Review: Sacculina by Philip Fracassi

Sacculina
By Philip Fracassi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

...and just like that, Philip Fracassi has become an author to watch for me.

Sacculina is a ridiculously rich thematic horror novella, set in one of my favorite locales for horror dramatics - the ocean. Situated on a rented fishing boat, two brothers, their friend, one friend, and the boat's captain (Captain Ron, which threw me at first, frankly, because all I could imagine was Kurt Russell's goofy antics, and this book is decidedly non-comedic), and stranded in the middle of the sea, the group find their weekend getaway interrupted by some very strange, very bad developments.

Fracassi's story kept me utterly engrossed, and the character development was richly done for so slim a story. I could relate, perhaps a bit too easily and a bit too painfully, to Henry and Jim (father and son), who are still recovering, respectively, from the loss of their wife and mother. My mother died suddenly last year, and the grieving process this family is working their way through hit me pretty solidly in a way I wasn't quite prepared for. As far as the story is concerned, death is omnipresent, and this might be one of the best depictions of cancer, cancerous growths, and the solitude of death that I've seen in a horror story.

Thematically, this sucker is strong as all get-out. What really caught my attention early on, though, was Fracassi's ability to build a strong sense of creeping dread. He crafts a terrific atmosphere in short order, and you get a terrific tense of isolation right from the outset, even before this family finds their way off the dock and out of the marina. Once they find themselves out in the ocean, the claustrophobia is really well done, and the threats Sacculina promises are deeply baked in.

I'm always on the lookout for good aquatic horror, and Sacculina certainly fit the bill. It's short, punchy, and well-crafted. Highly recommended.

[Note: I received a copy of this title from the publisher.]

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Review: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey

River of Teeth
$9.97
By Sarah Gailey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

River of Teeth marks the debut of Sarah Gailey's long-awaited alt-history feral hippo novella, and it's a good one. Gailey takes the real-life, actually abandoned plans of the United States Congress to launch hippo farming in response to America's meat shortage and runs wild with the premise, crafting an alternate late-1800s Louisiana bayou thick with hippos, hippo farmers, and cowboys riding on hippoback.

At it's core, this story is essentially a western, but instead of horses and run-away cattle, you've got yourself a bevy of hippos, some of them tame, some of them...not so tame, to put it lightly. Ex-hippo farmer Houndstooth has been commissioned by the US government to clear the Mississippi of its feral hippo infestation, and he puts together a motley crew to contend with these orders. Houndstooth, though, is out for revenge, aiming to set his gun-sights on the villain that burned down his hippo farm and destroyed his livelihood.

River of Teeth is a good, fun bit of wild-west action, only set in the muggy swamps and rivers of the south. Houndstooth gets some great moments, as do the supporting players, particularly Hero, the gender-neutral demolitions expert. In a story chock-full of small action set-pieces and betrayals, it's the hippos that are the most captivating for this reader. I do wish this story were longer, though, so that I could have gotten more feral hippo fun, but the second installment's September due date does help soften the blow.

[Note: I received a copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley.]

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Review: Gwendy's Button Box by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar

Gwendy's Button Box
$16.48
By Stephen King, Richard Chizmar
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gwendy's Button Box is a solid reminder that I've been a rather unfaithful Constant Reader. Although King is among my favorite authors, one whose work I will order the instant it is announced, sometimes before plot details or even cover art are even made public, and oftentimes in multiple formats (take this book as a for instance - I bought the signed/limited Cemetery Dance hardcover, in addition to a Kindle copy, say thankee), it's been a handful of years since I've read an honest-to-God Stephen King book (the last being Doctor Sleep in 2013). It feels somewhat appropriate, then, to break this long intermission with this particular title, which sees King return to Castle Rock after quite a long time away, and he's brought along a co-writer in Richard Chizmar.

This novella is a breezy read, and I won't say much about the plot or the story itself. It begins with Richard Farris (ah, yes, we know you well, don't we, Mr. Farris, dressed all in black) introducing himself to a young Gwendy, and gifting her a small button box. What comes next...well, what follows is sheer potential, the promise of potential and the threat of it all.

King and Chizmar are very tight collaborators here, with their prose stylings matching up very well. They keep a conversational tone across the book's entirety, which helps makes this such a quick and enjoyable read. The story-telling here is top-notch, although I found myself wanting more and would not have minded a bit more meat to dig my teeth into. The horror is of the very quiet and understated variety, although there are a few scenes indeed that sent a shiver up my spine, and a few illustrations that helped sell that creeping dread and sense of disquiet all the more.

This is a very good read, but for this lapsed reader it's also a reminder that I need to get my butt back in gear and catch-up on those handful of King titles sitting in my to-be-read stack (both digital and physical). I also need to find more of Chizmar's work, and will be trying to figure out a way to sneak in A Long December before year's end.

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Review: The Song of the orphans (Silvers, #2) by Daniel Price

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It's been several years since Daniel Price's first novel in the Silvers series landed, but thankfully The Song of the Orphans remains pretty accessible, and the author catches readers up to speed in short order. If you need a refresher on what happened in 2014's The Flight of the Silvers, Price has you covered on his website, where he has published A Badly-Drawn Recap and a few other helpful guides to remind you of all the things you may have forgotten in the last three years.

