Book Review: The GHOST FILES

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ghost files 1
Apryl Baker
Limitless Publishing
2013

  • Cherry blossom lipstick: check. Smokey eyes: check. Skinny jeans: check. Dead kid in the mirror: check. For sixteen year old Mattie Hathaway, this is her normal everyday routine. She’s been able to see ghosts since her mother tried to murder her when she was five years old. No way does she want anyone to know she can talk to spooks. Being a foster kid is hard enough without being labeled a freak too. Normally, she just ignores the ghosts and they go away. That is until she see’s the ghost of her foster sister… Sally. Everyone thinks Sally’s just another runaway, but Mattie knows the truth—she’s dead. Murdered. Mattie feels like she has to help Sally, but she can’t do it alone. Against her better judgment, she teams up with a young policeman, Officer Dan, and together they set out to discover the real truth behind Sally’s disappearance. Only to find out she’s dealing with a much bigger problem, a serial killer, and she may be the next victim… Will Mattie be able to find out the truth before the killer finds her?

The second e-book I read from the cluster of free Kindle horror books I downloaded (as mentioned in my article for The House Next Door), The Ghost Files was one of those books that, in hindsight, was probably not intended for my particular reading demographic. But, it was free. So I read it. And thus, I am reviewing it.

As with the other authors in the Kindle Kluster (see what I did there?), I was unfamiliar with Apryl Baker. Her biography at the end of this book–as well as on her blog–doesn’t really inform much, and kind of goes for the Lisa Frank style of whimsical fluff, but in word form. Yep. Modern Young Adult author. A peak at her entry at the Internet Speculative Fiction Database shows she’s been publishing since 2011, with the Ghost Files series starting up in 2013 and already five-ish volumes in.

Let’s take a look at the first book in that series: The Ghost Files.

In this first outing, we meet 16-year-old Mattie Hathaway, a foster child who is getting ready for a party. Within the first few paragraphs, we’re clued in to the fact that Mattie can see ghosts, as one appears behind her in the mirror she’s grooming in. Apparently, Mattie’s been able to do this since she was a young child–5, as a matter of fact–so she just ignores the specter and heads off with her boyfriend to the party. But then, after encountering the ghost of her foster sister–who was alive and talking with here not even an hour or so beforehand–she’s shocked to learn that there might be a serial killer targeting foster children. Getting some help from the dreamy 20-something policeman and the ghosts of the victims, she’s getting close to figuring out who the killer is…and she’s not going to like the answer to that mystery, or even survive…

For a YA novel, the story with The Ghost Files wasn’t all that bad. Mind you, it had its flaws: while not necessarily a full-blown Mary Sue character, it does seem that all the boys wanna git wit’ sweet Mattie. This includes the 20-year-old policeman who more or less declares his love for, I have to point this out, this 16-year-old girl. A girl who, when she’s not going on with the mystery and the trials and tribulations of a foster child, actually stops the narrative to fawn over the hot guys she comes across. She even gets the hots for a ghost of a boy. Again, I realize I may not be the demographic for this genre (even back when I was the right age for this type of book, I was cutting my horror fiction teeth on Stephen King and Clive Barker, so I may have a bit more of a disadvantage), but it seems more than a bit arbitrary, really.

On the plus side, though, once we get past the fact that I more or less guessed the big twist reveal before I finished the fist chapter, The Ghost Files does manage to end on a satisfactory note. Sure, there was the obvious sequel bait (this is an ongoing series, after all), but at least the ending didn’t tie everything up in a nice neat package where everything works out in the end. Mattie is a tragic hero, here.

Overall: While there were points where I found myself rolling my eyes at the parts that were clearly not written for my particular demographic, this first volume of The Ghosts Files held my attention with a pretty good supernatural mystery that had some spine-chilling moments. It did prompt me to get a few more volumes in the series when the chance presented itself. Worth a look-see.

Book Review: FROM A CERTAIN POINT OF VIEW

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from a certain point of view

  • In honor of the fortieth anniversary of Star Wars: A New Hope, this collection features Star Wars stories by bestselling authors, trendsetting artists, and treasured voices from Star Wars literary history. More than forty authors have lent their unique vision to forty “scenes”, each retelling a different moment from the original Star Wars film, but with a twist: Every scene is told from the point of view of a background character. Whether it’s the X-wing pilots who helped Luke destroy the Death Star or the stormtroopers who never quite could find the droids they were looking for, Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View places the classic movie in a whole new perspective, and celebrates the influence and legacy of the unparalleled cultural phenomenon, Star Wars.

As I’ve mentioned in previous Star Wars book reviews, I started reading the expanded universe novels around 2001, on the insistence of my friend Nex. This was long before Disney bought out Lucasfilm and Star Wars, rendering the novels to be what I like to call “professional fan-fic”, aka Star Wars Legends. Personally, my favorite ones that I liked to read were the three that contained short stories from the point of view of the peripheral characters: Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina, Tales of the Bounty Hunters, and Tales from Jaba’s Palace. I’ve always been intrigued by what the minor characters you see in movies, experiencing what’s going on, were thinking or doing that lead up to that moment. These books really scratched that imaginative itch I had.

