Saturday, April 22, 2017

Review: Psycho

Psycho Psycho by Robert Bloch
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When Mary Crane skips town with $40,000 of her boss's money, she drives and drives, bedding down at the Bates Motel. She meets Norman Bates, who harbors secrets even more interesting than stolen money...

Everyone knows the basic beats of Psycho due to the iconic Alfred Hitchcock film. Woman gets knifed in the shower, psychotic mama's boy, etc. When it popped up for ninety-nine cents, I figured, what the hell? Shooting Star / Spiderweb was pretty good. Psycho was definitely worth the buck.

Inspired by real-life serial killer Ed Gein, Psycho is a tale of mental turmoil and the way it shapes the life a man dominated by his mother. And some woman gets killed and her boyfriend and sister try to figure out what the hell happened. Despite knowing quite a bit going in, Psycho was still a suspenseful read. Since stuff gets lost in translation from book to movie, a lot of it was still surprising. Of course, not having seen the movie in something like thirty years helped...

Bloch's prose is pretty tight. He doesn't waste a lot of time on flowery language, and knows how to ratchet up the suspense. I can see why Hitchcock chose to adapt it, though he chose to focus on different aspects than Bloch. The book and the movie are definitely different animals.

Psycho probably didn't have quite as much of an impact on me that it should have but that's because it's been dissected and imitated to death in the decades since it was written. It holds up really well compared to a lot of suspense novels written during the same era. Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

Review: Savage Jungle: Lair Of The Orang Pendek

Savage Jungle: Lair Of The Orang Pendek Savage Jungle: Lair Of The Orang Pendek by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After recovering from their ordeal in Loch Ness Revenge, Natalie and Austin McQueen head to the Sumatran jungle with their friend Henrik to find the legendary Orang Pendek, primitive ape-like humanoids. Specifically, they're looking for the Orang Pendek that killed Henrik's father. Can they find the lost city of Gadang Ur and the Orang Pendek that dwell there so Henrik can quench the desire for revenge that threatens to consume him?

Since I am medically unable to resist one of Hunter Shea's cryptid books, I pounced on this one a few minutes after I finished Forest of Shadows.

Savage Jungle is an Indiana Jones-type of jungle adventure, combining the thrills of Raiders of the Lost Ark with the gore of most of Hunter Shea's books. It's one hell of fun read.

After recovering at a resort for a couple months, the McQueen twins attempt to return the favor Henrik Kooper gave them in the bloodbath that was Loch Ness Revenge. On their expedition, they encounter lost ruins, relict populations of dinosaurs, and the cryptids of the subtitle, the Orang Pendek.

I actually preferred this one to Loch Ness Revenge by a slight margin. Maybe it was the jungle setting or the relentless action. The expedition got chewed up by dinosaurs and shat out the other end. It would not have shocked me if they were all killed. Shea even detailed Orang Pendek culture to such a degree that I wouldn't mind a return trip to Gadang Ur. Not to mention some breadcrumbs left at the end. The characters speculate that their experience at Loch Ness might have led to humanity taking off their blinders in regard to the unknown and there are some hints dropped toward the end at more linked adventures with the survivors of this one, something I'm definitely on board for.

Instead of another tired Indiana Jones sequel or remaking The Mummy, Savage Jungle would make a fantastic summer blockbuster. Four out of five stars.


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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Review: Forest of Shadows

Forest of Shadows Forest of Shadows by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Five years after his wife dies unexpectedly, John Backman takes his daughter, sister-in-law, and her son to Alaska to investigate a haunting. But the worst enemy of all may be the xenophobia of the townsfolk of Shida. No, I lied. It's the dark forces that threaten to consume whomever lives in the house...

In Forest of Shadows, Hunter Shea takes an unconventional, unsuspecting family to Alaska and exposes them to some staples of horror fiction, namely ghosts and a haunted house.

I've said before that one of Hunter Shea's strengths is his knack for creating likable characters. This is very true in Forest of Shadows since I loved John Backman and his family. His daughter Jessica was a believable kid who just wanted to be close to her father. Sister-in-law Eve let her own marriage fall apart to take care of her dead sister's family. Liam's a toddler and kind of a non-factor. Anyway, what I'm trying to say is that I quickly got attached to John and his family. Unlike a lot of horror or thriller novels, I really wanted John and Eve to get together. Why you gotta be such a tease, Hunter Shea?

While I've never been to Alaska, Hunter Shea painted a vivid picture of the life of an outsider in a small town, both from the points of view of the Backman family and the local characters, like Judas and Muraco.

The haunting was a many layered thing, not just ghosts wanting people out of their house. It had some creepy moments but shit really got real near the end. I did not see the ending coming and it was one of those punches in the gut that knocks the wind out of you and folds you in half.

Forest of Shadows is a creepy good time. Hunter Shea does it again. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, April 17, 2017

Review: Tortures of the Damned

Tortures of the Damned Tortures of the Damned by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After New York falls victim to a trio of attacks, the Padilla family and their neighbors band together for survival but how can they survive against disease, fried electronics, and animals gone bloodthirsty?

After taking on the Dover Demon, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Jersey Devil, Hunter Shea takes on the apocalypse. When an EMP fries everything electronic, an unknown disease runs rampant, and something turns animals against humans, the Padilla family of Yonkers, New York, and their neighbors, Buck and Alexiana band together to survive and find out what happened. Things do not go well.

The post-apocalyptic genre is a little played out these days but Hunter Shea makes it fresh by leaving out zombies and focusing on the trials and tribulations of the Padilla family. Life without electricity is hard, even without rats, bats, horses, cats, dogs, and birds all gunning for them. Not to mention disease, gang members, and the threat of starvation. The apocalypse won't be fun, kids!

