Category: Horror

It by Stephen King

(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Welcome to Derry, Maine. It’s a small city, a place as hauntingly familiar as your own hometown. Only in Derry the haunting is real.

They were seven teenagers when they first stumbled upon the horror. Now they are grown-up men and women who have gone out into the big world to gain success and happiness. But the promise they made twenty-eight years ago calls them reunite in the same place where, as teenagers, they battled an evil creature that preyed on the city’s children. Now, children are being murdered again and their repressed memories of that terrifying summer return as they prepare to once again battle the monster lurking in Derry’s sewers.

Readers of Stephen King know that Derry, Maine, is a place with a deep, dark hold on the author. It reappears in many of his books, including Bag of Bones, Hearts in Atlantis, and 11/22/63. But it all starts with It.

Before reading It I had only read one Stephen King novel and felt it was kind of ‘meh’. But that was many years ago so when I got this one for my birthday from a huge Stephen King fan, I figured I’d give it a try. In the end, I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the novel but the main word I can use to describe it is ‘weird’.

I was never scared of clowns as a kid (I didn’t love them but I wasn’t scared by them) so I don’t think It was as scary as it could have been, but it was still pretty scary. Stephen King is the master of the slow burn and I was honestly engrossed throughout the 1100 page novel. The book starts with a six year old child being dismembered by a freaky clown but there’s more to the tension than just the gore factor. There’s a sense of evil throughout the novel a sort of unnaturalness that hangs around the whole town of Derry. When you add in the fact that the town has more violent crime and an absolutely ridiculous number of child murders, it really sets up the atmosphere. So even though It is 1100 pages, I can be confident in saying this book will never truly bore you.

As for the plot, it was a bit confusing at first as there are several time skips. But as the book moves on and you get into the rhythm of the writing, they’re easier to follow and help build the tension I mentioned before. The two main storylines are the present day adults being contacted about coming back to Derry and finishing the job of killing It. The past storyline is, obviously, the adults when they were children and how they discovered the evil lurking beneath Derry and almost ended it. There are a couple of little subplots along the way, like the Interlude segments where the town librarian, Mike Hanlon, is piecing together Derry’s mysterious past and trying to figure out why such evil lurks in such a small town. And of course there’s the matter of Henry Bowers and Beverly’s awful husband throwing a wrench into things but I can’t really go into much detail about that without spoiling some nice plot twists. Needless to say, It isn’t just a book you can skim through; you really need to pay attention to appreciate just how wonderfully the different narrative threads come together in the harrowing climax.

As much as I enjoyed the plot, I was a little less enthusiastic about the characters. Not because they’re poorly made or anything like that. It’s just that some of them are rather stereotypical and are therefore kind of boring. Eddie is the hypochondriac kid whose hypochondriac mother fusses over him incessantly and Ben is the fat kid who loves the beautiful girl (who loves someone else) and is bullied terribly at school. All of the characters in the Losers (the name they call their group) are easy to relate to but I think they are a bit predictable. It would have been nice for Stephen King to put some twists on these sort of child archetypes. Despite this, at least the characters are interesting, if a little predictable.

One of the most bizarre things about the novel was the origin of Pennywise. I won’t go into too many details because of spoilers but it’s just weird. The theological/existential questions it creates are terrifying in and of themselves but when I got to the climax and discovered the origins of Pennywise the clown it kind of threw me. It makes sense and Stephen King does a good job explaining things while maintaining the suspense he’s built up, but it’s still weird as heck. There’s no other way to describe it.

All in all, I’d have to say I enjoyed It. Stephen King is a good writer and anyone who can keep suspense up for 1100 pages deserves the title ‘master of suspense’. The only real criticism I can levy is that it would have been nice for him to play around with the child’s characters a little more so they weren’t quite so predictable and didn’t conform to the usual stereotypes. But if you’re looking for a suspenseful read, I’d say go no further and try this one. Especially if you’re already scared of clowns.

I give this book 4.5/5 stars.

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Omega Days by John L. Campbell

Omega Days by John L. Campbell(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

When the end came, it came quickly. No one knew where or exactly when the Omega Virus started, but soon it was everywhere. And when the ones spreading it can’t die, no one stands a chance of surviving.

