Archive for March, 2015

jackinthegreen

BOOK INFO

Length: 272 Pages

Publisher: Samhain Horror

Release Date: October 1, 2013

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

Tom McRae is a man who is definitely down on his luck. His marriage is crumbling around him, he is plagued by nightmares from his childhood after witnessing a brutal attack that left him orphaned and is content with avoiding the spotlight in his mundane office job for The Consortium Inc. However, one day he is finally called into his boss Mathers’ office. Tom is perplexed because no one gets a glimpse of Mathers’ office, The Chairman of Consortium is an elusive man who always making address via the Internet and is hardly in the office. When he gets there, he is immediately aware of why he was chosen. Mathers has a special assignment for Tom. His name implies a Scottish ancestry and Mathers wants him to use that to his advantage and weave himself into the fabric of the small Scottish village of Douglass in order to negotiate a land purchase for the company’s biofuels division. Mathers believes Tom’s name and ability to assess risks make him a secret weapon in their attempt to make money. When he goes to meet with Monroe from the legal department, who already visited Douglass, he is shocked to hear a crash and witnesses Monroe’s body sprawled on the lower floor. As he attempts to comfort Monroe, the lawyer offers an ominous warning – “He’s in the trees…he’s…waiting….”

Tom is tasked with heading to Douglass with his co-worker Dieter, a man he cannot stand, serving as his driver. The trip starts off with a protest in which their car is surrounded and it takes an act of desperation to escape unscathed. Once Tom and Dieter arrive in Douglass, they check in to The Firs, the only lodge that is still open in the secluded village. Holly, an employee at The Firs, introduces Tom to the legend that seemingly drives the town of Douglass. She takes him to a secluded clearing where he witnesses two giant firs joined at the root that are dubbed by residents as the “Jack Tree and Jill Tree” tree. She details the folklore behind the tree and explains that this weekend is Sow-when, a holiday that is ingrained in the fabric of Douglass and brings the seemingly sleepy village to life. Residents set up booths to sell homemade food and decorate their homes with pumpkins, squashes and scarecrows of all different designs. Even though it breathes life into the town, you get a sense of unease that something dangerous is lurking beneath the surface.

Tom slowly seems to become a part of the Douglass community, but a series of hair-raising events and his recurring nightmares put his standing within the community in jeopardy and nothing in Douglass is quite what it seems.

The characterization in The Jack in the Green is excellent and Lee’s portrayal of Tom creates an intriguing main character that is more complex than he seems on first glance. While he is a man who seems to be plagued by fear and indifference, Tom occasionally exhibits an inner strength. Throughout his interaction with stakeholders in Douglass, such as Lithgoe, he exhibits a tenacity for striking deals and mitigating risks that is a stark contrast to how he handles his personal life. Then there is the mysterious hermit of Douglass, Cosmo. Cosmo is an interesting character, an ex-military man who  has taken up residence in a ramshackle cabin located among the village’s famed fir trees and attempts to atone for the atrocities he has committed. I don’t know if it is intentional, but it seems like Lee is laying the foundation for an underlying mythology that weaves its way into each novel’s DNA. The secretive, multi-national corporation known as The Consortium makes an appearance in The Jack in the Green and many readers will remember the company from Lee’s debut The Lamplighters. Whether it is intentional or purely a coincidence, I still thought it was an interesting story element as some of the events regarding the corporation raise some interesting questions.

I was once again impressed with Lee’s cinematic approach to storytelling, which manages to transport the reader into the world he has created. That is the strength of Lee’s attention to building up the setting in his novels. He takes idyllic locations – like the lavish luxury of Meditrine Island in The Lamplighters or the lush forests of Douglass, Scotland in this novel – and manages to warp them with terrifying evil. However, despite the sinister nature that lurks in each of these locales, you can’t help but feel captivated by their portrayal.

