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
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Twitter: @MikeH5856


Professional ReaderChallenge Participant2016 NetGalley Challenge

Review: Everything Belongs To The Future by Laurie Penny

Everything Belongs to the Future - Laurie Penny

For me, science fiction is at its best when it tells an allegorical story reflecting on issues of the present day, and this is what makes Laurie Penny's Everything Belongs To The Future such a strong work.


In 2098, scientists have created a Fountain of Youth in a little blue pill. This creates a gerotocracy that only further divides the haves from the have-nots, as the pill is marketed to the rich, and priced so only the wealthy have access. A small group of idealistic youths with aspirations of political revolution attempt to undermine this disparity and create a modified version of the drug, appropriately named a Time Bomb, to undermine the quest for longevity.


A writer on social justice, feminism, and gender issues, journalist Laurie Penny brings all of these topics to bear in her science fiction debut (Penny has written several non-fiction titles, including 2014's Unspeakable Things: Sex, Lies, and Revolution). Her vision of England at the turn of the next century is highly recognizable, but subtly shaded with the repercussions of present-day issues (certain segments of England, for instance, are underwater thanks to many of our Old White Man politicians ignoring climate change and its now-unstoppable effects on future generations). There's plenty of justifiable anger simmering in this book's plot, as well, and while the character's motives are nicely gray their final solution is anything but. 


Everything Belongs To The Future is richly political and frighteningly dark, but there's also a certain honesty to it's 'what if' nature that I appreciate. It's better to have a bitter truth than a comforting lie, in my opinion, and this title certainly hits on several unsavory truths about mankind, ambition, and greed. 


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

Review: The Dispatcher by John Scalzi

The Dispatcher - John Scalzi, Zachary Quinto

My original The Dispatcher audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.


John Scalzi is an author that’s been in my to-read pile for a while, but I somehow have been unable to get around to reading his work. Thankfully, he and Audible teamed up to produceThe Dispatcher, an audiobook that runs a bit shy of two and a half hours, and which fit nicely into my daily commute.


Scalzi presents a world much like our own in The Dispatcher, with one crucial difference – people who are murdered or who die of unnatural causes automatically come back to life. Tony Valdez is a Dispatcher. His job is to intervene in a moment of crisis. Say somebody gets hit by a car or is about to die on the operating table. Tony’s job is to kill them in a humane fashion so they can come back to life and get another chance. There are loopholes, of course, because aren’t there always? And some of these loopholes are what drags Tony into a police investigation of another Dispatcher who has gone missing.


This premise of a world where murder is largely impossible is certainly an intriguing one, and it makes for a highly effective, attention-grabbing MacGuffin. While the mystical or theological elements undergirding the premise are inexplicable and unexplained, the effect this odd, new state of being has on the world and daily life is well rendered.


The investigation into the missing Dispatcher is well written, and poses plenty of questions, most of which the author approaches directly and satisfactorily. The real star, though, is Zachary Quinto’s narration. Although he’s best known for his roles in Star Trek and Heroes, this dude can truly and utterly perform a book reading in spectacular fashion. He inhabits the role of Valdez nicely, and demonstrates a wide range of voice talent in tackling the other characters, as well. While the story alone is great, Quinto elevates the material to the next level with his narration. As expected from Audible Studios, the sound quality and production values are top-notch.


The Dispatcher is free through Audible until Nov. 2, 2016, making this a very low-risk investment if you act fast, and one that presents wonderful returns for the price. On his blog, Scalzi noted this freebie is a thank you to his and Audible’s audience, as well as a nice enticement to draw in new readers and listeners. As someone who falls into this latter category, The Dispatcher is certainly a terrific incentive to lure me deeper into Scalzi’s backlist. I may even have to reshuffle a few commitments so I can get one or two more of his titles in before year’s end.

Review: Hammers on Bone by Cassandra Khaw

Hammers on Bone - Cassandra Khaw

With Hammers on Bone, Cassandra Khaw gives an old-school PI story a cool Lovecraftian update. There's plenty of old-school gumshoe narration (although the story is firmly present-day), along with a heaping dose of ancient gods and gritty mysticism. If this turns out to be the first in a series it is one I'll happily return to.


PI Joe Persons takes on what should be a simple job from an eleven-year-old client: kill the boy's abusive step-father, McKinsey. The appropriately-named Persons (you'll find out why!), naturally, gets more than he bargains for. McKinsey is a meat-suit for something ancient, see, and Persons is being warned off the case by some dame, but he's a dog with a bone now and serious things are afoot, see?


