The Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski #BookReview #Horror #SciFi

 

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hematTitle: The Hematophages
Author: Stephen Kozeniewski
Series: N/A
Format: Digital, 326 pages
Publication Details:  April 1st 2017 by Sinister Grin Press
Genre(s): Horror; Science Fiction
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads

Doctoral student Paige Ambroziak is a “station bunny” – she’s never set foot off the deep space outpost where she grew up. But when she’s offered a small fortune to join a clandestine salvage mission, she jumps at the chance to leave the cutthroat world of academia behind.

Paige is convinced she’s been enlisted to find the legendary Manifest Destiny, a long-lost colonization vessel from an era before the corporations ruled Earth and its colonies. Whatever she’s looking for, though, rests in the blood-like seas of a planet-sized organism called a fleshworld.

Dangers abound for Paige and her shipmates. Flying outside charted space means competing corporations can shoot them on sight rather than respect their salvage rights. The area is also crawling with pirates like the ghoulish skin-wrappers, known for murdering anyone they can’t extort.

But the greatest threat to Paige’s mission is the nauseating alien parasites which infest the fleshworld. These lamprey-like monstrosities are used to swimming freely in an ocean of blood, and will happily spill a new one from the veins of the outsiders who have tainted their home. In just a few short, bone-chilling hours Paige learns that there are no limits to the depravity and violence of the grotesque nightmares known as…THE HEMATOPHAGES

Review

I was in two minds going into this book. On one hand, I expected to like it because I’ve enjoyed many of Stephen Kozeniewski’s previous books (Braineater Jones, Hunter of the Dead and The Ghoul Archipelago) , but on the other hand, I don’t have a huge capacity for deep-space colony settings/ hardcore sci-fi novels.

Luckily for me, 1. I’m a bit of a gore-fiend, and that came in spades, and 2. It appears that everything Kozeniewski writes is so damn readable! It’s annoying, really. 

The Hematophages centres around Paige, a seemingly accomplished and confident Doctoral Student. But deep down she’s inexperienced and naïve, having never left her space station. Paige bags herself a ‘need to know’ mysterious new job which will send her on a mission into the fleshworld (yes, it’s as gross as it sounds) with its oceans of blood and blood-drinking alien-fish monstrosities. 

The mission is fraught with danger from the start, attacked by pirates with no skin before they even arrive, and then the realisation that they are actually salvaging the world-famous ship The Manifest Destiny which holds some truly grim surprises of its own, Paige and her new BFF/the object of her affection, Zanib will be extremely lucky to get out alive (and with all their parts), never mind complete the mission.

I wasn’t sure about protagonist Paige at first. She seemed to have two entirely different personalities, which meant it took me a little while to get into the swing of things, but I warmed to her eventually and ended up really enjoying this fast-paced story.

The thorough world-building made it easy to understand Kozeniewski’s epic vision. And it was epic! As I said earlier, I’m not a huge SF reader, so maybe this was nothing new, but it was definitely new to me, and felt unique.

I liked that in this version of the far-future the human race are all one colour due to years of inter-racial sex, that the gross Skin-Wrappers evolved from ostracised people with some kind of cancer, and that men have completely died out. Hurrah! (I joke…but, imagine).

Written well, full of stomach-churning wrongness and women kicking some blood-sucking, alien-fish-with-teeth-for-tongues ass, Kozeniewski has done it again. He’s like the indie master of horror. Or something. Give him a try if you can stomach it!

unicorn rating 4

 

 

 

30 Days of Horror #9: Battle Royale #HO17 #30daysofhorror

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Join me for 30 Days of Horror in which we spotlight one horror book everyday until we reach Halloween!

Wow, day 9 already. My book pick for today is another classic, but very different to yesterday’s choice. I’ve gone for the book that was the inspiration behind the classic Arnie film, The Running Man, and the book that really kicked off the whole YA dystopian phenomenon, The Hunger Games.

It is of course, the Bloody Japanese epic, Battle Royale.

Battleroyale

Available in all formats, 617 pages

Published February 26th 2003 by VIZ, LLC

 Koushun Takami’s notorious high-octane thriller is based on an irresistible premise: a class of junior high school students is taken to a deserted island where, as part of a ruthless authoritarian program, they are provided arms and forced to kill one another until only one survivor is left standing.
Criticized as violent exploitation when first published in Japan – where it then proceeded to become a runaway bestseller – Battle Royale is a Lord of the Flies for the 21st century, a potent allegory of what it means to be young and (barely) alive in a dog-eat-dog world.

