Nick Reads & Reviews Page 4

Sevenacide/ Phase II by Robert Shuster 

(2000, 2006 Sevenacide Publishing) 

I chose to review these books together for reasons being that they are both by the same author and I favor one over the other. So there's a little black and white here. Black and white, coincidentally, are the colors of both the cover of Sevenacide and the Sevenacide t-shirt I've worn every week since Robert Shuster
     and I swapped a few items when I first met him.
     Now, I'm pretty certain Robert would have me favor Phase II, a pet project of his that he's very excited about, and his most recent to date. It's a science fiction/horror mixture with the premise of all humanity being destroyed under the decisive military direction of a galactic committee bent on colonization. Their planetary genocide was Phase I, and Phase II (hence the title) marks the beginning of extraterrestrial inhabitation, where the alien military sends forth its elite to personally survey the smoking aftermath of the world's end. When they land on what has become of Earth, they find that what became of us is that we're all zombies.
     The living, flesh-eating dead.
      Alien-flesh-eating dead.
     And we're not to be fucked with.
     Damn good premise, but Robert, no matter how long it took him to execute the final draft of this story into sellable material, was a little too hasty in presenting it and I plead for him to take time to flesh out the characters and paint the novel with juicy visceral poetry, the kind that makes a good story a superb novel or novella.
     On the other hand, Sevenacide is the one that I favor, and I give Robert some hard words about Phase II in hopes he'd inject the tale with the same astounding on-your-own-level layman storytelling he'd accomplished with Sevenacide, a witty attribution to a compilation of seven short stories published a few years back.
     Each tale is told under the predominant element of the rugby game, and while I personally was never a fan of the game it's a uniquely and refreshingly dominant theme. We have roadside vampires, vengeful zombies, a chilling fountain-of-youth fable, an impressive story of Irish little people and the ale that was meant for them but stolen by a drunk American.
     I wear my Sevenacide t-shirt with pride, and I suggest you take a read. Phase II can be huge. Those of you willing to take a gander, please do. I suspect if Robert, who is an excellent writer (and great character actor, so I hear), takes the book to the next level, and does to it what he did with Sevenacide, this would be two separate reviews you'd be reading here. That's for sure.

Soulkeepers by Steve Dean 

(2006 Hadesgate Publications, UK)

Steve Dean writes in his author's bio/description at hadesgateforums, "In a former life I must have been one of the idle rich, as I seem to fit into the former very well, though the riches have yet to show up." While although it is perhaps true that Mr. Dean still waits for riches, the idle part is pure rubbish. He has conceived and executed a first novella, an undertaking which requires one to be anything but idle, and the end result is wonderfully brilliant, making for a fun and intelligent read.
     Soulkeepers takes place in a world not unlike our own and from that perspective it would be in a time frame of about several hundred years ago, though its elements subtly reflect the science fiction era of a medieval otherworld. A Brotherhood exists which governs the people of a primitive land where to any outside observer appears prosperous and orderly. The secret to the society's success lies with a group of warlocks at the top of the social status ladder who make it a point to entrap the essence of every citizen's at birth by means of a simple ritual, making them emotionless, docile yet productive, obedient, and incapable of crime.
     In the surrounding forest terrain there exists our main characters, a very young man with his soul intact and a zest for adventure, an orphaned young lady with a unique gift and a disrespect for authority, and a primate companion who adds a refreshing spunk to their exploits and comes in handy when things go awry.
     The way Dean writes is flawlessly entertaining, and Soulkeepers promises the reader a great time with an underlining profound morality to boot. Steve Dean may think himself to be idle, but continues the act of writing to a degree where there is much more to come from this author, who one day may very well find himself rich too, because of it.

Never Ceese by Sue Dent

(2005 Journey StoneCreations, LLC.)

