Review: Young Slasher by S. Elliot Brandis

Review:

young slasher

Young Slasher, the latest from S. Elliot Brandis, is a slasher horror story that owes an awful lot to comic books, particularly Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass and uber-scribe Grant Morrison. This is a story that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve and name-drops them with regularity, not necessarily to be cute to show off a measure of pop culture awareness, but because these are the things that shape and inform our titular killer, who goes by the very comic book-ish name of Mia Sanguine.

Mia is a real-life movie slasher for the twenty-first century. Inspired by comic books and horror movies, her psychopathy even comes with its own Spotify playlist so that she can kill with a punk soundtrack. Her origin story is rooted in modern-day Big Topics of our time, as her and her best friend are ridiculed and bullied by their high school peers. Mia was a late transfer to a private school filled with spoiled, rotten rich kids and her taste in fashion and music made her an outcast. Her friend Casey is struggling to define his sexuality and is routinely harassed by his bigoted, homophobic classmates. And so, they hatch a plot, inspired quite knowingly by Kick-Ass. They want to become real-life horror movie killers.

And although I stated above that this is a horror story, that’s not entirely correct. It has all the benchmarks of a horror narrative – that sleek, cool looking cover; a terrific bit of the old ultraviolence; a fantastic slasher villain with an impressive array of cutlery and scorn – but Young Slasher is more accurately a fun work of metafiction. As Mia might say, this book is “meta as fuck!” and the meta narrative run multiple layers deep, reaching quite a bit beyond merely the fictional, fourth-wall breaking killer that fans of Deadpool will recognize.

Aside from being an interesting thought experiment and clever literary construct, this book would not work without a reason to care beyond picking out points of reference and trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not. That’s where the characters come in. Mia is simply a fun girl to hang out with for the couple hundred-some pages that she exists in. She’s brutal, but also empathetic, and, perhaps troublingly, somebody I could relate to.

As a victim of bullying during my own school years (being the only kid with a gnarly scar running the length of my chest from open heart surgery and unable to engage in the more rough-and-tumble aspects of gym class made me both an outcast and, since I couldn’t run, easy pickings. When I eventually found comfort in junk food and became overweight, I was then the fat, scarred outcast), I found myself fully sympathetic to Mia and Casey. I could understand their urge to find primal satisfaction in waging war against their tormentors, even if, even at my lowest, I wouldn’t have gone so far as to take an axe to somebody’s head (although I’ll admit to fancying some pretty dark daydreams about how to handle the idiot jock who liked to leave an empty seat between us so he could kick that empty desk over the seatback of my chair and into my spine over and over and over during high school Geometry).

Mia and Casey may want to be villains, but, like most fictional anarchists, there’s a certain measure of joyful escapism to be had in their exploits. It’s fun to watch them turn the tables on their bullies, even as they go far beyond the pale in their brutality, taking a beeline right away from justice and straight on to revenge.

[Note: I received an advance copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.]

 

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Review: Young Slasher by S. Elliot Brandis

Review: A Time of Torment by John Connolly

Review:

a-time-of-torment-9781501118326_hr

There are a few authors whose novels are my own personal equivalent to comfort food. Stephen King is one; John Connolly is another. Every time I sit down with one of their stories, I know I’m in good hands, and their words bring a certain warmth to my soul. Connolly’s Charlie Parker series, in particular, is like a big bowl of beef stew or mac & cheese eaten beside the fireplace and in the company of good friends. Over the course of fourteen novels, I consider Parker, Angel, and Louis very good friends, indeed. And, jeez, do I ever eat up these stories!

Connolly is a superb storyteller, first and foremost. His prose is both simple and elegantly constructed, and although he sometimes wanders off into tangents of both local and personal history for his settings and characters, I certainly don’t mind reading those words even if I wonder at the necessity of their inclusion. Would A Time of Torment be better if some tangential segments were shortened? I suspect it wouldn’t be by much, frankly, and, for me, it’s a bit of the charm Connolly brings to the table. You can tell this man does his research, and he’s eager to share what he’s learned. And when you tell a story as well as Connolly, well…the more the better, in my opinion. He’s a craftsman, and one of the best in the business as far I’m concerned.

