Ravaged (The Hunger #3), by Jason Brant

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A review by Terri Kinckner

Book description from Amazon:

Welcome to the mountains of Pennsylvania, one of the last vestiges of the human race.

Lance York, a self-described loser in another life, has rediscovered himself in the midst of the apocalypse. Along with a cadre of other survivors, including the hardened, sexy Cass, Lance has taken refuge in a compound, struggling to survive the onslaught of monstrosities descending upon them each night.

The horrors that have devoured mankind are changing, their minds rebooting like a computer. Intelligence, the lone advantage of the humans, is returning to the infected. They ravage the compound with calculated, precise strikes, chiseling away at the defenses Lance and his friends have erected.

With the help of new ally, Major Frank Colt, the flickering flame of the old world must fight to stave off the extinguishing tidal wave of the new one.

My take:

I was lucky enough to be chosen to beta read this book by the author.  This is the third book in The Hunger series, and I didn’t think he could top book two.  Book two was a fast-paced Hell ride through an apocalyptic nightmare.  I was wrong.  Book three blew me away and had me thinking of the book when I had to put it down and walk away and deal with real life.  I desperately wanted to lock myself away from everyone and read this book in one sitting.

The “Vladdies” as they’re referred to in the book are changing yet again.  They’re becoming more than just killing and eating machines, they’re thinking and communicating with each other.  Lance, Cass, Eifort, Doc Brown and the rest of the bunch found safety in the second book, but their safe haven became more of a trap once the Vladdies started planning ways to breach the security measures.  A rouge but small band of “military” also moves in to complicate things.  Making matters even worse, Cass is pregnant, making Lance’s need to protect her even stronger.

This book had non stop action, from beginning to end.  I barely had time to catch my breath before being dragged into the next crisis.  This is definitely a book for those who hate filler fluff, as there is absolutely none in this entire series.  I held my breath one minute, and laughed the next.  I was terrified to read the next page, and even cried a little at the end.

My fiance, who doesn’t read at all, paid rapt attention to my narration of this entire series as I’ve read it so far and insists that Jason needs to find a way to make these books into a movie.  I usually balk at those comments, but I tend to agree with him on this one.  I’d love to watch this and the last two books as movies… as long as:

1. Jason writes, directs, produces and casts said movie
2.  It’s a huge epic movie leaving absolutely NOTHING out.

I give this book 5 heart pounding stars out of 5

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Ash by Jason Brant

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A review by Terri Kinckner

Synopsis from Amazon:  

Some things should remain a secret.

My name is Asher Benson, and I can read your mind. Sounds great, right? It’s a nightmare. Every skeleton in your closet, every condescending thought flitting through your head, blares in my mind like a foghorn when you get close to me. I’ve been living in relative solitude for half a decade, scraping by with copious amounts of alcohol and self-loathing.

This morning was like any other, until a senator shot himself on live television and an entire floor of government analysts committed mass suicide. That was the rough start of a horrible day.

Now, I’m on the run with my only friend, an old Army buddy-turned-detective, as cops, spies, and a mind-controlling terrorist chase us through Baltimore’s violent streets. The government discovered my secret, and they’re upending Heaven and Hell to take me out. 

My take:

I received this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.  I honestly loved it!  I read the original novella, Echos, a long time ago and enjoyed it tremendously, but thought there could have been so much more to Asher Benson.  I was hoping for a sequel, but this is so much better!  I really got to know Ash better in this book, and his “friends” in this story are completely original and wonderful characters!

Ash is a horribly flawed person, though not through any fault of his own.   He’s an alcoholic who lives in squalor, and barely gets by on his disability check.  After suffering an injury in Afghanistan, he awakes to the realization he can hear people’s thoughts.  All of them.  Alcohol and isolation helps him to drown them out and numb himself.  A routine beer run changed his life when he walked past a bank and heard the terrified thoughts of the bank patrons as the bank was being robbed.  He stepped into the bank and his world turned on its axis.