I have enjoyed all of Lee’s work, but The Jack in the Green is by far my favorite! Lee strikes the perfect balance between the psychological horror that plays out as Tom’s nightmares seem to bleed into reality and vicious violence and gore. Lee only doles out the gore when necessary and it serves as a jolt to the nervous system. Much like The Lamplighters, he lures you in with an atmospheric setting and keeps the reader guessing on where the events are headed. All along I thought I knew where the story was going, but once again Lee incorporates an abrupt twist that changes everything I thought I knew about the novel. Some readers may feel the twist comes out of nowhere, but once everything is revealed, it actually makes a lot of sense. Honestly, I was kicking myself for not figuring it out sooner!  The Jack in the Green has supernatural undertones, but the horror comes from the real world evils and depravity that bubble to the surface toward the novel’s conclusion.

If you are a fan of a good psychological horror novel and don’t mind a little gore, The Jack in the Green is a novel you will definitely want to add to your collection!

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Frazer Lee’s Official Website

Samhain Horror’s Official Website

Purchase The Jack in the Green on Amazon

thelamplighters

BOOK INFO

Length: 272 Pages

Publisher: Samhain Horror

Release Date: February 7, 2012

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

Lately I have been on a huge Samhain Horror kick and it seems like all the books I have been sent for review and books I have read on my own have been through this publisher. I first started reading Samhain Horror through Hunter Shea’s work and ever since then I have been exposed to a ton of excellent authors. Frazer Lee is a name that has continuously popped up and I have been hearing a lot about his debut The Lamplighters, which was a finalist for a Bram Stoker award in the “Superior Achievement in a First Novel” category. Seeing as how I have been nothing short of impressed with the offerings of Samhain Horror, this instantly became a must-read for me.

The story focuses on Marla Neuborn, a young woman who is desperately yearning for a fresh start. Her life has been littered with tragedy and missteps and she is literally at rock bottom – living in a cramped apartment complex and scraping to get by after losing her job as a nanny. Just when it seems she has lost everything, she gets an unexpected call from The Consortium Inc. who offer her a job as a “lamplighter” on the secluded Meditrine Island. The island is home to billionaires who hire people to take care of their mansions in order to maintain their residency. All Marla has to do is clean and maintain the property, a seemingly cushy job that would be a dream come true for anyone. There are only two requirements for the job: a personality test and availability for a year. There is also a secrecy clause that prohibits Marla from knowing the exact location of the island and there is no contact with the outside world. This last requirement should set off warning bells in any horror fan’s mind as a clue that this is no ordinary island! What makes it creepy is that the island seems to not exist. There is no mention of it on the internet and is not visible on any map or Google Earth. Once Marla arrives on Meditrine Island, she meets up with another fellow Lamplighter named Jessie. Jessie has been on the island for a while and shows Marla the ropes and fills her in on some of the secrets of the island, such as the fact that there are security cameras hidden throughout the island. As Marla and Jessie begin to investigate elements of the island, they slowly begin to realize that there may be more to this job than meets the eye.

The Lamplighters is one of those books that is difficult to review because discussing what makes this story great would reveal huge spoilers about the book. What I can say is that while much of the book seems to explore similar themes as other horror works, it is far from a rehash of genre tropes. Lee puts his own unique and horrifying spin on these themes and crafts a stunning conclusion that you will have to read to believe. The novel builds suspense gradually, creating a sense of impending terror that looms throughout the story. While The Lamplighters mostly utilizes suspense and an intriguing mystery behind the truth of the island to move the story forward, Lee also incorporates gore and violence in a way that enhances the story and does not seem overbearing.

The characters were all believable and well described, but it is a character known only as the Skin Mechanic who steals the show despite getting little face time throughout the novel . This is easily the most frightening character of the novel and his description and what he is capable of is utterly frightening and seems ripped straight from the darkest depths of nightmares. It may not be today or even relatively soon, but I fully expect to have the Skin Mechanic pop up in my nightmares in the very near future! Lee is releasing a prequel novel titled The Skintaker in April that explores the origins of the Skin Mechanic and I am definitely looking forward to learning more about one of horror’s most original villains.