Mostly, I dug the heck out of Hammers on Bone and the way Khaw played with classic private eye tropes in a way that felt fresh with its sleek infusion of horror. Khaw has a terrific voice and can turn a phrase rather nicely, and her writing and cool style have me eager to check out her other stories, notably Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef, but also whatever else she publishes along the way. Joe Person's is a neatly complicated sort, for multiple reasons that I should not actually discuss, and the climax was solidly creepy, gross, and violent. And, jeez, check out that cover illustration by Jeffrey Alan Love - it's beautiful and speaks wonderfully toward the story within.


My only real complaint concerns the novella's brevity. There's a lot of story brewing under the surface of Persons narration that, since this is first person point of view, neither he nor readers are privy to. Khaw nails the sense of epic scope surrounding Persons' case, and I wanted more. By book's end, the plot grew a bit muddied and obscured with some last-minute dangling threads - but, again, if this turns out to not be a standalone title, this niggling detail could resolve itself. Given the nature of Persons and Khaw's impressive writing, I'm certainly game for more and she's definitely an author to watch out for.


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

Review: Extinction Aftermath (Extinction Cycle Book 6) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Extinction Aftermath (Extinction Cycle Book 6) - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Odds are, if you're reading a review of this sixth installment in Nick Smith's popular Extinction Cycle series, you're already a fan and I won't be able to tell you much you don't already know. If you've not yet picked up any of these books, and provided that military horror thriller creature features are your bag, then you'll want to stop here and proceed directly to the first book in this series, Extinction Horizon.


Extinction Aftermath picks up in the months following Extinction End, and Team Ghost, now under the leadership of Master Sergeant Joe "Fitz" Fitzsimmons, is preparing to invade Europe in an effort to quell the Variant threat overseas. Back at home, Reed Beckham is settling into civilian life with the very pregnant Dr. Kate Lovato, and President Ringgold is trying to stitch America back together through a series of Safe Zone Territories. Needless to say, everything goes to hell in a handbasket, and pretty darn quickly, too.


For my money, Aftermath just might be the best EC book yet, which says quite a bit about Smith's growth as an author and thriller writer. This title hits a few sweet spots that I've been waiting for the series to tackle, particularly taking the war to Europe (we get plenty of well-staged action scenes in France) and the introduction of some quite interesting mutations on the Variant side of things. The cover gives you a good hint of what one such mutation Smith's introduces is, but there's a few others that are pretty spiffy.


More intriguing, though, is the sense of scope Aftermath possesses. Now that the war against the Variants has gone global, there's a great sense of sprawling epicness to the story, with the action taking us from the shores of France, back home to Plum Island, Florida, and a few other locales. And the new threat facing America serves to heighten and propel the threats abroad to dangerous levels, while also raising the stakes for our series heroes considerably. 


My only real complaint with Aftermath is the lack of resolution. Nearly every plot thread ends on a cliff-hanger, some bigger than others, making this book merely a prelude to the next novel, Extinction War. On the other hand, it's not like I wasn't going to continue on with this series regardless. Even if everything had been neatly wrapped up, I'd still be plunking down the cash for whatever Smith has lined up next. From the looks of it, Book 7 should certainly be a doozy. 

Review: Pressure by Jeff Strand (audiobook)

Pressure - Jeff Strand

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

Pressure can be defined as the exertion of force upon something by something else, as well mental or physical distress. Either definition is appropriate for Jeff Strand’s aptly titled suspense thriller, Pressure. At its core, this a story of two forces impacting one another, forcefully and violently, and the result is a hefty dose of distress.


Alex and Darren are two boarding school brats, their friendship cemented by a late-night excursion into the woods behind a strip club, where they hide out and hope to catch sight of the action inside. Darren, though, has a secret, and once Alex and their schoolmates discover Darren’s morbid fascinations nothing is the same. What follows is a decades-long story of friendship, adversarial rivalry, and gruesome deeds that can only leave one of them alive.


Strand does a terrific job building his characters, giving them enough dimension and subtle shadings to make them relateable, even if you don’t particularly want to relate to them. And although Darren’s actions are often outside the din of understanding, you at least get what motivates him, even if the results are terribly aberrant. Alex is a solid every-man character caught up in a situation beyond his control and struggling to cope, struggling to make sense, and, mostly, struggling to find a solution to the problem that is Darren. The first-person viewpoint Strand uses allows us to see the world from Alex’s point of view, and while the story itself is pretty pitch-black, Strand, via Alex, is able to interject enough levity and enduring positivity to keep Pressure from collapsing under its own misery.


