Review: The Con Season by Adam Cesare

Review:

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

Review:

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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

Review:

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

Review:

theapproach

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

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

Review: Chasing Ghosts by Glenn Rolfe

Review:

chasing ghosts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Chasing Ghosts by Glenn Rolfe

Review: Invasive by Chuck Wendig

Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Review: Invasive by Chuck Wendig