Tag Archives: military horror

Book Review: The Tide by Anthony J Melchiorri

Aaaand, we’re back! Two posts in two days? If this keeps up the world will spin off its axis…unless you’re a Flat-Earther, then it’s more a tilt of the space turtle and four careening elephants. Ahem. Where was I?

It’s review time! We love review time. Well, I love review time, especially when I come across a new author (or rather a new author to me). It was only a couple of weeks ago that I was introduced to Anthony J Melchiorri’s work, and what a fun and frightening introduction it’s been. Melchiorri’s stories drag you in and don’t let you go. And yes, that was a deliberate plural. While I’m only reviewing the first book in The Tide series, I’m currently halfway through the third.

Two things before we go forward: 1) big shout out to Geoff Brown for putting me onto the series – you rock, dude; and 2)…

SPOILER ALERT! HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE’S A SPOILER BENEATH THAT CUSHION, AND ANOTHER UNDER THE CAT. BECAUSE CATS, MAN.

the-tide

The Tide, as you can probably tell by the cover, is apocalyptic military horror – one of my favourite genres. It’s also a genre that can be difficult to get right, but Melchiorri hits all the right notes with this first book. What he doesn’t do, is bog down the beginning with over-explanation and character introduction but rather drops the reader right into the horror of what’s to come.

The prelude gives the reader a graphic understanding of the potential of a genetically-engineered bioweapon crudely developed during WWII by the Japanese. It ain’t pretty, and I was hooked. Fast forward to current times and we’re introduced to Captain Dominic Holland and his ‘Hunters’, a group of covert operatives who work for the CIA off-the-books. And these Hunters have some serious firepower and a kick-arse ship at their disposal. Not to mention hackers and scientists that complete the diverse bunch.

Melchiorri is a bioengineer by trade, and it’s abundantly clear with the monsters he creates in the books, that he knows his stuff (as an aside, please don’t give the man free-rein with pathogens without a steady stream of caffeine). There’s a good deal of science involved in the story, but if you’re like me and have a rudimentary understanding of it, you’re not going to get lost when it comes to the biology et al. And biology it is. The monsters in The Tide are some of the best I’ve read. The virus developed back in WWII has been expanded upon, and what it turns humanity into is… hell. Called ‘Skulls’ due to the victims’ human skeleton becoming an exo-skeleton of disturbing sorts, this is nightmare fuel for all involved. And fast, these monsters are fast and voraciously hungry.

While Melchiorri doesn’t let up on the action, there’s a good balance in the peaks and troughs he’s worked throughout the story. Just when you’re getting some downtime (reader and characters alike), the tension ramps up and you’re back into the thick of things. When you add in Holland’s daughters needing to be rescued as the world turns to shit (although eldest daughter Kara can hold her own), the stakes are raised even higher. It’s this type of storytelling that can literally be called a page-turner.  I finished this book in four days… well nights, as I read before bed, and Melchiorri seriously owes me some nap time.

This is some seriously good storytelling with well-rounded characters, high action, and intense tension. And monsters, damn but Melchiorri’s monsters are unique and unnerving. You won’t be disappointed.

On a Goodreads scale, I give The Tide five stars.

Festivus Book Pimping – Into the Mist by Lee Murray

Yes, yes, I’m cutting it fine with the Festivus Book Pimping, but remember, as much as I love a print book (oooh, they smell so good!), ebooks are also damn fine presents. So kicking off today’s Festivus pimping is mutli-award-winning New Zealand author, Lee Murray, with her book Into the Mist.

RAWR!

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As you can tell from the absolutely kick-arse cover , Into the Mist, is a military horror creature-feature tale, but this one is set in the wilds of New Zealand with a creature ripped straight from Māori legend. It was very cool to read not only Murray’s vivid descriptions of the NZ back-country, but to delve into the culture and rites of a strong and proud people.

