Apparition – Michaelbrent Collings

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Every once in a while, you run across a book that has a pretty hight rating, an intriguing sounding premise and some really nice reviews to back it up. So, you enthusiastically pick it up and begin reading. It’ll start out slow, but thats okay. We’ve all read books that seem to stumble around the first 25% until they find their footing and then they take off. As you approach the 40% mark, you think, “damn, this thing better have one hell of a second half!” Then, for many people, there comes a point where you pass the “point of no return”. This is where you’ve already invested so much damned time in the story that you now just have to ride it out. Others can simply toss the book and move on. I’m not cut from that cloth. I have to finish it, even if I’m cussing it out every other page until the end. Stupid, I know. But that’s how I’m wired.

So, as you’ve already figured out, APPARITION was that way for me. The premise is good. Delving into the phenomenon of filicide and to see if there’s another reason that parents decide to kill their own children besides they’re crazy, perhaps something ancient and evil. I like it. I’d like to go down this road and see where it takes us. For me, the road that is APPARITION was a long, tedious and frustrating one. First of all, barely anything happens for the first 50% of the story. Now don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy a slow burn if its told right, ala Peter Straub and Charles L. Grant. But this wasn’t a slow build up, it was an excruciating exercise of patience. One of the things that didn’t work for me, was when Collings would write from the little boy, Matthew’s POV. When he would switch into that character’s telling of the story, I wanted to slit my wrist. Throughout the the story, he had Matthew talking and thinking anywhere from a 3-year old little boy to a college junior psychology major. I also found that the description of the characters thoughts kept stumbling over each other. At numerous points in the story, I wanted to scream, “I KNOW! You just said that for the hundredth time… now get on with it!” Now, I do think Collings can write. In fact, there were a couple of scenes in the first half that literally made my skin crawl and I would think, “Alright! Here we go” and then it would go back into the plodding, repetitive pacing that plagued the entire story. Unfortunately, the characters weren’t interesting or sympathetic enough for you to invest in their well-being. And the ending was “meh”. Nothing shocking, surprising or the least bit satisfying. So there you have it. That’s my review. Now, keep in mind, many other people like this story, many of whom I respect their opinions and I usually agree with the majority of the time. So you may like it too. For me, APPARITION didn’t work.
2 Children Swallowing Demons out of 5
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We Came Back – Patrick Lacey

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WE CAME BACK is the impressive sophomoric effort from Patrick Lacey. While, yes, there are shades of King’s SOMETIME’S THEY COME BACK and CARRIE, WE CAME BACK is it’s own monster. A high school revenge tale that takes on a twisted life of it’s own. We can imagine the Melvins in the world. We’ve seen many a teenager in the news that has taken his own life with their high school as their stage as they paint the walls red with their own blood and brain matter. We’ve all experienced various levels of bullying and, while we may not go so far as agreeing with Melvin’s solution to take his own life, we do understand where he’s coming from. We can also imagine what it would do to small, close-knit Lynwood High. Ten years later, the old high school is closed and abandoned. A new school is built on the other side of town. The teachers are doing their very best to forget that there ever was another Lynwood High. That the old brick building with the chained doors and roof leaking into the classrooms never existed. The students are chalking up the stories of Melvin’s ghost wandering the halls as an urban legend. Frank Tanner is especially trying to forget that day a decade ago. Frank was a young teacher that witnessed Melvin’s suicide first-hand. Now his straight-laced daughter is dating the new goth kid and damn, if he doesn’t look familiar. And damn, if she isn’t acting up like never before. Is this all just teen rebellion or is there something evil about her new boyfriend?

Lacey builds the layers nicely in WE CAME BACK. The characters are three dimensional and realistically fleshed out. The atmosphere slowly builds and ratchets up as the story unfurls. He really does a nice job with this one. No sophomore jinx here. I’m looking forward to novel number 3.
4 Pasty White Complexions our of 5
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The Incurables – Jon Bassoff

