Ghostland by Duncan Ralston, Narrated by Joe Hempel

Duncan Ralston’s Ghostland seamlessly blends elements of 13 Ghosts (or the more high-tech remake, Thirteen Ghosts), Jurassic Park, and The Matrix into a thrill ride of a story. Thankfully, it’s marginally less exciting than the Ghostland attraction itself. Otherwise, Ralston would be responsible for a lot of carnage.
Something Ben Laramie catches a glimpse of when he witnesses his favorite author’s house inexplicably transported through town is enough to stop the young boy’s heart. It can’t possibly be Rex Garrote standing in the window and seemingly staring back at him because Rex Garrote has been dead longer than Ben’s been alive. But as the world will learn over the following years, death isn’t quite the conclusion most people believe.
On the opening day of the Ghostland theme park, Ben manages to recruit his former best friend Lillian and her therapist to join him as he enters the park on a mission they know nothing of. Since his heart attack, Ben has set his sights on one objective, and it’s one he’s willing to sacrifice himself to accomplish.
What starts as a coming-of-age reflection on mortality rapidly transforms into a harrowing and violent struggle for survival amid the exploration of the most haunted places in the world all in one place. Ralston paces everything perfectly, never wasting a beat as he drags us along with Ben and Lillian through a gauntlet that only the luckiest can hope to escape. As he leads us to a conclusion that is both satisfying and open-ended for the sequels, the author displays keen storytelling instincts that should impress anyone daring enough to enter Ghostland.
Joe Hempel is always a thoroughly competent and capable narrator, and his performance for the Ghostland audiobook is no exception.

Woom by Duncan Ralston

Duncan Ralston’s Woom is a masterpiece of an anthology tale with the most seamlessly incorporated framing story I’ve had the pleasure of reading. It’s like Campfire Tales if that movie had been X-rated and situated in a run-down, no-tell motel room. While Woom works as a single, longer-form piece of literature, it’s also a series of vignettes that flows together surprisingly well. As Angel and Shyla share their respective stories, the content becomes progressively more unsettling and vile. That shouldn’t bother you, though. It’s what you checked in for, after all.
When Angel checked in to Room 6 at The Lonely Motel and requested a big girl from the escort service, he expected disappointment. It’s what he’d experienced previously, both in life and in his previous attempts to find the right woman for the objective he has in mind. When Shyla arrives at the door, it seems like Angel might have found just the woman he’s been looking for. As the night progresses, and he opens up to her as she opens up for him, it becomes increasingly likely that Shyla will be uniquely suited to provide Angel with what he needs.
Mental illness, childhood and adult trauma, sexual fetishes, graphic violence, and a desperate need for redemption and rebirth swirl together into a perversely entertaining book. Woom is a story that dares the reader to continue reading, the whole time knowing that things are only going to get worse but that the way out is through.
What follows might be a spoiler, but I’m not sure I’d consider it one. While it’s obvious from the outset that Angel was telling stories from his own life, I don’t think that was meant to be a surprise to the reader, so I feel comfortable commenting on that without worrying that it’s too much of a spoiler. I suspect Shayla might have been the only person taken aback by that revelation. She wasn’t the brightest character, after all.