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Nick Reads & Reviews

Nicholas doesn't review here any average novel that he grabs from upon the bookstore shelf, only works that are submitted to him or otherwise provided by an author or author's representative. He'll review them here in his own special way..... 

Re-Entry of Evil by Richard Lee (Lee Pletzers)

(2004 Scroll Publishing/Lulu Press)

When I’d first approached the task of reading this book I held virtually no presuppositions. Though Richard Lee (or Lee Pletzers, his real name) has experience in writing and editing horror fiction over the years, is a prominent contributor for Sinisteria Magazine and achieved a degree of acclaim for his novels Blood of the Wolf and Nightmare, he has yet at the time of penning this review to step into the limelight of genre notoriety beyond the arena of self-publishing. On the other hand, for him, it is a grand arena. 

In this particular genre, Lee has managed to have made such a name for himself that among the literal thousands of writers that share his walk down the same road to get their works noticed and read and sold, it is nearly impossible to avoid hearing about him. His ambition and devotion to his craft is evident even in this fact alone.
Re-Entry of Evil centers primarily around the character of Peter Clement, and upon his introduction in the book as the proprietor of a family hand-me-down antiques shop, the last thing the reader would suspect about him was just how devastatingly evil he’d turn out to be. A patron steps into his shop, aptly calling himself the ‘Meph-man,’ who introduces him to the Devil’s Wish Book, a book of pure badness which had been collecting dust among the antiques unbeknownst to Peter. A short series of events involving a little blood and ritualistic mayhem commit him to the dark apocalyptic powers of the book which turn him into a sadistic killer, until he finds himself entrapped within the same instrument of death he found himself using to kill his victims: a magical dagger.
The tale takes a leap in time to the twenty-third century, where Peter is unleashed from the dagger to a future world where technology has advanced, convenience is sweeter, drugs are deadlier, we’ve had a hostile encounter with aliens and the earth is governed by a single president. Not to mention, the world is on the brink of war instigated by a regime known as the German/Arabian Front. What’s more, there is a subculture of devotees who are aware of the dark Wish Book and of the coming of the Devil himself, personified in Peter, as well as an array of protagonists bent on thwarting evil’s horrific plans.
There is little doubt that Re-Entry was written with great vision and diligence by a remarkable writer who will go far as long as he continues down this path. At times, though take note times few and far between, I found a mild mediocrity in Lee’s narrative that deserved to have been polished and perfected. But mind you, I’m talking about potential genius here; these things are forgiven with the overall delivery of a fiendishly clever tale, and I was particularly floored by the impressive literature that graced my eyes when Lee lapsed into first person after a professor discovers Peter’s diaries.
In time, I’m certain we all will witness just what an amazing literary talent Richard Lee (Lee Pletzers) is. Let’s hope he keeps it up.
I’m looking forward to more.

The Horror of It All by Josh Haney

(2004 Eve Blaack Publications.)

From what I've come to understand about Josh Haney, I'd say here is a man that lives, breathes, eats, and defecates horror in a manner not unlike Lucifer Fulci (both of their novels published by horror heavyweight Eve Blaack Productions, I might add). In other words, horror seems to be his life, not just an average pastime. He and his wife reside at "Splatter Ranch" in Northern Colorado which sports its own horror culture museum, they run Evil Cheerleader Productions (see www.evilcheerleader.com), do independent films and Crackula is the name of Josh's band. 

With such an immersion into the genre and to such an extent, why not add writing horror stories to his list of abilities? That he did, with The Horror of It All, a short read of just over a hundred pages comprised of seven stories. Sitting down to it and after having read the first paragraph or so, I found myself expecting the sort of unpolished mediocrity one would ordinarily find in the writings of an amateur scribe, and even then by someone who possibly may not hold the sort of serious investment in a lifetime career of writing horror compared to most other writers whose paths I've crossed. Throughout the book, I must admit, the prose is often simplistic and lacking a definite style befitting an accomplished writer holding firmly and with a zealous nature the reins of his craft.
      But that is part of its remarkable beauty, wit, and dark charm. This book is an effortless read, and is by no means sloppy, confusing, or unentertaining. I was very much taken by how Josh paints pictures with words in layman's terms while keeping the horror element alive and growing in ways at the same time fiendishly delightful and nightmarish. In fact, I recommend bringing this book along on a camping excursion to read by the fire after dark. It reads as though this was what it was intended for, and if I'm not mistaken Josh smothers almost each tale with circumstances and situations that seem to stem from his personal life. From the amusing Meeting The Grey's or How Two Gorehounds Saved The World to the suburban screamfest Door to Door, my suggestion is to pick up a copy and share it with some close, unsuspecting soul just before bedtime and see if it tweaks their dreams afterwards. I bet it will, and with any luck Josh Haney will continue to write, improve, find his voice, and produce great works.

