Nick Reads & Reviews Page 5

Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry

(2006 Pinnacle Books)

Here we have Jonathan Maberry's Ghost Road Blues. It's a first novel, and a first horror novel at that. In itself it's an ambitious work, the first in an epic three-part series, and has received wide critical acclaim. At its core we find thematic variations of tales often told ---small town with a notoriously dark reputation (especially come Halloween), a cavalcade of well-conceived characters that are processed through a sifter of narrative to fall nto their proper places on either sides of the lines clearly drawn between good and evil, and a story canvass dominated by the notion that evil never dies despite the inevitably prevailing good whenever evil comes back around.
     Pine Deep is the particular small Pennsylvanian town under our microscope. It begins where the last onslaught of terror ends thirty years prior to present times, when a guitar-wielding blues man becomes the ultimate unsung savior by vanquishing the supernatural bastard responsible, and right afterwards taking the rap for its crimes at the hands of vigilante townsfolk who beat him to death something terrible. And then here we are in present times, with an ex-cop who runs a popular Halloween hayride and horror store to profit off the town's almost Haddonfield-like reputation, suddenly facing his destiny.........against an infamous career homicidal maniac at-large, a man with a violent hatred of his stepson, a delusional servant of the Lord, and the dark forces which swell out of the murky swamps of Dark Hallow nearby. Evil returns to Pine Deep, and so has the now-ghostly blues guitar Bone Man.
     Maberry is successful in combining all the elements that we'd expect from a work of this nature, in the tradition of King and McCammon, and he writes like a pro, like he's been doing this sort of thing with novel after novel over the years and this isn't a first try at epic fiction at all. Looking at Maberry himself we see someone with a rich life history of accomplishments in many fields, and I don't mean that lightly, but I'm talking about accomplishments as comparatively grandiose as, dare I say, Rocky Balboa's, at least in many ways. You know......chasing dreams, obtaining enough vision and discipline to achieve them, and I believe Jonathan has even seen himself in a ring surrounded by challenge and praise at one time or another, quite literally. But when he goes for something, he has an outstanding record of ultimately ending up recognized as one of the best at what he goes for. Ghost Road Blues is no exception, and what truly makes it all work and far exceed the expectations I mentioned is because it was written by just such a man as he, who makes the story glow with originality and terror and the right chemistry to entertain us and hold us tight with suspense. It's as ambitious as Maberry is.
     It took me two months, give or take a week, to digest my approach to this review from the time I'd finished reading the book until the time of this writing, when the right words at long last started sweating out of my cerebral pores. There are a lot of unrelated reasons for why it took me that long versus a couple hours or so, but I found an astonishingly simple remedy in combining it with my review of Kim Paffenroth's Gospel of the Living Dead, which I will do right now:

Gospel of the Living Dead:George Romero's Visions of Hell on Earth by Kim Paffenroth

(2006 Baylor University Press)

Kim Paffenroth's Gospel of the Living Dead: George Romero's Visions of Hell on Earth is a grand dose of unique genre nonfiction, an analysis of zombies in film and most specifically of Romero's films and those directly inspired by them. Each chapter discusses all four films from the father of pop culture zombies, as well as the Dawn of the Dead remake, making mention of related popular cinematic creations. Paffenroth tears into his subject matter from the point of view of an educated theologian who can not only relate Christian teachings and perspectives to zombies in movies but is also an avid fan.....and likely of Christian ideological persuasion.