Pressure is narrated by Scott Thomas, whose voice talents I greatly enjoyed in a prior Strand title, Wolf Hunt. Here, Thomas exhibits a nice a range and listeners are unlikely to confuse characters during stretches of dialogue. While the story belongs to Alex, Thomas injects plenty of different voices and speech styles to mark the other characters that inhabit Pressure. Soundwise, this is a cleanly narrated book, with terrific production quality and no technical issues to speak of.


Clocking in at seven hours, Pressure is a solid psychological suspense thriller with dashes of Strand’s typical wry humor, and packed with plenty of history between the central antagonist and his nemesis. It’s entertaining, occasionally bleak, but highly worthy of attention. Between the two works I’ve listened to that Strand and Thomas have collaborated on, I think it’s fair to say they make quite a good team. As long as Strand keeps writing, and Thomas keeps giving a voice to those words, I’ll be listening.

[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com.]

Review: Bite by K.S. Merbeth (audiobook)

Bite - K.S. Merbeth

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

Bite, a post-apocalyptic offering from new author K.S. Merbeth, comes with a neat little hook with its focus on cannibal wasteland scavengers and killers, but I would have enjoyed a little more meat on the bone.


Kid, a young woman hitchhiking her way through the irradiated ruins of Australia, accepts a ride, only to learn she’s bit off way more than she can chew. In short order, she soon finds herself a part of the gang and on the run from various forces, many of whom, unsurprisingly, don’t look to kindly at having cannibals in their midst.


The premise alone is a huge part of the draw in Bite, and I appreciated Merbeth’s wasteland saga’s focus on a group of people who are, quite arguably, the bad guys. Kid quickly makes friends with these ne’er-do-wells, led by Wolf, a dread-locked survivor with a knack for pulling off scores by the seat of his pants, and they all soon find their survival linked to one another. Dolly, a blue-haired tough, is an easy standout for fan-favorite of the bunch, with her quiet ways and easy violence making her an unsettling sort, but also an attention-grabbing mystery.


My biggest hurdle in Bite, unfortunately, was the main character herself, Kid. I prefer my female heroines to have a bit more agency, and felt that Kid too often fell into role of victim who needs saving. Granted, this is a sort of hero’s journey and she grows and adapts as the story progresses, but frankly I found it a be too unbelievable that this wasteland survivor would so freaking useless at the outset. She doesn’t know how to fire a gun or use a knife, she’s of little use in hand-to-hand fights, and despite this being an action-heavy book she spends too much time in hiding or waiting to be rescued. The first half of the book felt repetitive with its focus on members of the gang getting captured, followed by thwarted rescue attempts, and then their eventual escape only to again find themselves captured by different people in a different setting. By the time Merbeth gets around to explaining why Kid lacks any sort of adeptness or situational awareness, it feels too little too late. And, although Kid eventually levels-up, I think there were better options than starting her off as a nearly-constant damsel in distress.


Tonally, the narrative strikes an uneasy balance between serious and aloof. At times, this felt like a Young Adult title trying too hard to be a foul-mouthed, adult actioneer, and characters like The Queen only served to amplify this imbalance. The Queen is shrill and loud-mouthed, but is mostly a caricature reduced to exclaiming things like “Get them!” in lieu of villainous depth.


Narrator Stephanie Willis inhabits the role of Kid nice and smoothly, and she does a fairly good job with the reading of Bite. In my purely subjective opinion, though I found some of her male voices, particularly Wolf’s, to be a little too over-the-top for my ears, and The Queen was gratingly cartoonish, but I’ll chalk some of that role up to the writing itself. Her delivery of Tank’s and Pretty Boy’s lines, though, were well-handled and far more realistic. The voices Willis adopted for the other female voices were nicely differentiated, and she helps give a character like Dolly a certain charm that might otherwise be lost in reading the text. Bite is certainly well-produced, as one should expect of a major publisher like Hachette, and the sound quality is even and comes through cleanly with nary a hiccup.


Mostly, I enjoyed Bite, but found it a touch too uneven to really satisfy. It does recall a bit of the charm from other post-apocalyptic wasteland adventures, like the Mad Max films and the Fallout video games, and I am at least curious enough to see what this cast of characters get up to next, particularly Kid, who exhibits a lot of promise by book’s end. Besides, who doesn’t want more irradiated cannibals in their life?

[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com.]

