Nick Reads & Reviews Page 7

The Hunger by Steven J. Adelmund

(2007 Authorhouse.)

Steven J. Adelmund’s zombie tale starts off with a very post-9/11-ish modern-day terrorist origin methodology, where a Muslim extremist at Spring Valley University injects himself with a zombie serum essentially formulated right there on campus, succumbs to his own undeath, and then attacks and scratches the person nearest him which brings about the inevitably horrible plague in no time. We are set out for the university to begin their college education. They become educated, to say the least, when they get there, but none of what they learn was what they expected to. When they arrive in town, one zombie encounter leads to another which leads to their true eventual plight, where the town itself as well as the university is overcome by the living dead, and they must join forces with a stereotypically selfish town mayor and his more-down-to-earth and frightened teenage daughter. Twists of note in the plot involve the fact that an antidote to the plague, should one become infected, exists within the bowels of the university laboratories, and that this particular epidemic infects even the local animals and birds.
       The plot unfolds predictably in this fashion, where the story’s strengths are the characters and the author’s ability to hold the reader’s interest and maintain the action, to which there’s scarcely a dull moment. With The Hunger, we see an author at the beginning of being able to tap into his personal style and strengths and express his evident passion through the sort of trial and error in writing that comes with years of experience. This is another writer to watch, and this book exhibits a seasoned horror scribe in the making.
     Steven Adelmund is actually a reverend, ordained by the Universal Life Church and proclaims himself a Christian (a man after my own convictions, and, likewise, doesn’t give a rat’s ass about following other people’s perceptions of what is straight and narrow), and his web presence is astounding, with his fingers in many online avenues. In my opinion, from what I’ve seen and read, The Steve rocks.
      You know what I think? I think if Solis and Adelmund got together creatively, did the ultimate zombie story as a duo, if just for that one time, they would be a force to be reckoned with and twice as much as they are, without a doubt, separately.

Monkey Love by John Paul Allen

(2008 Biting Dog Publications.)

I met Mr. Allen at the World Horror con in Toronto, first at his table, then when I was drunk off my gourd at a hotel party, having a jolly good time, when he approached me, sat down in front of me, and told me he’d been looking for me, wanted to give me Monkey Love. I’d momentarily forgotten I’d spoken to him at his table, and in my stupor he looked to me like a younger Willie Nelson who really really wanted me to read his book. I was all ears and neglected the attention of my company to converse with him, but they were as drunk as I was and blended into the party crowd. I’ll never forget that moment, and I thoroughly enjoyed talking with him. Here was a guy who was searching parties with a book in hand and a mission to deliver it just for me, and at that moment I was honored, no matter who he was. When I soon afterward looked over the book, I remembered speaking with him at his table, finally. The book was a signed and numbered limited edition, and as it turns out something I now prize in my library. I’m very grateful to making his acquaintance and introducing me to his writings.
     John Paul Allen is relatively an up-and-comer in this industry, his first novel the celebrated Gifted Trust debuting in 2003 with the chapbook Hello Neighbor following, then with Weeping Mary in 2004. I say up-and-comer very loosely; his name and talents have circulated around to the point where he has achieved notoriety and high esteem just with his short works alone. I must say I’m very proud of him.
     To the point with Monkey Love itself: the story is simple, dealing with a couple where the husband dies in a plane crash and his lover, Sandra, an expert in Anthropology, moves on to study gorillas in Uganda with a team of scientists. As it turns out, she becomes fascinated with one particular ape who bares a mark so similar to her deceased husband’s tattoo that she begins to think this ape might be a reincarnation of her poor Richard. That leads to an obsession, and……
     Need I say wow. Great writing, great reading, and Allen has all the makings of a writer with the talent and ambition that equals success in this big wide world of writers and wannabes. Excellent stuff, even with House Guest, a short story included in the book. Love every word, and keep it up, John Paul, ‘cause if you don’t, I’m gonna be the one going around looking for you at the next writer’s con we both attend!
     Hell, I’ll look for you anyway…. 

The Expendability Doctrine by Patrick Mackeown

(2006 BookScape.)

