Book Review: Subhuman by Michael McBride

subhumanTypically there are two camps of writers: those who do an incredible amount of research but fail to tell a compelling story, and those who can spin a yarn but can’t keep it from floating away with a gust of scientifically or factually-based wind. Michael McBride is one of those rare breeds who has somehow mastered both.

In Subhuman, you get the science and research you’d expect from a Michael Crichton novel but wrapped in a story that not only draws you in, but threatens to keep you from coming back out. With some truly ingenious twists, this was a fantastic set up to a series that will have legs for years to come.

Recommended for all those who enjoy their thrillers with a little bite. And if you haven’t read something from McBride yet, hop over to your nearest ebook retailer and pick from any of his dozens of novels. You really can’t go wrong.

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Book Review: “Strange Weather” by Joe Hill

One of the great things about works of art, whether they be movies, books, or finger-painted sketches of yetis in space, is that they’re open to the interpretation of those who read, watch, and — for all intents and purposes — breathe their own unique experiences into the work itself. I love the fact that someone can hate what I enjoy, or can love what I find cringe-worthy. All this to say I’ve seen several reviews of Joe Hill’s latest work, breaking down which stories worked (for them) and which didn’t, and while I’ll add to what’s been shared I also recommend taking any review as just that — someone’s personal reaction to a particular work or story. What I didn’t enjoy in this collection just might resonate with you; doesn’t mean I’m right and you’re wrong, instead it shows the power of the very nature of stories and the intense emotions they can illicit.

So that it’s on the table, I’m in the camp of those who love Hill’s earlier works (20th Century Ghosts, Heart Shaped Box, Nos4atu) but didn’t enjoy his latest doorstopper, The Fireman. The guy is clearly talented, (wonder where that comes from?), but I find he can be a little hit or miss for my tastes at least. This collection was a bit of both, hit and miss, though again many reviewers I respect absolutely adored the stories I couldn’t care less for. To each their own. Here are my thoughts, for what their worth, on the four novellas within this collection:

strange weather.jpg“Snapshot” — 4 of 5 stars. This was an entertaining idea that’s perfectly suited for a novella length story, exploring dementia and alzheimer’s in the cloak of a horror story. I connected with the protagonist and loved the arc of the story. Simple yet creative, it was also a lot of fun and a great start to the collection.

“Loaded” — 5 of 5 stars. I was worried about this one as I don’t like to be preached to when reading entertainment. Don’t get me wrong, I like stories that push boundaries and explore even politically charged themes, just don’t stand on a soapbox while you’re doing it. This story had the potential to do just that yet Hill navigated the landmines with an expertise rarely seen within today’s novelists. With interwoven stories exploring the left, right, and in-between stance on gun control, I was honestly shocked at how adeptly every experience with a gun was captured within a single tale. Add to it an ending that was the equivalent of a mic drop and I’m not sure how this could have been crafted any better. Brilliantly executed.

“Aloft” — 3 of 5 stars. After a great first half I was really geared up going into this story, which was touted as one of the more creative within the collection. Unfortunately the creativity here never grew legs or landed, and I found myself a little bored moving through this one. Interesting idea but I feel it would have been better suited as a short story of a few thousand words rather than the length of a novella.

“Rain” — Sigh. All I can say is that I’m glad this one was last or I wouldn’t have given the others a chance. Hill claims, in his Afterward, that this was his rendition of parodying himself before someone else got around to it. Really it felt more like he dialed this one in and needed an excuse as to why he was including it. Riddled with cliche after cliche, from the characters to the dialogue to the motive of the “villain,” it felt like the work of a first-time author who thought he was being clever but was really just regurgitating everything he had taken in for the day. I honestly felt a little angry with this one, which only happens when I feel an author is insulting my intelligence as a reader. A disappointing end to an otherwise decent collection. 1 of 5 stars.

I think, as a whole, the collection had the makings of something great within it but, as is often the case, some of the stories never really found themselves. I’d recommend everyone read “Loaded”, though your experience with it may vary from mine. Despite giving the collection as a whole 3 stars I think there’s enough in here for everyone to connect with something, and that says a lot more about Hill’s work than any review might.

Two Reviews for the Price of One – “The Fisherman” and “We Are Always Watching”

I’ve really fallen behind on book reviews, and while I’ve contemplated stopping them completely I believe there’s value in sharing one’s reaction to a work of art. I know for me, personally, every review I receive of the novels and books I’ve published means something — whether they’re positive or negative. And the great thing about writing, in particular, is that every person will have a different reaction to the same source material. What some love others will hate, and I’ve been influenced to purchase a book because of bad reviews, realizing that the person who wrote the review doesn’t like similar things that I enjoy.

