Behrg Reviews “The Neighbor” by Joseph Souza

neighborJoseph Souza’s latest novel The Neighbor is an intricate puzzle box of a story and the epitome of what I consider bold writing. Up front, this is a novel people will either love or hate. It’s story centers around people you will adamantly disagree with. And yet you won’t be able to stop coming back for more.

Souza’s real secret to this story is how he gets the reader to simultaneously abhor the characters yet feel so drawn to them and their plights. It’s like watching a magician perform a sleight of hand trick but never being able to pinpoint how exactly the trick is being done. Despite the characters’ immense flaws he allows for moments of vulnerability that make them surprisingly sympathetic and allow the reader to see themselves in the characters, something that–trust me–you won’t want to happen.

This is compulsive reading at its best, and I felt completely swept away in the strong undertow of Souza’s writing. Dark, disturbing, but completely captivating, this is the best form I’ve seen Souza in, which says a lot for this accomplished writer. Highly recommended for anyone looking for a different approach to your typical psychological thriller.

** I received a copy of this book for review from NetGalley. My thanks to the publisher and author. This is no way influenced my thoughts or opinions. **

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Behrg Reviews “Screams You Hear” by James Morris

James Morris excels at finding the right voice when it comes to a YA narrator, and I’ve been a fan of his work for awhile now.  Screams You Hear is a step into a much darker pool for Morris, and this novel is layered with moments that will have even the most jaded reader needing a moment to come up for air.

screams you hearThe concept is great, a young high school girl living on a small island off the Pacific Coast uncovers what could be a pathological outbreak resulting in extreme violence from those infected. What’s worse, only adults seem to be the ones who come down with the disease. The novel is interwoven with Ruthie being back on the mainland, horrifically burned as possibly one of the only survivors, then retelling her tale as we’re transported into the past and the events that unravel. The back and forth work extremely well even as we begin to question Ruthie’s telling of the story, and provides for some twists that wouldn’t work any other way.

As per usual with Morris’s writing, the setting is fantastic and used to full effect, heightening the drama of the bizarre outbreak that occurs. Combine that with some excellent character moments and some jaw dropping scenes to create a story you won’t find anywhere else. The one issue I have with the book is I felt it didn’t know what it wanted to be. At times it felt YA suspense, at times it entered into the darkest caverns of horror, but the juxtaposition didn’t fully mesh and left me a little uncertain as to what it was trying to accomplish. Of course that could be part of the point, the extreme moments meant to crush your ideas of a relatively safe young adult themed world.

Surprising and fresh, this was definitely worth the read, and it’s fun seeing Morris flex his muscles and redefine the boundaries of your normal genres.

Behrg Reviews: Ararat by Christopher Golden

ararat.jpgArarat has a lot going for it beginning with its killer premise – a cave opening up on the top of Mount Ararat which may or may not house the remains of Noah’s Arc. Add to it the cherished (by me at least) landscape of snow sprinkled with a generous dash of horror and I was fully engaged before starting page one.

Whether my expectations were simply too high or the book didn’t live up to its premise is a matter for debate, but when I finished this novel I felt like I do after leaving a buffet — full, but far from satisfied.

The first half of the novel moves quickly enough, though I was disappointed our two protagonists were already looking for the arc. Without getting into spoilers I liked the twist that was offered, defying expectations, but the last half of the novel felt incongruous with the former half. The horror elements for me felt over the top when compared to the compelling premise and, for the first time in a long time, I was left wishing the author had used more finesse and restraint to deliver something truly unique rather than devolve into “more of the same.” Again, I blame my expectations as the first half of the novel kept me engaged with the slow-build of tension and questions, but by the end I was just looking forward to my dinner mint and forgetting the fact that I had overindulged myself at another far too ordinary buffet.

Ararat recently won the Bram Stoker Award for superior achievement in a novel, so it certainly has its supporters and fans and I’ve seen mostly rave reviews. I’m glad I tackled this one and did enjoy it, but I feel there was a lot more within the source material that would have made for a stronger story.

Final judgement: Come for the premise, but don’t expect a gourmet meal.

Behrg Reviews “Kin” by Kealan Patrick Burke

I’m a huge fan of horror, but the regurgitation of material within similar sub-genres is one of the biggest challenges within the industry, whether it be print or film. We’ve all seen the end-of-the-world zombie epidemic or the college kids going out into the woods and then chased by back-woods cannibals to the point that the set-ups themselves become cliche. It’s one of the reasons I typically steer clear of creature features as too often they’re derivative and offer very little I might consider “new” or original.

KinAnd then you have those artists – writers, directors, etc – who take the familiar but tilt the concept on its head, offering a fresh perspective on what you’ve come to know so well. The movie “Cabin in the Woods” is a brilliant example of this, subverting your expectations while still delivering the horror and fun you might expect from the genre. In my opinion, Kin, by Kealan Patrick Burke, is right up there with it.