First, some fun and facts:
     When my office received this book, a handsome hardcover from Journey Stone Creations, and it found its way to my hands, I looked it over thoroughly and sent author Sue Dent an email confirming its receipt. On an odd note, the wolf on its cover was exactly the same wolf on my computer screen's wallpaper, and I held one up to the other amused. I'd been made aware of Sue's existence while browsing through that vast social bird's nest called Myspace, we corresponded a few times, and here I have her novel as a result. I was particularly drawn to it because it boasted traditional Protestant Christian-inclined values and overtones so much so that even Christian book stores should welcome it. And it's a horror novel, in essence. About vampires and werewolves.
     Well, well.
     Back during what would become my last years of preaching and active church-going worship, I originally set out to complete my first horror novel as a Christian allegory. And I wasn't the only one doing it. Nowadays, though I've never since then and to this day was inclined to check out what's going on in anything peddled as Christian/Suspense/Supernatural or even stepped into a Christian book store (that I recall), I'm aware of some good writing in itself going on there. The current trend of Last Days apocalyptic fiction is at an all-time high, that I know, and in spite of entire communities banning Harry Potter from libraries, C.S. Lewis-type fantasies seem to have become an increasingly popular trend also in that market.
     But enough of that, and my sudden editorial lapse by no means suggests Never Ceese is churchy. Yes, the storyline carries with it a cover-to-cover essence of biblical morality and overall themes of redemption through want and sacrifice, and there is absolutely nothing about its content that I can imagine would incline parents to object to their young teens reading it. I think parents and teens alike would be utterly thrilled to read it, which brings us now to the basics without beating around the bush any further.
     I simply can't give Sue Dent enough praise for this work. I truly adored it. It read like the work of a master storyteller, its narrative virtually flawless. At first it seemed like it was going to be a period piece, and throughout that portion of the book it was atmospheric and foreboding.
     The approach Dent takes is that werewolves and vampires are essentially human beings carrying a curse which strips them of almost any hope of redemption, salvation, and most of the popular basic rules regarding their nature apply, save that vampires themselves are undead in predominant lore. Ceese, or Cecilia, has the werewolf curse and has been wandering the earth in wolf form for a few hundred years or so because of it. She is summoned by an aging friend who lives in an isolated English castle whose resident vampire, Richard, has cared for her for a long time. Fearful of the knowledge that if he should feed on a human being his curse would be absolute, he instead feeds on the blood of the goats of local herdsmen or blood he purchases off the internet. Before she dies, the friend sends Ceese and Richard to New York in pursuit of a possible cure for their curses via stem cell research, where an evil university professor awaits their arrival in an obsessive search for the power of eternal life.
     This is Sue Dent's first work, and I am very proud of her. Very imaginative, stylistic, and highly entertaining, she excels without compromise to personal belief and the learned expertise it takes to write so well. I highly recommend it, and I can't recommend it enough.

Incubus/ Succubus by L.A. Nantz

(2006)

I have to start by saying that this was the first technically unpublished work I accepted for review at the time of submission, and as much as I dislike reading a work of such length on my computer screen, I was moved to place it on my reading schedule forthwith and nonetheless. It's from a currently unknown author, and this is his first bonafide novel-length work. Now, after reading it, my overall impression is that it
is quite ambitious, and that author L.A. Nantz took time visualizing the characters and situations which, on paper, are quite vivid.
     There are two major characters here, one a vampiric "incubus" and the other moreso a succubus then anything else, and throughout the novel we read of their individual exploits and misadventures that are altogether raw, gritty, sexual, and harshly gut-wrenching exploitive. It is choc full of great morbid vision and story-driven circumstance.
     However, (and now comes the part where Nantz should pay careful observation):
     Never, ever, send to a reviewer a manuscript in this condition, half-baked and not personally perfected. It was so incredibly grammatically flawed that it was difficult to read and enjoy. I'm a very patient reader when it plays into my understanding of its author, but.....man, this story is Nantz's baby, quite obviously, and he's spent so much time on it so far, he has to push himself further in its perfection. My advice to others and him: refuse to be satisfied with your work until it is virtually flawless. Incubus/Succubus drips imagery from a mind not yet disciplined in the craft, but I tell you, Nantz has got the knack. But a work such as this has got to be shaped and rounded like the work of art that it is, even if it takes going over again and again until your fingers bleed from writing and correcting, proofing, and going over it again until you yourself can't see any flaws and hand it over to an editor who catches what you can't. I think Incubus/Succubus is worth it, worth the time. In this industry, in order to be heard, you must turn yourself into your greatest critic.
     I say this lovingly, because I was that way long ago. I think all of us were, and harsh criticism forges us into greatness through time. A better presentation makes all the difference, but if Nantz presses on with what is clearly his passion, he'll be enjoying the fruits of his work soon enough, and we'll all be enjoying that uncompromising, sweetly horrifying vision of his that is so inspired by a talent we should hope to devour with all the abandon our genre implores.

