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 ...

Waiting Out Winter review

Waiting Out Winter - Kelli Owen

You know how some authors just click with you as a reader? That no matter what they publish, you can find the good elements within it - even if others are lambasting it from pillar to post?

Well, Kelli Owen is not that kind of author for me.

This is my second read from her, and I found this novella to have the same issues which I found lacking in The Neighborhood: namely, a sense of disconnect from the characters and what is befalling them. Owen glosses over so many things so quickly, I never feel like a part of proceedings, or as if I'm in the heads of the protagonists. So with Waiting for Winter I found myself never truly engaged - even though the story and what is taking place should be genuinely interesting. It's not the writing. Technically, her prose is well-constructed and flows smoothly. But it just does not engage me.

Which is a shame, because the apocalypse in this world is quite different while still being far closer to reality than the dead coming back to life, or aliens deciding they need some resource we have in abundance.

This one also ends on an extremely open note, so I'll likely be back for its sequel, because I need to work out exactly what it is I'm missing ...

2.5 Ominous Buzzing Sounds for Waiting for Winter.

The Turtle Boy review

The Turtle Boy - Kealan Patrick Burke

A decent if largely predictable story that mixes ghosts, revenge and a coming of age tale, The Turtle Boy apparently kick-started Kealan Patrick Burke's career and for that I'm grateful. However it reads like an early novella in that it lacks much of the polish and incredible wordsmithing that Burke has become known for in more recent times.

I was also somewhat annoyed to find the ebook version I had secured was 25% a sample of the next book in the series (though I enjoyed the Q&A with Burke that followed this).

I'll likely return to The Timmy Quinn series in due course, but at this stage I don't feel any strong compulsion to do so, perhaps reflecting my middling time with this one.

3 Ominous Ghostly Warnings for The Turtle Boy.


The Mystery Knight review

The Mystery Knight - George R.R. Martin

Decidedly better than the second novella in the series of Dunk and Egg, The Sworn Sword, this final outing for Martin's beloved characters from almost a hundred years before the events of A Song of Ice and Fire is nevertheless marred by far too many interchangeable characters that only the most rabid of fans will be able to discern, and still takes an awfully long time to set everything up.

Yet the characters of Dunk and Egg carry this book on their more than capable shoulders, so much so that the events of The Mystery Knight largely fade into obscurity next to their entertaining interactions. And it is fantastic to see Dunk's growth as a character next as compared to who he was in The Hedge Knight.

All in all, this is a return to form for Martin and one that I would recommend to his fans - just be ready for long descriptions of knights and feasts and the activities that the former get up to during the latter.

3 Smashed Tourney Lances for The Mystery Knight.


Survivor review

Survivor - J.F. Gonzalez

There is only one word you need to keep in mind going into the late J. F. Gonzalez's graphic horror novel, Survivor. And that word is "harsh".

A harsh look at the dirty, sordid, horrendous world of underground snuff films, Survivor depicts several scenes of harsh torture and murder, perpetrated by characters so harsh in their barbaric brutality, it's actually difficult to believe such folk could exist. One of the main protagonists, Lisa, has to make some extremely harsh choices in order to survive, and its whether she can live with these choices that comprises the harsh moral centre of this novel.

Get the (harsh) picture? Because make no mistake. You will be horrified. Or grossed out and nauseated. It all depends on your appreciation for horror at the harder core end of the spectrum.

I read the "Author's Preferred Edition" that contains a note from Gonzalez that a number of scenes were restored by him - and this goes some way toward explaining the scenes that seem to do little more than reiterate what is already established. In other words, there are occasions through the book's middle act where the acing grinds almost to a complete halt while Gonzalez tries to get all his pieces into place for the finale.

But the novel is undeniably tense (and harsh), and this is its greatest strength. Gonzalez was clearly unconcerned about who he might offend on the way to horrifying others. You'll know what you're in for by the end of the prologue, so if that scene makes you queasy, bug out while the bugging is still good.

If only, it had had have been better paced, less wordy, and had less clear copy and editing errors (such as in the epilogue where a character references it being "almost a year" and then "six months" since the same something last happened within two pages of each other!), Survivor might have been a thumping home run. To me, as it stands, it is a solid double and no more.

