Ebook Reviews: Return to the Lost Level and School’s Out by Brian Keene

5 03 2018


Return to the Lost Level by Brian Keene

Apex Publishing

Grade: A

In the second book in the series, Brian Keene cranks up the pulpy goodness to 11. Return to the Lost Levels offers a quest, some “new” characters, death defying (and not-quite-defying) action and just enough interdimensial weirdness to through me into full on squee mode. The Lost Level series is the perfect blend of modern science fiction concepts, classic pulpiness and Keene’s own special mythology. Yet must importantly, it’s pure joy to read. While I love the novel as a whole, the little side peeks into some of the alternate realities was the highlight for me, as well as the cool little short story attached to the end. The Lost Level series is the most fun I have had reading a print novel since Joe Lansdale’s Drive In series, and I can’t wait to see which roads Keene takes us down next.


schools out

School’s Out by Brian Keene

Grade: B

In School’s Out, Keene doesn’t break much new ground in the post apocalyptic world. Yet, where this novella stands out is in the voice of it’s main character and the pure visceralness of the writing. Inspired by his sons view of the apocalypse, Keene doesn’t cute it up. This isn’t some cozy apocalypse, but a brutal landscape seen through the eyes of a child. Keene doesn’t attempt to make his main character anything more than he is, a normal kid dealing with a situation that most adults would have trouble grasping. Keene delivers the tale in a way that brutally honest to kids, yet never gratuitously so. There is no agenda or attempts to teach moral lessons, just revealing a potential world as realistically as possible. I think this would be a good tale to read with a child, and may lead to some interesting conversations.

Audiobook Review: City of the Dead: Author’s Preferred Edition by Brian Keene

12 02 2018

City of the Dead

City of the Dead: Author’s Preferred Edition by Brian Keene

Narrated by Joe Hempel

Crossroad Press

Grade: B+

It’s really hard to review the audio version of a book you read originally over 10 years ago. When I first read The Rising and City of the Dead, the current wave of Zombie fic was in it’s infancy. Over a decade later, and I can now truly appreciate how truly cutting edge and influential this novel has become. Also, as I followed Brian Keene’s career, one thing that truly stuck out to me in City of the Dead was how personal this novel must have been for him. City of the Dead isn’t just a novel about inter dimensional “demons” inhabiting the bodies of the dead to eliminate life on this earth, it’s also an often heartbreaking look at a man reconnecting with his child and understanding what it means to be a father. Like most of Keenes’s book, while grounded in traditional tropes, it’s far from a traditional zombie novel. Fans of Keene will rejoice at having these new versions of The Rising and City of the Dead to embrace, and be slightly jealous of the new fans getting to experience these stories for the first time.

Joe Hempel has to take on the task of bring a world alive that is already alive in my brain. Like in most cases, Hempel’s interpretations don’t really match up with how I originally imagined them. Yet, often times, his choices were probably better. His voices for the Siqqusim were more human sounding then I imagined them, but that makes sense and actually makes the “zombies” even more creepy. Where he really excels is driving the pace of the action and building the tension, along with truly bringing to life the relationships between the characters. He has a smooth, crisp delivery style and never falls into the “deep dark horror voice” trap that is overused in this genre. While those new to the series should fully embrace Hempel’s performance, the toughest critics, those fans reliving the book, will be more than satisfied with his performance.

Audiobook Review: Ghost Walk by Brian Keene

30 04 2017

Ghost Walk

Ghost Walk by Brian Keene

Read by Chet Williamson

Crossroad Press

Grade: B

I have had a very sporadic love affair with Brian Keene. Well, at least his books. I’ve loved many of his books, particularly is apocalyptic novels, but have only read a few of his more traditional horror novels. Now that he has a deal with Crossroads Press to release his books into audio, I plan to flesh out my collection. My first foray into this is Ghost Walk, the loose follow up to his novel Dark Hollow. Ghost Walk is a serviceable one-off horror tale of a Halloween Attraction gone tragically awry due to supernatural interventions. Yet, where it truly excels in it’s place in Brian Keene’s larger mythos and in particular, the introduction of one of his reoccurring character, Levi Stoltzfus. One thing you learn quickly in Brian Keene’s scarred from their encounters with the entities from the labyrinth, and the implications of these scars ripple out beyond the ending of any particular book. Ghost Walk is old school horror that truly is horrific.

