Review: PIG by Craig Saunders and Edward Lorn

Pig: A Tale of Survival Horror
By Craig Saunders, Edward Lorn
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A botched burglary, kidnapping, a crazed pig mask-wearing killer, and a strange creature that has washed upon the shore of Pointvilla - what more can you ask for? PIG is an engaging horror thriller with its shifting focus on crime and creature features, with a heady dose of altered states mixed in for some flavor, written by two authors I've come to enjoy quite a bit these last few years.

While I've read more of Saunders' work than Lorn's, it's interesting to see how well their writing styles merge here. It doesn't always feel smooth, and the writing was a bit choppy for my American eyes, but that's OK. Lorn is a stateside author, while Saunders is across the pond somewhere in the UK. It's ultimately a successful transatlantic partnership though, with only a few, mild hiccups here and there in terms of sentence structure and word choice.

As for the story itself, well, it's pretty dang good. I'm a sucker for monster horror like this, and the Mind delivers as a chillingly infectious scare. Crazies wearing animal masks is a pretty well worn trope, but Pig and Gopher never break character by taking off their masks, and the effects of the Mind make Pig's disguise all the more effective, with my mind's eye conjuring up a heck of a visual.

Saunders and Lorn have put together a fun little romp with this one, pitting robbers, potheads, and killers against not only each other, but a vast-reaching Invasion of the Body Snatchers-like alien menace. I dug it!

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Enter The MASS HYSTERIA Giveaway! Or Buy A Signed Copy!

Mass Hysteria will be unleashed upon the public in just a few short weeks, but you can get a jump on the action. I've got a handful of paperback copies on hand, fresh off the printer, and am offering up signed copies for $25. Head on over to the Store and get your copy now. And if you want it personalized, just let me know what you would like it to say. If you're not interested in a signed copy, though, you can pre-order the paperback from Amazon or Barnes & Noble. And hey, B&N is selling this thing for less than $10!

The very first review of Mass Hysteria landed a few days ago from Horror Novel Reviews, and it's pretty dang positive overall. HNR called Mass Hysteria a "well written slice of horror science fiction which was fun, horrible, fun from start to finish." Not too shabby!

Some other advanced reviews are starting to appear on NetGalley, as well. Reviewer Jeffrey W. said Mass Hysteria "was one of the funnest horror novels I have read in a while."

Librarian Trisha P. said, "This story is not for the faint of heart, but if you like good old fashion horror with a updated twist, than Falls Breath is the town for you." She added, "This action packed, suspenseful book will leave you surprised more than once."

I have to admit, I'm pretty jazzed that the early buzz on this book is so positive!

And starting today, one signed copy of Mass Hysteria is up for grabs by way of a Goodreads Giveaway! This contest runs until August 20, so take a moment to submit your entries and feel free to share.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Mass Hysteria by Michael Patrick Hicks

Mass Hysteria

by Michael Patrick Hicks

Giveaway ends August 20, 2017.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

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Review: Borne by Jeff VanderMeer [audiobook]

Borne: A Novel
By Jeff VanderMeer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My original BORNE audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

Jeff VanderMeer presents a compelling post-apocalyptic landscape populated by a pair of highly interesting human characters and vicious biotech experiments run amok in the wastelands.

Rachel and Wick survive by scavenging whatever they can from The City, and steering clear of the massive bio-engineered bear that lords over the ruins. On a scavenging run, Rachel notices something odd stuck to the bear’s fur, which she manages to dislodge and bring back home. What this “it” is, though, defies description – it’s not a plant, nor is it an animal, nor a machine. Or maybe it’s all three. As time goes on, Rachel begins to notice new things about this strange discovery, eventually realizing that Borne is, indeed, sentient. Her partner, Wick, an ex-employee of the biotech Company, wants to dissect Borne, or perhaps scrap him for parts, but she refuses to allow that to happen. While Borne is certainly strange, Rachel becomes not only fond but paternal of it, and she strives to protect Borne from the threats lying within and without their sanctuary.

While the post-apocalyptic world-building is very well done, Borne really thrives and revels in its characters. VanderMeer has created a trio of relateable, sympathetic, and ultimately very human personalities. Rachel and Wick squabble, share their disagreements and keep their secrets. Borne, meanwhile, grows, adapts, and learns, becoming a sounding board for Rachel and a mirror to hold up to humanity in all its brilliance and flaws. Borne is a highly intriguing creation from VanderMeer and one that is highly charismatic in its child-like mentality, at times reminding me a bit of Johnny Five from Short Circuit in its earnestness and keen attempts to learn and study the world.

Although this is primarily a character-driven drama and not an action-heavy sci-fi title, VanderMeer does manage a few terrific set pieces. And with Mord, the larger-than-life bioengineered bear, being so massive a few of these sequences carry the weight of a kaiju-like destructiveness. Others action scenes are smaller in scope, but no less effective and dramatic in their execution, such as an early attempt on Rachel’s life by a gang that invades her sanctuary.