3.5 Grandmothers You Wouldn't Want to Visit for Survivor.


Razorbacks review

RAZORBACKS - George S. Mahaffey Jr.

Razorbacks is a decent "nature-gone-wild" tale of a bunch of people caught in a sand-storm in the wrong part of Texas - specifically the part of Texas where wild pigs grow to be 800 pounds, travel in packs, and have developed a taste for human flesh.

The positive elements of Mahaffey Jr's work is that it's short and relatively fast-paced. The attacks by the pigs are also sudden and nasty when they occur and numerous people are eaten alive as they are taken down. All of that works for me. Some high quality writing also shone through, with a few very nice turns of phrase and cleverly concocted sentences elevating the "creature-feature" nature of the plot.

But - and this is a big but - the characters were far from arresting. I can honestly say that aside from our main protagonist, a 13 year old boy who has led a very tough life, there is not a one of them I came to care about, and in most cases, even get a feel for. They were all just Razorback-fodder, and may as well have had the same tattooed upon their foreheads. Some novels should be novellas, but this was one novella that needed longer to breathe and for the characters to be filled in, so that when they died, my care factor might actually have been tweaked.

Then there is also the fact that Mahaffey Jr frequently jumps POVs with each paragraph change - something which is an absolute pet peeve of mine ...

So, all in all, I give this story about a bunch of people stuck in the middle of a road while hungry wild pigs encircle them, a very appropriate middle of the road score.

2.5 Roadblocks That Exist for a Reason for Razorbacks.

Dweller review

Dweller - Jeff Strand

Credit where credit is due, Dweller does not tread the well worn path most seasoned horror fans will be assuming after 30 pages. Instead, it becomes a life-long story of an unlikely friendship, with a large side-serve of mental health issues. And it's kind of like watching a train wreck in slow motion.

Jeff Strand is instantly recognisable. Not by face. But by his writing. If I was to blind read five novels, and four of them were by Strand, I'd be able to pick it was by him at least 80% of the time. Except I obviously wouldn't be blind, because then how would I be able to read? And now that I think about it, wouldn't chance dictate I'd get it right 4 our of 5 times if he actually wrote 4 of the 5 non-identified novels. Ugh. Making this point is way too hard. I should probably just walk out my back door, through the forest which grows up to my back yard line and consult with my Bigfoot-like friend who lives in a cave three or four miles away. He'll be able to help me work out what I was trying to say. Or maybe not. He is, after all, a Bigfoot-like creature whose receptive language skills aren't too bad, but his expressive language skills need a fair amount of work. I know, maybe I should take that that pretty woman down the road to meet him. She's a teacher. Maybe she'll be able to help him do more than just sign at me. Hmm. Or maybe not. Last time I took someone to meet my friend, things didn't turn out so well ...

If that last paragraph in any way, shape or form appealed, you're ready for Dweller. Of course, if Strand actually wrote the above, it wouldn't be a single paragraph reading like a stream of consciousness.

For one, there would be way more paragraphs.

And for two, the sense of a main POV protagonist who just does not quite fit in with the world around him would be far more effectively conveyed.

Which is why Strand is a well-paid author whose style (if not his face) is instantly recognisable, and I'm a non-paid reviewer who should be in bed by now, rather than trying to find a slightly irregular way of saying the same ol' thing about what I'm reviewing.

Long-winded review short: Dweller is good. Though for mine, its not as good as what some of the other prominent reviews here have suggested. Expectations played a part in that, but at the same time, I found it difficult to truly buy into the level of stupidity Toby displayed on a regular basis - regardless of the obvious issues he had.

3 Friends Who Can't Stay the Night for Dweller


Last One Alive review

Last One Alive - Kristopher Rufty

Discounting his collaboration with several other horror writers in Jackpot, Last One Alive represented my first foray into the World of Rufty. It's largely a dark and nasty place, where the characters tend to be unstoppable killing machines, or cliched hillbillies who like to torture, maim and murder for a bit of fun. Although, that said, there are a few more decent types. Such as camper Megan and her friend Allison. There's even room for one heroic individual, namely park ranger Amanda. But this story is called Last One Alive, so you can be pretty certain not everyone is getting out of this one with a pulse ...

