A People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal

The mystery starts simply enough: a young woman is found in a ditch just outside of a small Arizona border town. The young woman is presumed to be an illegal alien and likely was met with foul play trying to cross the border. Before any clues can be found as to who brought the girl harm, her body disappears from the morgue.

To the young CDC operative called in to consult the local police, it is a bizarre medical mystery. And it is only the tip of the iceberg when more individuals start showing up in local morgues and disappearing overnight. What was seen as isolated cases of a strange virus is soon deduced to be something that no one was ready to take on.

I admit, dear reader, that I was looking forward to reading this book. With its eye catching cover and overall creepy title, I thought I would be in for an exciting thrill ride from page one.

Sadly, that was not the case.

Have you ever read a book and with every page you are just waiting – waiting – for the plot to get good? For what was teased on the cover to happen? To become so engrossed in the story itself that you forget what time it is or that you have other obligations like work and family?

While there have been several books that I have read that have been just like that, A People’s History… is sadly not one of them. There is no vampire uprising, at times there’s barely even a conflict between the humans and the vampires (who prefer to be called “gloamings”). Yes, there are minor conflicts; especially when one decides to run for public office, but on the whole there wasn’t much.

At times, reading this was almost akin to watching paint dry.

Reading about the author, it is no surprise to find that Mr. Villareal is an attorney. There is quite a bit of “lawyer speak” scattered throughout the book and there is an entire chapter devoted to the subject. What it has to do in relation to the subject of the book as a whole, I have no idea.

Unfortunately, I found A People’s History… to be bland and boring. Aside from a handful of actions scenes, there was very little to sink my teeth in to. Pardon the pun. If this is to be made in to a movie, which I have read that the story has been optioned by 20th Century Fox, then I hope they take the title and basic premise and leave the rest behind.

Don’t waste your time with this one dear readers. There are better books out there.

Graveyard Shift by Michael F. Haspil

The discovery of a blood substitute and a monumental Supreme Court ruling were two events that changed the face of the world forever. Due to these two events, vampires and other mythological creatures were able to integrate in to society. There was no longer a need for them to hide as they had done for centuries before.

Alex Menkaure is a mummy and former Egyptian pharaoh; and along with his partner Marcus, a vampire born in ancient Rome, the two once hunted evil vampires for a super-secret arm of the NSA. When the program was dissolved the two became police officers in a special unit where they continue to keep the streets safe from the monsters they hunted once before.

When bottles of tainted artificial blood begin turning up on store shelves, the already tremulous relations between humans and vampires becomes even more fragile. It soon becomes a race against time for the two detectives to find who is behind the tainted blood and what their end game is.

There are times when writing a review is the easiest thing in the world; the words just flow from my fingertips and I am (hopefully) able to get my point across when I say how much I liked or dis-liked a book. There are other times, however, where trying to write even a mediocre review is akin to pulling teeth; the words simply do not want to come and each one is a struggle.

Sadly, it seems that this particular review falls more in to the latter than the former. It has been over a week since I finished reading Graveyard Shift and still I do not know where to begin in reviewing it.

Perhaps I should start with the overall plot. Broken down, it comes across as simple enough. For countless centuries vampires and other creatures have existed behind the scenes. A recent turn of events outs them and their existence is finally able to be acknowledged. While there are many who embrace this new truth, there are those who would see things go back to the way they were; where vampires skulked in shadows and humans were afraid of them. Certainly a plot that has been used before, not just in books but in movies and television shows.

The main characters themselves, however are a completely different story. One is a centuries old vampire while the other is a millennia old mummy; both immortal in their own way. Sadly, we aren’t given much on them aside from the most basic information. Haspil spends too much time focusing on secondary characters and the surrounding events as a whole instead of giving us more with the main characters. If this were the second or even third book in a series, this wouldn’t be a problem as we would already be familiar with the two detectives.

Overall, Graveyard Shift is a fairly good book. Marketed as an urban fantasy meets film noir type of story, it certainly meets that description. Gritty and at times bloody, it might not be for the more feint of heart reader. Otherwise, this is a somewhat decent start to a series and I am curious to see more.

Hater (Hater #1) by David Moody

The world has gone mad.

A strange and sudden increase in the number of violent assaults on individuals has rocked society. The assaults are brutal and extreme; within mere seconds, normally rational people become frenzied killers. They strike without warning and kill all who cross their path. Christened ‘Haters’ by the media, there are no links between those who attack and those who are attacked.