Government corruption, espionage, a mass-murdering psychic, and a whole lot of action make up this book.  It was incredibly well written and had me on the edge of my seat (literally).  The thing I love the most about Jason Brants book is that his characters always make me laugh, even in the worst situations.  This book is no different.  The characters are completely different, yet meld together perfectly to create a comedic masterpiece in the midst of complete terror.  That’s the only way I can think to describe them.  Brilliant!

I am really hoping to see more of Asher Benson and his interesting group of friends, and the ending of this book seems to leave that possibility open.  I have my fingers crossed for many sequels!

I give this book 5 stars out of 5!

Consumed (The Hunger #2) by Jason Brant

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A review by:  Terri Kinckner

(I received this book from the author in exchange for an honest, unbiased review)

Wow.  Where do I begin?  This book takes off exactly where Devoured (book 1) ends.  This is not really a stand alone, so I recommend that you read the first in the series before this one.  Actually, the awesomeness of this book doubles when you read Jason’s short story, Lotion, that was in Cynthia Shepp’s Apocalypse Anthology.  Lotion was the story that started this entire series, introduced us to this world, and to a couple of the characters.  This latest installment in this series does not disappoint!

The action was intense and pretty much nonstop throughout the book.  That’s not the only great thing about this story.  This book is well-balanced.  What I mean by this is that the characters are written beautifully and grow through the story, the action is intense, the horror is vividly real, and there is just enough humor and even the occasional “Awww” moment to keep the scary stuff from overwhelming the reader.  This book has it all!

When this book starts off, Lance and Cass, Eifort and Dr. Emmett Brown (haha), are living on the Duchess, a boat, in the middle of the Allegheny River to avoid the victims of the Xavier virus.  These vampire-like once humans have taken over the night and have infected or eaten the majority of the population.  When their boat is destroyed, they have to move on and find another safe place to hide out from the monsters.

To make matters worse, a militia-like group of survivalists headed by a psychopath named Ralph are on a mission to wipe them out, too, thanks to Lance unwittingly angering Ralph in a restaurant in the previous book.  This just adds to the horror, as the group of four can’t seem to avoid one nightmare encounter after another.

There are several moments of hilarity in this book.  The banter between Lance and Cass had me laughing even through the scary moments, the Doc Brown and Back To the Future references and jokes made this geek giggle, and the daily ham radio reports from the Wild Man of Monroeville.  The Wild Man seemed to know exactly what was going on in the Pittsburgh area from his seemingly impenetrable hidden location, and his descriptions of the people and events had me literally laughing out loud.

There are some serious developments in this book that I didn’t see coming, and wow… that’s all I can say about that without giving away spoilers.  The end of the book had the stories coming full circle, with characters from the short story Lotion making their appearance, and the ending really threw me for a loop!  I didn’t want to put this book down, and re-read several sections after I finished because I simply was not ready to be done with these wonderful characters in this frightening but realistic world!

 

I give this book 5 stars out of 5!

Paranormal Anthology with a TWIST Compiled and Edited By Cynthia Shepp and Rene Folsom. Stories By Bart Hopkins, Michael Loring, Rene Folsom, Penelope Bartotto, Eaton Thomas Palmer, Jason Brant, Magen McMinimy, Anthony Lance, Nicki Scalise, S. L. Dearing, Jon Messenger

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A review by:  Terri Kinckner

Anthology description from Amazon:  What began as an idea soon set into motion a chain of events that would lead to heart-stopping action, amazing suspense, and stories that will stick with you way after you are done.

Unique, unexpected, beyond imagining…shocking TWISTS that will have you frantically turning back the pages to see what clues you overlooked to have missed what was coming.

Paranormal stories that span across the genre and will wow you, shock you, and leave you gasping for more.