As far as A Time of Torment is concerned, I feel a bit of sympathy for readers encountering this author and these characters here for the very first time. This is not a book for the inexperienced, and the Parker novels are very much a Read In Order series. This particular volume builds off the events, story, and character threads established in the prior three Parker thrillers, which themselves are shaped by the supernatural mythology of the preceding volumes. Characters like The Collector and Parker’s daughter, Sam, who make brief appearances here will likely leave the uninitiated scratching their head as to their importance. Those who have been around since the beginning, though, will be much more appreciative of their roles in the overarching mythology of the series as a whole. My advice, as always, to anyone who hasn’t read Connolly yet is to start from the very beginning with Every Dead Thing.

Plot-wise, Parker is hired by a recently released prisoner, who quickly goes missing. Parker’s subsequent investigation brings to his attention a small cult-like community known as The Cut, and their religious idol, The Dead King.

There’s echoes of Prosperous, the community featured in The Wolf In Winter, but not so much that it feels like a total retread. There’s enough differences in The Cut’s actions, history, and characters to differentiate them from Prosperous, and, in some ways, make them a dark mirror reflection of an already nasty bunch. They’re darker, and, to a degree, one might even say more primitive. Then again, so, too, is Charlie Parker. It’s the events of that prior novel that have helped shape the subtle alterations in Parker’s persona and methods. The detective has become a more aggressive hunter, very much so a wolf in his own right. And the Cut is certainly worthy of his particular brand of attention.

A Time of Torment is a bit slower paced than previous installments, but not detrimentally so. If anything, for me, it just means it takes a bit more time to savor and enjoy, and I was left feeling perfectly satiated. Now begins the wait, once more, for the next book…

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

 

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Review: A Time of Torment by John Connolly

Review: Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand (audiobook)

Review:

Wolf-Hunt

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

 

I imagine Jeff Strand’s elevator pitch for Wolf Hunt being along the lines of ‘The Sopranos Meet The Wolfman.’ If this intrigues you, then it’s really about all that needs to be said of Strand’s funny, bloody werewolf romp. Frankly, it’s all I would have needed to be hooked straightaway. If this does not intrigue you, then I’m afraid I can’t help you.

George and Lou are not exactly made guys, and deny even being mobsters at all, but they are clearly some well-connected thugs who have little problem breaking thumbs over debts owed to their bosses. They’re tasked with transporting a bad dude named Ivan across Florida to a crime lord, with Ivan locked in a cage. Strand sets up his story in a fun way, with a lot of dispute over Ivan’s credentials as a werewolf and plenty of is-he or isn’t-he back and forth (George and Lou aren’t buying it, and Ivan has fun stringing them along). Things quickly go south, and after saving and accidentally kidnapping Michelle, the thugs are in a race to stop Ivan before he can wreak all kinds of carnage across the Sunshine State.

Strand does a beautiful job balancing wit with werewolf violence, and one early scene in particular stands out as being a gruesomely effective showcase to Ivan’s psychopathy, while also solidifying the bloody courtship between he and George. Although Wolf Hunt has a number of gory instances, there’s a certain lightness to the work as a whole thanks to a lot of humorous banter and a handful of characters that are actually fun to spend seven hours with.

Besides Stand’s quirkiness, a lot of this fun is owed to narrator Scott Thomas, who seems to be enjoying himself quite a bit and effortlessly brings the material to life. He provides each character with a distinct voice and speech pattern, which makes it easy to discern who is saying what during stretches of dialogue, and keeps the listen fresh throughout. Thomas hits all the right notes and delivers an excellent performance. The production values are fine, too, and Thomas’ work comes through without a hitch.

If you’re looking for a genuinely fun and comedic horror listen, Wolf Hunt definitely stands out from the pack.

[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com]

 

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Review: Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand (audiobook)

Review: Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Review:

HELL DIVERS

After five Extinction Cycle novels (and a sixth on the way!), Hell Divers, the first installment in a brand-new series from Nicholas Sansbury Smith, is a refreshing change of pace. While it has all the hallmarks of Smith’s usual brand of brimstone and bullets, its premise goes a long way in making this a distinct entry in this author’s oeuvre.

In both the Orbs and Extinction Cycle books, Smith approaches his doomsday scenarios as fresh threats to humanity on the brink of destruction with The End Of The World As We Know It just right around the corner or rapidly in progress. In Hell Divers, the apocalypse has already happened and, two hundred years after Trump’s presidency later, mankind has been reduced to roughly a thousand souls spread out across two airships, the Ares and the Hive. The Earth below them is a radioactive wasteland, the skies treacherous with the constant threat of electrical storms. After Ares is damaged, the Hell Divers (think futuristic paratroopers with wildly short lifespans) aboard the Hive are sent on a rescue mission. Soon enough, they find out the ground is not as lifeless as they thought, as marauding bands of vicious creatures they dub Sirens are out to get them.

