A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Stationary Bike — Stephen King

So what have I been listening to lately? A whole heck of a lot of short stories interspersed with some longer works. There are times when I’m driving when I just want a quick tale to encompass my drive somewhere and the short story is the perfect length. While they’re hard to find in audio format, they do exist! The first of these I’m going to review is Stationary Bike by Stephen King.

StationaryWhen commercial artist Richard Sifkitz finally gets around to having that physical he’d been putting off for years, and his cholesterol comes back dangerously high, he does what so many thirty-something, junk food-eating couch potatoes have done before him: He buys a stationary bike, and vows to ride it regularly.

Unlike many a mid-life exercise convert, however, Richard actually starts to ride his new stationary bike. A lot. Soon he’s spending so much time on his bike that he decides to put his artistic talents to use and paint a mural on the wall opposite his stationary bike. But it turns out that Richard’s mural is no ordinary picture, and soon his stationary bike is taking him places he doesn’t want to go, and can’t stay away from.

A riveting take on artistic frustration, mid-life mortality, and hard-won redemption, Stationary Bike is a thrill ride that could come only from the mind of Stephen King.

I have to admit that I’ve not always been the biggest fan of King’s long fiction, but I do really enjoy his short fiction. Each tale is cleverly told and as such, very easy to listen to. I enjoyed the tale of Richard Sifkitz and his stationary bike, and found the way in which King wove his need for the bike into the story as both a character and the setting. Not typically horrific in any way, there was definitely a supernatural and horrifying element to it. Well worth the read or the listen.

Rating: 4 stars

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Resistant — Michael Palmer | #Medical #Thriller #Conspiracy

I happened to pick this audiobook up on a whim, pretty much because of the synopsis, as I was searching the shelves for my next commute listen. I’m a huge fan of Robin Cook, having read everything he’s written so another medical thriller seemed right up my alley.

I wasn’t wrong. Take a gander at the synopsis…

ResistantThey fight without conscience or remorse. Their only job is to kill.
They are the most ruthless enemy we have ever faced.

And they are one millionth our size.

When Dr. Lou Welcome fills in last minute for his boss at a national conference in Atlanta he brings along his best friend, Cap Duncan. But an accident turns tragic when Cap injures his leg while running. Surgeons manage to save the leg, but the open wound is the perfect breeding ground for a deadly microbial invader committed to eating Cap alive from the inside out. Meanwhile, hundreds of miles away, a teenaged girl is fighting for her life against the same bacteria. The germ is resistant to any known antibiotic and the government scientist tasked with finding a cure has been kidnapped. Turning to the Centers for Disease Control for help, Lou Welcome uncovers a link to a shadowy group known as One Hundred Neighbors that has infiltrated our society and is using our health institutions as hostages. Like the deadly germs they can unleash, One Hundred Neighbors will stop at nothing to further their agenda. From the hospital corridors where anything you touch can mean your end, to the top corridors of power in this race against time, Lou must stop an epidemic, save his best friend, and face even his own most terrifying demons.

Who wouldn’t find that intriguing? Well I guess many wouldn’t, but I did and hoped that Palmer could deliver on the synopsis.

I wasn’t disappointed in the least. The plot moved quickly and each twist and turn made perfect sense as it was happening and after it was over. I didn’t find it formulaic in the least and was pleasantly surprised to find myself making guesses as to what might be coming up next – in some cases I was right and in others, I was wrong… so, so wrong but still engaged in the story as it unfolded.

I found myself caring about certain characters, wanting only good things to happen to them but conversely hating those characters that were creating the problems — but I think that’s a good indication of a great story.

If you’re looking for a top notch medical conspiracy thriller, I’d suggest picking this one up.

Rating: 5 out of 5

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Creepers by David Morrell #urbanexporation #horror

So what wonderful audiobook do I have to introduce to you today?