San Francisco, California. Father Xavier Church has spent his life ministering to unfortunate souls, but he has never witnessed horror like this. After he forsakes his vows in the most heartrending of ways, he watches helplessly as a zombie nun takes a bite out of a fellow priest’s face…
University of California, Berkeley. Skye Dennison is moving into her college dorm for the first time, simultaneously excited to be leaving the nest and terrified to be on her own. When her mother and father are eaten alive in front of her, she realizes the terror has just begun…
Alameda, California. Angie West made millions off her family’s reality gun show on the History Channel. But after she is cornered by the swarming undead, her knowledge of heavy artillery is called into play like never before…
Within weeks, the world is overrun by the walking dead. Only the quick and the smart, the strong and the determined, will survive—for now.

[Full disclosure: I received a free paperback at Book Expo America 2015 with no expectation of a review.]

One of the things I have to make clear from the start is that this is not the original ebook that some other people have reviewed.  This is the new, expanded paperback edition that was published by Penguin under their Berkley imprint.  I don’t know how many differences there really are between the two editions but apparently there are a few more little points of view to add interest and some tightening of certain narratives in a couple of places.  In the relative scheme of things, I think the few distinctions don’t really matter all that much.

First, let’s start off with the characters.  We have a huge variety of characters from your typical college student who turns into a killing machine to a reality TV show star who has a fully stocked arsenal of guns.  And while Skye and Angie are fascinating characters, one of the characters that isn’t really your typical ‘stock character’ in a zombie apocalypse is Xavier, the priest.  He is definitely an unconventional priest coming from a very rough background but at the same time he really does seem to care about all of the survivors he meets.  For a while he loses his faith (who wouldn’t?) but then toward the end of the novel we start to see a sort of transformation in him as he learns that perhaps all is not hopeless, despite the devastation around him.

One of the things I found very realistic is that people in the Omega universe actually knew about zombies.  It’s not like Mira Grant’s Newsflesh trilogy where people immediately knew what to do with zombies, but they did make occasional references to zombies in popular culture.  Another thing I appreciated was that although the government of the United States fell fairly quickly, independent pockets of the military managed to cling on and try to rescue as many people as they could.  That’s more realistic in my view than a total collapse of everything as surely there would be some military units out there with a strong enough chain of command to hold people together during a crisis, even one as big as a zombie apocalypse.  And throughout the story we see the points of view of various peoples who survive in various ways: doctors whose hospitals were mostly overrun but were protected by the military for a time while they worked on a cure, a Russian military pilot sent to train American soldiers, a crazy televangelist who is about as ruthless as you might expect, etc.  Some of these people play large parts in the story while others only get a single point of view before dying or just passing from notice.  It’s a very realistic look into how different people would cope during a nationwide disaster like a zombie apocalypse.

Which brings me to one thing: the plot.  Normally you would expect all of these points of view to really slow down the plot or make it confusing.  Omega Days really didn’t have that problem, oddly enough.  The little side stories were nice and were short enough that they didn’t take away from the main plot as the different pockets of survivors converged.  They also imparted important information regarding how the military and governmental structures fell and what doctors and scientists were able to find out about the Omega Virus and zombies in general before most of the hospitals were overrun.  I think it will be very interesting in future books to see Campbell expand upon the idea that the zombies aren’t just infected with one virus, they have two different viruses working in tandem.  I would love to gush on about this very different idea of making zombies come to life (so to speak) but I’ll leave that for you to discover as you read the book.

Basically, Omega Days really was a pleasant surprise.  A lot of zombie books read the same or are shameless rip-offs of The Walking Dead, what with its current popularity.  But Omega Days is really different and I appreciated all of the different points of view John L. Campbell wove together into a coherent narrative that told the story of the zombie apocalypse.  I can’t say that this book is the most amazing I’ve ever read but it is very well written, with interesting characters and plenty of suspense.  You can’t go wrong with that.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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The Tale of the Vampire Bride by Rhiannon Frater

The Tale of the Vampire Bride by Rhiannon Frater(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

Set in the 1820s, The Tale of the Vampire Bride is sure to thrill fans of vampires of literary past with its lush, gothic atmosphere and terrifying spectacle.