Danny McCoyne is one such man. An average working class man, he must contend with this new world of terror. Eventually, his only choice is seek shelter, secure his family, and watch as the world outside crumbles. But when any person has the potential to become a Hater; when McCoyne locks the door, is he shutting the danger out or locking it in?

Hater is a unique novel with an interesting premise. That, sadly, is about all I can give it.

I am guessing that we, the readers, are supposed to somehow empathize with the main character Danny McCoyne. As the novel is told from his point of view, this would make sense. We connect with him in some way, and through his eyes we see the story unfold. A good idea, if only Danny weren’t such an immensely unlikable individual.

I do not want to mince words, dear reader, so I will be blunt and say Danny McCoyne is a schlub. In his own words he admits to being “a lazy bastard”, and “I know I should try harder but I just can’t be bothered.” He admits to being bounced from department to department in the three and a half years he has been with his job. He refers to his supervisor as “…sour-faced, slave-driving, unforgiving bitch…”. He either yells at or ignores his children, at times he ignores his wife. In general he is a very self centered man, caring only about himself and how unfolding events affect him.

Looking past the main character, which admittedly is difficult to do, the actual premise is an interesting one. An unknown illness, passed from person to person by unknown means, is turning ordinary people in to rampaging killers. The afflicted person suddenly and without warning becomes ultra violent, attacking whomever is near – be they a stranger or a loved one. Those who are not accosted by the ill individual describe the person’s expression as one of great fear. This is a likely explanation for the suddenness of the attacks; if the person is struck by an overwhelming fear then they are likely to lash out.

Throughout the story small hints as to the illness’ origin are dropped. Some believe it to be a kind of government experiment gone awry and the few clues given seem to point in that direction. We are of course not given the answer just yet as this is only the first part of the story. I am sure the cause behind the epidemic will be revealed in subsequent books.

As I said above, Hater is a book with a unique take on the whole “zombie” epidemic. The execution however is poor. If one can get over how irritating the main character is, they could very well enjoy this book. Pick this one up with that in mind if you feel brave.

FantasticLand by Mike Bockoven

Since it opened in the 1970’s, FantasticLand was the theme park where “Fun was guaranteed!”. Like Disney and Universal, it was a major draw for numerous visitors to the Sunshine State. But when a hurricane ravages the Florida coast and isolates the park, the employees left behind find the park anything but fun.

Five weeks later, when authorities finally find a way to rescue the survivors, they come upon something out of a horror show. Photos soon appear online of heads on spikes outside of the rides along with viscera and bones littering the gift shops. Those who see the pictures are left wondering, how could a group of mostly teenagers commit such horrible acts?

FantasticLand is an interesting read as it is presented as a kind of investigation. Each chapter is told from one person’s point of view, transcribed from the interview in to a short story in first person narrative. There is only one actual interview and that is with an individual that numerous others reference throughout the rest of the book.

Numerous reviewers have compared FantasticLand to Lord of the Flies and I find that to be a very apt comparison. In both books a disaster of some kind leaves groups of individuals stranded and hoping for eventual rescue. The differences being in the former those stranded are both male and females of various ages from teen-aged to older adults, while in the latter the stranded are all young boys. This makes a difference in how the tragedies are dealt with and perceived, but at times there is little to be seen.

In both books those who are left behind form social groups or tribes. In FantasticLand, the tribes are based on where the employees worked in the park itself. As they worked together day in and day out, they were comfortable together and as such gravitated together when times were difficult. This formation of tribes also created a kind of rivalry with the tribes battling one another over necessities like food and water – even when no such fights were necessary as there was plenty to go around.

In a way FantasticLand can be seen as a kind of think piece. So many of the characters in the book are young adults; little more than kids in the high school/college age range. Their entire lives they have had information fed to them via social media, be it on the TV or computer or cell phone. Their every move has been documented and shared and either that or their job had given them a direction to go. When they are deprived of that direction and that audience, where are they to turn?

Like the aforementioned Lord of the Flies, FantasticLand can be a difficult read at times. Not because it is badly written – quite the opposite, I found it to be quite well written and researched. It is difficult because it is very violent and a bit depressing. In reading about what these young adults do, the reader is forced to consider what they them self might do. They must consider if they would volunteer to stay behind like these characters did and how far they would be willing to go to survive.

