Review: Exorcist Falls by Jonathan Janz

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Exorcist Falls, the latest from Jonathan Janz via Sinister Grin Press, is two books is one. The story kicks off in Exorcist Road, originally published by the now-defunct Samhain Publishing in 2014, and which gets a reprint here, leading up to the new material presented in Exorcist Falls.

I'm a pretty new fan of Janz's work, after discovering him with last year's release, Children of the Dark, and I hadn't gotten to Exorcist Road prior, so color me overjoyed to finally discover what all the raving about this particular novella was all about. Here, we're introduced to Father Jason Crowder, a priest about to serve his first exorcism, alongside his mentor, Father Sutherland. Young Casey Hartman has been seized by a malevolent force, distracting his policeman uncle, Danny, from the hunt for the savage Sweet Sixteen Killer.

Exorcist Road is a quickly paced novella and lays a lot of groundwork for the story to follow in Exorcist Falls. There's a lot of vividly portrayed harm, both physically and psychologically, against the Hartman family and the priests drawn into a battle of both spirituality and wits. If you're looking for a rock-solid story of exorcism, Exorcist Road is where it's at, and damn if this sucker isn't cinematic as all get-out.

Including both of Janz's Exorcist titles here is a bit of a double-edged sword. I loved Exorcist Road so much, that its follow-up couldn't help but pale in comparison, if only just a little. But make no mistake, Exorcist Falls is far from a bad novel. It's quite good in fact, and I'm at the point where Janz would have to make some seriously delirious missteps to produce a crap story (the dude's a natural pro, in my mind).

Exorcist Falls picks up just hours after the conclusion of Exorcist Road, and Janz pulls a huge 180 in his approach. The prior novella was a straight-forward, in your face, legit exorcism story. The sequel, however, feels at times more like a superhero horror story with Father Crowder taking on the role of crime-fighting priest. There's still plenty of gore and shocks, and a sublimely disturbing denouement, but it never quite reaches the highs of its predecessor. Still, it is a solid, gripping story of good versus evil, with some well-drawn characters and a few surprises.

And even though it didn't capture my attention as much as the sublime Exorcist Road, I have to give Janz credit for approaching the story in the way he did. The execution of the story in Falls is quite a bit different and it inhabits a larger world than its predecessor, which allows Janz to keep the story fresh and avoid repeating so much of the things that worked so well in the original. By opening up the world a little bit, Janz is able to give us more character beats, which are certainly welcome, and a climax that really ups the ante in terms of scope.

I also can't help but wonder if we'll eventually get a third book in this series. Janz leaves himself a good bit of wiggle room to return for more squirms, and I certainly wouldn't mind another go-round when all is said and done. Jonathan Janz is the real deal, and a wonderfully malevolent creator who, if his characters could speak to us, would admit he's possessed by something fierce.

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title from the publisher, Sinister Grin Press, via Hook of a Book Media and Publicity.]

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Review: Rupert Wong and the Ends of the Earth by Cassandra Khaw

Rupert Wong and the Ends of the Earth by Cassandra Khaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Earlier this week, I read the first book in this series, Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef, and dug the heck out of it, enough to give it the full five-stars. Now here I am, giving the second book the five-star treatment and digging it even more than the first book.

Right from the outset, Rupert Wong and the Ends of the Earth, got its hooks into me with a fantastic opening. Cassandra Khaw kicks things into high-gear with a cannibalistic Iron Chef-styled competition, which I flat-out loved. From there, Rupert finds himself on the run and relocated from his native Kuala Lumpur to London, where he's pressed into service for the pantheon of Greek gods.

As with the prior entry, there's a good dose of noir-mystery musings layered in among the urban fantasy backdrop, complete with betrayals, double-crosses, and reversals. Wong, despite largely being a coward, proves to have some steel in his spine and is a fun anti-hero with wit and craftiness, and more brains than he lets on.

With her second book in this series, Khaw seizes the opportunity to expand on the terrific world-building from the prior entry and shakes things up nicely with this crazy fish out of water play. Khaw is a hell of a creative writer, to boot, crafting wonderful visuals alongside big-budget action scenes. She's definitely an author to watch out for, and with this, the third book of hers I've read, she's made my must-read list.

My favorite part, though, are the foodie aspects. Yeah, the gore is lovely and fun and all, but when you're reading culinary horror, you have some particular dark cravings to be satisfied, and Khaw nails that here. There's some good discussion of food and drink, of both the cannibal, mystic variety and the more mundane - both of which are highly welcome.

But that ending? Oh, ang moh, you must suffer the cliff-hanger tease for Book 3. Time to binge eat away the anxiety of waiting!