Murder and Big Oil, and all the juicy details incorporating suspense and bigwig corporate greed with a narrative not unlike a scholar well-versed in the ways of telling a nice compact and seasoned storytelling prose is what The Expendability Doctrine is all about, and so much more. Granted, need I say again in my online succession of giving reviews of books outside my typical genre,
     Dras is the proverbial Prodigal Son, a guy who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the philosophies and ideals of his older brother who happens to be a Protestant pastor of the small town of Greensboro, is a typical rebel who defies the very elements that defines the values instilled by the traditions of his brother and his father before him. And then comes the Stranger, an embodiment of evil who ventures into town and creates all sorts of
I have found a novel submitted to me that had taken some time to get around to because the nature of the ones I review are first and foremost, I have found something more than appealing, something that breaks away from the kind of material I choose to read and put forth the time to write what I think of.
     This is Patrick’s first book, followed up by The Cardinal’s Blood, and I suspect he’s building on making a career out of this sort of thing, and well deservedly so. His writing is first-rate and he does a remarkable job with moving the story along without all the boring nonessential details that suspense thrillers involving corporate schemes and espionage and police-investigators-solving-larger-than-life crimes often present for me. Normally, it’s not my cup of tea. But with this one, it is. And truly, it’s all in the way Patrick Mackeown writes but not expressly that, it’s because he presents himself as learned with this material, and I also suspect an underlying statement in regards to the state of the world regarding oil.
     Basically, the wife of a wealthy executive involved with the oil industry hires a hit man to off her husband, which sends her fleeing out of the country only to end up in the gaols of third-world-country Libya, while back in Britain the law is trying to piece things together in what at first seems to be a simple murder mystery. As the mystery, much as the plot, unravels, there is so much more to what is going on…..on a personal level to not only the wife and her estranged son as well as the police officers involved, but on a global level as well. Ultimately, the whole of the story makes the common man, the reader, not only more aware of the workings of behind-the-scenes dealings of oil executives on an international level, which is very educational, but it pulls you into that world and gives you a hell of a read.

The Coming Evil: The Strange Man by Greg Mitchell 

(2007 Xulon Press.)

Dras is the proverbial Prodigal Son, a guy who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the philosophies and ideals of his older brother who happens to be a Protestant pastor of the small town of Greensboro, is a typical rebel who defies the very elements that defines the values instilled by the traditions of his brother and his father before him. And then comes the Stranger, an embodiment of evil who ventures into town and creates all sorts of chaos and mayhem, making things not only really suck for everyone, but is a necessary element for those like Dras to either come to terms with the Christian realization and empowerment that he requires to face and ultimately defeat this evil, or to die a terrible death like the other victims of the onslaught instilled by the devilish Stranger who invades the town to claim un-Christian souls.
Greg Mitchell (not to be confused with the Greg Mitchell author of contemporary political and social bestsellers and commentaries for ABC News), is a man after my own heart. He has a love of creatures and monsters and the sort of creepy supernatural elements that, together with a yearning and knack for sitting down and writing about it, sows the seeds for someone great in the field. Firstly, Greg does have within him the makings of a great writer. His writing method is in its beginning stages, professionally, which is to say quite honestly that I should expect from him in that writing style to perfect his stuff to the point where he stands out and becomes more and more original, achieving that mark that pinpoints one writer from another, which makes a reader of the genre for years and years on end to say hey, that’s Greg Mitchell’s work. He has yet to achieve that, but he’s on his way.
Now, this is personal, so follow me here: I’ve spoken of Greg’s style, so now here are two points for him expressly, involving story originality and the expression of faith, and I say this from experience in that I, too, set out to tell a story of similar formula with the same expression of faith, to which, as my readers know, was blown all to hell in many ways when my first novel shifted along with my life and was as a consequence reconstructed. Firstly, the storyline itself, though highly readable, is way too predictable and follows a straight-forward plot scheme duplicated thousands of times….an evil comes to a town where a certain rebellious soul must figure out how to defeat it. And the evil has no motive but to simply do evil deeds, has no true indepth character or core motivation outside of itself, and the characters have no meaty integral driving substance that sets them apart from what readers are used to reading. The book is dripping with fundamentalist evangelical Christian rhetoric, where salvation only lies with whether or not the characters accept Christ as their personal savior. For a work of fiction along the lines of monsters and creatures and mayhem that invades a small town where townsfolk must fight against it, such a simple scenario need not be, and that’s not to say the author’s faith and message should not be sacrificed. It should be reinvented, reconstructed, re-expressed to say the same things while taking the reader into an exciting world no one’s ever entered before, while taking the preachiness and doing what, for instance, C.S. Lewis did, making the tale and its construction come first and its message be an underlying element expressed better in interviews.
I must be harsh with this, because I’m honest, and believe me, as a Christian and as a horror writer, I’ve been there before and I only say this in hopes that Greg takes what I say as not a negative review, because it isn’t, but a lesson from one who knows. I highly recommend this book to those of Christian persuasion who normally read nothing else outside the boundaries I speak of, but I know Greg will find after he flexes his literary muscles further that he can broaden not only his appeal and audience, but become a more seasoned, professional writer admired by the world as well.   

