Salvage – Duncan Ralston


When Owen Saddler’s younger sister, Lori, drowns in mysterious fashion while scuba diving in a lake in remote Ontario, unusual things begin to happen to Owen. A strange man at his job site utters something to Owen that he couldn’t have possibly known. Or did he? Owen is attacked in his bathtub and almost drowns by a man that seems oddly familiar. Or didn’t he? Confused and unable to determine how much is real and how much might be hallucination, Owen is drawn to Chapel Lake, where his sister drowned and 30 years ago the lake was created by the construction of a hydroelectric dam that floods the valley and the town of Peace Falls. What was his sister looking for while diving into the flooded underwater town? He must find answers to his haunted questions, even if those answers are that he’s losing his mind.

Salvage is an interesting read by Duncan Ralston that uses a unique location for his ghost story. It mixes corrupted religion with mental illness to weave a hazy read that keeps the reader turning the pages. Owen is an odd duck in that always seems to be one step behind the reader at guessing what’s going on. It can be frustrating, at times, because he doesn’t ask the questions to people that you want him to ask. He seems to be ok with only knowing part of the story from a conversation and having to put himself in harms way to fill in the holes, instead of simply asking more questions. The atmosphere is unique and eerie and Ralston does a nice job painting a realistic setting that you can see vividly in your mind. The ending loosely ties things together that I couldn’t quite buy into and the fact that Owen could have all of these supernatural things happen to him and he simply shrugs it off as business as usual was hard for me to buy into. But, all in all, it was a fun read that kept me turning the pages to see what happens next.

4 underwater churches out of 5

** This ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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The Dead Zone – Stephen King


The Dead Zone was a re-read for me, as many will be as I go through The Stephen King Challenge, and I forgot how powerful this book was. King was really in fine form during this period in the late 1970s.

Johnny Smith is a young teacher that has started to date Sarah, another young teacher that works for another school. They’ve started to fall in love and Johnny takes her out on a date to the county fair. They’re both excited about the night. Love is in the air and Sarah has hinted that she’d like him to spend the night at her place for the first time. They have a great time at the fair riding the rides and eating all the fair food. As they’re walking out, a carnival barker at the Wheel of Fortune lures them over to try their luck. Suddenly, Johnny gets a strange feeling that he knows what number the ball is going to land on and begins to go in a trance-like state. Sure enough, he hits…and hits…and hits, until he has over $500 in his pocket and Sarah mysteriously turns ill. Driving his sick girlfriend to her house, they decide that they’ll have to postpone their special evening for when she feels better. Johnny hails a cab and heads for his house. He never makes it home. Two kids were drag racing and hit the cab head on. Johnny is the only survivor…well, kind of. Johnny, battered and broken, is in a coma for 4 and 1/2 years. The doctors had given up on him and eventually Sarah did too. While Johnny was withering away in a hospital bed, Sarah marries and has a little boy. Then, one day, she gets word that Johnny Smith has miraculously come out of his coma. What she was led to believe as impossible has happened. For Johnny, it’s as if he’s only been asleep for a few days. Instead, his whole life, as he knows it, has been ripped away from him and all he has to look forward to is multiple surgeries and an excruciating recovery. During one of his physical therapy sessions, he touches a nurse and a wave of visions flood through Johnny’s mind. He goes into another trance-like state and tells the nurse that she has to hurry. Her house is on fire. She checks and sure enough, Johnny was right and the wary nursing staff look as if Johnny has leprosy and none of them want to get close enough to touch him. For Johnny, this newfound ability is a curse. Newspapers, tabloids, desperate people wanting to know what happened to their missing loved ones all come out of the woodwork and hound Johnny. Then one day, Johnny shakes the hand of Greg Stillson. Stillson is a local politician with big ambitions and Johnny sees what would happen to the world if Stillson is in charge. What would you do if you could go back in time and prevent Hitler from coming to power? This is the burden that Johnny faces.

The Dead Zone hit me like a ton of bricks. Johnny is a very likable character and you want him and Sarah to be a couple. You want his life to be wonderful. You want to see a silver lining. With one kick in the gut after another, it’s painful to watch Johnny be forced to travel down the roads that he has to. The characters, storytelling, setting, it’s all wonderfully laid out by King. This is King firing on all cylinders. It transports you inside Johnny Smith and makes you ask yourself, “What if this happened to me?” An excellent tale that should be a felony for all that haven’t read it.