While I highly enjoyed this novel, it is the sort of novel readers will either love or hate. While there is plenty of action and a great mystery behind the story, it can seem to move slow at times. Readers who don’t mind slow building tension will love it and those looking for a faster paced story may leave feeling disappointed. There is no denying that Lee is a talented writer and his background as a screenwriter is evident throughout the pages of the novel. This would make a really great movie and while I already mentioned my excitement for The Skintaker, I think I am even more excited for the planned sequel to The Lamplighters!

Rating: 4/5

LINKS

Frazer Lee’s Official Website

Samhain Horror’s Official Website

Purchase The Lamplighters on Amazon

withinthesewalls

BOOK INFO

Publisher: Gallery Books

Length: 464 Pages

Release Date: April 21, 2015

eARC provided by Netgalley and publisher in exchange for an honest review

Within These Walls tells the story of Lucas Graham, a true crime writer who went from being on top of the world with bestselling books and interviews on major talk shows to finding his marriage crumbling around him and his success all dried up after not releasing a hit book in ten years. Lucas feels like a failure and can see everything important to him slipping away, but his life changes when he receives a letter from Jeffrey Halcomb, a notorious cult leader who is currently in prison for life following what appears to be a satanic ritual that left 10 people dead. Halcomb has avoided interview requests for years, his silence making his legend grow even as interest in the case waned. He offers Lucas an exclusive interview to give his side of the story since he admires Lucas’ ability to bring the past to life, but only if he follows three conditions: all interviews must be done in person, Lucas must move into his old home on 101 Montlake Road in Pier Pointe, Washington and everything must be completed within four weeks. For Lucas, this letter seems like a beacon of hope, the chance he needs to get his career back on track and attempt to save his marriage.

Lucas seizes his last chance at redemption and moves out to Pier Pointe with his young daughter Vee to immerse himself in Halcomb’s world but realizes that something feels off about the house. His first night in the house he hears strange noises coming from the kitchen that sets him on edge and sees a shadow in the darkness. This sense of unease is also felt by Lucas’ daughter, who also begins to see apparitions and develops a fascination with the history of the house that threatens to tear her from her father forever. When Halcomb backs out of his agreement with Lucas, it upends his world and makes him desperate to finish his book by any means necessary. As the pressure mounts and Halcomb’s deadline grows closer, he discovers something far more sinister than he ever expected.

The structure of Within These Walls was a risky choice because the novel alternates between chapters told in the present from both Lucas’ and his daughter Vee’s point of view and sections set in the past from the point of view of one of Halcomb’s followers, Audra Snow. In addition to the timeline shifts, there are occasional references to snippets from police reports, paranormal investigations and news reports. While there was the potential for the plot and pacing of the novel to suffer from these timeline jumps and interludes, Ahlborn weaves these elements together masterfully. Each plot thread offers its own contained narrative, but the sections compliment each other when you realize the events Audra describe help bring light to the unsettling occurrences that Lucas and Vee experience in the Montlake Road house.

The characterization in Within These Walls, much like Ahlborn’s other works, is the highlight of this novel. I loved how Ahlborn handled Halcomb’s character. Though the story revolves around him and the crime he committed, the reader doesn’t really see anything from his point of view, but rather gets a glimpse of who he is through the eyes of the other characters. By seeing him through other peoples eyes, we see what made him such a powerful figure and why people were so eager to disengage from their past lives and follow him in his nomadic existence. Ahlborn also crafts a downright creepy back story behind Jeffrey’s past that sent chills down my spine!

Then there is the portrayal of Audra Snow, the daughter of a congressman who was one of the last people to join Halcomb’s group. She is living in her parents summer home, pregnant and trying to get her life together. She struggles with depression due to her uncaring upbringing and feels that she is not worth anything. That all begins to change when she meets Halcomb and the rest of his group. Initially it is a man named Deacon, who Audra bonds with over their similar lives of parents who provided them with all the material possessions they could ever desire but never the love they craved. When he explains that Halcomb’s group is her ticket to not feeling alone, Audra is drawn in to a world unlike anything she could have imagined. Despite the red flags that pop up in her mind when she learns more about the group’s beliefs, Audra pushes them aside for the promise of acceptance.