Daniel and Elizabeth struggle to keep their family together when obstacle after obstacle fall into their paths. Nothing is easy and no one is safe. Casualties are numerous and the body count is high. No one is unscathed for long and some of them have the shit "scathed" out of them.

I've mentioned it before but Hunter Shea is the master of introducing characters, making you care about them, and then having them die horribly. Tortures of the Damned is no exception. It's hardship after hardship, right until the heartbreaking ending. I knew it would end badly but couldn't set the book aside for long. Like a trainwreck, I just had to see it.

While it wasn't the usual subject matter for Hunter Shea, Tortures of the Damned was one gripping read. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Review: They Rise

They Rise They Rise by Hunter Shea
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a chimaera fish of usual size is caught, ichthyologist Brad "Whit" Whitley comes all the way from Australia to Miami to examine it. Having made the chimaera fish, aka ghost shark, his life's work, Whit thought he knew it all but discovered he had a lot more to learn when even larger ghost sharks start popping up and devouring everyone in sight. The only person Whit can turn to for help is even more fearsome, his ex-wife...

As I've said many times before, I'm a sucker for Hunter Shea's creature feature gore-fests. When this one dropped to ninety nine cents, my cheapness alarm when off and I snapped it up like a ghost shark on an unsuspecting swimmer.

They Rise is part cautionary tale, part bloodbath. Climate change has lead to more methane vents opening up on the ocean floor, causing ghost sharks to congregate and the oceans to run red with blood. Whit, the smart-mouthed scientist with a drinking problem, is forced to reject everything he knows about ghost sharks in an effort to stop their feeding frenzy. His ex-wife ends up in the same boat, pun intended, when her expedition studying the methane vents goes horribly wrong.

It's a fun story, full of ghost shark carnage. Shea's writing is as crisp as ever and Whit is hilarious, sometimes annoyingly so. However, the story wasn't up to Shea's usual efforts. It was pretty much a variant on Jaws, as could be expected with sharks. How about staying away from the water, people? The ending felt a little detached. When the coast guard and navy get involved, it gets a little impersonal.

Despite my gripes, it was still a fun read, just not an essential one. Three out of five stars.

Also:


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Friday, April 14, 2017

Review: We Are Always Watching

We Are Always Watching We Are Always Watching by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When the Ridley family falls on hard times, they're forced to move in with Abraham Ridley, Matt's father. Grandpa Ridley is a real son of a bitch but he's nothing in comparison to the Guardians, persons unknown who have been harassing the Ridleys and the other folk of Buttermilk Creek for generations...

Hunter Shea is the man and I was planning on reading this anyway when I won a copy on Horror After Dark. Thanks!

This isn't your usual Hunter Shea book. I'm a tremendous fan of his creature features starring cryptids and the mayhem they incite but this one was different, a slow-burner with more of a psychological bend.

Since time out of mind, the people of Buttermilk Creek have been harassed by the Guardians, people or creatures that leave threatening notes and that are constantly watching their targets. When West's father, Matt, suffers a brain injury leading to chronic vertigo, their lives fall apart and they leave NYC behind to live with his grandfather. Abraham is an asshole of the highest caliber and blames the family for the Guardians springing into action once again after years of silence.

The book feels like a coming of age tale at first. West is a likeable kid, a fan of horror movies and books. He's enamored with the only pretty girl in town that he's met and wonders about the truth of the Guardians and his own family's troubled past. When shit goes down, he acts in a very believable way and is in no way a Gary Stu.

Hell, the whole Ridely clan is subtly nuanced. Debi resents her husband's condition and keeps on trucking. Matt feels inadequate and pissed off because of his vertigo but can't help but lash out at his family. And Abraham has more than his share of skeletons in his closet.

The book is a slow burner but reaches a fever pitch around the 75% mark, when it goes from coming of age psychological horror to a fucking blood bath. I was felt like a mile of bad road after finishing it.

As always, Hunter Shea continues to impress the shit out of me. 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

Review: Just Add Water

Just Add Water Just Add Water by Hunter Shea
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When David and Patrick order Amazing Sea Serpents from the ad in the back of a Wonder Woman comic, they wait 6-8 weeks to receive an envelope of disappointment in the mail. However, when they dump the Amazing Sea Serpents down the sewer, they get more than their money's worth.

I'd pre-ordered this, fueled by nostalgic memories of Sea Monkey ads in the backs of comics back in the day and my fandom of Hunter Shea. Imagine my delight when it popped up on Netgalley AND I got approved for it.

Just Add Water is another one of Hunter Shea's lovably gory creature features. David and Patrick are junior high kids at the dawn of the 1980s. Like many of us who were comic nerds in the days before such a thing was fashionable, the ad for some amazing anthropomorphic pets caught their eyes. Unlike most of us, they actually ordered them. Turns out, what they got was monster eggs.

Just Add Water feels like an 80's kids' monster movie, like The Monster Squad, only with a much higher body count and ten times as much gore. While there's a dose of nostalgia, it's so smeared in gore that it's soon unrecognizable. And the early 80s nostalgia isn't limited to comics and TV. There's also a key party that goes horribly, horribly wrong.

Hunter Shea's writing continues to entertain the shit out of me. I'm convinced we would have been buds back in our younger days due to our mutual interests in comics, cryptids, and monsters in general. Now if he'd just lift that damn restraining order...

Just Add Water is a horror novella that is a hell of a lot of bloody fun. I can't wait to read the next installment in the loosely connected series, Optical Delusion. Four out of five stars.

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