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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Land of Bones – Glenn Rolfe

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Land of Bones by Glenn Rolfe is a 14 story collection of horrific shorts and novellas. Let’s jump right in and break these down in order:

 

Ghosts of Spears Corner – Two boys, days from starting middle school in the 1950s, decide to break into the boarded up Spears House, the local haunted house. Doing their very best to keep their fears at bay, the boys discover a dark secret locked away. A fun read that, even though took place in the Fifties, reminded me of my childhood. Sometimes you just have to see what it’s like behind those boarded up windows on a big, gothic looking house.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

Simon – Ally has a pet worm named Simon. He is a worm, right?

4 out of 5 stars

Not Kansas Anymore – Kick ass story about bats that take over a small town and young Colton wants to see for himself what happened over at Pedro Field. What sounds like a voice crying for help mesmerizes him to a cave on the side of a hill. How long he had been walking, he didn’t know. What he did know, is that what was in that cave didn’t need any help. A great story that stays with you long after you’ve put it down.

5 out of 5 stars

Fire – A snippet of what it would be like if a life and death situation forced you into making a choice of which lives you were going to save. A thought provoker.

4 out of 5 stars

Welcome to Paradise – The start of a Natural Born Killers type of relationship. Twisted story that feels like it’s chapter one of something bigger.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

Avenging Kitten – A story about what can happen when people, all hell-bent about a particular cause, happens to poke their nose into a situation that’s none of their business. A chuckle gets four stars.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Charley Sings the World Away – The end of the world is here and it’s sad to watch as your little girl is oblivious to the big picture.

3 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Fixer – A new take on the age-old proverb of be careful what you wish for. Evil likes to prey on the desperate. Even though it felt like familiar territory, it was fun to see what twists Rolfe put into it.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Rooster – I’ve always loved the AIC song and thought the lyrics were powerful. They fit this story like a glove about losing a loved one that you thought was indestructible. It feels eerily more like a true story than fiction.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Too Much of a Dead Thing – A unique take on the whole zombie/undead phenomenon. At first, you think the monsters are zombies and as you move along through the story, you start to wonder if maybe they came from outer space. A few nice things here, but the real horror turns out to be from the people that are left alive.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Little Bunny – a whacked out fairy tale/hallucination type of story that has traces of possession and ghost story to add some flavor. I think the idea was okay, but I found the story telling wasn’t smooth and fluid.

3 out of 5 stars

 

Death Lights – A novella that stars Rolfe’s supernatural detective and banisher of evil spirits, Lee Buhl. For those of you that are familiar with Rolfe’s writing, you may remember Buhl from The Haunted Halls. He’s back in Maine to take on a house that can’t be sold due to it’s resident poltergeist. Buhl calls upon his Native American heritage once more as he battle the malevolent spirit of a murderer. Good stuff here. Rolfe has the makings of a franchise character.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

Rolfe has evolved nicely over the last couple of years. His writing chops are much tighter than when he began and he’s quickly become one of my go-to authors when I want a quality read of terror. Land of Bones has a little bit of everything. It has your gothic horror. Your Conjuring/James Wan style of horror. Even your Jack Ketchum style that hits a little too close to home, a little too personal, and makes you uncomfortable. I think Glenn’s influences are clearly on display here, yet none of the stories feel like watered down derivatives. They clearly have their own terrifying voice, and that voice screams Glenn Rolfe.

 

Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Dead City – Joe McKinney

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This is my first time reading anything by Joe McKinney. Dead City has been on my TBR pile for quite some time. Three to four years, to be exact. My hesitation has stemmed from the gluttony of zombie stories that have flooded the market in the past decade. It’s really too bad, because Dead City is a cut above the average walking dead tale. There’s not a lot of original ideas or unique spins to the story. What it has going for it is the authentic view of a police officer. I know. I know. The Walking Dead’s Rick was a police officer too. But Joe’s officer, Eddie, is a three-dimensional take on a cop trying to get back to his family in a sea of zombies. It makes sense. McKinney is a cop, himself, and it shows. The language and terminology isn’t your Hollywood take on what it’s like to be a police officer. Its as real as it gets. I love that POV and it really transcends Dead City above your average zombie story. It’s also the first of a trilogy, so I’ll be seeing Eddie in the future stomp some rotted flesh.

