was less enamoured with The Thing Within. Other highlights include the titular Letting the Demons Out, It Came From the Swimming Pool and A Dream of an Endless Highway. A set of still other tales derive from and are set within the world of his vampire novel, The Nameless. I opted to only read the first of these as I've yet to consume The Nameless, so I can't speak to all of them, but suffice to say, my interest has been piqued to get my hands on the novel sooner rather than later.

If imaginative horror fiction with occasional sci-fi and comedic tones is up your alley, I strongly recommend you seeking this one out. Wallace has again delivered, this time on the smaller, short-story scale.

4 Laughing Appendages for Letting the Demons Out.


Toxic Behemoth review

Toxic Behemoth: A Kaiju Thriller - David Bernstein

No-one is going to take a novella called Toxic Behemoth too seriously, but author David Bernstein chooses to start this Kaiju-centric tale with some fairly extreme criminal underground action. Caught completely off-guard, I wasn't sure what I was reading until that tale becomes the type of story Kaiju fans are more familiar with around 20% in.

From there, it all becomes fairly standard, with the somewhat varied take of having several chapters from the point of view of the massive monster. The book moves at a starling brisk pace, so before you even know it, the navy are attacking the creature and it is showing off a range of impressive special abilities. Then it starts wreaking havoc and the fun truly begins.

To be honest, I was on board with this one all the way until the last 5%. But Bernstein opts to throw in an ending which did not at all fit with what came before it, and runs completely counter to much of what was previously established - even if bigger Kaiju fans might appreciate what he was aiming to do. But the ending left me with very cold and in and of itself dropped my rating a whole star.

3 Missile-Deflecting Tentacles for Toxic Behemoth


Sword of the North review

Sword of the North - Luke Scull

As slow as I was in making my way through this sequel to Luke Scull's impressive debut, The Grim Company, one might think I was disappointed, bored, or some nasty combination of the two.

In fact, I was naught but entertained ... and exceedingly time-poor.

I've developed something of a pattern to my purchasing of books of late. The ones I truly want to read, to savour, to honour the author's work by paying the full fee - they are the books I buy from a good ol' fashioned bookstore in hard copy. Those that fleetingly catch my fancy, I pick up for my e-reader. Sword of the North was one of those I purchased from a bookstore. But as I read it, I realised physical books are rarely as close to me as my phone, and by extension, my e-reader. As such, when in a line, or with 5 minutes to spare at work, or even when seated on the royal commode, the e-books typically get read...

Thankfully, at least in the case of Sword of the North, the wait was more than worth it.

Scull here traverses the tricky landscape of the middle book in the series by splitting most of his main characters that previously formed the Grim Company, and each having them go off on an adventure that continues to build his world. Except these are the kinds of adventures that involve death, dismemberment, dark magic, torture, enslavement, and a little anal rape.

So yes, this book does stays rooted firmly in the Grimdark sub-genre which is becoming ever more popular, and I, for one, am exceptionally glad for it.

Scull's characters are still compelling - if a little overly familiar - and he puts them through their paces in such a way as the reader is always left wanting more. There are a few character interactions which were a little too convenient (or manufactured) for my tastes but otherwise you will find yourself willing Eremul to get someone to listen to him, hoping Brodar finds his wife, and wincing for Cole as he hits rock bottom.

But the best part of Sword of the North is the way it ends - with such a perfect cliffhanger (and then satisfying coda afterwards) that if you are anything like me, you will be cursing yourself for finishing this before the third book in the series has been released.

A great middle book in an already exceptional series from an author who is already turning heads, Sword of the North comes highly recommended to all fans of Joe Abercrombie.

4 Vats of Birthing Blood for Sword of the North.



Sorry for the bulk posting of reviews, but for a long time Booklikes ran too slowly for me to even scroll through everyone's posts, so I kind of gave up on it. Seems to be running a little better for me now though.


And that's it, I promise. I'm up to speed.


Thanks for your patience and understanding.

Ice Station Zombie review

Ice Station Zombie - J.E. Gurley

I like skiing and the snow that comes with it. I like zombies. I like reading stories set in my home country. So I thought Ice Station Zombie: A Post Apocalyptic Chiller was going to be a home run for me.

