Review: The Trials (The Red Trilogy Book 2) by Linda Nagata

the-trials-coverAbout The Trials

In the wake of nuclear terrorism, a squad of elite soldiers must combat artificial intelligence and seek justice in this military political thriller, a sequel to The Red.

Lieutenant James Shelley and his squad of US Army soldiers were on a quest for justice when they carried out the unauthorized mission known as First Light. They returned home to America to face a court-martial, determined to expose the corruption in the chain of command that compelled their actions. But in a country still reeling from the nuclear terrorism of Coma Day, the courtroom is just one battlefield of many.

A new cycle of violence ignites when rumors of the elusive, rogue AI known as the Red go public – and Shelley is, once again, pulled into the fray. Challenged by his enemies, driven by ideals, Shelley feels compelled to act. But are the harrowing choices he makes really his own, or are they made for him by the Red? And with millions of lives at stake in a game of nuclear cat and mouse, does the answer even matter?

About the Author

Linda Nagata is a Nebula and Locus-award-winning author. Her more recent work includes short fiction “Nahiku West,” runner up for the 2013 Theodore Sturgeon Memorial Award, and the novel THE RED: FIRST LIGHT, a near-future military thriller that was a finalist for both the Nebula Award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. Though best known for science fiction, she also writes fantasy, exemplified by her “scoundrel lit” series Stories of the Puzzle Lands. Linda has spent most of her life in Hawaii, where she’s been a writer, a mom, and a programmer of database-driven websites. She lives with her husband in their long-time home on the island of Maui.

My Thoughts

[Note: This review was originally published at AudioBook Reviewer.]

The Trials, book two in Linda Nagata’s The Red trilogy, picks up right on the heels of First Light with Lieutenant James Shelley and his Linked Combat Squad (LCS) facing trial for their actions in the prior novel’s climax. Thanks to his group’s rogue crusade in the wake of Coma Day, a large-scale act of domestic nuclear terrorism, and the reality TV series documenting his experiences, Shelley and his Apocalypse Squad have a huge swelling of public support to see them through their military court martial.

Nagata spends a good amount of time in the courtroom, interjecting the legalese with a few high-stakes action sequences and a heady dose of paranoia, before getting her soldiers back on the streets. As in the prior novel, this near-future military sci-fi thriller has plenty of adrenaline pumping action as assassins and mercenary hit squads seek reprisals against Shelley, while the combat unit goes in search of loose nukes leftover from the Coma Day attacks. Where First Light had a few globe-trotting adventures, The Trials, largely, keeps things stateside and we get some good set pieces in Nagata’s urban action sequences and a particularly fun part that takes the LCS onto a cargo freighter out on rough seas.

All of this works well thanks to the characters. The title itself, The Trials, reaches beyond the courtroom drama and into the personal space of Nagata’s soldiers. Since we see things through Shelley’s first-person account, we get to spend an awful lot of time inside his damaged headspace and it’s wonderfully portrayed. He’s got more than a few things to mentally sort out in the wake of First Light, and here he’s grappling with the fallout of his actions, how it impacts his relationship with his father, his place in the LCS, and the world as a whole. His whole life is now a trial in its own right.

The technology on display is cutting edge and perfectly believable, while the political trappings of Nagata’s work proves scarily prescient in light of current day trends. The Linked Combat Squad is comprised of cybernetically-enhanced soldiers bound together by cerebral interfaces and outfitted with armored exoskeletons. Shelley sports a few additional next-gen upgrades thanks to the medical procedures he underwent in First Red, including a pair of robotic legs that would make DARPA envious. And then there’s the mysterious overarching element of The Red, an artificial intelligence weaving its way through the world and subtly manipulating events and people, including James Shelley.

As a military SF thriller, it’s difficult not to imbue the story with a few political elements, and the series thus far has revolved around the actions of some incredibly nasty industrial defense contractors that instigate wars at home and abroad for fun and profit. It’s a bit difficult (at least for this reviewer) not to see shades of Haliburton and Blackwater in the narrative, particularly as the rich and shady villains carry on in such egregious ways that Eisenhower would be turning over in his grave at how little heed Nagata’s world has paid to his warnings of the military-industrial complex. The Red series, thus far, is certainly a product of its time in a post-9/11 world where issues like drone surveillance, NSA overreaches, domestic spying, and the militarization of police forces have become so commonplace that they’re almost as innocuous as texting.