Review: Order to Kill by Kyle Mills

Order to Kill: A Novel (A Mitch Rapp Novel Book 13) - Vince Flynn, Kyle Mills

When Mitch Rapp returned last year with the help of a new author following the death of his creator, Vince Flynn, I was initially skeptical. Kyle Mills proved to be an adept writer fully capable of handling Flynn's characters though, and The Survivor won me over pretty quickly. Order to Kill proves that Mill's prior effort was hardly a fluke or one-off. Mills is not only capable of taking on Flynn's rough-and-ready CIA assassin, but shows he's the natural heir apparent to continue this series for the foreseeable future.


This fifteenth installment, which picks up mere weeks after the finale of The Survivor, finds Mitch Rapp squaring off against a Russian assassin who is not only Rapp's equal, but may be even better. This is framed within a story of rogue Pakistani nukes and ISIS idiots, and a particularly violent, and personal, attack that strikes close to Rapp's heart when a mission goes awry.


The most important element here for me, and one that I think Mills did a superb job with, was making Rapp a bit more three dimensional and human. In his latter books, Flynn was turning Rapp into very nearly a caricature of his former self, with his with-me-or-against-me attitude and desire to kill anybody who dared to disagree with him. Mills, thankfully, has dialed that way back and we see a Mitch Rapp who may finally be emerging from the darkness brought on by his wife's death and who isn't afraid to feel. While this certainly is not a guy who will soon be crying into his cup o' tea anytime soon, there are certain events that occur here to remind Rapp that he is at least human and we see a man now seeking to reconnect with the people around him after so many devastating losses.


It's these losses that I feel also highlight Mills work over these last two books. The operators and assassins of these novels are certainly men and women who fit into the Hero Worship mold pretty easily, and there's a lot of extrajudicial fantasy stuff that goes into them (somebody says something about the Constitution you don't like? Well, just snap their neck and grab a can of Coke afterward! And while we're on the fantasy aspect, the next time one of these jihadist morons refers to our Christian Constitution, could we please have Rapp correct that erroneous, much too-widespread misunderstanding of this secular document before cracking their skull apart?), but too often they feel like larger-than-life superheroes. Mills has been working hard to make these people human, and while the characters are unquestionably adept and skilled at their jobs, they can still be hurt (and quite badly, at that) and killed. The Survivor presented a big shake-up to the status quo, and Order to Kill packs a certain punch of its own kind with a long-time series regular in serious danger. 


Thanks to Kyle Mills, Order to Kill is one of the best, and certainly most satisfying, Mitch Rapp novels in quite some time. With high-stakes action and some much-needed emotional development, and perhaps even a hint of romance to come, for our series hero, fans of Vince Flynn can rest easy with Mills at the helm. 


[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher, as part of their #MitchRappAmbassador Program.]

Review: Ship the Kids on Ahead by Bill Stokes (Audiobook)

Ship the Kids on Ahead: Short Stories by Bill Stokes - Bill Stokes

Let me say at the outset that Ship the Kids on Ahead is not the typical sort of audiobook or reading material that I tend to gravitate toward, even in the realm of non-fiction. The time I've devoted to reading non-fiction as a whole is woefully inadequate, unfortunately, and tends to lean toward science-related topics or historical events rather than the slice-of-life minutia that Bill Stokes wrote about for the Wisconsin State Journal.


Happily, I found myself surprisingly entertained by Stokes view of small-town America circa the 1950s and '60s. Obviously, quite a lot has changed since that era, but there are still plenty of timeless experiences that are easy to relate to, particularly in the matters of family and parenting, which is a topic that Stokes turns to fairly often. And I'm right there with him in thinking there needs to be time off work for the random occurrences of dumb days, those days that begin with a sudden breaking of a shoe lace and a small piece of shell in your eggs, portents that this will be a no-good, very bad, rotten day, one better spent in bed, perhaps reading a book. 


These short stories are narrated by a handful of performers and all of them are up to the task of bringing Stokes's words to life. RC Bray and Joe Hempel in particular were stand-outs for me, and they seemed to really connect with the material. Xe Sands, too, brought a nice feminine touch to the production for a few segments and it's clear that I'll have to keep an eye out for more of her work in the future.


Ship the Kids on Ahead presents the kind of columns we no longer see very much of in newspapers (at least by my estimation), and Stokes words in particular were designed to give the reader a smile or a bit of a chuckle after reading some of the more sobering stories print journalism brought to your doorstep. These are stories of daily life, of being stuck in traffic, or putting up a pegboard to hang tools from, or watering the Christmas tree and imbibing a bit too much in the process. Short, quirky, and entertaining, there is a broad appeal to the columns recorded here, and plenty to relate to.