Horror Library Vol. I chief editor R.J. Cavender

(2006 Cutting Block Press)

Several months after 9/11, a single star dropped from the sky and must've hit R.J. Cavender clear smack on the noggin, invoking the desires which festered in his mind to probe the internet for others of the literary like-minded and consequently put together a network from which he grew in stature.  The resulting afterbirth of this inevitably led to the formation of a group of talented horror fiction writers crowned "The Terrible Twelve" by R.J., an innovative web presence, and the entity/anthology that was to become +The Horror Library+.  Not long afterwards, its first published volume chanced to fall under my scrutiny.     With the contributions of 30 authors, some of whose works outside of this collection I've truly admired, and superb editors, I'd say this volume is essential for any personal horror library.  It presents examples of some of the best damn talent out in the field today, based on these tales alone in my opinion, some talent that currently has yet to be discovered by the industry as a whole but well deserves to be, as well as some currently making their marks in horror literature as I write this.     This anthology, I might add, comes in handy on that camping trip where you have to read at least one good scary story around the fire.  Just close your eyes, open the book and point.  And there you have one.

American Carnevil (Issue One: Carnival of Gore) by Johnny Martin Walters

(2006 Johnny Martin Walters.)

LoremWhat a delight that I should receive this compact piece of work in the mail, what a treat compared to the average bulky novel that sometimes takes a few weeks to read and review (not that that's a bad thing, but for me, good things are welcomed in small packages now and again, too). In much the way a graphic novel is considered by contemporary definition a novel, this is a photic novel, which in this case is basically a good way of marketing a short story as a novel piece by surrounding the text with manipulated photographic images to fill enough pages to make it a stand-alone commodity. Anyone with a little vision, ambition, talent, and Photoshop skills can do it. But to do it and do it well..........that takes a lot of work. 
     What Johnny Martin Walters did here is just that. Done entirely in good ol' black and white and presented in filmatic terms (credits are "starring" rather than "featuring"), the size and feel of a comic book and published through Comixpress, what's done is ultimately impressive as it is entertaining. The photo visuals are well-staged and conceived, a theatrical eye feast, like what you'd get after placing a nickel in one of those nineteenth century moving picture boxes with oversized Viewmaster-type lenses you'd look through to see the frames of a twenty second picture reel of something way cool. Edison's Kinetoscope.......they're similar to visuals you'd experience from inside a 21st century version of that, kind of like.......
     Flipping through the pages of Walters' American Carnevil (and issue one, nonetheless, titled Carnival of Gore), I admire it as an achievement worthy of wide acclaim and readership in its own right, but top it off with such a beloved and recognized horror icon as Herschell Gordon Lewis (the crowned Godfather of Gore, Blood Feast, Color Me Blood Red) in a memorably featured "guest-starring" role, visually.......well, Johnny, you done well.
     The story itself concerns Sam Cross, a U.S. Marshal whose release from a Mexican jail ultimately runs him into Mr. Curtains, who recruits Cross into a secret government organization known as Operation American Carnevil who, like, for instance, the Men In Black, pursue hush-hush investigations and his first assignment is to basically check around traveling carnivals in the southwestern United States for violators of immigration laws. He runs into Mr. Limbs (H. G. Lewis), who has no limbs, a man who runs a traveling sideshow, and his companion, who kills people in an endless endeavor to surgically replace Limbs' assortment of limb-replacement contraptions for something flesh, er, fresh and more useful, but failing for actually being less of a doctor and more of a heroin junky.
     It costs less than five minutes of working time at minimum wage to purchase this asset to horror storytelling, and, with Johnny Walters' vision, the series promises to set an example of just how a little ambition can lead artistically to great things.

