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.

 

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

 

Professional ReaderChallenge Participant2016 NetGalley Challenge
 
SPOILER ALERT!

Review: A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

A Head Full of Ghosts: A Novel - Paul Tremblay

While on a very superficial level, A Head Full of Ghosts is pretty straight-forward, I'm really not sure how to review or discuss this book without getting into some spoiler territory. So, I'm going to issue a SPOILER WARNING right here and now at the outset.

 

If you want my 100% spoiler-free review, here goes: A Head Full of Ghosts is a damn good book. Paul Tremblay crafts a terrific bit of psychological horror, with well-drawn and relateable characters that, even after finishing the book, has kept me guessing. Go read it!

 

With that out of the way, let's dive a little bit deeper. But again, SPOILER WARNING from here on out.

 

Tremblay manages to write a novel that can be about at least three different stories depending on your takeaway. It could be a demonic possession story, or it could be about straight-up mental illness. It could be about a family's inability to cope with their sick daughter and how the father's religious zealotry absolutely destroys them, with multiple instances of mental illness fully consuming the household and impacting the lives of everyone in this strange and peculiar home. It could be about child abuse and manipulation by the Church. It could be about a psychotic daughter. It could be about two psychotic daughters. It could be all of these things, or none of these, or maybe a mix-and-match scenario. Or it could be exactly as it is presented to us.

 

There are no easy answers in A Head Full of Ghosts. Tremblay avoids the head-spinning trippiness of Danielewski's House of Leaves, but with the story presented as a first-person narrative, we are forced to wonder just how accurate a story we're getting.

 

Although Marjorie is, for all intents and purposes, the "possessed" teenager, the story is constructed by her little sister, Merry. The entire book is filtered through Merry's first-person viewpoint, as she discusses her family history with a non-fiction author writing about the family's encounter with the supernatural. After their father becomes convinced that Marjorie is possessed by a demon, the family becomes the focal point of a supernatural "reality" show called The Possessed, and we get some critical examinations of these episodes in the way of intermittent blog posts. But the crux of the story is Merry and her singular accounts. We are in her head completely, and I wonder how much more of her story -- her true story -- would stand revealed in multiple readings. Can she be trusted, or is she manipulating everybody, including the reader, and to what degree?

 

Tremblay is clearly inspired by, and clearly rather knowledgeable of the history of, possession stories in popular media, ranging from the big, bad granddaddy of them all, The Exorcist, up to Danielewski's novel, and the recent boom in exorcisms following Pope Francis' public exorcism last year. I'm very impressed in how Tremblay synthesizes and parlays it all into such a wonderful addition to the genre. He hits all the familiar beats, yet still crafts a novel that keeps you guessing even after that last page turns over.

 

While it's difficult to embrace all of the supernatural going-ons in A Head Full of Ghosts, it's also difficult to fully dismiss them given just how successfully layered and interwoven they are in this story and with its characters. In the end, I think this book is sort of a litmus test for whatever the reader wants it to be. If you want a straight-up demonic possession story, you've got it. If you want something richer and more complicated, you can certainly find that here. Is A Head Full of Ghosts deceptively simple, or is it a Lemarchand's box of moving pieces that you could spend a good long while trying to open? That, fellow readers, may be entirely up to you.

Review: Extinction End (Extinction Cycle Book 5) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Extinction End (Extinction Cycle Book 5) - Aaron Sikes, Nicholas Sansbury Smith

You'd think after five books, the Extinction Cycle might start to get a bit stale. Somehow, though, Nicholas Sansbury Smith has managed to keep this series rocking and rolling, presenting a cross-genre affair that continues to impress and excite.

 

I've really appreciated the way Smith continues to up the ante, transforming the Variant threat into a global crises that only grows more and more complicated. The elements involved in crafting an Extinction book work wonderfully well, and Smith ties up action, science, horror, and military thriller into a tight, impossible to put down read. Even after five books, I'm still on the edge of my seat.

 

Here, Team Ghost, led as always by Reed Beckham, are making their last-ditch push toward ending the threat of the monstrous Variants, whose offspring have evolved some particularly nasty new elements that allow Smith to craft several wonderfully gruesome scenes. Packed with a ton of action and a lot of heart, we're taken across multiple front lines on land and at sea as Team Ghost contends with monsters and monstrous humans. The fighting is intense and masterfully crafted (a staple of this series), right on up through an excellent climax that blends the suspense and action of Aliens and Die Hard (or maybe Under Siege is a better example), with a lot of heart-string tugging and plenty more "oh sh--" moments.

 

For all intents and purposes, this is supposedly the last book in the series, although there's plenty of wiggle room left for another book if the author so chooses. And if it is, in fact, the last book, rest assured that Smith is not resting on his laurels here.