Contagion by Jason Gehlert 

(2007 Stonegarden.net Publications.)

Jason was doing a signing at the World Horror Con in Utah, early Spring of ’08, when I was first introduced to both him and his Contagion. When I was finally able to read it and afterwards finish reading it, his book had accompanied me to a car dealership waiting room, a McDonald’s, my Sunday job/office at a youth mentorship program, a Walmart parking lot, my house, my parent’s house, my friend’s house, a pharmacy waiting room, an Amtrak train, and a Shell station car wash. Not that it’s a lengthy read….this was one of a handful of novels I needed to read and review during a period when I had too many books submitted to me and too little time to review them, so I made the time. But it’s also a testament to how I wanted to keep going back to it as soon as I possibly could because I wanted to see what happens next. There is also a truth to the theory that where you read a book effects how you absorb what you read, coupled with your frame of mind at the time.
     I had a multitude of feelings about this book as a consequence, and as a consequence to that, had a helluva time trying to put it all together here. I must begin with what element all those feelings had in common with, and doing so brings us back to wanting to see what happens next, that factor. For an author to tie a lasso together, wave it around in the air and rope you, and then pull you in, is a medal of honor in the accomplishment category when you’re a writer of any story. I understand that this work was originally an internet blog written over a period of time, and that could have contributed to the formula that gave Contagion its pace and ability to engross.
     At its heart is a simple African jungle zombie adventure. Take a yet-to-be-world-renown medical doctor and his medical doctor girlfriend and drop them into a remote South African jungle. They’re on a search for a very distinguished M.D. who’d gone missing trying to develop a vaccine for a nasty nightmare supervirus known to locals within the colony he resided with as the Devil’s Disease, a cross between Ebola and Leprosy. Once exposed to it, both your mental and physical state rapidly deteriorates to the point that you exhibit extreme zombie-like qualities, and many characters find out about this factor up-close and personally. The United States Government knows about it, too.
     But this work’s most appealing elements are its characters, the social situations between them, and the confounding circumstances which make them tick. This isn’t necessarily a zombie novel, but a solid character novel that builds tension and generates an atmosphere that envelopes the reader in a claustrophobic jungle world…..as long as we’re in that jungle….where the whole zombie/disease factor is a constant antagonistic force that wouldn’t be so menacing if it weren’t for the mechanics Gehlert utilizes to make his characters and their relationships to one another so vivid and full of personal issues. Sometimes Gehlert struggles with poetic description and certain sequences could be better polished, other times his words flow perfectly, and the action is juicy and plentiful and well-executed, builds and moves with fiery momentum.
     A word to the author: when the character of Doctor Forsythe is exposed to the disease, he becomes a lost soul…..but with Sturgis, when he succumbs to insanity, he turns emotionally inside-out, like his real self and lust for fame didn’t need any help from some zombie disease to push him over the edge, eventually. Dantu was kind of a reflection of him in the end.
     Jason Gehlert is also the author of Carnie Creek, The Woodsman and the Quiver werewolf series.
 

Flashpoint by Frank Creed 

(2007 The Writers' Cafe Press.)

Well here we go: speculative Christian Science Fiction taken to such an extreme that the fibers of contemporary Christian beliefs are integrated into every aspect of plot and storyline, becoming preachy, yes, but the fact that they are meshed into the situations and storyline in a futuristic environment adds character, that’s for sure, aside from its message.

