Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novel Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist. He is also the author of the short horror story, Consumption, and his work appears in the science fiction anthologies, No Way Home, Crime & Punishment, and The Cyborg Chronicles. He lives in Michigan and is hard at work on his next story.

 

To stay up to date on his latest releases, join his newsletter, memFeed: http://bit.ly/1H8slIg

 

Website: http://www.michaelpatrickhicks.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/authormichaelpatrickhicks
Twitter: @MikeH5856

 

Professional ReaderChallenge Participant2016 NetGalley Challenge
 

Review: Red Right Hand by Chris Holm

Red Right Hand - Chris  Holm

The premise of Chis Holm's latest series is simple - Michael Hendricks is a hitman who kills other hitmen - and, with Red Right Hand, the second entry after last year's The Killing Kind, Holm is already showing there's enough elasticity in this concept to make Hendricks a welcome new anti-hero for thriller buffs.

 

After a terror attack in San Francisco, Hendricks is put on the tail of a retired killer, one thought long-dead by the FBI, in the hopes of moving one step closer to bringing down the global criminal enterprise known as The Council. Along the way, his path toward revenge against The Council gets a bit bumpier than anticipated, which is bad for Hendricks but good for readers since it gives Holm plenty of chances to write nifty action sequences as his characters stomp around SanFran and engage in some long, twisty games of cat and mouse. (Movie Geek note: action film fans will likely recognize some of the tertiary character's names as being lovingly borrowed from a few Hollywood directors, and you can feel the cinematic influences seeping into the pages here. Seriously fun stuff!)

 

In terms of characterization, Holm is free to allow Hendricks to run wild, having already previously established this dude's background and place in society. Some additional details to Hendricks's personality are shaded in, giving him a welcome touch of humanity even as his overall mission plan maintains an appropriate level of gray. His relationship with tech-savvy Cameron is fun, and she's a new character here that I hope gets additional time to shine in future volumes. And although Hendricks is, by and large, a "good guy," he's still a pretty far cry from being a saint despite having a strong moral compass. His job as a hitter of hitmen is largely dependent on the targeted victim being able to pay an exorbitant fee and determine just how much his or her life is actually worth in order to properly motivate and secure Michael's assistance. The lack of pure altruism is what makes this guy so interesting to me, and I'm hoping we've got a good number of Hendricks titles ahead of us as the years go on.

 

Lesser authors, I suspect, would be tempted to take the premise of 'killer of killers' and merely cut-and-paste their prior efforts and slap a new title on it. Red Right Hand avoids this, and while the series premise remains strongly intact, Holm puts enough wrinkles into the story to twist expectations enough to keep things feeling fresh. Setting his story against the backdrop of a terror investigation raises the stakes, while also putting a bit more meat on the bones of the story's framework without dulling the thrills. Holm manages an easy, breezy pacing and keeps things chugging along seemingly effortlessly.

 

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley/Edelweiss.]  

Review: Renovation by Sara Brooke

Renovation - Sara Brooke

Renovation might be the perfect example of a book that I really wish I had liked more than I did. It's premise is promising (a home renovation company straight out of the pits of hell!), and as a homeowner who was dealing with some roof issues that ultimately escalated with a worker falling from our attic and through the bathroom ceiling (he's fine, thankfully!) it could not have been a more timely read. Unfortunately, it just didn't hit the mark for me, and the more I think about this book and try to offer a critical evaluation of it as a whole, the more it continues to fall apart for me.

 

At times the writing felt a bit amateurish and uneven overall, but what really killed it for me was an early attempt at titillation that quickly fell into utter silliness that jarred me and left me trying to recover for damn near the rest of the book. New homeowners, Barb and Mikey, are christening their new bedroom, but their sexy times are ruined when Brooke interrupts to tell us they are "beginning their sex dance." Nothing ruins eroticism faster than bad writing or kooky lingo, or some roaming hands and a grinding body that breaks away to do the Ickey Shuffle. There's a fair amount of sex in this book thanks to supernatural influences and cultish practices, but every single time the story began to veer in that direction I cringed inwardly at the idea of all these characters doing goofy little sex dances as they prepared to get down with their bad selves. 

 

Beyond that, some of the dialogue felt clunky and unnatural, to the point that I often wondered who the hell actually speaks this way? Particularly the twelve-year old, Greg, who, apparently beyond never having been taught about stranger danger, is practically a walking and talking construct built solely for delivery of exposition. [SPOILER - at one point, after letting a man who is a complete stranger to him climb through his bedroom window, he asks the man to help his dad. "I'm afraid for him. We've got to get out of here and leave forever." Which would maybe be fine if we hadn't had this hammered into us for a number of pages already, and if the house weren't overrun with an ever-changing number of workers, mold, and cockroaches. Because, sure, when your house is being overrun by pure evil, why wouldn't you let a strange man who just climbed up the side of the house in through your bedroom window? Sigh...]