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Every once in a while, a book comes along that has a subject matter that really stick with you. The Incurables struck that chord with me. I’m kind of a sucker for horror with a historical setting. Bassoff’s offering is set in 1953 and uses a real character with a sordid legacy, Dr. Walter Freeman. Dr Freeman created his name in the history books by being the physician noted for the controversial psychiatric procedure, the lobotomy. In fact, he streamlined the surgery by foregoing the traditional methods of exposing the brain with an incision in the skull and developed the trans orbital lobotomy. If you’re not familiar with that procedure, it involved an ice pick and inserting it in the tear duct of each eye socket, using a mallet to break through the soft bone behind the eye, and scrambling the patients gray matter by wiggling the pick around inside the brain. Freeman was a carnival barker-like salesman with his new procedure and would often “advertise” it as a cure-all to whatever ails you. By the early 1950s, Freeman had performed his lobotomy on thousands of patients, including the infamous Rose Kennedy.

I have to admit, I didn’t know much about lobotomies. Oh sure, I’d heard the term and knew it had something to do with messing with the brain and that it turned many people into drooling vegetables. What I didn’t know was the history of the procedure and how prevalent it was in society for so many years. I also didn’t know anything about Dr. Walter Freeman. While reading The Incurables, I found myself looking up all sorts of information on the internet about the subject and I found it chillingly fascinating.

Bassoff uses this sordid character and macabre nugget of American history and weaves a captivating tale involving Freeman being fired from his position and forced to take his carnival act on the road across the United States. He paints a chilling and vibrant tale of horror in a seedy small town in Oklahoma where Freeman preys on the desperation of bleak town rife with mental illness. The writing style is smooth and easy. The characters are well fleshed out and memorable. If there is a down side to the story, it would be that there really isn’t a sympathetic character in the whole bunch. They’re all various degrees of train wrecks. However, I found The Incurable to be an extremely enjoyable read and found that it left a haunting and lasting mark in my psyche.

4 1/2 Bloodied Ice Picks out of 5
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Jurassic, Florida – Hunter Shea

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Let me start this review off by saying that I’m a big fan of Hunter Shea. The guy has made his bread and butter by putting out high-quality creature features. With the amount of work this guy has published in the last few years, even Rembrandt has to stumble once in a while. Jurassic, Florida feels like Hunter’s misstep. The writing is good. The characters are decent. The content was the problem for me. In a quasi-homage to Jurassic Park and Godzilla B-movies, JF comes off as hokie. The story felt like it was trying to play it serious, but I simply couldn’t get into iguanas the size of buildings that happened to find their way to the earth’s surface after an oil well explosion rocks the Gulf. I don’t have to have all the answers to the Hows and Whys, but this one insulted my suspension of disbelief a little too much. Now, if the premise sounds like it might be right up your alley and you can overlook the “realism”, by all means, jump into it. Hunter knows how to construct character and dialogue with the best of them. But, alas, Jurassic, Florida wasn’t for me.

 

2 1/2 Bus-Sized People Eaters out of 5

 

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The Beast of Brenton Woods – Jackson R. Thomas

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Jackson R. Thomas’s debut comes to us in the form of a small-town werewolf yarn, The Beast of Brenton Woods. As far as debuts go, it’s a decent one, but the Beast also has a few fleas that I would like to see removed. Bodies are starting to show up again in Brenton Woods after many years of tranquility. Legend has it that the last time this happened in the mid-1980s, a white wolf was responsible. And just like that, the wolf disappeared. Now 13 year-olds Ben and Tyler have seen it. So have early 20-somethings Jimmy, Wendy and Bryan. They are all too young to remember the last time the Beast made it’s appearance in Brenton Woods, but it’s back, bloodthirstier than ever, and it wants revenge on a past that won’t stay buried any longer.

Thomas does many things right in The Beast of Brenton Woods. For one, the dialogue. I think this is the strongest part of the book. So many authors, especially in their debuts, swing and miss with the dialogue. It’s either too wooden or completely unrealistic. In Beast, it’s pretty much spot on. Kudos to Thomas. Second, the characters are interesting. While that’s another bonus, it also left me wanting for more…much more. And this is where we come to the flea portion of the werewolf. The story and character development. While the characters are interesting and realistic, I felt they needed to be much more fleshed out. The story is told in a frenetic pace, but we’re left to continually go back to see which character is who. After just finishing the story, I couldn’t tell you what many of the characters looked like, what the town of Brenton Woods looked like, why the Beast came back or have a clear understanding of what happened in the past. This is the frustrating part, because I really like what the story had for it’s base. I only wish it was more of a smorgasbord than an hors d’oeuvre. Jackson has a ton of promise and I look forward to watching him grow as a writer.