5 burning tires out of 5

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Prince of Nightmares – John McNee


The Ballador House is set in the remote reaches of Scotland and it has some very unique characteristics. Anyone that stays there is guaranteed to have nightmares. This guarantee has transformed the Ballador House into a must-stay destination for some very unusual clientele that happen to be into that kind of thing. Not the kind of people that the elderly multi-millionaire, Victor Taversham, would be seen associating with. But that all changed after his wife, Josephine, booked a stay there right before she went into the bathroom and blew her brains out. A distraught Victor is desperately seeking for answers on why his wife decided to take her life and why would the last thing that she was to ever do be reserving a room at this bazaar inn if she didn’t plan on ever going? So Victor decides to keep the reservation to see if he can discover any clues to his wife’s mysterious suicide. As promised, the Ballador House delivers the nightmares and they pack a punch. Can Victor sort out what is real and what is dream so that he can find out what the connection the house has with Josephine? Or does the house have plans for Victor?

Prince of Nightmares is a wonderful, surreal marriage of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, The Shining, and Thirteen Ghosts. While it shares shades of color from these three tales, it ends up standing on its own two feet and delivers on its own merit. Many times you’ll wonder if what you’re reading is a dream or is it real. McNee makes you pay attention similar to the way Barker’s stories do and, like Barker, brings out the red stuff in the final act. A description of a mutilation that includes the breaking of bones to twist a body into a pretzel will linger in your subconscious long after you finish the story. I enjoyed the slow burn while trying to discover what was really going on. McNee has a good writing style that flows well. The characters, while colorful, did have a tendency to not be fully fleshed out and I would’ve liked to have learned more of the backstory. That’s the only thing that made me give it a 4 1/2 instead of a 5. Still a very worthwhile tale that is worth the price of admission.

4 1/2 surreal nightmares out of 5
This ARC was supplied by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
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The Long Walk – Stephen King


The Long Walk is a re-read for me that I picked back up for Book #7 of the Stephen King Challenge. It is also one of the original stories that King wrote as Richard Bachman. I found it funny in the prologue section entitled The Importance of Being Bachman, King writes that he used his secret alias for when he felt that he had a really dark story that needed to come out. Let me get this straight. King has stories inside him that are too dark and horrible to put his name on them? Wow! This I’ve got to read again.

The story reads like a combination of the inspiration of the Hunger Games and Survivor meets the Bataan Death March and a parody of the draft for the Vietnam War. It is also the first novel that King ever wrote, predating Carrie by eight years.

Ray Garrity and 98 other late-teens entrants, in the Long Walk, begin the contest in the northern tip of Presque Isle, Maine. The purpose of the The Long Walk or why anyone would want to do it is not clearly explained. As the story unfolds, we learn that the Walkers have to maintain 4 mph, stay on the road, and cannot interfere with the other Walkers progress. If any of these rules are violated, the Walker gets a warning. After 3 warnings, they are shot and killed by one of the soldiers that are shadowing them on the side of the road in a half-track. As the hours and miles pass into days and nights of hundreds of miles, we learn about the Walkers and their stories. Meanwhile, Walkers are dropping as the miles on the road unwind. How far can they push their bodies through fatigue, weather, injury, and the unraveling of the mind?

While it may not sound like much of a premise, King tells an absolutely terrific tale. The characters are fantastically described and fleshed out. We feel their pain, their anxiety, their fears. The dread and fatigue ratchet up to dizzying levels and I feel that the ending is near perfect, as is the story. Highly recommended.

5 Blistered and Swollen Feet out of 5
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Zero Lives Remaining – Adam Cesare


It’s 1989 and Robby is working at the Funcave arcade making pizzas. Some may not think very much of Robby’s job, but he loves working there and takes it very seriously. Then, one day, a freak accident pulls Robby into the pizza oven and just like that, no more Robby. Even though his body isn’t there, as the years pass, Robby is still around, passing through the electrical circuits of the video games, the wiring, and the machines. Turn the calendar to 2014. Tiffany is now the video game wizard and her favorite game that she has mastered is Ms Pac-Man. It seems so effortless for her as if she gets help from the machine once in a while. Then, one day, she is harassed by a sleezy guy named Chris. Tiffany doesn’t like Chris much…and neither does Robby.

