Book Review—In a Dark Place

I read the previous books in this series, and for me, In a Dark Place is the most disturbing by far. By all accounts, the Snedeker family did nothing purposeful to invite the evil that came into their lives and almost destroyed them. It was there lurking in that funeral home long before they showed up, waiting for a chance to assault the living.

In past books, Ed Warren talked about the three stages of demonic activity: infestation, oppression, and possession. Or did that come from ‘The Conjuring’? Now, we find that there are actually five stages: encroachment, or permission, infestation, oppression, possession, and death. Happy endings are never guaranteed, I guess—even after an exorcism.

Although the book makes it clear that no one in that family was trying to invite anything in by way of Ouija boards or Tarot cards, Stephen, the teenage son, was very susceptible to suggestion due to his illness and eventually agreed to let the demon “show him things.” So, in essence, he granted permission. From there, everything proceeded as expected, except that what the demon did to individual family members is both chilling and repugnant—especially for the women. And what made things worse was the fact that both parents continued to deny what was happening.

Several months ago, I saw the film ‘The Haunting in Connecticut,’ which is loosely based on the book. In that story, the boy—now named Kyle—is a hero who frees tortured souls. No such gloppy Hollywood ending happened to the Snedekers. I recommend reading In a Dark Place to anyone interested in better understanding the demonic. Then watch the movie as pure entertainment.

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Book Description

[In a Dark Place Cover]

The story of the most terrifying case of demonic possession in the United States. It became the basis for the hit film The Haunting in Connecticut starring Virginia Madsen.

Shortly after moving into their new home, the Snedeker family is assaulted by a sinister presence that preys one-by-one on their family. Exhausting all other resources, they call up the world-renowned demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren—who have never encountered a case as frightening as this…

No one had warned the Snedekers their new house used to be an old funeral home. Their battle with an inexplicable and savage phenomena had only just begun. What started as a simple “poltergeist” escalated into a full-scale war, an average American family battling the deepest, darkest forces of evil—a war this family could not afford to lose.

Books by Ed & Lorraine Warren also include Graveyard, Ghost Hunters, The Haunted, Werewolf, and Satan’s Harvest.

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Book Review—Night of the Living Dead

I believe there were two events in the twentieth century that established the era of the post-apocalyptic zombie. The first was the publication of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend in 1954; the second was the release of the 1968 film Night of the Living Dead. Now, purists might argue that Matheson’s creatures were actually vampires, not zombies. Correct. But what he envisioned was a monster born of some global catastrophe not unlike the events depicted in World War Z. In previous decades, zombies were mainly slaves of the Haitian voodoo variety. And there weren’t a lot of them. There is nothing more nightmarish than having the entire planet swarming with the infected.

I have only ever seen Night of the Living Dead on television, and still, it made a lasting impression. The line “They’re coming to get you, Barbara” is forever burned into my brain—a brain that those pesky ghouls probably want to munch on. I hadn’t realized that John Russo, one of the screenwriters, had turned this iconic film into a novel. Having read the book, I can certainly see why.

Where the movie shows us the horror of being devoured by flesh-hungry ghouls, the book delves into the inner life of a few characters trying to survive something they simply don’t understand. I’m pretty sure that if something like this happened today, we would be more prepared than those innocent folks, having been brought up on The Walking Dead and Z Nation. But in the book, these people are clueless. And they cannot fathom the idea that the dead are shuffling around, not to mention the fact that they are pretty damned hungry.

Try not to be jaded when you read this book. Remember, times were very different. The AIDS crisis hadn’t happened yet, or swine flu, or any of the other horrible outbreaks we’ve experienced in recent decades. The people in Night of the Living Dead were living small, ordinary lives. Then hell arrived.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Book Description

[Night of the Living Dead Cover]

Newsweek calls NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD a, “True Horror Classic.”

Why does NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD hit with such chilling impact? Is it because everyday people in a commonplace house are suddenly the victims of a monstrous invasion? Or is it because the ghouls who surround the house with grasping claws were once ordinary people, too?