Dreamkeeper by Holly Catanzarita

(2004 Scroll Publishing/Lulu Press)

Let me start by saying that not very long ago I myself began dabbling with the convenience of self publishing some of my writings, and in the process I've become exposed to a great multitude of authors self-publishing and promoting their own works of fiction; that act in itself is extraordinarily commendable, and more power to all of them for following their dreams, let alone having the patience and skill to write and complete a project in the first place.  

The point is......a downside of this is that a very high percentage of these writers produce works that are far less than perfect and sadly unreadable for a vast number of reasons, and works self-published by authors generally have a bad reputation because of that, under the umbrella of the traditional publishing industry and their millions of seasoned readers that need their fix of a popular book by a popular author.
     Holly Catanzarita blows that reputation and stereotype off the planet, and her Dreamkeeper is the first example I'd like to show here that there exists tremendous and truly marketable talent in the self-publishing arena. In a matter of time, keeping up with such a heightened caliber of storytelling in future works, Catanzarita will find herself a best selling author at the top of the barrel. She has already seen much praise of her works, published three novels, and has been included in a number of anthologies. She is the senior editor of Sinisteria, a reputable horror webzine. One reviewer hailed her as a female Stephen King.
     Dreamkeeper takes place in Taft, Georgia, a typical southern town. A strange force is wiping out the people there, one by one, in increasingly horrific ways, and like a spooky carnival ride through a house of horrors, it's all done with mirrors. Literally. The sight in the corner of one's eye of a formless shadow of death looming back at them through the looking glass is a harbinger of doom for a majority of highly believable characters. The story surrounds Antonio Valenti, a police detective whose dreams of a quiet little life on the force in a small town are shattered when numerous sightings occur of a mysterious and ghastly presence haunting and stalking through all the town's mirrors. With the assistance of a town reporter looking for the one scoop that will make his career, Valenti joins with a down-on-his-luck ex-gambler and a young man with a sixth sense in hot pursuit of an inter-dimensional demon of death summoned out of an underground room of mirrors to kill and to steal dreams.
     The story is both simple and complex, executing the right twists and turns essential to a gripping novel. The author explores the human condition on various levels such as schizophrenia, the desire for dreams to come true and the price to be paid for fulfilling such wishes if one wants their dreams bad enough. Catanzarita's angst-filled characterizations are the trademark signs of a writer's blossoming into a master storyteller, for it is character and story flow that reveal whether a writer has what it takes for success in their craft.
     I find myself suddenly struck by the novel's haunting and recurring phrase, "tick tock tick tock what's cooking in the pot......." and it occurs to me that what's cooking is indeed a brilliant author whose career is more than worth keeping an eye on.  

Night of the Goat by Russell Paine

(2004 Infinity Publishing)

 Isaac Crain is "The Goat," a self-proclaimed nickname derived both by an incestuous relationship and a National Geographic-like wildlife television show. A mental institution escapee, Crain embarks on an obsessive search throughout New York City for his lost love which escalates into a relentless killing spree. His mental faculties are so bent out of shape that he not only confuses one woman after another for the love he's searching for, but convinces himself once he's proven wrong that each mistaken identity must pay dearly; he believes they are masquerading as his lost love on purpose just to screw with his mind. Woe to them, and to whatever unsuspecting gentleman that happens to share their company, where The Goat is concerned.