 

And although other characters behaving oddly makes sense in the context of the plot, a lot of it just feels forced and too much, too soon. There's no tension or pot-boiling suspense, or a creeping sense of dread. Everything moves too fast, which makes the characters seem off-kilter in unnaturally manic ways. I didn't have a very good grip on who these characters were before they all went bonkers, which meant I didn't really care about why they were going bonkers and what repercussions would follow.

 

Beyond all that, nothing about Renovation felt particularly new and fresh. It's one thing to take old tropes and put a new coat of paint on them, but that doesn't even get managed here. This book not only feels like the old house at the center of its story, but like the cookie-cutter suburban community in which its set, where every house looks like every other house. It's all just same-old, same-old. To make matters worse, though, is the ruination of a perfectly good climax with a Lord of the Rings-style multi-resolution, with at least one ending, and a whole new set of characters, too many. This book really had no need for its last two chapters, which attempts to both restart the story and finish it, simultaneously trying to drum up both dread and hope, but producing neither.

 

This review bums the shit out of me. Honestly, it does. Like I said at the start, I wanted to like this book way more than I did. I even started to rate this book higher by at least a good star and a half, but as I got to writing about it, I found I could not actually justify my initial rating. That's fucking frustrating, let me tell you. What's worse is, there's evidence of a decent book within the pages of Renovation, hints that there, maybe, could have been something better if more time and deliberation had been spent. Unfortunately, like the characters within, I just want to burn it all down.

 

[Note: This review is based on an advanced copy provided by Sinister Grin Press via Hook of a Book Media and Publicity.]

Review: The Con Season by Adam Cesare

The Con Season: A Novel of Survival Horror - Adam Cesare

Earlier this year, Adam Cesare was a guest on Brian Keene's podcast, The Horror Show With Brian Keene, and he spoke a bit about his upcoming novel, The Con Season. Ever since I heard Cesare first discuss this work, I'd been eager to check it out and nominated it during the author's recent Kindle Scout campaign. While I was disappointed for Mr. Cesare's loss, I was also very pleased to see him release the book immediately, which meant I finally got to plunk down my three bucks and give this a read.

 

Sometimes when you get hyped up about a work, it's almost inevitable to feel disappointment. How many movies trailers have you watched that convince you to buy in, only to be left cold by the final product, or worse, to find out that the movie completely sucked? It happens.

 

Thankfully, I came away from The Con Season a happy camper. Certainly much happier, at any rate, than Clarissa Lee, a washed-up and broke B-movie horror actress who, along with a handful of other horror actors and scream queens, agree to take part in the first annual Blood Camp Con. This convention promises to be unlike any other - part fan service, part performance art, it seeks to recreate the aesthetics of a slasher horror movie in real-life, with the celebrities unwittingly the victims.

 

Cesare uses The Con Season to cleverly deconstruct horror movies and fandom in Scream-like fashion, giving reader's a birds-eye view into the conventioneer's lifestyle, where they are both grateful and spiteful of their fans and their reliance on what is arguably a dark and parasitic relationship of who's using who.

 

The genre, and its inhabitants as both creator and consumer, are viewed through a glass darkly, allowing for moments of wry satire and bleak, knowing laughter. And although the book has some pretty dark examinations, you can still sense the appreciation Cesare has for his topic. As a horror writer, it's certainly his job to view things in, perhaps, a slightly skewed way, but it all comes from a place of deep affection and an examination of genre conventions (in both the literal conventions and in the tropes of horror works) without being overly reverential or nastily preachy. He's not afraid to skewer those things that need a good stabbing, and he is certainly a well-studied student of the horror genre and its permutations in book and film.

 

Most importantly, as far as I'm concerned anyway, it's just a fun, highly readable slasher story. Friday The 13th fans should feel right at home here, but it's the commentary that really earns this book high marks.

Review: Savages by Greg F. Gifune

Savages - Greg F. Gifune

It's a rare thing, but sometimes you come across a book that feels like it was custom made for you, hitting all the right sweet spots, all the right fist-pumping beats, as it swallows you whole into its world. Savages by Greg F. Gifune was such a book for me. Naturally, your mileage may vary, but for me, this was a sweet, sweet read.

 

Opening with an epigraph quoting the 1920 film version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you get a good idea of what's in store for you. "A man cannot destroy the savage in him by denying its impulses. The only way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it..." It's a powerful quote, and Gifune's book has the darkness to match as the author tackles the themes suggested here.

 

Savages is a short novel, and a lot of its power is derived from the unknown. So I won't say much about it. You can read the book's synopsis, but the shorter gist of it is this: a small group of survivors wash up on the beach of a mysterious island. They think they're alone, until gruesome evidence begins to say otherwise. Yes, there's evil afoot, lurking in the jungles that surround them - but I will say no more. 

 

The surprises these survivors uncover is simply too good to spoil, but know that Gifune's epigraph works on multiple levels here. There's plenty of savagery to be found, as well as heaping doses of primal needs for survival. This is, I think, survival horror at its finest.