Into the Mist (Cohesion Press), follows NZDF Sergeant Taine McKenna and his squad as they escort a group of civilian contractors into the Te Urewera National Park. Not usually a job for the army, McKenna’s other task (off the books) is to find any trace of squad that had vanished while trekking through the National Park.

From the back-cover blurb:

Militant Tūhoe separatists are active in the area, and with its cloying mist and steep ravines, the forest is a treacherous place in winter. Yet nothing has prepared Taine for the true danger that awaits them … a prehistoric creature intent on picking them off one by one.

From the outset, you’re thrust into the action, and the tension Murray weaves throughout the story never lets up. With sub-plots woven perfectly through the tale, the reader is given a glimpse of the rich Māori history, and the struggles to maintain their culture and their land against those intent to profit from it. It’s brutal, it’s gory, and when the chase is on, your gut will be clenching right along with the soldiers and the civilian charges.

And this beastie? Oh, it’s smart, and it’s stealthy, and it’s impervious to the squad’s guns. And shoot it a lot… and you know that only makes the monster mad… and vengeful. Murray is a mistress of tension, and she will make you dance to her tune. I was enamoured with this book, but I grew up on stories of Māori legend via my father (he’s Pākehā, not Māori), so this was a real delight. And it’s wonderful to see diversity in fiction; the world needs more of it.

There’s also a glossary of Māori and local terms for those unfamiliar with the country and its culture, but the way Murray tells the story, understanding is a given.

Read this book you must. Give it as a gift you also must. But I guarantee it will be one you can’t put down. You can read a review of Into the Mist here.

Recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, creature-feature, and balls-to-the-wall fear-mongering. Yeah, this book has it all.

Go, now, Festivus Into the Mist, you won’t be disappointed.

RAWR!

Festivus Author Pimping – Hank Schwaeble

Happy Festivus! Today I will be pimping author Hank Schwaeble. Yes, I did just read that sentence back but I’m gonna roll with it (minds and gutters, people). The reason for author over book pimping is there are two titles of Hank’s that I’ve read this year, and you need to be reading both of them.

It was American Nocturne where I was first introduced to Hank’s work – a collection of short stories that definitely sit on the dark side of fiction. Hell, it’s horror at its best, and I’d wondered why Hank’s writing hadn’t been on my reader earlier. I mean really, the man’s a two-time Bram Stoker award winner, so… mea culpa.

American Nocturne

Now before we delve further, both titles I’ll be discussing here are put out by Cohesion Press, of whom I’m the editor-in-chief, but as I’ve only managed to read eight books this year due to workload (I stopped counting when I hit four million words – that’s right, four million), there’s going to be some crossover between work and reading outside of work.

Okay, so now we have that out of the way – American Nocturne. There’s a definite noir feel to the stories in here, especially with the title story, which kicks off the collection. There’s so much to love about this collection, and while each story is so very different from the last, it’s Schwaeble’s voice, his storytelling that holds this collection together. Oh, and the twists he delivers with some of the stories are done with such a deft hand, it will have you rereading for an altogether different experience of the story (like two books for the price of one!). You can read a full review of American Nocturne over (here) over at review site Smash Dragons.

The next book of Hank’s is the novel The Angel of the Abyss, and if this cover doesn’t make you want to rush out and buy it, then you and I need to talk. Out the back. In a dark alley.

This is the third in the Jake Hatcher series, but can definitely be read as a standalone. I hadn’t read the previous two novels (Damnable and Diabolical), but I was immediately drawn into the tale of Jake Hatcher – military vet come demon hunter. But Hatcher is well on Hell’s radar, and as demons are wont to do, they mess with him every chance they get. And that’s half the fun, trying to sort the lies from truth while attempting to stop the one hell of a demon taking human form and walking the earth once more. As I’ve come to expect, the twists and turns in this book keep you guessing, they make you think, and there’s not much better than reading a book that involves you, that asks you to take the journey with the characters, because they know just as much as you do about what’s happening.  Hatcher is a brash, sarcastic, takes-no-shit character who despite his protestations, wants to do the right thing. He just happens to get thrown into the crapper a lot. There’s black magic, demons, cults, secret military installations… yeah, it’s a heap of fun!

angel-of-the-abyss

You can read reviews of The Angel of the Abyss here and here. But trust me when I say, you’re in for a hell of a ride with this book, and there are more stories due in the series… and it’s only going to get nasty… or nastier.

