Nick Reads & Reviews Page 3

School Shooter (In His Own Words) by Mark Frye

(2005 iUniverse)

Taken at face value, we know we have here a book centralizing upon the very sobering, contemporary social issues that we've all been forced to face more and more within the dawn of the new century involving youth and rage, betrayal and revenge, all of the ingredients necessary to invoke infamous chapters in our nation's history such as Columbine.  But it's not another typical biography or account detailing what took place in this school or that, chronicling what happens when a troubled student or students take out their frustrations on their classmates one day with guns they've seized from their parents' households to wreak a plague of vengeance on those who've done them wrong in their campus lives and beyond. 

We're all familiar with the scenario, as it is all too real for us.  Some of us have lived it.  The rest of us have read about it.  Reading about it here, however, you'll find like I did that this work is not the result of any media hype or some journalist's opportunity to make a particular incident of this nature a cash cow.     What we have here is a work of exceptionally executed fiction by an author who deals with high school students on practically a daily basis (he's a school librarian) and knows what makes them tick.  Mark Frye makes a statement we all must give a listen to......what he puts on our plate here is more than a mouthful in subject matter alone......but what truly makes School Shooter work is the superb writing style Frye utilizes to drive this serious matter more than home but straight to the heart.  James Toomey, due to Frye's skill and vision, is as real in character as any in our own mirrored world that has followed in the same footsteps, and Frye does everything it takes as a writer to paint a most vivid and intriguing picture of Toomey's circumstances and daily life even though we know where the story will eventually take us.  The use of fictional characters and situations to illustrate a point is a feat Mark Frye has bested with this book, and I do hope that we see more from him in the near future. 

The Overnight by Ramsey Campbell

(2005 Tor) 

Any self-proclaimed aficionado of horror, be it in any form, ought to be ashamed of themselves if they aren't the least bit familiar with the brilliant body of work Ramsey Campbell has presented to the world over a period of time long enough to make him equal in ranks to horror literature as, say, Asimov, Heinlein and (Arthur C.) Clarke is to science fiction, what Romero or Argento are to genre film. Do your homework and find out for yourselves, for those of you who don't know any better.
     Now take the author and exclude him from the mix, and let's look at this book as a work without any presuppositions, as if an unknown submitted an Overnight manuscript to my office and I had no idea who the hell wrote it.
     That renders me with another bias: I myself was employed at a few book stores at one time or another, was a store assistant manager for a good while. I know what it's like pulling an overnighter in one of those places, in an unfamiliar part of town, working my ass off trying to ready the establishment for an inspection by the corporate top brass the next day.
     That's exactly what's going on at an English branch of the retail book store chain "Texts," situated in the always abnormally foggy Fenny Meadows retail park. Sinister and shapeless forces lurk there in the fog, and store manager Woody Blake's team of employees must deal with a cavalcade of poltergeist-like mischief that time and again confounds their efforts to have the store in top shape by dawn.
     That mischief starts to get nasty. Employees begin dying in ways that can't be totally explained and progress "overnight" into an utterly hallucinatory and claustrophobic nightmare. All the while, Woody's office door mysteriously locks him in, keeping him oblivious to the mayhem afoot and the fact that he's loosing his team, one by one, to the shadows that claimed the store and the souls within as their own. All Woody's concerned about, throughout, is whether or not his team are on their toes and dealing with their problems in a timely manner, and always with a smile.
     Indeed, Campbell's brand of Mythos fiction resurfaces here, and this time before a backdrop of the familiar modern landscape of what it's like working in retail as a minimum-waged average Joe.
     Under Lovecraftian conditions, of course.
     A great home-alone, up-late-at-night read, expertly executed with a compact and vivid group of characters under dire situations you wouldn't want to be in. That's merely touching the surface of The Overnight. It makes for a good example of dark literature we should all pay attention to, because that's how it's done.
     Ramsey's works, in particular The Parasite and the complete edition of The Face That Must Die, were profound early inspirations which motivated my own writing further into the macabre backwoods of telling stories. If it were not for Ramsey's writing and a roundup of a dozen or so others, yes, I'd still be a writer, but at this point I'd probably be only publishing cute poetic anecdotes for a newsletter the bar down the street puts out every month, and that would be the extent of where my professional writing life would be by now, without that sort of inspiration.