Such is the basis for Night of the Goat, more a novella than a novel (it's just over a hundred pages). Written by a promising, up-and-coming horror scribe by the name of Russell Paine, whose previous works sometimes penned under the pseudonym Ross P. Psuty include the short story gorefest Tales of the Axe (available also as a beautifully executed audio CD), we can see by the writing style a voice relatively young in the craft. The story is simple, and simply told, at times making the characters not as carefully rounded or as multi-dimensional as they should be. Discarding these shortcomings, however, we behold here the development of a genre writer quite capable of packing a punch. There is originality here, beneath the surface, and rather frightening surprises with an undeniably eyebrow-raising twist regarding just who this lost love is that the character of Isaac is searching for. Russell also never falters in his usage of the more necessary ingredients that make a good story great, and it flows very well from beginning to end.
     Ready yourself for a good night's read, and let's all of us keep an eye on the career of Russell Paine, from whom we can anticipate truly disturbing works as he advances in our mutually beloved field.

Siki City by Lucifer Fulci

(2001 Eve Blaack Publications)

A Novella of Horror, candidly, matter-of-factly, words gracing the front cover of this particular dish, served up piping hot but nonetheless all too plainly to prepare the reader for what’s in store. Novella? Yes, it is a relatively short work. Horror? Most of the reading world carrying an affinity for the genre are typically drawn to more of a mainstream climate, undeniably, so be forewarned that horror is putting extremely lightly the explicitly ghastly exposition saturating virtually every page, paragraph, sentence incorporated into this work, down to the last word. Siki City is not for that mainstream reading world, was not written for them anyway.

 It was written, firstly, for author Lucifer Fulci’s self-satisfaction as is the case for most writers I might add, and more profoundly for our subculture of gorehounds which flourish in the dark crevices of society around us. For those of you not very well versed in the ways of Gorehoundism, if I may impose such a term, it should not be confused (and I’m speaking in terms of literature here) with the “splatter punk” phenomenon that horror in the written word had delved into in the days of the likes of John Skipp and Craig Spector and David Schow way over a decade ago. Gorehounds are raw to just about the farthest degree a human can go in the ways of disgust, gore, violence, perversion and depravity, would take roadkill home to their mothers, idolize serial killers and Italian zombie horror and exploitation film icons alike, and drink their lovers’ blood for Valentine’s Day. That’s probably the best I can do to paint a picture here, though perhaps I’m borderlining on stereotype.
With this, the essence of it all presented here to this degree, I welcome you to the explicit, often pornographic and sadistic universe of Lucifer Fulci’s Siki City.
Child mutilation, necrophilia, and all things sick and twisted envelope the handful of main characters as they journey in murderous abandon towards Siki City, in fact a graveyard bordering somewhere between Los Angeles and the edge of reality where all their dreams and nightmares promise to manifest with repercussions to all, the law hot on their trails.
 Fulci is an astonishingly impressive fluid storyteller, brandishing a way with words that far surpasses a great many mainstream works that have crossed my path over the years. His visions are vivid, if not perversely poetic. It’s refreshing and thrilling to acquaint oneself with such talent, even if the unapologetic explicitness is not one’s cup of tea. The magic and brilliance which festers here is the blatant proof that a true gorehound can be utterly prolific, literate and even sophisticated, doing a credit to the way mainstreamers may otherwise perceive them.
Not I, as my perceptions here are as affectionate as they are descriptive, and many a gorehound has graciously rocked my world from time to time.
No wonder Fulci can write as well as he does, he’s got a lot on his plate. He writes and edits major genre magazines, produces and directs, and his band Penis Flytrap is a major underground phenomenon.
Pretty sick stuff, this Siki City, and that’s the way it should be. Fulci is a major asset to hardcore horror and serious gorehounds everywhere.

Desires Unleashed --The Knights of the Darkness Chronicles by D.N. Simmons

(2004 AuthorHouse)