Of course, now that those have been regulated into the Legends category, it was a wait to see if anything like those books would appear in the new official Disney canon. Lo and behold, in 2017 there was published the anthology From a Certain Point of View, a collection of short stories that were written by several authors, based on certain peripheral characters that were in the background of everything going on during the run of the first Star Wars movie, A New Hope. This was released in conjunction with the movie’s 40th anniversary since its release back in 1977, and since it features 40 stories (one for each year, I presume), I need to stop yammering on and get to the stories contained within this tome. Shall we? We shall…

“Raymus” (Gary Witta)
It’s the story of Raymus Antilles, the captain of the Tantive IV, taking place from essentially the tail end of Rogue One, when they launch out of the Star Cruiser Profundity, to when he’s choked to death by Darth Vader after their capture over Tatooine. Basically, this bridges the small gap between the end of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope…

“The Bucket” (Christie Golden)
This one deals with Stormtrooper TK-4601, who is the one who manages to nab Princess Leia on the Tantive IV, right after she sticks those Death Star plans into some random astromech droid that I’m sure has no bearing on the overall saga whatsoever. Oh, and the “bucket” in question refers to the stormtrooper helmets. You’re welcome…

“The Sith of Datawork” (Ken Liu)
A brief yet amusing look at the bureaucratic side of the Galactic Empire, specifically the paperwork involved for a certain gunnery captain that ordered his subordinates not to fire upon some escape pod that didn’t have any life signs…

“Stories in the Sand” (Griffin McElroy)
Here, we have a story about a Jawa named Jot who likes to hide in his secret space on the clan’s sandcrawler and watch the “stories” taken from the memory cores of the droids they find before they’re wiped for resale. Then one day, he happens upon the memory core of a recently acquired R2 unit, which shows him clips from the Prequel Trilogy, among other things…

“Reirin” (Sabaa Tahir)
A young female Tusken Raider outcast wants to leave Tatooine (couldn’t imagine why), so she’s tasked with finding a shiny stone held within the Jawa sandcrawler that happens to be selling a couple of droids to a moisture farmer and his plucky nephew…

“The Red One” (Rae Carson)
That’s right, there’s a story about the R5-D4 unit that was the Owen’s first pick from the Jawa’s swap meet. This goes into things a bit into detail as to why it fritzed out like it did…

“Rites” (John Jackson Miller)
Hey, you remember the part in A New Hope, with the Tusken Raiders who ambush Luke while he’s trying to find R2? This is a story about those guys. This one has a bit which alludes to the part in Attack Of The Clones, where Anakin slaughters a camp of Tuskens for killing his mother. Continuity, yay.

“Master and Apprentice” (Claudia Gray)
An existential bit of a discussion between Obi-Wan and the force ghost of his old master, Qui-Gon, during that part where Luke goes back to find his aunt and uncle kind of sort of not well…

“Beru Whitesun Lars” (Meg Cabot)
This is a short but rather interesting story narrated by the title character, Luke’s Aunt Beru, all about raising Luke and her thoughts on that. Given the ending of the story, it does raise more questions, here…

“The Luckless Rodian” (Renee Ahdieh)
Of course, there’s going to be a story about Greedo, the green-skinned bounty hunter that NEVER SHOT BECAUSE HAN SHOT AND THAT WAS IT…sorry. Deep breaths, here. Anyway, this is what led up to that confrontation, and it appears there was a woman involved that horked Greedo off in the first place…

“Not for Nothing” (Mur Lafferty)
Presented as a chapter from a book of memoirs by one of the members of Figrin D’an and the Modal Nodes (that band in the cantina that plays a style of music that elicits giggles by myself immature man-boys when spoken of), this sheds a bit of light as to why a band comprised of Bith (a species with pink sensitive skin and big, lidless eyes that are unable to secrete tears) would be on a planet like Tatooine in the first place…

“We Don’t Serve Their Kind Here” (Chuck Wendig)
Now we take a look at the cantina bartender Wuher, who is grumpy but affable, going about his day trying not get involved with everything going down around him. Which includes the arrival of some farm kid and an old guy in robes with a couple of darn droids on the day that his droid detector is not working properly…

“The Kloo Horn Cantina Caper” (Kelly Sue DeConnick / Matt Fraction)
Kind of a wacky story involving Muftak and Kabe, the two aliens that…well, Google ’em, you’ll know them when you see the images. Anyway, this involves a sought-after Bith instrument, where the rent monies went to, and various other instances involving Greedo that demonstrates that the continuity between the stories are a bit off…

“Added Muscle” (Paul Dini)
And here we have a bit of a Boba Fett inner monologue involving that Special Edition scene where Jabba the Hutt confronting Han Solo in Docking Bay 94 with a bunch of other bounty hunters to collect on Solo’s debt. This one was written by long-time television writer Paul Dini, and let’s just say he doesn’t really nail Boba Fett at all. He sounds more like Lobo, from the Superman: The Animated Series which he has worked on. Really could have used K. W. Jeter handling Fett…

“You Owe Me a Ride” (Zoraida Cordova)
This one is about the Tonnika sisters, the two females that were seen maybe a split-second in the movie. Here, they head off to Jabba’s palace for a job, then decide to steal the Millennium Falcon to get off planet and…do stuff. Things don’t go as planned, obviously…