Decide for yourself as you read, and the horror grips you. All the cannibalism, suspense and frenzy of the smash-hit are here in the novel.

This is the ORIGINAL novel by John A. Russo based on the screenplay by John A. Russo and George A. Romero. 

Through scenes of political upheaval and protests in South Korea, spirited conversations in cramped dumpling houses, and the quiet moments that happen when two people fall in love, A Small Revolution is a moving narrative brimming with longing, love, fear, and—ultimately—hope.

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Book Review—Before You Leap

[Before You Leap Cover]In many ways, Before You Leap is a book I admire. I’ll mention two. The author has a way of describing things that, frankly, is bound to make me work harder as a writer. And indeed, he has taken to heart the notion that it’s better to start in the middle of things, leaving the reader in a dizzying confusion of places and events that—ever so slowly—become more apparent as you wend your way through a pulse-pounding maze of violent emotion. It’s a technique I’ve used myself, and it’s very effective in the mystery thriller genre. The other thing is, the characters ring true to me—especially Greg. Although after finishing this book, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that he is more than a little disturbed.

Regarding the plot, I felt the story was a little convoluted and could have benefited from some simplification. Don’t get me wrong—I have no problem dealing with characters whose motives are mysterious and who consistently act in ways that deceive. But there were a few times when I found myself wishing for more of a straight line as Greg is forced to confront his painful past.

Overall, I liked Before You Leap and recommend it to fans of the genre. It’s a solid piece of work and definitely worth exploring.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Synopsis
Peace of mind is all Greg Cole has wanted since the murder of his twin sister, Scarlett. 

In his new sun-soaked Florida life, he thought he had found it. But when Scarlett’s killer is released early from prison with a cast-iron alibi, Greg realizes that his past is about to explode into his present, with terrifying consequences.

To expose the truth he must open up old wounds. As a talk therapist, Greg knows all about dark secrets, but when a childhood friendship comes to the fore and the police turn their spotlight on him, the thought of analyzing his own psyche is a disturbing prospect. How far can he trust his own memories?

With his life coming apart at the seams, and his grip on reality beginning to unravel, Greg must face the ghosts of his past if he hopes to prove his innocence and live to see another day.

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Book Review—The Haunted

[The Haunted Cover]Sometimes, my wife asks how I can read scary books just before going to sleep. I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember and it’s never bothered me. Like most people, I read for pleasure. But as a writer, I also read for understanding. Usually, when I read books about the supernatural, I intellectualize everything down to the story, writing style, and authenticity of the characters. I may have to revisit that approach.

The Haunted is the true story of the Smurl family, devout Catholics living in Pennsylvania who find themselves being infested with a demon and other vengeful spirits. Based on everything I’ve read so far about demons, this situation can occur when someone invites the demonic into their home through the use of Ouija boards, spells, or cursed objects like the Annabelle doll. Not so with the Smurls. This family did none of those things, yet the demonic entered their lives and plagued them for years, terrorizing individual family members—and even the neighbors.

Despite everything that happens, the Smurl family remains rooted in their faith. It’s the main reason they were able to manage for so long, undergoing multiple exorcisms and hordes of tourists wanting a glimpse of “the dark side.” As for me, I am comfortable in my faith and have always believed the demonic will leave me alone so long as I don’t seek it out. After reading The Haunted, I’m not so sure anymore.

You can find this review at Amazon US.

Synopsis
The world’s most famous demonologists, Ed & Lorraine Warren, were called in to help an average American family who were assaulted by forces too awesome, too powerful, too dark, to be stopped. It’s a true story, supported by dozens of eyewitnesses neighbors, priests, police, journalists, and researchers. The grim slaughterhouse of odors. The deafening pounding. The hoofed half-man charging down the hall. The physical attacks, a vicious strangling, failed exorcisms, the succubus… and the final terror which continued to torment the Smurls. In this shocking, terrifying, deeply absorbing book rivaled only by The Amityville Horror—a case also investigated by the Warrens—journalist Robert Curran digs deep into the haunting of the Smurl home in West Pittston, Pennsylvania, and the unshakeable family bonds that helped them survive.