Instead, it was barely a popped fly ball

Baseball euphemisms aside, Ice Station Zombie lacked many of the components I consider essential to a decent zombie apocalyptic read. There was no tension-filled beginning, or relatable characters who avoided being overly cliched. Likewise, there was a severe deficit when it came to how much of a threat the zombies posed.

Gurley instead serves up an opening that happens so quickly I assumed I had somehow missed the first book in a series and this one was looking at the fall of the world from a different perspective. Yet as far as I could determine, this was not the case. The characters here are mostly straight up stereotypes. Every major Australian character, for example, is either a loner Crocodile Dundee type, or a salt-of-the-earth bear of a man who knows how to do everything. Sigh. And then there's the fact that almost no characters who survive the fall of the world is killed by the zombie infestation. No, it's yet again humans killing humans, as we are found to be the true monsters in a world of monsters.

The writing technically is fine - I can say that for Ice Station Zombie - aside from numerous grammatical and spelling errors which a copy editor really should have caught. There's even a chapter by-line which incorrectly labels the action as taking place on one continent, when it is very clearly taking place on the other.

So, sadly, this was a big miss for me. Others might like to try it with far lower expectations that I brought in.

1.5 Nanite-Powered Undead Uprisings for Ice Station Zombie.


Where Wolves Run review

Where Wolves Run: A Novella of Horror - Jason  Parent

Where Wolves Ruin is a more straight forward read from Jason Parent - an author I have come to associate with an amazing imagination - than might normaly be the case, but is nevertheless a well-written depiction of one family's battle against werewolves.

Parent alternates between the father and son's perspectives as they attempt to deal with this particularly hairy menace. And though said menace's deadly nature is set-up in the novella's opening chapters, I never felt a thrill of excitement when the werewolves came a-callin'. As such, this one fell a little flatter than I would have liked, though I will acknowledge I enjoyed how everything was ultimately resolved.

And though this may come across as nitpicking, I cannot let slide how annoying I found it that the chapter's from the father character's perspective kept referring to him as "Father" rather by his name.

Still, Parent is a talented author and even though this may not be his best work, he is always worth a read.

3 Sons Troubled by Their Fathers for Where Wolves Run.


My Little Children review

My Little Children: Four Stories Unsettling, Surreal and Horrific - Keith Deininger

Odd. That's my one word description of these four unsettling, mostly supernatural tales which are low on concrete answers and high on sub-text.

Keith Deininger is a unique voice within the dark fiction/horror world and these tales are no exception. None of them really grabbed me, however, and delivered that gut punch I always hope for with any short story. All, however, are very readable and provoke deeper thought.

At 42 pages - with half the Kindle version I read dedicated to an excerpt from another Deininger novel, Ghosts of Eden - it's a very brief investment of time, and one worth it for fans of dark tales that come bereft of a neat little bow to go round them.

3 Reasons Not to go Out Clubbing for My Little Chidlren.


Aftertaste review

AFTERTASTE: An Extreme Horror Novel - Kyle M. Scott

My first sample of Kyle M. Scott proved to be fairly tasty. An increasingly gore laden book that throws in some nasty sex scenes to up the ante, Aftertaste depicts what happens when a new burger franchise that is actually a front for something much nastier than the pursuit of profit at the expense of quality foods opens in small town America.

A simple enough and straight forward premise, Scott's novel begins well enough, introducing main character Slim and her battles with her meat-loving family. But as the narrative progresses, some less than stellar support characters that are neither realistic nor relatable begin to undermine proceedings. The worst example of this is one whose 180 degree arc is not at all set-up and feels too much like a good idea coming too late in the process without the necessary re-write of the early sections to "earn it".

The ultimate villain responsible for the evil inflicted on the town also came across as too simplistic and juvenile for my tastes.

Those criticisms aside, there was some good old fashioned, nasty fun to be had with Aftertaste. I also quite liked Scott's writing style - effectively straight forward without being overly wordy - so I will be back for a second-helping.

3 Parasite-Riddled Burger Paddies for Aftertaste.


Unseemly review

Unseemly - Jason  Parent

In this day and age where time is so precious, I find myself becoming increasingly appreciative of authors who can put together a tale in a relatively sparse number of pages, but lose none of the suspense while doing away with much of the unnecessary detail longer novels tend to include. Unseemly is one such novella, and it is very well written to boot by an up and coming author who also seems to be a mighty fine human being - at least based on my online interactions with him.