 

As for those sweet spots it hit for me? You've got the deserted island trope, which I'm a bit of a sucker for, an awesome threat that relates directly to mankind's own savageness, and a strong, fierce heroine. Plus, the group itself - there's some good character work here, and despite most of them being friends, their personalities and traits allow for plenty of strain and tension, as well as worry over in-group violence that could boil over at any moment. This is simply a compulsively readable title, and once Gifune starts weaving in the background of the threat this group is facing, it's a full-tilt boogie of mad-dash horror straight on through to a dark, beleaguering finale.

 

Savages is a horror book that's perfectly crafted, from it's beautiful, vintage cover, straight on through to the story's last page, and a new instant-favorite for me. Read it!

 

[Note: This review is based on an advanced copy provided by Sinister Grin Press via Hook of a Book Media and Publicity.]

Review: The Jersey Devil by Hunter Shea

The Jersey Devil - Hunter Shea

I've switched over to reading e-books almost exclusively, but back when I was making obsessively compulsive trips to our local Big Chain bookstores I would see paperbacks the publisher had labeled as a Guaranteed Good Read. I don't know if this marketing practice is still in use, but I think it's a label that should be slapped onto the covers of Hunter Shea's books. I've read half a dozen Shea books so far, and not a single one has been a disappointment. If anything, the dude just keeps getting better and I'd say The Jersey Devil is certainly a high-water mark.

 

As the title indicates, this book is about - wait for it! - the Jersey Devil, a rather infamous cryptid lurking deep in the Pine Barrens. Shea knows his cryptid mythology, and unravels it in entertaining fashion here, giving it a fun bit of horrific depth and adds a few new wrinkles of his own devising. This Jersey Devil is a big, mean, old son of a gun, and hungrier than Chris Christie at a football stadium's concession stand!

 

While the monster element is certainly a load of fun, it's the human element that really makes the story shine. The Willet clan are a family of farmers, with their eldest patriarch, Sam "Boompa" Willet, having once previously squared off against the Devil and managed to survive. When people begin to go missing in the woods, and rumors of Jersey Devil sightings crop up again, Sam knows it's down to he and his family to finish the job he started decades prior. 

 

Let me just say, first and foremost, the Willet clan are a fun bunch to hang around with for a few hundred pages. Sam is an easy favorite, but his grandchildren certainly aren't any slouches, either. They've all got enough meat on their bones to give you reason to care about their fates, which is of the utmost importance in a story like this, and in horror in general. Shea knows perfectly well that the monster is merely a lure to hook readers in, but it's the characters that truly count at the end of the day. 

 

Of course, you also need some guts and gore because it is, ultimately, horror. And jeez, does Shea deliver in that regard, too. The body count here is ridiculously high, and the amount of blood spilled in the Big Finale could be counted by the bucket-load. There's a wonderfully delicious bit of spectacle throughout the whole book. Clearly, the author had tremendous fun writing this one, as well as a big appreciation for the Jersey Devil mythos, and that enthusiasm shows throughout. 

 

Plain and simple - this book is just pure bloody fun. High-octane action, guts galore (in terms of both gutsy characters and actual guts dropping onto the forest floor), and enjoyable characters make this a stand-out creature feature. If you're looking for some violent, fast-paced action horror, this, fellow readers, will do you nicely. 

 

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

Review: The Approach by Chris Holm

The Approach - Chris Holm

I was a big fan of last year's The Killing Kind, and have been waiting on Chris Holm's follow-up pretty much since hitting that book's final page. Red Right Hand is due out next month, and to whet our appetites a bit, Holm and his publisher, Mulholland Books, have released this digital-exclusive short story, The Approach.

 

Coming in at around 20 pages, this is a quick, brisk, no-frills kind of read. It's a short teaser to get readers interested in the character of Michael Hendricks, a hitman who targets hitmen. As far as I'm concerned, that's a premise worthy of reading all by itself, and Holm certainly proved me right with the prior outing.

 

Here, Hendricks finds himself in Las Vegas to save the life of a stripper with a sadly meager bounty on her head. Needless to say, things quickly get complicated and turned upside down. There's a fun twist, and a good bit of rapid-fire action and Hendricks having to quickly think on his feet to protect his mark.

 

The Approach is a fun story, and at only 99c it provides a solid few minutes worth of diversion. It also has me even more eager to soon meet up with Hendricks again in Red Right Hand.

 

New readers need not fear, though, as no prior background is required before diving into this short story. The Approach takes place prior to The Killing Kind, and Holm gives you all the info you need to enjoy this small chapter. I think, once finished, you'll want to get more familiar with Hendricks and his background, and now's the best time to do so!

 

Review: Chasing Ghosts by Glenn Rolfe

Chasing Ghosts - Glenn Rolfe

Chasing Ghosts, the latest horror novella from Glenn Rolfe, is a perfectly good read to while away a few hours with. I suspect, though, that I would have enjoyed it even more if had been expanded into a full-length novel.

 

The gist of this story is simple, and a common enough trope in horror stories - people getting mauled and killed by backwoods cannibal killers. It's familiar and doesn't exactly break new ground, and is essentially a cabin in the woods slasher movie in print form. I can generally accept derivative storytelling as long as it entertains and is at least well written. Thankfully, Chasing Ghosts succeeds in these two elements and provided me with several hours of enjoyment over a Saturday afternoon.