“The Secrets of Long Snoot” (Delilah S. Dawson)
This one’s about that steampunk clad snitch Garindan ezz Zavor, who lead the stormtroopers to Docking Bay 94. Goes a bit into why he was on Tatooine, and how he was trying to get back home…ah, who cares? He ratted out our heroes, guys…

“Born in the Storm” (Daniel Jose Older)
A rather amusing story told in the form of an Imperial Incident Report form, from one of the stormtroopers that happened to be in the group that were on Tatooine searching for a couple of droids…

“Laina” (Wil Wheaton)
Yes, that Wil Wheaton. Here, he pens a story about a rebel soldier on Yavin IV videotaping a message to his 2-year-old daughter, whom he’s about to send away with a couple of aunts off-world for safty’s sake. This one had me shouting, “THAT WAS MY JOKE GUESS, YOU BASTARD!” at the end…

“Fully Operational” (Beth Revis)
Here we have a story taking place shortly before and during that meeting on the Death Star where Tarkin informs everyone that the Senate was disolved and that chokey-chokey thing happened between Vader and an Admiral. This is from the point of view of General Tagge, not the guy getting choked, but the one who was concerned about the Rebels finding a weak point in the Death Star from the stolen plans. Interesting bit, here…

“An Incident Report” (Mallory Ortberg)
Taking place directly after the previous story, this is the rather angry incident report filled out by the guy who was force-choked by Vader, one Admiral Motti, Chief of the Imperial Navy. He doesn’t seem too happy about the incident, it seems…

“Change of Heart” (Elizabeth Wein)
This is from the point of view of…um, Unidentified Imperial Navy Trooper, who was the guard of Princess Leia while she was prisoner on the Death Star, and was present at her interigation by the hands of Vader, and on the bridge when Alderaan got blow’ed up…

“Eclipse” (Madeleine Roux)
Things are getting rather dark, as now, right after the previous story, we have one about Leia’s adoptive mother, Breha Organa of Alderaan, experiencing her final hour or so on the planet before getting blow’ed up…

[It’s right around here, where I had to pause and look at pictures of kittens for about ten minutes before continuing on with the book]

“Verge of Greatness” (Pablo Hidalgo)
Didn’t think we would skip a story featuring our favorite galactic despot, Grand Moff Tarkin, did we? Here, we get a glimpse of his black, icy soul as he contemplates the power of the Death Star, his acquisition of said Death Star, the destruction of Scarif and thoughts on Director Krennic, all while preparing to take out the rebellion once and for all…

“Far too Remote” (Jeffrey Brown)
This is a single panel comic involving stormtroopers and an Imperial officer (turns out it was General Tagge) searching out Dantooine for that rebel base…

“The Trigger” (Kieron Gillen)
Okay, so, here we have a story involving one Chelli Lona Aphra. As someone whose fandom of Star Wars only covers the movies, a handful of cannon novels, and The Mandalorian series, I had to look up this character. Seems that Aphra is a scavenger that is mentioned in a lot of comic book stories, and apparently appears here because it involves the obligatory search of Dantooine by Imperials, and her running into them while scavenging the abandoned Rebel base. Decent story, though…

“Of MSE-6 and Men” (Glen Weldon)
And here we have a story told from the point of view of the MSE-6 repair droid aboard the Death Star, some time before the destruction of the base above Yavin IV. You know, that thing on the wheels that skittered away freaked out by Chewbacca? That’s the one. Only, the majority of the story concerns the hook-up between a stormtrooper and an Imperial officer, as told by way of the recorded information stored within the droid. Like an episode of Queer As Folk in space…

“Bump” (Ben Acker / Ben Blacker)
Now we have a story about that one Stormtrooper that famously bumped his head on the threshold of the control room where C-3PO and R2-D2 are hiding out in the Death Star. You know the one. This is a story about what happened leading up to that moment, and what happened directly after…

“End of Watch” (Adam Christopher)
This is a story about an administrative Imperial officer in charge of the Death Star’s Station Control West, who is about to get off of duty for the night, when wouldn’t ‘cha now it, there’s an unscheduled arrival of some old YT-1300 light freighter named the Millennial Falcon messing up the traffic…

“The Baptist” (Nnedi Okorafor)
Hey, do you remember that eye-stalk that pokes out of the fetid water of the trash compactor, conjoined to that thing that drags Luke down into the water with it? Presumably to eat him? This is the story of that creature. Turns out it’s a “her”, her name is “Omi”, and she wasn’t planning on eating him after all, really…

“Time of Death” (Cavan Scott)
Finally we have a story about Obi-Wan Kenobi, told from his point of view…just after he’s killed by Darth Vader. Buncha flashbacks in this interesting story, which features a 3-year-old Luke Skywalker at one point…

“There Is Another” (Gary D. Schmidt)
Hey, a story involving Master Yoda. Who wasn’t a part of A New Hope. Eh, whatever. Here, he’s getting ready to plant some seeds for food, takes on some Imperial probe droids, and senses the death of Obi-Wan. It also seems Yoda would rather train Leia rather than Luke as a Jedi, as Obi’s force ghost tries to convince him otherwise. Also, there’s a cooking pot…