Paffenroth's offering is fascinating, insightful, and intelligent enough to rival any published examination of social and religious sciences as they relate to genre cinema, a thinker's companion piece to the films themselves, and without its presence on the book case shelves of a true zombie fanatic you can deem his library incomplete. From the introduction, Paffenroth states "....the monstrous zombies created
by our imaginations, whether in a logician's thought experiment or a director's frame, may yet save us from our own misguided and arrogant urge to degrade and dehumanize ourselves into soulless machines." But aside from social comparisons to zombies themselves, the author takes us into a clear and detailed analysis of other important elements the films display-- the human characters, their symbolisms, interactions, and a study of the world around them on both personal and global scales.
     For myself, personally, this work offers a refreshing and enlightening perspective on Christian ideals as they relate to a subject most Christian fundamentalists view very adamantly as Satanically inspired, something Christ demands us to ignore, to stay away from, to have nothing to do with. In stating his case, Kim takes measures to present the subject matter in a very Christian reader-friendly way, for as graphic and exploitive as these films can be, he takes great care to keep his content clean, concise, entertaining, providing valuable lessons for us all to pay attention to and learn regardless of our beliefs.
     That said, there are reasons why it seemed difficult writing this review as well as Maberry's Ghost Road Blues, until I combined them. You see, I have the same things to say of both authors, and I always veer away as best I can from being redundant, so now I can say it all here:
     I had an epiphany not very long ago involving doing these book reviews, and up until then I hadn't done one since high school. I can't imagine being paid to do one, and part of my motivation in doing them in the first place was to discipline myself into reading, period, and perhaps to teach and give an ear to books rejected for reviews elsewhere because of their self-published status. But as I've often taught in lectures or in providing simple advice to writers who wish to go that route, the real value I see personally in doing reviews lies beyond acquiring free books and flexing your literary muscles to voice opinions about them, to have them quoted on the backs of other's books so your name can get around. Letting the  world know you do reviews exposes you to a deeper appreciation of the works of others and invites potential greatness to your doorstep. Not having heard of them previously, both Jonathan Maberry and Kim Paffenroth, within maybe a month of each other, came to me to review their works. It's commonplace these days for anyone to approach me for a review, and I have to this date indeed reviewed some pretty damn good stuff. But in reading their works, and through some correspondence, in seeing what these two are about on their websites and perusing over their accomplishments, I can say concerning the both of them that greatness has found its way to my doorstep, and it probably wouldn't have been the case if not for doing reviews. Call it an affirmation.

Check out their books, check out their websites, and you'll see what I mean.

Cthulhu Cult by Venger Satanis

(2007 Lulu)

Unlike my earlier days as a guy who preached good old fashioned Christian gospel with a thick-headedness like unto placing a cardboard box over my head and telling myself it wasn’t there, tuning out others’ points of view and blinding myself at the same time, I have arrived at the conclusion that receiving others’ opinions about the way the world works and giving others’ philosophies more than the time of day actually educates and nourishes my brain, lets it breathe and allows me to think with a freedom I hadn’t known when I was so judgemental.

But for me to actually review a work this author presents as a bible in all sincerity to his proclaimed religion, albeit an unrecognized religion…..well, let’s just say it’s difficult to critique as a literary work, simply because it’s more like a manual and profession of one’s faith rather than something written to be taken less seriously.
Basically, in the tradition of Anton LaVey’s Satanic Bible, it proclaims itself as the supreme document to go by for a religion based on H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. “Eventually, all things rooted in this world break down. And so it follows that one day the world’s political systems, the systems of human control, will also decay…..We will forge a new order, a Lovecraftian Theocracy.”
In this book we have codes of conduct, rituals, rites, rants, the ‘accursed writings of that dreaded cult, and its ungodly practices whereby the Old Ones may be stirred…..”
Written by High Priest Venger Satanis, with the given name of Darrick Dishaw, a successful real estate businessman, the work as a whole is executed with intelligence, good editing, some good artwork, and determined vision. What else can I say? Darrick is a smart man, and the book reads like a thesis from a smart man. Though I am not persuaded into his beliefs, I respect them, and wish for him the best.
And if any writer deserves a religion, it’s Lovecraft.

A Man of Two Worlds/ Michael by Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc

(2006 Ephemera Bound Publishing.) 

Firstly, let me step over to the podium and tell you a little bit about Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc, and in the process I’ll inject my opinions of these two books, covering all bases so at the end of reading this you’ll go away with this woman’s name grafted into your mind even though you may not know how to properly pronounce it.
Before we proceed, you might find my review of Andrea’s THE TWO to be a good appetizer. Mind you, from this point on I aim to be quite frank.