All Lady Glynis Wright ever wanted was the freedom to live life as she pleased, despite her aristocratic parents’ wishes for her to marry into wealth. But her fate is far more terrible than an arranged marriage when her family becomes prisoners to one of the most fearsome and powerful vampires of all time, Count Vlad Dracula.

Imprisoned in the decrepit castle in the Carpathian Mountains, Glynis’s new life as a Bride of Dracula is filled with bloody feasts, cruel beatings, and sexual depravity. There is no hope for escape. Vlad Dracula has elaborate plans to use her familial connections in England and she has become his favored pawn. Even more terrible is the bond of blood between them that keeps Glynis tethered to his side despite her deep hatred of him.

It’s only when Vlad Dracula takes Glynis to the picturesque city of Buda on the Danube River and she meets a mysterious vampire in the darkened city streets, does she dare hope to find love and freedom.

Rhiannon Frater sure wasn’t kidding when she said that this book was ‘gothic horror’ on Goodreads.  It’s pretty bloody and it’s definitely not for the faint of heart but at the same time none of the violence is really unnecessary.  There’s always a point to it; none of it is gratuitous.  And the most important part is that it really jars the reader in the same manner that poor Glynis herself is jarred as she’s thrown into the life of an unwilling wife to one of the most famous psychopaths in history: Vlad the Impaler.

 Glynis is a pretty extraordinary woman for her time.  She really doesn’t want to get married; she really just wants to be her own woman, independent and free.  In her time that’s certainly unconventional but not an impossibility when you have wealth on your side so it’s not like she’s a stand-in for a modern woman.  No, she definitely tries to rebel within the narrow confines of society and that’s part of the reason why she runs afoul of Count Dracula and his brides once her family is killed and she is turned.  Glynis loves her independence and being raped and controlled by Dracula isn’t exactly being independent.  So as she suffers, Glynis begins to plot to gain her freedom by any means possible.  I don’t want to give too much away but let’s just say that when Dracula begins to love her in his manner (because realistically he is not the sort of man to fall in real love) it’s the beginning of the end of his reign of terror over poor Glynis and the other brides.

One of the things that struck me the in the first novel I read by Rhiannon Frater, The Last Bastion of the Living, was the complex psychology involved.  The Tale of the Vampire Bride is really no different in that it presents some pretty abnormal psychology without condoning or condemning it.  She simply portrays the characters without judgment and leaves it up to the reader to figure things out.  Is it a result of all of the trauma she’s gone through that Glynis starts to actually feel something (not love) for Dracula?  Or is it that she’s finally accepting her vampire life?  I personally think it’s a result of the trauma combined with an acceptance of her vampire life but Rhiannon Frater smartly leaves things up to the reader for them to figure out themselves.  She’s not one of these authors that tries to beat her readers over the head with the obvious stick.  Her writing is subtle and ambiguous, which is perfect for this kind of gothic tale.

I was a little hesitant about this book in the beginning because it starts off relatively slow with Glynis and her family travelling around in Transylvania to try yet again to find Glynis a husband.  But things pick up pretty quickly when they get mysteriously diverted to Dracula’s castle and meet the count himself.  After that the story involves a lot of the push-pull dynamic between Vlad and Glynis as both of them try to assert their authority.  Sometimes Dracula wins, sometimes (particularly toward the end) Glynis wins.  She learns to survive and there’s another level of intrigue dropped in when the two of them go to Buda and find that humans aren’t the only things they need to worry about.  Glynis’ journey is one of sorrow, torture and strife while at the same time it’s a story of hope, redemption and even love.  Even when the pacing itself is slow, it’s hard not to be captivated by the story itself and the amazing, memorable characters.

That’s why even if you’re not a big fan of gothic horror novels, The Tale of the Vampire Bride is worth a try.  I certainly didn’t expect to love it as much as I did and maybe you’ll surprise yourself as well.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Losing Heart by Donna Brown

Losing Heart by Donna Brown(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

“I hate you. I hate you with all of Sylvia’s heart.”

Helen has waited for months for the heart that will save her life. After reaching out to the grieving mother of her donor heart, Helen realises that a second chance comes at a price. The price, she soon realises, is much steeper than she’d ever have chosen to pay.

