Short Take: “Ghost Hunters,” Sam Witt

Pros: Fun horror-slash-“justice porn”
Cons: Predictable
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Sam Witt’s Ghost Hunters is a brief novella that takes place in his “Pitchfork County” setting. Dick is at the end of his rope. He bankrupted himself (and with their personal information, the rest of his crew, too, though they don’t know that yet) trying to put together a TV show about ghost hunters, but each of his pilots gets rejected. This one is his last chance. A contact of his sent him to Pitchfork County, where the events of book one were quite explosive yet failed to wipe out all the evil in the county (as though that’s even possible). Dick further compounds his dickishness by taking two waitresses at gunpoint–Nancy and Liz–and forcing them to show him where the ‘bad place’ is. In the process, he ends up telling his crew what he’s done to their finances, leaving them ready to kill him themselves.

This is why this is a short little review: the rest of the novella is a short story in which Dick gets exactly what’s coming to him–but so do a bunch of people who maybe didn’t deserve it so much. There’s some predictability to it, because you know all these people are going to find something more than what they’re looking for and that they’ll regret it. But the fun is always in seeing how it happens and who gets it. So it’s short, it doesn’t break a lot of new ground, but it’s still a great read. Witt is fantastic at writing up bloody, extensive combat scenes, so there’s plenty of meat to this story.

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Review: “Half-Made Girls,” Sam Witt

Pros: Long and worth every moment!
Cons: Don’t bother if you can’t handle lots and lots of blood
Rating: 5 out of 5

Sam Witt’s Half-Made Girls is a Pitchfork County novel. In Pitchfork County, the Long Man has imbued Joe, the Night Marshal, with some of his powers so that Joe can fight off the monsters that plague the rural, poor county. Lately the meth trade has gone through the roof, and Joe finds out it’s intertwined with the evil that saturates Pitchfork. Eventually he realizes that maybe his usual tactic–kill ’em all–might not be the best one. By then he and his family are deeply in danger from bats that eat their way into your body, demons, and some very angry meth-heads. And no one trusts a Marshal who’s so quick to use his gun.

 

I was in the mood for a good ol’ dark, bloody horror read, and this one completely hit the spot. Joe’s whole family is wrapped up in the horrors of Pitchfork County–unfortunate, because Joe views his job as requiring him to kill anyone who uses their powers in a manner that is evil, that walks the Left-Hand Path. His wife, Stevie, is the daughter of the powerful Bog Witch, and she would be the next Bog Witch if she allowed it to happen. Their son Al (Alasdair) can turn into a demon. And their little daughter Elsa channels spirits–sometimes she even helps her daddy do his work. Which this week happens to be part of a corpse attached to a cross in the church. Whoops, Sheriff Dan was wrong–the girl on the cross isn’t dead yet. She’s still alive and quite lively despite all the parts she’s missing, and when the Marshal tells the Sheriff to take her back to the jail for the moment, Dan goes along with it, not sure why. I like the back-and-forth between Dan and Joe as the book goes on. They’re fighting different kinds of demons, and their jobs are entirely different. There is a portion of the book that gets a bit repetitive in addressing Joe’s abilities, but it picks up and moves on before too long. It’s also believable, watching Dan struggle over which road he’s going to take, that he has that struggle going on. Each man’s struggle makes sense to him.

The violence and blood are definitely over-the-top, but as long as you’re in the mood for it, it’s a good over-the-top. By the end I just kind of assumed that everything was drenched in blood. Even fist-fights go on for a while, and I was totally engrossed. I’ve also regained some of my fear of bats, so, thanks, Witt, for that.

Because Joe would have to view Stevie’s powers as evil, he refuses her help for most of the book. He’s convinced he’d then have to kill her. He’s sort of a believable idiot in trying to keep Stevie and Al out of the game. I do feel like lately every strong male figure in genre fiction has the flaw: alcoholic, subset: whiskey, but to be fair this book was put out two years ago.

The meth plot is interesting, but it does feel heavily moralistic at times (the message of helping these people rather than crushing them). Thankfully that tied into his work as the Marshal; otherwise it really would have felt like a soapbox.

I absolutely loved Half-Made Girls, and have already picked up copies of the rest in the series!