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

Review: Corpse Rider by Tim Curran

Corpse Rider - Tim Curran

A few years ago, thanks to the Horror Aficionados group on Goodreads, I discovered a new-to-me author when it was suggested I check out Dead Sea by Tim Curran. I don't remember which awesome reader suggested it, but I owe that person a huge, hearty thank you. I devoured that book and instantly bought a bunch more of Curran's titles to add to my TBR, and have been a fan ever since.


His latest, Corpse Rider, is a hearty ghost story that exemplifies the notion that no good deed goes unpunished. While visiting her mother's grave, Christina picks away the weeds from an older, long-untended headstone. This minor act upends her life, connecting her with the spirit of something hideous. While it's certainly bad news for Christina, it's a lot of good for readers.


Curran has remarkable skill at crafting disturbing scenes of grotesqueness and violence, and a few of the visuals he stuck in my head here will be with me for a while. Christina makes for a nicely flawed heroine, and the story surrounding her is rooted in an appropriately creepy historical context. Mostly, though, this is just a cool, gory, little ghost story (it comes in at around a smidge over 100 pages), and if you're looking for a breezy read to help kick off some October scares leading up to Halloween, this is a great place to start.

Review: Stranded by Bracken MacLeod

Stranded - Bracken MacLeod

Stranded is the type of book that made me glad to be reading it indoors, in the known security and confines of my home, where I was nice and warm and comfortable, and had a nip of whiskey or Irish Mist to help keep the chills Bracken MacLeod was generating at bay. 


Caught in an arctic storm, the ship Arctic Promise is thrown off-course from its destination and lost in the fog. Soon enough, the ship finds itself embedded in ice. In the distance, the flat horizon is broken only by the hump of an odd, indiscernible shape. The crew are sick with a mysterious illness, except for Noah, who finds himself constantly at odds with most of the crew. And the sick are seeing...something.


Right from the outset, MacLeod throws readers into the thick of things. His writing of the violent storm Noah and his shipmates find themselves in is phenomenally hair-raising and chaotic, and the unique threats of the arctic landscape itself are well posed and chillingly executed.


Much of the horror in Stranded is derived from the environment itself, as much as the crazed crewmen Noah is forced to contend with, and there's a heavy, freezing atmosphere that permeates MacLeod's writing. It's strong stuff, and reminded me a bit of another arctic powerhouse horror-thriller in Dan Simmon's The Terror. (If you want to know why I love arctic horror, this and The Terror are two books to check out for prime examples of environmental scares done right.)


MacLeod also does some great work with the characters here, although it is a bit of slow-boil to learn why Noah is so despised by so many of his shipmates. Noah catches a lot of flack, for various reasons, and I personally would not have minded getting a bit more information up front rather than having details parceled out piecemeal over the course of the book's first half. This is a minor complaint in an otherwise strong work, though, but the motivations behind the firmly anti-Noah characters make for rich conflict, particularly in the book's later segments.


Stranded is an impressive and visceral work of achingly cold environmental horror with a nifty sci-fi twist, and a work that has ensured Bracken MacLeod is an author whose releases I will be watching out for.


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

Review: Livia Lone by Barry Eisler

Livia Lone - Barry Eisler

Livia Lone may be the darkest, and most accomplished, book from Barry Eisler yet. I've been a long-time reader of Eisler's work, and a big fan of his series character, John Rain, but early on into his latest I found myself already needing more Livia Lone books. It may be heretical, but as much as I love Eisler's mournful assassin, if, for whatever reason, we never hear from John Rain again, I'll be OK as long as there's plenty more of Livia Lone to fill the gap.


Livia is a tragic, tortured, and psychologically fascinating character. She's also incredibly strong and capable, both mentally and physically, and is a protector at heart. Sold into slavery alongside her sister by her parents, Livia and Nason are shipped across the ocean from Thaliand to the USA, and separated along the way. Although Livia was rescued and adopted, the whereabouts of her sister are a mystery that has driven her for more than a decade, and she now works a police detective in the sex crimes division of Seattle PD. She also has some less than legal extracurricular activities targeting rapists.


Right from the get-go, Eisler tackles rape culture and male privilege with an appropriately seedy and disturbing examination of a would-be rapists mindset, and had me instantly rooting for Livia.


Although Lone metes out some incredibly satisfying vigilante justice, Eisler never fails to shy away from the grotesqueness of the world she inhabits. This is not a feel good read, and much of the book made me downright uncomfortable and disgusted. Livia Lone is absolutely brutal, and oftentimes quite graphic, in its depictions of human trafficking, violence, child abuse, and rape. The streaks of hope that do sparingly exist herein are fueled by revenge, and Livia's willingness to overcome whatever obstacles are put in her way. While she may get beaten down, she refuses to be defeated, even at a young age. A dragon resides within her, and when she lets it loose, woe be to anyone stupid enough to get in her way. 