11 different authors, one main idea, and worlds that will TWIST your imagination…

Voices of the Soul (Soul Seers One) by Rene Folsom

Orella (Ella) heard voices in her head, actually the thoughts of others, as long as she could remember.  She and her mother were in a terrible car accident shortly before her 14th birthday.  After Ella awoke in the hospital following the accident, she was brought to see her mother who was being kept alive on life support.  Her mother talked to her in her head, explaining the gift that she had and that she was a soul seer.  Her mother had this gift too.  She passed away shortly after telling Ella this.  Six years later, Ella was in college and a new student entered her class.  She and Jonah had an instant connection, and she learned that he was also a soul seer.  He helped her to understand her gift a bit more, and they explored the boundaries of what their gift could do.

The twist at the end of this story left me absolutely stunned and desperate to find out what happened next!  This story was gut-wrenching and sweet, exciting and really left an impact on me.  I can’t wait for the next one!

Number 18 by Michael Loring

Robert was a predator, carefully watching his chosen victim waiting for the perfect time to attack.  He was exact and precise as he stalked victim number 18, a petite brunette named Alexa, who was at a carnival with her boyfriend, Daniel.  He watched them as they argued about what stuffed animal to pick, and then knew he had his opportunity when Daniel headed back to the campsite, Alexa planning to meet up with him after using the ladies room.  The incredible detail mapped Robert’s sick mind and I felt like I was right there with them in the woods as he stalked her.  I literally held my breath, waiting for him to finish his horrific task.

The twist in this story was excellently written and detailed.  It was brutal, fierce, and perfectly ironic!  I couldn’t help but smile a little bit at the end of this one… sometimes you get what you deserve!  LOVED it!

Sweet Lenora, by Bart Hopkins

This story was set in the 1930’s about a girl, Lenora, who came from old money.  Always the dutiful daughter, she always listened to her ill bedridden mother. It seemed a lonely existence for Lenora.  The only people in her life were her mother who needed a lot of rest, and the servants who saw to her needs, but kept an emotional distance.  I was truly happy for Lenora when she met a boy named Charlie at school.  They wanted to spend more time together, but Lenora’s mother was not pleased with this new acquaintance, because he came from new money and wasn’t of the same social standing as her family.  Her mother arranged for Lenora to be escorted to the fair by Jakob Schmidt, a young man her mother deemed more acceptable, as he was from old money.  Lenora was miserable at the fair, and Charlie was pleased to see this as he hid in the shadows and watched.  At the end of the evening, Jakob became violent with Lenora and Charlie stepped in, striking Jakob with a rock and seeing Lenora safely home.

The twist in this particular story made her bizarre home life make absolute sense to me.  It was horrifying and awesome!

Truth or Dare, by Jon Messenger

This is a tale of four college kids having a few drinks and playing a game of truth or dare.  The loser would have to write the philosophy final for the winner.  Brent, Whitney, and Jake all took their turns;  the final truth or dare came to Jill,  Jake’s girlfriend.  She chose dare, and the dare was to spend the night in Creepy Cemetery;  a long-neglected cemetery near their campus.  Once at the cemetery, Jill heard whispers and saw ghostly apparitions but the real shock happens when…

The twist.  Not revealing it, though it surprised me and reminded me of a very important lesson at the same time.  A truly excellent story that really made me think!

Suburban Zombie, by Anthony Lance

Neighbors Ted, Dave and their respective families are zombies.  They live in a picture-perfect neighborhood in zombie suburbia.  As the mothers in the neighborhood drop their children off at school and discuss crumbed brains among themselves, they don’t realize they are being followed.  The neighborhood is being invaded by…

The twist in this story is very ironic and hilarious.  I loved the banter between the characters, and laughed out loud quite a few times while reading it.  I will never think of zombies the same way after reading this!

All I Want for Christmas, by Jason Brant

This is the story from a girl’s point of view, done exclusively in diary entries.  Thinking back to myself at thirteen, these entries are pretty accurate for a girl of that age.  She has a serious crush on Stevie and her parents won’t let her date yet.  Each entry is early-teen angst toward her parents and classmates at its finest!  Christmas was something she certainly wasn’t looking forward to, since Stevie was all she wanted…until she opened her gift.

