Monsterland: Reanimated Review

Threads were left dangling at the end of the first novel, storylines are sure to be followed up on in this second novel, and there are also more monsters in play this time!
But can Michael Okon take what was a pretty damn good opening salvo and turn it into a series that’s worth coming back to again and again?
Can he up the game any more than he did last time?

As is my way, consider this your ***Spoiler Alert***

After an opening where Konrad’s head is rescued by his assistant, Igor, after a pack of wolves ripped it off at the end of the last book, we jump ahead 3 weeks to find a nearly depressed Wyatt Baldwin trying to understand his place in regular life after killing monsters and saving friends.
The government we knew is gone.
All contact with the world outside of Copper Valley is basically cut off.
Carter, Wyatt’s step pappy, is trying to get the town back in order and on its feet.
All while a sinister plot is about to unfold around them.

This adventure in Copper Valley proves, if nothing else, that Okon loves to subvert expectations.
This book is a lot like Kevin Smith’s Red State or The Last Jedi, just when you think it’s about to turn left or right all three just say fuck it and kick it in reverse.
The girl with my favorite arc from the last book, Jade?
Long gone is the kickass girl that was splitting heads, now she is almost childlike in her innocence and clinging to Wyatt.
She is replaced by a possibly shape shifting new girl named Lily in the badass department.
Though Jade does end up serving a purpose, Lily is a better and far more capable character from the moment she’s introduced.
Wyatt, our main character, seems to struggle with where he wants to be.
He can’t quite settle on being a cog in the machine of the group or its leader.

His friend Melvin, who offered himself up to be turned into a werewolf in the previous book, may well be my favorite character this time out the gate.
Last time he felt a little too weak and nerdy, but now he has grown to be a take charge leader of his hybrid Wolf/Coyote pack.
But he also leads to my sole major complaint.
Once The Blob like Glob shows up, Melvin’s pack sacrifices themselves to the gelatinous beast to save him.
Later in the book, which amounts to mere hours later, he rather nonchalantly has moved on and nipped a few other critters and started a new pack.
He really seemed to have a great bond with the 1st group, so moving on so quickly felt a little too cold.
Though there is a member of the new faction that makes it slightly more palatable.

The new monsters in this installment are great!
And, unsurprisingly so, that’s exactly the strength of this series, the creatures.
1st we have the alien fuel-like substance, that the kids call The Glob in honor of the aforementioned Blob, that sucks life out of humans to convert into energy.
The Glob is woven into the origins of 2 of the other new beasts, making for a great sense of comic bookery and continuity.
It also has a weakness that is set up in the 1st book in a deceptively nonchalant way that could almost blast by you if you don’t read these back to back, cause it’s easy to retroactively spot and appreciate it.

Next we have mummies, which I thought were pretty cleverly “brought back to life”.
The zombies that were snuffed out on opening night are wrapped in Glob soaked bandages which brings them back to life and makes them more mindless than before.
Vincent Konrad is revived through Glob as a Frankenstein’s Monster-esque behemoth, though with more intelligence off the bat than the inspiration, bent on world domination.
Lastly we have ghosts making the scene and helping our heroes to purge the scum of Konrad from their sacred site.

To start wrapping up, I have to say Okon balances all of these continuing threads and sets up so many potential future storylines with surprising ease.
It’s hard to put into words and not make it sound like a supreme clusterfuck trainwreck, you really need to witness the execution to understand and appreciate the plates this dude is spinning.
The relationship between Wyatt and Carter is the best arc this go around.
They sort of head back to square one after the quantum leap forward at the end of book one.
At the end of this book, there is no going back again and that’s a good thing.
And Wyatt walking off into the darkness at the end sets up so many potential futures, I can’t wait to see where it goes.

The truth is, while not my favorite book series, I’m fully on board with this saga.
He definitely upped the game and went full tilt post-apocalypse, which is the logical step and bonus points because he pulled it off.
There are slight changes I would have made, I would definitely slow down the pace and spread these stories over a couple days instead of doing the 1 story in 1 day format.
But it does work as is.
Even as all of the heaviness settles in, it still has a tension breaking lightness that makes it accessible.
I repeat what I said last time: “half of me wants to say run out and grab this now, but the other half of me wants to tell you to hold off until book 3 comes out.
I think you’ll devour these 1st 2 fast and immediately be hungry for more.”
Now I have to start the long wait for book 3.
Damn you, Okon!