Andrea is, in her day-to-day routine of life, in essence, a simple Tampa, Florida girl with a loving husband and an average domestic lifestyle. Talking to her on the phone, you get the feeling of having a casual conversation with someone carrying both the self-confidence of a United States Senator and the timid honesty of that one housewife in your neighborhood who actually has a good head on her shoulders but few neighbors take the time to find out, though nevertheless is a hit at Halloween. But dig deeper than conversation, and you’ll discover a woman who had found herself, her role in this universe (at least in this lifetime), and, consequently, throughout the course of time, has found a way to express her persona and ambition tapped deep within herself that explodes upon the horror landscape with raw unbridled gusto both through her writing and an impressive years-long untiring promotion campaign that’s brought her name out into the forefront of gothic horror writers.
Her books, contrary to what you’d gather merely talking to her on the phone, are extremely explicit and unapologetic, the kind of material that the entire U.S. population of religious fundamentalists would do everything in their power to ban should Andy become a commercial success, an endeavor that would make Harry Potter books seem like Barney to the right-wing-inclined.
Man of Two Worlds is comprised of a central story containing many delightful sub-stories of the ghoulish supernatural characters who comprise a “skeleton crew” for a film director embattled with rumors his movie set’s haunted, which frightened away a previous crew who had more “life” in them. The film director eventually learns what it’s like to be one of the new crew, one of their kind, in a tale very well told and exhibits one of Andrea’s shining accomplishments as a story teller.
Michael deals with Taylor, a timid, troubled young man who happens upon one Michael Paxton while spending one of many quiet times in his town’s isolated cemetery. As it turns out, Michael has been a spirit roaming the cemetery who decided to possess the body of a freshly-buried corpse of a young man who dug himself from the ground to become human enough to claim Taylor as his lover forever. Taylor, a devote heterosexual male, finds his life turned upside down in ways he never imagined. Is Michael a vampire? Well, no. He eats people. Is he a zombie? Well, no, because zombies don’t have anal intercourse, and if they did, and they came inside you, you don’t become one of them.
Yes, Andy’s works are that raw. Who’d have thought, just by talking to her.
She writes quite skillfully, which is very dangerous when it comes to expressing stories like Michael, particularly, because what she has to say is vivid, the characters pull you in, the violence is enough in itself to satisfy even the pickiest of hardcore gorehounds, and the gay sex and graphic nature steps on your skull and scrapes your teeth against the cement curb like an angry rapist having his way with you on a suburban side street in the dead of night when the countless people in the surrounding homes are all fast asleep and haven't the faintest notion of your violent plight to stay alive, where you could cry out but no one would hear you except the restless ones in the graveyard nearby, waiting for you to join them.
But I’ve said enough already.
On a small note, in regards to Michael, I would have loved to have seen the Danny character (the ex-cop) appear way earlier on, because he appeared too abruptly with not enough time to digest, and he would have been more convincing as being connected with a police investigation sub-plot as the whole story went from almost the beginning....but that's just me......

Thoroughbred by Steven Shrewsbury

I AM A WEB DESIGNER(2006 Leisure Books/Dorchester Publishing.)

Shrewsbury, with Thoroughbred, brings back the kind of fiction Robert Howard presented and indeed does justice to the predominant themes in this work of ancient Barbarian days.

The book itself incorporates six tales along those lines, the final story more present-day, and throughout Steven proves himself an able storyteller. The title story concerning Rogan, a rogue hunter/muscle-for-hire who happens upon a village who employs him not only as its protector against an onslaught of bloodthirsty Satyrs, but unbeknownst to him as human fertilizer (read it, you’ll get it), is definitive to Shrewsbury’s writing and top notch storytelling. Brisk pacing, solid storylines that draw you rather than making you yawn turning pages to get to the point, great vision.
Presence of Mine Enemies, a tale of Goliath (as in David and….) was one of my personal favorites (considering my own persuasions and religious history), and Man Out of Time served up some good suspense in an African abyss.
Great material to escape into at any given time, and I look forward to reading Steven further. 

Caress of a Psychopath (Sallos: His Former Years) by Cinsearae R. Santiago

(2006 Lulu.)  

Cinsearae R. Santiago has made an eye-opening name for herself as a result of her Blood Touch series of erotic vampire horror novels centering on her Gratista Vampire Clan creation and her writing efforts over the last several years to the date of this review. She’s been writing for a much longer period, her work appearing in small press literary magazines, currently has one of her own, Dark Gothic Resurrected, and her larger work is currently self-published and marketed to a degree of success and notoriety I find utterly admirable (I’m a sucker for literary talent do-it-yourselfers). In command of her career, she’s one of the few who’s truly found her niche and a resulting gothic genre fandom always eager for more of what she dishes out. What she writes is explicitly no holds barred and her storytelling is executed with a tortured fuck-you prose and passion that makes reading her a hell of a lot of unbridled fun.  
Caress of a Psychopath (or Sallos: His Former Years), is the latest in Cinsearae’s Blood Touch series and centers on the author’s popular character of Matthew Clarizio, who becomes Sallos, beginning with his defiantly youthful life in South Philadelphia and the suicide of his parents. It takes the reader through the exploits and sets of circumstances which lead to Clarizio's evolution as a vampiric personality and then as the full-fledged Vampire Sallos himself, introduces us to a colorful clan of dark like-minded immortals and ragtag characters and sends us on a journey of exploitation and often violent, blood-soaked and sexual exhibition.
Cinsearae’s writing style flows with a rhythm and pace that moves the reader through the pages in its narrative and sequences of action, its vivid characterization, though (and while myself being all too aware erotica is part of the presentation) the pace suffers in often excruciatingly detailed scenes of explicit sex that are well-intended but wallow in unnecessary play-by-plays that would do the novel as a whole great justice if trimmed down for the sake of valuable story momentum.
All in all, any vampire/horror fan or goth enthusiast is guaranteed a blast of a time, a world of rich uncompromising literary design told at streetsmart level, an asset to the genre, and comes recommended by me.    