 

I've been a big fan of this series, and this might be the best entry of the lot. Smith gets full-on cinematic in his epicness here. As far as I'm concerned, this is a fitting conclusion for Sgt. Reed Beckham, Dr. Kate Lovato, and the other members of Team Ghost. If we do get a sixth book down the line, I'll definitely be reading it (especially if Smith presents some of the catastrophe and struggle in Europe or Asia. This series has been focused on the US front-lines of the war, but I'm itching to see a more global examination of the story.). If we don't, then it's been a fantastic run for Smith, his characters, and this reader in particular.

 

Hoorah!

Review: Pressure by Brian Keene

Pressure - Brian Keene

Pressure is a far cry from Brian Keene's previous release, The Complex, earlier this year. Whereas the latter was a tight horror-action romp that hardly slowed down, let alone paused to catch a breath, Pressure is a more leisurely and tepid thriller. Here, Keene delivers a twist on the sea monster creature-feature, with a sort of Crichton-esque flavor, or perhaps a bit of Lincoln & Child reminiscence.

 

The sea floor of the Mauritius is falling into "The Mouth of Hell," and strange stirrings are afoot with the discovery of a new, massive predator. World-class free diver, Carrie Anderson, is working on behalf of a biotech firm to learn about the collapsing sea-floor but business takes a personal turn after her diving partner's demise and a close encounter with an unclassified underwater monster.

 

Pressure is filled with several great ideas that could have been truly terrific if given a little more room to build and develop. It's a short book, and it feels like some elements could have used more time to bake. Since the book was pitched as "Jaws meets Alien," two of my favorite films, and written by Keene, whose work in The Complex I enjoyed tremendously, I had ridiculously high hopes for this one. Unfortunately, my expectations were not quite met, although I would say Pressure is nonetheless a good and certainly enjoyable read. But, it's also a read that I think needs to be approached with any preconceived notions firmly in check, especially if you're expecting a gory horror fest that Keene is typically known for.

 

Pressure is at its best when the characters are on the high sea, dealing with the mysterious and massive threat lurking below the water. The flip-side, however, is that this particular element is nearly a C-plot to the book. I had expected, and indeed hoped for, it to be the primary focus of the novel. I wanted to see lots of aquatic horror, and I didn't really get it. What was there was all kinds of salty and violent fun, but entirely too short-lived.

 

I kept expecting the characters to make their way back to the water, but Keene was more focused on driving this toward a land-based thriller where the real villains are an evil corporation and their gun-toting thugs. I suspect this book will appeal to a lot of readers looking for a disposable beach read - not that there's anything wrong with that. Personally, I was looking for more horror, more action, more scares, and definitely way more in the way of monster mayhem. This particular book was built to be just a little too mainstream for my tastes, and didn't quite deliver what I wanted-slash-expected.

 

I will give it a few extra points for some Clickers Easter eggs, as well a number of Alpinus Bio security guys whose names are borrowed from a number of well-known horror authors. I just dig stuff like that. I also hope that Pressure helps lead new readers into Keene's other works.

 

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

Review: Kill Baxter by Charlie Human (Audiobook)

Kill Baxter - Charlie Human

My original KILL BAXTER audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

 

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After saving the world in Apocalypse Now Now, sixteen-year-old Baxter Zevcenko is off to school at Hexpoort to begin his training in magical abilities for recruitment into the ultra-secretive MK6. Unfortunately for Baxter, it’s not going to be a very easy semester… MK6 agents are winding up dead, and rebellion is fermenting within the community of The Hidden thanks to the work of the mysterious Muti Man. Oh, and Baxter has to endure the bullying of The Chosen One who thinks Baxter may have stolen his thunder by doing battle with an interdemensional villain last time around. Hexpoort is, after all, high school, even with a militaristic boot camp bent.

 

Kill Baxter is seriously entertaining stuff, with a number of laugh-out-loud moments. There’s a passing similarity to the Harry Potter series, as Baxter is a smart and gifted young man, but imminently more foul-mouthed, manipulative, aggressive, and sarcastic than that Hogwart’s fellow. And his best friend is a violent alcoholic. So, yeah, there’s that. Although Baxter is making a conscious effort at being a better man and attending a pornography addiction anonymous group, it’s his battles against the Muti Man that will prove to be the most challenging aspect of his journey toward self-discovery.

 

Returning to narrate is David Atlas, whose performance I enjoyed quite a bit. He brings a terrific amount of effort to the production, and voices Baxter exceedingly well. He also gives the secondary characters their own unique voices and inflections without hitting any false notes. My only complaint is that there were often some strangely long pauses throughout the narrative, section breaks not withstanding. I often thought Atlas was giving us breathing room between section breaks within a chapter, only to discover he was taking a break between paragraphs. It was a bit jarring, but thankfully this didn’t occur too often during dialogue exchanges. Still, it was enough to make me speed up the play-through, and I found that listening to this audiobook at 1.25X was preferable.