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher, Abaddon Books.]

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Join the Michael Patrick Hicks Street Team!

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Earlier this month, I announced the opening of the Michael Patrick Hicks Street Team to newsletter subscribers. Now, I'm opening it up to my wonderful blog readers!

The Street Team is an exclusive, members-only key to gaining access to advanced reader copies (also known as ARCs) of my work. Newsletter subscribers got first crack at this, and now it's your turn.

Street Team members will be responsible for providing honest, timely reviews of my work on Amazon (although other retailers and Goodreads are certainly welcome). In accordance with FCC rules, these reviews must state that you received a free copy of this work from the author/publisher.

What do Street Team Members Get?

  • Early access to free books

What do I get?

  • Honest reviews, the week of a book's release

Reviews are vitally important for authors, especially indie authors. Reviews are social proof for the book itself and help readers decide if it's a title they want to commit to and spend time and money on. The more reviews a book has, the more attention potential readers will give it.

I will be setting up a secret Facebook group for Street Team members interested in joining. Joining this group will not be mandatory, but it will give members a chance to connect with one another in a private setting. It will also be a place to share your reviews of my work. So, if you have a blog, Goodreads, or Amazon review posted, this will be one way of letting people know about it. Sharing one another's reviews will definitely be encouraged! 

I will also be setting up a separate mailing list solely for Street Team members. This special list is how I will distribute ARCs to you as soon as they are ready.
 

Joining The Street Team Is Easy!

  1. E-mail me a link of a past review you've posted of my work (any one [or more!] of my titles is fine, and the review can be posted anywhere online)

  2. Let me know if you want access to the private Facebook site. 

That's it!

Street Team members will get early access to free ARCs of every ebook I publish. You'll be able to read and review my stories in advance of their official launch date, and post Day One reviews once the book is live on Amazon.

If you're interested in joining the Street Team and receiving complimentary ARCs of my forthcoming works for review, send me an e-mail now!


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Review: Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef by Cassandra Khaw

Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef by Cassandra Khaw
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Cassandra Khaw takes us into the magical underbelly of Kuala Lumpur in Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef as part of Abaddon Books Gods and Monsters series. Picture Jet Tila (a Thai chef Food Network fans should recognize) with magical know-how, acting as ambassador for the Ten Chinese Hells in between his culinary duties for a family of mobster ghouls.

Our introduction to Wong finds him tasked with locating the murderer of the Dragon King's daughter. Heady stuff, to be sure, and one that finds Wong calling upon various Chinese deities as he unravels the mystery. As is tradition with the noir tropes that have inspired, and been somewhat upended by Khaw, it doesn't take long for Wong to find himself in way over his head and under assault by various forces, living, dead, and otherwise. And holy crap, does Wong ever get assaulted... [insert maniacal laugh]

Wong is a fun character to spend a few hours with, and this novella is the perfect bite-sized serving of urban fantasy horror mayhem. Khaw does a terrific job creating some uncomfortable scenes, but is even better at bringing to life the mythological denizens inhabiting Kuala Lumpur (the God of Missing People in particular is very neatly crafted). It's this mythology that makes Rupert Wong, Cannibal Chef completely aces in my eyes. The cultural and religious practices in which the Chinese honor their dead are vividly realized here, and lay a solid foundation on which to build a superb urban fantasy. I also felt that I got to know a little bit about Kuala Lumpur as a setting, and I could easily picture myself wandering the alleys and Chinatown alongside Wong and some unwelcome companions. All in all, this was a terrifically immersive read!

My only complaint is a slight one, involving my own misreading of the title. I had thought going in that Wong was a cannibal andchef, rather than a chef for cannibals. That said, I still got to read a little bit about the preparation of fat, white tourists for some ghoulish company, even if I had expected way more dishes with long pig as the central ingredient.

... It's also entirely possible I'm just a weird-o.

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Review: The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn

The Devil Crept In: A Novel
By Ania Ahlborn
The Devil Crept In by Ania Ahlborn
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An Ania Ahlborn book is always a great choice for Women In Horror Month, and The Devil Crept In is a particularly powerful and emotionally resonant novel to spend a few days with.

This is a story of a missing child, Jude, and his cousin's search for answers. Stevie, though, suffers from a number of problems, the top of which are some psychiatric disorders, including echolalia, which prompts him to repeat words and rhyme nonsensically. The status of his mental health is in constant question, and Ahlborn does a solid job using this doubt to generate a layer of suspense. We, as readers, trust Stevie and the account Ahlborn delivers, but the doubt and unreliability he possess in the eyes of others, particularly his own family, and the discounting of his claims as little more than urban legend, provide a certain dark edge of distrust.