So, whether positive or negative, share your thoughts on what you’re reading. You could be the means of helping someone find that book they really connect with (or helping them avoid the one they’ll despise). And in the meantime I’ll be doubling up on my reviews here on the blog to get through the books I’ve read of late.

First up?

The Fisherman by John Langan

fisherman

This is a book I was really looking forward to, and perhaps the build-up of expectation offset my reaction. I loved the characterization and set up for Abe and his friend Dan and was entirely in to where things were going until the main story was shelved while we delved into the backstory of the Dutchman’s Creek and the “Fisherman.”

Backstories and flashbacks are tricky as they often halt the momentum of the story that’s being explored. I also tend to disconnect from a story when it’s the summary of what a character is sharing but contains incredible details. I don’t think a stranger who’s recounting, for all intents and purposes, a home grown folklore tale in an hour would share the facial expressions of someone’s reactions or the inner thoughts of the people in his story. I didn’t connect with anyone in this flashback and kept waiting to get back to the main storyline. Little did I know, the bulk of this novel IS the flashback, and by the time we arrived back to actual events I was so burned out that I had lost the emotions and concern I had initially carried for Abe.

The cosmic horror elements of this novel are spot on, I just could have used the summary of the backstory rather than all of the details. Will definitely be checking out more of Langan’s work, this one just sort of missed the mark for me.

And next on the list?

We Are Always Watching by Hunter Shea

watching.jpgThis was a pretty stellar read. I’m a sucker for the back-woods isolated horror set up, but Shea thankfully doesn’t just go for the obvious here. He uses the familiar tropes of the genre to draw you in but then takes what you’re expecting and turns it on its head. Well-developed characters, creepy setting, a driving mystery with plenty of scares, and most importantly, characters you actually care about. Pretty much sums up what a good horror novel should be.

If you haven’t checked this one yet, it’s on sale for just $1.99 on Amazon. Definitely worth the price of admission.

Next up on the blog will be Markus Sakey’s After Life and Michael McBride’s Subhuman. It’s been a good couple of months for books (thankfully).

If you’ve discovered anything that really stands out from the crowd, feel free to leave a recommendation in the comments below as well!

 

Hope For Aspiring Authors (and a Book Review of “The Killing Clause” by Gregg Hurwitz)

Gregg Hurwitz is an author I deeply admire, a writer who goes to painstaking lengths in his research and carefully constructed prose. His settings (often my beloved California) take on a life of their own, and he knows how to keep a reader turning the pages. In my opinion, he’s one of the best thriller writers working today and it’s great to see the success his new Orphan X series is having.

kill clause.jpgThe Kill Clause is the first in his Tim Rackley series, and while the setting and characters and research are all there, it’s also obvious this is one of his earlier books. This novel is heavy on the grief, with the main character and his wife losing their daughter in a savage murder, but for a reason I can’t fully comprehend I never connected with their loss. Maybe I’m just a jaded and heartless individual, but the emotions never went beyond the words for me and I struggled to want to come back to this book. There were some major character decisions that were more plot driven than something the characters would have actually done as well as some very obvious by-the-book twists that were far too predictable. Again, read the whole jaded admission.

Interestingly, I purchased and started reading Hurwitz’s first two novels a while back and never could complete them. As an author myself, and someone who knows many novelists and would-be-writers, I find this incredibly encouraging. It really is the act of doing something that enables you to grow and learn from your mistakes and hone your craft and move on to the next project, and then the next and the next, hopefully improving every step along the way.

You don’t start off as a marathon runner, you tackle a single mile, and then as you condition yourself you keep pushing those boundaries you’ve already hit until soon you’re running further than you could have ever thought possible. Writing is no different, and sadly I see a lot of authors put out a single book and then spend the next several years marketing that one book, trying to grow their readership and market without ever doing the legwork of completing their next project. This would be like running a 5-K race and then repeatedly sharing your results with everyone you know, showing videos, putting new music tracks to clips, trying to get one more view on your Youtube channel, while giving up running! An actor doesn’t talk about the movie they were in two years ago. They promote the one that’s about to come out, creating buzz where they can while then moving on to the next project and the one after that.

So if you’re a writer or dream of one day being a writer, stop thinking about it. Stop talking about it. Stop spamming people with ads for what you’ve already created. Instead, write your next project. If you’re doing it correctly, challenging yourself with each project and not just repeating the same formula, you WILL get better. You WILL grow your marketshare. You WILL make a name for yourself. You might not be able to support yourself with your writing — less than 1% of authors do — but you will find joy in what you’re doing. And who knows, maybe like Gregg Hurwitz, you’ll break out with international success. Just know it’s a long road to get there and if you’re not enjoying the ride, you’re missing the point.