The Last Trumpet by Stephen Mark Rainey

(2000 Wildside Press) 

Reading any random sampling of his work, you can tell Stephen Mark Rainey has been writing creatively for many moons past and hence has always enjoyed doing so, and it’s to our benefits as fans of horror fiction that he’s penned an impressive body of work over that stretch of time devoted to dark writings.  His execution is scholarly, expertly edited and professionally exhibited, and his prose flows with a kicked- back down-home kind of voice which makes you forget how proper and polished it is, and locks you into a dream.

And where would most of us genre writers be without the influence of Lovecraft? Well…..Rainey is one of the few contemporary horror writers who, particularly with this years-long collection of tales he handed to me at Horrorfind ’06, takes Lovecraftian influence and runs with it like a banshee quarterback gliding straightways towards his goal and too creative to be tackled down by nonsense and immature themes. Rainey’s stuff, regarding this work, drips with themes of a man recalling nightmares of youth and past circumstance of unfathomable woe, turns the mountains of southwestern Virginia into something similar to King’s Castle Rock by taking a region of the world and placing his own stamp upon it, creating a mythology all his own.
There’s everything in the collective work of The Last Trumpet a Lovecraft disciple would appreciate, a horror fan would readily consume and lick their chops afterwards rather than use a napkin like in those recent A1 Steak Sauce ads, and long before the “last trumpet” sounds and releases all sorts of bloody hell in the book’s final stories was I hooked on this man’s work.
For instance….
The Fugue Devil is Rainey’s answer to urban myth, and in other tales music doesn’t tame the savage beast but conjures up older, more terrifying ones. The Horrible Legacy of Dr. Jacob Asberry was atmospheric and cataclysmic, but it wasn’t until The Herald at Midnight when Rainey involves the rest of the world into his own Virginian lore, when the stars fall and the sky splits open to the utter mayhem courtesy of the “stalkers” that I thought wow. What a splendid ride for a reader.
The Last Trumpet should be required reading for any college class introducing Lovecraft to students, a sublime example of literary expertise with a direct injection of proper influence, but the storytelling style in itself is uniquely that of a talent whose grasp upon the craft is exemplary…..and Mark has enough of this kind of stuff under his sleeve to make a lifelong fan of any reader longing for vivid terror and consistently damn good screams.

Eyes Everywhere by Matthew Warner 

(2006 Raw Dog Screaming Press)

Charlie (who, by coincidence, is also my son's name) is a low-key secretary for a high-key law firm in a D.C. building full of endless cubicles and, as far as he's concerned, an indeterminate future.  When he goes home it's to the studio apartment he shares with his wife and two children and a future with them determined only by how valiantly they succeed in merely struggling to make ends meet.  If they play their cards right, with both their jobs, a five thousand dollar savings, and a little perseverance, they just might be able to get that house they want where Charlie's son could watch Attack of the Clones to his heart's content and he and his wife could make love in their own bedroom without putting up a bedsheet curtain between themselves and the kids at night.