Not that it's a perfect novella. Because it does take a few extra pages to find its feet, and I was not quite convinced that the protagonist of the piece would have made some of the decisions he did.

But regardless of this, I found Jason Parent's Unseemly to be an exceptionally good horror novella for one major reason. The pity is I cannot reveal it here without giving away a massive spoiler.

Well worth the time of any reader who enjoys dark, imaginative horror fiction, Unseemly is another fantastic tale from the clearly warped mind of Parent.

4 Gut Instincts Worth Following for Unseemly.


Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet review

Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet - Adam Howe

I’ve gone on record elsewhere noting that picking up a new author to formally review is a particularly sharp double-edged sword. On the one hand, the reviewer gets exposed to a new voice which she or he may well connect to and eventually come to want to hear more from. But for every successes of this nature, there are at least three other new works that I have to try and find a polite way of criticising without coming across as an abrasive or unfair critic.

Thankfully, Adam Howe’s Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet is a sterling example of the former type of work. These three hard-boiled, crime-thrillers with at least one story tormenting its way into the horror genre are very good to straight out excellent. Howe has a distinctive voice which is utterly readable. His prose lopes gracefully off the page, before every so often whipping you across the face with a sentence or paragraph of such “punchiness” that I found myself taken aback by the raw talent on display.

Though this collection actually ends with GATOR BAIT, this was the first of the tales in this collection that I read. This one contains a quick-witted if somewhat gullible protagonist, a bad guy oozing menace, and a super hot femme fatale who is the cut of ham between their slices of less than wholegrain bread. And then of course, there’s the huge alligator lurking just beneath proceedings …

GATOR BAIT has some gory moments, but is more neo-noir than anything else. I’ve seen many reviews praising this story (and the others) as being very Lansdale-esque, but having not read enough of that author to be able to compare (an oversight I soon plan to correct), I prefer to think of it as hard-boiled noir done very, very well.

DAMN DIRTY APES, the tale which kicks off this collection, is the longest of the three, and at times, did feel it. The middle sections of this story about a disparate group of characters trying to hunt down the legendary Skunk-Ape – cousin to Bigfoot and the Yeti – do get a little repetitive. But the first-person narration from protagonist Reggie Levine kept me engaged, until the action most definitely picked up in the last third. This is the most colourful of the tales and probably the hardest to categorise as it straddles several genres including creature-feature, thriller, and even action-adventure. DAMN DIRTY APES was my least favourite of the three, but still a very good read that in no way connects to the balls-to-the-wall craziness of tale two …

DIE DOG OR EAT THE HATCHET is a blood-thirsty and gore-drenched tale of a young woman who falls afoul of a notorious spree killer AND other serial killers when the two groups collide in the middle of nowhere. This is horror through and through, and many are likely to be offended or unable to get through some of the scenes of torture and dismemberment, but I loved every page of it. Howe himself in the excellent story notes following the three novellas indicates that this one scared even him to write, but I hope he can tap back into this (highly worrying) part of his mind to create more tales akin to this one, because he here trends the same blood-soaked ground as splatterpunk authors like David J Schow and holds his own while doing so.

But enough effusive praise from me. Stop reading this and go out and buy this book. I don’t often make strong statements like that in my reviews, but on this occasion, I’m making an exception.

Go. Buy. This. Book.

You can thank me later.

And here’s to more Howe in the very near future.

4.5 Inconveniently Placed Canines for Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet.

The preceding is based on a e-copy of the book provided by the author in exchange for an honest review – which you have now read - and can be found with other reviews like it at Horror After Dark.


The Imago Sequence and Other Stories review

The Imago Sequence and Other Stories - Laird Barron

I've tried really hard to develop an appreciation for Laird Barron. I started with The Light is the Darkness and found my expectations outweighed what I was presented with. I've also read The Croning and considered it an overly wordy and bloated novel propped up by a great central concept. So I hoped getting a hold of one of his collections of shorter works might prove to be the gold that most everybody else has seemed to find when panning through Barron's works.