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Special thanks to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help.

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Monsterland Review

From time to time this book has popped up on Twitter in the last year or so since WordFire Press published it, and I have to admit that every time it pissed me off just a little bit.
This is such a great concept that it made me constantly wonder angrily why it took this long for somebody to think of this, hell why didn’t I think of it!?
The idea, at its most simple, is Jurassic Park meets the Universal Monsters, with a touch of political allegory.
But concept and execution are 2 vastly different things.
Can it live up to the genius concept?

As always, this is your ***Official Spoiler Warning***

Wyatt Baldwin and his monster obsessed friends are in their senior year.
But an obsession with monsters in this universe doesn’t mean you never miss an episode of Walking Dead or Supernatural, it means if you go to the seedier parts of town you could possibly run across a starving vampire or find a rotting corpse searching for a fleshy meal.
A pandemic broke out 2 years ago and now a billionaire, Dr. Vincent Konrad, has swooped in to try to save the world from the blight of these assorted beasts with 7 Monsterland theme parks on 6 continents.
Wyatt is in awe of Dr. Konrad and his philanthropic ways, but his newly christened step-dad isn’t impressed.

The worst thing I can say about this novel is that it moves a little too fast.
The vast majority of it takes place in the single night that the park opens, which makes sense, but it speeds along too quickly.
I would’ve loved to have lived in this world for a longer period.
Yes, Okon has said this is the 1st of a series (book 2 is out, he’s in the process of writing 3 & 4), but I wanted this introductory installment to last longer.
Like I’ve said time and again about Shamble, I really want to know more about this world.
The teases of future expansions to the park add to that wondering.
Now, if “this bastard left me wanting more” is the worst thing I can say, is that really a bad thing?

There is a fun sense of unease once they get into the park and you see the 3 different Monsters in their “natural habitat”.
Seeing the layout, the background, and the bullshit Konrad is spinning about the park is incredibly interesting, especially once it all starts unraveling.
And that’s key, when all hell breaks loose, it really hits its stride.

There are a couple moments that feel predictable early on, but he pulls a swerve in the end and doesn’t follow what feels like the obvious path and the book benefits from that.
For instance, early on a few too many mentions of Wyatt’s allegedly dead biological father telegraph that something is coming on that front.
He’s described as being a rather distant and cold lawyer that died and left his money to some “hole-in-the-wall charity”, so my guess was that he would be one of the masterminds behind the park.
Yeah, that isn’t the case…not by a long shot.
It was such a surprise and leads to a pretty impactful development with Wyatt’s stepdad that’s sure to come back around in the next book.

Like any good coming of age story, Wyatt has his eye on a seemingly unattainable girl, it follows the path of the 1st Sam Raimi Spider-Man in that respect.
This nerdy kid, who has more friends than Peter Parker, pines for the girlfriend of the school football star, Jade.
I really think her arc is probably my favorite.
In the earlier chapters, Jade comes off as that super cute girl next door.
But by the end of the book a history of darkness is revealed and she gets to have one of the most kick ass moments in the story.
I hope the sequel picks that thread up and runs with it.

Bottom line, it does live up to its concept and takes it interesting places, executing and elevating.
It’s shorter than you’d hope, but I wonder if that’s purposefully done to make you want to dive into the sequel even faster.
For a book I keep calling short and fast, I’ve barely scratched the surface on the many storylines, but I’ll leave those for you to discover.
Half of me wants to say run out and grab this now, but the other half of me wants to tell you to hold off until book 3 comes out.
I think you’ll devour these 1st 2 fast and immediately be hungry for more.

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Special thanks to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help.

Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories: Horror And Dark Fantasy Review

This collection is intensely curious.
I, and I’m gonna guess many others, never pegged Kevin J. Anderson for a dude with a dark side.
I listen to his Pod (Creative Futurism), I have heard his Building My 1st Lightsaber/Popcorn Theory Of Success talk (which I highly recommend all creative types watch here), and I’ve seen and heard countless interviews with the man and he really comes off easy going and unflappable.
But this book feels like he’s purposely out to break your preconceived notions of him, his personality, and his style and I loved nearly every word of it.