On the narration side of things, Kevin T. Collins returns to give voice to this first-person perspective in the life and times of Lt. James Shelley. With a runtime of sixteen hours, Collins is able to keep the pace moving along nicely and rendering Nagata’s words with a smooth precision. I enjoyed his work in the prior novel, and it’s good to see this continuity in narration. In my review of First Light, I dinged Collins a bit for his handling of shouted dialogue, and I have a similar complaint here. Chalk it up to personal preference, but I would have liked a little more oomph in the performance in those moments where Shelley and company are screaming commands and demanding attention. Collins opts to go for a slightly raised and airy inflection that makes for a spoken shout, which really isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. Overall, the narration is fairly consistent and makes for easy listening, with the production values earning solid marks throughout.

While The Trials is not quite – and even then, only barely – as rewarding and surprising as First Light was, it is still wonderfully executed and proves that the author’s Nebula-nominated debut was no fluke. A high-stakes thriller, propulsive action sequences, awesome military tech, and a world inhabited by richly developed characters and nasty political scheming, The Trials has it all. Nagata takes all of these elements and unflinchingly takes them on their natural progression to craft an immensely satisfying and action-filled story.

Buy The Trials (The Red Trilogy Book 2) At Amazon
Review: The Trials (The Red Trilogy Book 2) by Linda Nagata

Review: The 6th Extinction by James Rollins

the_sixth_extinction_usaAbout The 6th Extinction

A remote military research station sends out a frantic distress call, ending with a chilling final command:  Kill us all!  Personnel from the neighboring base rush in to discover everyone already dead-and not just the scientists, but every living thing for fifty square miles is annihilated:  every animal, plant, and insect, even bacteria.

The land is entirely sterile-and the blight is spreading.

To halt the inevitable, Commander Gray Pierce and Sigma must unravel a threat that rises out of the distant past, to a time when Antarctica was green and all life on Earth balanced upon the blade of a knife.  Following clues from an ancient map rescued from the lost Library of Alexandria, Sigma will discover the truth about an ancient continent, about a new form of death buried under miles of ice.

From millennia-old secrets out of the frozen past to mysteries buried deep in the darkest jungles of today, Sigma will face its greatest challenge to date: stopping the coming extinction of mankind.

But is it already too late?

About the Author

James Rollins is the New York Times bestselling author of the Sigma Force series and other novels. Blending science and history, his action adventure novels have been praised as “enormously engrossing” (NPR) and “smart, entertaining adventure fiction” (New York Journal of Books). Before pursuing a writing career, Jim obtained a degree in veterinary medicine and established a successful veterinary practice in Sacramento, CA. He currently resides in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

My Thoughts

I’ve been a fan of James Rollins for a number of years now, and yet I can’t help but feel that his series of Sigma Force novels are getting a little long in the tooth.

His tenth iteration, The 6th Extinction, carries with it a whiff of ‘been there, done that’ malaise and the typical Rollins formula has been reduced to a simple template. If you’ve read the series thus far, you know exactly what you’re getting. Frankly, that’s a shame. There’s no surprises, to the point that you can predict exactly what happens when and where in the narrative with striking efficiency. From an author that used to keep me glued to the pages and in constant suspense with an adrenaline-fueled read, this book only managed to inspire boredom and apathy.


Going in, you know that the Sigma team will be split in half, with the A-team and B-team focusing on their own A and B stories before converging for the finale. You know that there will be good guy scientist commandos versus merciless bad guys intent on devastating the world and siccing their own army of commandos against the Sigma boys and girls. There’s a Dog in Danger subplot, and since The 6th Extinction is all about a man-made renegade virus that could potentially eliminate the human race, you know that dog will get infected and that he will make a full recovery. When the book opens with Painter and his fiance prepping for their wedding day, you can rest assured that their lives will be quickly interrupted with a crazy global threat, but that everything will get resolved just in time for their happy nuptials to take place. You know that Gray will be dealing with his father’s Alzheimer and agonizing over the choices he must make to care for his dad, simply because that’s become an ingrained part of his story for ten novels now. I know Alzheimer is a rough and awful disease and that it is not the least bit simple for those dealing with it, or their family. But reading the same schtick for ten books now has grown into a frustration, right down to Gray repeating a decision from an earlier book under the auspices of Second Chances. I wish Rollins either had something new to say about Gray, his father, (or even the rest of team Sigma for that matter) or would just freaking move on already. There’s even multiple ticking-time bomb scenarios, stacked one atop the other in the forms of an actual nuclear bomb, a rampaging virus, and multiple infections that could spell death for these unfortunate ancillary one-off characters if a cure isn’t found in a matter of hours. About the only cliche not stuffed into The 6th Extinction is the tired ‘days away from retirement’ device.