Told entirely from Rachel’s point of view, this is a title that is only made stronger by the brilliance of its narrator. Bahni Turpin delivers a stellar reading of VanderMeer’s terrific writing, completely selling the story and bringing Rachel’s tale to life. Turpin does some solid voice work for each of the characters, but it’s her performance as the titular character that proves just how adept she is as an audiobook narrator. She nails the humor and warmth, and when necessary the anger, of each of the three leads, making this an absolutely engrossing read.

[Note: Audiobook provided for review by the]

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Review: The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage by Jared Yates Sexton

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Probably like a lot of his followers, Jared Yates Sexton first came to my attention during the 2016 campaign when he began live-tweeting the racist, fascistic rhetoric that would soon become the staple of Donald Trump's bid for the presidency. In his novel, The People Are Going to Rise Like the Waters Upon Your Shore: A Story of American Rage, Sexton recounts this bleak, and somehow still fresh, nightmare.

Unfortunately, since this is a non-fiction political work, we know well in advance that there can be no happy ending. We haven't, as a nation, been trapped in an achingly real case of night terrors, and Sexton reminds us of an all-too real reality that we have been grappling with for only a short while, albeit one that feels eons longer. Toward the end of this book, the author recalls a cell phone conversation he overheard while traveling to cover Trump's inauguration, in which the caller explains to his listener that he finally understands the meaning of dog year's. Yup, I'm right there with you, bud.

Sexton's writing is strong and on-point, the tone of this work inescapably dark -- and rightfully so. Trump's ascendency marks what is easily one of the darkest moments of modern America, as his supporters strongly and vocally rejected morality, rationality, and progress in favor of cultish mentalities, stupid t-shirts demanding "Hang That Bitch" or pining for the murder of journalists, and attacking protestors (oftentimes with Trump's own encouragement). Given how much evangelical support Mr. Grab 'Em By The Pussy enjoyed, it should come as no surprise that his supporters, having already rejected morality and rationality, were easily swayed to join the Trump cult and drink all the Kool-Aid. [Side note: I even had a cousin tell me that Hillary was offensive to Christians. Take that for whatever it's worth.] Trump, himself endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan [a self-described Christian organization] and Neo-Nazis, helped to embolden his racist followers who have been primed by more than a decade of fake news conspiracy broadcasts from Fox News, InfoWars, and Rush Limbaugh in what became the political equivalent of a perfect storm.

While hatred and racism carried the day, that's only half the story. Sexton lays bare the flaws and missteps of the Hillary Clinton campaign, and although there are many fingers to point in this direction, her shortcomings are in no way equal to those of her rival, who was able to spin the media in any direction he chose with his constant slurs, lies, and general outlandishness. The Clinton campaign, though, tired so hard to make Hillary into a malleable Every Candidate for Every Voter character, to its detriment. Her events were so flashy, organized, and scripted, right down supporters photographs with cardboard displays of HRC and tweets upon tweets, that Sexton takes to calling the whole manufactured political theatre Clinton World. Hillary's inability to reach out to the forgotten midwestern voters was perhaps the biggest flaw of her campaign, particularly given that Trump should have been so very easily beaten, as every poll and media projection indicated. Sexton even breaks down all the various way the Clinton campaign could have, and should have, attacked Trump in an effort to win over middle America, but chose not to. Hopefully somebody from the DNC is paying attention to this list and makes use of it for the 2020 war for the heart and soul of this nation.

That Trump didn't lose, again, was a perfect storm, one that reached across the entirety of this country and straight on through to the Kremlin. Sexton touches on this latter element, of which more news regarding Russian involvement to help elect Trump and subvert our elections breaks on a near-daily basis (and recently confirmed by Trump Jr.!), but the book is heavily focused on the campaign itself and is as current as the protests of Inauguration Day. But, for an administration so besieged by malfeasance, criminal activity, political espionage, foreign agents, the destabilization of an entire nation, and a record number of golf outings, with the GOP complicit in all of it, the first seven months of Trump's rule certainly provide plenty of material for a follow-up account.

The People Are Going To Rise takes on an almost apocalyptic tone right from the outset, but I certainly cannot fault Sexton for that. I, too, am still mourning for the loss of an America, and the people, I thought I knew, the people and the country who turned its back on the world in order to embrace a racist, conniving, serial sex predator because they were sick of having a Black man in office and couldn't stand the idea of having a female president. I can hardly recount all the times since November 7, 2016, the day after election day, that one of my fervent Trump supporting relatives told me, "Hey, we had to put up with Obama for eight years, you can put up with Trump," as if the two men were somehow equal in intelligence and temperament while their Dear Leader fired off tweet after tweet attacking private citizens, private businesses, destabilizing stock markets in his favor, makes fist loads of cash by booking government engagements at his personal businesses, and commits treason like it's going out of style. And like Sexton, I grew up in a middle-class, midwestern home, with family constantly being indoctrinated by right-wing media, soaking up their hellish visions of this country like a sponge, until, one day, they elected to make that alternate reality the norm, embracing The End of the World As We Know It with arms wide open.