 

As far as the writing goes, Charlie Human has a terrific voice and puts some interesting spins on his passages. I couldn’t help but smile when one character finally admitted that positive thinking just wasn’t his thing, and a particular sewer monster that figures into the book’s climax was well and nastily rendered. The Baxter books are clearly becoming a series that I’ll be sticking with for the long-haul, and Human introduces a few story threads in Kill Baxter that are clearly setting up a much larger story for the next book. The hints we’re given here have me itching for quite a lot more, and I can only hope that the wait isn’t too long.

 

[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com]

Review: WEBCAM by Jack Kilborn (JA Konrath)

WEBCAM - A Novel of Terror - Jack Kilborn, J.A. Konrath

Let me get this out of the way first - I liked WEBCAM, even if I did find myself ultimately disappointed. It's a far from perfect read for me, but I don't feel like my time was completely wasted. Hence, the three-star rating. To explain why I was disappointed will take some doing, so here goes.

 

Jack Kilborn is JA Konrath's go-to pseudonym for horror books, and they're usually billed as "A Novel Of Terror." Such books have included Afraid, Trapped, Endurance, Haunted House, and (I think) a few others. For me, Afraid has stood at the top of these offerings and is the pinnacle of Kilborn's efforts. The sequence listed above also carries with it a certain staple that I expect in a Kilborn book - primarily intense, squirm-inducing violence that is graphically rendered, and a whole bucketfuls of spilled blood, guts, and gore. The villains are bat-shit crazy psychotics, occasionally of the inbred variety, and the good guys are normal people caught up in unexpected horrors that are way, way, way over their heads.

 

In WEBCAM, a nutjob is killing webcam models. Given the endless stream of horror that pretty much is the Internet these days, this seems like perfect fodder for some Kilborn scares. Unfortunately, much of what I dug in previous Kilborn books are sorely lacking here. I didn't find myself squirming uncomfortably as I did back in the days when Afraid and Trapped hit my Kindle, and it seems like more than a little stretch of the imagination to call this a Novel Of Terror since there's not actually much real terror in it. At least not for my tastes.

 

What WEBCAM is, though, is a fairly standard but mostly well-delivered serial killer police procedural that feels more like a high-tech, watered-down retread of the movie Seven than a straight-up fright fest. Things run smoothly for the most part, although I found the relationship between lead character Detective Tom Mankowski and his visiting long-distance girlfriend grew weary rather quickly. And the finale is more concerned with shoehorning in Konrath's long-running series staple, Jacqueline "Jack" Daniels, and adding in a few unnecessary layers to the story's end all in the name of developing a cross-over with a few other newly released Konrath titles. The climax is rushed to an abrupt and unsatisfying finish, as if the author grew bored with the material or was running up against a hard, self-imposed deadline.

 

On the bright side, WEBCAM is certainly a decent time-killer, and it does have a few cat-and-mouse thrills in it, along with a few chuckles here and there. And that cover design is absolutely brilliant!

LET GO: Now With The Hunter Shea Seal of Approval

Late this past week, I uploaded a short horror story to Amazon. I've written about Let Go previously (here, for instance) - it's a pretty straight forward zombie story, but my beta readers enjoyed it and early reviews have been kind.

 

One such beta reader, fellow author Tommy Muncie, posted his thoughts on his personal blog (here), writing that Let Go "stands out because it’s more about the human emotion than it is about the violence and the conflict..." and has "a feeling that’s slightly more Stephen King."

 

Tommy is not the first reader to tell me it has a Stephen King vibe and, well, they're right I suppose. King was a definite influence on me, and I've credited the man with being almost personally responsible for making me a serious reader-slash-book hoarder back when high school lit classes were destroying my eagerness to seek out books for entertainment. That's maybe another discussion for another time, though. But, yes, King is a definitely influence.

 

Strangely enough, Tommy is also the second reader to draw a comparison to Breaking Bad. Now that is a purely unintentional happenstance, and I don't really see it, but will happily be lumped in with such a fine series!

 

The real big news, for me, was finding out that horror author Hunter Shea grabbed a copy. And what's more, that he enjoyed it. And that he enjoyed it enough to leave a 5-star review on Goodreads. I've pulled some quotes from it, as shown above, but you can check out the full review here.

 

When Shea tweeted me about this over the weekend, I was initially panicked, nervous, start struck, and hugely relieved! He's a great guy, and I've been a reader of his for a very short while but have certainly liked what he's put out. It's incredibly gracious of him to have taken the time to write about my story, and I'm both flattered and incredibly grateful. So, yeah, Let Go now has some serious bona fides to go with it!

 

This week, I'll be running some promos in a couple newsletters in the hopes that I can draw a few more eyes to Let Go. If you've read the story already, I could really use your help in the form of more honest reviews. If you haven't read Let Go but would like to, you can pick it up for .99c at Amazon.