Chet Williamson is one of those narrators that isn’t always my cup of tea. He has more of the old school style akin to many of the originals big voices of audiobook Narration like George Guidall or Richard Ferrone. I’m not typically a fan of this style yet occasionally, with the right book it works. I though his performance in Keene’s The Complex was outstanding. I wasn’t as enamored here, but as the book played out, and things seemed to get more bizarre and crazy I fell under his spell. Williamson is strongest in this genre, and he delivers a solid performance that is suited to this book.

Audiobook Review: 21st Century Dead: A Zombie Anthology edited by Christopher Golden

6 05 2013


2013 Zombie Awareness Month

21st Century Dead edited by Christopher Golden (Check out the Full Story Listing After the Review)

Read by Scott Brick, Cassandra Campbell, Bernadette Dunne, Paul Michael Garcia, Kirby Heyborne, Malcolm Hillgartner, Chris Patton, John Pruden, Renée Raudman, Stefan Rudnicki, Sean Runnette, Simon Vance, and Tom Weiner

Blackstone Audio

Length: 12 Hrs 40 Min

Genre: Zombie Anthology

Quick Thoughts: 21st Century Dead is a zombie anthology full of wonderful, bizarre and diverse stories involving zombies and other iterations of the undead in such variety it would make both Baskin and Robbins jealous. Some of the top tales come from new to me authors like Mark Morris and Amber Benson with a special shout out to Chelsea Cain. If you are looking for a wide variety of unique tales about zombies of all shapes, colors and tastes, 21st Century Dead is a worthwhile buffet of zombie shorts

Grade: B+

So, I was thinking about a good way to explain an excellent and diverse Zombie anthology, because I know the concept is so complex that it needs explaining, and the phrase that popped into my head was “Zombie Smorgasbord.” Oh, boy. When I was in high school, back in what some people refer to as “the 90’s” or what many of my fellow bloggers may call “before I was born” I worked for a now defunct Buffet restaurant. I started as a dishwasher, worked my way up to pots and eventually became a skilled line cook. I never made it out of the kitchen of course because, as my boss at the time explained it, “You have a face for back of the kitchen work.” Back then, I really wasn’t that into Zombie lit. It would be about another 12 years until I read Brian Keene’s The Rising and became a huge Zombie fan. Yet, it was about the time I was working my way through The Stand, and Swan Song for like the third time each, and I totally thought that working at this Buffet would give me a leg up when it came time to load up on supplies for that cross country apocalyptic road trip. So, where was I… oh yeah…? Zombie Smorgasbord. So, when this phrase popped into my mind, so too did wonderful variety of images. I pictured a bunch of Zombies shuffling past a serving table full of entrails, brains and a variety of limbs. I see a plainly decorated establishment where a zombie works the carving station, carving [insert grotesque image here]. I see stalls full of zombies available for the choosing, carefully managed by the FIFO system where the nastiest maggot infested zombies are at the front and the fresher, nearly human looking zombies are in the back. You see, this illustrates my point, a good Zombie anthology is full of a variety of awesome and disturbing, but mostly awesomely disturbing stories for our twisted flavorful brains.

21st Century Dead is a zombie anthology edited by Christopher Golden full of wonderful, bizarre and diverse stories involving zombies and other iterations of the undead in such variety it would make both Baskin and Robbins jealous. This anthology is packed full of some of my favorite authors including Brian Keene, Jonathon Maberry and Thomas E. Sniegoski, some authors I have always wanted to read including SG Browne, Amber Benson and Duane Swierczynski and new to me authors that I must now check out like Ken Bruen, Mark Morris and Stephen Susco. So, now onto the stories. The anthology started out with an intriguing tale of a society adapting to a world with zombies called Biters by Mark Morris. It was a wonderful start to the anthology and put me in the right mind. Then it hit me in the head with a creepy and a bit sardonic poem by Chelsea Cain which, along with the performance of the narrator Cassandra Campbell was one of the highlights of this audiobook. Since there were about 20 tales in all, I won’t mention them all, but for there’s something here from all zombie fans. There are more traditional Zombie Outbreak tales like Jack and Jill by Jonathan Maberry, Couch Potato by Brian Keene and The Dead of Dromore by Ken Bruen, some interesting twists on the undead like Devil Dust by Caitlin Kittredge, Ghost Dog & Pup: Stay by Thomas E. Sniegoski and Tender as Teeth by Stephanie Crawford and Duane Swierczynsk, and some really bizarre tales like The Drop by Stephen Susco, Antiparallelogram by Amber Benson and Carousel by Orson Scott Card.  Sadly, not all the tales were winners. Two of bigger draws for this anthology, Kirt Sutter and Daniel H. Wilson were a bit of a disappointment. I thought Sutter’s tale was simply bizarre, and not in a good way, and while Wilson’s tale, which takes place in the world he created in Robopocalypse, started off well, it lost its way. Yet, most of these tales were a lot of fun. If you are looking for a wide variety of unique tales about zombies of all shapes, colors and tastes, 21st Century Dead is a worthwhile buffet of zombie shorts.

