Book Review – The White Forest by Adam McOmber (2013)

The White Forest
by Adam McOmber
Release Date: July 9, 2013
Publisher: Touchstone Publishing

The White Forest

Every now and then, a book is published that transcends all genre stereotypes and almost instantly marks itself down as a contemporary classic. These books are usually few and far between, and they always leave a lasting impression upon the literature community. THE WHITE FOREST, a debut novel by Adam McOmber, might very well fit into this modern classic category. Well-written with stunning imagery, believable characters, and a thrilling plot, this book is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

If you are not familiar with THE WHITE FOREST, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the press release:

In this hauntingly original debut novel about a young woman whose peculiar abilities help her infiltrate a mysterious secret society, Adam McOmber uses fantastical twists and dark turns to create a fast-paced, unforgettable story. Young Jane Silverlake lives with her father in a crumbling family estate on the edge of Hampstead Heath. Jane has a secret—an unexplainable gift that allows her to see the souls of man-made objects—and this talent isolates her from the outside world. Her greatest joy is wandering the wild heath with her neighbors, Madeline and Nathan. But as the friends come of age, their idyll is shattered by the feelings both girls develop for Nathan, and by Nathan’s interest in a cult led by Ariston Day, a charismatic mystic popular with London’s elite. Day encourages his followers to explore dream manipulation with the goal of discovering a strange hidden world, a place he calls the Empyrean. A year later, Nathan has vanished, and the famed Inspector Vidocq arrives in London to untangle the events that led up to Nathan’s disappearance. As a sinister truth emerges, Jane realizes she must discover the origins of her talent, and use it to find Nathan herself, before it’s too late.

I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this book. I’ve read a lot of hype about it prior to actually reading it, so I was concerned that I might be disappointed. Thankfully, McOmber’s book not only lives up to the buzz, it surpasses it in a big way. This is a fantastic read all the way around.

THE WHITE FOREST is written very well. McOmber’s writing style is elegant and swift, like a flowing river of silk, and lacks any sort of trepidation when it comes to thrilling the reader with its actions. I never once felt bogged down by the writing, nor did I ever lose my focus due to sentence structure or word usage. This type of writing allows the reader full immersion into the world created on the page.

The characters are believable and flawed, giving the reader a reason to actually invest in them. Whereas some historical fiction embellishes the characters to the point of absurdity, THE WHITE FOREST does not take such liberties. McOmber appears to take great pains in giving his readers more than one reason to come back to the story.

And what a story it is! McOmber weaves a dark and magical world within the actual world of Victorian London and creates a believable yet terrifying reality that could have existed therein. Several reviews I have read of this book mention ‘Gothic chills’ and frights, and every one of those is spot on; this is a haunting book that lingers long after the cover is closed.

THE WHITE FOREST is an excellent debut and I highly recommend giving it a look. The book is available now in a variety of formats, so check it out soon.

MSB

Movie Review – The Conspiracy (2013)

The Conspiracy
Directed by Christopher McBride
Courtesy of Entertainment One
Release Date: August 8, 2013 (in theaters)

The Conspiracy

I have to be honest and admit that I had never heard of this film prior to watching it…but I will bet my gall bladder that it will very soon become a household title, much like JAWS or THE GODFATHER. THE CONSPIRACY is a fresh and inventive foray into a chilling world of actual possibility. And while some of the content within the film might not be factual, there’s enough real-world data to paint a chilling picture of what could be going on right under our noses.

If you are not familiar with THE CONSPIRACY, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the film’s press release:

Two childhood friends and filmmakers make a documentary about the incredible growth of the global conspiracy culture.  But their tiny project takes a mysterious turn when the chief subject of their film disappears without a trace. The complex research he leaves leads to a trail into the highest levels of power and a dark shape of an ancient and mysterious society is slowly revealed.  The stakes are raised and their suspicions disintegrate into a chilling fear and the filmmakers wonder if they will even survive to finish their film. THE CONSPIRACY melds the very real world of modern conspiracy scholarship with a fictionalized documentary style, capitalizing on the contemporary appetite for pseudo-reality based thrills while telling an ingenious story. 