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Review: “Acca,” Christina Bauer

Pros: Sassy
Cons: Sass at the expense of other elements
Rating: 3 out of 5

Christina Bauer’s Acca (Angelbound Origins Book 3) is sassy and snarky, all right–sometimes at the expense of character smarts, worldbuilding, and more. Main character Myla is the great Scala–she’s the only person in Purgatory who can send souls to Heaven or Hell. She’s getting married to Prince Lincoln, a sexy demon-hunter from the Thrax, who are not on good terms with Myla’s quasis. At this moment, however, they’re chasing a demon who’s just stolen all of their evidence against a Thrax house named Acca, who’ve been dealing with demons and more. They’re also about to be married within a few days, and all Myla’s mother can seem to think about is how quickly Myla will get pregnant when that happens.

 

Sass and snark are great, but it’s like the fine line between dark and depressing: the “too far” spot on the spectrum is at a different spot for everyone, but there is a “too far” spot. For me, this went over the line from sass/snark and into bitchy. It also seemed like getting just the right snarky line in was more important to the author than the story was, so sometimes the characters did something stupid for, apparently, little reason other than to set up a snarky line. (Or to set up later plot that would otherwise not work.) For instance, in order to impress upon us how powerful Myla’s angelic father is, she’s writing down each new power she sees him use in a journal so she can keep track. Umm, that’s just begging for the journal to get stolen and for a bad guy to use all that info to thwart her father at something. It also implies that her father is just a deus ex machina waiting to be pulled out whenever the author has difficulty with the story. At another time there’s a character they’re interviewing who gets all squirrely, and they get distracted and totally ignore it on their way out. And there’s plenty more like that.

As someone who has just come into the series via reviewing, I appreciate that there are little summations of things from previous books so we’ll get the idea. I know this is hard to judge, but the author way overdid it here in my opinion. The number of times the Scala’s basic job got described was over the top considering how simple that job is (send souls to Heaven or Hell from Purgatory). The world-building feels artificial, abnormal, overly concerned with setting up plot rather than the world the plot takes place in.

The book does become tense and engrossing for a time, at which point I enjoyed it and almost–not quite–wanted to read more in the series.

SPOILER WARNING There’s actually a point at which our duo is facing two enemies. One of the two is two words into a three-word incantation that’ll set a massive demon loose. Lincoln is strong and quick, so he chokes out his enemy–that is to say, he chokes out the other character and politely asks the incantation-spouting person to stop, which of course allows him to get the last word of the incantation out. There was no reason whatsoever given for why Lincoln wouldn’t just choke out the incantation-spouting enemy instead. That also isn’t the only stupid combat move some of the characters made. Truly the book feels like plot over character or world–the latter two are constantly given short shrift to make the first work. End Spoilers

 

Book provided for review by publisher
Expected publication date: December 13, 2016

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Review: “Cold Hollow,” Emilie J. Howard

Pros: It could have been worse–maybe?
Cons: Where should I start?
Rating: 1.5 out of 5

Emilie J. Howard’s Cold Hollow (Cold Hollow Mysteries Book 1) is listed under horror on Amazon, but I’m not sure why. Her townspeople’s greatest fear is that they won’t have the money for the mayor’s protection racket and his police goons will come after them. The first part of the plot involves our standard happy innocent couple moving into our standard trouble-filled New England town. Then this ceases to be a horror novel. The baker wife opens an amazing bakery. The townspeople are weird. The bad guys are icky. When the bad guys collide with the baker and her family, things go badly. Then Myrna, baker Sophia’s friend and employee, opens a clever can of whoop-ass on the town. I won’t detail any of that last, nor will I tell you whether things go well or badly for her, because hey, spoilers. But I don’t think it would really ruin the book for you, because there isn’t much to be ruined.

 

Everybody’s terrified of this mysterious, bizarre-sounding “till”. It’s nothing but an itemized (!) monthly protection racket bill handed out by the mayor and enforced by his goon policemen. I mean sure, knowing you have to bankrupt yourself rather than get beaten up or killed or whatever is scary, but it really doesn’t classify as horror.

The worst part of Cold Hollow is that most of the narrative is exposition and summary. Everything is told to us; almost nothing is shown to us. Even the dialogue is just summary of speech most of the time, and sounds like it was written by a teen who hasn’t had any instruction in the craft part of writing. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book as prone to that as this one is. There’s a death scene that becomes frankly embarrassing because of this.

There are so many foolish things the characters do with no consequence. If Nazar, the bad guy, has cameras and bugs in every house, then destroying those just lets him know you’re on to him–yet there are no consequences as gradually people start doing this over time. There’s a scene where a doctor gives Myrna drugs to put in people’s foods and: “He didn’t want to tell her exactly what drugs were being used. That way, if things didn’t work out, she could never be blamed.” Uhh, that’s not how the law works, people.