Creepers

David Morrell

CreepersOn a cold October night, five people gather in a run-down motel on the Jersey shore and begin preparations to break into the Paragon Hotel. Built in the glory days of Asbury Park by a reclusive millionaire, the magnificent structure – which foreshadowed the beauties of art deco architecture – is now boarded up and marked for demolition. The five people are “creepers,” the slang term for urban explorers: city archeologists with a passion for investigating abandoned buildings and their dying secrets. On this evening, they are joined by a reporter who wants to profile them – anonymously, as this is highly illegal activity – for a New York Times article. Frank Balenger, a sandy-haired, broad-shouldered reporter with a decided air of mystery about him, isn’t looking for just a story, however. And after the group enters the rat-infested tunnel leading to the hotel, it becomes clear that he will get much more than he bargained for. Danger, terror, and death await the creepers in a place ravaged by time and redolent of evil.

After reading the synopsis of this one, I had to give it a try. While I’m not technically brave enough to become a creeper, the idea of investigating derelict buildings is fascinating to me. You never know what you’re going to find and without giving the plot away too much, there’s nothing about the Paragon Hotel that I’d want to get mixed up in. Definitely worth the listen.

Rating: 5 out of 5

A REVIEW FROM MY COMMUTE: Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix

My commute to work is 10 minutes long. Not a long time, but it’s empty time. Time I could be spent doing something. And that new thing is listening to audio books.

The first one I checked out of my local library isn’t something I would have likely picked up but a cute guy, (in truth, the boyfriend), picked it up and shoved it under my nose. I think he may have been trying to joke with me, but after reading the premise my interest was certainly piqued…

horrorstor_final_300dpiSomething strange is happening at the Orsk furniture superstore in Cleveland, Ohio. Every morning, employees arrive to find broken Kjerring bookshelves, shattered Glans water goblets, and smashed Liripip wardrobes. Sales are down, security cameras reveal nothing, and store managers are panicking.
 
To unravel the mystery, three employees volunteer to work a nine-hour dusk-till-dawn shift. In the dead of the night, they’ll patrol the empty showroom floor, investigate strange sights and sounds, and encounter horrors that defy the imagination.

It’s true…

Horror Happens in Every FlatPack

If you’ve ever had to put together flatpack furniture from IKEA or JYSK, you know the feeling. The simplicity of the design is overwhelmed by the difficulty of the actual assembly. You inevitably end up asking yourself if they could have made the instructions any more ambiguous and the special tool always gets lost about halfway through resulting in the frantic search of the floor now strewn with oddly shaped pieces of wood, screws, wooden pegs, strange metal pieces that you have to seat in the pre-carved circular indentations, and an inquisitive cat looking to test if it really has 9 lives… The 30 minute project turns into a daunting all day gauntlet of a task sure to test the strength of any relationship as well as the boundaries of sanity.

This is where Horrorstör and ORSK come in. The seemingly innocuous shopping experience replete with a bright and shiny path and box upon box of flatpack furniture, ORSK is something altogether different. When strange occurrences start happening overnight, manager Basil is certain someone is breaking in, and in an effort to stem the damage to store property, he’s been tasked with staying the night to discover who it is. Along for the ride are Amy, a sarcastic store partner looking for a cushy desk job and RuthAnn, a 14 year veteran of ORSK loved by everyone. But what does ORSK have waiting for them once all the customers and store partners have left?

The answer is nothing good…

The audio book was well done – heck, it kept me listening to the point that I’d leave a few minutes early just to get some extra time to find out what happened. Tai Sammons did an excellent job telling the story and Bronson Pinchot was eerily fantastic as the voice of ORSK. Each chapter started off with what could only be described as an advertisement for the products of ORSK and as the plot got deeper, each one got more sinister.

The plot flowed easily and quickly, with just enough set up to give you what you needed to understand the characters—the biggest character being the store itself. As with all horror stories, there is a level of disbelief that must be suspended but I honestly don’t feel that detracts from a well crafted tale. And this certainly is one.

If you’re looking for something dark and a little reminiscent of your last trip to IKEA, minus the penitents of course, take a chance on Horrorstör. Just make sure you have your magic tool ready to help you out of any problems you may run into.