While I completely dig the science and sense of authenticity Rollins is able to breath into these thrillers thanks to meticulous (or at least seemingly meticulous) research, it’s heavily lacking in other areas. While the plot elements of rogue genetic engineering, biohacking, and ancient, almost alien-like lifeforms surviving in shadow ecologies are ridiculously strong and interesting, the story element surrounding these devices is pretty blah. Particularly the characters, who may get shot or dismembered from time to time, only to bounce back virtually unaffected or any worse the wear. It was cute at first, but now lacks even a glimmer of interest. Which is compounded further, since this is a book centered on a mad, perilous viral threat to all of life on Earth as we know it, but there’s never really any true sense of danger. Rather than moving along at a breakneck, frenetic page, it feels bloated and sluggish under its own weight. There’s no surprises here, and the stakes don’t feel much at all like stakes because you know everything’s going to be OK. This may be Rollins’ most risk-averse formulaic comfort-read effort yet. Sadly, I found myself far too bored far too often.

At this point, one Sigma Force book is pretty much the same as the next, just swap out one bit of cutting edge science for another, change the name of the mysterious far-flung locale hiding Mother Nature’s deepest, darkest secrets, slap a new cover on it, and hit the bestseller lists. I’m sure Rollins is contractually obligated to turn out new stuff in this series for his publisher since it’s a no-brainer cash grab for both of them, but still, these stories need to get seriously shaken up and the author desperately needs to break the mold.

Or, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just too tried of prolonged, open-ended, never-ending series reads. Maybe I’m just too old for this stuff, or maybe I’m just growing more finicky with the books that fill my scare free time for reading. I obtained this book from my local library, and maybe the time that elapsed between requesting it and obtaining it meant a swing in desire and this just wasn’t the right book at the right time for me. Maybe. Just maybe.

Right now, I certainly don’t find myself in any rush to read Rollin’s next effort, The Bone Labyrinth. I’m sure I will one day, in the hopes that his books can excite me the way they did when I first stumbled upon Ice Hunt quite a while back. I used to buy his books religiously, but I think those days are at an end. For now, I’m quite content with waiting for an ebook copy to turn up in the check-out queue at my library, or for it to hit that sweet $1.99 price point. Or maybe this was just a misfire for Rollins and he can rediscover his groove and remind me why I used to enjoy his cunning romps around the world and into the corners of lost dark continents.

Buy The 6th Extinction At Amazon
Review: The 6th Extinction by James Rollins

Review: Bad Apples 2: Six Slices of Halloween Horror

bad apples 2About Bad Apples 2

The minds behind the bestselling BAD APPLES: FIVE SLICES OF HALLOWEEN HORROR return this October with another batch of frightful fare. This time, they brought along a friend – Bram Stoker Award-winning author Kealan Patrick Burke!

Dive into the season with these six Halloween treats:

• Two boys enter a Halloween attraction that holds a devilish secret – but one of the boys has a surprise of his own in Edward Lorn’s HALLOWEEKEND.

• Halloween was his birthday, and all poor Bob Talley wanted was for his family to be together again. This year, his wish might come true amid whispers of CANDIE APPLE, from Evans Light.

• A deserter seeks to escape the horrors of war and pave a new existence in a foreign land in Jason Parent’s DIA DE LOS MUERTOS.

• Does something putrid truly reside in a small town’s pumpkin patch, or is it only a local legend? Find out in Adam Light’s TOMMY ROTTEN.

• An old man and his dog await Halloween visitors with candy and a shotgun in Kealan Patrick Burke’s THE ONE NIGHT OF THE YEAR.