Review: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

Dark Matter: A Novel - Blake Crouch

As a new parent, it's rare that I'll trade anything, let alone some extra time at night, for some precious, much coveted sleep. Yet, as I closed in on the last handful of chapters of Blake Crouch's latest, I found myself laying in bed, eyes barely open, promising myself, "Just a few more pages. I'll finish this chapter and then go to bed." And then ultimately deciding last night, no, I will finish this tonight. I must finish this tonight - not because I had other books to read (there's lots and lots of those!), but because I had to freaking know how this damn thing ended!

 

Earlier this month, I gave up on a book less than halfway through. I had been bored and struggling with that previous title, and was finding myself in a bit of a reading slump. A few cyber book buddies who knew I had an ARC of Dark Matter, and who had already read and raved about this one, suggested-slash-demanded that I read this book immediately. I took their advice and...

 

Holy. Crap.

 

This book kept me on my toes nearly the whole way through. Every time I thought I had a grip on things and thought I knew where Crouch was going with the story, he veered off into a whole other thrilling direction. This book is tense and has a number of shocks throughout. Right when you start to feel safe, Crouch lobs another crazy curve ball to bean you upside the head.

 

I found myself consistently awed at how Crouch is able to constantly raise the stakes without making the story feel bloated and bogged down, or, even worse, tiresome. The only thing this book is thick with is suspense! There were a number of times that I was caught off guard, and Crouch makes some bold decisions in his storytelling here that I flat out loved. 

 

I don't want to give out any spoilers, and Crouch puts so many twists and turns into his narrative that even talking about the basic premise seems like a risky gambit that would reveal too much about this book's Big Ideas. Dark Matter is one of those books that I want to talk about, but can't. So just do me a favor and go pre-order the damn thing. It comes out in July. You can thank me later.

 

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

Hey Authors - Don't Be An Asshole

I've gone back and forth for a little while about writing this post because, let's face it, blog posts these days about authors behaving badly are a dime a dozen. It's a small wonder that in this age of social media we still have to remind writer's not to treat their potential readers like shit, and yet here we are.

 

A few months back, I made a post on my private Facebook account that was very anti-Trump in nature (probably around the time Trump bragged about being able to shoot somebody in the middle of Times Square and face zero repercussions, and I'm fairly certain there was probably yet another school shooting that day...). I'm an author and I have allowed a number of other authors to be, in Facebook parlance, friends with me on there. One of those authors decided to take time out of his day to insult me for not being on the Trump bandwagon and for buying into the liberal media reports about how black protestors were being beaten and forcibly evicted from his rallies (something that is still occurring, and common enough that Slate began keeping a running tally of violence at Trump rallies), at a time when Trump was promising to ban Muslims from the US.

 

Today that author is running a promo on his books, so his name popped up a number of times in my feed. His books sound cool, and they have a premise that is right up my alley. And they're currently free! Normally, I would have been one-clicking away over on Amazon to gather up the series.

 

But, as an author, I'm also a reader. A reader that usually goes through half a dozen books per month, on a fairly typical basis. A reader that this particular author decided to demean because of political differences. A reader who that author, apparently, felt was beneath him. So, no, I'm not in any particular rush to support this man's work by helping boost his Amazon rankings for the day, because this is an author that decided he did not want me as a customer.

 

I know this is a bitter political campaign and tempers are skewed. There's a particular segment in America that feels embittered and who are upset "their" America is being altered. They're afraid, and Trump plays well at being the fear-monger. More recently, another author reminded me of this by tweeting at me in response to a post I had shared about yet more protestors being beaten at a Trump rally (there is at least a pretty common theme among the many Trump rallies). This author posited that was the way the left likes it. Because, what, "the left" actively enjoys seeing minorities harassed and beaten by the KKK and Neo-Nazi members that support Trump? Seriously? That strikes me as more than a little bit intellectually lazy, with a dash of ridiculous conspiracy theory thrown in on the side.

 

And in yet another instance, I shared this blog post from Stant Litore, What You Can Do If You're A White Guy Like Me. Litore gives a few helpful pointers about how guys like us can help combat the harassment of women online and at conventions. To me, this seems highly reasonable. I've known women who have been harassed, and as somebody who was bullied fairly frequently early in life, I'm not a real big fan of harassers, bullies, molesters, and creeps in general. Be Cool may be an Elmore Leonard title, but it's also a pretty good motto to live by. Who could object to this?

 

Apparently the author that tweeted me, for the very first time ever, in response to an article about stopping the harassment of women, stating, "As a white male, how about I do whatever the fuck I want."

 

Wow. There's a conversation starter that doesn't at all reek of bitter entitlement. But, at least I have yet another name I can add to the list of writer's I won't be supporting.