Livia Lone is stark and uncompromising, bleak but rewarding. Like his titular heroine, Eisler does not pull any punches here, and although it often left me despairing for humanity I think it's a better book for it. And Livia, herself, is a heroine that I need much more of.


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

Review: The Warren by Brian Evenson

The Warren - Brian Evenson

Although The Warren is short - less than a hundred pages and compelling enough to read in a single sitting - I needed some time to digest its content and figure out what I wanted to say about it. Ultimately, I think the less said about it the better. (And I do mean this in all seriousness, and in the best way possible.)


I went into this book blind, knowing very little about it other than it had a snazzy cover and was another release in Tor's strong line of novellas. I think this is about all you should know about it, as well. It's a good, twisty read and you should probably check it out so long as you can stand not having everything perfectly resolved and all questions neatly answered.


Not enough? OK, fine. Imagine taking some science fiction heavy weights, like Blade Runner and The Martian and tossing them in a heavy-duty blender with Memento for added flavor. The Warren, however, is far from simply a pastiche of these other works, even if I found their influences to be strong. What you end up with, though, is a short work that calls into question the nature of self and self-perception with an utterly unreliable narrator in what is, basically, a locked-room drama.


This warped and fairly grim narrative cares not a whit about delivering the goods in a linear fashion, so readers should go in with scrutinizing eyes and pay keen attention to the details. Brian Evenson raises a lot of questions within his story, most of which are either answered ambiguously at best, or left to the reader to suss out the clues. I enjoyed connecting the various puzzle pieces presented in The Warren, and I suspect that a second read-through would be both deeply rewarding and quite different than the initial journey. This is certainly a story that demands a focused reading, and the closer you inspect Evenson's writing the more satisfying it becomes. 


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

Review: Chills by Mary SanGiovanni

Chills - Mary SanGiovanni

I feel like I've been in a bit of a slump with my horror reads of late, with the last few titles being more misses than hits, the bad outweighing the good. Chills is a title that I've been looking forward to, ever since it was previously released as a signed, limited edition hardcover from Thunderstorm under the title The Blue People. I secured a copy of that edition earlier this year, but opted to keep it pristine and instead read an advanced copy of the Kensington Books edition on Kindle.


I've openly admitted in the past to being a sucker for winter-based horror thrills, and am always on the lookout for titles in this niche. Many thanks to John Carpenter and The Thing for this particular affectation. There's something about blood-stained snow and monsters running wild that just really does it for me.


All of this is to say that I had certain hopes and expectations for Chills - it needed to satisfy some particular sweet spots I have for this corner of the horror genre, but it also needed to get me over that hump of disappointment I've been feeling lately after a couple less-than-stellar readings.


Well, Mary SanGiovanni delivered in spades. I flat-out loved Chills, and it grabbed me in a way that the last few horror books I've read failed to do. I did not want to put this book down, and I looked forward to my time with Colby, CT police detectives Jack Glazier, Reece Teagan, and occultist Kathy Ryan. Ryan in particular was an easy favorite in SanGiovanni's cast of characters, and I'm hoping we get more of her in the future.


Set in a small, isolated town blanketed in a furious storm of snow and ice, unearthly monsters lurk and strike out with surprising viciousness, and a handful of dead bodies turning up around town are branded with strange, occult markings. Suffice to say, there's a lot of bad stuff going on in Colby, and SanGiovanni not only crafts a wicked little creature feature, but one heck of a sharp cosmic horror thriller to boot. The Lovecraftian elements in Chills are very well rendered and help give a nice epic feel to this story of small-town terror. This is the type of stuff I good and truly dig.


Chills was my first title from SanGiovanni, and it most definitely will not be the last. I caught reference throughout the work to some of her other titles, most notably The Hollower, which has made its way onto my must-purchase list come payday.


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

Review: Out by Natsuo Kirino

Out - Natsuo Kirino, Stephen Snyder

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


Out, an Edgar Award nominated crime novel out of Japan, is a deep, twisty, and complex thriller that is neither for the faint of heart, nor the uninitiated.


Natsuo Kirino does a masterful job penning this tale of murder, greed, corruption, and sexism taking a slow-boil approach and letting it all steep and simmer. Coming in at more than eighteen hours, this is not a quick whodunit kind of listen, but more of a howdunit – how, after a woman kills her husband, will she and her friends dispose of the body, and how will the act of mutilation that follows spiral out of control? How, exactly, will all their lives unravel in the wake of this rage-induced violence?