“Palpatine” (Ian Doescher)
Okay, so, this one was written by the guy who has written the William Shakespeare’s Star Wars book series, so this story is also written in iambic pentameter. And, true to the title, this one is from the point of view of Emperor Palpatine, after hearing news of Obi-Wan Kenobi at the hands of Darth Vader. He goes from gloating, to worry about other Jedi that may have slipped the Jedi Purge, right back to gloating again…

“Sparks” (Paul S. Kemp)
This one focuses on Dex Tiree, one of the pilots in Gold Squadron, and his thoughts on things as he goes through the briefing on the Death Star schematics, and his favorite R5 unit nicknamed “Sparks”, going on the run on the Death Star…kind of ends on a downer, this one…

“Duty Roster” (Jason Fry)
And here we have a story from one of the other starfighter pilots that didn’t partake of the run on the Death Star due to some anger issues, mostly due to the Empire ravaging his home world, but also having the nickname of “Fake Wedge”…

“Desert Son” (Pierce Brown)
A story told from the point of view of Biggs Darklighter, Luke’s friend from Tatooine. This focuses mainly on his perspective of the trench run on the Death Star, and what’s going through Bigg’s head, up until it was his windshield…

“Grounded” (Greg Rucka)
Here’s something from a mechanic on the Rebel base on Yavin 4, named Nera Kase. We get a look at the situation and tension at the base as the battle of Yavin takes place over the radio broadcast, and the weight that the deaths have on the ground crew…

[again, I had to pause to look at kitties…man, this is taking more out of me than expected…]

“Contingency Plan” (Alexander Freed)
And now, a story of Mon Mothma, another character that didn’t appear in A New Hope. Anyway, in this story, it’s explained why she was absent during the Battle of Yavin, and delves into the inner turmoil she was experiencing after Alderaan was destroyed. It gets kinda dark, this one does…

“The Angle” (Charles Soule)
Another story involving a beloved character that didn’t really appear until one of the later movies. This one involves Lando Calrissian, having a friendly game of Klikklak interrupted by an Imperial officer and a handful of stormtroopers, and then witnessing a holovid of the Empire’s Death Star being blow’ed up with the help of his former ship, the Millennial Falcon…

“By Whatever Sun” (E. K. Johnson / Ashely Eckstein)
The penultimate story in the collection (I just wanted to write the word “penultimate”), and it’s another one featuring a periferal character that originated outside the movie proper: Captain Miara Larte, one of the few survivors of Alderaan, along with her crew are standing front-and-center of the celebration at the end of the movie. We get a glimpse of what’s going through her head as she witnesses Leia awarding medals to Luke and Han, totally snubbing the Wookiee…

“Whills” (Tom Angleberger)
And finally, we have a very brief, but utterly amusing story dedicated to the unseen Whills of Star Wars legend that watches and chronicles the epic sprawling story of Star Wars, explaining where we get the opening crawl, and also where we got the Star Wars Holiday Special…

Well, now. This was quite the trip. For the most part, the stories here managed to take something about the movie that didn’t seem important to the overall story, and make it far more interesting than it should have been. The handful of nit-picks that I have concern the stories that involved Greedo in one way shape or form, as they didn’t necessarily jive with the continuity with each other. With the ones that took place in Mos Eisley, I had to remember these weren’t part of the Tales from the Mos Eisley Cantina book, and thus didn’t share the same explanation of who and what the characters’ motivations were. Some stories resonated more for me than others, but I’m not really going to go into detail about those, mainly because these are subjective, and I’ve already gone a bit long with the review of this.

Overall: I’ve only read a small handful of what you would call the “New Canon” of Star Wars books, From A Certain Point of View included. I liked this collection. It told entertaining bite-sized stories from a galaxy far, far away, as expected. Also, none of the authors got paid to do this; they all agreed to have the proceeds go to a reading charity. So, for those of you who like that warm fuzzy self-righteous feeling to go with your rank consumerism, there you go. Recommended.

Book Review: CTHULHU’S REIGN

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cthulhu's reignDarrell Schweitzer (Editor)
Daw Books, Inc.
2010

  • Some of the darkest hints in all of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos relate to what will happen after the Old Ones return and take over the earth. In “The Dunwich Horror,” the semi-human half-breed Wilbur Whateley speaks in his diary of travelling to nonhuman cities at the Earth’s magnetic poles “when the Earth is cleared off,” and hints at his own promised “transfiguration.” Very few Mythos stories have ever touched on this. What happens when the Stars Are Right, the sunken city of R’lyeh rises from beneath the waves, and Cthulhu is unleashed upon the world for the last time? What happens when the other Old Ones, long since banished from our universe, break through and descent from the stars? What would the reign of Cthulhu be like, on a totally transformed planet where mankind is no longer the master? It won’t be simply the end of everything. It will be a time of new horrors and of utter strangeness. It will be a time when humans with a “taint” of unearthly blood in their ancestry may come into their own. It will be a time foreseen only by authors with the kind of finely honed imaginative visions as those included in Cthulhu’s Reign.

When it comes to H. P. Lovecraft, one of the more admiral traits of the man–once you get past his laughable form of racism that could have only existed in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries–was that he was more than willing to let others play in his literary sandbox. And why not; his Cthulhu Cycle of stories and the vast mythos that erupted from that is fertile ground for both science fiction and horror. Numerous collections and novels have resulted from this; and this is my rather awkward way of leading into this look into this particular short story collection, titled Cthulhu’s Reign.