 

This isn't a matter of having a difference in opinion. You have your beliefs, I have mine. Fine, whatever. And keep in mind I am not calling for any type of censorship (because, unfortunately this has to be stated and freaking bolded, now that we live in an era where anytime somebody disagrees with somebody else, there's a knee-jerk reaction about how they're "being banned" or "censored" because it's the cool new buzz word floating 'round these echo chambers). You're free to tweet and post about whatever you want. I do. I post opinions all the time, and I'm fine if we disagree on fundamental issues.

 

My point is that these differences of opinion shouldn't be staging areas for battlegrounds, particularly not between an author and his potential readers. You're not doing your cause any favors in attacking me or others, and you're definitely not earning yourself a new reader. What you're tell me is that you don't have any respect for the opinions of others, and that if we don't agree with you then we're beneath you. If that's how you want to run your business, then fine. I'm OK with that. But keep in mind that I could have been a fan, a champion of your work, a guy that enthusiastically promotes your work and tells all my friends about it because I loved it. Instead, you went out of your way to be an asshole. And that tells me something. It tells me a lot, really.

 

I'm a reader. I'm a buyer of books. Hell, I'm a freaking book hoarder. The money I spend on books each week, hell sometimes each day, is fundamentally ridiculous. So, you know what, maybe I have a better idea. If you're an author, and you're an asshole who holds their readers in contempt unless they meet whatever murky ideological paths you follow and you can't handle conducting yourself like an adult, let me know. I could really save some serious money this way!

Review: Pieces of Hate by Tim Lebbon

Pieces of Hate (The Assassins Series) - Tim Lebbon

Pieces of Hate collects two Tim Lebbon stories revolving around the assassin Gabriel - "Dead Man's Hand" and "Pieces of Hate." Gabriel is on the hunt for Temple, who slaughtered his family, and it provides the basis for two equally interesting settings with one serving as a de facto western (albeit a weird western) and the other a good old-fashioned pirate story, respectively.

 

I won't say more about Gabriel, his mission, or Temple because, really, why spoil the fun of those discoveries? There's some interesting history between these two figures, and if you've read the book description you already know the gist of it.

 

Frankly, I'm a bit torn on this book. It's filled with good ideas and interesting locales, which I liked a lot, but the execution just didn't jibe with me.

 

In "Dead Man's Hand," we join Gabriel in the infamous Wild West town of Deadwood. This one's a first-person POV narrated by a man named Doug who discovers a bloodied-up Gabriel in his shop. Doug's personal history isn't exactly one that would mark him as an adventurer, and he's about as interesting as the timber walkways lining the fledgling community's horseshit covered streets. Gabriel and Temple are, of course, the most interesting aspects of this story, but with Doug serving as a filter most of that gets watered down. Doug, you see, doesn't know what the hell is going on and can't really tell us anything meaning. Lebbon teases us with hints of a much better story than what is actually delivered by hapless Doug. We get all kinds of mystery and intrigue, but zilch in the way of answers and resolution. Thanks for nothing, Doug.

 

"Pieces of Hate" is the more interesting of the two, because PIRATES! This story is a close third-person account with a much stronger focus on Gabriel than the introductory story, and contains a bulk of the meat missing from "Dead Man's Hand." Unfortunately, it's equally frustrating in its resolution, and those hoping for an epic showdown between these sworn enemies will be disappointed. While there's some nice swashbuckling elements, I would have preferred a stronger finale for my time investment.

 

As a collection, Pieces of Hate provides two stories that are well written, but which lack a satisfying resolution. I guess the end of the second story offers a slim glimmer of hope that maybe a third story will come out to put a pin in all this with a decent finale. I might even be swayed to read it. Lebbon has some great ideas here, but none that are fully realized.

 

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

Review: Javelin Rain by Myke Cole

Javelin Rain: A Shadow Ops Novel - Myke Cole

Myke Cole's Gemini Cell was one of my favorite reads last year, so I was looking forward to Javelin Rain with a lot of excitement.

 

These two books comprise the opening gambit of a new trilogy that serves as a prequel to Cole's Shadow Ops series (which I haven't read, but since these are prequels they're as good as place as any to start, I think), and like a number of middle entries, Javelin Rain struggles as its own entity. It has to continue the story began in Gemini Cell of Jim Schweitzer, an undead SEAL who has been resurrected by a secret cabal within the US military, and picks up literally seconds after the last page of the prior book. It also has to tell a story that progresses the overarching narrative without providing too much in the way of resolution (because that's what book three in a trilogy is for!) while also serving as a satisfying entry in its own right.

 

Cole adheres to these points fairly solidly, but Javelin Rain gets a bogged down in its own elements. As a middle entry, it lacks the freshness of discovery the prior book possessed, and as a reader I'm no longer thrust into exciting, unfamiliar territory but instead get a lot of the same elements I was already familiar with. This book is basically Schwietzer On The Run In The Forest, and its a scenario that occupies a lot of pages. A side plot introduces Dadou, a new sorcerer inducted into the Gemini squad to kick up their capabilities a notch, and she's a pretty cool character tasked with working alongside Jawid, resident Binder of souls to corpses. There relationship helps make Jawid a more interesting character here as Cole explores the depth of his religious fervor and the mental brainwashing of his faith.