Goodreads // Not My Review

bookdepo

Have you read it? What did you think?

Up Next on Horror October:

Top Ten Spooky Autumnal Book Covers

 

Hunter of the Dead by Stephen Kozeniewski #HorrorOctober2016 #BookReview

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Just as you thought Horror October was done and dusted…no it really is. But here’s a review I didn’t get to publish in time. Some may say I saved the best til last…

a5Title: Hunter of the Dead
Author: Stephen Kozeniewski
Series: N/A
Format: ePub, 314 pages
Publication Details:  August 15th 2016 by Sinister Grin Press
Genre(s): Horror
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review. 

Goodreads // Amazon

 

Someone has begun targeting vampires.

Vampire leaders of the thirteen Houses attribute the string of recent losses to over-zealous vampire hunters. Only Cicatrice, the most ancient and powerful vampire in the world, suspects that the semi-legendary Hunter of the Dead may be the real culprit.

Carter Price, a vampire hunter who despises the way his profession is becoming centralized and corporatized, begins to suspect the Hunter of the Dead is back, too – and no longer distinguishing between vampires and mortals. Against his better judgment, Price agrees to work with Cicatrice.

The uneasy allies attempt to uncover the truth about the Hunter, while a vampire civil war brews in the background. But perhaps most difficult of all, they must contend with their new apprentices, who seem to be falling in love with each other against every rule of man and monster…

Review

Hunter of the Dead is one epic vampire novel. If you’re looking for sparkly, over-possessive pretty boy vampires then you should probably just move along. But if you’re looking for a vamped-up Game of Thrones with The Red Wedding-level of bloodshed then you’ve come to the right place.

Hunter of the Dead has a large cast of characters and an intricately woven plot built upon a well thought-out mythos. There are warring vampire houses, each with their own version of vampire royalty, and human vampire hunters called Inquisitors. But the hunter himself is a whole other entity. A boogeyman. A thing of legends that no one quite believes. Until seemingly indestructible immortals start being…well, destroyed.

Caught up in the middle of this are two unlikely heroes, Carter and Nico. Gas station attendees turned vampire hunter and apprentice, the dynamic duo banter their way through the brewing war and attempt to find out the truth behind the one thing that both vampires and Inquisitors are equally as afraid of – The Hunter of the Dead.

This book had everything I could want in a vampire story. Blood, guts, bants and even a splash of romance in there too. The vampires themselves were diabolical yet alluring, and the plot was paced well despite its scope of epic proportions.

I did have some issues getting into the story to begin with though. The mixture of a vast array of characters and a jumping timeline would usually have me tearing my hair out, but after a chapter or two it really seemed to work. It certainly gave the book more mystery and depth.

But the one thing I did find frustrating was that a few of the characters were called by two or three different names – first name, surname and even a nickname –  so until I got to know the characters better it was really hard to understand who was who sometimes.

And while we’re talking about names, I spotted a few familiar ones in there. Whatever you do, don’t befriend Kozeniewski or he’ll steal your name for a character only to rip out their (YOUR) heart or make you live out the rest of your days with only half a face. Fellow horror writers beware!

Overall, this is not your average vampire novel. It’s not really your average anything. But whatever it is, it’s all wrapped up in Kozeniewski’s trademark tongue-in-cheek horror bow that I’ve come to know and love.

horroctrating-4

Hunter of the Dead is available now in both paperback & digital versions.

Horror October: Poppy Z Brite Spotlight & Review #HorrorIcons #HorrorOctober

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I’ve long held a fascination with Poppy Z Brite. As an emerging teen goth in late 90s, her (as she was known then) books were like the holy grail. They were extremely violent and gruesome, they were deviantly sexual and on the surface seemed to completely humanise and romanticise serial killers and cannibalism. Plus, they were riddled with hot gay men. Some of them innocent wayward boys, some of them diabolical killers. Poppy Brite was my hero.

All of that was the angsty, blood-thirsty teenager in me. I read them because I thought it was cool; because I knew that I shouldn’t. Because I was too young to read them. A small act of rebellion. 

 

But as I’ve grown up, I’ve returned to Brite (now known as Billy Martin after transitioning to a man), on numerous occasions – his books never made it to the charity shop – and I can now appreciate them on another level. They are not just made-to-shock  throwaway novels. They’re important novels that act almost as a social commentary of New Orleans, focusing on the issues of  feeling different, alienated; on diversity. Brite writes with such a morbid passion. She can describe gutting someone as poetically as falling in love.