 

Novellas can be tricky things, though. They're longer than short stories, but not as long as novels. In my opinion, they work best when the focus is tight and centered on only a few characters in a small setting. There's an intimacy to novellas in the way they pack a powerful punch in a small package.

 

Chasing Ghosts, however, often feels like a much larger story struggling to fit into its confines. There's a lot of characters that we never really get to become deeply familiar with, and we're told all we're allowed to know about them almost as soon as they arrive on the page - Derek is a cheating husband, Mike's a good guy, Walt is the aging sheriff with a bad back, and there's a trio of punk rockers performing at a backwoods cabin party who are all pretty much interchangeable from one another. We don't get to know much about what makes these characters tick beyond these brief descriptors, which makes them easy, bland fodder once the killing begins. Unfortunately, we're given little reason to care. Some of these victims get particularly grisly treatment, and imagining the violence inflicted upon them is hair-raising enough, but I couldn't quite latch onto anybody in particular to root for or identify with. This book is all about the squirm factor. Characters are dispatched with frightening enough regularity to make George R.R. Martin proud, and the cannibal killers are a potent, if one-dimensional, force.

 

This review is perhaps overly critical and negative-sounding, although I actually did enjoy the time I spent with Rolfe's story. There are good ideas here, and glimmers of a larger story that really needed more time and space to develop into something stronger. As far as quick reads with a high body count goes, this fits the bill well enough. Chasing Ghosts is a fun, dirty piece of work that makes for a few hours worth of enjoyable escapism, despite lacking a tight narrative focus or rich enough characters to make a long-lasting impression. Rolfe clearly has talent, though, and he's an author I'll be keeping an eye on to see how he develops.

 

[Note: This review is based on an advanced copy provided by Sinister Grin Press via Hook of a Book Media and Publicity.]

Review: Invasive by Chuck Wendig

Invasive: A Novel - Chuck Wendig

Between Ezekiel Boone's The Hatching (my review) and, now, Chuck Wendig's Invasive, this has been a pretty good summer for bug books! While the former concerned itself with the reemergence of an ancient spider species violently troubling mankind, Wending brings us a brand new strain of genetically modified ultra-violent ants.

 

Invasive opens with a brief definition of the word 'formication,' which is a sensation that feels like insects crawling over or under your skin. This is a good word to know because you'll be feeling plenty of formication throughout the book, likely by chapter two.

 

Set in the world of Wendig's prior novel, Zer0es (which, if you haven't read, now is a good time to buy. It's not completely necessary to this title's narrative, but it is a damn fun read and worth checking out. Minor references are made to Zer0es, but this series seems to be building on a theme of hacking - first cyber hacking in the previous entry, and now bio-hacking with Invasive), Hollis Copper returns and recruits FBI futurist consultant, Hannah Stander, to investigate an unusual case: a cabin housing ten thousand dead bodies. One of them is human; the rest are ant corpses, but are the apparent cause of death for the victim in question.

 

What follows is a horrific technothriller that feels like the spiritual lovechild of Michael Crichton and The X-Files. While there are streaks of humor, Invasive is a fairly dark read, but it carries all the hallmarks of a big summer blockbuster, right down a gloriously large-scale action set-piece for the book's second half. Hannah Stander is a terrific female heroine, and shines wonderfully as the book's strong, central protagonist. I will admit, though, that I was more than a bit captivated by Ez Choi, an entomologist and friend of Stander brought in as a consult. She's a fun, spunky, punky bug geek and I hope we get to see more of her in future books.

 

I've never been particularly phobic of ants before (I can't say the same about spiders), and I find them to be rather intriguing little creatures. Wendig has me second-guessing myself just a bit now, though... He does capture their intriguing nature with some nicely done sciencey bits (it seems clear he did plenty of homework, and the book's layman explanations of the more technical aspects of ant-life and genetic mucking about ring true enough to me), and the more graphic depictions of what these vicious colonies are capable of left with me more than a few uncomfortable sensations. Yes, it's true - this book made me formicate.

 

[Note: I received an advance copy of this title for review from the publisher via Edelweiss.]

Review: Young Slasher by S. Elliot Brandis

Young Slasher - S. Elliot Brandis

Young Slasher, the latest from S. Elliot Brandis, is a slasher horror story that owes an awful lot to comic books, particularly Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass and uber-scribe Grant Morrison. This is a story that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve and name-drops them with regularity, not necessarily to be cute to show off a measure of pop culture awareness, but because these are the things that shape and inform our titular killer, who goes by the very comic book-ish name of Mia Sanguine.

