Review: Bite by K.S. Merbeth (audiobook)



My original Bite audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.

Bite, a post-apocalyptic offering from new author K.S. Merbeth, comes with a neat little hook with its focus on cannibal wasteland scavengers and killers, but I would have enjoyed a little more meat on the bone.

Kid, a young woman hitchhiking her way through the irradiated ruins of Australia, accepts a ride, only to learn she’s bit off way more than she can chew. In short order, she soon finds herself a part of the gang and on the run from various forces, many of whom, unsurprisingly, don’t look to kindly at having cannibals in their midst.

The premise alone is a huge part of the draw in Bite, and I appreciated Merbeth’s wasteland saga’s focus on a group of people who are, quite arguably, the bad guys. Kid quickly makes friends with these ne’er-do-wells, led by Wolf, a dread-locked survivor with a knack for pulling off scores by the seat of his pants, and they all soon find their survival linked to one another. Dolly, a blue-haired tough, is an easy standout for fan-favorite of the bunch, with her quiet ways and easy violence making her an unsettling sort, but also an attention-grabbing mystery.

My biggest hurdle in Bite, unfortunately, was the main character herself, Kid. I prefer my female heroines to have a bit more agency, and felt that Kid too often fell into role of victim who needs saving. Granted, this is a sort of hero’s journey and she grows and adapts as the story progresses, but frankly I found it a be too unbelievable that this wasteland survivor would so freaking useless at the outset. She doesn’t know how to fire a gun or use a knife, she’s of little use in hand-to-hand fights, and despite this being an action-heavy book she spends too much time in hiding or waiting to be rescued. The first half of the book felt repetitive with its focus on members of the gang getting captured, followed by thwarted rescue attempts, and then their eventual escape only to again find themselves captured by different people in a different setting. By the time Merbeth gets around to explaining why Kid lacks any sort of adeptness or situational awareness, it feels too little too late. And, although Kid eventually levels-up, I think there were better options than starting her off as a nearly-constant damsel in distress.

Tonally, the narrative strikes an uneasy balance between serious and aloof. At times, this felt like a Young Adult title trying too hard to be a foul-mouthed, adult actioneer, and characters like The Queen only served to amplify this imbalance. The Queen is shrill and loud-mouthed, but is mostly a caricature reduced to exclaiming things like “Get them!” in lieu of villainous depth.

Narrator Stephanie Willis inhabits the role of Kid nice and smoothly, and she does a fairly good job with the reading of Bite. In my purely subjective opinion, though I found some of her male voices, particularly Wolf’s, to be a little too over-the-top for my ears, and The Queen was gratingly cartoonish, but I’ll chalk some of that role up to the writing itself. Her delivery of Tank’s and Pretty Boy’s lines, though, were well-handled and far more realistic. The voices Willis adopted for the other female voices were nicely differentiated, and she helps give a character like Dolly a certain charm that might otherwise be lost in reading the text. Bite is certainly well-produced, as one should expect of a major publisher like Hachette, and the sound quality is even and comes through cleanly with nary a hiccup.

Mostly, I enjoyed Bite, but found it a touch too uneven to really satisfy. It does recall a bit of the charm from other post-apocalyptic wasteland adventures, like the Mad Max films and the Fallout video games, and I am at least curious enough to see what this cast of characters get up to next, particularly Kid, who exhibits a lot of promise by book’s end. Besides, who doesn’t want more irradiated cannibals in their life?

[Audiobook provided for review by the]


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Review: Bite by K.S. Merbeth (audiobook)

Review: Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith



After five Extinction Cycle novels (and a sixth on the way!), Hell Divers, the first installment in a brand-new series from Nicholas Sansbury Smith, is a refreshing change of pace. While it has all the hallmarks of Smith’s usual brand of brimstone and bullets, its premise goes a long way in making this a distinct entry in this author’s oeuvre.