 

Sherlock Holmes: The Legacy of Deeds by Nick Kyme

It is 1894; Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson have been summoned to a Covent Garden art gallery. Dozens of patrons lie dead in a portrait gallery, their means of death unclear.

The search for clues leads them to cross paths with a mysterious figure in black, whose amazing speed and agility make capture impossible. This same person is suspect in a second murder when the servant of a visiting Russian grand duke is found mutilated in a notorious slum. The question is what connects these two events? And how are they connected to the apparent suicide of a teacher at a nearby girls’ boarding school?

So begins a case that reveals the shadows that past misdeeds can cast and the limits the detectives can face.

As a fan of the characters Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, I am always interested in the interpretations different authors can bring. What one author does, another might not, even if both are using the same characters set in the same universe.

Such can be said about Kyne’s The Legacy of Deeds. For while the characters bear the names we readers are familiar with, at times they did not seem to be the same individuals from the original Doyle stories.

To start with, the titular character Sherlock Holmes. While he is still the brilliant detective; brooding moodily when he is bored, cold and blunt when questioning others, skilled in combat, and completely dedicated to the pursuit of justice, his softer side is more evident. Something we do not see often – if at all – in Doyle’s version. It is certainly not something I am complaining about, dear reader, but it is something I thought pertinent to point out.

John Watson has also gone through a few minor changed from the original canon. He is still loyal to Holmes, clucking over him much like a mother hen and always trying to do the right thing, yet he is a bit overly melodramatic at times. Something Holmes himself comments on towards the end of the story. This does not detract from him doing what he can to assist Holmes and Scotland Yard in following the clues to their eventual conclusion.

One thing I did find different about The Legacy of Deeds was the actual conclusion. More often than not the culprit is revealed and arrested and the case is closed. This doesn’t quite happen here. For fear of giving away the end of the story, all I can say is that there is no clear cut resolution. The ending is shrouded in shades of gray much like the foggy streets of London where the majority of the action takes place. Some readers – much like our dear Sherlock Holmes – might find this bothersome. To not have an ending to a mystery that is neat and tidy can be irksome to some.

My overall impression of The Legacy of Deeds is a favorable one. While Kyme tends to use more modern day vernacular and phrasing for his prose, he has a good handle of the characters and uses them well. Fans of the Holmes genre will likely enjoy it and add it to their bookshelves as I have.

Spot and Smudge (Spot and Smudge #1) by Robert Udulutch

The Hogan family weren’t looking to start a war. All they wanted was to move closer to grandma, maybe adopt a dog, and hopefully leave the troubles of the big city behind.

But the quaint little town has several dark secrets behind it’s shiny facade. And the strange puppies the family adopts are more than what they seem to be.

There’s a strange connection between the two orphaned puppies and the town’s criminals; and that connection is pulling both sides towards one another in what will be an epic battle. One which the Hogan family aren’t prepared to fight, much less win.

But the grit of one devoted family, like the loyalty of a pair of pups, should never be underestimated. Especially if the pups are unlike any dogs the family…or any one…has ever seen.

As a dog lover, I was intrigued by the plot of Spot and Smudge, and when the opportunity came to get an e-copy, I jumped on it. Who doesn’t like a story like the one described above?

Turns out, dear reader, that person would be me.

First of all, let me say that Spot and Smudge has a great deal of disturbing scenes. There is drug abuse, alcohol abuse, human abuse, as well as animal abuse. This is a very dark book and the story does not stray for very long in the light.

Aside from the titular dogs, the majority of the human characters are sadly one dimensional. Even the “good guys” that we are supposed to be rooting for are like this. We are given very little information about the Hogan family aside from names and the most basic of backgrounds. We are told they are wanting to “start over”, but start over from what? They are wanting to move closer to Ms. Hogan’s mother, who loses her husband before the start of the book. A certainly believable reason, but sadly, once again an idea that is never fully looked in to.

The “bad guys” are bad because we are told they are. Aside from greed there is no ulterior motive for any of them. As I was reading, I kept hoping for some kind of back story – anything to flesh out these characters and keep them from turning out to be little more than pieces of walking, talking cardboard. Sadly, I was let down, because even the main bad guy (who appears for only a handful of pages) left me feeling flat. Pun definitely intended.

