The Black Abbot of Puthuum by Clark Ashton Smith
This is the first story by Clark Ashton Smith that I have read in which there were good guys to cheer for—good guys—not nice guys. The heroes reminded me considerably of Conan the Barbarian. They’re mercenaries and thieves, but they also have a definite moral code and it does not involve letting evil spirits get away with beautiful women. As one would expect from Smith, the tone is vividly dark, but what I found most refreshing about it was that my enjoyment came from caring about the two heroes and wanting them to survive—not from wondering what horrific death Smith had in store for them. This is a very fine adventure tale brought to glorious life by the talents of narrator, William L. Hahn who has picked and collected these classic Clark Ashton Smith tales for modern audiences. I’m looking forward to the next one.
The Death of Malygris by Clark Ashton Smith
One of the things that stands out about Clark Ashton Smith’s short stories is that there are often no good guys to be found in the pages. In this excellent story, a great necromancer has died—or has he? As other magical powers seek to confirm Malygris’ demise and to profit from it, they continue to run afoul of his nefarious preparations to punish people who try to do precisely that. This is a story about watching bad things happen to bad people. On its own, it’s quite creepy, but with William L. Hahn’s narrative talents, it is far more insidious than that—so much so that you’ll be looking twice next time you drive past a cemetery.
Chris L. Adams
Chris Adams continues his homage to the pulp magazines of the 1930s and 1940s with this quick novella about an adventurer who would fit well into a story by Robert E. Howard. The problem he encounters, however, is all H.P. Lovecraft and Adams does a very good job of building suspense as ancient horrors return to the earth. This is a fast moving tale which you’ll want to read in one sitting. There’s a tiny twist at the end of the story that gives some well-appreciated justification to the villains’ actions. I’d happily read a sequel.
The Banshee of the Atacama by Chris L. Adams
Several years ago, Chris L. Adams wrote a great short story called Blonde Goddess of the Tikka-Tikka which mixed a little of the Tarzan atmosphere with a dash of H.P. Lovecraft. He’s just published the sequel and man was it worth the wait.
Ansen Grost has the unique background of being a descendant of Vikings raised by the Arapaho at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries. He’s a mighty warrior who carries a mystical tomahawk. He served in World War I and has had trouble settling down after his experiences there. In Scotland he comes across an old man looking for someone to find his missing daughter for him. It seems like a simple enough task except that the young woman, Mhairi, is lost in the wilderness of South America and she has an unhealthy interest in the supernatural. Ansen agrees to go look for her which opens the first half of the novel.
I’m not going to give a blow by blow of the book, but it’s worth noting that—as was the case with Tolkein—the journey is a significant and important part of the story. We learn a tremendous amount about Ansen and how his years away from the Arapaho have damaged him. We also meet two members of the critical supporting cast and get to understand their unique personalities. This is far more important than it would be in a typical adventure story because Adams has intertwined a truly spiritual quest with his Lovecraftian adventure and that wouldn’t have been successful without the time and care he puts into introducing these characters.
The main action of the story comes when Ansen and company finally find Mhairi, but the circumstances are not anything I could have imagined before the start of the story. There are demons and dark gods and monsters by the hundreds, but the most pivotal creature is the banshee of the title and if they can’t uncover her secret motivations, they just might trigger the end of the world.
I opened the book expecting a fairly straightforward adventure story, but Adams gave me much more. This is a deep and complicated tale which draws upon multiple world mythologies to create an adventure I will not only long remember, but return to again and again in the future.
This short story is flat out creepy. In it Adams consciously adopts the style of the pulp writers of the 1930s and 1940s and is so successful that you wouldn’t be surprised to learn this was a lost work of H.P. Lovecraft. The tension builds slowly as the other-worldly threat first makes itself known and then begins its haunting attacks on a family living far from civilization in wooded, snow-covered mountain lands. Since the story is told from a first person perspective years after the event, you know the narrator is going to survive, but it doesn’t feel that way as the danger mounts and the body count expands. This one will linger with you and give you second thoughts about looking out the window to watch the snow.
The Graveyard Classified Series
The Dark Man by Desmond Doane
Two years ago, Ford Atticus Ford lost everything over a terrible decision to allow a five-year-old girl to be put in danger on his hit television show, Graveyard Classified. He literally encouraged her to confront a demon by herself on live television and she was clawed bloody by the monster. His misjudgment (and doesn’t that seem like a very understated way to describe what he did) destroyed his life, but he has slowly put it back together by seeking redemption through doing low profile, mostly pro bono, work for police departments across the country who have run into dead ends and need a miracle to advance their investigations. Part of the genius of this story is that Ford is a very sympathetic character and Doane makes him that way by making Ford very honest with himself—even when he doesn’t fully understand why he made the choices he did that led to the little girl being injured.
The novel revolves around Ford’s latest bit of police work, but it never strays far from the event that wrecked his life. A woman either committed suicide or was murdered years earlier and her diary has surfaced heating up a cold case. The problem—the investigating detective has a terrifying supernatural encounter in the woman’s house and calls Ford for help. That investigation is creepy and fascinating and we get to see how Ford took his fascination with the supernatural and made a television show out of it. We also realize very quickly that ghosts, demons, etc. are very real.
When the supernatural threat proves to be much more serious than Ford at first suspected, he reaches out to his former best friend, Mike, who won’t speak to him because of what happened to the little girl. Again, Doane shows his strength as an author. Mike had been the voice of reason and caution who didn’t do everything he could have to stop the danger to little Chelsea, but certainly looked to be the one with the stronger moral compass. Except—now that he’s broke as a result of some bad investments and his marriage has collapsed, Mike wants Ford to do a follow up Graveyard Classified movie to finish the investigation that broke the show. He wants to take advantage of Chelsea again, as do the girl’s parents, because their princely court-awarded damages have run out. It’s all utterly fascinating. The man the world vilifies for his callousness is the only one actually worried about the little girl.