My rating: 4.5 tanks of gasoline out of 5

(because I drive to work)

Review: Marysvale by Jared Southwick

If I had not been part of a book club, I probably would have missed Marysvale by Jared Southwick. Admittedly, it wasn’t even remotely on my radar – it’s hard with all of the wonderful books being penned by so many great authors. Here’s what the synopsis from Amazon has to say –

John Casey was ten years old when his mother was murdered…and ten when his father hid the truth from him. Without that knowledge, he has no idea of the enemies that lie in wait.

Now grown up, John lives a solitary life, in a world enslaved by ignorance and superstition, when anyone unusual is treated with distrust and even killed…and John has some very unusual gifts. When he is accused of witchcraft, John does the only thing he’s ever done—Run! That is, until he meets Jane, who lives in the bleak, imprisoned town of Marysvale. Life outside the safety of the town walls means certain death from the brutal monsters that hunt there. However, life inside, under the rule of a tyrannical leader, means no life at all.

As the love between John and Jane grows, the dangers of Marysvale unfold; and for the first time in his life, John discovers that there is something worth dying for.

Now I have to admit that I didn’t read the synopsis before delving into the book, so I was expecting something entirely different. In the end I was pleasantly surprised to find a very well-crafted story full of vivid and magnificent imagery. There were times that I found myself losing time within the story being woven around me.

John Casey is certainly an enigma and that’s really all that I can say without giving too much away. I found his mysteriousness to be somewhat refreshing in that, I wanted desperately to know more than what the author was telling me, but knew that it would all be revealed in good time. The remaining cast of characters were all supportive in the ways that they needed to be and without taking away from the story unfolding around even them.

When Southwick introduces the Brean, there is a moment where you pause, wondering what heck is really going on in the book (to those of you that read the synopsis, I suppose that you were expecting them…). As the crux of the plot is revealed, you learn that they are nefariously hulking beasts that hunt to kill and have terrorized most of the inhabitants of the countryside to the point that they have no other choice but to live behind fortified walls.

The mystery of Marysvale is revealed and you cannot help but pushing the limits of time to rush to the conclusion. Jared Southwick has a gem in Marysvale and I cannot wait to read the conclusion of the tale in Alyth.

If you’re interested in picking up a copy of Marysvale, you can find it on Amazon. Incidentally, it’s free right now!

4 out of 5 stars!

Review: One Blood by Qwantu Amaru

I have to apologize to Qwantu for not getting this review done to coincide with my finishing of his book One Blood. I finished back at the beginning of April and wrote down my thoughts and then misplaced the important piece of paper. Looking through a stack of rough drafts this morning, I discovered it had gotten mixed up with them. Better late than never…

The author of this book, Qwantu Amaru, approached me at the beginning of the year to read and review his book, One Blood. I have to admit that I was excited to do so. I offer my opinions on books quite often, but never before has an author actually asked me for it! So, I said yes. I didn’t even go and look at the book, I just said yes. After reading the synopsis on Amazon, I have to admit, I was intrigued…

“A governor and his sordid past are at the heart of a tale of retribution in Amaru’s stunning debut novel.

When Karen Lafitte disappears, her father, Louisiana governor Randy Lafitte, is initially skeptical of the ensuing ransom note. The governor believes that he’s responsible for his father’s death years earlier, resulting in a curse that’s been passed down the Lafitte line. He’s particularly concerned that his daughter is now the same age as his son, Kristopher, who was 18 when he was killed. In fact, in addition to money, the ransom note demands the pardon of a lifer, Lincoln Baker, who was imprisoned for the murderer of Randy’s son. What follows is an elaborate pattern of revenge involving multiple parties, delving into the Lafitte family history and Randy’s dark road to an elected office. Amaru’s greatest achievement is a nonlinear story that still manages to be clean-cut and precise. The plot bounces readers from one time period to another–flashbacks sometimes occur during other flashbacks, and dream sequences meld into memories and back into real time. Despite this narrative style, the story is, surprisingly, never perplexing.