The twist in this story came out of nowhere and I truly never saw it coming.  It was delicious!!!

In the Eyes of the Beholder, by Penelope Bartotto

In this short story, Dominic was a truck driver who had to spend weeks at a time away from the girl he loved, Rose.  He missed her terribly and planned on asking her to marry him when he got back home.  Rose, however, didn’t feel the same about Dominic.  She felt that men had only one purpose in the universe- to provide women with what they need, want, and desire.  Rose was not who Dominic thought she was.  She was planning to get ahead, using a rich man that she was seeing, Kevin, to her advantage.  Dominic was getting in the way of her plans, so she had to do something.  Luckily for Rose, she had everything she needed at her disposal.  She feigned an attack and had Dominic rush home to her, not even stopping to make his delivery first.  She drugged him and took him to a warehouse, where she planned to drain him of his life so she could be free to take advantage of Kevin.

The twist was eerie!  I loved this story, it played like a horror movie in my head.  I’m sure the secondary characters at the diner knew more than they let on, but that just added to the creepy factor to this story… well done!

Little Tchotchkes, by Nicki Scalise

This is the story of a vampire named Marcus who cased goth clubs for his next meal.  The girls were always willing to take him home, where he’d seduce them and then make them his meal.  He always took a trophy from each victim, keeping it in his apartment.  Bored with goth girls, an opportunity for a challenge presented itself when he paid for coffee for a girl who misplaced her wallet.  She showed up at his apartment with a coffee for him later that evening and made herself at home.  He befriended this woman, named Jules,  for a while waiting for his opportunity to get her to take him home with her.  He never fed at home. That chance never happened.

The twist in this one?  Wow!  Double wow!  Depravity is the word of the day with this story!  Absolutely brilliant ending!

I am Serna, by Magen McMinimy

I love witch stories, and this was no exception.  A white witch was trying to save her niece, Ariel, from the Serna the Witch Queen.  Ariel was already powerful, and the Witch Queen was worried that her powers might soon surpass her own.  Ariel’s niece hired Damon, a warlock and protector of the magical community to keep Ariel safe.  She was hiding in a town named Sebastopol, working in a small biker bar.  Damon flashed (teleported) himself to the little town and entered the bar, meeting Ariel.  Ariel knew who he was immediately, and accused him of leading Serna to her when hellhounds attacked them in the parking lot.  Luckily, Damon killed as many as he could and flashed Ariel to the hotel room he was staying in while in town.  After guarding Ariel for a little while, he became attracted to her and wanted to get to know her better.  He flashed her to his home and…

This twist caught me by surprise!  I loved the ending to this, and actually re-read it to see if I had missed a clue as to what would happen!

Bloodlines, by S.L. Dearing

This story took place in WWII era Germany.  A general was searching for two children, Sascha and Eduard Engel.  They found their mother, but she had carefully hidden them under the floorboards.  They had been forced to witness the interrogation and removal of their mother through the wood slats.  All they had left of her was an oval, bronze pendant.  A kind neighbor rescued them and sent them off to France to stay with a man named Patrice.  Patrice was a wonderful man, and the children were delighted to find out that he was their grandfather and that their mother was his daughter.  They shared a special gift, they could hear each other’s thoughts.  The general soon located the family, and went to the house.  This is when the twist happens.

This twist was scary, amazing and finally beautiful!  This story left me grinning and happy.  It would have made a fine full-length novel, too!