Whispered Words/Timeless Souls by Rainey Moon

(2004, 2005 Rainey Moon Publishing/The Lair)

I was first introduced to Rainey Moon and her works during one of those nights when I have enough time on my hands to randomly browse the web to see who else out there is worth paying attention to that I haven't heard of yet in this great big writing world of ours.       I'm not talking about eyeballing bestseller lists to tune into what the rest of the nation is reading;  I like coming across those jewels the rest of the nation should be reading.  But my magnitude of praise for Rainey is bias in that I'm thoroughly enamored by the style and charisma of her web presence, her artwork, the promotional image she presents herself as and the remarkable literary talent to back it up.  Rainey Moon packs a good jaw-breaking wallop to much of what American literature has come to be known today.  She makes the state of Virginia sexy just because she lives there, as I told a friend the other day.  A good talent like that is worth paying attention to.     Now, true poetry ain't easy, the sort of poetry that ascends the clichés of love and loss and not the woe-is-me or the lovestruck kind of free verse anybody can write.  Essentially, with Rainey's poetry, the themes are of this nature, but passion and literary prowess gives each line in both of these books that satisfying Rainey Moon feel.     Whispered Words presents two short horror stories, Festival of the Dead and the novelette The All Souls Fair.  Rainey's horror writing is what first prompted me to check her out, and the images of a helpless girl at a Goth concert gone to hell in Festival is vivid......the bonfire party of the dead near a cliff where distressed souls take a plunge into dark eternity exhibits the talents of a young writer with a heart driven to make you afraid.     Kristy Tallman is Rainey's real name and day job while she raises three children.  She won Suggested Artist for Songwriter of the Year in 2004 by VH1's Save the Music Foundation, and song lyrics can be found in Whispered Words, though Timeless Souls inspired Australian band Honey Palace to produce the song "Love Never Stays."     I hear she's working on entire novels, and I can't wait for that to happen.  I'm in love.

Heaven's Falling: Ascension by Garry Charles 

(2004 Hadesgate Publications)

What have we got here? I recall my first impression as I exhumed this one from its postal delivery package and held it in my hands. Very ambitious. Very promising. Looks like one of those rare morsels I'd come across during my days working in a book store, setting it aside under the counter to purchase for myself come pay day. Its artwork and illustrations (by Paul Cox's vivid and gritty pencil drawings) are very alluring, and this work, the first book in a series, promises an epical saga with its near four hundred pages .

Now, as I hold it in my hands after the fact of reading and absorbing it, I must say firstly that author Garry Charles did himself damn good in choosing to go this route with his life. This is his first novel, and it required an enormous degree of determination and skill to pull it all off, bring it together, and make such a monumental endeavor happen. It takes many of us writers quite a while to find our voices, and Garry Charles is way past merely flexing his vocal chords this first time around.
     A majority of my proudest personal works are derived from biblical lore, so one can imagine my delight in devouring Garry's premise. Check this out: Kain, the central character, is a man who gets shot in the head and awakens from death to find himself in Limbo, a state between heaven and hell that in many ways is just as physical as our own realm, chocked full of personified deities and cities of demons and soul-wraiths and a race of canine humanoids under allegiance to an evil queen who had been the Eve of the biblical Garden of Eden. What's more is that Kain is himself the very Cain who jealously slaughtered his brother Abel of same lore, and this time out after a succession of increasingly redemptive reincarnations he finds himself the savior of Limbo who has the hots for a female Lucifer he meets in the back room of a grand and hellish nightclub. Kain begins his journey as a detective sent from a Limbo hospital to search for those responsible for his death in the first place.
     I applaud this work and its fantastical wit. It embraces all of the elements us horror fans look forward to and bombards our senses with a rich fantasy world straight out of a mind that's a worthy contender with our greatest horror contemporaries. Garry Charles' work is worth paying attention to, and a thousand times over.
     Give a read, and you'll understand.