There’s more than one way to break a heart. There’s more than one way to destroy a life…

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy through Masquerade Tours’ Reader Round-Up in exchange for an honest review.]

I didn’t even really read the blurb all that closely before I requested the book, to be honest.  So the events of the book were somewhat of a shock for me.  A pleasant shock, as it turns out.

Helen is an amazing character.  At first she learns that she’s dying of congestive heart failure when she’s still so young, only in her 40s.  Then, thankfully, she gets a donor heart from a young woman killed in a car accident and thus gets a new lease on life.  Of course she feels guilty that she thrives from another family’s suffering but she is very eager for life to go on.  Except that everyone around her really is acting weird.  Her husband calls her an ingrate for being tired while recovering instead of going around and volunteering to house the homeless and be perpetually cheerful 24/7.  The donor’s only living family, her mother, contacts Helen and at first seems rather nice but starts to reveal a darker side involving some pretty interesting mind games.  And of course Helen starts an affair with a doctor, who turns out to be a really awesome guy but feels guilty that she’s immediately doing a ‘bad’ thing upon getting a new lease on life.

So Helen is going through all of these crazy emotions at once and as a reader it was absolutely fascinating.  The fact that she didn’t immediately turn into a saint but rather continued living as a normal person was far more believable and her guilt over her affair was palpable but we also got to see her happy, which she clearly isn’t with her husband.  It’s kind of jarring to see how her new boyfriend treats her in comparison to her husband, who seems increasingly distant and critical of Helen.  Especially when Sylvia’s mother is around as a living reminder of the heartbreak that gave Helen a new lease on life.

The plot is amazing.  I think you can kind of guess the gist of it from the blurb but I have to say that the actual plot is far better than the blurb really hints at.  I can’t really describe it all that much without spoiling the whole thing but let’s just say that not everyone is as they appear in Losing Heart.  Donna Brown’s characters are people and that means they are flawed; sometimes they lie, cheat or cover important things up in order to get what they want.  Sometimes they have misunderstandings with their friends and/or partners that lead to disaster.  Sometimes they put their needs ahead of the needs of everyone else.  So while the plot is fast-paced because the book is so short, it really is character-driven and very realistic.  The ending is sort of predictable but also sort of surprising.

And no, that last sentence really won’t make sense until you read the book.  So go and pick up Losing Heart!  It’s definitely worth your while.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Time of Death: Induction by Shana Festa

Time of Death Induction by Shana Festa(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

When no one or nowhere is safe, where do you go to escape the monsters?

In a few short days, 37 year old Emma Rossi’s hard work will finally pay off. She will don her cap and gown and graduate with a degree in nursing, but not before she loses her first patient and is confronted with a new reality. In Cape Coral, Florida, a storm approaches. The dead are coming back to life.

And they’re hungry.

Infection ravages the Eastern Seaboard with alarming speed while attempts to contain the spread of infection fail. Within days, a small pocket of panicked survivors are all that remain of civilization. Fighting to survive the zombie apocalypse alongside her husband Jake and their dog Daphne, Emma comes face-to-face with her worst nightmare.

Relying on snarky wit and sheer determination, she is forced to commit atrocious acts to protect her family and avoid joining the ranks of the undead.

[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

I love zombie novels and I’ve read quite a few of them in the past two years or so, ever since Mira Grant’s Feed sparked my appetite for them.  Every author has a different take on the zombie apocalypse and while some are more creative than others, most of the ones I choose to read are generally pretty good.  Time of Death: Induction is no different.

What makes Shana Festa’s novel really stand out is the fact that she really focuses on the emotions her characters go through as they lose almost everything they once held dear.  Emma and Jake go from place to place, scavenging and desperately trying to find other people that can help them survive but like you’d expect, not everyone is very altruistic during the end of the world.  All they want to do is find a place where they can hunker down and survive but of course nothing is simple where zombies and people are concerned.  Seeing their emotional and psychological shifts to adapt to the harsh new world they live in was actually very fascinating.  Jake in particular took things pretty hard while Emma retained a lot of the original softness of her character until certain events forced it from her.  At times their relationship because strained—extremely strained—but you don’t really doubt that they love each other and will do anything to keep the other person alive and relatively safe.