But then something happens to Charlie's state of mind, something far more horrifying than any author can dream up and call it fiction. In Charlie's case, the chaotic downward spiral all begins with innocent suspicion, a little paranoia, but the more he dwells upon his suspicions, his paranoia builds and escalates until it ruins his life and you the reader find yourself as a sideline witness clenching your teeth or biting your nails telling him my GOD, man.....you're digging a devastating hole for yourself! Stop digging!!
But Charlie.....he just doesn't stop.
He starts believing a wealthy family friend is keeping a close eye on him by hiring all sorts of people, particularly ones of Black or Hispanic heritage, to stake him out. Then he believes his wife is in cahoots, he's fired from his job for freaking out at work during what he's convinced was a terrorist attack where he saved thousands of lives (though nothing really happened at all), and a million camera lenses from a thousand angles are fixed upon him everywhere. Taco Bell wrappers are a clear indication a spy from Duke, the wealthy family friend, was close at hand keeping watch. I myself was eating Taco Bell while I read. Fancy that......
Charlie's life spirals downward into a nightmare abyss where he ultimately is convinced his children have been used in top secret medical experiments and his increasingly Orwellian vision of the world around him is like unto, say, a Jew in Nazi Germany where it is Charlie's own personal genocide "Duke" seeks in his bid to rule humanity.
I'm familiar with many of the reviews Matt Warner has received of this book and quite frankly I'm finding it difficult to further compliment him on this extremely learned, believable and expertly-told achievement. In regards to his grasp upon the degenerative phases of paranoid schizophrenia, it's one of the finest contemporary fictitious depictions of the mind-consuming process of this real and serious mental disorder, some aspects I've had the displeasure of knowing through people close to me.
On the level of Matt's ability to entertain and thrill the reader, I can tell you that you may wind up being a bit paranoid yourself when it's all read and done. This is Warner's second novel as of this review, the first of which was The Organ Donor, and I can't wait for his third.......mainly because his book launching parties are so balls-to-the-wall utterly rockin' wonderful.........

The Conqueror Worms by Brian Keene

(2006 Leisure Books/Dorchester Publishing.)

So......okay, Brian, I started reading this on a rainy day, just like you suggested, and, by the time I was finished, there was sun in the sky.
     No kidding.
     And that's very unlike The Conqueror Worms, because in it the rain never stops. Imagine that. Well, I guess, in this book you can more than imagine.......

But before I get into all that, let's get into the blah blah blah, and I mean that very respectfully: firstly, Brian is an established ace at writing what he writes. I'd rather not pat him too much on the back for fear the swelling redness between his shoulder blades may make him wince in pain from all the countless other pats. He's got a plethora of notches under his literary belt and is one of today's outstanding voices in horror fiction. Two Stokers, an impressive body of work in few enough years to more than rival authors with twice as much longevity in the business....Keene is head and shoulders above his breed to date and there's no reason to believe he won't become a household name in time. That's the blah blah blah.
     The Conqueror Worms is the first novel I'd read of his, and as for my assessment of it, here goes:
      A man growing older in years and wrestling with a serious nicotine fit writes an account of his last days, from his personal point of view and exploits, of course, but these may likely be the last days of Mankind also. It seems that God has broken His promise to Noah that He'd destroy the Earth with water never ever again, and globally it's now rained constantly for more than forty days and nights, all it took to cover the world with H20 the first time, biblically. And this time, in this story.......
     .......it's like Dante's Waterworld. (If I had the money, I'd open up a water theme park and call it just that, team up with Brian to make it something abysmally special.....)
     Though clearly here there is no such thing as dry land, land does exist and it is the world's coastal areas that lie under a sea swallowing more of it each day. Now, we all know earthworms emerge from the earth when it rains. The rich, juicy element of genius in this book, in my opinion, is Keene's core idea: if it rains and the rain forces earthworms from the ground, then what will it force from out of the ground if it rained long enough?
     In the lore of mankind's history, we imagine we get closer to hell the deeper into the earth we look. Brian looks deep into the earth. And like a magician pulling the obvious from out of a top hat, we get from the earth's inner reaches not merely earthworms but colossal carnivorous ones that make the sand worms of Herbert's Dune look like timid giants and these are their terrestrial progeny experiencing their terrible twos.
     Very War of the Worlds, as Keene himself remarks in his narrative halfway through, and I was thinking along those lines myself though also more precisely Wyndham's Day of the Triffids. And there's a very nifty second act, where the author takes us away for awhile from the earthworm situation and introduces us to a new set of characters under similar circumstances, but where Satanist surfers, seductive mermaids and Lovecraftian underworld lords take the reader into a wild ride.
     Though I prefer its original title (The Earthworm Gods), The Conqueror Worms is a staple for those who readily consume contemporary horror fiction, particularly, as Brian insists, to be read on a rainy day.