Despite their badly damaged friendship, Ford and Mike have to figure out how to pull it all together if they are to defeat the new demon and save it’s intended victim. This would have been a great story in and of itself, but be warned, Doane has larger plans for Ford and Mike. There problems don’t end with this book.
The White Night by Desmond Doane
Doane picks up the stories of Ford and Mike in two concurrently running mystery/adventures where in Ford finds himself going up against the mysterious black-eyed children and Mike finds himself going head-to-head with another demon. We get much deeper into Mike’s disaster of a life this time, which proves even more interesting than the demon he is preparing to confront.
As for Ford, his problem is brought to him by a woman he hates, which again proves he is a fundamentally decent man. He puts away the very real harm this woman has done him to try and save her life.
Both mysteries were absolutely fascinating, but there’s an even darker third storyline developing. Little Chelsea Hopper, now seven years old, is still being haunted by the demon that injured her. Unfortunately, she can’t tell anyone, and we can watch it corrupting the poor little girl. That cannot bode well for Ford as he tries to learn enough to save the little girl he failed so disastrously when she was five years old.
This novel charges forward from beginning to end and will leave you ready to leap immediately into the next (and final?) book of the series.
The Belly of the Beast by Desmond Doane
Who is the “she” who ghosts warn will betray Ford Atticus Ford? It’s an increasingly important question as Ford and Mike prepare for their final confrontation to save a little girl from a demon they believe to be at the “right hand” of Satan. The problem is, there are a lot of women close to the problem including the little seven year old girl herself who the reader knows is being touched by the demon in her dreams every night.
The final book in the Graveyard trilogy is every bit the conclusion I was hoping for. Ford and Mike are back and in every single chapter the odds against them seem to grow worse. But they have grown tremendously in the past two books and it’s easy to believe that their heads and values are finally in the right place to wage war with the devil. It’s no longer about the money, or the fame, or their wrecked careers. They’re putting it all on the line for a little girl whom the reader is pretty sure is being manipulated by pure evil into making them lose their souls.
I thoroughly enjoyed this trilogy and this book is the best of the lot. Stake out some time. You won’t want to read them one at a time, but straight through like it was one massive book.
Kolchak the Night Stalker
Cry of Thunder by Joe Gentile
This novel is built on an interesting concept. Sherlock Holmes and Kolchak the Nightstalker both work on the same mystery even though they are separated by roughly a century. The mystery begins with the discovery of a gigantic bird in the old American west. The bird turns out to be a Thunderbird. It continues with Sherlock Holmes running a nice little investigation into criminal activity in London. And ends with Kolchak getting pulled into an investigation of that Thunderbird that lots of people want to stop him from completing.
This is a strange book. The individual parts are interesting, but after
completing it, I find the connections confusing—especially between Holmes and
Kolchak. It’s also not in any way clear to me why people are trying to stop
Kolchak’s investigation. So I enjoyed seeing Holmes and Kolchak, but the story
itself didn’t hold together for me.
Kolchak and the Lost World by C. J. Henderson
What a delight to find a new adventure of Kolchak the Night Stalker. After the events of the television series, Kolchak finds his reputation as a journalist in the toilet, but he rebounds through his reporting on a human serial killer. That success gets him the opportunity to travel to Ecuador to do an article on a war between two rival drug gangs. Unfortunately, Kolchak quickly learns that much more is going on in Ecuador than he had realized. The drug gangs are fighting over access to a legendary lost city.
It was a tremendous amount of fun to “see” Kolchak again but frankly
this was not the best adventure. The lost city and the events around it are
just not explained fully enough to be satisfying, but the journey was good
enough that I’d gladly give another new Kolchak book a try. Here’s hoping that
there will be many more.
The Cowboys of Cthulhu by David Bain
The Cowboys of Cthulhu is a very quick short story introducing the Riders of the Weird West series. It revolves around a gunfight in which the heroes discover that their opponents are far from human. As the titles suggests, Cthulhu is interested in our planet and it’s up to a couple of gunslingers to try and stop it from breaking through into our world. I liked the story, but it’s mostly useful in setting up the next (technically the first) book in the series. So read it to meet key characters in the coming book and get a taste for things to come.
I received this book from Free Audio Book Codes.com in exchange for an
Riders Where There Are No Roads by David Bain
This is a fascinating story about a group of gunfighters, outlaws, and a buffalo soldier who find themselves in an afterlife no one could have expected riding a weird version of a desolate old west trying to stop a demonic figure from harvesting more souls. It’s intriguing from start to finish. Our main hero, Wayne, has an encounter early in the book with a sort of lawman of this weird west and is unwillingly recruited into service. He stuffs his badge into the glove compartment of his old truck and promptly forgets about it until years later his young son discovers it and accidentally opens a portal to another world. The story is about the men and woman who try and help Wayne rescue the child and put an end to this particular evil. It’s a compelling story that fits well both in the western genres and the Cthulhu subgenre—quite creepy in places and yet, ultimately about grit and morals in a lawless land. I liked it a lot.
I received this book from Free Audio Book Codes.com in exchange for an
Wolf Hunt by Jeff Strand
George and Lou, the atypical heroes of Wolf Hunt, have just become two of my all-time favorite characters in fiction. They had me laughing right from the beginning of the novel and their banter was enough to take the gruesome edge off even the most horrendous crimes that Ivan the Werewolf commits throughout the book. They’re a little bit dumb, seriously stubborn, and surprisingly heroic and human as they try to make up for the admittedly stupid mistake that sets a seriously sadistic werewolf loose on the world. It seemed like a simple job—transport a caged man a few hundred miles—but we quickly figure out that nothing involving George and Lou ever goes smoothly. Things happen to them, and around them, and, unfortunately, to anyone in the vicinity.
