Posts Tagged ‘Confessions Publicity’

BOOK INFO

Length: 105 Pages

Publisher: High Fever Books

Release Date: February 6, 2018

Review for the Broken Shells Blog Tour hosted by Confessions Publicity

Broken Shells is the latest novella from Michael Patrick Hicks and it follows Antoine DeWitt, a man who just lost his job as an auto mechanic and was already struggling to make ends meet. This is just the most recent of many blows life has dealt Antoine over the past few years. Anytime something good comes along in his life, it’s only a matter of time before it gets ruined. This was the only job he was able to get after being released from prison two years ago on a trumped-up possessions charge and the fresh start he was slowly building was washed away in one moment of anger. As Antoine trudges home to face his wife Chanelle, he is dreading her reaction to the news.

Antoine’s mailbox is always either junk or past due bills, so he grabs the latest stack mindlessly and makes his way up the stairs, where he can hear his son Helix crying before he even makes it to the door. When Chanelle sees the Money Carlo flier, Antoine immediately tells her its junk and to throw it away but she is already picking at the tabs. She begs Antoine to call the number when she sees a $5,000 prize staring back at her. Even though he knows deep down it is too good to be true, the fact that past due bills are piling up, he’s staring down the barrel unemployment and a delayed WIC check allow him to believe in the fantasy for one brief moment. Not to mention the only thing that saves him from being ripped limb from limb by his wife is the prospect of this magical money arriving on their doorsteps.

When Antoine steps onto Jon Dangle’s Chevy lot to redeem his ticket, he is hesitant to believe he is actually a winner, but slowly begins to muster up some hope. Against all odds, maybe, just maybe, the winning Money Carlo ticket isn’t a scam at all, but the first step towards turning things around for his family. What Antoine doesn’t know is that Dangle is a man of secrets and that the Money Carlo ticket is indeed a scam. Just not the sort of scam Antoine was expecting. That fateful afternoon finds Antoine in a world of trouble and sets the stage for Broken Shells and the wild, intense ride that plays out through the course of the story.

What really grabbed me about this novella was Hicks’ characters, particularly Antoine. Through anecdotes about his history and glimpses of his home-life struggles early in Broken Shells, Hicks effortlessly gets readers to establish a connection with Antoine. While my situation was not quite as dire as Antoine’s, I know I have been in situations where it seemed like nothing was going right and the only way out seemed to be some sort of miracle. Who hasn’t at times felt beat down, hopeless, or worried about finances? That’s why I think readers will connect with Antoine and picture themselves as being in that situation and what they would do to try to climb out of that cycle of desperation. Antoine is put through the wringer throughout Broken Shells and every time he finds himself in a hopeless situation, he thinks of Helix and Chanelle, and his love for them drives him forward. He realizes how much he loves them both, despite the frustration that plagued him due to their situation and all of that stress piling up. It only took going through hell to realize that maybe his life wasn’t as bad as he had originally thought. Even facing unimaginable horror, he vows that instead of allowing life to beat him down, he is going to do whatever he can to survive and make it back home and try to be a better man. Antoine isn’t without his faults as he did contemplate walking away from his family, but while some may not like that side of Antoine, it makes him a more vivid and life-like character. Overall, I thought his character arc was pretty satisfying.

Jon Dangle is an interesting antagonist because while he is someone you definitely grow to despise, his motivations and actions are more complex than simply being some deranged killer. While there is no denying that he is responsible for tons of horrific things in Broken Shells, in Dangle’s mind, he genuinely believes in the purpose of his actions and feels he is doing the right thing. He is also intelligent in the way he carries out his “responsibilities”, but his strength is in his ability to interact with people. As a car salesman, Dangle trained himself to be an expert at reading body language and making people feel comfortable. Using those techniques, Dangle knows that he has found an easy mark in Antoine, or so he thinks. Dangle is calm and collected under pressure. Even when he notices Antoine is cautious and waiting for the catch, Dangle’s expertise allows him to navigate the situation and lure him into a sense of security.