 

Mostly, though, this book just lacked the excitement and freshness I found in last year's novel. The action wasn't quite as exciting, although Cole delivers a few welcome surprises here and there and lays out enough details to inch us toward the big finish in book three. If Gemini Cell was great (and I thought it was), then Javelin Rain is merely good. It's readable, and leaves the characters in an interesting place, but it lacks energy. Still, I'm on-board for the long haul, even with slightly dampened enthusiasm.

Review: Husk by Rachel Autumn Deering

Husk - Rachel Autumn Deering

Rachel Autumn Deering has worn various hats in the comic book side of literature, and makes her prose debut with Husk. Based on the strength of this novella, I'd say that's a pretty smart move and I'm hoping to see more works in this vein from her soon.

Husk is a psychological horror story with some well-sketched characters. Kevin is a war veteran, recently home from Afghanistan and undergoing treatment for PTSD until the VA cuts off his disability checks. They claim he is addicted to the pills they have prescribed him to treat his clinical depression. Kevin doesn't truck well with being told he's a drug addict and goes cold turkey on the meds. Maybe not the best idea ever.

Deering gives us a terrific look at how Kevin copes with PTSD, or doesn't in some cases. He's still plenty shell-shocked, and the tension is only heightened further when something strange begins lurking around his farmhouse, stalking him in the night and threatening his new-found love interest.

This is a work of horror where the people come first and foremost, and Deering takes her time making Kevin and Samantha real, devoting plenty of time to developing their burgeoning relationship.

If I have to pick nits, it's going to be with some of the dialogue and a few technical issues on the writing side. Some it feels a bit too much on the nose, particularly Kevin's rant early in the book when he rails against the VA and his doctor. There's also some wicked POV shifts that took me off guard, where we're with Kevin and then suddenly being told about what's happening inside the neighbor's home, which he could have no knowledge of. These are certainly issues that can be ironed out over time, and aren't exactly surprising to see in a first-time prose author. None of these issues break the story though, nor did they detract from my enjoyment of the work.

And besides, that ending...oomph. Nicely done, that.

Review: Family Business by Brett Williams (Audiobook)

Family Business - Brett Williams

[My original Family Business audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.]

 

Family Business by Brett Williams may be one of the meanest, most joyless horror novels I’ve ever happened upon. This sucker is pitch-black bleak, filled with a cast of abusers and the abused, and rife with hopelessness. The few times we get meager glimpses of light, Williams revels in prolonging our agony and draws the shutters back down into place to blot out the light. This is a cruel and savage work, one that left me feeling dirty and in desperate need of a shower at the end of its ordeal.

 

Erika is hoping to surprise her husband with a puppy and ventures off to visit a backwoods puppy mill. Obviously this is the best idea in the world, and after cluelessly ignoring all the warning signs horror-hounds will be well versed in, she finds herself abducted and locked in a cage. Following her abduction, Williams presents a number of despairing sequences of brutal and graphically written rape scenarios, hardcore animal cruelty, vivid abuse, shallow adultery as we get to know Erika’s shady husband, and Erika’s own attempt at transformation from rape victim to manipulative seductress. And just when you think things cannot become more depraved, Williams somehow still manages to up the ante in an on-going pursuit of nihilistic redneck horror.

 

OK, so this is a story that did not appeal to me. While I enjoy dark, broody horror, this book was just too unrelentingly grim for me. The narrative is violent and savage, and completely stripped of any sort of enjoyment, or even empathy for the character’s plights. If Williams wanted to strip his readers bare emotionally and, like one certain poor puppy early on, viciously crush them beneath his boot heel, he is certainly successful in that regard.

 

As narrator, Joe Hempel handles the material well, and his reading possesses the necessary gravitas. His accents and character voices fit in nicely with the rural Missouri setting, and the production is smooth. I’ve listened to a few titles with Hempel as narrator, and this is easily his strongest performance. Occasionally in audiobooks, you can notice a narrator’s voice change as he warms up during the reading, but Hempel keeps things consistent for the nearly nine-hour run-time.

 

With its focus on sheer unrelenting misery for both the book’s characters and its listeners, Family Business could easily take home the Feel Bad Listen of the Year Award if there were such a thing. Potential listeners may want to get an iron gut before braving the dark depths of this particular title.