Both books are highly recommended for lovers of horror, military horror, supernatural, and thrillers.

(Both covers were created by the amazing Dean Samed of Neostock. Check out his work.)

Review: Extinction End by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Lookit me finishing a book! It’s been a crazy year, and I’ve not read anywhere near the amount of books that I’ve wanted… although that hasn’t stopped me buying books because that’s just crazy talk. What has been all kinds of great is the discovery of Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s Extinction Cycle series (big up Geoff Brown for putting me onto them).

I’d been sitting on Extinction End (book five in the series) for a while, which is no reflection on the book itself, rather on my complete lack of time to give it the reader-respect it deserves. Two minutes before bed with eyes feeling like sandpaper does not good reading make. Also makes AJ cranky-cranky-something-something.

So between moving house and all the “fun” that goes along with that, I managed to get away for five days to my father’s farm where there is nothing but the call of birdsong, verdant hills as far as they eye can see, and steer fights over mounds of dirt (don’t ask). The perfect reading environment.

Before I go any further, time for the requisite spoiler warning:

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. LIKE, BIG MOFO SPOILERS THAT WILL SPOIL IN ALL THEIR SPOILERY SPOILMENT. CLICKETY-CLACK, YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

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In my Amazon review, I called this series military-horror at its finest, and I have a foot in this world (not the Variant world, ‘cause I don’t think I’d have enough clean underwear to make it through a Variant meet-and-greet), but the military-horror publishing world – I read a lot of it, and I know stand-out when I read it.

Extinction End was supposed to be the final book in the series, and while book six is about to hit the bookshelves any day now, this tale is told with finality and the tying up of threads for the characters trying to survive in this new world. Although part of me has to wonder whether Smith was truly finished with Team Ghost tales, as the epilogue really did leave it open for more.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Variants have evolved with each book, and are now thinking, strategizing and some are speaking – crude though it is – but it’s a kind of mental… telepathy that has the Variants working as soldiers. Desperate, now, for the only food source available – people. They’re also breeding – evolution really is kicking it up a notch here.

With a great mix of science and military action, Extinction End is hard-core – and it should be. It was written as the last book, so things are always going to get worse before they get better… if only slightly better. There are several threads running through this, but it’s held together by the two main characters: Master Sergeant Reed Beckham and Dr Kate Lovato – now expecting their child.

From beginning to end, there’s no let up on the tension; it’s fast-paced, and tightly packed with action and gunplay. And to add to it all, there’s mutiny afoot. That’s the thing with an apocalyptic event, people (by definition) are going to come at the problem in different ways, and they’re always going to believe their way is the right way, the only way.

Smith plays with these threads like a puppeteer, manipulating and shifting the players on the stage like a macabre dance. Nothing is guaranteed in this world. And going into this book with the knowledge Smith isn’t afraid to maim or kill major characters (you and I need to speak about Riley, Nick), each chapter was like the tightening of a bowstring – there’s only so much give before it snaps and takes you out.

There’s no doubt Smith has a great regard for the women and men who serve in the armed forces; it’s evident in the way he’s drawn those who don the uniform, in their character and their willingness to sacrifice all to save those they’re meant to protect. And some do. Not all make it through this book, nor should they, and with a possible advantage over the Variants, it’s Team Ghost that goes in again.

The last few chapters of this book were a hard read. You know not all of the team will make it back, that the shit will really hit the fan – you’ve been following these characters for five books now, something’s gotta give. And it did, in a big way.

Now if you’ve read this far despite the spoilers, I’m giving you one last chance to look away – major spoiler ahead.