Creed brings to the plate a meticulously implemented series of events of our very near future upon the basis of how things are going on in these current times, taking on a biblical theme ala the Left Behind series, but taken away are the stereotypical end times chronology of events that you’d find in the sermons of many preachers…..you know, that point A to point B scenario of the Rapture first, a succession of fulfilled prophecies second, the Anti-Christ’s rise to power, that sort of thing. Here, as another reviewer put it, is a more Matrix kind of premise that mixes political climate with the computer age. That’s not to say the whole biblical apocalypse isn’t part of the scheme…..after all, this is part of a series…..it’s just that it’s not the case with this work.
     This vision incorporates a unified global government that outlaws radical religions such as Christianity and sends Christians to places where they get their minds corrected to where they can be placed back into conformed society again once they’re rehabilitated. The ones keeping the faith have gone underground and fight the establishment with its own technology and a extremely heightened awareness of the one true God through a technological process that makes their eyes gold in color. When they confront the establishment in very action-packed gun-shooting all-balls-out episodes, the “Body of Christ,” as the Christian terrorist underground movement calls itself, implements upon their adversaries non-lethal firepower, putting their human foes to sleep rather than killing them.
     A young brother and sister are catapulted into a situation where, after finding themselves immersed with the underground Body of Christ, being Christians as well whose parents end up getting captured by law enforcement and sent to brain-washing establishments to become reformed, become prominent fixtures in their militant pro-Christ movement to such an extent they become virtual legends and make the government’s top-something most wanted list.
     This sucker is way too preachy for me, with scriptural insights inserted into the storyline that could have been better integrated by Creed some other way…..I know not how, because there’s almost no further room for preachiness and the book would explode in your face and ooze all over your hands as you read it in regards to its abundance of religious persuasion even if a majority of it was indeed shrouded in some way. That aside, it’s impossible to see any other way around Creed’s liberal dosage of expression of faith and its integration so deep into this vision. Like I said, it gives it character, character like you wouldn’t believe.
     Isolating and addressing the author’s ability to tell a story though, Creed has proved himself more than a capable writer by this work alone, and I believe this piece of his that I’m reviewing here will be a signature book for him in his blossoming career and forever. It’s executed with that distinct sort of author personality that makes one able to tell it’s Frank Creed who’s writing, versus multitudes of other authors who have yet to achieve the distinction between one writer and another.
     Being preachy about one’s faith ain’t all that bad, however, this coming from a believer myself who tends to metaphor everything with writing material less family-friendly. The real deal here is that Frank Creed writes well, and two sets of readers will really dig this work: both the Sci-fi die-hard and any single church-going believer in the country. In this regard, Frank Creed has potentially got it made, just gotta keep going at it, and he’ll get it, sure as the end of the world.

Other Things, Other Places edited by David G. Montoya

(2007 Magus Press.)

I became familiar with Magus Press/David Montoya at the World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City about a year ago from this writing, where I was graced with this tight little book of 89 double-spaced pages to review. It features only three stories by three authors, and takes about an hour to read, depending, of course, on your reading rate. I truly enjoy short collections like this one, just because........

......well, you know.....sometimes you want to read some good fiction but don't want to tackle some heavy-weight epic-of-a-thing you know will require a good couple week's worth of reading just yet, and here we have a threesome of very enjoyable tales to gulp down in one sitting like a tasty lunch which leaves you feeling like yeah......that was satisfying.
With Montoya as Editor, we have a boy who befriends a benign swamp-like "Skunk-ape" who has a balls-out brawl with an evil beast determined to send a backwoods community straight to hell (delightfully written by Matt Staggs), a modern-day Jesus addicted to heroin (by David L. Tamarin), and a cool and eerie Voodoo vengeance fable that I particularly liked by John Dimes.
Great stuff, and awesome stuff coming out of Magus Press.  

Conceiving Evil by Kathy Lynn Blaylock 

(2006 Publish America.)

There seems to be many sides to author Kathy Blaylock, a plethora of writing styles and genre skipping.....I mean, take for example Mel's Journal: The Journey Home or Along Life's Winding Roads, and take in particular The Adventures of Buddy Fairy and Friends (where Buddy Fairy and Nay-Nay Rabbit embark on an adventure to catch the smallest fairy in Fairyland: the Purple Moonshine Butterfly), and must ask yourself, "how can a writer possibly jump from penning a book about Nay-Nay Rabbit and into the sick and twisted realms of gut-bursting violence and explicit grisly and obscenely sexual depravity such as what is found in Conceiving Evil?"
Maybe a few swigs of Purple Moonshine are responsible.
Actually, I think there's more truth to the notion that versatility as a writer shows off talent. Besides, take a look at Roald Dahl, who did some damn good horror stuff as well as James & the Giant Peach and the two Willy Wonka books. I know as well as anyone, there are many facets and complications frolicking about between the lines of inspiration and imagination. There are many reasons why a writer is driven to write in one direction or another, but I can tell you, in the case of Kathy Lynn Blaylock, and with the work of supernatural horror I'm reviewing, none of them matter because it works, bottom line.
Conceiving Evil basically takes your average concept/sub genre of devil-impregnating-woman-for-a-birth-into-this-world-with-the-intent-to-destroy-it Anti-Christ-esque/Demon Seed premise and brings flair and original concepts to the table, along with an avalanche of enough mayhem and gore to satisfy the sickest (literarily speaking) among us. The writing itself is unseasoned, but the tale itself along with its crisp characters and plot devices is more than enough to compensate for any shortcomings Blaylock has in any lack of poetic flow and vivid description where further practice promises to make more perfect her technique. She gets the job done, which is what matters. Venturing further down this road of darker fiction, this author, with Conceiving Evil, demands our attention and this gruesome and entertaining entry is a damn good start for a boisterous voice in horror fiction in works to come.     