• Jimmy Stones and his Uncle Shel uncover the dark secrets of Medium, Ohio’s annual Halloween puppet show in Gregor Xane’s DOCTOR PROCLIVITY & PROFESSOR PROPENSITY.

My Thoughts

Bad Apples 2: Six Slices of Halloween Horror is a follow-up to last year’s Halloween-themed anthology and features the same authors as before, but with one new addition. Joining this cool little writer’s troupe is Kealan Patrick Burke, who certainly wins points for atmospheric style with his short story “The One Night of the Year.”

I found the first Bad Apples collection to be a perfect seasonal read in the evenings leading up to Halloween, so jumping on board for a second helping was a no brainer. If you liked the previous anthology, or are just in need of some solid and quick horror reads to get you in the proper mindset for October 31, buying Bad Apples 2 is an obvious choice and should satisfy your appetites nicely.

The tales here range from straight-up monster horror mayhem to dread inducing ghost stories, and a splash of Twilight Zone weirdness for good measure.

HALLOWEEKEND by Ed Lorn is a fun little romp of horror house mayhem. What happens to those animatronics when their keeper leaves them to their own devices for a night? Worse still, what happens when they get loose and venture out into the streets seeking a sugar rush? This is a great short story, and the gypsy Janzuzu…loved the heck out of this creation. All hail Janzuzu! Bonus points to Mr. Lorn for naming his characters are many very familiar horror authors that have no doubt provided him with a great deal of entertainment and inspiration over the years.

Evans Light’s CANDIE APPLE is a wonderfully creepy ghost story (of a sort). The opening packs in a lot of emotion, followed a frenetic sequence of discoveries that had my heart racing. So far we’re two for two in this anthology (but based on the first Bad Apples, I wasn’t really expecting anything less…)

DIA DE LOS MUERTOS by Jason Parent – I freaking LOVED this tale of an AWOL soldier hiding out in Mexico during the Day of the Dead celebration. The writing and story telling is freaking crisp and absorbing as all get out, and even managed some great military-horror in the process. The Afghan-set B-story is every bit as compelling as the A-story as Russel goes on the hunt through the Day of the Dead parade. Just absolutely superb, and perhaps my favorite of the collection. On a small note, I really liked the small nods and references back to Lorn’s story that peppered Parent’s narrative, and which gives the anthology a bit more depth and interconnectedness.

TOMMY ROTTEN by Adam Light is a perfectly serviceable short story that keeps the Halloween theme right at its center by focusing on a pumpkin patch haunted by the titular figure. My only real complaint is that, compared to the other works in the antho, it’s so very short. By the time I really got into the groove of this story, it was over.

THE ONE NIGHT OF THE YEAR by Kealan Patrick Burke is another short short story, but one that practically oozes atmosphere right out of my Kindle’s screen. Here we find an old man and his dog, resting on their porch, awaiting the arrival of a few much-expected and very unwelcome visitors. There’s enough humanity to balance out the dread here perfectly, and this story just sucks the reader right on in. I kinda want to see a short black & white film made out of this one ASAP. Note to self: Read more of Burke’s material pronto!

DOCTOR PROCLIVITY AND PROFESSOR PROPENSITY by Gregor Xane more than makes up for the brevity of the prior two short stories and amounts to nearly forty percent of the page count all by itself. Thankfully, it’s a damn engrossing page-turner that sends the anthology out on a high note. Xane brings a welcome touch of noir to the proceedings as Jimmy and his Uncle Shel – “investigators” of a sort – chase down the trail of missing children to Medium, Ohio and the small town’s annual Halloween puppet show. There’s a procedural element to the narrative, but one that rapidly shifts gears into the ultra-weird during the story’s climax and pushes right on through to a bitterly dark finale. In short, I dug this one quite a lot!

Bad Apples 2 is certainly one of the more consistent horror anthologies I’ve read, in terms of quality and tonality, and it’s perfect reading material for All Hallow’s Eve and the days leading up to it, as night falls ever faster.

Buy Bad Apples 2: Six Slices of Halloween Horror At Amazon
Review: Bad Apples 2: Six Slices of Halloween Horror

Review: Extinction Evolution (The Extinction Cycle Book 4) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

extinction evolutionAbout Extinction Evolution

There’s a storm on the horizon… 

Central Command is gone, the military is fractured, and the surviving members of Team Ghost, led by Master Sergeant Reed Beckham, have been pushed to the breaking point. While the strong return to the battlefield, the wounded are forced to stay behind on Plum Island and fight their inner demons.