This collection does have a theme running through it: Stories that tell of humanity’s life on Earth after the stars re-align, and Cthulhu finally awakens and summons forth his horrible minions and transforms the world in his nightmarish image. Rather intriguing concept, I would say. Really, the book had me at “Cthulhu” when I spied it on the shelves at the local Half Price Books, but a concept is a concept. Let’s look at what we have, shall we?

“The Walker in the Cemetery” (Ian Watson)
A handful of tourists are trapped inside Italy’s famous monumental cemetery of Staglieno when the return of Cthulhu happens, and one by one they seem to be played with and picked off by some unseen entity…

“Sanctuary” (Don Webb)
A young man travels to a nearby abandoned Texas town to find and pick up a special Bible that isn’t really a Bible, in an attempt to keep him and his daughter safe from succumbing to the madness of the new gods that have taken over…it doesn’t end well, let’s just say…

“Her Acres of Pastoral Playground” (Mike Alien)
It’s a normal morning on the farm, where a man has built his own kind of safe haven against the horror of the Star Spawn’s invasion, when he begins to realize that maybe his defenses aren’t all that effective…

“Spherical Trigonometry” (Ken Asamatsu)
A billionaire industrialist commissions a special fortress to be built, one that features no angles whatsoever for the Old Ones to invade his space, only to realize too late that humanity is the oldest form of angles there are in the world…

“What Brings the Void” (Will Murray)
A glimpse into the reality of a couple of survivors of the invasion and mutation of humanity, as things get desperate, and one of them happens to be about to give birth to something not exactly human…it doesn’t end well…

“The New Pauline Corpus” (Matt Cardin)
Less a short story and more of a fiction discourse discussing the fall of Judeo-Christian ethics in the wake of the return of the Old Ones…

“Ghost Dancing” (Darrell Schweitzer)
A guy infiltrates a ceremonial human sacrifice to the Star Spawn to free the sacrifice…it doesn’t end well…

“This is How the World Ends” (John R. Fultz)
A glimpse into the reality of a couple of survivors of the invasion and mutation of humanity, as things get desperate, and one of them happens to be about to give birth to something not exactly human…it doesn’t end well…

“The Shallows” (John Langan)
A man tells the tale of his life before the coming of the Old Ones to a crab that helps him tend to his garden…I have to take a moment to let sink in what I just wrote…

“Such Bright and Risen Madness in Our Names” (Jay Lake)
A bunch of mutated humans gather together underground to plan their next desperate upheaval against Cthulhu’s reign on earth…, kinda bleak and nihilistic, there…

“The Seals of New R’lyeh” (Gregory Frost)
A couple of petty thieves that survived the Cthulhu Apocalypse steal some seals that purportedly are supposed to bring back all of the Old Ones from beyond their dimensional plane. and one of the thieves just happens to have the correct translation of the Necronomicon to bring that about…

“The Holocaust of Ecstasy” (Brian Stableford)
A college professor–sorry, former college professor awakens to find he is merely now a head hanging from a tree where conscience human heads are its fruit, and the land seems to be a nightmarish landscape designed by the Star Spawn themselves…and then things get weird as said former professor ponders the existential ramifications of his new situation…

“Vastation” (Laird Barron)
A rather mind-blowing jaunt back and forth through the history of reality through the eyes of a sociopath immortal-ish quasi-deity…gads, my head hurts now…I couldn’t look away, I had to finish it or go mad…moreso…

“Nothing Personal” (Richard A. Lupoff)
A science exploratory space vessel accidentally sets off a massive antimatter explosion on a planet of Old Ones, and they retaliate by turning Earth into a black ball of antimatter goo…do I even need to state that this doesn’t end well?

“Remnants” (Fred Chappell)
The last three humans alive on Earth race to a rendezvous point where aliens who oppose the Old Gods are going to take them to a place of safety…this actually ends well, nicely done…

Overall, yeah, Cthulhu’s Reign was a pretty good collection to read through. Pretty consistent theme going, different takes on what would happen after the Old Ones finally take over the place, all keeping things at a pretty decent clip, and ending with a story that has a glimmer of hope at the end. Nothing mind-blowing but yeah, I would recommend picking this up if you happen across it.

Book Review: AMISH ZOMBIES FROM SPACE (Peril in Plain Space #2)

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amish zombies from space
Kerry Nietz
Freeheads Publishing
2015

If it wasn’t for the roaming bands of dead, it might not be such a bad place.

  • First, vampires in space. And now…zombies. Really? Jebediah and the others are trying to get over the horrors they faced in deep space, and now this. It’s been five years, and the Amish colony on Miller’s Resolve has finally gotten settled. Jeb and Sarah have a son. Elder Samuel is happy not being in charge. Darly has a private practice. And Greels is out of jail at last. But when a mysterious ship from space arrives on Resolve, it unleashes a horde of undead that might spell the end of the survivors and their dreams of peace. Will the specters of the past save them, or seal their fate?