This book a dark, accurate take on a very dark subject. And what are we to do about it? as one college student asks Sexton. His reply: We fight.

We fight.

We resist.

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

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Review: Clickers III: Dagon Rising by J.F. Gonzalez and Brian Keene

Clickers III
By Brian Keene, J. F. Gonzalez
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Authors J.F. Gonzalez and Brian Keene bring their killer crab creature feature trilogy to a close with Clickers III: Dagon Rising.

Rather than trying to turn horror author Rick Sychek into a John McClane sort (always in the wrong place at the right time), stuck in an eternal battle against the Clickers, the co-authors instead bring some of the prior novel's secondary characters a step forward into the limelight. Although Sychek is reduced to a brief cameo and some mention's here and there, his presence is still felt and I appreciated that his past actions had a lasting effect on those returning players who had fought alongside him previously. Stepping up in a big way this time around are ex-hitman Tony Genova and ex-Secret Service agent, Clark Arroyo, on the run after his actions in Clickers II, and marine biologist Jennifer Wasco. I enjoyed each of these three characters in the previous novel, so it was a pleasure seeing more of them.

Although Clickers III is meant to be a finale, it also feels at times like a soft reboot. The main characters of the previous novels are sidelined and reduced to minor namechecks here and there, and the US coastal settings of the prior two books are also absent. Clickers II went into some big places, reading like a disaster epic, and it's a tough book to top. Rather than try to outdo themselves, the authors deliberately set about crafting a smaller, low-key adventure, albeit one that is still rife with action. But in changing things up so much, it feels a touch disconnected from the previous installments. This time around, Gonzalez and Keene channel their inner-Predator and set the action in a tropical jungle on a Pacific Island where the Dark Ones are making one last push to destroy all of humanity.

For the most part, I enjoyed Clickers III, just not quite as much as the previous installment. Clickers II had it all - monsters, mayhem, and a massive scope. Although the threat in Clickers III is enormous, everything about the book feels smaller, and a bit of a step backward. At times it feels more akin to the first book, but it lacks any sense of the unknown, particularly if you know a bit about Lovecraft's mythology, and there's not much in the way of surprises or mystery.

It's not quite the giant conclusion I was hoping for, but it's a decent bit of entertainment. Reading these three books back to back might have been a bit too much, though. I think I was suffering from series fatigue, which probably contributed to some of my disappointment. Still, I liked it well enough overall. This was a fun series, and I'm looking forward to seeing what stories a number of other authors can tell while playing in this world's sandbox for the upcoming Clickers Forever tribute anthology (Sadly, J.F. Gonzalez died in 2014).

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Review: Clickers II: The Next Wave by J.F. Gonzalez and Brian Keene

Clickers II: The Next Wave
By J. F. Gonzalez, Brian Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I dove into Clickers II: The Next Wave immediately after finishing the first Clickers novel. I had kind of expected the sequel to be more of the same, but was immediately impressed with how much larger the scope of this sequel is. Clickers II is bigger and better than its predecessor, with the sea-borne threat even more dangerous this time around. Whereas Clickers was a pulpy, small-town creature feature B-movie set to print, Clickers II ups the ante and becomes a full-blown disaster flick.

Hurricane Gary is plowing along the Eastern seaboard, dredging up a fresh swarm of giant killer crabs from the ocean. Ten years after the carnage at Philipsport, the USA is taken completely by surprise when the monsters start running rampant. Turns out a massive government cover-up has kept the Clickers a secret, and Rick and Melissa, two of the prior novel's survivors are on the run and hunted by government assassins. Who'd ever have thought these high-level decisions would come back to bite the country in its big ol' backside?

Following the untimely death of co-writer Mark Williams, J.F. Gonzalez is joined with Brian Keene this time around, and the two have done a wonderful job of proving just how elastic this crazy premise can be. While the first Clickers was focused on small-town scares, this sucker brings in the might of the American military, a crazed religious nut going bonkers in the White House, and plenty of carnage all up and down the seaboard, from Pennsylvania to Florida and with plenty of stops in between.

I know plenty of readers will be bothered by the depiction of the US President as a Christian zealot (cuz, gee, we've never had one of those before...), but I appreciated the honest assessment of our modern-day GOP. President Tyler is the type of science-denying, news media-hating, religious nut who spends most of his time on his knees, offering up thoughts and prayers instead of decisive action when America truly needs it. Although this novel was written in 2006, it's pretty clear the authors had a really good understanding of just how much farther one of the country's two major political parties had to fall, and it's pretty clear things have only gotten worse in the intervening decade. Kudos to the authors for being so prescient, and politically speaking, this book is even more scarily relevant now. All that's missing are the president's Russian handlers!