Swinging Bridges by Tim Teeter 

(2005 Delta Valley Press) 

Here's one example of this here horror author, that is I myself, broadening my horizons by accepting books for review which do not on the surface appear to be anywhere up my alley of interest at all.
     But Tim Teeter was at one point an author who made my acquaintance at a local mutual book signing with other authors, and he got my attention there and followed up with me through subsequent email conversations until Swinging
Bridges inevitably fell into my lap. I placed it into my reading schedule, and when the time came......
     Swinging Bridges, as it turns out, was an effortless read, delightful, insightful, and flawlessly well-written. Its heart pumps the fluid stream of a storyline and storytelling style as simplistic and cut-and-dry as the setting of its rural Iowa town. It's the tale of a typically rebellious teenager who, on his eighteenth birthday, is arrested for the attempted murder of his own brother, and the court-appointed lawyer who handles his case.
     Tim is a retired defense attorney, which leaves suspect the notion that there's a good helping of autobiographical content in the character of Jackson Wright. Tim Teeter writes vividly yet gets to the point and carries the story with such ease that it's difficult to wonder if he had any trouble writing it at all. I found myself involved with the characters on an emotional level and felt like an anxious observer at the climactic court trial, and was extremely satisfied.
     I even teared up with the whole "bald eagle" thing, symbolic book ends to a great book. Read it and you'll catch my drift.  

The Guilty Innocent --The Knights of the Darkness Chronicles Book 2 by D.N. Simmons

(2005 AuthorHouse) 

It has probably been well over a year since I’d read Desires Unleashed and relinquished my thoughts about it to those who’d give a listen, and The Guilty Innocent succeeded in bringing it all back:
     The human character of Natasha and her relationship with two elite Chicago vampires Darian and Xavier in a contemporary world where such supernaturals including shapeshifters are a part of everyday society…….
........an elite sector of law enforcement aptly branded the acronym S.U.I.T.s (Supernatural Unit Investigation Team) that exists to keep the supernaturals in line……rampant sexuality……
     This second time around we find Natasha in far better control of her ability to see into the near future. Her best friend’s body is discovered inside the trunk of vampire Darian’s car, which leads the S.U.I.T.s to put Darian behind bars. The novel henceforth and to its very end tells the tale of Natasha’s efforts to clear Darian and seek out those responsible for framing him. She enlists the aid of werewolves, wereleopards (so to speak), familiar vampires and characters from the first book, and John Fallon. (John --- women everywhere want you, don’t they? Am I not mistaken that this character is based on you?) There’s also a mafia twist to the plot which provides a refreshing landscape of situation and intrigue.
     Now, I adore D.N. Simmons’ writing. She’s an up-and-comer who’s already up and here for us all to enjoy, a good contemporary contributor to the dark rich vastness of vampire lore, and she does it all with astounding ease. On the strength of a stand-alone novel, however, I only recommend reading The Guilty Innocent after you’ve read the first. On the strength of its nature of being the second in a series, it’s a fantastic companion, "the further adventures of," if you will..
     That’s a good thing for D.N., because you have to buy the first to appreciate the next, and the first indeed makes you crave more. As Stephen King once said to me and in the same context, keep ‘em coming, and I indeed look forward to more of the further exploits of Simmon’s delightful entourage of characters in her ambitious Knights of the Darkness Chronicles series.

A Dead Calmness by Steven Deighan

(2006 Lulu Enterprises)

 Steven Deighan. Let me tell you a bit about him and the stories he’s inclined to tell us. No, come over here with me to the rear of the pub where there’s less noise and confusion and where you can hear me clearly. That’s it. Sit down……
     Now, you’d think by my setting you up in this situation that I’m about to convey to you just how incredible Mr. Deighan’s writing is, regarding in particular the hundred-some-odd-paged book of short stories he’d submitted to me for review a handful of months prior to my ultimate evaluation of it:
     A Dead Calmness.
     Of itself, what we have here are fourteen short tales that, from a seasoned reader’s point of view, appear at first a bit shallow and stylistically unrefined. That aspect falls in line with a young writer trying to find his voice, is all. As I perused the first story then the next, I initially feared that I’d set myself upon a journey of having to endure a certain mediocrity along the lines of a university professor having to read through a student’s attempts to entertain me for a passing grade in creative fiction.
     I hate it when that happens, because each book I review I proceed in reading with as little presumption as possible and, for the sake of its author and the genre itself, I take great care in giving it a worthwhile chance.
     By the time I completed my reading of A Dead Calmness I was mystified. I was hoping for an enjoyable read, but, being an honest reviewer, I at the outset wasn’t so sure. What I came to realize was that each story got better, that I was witnessing a writer at the beginning of what’s certainly a most promising career struggling for his voice, and that the work as a whole displayed a showcase of vivid progression into what made me inevitably exclaim a passionately hearty wow.
    Feels Like Stephen King was the story upon which fell the crescendo of this writer’s talent in this offering, written with a literary ingenuity along the lines of the best of us, and The Nightmare Man heralded a skill that can turn a novice into an eventual visionary.
     Note: I recognized in his writing the urge to actually be Stephen King, projecting from obvious inspiration, evident in a few instances when his prose turns into
     (something)
     what I used to do when I was younger
     (like this)
     doing the same exact thing.
     That’s not a bad thing, for our inspirations develop us into who we are and what we’ll become.
     Which brings me back to the pub thing.
     Even at face value, all of Steven’s stories are the kinds of tales one would take you aside and tell you in secret, in a one-on-one sort of basis, tales you’d go home with while looking over your shoulder all the way. Read and answer me, am I right?
     Cheers to Mr. Deighan, and if he continues in this progressive fashion he’s certain to write his way to the top of all our charts.
  

