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 “Broken Shells” by Michael Patrick Hicks

broken shells
Broken Shells is on sale for just $0.99 for a limited time

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.

The Behrg Reviews: “The Picture of Dorian Gray” by Oscar Wilde

Dorian GrayThere are two camps of “classic” books, those which you can appreciate for having been important in their time but that really don’t hold up, and those which somehow defy the passage of years much as Dorian Gray himself. This was shockingly relevant and literarily brilliant, and it’s hard to imagine this was originally published back in the 1890’s.

The beautiful thing about this novel is that it’s really a story about each of us. Hiding behind masks, creating a persona which we present to the public, while only ever allowing ourselves to glimpse the darker secrets of the soul when hidden in our personal attics. This is a novel that bears self reflection, that forces the reader to examine their own lives, something only truly great fiction can accomplish.

Far better than I had hoped for. Hope this is a trend that will continue for this year’s reads. And right now you can pick up the book for free on Amazon. If you haven’t yet checked this one out, no better time to do so.

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.

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


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!


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


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?