Light at the Edge of Darkness (anthology) edited by Cynthia Mackinnon

(2007 Writers' Café Press.)

Light at the Edge of Darkness is promoted as an “anthology of biblical speculative fiction,” a “lost genre” published by The Writers’ Café Press and edited by Cynthia MacKinnon. In short and upon reading and digesting this work in whole, “Bib-spec-fic” as it’s referred to here and virtually nowhere else I’ve encountered (hence I believe the publishers had themselves coined the term, for they knew not what else to call it), is essentially a fusion of horror, suspense, science fiction, cyberpunk and related elements written not only by fundamentalist Bible-believing Christians but crafted with a fundamentalist Christian evangelical agenda. Every tale promises and delivers a light (in the form of a message or sublime insight centered in biblical morality or salvation) at the edge of a darkness rooted in often terrifying conflict and bleak circumstance, where characters are pushed onward through trials and tribulations and mishap which challenges or shapes their religious convictions and is meant to do the same for us readers.
Off and on and for the longest time of my pre-professional writing life, my Christian religious convictions often drove me to saturate this tale and that story with biblical ideology and ultimately it rarely worked well with the sort of horror I'm heartfeltedly inclined to write. I received all forms of hell from the finger-pointing judgmental types that condemned me for my stories’ violent content and dark and supernatural nature, and most other readers outside the church circle took my stories as too sugarcoated and preachy. On the other hand, my experience with this always makes my radar shoot up and zero in on the works of others who attempt this sort of writing. After all, I’m still a Christian. So typically you’d think I would be an ideal candidate to give a bright and sparkling review for such an anthology.
I’ll tell you, the writing itself contained within this book is, overall, first-rate, the storytelling does its job and entertains with crisp characters and situations which are refreshingly original. Some of the content is outright straight science fiction, notably such as V.B. Tenery’s court drama Adino, Frank Creed’s satisfying Miracle Micro and True Freedom, Andrea Graham’s cyber-punkish Frozen Generation, Joseph Ficor’s amusingly comic Your Average Ordinary Alien. There’s the C.S. Lewis-esque Fumbleblot’s Task by Deborah Cullins-Smith which plays on the number 13 and which I at first assumed I wouldn’t like, but I found the simple fable delightful. Elements of good horror shine particularly in Daniel Weaver’s truly psychedelic Guilty. A.P. Fuch’s Undeniable is well-told (see my review of his other works here), but alas, I was constantly questioning the believability of the graphic torture imposed on a Canadian citizen in China simply for carrying a Bible off the plane and being a Christian. I’m well aware of persecution of Christians in foreign countries for political and religious reasons in contemporary times, and there has to be a more deeply-rooted set of circumstances established early within the story for it to seem plausible to me.
But minor shortcomings here and there in the anthology did not lessen the overall enjoyment of my read, and I praise each author for their uniqueness and voice and superior storytelling skills. The only real problem I have with Light at the Edge of Darkness is it drips with a Christian message that oftentimes seems forced and preachy…..criticism which sounds all too familiar to me in yesteryear days…..but I usually hunger for something raw in my reading life, with no predetermined guidelines of how a writer should write with or without religious conviction, where some stories are spawned out of pure primal release with no need to convey any particular message. The same message in every story of a 384-page anthology can become so redundant it takes away from its true potential as an enjoyable read marketable to the reading masses. On the other hand, the consistency in its common themes makes for a uniformed anthology presentation when it comes down to it all, and to this business of biblical speculative fiction. 

The Calling by Paul M. Strickler

(2006 Crystal Dreams Publishing.)