While Within These Walls offers plenty of scares and supernatural occurrences, the real terror comes from the very realistic portrayal of the cult-like nature of the group and the evil that resides within its members. The novel slowly builds tension throughout Lucas’ investigation, but as the mystery of Halcomb and his plans for dragging Lucas halfway across the country begins to reveal itself, Ahlborn ramps up the action before unleashing a clever and unsettling plot twist that left me stunned.

Within These Walls is an immensely engaging novel with the perfect balance of atmosphere, horror and mystery that make it a must read for any dark fiction fan. I couldn’t help but get sucked into the world Ahlborn created and frequently found myself saying “just one more chapter…” while reading, which is when I knew that I held a truly great book in my hands. What always impresses me about Ania’s work is the depth of her writing and diversity of each novel. There is the straightforward thriller The Neighbors, the creature-filled The Shuddering and her bleak haunted house novel The Bird Eater. Now with Within These Walls, Ania Ahlborn crafts a multi-layered novel that highlights her strengths as a writer and cements her as one of the genre’s most exciting authors to read. This year is going to be a good one for Ahlborn with the release of this stellar novel and the release of Brother and the novella The Pretty Ones later in the year, both of which are definitely on my list of most anticipated reads of 2015.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Ania Ahlborn’s Official Website

Gallery Books

Purchase Within These Walls on Amazon

thepriors1

thepriors2

BOOK INFO

Length: 324 Pages (Part 1), 369 Pages (Part 2)

Publisher: Smashwords

Review copy provided by author in exchange for an honest review

Weston Kincade’s newest series The Priors is a serialized story that leans heavily towards the science fiction genre with elements of horror sprinkled throughout. Originally released in an episode format, these two books collects all of the episodes that make up the story so far.

To Kill a Priest is the first book in the series and introduces us to Madelin, a girl who was kidnapped from her family by a shadowy government known as PASTOR (Phantom Assassin Shifting Technology & Organized Reconnaissance). They use young people who exhibit special abilities in a quest to explore other worlds and exploit them for their resources and gain power. Madelin has the ability to open portals to other planes of existence with ease and seems more advanced than her peers, making her a prized recruit of the PASTOR agency. The book introduces other characters first such as Daniel Robertson, an ex-military man who is haunted by horrific choices he has made in the past and Madelin’s godfather Jedd Altran, who is on the run from the agency after witnessing the murder of Madelin’s family.

Jedd has been on the run from PASTOR for quite some time and has been attempting to track down Madelin ever since her kidnapping years ago. He is able to locate her through his research into the group and his astral projection powers and helps her escape from the PASTOR facility. With Jedd’s help, Madlin discovers she has the power to travel through parallel worlds, each one similar to theirs, but different based on decisions people have made throughout history.

After Jedd breaks Madeline out of the PASTOR facility, they meet up with some unlikely allies along the way including Daniel and Roger, a man on the run from his gambling debts. Together they must outrun PASTOR and their merciless shifter known as Father Leodenin, the first successful trainee from PASTOR’s program. Leodenin is tasked with tracking down Madlin because he has powers similar to hers, but his PASTOR training has given him greater control over his powers. Not only is he able to shift between worlds, he is able to detect Madelin’s presence based on the rifts she creates.

Jedd also discovers he has powers of his own. He is able to reach through the rifts Madelin creates, but doing so causes him immense pain and a black taint appears on his arm. He is unsure of exactly what this means, but it deadens the nerves in his hand and gives him power greater than he could have ever imagined. As Madelin discovers the truth behind her past from Jedd, she resolves to take the fight to PASTOR and rescue the other children who were left behind in the facility.