I admire a writer who takes the hard road with a main character, and Smith does that by having Reed hit with Variant venom. It’s a death sentence by all accounts, but the quick thinking of Big Horn via two field amputations saves Beckham’s life. The loss of his right hand and his left leg from the knee down, plus impaired vision means he’ll never be the soldier he once was. His war is effectively over. Tough call it must have been, but it was the right call.

There’s a strange satisfaction in that; Beckham’s not invincible, that war claims everyone in some way or another. From the man in the street who sides with the Variants for survival, to the colonel aboard a battleship who orchestrates a mutiny for launch codes (now that was a satisfying death!). No one is immune, and Smith shows this in both harsh and subtle ways.

There is so much to like about this book – it grabs you from the beginning and doesn’t let you go. That’s what a story should do, it should drag you into the world, kicking and screaming if it must, but it makes you a participant, makes you invested, and makes you both want to turn the next page while dreading it also.

If you haven’t read this series, you need to rectify this immediately. And with book six – Extinction Aftermath – due out today… or tomorrow (time zones are weird), you won’t have to wait to see where Team Ghost ends up next. It’s Europe. Told you there’d be spoilers.

Well, don’t just sit there reading this, *flaps hand* Go. Now. Buy the books!

On a Goodreads scale, I give Extinction End five stars.

Review: Extinction Age by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Lookit me reading and reviewing like a regular reader-person. The world’s gone crazy! Crazy, I say! Now if you’ll just let me slip out of this special white jacket that ties in the back, we’ll get on with the review.

Extinction Age is the third in the five-book Extinction Cycle series by Nicholas Sansbury Smith, and while I was eager to get into the story, I did enter with some trepidation. This book is the ‘meat’ in the sandwich of the series, and I’ve often found that this is the book where that tends to suffer from middle-book-wandering, but this is definitely not the case with Extinction Age.

Now before we go any further…

SPOILERY-SPOILERS MAY OCCUR PAST THIS POINT. READ ON AT YOUR OWN PERIL. SERIOUSLY. DON’T MAKE ME TELL YOU TWICE.

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Extinction Age begins at a cracking pace, and also in the underground sewers of New York. Master Sergeant Reed Beckham and his rag-tag group of Delta Ghost and Marines are fleeing a horde of Variants, unaware they’re actually in the monsters’ lair… and their meat locker.

When you put monsters and soldiers in a claustrophobic environment, then add in a human food store, and that damn clickety-clack the Variants make (think that god-awful sound from Day of the Triffods), you’re in for some full-action, high-tension scenes, and you just know someone’s going to bite it.

Humanity isn’t doing so well either – with major, supposedly impenetrable political installations falling to the Variants, panic is starting to set it, and those in power are making some pretty shitty self-centred decisions, some even clamouring for power.

And running through this is always the science. It really is a race against time, and it’s a race humankind isn’t winning. Sometimes, humanity is its own worst enemy. Smith plays on this theme quite well, and often leaves you wondering who the real monsters are in this story.

The writing is tight, and the peaks and troughs throughout the story take you on quite the rollercoaster ride, and just when you think things couldn’t get any worse? Well… it’s never going to be an easy ride. While doctors Lovato and Ellis have created a new weapon, in doing so, Lovato unintentionally puts Beckham in harm’s way, but as that seems to be his comfort zone… still makes for tense-ridden moments.

But the ending? Oh, you will not see that coming. Many didn’t. J But it was a cracker of a way to end book three in the series.

This is my favourite of the Extinction Cycle Series thus far. So that thing I said earlier about ‘middle-book-wandering’? Yeah, doesn’t apply here.

On a Goodreads scale, it’s a solid 5.

Review: Extinction Edge by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

What madness is this! Another review so soon after the last? The world must be spinning off its axis… which is rather fitting considering the theme of Extinction Edge, second book in the Extinction Cycle series. This is definitely a world where humanity is teetering on the brink. Huzzah! I mean… well, I mean ‘huzzah!’ – apocalyptic stories are some of my faves, and when you add in military horror, I’ve hit the trifecta.

