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The Lost Causes of Bleak Creek by Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal

Rhett and Link met in the first grade at Buies Creek Elementary School in 1984. The story goes that they were both held back from recess for writing profanity on their desks. While everyone else was outside playing, they spent their recess coloring mythical creatures. They have been best friends ever since, and even made a blood oath to commit to always work together and create big things. That promise has been kept. Some of their earliest projects include a screenplay Gutless Wonders (never finished), and a punk rock band.

Fast forward to today, they run one of the most successful Youtube channels, Good Mythical Morning (GMM), with over 15 million subscribers, and over 5 million views daily. Their catalog also includes music videos, the web television series Buddy System,  their award winning podcast EarBiscuits, comedy/musical tours, and the New York Times’ Bestseller Book of Mythicality. 

Why am I mentioning all of this? Because the parallels between real life and fiction are evident in Rhett and Link’s second book, and first novel The Lost Causes of Bleak Creak. The book follows the friendship of Rex and Leif in the town of, you guessed it, Bleak Creak, North Carolina. Bleak Creek is a typical, small southern town. One that holds religion, family values, and tradition close to heart. It is a seemingly cheerful place, but every town, no matter how big or small, has its secrets.

The first chapter starts with Rex, Leif, and their friend Alicia filming a scene for their film, Polterdog (similar to the screenplay Gutless Wonders mentioned above). Something goes wrong during the filming of a scene which lands the three friends in trouble, one of the terms of punishment being that they are no longer allowed to film their movie. Alicia who already has a bad reputation due to previous circumstances, gets the worst punishment of the self-appointed Triumvirate. But having put so much time and energy into their movie, the group decides to meet up and film one last scene. As Rex and Leif make it to Alicia’s house, they soon find out she is in trouble. They find out she is being sent, against her will, to Wayne Whitewood’s reform school. Shrouded in mystery, no one really knows what happens inside the ominous building surrounded by a chain-linked fence, but it has a reputation of its own. Some people never return, those who do come back aren’t quite the same, almost zombie-like, without the appetite for brains. Either way, Rex and Leif have no choice but to try and save their friend from certain demise.

For a comedic duo, Rhett and Link wrote a thrilling page-turner. There is plenty of 90s nostalgia, and nods to good-ole southern traditions such as pig pickins’. They took elements from their personal lives and transformed into something magical. Hopefully this can turn a few people into a Mythical Beast, or fans of the GMM channel, because the friendship of Rhett and Link is so wholesome and inspiring. Their most recent episodes have been shot documentary-style, while they take you through Buies Creek to revisit their childhood homes, church, and the creek itself. It adds another layer to the novel. Even though  Halloween is over, there is always room for a little suspense and psychological terror (especially with the holiday season approaching fast), and this book delivers.

 

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The Consultant by Tj O’Connor

Tj O’Connor is a former government anti-terrorism agent. He has investigated terrorist activity around the world and draws on that wealth of knowledge and experience in his latest novel, The Consultant. It is billed as the first in the Jonathan Hunter series and is the Military Writers Society of America 2018 Gold Medal Winner.

Hunter is an international security consultant in the Middle East and other places where his special talents are needed. He describes himself as “sort of a handyman for special clients”. But he works for only one special client, Oscar LaRue. LaRue is CIA and Hunter’s friend, mentor and master.

Bullets are flying from the first sentence in this thriller.  Having tracked his estranged brother’s cellphone to a riverbank, Hunter drives into a hail of bullets. He survives but Kevin, the elder of the two brothers, is wounded. There is no time for Kevin to tell why he sent for Hunter.  With his dying breath Kevin leaves few clues – Khalifah, find G, not them, Maya in Baltimore, and a partial address.

Hunter’s full name is Jonathan Hunter Mallory. His parents died when he was a teen and Kevin sacrificed to provide for his younger brother. They became estranged when Kevin objected to Hunter’s career choice, the CIA. Now years later the letter from Kevin asking for help has drawn Hunter back to Virginia only to arrive too late.

His mission to aid Kevin now turns into the search for his killer. He also learns he has a sister-in-law, Noor, and nephew, Sameh, that need his help. To further complicate things he left Qatar without notifying LaRue. He knows LaRue is aware because his bank account has been emptied of the $879,928.66 it once contained.

Kevin was part of a joint terrorist task force involving the FBI, the Virginia BCI, and others. The crime scene has plenty to keep the task force busy and the leader, Agent Bacarro, isn’t keen on his help. On his own, Hunter takes his first step to find his brother’s killer, the partial address. There are 4 possibilities and Hunter arrives at the first just as a large man is escorting a young man of Middle Eastern heritage into a van.