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Book Review—CLOCKWISE

[Clockwise Cover]I love stories involving time travel. If I were writing one, it would probably take on a more dystopian tone—not unlike the television show ‘12 Monkeys’ on Syfy. But that’s me. Clockwise is different, though. Thanks to the talented author, Elle Strauss, it’s funny, girly, and inventive. Also, it feels historically accurate, which is always a good thing for the discerning reader.

Teens have enough going on in their lives without adding sudden, awkward trips to the past. And when you add a little danger and a series of escalating romantic complications, you end up with a fun, satisfying read. The protagonist, Casey Donovan, is very self-aware. She goes on endlessly about her height, her hair, and her perceived lack of personality. And like most teens, she’s not really sure where she fits in, though her best friend Lucinda is mostly supportive. The fact that Casey is smitten with a jock doesn’t help matters.

In less skilled hands, this story would have seemed trite. One thing I noticed is that Nate, the object of Casey’s endless fascination, is written with real heart. I mean, come on. Good-looking high school athletes have a reputation that precedes them in movies and television. Allowing him to mature along with Casey was absolutely the right move. Clockwise is socially relevant and charming. A genuine pleasure.

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Synopsis
A dance. A dare. An accidental tumble through time. Awkward.

Casey Donovan has issues: hair, height and uncontrollable trips to the 19th century! And now this –she’s accidentally taken Nate Mackenzie, the cutest boy in the school, back in time.

Protocol pressures her to tell their 1860 hosts that he is her brother, and when Casey finds she has a handsome, wealthy (and unwanted) suitor, something changes in Nate. Are those romantic sparks or is it just “brotherly” protectiveness?

When they return to the present, things go back to the way they were before: Casey parked on the bottom of the rung of the social ladder and Nate perched high on the very top. Except this time her heart is broken. Plus, her best friend is mad, her parents are split up, and her younger brother gets escorted home by the police. The only thing that could make life worse is if, by some strange twist of fate, she took Nate back to the past again.

Which of course, she does.

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Book Review—AN EXORCIST EXPLAINS THE DEMONIC

[An Exorcist Explains the Demonic Cover]As an author of horror, I am fascinated by demons—especially as portrayed in movies like ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘The Conjuring,’ ‘The Conjuring 2,’ and the more comic ‘Supernatural’ television series. But as a Catholic, I am in truth terrified of the demonic. I believe they not only exist but are striving every day to win over our souls. Strong words? Well, we’re talking about the ultimate battle between Good and Evil, after all.

Fr. Gabriele Amorth, who died in Rome this past September, was an exorcist and author. An Exorcist Explains the Demonic is the first book of his I have read, and I intend to read more. I found his words to be both direct and comforting. Direct, because he doesn’t mince words when it comes to Satan. And comforting because, in the end, he offers hope for those suffering from ailments such as Possession, Vexation, Obsession, and Infestation.

For authors interested in true stories of the paranormal, I can highly recommend this work. Movies and television may exaggerate some of what happens during an exorcism, but apparently, they get a lot of it right. And I believe that if you’re going to write about something unfamiliar, you should research the hell out of it. For believers, Fr. Amorth offers advice on how to keep yourself safe from the forces of Evil. And for nonbelievers, the book is a fascinating read.

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Synopsis
From Fr. Gabriel Amorth, the renowned exorcist in Rome, comes this powerful, eye-opening book on the deadly antics of Satan and his fallen angels, as well as spiritual remedies for each. 

These pages provide a basic orientation in the dark phenomenology, succinctly explaining Catholic doctrine on the fallen angels and the innumerable manifestations. Among the many questions Fr. Amorth answers in this book are:

Where does the Evil One dwell in the human body?
How does the Devil appear and what does he look like?
What are the powers that comes from Satan?
Do the sins of ancestors influence our life?
How are spiritual evils contracted?
What is the state of souls in purgatory?
What is the role of sacramentals in fighting off temptation?
When should exorcisms and prayers of healing be performed?
What happens during an exorcism?
What you should do when a family is being attacked by a demon?

