Review: Renovation by Sara Brooke



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Review: Renovation by Sara Brooke

Review: The Con Season by Adam Cesare


the con season

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Review: The Con Season by Adam Cesare

Review: Savages by Greg F. Gifune



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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Review: Savages by Greg F. Gifune

Review: The Jersey Devil by Hunter Shea


jersey devil

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Review: The Jersey Devil by Hunter Shea

Review: The Approach by Chris Holm



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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Approach by Chris Holm

Too Little Or Too Much

A short while ago, maybe a month or two, I publicly shamed myself on Twitter for not having a large enough output this year. In 2015, I had published a novel and appeared in three anthologies, and released one of those stories as a stand-alone title. Halfway through 2016, I was feeling the pinch of having hardly any releases at all this year. So far, I’ve released only one short story, Let Go, and a short story titled “Black Site” was published in CLONES: The Anthology. Although I was busy writing, not much of it was making its way out into the market and it was making me a feel bit depressed. I felt like I either wasn’t doing enough or wasn’t getting stuff done (partially true, but mildly inaccurate), and the weight of it was like a vise around my neck.

The big pro-tip to being a writer is one simple rule: Finish Your Shit.

I was not finishing my shit, or at least not the one big shit I had in me, but not necessarily for lack of trying. I’ve been working on a novel since March and it’s become my own personal Moby Dick. Not because it’s a wild, untamed beast that I have sworn revenge against, but because it’s been such a long, arduous journey in trying to finish it off. I know the rough shape of it, and when I’m working on it, it feels good and (mostly) right. And it’s not even a lack of focus or desire to continue plugging away at it.

Mostly, it’s because I allow myself to keep getting interrupted with other projects. This is by no means a bad thing, nor is it a complaint. If anything, it is perhaps a very good problem to have. I’ve put this novel on hold several times, and have done so once again, in order to tackle a story and an invitation that is simply too good to pass up. Back near the start of writing said novel, a lonely old man named Everett Hart told me a story and his voice demanded that I write Let Go. So I did. And then I got invited to contribute to CLONES: The Anthology. I had a killer idea for that one, so, again, the novel got put on the back burner. Ultimately, it was certainly worth it. This book became an Amazon Best Seller in their sci-fi anthology category, and, for a very brief time, I was a Top 100 science fiction author over there. Pretty cool!

I’ve gone back and forth with this novel-in-progress a few times now, interrupting the process once more very recently in order to write a novella that captured my fancy. It’s called Broken Shells and it needs lots of editing, but the story itself is largely finished. I began writing this shortly before my mother passed away, and in the weeks following her death it provided a much-needed retreat for me, and even a little bit of therapy. All that remains now are the finishing touches. That, too, is now on hold, thanks to an invitation that was extended my way late last week.

At the moment, I am roughly 3,000 words into REDACTED. I’m not sure what I can or cannot discuss about this work yet, so it’s perhaps best to say nothing. It’s the kind of deal though, that when you’re invited in, you do not turn it down. And since a dude at Amazon called me to discuss this work specifically goes a long way in telling me it could maybe possibly be a big deal. The kind of project that you simply do not say No to and walk away from. If anything, you drop whatever you’re doing and get to work. Of course, it’s entirely possible I’m blowing smoke up my own ass. I get the impression though that this is at least important to Amazon, and it could certainly have the potential for more readers to discover my work, which is a fantastic reward all by itself. So, yeah, I dropped everything and got to work! REDACTED will be novella length, and while it’s in my wheelhouse of both science fiction and horror, it’s of a particular sub-genre I haven’t written in previously. There are a few hurdles to overcome, and plenty of research to do. Thus far, it’s been a lot of fun, though, and I’m excited to see where it goes. I’ll have plenty more to say about this in the coming months, so be sure to stay tuned, or sign-up for my newsletter to get the big scoop straight to your inbox.

My main problem though has been reconciling the disparity in my work versus my output. I’ve been busy, even if I don’t yet have a lot to show for it. I will eventually, and there’s plenty of stuff on the horizon. So, I made a list of stuff in progress to give me a sort of visual reminder and a much-needed kick in the ass that I actually am doing something! Here’s where things stand at the moment for 2016:

  • A short novel is under review with a small press publisher for publication. The sample was apparently good enough that the editor recently asked for the full manuscript. If the story is not a good fit for this publisher, there are other avenues I can explore, so we’ll see what happens there.
  • LET GO – Published
  • Black Site – Published in CLONES: The Anthology, pending solo publication
  • Broken Shells – pending publication
  • Novel – in progress
  • The Marque – pending solo publication (originally published in Crime & Punishment)
  • Preservation – pending solo publication (originally published in The Cyborg Chronicles)
  • REDACTED – in progress, expected publication late 2016/Q1 2017
  • Audiobook edition of Revolver – in progress, release TBA

To top it all off, while doing yard work yesterday inspiration struck. I came up with a cool idea for a post-apocalyptic natural horror short story, which I’ll probably work on once Secret Project is finished and then leap back into the novel.

None of this even takes into account the advance copies of books I need to read and review. Or the fact that all of this must be balanced against working full-time and having a family.

And yet, yeah, somehow, for whatever reason, I honestly felt like I wasn’t doing enough.

Ultimately, I’ve decided I’m OK with where things are at presently. If my output for 2016 is a bit diminished, then I have to be fine with it. I may still be able to get one or two of these projects out by year’s end. If not, then 2017 will be a banner year for me in terms of published stories!

Too Little Or Too Much

Read and Reviewed Roundup: July 2016

For those that are just joining the blog (welcome, new followers!), I’ve been starting off each month with a summary of the books I’ve read and reviewed over the course of the previous month. Today is August 1, 2016, so here’s a look back at my books from July. Just click on the link to check out my thoughts on that particular title.

So, that’s six novels, plus one audiobook, which I originally reviewed for Audio Book Reviewer. All in all, this was a pretty strong month of reading in terms of quality; I don’t think there was a bad book in the bunch. Let’s face it, though – anytime I can read a new book from Chuck Wendig and John Connolly, let alone nearly back to back, is a darn good month.

What did you read last month? Any particular stand-outs for you?

Read and Reviewed Roundup: July 2016