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review SPOILER ALERT! 2018-08-24 18:34
A Gathering of Crows by Brian Keene
A Gathering of Crows - Brian Keene

A Gathering of Crows by Brian Keene
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The town of Brinkley Springs is about to become a hunting ground. Five otherworldly beasts descend upon the populace, their hunger for death and destruction insatiable. Levi Stoltzfus finds himself amongst those in danger, yet he proves anything but helpless. Along with some unexpected allies, magus Levi must discover the identity of the ravaging monsters, and figure out a way to stop them.

(WARNING: This review contains minor spoilers.)

To show support for the author Brian Keene, of whom suffered an accident and has subsequent insurance issues, Horror Aficionados selected this title for the monthly group listen in July. I simply had to join in as it was a good cause, and I’m all for helping a writer in need. As for the audiobook in general, well, I was at first put off by the narrator, Chet Williamson. Don’t get me wrong, Chet wasn’t bad at all, but his voice took a while to get used to. If I were to describe it, the words “powerful” and “booming” come to mind, so it was a very intense experience indeed. I also found it difficult to distinguish between characters at times, especially when it came to the male personalities. After some hours, however, I was able to get into the rhythm of Chet’s mighty voice-over and focus primarily on the story. Despite being the third installment in the series, this one sufficiently stood as an independent volume - as far as I’m aware, the adventures of Levi Stoltzfus can be enjoyed in any order. Of course, there are running themes throughout, but Keene always seemed willing to share lengthy, yet relevant information and pieces of history.

The story begun as rather slow, with the repetition of certain details. If there’s one specific thing that irks me in any form of media, it’s the retelling of something that I already know. Brinkley Springs was a dying town, I understood that the very first time it was stated, and I really didn’t need to be reminded with the introduction of every new character. It may be a minor thing to some, but for me it’s a personal grievance. It became apparent that most of the beginning was comprised of useless, and not very interesting, elements of people's lives. They did little to connect me to the residents, as soon enough they would fall victim to the monsters. What I wanted was to get familiar with the man himself, but Levi's appearance took time to come about, and when it did, it usually wasn't for long.

The further the plot progressed, the more I came to enjoy it. Levi's presence eventually became the main focal point; his investigation of the horrific occurrences afflicting the town improved my overall feeling of the book. There was a tremendous amount of death, and it, in all its graphic glory, had very little in terms of limits. Children, animals, the elderly, all were fair game and sought out like animals. Whilst the aftermath was largely centred upon - the state of the bodies after the initial murder, there were a few scenes that depicted the actual killing. It was brutal, and I do favour brutality.

I can't say I became attached to anyone but Levi, and even then I believe that to be able to fully appreciate him I'd have to delve further into the series; from what I could gather, his history was certainly intriguing. As for the others, well, there was a romance I didn't care about, and the surviving group in general didn't strike me as anything special. The villains, whilst amusing with their shape-shifting shenanigans, were awfully single minded and thus had little depth. I suppose that was the point; they were minions, set upon one specific goal.

My interest soared to new heights when the mythology of The Thirteen came into play. I don’t know much of Keene’s Lovecraftian lore, but by goodness I devoured it. To be honest, it was the best thing about the entire novel; the snippets of information relating to these nefarious entities. Due to my fascination, it was therefore a real treat when Levi transported himself to another realm right at the end. I actually couldn't get enough of it.

In conclusion: It was a very weak beginning, but it improved, and by the end I was well and truly drawn into Keene's Labyrinth Mythos. There's no doubt that I'll be seeking out more of his work.

Notable Quote:

Brinkley Springs may have been dying, but it doesn't deserve to be murdered.

© Red Lace 2018

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Source: redlace.reviews/2018/08/24/a-gathering-of-crows-by-brian-keene
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review 2018-07-23 00:49
Welcome To The Show
Welcome To The Show - Matt Hayward

You've probably read anthologies in the past that have mixed horror and music but this one is a little different. Welcome To The Show includes 17 horror stories that are all set in a fictional San Francisco night club called The Shantyman. Edited by Matt Hayward and Doug Murano this book takes you from The Shantyman's disturbing origins right up to it's apocalyptic future. Demons, vampires, other dimensions and the end of the world, its all here under one roof.