In both the Orbs and Extinction Cycle books, Smith approaches his doomsday scenarios as fresh threats to humanity on the brink of destruction with The End Of The World As We Know It just right around the corner or rapidly in progress. In Hell Divers, the apocalypse has already happened and, two hundred years after Trump’s presidency later, mankind has been reduced to roughly a thousand souls spread out across two airships, the Ares and the Hive. The Earth below them is a radioactive wasteland, the skies treacherous with the constant threat of electrical storms. After Ares is damaged, the Hell Divers (think futuristic paratroopers with wildly short lifespans) aboard the Hive are sent on a rescue mission. Soon enough, they find out the ground is not as lifeless as they thought, as marauding bands of vicious creatures they dub Sirens are out to get them.

One thing Smith does exceptionally well are action scenes, and there’s plenty of those to go around here as Xavier Rodriguez (otherwise known as X) and his team do battle across frozen wastelands, and the shipboard Militia stave off homegrown threats, as well as more elemental troubles. When the Divers do their diving, there’s some legitimate excitement to the sequences and Smith does a terrific job describing this horrific adrenaline rush. Ground combat is equally fierce, although the Sirens could use a little more oomph. As a fan of the Extinction Cycle series, I didn’t find these mutant killers quite as intriguing as the Variants. However, with two more books on the way, Smith certainly has plenty of space left to flesh out the concepts introduced here.

On the character front, X is the strong dashing male hero, and Captain Ash is the strong-willed woman in charge of the Hive – both are great characters, and get their own moments to shine. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more about these characters, as well as their lives aboard ship, and the ten-year-old Tin has all the makings of a heroic prodigy if he survives all the threats life in the skies brings.

There’s a lot about Hell Divers that feels comfortably familiar, but Smith freshens it up with a new coat of paint and shakes up the formula of his previous series enough to avoid feeling derivative of his other apocalyptic military thrillers. I think he’s on to the start of something that could be pretty bold here, and I’m excited to see what he has in store for the Hive, and readers, with future installments. Onward and upward!

[Note: I received an advanced copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley.]


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Review: Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Review: There Will Always Be A Max (A Genrenauts Story) by Michael R. Underwood



What I love most about the Genrenauts series is the elasticity the central premise allows for each subsequent entry. If you’re not familiar with Michael R. Underwood‘s latest series, Genrenauts is a literary-focused spin on Quantum Leap with a side of Star Trek. Earth Prime – our Earth – is the center of a multiverse where any number of story genres exist. The Genrenauts, led by Angstrom King, travel from one story world to the next, setting right whatever has gone wrong.

So far, his team has helped fix a broken story in the Western world, and another in the Science Fiction realm. Now, Underwood turns his attention, ever so briefly, to the post-apocalyptic wasteland that movie buffs are sure to recognize in this Original short story, There Will Always Be a Max.

Angstrom King rides solo through a desert wasteland, one so desperate for a lone, renegade hero in a region that “ached for stories like it ached for water.” King has taken on the identity of Max, a weary traveler with a souped up car, a shotgun, and a worn leather jacket. His mission is to help a small group of weary travelers make it across the stretch of irradiated land and get a water filtration unit back to their people. That is, if they can survive being chased and attacked by the gang of marauders known as the Skull Boys.

Yep – this is a Genrenauts story that is full-on Mad Max, and boy is it a fun one. It’s a quick read, and while Underwood plays with some familiar tropes and a bit of in-world literary analysis, this is basically a twenty-page chase scene actioneer. As far as the story goes, it’s a one-and-done, short and sweet, but I’m hopeful that the Genrenauts, either as the usual team defined in the previous two novellas, or on another solo mission, find themselves in another post-apocalypse landscape soon.

If you haven’t read any of the prior Genrenauts exploits, no worries – you can start off here just as easily as with Episode One, The Shootout Solution.

Michael R. Underwood is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to fund the Genrenauts Season One Omnibus. If you’ve read these books, or my past reviews have sparked your interest enough, please check out his fundraiser and, if possible, chip in. For only $10 you can get the entire Season One collection in your choice of digital format – as released by Tor, each individual episode has been $2.99. As a collection of six novella-length episodes, you’re saving about half by becoming a backer. (And yes, I am a backer.) Or you can get the book in print, as well, for a little extra. Money well spent, I think.