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I Know What I Did This Summer

[Chainsaw-chicks]
Photo Courtesy of Lennart Takanen via Creative Commons

Surprise! I haven’t fallen off the planet. Yet. Actually, I’ve been busy polishing my new novel, based on a screenplay I wrote several years ago (see “Adapting a Screenplay—Fun Times”). Curious? Before I get into the details, I want to tell you that this thing is a real departure from my last three books, which make up the TELL ME WHEN I’M DEAD trilogy, a horror thriller blood fest that takes my beloved antihero Dave Pulaski from the fictional Northern California backwater of Tres Marias south to the very real and horribly violent City of Angels.

Anyway, after lots of gory mayhem, I thought I’d try something different—family fiction. Yep, you heard me right. This is a story about a modern family in crisis. Now before you get too wound up, let me just say that there is still plenty of horror. And laughs. Only this time, the not-so-gory mayhem is seen through the eyes of a precocious fourteen-year-old girl, who I am hoping will steal readers’ hearts.

Still with me? Great. Because today, I’m giving you a glimpse of what’s coming. The book is called Chainsaw Honeymoon, and—trust me—there’s something in it for everyone.

Chainsaw Honeymoon Synopsis
Ruby Navarro is not your typical fourteen-year-old girl. Sure, she’s bright and funny. But she’s also an incurable carnivore who adores horror movies—the bloodier, the better. A year ago, her parents separated, leaving her to live with her mom, Stacey, and her dog, an over-caffeinated Shih Tzu named Ed Wood. Now, Ruby loves her mom, but she also misses her dad. A lot. People split up all the time, and most kids might get over it, providing they could still Snapchat. Not Ruby. She has decided it’s her mission to save her family. And save them, she will!

Ruby is leaving home to spend the summer with her dad, Alan, a top-performing salesman at a luxury car dealership. At his apartment, she divides her time between her machinima project—a dark fantasy featuring a crazed killer with a chainsaw—and hanging out with her two best friends, Claire and Diego. While Ruby is away, her mom’s boss proposes marriage—ew! And Stacey is seriously considering accepting. In the meantime, Alan stupidly believes he can win back his wife, and gets to work on a “best of” video reel, using years of mind-numbingly boring home movies. Ruby suggests contacting her dad’s younger brother, a talented but arrogant student filmmaker. But her uncle has other ideas, and he talks her dad into making a real movie—with actors and a script—a romantic comedy guaranteed to win Stacey’s heart.

As the movie takes shape, unexplainable things are happening to Ruby. Diego is acting weird around her—what is up with that boy! She’s having nightmares. Her doll Mr. Shivers might be trying to talk to her. And a creepy stain on her ceiling is turning into the killer from her machinima project. Oh, and people are dying—for realz. While on location for the movie, Ruby accidentally discovers that her uncle is actually using her dad’s money to shoot a horror movie, instead of the rom-com he promised. When Alan finds out, he gets into a fist fight with his brother, cuts off the production money, and returns home with his daughter.

But Ruby is still determined to get her parents back together. She gets her uncle’s girlfriend to help, and together they cook up a plan to get the movie back on track. Stacey, a certifiable “horrorista,” is totally on board. And Ruby’s dad? Well, “Mr. Rom-Com” is another story.

Shaun of the Dead Meets a Tarantino Movie

[ETDWB 3D Cover (Small)]by Elisabeth Scherer

There is a fantastic book from my favorite reads shelf that hit movie theaters this weekend, Pride & Prejudice and Zombies. If you liked that book, or if you like face-paced zombie thriller/horror novels you might very well like the Steven Ramirez’s Even the Dead Will Bleed.