 

4 Maggot-Infested Bodies out of 5

 

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Ghost – J.N. Williamson

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Zach Doyle is pretty sure that he’s dead. He doesn’t remember dying or what might have caused it. He just knows that he’s stuck watching his wife and children go through their daily routines without being able to communicate with them. They can’t see him. They can’t hear him. Nor can they feel his touches. His hands travel right through like wisps of smoke. His family is in the process of getting on with their lives without Zach and he’s stuck in limbo. Is this purgatory? Has there been a mistake? Did someone fall asleep at the switch and forget to collect his soul or is this how it’s supposed to be? Just when Zach thinks he’ll forever be a spectator unable to communicate with the living, the movers come to collect all of Zach’s belongings and the worker and his grandson can see him. Furthermore, they aren’t frightened at seeing a ghost. Can these people help him or is he destined to wander alone through this netherworld for eternity?

Williamson’s offering is a schizophrenic tale isn’t sure what it wants to be. Somewhere amongst all of the confusion is some interesting subjects that he seems to have a hard time focusing on. The idea of this poor guy not being able to communicate with his loved ones and watching his life try to assemble a love life again is a mix of so many strong emotions – frustration, sadness, despair, loneliness, and grief. That alone makes for a horrific journey for the reader. Unfortunately, Williamson didn’t anchor his focus here. He would bounce from what Zach was going through to the ESP ability of the movers, then onto some weird sidebar of a struggle for Zach’s soul by an angel and a demon, and then delve into some esoteric rambling about what he was going through. If you could cherry pick the interesting pieces out of Ghost, it would have the backbone of 2-3 good stories. I don’t know if Williamson was going through some midlife crisis at this period in his life, but it really made the flow of the story suffer. And even thought it sounds like I’m trashing the story, I’m really not. While it may not be his greatest tale that I’ve read of his, Williamson does offer up some interesting and thought provoking points to consider. They just so happen to be stuck in the middle of this schizophrenic soup.

3 Rattling Chains in the Attic out of 5

 

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What Hides Within – Jason Parent

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What started out as an innocent trip on the river, paddling around with your girlfriend, ended up headfirst into a huge spider’s web. The next thing Clive knows, he’s hearing a voice from within, and it’s telling him to do things. Clive, the poor bastard, doesn’t know if he’s losing his mind or if he really has a talking spider communicating with him deep inside his head.

Jason Parent’s latest tale is one of the most unique offerings I’ve ever read. He’s created such great characters in this one. You can’t help to sympathize with Clive and his plight. Is he going insane or is there really a talking arachnid behind it all? However, my favorite part of the story is in the voice in which it’s told. Parent uses a fresh, snarky humor that almost pushes the story into satire. Almost. It does, however, provide the story with a breath of fresh air and a few chuckles that you can’t help along the way. I can’t help but draw comparisons with the ball-busting dialogue that my friends and I unleash on each other. What Hides Within is a well-crafted tale of psychological terror with shades of a Lovecraftian hard-boiled crime story. Great stuff.