Thankfully, the blood 'n' guts of this sucker is darn enjoyable, too, and there's bucketfuls of both. When the Clickers make their first invasion, storming the beaches of New Jersey, it's wonderfully epic and very well paced. There's not a lot of slowing down, catch your breath moments in this book, and Gonzalez and Keene sustain a breakneck pace all the way through.

Clickers II: The Next Wave has all the fun of its predecessor, but greatly improves on the former with better built characters, the sense of a sweeping epic, and much more depth to go alongside the fist-pumping action. If you read and enjoyed the first book, you definitely need to check out part two! As for me? Well, I'll be diving into the depths of Clickers III later this evening.

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Review: Clickers by J.F. Gonzalez and Mark Williams

By J. F. Gonzalez, Mark Williams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Killer. Crabs. What more do I need to say?

Clickers, the first novel by J.F. Gonzalez and co-written with Mark Williams, is a fun B-movie style creature feature. It's high on entertainment and gore, making it a breezy read and, despite the story's October setting, it's a terrific summer beach read (unless you see some crabs...).

Ultimately, I dug this book overall, but I did have a few qualms about the story. The characters are paper-thin, and our lead protag, horror author Rick, is about a boring as they come. That he is a long-haired horror writer is the extent of depth the authors can muster, which is not exactly the most compelling stuff in the world. The writing is decent, but could have been improved a fair deal with some better editing. There's a lot of repetition throughout: in one instance, I caught five instances of "again" in the span of two paragraphs. In one sentence, Rick stood and stood on the tips of his toes. Several characters are "zapped" of energy or motivation in multiple instances. According to the intro by Gonzalez, this version is editorially an improvement over past editions from other publishers, so I guess I'll count my blessings that I bought this Deadite Press re-issue instead of one of those earlier copies.

Clickers also has its fair share of cliches. Take, for instance, the horror writer trapped in a "real-life" horror story, the small-town hick deputy sheriff who makes Barney Fife look like a Mensa member, and the old doctor with all the answers. I actually liked this latter character, though, and he provides some neat-o exposition. The rest are pretty poorly drawn stock characters, but I get that the authors were going for that B-movie vibe. It's the monsters that are the most important part here, and the humans are secondary at best. This is a bit of a shame, though, as once the carnage gets going, there isn't really any reason to care for the losses.

So, yeah, there's a lot of First Novel Flaws, but, frankly, Clickers gets by on sheer chutzpah and I can forgive a fair amount if I'm at least entertained. And holy crap, was I ever entertained. The gore-to-page count ratio is pretty satisfying, and I loved the hell out of the killer crab concept. I'm a sucker for these 'terror from the deep' kind of horrors, and Gonzalez and Williams deliver on that front in spades. I had fun with this book, so much so that I finished Clickers last night and started Clickers II: The Next Wave this morning.

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Prepare To Get Crazy - MASS HYSTERIA Is Coming!

Big news! 

My next novel, Mass Hysteria, is releasing on August 15! If you are a book reviewer, digital ARCs of Mass Hysteria are now available for request through Erin Sweet-Al Mehairi at Hook of a A Book and via NetGalley. You can even add it to your Goodreads shelf right this minute!

Update: The paperback edition is available for pre-order at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

About Mass Hysteria

It came from space…

Something virulent. Something evil. Something new. And it is infecting the town of Falls Breath.

Carried to Earth in a freak meteor shower, an alien virus has infected the animals. Pets and wildlife have turned rabid, attacking without warning. Dogs and cats terrorize their owners, while deer and wolves from the neighboring woods hunt in packs, stalking and killing their human prey without mercy. 

As the town comes under siege, Lauren searches for her boyfriend, while her policeman father fights to restore some semblance of order against a threat unlike anything he has seen before. The Natural Order has been upended completely, and nowhere is safe.

…and it is spreading.

Soon, the city will find itself in the grips of mass hysteria. 

To survive, humanity will have to fight tooth and nail.

Genre: Horror.

Cover designed by Kealan Patrick Burke (Elderlemon Design).

Edited by Shay Van Zwoll (EV Proofreading). 

Published by High Fever Books, 2017.

Mass Hysteria will be available in paperback and ebook formats. An audiobook edition will follow soon after release, narrated by Joe Hempel! Joe's narrated a number of horror titles from authors such as Brian Keene, Adam Cesare, Glenn Rolfe, Adam Howe, Patrick Lacey, and many, many more. Needless to say, it's a high honor to have him providing voice talents to this particular work!

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