Sadly, The Imago Collection was more of the same for me. Overly long tales filled with unnecessary detail that, in most cases, tended to lose me before the half way mark of the story. The titular tale was the best of these, but placed as it was at the conclusion of the book, I had genuine trouble investing in the tale by the time I got to it. The rest of the stories amount to the same basic premise: Flawed characters becoming aware of something greater than themselves operating on the edge of human knowledge/space/time, usually covered up by other, more knowledgeable people with nefarious intentions, and ultimately coming to an unpleasant end.

In the end, the only reason I rated this one higher than 1.5 stars was because of how accomplished Barron is as a writer in a technical sense. His prose, whilst less than engaging to me, was extremely polished and beyond what most writers - myself most definitely included - could ever hope to emulate.

2 Grand Conspiracies for The Imago Sequence.


The Creation: Axis Mundi review

The Creation: Axis Mundi (The Creation Series Book 1) - The Behrg

An intriguing - if slightly convoluted - opening book in what seems to be an apocalyptic series, Axis Mundi depicts two groups on opposite sides of the deforestation crisis in Venezuela and their inevitable clash amid supernatural goings on that bode ill for all of humanity.

The Behrg (funny name, serious writer) here melds an action-thriller with supernatural undertones and a topical issue to produce a novel which most definitely held my attention. Though it started out chaotically with every short chapter jumping to a new POV, I soon came to appreciate this way of setting out the book as it certainly made it easy to justify reading "just one more" chapter. The Behrg also throws the reader into the thick of things, and only slowly reveals the motivations of most of his characters, making for some confusing early moments that ultimately give way to a number of engaging reveals.

However (and yes there almost always is a "however"), some of The Behrg's characters just did not gel with me in terms of their inconsistencies and strange motivations. One behaves so completely out of character at one critical moment in the book that I could no longer take anything written from his perspective seriously.

But if you can accept some extreme changes in behaviour and poor decision making, there is much to enjoy about Axis Mundi, especially if topical thrillers are your thing. In essence, The Creation is a series I plan on continuing with, and I doubt it will be overly different for the majority of other readers.

3.5 Warnings Gone Unheeded for The Creation: Axis Mundi.


Where We Live and Die review

Where We Live and Die - Brian Keene

Brian Keene's Where We Live and Die is yet another collection of stories from this veteran of the horror genre, it's central theme being all of the tales contained within are about writing in one way or another. Now, some of these links are tenuous - for example, Adam Senft (from Dark Hollow and Ghost Walk) reappears in a story, and because his character is a writer, Keene includes the story here. Others are quite literally about writing, and in some cases, are about him writing in a meta-fictional way.

And those stories are particularly excellent. The Girl on the Glider remains one of his most powerful and (if you'll excuse the choice of word) haunting works. The tale that follows, Musings, is also an excellent insight into the life of a writer mixed with fantastical elements. The Eleventh Muse provides much the same, though takes this notion in an entirely different direction.

And then there's the printing of a spoken word "poem" that very cleverly runs through the history of horror in the written form and introduces the new-wave of horror authors toward its end.

All in all, Where We Live and Die, is an excellent collection with stories ranging from decent to amazing. It would easily rate five stars were it not for one simple fact.

I had read all but one story elsewhere.

I purchased this one as I started The Cruelty Of Autumn, never realising that the stories in Where We Live and Die I had not read were all (but one and the spoken word poem) included in the newer release. Now both collections were released within four months of each other, meaning I'm not a complete dumb-ass since who would expect these stories to again appear in print so soon after previously being published. So it really does feel like double dipping. But I guess everyone has to eat, right?

4 Terrifying Scenes on a Baby-Monitor for Where We live and Die.


Gator Bait review

Gator Bait - Adam Howe

Hardboiled noir fiction done superbly, Gator Bait had everything I want in a story of this ilk. A quick-witted if somewhat gullible protagonist, a bad guy oozing menace, and a super hot femme fatale who is the cut of ham between their slices of less than wholegrain bread. And then of course, there's the huge alligator lurking just beneath proceedings ...

Wonderfully written and a joy to speed read through, Adam Howe has won himself a new fan in less than 63 pages with Gator Bait and I cannot wait to sink my teeth into the rest of Die Dog or Eat the Hatchet when I get to it for Horror After Dark.

4.5 Messy Ends for Anyone Who Deserves it for Gator Bait.


Currently reading

Headhunter by Tim Curran
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