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I sat down to watch this film. I figured it would be entertaining, but I had no idea just how riveting it was going to be. I was so engrossed with it that the credits started rolling before I knew what was happening.

THE CONSPIRACY is shot well and looks great overall. The film is done in a half documentary, half found-footage style, and I am particularly impressed with how steady the camera shots are throughout. Many found-footage movies impose shaky camera shots that take me out of the action; there’s none of that here, which allows for full-immersion into the film.

The acting is also very good. Actors Aaron Poole and James Gilbert do an excellent job with their roles, giving believable and adept performances. Likewise, the supporting cast is outstanding and only lend more credibility to an already amazing film.

If I were forced to find a flaw with THE CONSPIRACY, I simply could not. It is shot well, the production value is high, and the suspense is top-notch. In short, you can’t ask for much more in a thriller like this.

While it is not true horror, THE CONSPIRACY is still a hell of a film and one I highly recommend checking out. It will not hit theaters until next month, so be sure and make a note to give it a look.

MSB

Movie Review – Road Hell (2013)

Road Hell
Directed by Draven Gonzalez, Pete Jacelone & Alex Pucci
Courtesy of Camp Motion Pictures
Release Date: July 16, 2013

Road Hell

Before I start this review, I must state that this film is a low-budget anthology. Some of my readers have expressed an instant dislike for low-budget horror flicks, so if this is you, feel free to stop reading now. But if you are like me and enjoy the creativity and determination that smaller films can bring, please continue on. ROAD HELL, while far from perfect, is a mildly entertaining jaunt that many people will enjoy.

If you are not familiar with ROAD HELL, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Camp Motion Pictures:

When a horrific accident forces a deeply dysfunctional couple to check into a decrepit motel, a lecherous and deranged desk clerk arranges for them to witness three unholy visions of the macabre. But when cautionary tales of bloodlust, deadly creatures and a world filled with the undead don’t faze these two narcissists, stronger measures are right at hand.

The vision that these three filmmakers had in mind when they started putting ROAD HELL together is not very evident in the execution of the film, but thankfully it is still fun to watch for the most part. I like the premise, how the primary story is accented with the other three tales. And some of the acting is pretty good, too, although much of it does leave a lot to be desired.

ROAD HELL is shot pretty well overall and looks good for the most part. It is definitely low budget and that is reinforced with spotty sound and low-lit scenes. But the production crew does a heck of a job with what they have to work with.

The special effects are both hit and miss. The hits come from the gore. I am impressed with some of the carnage the special effects team was able to conjure up. But the misses come from the second segment where a tiger is involved. The practical effects for the tiger look like a joke and the CG portion reminds me of early Nintendo days. I have to confess that when the tiger was revealed, my interest in the story was almost completely lost.

But don’t watch ROAD HELL for the special effects…instead, watch it for the colorful characters. Granted, the acting is very bad in many cases, but there are a couple of folks that shine through, including John Link who portrays the warped hotel owner Dickey Sussex. Link does a great job with his role and relishes every minute of it. For a guy whose IMDB page reads like a B-grade porn movie checklist, Link shows a lot of talent in this one.

ROAD HELL will certainly not be for everyone, but I kinda liked it. It’s not perfect, but look past its shortcomings and you might just have a good time. The film hits store shelves next week.

MSB

Movie Review – Citadel (2012)

Citadel
Directed by Ciaran Foy
Courtesy of FlatIron Film Company
Release Date: January 29, 2013

citadel-blu-ray

I love horror films that use real-world issues as their basis. A few days ago, I reviewed 6 SOULS, a dark movie that dealt with multiple personality disorders. Today I offer you CITADEL, an extremely effective trip into terror that uses agoraphobia (basically, the fear of going outside) as its foundation. Taut and disturbing, this film will take you to the edge of horror and then push you over.