Betrayed by the country they swore to defend and surrounded by enemies on all sides, Team Ghost has one mission left: protect Dr. Kate Lovato and Dr. Pat Ellis while they develop a weapon to defeat the Variants once and for all. But after a grisly discovery in Atlanta, Kate and Ellis realize their weapon might not be able to stop the evolution of the monsters.

Joined by unexpected allies and facing a new threat none of them saw coming, the survivors are running out of time to save the human race from extinction.

About the Author

Nicholas Sansbury Smith is the author of several postapocalyptic books and short stories. He worked for the state of Iowa for nearly ten years before switching careers to focus on his one true passion: writing. When he isn’t daydreaming about the apocalypse he’s likely racing in triathlons around the Midwest. He lives in Des Moines with his family and several rescued animals.

My Thoughts

Here’s the deal: Extinction Evolution is now the fourth (out of five) books in Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s Extinction Cycle series. If you’ve read the previous three, then you know what to expect here – vicious Variant violence, great military action, and human scientists continuing their quest for a biological weapon that will eradicate the threat decimating mankind. If you have not read the previous three, then you need to start back at the beginning with Extinction Horizon pronto.

As this is book number four and the final novel is a short ways off in the distance, Smith picks a fine time to shake up the series formula a little bit and introduce a few new wrinkles. What, exactly, the main wrinkle is can be easily discerned from the title. The Variants (think along the lines of zombies with a dash of parasite DNA weaved in, but supremely aggressive pale-skinned people eaters), already a massive threat in this apocalyptic series scenario, have upped their game and developed a few new unusual characteristics. They seem to be getting smarter, and are starting to adapt to their environments. In a cool little check-in with military bases around the world, we find out that Arctic Variants are a thing, and the nasty critters wreaking havoc in the Middle East are making like camels and growing humps to store water. These are neat bits of escalation, but Smith doesn’t stop there and I won’t ruin the surprises.

The main thrust of the narrative stems from a crucial point of evolution for these monsters, while the human element revolves around scientist Kate and Ghost Team operator Reed Beckham’s deepening relationship as she continues to search for ways to develop and engineer the means to end the threat of the Variants once and for all. Along the way, we’re introduced to a new team of military commandos dubbed Variant Hunters and headed up by a man name Garcia. Their story meshes well with that of Ghost Team’s, leading up to a propulsive and firey finish.

Smith is really good at crafting suspenseful action scenes, and with Extinction Evolution he’s at the top of his game. The finale is brutal in both execution and the emotions it provokes given how long we’ve been spending with these characters. It also ends on one heck of a maddening cliff-hanger!

From a sheer action standpoint, Smith rock and rolls with the best of them, crafting an excellent cross-genre work of military sci-fi horror. This entry might be the best book of the series thus far, but I have a gut feeling Nick’s going to top himself in the finale.

Buy Extinction Evolution At Amazon
Review: Extinction Evolution (The Extinction Cycle Book 4) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Review: Haven by J.S. Collyer

havenAbout Haven

Blast off into orbit once again with Kaleb Hugo and Ezekiel Webb!

It is a few years since Lunar Independence League’s rebellion against the Service was defeated, taking the Zero and everything she stood for with it. Her former captain, Kaleb Hugo, set himself on a new path and a lot has changed under his watch. And yet, not enough. Despite everything, circumstances will drive Hugo back to an underworld full of fears he thought he’d left behind.

Ghosts of pain, betrayal and guilt haunt Hugo after the shocking and brutal torture of the woman he loves, forcing him to seek out his ex-commander from the Zero, Ezekiel Webb, to help him get revenge. Together they must gain entry to Haven, an off-world colony where those with nothing left to lose end up, but where the answers they need are hidden.

But Haven is a place with its own rules. Rules which are harsh, brutal and unforgiving.

On the edge of Service-controlled space and outside the boundaries of civilised society, Hugo and Webb will come face to face with enemies old and new, and once again will have to fight to save their own skins as well as secure what they need to deliver justice. Will they prevail against all the odds stacked against them, when sometimes their own worst enemies are themselves?