Overall, I liked this fast-paced tale. It did, at times, get a little repetitive as girl runs away being chased by something, only to get caught, fight her way free, and then start getting chased again. But the quality of the writing is well above what one might expect for the subject matter, and Rufty displays a certain gleeful, sadistic tendency to put his characters through a painful wringer. And just when I thought my interest was waning things took a turn and went into unexpected territory. Arguably, that territory might have been a better book unto itself, but I'm a big fan of ending things on a high, and Last One Alive certainly ticks that box.

Unfortunately, the two short stories that followed the main event were not up to the same quality, and in a sense, completely undermined what I just said about ending on a high. The first, The Love Seat was entertaing and weird enough, I suppose, but the latter, Gearheart's Wife seemed utterly pointless and not at all frightening, unsettling or horrifying

So on that basis, I'm giving the novella that comprises the title of this one 4 stars, the short stories that follow it 2 stars, and rounding this to a 3 - 3.5 stars.

I'll be back for more from the World of Rifty soon.

3.5 Mortal Wounds That Do Not Kill for Last One Alive


Meat: Uncut review

Meat: UNCUT - Michael Bray

Though technically written to a standard well above what this type of genre usually serves up, Meat: Uncut is lessened by the very reason for its existence: the additional sections that have been added back to a shorter, pre-existing work. In essence, this short novel is extremely repetitive in nature, rehashing the same character beats time and again, with the pace significantly suffering as a result.

The idea itself is a good one. A group of disparate characters is trapped in a supermarket as they become aware there are body parts and other items made from people lining the shelves. Soon thereafter they realise they are due to become those items on the shelves, as their captors reveal their plans ... With more than the occasional echo back to Stephen King's classic The Mist, Meat: Uncut starts well, but all too soon begins to spin its wheels as scene after scene details how a character sees something horrible and then their sanity teeters on the brink. By the time the actual threat is revealed, my interest had already waned. However, the quality writing helped me hang in there for what proved to be a very unorthodox conclusion - one that I'm both somewhat disappointed in and impressed by.

There is more than enough within Meat: Uncut for me to seek out more from Bray, but next time, I'll be sure to get something that is not expanded, extra, or padded out.

3 Jars of Pickled Eyeballs for Meat: Uncut.


Spine review

Spine: A Collection of Twisted Tales - Steven Jenkins

A short collection of short horror stories from a new-to-me author, Steven Jenkins, Spine contains the usual gaggle of variable tales, some good, some okay, and a couple that were not at all to my taste.

Of the former, It's a Wonderful Death nicely straddles the line between allegory for depression and true possession story, Watch Over Me strikes an uncomfortable chord for anybody who has dealt with a terminal disease personally or by proxy through a loved one, and One Pill for Perfect Vision sets up an intriguing world in which a particular drug allows people to communicate with the dead and briefly explores what the fall out of such a drug might be.

The Our-Side, by contrast, feels like a quality set-up for an excellent novel but abruptly ends having barely scratched the surface of what could have been, while Crawl Space is very middle-of-the-road and offers nothing new while taking up an enviable amount of space in this 104 page collection. Likewise The Devil's Apprentice proves overly predictable, and All Eyes on Me does nothing to make itself stand out in its relativity short page count. But the most disappointing story is the longest. The Home has a great deal of potential as it details one carer's experiences at a nursing home for the dying, yet it too often descends into cliché without delivering any notable scares.

Though the writing is technically quite good, and I would be happy to return to another collection of stories by Jenkins, all in all, I would be hoping for something more consistent across the board if I were to do so.

3 Perfectly Cognizant, Eternal Waits for Spine.


Monster Gauntlet review

Monster Gauntlet - Paul Emil

Sigh. Ripping on independent authors who no doubt work hard to produce a finished written product is not something I relish. So I'm not going to. Instead I'm going to express my many and varied issues with Paul Emil's Monster Gauntlet without resorting to hyperbole, exaggeration, or semi-amusing turns of phrase.