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Review: There Will Always Be A Max (A Genrenauts Story) by Michael R. Underwood

Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill



When I finished reading NOS4A2 a few years ago, I was incredibly eager to see what Joe Hill would produce next. That prior novel was my first experience with Hill’s work, although I have his other works in my possession and sadly unread, and it shot its way onto my list of all-time favorites. Hill immediately became a must-read author for me, I was that damn impressed. The Fireman is a completely different work than NOS4A2, one that stands tall on its own and proves that Hill is, or at least should be, on his way to becoming a household name.

In The Fireman, Hill brings us into a fiery apocalypse as humanity finds itself stricken by a disease dubbed Dragonscale. Those infected are prone to sudden immolation, and as the disease spreads and panic rises, things get hot in a hurry. Among those afflicted is Nurse Harper Willowes, newly pregnant and whose relationship with her husband, Jacob, has hit a snag due to her infection and his burgeoning psychosis. With the help of the titular fireman, she’s able to flee Jacob and find safety at Camp Wyndham, a makeshift commune for the survivors of Dragonscale.

I won’t say much more about this book or it’s occurrences, and hopefully I haven’t said too much already. The Fireman is a big book, a door-stopper epic, but one that never feels overburdened by its page count. It probably could have been made a tad bit shorter, but when the reading is as good and smooth as this, I shall never complain about getting extra pages to lose myself in.

One of the most powerful aspects of this book are the character’s themselves, and Hill really lets each of them shine brightly. I was fully invested in each of our leads, as attached to Harper, Nick, Allie, Renee, and the fireman as they were to one another, and it didn’t take me very long to full-on despise Jacob. He’s a nasty bit of work, but so too, sadly, are a few of the Wyndham leaders who turn inward upon themselves when tragedy strikes and lash out with religious fanaticism toward those who have wronged them.

In fact, my only real complaint is that I didn’t get quite as much of the villains as I would have liked. While Jacob is certainly deplorable, as is The Marlboro Man – a conservative radio show host who heads up a Cremation Crew hellbent on killing as many of the infected as possible – I could have used a few more pages with them if only to heighten their threatening countenances.

I also really appreciated the various ways both the infected and the uninfected responded to the Dragonscale epidemic. For some it’s an automatic death sentence, for others it’s an opportunity to grow, and for others still it’s a force to manipulate and control.

Better still, though, is Harper’s story of impending motherhood. At its core, The Fireman is every bit about family as it is the end of the world. But like most really good apocalypse stories, this isn’t so much a story of the end-times as it is the building of something new, of disparate personalities coming together to create fresh bonds and create new families and connections out of the ashes of the old. There’s conflict and tragedy galore, and all kinds of dark intonations about mankind’s lesser, baser instincts, but at the center is a bright shining candle of hope – absolutely beautiful hope.

[Note: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this title from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.]

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Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

Just a Few Things, But Mostly An Amazon Gift Card Giveaway

Not much to say today, but there are a few links worth sharing if you’re amenable.

  • Earlier this month, I took part in The Writing Process Blog Tour (henceforth renamed The Speculative Fiction Blog Hop, but original post remains the same here). After some further discussions amongst us blogger, Heidi Garrett began compiling a central archive site for these posts. In addition to our process posts, there’s also going to be some giveaways, excerpts, info on new releases – all good stuff, I assure you. So, go check out the Speculative Fiction Showcase. My tour post has been re-posted there, AND, as if that weren’t enough of a reason to check out this new site, you have a chance to win a $50 Amazon gift card. You’ll also find some info on new eBooks from Heidi, Jennifer Ellison, Kevin Hardman, S. Elliot Brandis, and Jason Gurley.
  • Speaking of Elliot and Jason – I did a quick review of Elliot’s book, IRRADIATED, a few days ago and my thoughts on it are right over here. Feel free to skip the review and just go buy this book. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic literature, you’re in good hands. And Jason has a new release coming up in June titled ELEANOR. Word has it, if you have not already joined his mailing list you should go do that immediately. Like now-now. Trust me. You’ll be in for a great surprise in the coming days. You’ll also get a free copy of his short story THE LAST RAIL-RIDER immediately. I read this one over the weekend, and it’s a fun, funky bit of post-apocalypse with a unique ending. I dug it.
  • Indie Author Land posted their 50 Self-Published Books Worth Reading guide. Although CONVERGENCE did not make their final cut, I’m humbled that my book got any votes at all. There’s some great suggestions in their list, though. And, while you’re there, check out the interview I did with them in April.
Just a Few Things, But Mostly An Amazon Gift Card Giveaway




A man thrust a baby into Jade’s hands. It trembled in her arms. The man had a message: escape from the tunnels and never return, her parents were already dead. Jade had a sister; she was irradiated.