 

Mia is a real-life movie slasher for the twenty-first century. Inspired by comic books and horror movies, her psychopathy even comes with its own Spotify playlist so that she can kill with a punk soundtrack. Her origin story is rooted in modern-day Big Topics of our time, as her and her best friend are ridiculed and bullied by their high school peers. Mia was a late transfer to a private school filled with spoiled, rotten rich kids and her taste in fashion and music made her an outcast. Her friend Casey is struggling to define his sexuality and is routinely harassed by his bigoted, homophobic classmates. And so, they hatch a plot, inspired quite knowingly by Kick-Ass. They want to become real-life horror movie killers.

 

And although I stated above that this is a horror story, that’s not entirely correct. It has all the benchmarks of a horror narrative – that sleek, cool looking cover; a terrific bit of the old ultraviolence; a fantastic slasher villain with an impressive array of cutlery and scorn – but Young Slasher is more accurately a fun work of metafiction. As Mia might say, this book is “meta as fuck!” and the meta narrative run multiple layers deep, reaching quite a bit beyond merely the fictional, fourth-wall breaking killer that fans of Deadpool will recognize.

 

Aside from being an interesting thought experiment and clever literary construct, this book would not work without a reason to care beyond picking out points of reference and trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not. That’s where the characters come in. Mia is simply a fun girl to hang out with for the couple hundred-some pages that she exists in. She’s brutal, but also empathetic, and, perhaps troublingly, somebody I could relate to.

 

As a victim of bullying during my own school years (being the only kid with a gnarly scar running the length of my chest from open heart surgery and unable to engage in the more rough-and-tumble aspects of gym class made me both an outcast and, since I couldn’t run, easy pickings. When I eventually found comfort in junk food and became overweight, I was then the fat, scarred outcast), I found myself fully sympathetic to Mia and Casey. I could understand their urge to find primal satisfaction in waging war against their tormentors, even if, even at my lowest, I wouldn’t have gone so far as to take an axe to somebody’s head (although I’ll admit to fancying some pretty dark daydreams about how to handle the idiot jock who liked to leave an empty seat between us so he could kick that empty desk over the seatback of my chair and into my spine over and over and over during high school Geometry).

 

Mia and Casey may want to be villains, but, like most fictional anarchists, there’s a certain measure of joyful escapism to be had in their exploits. It’s fun to watch them turn the tables on their bullies, even as they go far beyond the pale in their brutality, taking a beeline right away from justice and straight on to revenge.

 

[Note: I received an advance copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: A Time of Torment by John Connolly

A Time of Torment: A Charlie Parker Thriller - John Connolly

There are a few authors whose novels are my own personal equivalent to comfort food. Stephen King is one; John Connolly is another. Every time I sit down with one of their stories, I know I'm in good hands, and their words bring a certain warmth to my soul. Connolly's Charlie Parker series, in particular, is like a big bowl of beef stew or mac & cheese eaten beside the fireplace and in the company of good friends. Over the course of fourteen novels, I consider Parker, Angel, and Louis very good friends, indeed. And, jeez, do I ever eat up these stories!

 

Connolly is a superb storyteller, first and foremost. His prose is both simple and elegantly constructed, and although he sometimes wanders off into tangents of both local and personal history for his settings and characters, I certainly don't mind reading those words even if I wonder at the necessity of their inclusion. Would A Time of Torment be better if some tangential segments were shortened? I suspect it wouldn't be by much, frankly, and, for me, it's a bit of the charm Connolly brings to the table. You can tell this man does his research, and he's eager to share what he's learned. And when you tell a story as well as Connolly, well...the more the better, in my opinion. He's a craftsman, and one of the best in the business as far I'm concerned.

 

As far as A Time of Torment is concerned, I feel a bit of sympathy for readers encountering this author and these characters here for the very first time. This is not a book for the inexperienced, and the Parker novels are very much a Read In Order series. This particular volume builds off the events, story, and character threads established in the prior three Parker thrillers, which themselves are shaped by the supernatural mythology of the preceding volumes. Characters like The Collector and Parker's daughter, Sam, who make brief appearances here will likely leave the uninitiated scratching their head as to their importance. Those who have been around since the beginning, though, will be much more appreciative of their roles in the overarching mythology of the series as a whole. My advice, as always, to anyone who hasn't read Connolly yet is to start from the very beginning with Every Dead Thing.

 

Plot-wise, Parker is hired by a recently released prisoner, who quickly goes missing. Parker's subsequent investigation brings to his attention a small cult-like community known as The Cut, and their religious idol, The Dead King.

 

There's echoes of Prosperous, the community featured in The Wolf In Winter, but not so much that it feels like a total retread. There's enough differences in The Cut's actions, history, and characters to differentiate them from Prosperous, and, in some ways, make them a dark mirror reflection of an already nasty bunch. They're darker, and, to a degree, one might even say more primitive. Then again, so, too, is Charlie Parker. It's the events of that prior novel that have helped shape the subtle alterations in Parker's persona and methods. The detective has become a more aggressive hunter, very much so a wolf in his own right. And the Cut is certainly worthy of his particular brand of attention.

 

A Time of Torment is a bit slower paced than previous installments, but not detrimentally so. If anything, for me, it just means it takes a bit more time to savor and enjoy, and I was left feeling perfectly satiated. Now begins the wait, once more, for the next book...