A gutsy book that blazes trails, plotted at breakneck speed that won’t let up.”

One Blood is an excellent discourse of interwoven tales. The story is engaging and as it unfolded, each of the characters came to life in their own way. The cast was well written and none of them shone more brightly than any of the others. In a book with a huge cast of characters, you sometimes find that one or more of them are written with more depth, either by design or accident. In One Blood, each character plays an integral role and as a result, are all believable, and even more importantly, could exist in the society that we inhabit today.

The prose that Amaru uses throughout is fluid and quite lovely at times, while in others they hold the edge that they need to. It’s a tool that helps the interwoven plot to move smoothly. If I were to offer a criticism, it would be this – as the interwoven story unfolds, there is a necessity for each story to be told at a certain pace. There were times, while reading, where all I wanted was the chance to read more than a snippet of certain stories. The brief glimpses are a necessary evil when creating tension and mystery, but there were times I found it distracting. I wanted to know so much more of a particular story that I found I had to slow down and read what was in front of me, otherwise I would miss something important. And that’s not a bad thing in any way, since it only serves to keep the reader engaged and waiting for the next piece.

If you’re interested in picking up One Blood, you can find it on Amazon here.

4.5 out of 5 stars!

Review: Devil Tree by Steve Vernon

I recently had the opportunity to read Devil Tree by Steve Vernon. Admittedly, it might not have been a book I would have picked up to read, but it would only have been due to the fact that it wasn’t even on my radar. The blurb on Amazon.com reads just like this:

The roots of evil run deeper than you can ever imagine.

Lucas Sawyer and his wife Tamsen find themselves marooned in the heart of a mid-nineteenth century wilderness forest. They are rescued by Jonah Duvall, a mysterious woodsman abiding in this strange valley with his wife Jezebel and their son Cord. Brooding over all stands the Devil Tree – a huge evil jackpine that has summoned them to this valley to feed upon their collective emotions and their unnatural offspring. Part earth spirit, part elder demon – the tree is farming them.

The characters are bound in a tightening noose of undeniable fate. As winter sets in they must face the tree’s unholy fury in an utterly horrific finale.

Devil Tree is a story that will take you further into the heart of unimaginable horror.

In the beginning of the book, I found the language, descriptions and characters to be a little bit tedious. I can remember looking down at my Kindle, seeing that I was only about 15% in and wondering how I was going to get through to the end… I persevered however, and was glad that I did.

As I past the point where normally I would have put down a book, Vernon’s descriptions became fluid and expansive; the dark fantasy involved was fantastic – he just gives you enough to paint the picture once you close your eyes. I found the characters to be written with that edge of believability that draws them just a little bit closer into your world. With Duvall, you’re not sure if you’re meant to like him or loathe him. It’s an odd reaction at times, he was helpful but within the vein of malevolence. Lucas was such a torn character; alternating between his inner demons and his reactions to the situation he has been thrust into. His inner turmoil was echoed in the arching turmoil of the entire story. On the other hand, Tamsen was such an enigma – her disconnect from just about everything that was going on around her was delightful in its vacancy. And yet, in the end, you came away knowing more about Tamsen than what you initially got from the words written about her. Jezebel might just have been my favourite character of all – I just loved the roughness with which Vernon chose to describe her. As a character, Cord was the epitome of innocence and of innocence being corrupted. As a cast, they covered all of the main archetypes in horror and then some. The parts are complete when you add in the evil Jack Pine itself. There’s a reason why it’s titled Devil Tree.

The only criticism that I can offer is that the story took too long in the beginning to grab me. Part of that has to do with the fact that, to me, the prose felt somewhat disjointed in those first pages. While I can see the benefit of the disjointed prose in the beginning given the subject matter and scenes that were taking place, it was distracting.

In summation, Devil Tree is a dark and edgy book. While I had a hard time getting into it, by the end, I was glad that I stuck with it. At times, it was beautiful while at others it was filled with such vividly horrific moments that I wished I could turn my eyes away.