One story I liked here was Parody by Jeff Strand. Showing that this anthology has it all this was a funny story about a Weird Al wannabe. Zany Chester was hoping to make it big by singing his own 80's song parodies and hopefully open mic night at The Shantyman will be his big break. Things don't go according to plan though but at the least everyone will remember Chester's performance. This is a simple fun story but what I really liked was the attention to detail in Chester's character. It's obvious that Chester is delusional but the fun part is trying to tell the difference between Chester's reality and the real world. Jeff Strand really show's he's a great writer with this one. 


Another good one was Running Free by Brian Keene. This one is about a man who is dying of cancer who takes up running in hopes of dying of a heart attack instead of cancer because if the cancer kills him his family can't collect on his life insurance policy. The problem is he is starting to have visions of dark clouds hanging over people and try as he might he can't seem to bring on his demise. You have to give this story points for originality, there is a lot going on here and I found myself loving the main character even though he's a real bad person. Most of all I like how this story blends real life horror with fictional style horror.


My favorite story in the book was We Sang In Darkness by Mary SanGiovanni. This one is different from the others in the book. It's set in a dark future world where music is banned and aliens are part of society. This was beautifully written a lot of meaning in this one that is left to interpretation. What I liked most about it though was how music gets used as a form of communication between aliens and humans who can't understand the other's language. There is also a great jaw dropping shock ending here that fit the mood of the story perfectly.


The stories in Welcome To The Show were kind of hit and miss. There were plenty of gems but a few of them left me rolling my eyes. That being said I loved how this anthology creates it's own mythology with each story adding something original to it. The mood seems to change throughout the book as well with some stories being funny while others were dark, The Shantyman is a place where anything goes. The editor's had a nice concept in mind and the way the stories were connected it almost felt like a novel. Crystal Lake publishing puts out some great horror anthologies and this is no exception.



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text 2018-01-31 18:45
January 2018-That's a Wrap!
The Warblers - Amber Fallon
You: A Novel - Caroline Kepnes
Hidden Bodies - Caroline Kepnes
City of the Dead - Brian Keene,Joe Hempel
The Complete Maus - Art Spiegelman
My Best Friend's Exorcism - Grady Hendrix
Splatterpunk Fighting Back - Jack Bantry,Tim Curran,Glenn Rolfe,Bracken MacLeod,Kristopher Rufty,Adam Millard,John Boden,Matt Shaw,W.D. Gagliani,Elizabeth Power
The Conversationalist: Horrorstruck Novella One - Justin Richards
If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating (Random House Large Print) - Alan Alda
Wylding Hall - Elizabeth Hand

I've started the year off by reading 18 books in January.


Graphic Novels

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman 5*

Bitch Planet Volume One: Extraordinary Machine by Kellie Sue DeConnick 4*

The Walking Dead: Book 14 by Robert Kirkman 4*

Total: 3



The Warblers by Amber Fallon 4*

Infestation by William Meikle 3.5*

The Conversationalist by Justin Bog 4*

Wylding Hall by Elizabeth Hand 4*

Total: 4



You and Hidden Bodies by Caroline Kepnes, narrated by Santino Fontana BOTH-5*

City of the Dead by Brian Keene, narrated by Joe Hempel 3.5*

Seriously...I'm Kidding written and narrated by Ellen DeGeneres 3*

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson, narrated by Rob McQuay 3*

If I Understood You...written and narrated by Alan Alda 4*

Total: 6



After the End of the World by Jonathan L. Howard 3*

Dark Screams Volume Nine (Anthology) 4*

Hardened Hearts (Anthology) 4.5*

Total: 3


Random Reads

My Best Friend's Exorcism by Grady Hendrix 4*

Splatterpunk Fighting Back (An anthology benefiting the fight against cancer) 4.5*

Total: 2



Horror Aficionados Mount TBR Challenge:

Challenge: Read 40 Books Already on my TBR

1. City of the Dead by Brian Keene

2. The Warblers by Amber Fallon

Status: 2/40


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review 2018-01-09 18:45
City of the Dead (Author's Preferred Edition) by Brian Keene, narrated by Joe Hempel
City of the Dead - Brian Keene,Joe Hempel

 CITY OF THE DEAD has been on my TBR pile for a year or two, (and on my physical bookshelf), so when I saw it listed on my Audioboom! email, I immediately requested it. I'm glad I did!