[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com]

Review: The Complex by Brian Keene

The Complex - Brian Keene

If Brian Keene is not exactly a household name, then he is at the very least quite well known within the horror community. Admittedly, I've not read many of his works (an error I hope to, as Keene would put it, "unfuck immediately"), but I consider myself a fan by way of his podcast, The Horror Show with Brian Keene, and social media presence. I respect and value him as an author, even if reader-me is still playing catch up. Frankly, the only prior works of his that I read were The Rising (which, frankly, I wasn't completely crazy about) and his short story "The Last Supper" from the Seize the Night vampire anthology (which I absolutely was crazy for). While The Rising was his first book and didn't quite do it for me, I saw immediately a huge growth in talent that the intervening years brought to bear in "The Last Supper."

 

The Complex, then, is only the second book of Keene's that I've read. Since starting it Sunday night and over the course of the last four days, I've bought a handful more of Keene's other titles and hit him up on Twitter to find out where I can score more stories about The Exit (and if you come across this review, Brian, thank you again. I've secured the appropriate anthologies and then some!), a recurring character I'm discovering only now thanks to this book. So, does that answer the question on whether or not I liked this book?

 

Written with a tight, cinematic pacing, Keene introduces us to his characters - a handful of apartment dwellers - through various POV chapters, wasting no time getting right into the action and dumping us into a full-bore violent romper-room of chaos and bloodshed by the end of chapter two. Things go awry just as new tenants Terri, and her son, Caleb, are moving in and confronted by a pack of naked crazies bearing an assortment of weapons, and soon enough the entirety of Pine Village Apartment's is under siege.

 

From there, it's action, action, action. The violence is quick and no-nonsense, and Keene writes the various scenarios very well, in quick and dirty fashion, careful not to overly prolong any given sequence while keeping things punchy.

 

Right from the outset, I could tell this would be a book I'd appreciate as Keene name-dropped a few of my favorite writers, like Chuck Wendig and Kelly Sue DeConnick, and colored the cast and settings with personal touches that I recalled Keene talking about on his podcast. I always like these little bits of personal experiences and flashes of an author's life bleeding onto the page (something that's never really avoidable, mind you, but recognizing these instances from Keene's discussions gave me a smile and a little bit of a welcome 'oh, hey! I remember that!' feeling).

 

Bottom line - this book is fun. Damn fun. I liked it a lot, from it's wonderfully diverse cast right down to the obese and nasty Tick Tock man, and an ending that (fondly, actually) echoed The Rising in some ways. It also compelled me to buy more of Keene's work, and that, perhaps more than anything, is the best mark of quality I can think of.

Review: HIT by Delilah S. Dawson (Audiobook)

Hit - Delilah S. Dawson

[My original HIT audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.]

 

Rather than start with a dystopia already in progress, Delilah S. Dawson starts right at the beginning on Day One of the apocalypse. Valor Savings has secretly just bought up all of America’s debt and now controls the nation. Congress has cashed out on their biggest-ever payday and the police have the day off while Valor hit-men go after debtors failing to properly contribute to society. Have a student loan, or a home mortgage? Still owe some money of your car? Then your name is on a list, all because you couldn’t be bothered to read the fine print. Now you have three options – pay your debt in full immediately, work for Valor Savings as a bounty hunter for five days, or die.

 

Seventeen-year-old Patsy is a Valor hit-man, coerced into taking the deal after her mother’s debt comes to light. Her mother has a number of outstanding bills and, already poor to begin with, cannot afford the medical care required to treat her cancer (as Patsy wryly notes, it costs more money to seek medical treatment than to become a doctor). Patsy is given the incentive to work as a hired gun in order to get her mom treatment courtesy of Valor, or else they both die. It’s not much of a deal, really, and there are no other options. She’s given a gun, a postal truck and a mail worker’s shirt to stay innocuous, and a list of ten names to deal with over the next five days.

 

Thankfully, Dawson takes the run-and-gun premise and imbues it with a nice bit of snark and charm, as well as a burgeoning romance between Patsy and Wyatt, whose father and brother both are on the Valor hit list. They make for an interesting couple, the very nature of their relationship underscored by a healthy amount of already built-in conflict, and while I at first felt their relationship somewhat strained credibility Dawson eventually won me over and I found myself rooting for them to succeed.

 

While Hit is labeled a Young Adult book, it’s certainly on the more mature end of the spectrum and the narrative is suitably dark with its violent plot and the beginning of the end for American society. Hit is also the first book in a series, and thus the narrative here provides a lot more questions than it can comfortably answer. Not everything is resolved neatly, and the ending perfectly sets up the sequel, Strike, due out April 2016.

 

On the narration side of things, Rebekkah Ross absolutely nails it. She has a lovely voice that carried the not-quite 8-hour listening time brilliantly, and I never doubted her as Patsy for a moment. There are a few times where an audiobook narrator instantly becomes the voice of a work or a series, and Ross is it for this work. Hit is a first-person POV narration, and right from the start Ross is Patsy. She slips into this role comfortably and pulls off the emotional range effortlessly, capturing Patsy’s angst, anger, and humor ridiculously well. The production is crisp and clean, with nary a hiccup to be found. All around, this is a very accomplished and professional effort and a wonderful audiobook.