It feels like the author is a teenager–way too much exposition; childlike narrative; childish view of how the law might look and work. I can’t recommend this to anyone.

 

The town does hold a secret, but it’s basically the plot from a Criminal Minds episode that’s been dumbed-down and made ridiculous. Spoiler warning: It’s a town of parolees being run as an experiment, but unlike the town on CM, this one was screwed up from day one. Also, apparently if you take a couple who had been in jail for kidnapping children because they wanted to feel that they had a full family, it’s okay later to let them get that out of their system by having them babysit your kid. Say what?! End spoiler warning

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Review: Nate Temple Supernatural Series Books 1-3 (Boxset), Shayne Silvers

Pros: Total young male wish fulfillment fantasy
Cons: Total young male wish fulfillment fantasy
Rating: 2.5 out of 5

The Nate Temple Supernatural Thriller Series: Books 1-3 (The Nate Temple Supernatural Thriller Series Boxset), by Shayne Silvers… I don’t remember how I came across it, but I wish I remembered, because it hasn’t appealed to me all that much and I’d like to skip accidentally doing that again. It’s an unabashed young-adult-male wish-fulfillment fantasy set in a contemporary fantasy universe. All of the female characters kick ass, but they’re always happiest when making their men happy (save for one lesbian relationship, which still followed the same pattern). In case it matters to you, note that there is some sexually explicit material present. As I wrote in my notes: “Nate’s awfully misogynistic, and the quota of stunning sexpots is ridiculously high.”

In this set of three books, Nate and his friends start out trying to figure out who or what killed his parents. It’s certainly a good coming-of-age setup, which Nate badly needs. He’s the standard billion-dollar playboy vigilante/hero/whatever, except younger and apparently much less cunning.

This is one of the most over-the-top, purple prose-laden pieces of work I’ve read in a very, very long time. To me it read like someone who has a fair amount of talent but not much learned skill pouring his heart out on the page, which results in a series that sometimes I quite appreciated and at other times hated. Another pass by a copyeditor wouldn’t have gone amiss as well–particularly in Fairy Tale, which has more than the usual number of words that aren’t used correctly. The author could also stand to write out a meticulous timeline to make sure that everything happened when he said it did, and that he didn’t accidentally change his mind a few times.

The character does so many contradictory things. He wants to keep the police out of things, then baits them for fun. He also seems to be a prodigy at nearly everything. He’d be a male Mary Sue except for the fact that he does occasionally suffer the consequences of his actions. He can’t remember a thing, then two sentences later he remembers it as if he’d never forgotten in the first place. There are demons who leave Nate alive pretty much ‘just because’ which is the biggest “uh, I dunno” a writer can use. Someone grabs him by his bloody jacket just after he threw it away. There are a lot of mistakes like this throughout the series.

In book two, there are finally a few good quotes, although overall the dialogue was pretty terrible. Also, I think that when your new girlfriend threatens to chase you down and beat you up if you don’t tell her every last one of your secrets in three days, then maybe you shouldn’t go out with her.

The characters aren’t remotely balanced (any game master running this as an RPG would shake his head sadly at the lack of creative use of powers, as well as the distribution of them). For instance, Nate has near-cosmic power but can’t seem to use it to get money. Okay, fine, you can’t summon gold or whatever, but there are nigh-infinite ways of making money with the kind of power Nate has.

I’ve saved this upcoming quote because I think it will give you a good idea of whether you’d like the series. Enjoy the purple prose and weird narrative? Cool, march right ahead. Can’t take how the author approaches women and can’t enjoy the weirdness? Slide on past.

Ashley and Indie had several silent conversations with only their eyes. Tory and Misha jumped in on a few of these exchanges, learning the same information by estrogenic osmosis, and each of them silently proceeded to take care of the men, encouraging us, congratulating us …

I find it difficult to believe that the author has ever met a woman. Anyway, it probably now seems as though I should have given a lower score given how I feel about all of the above. But the truth is, there’s an awful lot of creativity in here. There’s plenty of exciting adventure. The author clearly has a lot of talent to work with, and I very much hope he’ll put some effort into acquiring the kind of skill that will hone that talent to a fantastic shine. I also hope he’ll learn that women are just people too, but we’ll see.