There is a lot to love about this novel—but for the serious fan of werewolf books and movies two particular items stand out head and shoulders above the rest. First, Ivan, is a phenomenal werewolf villain. He is so clever in his psychological sadism that the author’s family might want to have him checked out by a mental health professional. Ivan gets in everyone’s head as he taunts them on his way to dismembering and killing them. It’s sick, but that’s what makes a great villain so fun to hate, isn’t it?
The other absolutely amazing thing about this book is the creative—but pretty untraditional—ways in which George and Lou continue to go after Ivan. It turns out that silver bullets just aren’t that plentiful in the state of Florida and that forces them to get clever—not A-Team clever by any means, but creative none the less. I was astounded by the miriad ways they managed to hurt this basically unkillable-by-conventional-means creature. All the while soaking up tremendous amounts of damage themselves.
As if these three characters were not wonderful enough, Strand adds an innocent victim—accidentally kidnapped along the way by George and Lou—and their handler who set them up with the job. Again, wonderful characters who had me laughing my posterior off throughout the book.
Now, lest I give you the wrong impression, Wolf Hunt is not a comedy. It’s a serious action/horror adventure, but the humor sure does add tremendously to the fun even while the action and the evil deeds of Ivan continue to ramp up the feelings of suspense until the very last page of the novel. Ivan is a serious monster on both a human and lycanthropic levels and you will want him to die just as badly as George does.
I suspect that this would be a great book in paper or electronic format, but it was my good fortune to encounter the audio version, so let me just add a few words of praise for the performance of Scott Thomas. All of the key figures in this book have totally unique voices that make them easy to identify. More importantly, Thomas really draws out the humor in the banter. I am really impressed that he did this without once breaking down into peals of laughter himself, as I did consistently while listening to it.
In summation, let me say that Wolf Hunt is a gem of an adventure novel, but it should come with a warning not to listen to it while operating a motor vehicle.
I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
Wolf Hunt 2 by Jeff Strand
If you enjoyed Wolf Hunt you’re going to love Wolf Hunt 2. George and Lou are back and funnier than ever. They’re on the run after their problems in the first book but quickly get roped into helping Mr. Dewey capture another werewolf. They are made an offer they truly can’t refuse and that’s important because the werewolf is a fourteen-year-old girl and it’s only the threat of being burned to death that makes George and Lou violate their personal code against harming children. They justify it to themselves by promising that they will rescue the girl after she bites Dewey and turns him into a werewolf, but you can feel how much it bothers them that they are going after a child.
To make matters worse, everything goes wrong from the very beginning. The various criminal groups involved in the plot are nominally working together but act at cross purposes. George and Lou are trying to protect the girl (who understandably hates them) while keeping themselves alive. And in the background three very angry werewolves are getting closer and closer to making their own rescue attempt with a heap of vengeance against George and Lou thrown in for good measure.
These werewolves are one of many critical elements in the story. Will they be heroes, antiheroes, or outright villains? All the possibilities are open and Strand does a great job of crafting them into excellent three-dimensional antagonists. He also does some superb character development with George and Lou and the two new characters of interest, Eugene and the kidnapped girl. There’s a lot to love here and at times their struggles choked me up with emotion, just as their squabbles often doubled me over with laughter.
All of that beings said, I think it’s the surprises that solidified this book as a five-star experience. There were five or six times in the story where I thought—oh, that’s clever, I can see where this is going. Each of those times I was one hundred percent wrong and usually because Strand was even more creative that I had imagined. I admit that there were a couple of times when I wish I had been right—but that’s for emotional reasons—not because my idea would have made the novel better. This is simply an impressive book all around.
As was the case in the original Wolf Hunt, narrator Scott Thomas does an extraordinary job of capturing the humor and the pain in this story with his excellent characterizations. There is a lot more emotion in this book than in the first novel and Thomas seamlessly captures all of the nuance. His talents make a great story beautiful.
Wolf Hunt 3 by Jeff Strand
Anyone who has read my reviews of Wolf Hunt 1 and 2 knows that one of the things I like best about this series is the author’s ability to surprise me again and again and again. Well nothing you’ve read before can prepare you for what’s coming this time. George and Lou are back in action (yes, I know Lou’s dead, but there are werewolves in this story so you should know that absolutely anything is possible) and everything that made you love them in books one and two is back again, bigger and better.
George and Lou are two of the strangest heroes in all of fiction. They are not nice men. They are petty criminals who hurt people for a living. But the willingness to stop at breaking a few bones and leaning on deadbeats makes them come off looking like honest-to-God saints compared to the true villains of the piece. Add to that the sarcastic, drive-your-car-off-the-road-its-so-funny humor, and you are in for a wild adventure.
George and Lou and a surprise cast member are off to kill the werewolf king to prevent him from starting a war to subjugate all humans to lycanthrope rule and as you might guess from the previous books, they have no chance of pulling their mission off. It’s not even clear they can reach the werewolf king’s home because of the long list of men seeking vengeance upon them for their actions in the previous books. It’s one hilarious mishap after another as George and Lou discover that you don’t have to be a lycanthrope to be one sick customer.
Scott Thomas reprises his role as narrator of the audiobook and I’m very glad he did. His characterizations first brought George and Lou to life for me and they continue to make this series excel. He’s the sort of talent who could get a base hit out of any wild pitch, but when you give him a real treasure like Wolf Hunt 3, he hits it out of the stadium and into orbit.