Now before we venture into Nicholas Sansbury Smith‘s desolate world of monsters and mayhem, the requisite spoiler warning must be given. *clears throat*

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS. THERE, THERE BE SPOILERS. AND THERE’S ONE. *points* AND THERE’S ANOTHER HIDING BEHIND THAT BURNED-OUT CAR OVER THERE. *points* AND BEWARE THE SPOILERS WAITING IN AMBUSH. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Right then. Let’s begin.

Extinction Edge picks up a wee time after book one, (review of Extinction Horizon here), and things aren’t exactly plum on Plum Island. Sequestered though they are, there’s no denying the siege mentality needed to survive what’s looking a lot like humanity’s last days.

In book two, we get to learn more about Master Sergeant Reed Beckham and his team of Delta Team Ghost, that now consists of just ‘Big Horn’ and Riley – both of whom are excellent secondary characters who I like a lot… which in my world, means: if I like them a lot, death’s a-comin’ (I hate you Jinx Faerie!).

After losing half his team to the contagion virus, Beckham is determined to get Big Horn back to Fort Bragg to rescue the man’s family (dire though the outcome appears). It’s this that drives the first half of the book, and it’s a rough ride. With Riley severely injured, it’s just the Ghost operators on the mission. And a hell of a mission it is. I’m not going to divulge the fate of Horn’s family, but the battle to get to where the survivors may be holed up, is one of the best in the book.

Extinction Edge

Intertwined with this, is the work of Beckham’s love interest, Dr Kate Lovato, who is trying desperately to find a weapon to combat the monsters born from her previous biological weapon. It’s a mess, but a good mess for a book to have. Kate’s weapon wiped out about 90% of Ebola-ridden monsters, but that remaining 10%? Oh, they’re way nastier, and they’re evolving. Variants, they’re now called, and they’re the stuff of nightmares. (Can I get a huzzah?)

It’s these Variants Beckham and Horn will need to battle if they’re to find survivors at Fort Bragg – where Horn’s family is (hopefully) safe and hidden. It’s clear Smith has extensive knowledge of military tactics and weaponry, and this is brought vividly to life in the battle scenes against the Variants at Fort Bragg. Smith puts to great use high tension and critical action to draw the reader in, and draw it did. It’s been a while since I’ve forgone sleep to read, but Smith owes me at least four hours.

The medical side of Extinction Edge is interspersed nicely with the military action – the peaks and troughs throughout the book give the reader time to breathe, but make no mistake, science is going to play a big role in the books, and Lovato’s character arc is really starting to come into play not just in the lab, but with Beckham. Balance in a totally unbalanced world is a nice juxtaposition.

While it’s clear Beckham and Lovato are the spearheads for the story, the secondary and minor players are well-developed, and don’t sit like cardboard characters on the page. With the amount of death that’s happening (and they’re grisly and kinda awesome), those characters that rise to take the place of those who’ve been lost, hold their own. Fitz is a very addition, and highlights the casualties of a war that’s all too real; Smith gives him purpose, makes him a real player in his own right – he’s fast becoming a… (I see you Jinx Faerie – on your way!).

As the second book in a five-book series, there was always the chance this book could stumble, the author trying to drag out the storyline, but this is a tight read, there’s little wandering from the plot and sub-plots, and the threads are woven together… not so neatly, and they shouldn’t be. This is a story still in its early stages, and there’s much to be discovered. And not all those who’ve survived humanity’s crash are as noble and honour-bound as the soldiers fighting for those who are left.

And with the Variants evolving, hunting in packs and creating ‘food’ stores, the battles are only going to get more bloody. Big shout out to Smith, too, on the creation of the nightmare creatures. They’re an assault on the senses, vile creatures driven by base instincts. And damn difficult to beat.

This is apocalyptic military horror at its best, so much so that I’m already well into book three.

On a Goodreads scale… ooh, it’s tough. Not quite a five, close but just not quite. So… 4.75 stars.