If you are not familiar with CITADEL, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of FlatIron Film Company:

Tommy Cowley is a young father afflicted with chronic agoraphobia since his wife was brutally attacked by a gang of a twisted feral children. Trapped in the dilapidated suburbia of Edenstown, he finds himself terrorized by the same gang, who now seem intent on taking his baby daughter. Torn between the help of an understanding nurse and a vigilante priest, Tommy sets out to learn the nightmarish truth surrounding these hooded children. He also discovers that to be free of his fears, he must finally face the demons of his past and enter the one place that he fears the most—the abandoned tower block known as the Citadel.

This movie kept me tense and on-edge throughout its entirety. The aspect of Tommy’s baby girl in danger along with him only made the movie more intense, and I actually had to stand up a couple of times while watching the film because I was so nervous. This is exactly the kind of reaction a horror movie is supposed to give, and CITADEL offers plenty of reasons to give them.

The film is shot well and the production value looks very high. It is a collaboration between Ireland and UK film companies, and every facet of the film looks excellent onscreen.

I am particularly impressed with the acting in CITADEL. Aneurin Barnard portrays the main character, Tommy, and does a stunning job in the role. His wide emotional range and vivid attention to detail are a sight to behold. He doesn’t just play Tommy, he is Tommy. Also noteworthy is James Cosmo, the iconic actor who portrays the priest. I enjoyed his work in GAME OF THRONES and SONS OF ANARCHY, so it is a joy to see him here.

CITADEL is a huge win for me and I would wager any fan of horror and/or thrillers will enjoy it. Be prepared for a heck of ride, though; this is not a film that you can sit idly through. The film is available now, so give it a look for sure.

MSB

Movie Review – Blood Runs Cold (2011)

Blood Runs Cold
Directed by Sonny Laguna
Courtesy of Gaiam Vivendi Entertainment & The Collective
Original Release Date: 2011
Release Date: July 2, 2013

Blood Runs Cold

I’ve seen many foreign horror films over the years, but I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Swedish slasher flick before. I didn’t even realize this film was foreign until I started watching it and heard the actors speaking English with thick accents. But do the Swedish know how to make a good slasher flick? Well yes…and no. BLOOD RUNS COLD is an effective and chilling horror film, but it does have a couple of issues.

If you are not familiar with BLOOD RUNS COLD, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of the press release:

In the dead of winter, Winona, a successful musician, looking to relax and find creative inspiration, returns to her hometown to stay in a cabin rented by her manager. When she arrives, she coincidentally runs into her old boyfriend and some friends. Continuing their reunion at the cabin, the houseguests quickly discover that they are not alone. Blood Runs Cold is a frostbitten slasher that turns the snow red with gore. This snowy massacre will keep you chilled to the end.

Before I start this review, I feel I should preface it by stating this one will contain spoilers. I don’t normally reveal a lot of specifics in my reviews, and I do this on purpose; after all, why should you watch something I recommend if I’ve already disclosed everything to you? But there are a couple of big aspects in this one that bugged me, so I’m going to point them out and see if anyone feels the same.

BLOOD RUNS COLD is shot very well for the most part and looks great overall. There are a few shaky camera angles when the intensity kicks up, but nothing that really detracts too much from the film overall. Also, the special effects and gore are excellent; there are some truly cringe-inducing scenes that get a nice boost from some top notch carnage.

The story is impressive as well. The concept that someone goes to the wrong house by mistake and pays for it in a horrific way is not new, but the production team does a great job of scaring us with it regardless. I particularly like the killer; he looks creepy and would do Jason Vorhees justice in the ‘invincible slasher’ department.

But BLOOD RUNS COLD has two major flaws that pulled me out of the film. First, the acting is…weird. The cast looks like they have a lot of potential, but their lines come off as bland and non-effective. I think this might be in part because they are speaking English, which doesn’t appear to be their primary language.