I got this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
In Alpha Order by Author
Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero
I’ve been watching Scooby Doo television shows and mysteries for my whole life. The early series is almost a meme in and of itself. The episodes were totally formulaic and they always ended with a mask being pulled off the monster’s head to expose the villain. Later the gang began to encounter some genuine supernatural entities, but nothing truly terrifying. All that’s going to end if you open Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero, because the Scooby gang—or at least Cantero’s counterparts for the famous quintet—is about to uncover one of the ancient entities of the Cthulhu mythos and this is every bit as disturbing as such an encounter should genuinely be.
First off, let’s be clear that while Cantero has great fun playing with the Scooby formula his characters are not one-for-one knock offs of Fred, Velma, Shaggy, Daphne and Scooby Doo. So push that out of your mind and you’ll enjoy the story a lot more. Instead we get Peter, Keri, Nate, Andy, and their dog, Sean (later replaced by his grandson, Tim). Together these intrepid pre-teens formed the Blyton Summer Detective Club where year after year they protected Blyton from a lot of creepy villains wearing masks. They thought that’s what they did in their last case too, but it turns out that a lot more was happening beneath the surface. There really was some serious supernatural stuff going on that their young minds couldn’t process and thirteen years later it has driven one of them to suicide, another to alcoholism, a third to uncontrollable bursts of rage, and the fourth to commit himself to an insane asylum in the hopes that the doctors can stop him from seeing the ghost of his dead friend.
So this is not the Scooby Doo of my childhood, but that’s good because
this is a much more awesome story than that cartoon was structured to tell. The
surviving members of the Blyton Summer Detective Club have to pull themselves
together, return to the scene of the original crime, and come to grips with the
unbelievable fact that the apocalypse is about to occur and only three meddling
sort-of-grown-up kids and their dog have any chance at all to save the world.
Cantero knows both the Cthulu genre and the Scooby Doo classics and he
brilliantly mixes both together here for a story that kept me on the edge of my
seat never knowing where he was going. Every few chapters he hit me with
another surprise. And now I find myself sad the story is done and desperately
hoping for a sequel, even if it is just a crazy villain hiding behind a mask.
The Beast of Devil’s Rock by Michael Cole
The thing I liked most about this novel was that Cole didn’t use a typical winter monster to try and kill his hero, Ron Weller. I was expecting a yeti or a sasquatch, but got something far more terrifying instead. Of course, if I had looked more carefully at the cover I would have known what monster the book had in store for me (that’s not a tree in the background) but I didn’t and as a result I discovered a novel that was as big on the creep factor as it was on the action.
The novel opens up with Weller and his partner stuck on the side of the road in a snowstorm. Weller is digging their police car out. Neither of them is very happy and they get less so when the discover a damaged car further up the road—engine running, all kinds of damage, but no driver. Things quickly go from bad to worse as they look for the driver in a blizzard. They find signs that more people are missing and then they have a tragic run in with the monster. Weller survives, unable to truly believe what he’s seen, and the other cops think he’s crazy even as they start to search for the missing deputy. This was one of the better parts of the story as the cops mercilessly tease and insult Weller, but we the reader know that they are getting closer and closer to finding out there’s way too much truth in his unbelievable tale.
Let me end with a warning: don’t eat while reading the second half of this book. It won’t be good for your digestion. What it will be good for is high speed terror as a bunch of police officers trying to survive a horror they were never trained for.
Zombies and Chainsaws by Mike Evans
Question: What do you get when you combine an illegal chemical dump in a graveyard and a group of expert tree removal specialists? Answer: Mike Evans’ descriptively titled novel, Zombies and Chainsaws—an action-packed extravaganza of four men trying to fight their way out of the zombie apocalypse. I’ve read a great many novels built upon the zombie theme and for sheer fun, this one stacked up well. As with most books in this genre, I knew the plot before I listened to the first words of the story and judged the book by the three-fold test of character, action, and realism. Evans goes to town on the first two tests. His characters worked for me. Many were sympathetic, which meant I cared what happened to them, and others work as people I hoped the zombies would get their hands on. The action was also top notch. Chainsaws don’t appear in these books that often and Evans convinced me that they were the Excalibers of anti-zombie weaponry. It was only in the “realism” category that the novel had any problems. For example, I suspect that one call in the early 1980s to the CDC claiming that zombies are over-running a small midwestern town would not have been taken seriously—but ultimately it’s a small complaint. If you want a fast-paced, action-filled, zombie novel that requires absolutely no thinking to enjoy, you should take a look at Zombies and Chainsaws.
I received this book from freeaudiobooks.com in exchange for an honest
I’ve been reading Christopher Golden novels for more than twenty years starting with a couple of Buffy the Vampire novels, moving on to his Body of Evidence and Prowlers series, and quite a few others. I like the author and generally think he’s worth giving a try. Unfortunately, Ararat was not one of his better books.
After an earthquake causes an avalanche high up on Ararat in Turkey, a cave is opened up for the first time in millennia and inside is an object that might just be Noah’s ark. Everyone recognizes that it is too high up in the mountain to have ever been deposited there by a flood, but it does indeed appear to have been a vessel made for transport on the water some 5,000 years ago. It also contains a coffin with a horned humanoid in it. As the scientists and government representatives try to keep the archaeological exploration proceeding, many of the people fear they have discovered a demon. Then people start to disappear and die.
All of the build up works pretty well and I was greatly enjoying the novel, but when the couple of handfuls of survivors—convinced that a demon is hunting and possessing them—decide to run for it I started to lose my patience with the book. They all worry about bringing the demon back to civilization and they all run for it anyway to a totally predictable ending.As if this wasn’t disappointing enough, there is never any real attempt to explain how the ark got up on the mountain in that cave and that was a great disappointment. In fact, I really didn’t think there was much of an effort to explain any of the “horror” elements. It just didn’t seem to me that this was up to Golden’s usual standards.
Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant
I like the way this novella is structured. It opens with a passage from a documentary in which we learn the Atargatis is a modern-day ghost ship from which all crew and passengers disappeared without a trace. Then we switch over to a narrative in which we watch a documentary film crew boarding the Atargatis—knowing they are going to disappear before the voyage ends. The crew works for the Imagine Network to film a documentary on Mermaids. They’re bringing their own actresses to play the mermaids in case they don’t find any on their own. So there are plenty of people on board to have a tragic ending.
Over the rest of the book we watch the ship reach the Marineras Trench and begin a scientific exploration no one expects to succeed, but that actually produces results the scientists are not initially willing to believe. For me, the most poignant lines of the story come when the survivors are trying to escape from their hungry discovery. One of the scientists has a little breakdown in which she realizes that they had come on this expedition thinking of mermaids as pretty women—but that’s not the mermaids of myth and legend. They are vicious creatures who lure sailors to their deaths—just as they do in this very enjoyable novella.
Cryptid Zoo by Gerry Griffiths
Gerry Griffiths knows how to set up a horror story. In this novel about an eccentric zoo featuring legendary creatures like the sasquatch, the thunderbird, and the kraken in a Jurassic Park style zoo, the first half of the novel is all about creating that feeling of uh-oh. As our main family tours the exhibits and the guide happily talks about how this animal is super bright, likes to solve problems, and can survive out of the water for short periods of time, the reader is happily imagining how all of those precious little talents are going to turn into a nightmare for the characters in about fifty pages. It’s a tremendous amount of fun, and Griffiths sets the stage for a couple dozen of these bizarre creatures to get loose and wreak havoc on our cast of tourists and zoo employees.
When the animals begin their inevitable escapes the tension grows dramatically. The first deaths begin to occur, followed by the first narrow escapes, until finally the expected chaos is rolling across the zoo and our various groups of heroes are struggling valiantly to survive. I only have two complaints. The first is that I just can’t imagine that any zoo would set up its electronic locks to open if the power went out. I mean, think about that for a moment. Zoos do not want the lions and tigers (or in this case, the flying snakes and the Chupacabra) escaping every time there was a power outage. And it wasn’t necessary. The first breakouts had already occurred in completely believable ways. Those monsters could have ended up freeing the others as a natural result of their destructive behavior.
My second complaint is that the novel ends too quickly. There is a ton going on and it’s all really interesting and I would have liked to see a lot more of it. The cryptids were already introduced and I could have happily read another hundred pages of our cast of heroes surviving their encounters with them. But then, many of the monsters escape into the wild so maybe Griffiths ended it where he did so he could have a sequel.
Extinct by Ike Hamill
Extinct presents a particularly creepy and isolating vision of the end of the world told from two very different points-of-view. Robby is an exceptionally intelligent thirteen-year-old with an unusual ability to analyze situations which gives him odd, but mostly credible, insights into what is happening around him. He is a thoroughly likeable character. He and his family are trapped on their island in a snowstorm on Thanksgiving when first the power goes out and then people start disappearing all over the islands—lots and lots of people. As they explore what is happening around them, they begin to witness people “disappear” and Robby and his family and a couple of neighbors decide to make a run for it. This storyline is totally engaging and utterly intriguing.
The second storyline (told in alternating chapters) did not work nearly so well for me. It is slow to develop, but the underlying mystery (starting with carnivorous plants and getting stranger from there) is a good one. The problem is that the story is told from the point-of-view of Brad. The kindest thing you can say about Brad is he is odd. He is also, despite the apparent effort to make him look intelligent, dull, uninteresting, and capable of repeated acts of ridiculous stupidity. He hides information from key people repeatedly for no reason that I could ever discern. He also passes up opportunities to learn information about what is happening just because he is obstinate. To make things worse, despite not appearing to be a particularly physical guy or having any combat training, he wins a fight with a monster of a man that more than strained credulity. I was never happy when the story returned to Brad’s perspective.
The first third of the novel is the best part of the book. Hamill does a great job of creating a truly perplexing and horrifying mystery that appears to be at least partly supernatural in character. There is a great deal of suspense and a lot of discovery without actually clarifying any of what happens. After this, the novel begins to lose its punch. Robby constructs a theory of what is happening that seems to come completely from left field and convinces a number of other survivors to help him enact a plan to save the world. The plan is strange and far-fetched, and I don’t think the now fourteen-year-old boy received enough push back on it, but it does set the stage for the last third of the novel when the excitement picks up again.
There are several genuinely creepy and frightening moments in this book and the conclusion basically worked, even having a heart-wrenching moment in which I (had I been in the book) probably would have made the wrong choice and gotten killed. In addition, I really liked a couple of the supporting cast members. In Extinct, Hamill has set the groundwork for a strange new world and I’m curious what he will do in the sequel.
I listened to this book in audio format so I’d like to conclude with a couple of comments on the excellent narration. For huge sections of this book, there isn’t a lot of dialogue. The pacing is slow and measured building suspense as the characters try to figure out what has happened to them. Kyle Tait does a superb job of cultivating the tension and helping the text build the atmosphere that Hamill obviously wanted to create. In addition, his voices are memorable. When one of the characters reappeared approximately twelve hours since we had last seen him, I knew who it was before the text identified him. That’s a pretty extraordinary accomplishment for a narrator.