Thirteen years later, her sister, Pearl, is coming of age. Rows of sucker-caps line her arms and hands. Her skin is coral pink. Each night, her dreams fill with visions of violence, depression, and fear.

On the surface, people have grown wild and dangerous. They scavenge, fight, and steal. Below, in the tunnels, they’re controlled by a ruthless leader and an army of beings known only as Shadows. When both groups come searching for Pearl, sensing the power her dreams may hold, only Jade can stand in the way.

About the Author

S. Elliot Brandis is the author of Irradiated, the first novel in a trilogy. He lives in Brisbane, Australia, and often sets his stories there, too. He loves hearing from readers, and can be found at many locations across the internet.
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My Thoughts

S. Elliot Brandis is the type of writer that immediately makes me jealous of his style and strong authorial voice. He has a ridiculously strong command of prose and is utterly methodical in his deliberate word choice, using every word and turn of phrase for maximum impact. Descriptions are lively and on-point, and he’s able to crack up the evocative sense of place and nature to 11. He is, without fail, an awesome wordsmith.

IRRADIATED is the first book of an ambitious trilogy. The setting is post-apocalypse Brisbane. The city is a rotting husk, its buildings bearing grimy flood lines thanks to regular flooding. The sun itself is poison, its radiation bombarding the Earth.

As the novel opens, Pearl is thrust into her older sister’s arms as the two are forced to flee their underground home. Thirteen years later, the two live in the mountains, with their companions Simon and Josh, foraging for scraps and survival. Pearl is a pink-skinned youth, her skin puckered with sucker caps, like those of an octopus. She is irradiated, as is Josh, whose body bears deformities as well.

While on a trade run, Jade is warned that her sister is in danger. The girl has been having visions in her nightmares, and others have been dreaming about her in return. Jade races back to camp, but is too late. Pearl is missing.

Brandis has fashioned an interesting cross-blend of science fiction and spaghetti western. Although we don’t learn much about the history of the wastelands his characters inhabit (what was the nature of the apocalypse – nuclear warfare, climate change, or some other mysterious societal collapse?), it’s a minor caveat. We don’t need to know, really, and the characters and their place in this altered, unfriendly environment is enough to satisfy in situ.

His central heroine, Jade, is a strong, capable actor, as is Pearl. I don’t want to spoil much, but I will say there is a wonderfully defining moment when Pearl, being tortured by her captors, summons up a beautiful amount of courage and strength to call bullshit on the central villain’s motivations. The Queen has abducted Pearl, with designs on using her dream-visions, in an effort to rid the world of the irradiated. Pearl realizes she is a weapon more than anything else, and dismantles The Queen’s egotistical savior ramblings for the trite musings of hatred and prejudice that they truly are. It’s a brilliant scene.

Brandis is clearly in his element with the post-apocalyptic genre, and he nimbly maneuvers through the ruins of Brisbane. Like Jade, he knows this dangerous terrain well. The story itself recalls other apocalyptic greats, and shares many similar thematic resonances of works like THE STAND and SWAN SONG, as well as the recent PlayStation 3 video-game THE LAST OF US. The conflict between the tunnel-dwelling remnants of humanity, and their fear of the irradiated may remind readers of HG Well’s infamous morlocks, although Brandis gives them a run for their money with his frightening, and fascinating, Shadows. If you enjoyed any of these other similar works, IRRADIATED will fit comfortably in your reading list and is well worth the time.

The second book, DEGENERATED, is expected to release in July, with ABERRATED following in December.