Secondly, there are NO explanations given for who the killer is or why he’s a cannibal or even why he cannot die. Nor are we told the reasons for his silver-colored eyes (you have to see them), or why he has a hidden ice-cave under his house. If you want to be technical, we are never really told why he’s attacking these people in the first place; it is assumed because they are trespassing in his house…but it’s never really stated.

These issues are strictly my opinions and you might feel they can be overlooked. I was able to look past them and enjoy the film, however I know that some of my devoted horror aficionados will be annoyed with them.

As for a recommendation, BLOOD RUNS COLD is going on my Make Your Own Mind Up list. This means that I enjoyed it and I recommend it, but I’m not sure if non-diehard horror fans will like it or not. The film is available today in a variety of formats.

MSB

Book Review – The Last Bastion of the Living by Rhiannon Frater (2012)

The Last Bastion of the Living
by Rhiannon Frater
Release Date: June 9, 2012
Publisher: Self-published

The Last Bastion

It is official: I have found one of the best self-published novels I have ever read. It is a futuristic zombie book titled THE LAST BASTION OF THE LIVING by Rhiannon Frater, and it is one hell of a ride. With a unique plot, damaged and believable characters, and superb writing, Frater creates a vivid world of death and hope. If you only read one zombie book this year, make sure this is it.

If you are not familiar with THE LAST BASTION OF THE LIVING, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Rhiannon Frater:

The Bastion was humanity’s last hope against the fearsome undead creatures known as the Inferi Scourge. A fortified city with a high wall, surrounded by lush land rich with all the resources needed to survive, protected by high mountain summits, and a massive gate to secure the only pass into the valley, the Bastion became the last stronghold of the living on earth. But one fateful day, the gate failed and the Inferi Scourge destroyed the human settlements outside the walls and trapped the survivors inside the city. Now decades later, the last remaining humans are struggling to survive in a dying city as resources and hope dwindle. Vanguard Maria Martinez has lived her whole life within the towering walls of steel. She yearns for a life away from the overcrowded streets, rolling blackouts, and food shortages, but there is no hope for anyone as long as the Inferi Scourge howl outside the high walls. Her only refuge from the daily grind is in the arms of her lover, Dwayne Reichardt, an officer in the Bastion Constabulary. Both are highly-decorated veterans of the last disastrous push against the Inferi Scourge. Their secret affair is her only happiness. Then one day Maria is summoned to meet with a mysterious representative from the Science Warfare Division and is offered the opportunity to finally destroy the Inferi Scourge in the valley and close the gate. The rewards of success are great, but she will have to sacrifice everything, possibly even her life, to accomplish the ultimate goal of securing the future of humanity and saving it from extinction.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Frater at Texas Frightmare Weekend in Dallas this year, and she was kind enough to give me a review copy of this book. I am very glad she did…this is a prize addition to my library. She sets a new standard by which all future zombie novels should be measured.

THE LAST BASTION OF THE LIVING is written very well. The sentence structure Frater uses is crisp and clean, and she does not waste time or space with flowery or unnecessary prose. This allows for total immersion into her created world and grants a very pleasant reading experience.

I am particularly impressed with the editing of this book. In most self-published novels, I can usually find one or two mistakes that the editor missed; most of these are grammatical in nature or a misspelled word here or there. I found ZERO mistakes in this book, and I consider that a huge testament to the amount of work Frater puts into her projects.

The story in THE LAST BASTION OF THE LIVING is the real winner, though. This futuristic zombie tale is chocked full of originality, and that in itself made it a must read for me. But don’t just take my word for it. This book has been reviewed 82 times on Amazon thus far and it has garnered 4.5 out of 5 stars!

I highly recommend THE LAST BASTION OF THE LIVING and suggest you put it next in-line on your To Read list. The book can be purchased in a variety of formats and is available on Amazon, as well as the author’s website above. Give this one a look for sure.

MSB