I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
Deep Night by Ambrose Ibsen
Deep Night is a supernatural detective story that plays fair with the reader even as it offers a healthy portion of make-the-hairs-stand-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck terror. As with all good horror novels, author Ambrose Ibsen builds the reader’s feelings of unease slowly and with a brilliant mechanism that absolutely everyone can relate to. A woman is awakened in the middle of the night by a tapping on her window. Just think about that for a moment. It’s almost midnight and she’s shaken from her sleep by a quiet tap tap tap on her bedroom windowpane When she builds the courage to peak outside, no one is at her window, but she catches sight of a figure watching her from the street. She quite sensibly calls the police, but the responding officer doesn’t find anything. The next night, matters progress further and when the police again come up empty handed, the woman goes in search of a private investigator to discover who is harassing her.
Enter Harlan Ulrich, formerly of Toledo. He’s lazy and uninterested in the case until his landlord increases his rent and he realizes if he doesn’t earn some money he’s going to lose his office. It was in many ways an unfortunate way to introduce the character because it made Ulrich initially unlikeable. We, the reader, knows this woman desperately needs help and he seems uncaring about her predicament. Fortunately, Ulrich quickly wins the reader back by sticking with the case when it immediately goes bad. You see, Ulrich quickly uncovers evidence that the client’s nocturnal visitor is not human.
From this point forward, the novel revolves around the investigation into why the client is being harassed by a supernatural creature. The creature’s appearance is quickly connected to a painting the woman has just acquired so Ulrich opens his investigation by looking into the painting’s origins and how it came into the woman’s possession. This investigation did not take the direction I initially assumed it would, and that’s always a good thing. Not all of the twists and turns in the rest of the novel were as surprising, but when an author fairly provides the clues to a mystery, he has to risk readers putting the pieces together faster than his detective does.
This novel is boosted by the excellent vocal talents of narrator, Kyle Tait. He provides excellent pacing and clearly discernable voices for all the characters. His low voice and quiet style added significantly to the tension Ibsen builds in the story as the scope of the supernatural problem is uncovered. If you like solid detective stories with a healthy (or should that be “unhealthy”) dose of the supernatural, you’ll enjoy Deep Night. I intend to read the next mystery in this series.
Wilders by Cass Kim
With the flood of “zombie apocalypse” style novels saturating the market these days, it is refreshing to find a new take on the old theme. Cass Kim’s book stands out from the pack for two main reasons. First, her equivalent of the zombies (and for the record, her story does not have zombies but the far more creative “wilders”) have not yet completely destroyed civilization. Humanity (at least in the United States) has adapted to what keeps getting referred to as the “half-pocalypse”. Life is not easy in the new normal, but it is livable. This provides a quite different story environment than the typical tale and that was very refreshing.
The second reason Kim’s book leads the pack of this subgenre is that it is not about simple survival but something much more important in the grand scheme of things. (It’s difficult to write about this without giving away an important plot twist.) There is plenty of action in the book, but larger issues than personal survival are dealt with on a very intimate level that really struck home with me.
So those are the big issues that can be summed up as Wilders has a unique flavor for this subgenre, but by themselves they would only have made this an interesting book—not a great one. Fortunately, Kim populates her world with a believable cast of teenagers who are trying to thrive in the half-pocalypse. It’s a difficult balance which Kim handles with a master touch dealing with the basic immaturity of young people when the consequences of teenaged rebellion can include being eaten alive by wilders. Add to that parents who are emotionally damaged by the civilization-threatening events and Kim has created a social environment that quickly builds sympathy for her cast and adds quite a bit of tension to the story.
Finally, every novel can benefit from superb narration and Liz Brand certainly does her part to bring this book to life—especially excelling at young, easily differentiated, voices.
I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
I think it’s important to start this review by recognizing how tremendously influential Lovecraft in general and At the Mountains of Madness is in particular has been. He basically created and popularized the whole Things Man Was Not Meant to Know subgenre of horror / fantasy / sf or whatever it really is. The Elder Gods threatening the very sanity of the planet comes from Lovecraft and not only do his motifs show up rather blatantly in works like Roger Zelazny’s A Night in the Lonesome October as well as more recent series like John Ringo’s Special Circumstances and Larry Correia’s Monster Hunters International, I suspect that you would never have gotten a TV show like the X-Files without Lovecraft.
So Lovecraft is hugely influential (the World Fantasy Award used to be a bust of Lovecraft) but that doesn’t mean that he’s an easy author to read. Most of the problem is that he was writing in the 1920s and 1930s and his fiction style comes off as slow moving and dated. At the Mountains of Madness takes the form of a narrative account of a disastrous expedition to Antarctica written long after the expedition’s survivors returned with the hope of dissuading the next expedition from beginning. It is filled with long and impressive descriptions of the geology of the continent and the remarkable discovery of a series of fossils the like of which have never been seen on the planet. Isolated from the rest of the world the scientists begin to discover that a wholly unanticipated species inhabited the earth tens of millions of years ago and the more they discover about this early life form the more horrific the story becomes.
And yet, while it is definitely creepy and Lovecraft has many subtle tricks to increase the reader’s understanding that things are going badly wrong, it is still a very slow moving story thanks to the narrative style. Today this book would have been written as a third person narrative following the expedition in “real time” and the action scenes that are quickly summarized in the original would have been fleshed out to play a much more significant role in the book, but that’s not how Lovecraft wrote and I think it makes the book harder to approach for today’s readers.
I listened to an audio version of the novella narrated extremely well by Edward Hermann who did a masterful job of bringing the text to life, but even so it remains a slow moving story. That being said, I still highly recommend it due to its influence over the decades since it was published.
Sherlock Holmes and the Shadwell Shadows by James Lovegrove
Sherlock Holmes is renown for his keen analytical mind and his amazing powers of deductive reasoning. He’s a detective totally grounded in the physical world. So, what would he do if he was confronted by a mystery not of this world? More to the point, what would he do if confronted by the mind-bending otherworldly entities of H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythologies?