Of course there’s a sequel to the surprisingly awesome book Amish Vampires in Space. Of course it would involve zombies this go-around. And, of course I would immediately read this one after experiencing the first book. I would have been disappointed in myself if I hadn’t. So let’s get to this, shall we?

Just as the back cover blurb states, it’s been five years since the wackiness on The Raven transpired. The surviving Amish have settled and flourished on a new planet called Miller’s Reserve, one with a sun that won’t be so keen on going supernova any time soon. Jebediah and Sarah have moved on from the Amish community they helped to save; Jeb shaved his beard and Sarah lost the bonnet, and both run a joint handmade furniture shop and bakery in the city of another planet, while their five-year-old son Issac is way into monster hero videos. Seal and Singer are now married, and flyin’ around the galaxy in their own private ship and discussing possibly starting a family of their own. Doctor Darly has her own private practice, as well as a bit of an unhealthy dependency on her virtual assistant. And then there’s Greels, who didn’t fare very well after the events in the first book; he’s just getting released from jail, he discovers that his severance pay and any evidence he ever worked for the Guild have been wiped out of existence, and he only has $200 to his name. Meanwhile, back on Miller’s Reserve, a ship with a bunch of annoying tourists shows up and insists on checking out the quaint Amish way of life for themselves. Only, they may have a secret ulterior motive about visiting and disrupting the good folks, and it may or may not have something to do with another strange ship that has just crash landed nearby the community, bearing some very gruesome cargo. Soon, the community is overrun by the undead corpses of the Amish and their animals. Also, Greels has just kidnapped Issac and taken him on a space-trip in a stolen Guild cargo shuttle to a mysterious base on the edge of uncharted space, a place that may have a clue to what went on in the last book, and also to help defeat the zombies that have overrun Miller’s Resolve.

Once again, Kerry Nietz manages to take the concept of a bunch of future Amish settlers on a planet in far-off space being overrun by zombies, and make it seem rather plausible. Sure, this book takes the more scientific route when explaining the source of what made the zombies, as well as shines some more scientific light as to the origins of the vampires that plagued everyone in the last book. But, this being birthed from a sci-fi writer, I would have been disappointed if it didn’t.

And just like in the previous book, Amish Zombies from Space manages to blend the sci-fi with the horror, action and drama in a rather cinematic way, to which you can vividly picture it all in your head. And really, the book does manage to do something different from the standard way this could have ended. And thus, I would once again mark this book as Recommended, especially if you’ve already read the first book.

Book Review: AMISH VAMPIRES IN SPACE (Peril In Plain Space #1)

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amish vampires in space

Kerry Nietz
Fireheads Publishing
2013

  • Jebediah has a secret that will change his world forever and send his people into space. The Amish world of Alabaster calls upon an ancient promise to escape destruction. Then end up on a cargo ship bound for the stars. But they are not the only cargo on board. Some of it is alive…or used to be. Now, with vampires taking over and closing in on the Amish refugees, these simple believers must decide whether their faith depends upon their honored traditions or something even older.

A couple of years ago, while bored at work, I was amusing myself by doing Google searches on words that were absurd when paired together: words like “Wafflecone Conspiracy”, “Polka Metal”, “Government Intelligence”, things like that. Just to see what wackiness would pop up. One of those searches was for “Amish Vampires”. And lo and behold, the link for this actual novel, Amish Vampires in Space, popped up. Which tells me that there are clearly other people out there whose brains work just like mine. That should be enough to give anyone pause.

Anyway, as a title like Amish Vampires in Space falls squarely in the Shut Up And Take My Money files, I purchased the Kindle edition of this book, just to check it out, sight unseen. No idea what the book was about…but I had an inkling that, somehow, this would involve Amish vampires. In space. I mean, it’s right there in the title. Brilliant, that. Besides, even it it turned out to be someone’s poorly written subReddit fan-fic that somehow found its way to getting published for realsies, I can at least hold my head up high, and proclaim from the rooftops that I have, indeed, read a book titled Amish Vampires in Space.

I haven’t even gotten to the review of the thing, and I am savoring this for all it’s worth.

So, a little backstory: Apparently, this title came about because the owner of the book’s publishing company was contemplating how popular Amish romance novels were in the Christian fiction market. I don’t know what it’s like now, but there was a time when Christian book publishers’ collective credo involving romance fiction–or, possibly any kind of religious fiction in general–was, “If it ain’t Amish, don’t bother submitting.” Or something like that. Then he started thinking about how popular vampires were in young adult fiction in the general market, and came up with the idea of producing cover art for a fake book he had no intention of actually publishing, more as a satirical goof on the genres. And that was that…until author Kerry Nietz contacted the publisher with an actual idea for the story of Amish Vampires in Space. And so they did. Mind you, they stipulated that he had to have an actual story to give them, and they reserved the right to reject publication. The fact that this not only got published, but also has a sequel further intrigued me.

But, enough prattling about the making of. Let’s get to what you’re really here for: What do I, your Uncle NecRo, think of Amish Vampires in Space? And, can I manage to continue typing out that title without giggling like a five-year-old who heard his grandmother pass gas while bending over?

To answer the later question first: No. I cannot. But, you probably suspected that.