As much as I was looking forward to reading Spot and Smudge, I was unfortunately left sorely disappointed. And more than a little disturbed. This is not for any of the more squeamish readers, and sadly not one I can recommend. It is unlikely I will be reading or reviewing the subsequent titles in the series.

The Hangman’s Daughter (The Hangman’s Daughter #1) by Oliver Pötzsch

It is 1659 and the Thirty Years’ War has finally come to an end. There has not been a witchcraft mania in the area in decades but the discovery of a drowned boy changes things. Badly beaten and tattooed with the mark of a witch, the boy is recognized as one of the many orphans in the small village. With the boy being seen at the local midwife’s home on more than one occasion, fingers soon begin to point in her direction.

Jakob Kuisl is the town’s hangman; living with his family of wife and children on the outskirts of the village. It is he who is charged with getting a confession from the midwife and torturing her until it is given. He, however, believes her innocent. He is also not the only one; his daughter Magdalena and the village doctor’s son, Simon, believe her to be innocent as well.

When another tattooed orphan is found murdered, and then a third, the village becomes frenzied. Walpurgisnacht is approaching, a night when witches are said to dance in the forest and have consort with the devil. Some have even claimed to see the devil himself – a man with a hand made completely of bone. With the deadline fast approaching, Jakob, his daughter and the doctor’s son must try and find if they are dealing with mass hysteria or a very real enemy.

The Hangman’s Daughter is one of those books where the title and the description do not quite match the story inside. If one were to go by the description on Goodreads or on Amazon, one would be led to believe that Magdalena is the main character. Unfortunately, she is not and is at best a secondary character; one might even argue that she is a tertiary character.

The book description leads us to believe that Jakob Kuisl is a secondary character when in truth it is HE who is the main character. It is he who does the most when it comes to proving the accused’s innocence or guilt. It is he who first learns the truth behind the killings and who eventually faces the man with the hand of bone.

Description differences aside, The Hangman’s Daughter is a fairly well written story. Jakob Kuisl was a real hangman and his family as described did exist. The town he lived in and some of the people also did exist. Everything else though must be taken with a healthy grain of salt.

It is evident that Potzsch often takes dramatic liberty. However good a man that Jakob Kuisl might have been, it is quite unlikely he would have gone to the same lengths to prove a person’s guilt or innocence. Jakob is also one of the few characters that is actually “fleshed out” for want of a better word. Many of the characters, especially the townspeople, are little more mannequins – used to voice the cruelty and superstitions of the time.

The mystery itself is quite slow to develop. And when resolution finally comes, it feels almost anticlimactic. As if Potzsch ran out of steam when it came to the end of the book. Although maybe this could be attributed to the translation, one cannot be truly sure.

All in all, The Hangman’s Daughter is fairly enjoyable. The reader must of course take in to consideration the liberties the author has taken, but even with that it is a decent read. Over time I am sure I will be seeking out the rest of the titles in the series.

Bill the Vampire (The Tome of Bill #1) by Rick Gualtieri

There are reasons we fear the night. This guy is not one of them.

Bill Ryder is your average dweeb; he’s a computer programmer, gamer geek, and absolutely hopeless when it comes to the opposite sex. All he’s ever wanted in life was to hang out with his friends, collect his paycheck, and one day meet the woman of his dreams.

Bill’s life takes an unfortunate turn when he meets Sally. She was mysterious, aggressive, and beautiful – the poor sod never stood a chance. When she invites him to a party, he initially has his reservations but goes anyway. Too bad the party is a trap and when Bill awakens he’s now a member of the undead. And at the bottom of that particular food chain.

The head vampire has given him a 90 day ultimatum – either prove he belongs or be killed in a more permanent manner.

Poor Bill is in way over his head but he’s not about to go down without a fight. He’s got more than one trick up his sleeve; along with some unlikely allies and a severe attitude problem. The one bit thing Bill has going for him is a vampire like him hasn’t been seen for over 500 years. With all this going for him, Bill just might make the 90 day deadline, if he doesn’t get his teeth kicked in first.

Bill the Vampire is one of those books that was recommended to me several times but I never got around to reading. Upon reading it though, I see why I put it off for so long.

Allow me to be blunt, dear reader – Bill is a jerk.

Bill and his roommates embody everything of the stereotypical neck beard. And not in a good way. They believe themselves to be “witty” and “snarky” yet they are anything but. They are misogynistic, viewing the women around them as items to be ogled over and little more. And should any woman give them a dirty look or other verbal smack down, she is immediately labelled a “bitch”.