 

With Black and White Comes the Grey by Giovanna Lagana 

(2005 Whiskey Creek Press)

This is my perception of Giovanna Lagana in a nutshell: One hell of a sweet person, a wife and mother first and foremost, in the midst of a predominantly domestic daily life which she has mastered skillfully for a number of years (though not too many---she’s very youthful), whose high school flirtations with the written word sowed the seeds of taking writing seriously as she matured, settled down, and allowed herself to pursue her passion in the field the more the opportunity presented itself.

These days, we find Giovanna with more room to spread her literary wings. She wants to fly, and we can tell by her contributions to some damn good anthologies, as an editor for Whiskey Creek Press, and by her very first full-length novel, the one I’m supposed to be reviewing here instead of her life.
     Let me describe it to you this way: With Black and White Comes the Grey: The Battle of Armageddon, Book One took little more than a few hours to breeze through its 250-some-odd pages, once I sat down to it. Its read was light and easy, like slurping up a fresh smoothie on a summer afternoon, not as disturbing or frightfully horrific as a great many tales I’ve consumed in all hours of the night, but skillfully crafted and dark enough to make me blissfully pleased. Taking the work as a whole, it’s execution, style and graceful prose, Giovanna has taken a carefully-choreographed plunge into the freezing, chlorinated cesspool of “first novel,” performing an elegant backstroke the length of this pool to the other side with a form and dedication that makes onlookers ooh and aah, bringing with it applause when she’s finished. She deserves that applause, and the way she writes comes as easy as all that, as fluid as the figurative water which carries her from one end of that pool to the other, or for that matter the ink of her pen which she manipulates every stroke of the way.
      The characters are vivid and the story is sleek and simple enough as you stride along its waters with her. There’s Miriam, a thirty-something mother of a young teen boy who experiences dreadful dreams and premonitions which come true. That’s because Miriam, by the power of God, is chosen by bloodline to be the world’s savior fated to do battle with the personification of evil in an ultimate Armageddon. Jonathan, her clairvoyant son, is kidnapped by a stranger who seduces him into the lie that Mom is possessed by the very evil she is really meant to destroy. In reality, that stranger is the embodiment of the negative to her godly positive, the very one she is destined to confront, battle, and ultimately defeat.

Bravo, Giovanna, and well done.
     

Conscience by John Skipp 

(2004 Friendly Firewalk Press)

Let’s not do a conventional review here for this one is what crosses my mind as I recline in a fully relaxed contemplation of how I should approach penning a review of John Skipp’s Conscience. For one, there is enough info at www.johnskipp.com tthat I should throw your way, dear reader. Pointing you exit stage left to details about a writer’s credentials rather than listing them here is not normal practice for me, but there are just too goddamn many of them and I feel I should cut to the chase…..