Like the author list, 21st Century Dead was a mix of narrators, many of whom I am familiar with, while others I have wanted to experience for a while. As I said earlier, Cassandra Campbell’s reading of “Why Mothers Let Their Babies Watch Television: A Just-So Horror Story” was delightful and my favorite moment along the way. Scott Brick’s reading of The Drop creeped me out, making a strange story just a bit stranger. It was nice to once again listen to Tom Weiner read a Jonathan Maberry tale. Really, this anthology was just full of excellent performances, including tales read by Chris Patton, Bernadette Dunne, Simon Vance and Paul Michael Garcia. It was a little interesting to hear Sean Runnette reading a non-Tufo Zombie tale, but the story was perfect for his sense of humor. The biggest kudos for this production must go to whoever cast the audiobook. Blackstone did an excellent job placing just the right narrator with the right story.


Zombies are good for you: an introduction by Christopher Golden
Biters by Mark Morris
Why mothers let their babies watch television : a just-so horror story by Chelsea Cain
Carousel by Orson Scott Card
Reality bites by S.G. Browne
Drop by Stephen Susco
Antiparallelogram by Amber Benson
How we escaped our certain fate by Dan Chaon
Mother’s love by John McIlveen
Down and out in dead town by Simon R. Green
Devil dust by Caitlin Kittredge
Dead of Dromore by Ken Bruen
All the comforts of home : a beacon story by John Skipp, Cody Goodfellow
Ghost dog & pup : stay by Thomas E. Sniegoski
Tic boom : a slice of love by Kurt Sutter
Jack and Jill by Jonathan Maberry
Tender as teeth by Stephanie Crawford, Duane Swierczynski
Couch potato by Brian Keene
Happy bird and other tales by Rio Youers
Parasite by Daniel H. Wilson

Note: Special Thanks to Blackstone Audio for providing me with a copy of this title for review.

Audiobook Review: Darkness on the Edge of Town by Brian Keene

12 02 2013

Darkness On the Edge of Town by Brian Keene

Read by Eric Medler

Audio Realms

Length: 6 Hrs 57 Min

Genre: Horror

Quick Thoughts: Darkness on the Edge of Town is moody atmospheric Horror tale full of strong characters and plenty of scares. Keene creates a recognizable story, set amidst a group of people whose isolation from the world reflects the isolation from their communities before the darkness came. Fans of Apocalyptic and Horror Fiction will enjoy this claustrophobic tale of evil, both human and otherwise.

Grade: B+

This may surprise you, but I haven’t always been the Zombie obsessed reader that you have the misfortune of dealing with today. It’s true. As a child, I was pretty innocent. The first book I remember reading by myself was The Bible, the King James Version in particular, which while having references to the dead rising, really isn’t a zombie novel, not even fast running rage zombies. As a child, I enjoyed books about kids crossing the Atlantic in large pieces of fruit, and I’m pretty he wasn’t escaping the zombie hordes but maybe grasshoppers or his parents or something. I read books about little houses on prairies, and not underground bunkers or fortified cities with murder holes to dispatch hordes of shambling meatbags. In fact, if you wanted to find someone to blame for my current states of obsessive devourer of Zombie literature, you can blame Brian Keene. Before reading The Rising. most of my reading choices were legal thrillers and detective novels, with the occasional Stephen King or Dean Koontz thrown in. Sure, I had been obsessed with Post Apocalyptic novels since I read Z for Zachariah in elementary school, but, at least at first, it was typical apocalyptic novels of Plagues, Alien Invasions and Comet strikes. Before reading Brian Keene, my apocalypses didn’t included walking corpses, undead animals, or even giant worms. That would have been ridiculous. Yet, now, here I am, devouring books about Zombies like they are some especially tasty entrails ripped from the chest cavity of my latest victim. Now, I’m sure I would have found my way to Zombie literature without The Rising, but, you have to blame someone, so I’m giving you your scapegoat, Brian Keene. Now, let’s talk about Darkness on the Edge of Town, because, well, it’s not about zombies. I promise.