Monster Gauntlet is set in an under-developed world in which monsters exist and are used in a reality TV show to hunt convicted criminals for the enjoyment of the viewing audience. The POV character becomes a reluctant participant on the show in a way which is extraordinarily hard to believe, gets trained up by under-written characters whose motivations make no sense, and then is thrust into the game to compete with a bunch of cliched characters, none of whom is made to seem like a real person. Then a whole bunch of action takes place off page as a few unexciting monsters make their plays for the characters, while the protagonist survives encounter after encounter that she should not have been able to, only for a final reveal to partially explain this, before an ending that has to be read to be believed takes place.

The writing is simplistic and not at all engaging. The editing has missed a number of mistakes that one further read through should have found.

All in all, Monster Gauntlet is not an easy book to read. But it is short, so if the premise catches your eye, give it a shot. You'll know within 20 pages if it is for you or not.

1.5 Uninspiring Creatures for Monster Gauntlet.


Predator - Incursion review

Predator - Incursion: The Rage War 1 - Tim Lebbon

The first book in the The Rage War trilogy flings the reader far into the future from the events depicted in all the Predator and Aliens films, as well as those that happened in the recent Aliens trilogy from Titan books. As such there is no Ripley or anyone else who survived those books in this lead off novel from Tim Lebbon. Instead we get a whole developed universe in which humans have expanded far across the galaxy and occasionally have run-ins with the Yautja and even more irregularly come across the Xenomorphs. But when human bases, space stations and facilities start being sabotaged from within, and the Yautja concurrently seem interested in invading human space, it is only a matter of time before whatever is causing both of these occurrences is revealed and human civilisation will become the target of a greater threat ...

So there's the set-up and as far as a Sci-Fi-Action hybrid based on two widely known monster franchises go, it's not at all bad. The devil, however, is in the details and as technically good as Lebbon's writing is, he's forced to juggle too many plot lines to the point that none of them overly resonated with me. Which is to say, no-one character is close to as compelling as an Ellen Ripley, or even a Cpl Dwayne T Hicks. And as such, I was never really swept away by what I was reading, or filled with that burning desire to read just one more page before putting the book down.

Don't get me wrong. There's definitely enough here to see how The Rage War progresses and I will continue to pick up everything Lebbon writes with an adult audience in mind. But I do hope the next two books in the series can elevate these surviving characters into something more memorable that I can really get behind.

3 Well-Placed Bombs for Predator - Incursion.


Jackpot review

Jackpot - Kristopher Rufty, Adam Cesare, Shane McKenzie, David Bernstein

I'm so, sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo far behind on my reviews here. Forgive the way they'll roll out over the next day or two as I try to catch up.




Sick, nasty, sadistic, twisted, and just plain wrong, Jackpot by four of the bigger up and comers within the horror genre is nevertheless an excellent read.

It starts out graphically and gets increasingly over-the-top as serial killer Booker wins the powerball and instantly becomes rich (and then some). Within days a sleazy lawyer is seeking to represent him, and soon thereafter Booker realises every one of his sick fantasies can be fulfilled by the money he has just won. If only he can keep it out of the hands of the family of murderers who have gotten a whiff of his windfall ...

Let me be clear. There is not a likable character within the pages of Jackpot. Virtually everyone is either a horrendous murderer or someone looking to take advantage of others. Of course, this is completely deliberate on behalf of Bernstein, Cesare, McKenzie, and Rufty. If their characters are all stains on the underside of humanity's shoe, then the reader won't mind too much when terrible things befall them. In fact, they might just be hoping for said terrible things to occur.

The writing here is quality. I could not distinguish one chapter from another in terms of which author wrote it, meaning the editing is either top notch, or the four gentlemen deliberately emulated each other as closely as possible. Either way, it works.

Here's to a return to the world of Jackpot in the not too distant future, or at the very least, these four writers sharing their combined talents again soon.

4 Numbers Carved in Flesh for Jackpot.




The Walking Dead Vol 16 review

The Walking Dead, Vol. 16 - Robert Kirkman

And so my annual read of The Walking Dead - in which I read through everything that happened in the most recent season of the TV series - comes to an end.