Zero Lives Remaining brings back a chunk of my childhood – the Saturday afternoon draining of quarter after quarter in those classic standup arcade games – and melds a tidy little horror story with it. Cesare uses a bit of Wes Craven’s Shocker along with grabby doses of ectoplasm, ala Ghostbusters to go along with a world of sights and sounds that those of us who grew up in the 80s know quite well. The storytelling is crisp to go with the memorable characters and unforgettable, over-the-top kills. Good stuff.

4 killer Inky, Blinky, Pinky and Sues out of 5

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Submerged – Thomas Monteleone


Monteleone’s Submerged looked amazingly promising on the surface. A sunken Nazi U-boat that isn’t listed on any documents from the war, a secret German mission, and a hidden Nazi base under the ice of Greenland. I’m happy to report that Submerged was all that I hoped it would be and much more.

Dex, an ex-Navy diver, leads a group that descend on an unknown sunken wreck at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay. What they discover in the murky water is a German U-boat that is twice the normal length, isn’t listed on any known documents, and has an unusual substructure that gives the sub and unusual humpback look. In an attempt to keep their find secret until they can discover information about this unknown U-boat, an accident on the wreck blows the whole mission wide open. The U-boat captain, Erich Bruckner, is unveiled to us in a backstory that describes the secret mission him and his crew are sent on. His U-boat is a new Nazi weapon that is designed to deliver a lethal blow that will bring the US to its knees. After they are deployed, they are to stop at a hidden Nazi base underneath the ice of Greenland. What they discover there is the ruins of an ancient civilization that comes straight out of H.P. Lovecraft and delivers secrets that the world has never seen.

Submerged was a fun, page-turner that I couldn’t put down. The characters were lifelike and realistic, the dialogue was spot on, and Monteleone tied it all together wonderfully. Submerged had the feel of an underwater Indiana Jones tale without being hokey or cartoonish. I absolutely loved it and can’t recommend it high enough. Great stuff.

5 secret Nazi U-boats out of 5
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Wolf Land – Jonathan Janz


Ahh…Jonathan Janz. This guy is like a fine wine. He simply gets better with age. Anyone that has followed my reviews knows that I was already a big fan of his. With Wolf Land, my fandom is approaching man-crush territory. Before I start sounding like Annie Wilkes here, let’s move on. 2015 seemed to be the year of the werewolf for me. I read some absolutely amazing lycanthropic tales in 2015. From Bill Schweigart’s excellent, The Beast of Barcroft, to the gem-laden short-story collection, Best New Werewolf Tales, Volume One, to Ray Garton’s wonderfully vicious, Ravenous, to Glenn Rolfe’s coming out to the big time classic, Blood and Rain. Four tales that simply took me by the throat and didn’t let go. But, I saved the best for last with Janz’s Wolf Land.

An upcoming ten-year high school reunion brings many back to celebrate in the small Indiana town of Lakeview where a kegger is being held out in a vacant field. When a strange and odd man crashes the party offering prophetic warnings to the group, little did they know all hell was about to break loose. The stranger transforms into a furious abomination of teeth and claws right before their very eyes. Many died that night, but a few survived. For the ones that survived, they are about to be plunged into a world that they thought only existed in the movies. But this evil is ancient and has quietly been roaming in the shadows of the Indiana prairie since the Native Americans ruled the land. Now, Lakeview is about to be engulfed in a horrific bloodbath.

With Wolf Land, not only does Janz create a blood drenched and wildly entertaining story, but he also flexes his literary muscle and explores sociological themes of a small-town’s dark sided underbelly. This creates multiple layers within the story and brings a realism to the characters and their settings that totally immerses the reader. This is where I give Janz kudos. He could’ve simply made a werewolf story with non-stop action with cardboard cut-out characters that we wouldn’t care about and try to dress it up by splashing blood all over the pages. But, in Wolf Land, he does so much more by creating layer after layer and breathing life into the cast very reminiscent of Straub’s finest works. Well done, my friend. Well done.

5 blood dripping muzzles out of 5

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