Despairs & Delights by Lincoln Crisler 

(2008 Arctic Wolf Publishing.)

Lincoln Crisler is one of those voices with a name such attached that you cannot forget it, and so it is with his stories. As quoted online, Lincoln has written for Rochester's Northwest Times and Democrat and Chronicle newspapers, and his fiction has appeared in print and online venues such as The Horror Library, The Late Late Show, Down in the Cellar and Shroud Magazine's Abominations anthology, and I myself have been well familiar with his name for over awhile now to the point that I to date am publishing his follow-up to this particular book I'm reviewing (Magick & Misery). He's also, most notably but on a side note, a United States veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (currently serving as of this writing), as well as a passionate bassist and drummer. He's come far in his life, and his writing, though just a few years into it as a serious career venture, is as solid as what makes for a great voice in genre literature.
This collection makes for fantastic leisure reading to those of the horror/supernatural persuasion, should be on every dark enthusiast's coffee table. It's simple, well-written, fireside fare, composed of ten short stories including the zombie-esque and satisfying Knight of the Living Dead, a werewolf-wanting-to-die tale in The Hitchhiker, the tight and eerie witches' tale of Organic. The collection is introduced by Bailey Hunter of Dark Recesses Press. This awesome little bite of the macabre and surreal makes for an entertaining and delightfully scary read in one late-night sitting, when nothing on post witching-hour television compares to your bed, the bedside nightstand lamp, and a good book of innovative and well-crafted snippets of horror/fantasy. Such is the case with Crisler's Despairs & Delights.

Black Crystal, Ebon Death by T.M. Mason

(2008 A Kendall Publication.) 

I first became familiar with T.M. Mason with Triad Publishing's first and only horror anthology, From the Shadows, in which I did a forward and story contribution, and Mason's contribution was The Town. With Black Crystal, Ebon Death, I'm presented with a book-length example of the same writing style he incorporated into that short work, and in expressing my thoughts about the novel I find I must first acquire an understanding of this particular style that he uses, because he seems to purposely write this way, rather than for lack of storytelling skill that greatly improves the more one writes.
Firstly, before I get into that, I admire Mason's vision and passion which drives him to write. That out of the way, he writes primarily in thought fragments, slices of dramatic description and feeling which accumulatively lose the reader in an onslaught of incomplete sentences followed by a comma and series of periods, like I,......for example,....am doing here. Many paragraphs start off as incomplete sentences and run rabid without punctuation and good narrative prose guiding us along. Oftentimes, I had no idea what was happening in the story, mostly due to how it was written. I can see talent here; I think this is one of those cases where a potential literary visionary has to re-evaluate how he expresses his story on paper so that others could see it the way he's seen it in his head. I think his method of being poetic and dramatic outshines what would be better enjoyable in layman's terms and sentence structure that's less distracting, especially in the case of Black Crystal, Ebon Death, because it is a balls-out sword-and-sorcery work and is also told in the literary spirit of such works, with the English language modified toward the flavor of the genre just short of using thou's and thine's. Basically, the book entails the long and dark journey of Lv'an, a young half-Elven, towards his destiny in a dark and dangerous world full of dragons and sorcerers and magic.
Now, I admire T.M. Mason. He's extremely opinionated, philosophical, and is very passionate about his writing, and increasingly prolific. My honesty regarding my personal experience and opinion of this particular work is what it is. He writes what he writes, from War of the Storms: Souls of Chaos to the Dark Fathers Saga, short stories, and essays on politics, theology, and psychology. Mason is also, and I quote from http://www.writers.net/writers/32831, "a firm believer that the populace has been beguiled by the 'hair splitting, re-defining' of the common usage of phrase-ology and wordage."
There may be a method to his madness in going off-road in the way he writes, and don't let this one solitary review fool you. If Mason tightens the harness a little bit and rides off in the right direction, and seriously considers this review as constructive, he can do exceptionally well in this realm of Fantasy and get his works in the hands of a broader audience who, with a more proper presentation, eats this kind of stuff for breakfast after purchasing it eagerly the day before.  

Nicholas Grabowsky's Diverse Compendium

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