As is usually the case round here, consider this your official ***Spoiler Alert***, gang.

1st and foremost, just to get this out of the way, the best story in this book is Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.: Role Model.
I was hoping he would include a Shamble story in one of these Fantasy volumes, I would have been supremely disappointed had he left out this character.
I talked a bit about this story in my review of Working Stiff, so I won’t go over it again.
But I have 2 things I have to say in regard to this entry.
1. We are going to go over this story with a fine tooth comb next month in Series 5 of The Nerd Blitz Book Club, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
And 2. The little intro revealed something I didn’t know, I love this Shamble story almost as much as KJA himself and, though it should be obvious, his love for this story is apparent in the extremely short intro.
At least until Services Rendered comes out, this is the best of the Shamble short stories, I really can’t recommend it enough.

The 2nd best story is the 27th of 29, The Sum Of His Parts.
It’s a Frankenstein story that KJA developed for the 2005 Dean Koontz novel Frankenstein: Prodigal Son as background and went unused.
It’s the story of how Victor Frankenstein acquired the various body parts to create his monster and it is delightfully chilling.
This one plays like the best anthology movies, a little bit Pulp Fiction and a heaping helping of Trick R Treat.
Seeing certain events from multiple perspectives and how they impact characters is a stroke of genius that I don’t have the confidence many other writers could pull off.
Reading this I couldn’t help but wonder why this hasn’t been turned into a movie itself, it is a great twist on the classic story.

But showing his love for the old Universal icons, Frankenstein’s isn’t the only classic monster on display here, there a few Vampire/Dracula stories in here that really pop as well.
Rude Awakening, The Fate Worse Than Death, & Much At Stake all handle that specific monster in inventive and fresh ways.
Two deal with the monsters being awakened from their slumber, but diverging down vastly different paths and one features a doped up Bela Lugosi and Vlad The Impaler having a meeting through time to discuss the power of fear and reputation.

As I said above, this volume of short stories seems to be about bucking your expectations, and it does.
One of the earliest examples of this trend is the story, written with musician Janis Ian, Dark Carbuncle.
I have to say, on behalf of Thornton Velbiss, KJA is a real torturous bastard!
Velbiss is a swear-slinging rockstar (my kinda guy!) who died, but a particularly dedicated group of his fans aren’t ready to let go just yet.
They resurrect him in the hope of getting him to play his classic song for many years to come.
Exasperated due to his hatred of the hit, he drops to his knees and bellows for mercy from the almighty…and ends up possibly playing the tune for all eternity.
It’s the M. Night-esque middle finger twist I’m coming to love from Anderson.
Keeping with the musical theme, he includes 2 stories written with legendary RUSH drummer, and his long time friend, Neil Peart that are fun and make you want to find the other stories they wrote together.

Tucker’s Grove (the fictional Wisconsin small town I was first introduced to when I read Selected Stories: Fantasy) is really the star of this book.
I’m damn skippy between these 2 Fantasy volumes he has republished nearly, if not, all 13 of the stories from the 2011 short story collection focused on the town.
The depth of thought that he put into the history of this little hamlet over the years is admirable.
It’s his “Derry, Maine” or “Arkham, Massachusetts”, and you can tell he has the small town experience to draw on and make it feel legitimate.

I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of explaining this grouping of prose, but I know I’m running long.
I’ll start wrapping up by saying that this book features horror of all stripes, it feels like it covers more bases than the previous two Selected Stories collections combined.
You get classic monsters, modern slasher, humor, and psychological horror.
There is murder, abduction, betrayal, revenge, thievery, and magic curses in abundance, not to mention all of the sex, drugs, & rock ‘n roll that comes along with all of that.