Deciding to follow, Hunter and the van eventually reach a mall. Only the young man enters carrying a backpack. Hunter follows him in only to lose him. Heading back to the entrance Hunter is almost blown up by a bomb. Scanning the devastation and seeing no one he can help, Hunter runs out to find the van. It’s gone and he races back to the house at the partial address.

The van is not there and Hunter finds three dead inside the house, an older couple and a young girl. A picture suggests they are the family of the young man that entered the mall with the backpack. Hunter has seen this tactic used by ISIS, the Taliban and others. But that was in the Middle East not in America.  What was Kevin involved in and where does Hunter go from here?

Another attack sends the country spiraling toward war. Hunter must pull together Kevin’s cryptic clues to find not only his brother’s killer but who is behind the terrorist attacks. LaRue is doing his own investigating and is using Hunter to flush out the conspirators.

As he searches for Khalifah, the assassin Caine, and the elusive G, Hunter finds not everyone is as they seem.  Also how are the Russians involved? Can Hunter figure out who are the bad guys and foil a plot that threatens to pull the country apart and draw it into another Middle Eastern war? Will he get his $879,928.66 back?

The Consultant is action-packed and Hunter is a likeable character. Our hero is the narrator of the story and pokes a little fun at himself, i.e. ’I ambled in – tough guys amble’. I was puzzled that some of the other characters were not better developed until I remembered Hunter is telling the story. He’s really good at finding bad guys but not so great with relationships and feelings.

I look forward to the next installment of this series. Recommended read-a-likes include Vince Flynn’s Mitch Rapp series and (my recommendation) the Gray Man series by Mark Greaney.

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I Am Behind You by John Ajvide Lindqvist

I’m a horror fan. Well, a lightweight horror fan. I much prefer horror stories I can explain away so I can sleep at night. If I haven’t watched a haunted videotape, the ghost can’t possibly get to me. Right? Right?! So when I heard John Ajvide Lindqvist, author of the vampire novel Let the Right One In, had published a new horror novel called I Am Behind You, I had to give it a read.

On a peaceful morning in the Swedish countryside, four families wake to discover they’ve been transported from their campground to a grassy plain with no landmarks, trees, animals, or cell phone reception. The group, made up of wildly different people, must figure out how to survive long enough to escape. As they try to find a way out, the group discovers that the peaceful countryside they’ve been transported to is full of danger.

Donald is quick-tempered and obsessed with firearms, while his wife Majvor is even-tempered and kind. Will Donald snap and kill someone? Stefan, Carina, and their son Emil appear to be an average family, but Carina’s past haunts her.. Lennart and Olaf are just two guys on a camping trip. They may seem like normal farmers, but there may be more to them than it seems. Finally, Peter, Isabelle, and their daughter Molly certainly seem like the perfect family, but there is something darker underneath. The secrets carried by each group member threaten to destroy everyone.

With no apparent escape available, the group turns to survival. They pool resources and try to explore their surroundings. They begin to encounter strangers in the strange countryside, but you can probably guess that these strangers are dangerous. As with many horror books, it’s difficult to write about the events of the story without spoiling it. The dangers that begin to surface are nothing, however, compared to the dangers the group members pose to each other.

As is also frequently the case, there are questions that simply aren’t answered. Where is the group actually at? How did they get there? What in tarnation is going on?! There’s plenty of content to analyze in any literature course.

Though some aspects of the story didn’t quite hit home, they seemed to stem from cultural differences. For instance, the songs of Peter Himmelstrand feature prominently in this novel. (In fact, the novel’s original title is Himmelstrand.) For whatever reason, the only songs that play on the campers’ radios are songs written by Himmelstrand, who was a popular Swedish songwriter in the 1960s and 70s. Perhaps if I knew more about Himmelstrand and his place in Swedish pop culture, this plot point in the book would make more sense to me.

I still really enjoyed the book. The characters were very well-written; I hated who I was supposed to hate, which is a huge hallmark of effective characterization for me. Perhaps my favorite character is Benny, a beagle. Several portions of the story are told from Benny’s perspective. Lindqvist doesn’t get overly sentimental when writing from the perspective of Benny, which helps make this viewpoint feel more realistic than other fictional animals I’ve read.

A little bit of research revealed that there are two other books that are part of this universe Lindqvist has created. Maybe, if those are translated into English, I’ll get some resolution to the bigger questions I have about what happens throughout the pages of I Am Behind You.

Overall, this was a really good read. I only needed two nights to get through it, which is pretty quick for a book that runs just over 400 pages. If you’re looking for a tense, scary read, I Am Behind You is probably right for you. I’ll definitely be keeping my eyes peeled for the translations of the two follow-up books in Lindqvist’s series.

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Book review by: Leslie Hayes