Subhuman – Michael McBride

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Subhuman by Michael McBride. Wow! Where to start with this one?? There is so much good stuff going on between the covers of McBride’s latest offering, and first in the Unit #51 series. You have various experts in their respective scientific fields anonymously brought together to a location in Antarctica that shows remnants of being at one time an old Nazi outpost. Mega-rich venture capitalist, Hollis Richards has brought them all here to help him unlock the mystery of misshapen humanoid skulls found in an underground lake deep below the ice. These types of remains have been discovered before at locations around the globe and thought to be a genetic mutation. But Richards knows better. He knows that the knowledge to build these ancient pyramids and temples didn’t come from man alone. It came from the sky. He knows this because he was visited many years ago when he was a child in the middle of the night, and he’s been searching for them ever since. He knows that underneath the Antarctic ice lies the clues to an ancient civilization that predates anything we’be ever discovered before and his assembled band of scientists are going to help him prove it.

Subhuman is an extremely intelligent tale told with heaps of atmosphere and great characters. McBride has really done his homework to create this one. The science is straight out of the History Channel’s Ancient Aliens, yet is hard to refute. Fringe? Yes, but completely believable in McBride’s expert direction. It has a textbook quality to it, without losing you by talking over your head. Any alien horror story set in Antarctica would be impossible to do without having comparisons to John Carpenter’s The Thing, and thats perfectly fine with me. The Thing is easily on my top three of horror movies ever and I welcome a story with some of those same shades that I love so well. McBride delivers. The hostile and lonely location. The fridgid weather that leaves you feeling like you’re ten minutes away from freezing to death. The allure of the discoveries waiting to be made underneath the ice. Such great stuff. And the characters don’t disappoint either. Richards comes across as the lovable combination of Bill Gates and Richard Attenborough’s Dr. Hammond in Jurassic Park. The scientists all feel realistic with their quirks, yet don’t come off as a cardboard stereotypes. if you can’t tell, I’m pretty geeked about this book. You should be too. It’s amazing and I’m excited that it’s the first of a series. I can’t wait until spring for the next one.

 

5 Misshaped Skulls out of 5

 

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Blanky – Kealon Patrick Burke

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Steve doesn’t think his life can get any worse. His nine-month-old baby girl mysteriously dies in her crib. His grief stricken wife, Lexi, can’t bear to be around Steve and the house where their daughter died. So, she moves back in with her parents, leaving Steve all alone to face the misery by himself. Then the mysterious baby blanket shows up out of the blue. Where did that come from? Didn’t that become lost when they were clearing their daughter’s room of all the belongings? What is going on? Are we starting to see a man’s frayed ends of sanity?

Blanky is a boot kick to the solar plexus as the reader sucks wind, trying to find respite from Steve’s all-encompassing world of grief. The thought of losing your only child, just as their life got started, is a parent’s worst nightmare. To have to go through that grief alone would be hell on earth. Burke doesn’t let up. He provides what looks like an escape hatch for our protagonist and then promptly smashes his fingers with the lid when he tries to use it as an exit. Another thing that I’m impressed with is Kealon’s word choice throughout the story. He flexes his wordsmith muscle without coming across as frivolous or arrogant. A dark, disturbing story that was perfect with Halloween around the corner.

5 Hidden Baby Teeth out of 5

 

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Bone White – Ronald Malfi

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A man shambles down out of the hills of northern Alaska and into the only diner in the tiny, fly-speck sized town of Dread’s Hand. He sits down at the counter and casually orders his favorite, hot cocoa. The waitress is trembling as she brings it to him. As Joe Mallory is enjoying his drink with dried blood all over his shirt, he suggests to the waitress that she contact the local law officer, that he has finished burying five bodies in the hills and he’d like to turn himself in.

Paul Gallo watches the news report back in Maryland of the Dread’s Hand murders and immediately takes interest. His twin brother, Danny, disappeared in the remote town over a year ago and no one has seen or heard from him since. He quickly flies out there to see if his brother is one of the dead and to finally get some answers. However, the residents of Dread’s Hand aren’t much for strangers in their town and Paul Gallo doesn’t belong there.

So far, Bone White is my favorite read of 2017. Malfi does an incredible job at painting the bleakness of the desolate Alaskan town and the haunting foothills that stretch out from it. My emotions ranged across the spectrum as I read the story. There aren’t many places that are truly isolated anymore. Dread’s Hand is the exception and Malfi plays it up like a maestro. The whole time I was reading Bone White, I kept having visualizations of 30 Days of Night. Shoddy cell phone coverage, vast expanses of nothingness, residents few and far between and no one is interested in helping Paul solve his mystery. All the while, in the background, you can feel the dread and danger mounting, but still out of reach. You know something is coming, but what? If you have yet to become acquainted with Malfi’s work, I highly recommend it and Bone White is a fantastic place to start.