First, Burke chooses a brilliant starting point for this story, one I’ve never seen done before: the book begins with the only survivor (as if often the case) making their way out of the forest AFTER having been caught and tortured and having barely escaped with her life. This is where every other story might end, but this is our beginning. What follows is the aftermath of not only the survivor but the group of “kin” from whom she’s escaped. And the trail of bodies of those who help our survivor along her way.

Burke does a fantastic job of blurring the lines between protagonists and villains, of building believable character motivations and then dashing our expectations to pieces. Not only is this a character-driven exploration of pain and guilt and revenge, it’s also just a lot of fun and there are several moments that will be embedded deep into your subconscious from the moment you read them until either the moment you die or your mind wastes away into stormy clouds of dementia.

Seriously, these horrors will stay with you.

More proof that Kealan Patrick Burke stands on the shoulders of the many authors trying to make it in this genre. For those who aren’t afraid of exploring the darkness, put Kin on the top of your must-read-list.

Behrg Reviews “Hellbent” by Gregg Hurwitz

hellbent1500+ ratings at the time of this review with a 4.55 average. You don’t get a score like that by chance.

It’s no secret Gregg Hurwitz has long been one of my favorite authors. From his unique characters to the brilliant way he uses his settings to his carefully crafted prose, he’s truly a writer’s writer. This third installment in the Orphan X series is by far his best and there’s a comfort here as Hurwitz finds his groove, no longer trying to create his own Jason Bourne or Jack Reacher but letting his work shine on its own.

Evan Smoak and the Orphan program works best when the high tech thrills are brought close to home. Hellbent is Hurwitz’ most emotional exploration within the Smoak universe and yet he’s able to accomplish this with a book that never slows down. Some unforgettable character moments — one involving a candy cane which, trust me, if you read this you won’t be able to forget — and a set up for the series which guarantees there will be many more Orphan X books to come.

If you’re not yet familiar with Hurwitz’s work, there’s never been a better time to jump on board this train. And if I can make a suggestion, pick up the Audible versions of the series as Scott Brick is THE voice of Evan Smoak and delivers an amazing performance.

Behrg Reviews “Broken Shells” by Michael Patrick Hicks

broken shells
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First a disclaimer: I’m not a big fan of “creature horror novels.” I find most of them derivative and more of a paint-by-the-numbers wheelhouse with over the top gore meant to make up for a complete lack of story or character. Substitute X creature for Y monster and you’ve got yourself the same story you can pump out over and over again.

This isn’t to say creature horror can’t be done right, it just requires a lot more effort from an author who’s willing to invent something unique or tackle it from a new angle.

I went into Michael Patrick Hicks’ new novel, Broken Shells, without knowing much about it or that, in fact, it was a creature feature. That being said, and knowing my predisposition for these types of stories, I was pleasantly surprised by the approach he took. This is not your paint-by-numbers story. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve read a creature horror novel that tackles the story in a similar fashion.

A unique mythology, combining Native American lore, matched with a character you actually care about draws you in to a tale where the gore and horror are certainly on full display (but not carelessly thrown in). Hicks has a way of combining real world topics and concerns into his story without ever coming across as preaching, which adds a fantastic layer and relevancy to his tales. In short, this is one creature feature that’s worth the price of admission. Keep up these kind of stories and I may soon become a fan of a sub-genre I’ve tried to avoid.

** I received an advanced review copy of this book through NetGalley. My thanks to the publisher and author. This in no way influenced my review.

Behrg reviews “Obscura” by Joe Hart

obscuraIf I had to resort to the old Hollywood 5-second pitch, I’d describe this book as “Shutter Island in space.” That being said, this one deserves much more than a quick cursory glance.

Obscura hits the ground running, forcing the reader to start jogging along if you don’t want to get left behind. A disease similar to dementia and Alzheimer’s is now affecting healthy young individuals, from adults to children. Due to circumstances which you’ll discover once you read the book — because this IS a book you’ll read — Dr. Gillian Ryan is asked to go up to a space shuttle where some of the crew on board are experiencing similar symptoms.

From there it’s one seriously messed up flight. Combining elements of horror, science fiction, and psychological suspense, Hart does an amazing job at keeping the reader constantly guessing. But take away the mind games, the exploration of drug addiction, or the tantalizing concept of teleportation; it’s really the depth of emotion and character that take this to another level.

While I’ve been a fan of the author’s work for some time and have watched his career with admiration, this is the novel that sets him apart from would-be writers. High concept, brilliant ideas, but flawlessly executed. Great to have a book on the contender’s list for top book of the year so early in the year. Can’t recommend this one enough.

** I received an advanced copy of the book from the publisher through NetGalley. This is no way influenced by review. Book will be hitting the streets May 8th.