Metronome, by Eaton Thomas Palmer

This short story took place in a psychiatric wing of a maximum security prison.  Matthew, a serial killer, is a patient that Dr. Edgar Collins is determined to rehabilitate.  His nurse, Erin, isn’t quite as optimistic.  Matthew saw himself as a spider, preying on the evil and foul people in the world.  He made a dagger in the shape of a spider’s fang, and dipped the end in poison, so that when he killed his victim, it resembled the demise of a spider’s prey.  While in therapy, Matthew was confident and smug, in control of himself and quite able to strike fear into the heart of Erin.  In  his cell, however, he became the prey.  The clock just outside his cell tormented him endlessly, telling him to listen to him and not cry out.  If he didn’t follow the clock’s instructions the clock would stop, ending Matthew’s life.  The doctor was quite irritated by Matthew’s belief that the stopping of the clock would cause him to die, so he ordered a guard to cut power to the clock.  He told Matthew that he deserved a day out of his cell, and that he could spend it in the lounge.  This excited Matthew, and he stepped out into the hallway, instantly noticing that the clock had stopped.

The twist in this story was excellent!  The horror inflicted on Matthew may have matched the horror Matthew inflicted upon his victims.  This was a beautifully-crafted psychological nightmare!

I also want to point out that Cynthia Shepp has been absolutely amazing, not only in getting established authors to think outside the box and submit a short story, but also to readers who aspire to write.  Hers is truly a labor of love, and these anthologies have allowed many readers to live their dream of seeing their work in print.  Cynthia, you are awesome!

As a whole, I give this anthology a resounding 5 stars out of five!

Aces High, by Elle Casey and Jason Brant

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A review by Terri Kinckner

I consider myself insanely lucky to have gotten this book to read as a beta. I’ve been a big fan of both Elle Casey and Jason Brant for a while now, and LOVE interacting with them as they insult one another on Facebook. That being said, when it comes to beta reads, I’m tough, impersonal, and fair.

This story had me hooked by the very first paragraph. One can not simply walk away and leave this book to read more later. This is a one sitting, marathon, fly by the seat of your pants ride! Being so familiar with both writer’s styles, I could tell who wrote what parts, but they meshed so perfectly. This book is a work of art!

Charlie has been in foster home after foster home her entire life. Now, at 18, she is on her own and has the street smarts to survive. Normal rules don’t apply to Charlie. She is bold, smart, funny, and has the quickest wit of any of Elle’s characters to date (that is saying a lot!) She gets by beating old men in poker in the basement of a Chinese restaurant. When she catches her across the hall neighbor, Douglas, peeking into her keyhole, Charlie does what she does best. A shock and awe type confrontation ending in a meal of eggs and an unlikely partnership. (Huh? Yeah, I know, but it makes sense once you read it, I swear!)

Douglas is a recently expelled college student. He was expelled for hacking into his teacher’s computer for all the right reasons. He wasn’t ready to tell his mother and decided to spend some time living in his deceased author father’s apartment, living off of his father’s royalties until he could work up the nerve to tell her. Too late. She found out, wiped out his accounts and evicted him, literally leaving him homeless and broke. His only hope to make enough money was partnering with Charlie to catch fugitives and collect the reward money. With him as the brain, and her as the brawn, what could possibly go wrong? Jason Brant wrote this character incredibly well. Douglas is insanely smart, awkward, germaphobic, and exactly just enough wit to compete with Elle Casey’s Charlie. A perfect match! The evolution of their partnership into friendship, and the trust that it required was really heartwarming.

The story itself is flawless, the characters so real that I completely forgot I was reading a book. That is what seals it for me, I HAVE to be emotionally involved enough in the story that I forget that I’m turning pages and reading words. This book did this for me! I laughed out loud (not recommended for reading in a place where hysterical bouts of laughter are not acceptable), I shook my head at the decisions these youngsters were making, cheered them on, and when I got to the supernatural twist, I was floored. This is something I’ve never read about, but always wondered about. I won’t divulge more information, you’ll have to get the book and find out yourself! I also learned a whole plethora of new insults that I’ve already tried on my co-workers. You can never go wrong with Casey/Brant insults!

If it were possible to give more than five stars, I’d give…like…elevendy seven! I am so looking forward to the next book in this series. (YAY! It’s not going to end!!!)