On the other side of the fence are the vampires. They are the diametric opposite to Bill and his friends. Led by the the self named Night Razor, they embody the age old enemy to freaks and geeks – the jock. Every one in the small group is beautiful; the women looking like they walked out of a print ad with the men looking they spend all their time at the gym.

Overall, Bill the Vampire is a decently written book. But that is about all it has going for it. Bill, as well as every other male character, were assholes (pardon my language). There were slight differences to separate the vampire from the humans, but they all felt alike. Much can be said for the few female characters as well, their actions and personalities were so alike it was only their names and physical descriptions that set them apart.

Personally, I think Gualtieri is either trying too hard with the character Bill, or not trying enough. The premise itself was truly promising, but the execution fell woefully short.

Should a person wish to read this first book of the series, I would advise them to tread carefully. The story itself is a virtual minefield of questionable language and other problems. And while it’s been compared to Revenge of the Nerds meets Return of the Living Dead, it’s not a good comparison. The movies are far more enjoyable.

The Butterfly Garden (The Collector #1) by Dot Hutchison

Somewhere in upstate New York lies an older mansion with a beautiful garden.

Not just trees and flowers grow in the garden, it also has a vast collection of “butterflies” – young women who have been kidnapped and each bearing an intricate tattoo on her back. Overseeing it all is a man known simply as the Gardener and his obsession goes beyond capturing these lovely creatures to preserving their beauty for all time.

When the garden is discovered, one of the girls is brought in for questioning. The FBI agents tasked with piecing together this intricate puzzle find more than they bargain for when the girl they’re questioning is just as much of a puzzle herself.

The Butterfly Garden is one of several books I picked up when I was given a free preview of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.

I admit, dear reader, that I was a little hesitant when I first picked up The Butterfly Garden. Just from the quick blurb I had read, it reminded me of The Girl Before and while I enjoyed that book, I was also left unnerved by it. The same can be said of this book too.

Told primarily from the viewpoint of Maya, one of the survivors of the “butterfly garden”, The Butterfly Garden is a creepy tale of obsession and redemption. The Gardener is a man obsessed with the perfection of youth, his precious butterflies almost never making it past their 21st birthday. The handful that do are cast aside, ignored for their fading beauty and causing them to become bitter.

The Butterfly Garden is a difficult read. There are a variety of subjects that would make it off-putting for some – including kidnapping, rape, and murder. It is deeply disturbing which is why I can’t recommend it for all of my readers.

Readers who enjoyed such psychological tales such as Gone Girl or The Girl Before might enjoy The Butterfly Garden. A fairly quick read but one that is likely to stay with the reader long after they’ve finished the last page.

The Outpost (Outpost #1) by Adam Baker

Moored in the Arctic Ocean, Kasker Rampart is a derelict refinery platform at the end of the world. A skeleton crew of fifteen occupy the place, every day a battle with boredom and despair. As they wait for a relief ship to come take them home, the crew receives word that the world beyond is crumbling. A strange pandemic is ravaging the cities, turning normal humans in to ravenous monsters.

One by one the TV channels die, the radio waves following after. The crew of the Kasker Rampart receive a final message; their relief ship is not coming, help is not on the way. The crew must find a way to survive the long Arctic winter alone, even as the deadly contagion makes slow progress towards them.

The Outpost is one of those titles that had been sitting on my To Be Read list for a while. As intriguing and as interesting as I often find these books, I have to be in the right mood to actually read and enjoy them.

With that said, I enjoyed reading The Outpost and had trouble putting it down once I started. Baker does a good job of creating a tense, enjoyable page turner; one that draws the reader in from the first page and holds them to the end.

There were times, however, that it felt like Baker was trying to add too much to the plot line. Additions that either had little to nothing to give or that ended up going nowhere. Why have the revelation that a character isn’t who they say they are so late in the story? And then do nothing with it? Why have a character go insane yet not reveal what exactly caused them to go down that path?

There is a great deal that Baker unfortunately leaves unresolved. Things that could have easily been omitted and not affected the flow of the story at all. And while what he does resolve is important, at times it also feels rather rushed.

Despite it’s flaws, The Outpost is an enjoyable book. I would recommend it to my readers with the small caveat that it does have it’s flaws. Readers who enjoy a decent thriller will likely enjoy this one as well.