Since Shana Festa chooses to focus on the more human side of the zombie apocalypse we never really get to see the origins of her zombies explained.  We know that the government tried to contain the spread and that things moved extremely fast with dozens of supposed patient zeroes rising from their supposed deaths in hospitals and morgues.  Since Emma was a nurse we got to see quite a disturbing scene as one such patient died before her second rising but we never really get into the science of the whole thing.  That bothers me in some books but not in Induction in part because that’s not what she chooses to focus on.  The main focus of the story is on survival and how the characters are adapting to a horrific changing world; they don’t really care about the cause of the zombies so much as how they can avoid getting eaten by the zombies.

The plot didn’t seem to be all that original at first but things quickly got going.  Wherever you see typical zombie apocalypse tropes, Shana Festa tries to invert or subvert them in order to make them her own.  This is in part because the main driving force of the novel is the characters, both main and secondary.  The actions of all the characters have consequences that are not always immediately seen but are made painfully clear given time.  Zombies are not crafty or smart but it’s the stupidity of people that allow them to overrun camps because people choose to conceal bites or don’t follow safety precautions.  Really, the one thing this book makes clear is that it’s almost safer to have a smaller band of people you can trust implicitly rather than a huge community where you don’t necessarily know everyone.  Will Emma and Jake find a small band of people they can trust?  From the huge cliffhanger ending of the book it’s really hard to tell and that’s why I am so eager to read the second book.

If you like zombies but tend to favour a more human-based approach to a zombie apocalypse, this is definitely the book for you.  The characters are believable and sympathetic and they’re not always perfect but in the end you get the feeling that everyone is just doing their best to survive.  The zombies are terrifying and there are lots of plot twists, so you really can’t ask for more in those areas.  Basically, if you like zombies, give this book a try!

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Suckers by Z. Rider

Suckers by Z. Rider(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

“What we have here is a very high-quality junkie novel that happens to be about a unique case of vampirism.” —Evan Clark, author of Movers

WHEN WORN-OUT MUSICIAN DAN FERRY decides to take a shortcut back to the band’s hotel, he picks the wrong dark alley to go down. Within days of being attacked by a bat-like creature, he becomes consumed with the need to drink human blood. Terrified of what will happen if he doesn’t get his fix–and terrified of what he’ll do to get it–he turns to his best friend and bandmate, Ray Ford, for help. But what the two don’t know as they try to keep Dan’s situation quiet is that the parasite driving Dan’s addiction has the potential to wipe out humankind.

Poignant and terrifying, heartfelt and ingenious, Suckers is a story of sacrifice and friendship in the face of an alien contagion that threatens to destroy humanity.

[Full disclosure: I requested and received a free ebook copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]

When I picked up this book I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the blurb.  Would it be a bunch of musicians caught in the middle of a vampire outbreak while on tour?  That’s what it seemed like until things got going.  I was really glad about that because it was a sign of the unpredictable plot that would be the hallmark of this book for me.

I’ve read a lot of vampire books and a lot of general outbreak books but I’ve never read anything like Suckers.  The bat-like creatures that are Z. Rider’s vampires are so unique, so interesting that in a way I wish we could have learned more about them.  However, going into the science of the vampires would have been very unrealistic considering that the main character Dan is just a musician, not a scientist.  He doesn’t know any scientists, he doesn’t have a desire to learn more about his vampire situation other than how to survive it so if Rider had gone in depth into the science it would have ruined the mysterious atmosphere surrounding the creatures.  In that way, the world-building is fantastic.  We’re given enough information to understand things and enough information about the world outside Dan’s little bubble that we know things are bad but it never devolves into an info-dump scenario.  Again, considering the main character’s background, this is far more realistic.

The plot as a result of the aforementioned unique world-building was quite unpredictable.  The world doesn’t immediately go all doomsday, post-apocalyptic everyone out for themselves sort of way.  No, it’s more of a slow decay as the suckers start to infect more and more people before they reach a point where hospitals and emergency services can’t handle the influx of new patients.  It’s not your typical doomsday scenario and as such is actually pretty unpredictable in terms of plot.  In retrospect many of the plot twists make sense because of how the characters were slowly changing throughout the story.  I can honestly say that I didn’t see the end coming but it makes sense when you consider the characters Dan and Ray.