About the Author

J. S. Collyer has written stories since she was old enough to hold a pen and began reading obsessively when she discovered Star Wars and science fiction in secondary school. She went on to study literature and creative writing up to Master of Arts level at Lancaster University.

After graduating with her MA in 2008 she has stayed in Lancaster with her partner and has written consistently since.

She has always had a taste for narratives that are larger than life and science fiction delivers what she needs. But, though it’s true she likes spaceships, lasers and moon rocks, she also likes humanity, sincerity and relating to her characters. They may live on the moon, but they’re real and she is committed to creating human narratives albeit usually with a super-human backdrop.


My Thoughts

[Disclosure: I received an advanced copy of this book from the author. J.S. Collyer is both a friend and colleague, and our work has appeared together in the anthology, No Way Home.]

When I read J.S. Collyer’s debut, Zero, last year, I was rather impressed with that fun little space romp. There was a great sense of depth to the narrative, despite keeping things fairly local for a space opera, operating in the orbit of Earth and its moon colonies. The greatest strength, though, were the characters and their interpersonal relationships, particularly between Ezekiel Webb and his captain, Kaleb Hugo.

That same strength provides a very solid backbone to the narrative in Haven, as Collyer gives the friendship between these two men and battle-hardened brothers-in-arms further depth. The men have been separated for three years following the events of the previous novel, but find themselves reunited following an assault on their mutual acquaintance, Marilyn Harvey. To take it one step further, the man responsible for hospitalizing Harvey and prompting the miscarriage of her and Hugo’s child, is also the same man who spent a fair amount of time torturing Webb in the prior novel.

Hugo wants him captured and brought to trial; Webb, naturally, wants him dead. Their hunt for this villain takes them to the orbital colony of Haven, an insular factory town if ever there was one, ruled by a council of Elders with very strict governance and harsh penalties for those who dare break the law.

I was a bit surprised to discover how small-scale Haven was, in comparison to its predecessor. Where Zero was rife with intrigue and missions that took its cast to various locales, Haven concerns itself with staying fairly tied down to a central location. The tendency in sequels is to go wider and bigger, so I appreciate Collyer’s restraint in keeping the focus on both her characters and setting more intimate. There’s a great bit of world-building on display here, and Haven ends up feeling like a real and well-lived-in place that I was able to buy into fully.

It helps, too, that this colony also has very personal connections to Webb. And it’s those connections that help inform how Webb and Hugo relate to one another this time around. Hugo is very much a fish out of water here, and it prompts a fair amount of head-butting between the two. Even better, though, is the insight we get into Webb as we become privy to a bit more of his history.

While there’s a good dose of action throughout, the focus, rightly, is on the characters first and foremost. Collyer does a terrific job reintroducing and refining our two male leads, but still injects enough whizz-bang heroics and a nicely bloody finish to satisfy. At this point, catching up with these two guys feels like hanging out with a couple old friends reminiscing over lost time. I’m looking forward to catching up with them again soon.

Buy Haven At Amazon
Review: Haven by J.S. Collyer

Review: Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (Audiobook)

Locke_Key_Cover_FINALAbout Locke & Key

Based on the best-selling, award-winning graphic novel series Locke & Key – written by acclaimed suspense novelist Joe Hill (NOS4A2, Horns) and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez – this multicast, fully dramatized audio production brings the images and words to life.

A brutal and tragic event drives the Locke family from their home in California to the relative safety of their ancestral estate in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, an old house with powerful keys and fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them. As siblings Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode Locke discover the secrets of the old house, they also find that it’s home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all….

Featuring performances by Haley Joel Osment (Entourage, The Sixth Sense), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Kate Mulgrew (Orange Is the New Black, Star Trek: Voyager), Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Stephen King (The Stand, 11-22-63), as well as a cast of more than 50 voice actors, this audio production preserves the heart-stopping impact of the graphic novel’s astounding artwork through the use of richly imagined sound design and a powerful original score.

Locke & Key is FREE until November 4, 2015.

*Locke & Key contains explicit language and adult situations.