If you’ve never read any of Brite’s books, I highly recommend starting with Lost Souls. It’s set in New Orleans, like most of his stories, and centres around three wannabe rock star, bisexual vampires, one of which impregnates a human girl and the child, known as Nothing grows up wondering why he feels so alienated, until eventually meeting up with his blood-thirsty father.

In the past, Brite has been attacked for lacking morals, and writing gratuitous gore and casual sex, and to an extent I guess that’s true, but there’s more to her stories than that, and I can’t think of another writer who creates such evocative atmospheres, and bitter-sweet nostalgia for youth and days gone by. 

 

For Horror October, I decided to read Self-Made Man, a book of short fiction by Brite that I’d never got round to buying. My friend Dora found it in a charity shop and lent it to me. I was dubious after not really loving Love in Vein, another story collection. Short stories just don’t seem to be my thing, even by authors that I love. 

However, I was pleasantly surprised by Self-Made Man. It begins with a very short story written from the perspective of a maggot in a slaughter-house which is basically a showcase for Brite’s ability to make disgusting, putrid things sensual.

Arise, is a story about Cobb, a reclusive ex-pop star who faked his own death, who hears that his old band-mate has died. He then gets a mysterious letter saying that he has left his secluded house to him. Did he know all along that Cobb was alive? And why would he leave his house to him? I really liked this story. It had twists and turns and lots of intrigue. 

The titular story, Self-Made Man was a hit too. It’s very much in the same breath of novel, Exquisite Corpse, based on cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer. It’s not for the faint-hearted. As was Vine of the Soul which reunites us with two characters from Drawing Blood. 

The rest of the stories I could take or leave, but my favourite part of this book was the author’s notes on each story. Fascinating, as ever.

horroctrating-4

Flash Fiction Battle: The Quiet Life by Stephen Kozeniewski #HorrorOctober

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Welcome to to Horror October 2016’s main event: The Flash Fiction Battle

At the beginning of the month, you voted in your masses for your favourite horror story prompt, and the time has come for the participating horror writers (see above) to battle it out for the title of King or Queen of Horror (October)!  The winning prompt was ‘3 AM. Full Dark. One Sound’, and the only rule was a 1000 word limit.

You will be able to vote for your favourite story, but not until all the entries have been published (by the end of this week). 

The Quiet Life

Author: Stephen Kozeniewski
Word Count: 926
Blurb:  What could possess a couple to cut out their own tongues?

tongues
My tongue sits in a Mason jar on my nightstand, suspended in denatured alcohol.

Do you think that makes me morbid? Grotesque?

Perhaps. I prefer to think it makes me sentimental. After all, he was an unwilling victim of circumstance.

I couldn’t keep him. The human voice is irresistible to them. Like a pheromone. It draws them. The creatures are strangely reliant on the sense of hearing, even to the detriment of all other senses. I’ve often seen them prowling the grounds at night. But they never try to come in the house. To them, the door may as well be an impassable mountain.

When they hear human speech, though, my God, it’s like they’re miniature tornadoes, destroying everything in their paths. It happened to the Martins across the street. This was after we’d all learned to stay silent. But the stillness must have been driving Ted Martin out of his wits. He made the mistake of playing a song.

It was Elvis singing, not Ted, but that didn’t matter to the invaders. As soon as the King’s voice was on the wind the creatures couldn’t flood the Martin household fast enough. They burrowed through brick, wood, and glass with equal vigor, a chitinous tide rolling in.

So we must do without music or television. Even a single errant noise, crying out after hitting your hand with a hammer and they’ll come.

Watching what happened to the Martins was what finally made me walk downstairs, take the scissors from the sewing nook, and hack out my own tongue. It seemed to take hours, longer because I had to suppress my cries of pain. Just scissoring and scissoring away, choking back the blood as it filled my mouth.

After a while I saw Grace had been watching me. She was sitting in the corner, her head hung like a schoolgirl’s. She’s a large girl. Obese, I guess you might say. I don’t find her especially attractive, but we’ve been sleeping together quite a bit. Mostly just to stave off the boredom.

I’d never even seen her before when this all began nine months ago. That was back when there was still panic in the streets and no one understood what drove the creatures. She turned up on my doorstep seeking refuge. Not really knowing what else to do I’d let her in. She’d been the one to suggest that we try not talking.

She has a terrible stutter and rarely opens her mouth out of fear of embarrassment. She had taken note that her habitual silence had made her all but invisible to the creatures. She’d shared the secret with me full days before the news had suggested it. But by then, of course, most everyone was already gone and of those who remained few of us had the discipline to sit silently in our homes for the rest of our lives.