Out is a deeply layered story, with superb characterizations, and a number of plot threads intertwining and separating. These are women under stress, and Kirino paints intimate portraits of each, showing you both the good and the awful as they cope with the stress of not only their jobs at a box lunch factory, but with their personal lives and problems, and the growing complications of their complicity in a criminal conspiracy. New wrinkles subtly appear to keep both the characters and this book’s listeners on edge as the women are thrust into a strange, new world of police detectives, organized crime, betrayal, blackmail, and, ultimately, revenge as they find themselves scrutinized by an unknown outside force.


Emily Woo Zeller does an excellent job narrating the story, providing enough distinction between the four central women at the heart of this story, and hitting a (mostly) properly deep register for the males of the cast. At times, I thought she hit a little too-deeply for some of the men, giving the effect an almost comical vibe that didn’t jibe with the story, but it’s a minor enough caveat given the overall strength of her reading of the material. Out‘s production quality is top-notch, and the audio comes through cleanly and without a hitch, as I’ve come to expect as a listener of Audible Studio’s productions.


Out is a slow-going crime story, but one that’s well worth the time and attention required. It’s a dark story, punctuated with insight on Japanese culture and the treatment of women in their male-dominated society in between flashes of violence. Kirino does not shy away from violence – and, perhaps it should be noted that this is violence Kirino deals with here, not action as you may find in most other popular crime stories. The people in this book are not running around with guns and knives because it’s sexy and thrilling, but because they seek to do brutal damage to others, either to kill or to prevent themselves from being killed. This is a book where the actions of these characters carry a particularly heavy weight. Out is filled to the brim with bleak stuff, with depictions of rape, murder, and dismemberment, and Kirino puts his audience right in the middle of it all. These are characters who are seeking a way out, and at times it’s uncomfortable enough that the listener or reader may themselves be hoping for an easy escape as well.

Review: Devils In Dark Houses by B.E. Scully

Devils In Dark Houses - B. E. Scully

Devils In Dark Houses by B.E. Scully is a collection of four interrelated crime novellas, linked together by the appearances of Detectives Shirdon and Martinez.


The first of these novellas, The Eye That Blinds, was released as a stand-alone title by DarkFuse last year. Although I gave that one three stars at the time, I'd be hard-pressed to tell you much about it more than a year later. Having already read it, and despite not recalling anything about it, I opted to not reread it but do believe that this collection suffers from the same problems I'm presently having in drumming up any recollections of The Eye That Blinds. The stories here may be good, but none of them strike me as being particularly memorable.


Even just days after starting in on this book, I'm already forgetting what the second book was supposed to be about. Maybe this is just because of life stuff getting in the way and making my reading experience choppy and piecemeal, so take this review as you will. Thankfully, the book's description tells me this story is named Each Castle Its King, and I do remember the couple at the story's heart bought a disheveled home they dubbed The Blood House. I think it was kind of a haunted house but not really sort of story. 


The third story, Nostri, was centered around a brilliant premise but tried a little to hard to create a Fight Club mystique that ultimately did not work for me at all. I did greatly appreciate the concept of holding big-mouthed politicians accountable and forcing them to put their money where there mouth is. The story kicks off with a right-to-life politicians being surprised to find an abandoned baby on her doorstep and forced into either providing the child with a chance at life, or proving herself a hypocrite and abandoning the kid into a state home. It's good stuff, and the plot slowly escalated to build on this premise. 


The final story revolves around a homeless schizophrenic and the investigation into a missing cop in Devils In Dark Houses. By the time I reached the three-quarter mark of this one, though, I was already deeply bored with the collection as a whole and ready to move onto new reading material. I mustered through what I could, but eventually found myself skimming through to the finale to find out the answers behind the story's whodunnit.


And I can almost hear the screeching and gnashing of teeth at my admission that I skimmed. I know, I know. But let me explain here. Again, I was bored. And much of this boredom stemmed from Scully's insistence to shoehorn in pages upon pages of infodumping atop flashbacks galore. This really began to grate on my nerves with Nostri, where I read about a tertiary character's entire upbringing by her old-school parents and life under their thumb in the 1960s almost up through the present, and her years at college, and her meeting of her husband, and on and on and on. By the time the third flashback rolled around in the the final story, I'd completely had it. 


So yeah, unfortunately Devils In Dark Houses just was not my cup of tea at all. The stories had promise, but fell flat in their execution, and just when things began to heat up and draw me in, Scully would insist on disrupting the narrative to tell me all about this whole other thing that happened to somebody way back when before jumping back to the present. It frustrated the hell out of me, frankly.


