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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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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