The Mark – Lee Mountford

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The combination of old school and modern horror merge nicely in this demonic ghost story from Mountford. Imagine, if you will, you’ve had a rough week and you’re still trying to get the remnants of an abusive relationship out of your system. So blowing off a little steam at the local pub with your friends seems like as good of a way to spend a Friday night as any. You take a taxi home, a little worse for wear, but nothing a good night’s sleep and some Advil in the morning won’t take care of. You pass out and in the middle of the night you’re awakened to hear an intruder creeping up your stairs. You attempt to get away, but he gets the best of you. Thinking you’re about to meet your end, he pulls out a syringe, jams it in your neck and depresses the plunger. Out go the proverbial lights. When you awaken, its morning, you’re lying facedown on the kitchen floor, no one is in the house with you and you have these strange symbols carved on your back bleeding through your shirt.

What the hell, right? That’s exactly what I was thinking while I was reading this. Mountford does a great job with character development in THE MARK. Not only do you feel for Kirsty, you’re walking in her shoes every step of the way. You’re trying to figure out just what in the hell is going on. All the while, Mountford keeps dropping these creepy, skincrawling scenes on you and he does it with such a nice touch. There’s a slow build up of dread, as he builds the characters and atmosphere, and slowly unwinds the story. At times, he dangles you over the edge for a few moments before he plunges you over the edge. And this is where his story telling is a cut above many of his peers. He doesn’t just beat you over the head repeatedly without giving you a chance to think or care. No, he dangles the danger just out of your reach and makes you crane your neck to try an peer around that corner and get just a glimpse of what lies ahead. He makes you want it and that’s why I enjoyed this story so much. This is my first time reading Mountford and I’m impressed. I think you will be too.

4 1/2 Codex Gigas out of 5
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Apparition – Michaelbrent Collings

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Every once in a while, you run across a book that has a pretty hight rating, an intriguing sounding premise and some really nice reviews to back it up. So, you enthusiastically pick it up and begin reading. It’ll start out slow, but thats okay. We’ve all read books that seem to stumble around the first 25% until they find their footing and then they take off. As you approach the 40% mark, you think, “damn, this thing better have one hell of a second half!” Then, for many people, there comes a point where you pass the “point of no return”. This is where you’ve already invested so much damned time in the story that you now just have to ride it out. Others can simply toss the book and move on. I’m not cut from that cloth. I have to finish it, even if I’m cussing it out every other page until the end. Stupid, I know. But that’s how I’m wired.

So, as you’ve already figured out, APPARITION was that way for me. The premise is good. Delving into the phenomenon of filicide and to see if there’s another reason that parents decide to kill their own children besides they’re crazy, perhaps something ancient and evil. I like it. I’d like to go down this road and see where it takes us. For me, the road that is APPARITION was a long, tedious and frustrating one. First of all, barely anything happens for the first 50% of the story. Now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a slow burn if its told right, ala Peter Straub and Charles L. Grant. But this wasn’t a slow build up, it was an excruciating exercise of patience. One of the things that didn’t work for me, was when Collings would write from the little boy, Matthew’s POV. When he would switch into that character’s telling of the story, I wanted to slit my wrist. Throughout the the story, he had Matthew talking and thinking anywhere from a 3-year old little boy to a college junior psychology major. I also found that the description of the characters thoughts kept stumbling over each other. At numerous points in the story, I wanted to scream, “I KNOW! You just said that for the hundredth time… now get on with it!” Now, I do think Collings can write. In fact, there were a couple of scenes in the first half that literally made my skin crawl and I would think, “Alright! Here we go” and then it would go back into the plodding, repetitive pacing that plagued the entire story. Unfortunately, the characters weren’t interesting or sympathetic enough for you to invest in their well-being. And the ending was “meh”. Nothing shocking, surprising or the least bit satisfying. So there you have it. That’s my review. Now, keep in mind, many other people like this story, many of whom I respect their opinions and I usually agree with the majority of the time. So you may like it too. For me, APPARITION didn’t work.
2 Children Swallowing Demons out of 5
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The Covenant – John Everson

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A covenant is an agreement between two parties to either do or not do something. If the word covenant sounds old and slightly sinister, you’re starting to get a feel of where the story is going.

Joe is a young newspaper reporter that is escaping heartbreak and loss from the mean streets of Chicago and moves to the small coastal hamlet of Terrel. For a reporter, Terrel is pretty mundane and boring. There are no real stories to sink your teeth into. So when he gets wind that a local teenager took a swan dive from the top of the cliff overlooking the ocean, Joe is all about finding out what happened. When he discovers that people have been offing themselves from this spot since there was lighthouse perched up there a 100 years ago, Joe smells a story that gets his juices flowing. The problem is no one is talking. The sheriff and his editor want him to leave the story alone. Not one of the victim’s parents will say a word and treat him like he’s a disease. What is going on here?

Covenant won a Bram Stoker Award for First Novel for Everson and you can see shades of why. At times, the writing and story reminds me somewhat of Charles L. Grant. That’s a good thing. But there are times when the marriage between old school eerieness and splatterpunk rape scenes don’t seem to mesh all that well. Why many of the characters let themselves get into the covenant, in the first place, isn’t entirely convincing. And you’ll want to scream at the top of your lungs when it appears Joe has all the answers in the book he eventually holds in his hands and then acts as if he can’t be bothered to read it. So yes, there are some warts. But, overall, Covenant is a pretty good offering by Everson that shows tell-tale signs that it is his first novel.

3 1/2 horny demons out of 5
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Stolen Away – Kristin Dearborn

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We’ve all done things we’ve regretted, especially in our twenties. Sometimes you’re looking to let off a little steam, maybe forget all about the one that broke your heart. Trisha is not different. A single mom who’s lived a hard life filled with hard drugs. When her and her boyfriend, Joel, break up because he’s bailed for another woman, Trisha decides that she’s going to party her ass off at a club and hook up with someone to forget about him. She accomplishes all the above and hooks up with a guy that has DEMON tattooed on his back. DEMON gives Trisha some Extacy like she’s never had before. This stuff was potent. How else would you explain his skin turning red and horns emerging from his head while her body turns into sometime reptilian with iridescent scales? After the crazy night of rough sex with DEMON, Trisha ends up pregnant with his baby. She decides to clean up her life, no drugs, get a decent job and become a real mother to her daughter and newborn baby boy, Brayden. All seems like it’s looking up until the night she’s awakened by her daughter screaming. When she enters their bedroom, she discovers that the baby is gone and her daughter says that a monster took him away. DEMON has returned to claim his son. With nowhere else to turn, Trisha enlists Joel’s help to return to the life she has tried so hard to put in the past to get Brayden back.

Kristin Dearborn has concocted an excellent tale of demons infiltrating our seedy underworld, taking what they want and no one being the wiser. Stolen Away isn’t a story with superhero angels and devils. Demon and his entourage feel like people we’ve all seen at the clubs. Kristin and Joel haven’t made the best choices, but they’re trying to do the best they can. By showing their flaws, Dearborn gives the story a sense of every day realism which, in my opinion, is the only way to pull this story off. It’s gritty and grimy, just like the real world. I have to admit, I couldn’t quite get into Dearborn’s earlier story, The Woman in White. The characters felt too wooden and unreal. With Stolen Away, I’m pleased to announce that there isn’t even a slight hint of that. This one is the real deal and if you’re looking for a tale about demons, go ahead and pass up the subpar Horns by Joe Hill and pick yourself up a copy of Stolen Away. It’s the best story that I’ve read in 2016.

5 cloven hooves out of 5

This ARC was provided in exchange for an honest review.
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