Then the Martins died, and I cut my tongue out. I was standing there with the bloody scissors and Grace just stuck her out her own tongue and closed her eyes, waiting for me to do it for her. Even with her stutter she didn’t trust herself never to utter another sound.

So now we sit. Day after day. Occasionally reading. Often fucking. We’ve taken to exercising a bit, too, not unlike prison lifting to pass the time. We have conversations on the whiteboard, but neither of us have very much to say. Christ said the meek would inherit the earth. I doubt this is what He meant.

It’s late now. Nearly three o’clock in the morning. With nothing to occupy my mind during the day I’ve become a habitual insomniac. The power went out ages ago and there’s no moon or stars out tonight. I can hear them, chittering away at each other in their own strange language.

In the darkness I’m haunted by memories.

Grace is thumping around in the next room. I wonder if she’s exercising. Perhaps she’s just masturbating. Either way I consider joining her. At least it would take my mind off those damned things.

They start out like black insects, about the size of a fist. I wouldn’t be surprised if they are extraterrestrial, but sometimes I think it’s more likely they originated right here on Earth. How could space bugs have evolved to love the human voice so much?

When they hear you they swarm into your mouth. You can crush one, maybe five. But you can’t escape all of them. The “winner” devours your tongue. I suppose when they finally get me they’ll be denied that little treat, at least. Then it latches onto the stem, turning itself into a nasty little prosthetic tongue.

They must tug on your nerves or else secrete some kind of venom, because once one’s gotten in your mouth you stop acting normal. You just walk around, arms and legs wildly flailing, as though the little bugs are student drivers attempting to drive your body.

I’ve looked into the eyes of people possessed like that. You can see them suffering, unable to control their own bodies or even close their mouths over the invader. A fully conscious meat puppet. If I had more guts I would try to kill them when I see them wandering around the streets below. But I don’t want to draw any attention.

A noise pierces the darkness. How is that possible? Grace is fat enough to hide it, but didn’t she know? Damn. I should have used protection. My newborn baby is crying in the next room.

[Image: http://davescupboard.blogspot.co.uk/2009/10/pickled-lambs-tongues.html]

 

About the Author

stephenkoz

Stephen Kozeniewski lives in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of the modern zombie. During his time as a Field Artillery officer he served for three years in Oklahoma and one in Iraq, where, due to what he assumes was a clerical error, he was awarded the Bronze Star.
He is also a classically trained linguist, which sounds much more impressive than saying his bachelor’s is in German.

Check out the other entries: The Secret of the Basement & Come in Here. Voting begins soon!

What’s your favourite so far? Let’s discuss – leave a comment.

UP NEXT ON HORROR OCTOBER: The final Flash Fic entry

#HorrorOctober: The Ghoul Archipelago by Stephen Kozeniewski

HorrorOct2015

The Ghoul Archipelago by Stephen Kozeniewski

theghoularc
Formats: Digital, Paperback, 360 pages
Publication Details: October 16th 2013 by Severed Press
Genre(s): Horror; Humour
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads // Amazon

After ravenous corpses topple society and consume most of the world’s population, freighter captain Henk Martigan is shocked to receive a distress call. Eighty survivors beg him to whisk them away to the relative safety of the South Pacific. Martigan wants to help, but to rescue anyone he must first pass through the nightmare backwater of the Curien island chain.

A power struggle is brewing in the Curiens. On one side, the billionaire inventor of the mind-control collar seeks to squeeze all the profit he can out of the apocalypse. Opposing him is the charismatic leader of a ghoul-worshipping cargo cult. When a lunatic warlord berths an aircraft carrier off the coast and stakes his own claim on the islands, the stage is set for a bloody showdown.

To save the remnants of humanity (and himself), Captain Martigan must defeat all three of his ruthless new foes and brave the gruesome horrors of…THE GHOUL ARCHIPELAGO.

Review

This is not your average zombie pulp! The Ghoul Archipelago is a breath of fresh air to people like me who are pretty sick of zombies.

Martigan is the captain of a freighter sailing through the South Pacific in a post-apocalyptic world caused by zombies, where the mainland is all but taken over. Martigan and his crew are fighting a losing battle between ghouls, pirates and a whole host of bizarre characters vying to take control of the islands.

There’s Sonntag the ex-prison priest, a businessman who has developed a sex-dream machine, a presidential politician, and the captain, all at the forefront of this bloody, bizarre, battle which I mostly enjoyed but came away feeling a bit ‘huhhhhhh?’