5 Crosses in the Yard out of 5

 

* This ARC was provided by NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

 

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Halloween Carnival, Volume Two – Brian James Freeman

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With Halloween right around the corner, let’s jump into this collection –

Mr. Dark’s Carnival – Glen Hirshberg

A Montana ghost story thats got some nice creepiness. David is a college professor that teaches a class that explores folklore and his favorite part of the course is the folk tale of Mr. Dark’s Carnival. For many years, it has been rumored that the mysterious carnival pops up in a rural setting and only a few select people get chosen to attend. David has never met anyone that has personally been to the carnival and doesn’t believe it truly exists until he gets his ticket. A great ghost story that has a murky ending.

4 out of 5 stars

 

The Facts in the Case of My Sister – Lee Thomas

David’s estranged sister, Joyce, is in the hospital from an “accident”. The prognosis isn’t good and David has doubts that her injuries were from an accident. When Joyce and he were kids, David taught himself how to do magic tricks from a book he got. Joyce was always his willing audience and participant. Now, David pulls out a trick from his past to learn what really happened to Joyce.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Mischief Night – Holly Newstein

Willard had a good life, a loving family and wife, and looked forward to his retirement. He was never a drinker after growing up with a nasty old drunk for a father. In what seemed like a harmless way to celebrate his retirement, the bottle grabs ahold of Willard and doesn’t let go. On Mischief Night, Willard meets a troubled teen that stumbles into his basement. Can one man’s bad decisions help alter the path the youngster is headed down?

4 out of 5 stars

 

The Ghost Maker – Del James

Halloween has it’s own set of scares when you’re a mob hit man. You have to be on your toes, even if you’re the grim reaper. Great voice that makes for a fun read.

5 out of 5 stars

 

The Pumpkin Boy – Al Sarrantonio

Jody is a latchkey kid for half an hour every afternoon until his mom gets home. He knows he’s not supposed to be outside and he follows that rule. Until, one day, he sees the Pumpkin Boy walking past his window and he can’t believe his eyes. For police detective, Len Schneider, Jody’s disappearance is bringing back old, haunted memories that he’s been trying to lock away for 18 years. What started out as a promising novella, fell flat for me with the ending.

3 out of 5 stars

 

Overall, a nice little collection with mostly hits than misses. Well worth the time.

4 out of 5 stars

Necroscope IV: Deadspeak – Brian Lumley

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Harry Keogh has returned from Starside/Sunside and he’s been stripped of his power to converse with the dead, or deadspeak. He also isn’t able to travel via the Möbius Continuum. His wamphryii son disabled his ability while on Starside. For four years, Harry has been unable to use his former ability to speak with the dead, except while he is sleeping. Unfortunately, he can not remember his conversations with them once he has awakened. He is still employed with E-Branch, just in case his abilities are restored and for his knowledge of wamphryii. Fortunately, there are no more…or is there? High up in the Balkan mountains, where Faethor Ferenczy’s castle ruins remain, there is another wamphryii plotting his return. This vampire is Faethor’s son, Janos. Janos is a vampire and an expert at black magic, but not a full wamphryii. What powers he doesn’t possess, he looks to steal, including those that are locked in the head of the former necroscope. Will Harry ever gain his abilities back and defeat the vampire scourge or will Janos steal everything that is precious in Harry’s life?

Necroscope IV: Deadspeak jumps right back in where III left off, giving us more enlightenment into Lumley’s vampiric mythos while also delivering more of the same ingredients you’d expect from a Necroscope book. Harry’s character is still a tormented soul trying to cope with the huge responsibilities he feels resting on his shoulders, now made infinitely more difficult with the loss of his abilities. Janos is a worthy villain that you want to see get his. Lumley even throws some Cthulhu Mythos Yog-Sothoth in there. He has always been influenced by Lovecraft and I love seeing those influences make their way into a series that it helped create. Necroscope is kind of like a James Bond story or an AC/DC album. Each one is slightly different, expands slightly from the original, but still delivers the goods as you’d expect. Looking forward to Part 5.

4 1/2 Dead Body Salts out of 5

 

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Ugly Little Things – Todd Keisling

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A collection of shorts and a novella from Todd Keisling. His novella, The Final Reconciliation, I reviewed back in January. To make this review complete, I’ve included it. Here we go –

 

A Man in Your Garden – A clever telling of seeing something out the window through the raindrop while fighting off the effects of a hard night of drinking. What’s real and what’s not?

4 out of 5 stars

 

Show Me Where The Water Fills Your Grave – Losing your spouse after all of those years together is the hardest thing Jonathan has ever had to endure. That is, unless she comes back.

4 out of 5 stars

 

Radio Free Nowhere – When couples can’t agree on what to listen to on the radio, beware of the road trip.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Otherland Express – Gregory is running away from home and his abusive father. When his destination suddenly becomes no longer viable, where will Gregory go? Luckily for him, he crosses paths with John Doe who offers him the option to become someone else. All he has to do is take a ride with him on the Otherland Express. Very Twilight Zone-y and a fun read.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

Saving Granny From The Devil – A child makes a deal with the devil to save his beloved Granny. What he gains is more than his Granny’s soul. A very engaging story.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Darkness Between Dead Stars – Maxwell Foster volunteers for a one-way mission to Mars. Half of the way there, he starts hearing knocking and strange voices from outside the space capsule. What’s out there? What if we’re not meant to know? An excellent, EXCELLENT short story. One of the best I’ve read in years!