One thing Smith does exceptionally well are action scenes, and there’s plenty of those to go around here as Xavier Rodriguez (otherwise known as X) and his team do battle across frozen wastelands, and the shipboard Militia stave off homegrown threats, as well as more elemental troubles. When the Divers do their diving, there’s some legitimate excitement to the sequences and Smith does a terrific job describing this horrific adrenaline rush. Ground combat is equally fierce, although the Sirens could use a little more oomph. As a fan of the Extinction Cycle series, I didn’t find these mutant killers quite as intriguing as the Variants. However, with two more books on the way, Smith certainly has plenty of space left to flesh out the concepts introduced here.

On the character front, X is the strong dashing male hero, and Captain Ash is the strong-willed woman in charge of the Hive – both are great characters, and get their own moments to shine. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more about these characters, as well as their lives aboard ship, and the ten-year-old Tin has all the makings of a heroic prodigy if he survives all the threats life in the skies brings.

There’s a lot about Hell Divers that feels comfortably familiar, but Smith freshens it up with a new coat of paint and shakes up the formula of his previous series enough to avoid feeling derivative of his other apocalyptic military thrillers. I think he’s on to the start of something that could be pretty bold here, and I’m excited to see what he has in store for the Hive, and readers, with future installments. Onward and upward!

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

 

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Review: Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Review: The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

Review:

the-hatching

I have two large phobias – acrophobia (fear of heights) and arachnophobia (fear of spiders). My fear of heights is, at times, crippling. I’m OK in enclosed spaces like inside a tall building, but going more than two steps up a ladder is grounds for a panic attack. Coming in at a distant second is my fear of spiders. I don’t know of any horror fiction that has tackled acrophobia (please feel free to shout out some examples if you know of any!), but arachnophobia certainly lays the groundwork for a healthy number of tales of terror. I suspect that part of my ability to overcome my primordial fear of spiders just long enough to smack them with a rolled up magazine is due to the sheer number of horror depictions in popular media and my willingness to expose myself to such works. However, Ezekiel Boone’s debut novel, The Hatching, does little to endear me much further to these eight legged creeps.

Rather than giving us grotesque, mutated spiders or radioactive scares, Boone keeps the core of his spider horror thriller fairly plausible (maybe a little too plausible, which certainly helps bump up the fright factor), which makes the more extraordinary aspects easier to digest. The Hatching is basically a global alien invasion story, but with spiders and a multitude of egg sacs and unsuspecting hosts instead of little green men and UFOs.

Boone wastes no time going bonkers, as massive outbreaks of man-eating spiders are unleashed upon China and India, before finally making their way to the good ol’ US of A. The cast of characters confronting this nightmare is equally sprawling, and at times feels a bit too cumbersome and shallow. While the characters are drawn in the “good enough” approach, they’re not really the main focus here so I’m willing to give Boone a pass on this. This isn’t the type of fare one turns to for in-depth depictions of the human soul, and there’s not much in the way of sweeping character arcs (for instance, one man’s arc involves getting over his ex-wife, which he’s able to do once he realizes he wants to bone the female scientist studying this outbreak). There’s also way more characters than can comfortably serve the narrative of a single book, which I’m also willing to give a pass on since The Hatching is the first in a series (Skitter is due out next year).

But look. This is a spider horror story first and foremost. I’m not here for meditations on the human condition. I’m here because I want to read about spiders destroying civilization. I’m OK with some mediocre character development and protracted payoff as long as the scenario is fresh enough to keep me invested and the scares deliver. And those scares…for an arachnaphobe like me? Boy, do they deliver.

The Hatching reminds me why I’m afraid of spiders by tapping into that highly implausible yet all too prevalent nature of what if? Yes, I can (mostly) kill a common house spider pretty effectively. But…what if?What if they team up, or bite me and then burrow their way into the wound and take up residence inside my freaking body, or start wrapping me up in a silky cocoon while I’m sleeping? There’s a myth that you eat about eight spiders a year in your sleep. Thankfully, it’s a myth. But, jeez, what if you eat even just one? And that one is carrying some eggs that get webbed inside your throat or something? You ever wake up with a scratchy throat? Are you really, 100% positive beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s not an egg sac and that it won’t be hatching and that you’ll be gagging up a bunch of spiders before your first cup of coffee? That’s the type of fear-mongering Boone plays around with here and it’s a little too close for comfort at times. All of my fears about spiders and their potential for harm (yes, I know it’s irrational. Mostly, anyway.) play out in some wonderfully disastrous scenarios in this book, and occasionally in exquisitely morbid details. There’s a few images I’m afraid won’t be dislodging themselves from my brain anytime soon.