Despite my love of the Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series, I almost feel ashamed for still viewing KJA as the guy that just writes epic Science Fiction novels.
Stories range from back in 1984 up to flash fiction written during his MFA courses in 2018, giving a sense of how prolific and various he has always been.
And that has been my main take away from this Selected Stories series.
I have never hated a single thing I’ve read of his, but I, and a lot of people, had this dude pigeon-holed.
Age Rings (which he told me on Twitter he wrote in 15 minutes) alone should shatter all of that.
He can shift gears and write any genre with the best of them and he fuckin’ knows it.
Welcome to the dark side, sir, I hope you visit more often.

Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories: Horror And Dark Fantasy is available October 15th in Paperback, E-Format, and Hardcover.
Pre-order it on Amazon or wherever you buy books.

Special thanks to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help on these reviews.

Share this on Twitter with the hashtag #TNBBookReview.

Spider-Man: Hostile Takeover Review

So, a prequel to a video game sounds good, but they do have a tendency to feel a bit uneven.
Sometimes the switch in format in cases like this makes it feel like a shift in the voice of the author or narrator when it needs to feel like a continuous story.
I have played the game and I love it, it is truly great.
The delivery of the story feels like a pure injection of the Spider-Man we all know and love just with a slight twist.
But how does this book feel?
Does it set up the game well?

This is your ***Official Spoiler Warning***, gang.
Now let’s dive in.

Kingpin has come back to New York and is rehabbing his public image after fleeing to Europe post-trial and nearly getting thrown in prison, which Spider-Man helped bring about.
Fisk is back, creating jobs by building lower income housing all throughout the city.
Spider-Man doesn’t really believe the sudden change in attitude, but once an imposter Spider-Man shows up wrecking havoc and turning the public against the true (red &) blue Spidey, his plate starts getting fuller than he can handle.

I hadn’t heard of David Liss before this book, but having gone on this nearly 400 page journey with him at the wheel I kind of hope he gets the chance to write Spidey and his world again cause he fuckin’ nailed it!
The set up for the game is pretty damn good and his writing style is crisp and easy to read.
The humor and personality of Peter Parker/Spider-Man is as true to form as you can get.
He delivers information economically, giving you a sense of the history of this specific universe and it’s Spider-Man.

We see Spidey meet Yuri Watanabe, a cop that has as much of a hard-on for Fisk as Pete does, for the 1st time.
Pete & MJ say farewell to Harry Osborn, who heads to Europe to find himself.
Mayor Norman Osborn makes his impact felt, putting on a bit of a show in a coffee shop.
J. Jonah Jameson takes his first steps into audio broadcasting.
MJ gets her job at the Daily Bugle and starts chasing the tail of Fisk.
All of these threads continue into the novel, the only one that feels weird in both is MJ’s because it feels a little too close to Lois Lane.
And given that she looks A LOT like Smallville’s version, played by Erica Durance, it makes it all the more weird.
BUT, even I have to admit, that’s a bit nitpicky since it doesn’t come out of nowhere.
Liss clearly establishes that she had an interest for years, studied it in school, but never really pursued it until now.

One of the other things that slightly bugged me about this book were the rather vague time jumps.
A few weeks here, a couple months there, it somehow manages to make a 398 page novel feel a little thin.
Those fast and loose jumps make me wonder though if Liss has specific guidelines he had to follow.
As if they wanted the story to build over time to the game, but they didn’t want to flesh out the story of this particular world too much just so continuity didn’t fuck them in any sequels or follow up stories, such as the current Spider-geddon storyline.

The web he wove with the 3 main villains definitely feels like a perfect set-up for a sequel game or the upcoming DLC, the description of a certain Kingpin related character (that I won’t spoil) is just too visual and her thread, which is left dangling, is just too damn ripe with potential to not come back around at some point.

The bottomline is that this may not be the Spider-Man you know and love every single detail of, but that’s okay because, MJ/Lois aside, there are no changes so drastic that it feels inauthentic or like something other.
I finished this and I wanted to know as much as I possibly can about this version, so I’m going to go grab my controller and go swinging around.
The whole time I’m sure I’ll be hoping Liss gets to write about this verse again soon so I can soak up even more of this great new world.

Special Thanks to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help.