After a deadly rooftop battle with Leodenin, the group shifts to a world where people carry auras similar to Madelin’s and they go in search of these people for help. The town seems ripped from distant past, a time when there are no cars or technology and something seems slightly off about the place. The group runs into a man named Alain Traditor who offers them shelter from Leodenin and his agents, but Jedd has a feeling that Alain is hiding something. While staying with Alain, they discover books that are not present in their own world which seem to give them some insight into the powers they have recently discovered they all have. As they discover more about Alain and the other residents past, the group realizes they have walked into a dangerous situation. Just as Leodenin and the Traditor family close in on the group, they find themselves in a brutal fight for survival that pushes them to their limits.

To Kill an Assassin, the second book in the series, picks up immediately after the events in To Kill a Priest. Following their escape from Leodenin and the Traditorian family, Madelin and her group find themself on a desolate world that seems to have been ravaged by a civil war that destroys most of civilization. They hunker down in an abandoned military bunker to recoup and deal with the events that changed their group.

While To Kill a Priest started off a bit slow before gaining traction, this novel continues the action established towards the end of the book. Madelin is growing increasingly more aware of her powers and through her training with Juno, discovers even more abilities that she didn’t know she had.

Leodenin was left for dead, but manages to recoup and has become something much more sinister than in the first novel. His new abilities lead him to recruit a much more savage and dangerous group than the PASTOR operatives he led in the first novel and he plans on using these newfound abilities to track down Madelin.

Madelin manages to escape the bunker with Roger and Juno following a vicious confrontation with Leodenin to a plane that is covered in snow and ice and runs into a familiar face from her time with PASTOR. Jedd and Daniel were transferred to a jungle world and are separated from the rest of the group. There they meet an advanced race of telepaths known as the Pazzege’tuk. The Pazzege’tuk train Daniel and Jedd for an upcoming apocalyptic event that has been foretold among their people, which they take to mean Leodenin and PASTOR. With their training complete and Madelin’s increasing dreams of the atrocities being committed by PASTOR, the group finally decide it is time to make their move and confront PASTOR once and for all.

I am a fan of Kincade’s other series A Life of Death, but the The Priors did not quite grab my attention in the same way. To Kill a Priest starts off fairly slow and was difficult to get through in spots. However, the second half was where the story came alive and I found myself drawn into the world of the Traditor family and the dangers facing Madelin and her group. That momentum carried through to To Kill an Assassin, which was easily my favorite of the two books.

Elements of the story come across as slightly disjointed at times, which may have a little to do with the serialized nature in which it was originally released. I loved Kincade’s streamlined writing style in the A Life of Death series, but there are stylistic elements of The Priors that did not work for me. Portions of the story are almost overly descriptive, which hinders the pacing of the story and takes the reader out of the action.

Kincade does a good job of building up the back story of Madelin and the other characters in her group and they each have a distinct personality and a complexity that makes them come to life. However, I couldn’t help but feel that Leodenin’s characterization was a bit weaker. While there is no denying he is evil and hellbent on achieving his goals with little regard for everyone else, I feel he would have made a better villain if there was more depth to his character. Early in To Kill a Priest, Jedd manages to hack into the PASTOR servers and finds Leodenin’s profile. He is known as “Shifter 1”, the first fully trained operative to emerge from the PASTOR program. Though the operatives are drugged and have their memories wiped during training and it is mentioned there is no information on his past, I feel that Leodenin’s character would have been stronger if we delved more into his back story. How was he the first one chosen? How was he discovered by PASTOR? Was his evil a result of his training? We get glimpses of other shifters from the PASTOR program and they seem to be more following orders and lack the sinister evil that personifies Leodenin.

Despite a few stylistic choices that didn’t work for me and a slow first half, Kincade weaves together alternate worlds, vampires and paranormal abilities to create a unique mythology and entertaining story at the heart of the first two installments of The Priors. The ending of To Kill an Assassin seems to leave open the possibility for more stories involving Madelin and her group and I would definitely be interested in seeing what other ideas Kincade has in store for them!

Rating: 3/5

LINKS

Weston Kincade’s Official Website

Purchase To Kill a Priest and To Kill an Assassin on Amazon