As to the former question: Amish Vampires in Space is a subversive novel of science fiction goodness that takes a rather absurd sounding premise, and manages to weave a story that makes it all not only plausible, but also manages to be an engaging and heart-felt and well thought-out novel chock full of drama, comedy, and action to keep even the most jaded of sci-fi geek engaged to the end of the book. The writing style takes a very cinematic style, keeping the story moving, despite the over-400 page length of the book. I found myself enjoying pretty much every page from when I picked it up, and finding it hard to put back down.

Overall: Whether you pick up a copy of Amish Vampires in Space because of the gonzo title alone (like I did) or more out of morbid curiosity, you will be pleasantly surprised by the quality of the story contained herein. This isn’t one of those subReddit fan-fics that got lucky, like 50 Shade of Toxic Relationships; this is actually well-written. Recommended.

Book Review: POOR THINGS

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poor thingsDaniel Barnett
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
2016

I turned the dial to 153.5, to 153.6, 153.7, and on each station there were more. More. More. More. Hell wasn’t a place. Hell was a state of mind, and it was broadcasting over Ash’s radio.

  • Summer crashes to an end on a winding road. Just like that, football superstar Joel Harper finds himself rolling his wheelchair into a new school in a strange town. Soon he’s making friends of misfits, taking lessons in Iron Maiden, and trying to keep away from a ruthless bully with a penchant for switchblades. Little is he aware, something ancient and wounded has awoken deep beneath the tiny mountain community, and when it surfaces, all of Honaw will know its pain.

I’ve been checking out more authors that I haven’t heard of in the past few years, mainly due to the acquisition of the Kindle and download a bunch of free-to-under $5 novels and novellas off of Amazon. One of those was this particular book of horror, titled Poor Things, by someone named Daniel Barnett. I’ve never heard of him before, I was unfamiliar with his work (redundancy is redundant), but the main thing was, this book was listed as FREE. Also, it was only 290 pages…285 if you stop counting after the story actually ends and the end credits begin. That’s about the perfect length when checking out a new author for myself. Finally got around to reading it, so let’s see how things go.

The story of Poor Things opens with a family of four getting into a terrible deadly accident while driving to visit an aunt in a small obscure town tucked away in the hills, narrated by the only survivor of the crash, a high school aged boy named Joel. He’s left paralyzed from the waist down, and put in the care of his spinster aunt. While readjusting to his new life, he befriends a couple of the local misfits from his school, and learns the ways of the Music of Awesome (that being \,,/METAL\,,/), while also (literally) running into the school bully, among other wackiness that comes standard with these kind of novels. Anyway, the day after an ill-fated talent show, the local mine the town’s built around blows up, which levels the town and leaves the entire place covered with a thick fog made of blood. Which is the most metal thing that could happen, really. Que the Slayer. As it turns out, there was some kind of ancient unspeakable elderic horror down in those mines, and is causing all the dead bodies to come back to unlife, unable to die and forever doomed to feel the pain of death. This includes the animals as well as the humans, here. So now Joel and his small band of freaks (their words) find themselves dodging capture by the obligatory gov’ment quarantine, while trying to either find a way of escape from the town, or eliminating the Unspeakable Evil Entity in the mine once and for all. Try to guess how things end. Go ahead. Guess.

I have to admit that, as I first began reading Poor Things, I found myself a bit annoyed at some of the inner monologue from the main protagonist, Joel. Especially towards his brother and mother. Of course, things went smoother as I warmed up to the style of writing, and found myself soon engrossed at the goings on. The style of the story reminds me of Chuck Palahniuk’s style, in that’s more of a first-person, Unreliable Narrator type, only with significantly less nihilism and self-loathing. The book works well as both a straight supernatural horror featuring Unknown Chaotic Neutral Entities and a bunch of gore and zombies, as well as exploring some existential pain from our protagonists to flesh things out. And everything works so well…until I got to the end, where the ending left me scratching my head and very audibly going “WHAT?!?”, disturbing the cubicle dwellers at work, where I was reading this at the time I finished. I understand what the author was going for, but…really? I wasn’t very satisfied with it.

And no, I’m not going to spoil what happens at the end. You’re going to have to read it for yourself. And since this is FREE (all-caps intended) on the Amazon Kindle reader, you can do so easily. Unless you’re one of those Luddite types who scoff at reading books that aren’t made of paper and ink, in which case, go ahead and pick up the physical copy if you want.

What I’m getting at here, is that Poor Things was better than I expected. It’s not one of those paint-by-the-numbers horror books that are a dime a dozen. It’s worth checking out.

Book Review: GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST

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ghosts of christmas past
John Murray Publishing
2018

  • A present contains a monstrous secret. An uninvited guest haunts a Christmas party. A shadow slips across the floor by firelight. A festive entertainment ends in darkness and screams. Who knows what haunts the night at the dark point of the year? This collection of seasonal chillers looks beneath Christmas cheer to a world of ghosts and horrors, mixing terrifying modern fiction with classic stories by masters of the macabre. From Neil Gaiman and M. R. James to Muriel Spark and E. Nesbit, there are stories here to make the hardiest soul quail–so find a comfy chair, lock the door, ignore the cold breath on your neck and get ready to welcome in the real spirits of Christmas.