D.N. Simmons writes as though eroticism and romanticism were aspects of vampire and werewolf lore that she alone introduced, that bloodsuckers and shapeshifters weren't sensual at all until she came along. Those of us who know better scoff at the assumption, because such folklore has always been driven into the dirt with its clichés and sexual overtones for as long as these supernatural myths existed in our psyches, especially when it comes to vampires.
     Simmons exhibits a very straight forward and stylized job with narrative, and succeeds in incorporating originality and substance in a genre which sports its clichés to the point where we all either yawn and yearn for something new, or love the genre so much that we appreciate virtually any work involving vampires or werewolves. This particular novel is as fresh and original as the genre has to offer.
     Desires Unleashed, those two words, could solely for a book title's sake be misunderstood as a bit generic if not for the fact that after having read it you couldn't think of a more appropriate title, for not only is it the name of an important vampire-run nightclub in the story, but the book itself is dripping with a sexual desire that all the characters seem to readily have for one another.
      The tale is set in contemporary times, with the world turning against the events of the current day, except for how vampires and werewolves (shapeshifters, generally speaking) are not just a fact of life but a part of everyday society. Like mutants are in the X-Men world. This premise works well as a grand landscape for Simmons to give her talent a go-around.
     A task force especially suited for policing supernatural society is a result of such a landscape, and two police investigators (S.U.I.T.S., Supernatural Investigation Team, especially suited, get it?) are central to moving the story along as headless human remains are discovered in back alleyways, the two detectives find a great deal on their hands as well as their secrets shared together, and we all find ourselves entering an alternate universe where regardless of our persuasions or nocturnal habits, whether we feast on blood and manage our own nightclubs where souls fight to the death in subterranean arenas or belong to prides who turn into panthers at night, we're all of us, deep down, still human.
     Forgive the misspellings as you'll find them frequent, but they are easily ignored and I'd bet you'll find yourself engrossed as I have, for Simmons does a story good, and there's more to tell, for this is only Volume One in a series.

The Blackest Heart by Vince Churchill

(2004 Publish America) 

Cutting to the chase, I'd have to say that I'm very impressed. For one thing, we all know that Publish America is one of the popular self-publishing establishments on the internet, although it doesn't at first appear that way, and out of the many novels I've read that have been published this way, by God, this is the best-edited, most flawless work in the genre of horror/fantasy/sci-fi so far to my knowledge. That does make a difference, although I've read many a good book that succeeds despite the flaws.
     My God, though, that's just the beginning. This novel is one of the best examples I've often lectured about concerning great undiscovered works that are out there that traditional publishing houses just don't know what they're missing over. If they did, and they made a deal with Vince Churchill, this would prove to be a fantastic seller for any Book-Of-The-Month club for sure, not to mention commercial book stands if properly marketed.
     Let's draw: what we've got here is a space-action-western with chunks of horrific carnage and imagination the likes of which only belongs to a first rate wizard of the genre. This work was absolutely well thought out and was written by a pro who knows how to make these visions works of art on paper. Let me tell you that just by the raw synopsis of a futuristic revenge novel in the lines of High Plains Drifter meets Spawn and The Crow, I wasn't sure what to think. Then again, I approach all the novels I read by virtually unknowns with a clean slate of mind. But Churchill isn't exactly virtually unknown, since his first novel The Dead Shall Inherit the Earth is hard to ignore when internet surfing for horror/fantasy authors.
     Elite Star Marshall Thane Bishop is a legend in the galaxy, so much so that children on planets throughout play with action figures of the celebrity of the law and want to be Star Marshals when they grow up. But in a desolate saloon, Thane meets his fate as a group of human/animal mutant space pirates known as The Plague headed by a ruthless cyborg named Yardon Wrath imposes the worst fathomable harm upon a number of helpless victims including Thane himself, his wife and daughter, and other Star Marshals and saloon patrons. Thane's wife is raped, his daughter taken. Thane is killed and tossed into a dumpster. It is in that dumpster where the Nii, an intangible alien species from an alternate dimension who feeds off of the dark essences of evil souls, revives him. The Nii make a deal with Thane: The Star Marshal gets his revenge, stands a chance of being with his wife and daughter again, but the Nii must enter his mind and body in a symbiotic fusion that makes him stronger, more powerful, young, and able to enter into any shadow and reappear from any other shadow. The darkness is his strength. He is to seek out and take the lives of those who have done him wrong, and the Nii get to feed off of the evil essences of his prey.
     The universe Churchill creates packs as much of a punch as his protagonist hero, is lively and vivid as it is horrific and dark, full of in-your-face violence and at the same time straight from the heart. As I've said, The Blackest Heart stands as one of the foremost shining examples of the best in the genre the publishing industry hasn't been able to offer; it is their loss, and Vince Churchill certainly has very much to gain. Watch out for this writer and the works he presents, for he may well become a legend in the written word as much as his Thane Bishop is at gunslinging.       