The Calling is a 500-plus-page-long, character-driven, lyrically-fluid tale that reads like a haunted house story with a Halloween funhouse ride-type pace that sometimes gets stuck in narrative before it starts off again and pulls you further into the ride. The way Strickler writes tells me he knows what he’s doing, like he’s written for awhile, though this is his first novel. I’ve said that before with other premiere writers who have put out first novels, and  is a way well-over obvious indication the chap’s not only got some real talent, but the ambition of someone who believes in his work and the patience and diligence to pull out of himself a story so epic yet dealing with so tight a group of characters in a small town setting. Yes, it rides on Essence of King, of whom I’m certain is an inspiration to the author, but Strickler is his own voice here.
Basically, with this story, you’ve got a family who moves to a small town in northern Michigan and into the one house nobody in that town wants to live in. A guy who once lived there was very much into the Dark Arts, you see, and what happened there was so powerful that it wants to happen again, pulling the main character of the boy in the family further into intrigue, seduces him to discover just what it is that’s happening to his family to find himself immersed smack down in the center of it. As it turns out, important people in the town are involved, and we find the source of unspeakable evil to be from a supernatural gateway where all the protagonist pieces are shuffling together throughout the story to eventually open and bring about a vengeful assault from the demonic forces beyond.
Paul Strickler has an impressive educational and professional history which largely involves the side of the brain that’s opposite the creative side, working high-ranking positions in areas ranging from CIA computer operations to aerospace technology, which accounts for a good head-on-your-shoulders literary expertise and actually stimulates creativity, is what it seems to me in his case. I mean, a majority of computer geeks I know have a skill equivalent to a gerbil playing basketball when it comes to telling a story on paper, and Paul not only tells a story, but tells it well, and places enough dark and surreal visions in your head that it takes a few good nights of restless sleep to get over.
Bravo, and keep up the great work, Paul…….

Mistress of the Dark by Sèphera Girón

(2005 Leisure Books/Dorchester Publishing.)

Imagine the world of our earth cast forever into the shadow of night time sky, illuminated only by the moon and the stars and what Man had invented to light everything from cities to flashlights, but in this world no living creature was adversely affected. Birds still chirped in the morning, great forests flourished, every minute seemed like Saturday night, and Sephera Giron was basking in it all, maybe even queen of it. I think Sephera would be just fine with that scenario. Her life is one exquisite dark side. I’ve seen that in her personally, and, now that I’ve read her, (and for the purposes of this review did some homework on her), I’m even deeper of the opinion that Sephera is full of night, yet full of life, and full of ample creative productivity reflecting that. She has over a dozen published books, has spread her short works thick around the online and printed universe, is a favorite at genre literary cons enough so to be honored at them and a prominent headline. She’s a certified and recommended tarot counselor, goes by the name of Ariana when she does her readings, is learned in astrology and numerology, carries a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fine Arts. All that said and good and set aside, she is, in my overall opinion, a very literarily talented woman of the night.
Some women I’ve met and read and who had a bestseller or two under their belts can’t hold a candle in the dark world of Giron’s, and with Mistress of the Dark, this writer writes in a first-person narrative prose that actually dances poetically and descriptively. The character of Abigail as a lonely waitress, distraught with her loneliness and of her own self-image, amplifies into a mental and social vortex of lust and envy and the deaths of those around her, whose corpses she utilizes as furniture-like “works of art” collecting in her livingroom, very Gein-esque. Drag queens and chain saws and a lowly young woman just trying to make herself happy is what this book is about, baby.
And Sephera does a hell of a job bringing it all to life, under a canopy of dark.

Liquid Sky (Legends of the Jade Moon Book 1) by C.E. Dorsett

(2005 iUniverse.)

My first reaction to receiving C.E. Dorsett’s Legends of the Jade Moon, Book I: Liquid Sky was that, though I haven’t been inclined to read straight-out science fiction since I’d read my last Heinlein book several years ago, was that I’d been expecting it and was pleased to see a copy in my mailbox. My second reaction was oh god, it’s got a glossary in the back…..

…..any book that has a glossary, as far as I’m concerned, raises flags as to question just how much I have to concentrate while reading it do I go before I can even comprehend it. ¿Comprendé?
     What we have here is indeed science fiction ala Dune, though less detailed but just as vividly portrayed. Dorsett deserves praise for the execution of a story less intimidating for one more inclined to read other genres which require far less brain power to understand, breaks through those barriers and develops a narrative which renders a glossary needless and pretty much explains itself as is without asserting its vast mythology in explanatory rhetoric.
     I enjoyed the damn thing. I think C.E. Dorsett is one powerhouse of imagination, inspired obviously by the greats of his craft. Liquid Sky is full of mysticism and spirituality, of themes centered on the search for one’s inner self and the meaning of the universe around him, where a youthful monk with adopted parents finds himself catapulted into an interstellar journey fueled by the death of the one he called Father and driven at odds by the results of saving him, by mysterious truth-sayers who aren’t what they seem and personal intuition telling him he’s destined to amount to something greater than himself and the savior of worlds. Ianus’ adventures and intrigue are entertaining and don’t smother us in the sort of over-explanation I’d read in other novels like this one. Liquid Sky is an extremely intelligent, very readable and delightful piece of work, and I’m glad to recommend it. Eric Dorsett also is the creator of some way cool electronic music and art, and I expect more like-kind literary works from him in the near future.

Nicholas Grabowsky's Diverse Compendium


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