Friday, 17 June 2016

Book review - Mayan Blue - Michelle Garza & Melissa Lason

My latest read was this tasty little morsel by twin sisters, Melissa Lason and Michelle Garza, who brand themselves as the Sisters of Slaughter. My understanding is that they have been writing since they were little girls and have always written side by side, as is the case with this, their debut novel; Mayan Blue.

The story is a well constructed, fast paced rollercoaster of thrills, spills and contemporary twists, based upon ancient Mayan mythology.

The story starts with a group of friends - Wes, Tyler, Dennis, Alissa and Kelly on a camping expedition to meet up with slightly obsessed Doctor Lipton. A man, who having survived cancer, has made it his life's ambition to seek proof that ancient Mayan's had an original settlement in Georgia.

Armed only with a map, and a suspicion that the proof of the settlement is hidden somewhere inside Blood Mountain, Lipton sets off on his expedition, alone. Very quickly, things begin to transcend that he is going to get a whole lot more than he was bargaining for. 

The rest of the group, each with their own individual motives, pick up the trail from where Lipton left off. Armed with nothing but a tatty tent, liquor and a bag of weed, they are about to embark on an excursion unlike anything else they have ever experienced.

I'm leaving it there for the description, as any more would involve spoliers. 

The first thing that strikes you about the story is that it wastes no time before the foot gets stamped onto the accelerator. Things happen very quickly. Lason and Garza make a definitive point of this, almost to the point where they're unapologetic; this is the way it's going to be and that's that. Some may argue that a little more development may be required for a few of the characters, but why? We all know the proverbial is going to hit the fan so let's not mess about. 

As the story begins to unfold, you may be forgiven for thinking that its a version of the Goonie's that took a darker path, a much darker path. In a sense, I suppose it may be. Saying that, the Goonies didn't have to contend with the entity of Ah-Puch, lord of death, who holds the ability to manipulate and control walking, rotting corpses, shapeshifting, bloodthirsty demons and vampiric vines. 

I jest not.

The story moves along at a steady pace until it hits its climax, where an ultimate decision is to be made in the face of adversity, for individual vengeance. It's worked extremely well.

The amount of research involved to pull this off must have been staggering. All of the references are either very well salvaged, or the product of a very vivid imagination. Either way, it's very impressive and is the real catalyst that adhere's the story together to work so well. The intensity of the descriptions and authenticity of the cast, really make for a colourful, and at times, bloodsoaked tale. There is no denying that these two sisters are talented writers. 

There are many elements of this story that veer away from what I would class as more 'traditional' horror. At times, the mythology naturally steers it into the realms of fantasy, there are many horrific elements, but at times I felt it lacking just enough to satisfy the depraved urges of some hardened fans. 

Working with another writer can be difficult. Sometimes, it's difficult to get both parties to follow the same natural course. In the case of Lason and Garza, this isn't so; it works seamlessly. The story isn't linear, it's chopped up and zigzag's back into itself, but the flow is perfectly driven and pretty much faultless. A true testament to the power of their partnership. 

For me, a great first novel from a couple of writers with the ability and outlook to smash it. I will keep a close eye on this pair, they have a great future.

My rating 4/5

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Book review - Awakening - Stuart Keane

I was given an ARC of Stuart Keane's new book - Awakening; The prequel to his previous book, Charlotte. Charlotte was the tale of Amy Brunswick, a quiet nine year old girl who develops what her parents believe to be an imaginary friend. The reality is something quite more sinister and downright terrifying.

For Awakening, we move back a few years in time to Lake Whisper, where we join the story of Doris and her husband Jim, a young couple who fell head over heels in love on a retreat for oversize people. During one fateful car journey, twelve months later, Doris is suffering stomach cramps from a burger that she had eaten, subsequently leading to Jim fussing, crashing the car and killing him instantly. Upon arrival at the hospital, Doris is informed by a doctor that she is pregnant.

Upon the birth of her daughter - Charlotte, Doris soon learns that her life will never be the same again. A single parent, alone in the world to bring up her daughter, a daunting enough prospect in itself. That's even before factoring in that Doris blames the baby for the death of her husband and resents the fact that the child was ever born, seeing the girl as nothing but a hindrance.

As the story continues to unfold, what should be a heart warming tale of a mother's love as she continues to cherish and nurture her child takes a dark twist, as Doris raises Charlotte on neglect and violent abuse. In my opinion, this was a risky book for Keane as the subject matter is so sensitive that one foot put wrong could potentially result in disastrous consequences.The subject is dealt with in a dramatic, graphic, portrayal which can be very often difficult to stomach in places. Luckily, Keane's strong writing successfully manages to carry the tale in a confident and intelligent manner.

There are two scenes in particular that I won't go into but I can almost guarantee will leave readers with their mouth's agape and quite possibly a tear running down their cheek. Charlotte is portrayed as an intelligent, pleasant young girl with all of the possibilities in the world ahead of her. Her story in places was almost reminiscent of Roald Dahl's - Matilda. Doris on the other hand, is one of the most vile, wretched characters that I think I've ever had the misfortune to come across in a book. That's how powerful this is, as a reader you find yourself brimming with hatred for this vile, loathsome creature.

I'm not going to go into the content of the book because I don't want to give away any spoilers, but the first two thirds of this book is drama; heart-breaking, gut wrenching drama that may leave you feeling sad, it may leave you feeling sick. The final section of the book starts to take a turn into supernatural horror as Keane lines up the story for the transition into the original book.

It's hard to really sum this one up, because as much as it's a fantastic, gripping storyline, there is also the fact to contend with, that the same storyline is so harrowing that it will really get under your skin. In my opinion, many who may have taken on this challenge could have failed, Keane manages to pull it off in a book that will stay with you for a very, very long time after completion. I guarantee that it will be a roller coaster of emotion, as you truly feel for the young girl who is let down at every eventuality, then cheer in reprisal as the story reaches its impressive conclusion.

As I said, I think there may be some people out there who may object to the content of the story, however when remembered that its all befitting to the plot and necessary for the development of the character of Charlotte in the first book, it really works. What makes this book so terrifying is the fact that the horror is realistic, and potentially played out repeatedly, day after day behind closed doors. 

My rating 5/5 - go read. Another great book from Stuart Keane.