My Thoughts

The Locke & Key graphic novels have been on my to-read list, and sitting among a stack of other shamefully neglected graphic novels and trades, for several years now. You’d have thought that after discovering the pure joy of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2 that I would have dived headlong into this comic book series, but alas… (Maybe somebody can loan me a Time Key to free up more reading hours in the day?). When Audible announced its adaptation of Hill’s and artist Gabriel Rodriguez’s much-acclaimed IDW comic book series, I was thrilled to give it a listen, and also curious as to how the heck one adapts a comic book for an audiobook.

Comics, obviously, are quite a different breed from prose novels, given their reliance on visual imagery to tell a story. Sure, there’s narrative boxes (typically) and plenty of dialogue (usually) and thought bubbles, but the nature of a comic book is in its art. Audible Studios has worked around this translation from visual to audio by harkening back to the days of radio productions. Rather than rewriting the Locke & Key comics into a more novelistic approach for narration, the story is told by way of audio drama with a cast of more than 50 voice actors.

For the most part, this approach works quite well, but with a few caveats.

The story itself is largely understandable and very approachable in this re-imagined fashion, and for roughly 13 and a half hours we follow the Locke children, and their mother, Nina, as they relocate to the family estate of Lovecraft Mansion in the wake of the Locke patriarch’s murder. While readjusting to their new lives, the children begin finding strange keys scattered and hidden across the house, keys that unlock doors into mysterious and terrifying new realms. Keys that are also being hunted for by an old evil named Dodge.

As the son of Stephen King, it seems clear that Hill has inherited quite a bit of his father’s story-telling panache and hits on a few similarities in style. This was most clear in NOS4A2, but Locke & Key also exhibits some of the same themes common in many of King’s works (and keep an ear open for a nice little homage to King’s Carrie late in the story). First of all, this is an epic work of horror, with smatterings of fantasy thrown in for good measure, and how it affects the everyman. The central characters aren’t burdened with super-powers, and most of their daily challenges come from attending school, making friends, dealing with being the outcasts because of the hellacious events in their lives. This is also a story of multi-generational horrors, as the Locke kids discover the secrets of their ancestry and the tribulations their father and his friends experienced upon discovering the keys.

All of this is performed admirably by the large cast, and I felt fully invested in these characters right from the get-go. The acting is pretty superb all-around, as is the sound production and score, with the cast and crew even making use of real-world locations to record, rather than sticking it out in a recording studio for the entire job. My only real issues came in the lack of narrative connective tissue in the big action scenes, which often felt muddled and pulled me out of the drama as I struggled to figure out who stabbed who, whether or not X or Y lived, and what exactly was happening in the aftermath. A few of these issues were mostly resolved in the following minutes, but the initial impact was jarring and confusing. Still, there were a few times where I imagined the narrative must have been clearer in the original comics and that certain scenes would have worked better as a companion piece to the source material. Maybe I missed a few things due to my lack of familiarity with the comic books, particularly in how the characters appear. We usually don’t get any kind of character descriptions until much too late, well after I’d already formed a visual of who they are in my head and so I spent much of the narrative not realizing one family was African American, or that another sported plenty of ink across his body, or that one has a particular piercing that becomes quite a distinguishing feature for one of the Locke boys in the aftermath of a brutal murder.

These, mostly little, issues aside, I found Locke & Key to be a completely engrossing audio-drama and an absolutely terrific listen. The acting is strong, and Hill’s writing, as expected, is completely top-notch. As an audio-drama, this sucker just works, and it works well. I was scared in all the right places, and my heart was racing during the brutal climax and left feeling exhausted in the wake the Locke family’s cataclysmic showdown with Dodge. I might have even, maybe, just a little bit, kind of teared up in the final moments because I was so damn attached to these characters and to this family. And although the graphic novels have been untouched thus far, this audiobook has made me aware of exactly how much greatness I’ve been missing, so I’ve ordered the final volume to complete my set of IDW Locke & Key hardcovers and hope to dive into them soon. This is a completely fantastic story, and Joe Hill himself is quickly becoming one of my absolute favorite writers that I can trust to turn out solid, quality work and whose stories I look forward to the most. If Locke & Key becomes one of my latest die-hard obsessions, well, I can blame this recording for it.

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Review: Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (Audiobook)

Review: Failure by John Everson (Audiobook)

failure-eversonAbout Failure

Raymond is such a failure, he can’t even kill himself and get it right. Cindy just plain doesn’t care; she’ll get on her knees for anyone beneath the football field bleachers to score a nickel bag hit. And Sal is a frustrated goon with a hook nose and an attitude so sour he can’t nail a girl, even with the lure of free dope and a getaway car.