Much of the book's first third is a slow-burn, as the author unpacks the central mysteries of her story in Deep Valley and slowly ratchets up the suspense. By the end of Part Two (of Three), this sucker is flying toward resolution, providing plenty of worthy squirmy moments along the way, and more than a scene or two that should leave plenty of folks in dismay. And given the particular nature of abuse toward children presented, particularly in the latter half of Part Two, I was compelled to hug my kid for just a little bit longer, out of love and gratitude.

Ahlborn does a masterful job of layering her story with several concepts of classic horror, taking the "less is more" approach. Her words carry a subtle guidance toward the truth of her narrative, leading us down particular paths and letting our own imagination do a lot of the heavy lifting. Alongside this is an element of creeping dread and a heady atmosphere brought on by the forested setting, and the nightmare lurking within the woods.

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

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Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach [audiobook]

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
$17.95 $17.95
By Mary Roach
Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've heard a lot about Mary Roach over the last several years, but hadn't read (or in this case, listened to) her prior works. Since I have resolved to read or listen to more non-fiction titles over the course of 2017, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers seemed like the perfect place to start, and a prime opportunity to finally check out Roach's work.

Stiff may cover material that could be considered morbid by some (appropriately, I suppose), but Roach injects a fair amount of wit into the proceedings. Donating your corpse to science is certainly a noble deed, but you should probably strike out any thoughts of your being key to cancer's cure. The unlife of a cadaver is certainly not glamorous, despite its necessity for science and study.

It hadn't occurred to me that cadavers would be put through so many paces upon a person's expiration, so Stiff presents an eye-opening view of what happens to all those bodies donated to science. While there are plenty of uses for cadavers in medical research (how do you think doctors get so good at performing face lifts?), the auto industry also has a keen interest in determining the safety of their automobiles and how human bodies will be impacted by collisions and car accidents. Forensic research is a must, and fresh bodies make their way to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville's Body Farm where forensic anthropologists can study decay rates in a variety of settings (buried, exposed, stuffed into car trunks) helpful in crime scenes. And, of course, somebody has to learn, first-hand, how to sew an anus shut so a corpse's fluids don't leak out during a funeral viewing.

Roach relies heavily on field investigation and interviews directly with her sources, in addition to a bevvy of research. The history of obtaining cadavers is a grisly and sordid affair, and Roach covers it all, from body snatching to guillotines and donations, either by law or decree of consent.

There's a lot of information throughout, but it's never dry or boring. Roach is a very engaging and forthright science writer who does not get bogged down in minutiae or lingo, and makes the work entirely accessible to anybody keen on the topic. Shelly's Fraiser's narration further serves the book's accessibility, and she capture's Roach's dry wit quite well. On the production-end, I did note a small hiccup in which the last two minutes of material are repeated after the publisher's final sound-clip (followed by another, different sound clip for advertising another one of Roach's titles).

After reading Stiff, I can certainly understand the popularity Roach's books engender and I'm now planning on listening to several more of her titles over the coming months.

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Review: A Perfect Machine by Brett Savory

APerfectMachine.jpg
A Perfect Machine
$7.99
By Brett Savory
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I had two concurrent thoughts upon finishing this book. 1) That was a shit ending. 2) I wasted six days reading this thing? Honestly, I should have DNF'd this quite a while back as it was becoming clear the book just was not working for me, a feeling that grew all the stronger by the 85% mark, but by then I figured I may as well finish it. This was a poor choice, as it became awfully clear that Brett Savory had no idea how to end this book and I would have been better off setting the book down earlier and making up my own story.

Typically, I don't need all of the answers for every question raised. The biggest problem with A Perfect Machine is that these questions never rose past a blatant insert here because it soundscool.

There's a secret society of Hunters and Runners. They pursue each other through the streets, maiming and shooting, but rarely killing, one another. The lead that gets pumped into them becomes a permanent part of their bodies, which they hope will allow them achieve ascendency and become metal gods. Or at least that's what the readers are told. The characters themselves actually have no idea what happens when their body becomes full of bullets, but they play along with game anyway. If they don't, people they know start disappearing.