4 1/2 Pipe Bombs out of 5

 

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The Nightwalker – Thomas Tessier

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I remember seeing The Nightwalker on some list of must-reads by Stephen King. I knew most of the books on the list, but the Nightwalker was one that I hadn’t heard of. So, on a trip perusing through my local used bookstore, low and behold, there it was. I snatched it up and it sat dormant in my TBR pile for some time. Lately, I’ve been trying to make a dent in the aforementioned pile and The Nightwalker’s time had finally come. For those of you that don’t know, The Nightwalker is a werewolf novel that doesn’t feel like werewolf novel. In fact, the whole time I was reading it, I kept thinking “this feels like An American Werewolf in London”. The story telling has many of the same qualities. It’s fast paced. You don’t know quite what’s going on and once you think you do, you still don’t know how they’re going to end the story. There’s obviously the fact that the protagonist is American and yes, he’s in London, but beyond that, the the storytelling has the same gritty quality to it.

Bobby is an American in London that is in a relationship with an English girl he met not long ago. Lately, Bobby isn’t feeling right. He’s overcome with these sudden urges and that he can’t control. One minute he’s fine, the next his hands start tingling and eventually rage consumes him and someone ends up dead. It’s getting worse and worse and he’s afraid to examine it. In fact, he’s starting to like it.

Like I said, The Nightwalker is a werewolf story that doesn’t like to let you know that it’s a werewolf story. There’s no encounter with a werewolf that starts the story off. No bite or scratch. In fact, Tessier teases you with the idea that it might be from reincarnation and curse from long ago that suddenly awakens. I really enjoyed the vagueness of the origins and the storytelling, in general. It lets you come to your own conclusions and I think it fit the story perfectly.

 

4 1/2 Bottles of Ginseng out of 5

 

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Violet Eyes – John Everson

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Creature features are all the rage right now in the horror market. Now many of them focus on crytozoology and that’s cool and all, but, for me, I find creatures that already exist a more plausible horror. Throw in the fact that these creatures are creepy, crawly bugs that are genetically engineered? Well, now I’m totally on board.

Violet Eyes had been on my TBR pile for a while now. I’ve read a few things from Bram Stoker Award winning author, John Everson, before. The man has talent. No doubt. But could he suspend my disbelief and take me on a wild ride with spiders from hell? For the most part, yes.

A government hired firm was doing some crazy genetic experiments on a small, uninhabited island in the Florida keys. That experiment went haywire and they had to pull the plug. Enter Billy, the former hard-partying, drug-running college kid that has been trying to clean up his act. Billy takes some friends to this island that he used to hide drugs on. You guessed it. The very same island. Billy’s friends are chewed to pieces by these crazy-ass damn spiders and flies, all have eyes that glow violet. Billy escapes with his life, but unfortunately he brings back some stowaways his small litttle hometown on the Everglades. Living next door is Rachel and her son Eric. Rachel has recently moved in after a messy divorce with her abusive and mainly psychotic ex-husband (Don’t we all have a psycho ex in our closets?). She thought her life was a nightmare before, just wait to see what awaits Rachel when Mother Nature is unleashed in a genetically modified fury.

Violet Eyes is a fun romp through a 1980’s-like government conspiratorial creature feature. Everson’ characters are likable enough that you invest in them. Usually, when an author hits the gas on the action and pacing, many times character development suffers. There’s some of that here, but no enough to turn you off. I’ve read some reviews where they complain about Everson periodically introducing characters throughout the story only to kill them off a page or two later. I’m actually okay with that. For me, it showed how ruthless these little arachnids could be. There were definitely places where I thought the plot could be tightened up or an idea expanded upon. Oddly enough, the constant obesession with sex by pretty much every adult character was the part that was hard for me to get over and actually dropped my rating by a half. Don’t get me wrong. Anyone that knows me knows that I’m an absolute horn dog, but if my friends and girlfriend had been eaten by a crazy swarm of killer spiders a week ago, and it appears that the little bastards hitched a ride back with me, I think the last thing I’d think about doing is banging the cute neighbor that just moved in next door. I could see maybe one character with an overactive libido, but all of them? I can’t believe I’m complaining about sex, but that’s my bitch about the story. All in all, a fast-paced thriller if you don’t think about it too much.

A solid 3 1/2 Spider Spewing Skulls out of 5

 

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