 

3 1/2 Yellow Eyes Glowing in the Dark out of 5

 

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Operation Antarctica – William Meikle

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Captain John Banks and his men are fresh off their encounter with underwater beasties off the Baffin Island coast. If they thought they’d seen everything on that mission, they won’t believe their eyes on their next assignment. The Scottish solidiers are sent to investigate a forgotten Nazi outpost on Antarctica. What they find is more than old, frozen corpses and dusty swastika flags. Inside a long deserted hangar is the weapon the Nazis were working on. It’s been sitting their dormant for almost 80 years just waiting for someone to turn it on.

Operation Antarctica is more of the same popcorn chomping kind of read that we got from Meikle in Infestation. John Banks’s group are a fun group to root for. Lots of ball busting jokes mixed in with an Indiana Jones type of an adventure. He also lets his imagination go wild with a take on the Nazi folklore story of seceret aircraft in an Antarctic base. This is where Meikle shines the brightest. He’s able to take a story that could’ve came across as silly nonsense or full of plot holes and expertly crafts it into a rip-roaring adventure that you can buy into. His third John Banks tale was released this week and I can’t wait to dive into it.

 

4 1/2 Bloody Swastikas out of 5

 

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Forsaken – Michael McBride

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I’ve been fortunate in that I’ve been able to visit two different Mayan pyramids in my travels – Tikal in Guatemala and Chichen Itza in the Yucatán. So you can imagine my excitement when I learned that McBride was going to be using the pyramid at Teotihuacan as one of the main settings in his second Unit 51 opus.

Six months ago, a discovery was made in Antarctica. Deep under the ice, scientists discovered what they thought was evidence of an ancient civilization. A team of the world’s brightest minds, along with the best paramilitary unit and engineers money can buy, carved down below the layers of ice and set up a top secret archeological dig. They prepared themselves for the discovery of a lifetime. What they found was something that nothing could prepare them for…and they woke it up.

That was SUBHUMAN. The first book from Michael McBride’s Unit 51 series. Now, with FORSAKEN, the nightmare hasn’t ended. In fact, it’s just beginning. Six months after waking up a prehistoric alien under the ice, Barnett calls upon his cast of scientists to help him once more in Antarctica. They thought the alien was destroyed. They were wrong. Not only is it alive, it’s multiplying. Meanwhile, in the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan near Mexico City, a tunnel system has been discovered under the pyramids with symbols on the walls that depict a mysterious relationship with the Antarctic city under the ice and the crop circles in England. How are they all tied together? What does it all mean?

McBride has done it again. He has expanded the Area 51 universe he created in SUBHUMAN and added more branches to the ever-twisting tale. I love how he ties it all together in a way that makes you think more than once – “yeah, that could actually see that happening.” I’m amazed at the realism he brings into these stories. The science. The historical facts. The geographical locations. The attention to detail in all of these categories is mind boggling. I’ve wikipedia’d more stuff from this book than I have in the last ten that I’ve read. It’s like being in the middle of an Indiana Jones/Alien/The Thing/Predator combo movie. If I have one critique that prevents FORSAKEN from being a complete 5-star read, it would be that you can pretty much tell which characters are going to be offed and which ones will survive. Kind of like the old Star Trek series. Whoever the no-name was that was being transported down with Kirk and Spock you knew was surely going to be a goner. The same is true for FORSAKEN. In the thick of the action, characters are suddenly introduced on the spot and they might as well have a big bullseye on their back. Was it a dealbreaker? Hell no. McBride puts way too much good stuff in here to let a slight hiccup like that knock you off course. One more point. I would recommend that you start with SUBHUMAN before moving on to FORSAKEN. I think you have to have the backstory and characters firmly cemented in your head from the SUBHUMAN first to get the most out of FORSAKEN. Otherwise, you’ll end up asking yourself over and over “Who was that? ” and “Now whats going on ?” With that being said, this is my favorite series that I’ve read in years. I simply can’t wait for the 3rd installment. Bring it on, McBride!

 

4 1/2 Booby Traps out of 5

 

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