This book picks up right where THE RISING left off. Most of the group is now trapped in a house and you can't help but to root for them. The zombies they are fighting are not your normal zombies-they can be fast, use weapons, and drive cars. They are led by Ob, and in this book we learn more about him and his mission on earth.


Fast paced and filled with lots of fun action,(zombie crocs and birds anyone?), there isn't much time to rest here, and why would you want to? There are plenty of gross outs and characters to root for and not of lot of time for quiet moments, fancy prose, or reflection. If this is the type of book you're in the mood for, then CITY OF THE DEAD is the book for you!


I listened to the audio, narrated by Joe Hempel. It took me a while to get into his narrative style, but once I did, I ended up enjoying it quite a bit.


Recommended for those in the mood for bloody, smart-zombie fun!


*Thanks to Audioboom! and Joe Hempel for this audio copy in exchange for my honest review. This is it!*

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review 2018-01-09 00:00
The Rising: Author's Preferred Edition
The Rising: Author's Preferred Edition - Brian Keene
As I received The Rising from the narrator for review consideration, let me first address his performance. Joe Hempel did a solid job with the multiple human characters that Brian Keene writes within The Rising. It was easy to differentiate them by sound alone and the slight accents that he gave to each of them. (I will say that Martin’s voice was a bit wobbly in the beginning, but he soon finds his rhythm with it.) The zombies all sounded the same, but that really wasn’t an issue for me. While Hempel doesn’t quite have the range of some of the other more well-known narrators, he still brings a dependable, easy-to-listen-to performance to the table.

With that handled, let’s address the book itself.

The Rising is a competently written tale of a man’s journey to get to his son after the zombie apocalypse. Jim is swiftly joined by a preacher, and later on by a woman named Frankie. It is well-paced, filled with action, and has occasional moments of levity (mostly dark humor) that made me snicker. Zombie goldfish, anyone? The book starts fairly shortly after the apocalypse has happened, and ends on a ridiculously infuriating cliff-hanger that me yelling at the author. (Having previously read the mass market edition before, I’m not sure how I didn’t remember this cliffhanger. Maybe I deliberately blocked it out of my mind.) Technically, we do get a full mini story-arc in the book, so I can’t gripe too much, but… but… ARGH!

Jim is… Jim. We’re given a bit of background on him, but the key points are that he loves his son and he’s going to get to him come – pardon the pun – Hell or high water. Martin, the preacher, is fairly inconsequential and mainly serves to provide support for Jim. I did appreciate that he never tried to force his faith down Jim’s throat. Frankie is an African American heroin-addict who had an absolutely horrible thing happen to her at exactly the wrong time. She goes through hell on several levels during the book, and I felt sorry for her even as I respected her transformation into someone who stands up for herself and for others. I know this was the author’s preferred edition, and therefore it contains more development to the characters supposedly, but I do still feel like Frankie was gypped. Keene had an opportunity to truly develop an interesting, sympathetic character in Frankie and he just fell short on it.

The Rising is a book with a very unique twist on the zombie apocalypse, and the start of a series that is utterly disturbing, but it is not a shining example of perfection in writing. The Rising does have issues; but, I don’t have as many issues with it as I know other people do. This is partly because, I think, of how sensitive I am to certain issues in comparison to others. Everyone has things that will get under their skin a little bit quicker. For me, the degradation that one of the characters is forced to undergo doesn’t bother me as much as the repeated use of dead children. I actually ended up admiring the strength of the character, even as I sighed at some of the clichés. But the dead kids…

The first time we see a dead baby in The Rising, it was just weird enough that I was able to kind of laugh it off. The second occurrence is intimately connected with one of the characters, and while the repeated references to it (like the dream sequence) did bother me, I could understand why the character kept thinking about it. So, again, I was able to ‘forgive’ it. However, there are circumstances in The Rising where the dead children are an image clearly used for shock factor, and those annoyed the bejesus out of me. But again, that is one of my triggers, and it might not bother other people at all.

Overall, The Rising was an enjoyable listening experience. I can’t say that I enjoyed it quite as much as I did the first time I read it, because growing up sucks and life happens and sometimes you just can’t read with the innocence you once did. However, I look forward to continuing to renew my acquaintance with Brian Keene’s work. He is undoubtedly a very talented author and there are scenes from his various books that I think about years later and just shudder.

Disclaimer: In case it wasn’t obviously from the first line in the first paragraph – I received a copy of this book from the narrator for review consideration.
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