Four and half stars

Review: Extinction Horizon by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Ooh, lookit me posting another book review so soon after the last! I’m on fire! Or rather, Extinction Horizon was. That just goes to show how much I enjoyed the first book in The Extinction Cycle series. This is the first of Nicholas Sansbury Smith’s work I’ve read; I love discovering new authors (new to me, not to others… or him… shut up, I need more coffee), delving into the world they’ve created, or rather, in Smith’s case, a world destroyed.

Extinction Horizon follows Delta Force Team Ghost, and Master Sergeant Reed Beckham, and right from the start… hang on… just let me…

HERE THERE MAY BE SPOILERS. MAYBE BIG SPOILERS. ACTUALLY, NO ‘MAYBE’ ABOUT IT. BIG SPOILERS INCOMING. READ ON AT YOUR OWN RISK. DON’T GO BLAMING ME IF YOU DEFY ORDERS AND CONTINUE ON. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

Extinction Horizon

Okay, if you’re reading this now, you’ve accepted the risk of spoilery spoilers. Good for you, ‘cause this is a damn shitty world with frightening monsters Smith has delivered. It begins scarily enough – an experimental drug (VX-99) given to an elite team of Marines during the Vietnam war that backfires spectacularly. It has devastating effects on the men, guinea pigs for all intents and purposes.

Next – Ebola virus. That’s enough to have you reaching for a Hazmat suit, but when you have an army general working with a virologist and wanting to create a super-virus to use on the enemy to save soldiers’ lives… oh, it ain’t gonna end well.

Reed Beckham and his team are sent to retrieve the virus from a secret facility, and this is where we’re first introduced to the ‘monsters’ that’ve been created by this super-virus. It’s also where Beckham loses half his team. Things go from bad to worse when this virus breaks containment lines and spreads like the plague it is.

Before long, the world has gone to shit. In a big way. We’re talking extinction event here, with only small patches of survivors. And within this is CDC virologist Dr Kate Lavato – tasked, now, with finding a cure. It’s clear early on that she will be Beckham’s love interest, but she has also become the focus of Beckham’s need to protect. With humanity almost gone, Beckham’s need to find purpose is what drives him, and Lovato is the key to humanity’s survival.

But let me get to these monsters. Ebola is a haemorrhagic virus; victims bleed-out internally in horrifically painful ways. But with the addition of VX-99, you get an altogether different monster. One that has its origin in the origin of species. We’re talking what first crawled out of the sludge. Inhumanely fast, with joints that crack and bend at unnatural angles, and an insatiable need to feed on protein (that would be humans, just so we’re clear), infection rates skyrocket.

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Look, I could go on and on about how good this book is. But you don’t have time for a dissertation, and I really should be working. What you should know is this apocalypse-event story is filled with high-tension, incredible military action, intrigue, deceit and, at times, a sense of despair at what’s happening. But always there is hope. That’s what I love about books such as this.

This isn’t going to be an easy-fix situation; Delta Force Team Ghost is facing a monster-super-soldier that is almost impossible to defeat. The thing with humanity, though, is that it lives for a challenge. Adapt or die. And dying isn’t something Beckham, his team of Riley and Horn, on their list of things to do.

One of the things that did have me thinking (and still does) is how easily a contagion can spread. A carrier on a plane, on a train to work, of someone coughing in the wrong place… one lapse and we’re looking at extinction. And that’s something Smith works well into his book – the ‘what if’ that so readily sits beneath our primal fear of deadly contagious diseases that could so easily turn pandemic.

As the first in the series of five, this book does all it’s supposed, and while I would have wanted to see a little more emotional struggle from Beckham when it comes to Lovato, that’s a small thing when dealing with a soldier who has spent most of his life detaching himself from the horrors of what he does.

Book two in the series, Extinction Age, is sitting on my bedside table ready to go. And it’s a thicker book too, which means more military goodness coming my way. I think that means, why yes… I’m…I’m a fan. That’s always a great way to end a review.

Or, end it with a Goodreads scale of 4.5 stars.

Four and half stars