4 stars out of  5!

Review: The Second Coming: A Horror Short Story by Griffin Hayes

“Just enough for a drop or two at a time, no more. And how you were tied just right so that the water would hit your forehead dead center each and every time. Of course, as Knuckles told it, the first two hundred drops never did much more than annoy the hell out of you. At about the first thousand, the skin on your forehead would start to redden. And by twenty thousand, when you head was beginning to bear more than a passing resemblance to a soggy watermelon, you were telling those sick bastards anything they wanted to hear.”

The Second Coming: A Horror Short Story by Griffin Hayes is a story with an interesting premise. To explain what I mean, here is the synopsis from Amazon –

Jack Barrow has traveled back in time to save his family from a sadistic killer. All he has to do is convince Dr. Sims at Bellevue Heights Mental Institution that he isn’t crazy.

As you’re reading, you get the sense that something is not quite what it seems as first blush. As Hayes draws you in, you find yourself wondering what it would be like to be accused of a crime you know you didn’t commit. As you read, your perception changes once met with the proof that what you believe isn’t as simple as you have perceived it.

The interplay between Jack Burrows and Dr. Simms is at time tense and others oddly soothing. As the story unfolds around you, the feeling that you are a witness behind the glass is undeniable. Hayes writes with such reality that you cannot ignore the emotion he builds with his words. Even though The Second Coming: A Horror Short Story is only considered a short, it excited me to read what else Griffin Hayes has to offer.

4.5 stars out of 5!

Review: The Grief Frequency by Kealan Patrick Burke

“Inside it was as I’d left it, hollow and draped in blue-black shadows like oil paintings of bruises. With more courage than I could claim in daylight or sobriety, I peeked over the back of the sofa and found no one there.”

The Grief Frequency by Kealan Patrick Burke is a gripping story of pain, regret, and deliverance. From the first word to the last, I was enthralled. To give you a glimpse into the context of the story, here is the synopsis from Amazon

After losing his wife in a car accident, a husband struggles with survivor’s guilt. But in the dark, he realizes that the dead are never very far away. Not when there are secrets yet to be uncovered. Because Paul hasn’t lost everything. Not yet. And as he struggles to separate dreams from reality, he is forced to answer the ultimate question: How far would you go to get back those you’ve lost?

Burke is a master with his words; knowing which ones to use to illustrate a point so beautifully that you ultimately relate on a subconscious level. That transcendence of meaning strikes you so divinely that it makes The Grief Frequency all the more poignant.

Paul is a character struck down by the grief of loss; the pain stemming from the fact that he has killed his wife, Caitlyn, in a car accident. You are excruciatingly aware as you are reading that while he recognizes the accident was not directly his fault, he still blames himself and strives to never let go of the pain the guilt envelops him in. Add into the mix his father in law Bill who does nothing but hold him responsible; wanting Paul to feel the depth of his own pain of loss.

“Like codependents, the sorrow and the hangover came hand in hand, sprinkling ground glass into my eyes and kicking at the walls of my skull with no apology.”

This is a story of grief and ultimately forgiveness. It’s touching, sad and brilliantly written. I cannot wait until my next read from Kealan Patrick Burke – I’m sure I won’t be disappointed.

5 out of 5 stars!

Have You Seen The Sirens Call Yet??

That’s right, The Sirens Call is out!

For those of you that have no idea what I am talking about, The Sirens Call is the eZine put together by the lovely ladies over at Sirens Call Publications. I just got my contributor copy via email a few minutes ago and after skimming through and reading some of the fantastic offerings from other authors, I had to blog about it right away! Trust me, you’re going to want to get your hands on it! It’s absolutely beautiful and professionally put together!

To boot, Sirens Call Publications is offering a reduced rate on a Subscription for a limited time to celebrate the release of the premiere issue! So hop on over to their website and get your today!

Get your Subscription for The Sirens Call here!