If you’re seriously arachnophobic, The Hatching probably won’t do you any favors. However, if you’re looking for some solid, B-movie horror invasion on a big budget Hollywood movie scale this book certainly delivers. If anything, being afraid of spiders might even make this book’s particular brand of crazy better and more intimate, and how many stories can you say that about?

[Note: This reviewed is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via NetGalley.]

 

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Review: The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone

June 2016 Read & Reviewed Round-Up

I can’t believe it’s already July! The year is half-over, my son will become a one-year-old in a few more months, and the radio will start playing Christmas song way too fucking early. So, let’s take a quick look back at the month that was, shall we?

In June, I read and reviewed the following:

  1. A Song For No Man’s Land by Andy Remic
  2. Return of Souls by Andy Remic
  3. The X-Files: Trust No One edited by Jonathan Maberry (audiobook)
  4. Lights Out by Nate Southard
  5. Burnt Offerings by Robert Marasco (audiobook)
  6. The Last Weekend by Nick Mamatas (audiobook)
  7. Consequences by John Quick
  8. Stolen Away by Kristin Dearborn
  9. The Fisherman by John Langan

Thanks to the magic of the Internets, you can click on those blue links and be magically transported to my reviews! Hurrah!

At the moment, I am currently listening to the audiobook edition of Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand. Let me tell you, this one is a lot of fun – and funny, too. I’ll be starting The Hatching by Ezekiel Boone shortly, which sounds fantastic (spider horror! Which, I know, is a bit redundant, but still…) and has gotten some great advanced reviews. I’ll have my thoughts posted soon enough, but in the meantime go check out Char’s review at Horror After Dark.

June 2016 Read & Reviewed Round-Up

Review: The Fisherman by John Langan

Review:

fisherman

John Langan’s The Fisherman is a slow-burn tale of cosmic horror told on two fronts. This is the story of two widowers, Abe and Dan, who find solace in their shared hobby of fishing and plan on sinking their lines into Dutchman’s Creek, a hard to find locale unless you know exactly where to look. Beyond being hard to find, there’s rumors about this creek…rumors and stories. Dutchman’s Creek has a lot of history, and Langan focuses on this for the bulk of his narrative.

I have to admit, when Abe began relaying the story of Dutchman’s Creek, as told to him by a cook at a diner they stop at before embarking on their trip, who heard it from a priest who heard it from somebody else, I was worried that this book would be reduced to a game of Telephone. I was also a bit jarred by, after having spent several long chapters with Abe and getting lost in his narrative and intonations of their ill-fated trip to Dutchman’s Creek, I was suddenly in the midst of a historical story 100 years prior.

Thankfully, the history Langan presents is rich and highly interesting, and filled with several intriguing characters. Once the horror elements begin to weave their way into the account, the story really kicks into high gear with some wonderful imagery and fantastical scenarios. I flat-out loved the mythology Langan explores here, exploiting the watery elements in both theme and object to deliver an excellent bit of cosmic horror. Langan invests us in these characters (both past and present) suitably well, and the sense of creeping dread is completely engrossing.

The biggest risk in presenting a narrative with the story-within-a-story approach is that there are effectively two endings. I found the climax to the historical segment to be much more satisfying than the present-day events, although once Abe and Dan’s stories reach their finish the moody atmosphere was scintillating enough that even though I’d finished reading this on a sunny evening I’d swear the sky was filled with dark, rain-laden clouds.

The Fisherman was the first book I’ve read by Langan, and you can mark me as suitably impressed. His writing style is very comfortable, and within a matter of pages I felt like I was right there with Abe, listening to a long fisherman’s story on the river’s shores. And while this is a densely written story, it is a compulsively readable one. Through Abe, Langan sinks his hooks in deep enough to catch you by surprise, and then you just wait for him to reel you in. Once he does, it is so very worth it.

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

 

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Review: The Fisherman by John Langan