When these three desperate teens meet Aaron, a failed practitioner of the dark arts, who offers them the best high they’ve ever smoked in exchange for kinky sex play, things only go from bad to worse. Aaron hopes to ensnare and re-birth the spirit of a late witch to capture her power from beyond the grave for his own.

Soon, they’ll all learn the darkest, bloodiest, most terrifying definition of failure.

About the Author

John Everson is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of eight novels of erotic horror and the macabre, including his latest, the Fountain of Youth thriller THE FAMILY TREE, as well as the Bram Stoker Award-nominated tour de force NIGHTWHERE, the Bram Stoker Award-winner COVENANT, its sequel SACRIFICE and the standalone novels THE 13TH, SIREN, THE PUMPKIN MAN, VIOLET EYES.

John shares a deep purple den in Naperville, Illinois with a cockatoo and cockatiel, a disparate collection of fake skulls, twisted skeletal fairies, Alan Clark illustrations and a large stuffed Eeyore. There’s also a mounted Chinese fowling spider named Stoker, an ever-growing shelf of custom mix CDs and an acoustic guitar that he can’t really play but that his son likes to hear him beat on anyway. Sometimes his wife is surprised to find him shuffling through more public areas of the house, but it’s usually only to brew another cup of coffee. In order to avoid the onerous task of writing, he occasionally records pop-rock songs in a hidden home studio, experiments with the insatiable culinary joys of the jalapeno, designs book covers for a variety of small presses, loses hours in expanding an array of gardens and chases frequent excursions into the bizarre visual headspace of ’70s euro-horror DVDs with a shot of Makers Mark and a tall glass of Newcastle.

Learn more about John on his site,, where you can sign up for a direct-from-the-author monthly e-newsletter with information on new books, contests and occasionally, free fiction.

Want to connect? Follow John on Twitter @johneverson, or find him on Facebook at

My Thoughts

[This review was originally published at AudioBook Reviewer,

John Everson’s Failure is an intriguing mash-up of horror, kink, and magic, but one that ultimately fell a little bit flat. If you’ve read the description for this title, then you know what you’re getting into. Sadly, there’s little else beyond the synopsis to capture in terms of depth or plot.

Now, that said, this one is a quick and breezy listen, clocking in just shy of 90 minutes and there are many, many worse things to while away a few car-rides between work and home. Once the story gets all revved up and gunning for the climax, I found myself enjoying the story quite a bit more.

The gist of Failure is stupid teens making one very large bad choice all in the name of good drugs and sex, not quite believing or realizing they’re being lulled into a much darker ritual of ancient magic. By the time they realize how wrong things have gone, it’s six months later and Aaron, the old mage who duped them, is out for blood in order to finish his ritual.

And that’s when all kinds of stuff and things, most of it fleshy and bloody, hit both the proverbial and literal ceiling. Gore hounds should be quite happy with the story’s second-half, where the gruesomeness is the main order of business, alongside some detours flashing back to the sexual shenanigans our three teenage characters engage in under Aaron’s prodding. Things turn awfully vicious pretty quickly, and the proceedings hit a high-note for me when Everson drops the descriptive, vulgar phrase “womb syrup” during a particular mauling.

While Everson’s story, overall, didn’t quite suit my particular tastes, the narration by Joe Hempel was solid and professional, and the audio quality was clear. Hempel was pretty consistent in his mild reading of Everson’s words, but I think I would have liked a little more oomph and emoting, particularly when the story takes a turn toward the nastier side of things. It’s not much of a complaint, but the narration struck me as a little too placid.

All in all, Failure wasn’t exactly my cup of tea, and I would have liked Everson to expand on his characters and give them more depth. I didn’t feel much in the way of sympathy for any of them, with the trio of teens coming across as shallow and a bit single-minded in their highly-questionable motives. The latter half of the book manages to coalesce into some nicely wrought and descriptive horror, though, the finale is sufficiently bloody.

If nothing else, Failure, originally published in print back in 2006, has at least got me curious enough to check out this author’s more recent work to see how he’s refined his style and grown as an author.

Review: Failure by John Everson (Audiobook)