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Review: “Silurid,” Gerry Griffiths

Pros: Mild beginning
Cons: Blah ending
Rating: 2 out of 5

It’s been a long day already, so I’ll quote from the Amazon text instead of rolling my own. Silurid, by Gerry Griffiths: “In this exciting horror novel, Vernon Murdock, a young idealistic marine biologist, makes an incredible breakthrough with high hopes of ending world famine for the rest of eternity when he breeds a hybrid species guaranteed to put substantially more food on the dinner table.” You can predict several things from there with virtual certainty. The experiment will go wrong. People will die. Harder to predict was the fact that the book isn’t about Vernon and isn’t really about mad science, either. We start out as the giant fish enter play, and follow Vernon’s sister Jess as she tries to deal with them.

 

It’s important to note that Vernon’s experiments went wrong when they produced super-massive fish: he’d actually be feeding fewer people with them (the amount of protein they’d need to grow would be greater than the amount of protein they’d provide). I’m not quite sure how he ended up with armor scales and some very nasty teeth, too. You’d think he’d realized he’d gone in the wrong direction by size alone long before he actually created these two massive, scary fish, and thus would have turned back and done something else.

Anyway, the entire first part of the book is kinda meh, introducing us to characters who are bland, stupid, or completely stereotypical. Jess, the main character, is of course loved by everyone. For a while I tried to track the stereotypes for this review, but I lost count.

The fish brought me to laughter as they scuffled around on land using giant fins, knocking over trees to chase and eat people. I don’t think it was meant to be as silly as it was, but I suppose I can hope it was intentional.

The time frame for the story keeps getting confused. Things like types of phones or computer data collection devices that are available seem to contradict each other. The narrative is also a bit choppy and confused, with multiple instances of one word substituted for something that definitely didn’t mean the same thing.

Part two of the book was… uh, slightly better? Slightly better characterization. Slightly better dialogue. On the other hand, the premise is ridiculous (I’ll leave it out, since it would give away the ending in part one). I’m also disappointed that this book is ostensibly about mad science, but there’s really no mad science done in the course of the book. It’s all pre-book.

My hope is that this book’s origin came when its author said, “hey, what’s the most ridiculous creature a mad scientist could muck with that people would still have to run away from?” But since this doesn’t appear to be listed in any kind of humor or satire listing at Amazon, I have to assume not.

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Short Take: “Beneath the Cut,” Ike Hamill

Pros: Loved this tale. Plenty of mystery and strangeness
Cons: Not everyone will want the murky turn into what is death?
Rating: 5 out of 5

Beneath the Cut measured up to what I expect from Ike Hamill at this point. His horror stories come in two major types, in my opinion: the more ‘standard’ fare (although even those usually have an unexpected turn or two at the end), and those that take a major twist or two and become something much more (or other) than a horror tale. In Beneath the Cut, we’ve sacrificed the privacy of our minds by allowing a machine to assay whether we’re innocent or guilty of a crime. When the machine encounters a particularly gullible mind, that man begins to learn that there is far more to the universe than we’ve lead ourselves to believe.

Two men end up in a war over death–its nature, its possibilities, and just how far it should go. I had virtually no idea where it would end up, and loved the twists and turns. I never expected to read a* novel that went in directions such as these! There are certainly plenty of dangers associated with having a machine muck around in your brain, I’d imagine, and using that as the sole determiner of guilt or innocence can’t end well. The story drew me in and I thought it was fascinating.

***SPOILER WARNING*** *Up there I really needed to say “I never expected to read a zombie novel”, but even though I rate that kinda low on the spoiler scale, I decided to separate it out anyway. end spoiler

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Review: “Little Heaven,” Nick Cutter

Pros: Truly dark and original
Cons:
Rating: 5 out of 5

Little Heaven: A Novel, by Nick Cutter, made me shudder with delighted horror. Horror novels range so widely in their quality, and I thought this one was pretty much perfect. It’s long. Despite the fact that it shifts back and forth between 1965 and 1980, it does so carefully enough that I never lost track of where I was.

It’s about three gun-slingers. Micah is a generic gun-for-hire who’s been working for a drug dealer as a bodyguard. Minerva is a bounty hunter. And Ebenezer is an assassin who sticks out like a sore thumb (a black Brit in 1960s America). In the 60s, they find themselves drawn to a religious cult called Little Heaven, stuck out in the middle of nowhere. A woman named Ellen wants them to help her rescue her young nephew, Nathan, whose father kidnapped him and brought him there. Things get a lot strange. There’s something out in the woods–something terribly evil, that has already been draining the life and vitality from the members of the cult. Our gun-slingers have a lot of darkness, pain, and evil ahead of them if they want to save Nathan–if they even can.