I felt like there were too many characters and too many story-lines going on at once – it was pretty confusing at first, but once I got into the POV changes it got easier. I also felt like the pacing was off in places, making it seem a lot longer than its 360 pages.

But that being said, I can’t fault Kozeniewski’s vision. It has some great moments of pure horror and thrilling action, making it one hell of a ride, even if I had no idea where I was being taken.

Kozeniewski has a way of sucking you in; his writing is effortless and intriguing, mixing gory grossness with his trademark wit. He put me on the ship and it was sink or swim! I think I just about found my sea legs by the end of it….

unicorn rating 3

#Horror October: From Point Horror to Fear Street, The Lost Girl by R.L Stine

HorrorOct2015

thelostgirlTitle: The Lost Girl
Author: R.L Stine
Series: Fear Street Relaunch #3
Edition: Digital Review Copy, 272 pages
Publication Details: September 29th 2015 by St. Martin’s Griffin
Genre(s): Horror; YA
Disclosure? Yep! I received a free copy in exchange for an HONEST review.

Goodreads

Generations of children and teens have grown up on R.L. Stine’s bestselling and hugely popular horror series, Fear Street and Goosebumps. Now, the Fear Street series is back with a chilling new installment, packed with pure nightmare fodder that will scare Stine’s avid fan base of teen readers and adults.

New student Lizzy Palmer is the talk of Shadyside High. Michael and his girlfriend Pepper befriend her, but the closer they get to her, the stranger she seems… and the more attractive she is to Michael. He invites her to join him on a snowmobile race that ends in a tragic accident. Soon, Michael’s friends start being murdered, and Pepper becomes convinced that Lizzy is behind the killings. But to her total shock, she and Michael are drawn into a tragic story of an unthinkable betrayal committed over 60 years ago. Frightening and tense in the way that only this master of horror can deliver, The Lost Girl is another terrifying Fear Street novel by the king of juvenile horror.

Review

Most people around my age will know the name R.L Stine, and either avoided his books like the plague, or loved them. He’s most famous for the Goosebumps books (and TV Series) and various Point Horror titles, all aimed at scaring or creeping out the teen and pre-teen market.

I was a huge fan of Point Horror, in fact, they are the first books I can remember going out to buy with my pocket money.

I remember being so excited whenever a new book came out, and I would go to W.H Smith on a Saturday morning to buy them. The first time I brought one of them home, my mum took one look at it and said that she didn’t think I should be reading them because they were too grown up, but I just laughed and told her that it clearly says Children’s books on the back. It’s funny the little moments you remember like that. But that’s why I’ll always be fond of the Point Horror books- the nostalgia!

The Fear Street books were a series that passed me by, however. I think I had progressed to adult horror by the time they became popular (Point Horrors were clearly a gateway drug for me), but I imagine that they were more of the same. Either way, I was thrilled to see that they were relaunching the series last year, with none other than R.L Stine back in the teen scares business.

The Lost Girl, is the third relaunched Fear Street novel, and whereas I was looking forward to reading it, I was worried that I wouldn’t enjoy it, and it would ruin my fond memories of Stine’s writing.

The Lost Girl is set in two different time zones. We start in the 1950’s where the protagonist is attacked and almost raped, but thankfully for her, she has some witchy powers and is able to force him off.

Terrible things happen to this girl and her family…like, really, really terrible things involving some honey and oats..(seriously), and I was hooked straight way.

Fast forward to the present day and we meet Michael, a high-school senior who has an already tempestuous relationship with his firey girlfriend when a new girl who seems to be perpetually lost starts to make life even more difficult for him.

One of the main things that I thought could go wrong with this series was if it hadn’t have moved with the times as far as the scares, the gore, and the violence are concerned. But thankfully, The Lost Girl felt thoroughly modern in that respect. The violence packed a punch, and the gore…well there was one scene that even had me squirming slightly. Loved it.

The only down-side to this book – and it was quite a major one- was just how predictable the plot was. I pretty much knew where it was going the whole way through, and there were very little surprises. I also wanted it to be longer. I felt like the last part of the book was rushed through.

Overall though, I’m so glad this series has been relaunched, giving a whole new generation the same gloriously gory scares that I remember.

R.L Stine still has the knack of hooking you in and severely creeping you out. Even if it’s nothing new, I enjoyed the ride, and my fond memories of his earlier books are well and truly intact. Hurrah!

unicorn rating 3