Hicks also does a great job with the various settings throughout his novella. Antoine’s neighborhood doesn’t have any streetlights as the kids busted them out with rocks or they were shot out by gang members. Fires were a regular occurrence as a past time as well, and as Antoine is walking home from the bus stop the night he was fired, he passes the burnt out husks of houses in his neighborhood. These scenes paint a vivid picture and serve to accentuate of hardships Antoine and his wife Chanelle face on a daily basis. Then there is Dangle’s lot, where a bulk of the story takes place and is a very interesting location. It is situated out in the middle of nowhere Michigan, off M-72, in an area that is mostly woods and farm land. The isolation of Dangle’s lot serves as an ominous warning that will instantly resonate with horror fanatics who know nothing good ever comes from a secluded location. Without venturing too much into spoilers, the details Hicks gives of the subterranean parts of Dangle’s property are terrifying and one of the strongest parts of the novella.

The hardest thing about reviewing Broken Shells is there is so much to dive into about why this novella is so good, but to do so would ruin the story for readers. What I can say is that there is some truly impressive set pieces in this about what lies beneath Dangle’s car dealership and the horrors that Antoine faces are pretty unique. There are some bone-chilling scenes in this one that I absolutely loved and Hicks does a great job of using numerous sensory details to paint a vivid, hellish picture in the reader’s mind. Trust me, you will know what scenes I’m talking about when you get to them!

I also have to give kudos to Hicks for the ingenious way he set up the plot for this story. I’m not sure if this is how he got the story idea, but how many times have you gotten those sort of giveaway cards in the mail only to throw them in the trash without a second thought? Hicks manages to take a harmless item that barely registers on our radar on a daily basis and use it as catalyst for an unimaginable horror. It may seem like a small detail, but the set-up provided an impressive originality to the story.

Broken Shells is a blood-soaked, tense novella that is sure to appeal to a wide variety of horror fans, especially those that dig an old-school feel in their novels. Hicks does a great job of building tension throughout the course of Broken Shells and that helps keep the story moving at a blistering pace that kept me riveted until the final page. I read this one in one reading session and I came away very impressed with this story. This was my first work from Hicks, but it definitely won’t be my last. I look forward to digging into some of his other works and highly recommend picking up a copy of Broken Shells.

Rating: 4.5/5

LINKS

Michael Patrick Hick’s Official Website

Purchase Broken Shells: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore!

About Michael Patrick Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of a number of speculative fiction titles. His debut novel, Convergence, was an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist. His most recent work is the horror novel, Mass Hysteria.

He has written for the Audiobook Reviewer and Graphic Novel Reporter websites, in addition to working as a freelance journalist and news photographer.

In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.

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BOOK INFO

Length: 73 Pages

Publisher: Self-published

Release Date: September 12, 2017

Review for the Blanky Blog Tour hosted by Confessions Publicity

I have been a huge fan of Kealan Patrick Burke’s work ever since I stumbled upon his original and haunting novel Kin. If you haven’t read that one yet, definitely check it out as I feel it is essential reading for any horror fan. That novel takes the well-worn horror idea – a family of cannibalistic killers –  and comes at it from the fresh, exciting angle of looking at what happens in the aftermath. I remember being completely blown away by Burke’s realistic characters and his exploration of their feelings of grief and revenge throughout the course of the novel. Despite focusing on the aftermath of a horrific tragedy, there is still plenty of scares found throughout Kin. Without spoiling it for those of you who haven’t read it, there is one scene in particular that has become pretty infamous among horror fans and is all but guaranteed to make your skin crawl.

While I could spend hours fawning over Kin, the reason I’m writing is the release of Burke’s latest novella BlankyThis novella focuses on Steve Brannigan, who is struggling to keep his life together after the tragic death of his infant daughter. He is estranged from his wife after the grief they both felt in the aftermath placed a strain on their marriage that drove them apart. Burke holds nothing back and starts Blanky with Steve giving a heartbreaking account of what it’s like to lose a child. Then Burke throws readers right into the story with one simple line, “That was the beginning of the end of my world. This is the rest of it.”

In the three months after his daughter’s death, Steve attempts to find comfort in the banality of every day life. Sewing on loose or missing buttons to all of his coats and watching old sitcoms to combat the isolation he has imposed on himself. Overdue bill notices begin piling up, but Steve just keeps pushing them off, unable to face the ever-growing pressure that threatens to crush him even further. He numbs his pain with whiskey and one day while he is in the middle of his usual routine, he hears a noise upstairs. He initially chalks it up to the changing seasons and the house’s age. As he continues to drown his grief with the bottle of whiskey, the noises continue, only this time it’s louder and sounds like something is being dragged. The noise fills Steve with fear as the sound seems to be emanating from what used to be Robin’s room and obviously he is the only one left in the house. Eventually his curiosity gets the better of him and he enters his daughter’s room for the first time since he and his wife packed everything up. What he sees turns his world upside down and brings all the grief he was feeling rushing back to the surface.