 

This is one of my favorite recent horror stories. It has fascinating characters–I can’t decide whether Micah or Ebenezer is my favorite. (I’m also quite fond of the weird semi-antagonistic relationship between Ebenezer and Minerva, which has its own bizarre backstory). The characters at Little Heaven are a bit more stereotypical, but there are some exceptions!

The evil in Little Heaven is weird and horrifying, better than I’m used to seeing, and quite different. It pulled me in and wouldn’t let go. I liked it better than The Troop–it’s more alien, more horrific. I’m having trouble coming up with enough adjectives to do it justice! It contains plenty of surprises, twists, turns, and fascinating people. Nothing is easy, and nothing is certain.

Just as a note in case you’re a reader who cares about such things, this book is very vulgar in places. Not a problem for most horror readers I expect, but just in case.

I absolutely recommend Little Heaven to horror lovers. I think it would make a great holiday present to your favorite horror readers as well!

 

Received from publisher in return for honest review

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Review: “Right to Kill,” Andrew Peterson

Pros: More action than any five other books
Cons: Anything non-action tends to be not-good
Rating: 3 out of 5

Right to Kill, by Andrew Peterson, is part of his Nathan McBride Series. We’re dealing with ex-soldiers returned from overseas who work a hugely successful security firm while still working together with some of their old cronies in the CIA. In this case, an old team member, Linda Genneken, is in need of help. She lives close by to Nathan, who installed her state-of-the-art alarm system himself. The infiltration team knows how to handle most of the alarm system, but they missed a part. Linda is woken up by her system, and it sends a wake-up call to Nate as well. He and another old comrade, Harv, book it toward Linda’s house, hoping desperately to get there in time.

 

The battle at Linda’s house is incredible. It’s sustained, complex, and absorbing. It quickly becomes clear that they want to capture Linda, not kill her. Luckily she has the same war-time experience as Nathan and Harv, and does an incredible amount of damage before they can even get to her (and her husband). After her reinforcements arrive, the battle continues to swell.

Nearly the entire book consists of battles, and I’m fine with that. They’re wonderfully long, and as a result the book doesn’t actually cover a long time period. The problem it has is that any time it turns to dialogue it becomes a clunker. Thankfully this doesn’t happen often. This includes things like a very experienced warrior saying “Lights out, dirtbag,” before shooting someone (talk about trying to get yourself shot by giving your enemy extra time). Planning gets long and boring since the dialogue is so flat.

I’m put off by the morality of the book. Plenty of bad guys get shot and killed with barely a thought to the morality of it. The only time things get deeply moralistic is when Linda wants to kill a character that higher-ups want alive. So apparently it’s morally okay to shoot people as long as you don’t need them alive for questioning and possible torture. (There was a slight nod here and there to the ‘should we really be killing all these people’ thing, but it wasn’t consistent.)

There’s a plot hole left behind–there are a couple of instances in which it appears that the bad guys have advance knowledge of their plans, locations, and home addresses, but they never speculate or look into the idea that maybe this means they have a mole.

 

Book provided free by publisher for review

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Short Take: “After We Live Forever,” Ike Hamill

Pros: Unique
Cons: Really, really weird; oddly long
Rating: 4 out of 5

My opinion of Ike Hamill’s books varies wildly. Some of them are absolutely amazing (Like the Madelyn series) while I dislike others. Overall he’s great, though. His After We Live Forever is odd–truly strange–and I’m not entirely sure what to say about it.

A woman named Holly and her bear (husband?) seem to move back and forth between different parts of a world. Most of those places bear resemblance to one computer game or another–survivalism games, social games–she can’t seem to pick a part that works for her, and there’s a handful of people fighting a battle between the ways of living behind her back. Some of them want her help; others not so much.

It’s bizarre how long the book is. The characters delve deeper and deeper into weird strategies that they think might work against the other groups, as Holly wanders back and forth with her bear “husband” (I still don’t get that, although it seemed that in one area they were considered to be holy).

I wish I knew what more to say about it, but that’s mostly it–you’re watching each of these groups try to outwit the others, making and breaking treaties, as Holly wanders the earth. I couldn’t get myself to stop reading it, which is weird giving how long it was, but it’s oddly compelling.

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