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Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories: Fantasy Review

You remember what I said in my review of the Sci-Fi volume of this planned 4 volume collection about somebody contacting Kevin J. Anderson for the upcoming Twilight Zone reboot?
At its best, Twilight Zone pinballed between Sci-Fi and Fantasy with ease.
But can KJA, who I feel is best known for his Sci-Fi work, bounce between the genres with the same effortlessness?
I say it’s time we find out.

As per usual, take this as your official warning of ****SPOILERS**** and let’s dive in.

I almost want to bury the lead here and make you dive deeper to find the answer to the above question, but I just can’t.
He does.
I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of his 2nd of 4 planned Short Story Collections and I can say for sure that there are some stories in here that rival anything Serling and Co. came up with on their best days.
For instance, the story Time Zone (which even KJA calls out as Twilight Zoney) ends with that same amazing stomach dropping feeling of episodes like Time Enough At last or the horrific unavoidable feel of eps like Spur Of The Moment.
A dude who just moved west gets a call from his panicked parents who just saw on the news that a devastating earthquake hit his area.
But he doesn’t know anything about what they’re telling him, thinking they must be confused by the change in timezones again, when the time they mentioned strikes and he feels a rumble.
That is such a fucked up and genius, but extremely terrifying, idea that leaves your head swimming, and I love it.

While I love the stories, his intros shine again.
Most writers seem to be okay giving off the vibe that they are distant, reclusive, stuck in their own imaginations, but these intros give you a peek inside.
He again talks about what inspired each story.
He shares stories about his childhood, when he and his wife (fellow author and frequent collaborator, Rebecca Moesta) were dating and newly married, Christmas traditions, friends he has known and worked with for years, and anything in between.
If you are subscribed to his readers group, you know these personal anecdotes aren’t in here as some attempt at being pseudo friendly while slyly slipping a nimble finger or two into your wallet for a dollar…or twenty.
He genuinely seems to want to connect with his readers, not unlike another well known Kevin we mention around these parts from time to time.

It adds a new layer to each story, specifically the ones set in and around a fictional small town called Tucker’s Grove Wisconsin.
I was not disappointed by a single one of those stories, Loco-Motive, Just Like Normal People (which has a great nod to Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven, aka The Laughing Bird, that I loved), & Mirror, Mirror On The Wall.
My grandparents came from a small town that we often made trips to so they could visit their siblings and these stories feel like they could be set there.
The dark history and suspicious attitudes he gives to this otherwise idyllic town are as real as you can get, chillingly so.

I have said it before and I will say it again and again, Kevin J. Anderson is one of my favorite writers because he gets important information across in the most economical way possible.
With both of these short story collections, all of the Shamble stories, and his DC work, he crams them so full of details without boring the shit out of you for a half page with meaningless minutae about a rocking chair that damn near makes you want to rip your eyes out and stomp them into jelly.
I feel he is legitimately on the level of J.K. Rowling in that regard.
Of the twenty-six stories included, I loved twenty-four.
The two that I didn’t love were enjoyable but in the end their focus was on subjects that I just didn’t care as much about.
That’s a great average no matter how you slice it.

The last stories I have got to mention are Dark Angel, Archangel & Heroes Never Die, they are among the grandest included.
The first features the former grim reaper and his replacement as they are waging a war for the future of humanity, and it is awesome.
The way he cross cuts between the combatants and humans, showing who is winning through the fates of random people is brilliant and a must read.
The second showcases a Thor-like hero of old in modern times as he relays stories to a young kid who just moved in next door and loves superheroes.
The whimsy from the kid as this man of failing physicality spins his yarn is both hopeful and beautiful.
His defense of his elder friend is the same.

The bottom line is this, the fun on display here is stunning.
It’s hard to express just how much I loved this book.
In here, he plays with the toys of Jules Verne & H.P. Lovercraft, fictionalizes the inspirations of H.G. Wells & Charles Dickens, takes us through time to before man walked the earth and into feudal Japan, and the beautifully trippy cover art is the cherry on top.
In short, this book is the perfect personification of what short fiction can and should be for me.
This is going to be a tough act for other writers to follow.

Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories: Fantasy is available September 15th in Paperback, E-Format, and Hardcover.
Pre-order it on Amazon or wherever you buy books.

Special thanks to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help on these reviews.

Share this on Twitter with the hashtag #TNBBookReview.