Enough of my ramblings. 2.5 stars for “The Kill Clause” – at least I finished this one, though my journey with Tim Rackley and company has come to an end.

Book Review: “The Sound of Broken Ribs” by Edward Lorn

broken ribsThere’s been a plague lately, in my opinion, of great authors striving for subtlety in their writing. Taking a premise and, rather than allowing it to grow into something monstrous and completely unique, trimming it back so that you barely see the buds where there could have been roses. Or thorns. Big nasty thorns. I understand the reasoning behind it, in trying to make their work less fantastical, but I often disagree with the end results, left wanting more.

The Sound of Broken Ribs by Edward Lorn is the first book I’ve read that nails this concept. There’s a maturity here to Lorn’s writing that I haven’t seen before — and I consider myself a fan of his work. But while he lets this dark tale grow its wings he also doesn’t inflate them into balloons that fizzle and go flying around the room before petering out. Writing requires incredible balance, allowing your imagination to run wild while also pulling it back before it becomes unmanageable and ruins your story. I kept waiting for this to derail but Lorn rides that razor’s edge the entire story, teasing the fantastic while keeping you grounded.

And man, are there some big nasty thorns.

Breathing, flawed characters you come to sympathize with and a perfect balance of moments that make you cringe and others that will make your jaw drop, this is on my top 5 list for sure so far for the year. The premise may be simple, but the execution is what makes this book sing. Hats off E on a great story well told.

** Please note this book is currently only available as a special limited hard-cover edition from Thunderstorm Books. I received an advanced review copy of the book. This in no way influenced by review. **

Book Reviews – Ketchum & Strand

Two more reviews of some quite non-traditional novels. Both of these have a ton of staying power to them and are ones you’ll carry with you for quite some time after the final page has turned.


The Secret Life Of Souls by Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee

souls

The Secret Life of Souls is a cleverly spun tragedy piece, and your heart will be breaking by the end of it. A window into a functioning dysfunctional family and the small decisions that lead to unimaginable consequences.

The characterizations were strong and believable and, having grown up as a “child actor”, I loved the glimpse into the entertainment industry and the quiet implications of what it does to people. The other thing I loved about this was that there was no real villain, only wounded individuals making poor decisions and then doing what they must to cover them.

Which, of course, only leads to more poor decisions.

Stylistically, I’m not a huge fan of using an animal’s POV as third or first person narrator. It’s a choice that, for whatever reason, just drives me out of the story and I always feel the author writing rather than the persona of the intended animal. I got worried at first that much of the story would be told this way but, thankfully, it was used sparingly.

Beyond that, this was a sharp story simply but effectively told. Well worth checking out.


Dweller by Jeff Strand

dwellerIf there’s one thing you can expect when reading a Jeff Strand novel it’s that the story isn’t going to go where you would expect.

But wait, if you’re expecting it not to go where you expect, does that mean it actually will go where you expect since your expectations are that it won’t go where you would normally assume? Or do your expectations cancel out the unexpected deviations of a “traditional” story (read: “Non”-Jeff Strand story), thereby making the unexpected rather blase, turning cherry blossom caramel-swirl candy corn ice cream into imitation vanilla?

Thankfully, this tasted nothing like vanilla. (Though Owen probably wouldn’t complain either way).

A simple story about an unlikely friendship made all the more interesting by the unique way in which it was told. This is a book no other author could have written. Come on, Jeff Strand and Sasquatch? What more are you waiting for?

Book Review: “The Red Church” by Scott Nicholson

Haven’t been posting as many of my reviews here on the blog, but here’s one for a novel I thought was quite unique. Definitely worth checking out.

red church.jpgThe Red Church is a book that’s been on my radar for years, finally had the chance to dig into it, and glad I did. Instead of just uncovering a quick treasure that’s been buried underground and has maybe lost some of it’s shine, this was like unearthing a fossil only to realize that you’re standing not over a single specimen but an entire burial ground that could fill museums. Reminiscent of early King, Nicholson is a master wordsmith, and his imagery is as haunting as it is poignant. At times the religious aspects of the book felt a little heavy handed, but the final picture painted is worth every stroke of the artist’s brush.

Far from your run-of-the-mill supernatural horror story, this is one that will sit with you long after you’ve digested it. Will be looking into more of Nicholson’s work for sure.

“When you have one of those waking nightmares, when you think bad things in the dark and can’t go to sleep, you think happy thoughts. Cartoon dogs, fat clowns, things like that. Except sometimes the cartoon dogs bite and the fat clowns grow sharp smiles.”