As the story progresses, Steve begins to have chilling nightmares that show his sanity is reaching its breaking point. I won’t get into those too much for fear of spoilers, but Burke conjures up some frightening images that steadily build a sense of dread throughout the rest of the novella. Make no mistake, there are some truly frightening moments throughout Blanky and plenty of weirdness, but the truly horrific moments of this novella come from the psychological elements that Steve and Lex battle throughout the story. Burke does an incredible job of exploring the crushing sense of loss that Lex and Steve feel after losing their daughter and all of the emotions that bubble to the surface throughout the course of Blanky as they attempt to cope with their grief. There are a ton of excellent scenes that illustrate this, but one of my favorites is early on when Steve calls his wife when he feels lonely, even though he feels their chances at getting back together diminishing with every passing day. The pain and awkwardness of suddenly being separated after many years together is shown through awkward phone calls, uncomfortable pauses and Steve’s internal monologues.

I have always loved the way Burke builds the atmosphere of his stories and in Blanky, the weather matches the gloomy mood that hangs over Blanky like a shroud. The first time Steve steps foot outside of his home, he is greeted by rain-slicked streets, dead leaves, jack-o-lanterns and a swirling, gray sky. Burke also cultivates a sense of isolation by sending his characters through the ringer. Aside from a few brief appearances from other characters, the bulk of the novella focuses on Steve and Lex and by keeping the focus of the story contained, it allows that sense of isolation to transfer to the reader, fully immersing them in the story.

Burke manages to take an ordinary item and attach an overwhelming sense of dread to it with the titular Blanky. Robin’s baby blanket is seemingly harmless, but leaves a path of devastation in its wake. It’s difficult to discuss Blanky without spoiling the adventure for other readers, but I will say that while it looks non-threatening, Blanky holds sinister secrets that are guaranteed to send shivers up and down your spine. Burke handles the twists and turns of this novella beautifully, leading readers down a path strewn with mystery and surprises and even when you think you finally get some concrete answers, there are little reveals that make you question your own view of the story.

Blanky is a devastating novella that utilizes emotion, atmosphere and outstanding characterization to create a truly haunting story. I remember when I read the synopsis, I knew this story was going to hit me hard. I’m a new parent and I couldn’t imagine a more terrifying scenario than the one Steve and Lex face in Blanky. Burke did not disappoint as Blanky messed with my emotions and kept me glued to the pages, reading it in a single sitting and feeling like I took a sucker punch to the gut. There are a lot of similarities that can be made to his previous release Sour Candy, which was something that I thought was kind of cool. Without delving into spoilers, there are a few scenes in Blanky that seem connected to Sour Candy, but I’m not sure if that was Burke’s intent or just my wishful thinking. Blanky is an excellent addition to your Halloween reading lists and is definitely one of my favorite novellas of the year.

Rating: 5/5

LINKS

Kealan Patrick Burke’s Official Website

Elderlemon Design (Kealan’s design company for book covers, banners, etc)

Purchase Blanky: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or grab a copy from your favorite bookstore! 

 

About Kealan Patrick Burke

Born and raised in a small harbor town in the south of Ireland, Kealan Patrick Burke knew from an early age that he was going to be a writer. The combination of an ancient locale, a horror-loving mother, and a family of storytellers, made it inevitable that he would end up telling stories for a living. Since those formative years, he has written five novels, over a hundred short stories, six collections, and edited four acclaimed anthologies. In 2004, he was honored with the Bram Stoker Award for his novella The Turtle Boy.

Kealan has worked as a waiter, a drama teacher, a mapmaker, a security guard, an assembly-line worker, a salesman (for a day), a bartender, landscape gardener, vocalist in a grunge band, curriculum content editor, fiction editor at Gothic.net, and, most recently, a fraud investigator.

When not writing, Kealan designs book covers through his company Elderlemon Design.

A number of his books have been optioned for film. You can find him at www.kealanpatrickburke.com.