I give this book 5 stars out of 5 (a royal flush, of course!)

The Dark by Jason Brant Release date Friday, February 8, 2013

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A review by Terri Kinckner

Book description from Amazon:

Christy Barnett is sleeping when her aging German shepherd Molly growls into the darkness outside her bedroom. She wakes to a dim glow provided by her Kindle’s screen, thankful that she had fallen asleep while reading again. The power has gone out, the world outside her window has gone eerily dark and silent. And Molly is weary of something that waits in the hallway, hiding in the shadows.

A dark cloud has fallen over the city of Aberdeen, MD. The population disappears in an instant. For the handful of survivors, those lucky enough to have a light source not connected to the power grid, it’s more than terrifying. They’re left alone, walking through a nightmare, and that is a fate that could be worse than death itself.

The darkness is alive and it is the reason we fear the night.

My take:

I was excited to get this book to beta read, and it did not disappoint! From the very beginning, I had goosebumps and was looking over my shoulder. Jason has a way of making you part of the story, as if you’re following the characters around and experiencing everything they do. His characters were all unique from each other, yet they combined to make an excellent cast.

As the town was shrouded in darkness, I knew no more than the characters did. Being kept in the dark just added to my terror. The psychological horror that happened to these characters were just as bad as the tangible events they faced. The reference to another one of his books, The Gate, just made me think about the cause of this plague of darkness even more. That’s one thing I love about Jason’s work. It’s never only what you see, there is always some epiphany that hits you out of nowhere. This book is no exception.

The banter between the characters was great, they felt so real to me. I found myself chuckling at the amateur attempts at chivalry from the smitten teen, sympathizing with Walter, and rolling my eyes at Scott. It made me smile when I realized Christy was saved by a kindle, and her dog reminded me of my German Shepherd Sadie, who lived to be almost as ancient and completely as loyal at 12.

The ending to this book was excellent, and answered a lot of questions. It also left room for perhaps a sequel? Please? I truly enjoyed this book and really hope I get to hear more from these characters. This book was excellently written!

I give this book 5 stars out of 5!

SHEOL, By Jason Brant

A review by Terri Kinckner

This is the third and  final installment of the West Of Hell series.  When I read the first two books, Gehenna and Tartarus, I loved them.  This final book made me love them more.  So much more that I have to go and read the entire series over again!  This is not just your typical zombie series…

When I sat down to do this review, I had a hard time trying to figure out how to describe this book without giving away the surprise.  It took until I finished this incredible story to realize exactly what the story was about.  There is so much more to the story than what you immediately see!

The second book ended with Karen arriving in  Sheol, and McCall facing death outside a house by the desert.  Karen finds that an evil outlaw from the train that she had assumed to be dead, was actually the sheriff of Sheol, who locked her up in jail, intending to hang her.  In the third book, McCall, who has an uncanny ability to cheat certain death, came to her rescue. With the zombies advancing on the town, Karen and McCall try to rally the citizens to fight back until all they could do was escape.

The action in this book is nonstop, the dialogue was wonderful and the imagery that Jason Brant portrays is amazing.  While reading, I felt that I could see, hear, and even smell what was going on.  There was a time or two that I swore I could taste the gunpowder residue in my mouth… it is that vivid!  Karen and McCall made an excellent team, and the evolution of these characters was wonderful.  Karen started out a independent-minded prostitute and ended up needing to care for an orphaned child.  I love what a strong character she is, and was happy to see her take a leadership role in this book.  McCall was at first, a self-centered unemotional man, but by the end of the series, sacrificed so much for those he grew to care about… and even those he didn’t.

The ending of this book made me stop and give pause.  Was everything I read really everything there was?  Absolutely not!  What on the surface was an excellently-written, action packed zombie book actually turned out to be something much deeper!  I was literally blown away by this “revelation”!  This is a must-read book in a must-read series!

I give this book a divine 5 stars out of 5!