 

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

Review: Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand (audiobook)

Wolf Hunt - Scott Thomas, Jeff Strand

My original WOLF HUNT audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

I imagine Jeff Strand’s elevator pitch for Wolf Hunt being along the lines of ‘The Sopranos Meet The Wolfman.’ If this intrigues you, then it’s really about all that needs to be said of Strand’s funny, bloody werewolf romp. Frankly, it’s all I would have needed to be hooked straightaway. If this does not intrigue you, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.

 

George and Lou are not exactly made guys, and deny even being mobsters at all, but they are clearly some well-connected thugs who have little problem breaking thumbs over debts owed to their bosses. They’re tasked with transporting a bad dude named Ivan across Florida to a crime lord, with Ivan locked in a cage. Strand sets up his story in a fun way, with a lot of dispute over Ivan’s credentials as a werewolf and plenty of is-he or isn’t-he back and forth (George and Lou aren’t buying it, and Ivan has fun stringing them along). Things quickly go south, and after saving and accidentally kidnapping Michelle, the thugs are in a race to stop Ivan before he can wreak all kinds of carnage across the Sunshine State.

 

Strand does a beautiful job balancing wit with werewolf violence, and one early scene in particular stands out as being a gruesomely effective showcase to Ivan’s psychopathy, while also solidifying the bloody courtship between he and George. Although Wolf Hunt has a number of gory instances, there’s a certain lightness to the work as a whole thanks to a lot of humorous banter and a handful of characters that are actually fun to spend seven hours with.

 

Besides Stand’s quirkiness, a lot of this fun is owed to narrator Scott Thomas, who seems to be enjoying himself quite a bit and effortlessly brings the material to life. He provides each character with a distinct voice and speech pattern, which makes it easy to discern who is saying what during stretches of dialogue, and keeps the listen fresh throughout. Thomas hits all the right notes and delivers an excellent performance. The production values are fine, too, and Thomas’ work comes through without a hitch.

 

If you’re looking for a genuinely fun and comedic horror listen, Wolf Hunt definitely stands out from the pack.

 

[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com]

Review: Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Hell Divers (Hell Divers Trilogy Book 1) - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

After five Extinction Cycle novels (and a sixth on the way!), Hell Divers, the first installment in a brand-new series from Nicholas Sansbury Smith, is a refreshing change of pace. While it has all the hallmarks of Smith's usual brand of brimstone and bullets, its premise goes a long way in making this a distinct entry in this author's oeuvre.

 

In both the Orbs and Extinction Cycle books, Smith approaches his doomsday scenarios as fresh threats to humanity on the brink of destruction with The End Of The World As We Know It just right around the corner or rapidly in progress. In Hell Divers, the apocalypse has already happened and, two hundred years after Trump's presidency later, mankind has been reduced to roughly a thousand souls spread out across two airships, the Ares and the Hive. The Earth below them is a radioactive wasteland, the skies treacherous with the constant threat of electrical storms. After Ares is damaged, the Hell Divers (think futuristic paratroopers with wildly short lifespans) aboard the Hive are sent on a rescue mission. Soon enough, they find out the ground is not as lifeless as they thought, as marauding bands of vicious creatures they dub Sirens are out to get them.

 

One thing Smith does exceptionally well are action scenes, and there's plenty of those to go around here as Xavier Rodriguez (otherwise known as X) and his team do battle across frozen wastelands, and the shipboard Militia stave off homegrown threats, as well as more elemental troubles. When the Divers do their diving, there's some legitimate excitement to the sequences and Smith does a terrific job describing this horrific adrenaline rush. Ground combat is equally fierce, although the Sirens could use a little more oomph. As a fan of the Extinction Cycle series, I didn't find these mutant killers quite as intriguing as the Variants. However, with two more books on the way, Smith certainly has plenty of space left to flesh out the concepts introduced here.

 

On the character front, X is the strong dashing male hero, and Captain Ash is the strong-willed woman in charge of the Hive - both are great characters, and get their own moments to shine. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more about these characters, as well as their lives aboard ship, and the ten-year-old Tin has all the makings of a heroic prodigy if he survives all the threats life in the skies brings.

 

There's a lot about Hell Divers that feels comfortably familiar, but Smith freshens it up with a new coat of paint and shakes up the formula of his previous series enough to avoid feeling derivative of his other apocalyptic military thrillers. I think he's on to the start of something that could be pretty bold here, and I'm excited to see what he has in store for the Hive, and readers, with future installments. Onward and upward!

 

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

Review: The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

The Hatching: A Novel - Ezekiel Boone

I have two large phobias - acrophobia (fear of heights) and arachnophobia (fear of spiders). My fear of heights is, at times, crippling. I'm OK in enclosed spaces like inside a tall building, but going more than two steps up a ladder is grounds for a panic attack. Coming in at a distant second is my fear of spiders. I don't know of any horror fiction that has tackled acrophobia (please feel free to shout out some examples if you know of any!), but arachnophobia certainly lays the groundwork for a healthy number of tales of terror. I suspect that part of my ability to overcome my primordial fear of spiders just long enough to smack them with a rolled up magazine is due to the sheer number of horror depictions in popular media and my willingness to expose myself to such works. However, Ezekiel Boone's debut novel, The Hatching, does little to endear me much further to these eight legged creeps.