If your first thought was—Holmes would either die quickly or go insane—this would not be a good novel for you. But if you think instead that after eliminating the impossible, he would turn to other explanations, no matter how improbable, then you are going to enjoy this book.
Lovegrove suggests that a significant portion of Sherlock Holmes career was spent protecting the world from the entities that humans weren’t meant to know, and this first novel was a compelling and exciting read. I’d like to see more.
The Scavenger by Aidan Lucid
In this novella by Aidan Lucid, three friends encounter supernatural evil made all the more disturbing because it’s a twisted reflection of their own secret hopes and desires. That’s really what makes this novella so much fun. Lots of people have played with the “magical wish gone wrong” idea, but Lucid did it with far more finesse and subtlety than most writers. The wishes genuinely seem to be working out wonderfully, but when they go awry the hairs on the back of your neck will stand up and tingle. I hope Lucid will show us more of these three friends in future stories.
The Snow by Flint Maxwell
This very short book is really the prologue to a larger story rather than a complete in itself novel. Three friends go to a lake for the July 4th holiday and are shocked to discover they are snowed in over the night. Electricity goes out, cable goes down, cell phone coverage is lost as it appears the rest of the country and the entire world is also buried in snow.
But that’s not the worst of it, because something unworldy is out there in the snow that brings out the worst in individuals it encounters and brings their deepest fears to life.
The setting isn’t bad, but the story barely gets started in this book. Many series advance their tales in complete chapters, but this simply isn’t one of them. While lots of questions are raised (like what the heck is happening?) no answers are generated over the course of the book and there is no sense of any progress being made by the heroes. I don’t understand why this book was published in this form—especially when it is so short. I haven’t read the sequel, but I would guess that this book should have been combined with it.
That being said, it’s a good start. The characters are engaging, their situation is dangerous, and the mystery of what is happening
Black Tide Rising 5 The Valley of Shadows by John Ringo and Mike Massa
This book goes back to the first days of the coming zombie apocalypse to follow the other Smith brother—Tom—who runs global security for the Bank of America and (in book 1) was responsible for producing the anti-zombie vaccine that was so important to his brother Steve (and Steve’s family’s) survival in books 1-4. It is a refreshing read because after spending three books fending off zombies in a gutted world, I had forgotten how tense the situation was as the world first started to fall apart. It makes me want to go back and reread the entire series.
So while the growing threat they pose drives all the action of the book, this is not really a novel about the undead, but about the practical politics necessary to motivate politicians and other influential people to recognize the true extent of the threat and act to save the planet. Most people are simply unable to mentally accept how dangerous and out of control the situation is growing. And then there are those who see this as an opportunity to increase their wealth and power. Add in those driven insane by the apocalypse and you have an incredibly exciting novel.
There is an Easter Egg buried in this book for those who have read others of Ringo’s novels. Ghost from the Paladin of Shadows series is on the edges of this book. I’d love to see Ringo write a novel about how Ghost and the Keldara dealt with the zombie apocalypse.
Moonbane by Al Sarrantonio
I picked up this book expecting a werewolf story but got a zombie apocalypse in lycanthrope clothing. The novel opens with a meteor storm which deposits thousands (tens of thousands?) of werewolves around the world—werewolves who immediately begin biting people who also turn into werewolves and begin to overrun the globe.
Now think about that for a moment. I’m all for putting a new twist on a genre, but this really isn’t a lycanthrope story at all. Werewolf tales and their brethren typically focus on the duality of man and beast and the need to control the violent animal urges in the infected victims. They don’t have to be mysteries (i.e. who is the werewolf) but man/beast should play a major role in the story, not be a minor almost forgotten subplot that sort of half-surfaces once in a while as the werewolves rapidly overrun the planet.
But let’s take this tale on the author’s terms. The werewolves invade and quickly rip the narrator’s family to pieces—killing his wife and infecting his son. The son could have been a major player that would have greatly enhanced this story, but he never takes on a serious role. Instead we follow the father as he attempts to join up with some humans who believe they have the key to getting rid of all the werewolves and saving humanity.
What follows is a trek across the wasteland that has become part of our country as the survivors attempt a truly monumental counterstrike against the lycanthropes. There’s a twist here that was the best part of the story, but again, without giving anything away, it made no sense that anyone could have been so foolish as to create the situation in which that twist could threaten anything.
In the final analysis this is a book with moments of great potential that just didn’t quite find its way.
I received this book from freeaudiobookcodes.com in exchange for an
The Double Shadow by Clark Ashton Smith
What a creepy tale! This is the first Clark Ashton Smith short story I have ever listened to, but I’m going to have to seek out more. Smith has the gift of creating beautiful and yet sinister prose and narrator, William L. Hahn, has the chops to bring the story to eerie life. This story is a great length for enjoying in one sitting and will certainly help you to understand why Smith is considered a master of the pulp era. But beware—when you finish it you’ll be glancing over your shoulder to check out your own shadow.
There are few genres in which characterization is more important than the horror genre. If you don’t care about the people to whom terrible things are happening, it’s hard to care deeply about the book. When I picked up Ferocious by Jeff Strand, I was a little bit worried about his ability to pull off the characters mentioned in the blurb—a recluse raising his niece off the grid in the middle of the wilderness. It seemed quite likely the author would slip into caricatures as he wrote about a zombie apocalypse in the backwoods. I could not have been more wrong. In the very first chapter he establishes Rusty Moss as both a hard man who hates people and someone that you absolutely have to love. In the next chapter he establishes Rusty’s niece, Mia, just as credibly. And this father-daughter style team will capture your heart as they struggle to survive one of the weirdest twists on the zombie apocalypse that I have ever read.