 

After recently listening to Dawson describe Hit on the Three Guys With Beards podcast (hosted by authors Jonathan Maberry, Christopher Golden, and James A. Moore), I knew I had to check it out. And it was every bit as good as I had hoped it would be, even if I would have appreciated more in the way of resolution. But, hey, that’s what sequels are for, and if Strike is even half as good as Hit, I’ll be a very happy reader/listener.

 

[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com]

Review: The Winter Box by Tim Waggoner

The Winter Box - Tim Waggoner

I suspect that anyone who has been married for some length or in a long-term relationship will find plenty to relate to, perhaps uncomfortably so, in Tim Waggoner's latest novella, The Winter Box.

 

Waggoner does a beautiful job of taking a twenty-plus year long marriage and casting it at the center of a ghost story. After so long together, Todd and Heather's union has hit a snag. Neither will speak the dreaded D-word, even if both think it, and Todd oftentimes finds himself deliberately putting distance, both physically and emotionally, between he and his wife. Stuck in a cabin during a blizzard, the two are forced to admit the emotions they've kept buried and examine the deep wounds running beneath the scars they've bandaged over in all their years together.

 

I have to admit, I'm a bit of a sucker for horror stories that put weather extremes, particularly the blustery snow-driven cold, smack dab in the middle of the narrative. There's just something about the winter freeze and thick, icy haze that lends itself particularly well to horror, and I'm a big fan of these types of stories. Even more so when, as Waggoner capably demonstrates, these freaky storms help to thematically echo the human plight.

 

Todd wants to escape, but can't. The marriage, on the eve of their anniversary, is as cold and barren as the wintry landscape confining them to their cabin. These are people who want but can't have, even if neither quite knows what it is that they want or how to obtain it.

 

And then the ghosts. Oh yeah, the ghosts. There's an extra bit of fun right there, and Waggoner does just as well making that element as inhospitable and challenging for the couple as he does the elemental conditions they're stuck in. For such a short read at only 50 pages or so, Waggoner packs in a lot of story, and this is a read that just sails by nicely. Or, you know, not so nicely as it were. Marriage is a hard enough job to maintain and survive, and to do so in the worst of conditions...good luck!

 

I haven't read much of Waggoner's work, but every time I finish one of his stories I'm always left wanting to buy more of his work. The Winter Box is a great reminder of why that is.

 

[Note: I received a copy of this novella from the DarkFuse Book Club.]

Review: Savage Species by Jonathan Janz

Savage Species - Jonathan Janz

Author Jonathan Janz does several things immaculately well in Savage Species, primarily crafting high-octane action sequences and creating antagonists that you can easily hate in the span of only a few short paragraphs.

 

One such character is Eric, the emotionally abusive husband of Charly (one of the book's lead females). Eric is a massive d-bag, a power-hungry control freak who shirks his duties as a husband and father, and is quick to point the finger and blame everyone else. Immediately upon confronting this character in the novel's early goings, I longed for Janz to violently dispatch him - only problem was, there were a few hundred more pages to go! I just kept waiting and waiting for this jackass to bite it.

 

The protagonists are your usual every-man crowd - a housewife, a trio of reporters, some frat boys out to party in the newly opened nature preserve, and Frank Red Elk, who knows more about the history and local legends than anyone else. He also knows a hell of a lot about soft-core porn, and one must wonder just how much grueling research Janz was forced to partake in to pull off this character and his many film and actress references.

 

The action is a thrilling roller-coaster ride through bloody stretches of monster mayhem. The initial assault of Janz's creatures, known as The Children, is a violent, adrenaline fueled sequence of pure chaos as these beasts lay siege to the preserve and furiously interrupt a college co-ed summer party. What would have been a hell of an exciting climax in virtually any other creature-feature is merely the starting point for Janz, who manages to escalate the threats and tension thereafter rather well.

 

If I must lodge a complaint, and it's a mild one mind you, at certain points the violence took on a video-game like quality as things grew wildly frenetic. These long stretches of violence go on slightly too long and the thrills wear into sheer exhaustion. Perhaps this an appropriate feeling as a reader, as it certainly mimics what the characters must be feeling as they battle for survival. However, I couldn't help but feel a bit of tightening to these scenes would have gone a long way. I also couldn't help but feel that the unrelenting violence led to a mid-book slump when things slowed way down for an extended period to allow characters to regroup and launch into the story's latter half. Naturally, events pick up accordingly as Janz rockets towards the big finish.

 

Overall, Savage Species delivered the goods. It was exciting, fast-paced, humorous at times, and even came with a dash of romance and love triangles to give a bit of weight to the savagery.

 

Pro-tip: Be sure to check out Janz's latest, Children of the Dark, a prequel of sorts to Savage Species.