My Initial Thoughts:
When I was given this book as an option to review I was hesitant at first because it is the third book in the Tell Me When I’m Dead Collection by Ramirez. I worried that I would be put into the middle of the story and have no idea what was going on. The back of the book blurb intrigued me so much I thought I would go ahead and see if the book could be picked up and read without reading the other two books first. It does not disappoint and can definitely stand on its own without its predecessors.

Quick Plot Summary:
Dave is a man on a mission to kill the man responsible for the deaths of his wife, friends, and many others. He has lost everything and believes he has nothing else to do but take the bad guy down with him if it comes down to it. He has prepared to carry out his suicide mission, and yet the undercurrent of something coming. Things don’t always work out the way you imagine, hope, or plan. Dave finds this out first hand and finds himself thrust into the role of bodyguard for a Russian girl who escapes the very person who Dave is hunting. The hunter becomes the hunted and Dave finds him mission changes. Will Dave find something to live for after losing everything? Will the Russian girl evade those that are hunting her? Can faith and determination help you survive genetically modified super zombies? You’ll have to read Even the Dead Will Bleed to find out.

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Adapting a Screenplay—Fun Times

[Scream Poster]
Photo Courtesy of IMDb
Early in my writing career I focused entirely on writing screenplays—something I would not recommend to the foolhardy. You see, unlike novels, screenplays serve absolutely no purpose if you can’t sell them. They sit in a pile in the corner of your home office collecting dust, instead of appearing with nice covers on Amazon. That said, if you are lucky enough to have a written a screenplay that sold (I did that once), you might be on your way to an actual career in the movie business.

But enough about fairy tales.

Horror Comedy, Anyone?
I want to talk about a particular screenplay I wrote a few years back that had to do with a fourteen-year-old girl, a nasty marital breakup and a behind-the-scenes look at an indie horror film. Sounds fascinating, right? At the time I really thought I could make that thing sing. Now, from a technical perspective the work was professional. But I was never really able to generate enough interest. So … I tossed it into the corner and allowed it to gather a nice patina of dust.

Until recently.

I’d been toying with the idea of adapting some of my screenplays into novels. I mean, why let all that good writing go to waste? And I decided that, because I had just come off a heavy horror thriller trilogy with lots of bloodshed, I would tackle a fun horror comedy … with somewhat less bloodshed.

Novelization, Shmovelization
I’m just about finished with the “novelization”—something I’d never done before. And let me tell you, it’s hair-raising. In screenplays, each page is a combination of slug lines, short descriptions and dialogue. That’s it. Try turning that into beautiful prose that descends on the reader like the first gentle snowfall in a New England winter. The process is quite instructive, though, and I am learning more about voice than I ever thought I would.

I’ll keep you posted on the progress from time to time, but it’s my goal to turn this thing into an enjoyable book that captures some of the craziness of living in LA, from the POV of a precocious teenager. Wish me luck.

Danielle DeVor Interviews Me

Author extraordinaire Danielle DeVor has decided it would be a good idea to interview me. Go figure. My brain is pretty nonstandard, and I tend to run off at the mouth after too many espressos. Nevertheless, she is a brave woman and likes a challenge, I guess.

1. What drew you to the horror genre?

Like many, I grew up watching monsters in movies and on television. Also, I loved reading fairy tales as a child—still do. As you know, those can get pretty gruesome. I must have a pretty healthy dark side, because I am truly drawn to this genre.

2. Do you think monsters are the scary ones or are humans scarier?

I am really attracted to the misunderstood monster. One of my favorite stories is “Beauty and the Beast.” I remember in college watching the Cocteau film at one of those art house theaters late at night. If I think about humans and their dark sides, I definitely believe they are scarier. If you watch the news, you’ll see more monstrous behavior from people than the awful things we write about, supposedly perpetrated by monsters.

3. Do you think slasher films should make a comeback?

I like slasher films and, if they did make a comeback, I would really like to see a fresh take. Other than Michael Meyers, I can’t really think of a killer who was simply driven by pure Evil. Most of these types are motivated by some past trauma which, for me, is a little boring.

To read the rest of the interview, please visit Danielle’s blog.