Strand is a master at building tension—not only with the ever-growing level of danger but with the very credible mistakes that Rusty and Mia make throughout the novel. They never do anything stupid, but many of their plans and reactions go badly awry. This makes them remarkably human as they deal with a horror they can’t quite believe is really happening to them.
One of the best distinguishing features of this novel is the vast array of zombie creatures that threaten Rusty and Mia. Strand has really thought out the strengths and weaknesses of the various undead forest animals so there is never a point in which the action gets routine. Even the smallest animals are dangerous and this gives the novel a decidedly different flavor from every other zombie story I have read.
Finally, I’d like to take a moment to talk about the vocal talents of narrator Scott Thomas. It’s not an easy thing for a man to craft a believable voice for a seventeen-year-old girl, but Thomas pulled it off and without his ability to do this, the audio book would not have worked nearly as well. He also catches the humor and affection in the back and forth banter of Rusty and Mia. His narration takes an excellent story and gives it that extra touch of magic to finish bringing it to life.
I received this book from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
Silver Bullet by J M. Thomas
Most vampire stories written these days fall under either the urban fantasy or horror genres and take place in either the twentieth or twenty-first centuries. Thomas puts a nice twist on the genre by placing his story in the Old West and postulating that a war is going on between vampires trying to expand their numbers and lycanthropes striving to destroying them.
Pete is a lawman who finds himself turned, but not yet lost to the pure evil and bloodlust of full-on vampirism. He gets captured by a tribe of were-coyotes who give him a chance to prove that despite his new condition, he remains on the side of the angels. It’s a great way to introduce a new series, because Pete doesn’t know anything about the supernatural world he now inhabits and his painful lessons educate the reader as well.
Vampires prey on each other as much as people, running fight clubs in which they square off against each other as gladiators. Pete has to find a way to survive the club without completing his turn, while simultaneously figuring out a way to destroy the vampires abusing him. It’s a great first book to a promising new series.
I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
Irkalla by John Triptych
Four cave divers exploring a new and elaborate cave system in the Philippines stumble into John Triptych’s version of a threatened zombie apocalypse. The problem begins with a billionaire industrialist with non-existent ethics who is funding a search for a cure for cancer. He has to do this in secret because he is already in legal trouble all over the globe for his gene and DNA manipulations. He has been creating a monster to test his cures on and—you guessed it—the monster has escaped. What’s worse, the monster has infected humans with a mutant form of rabies that has had the unfortunate side-effect of turning them into aggressive “zombies” who can infect others.
The cave divers find themselves in the middle of all of this when they stumble upon both the monster and some infected while exploring the cave network. The group was often frustrating as they made some truly terrible decisions but that is often par for the course in this sort of novel. It certainly breeds a lot more tension as the plot winds its way toward the conclusion.
Dads vs. Zombies by Benjamin Wallace
I really like the zombie apocalypse subgenre. I read the spectrum of them from the very serious to the spoofs and from the science-based virus-style infection to the supernatural cause. So it is with some authority that I state that this was one of the best zombie apocalypse novels I have ever read. It has a solid plot that would fit in nicely with any book in the genre (three men trying to reunite with their families as the world falls apart around them) but it’s the extraordinary level of humor that lifts this book to the top of the ladder.
The novel opens with our three dads (John, Chris and Erik) at the bowling alley where they have been forced to join a league by the much-hated president of their Home Owners Association. The three men don’t appear to like each other very much and it’s fairly clear that at least one of them (John) probably isn’t liked by much of anyone. The laughs start early in the chapter and continue to the end of the book. The banter between these three men is superb as Wallace draws out each man’s very distinctive character. Forced to walk home because they’ve been drinking, the zombie apocalypse comes to unlife around them and they don’t notice. By morning, the world has gone to hell and our three dads are trying to figure out how to find their families and reconnect with them.
Then the mistakes begin. In many of these novels the heroes are super smart and physically capable. They kill zombies better than Rambo. That does not describe our dads. John, especially, has an almost superhuman ability to do something stupid. And these blunders both add to the tension and create extraordinarily funny situations. Laugh out loud funny. Grab your sides funny. Rip yourself a new hernia funny. Get your eighteen-year-old son to start listening to the book with you funny. It’s that good.
It also took me in directions I didn’t expect several times. Part of this is because John continually does such comically stupid things. But many are also just good plot twists. I was sorry when the book came to an end because I just wasn’t done listening to it yet. Fortunately, I see on Audible that Dads vs. the World is coming so the humor will continue.
I received this book free from Audiobook Boom in exchange for an honest review.
One Night in Drake Mansion by Channing Whitaker
Here’s a book that feels a lot like Shirley Jackson’s classic The Haunting of Hill House with a modern twist. A reality TV show has offered a reward of one million dollars to be split between five people if they manage to stay in a famous haunted house (the Drake Mansion) from dusk until dawn. One’s an actress, one’s a medium, one’s a ghost hunter, one’s a medical student, and one’s a supernatural debunker. Everyone is very excited when they enter the house and start to explore, wondering why a whole family disappeared here eighty years before and why so many people who have entered the house since have died.
Then, as you might imagine, strange things start to happen—things the paranormal enthusiasts instantly claim are signs of ghosts while the skeptic offers completely plausible non-supernatural explanations. To add tension to the story, the group comes across the journal of Drake, the former owner of the mansion, and we begin to relive the experiences of him and his family just before they disappeared, raising the very real probability that the mansion really is haunted.
I’m not going to give away the ending. It’s extremely well crafted and will have you playing with both supernatural and mundane explanations for what is happening in the mansion. I will say, it’s exciting to the end and a totally satisfying resolution to the mystery.