 

Rather than giving us grotesque, mutated spiders or radioactive scares, Boone keeps the core of his spider horror thriller fairly plausible (maybe a little too plausible, which certainly helps bump up the fright factor), which makes the more extraordinary aspects easier to digest. The Hatching is basically a global alien invasion story, but with spiders and a multitude of egg sacs and unsuspecting hosts instead of little green men and UFOs.

 

Boone wastes no time going bonkers, as massive outbreaks of man-eating spiders are unleashed upon China and India, before finally making their way to the good ol' US of A. The cast of characters confronting this nightmare is equally sprawling, and at times feels a bit too cumbersome and shallow. While the characters are drawn in the "good enough" approach, they're not really the main focus here so I'm willing to give Boone a pass on this. This isn't the type of fare one turns to for in-depth depictions of the human soul, and there's not much in the way of sweeping character arcs (for instance, one man's arc involves getting over his ex-wife, which he's able to do once he realizes he wants to bone the female scientist studying this outbreak). There's also way more characters than can comfortably serve the narrative of a single book, which I'm also willing to give a pass on since The Hatching is the first in a series (Skitter is due out next year).

 

But look. This is a spider horror story first and foremost. I'm not here for meditations on the human condition. I'm here because I want to read about spiders destroying civilization. I'm OK with some mediocre character development and protracted payoff as long as the scenario is fresh enough to keep me invested and the scares deliver. And those scares...for an arachnaphobe like me? Boy, do they deliver.

 

The Hatching reminds me why I'm afraid of spiders by tapping into that highly implausible yet all too prevalent nature of what if? Yes, I can (mostly) kill a common house spider pretty effectively. But...what if? What if they team up, or bite me and then burrow their way into the wound and take up residence inside my freaking body, or start wrapping me up in a silky cocoon while I'm sleeping? There's a myth that you eat about eight spiders a year in your sleep. Thankfully, it's a myth. But, jeez, what if you eat even just one? And that one is carrying some eggs that get webbed inside your throat or something? You ever wake up with a scratchy throat? Are you really, 100% positive beyond a shadow of a doubt that it's not an egg sac and that it won't be hatching and that you'll be gagging up a bunch of spiders before your first cup of coffee? That's the type of fear-mongering Boone plays around with here and it's a little too close for comfort at times. All of my fears about spiders and their potential for harm (yes, I know it's irrational. Mostly, anyway.) play out in some wonderfully disastrous scenarios in this book, and occasionally in exquisitely morbid details. There's a few images I'm afraid won't be dislodging themselves from my brain anytime soon.

 

If you're seriously arachnophobic, The Hatching probably won't do you any favors. However, if you're looking for some solid, B-movie horror invasion on a big budget Hollywood movie scale this book certainly delivers. If anything, being afraid of spiders might even make this book's particular brand of crazy better and more intimate, and how many stories can you say that about?

 

[Note: This reviewed is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley.]

Review: The Fisherman by John Langan

The Fisherman - John Langan

John Langan's The Fisherman is a slow-burn tale of cosmic horror told on two fronts. This is the story of two widowers, Abe and Dan, who find solace in their shared hobby of fishing and plan on sinking their lines into Dutchman's Creek, a hard to find locale unless you know exactly where to look. Beyond being hard to find, there's rumors about this creek...rumors and stories. Dutchman's Creek has a lot of history, and Langan focuses on this for the bulk of his narrative.

 

I have to admit, when Abe began relaying the story of Dutchman's Creek, as told to him by a cook at a diner they stop at before embarking on their trip, who heard it from a priest who heard it from somebody else, I was worried that this book would be reduced to a game of Telephone. I was also a bit jarred by, after having spent several long chapters with Abe and getting lost in his narrative and intonations of their ill-fated trip to Dutchman's Creek, I was suddenly in the midst of a historical story 100 years prior.

 

Thankfully, the history Langan presents is rich and highly interesting, and filled with several intriguing characters. Once the horror elements begin to weave their way into the account, the story really kicks into high gear with some wonderful imagery and fantastical scenarios. I flat-out loved the mythology Langan explores here, exploiting the watery elements in both theme and object to deliver an excellent bit of cosmic horror. Langan invests us in these characters (both past and present) suitably well, and the sense of creeping dread is completely engrossing.

 

The biggest risk in presenting a narrative with the story-within-a-story approach is that there are effectively two endings. I found the climax to the historical segment to be much more satisfying than the present-day events, although once Abe and Dan's stories reach their finish the moody atmosphere was scintillating enough that even though I'd finished reading this on a sunny evening I'd swear the sky was filled with dark, rain-laden clouds.