The Song of the Orphans picks up a short time after the conclusion of Silvers #1, and with one hell of a hook. The titular Orphans (the sole survivors of our doomed planet, who were transplanted to an alternate Earth) arrive in a movie theater via portal...each of them dead, dead, dead. And yet, simultaneously, these very same Orphans are stomping around New York as wanted fugitives. So, what the heck is going on here?! Price lays out several tantalizing possibilities over the course of his multiverse superhero saga - time travel? clones? something else? - with all roads leading back to the enigmatic, nefarious (or are they?!), and vicious Pelletiers.

Clocking in at 750 pages, Price delivers a King-sized doorstopper epic of superhuman proportions. This sucker is jam-packed with X-Men by way of Fringe action scenes, each one carefully crafted and massive in scope. One of the neat things, and without spoiling anything, is how Price stages each of his large set pieces, and then makes them even larger, and the doubles that again. The dude has clearly plotted the heck out of this series, and I'd wager he's spent more than a few sleepless nights crafting power sets and character sheets for each of his super-powered heroes and villians, and how he can best use their abilities to generate conflict, defeat, reversals, and victories. And like a good Dungeon Master, Price doesn't let any of his players off easy. There's a constant escalation to each of the events that occur within these pages, and there's always a massive toll in the end, both physical and emotional. And when you've got some characters who can heal others and wind back the clock, this isn't always an easy thing to pull off.

In addition to the huge action scenes, Price devotes plenty of space to the characters and their developing dramas and emerging relationships. There's plenty of surprises to be had on the people front, too, particularly as dynamics shift and change, or continue to adapt, to the strange new world the Orphans find themselves in.

The wait-time may between books may have been a bit rough for us fans of the first Silvers novel, but having spent plenty of time as a Dark Tower junkie and reader of George R.R. Martin, the three year gap wasn't all that bad, all things considered. Hugely cinematic, and packed to the rafters with fight scenes and conflict galore, The Songs of the Orphans was well worth the wait. Fans will be pleased to take another trip to AltAmerica, but now begins the wait for book three. I shall wait patiently, or at least try to.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the author and publisher via NetGalley.]

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Review: The Sound of Broken Ribs by Edward Lorn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I haven’t read much of Edward Lorn’s work previously; just a few short stories and his recently-released DarkFuse novella, Fairy Lights. I knew of Bay’s End, but had never visited there previously. Still, when Lorn, who I follow and occasionally converse with on social media, offered up some ARCs for his latest, I jumped at the chance. I’ve liked what little I’ve read of his stuff well enough to want to check out more, and his publisher, Thunderstorm Books, approved me for an advanced copy of The Sound of Broken Ribs.

Right from the outset, I was gripped by this book. If life events didn’t so routinely rear their heads, I probably would have read this book in a single sitting. Having to spread it out over a few days, though, wasn’t a bad way to read it either, since it gave me time to savor the story and Lorn’s unique way with words.

Like myself, Lorn is a big fan of Stephen King and the horror master has certainly influenced both of our own authorial works. I don’t know if it’s meant to be a deliberate reflection on personal events that King himself dealt with, or if it’s simply where Lorn’s muse took him, but King’s hit and run accident seems to be a pretty clear, and pretty giant, influence on this book.

Lei is an author, and while out for her morning run, she gets struck by a car. The driver, Belinda, is a shattered woman – only moments before the accident, her husband deserted her, made off with all her money, and she’s just gotten an eviction notice. She’s eager to ruin somebody and spread the pain around, so when she sees a jogger on the side of the road, all she’s gotta do is nudge the wheel and…BAM! Lei barely survives, her body is mauled and mutilated, but her life is saved. She was at death’s door, though, right on the cusp, and she’s brought back a little something with her.

This story. Holy crap, this story. The medical aspects here, from Lei’s numerous and horrifying injuries to her painful recovery and hospital stay, are uncomfortably realistic. Lorn has a knack for making her pain vivid and intimate, and I caught myself squirming more than a few times. His attention to detail is on point in a number of instances, and there’s plenty of surprises throughout, which only served to further keep my eyeballs glued to my Kindle. Some of those surprises are as heartbreaking as they are shocking, and Lorn isn’t shy about dispatching cast members to further his story (something I really got an education on in his brutal Fairy Lights).

The Sound of Broken Ribs is both beautiful and bleak, oftentimes simultaneously. It’s also encouraged me to take another trip back to Bay’s End, and I’m planning on digging through Lorn’s earlier works at my earliest opportunity. I need to know what else I’ve been missing out on.

Preorder at: http://thunderstormbooks.com/thunders...

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the author by approval from the publisher, Thunderstorm Books.]