[Note: As a member of the DarkFuse Book Club, I received this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]

Review: The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There (Audiobook)

The Truth Is out There: The X-Files Series, Book 2 - Jonathan Maberry, Bronson Pinchot, Hillary Huber, Inc. Blackstone Audio

My original The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.


The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There is the second prose anthology in IDW Publishing’s series edited by bestselling author Jonathan Maberry.


As a long-time fan of The X-Files, going back to the pilot episode in 1993, I’m delighted by the resurgence and interest in the on-going investigations led by FBI Special Agents Fox Mulder and Dana Scully (aka, The FBI’s Most Unwanted), and the anthology format provides readers and audiobook listeners with plenty of interesting new cases from various writers. However, while I mostly enjoyed my time with The Truth Is Out There, I can’t help but feel that it is a weaker anthology than its predecessor, Trust No One. There are several stories that stand out as being incredibly strong, but there are also a number of mediocre entries, and one, “We Should Listen To Some Shostakovich,” that is downright awful.


Kelley Armstrong and Jon McGoran get the book off to a strong start, the latter presenting a really interesting story of time travel. Bev Vincent’s “Phase Shift,” was easily the highlight of the anthology for me, and centers around a house and its inhabitants confronted by a strange anomaly. This is a really good story with a strong, and strongly executed, premise, the ending of which highlights the particular darkness one may confront in such an odd situation. Sorry for being vague, but this is a good one to go into blindly.


Hank Schwaeble brings a welcome dose of ludicrousness to the table with “Male Privilege,” where the men of a small town have suddenly grown breasts. Over the years, The X-Files has shown considerable elasticity in the nature of its premise, ranging from ultra-serious to straight-up goofball comedy, and “Male Privilege” runs to the latter end of this continuum, feeling a bit like a Darin Morgan tribute. On the other end of the continuum then, is Sara Stegall’s “Snowman,” a terrific conspiracy and monster caper involving a search for missing Marine’s in the wintry woods of Washington, and reunites Mulder and John Doggett. Props to Stegall for bringing Doggett, an X-Files alum who has been underserved in the latest renaissance of The X-Files, back into the fold for a brief time.


Glenn Greenberg’s “XXX” revolves around murder on a porn set, which sounds like Mulder’s dream case but is nicely understated and provides some solid twists. As somebody who has read several titles by Tim Waggoner in the past, I was excited to note his inclusion in this anthology and expected a solid effort from him. Thankfully, “Foundling,” did not disappoint and revolves around Mulder and Scully discovering an abandoned baby in an eerily, and suddenly, empty town.

Of the fifteen stories comprising this anthology, the above-mentioned are the ones that really stood out to me. Unfortunately, “We Should Listen To Some Shostakovich,” by Hank Phillipi Ryan, stood out as well, but for entirely different reasons. Set in 2017, the story is far out of continuity with the series and its recent reboot and features a married Mulder and Scully who are expecting a child. I could have given this premise a pass, but Ryan’s characterizations are so out of synch with the character, and the central mystery surrounding numerology and a painting of the composer Shostakovich making its way to their apartment door, is so lackluster it barely feels like an X-File at all. Not much happens aside from the intrepid FBI agents staring at the painting and Googling stuff.


Those who listened to the previous anthology will know what to expect in terms of narration. Bronson Pinchot and Hillary Huber return, and take turns narrating individual stories depending on who the central point of view character is. If it’s primarily a Mulder story, Pinchot delivers a fairly flat voiceover, which turns even more monotone during Mulder’s dialogue in an effort to capture actor David Duchovny’s performance. Overall, though, Pinchot seems flatter in this anthology than he did with the previous one. Huber does solid work, which struck me as an improvement over her prior turn with these characters and their stories. Unfortunately, neither know how to pronounce the name of Frohike – long-time fans will know the Lone Gunman’s name is said “fro-hickey” and not “fro-hike” as it appears in print.


On the production side of things, there’s little to complain about. The sound quality is fine and the narrator’s maintain consistent tones and levels in their work. For whatever reason, the introduction by Lone Gunman actor Dean Haglund, which appears in the print volume, was not recorded (which is a shame, as I would have liked to have heard it).


The X-Files: The Truth Is Out There provides some solid entertainment over the course of 13 hours, even if it doesn’t quite hit the mark as well as Trust No One did. Still, it’s worth a listen and die-hard fans will find plenty of stories, the majority set during the series initial nine-year run, enjoyable and familiar enough to satisfy their itch for fresh cases of alien abductions, haunted houses, weird science, physics gone awry, and the occasional exploding head or two.