5 out of 5 stars

 

Human Resources – You don’t see an email like that from HR every day. A fun, little read.

4 out of 5 stars

 

House of Nettle and Thorn – If a bunch of hot girls are coming onto you and your chucklehead friend like you’ve never experienced, there probably is a good reason for it. A sorority party like none other. Another fun one.

4 out of 5 stars

 

When Karen Met Her Mountain – Karen would do anything for her husband, Martin. He’s been there for her during her darkest times. But beware, if you cross Karen, you may not live to regret it. I loved the twists and turns in this one.

4 1/2 out of 5 stars

 

The Harbinger – Felix is assigned to meet and interview the CEO of a doll making company in West Virginia. The town seemed odd from the moment he set foot in it. Little did he know how right he was…and they were waiting for him. A cross between Children of the Corn, Stuart Gorden’s Dolls, and one F’d up episode of the Twilight Zone. A great story!

5 out of 5 stars

 

The Final Reconciliation – So, as a fellow metal-head, I feel a kindred spirit with Todd as he unfurls The Final Reconciliation, a story about a journalist who is interviewing Aidan Cross. Cross is an aging guitarist who is institutionalized for going off his nut over the tragic show his band played 30 years ago. Aidan was the guitarist of the prog-metal band, The Yellow Kings. After hardcore touring in support of their EP, the band lands a two-album deal and head to Los Angeles to record their official first record. After a show in Texas, they pick up a groupie named Camille, who was waiting behind the club for the band. She immediately takes a shine to their lead singer, Johnny. Soon, the band learns that Camille is not your ordinary groupie trying to sponge of the band in hopes that they’ll be famous. No, she has a different agenda and the band are simply pawns in her evil plan.

The Final Reconciliation pulls out it’s inner Lovecraft and marries it with story about a heavy metal band. Metal bands have been influenced by all things macabre and Lovecraft is a favorite of many, i.e. Metallica. Keisling has done his homework. As someone who knows a thing or two, not much more, but a thing or two about metal bands, touring, and recording, he executes the story flawlessly. This is where so many writers can go astray – writing about something that they don’t know enough about and the cracks show. This isn’t the case here. Kudos to Keisling. Not only did he get his facts right, but he delivered one hell of a story, in the process.

5 Guitar Solos out of 5

 

Keisling is such a force to be reckoned with. There wasn’t a clunker in the bunch. All were 4-5 star reads. When was the last time you came across a collection of that caliber? Exactly. The thing I like most about this collection is Keisling’s voice. He has such a smooth and easy writing style. You get lost in his words way too easily. On more than one story, I found that I had been reading for an hour and it felt like only 10 minutes had passed. Grab this collection and make sure you set your alarm, so you don’t miss your appointments.

Overall – 4 1/2 stars out of 5

 

 

This ARC was provided by Crystal Lake Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

 

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For Fear of the Night – Charles L. Grant

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The term “quiet horror” gets thrown around everytime you read any review of a Charles Grant story. What exactly is quiet horror. Simply put, its a moniker created by Charlie himself, as a way to describe his writing style. Quiet horror is a slow crescendo of dread that builds in the story. It’s subtle, not in your face. Its a creepy feeling that something isn’t right. It’s also not for the person who has the attention span of a highly caffeinated squirrel with ADD. You’re not going to find blood spattered on every page of a Grant story. Nor will you find non-stop action. This isn’t a Marvel comic. Grant’s stories are all about the ride and not necessarily the destination. Patience is key. If you have it, chances are you’ll see what he’s trying to create and you’ll enjoy it. Now, is every one of his stories a hit? No. But, there is always a certain level of quality in every Grant tale. For Fear of the Night is no exception. Is it his best? No, again.

As Labor Day nears, a group of teenagers are preoccupied with the big changes that have already shaped their lives and the ones that are about to. Going off to college looms in around the corner. Couples are about to become apart and wonder whats in store for them. Career decisions have to be made. Their friend, Julie, was recently killed in a fire that happened in a building near the pier. Devin, the groups older photography friend, receives a message on his answering machine from their dead friend. Was it really her? Is it some sick prank? He doesn’t know, but it sparks off the mystery of what really happened to Julie.

For Fear of the Night is not Grant’s strongest story. Very little action happens for the first 100 pages. It’s his typical slow burn. The storytelling and atmosphere are still there. The ending strikes me as a bit muddied and leaves more questions than answers. If I were looking to read Grant for the first time, this wouldn’t be the one I’d start with. But, if you’re looking for that quiet horror that he specializes in, you could do a lot worse.

 

3 Popped Balloons out of 5

 

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