Now that it’s December, and the whole Thanksgiving season is in our collective rear-view mirrors (if you happen to be living in the United States, that is), we are now firmly ensconced in the Christmas season part of the yearly Holiday Clusterbomb. The lights are up, the trees and houses are decorated, the seasonal music is playing, and if you happen to be dwelling in the northern hemisphere of this planet of ours, the days are getting darker far earlier every night now. It’s a fun fact that this was the traditional season to be telling ghost stories around the fire at Christmas time, and I for one wish to continue this grand tradition started in the Victorian era. It’s a very Gothic time for me, so it’s in that spirit of the season in which I purchased this electronic tome of spooky stories set during Christmas to liven up the nights. Let’s take a gander at the stories carried within Ghosts of Christmas Past, shall we?

  • “The Story of a Disappearance and a Reappearance” (M. R. James)

Beginning with one of the masters of literary ghost stories, a man relays, through a series of letters dated December of 1837, his travels to a town to investigate the disappearance and possible murder of his clergyman uncle, and having a nightmare involving a Punch and Judy puppet show.

  • “Dinner For One” (Jenn Ashworth)

Narrated from the point of view of the ghost of someone who is still haunting their significant other, kind of disproving the whole “death do us part” bit of a relationship.

  • “The Shadow” (E. Nesbit)

Fun Fact: Ms Nesbit was primarily an author of children’s books, and only messed around with ghost stories and such on the side. Anyway, after a grand Christmas party at an old house, the housekeeper of this story’s narrator’s aunt stops by the room where there are girls telling late-night ghost stories by the firelight, and she’s invited to tell a chilling tale of her own–one that turns out to be all too real.

  • “This Beautiful House (Louis de Bernieres)

The narrator of this story sits outside one picturesque Christmas night, admiring the lights of a Christmas tree inside the old house he grew up in, prompting memories of Christmas past, and why the ghosts of his family keep pestering him.

  • “The Leaf-Sweeper” (Muriel Spark)

A story that answers the question: What happens when you surpress your Christmas spirit for too long?

  • “Christmas Eve on a Haunted Hulk” (Frank Cowper)

A gentleman visiting a friend over the Christmas holidays finds himself stranded on a wreaked and long-abandoned ship while duck hunting, and encounters something foul overnight. No pun intended. As a side note, this story references the 17th Century Gothic novella “The Haunters and the Haunted”, one I was not familiar with and is apparently available for free online. Nifty.

  • “The Step” (E. F. Benton)

An unscrupulous business landowner evicts a poor family from their residence, then begins to get the paranoid feeling of being followed at night. I’m sure the two incidents are unrelated.

  • “The Vanishing House” (Benard Capes)

A drunken banjo (that wasn’t a typo) retells the tale of when his gran’pappy and his mates came across the Devil one snowy night…I think. This was a weird story.

  • “Someone in the Lift” (L. P. Hartley)

A young boy of six keeps seeing a man in an hotel lift (that’s what they call elevators in Britain, gov’nah) that isn’t there, then has a dream on Christmas Eve involving his father dressed as Santa Claus on that very lift.

  • “The Visiting Star” (Robert Nickman)

A famous stage actress arrives in a small town to put on a play, and brings along her two companions who turn out to not be who they appear to be.

  • “Nicholas Was” (Neil Gaiman)

A very, very brief, yet very chilling look at Santa Claus in a whole ‘nother light.

  • “The Ghost of the Blue Chamber” (Jerome K. Jerome)

While visiting family, a man’s uncle tells the tale of the history of the ghost that haunts a room in the house called the Blue Chamber every Christmas Eve, from Midnight to when the cock crows; so obviously the nephew decides to sleep in said room, and discovers the ghost is very much real…and he makes a new friend that night…

  • “The Lady and the Fox” (Kelly Link)

A pretty good dark fantasy involving a girl noticing a strange man standing outside whenever it snows on Christmas Eve, looking in the window of her godmother’s house every year, which results in her growing love of the man and her plans to finally free the man trapped by the magic of a lady. Good way to end the collection of stories, very C. S. Lewis in scope and feel, here.

Overall, I have to say that Ghosts of Christmas Past is a pretty good collection of classic and modern stories. Of course, the two authors that I recognized right off the bat were M. R. James and, of course, Neil Gaiman; the stories each had their own particular tone and style going on, making all of the stories enjoyable; however, I have to say that the standouts for me were “The Story of a Disappearance and a Reappearance” (always a sucker for a good M. R. James tale), “Dinner For One” (even though the whole “twist” was rather evident early on in the story), “This Beautiful House” (touching yet unnerving), “The Leaf-Sweeper” (more of humorous than spooky), “Someone in the Lift” (has a dark Robert Bloch feel to the story), “Nicholas Was” (and not just because I’m a Gaiman fanboy, trust), “The Ghost of the Blue Chamber” (again, more humorous than spooky), and the ender “The Lady and the Fox” (for the same reasons I gave in the section, there).

Whether you go all out for the atmosphere and read a hefty copy of this by firelight in a tall-backed Victorian chair on a cold winter night, or–like me–you’re reading this by the light of a Kindle, Ghosts of Christmas Past is indeed a good way to get into the Christmas spirit in the only way people like myself know how: by giving ourselves a jolly good fright. Recommended.

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