 

The Fisherman was the first book I've read by Langan, and you can mark me as suitably impressed. His writing style is very comfortable, and within a matter of pages I felt like I was right there with Abe, listening to a long fisherman's story on the river's shores. And while this is a densely written story, it is a compulsively readable one. Through Abe, Langan sinks his hooks in deep enough to catch you by surprise, and then you just wait for him to reel you in. Once he does, it is so very worth it.

 

[Note: I received a copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]

Review: Stolen Away by Kristin Dearborn

Stolen Away - Kristin Dearborn

Kristin Dearborn first came to my attention earlier this year with the DarkFuse release, Woman In White. I liked that one well enough, but noted in my review that, "I could have gone for some deeper character explorations...and I could have used way more of the supernatural aspect." Apparently, Stolen Away was the Dearborn title I was looking for!

 

Trisha is a recovering addict and single-mother to Kourtney. Her and the ex, a tattoo artist named Joel, aren't on the best of terms, but after her son is kidnapped, the two find themselves reunited to protect their daughter and find her missing boy. Unfortunately, this abduction has a few wrinkles to it, not the least of which is that Brayden's father is a demon. Like, a literal demon. You know, from Hell. In his human form, he even has a tattoo on his back in big bold letters that say DEMON. So, yeah.

 

Dearborn delivers the goods with the supernatural aspect here, keeping the nasty stuff front and center. There's a lot of great demonic stuff happening herein, from possession and exorcisms, to our tattooed body-modder anti-heroes learning the ropes on all-things underworld, along with some half-demon ass-kickers and a scene or two that pay lovely homage to John Carpenter's The Thing.

 

Dearborn brings the action front and center, but also gives us a reason to care for Trisha and Joel beyond their positions as beleaguered parents. Both have a history with one another, and are in various stages of recovery from their drug-fueled past and questionable decisions. These aren't spit-shined do-gooders, but damaged goods that have been in rough spots and are still trying to do right by themselves and those around them, and not always succeeding.

 

I also really dug the subtle layers of feminism that Dearborn wove into her tale. This is a story about loss, but it also has strong elements of female empowerment, bodily autonomy, and combating rape culture and harassment (sometimes directly and violently). It's really awesome stuff, and, in my view, helped raise the narrative to a higher place thematically, putting it up above more pedestrian demon-hunting stories. I hesitate to call it "message fiction," since Dearborn keeps these things on the down-low, and because fiction with any kind of a message, either overt or not, apparently makes some sensitive readers sad and squeamish. Stolen Away, though, does have some vital commentary on the role of women in society, and it's refreshing to read demonic horror fiction where women aren't reduced to mere sexpots ripe for exploitation or in need of saving by either the big strong man or religious righteousness. Again, it's subtly (and suitably) handled but well-worth noting, and Dearborn incorporates it beautifully in order to serve the story and highlight the particular, and multiple, brands of horrors she's working with here.

 

[Note: This book was provided for review by Hook of a Book Media and Publicity.]

Review: Consequences by John Quick

Consequences - John Quick

Consequences, by John Quick, is a pretty solid debut and one that hints at good things to come as Quick's career progresses (note: Consequences is independently published, but he's recently signed with Sinister Grin Press, so I think it's safe to say Quick is in this for the long haul, or at least I hope he is).

 

What we have here is a serial killer horror story, based on an urban legend in Quick's real-life neck of the woods in Tennessee. Back in the 70s, Crazy Freddy killed his entire family - hung them with barbed wire and skinned them alive. Flash forward to the present-day, where a group of teens have just graduated from high school are all set to have a party in the abandoned house. Guess who used to live there? Booze is drank, drugs smoked, sex had, and an accidental fire started - all of which upsets the crazed killer lurking in the dark, and off we go on a bloody tear.

 

The character work here is pretty impressive, particularly for a first-time novelist. I liked these kids, and found myself a bit dismayed at their inevitable ends as I was rooting for more than a few of them to pull through. But alas... Quick goes to some deliriously dark places and pulls off his scenes of torture and violence rather well. He switches up the kills enough to keep us wondering how, exactly, his next victim will suffer, keeping us on our toes even if some of the inevitable demises feel a little too inevitable.

 

My main complaint with Consequences is that we really never know what makes our nutty slasher tick. The Big Bad presented here is entirely human, with no supernatural gimmicks, and fans of slasher flicks or thriller novels will know where The Big Reveal is headed way before Quick announces it. The really big questions go unresolved, though. Our killer is not presented as a force of nature, but one with a backstory that I really wish I had been privy to as a reader. There's history lurking in these pages, and I wanted to know about it. Without a deeper examination of the killer's motives, and some sort of look at Nature vs. Nurture, the why's behind his murder spree feels flimsy.

 

While I had a couple other issues with this book -- the middle part gets bogged down while the teens try to figure out who's after them, and the finale feels way too rushed -- I enjoyed the read overall. This is a slasher story that wears its influences on its sleeve, and although it doesn't break any new ground, it's at least largely entertaining in its delivery.

 

[Note: This book was provided for review by Hook of a Book Media and Publicity.]