The All- Soul's Faire by Kristy Tallman

(2006 Ferrell Tallman Publishing, Inc.)

First, before you read any further, allow me to divert you towards my first review of Kristy Tallman’s works, aka Rainey Moon.
Now we can proceed…….
And what have we here, but a novel-length version of her short novella I enjoyed so much! Tallman’s Detective Cole is like a fish out of water in a backwoods mountain town immersed in what on the surface seems to be an unnaturally mysterious CSI-type investigation…….though with a swig or two of specially-concocted North Mountain moonshine given to him by a surreal hillbilly-man with seductive young daughters and all hell to hand out, Cole finds himself digging deeper into the murders surrounding a rural area where the supernatural dwells and death itself hosts an otherwise very festive ghostly event called The All Soul’s Faire.
Very respectfully, I’d like to coin Kristy’s first official novel as a Tall-tale, if you will, (Tallman----get it?) because essentially that’s what it is, though its focus is not on a hero like you’d think at first (Cole) but on Cecil Hicks, a despicably dark villain whose moonshine and inevitable invitation to the Faire forces Cole to face his innermost dark desires. If not for the help of a kindly old lady intimately involved with it all, will Cole face eternal damnation?
I was right when I determined early on that Kristy had enough literary talent to eventually become great by my assessment of her poetry books alone. She’s advancing, and her storytelling skills combined with her drive to succeed in this field astonishes me.
The All-Soul’s Fair is thoroughly and ultimately a read worth a weekend’s devotion, and you’ll find that although the tale’s simplistic at the start, it takes you into darker and more complicated places like digging into the caverns of a deep dark cave and finding riches that become more abundant the deeper you go, like in Cole’s journey, both outward and inward, and like Kristy’s mind itself……
………like the mind of a storyteller who will one day soon have us all swimming in a moonshine sea concocted by a talented bestselling name.   

You're Dead Already....Living in Hell by Jake Istre

(2006 Diverse Media.)

I’m doing this review mostly to spread the word. After all, I published Jake Istre’s You’re Dead Already…..Living in Hell myself with my Diverse Media press. But I did that for a reason: Jake deserves to be heard, and the guy’s a damn talented poet, a “street poet” by my own coined term for him. He writes raw, off the top of his head, as the mood suits him, and it comes out entertaining and with extreme feeling. This collection of both poetry and very small stories makes for a as much a leisure reading as a Dead Kennedy’s tune makes for elevator music, this stuff is heavy and heart-felt and vivid. It leaves you feeling that you are dead already and living in hell, and that’s precisely the point. And it reads like the diaries of a rock star. Well put-together too, I might add.
"Glue A Yeast Chip to the Back of a Cockroach......and Hello! It's Corporal Cockroach Reporting for Duty!" is one entry that practically says it all, but "Standing Off the Back Porch, Pissing" and the short-short tale "Fat Mama" are very memorable.
Here's the official book description: Jake Istre--- Highly popular underground cult writer and bassist, actor and high-end restaurant chef who personally prepares meals for such celebrities as California Governor Schwarzenegger; author of such acclaimed works of poetry as "Shocking Tales of Murder & Insanity" and Sacramento's crowned resident "street poet." Presented here are intense, explicit, raw and highly personal collected prose and short stories mirroring a life's dark journey of experience, angst, love and loss, drugs and twisted death and sex and high times lived to the fullest. Do partake and enjoy. "One of the top 5 poets of 2005!" ---Predators & Editors 2005 Readers Poll

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