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Review: The Collapsing Empire by John Scalzi [audiobook]

The Collapsing Empire
$15.36
By John Scalzi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My original THE COLLAPSING EMPIRE audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

I’m a newbie to the work of John Scalzi, and the only previous experience I have with his work was the fun audiobook edition of The Dispatcher. But, given how much those sad/rabid/pathetic puppies loathe him, while simultaneously attempting to ride on the coattails of his success (with one even going so far as to write a knock-off book of this particular title, with knock-off cover art that pretty well screamed copyright infringement, and a fake name that played off John Scalzi’s actual name in the hope of duping unaware readers to make a quick buck!), I figured he had to be worth a read, or in this case, a listen. Happily, I was not the least bit disappointed. So, thanks to all the doggie idjits bemoaning Scalzi’s work for prompting me to finally check out some more of his books!

Scalzi has a pretty large body of work behind him thanks to the Old Man’s War series and several other stand-alone titles. The Collapsing Empire is the first in a new series, and it’s the perfect starting point for new readers like myself.

Thousands of years in the future, humanity has formed the Commonwealth of the Interdependence and spread across the stars. Each of their various habitats are connected by the flow, a spatial anomaly akin to a river in space. The flow has allowed the Interdependence to grow and succeed, and without it humanity would wither and die as each star system becomes cut off from one another. Well, there wouldn’t be much room for drama if there wasn’t a massive problem, and so as it happens, the flow is beginning to collapse. Couple this with a bunch of political and trade guild drama, crosses and double-crosses, a newly crowned emperor, a fermenting rebellion, and random acts of terrorism, and you have The Collapsing Empire.

Scalzi keeps the pace rapid-fire and the tone light, despite a simmering undercurrent of darkness that could quickly turn the whole affair into pitch-black nihilism. Thankfully, there’s room for plenty of hope, and a whole lot of humor. The author also injects some wonderful heroines as the primary leads, and the foul-mouthed, sexed-up, aggressive Lady Kiva might just be one of my new favorites. She’s a total jerk, and I loved all of her expletive-laced rants as she chewed out anybody who attempted to cross her or get in her way.

Narrating all of this is Wil Wheaton, making The Collapsing Empire my first introduction to both the author and narrator. I found there to be a wonderful bit of synchronicity between the pairing of Scalzi and Wheaton, and the latter does an outstanding job narrating. Each character has a distinct voice, and there’s enough range and acting chops to give this audiobook a nice bit of oomph. The science fiction plot itself is easily digested and technobabble is kept to a minimum, while the listening experience itself is highly engaging and kept my attention the whole way through.

The bottom line is, The Collapsing Empire is just flat-out fun. The story is wonderfully conceived, it has some truly terrific character beats, and plenty of laughs. More importantly, it left me fully invested in this series going forward. As soon I reached the end of this audiobook, I immediately wanted to dive into the second installment. But since that’s not out yet, I’ll just have to content myself with some of Scalzi’s back catalog in the meantime.

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Are You Prepared To Enter The BLACK SITE?

99c New Release

FOR FANS OF H.P. LOVECRAFT AND ALIEN COMES A NEW WORK OF COSMIC TERROR!

Inside an abandoned mining station, in the depths of space, a team of scientists are seeking to unravel the secrets of humanity’s origin. Using cutting-edge genetic cloning experiments, their discoveries take them down an unimaginable and frightening path as their latest creation proves to be far more than they had bargained for.

Black Site is a short story of approximately 10,000 words.

Black Site is available for purchase at the following retailers, but scroll down for a chance to win one (1) of three (3) free copies via Amazon!

Buy Direct or purchase from the following:

Amazon | Nook | Kobo | iBooks

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Review: The Last Good Man by Linda Nagata

The Last Good Man
By Linda Nagata
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Linda Nagata's latest sees heroine True Brighton, a private military contractor, searching for answers regarding the death of her serviceman son, Diego. Although the matter of Diego's death is considered long-since closed, True learns of important new information following the rescue of several prisoners abducted by terrorists, information that will put her at odds with both her employer and her husband.

The Last Good Man is an excellent near-future military thriller loaded with plenty of cutting edge sci-fi goodness. As expected, following her wonderful military SF trilogy of The Red titles, Nagata skimps on neither the action, nor the high-tech wonders that exist a few meager generations beyond our current military capabilities. The men and women of Requisite Operations have a slew of neat toys at their disposal, including animal-based biomimetic hardware -- surveillance drones that mimic worms, beetle-like cameras, and "roaches" equipped with ordinance -- and cybernetic prosthetic devices.

The issue of robotics in military applications is certainly an interesting one, and Nagata raises plenty of questions over the role of human soldiers in the coming decades as technology grows more advanced and proliferates even further. Also at stake is how much trust we want to place in private military contractors, and if such technological capabilities will perhaps erase any boundaries between PMCs and sovereign states.

This is all heady stuff, to be sure, but the primary focus of the story is on the human component. The core of the book is True herself, and her need for answers about her son's death, regardless of the personal cost to her. She's emotionally wounded, but she's also a trained professional, which makes her a walking bit of conflict all its own, and Nagata uses this too excellent effect. There were a few times where I doubted True's actions and worried about her safety and imminent betrayals, even as I rooted for her to succeed.

The Last Good Man delivers all the right action throughout, offering plenty of adrenaline fueled military theatrics and a few surprising twists, in addition to a thought-provoking narrative that makes this an awesome read in all respects.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the author.]

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