The Wide Game by Michael West

(2003 Publish America) 

Harmony, Indiana is a small town overrun by endless fields of corn, young people languishing in the stereotypical boredom inescapable with small town living, and yes, legends of nightmare coupled with an underlying history of mystery, bloodshed, and horror.
     Paul Rice grew up in this town, spent his high school years fraternizing with his circle of friends, aspiring to direct B-grade horror films, and falling in love with classmate Deidra. At a time when graduation is only days away, Paul and Deidra's relationship had blossomed into a bond the likes of which could almost be found in romantic fairy tales. 
     And then came time for the class of 1988 to ditch class and undertake the coming-of-age ritual played out by the graduating classes of numerous years before them.....the time to play the Wide Game.
     The Wide Game is virtually a race where the object of all participants is to journey from the edge of a vast cornfield to a large clearing where a small man-made lake and good partying await --- a race that could take hours, considering the ground they have to cover and how one could easily get lost, considering also a certain strategy involving keeping quiet and stealing a belonging of anyone else playing the game that they encounter in the corn. Oh......and then there's also the matter of an ancient tribal Indian presence which inevitably screws with the graduates' minds, invoking psychedelic visions, unspeakable mayhem and the grisly murders of Wide Game players, one by one.
     Michael West proves himself to be a masterful storyteller, flawless in building momentum, and his skills in characterization match or even often surpass some of the most successful writers in the business. This is a first-rate novel, well edited and no holds barred. My jaw dropped, quite literally, at more than a handful of turning points in the story that I just didn't see coming, and I oftentimes couldn't put the book down. I know that's a pretty cliché phrase, but coming from me......well, that sort of intense preoccupation just doesn't occur too often.
     This is a work of first-rate terror and suspense, and for the seasoned reader sports a refreshingly original story methodology as a means to scare the wits out of you. This is his first novel, and I'll be watching the career of Michael West with sincere interest in his works to come.
     And I'll never look at corn fields the same way again.

Re-Entry of Evil by Richard Lee (Lee Pletzers)

(2005 Helm Publishing)

  • Out of body experience makes for an intriguing plot device in Fred Wiehe's latest contribution to the world of horror/suspense, the latest in a succession of novel-length works from The Burning to the more recent Starkville.
  •      Louis Gear is a monster; more precisely, is inhabited by a monster. An ancient and diabolical evil dwells in Gear that has flitted from human body to body and life to life throughout centuries past, each existence devoted to destructive mayhem fueled by a relentless addiction to violent abandon, rape and murder.
  •      Frank Talbort's wife is yet another victim in Gear's killing spree, but when Frank comes home from a busy day at the advertising agency he finds himself face to face with Gear and his wife's mangled body. In a frenzied confrontation, Frank kills Gear, but the ancient creature within Gear yanks Frank's spirit from his body and then takes that body over,  resuming his killing spree as Frank. In the meantime, Frank's spirit, eager to stop the creature for good, enters the body of a coma-stricken police officer --- another of the creature's victims. After this shift in identities, it's cat and mouse from then on out.
  •      Frankly (pardon the pun), Wiehe, at the start, does need the kind of poetic fluidity that it takes to draw the average reader into the story at the get-go, that gut-busting rawness that makes the reader know that you have a guttural roar while a picture is painted before the bulk of the story is told, but the thing is.......when you don't expect it, you get caught up in the whole thing, right about the time when Gear has Frank's wife. When Frank's spirit is catapulted from his body, one cannot help but truly take an interest, and then the tale pulls you in, deeper and deeper, and it gets better and better.
  •      All in all, after you read it, it leaves you thinking and going back in your mind to the events you've just read about, just as a good read should. Strange Days is a novel, ultimately, that does its job, a novel of ageless evil told with wicked abandon and stylish prose. Fred Wiehe has established himself as an important voice in a new age of horror fiction. As he grows in his craft, I'm certain we'll all be watching. And reading.

Nicholas Grabowsky's Diverse Compendium

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