 I’m not at all in the mood to review a book right now, truthfully speaking. What I’m in the mood for is to indulge in senseless banter. And I shall. Well, maybe not senseless banter…..let’s devote this banter to the subject of the author here. With a little luck and effort, we might even get to Conscience.
     From the perspective of my life, I’ll tell you about John, and it all goes back to this:
     One day, less than a couple decades ago, I picked up a copy of The Light At the End. You know, I was very much into picking up books like that, Tor and Zebra and Bantam and Dell, New American Library and so forth all carried a healthy library of horror fiction back in the day, and at the time my own stuff was really dimestore fodder compared to the titles presenting themselves smack dab in your face at grocery check-out counters and prominently placed upon book store shelves….those days, horror literature maintained a very formidable presence on those shelves.
     Loved Light At the End. And The Scream. The Cleanup. Dead Lines. Problem was, as motherfuckingly great as these jewels were, Skipp was one half of a partnership, a collaborator with writer Craig Spector, and in separating the two literary entities all I had to go with were the photographs featured in such horror fan magazines as Fangoria and a brief cameo in Barker’s Nightbreed, and he was the dude sporting the least amount of hair despite the length of the hair he had. The Skipp/Spector novels were terrific shit, great in the very definition of genre greatness, and were an inspiration to me.
     Let’s skip (pardon the pun) about eighteen years into the future, after whatever my writing career had been was kickstarted again and I frequented horror conventions and the like, Circa May ’06…..I was socializing amongst a group of fellow writers at one of those conventions when I found myself listing my influences and idols in the field. Soon as I mentioned John, there he was, a small handful of yards away, and I immediately set myself to talking with him. I hold him in high esteem as a remarkable human being in his own right, regardless of his body of work which makes the most devout horror reader wow.
     And yes, Conscience did the trick for me of separating the sheep from the goats, the Skipps from the Spectors, and for those of you pressed too much for the time it takes to find out for yourselves, I say John is a gifted writer, musician, and all-out hellraiser to modern sociality as we know it.
     Conscience is damn good fiction by Skipp and only Skipp. The character of gun-for-hire Charley Weber comes face to face with his inner self, his conscience if you will, when he's summoned to take out the life of the woman he may still love. And there's more to the book than just that brilliant fable, but there's tasty treats to follow with added short stories, poetry, and his early full-length action/horror screenplay Johnny Death.
     This is John Skipp in all his modern, ball-splicing, Bukowskiesque glory, and, after taking it all in, one wonders why he ever found himself with a partner to begin with. 

Mama's Boy by Fran Friel

(2006 Insidious Publications.) 

Man, Fran Friel is something else. Just when you think you have yourself a good grasp of the names and faces and works of the rising hot lava flow of literary talent accumulating out there these days, out pops another one, another something else, a writing entity fresh and exciting that has his/her own voice and is different from the rest in good ways. A presence whose existence I'd only become aware of not too many months ago from the time of this review. To me, Fran Friel is like the little round stone I lost my footing over when my shoe kicked into it on my sojourn across a pebble-ridden garden path.  I picked it up and found it was a sparkling jewel.

So I put it in my pocket.
     If you're looking for something else and you crave horror literature, Mama's Boy is what you want. The way Fran writes is something else, unlike most writers rising to the surface of notoriety having previously rarely written anything at all. Her prose is blunt yet casual, the story is essentially a derivative of the boy/mother relationship gone psychologically awry dating back to Ed Gein and Bloch/Hitchcock's Psycho, but it's told with blissful originality and you can digest it all in one sitting.
     It leaves you feeling dirty, stunned, wanting to shower it all off, like the feeling you get when the credits roll after a deeply disturbing film (the way Adrian Lyn's Jacob's Ladder made me feel, for example). This is Fran's first book, though she's had plenty of practice in the craft with an eye-widening number of editing and writing credentials under her belt.
     I wonder why I hadn't heard of Fran's work before, but that makes me wonder why she hasn't started her career until recently, because I know she would've done well years ago had she taken herself seriously as a writer earlier on. But we all have to start somewhere.
     I guess that's what makes Fran something else, her work something exceptional. When you hold this kind of ability inside yourself for a long while, eventually when it's time to release it it's like letting loose a stream of fireworks into the night sky.
     Mama's Boy is something else, and if you read anything else, I suggest this highly for the seasoned horror reader and those willing to dive off the deep end of psychological thrillers..
     After all, wouldn't you put a jewel in your pocket if you came across one down your path?
     I'd put this jewel into your night time reading roster. I dare you.

Nicholas Grabowsky's Diverse Compendium

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