There's little to say about this volume, other than it sets up what promises to be a very large and serious arc in the next volume. Jesus makes his appearance (no, not that one), and Rick and co are put on their collision course with the infamous Negan. Rick also has a bunch of epiphanies, and starts to consider how maybe they can make a life in this post-apocalyptic world, and Andrea makes her play for a certain major character, but otherwise it's all fairly by-the-numbers Walking Dead...

Truth be told, I read the first four issues from the next volume, as that literally took me right up to where Season 6 of the TV series ended. And it is, as predicted, so much more action-packed and engaging than this Volume.

Talk to you all next year - unless the zombie apocalypse happens first!

3 Trade Agreements One Can't Keep for The Walking Dead: A Larger World.


The Walking Dead Vol 15 review

The Walking Dead, Vol. 15: We Find Ourselves - Robert Kirkman

The necessary lull after the storm, with the next storm gathering on the horizon, Volume 15 of Robert Kirkman, Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn's ongoing zombie apocalyptic series is not overly thrilling. But it does not need to be. Instead, it is tasked with developing these characters so when they next run into major trouble, there's a legitimate concern for their well-being; that the reader believes any one of them (well, almost) could die at any turn of the page. And that is accomplished here just fine.

That said, I was never caught up in a mad frenzy to burn through the pages of this one, like I have been with previous volumes, so that makes it fairly easy to score this one as middle of the road for a Walking Dead volume - even if said volume is better than most other graphic novels doing the rounds at this time.

3 Burgeoning Romances for The Walking Dead: We Find Ourselves.


The Walking Dead Vol 14 review

The Walking Dead, Vol. 14: No Way Out - Charlie Adlard, Robert Kirkman

Reading these after I've experienced the TV show's version of the same is an interesting experience. On the one hand, I know exactly what's coming plot-wise. On the other, I get to be genuinely surprised when Kirkman makes a decision within the comic's pages to kill someone very different off from what the show-runners of the TV series would decide years later. This both helps and hinders my appreciation of the source material.

Regardless of that, this 14th Volume in the world of The Walking Dead is pretty damn great. Big events, big deaths, new relationships, and even an epiphany or two for Rick. Quality stuff, and all of it illustrated with a sure hand, where, for the most part, characters are easily discernible. As is the carnage visited upon them when the Walkers get within biting range.

4 Painful Losses for The Walking Dead: No Way Out.


The Abyss Above Us - Half a Book review

The Abyss Above Us - Ryan Notch

The first part of a two part book series, The Abyss Above Us represents an effort to bring elements of Lovecraftian horror into the technological age as a computer system expert uncovers something evil manipulating a powerful telescope for unknown purposes.

Ryan Notch certainly seems to have pinned down the tech side of what is presented in this novella. It most definitely read authentically, insofar as his main character seems to know what he is talking about. However, the structure of The Abyss Above Us is all over the place. Most of the horror takes place off page and is only referred to by one character telling another about it; a small group of characters is established in the first half of the book, and then suddenly, a whole new group of characters are introduced half way through, who, at the end point of this book, have only barely begun to circle the major thread peripherally; and, worse, those characters seem to drone on about their love life for a full third of the page count.

Quite simply, if I wanted to read about good looking twenty-somethings gushing over one another and pining about "the one they can't have", I'd tune in to Melrose Place re-runs. I certainly wouldn't be picking up a horror novella that seemed to have a good angle on a classic horror concept.

And the ending was painful. Truly painful. Like end of Season 6 The Walking Dead painful. I enjoy a cliffhanger as much as the next person when it is handled appropriately. But when a book fails to close or satisfy any single narrative arc within its page count - so it seems like an original manuscript was simply ripped approximately in two - that comes across less like a cliffhanger and more like someone wanting to make double the money for the same amount of work.

2 Mysteriously Hidden Offices for The Abyss Above Us.


Currently reading

Headhunter by Tim Curran
Progress: 35%
Chasing Ghosts by Glenn Rolfe
Progress: 99%
The Deep by Nick Cutter
Progress: 140/352pages