Speaking of characters, I was really impressed with them.  Dan is the main character and is sort of the leader of the band but Ray is sort of the person who keeps it all together.  He takes care of Jamie when Jamie goes back on his drugs, takes care of Dan when his cravings for human blood become insatiable and stays true to himself throughout the novel.  Ray could have become cynical and bitter about having to take care of a lot of people but he never did and even in the face of death he stayed true to his principles.  Dan himself was of course a fascinating narrator as he slowly discovered (to his horror) that he craved blood but I have to say that Ray was definitely my favourite.  All of the characters, both major and minor were well developed so I really can’t complain there.

So here we have a very suspenseful horror story with an interesting new type of vampire, lots of plot twists and really believable characters that you’ll love by the end.  You really can’t ask for anything more and I’m definitely excited to see what Rider decides to do with her talent in the future.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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Anthology: At Hell’s Gates by Various Authors

At Hell's Gates by Various Authors(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)

When evil overflows from the deepest, fiery pits, the battle will be At Hell’s Gates…Whether you are a zombie aficionado, or you feed on horror, there is something for everyone. We’ve summoned some of the top Zompoc authors, masters in horror, and even some new talent to strike fear into even the most jaded soul. Dare you look, let alone approach, the dreaded gates?

Each skillfully crafted vignette showcases previously created worlds in the individual author’s works. If you’ve ever yearned for more back story or ached to learn what happened to a peripheral character; your wait is over. But, as they say, “Be careful what you wish for”. Once it has been seen, you cannot go back. And once infected; there is no cure.

This collaboration is in honor of the brave men and women in our Armed Services who willingly lay down their lives for our freedom. Words could not possibly express our undying gratitude, so we have banded together, doing what we do best, to show our appreciation. All proceeds from the sale of this anthology will go to The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a non-profit organization whose sole purpose is to serve wounded soldiers and their families. This is for you, those who have truly been…At Hell’s Gates.

[Full disclosure: I was contacted by one of the authors and received a free ebook from them in exchange for an honest review.]

I don’t normally post anything on Remembrance Day out of respect, but I thought this was the perfect book to review as all proceeds go to The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.  You can’t pick out a more worthy cause than that.

As you guys have probably picked up on by now, I’m not a big anthology fan.  Usually there’s one or two stories by authors I know and like and the rest aren’t very interesting or are pretty poorly written.  There have been a few exceptions, but I generally try to avoid reading anthologies for just those reasons.  I was a little skeptical reading this anthology because I’d never even heard of any of the authors, but the blurb intrigued me enough that I decided to give it a go.  This isn’t just zombie fiction, after all; it also includes stories with other horror elements like vampires and ghosts.

I have to say that I was just blown away by this anthology.  There were so many amazing stories in it that I find it hard to name all of my favourites.  And in all honesty, I don’t think I could name a story that I actively disliked.  There were some that I felt were ‘meh’ but none that I thought were bad and shouldn’t have been included.  All of the stories were well written and well-edited, so much so that I have added several new authors and books to my enormous to-read list.  Sharon Stevenson’s story Welcome to Hell and Seth by Jacqueline Druga in particular stood out to me.

At Hell’s Gates is a very well-edited anthology.  I think I caught maybe one typo in the whole thing, but it’s more than that.  The stories were very well put together so as to make the anthology flow.  There was a large variety of stories and the order was rotated so that you didn’t have two intelligent zombie stories one after another or a run of three quasi-military survival group stories.  Seeing as I read the whole anthology in one sitting, I particularly appreciated this attention to little details like making sure there was a wide variety of stories and that similar themes were spaced out well.

In this anthology there are intelligent zombies, traditional Voodoo zombies and modern Walking Dead-esque zombies.  There’s really something for everyone and even if you don’t like zombies, there are plenty of stories that focus on other horrifying creatures like vampires and ghosts.  And you certainly can’t deny that the anthology goes to a good cause.

So go out this Remembrance Day and get some excellent new reading material while supporting our troops.

I give this anthology 5/5 stars.

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