Who's responsible for their disappearances? The characters don't know, I don't know, and neither does Savory. This secret group has been operating like this for a century, but there's only been one prior incident of 100% metallization prior to Henry Kyllo, and that's pretty recent history at that. Before then, there's apparently no history of this ascendancy occurring, but they do it anyway just because. What reason do they have to believe in ascendancy? They don't, and Savory doesn't care to give them a reason, because he probably doesn't know or care either. People who come into contact with the Hunters and Runners quickly forget ever seeing them. Why? Just because. And no matter how much damage they inflict on one another, they bounce right back and completely heal within a matter of hours. Why? Just because. Oh yeah, and there's a couple ghosts running around town. Just because. Look - using "just because" as an answer stopped working on me quite a long, long, long time ago. I need more than that to go on, if your entire story hangs around the frame of "just because?" Yeah, no. That's not going to work for me. At all. And when you give ghosts, robots, secret societies, mayhem, and then completely cop out on the ending? Well, then you've just pissed me off.

Anyway, Kyllo has apparently been shot so many times, his body is now completely lead. So he starts growing into a giant killer machine. Sort of like The Incredible Hulk meets Transformers, but not nearly half as good as either of those properties. And the ghosts are trying to help him reach his final stage of evolution, which in itself is just another convoluted mess of a subplot. In fact, there's a couple other subplots running throughout the narrative, each of which ends in variously disappointing ways and could have been stripped out of the book entirely with little to no impact.

Pointlessness seems to be the primary theme of this book. And also "because."

On the bright side, that cover art is freaking perfect and on-point. I love the cover art. Angry Robot's designers did a stupendous job making this book look a thousand times better and more interesting than it really is. The art is beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

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

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Review: The X-Files Origins #2: Devil's Advocate by Jonathan Maberry [audiobook]

Devil's Advocate by Jonathan Maberry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My original The X-Files: Origins #2 - Devil's Advocate audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

In my previous review of The X-Files Origins Book 1, I noted my skepticism toward a young adult series chronicling Mulder’s and Scully’s adventures as teenagers, well before they become the FBI’s Most Unwanted. I went into these books with an open mind, and having done so I don’t expect I will return to the Origins titles if any more are published.

While the books themselves are not badly written, I can’t help but feel they unnecessarily complicate the already labyrinthine and overly-convoluted mythology of The X-Files. By introducing The Syndicate as background forces in both young Mulder’s and Scully’s lives, there comes with it a degree of water-muddying predestination, manipulation, and issues of fate that put a bit too much strain on my suspension of disbelief. I also can’t help but view Origins, as a whole, as little more than a quick cash grab for the young adult market. Simply put, I much prefer the stories of The X-Files beginning with the 1993 broadcast of the show’s pilot episode, and view these the dual titles of Agent of Chaos and Devil’s Advocate as extraneous, unnecessary additions. Give me a televised season 11 and the Joe Harris comic books at IDW, and I’ll be quite content, though.

So. Devil’s Advocate. Jonathan Maberry tackles a 15-year-old Dana Scully and charts her course as a believer to a skeptic as she gets wrapped up in a serial killer investigation. As much as I enjoyed Maberry’s prior efforts in the young adult genre with his Rot & Ruin books, I found myself struggling a lot with this story. While certain elements make sense by book’s end, I just couldn’t quite make the mental leap in believing the teenage Scully presented here grows into the hardened disbeliever who shoots down every single theory developed by her future partner. This 15-year-old Scully hangs out a New Age headshop called Beyond Beyond (this store also serves as the principle form of connective tissue tying both Origins titles together), getting psychic readings in between having visions of murder and communing with dead people. While there is some precedent for her visions in X-Files canon (see season one’s Beyond the Sea), Maberry lays it on thick and heavy throughout Devil’s Advocate, far too much for my tastes, frankly.

That said, I did enjoy the burgeoning relationship between Scully and her first boyfriend, Ethan, a science club geek with aspirations of becoming a forensic scientist in the future. I also liked the callbacks to those aspects of Scully’s history that viewers learned over the course of the series, such as her talking with Ethan about holding a dying garden snake when she was younger, and her connection with her father over Moby Dick.

Emma Galvin’s narration is very well done throughout. She has a youthful sounding voice that works tremendously well for Scully, and she does a terrific reading of the material, putting in plenty of energy, excitement, and fright at just the right places. As expected with a major publisher, the production quality here is top-notch, with no noticeable hiccups.

Despite being a fan of The X-Files, the Origins titles, taken as a whole, proved to be too frustrating and unnecessary for me to fully enjoy. Neither left me deeply satisfied, and I felt both titles, in their own ways, provided too many extra wrinkles for the larger narrative these young characters will find themselves wrapped up in together during their later years. Devil’s Advocate, like it’s companion piece, Agent of Chaos, provides too little importance for too little reason.

[Audiobook provided for review by the audiobookreviewer.com]

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