On one strange day, when the sun fails to rise, the people of Walden Virginia find themselves cut off from the world. Now, in perpetual darkness, people within the town begin to give into their darkest desires, encouraged by something within the Darkness itself, something ancient and evil. One man, Robbie, a pizza delivery man, sees his world crumbling down around him and knows that something must be done before he Darkness takes them all. Darkness on the Edge of Town is claustrophobic horror at its very best. It has been far too long since I have read a Brian Keene novel, and I had forgotten what I really like about him. Keene’s world isn’t inhabited by super spies, or big time movers and shakers, instead, its regular people, thrown into horrible situations, who must find ways to rise above before they give into their darkest desires. Keene knows that there is evil in all of us, and that overcoming that evil is a constant struggle. His characters aren’t cookie cutter hero types, or even typical antiheros. They are your neighbors, and although you really don’t know their names or if they are good people, you recognize them, and either cheer for or fear them. Darkness on the Edge of Town is such an exploration. There is a segment where Robbie talks about Coming of Age Tales, how they are all set in small towns, where everyone knows everyone. Darkness on the Edge of Town isn’t one of these books. Keene uses the modern distrust of your neighbors, and the lack of any true sense of community to create an effective tale of horror. It’s well orchestrated, and actually quite scary, with the human evils on par or even surpassing the evils of an external supernatural force. A few fair warnings if this would be your first Keene novel. Keene rarely writes happy or even tight endings. He often will leave a lot up in the air for readers to think on, yet provide you with enough information to allow your imaginations to run wild. I personally think this is one of Keene’s best traits. He forces the reader to insert themselves into the narrative, and I think this creates a unique experience for each reader. Also, like Stephen King, Keene has a pervasive, multiverse mythology at play in most of his books. In many ways, it’s like a beautifully crafted puzzle, with each piece a work of art all its own, but together giving us a broader look at the universe. Darkness on the Edge of Town is moody atmospheric Horror tale full of strong characters and plenty of scares. Keene creates a recognizable story, set amidst a group of people whose isolation from the world reflects the isolation from their communities before the darkness came. Fans of Apocalyptic and Horror Fiction will enjoy this claustrophobic tale of evil, both human and otherwise.

Shockingly, this is the first novel by Brian Keene that I have listened to in audio. One of the reasons that Brian Keene’s novels have sort of fallen off my radar was my transition from the majority of my reading done in print to audio. I’ve been a bit hesitant to listen to one of Keene’s novels, because far too often narrators of horror novels are chosen more for their dark and eerie voices, than whether they fit the characters. With Keene, I think a dark ominous voice may work for some moments within the tale, but Keene’s characters are typically regular people, and not horror movie narrators. Luckily, with Darkness on the Edge of Town, I found narrator Eric Medler perfectly cast for this production. Medler became Robbie for me, infusing the character with a sense of authenticity. His reading wasn’t perfectly polished, because, being a first person epistolary narrative, it shouldn’t be perfectly polished. Medler added the right amount of affectations to his reading to make it feel like we were actually being told a story, and not having a story professionally narrated at us. I didn’t love all of his characters, and would have liked to see a bit more Southern Charm added to some of the characters, yet most of his characterizations were strong. I think he was especially strong in his voicing of Dez, a mentally unstable character who perhaps held the key to what was happening. There was an important scene, an interaction between Robbie and Dez that was perfectly handled and I found just enthralling. Medler has a limited library of titles available, but I do hope that is something that changes in the future.