Archive for Book Reviews

Aug
27

The City – Book Review

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the cityThe City
by Dean Koontz
Bantam, 2014
$28.00 HB
416 pp

Reviewed by Wayne C. Rogers

Wow!

This is the one that comes to mind after reading The City by Dean Koontz.  I think this may be the best novel he’s ever written.  Gerda definitely hit the nail on the head when praising it.  This was so good that I even put off reading the ending for nearly a week, afraid that many of the characters I’d grown to love during the course of the book were going to die.  Tears did roll down my cheeks at the end, but they were happy ones.

What sets The City apart from the other novels by Dean Koontz is that this is basically a story of a young black boy, Jonah Kirk, who is a piano prodigy and takes after his grandfather.  The boy is a good human being, as is his mother, grandparents, and most the people who come into his life, especially Miss. Pearl.  Of course, there is also evil there in the form of his absent father, Tilton, and the cruel individuals he chooses to hang with.  It’s that particular evil that will test the goodness of Jonah Kirk’s heart, bringing suffering, loss, and chaos to his young life.

The City tells the story of Jonah Kirk’s earlier years as a boy who encounters life within the urban metropolis he’s born into.  He’s a good-natured lad, whose mother is a nightclub singer, while working the day shift at Woolworths, so food can be put on the table.  His grandparents are sweet people who think the world of him.  His grandfather Teddy, however, was the piano player for some of the greatest swing bands in the thirties and forties.  Jonah shares his grandfather’s talent and his mother’s love of music.

Throughout his growing years, Jonah meets a number of unique individuals who not only befriend him, but become an important aspect of his life and personal development: Mr. Yoshioka, Mrs. Lorenzo, Malcolm, Amalia and Miss Pearl.  They recognize the inner essence of Jonah’s good heart and are drawn to it, as they are to the music he makes with the piano.  They also teach him about the beauty of the city he lives in.

There are others who hate Jonah and what he represents like his no-good father, Tilton, who occasionally appears to disrupt his son’s life and create hardship for Jonah’s mother.  Let’s not forget Fiona Cassidy, who is one of the most evil females in literary history.  Though pretty, she’ll cut you with a blade in a heartbeat and not regret the shedding of blood.  Then, there’s the mastermind of this little group, Lucas Drackman, who enjoys killing, but only when it suits his needs.  He will soon make an exception with Jonah and those who get in his way.

Putting all the evil aside, there is a special person who seems to watch over Jonah.  Her name is Miss Pearl, and she appears in his life in many different forms to guide his growth and appreciation of the city she represents in human form.  I don’t know if she’s an angel or not, but she certainly appears that way to Jonah.

What Dean Koontz has done with The City is written an unparallel story of goodness and its confrontation with evil.  Though the author has touched on many of this book’s higher qualities in his previous writings, this novel is overwhelming in its spiritual aspects of good versus evil, and how a little boy copes with the different emotions that flow through him every day, whether they are good or bad.

In many ways, The City is a loving gift from Dean Koontz to his readers, displaying his diversity in writing and offering them a heart-rendering story that wraps them up inside a comfortable cocoon for a few days of well being.  It allows them to see that there is still much hidden to our eyes within this miraculous world that we’re unable to understand and grasp.  This is what I refer to in my life as the magic of the Universe.

The City is Dean Koontz at his absolute best, showering the reader with exquisite prose and a thought-provoking storyline that will have him thinking and exploring his own inner emotions about the world we live in and what each locale entails for its inhabitants.  It will cause the reader to question his own goodness and of those around him, enticing him to become better and more giving as a human being.

Great writing, great novel!

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z planZ Plan: Blood on the Sand
by Mikhail Lerma
Permuted Press
ISBN 978-1618683243
$16.95 PB; $5.99 Kindle
204 pp

Reveiewed by Marvin P. Vernon

It should be noted that Z Plan: Blood on the Sand is the first book in a series. There is nothing more annoying to me than a novel than has a cliffhanger ending when the author does not warn you it is the first book of a series. So when Mikhail Lerma and his publisher avoids this trap and lets the reader know this from the beginning, I become extremely grateful.

But it also gives me another challenge. No longer is the review just about whether I like the book or not. it also becomes: Is it good enough to warrant investing time and money to the rest of the series?

Let’s hold off on that question and consider the first one.

Blood on the Sand starts in Iraq with US army soldier Cale involved in his tour of duty and missing his family. However an unexplained plague of zombies cuts him and his friends off from the rest of the world when the creatures invade the army base. With the base virtually destroyed, Cale and three of his friends make a Zombie Plan; to leave Iraq and head to the Mediterranean where they hope to catch a boat to go home to America. Technically they are deserters but with the rest of the world on the brink of extinction, it seems to be a moot point.

One of the best things about this novel is how the author uses his military experience to write a very believable scenario, except for the zombies of course, involving the attack on the base. The first third of the novel is a creative blend between a military novel and a zombie tale. Lerma’s zombies are pretty much straight out of Walking Dead; mindless and always hungry. However the author does the very wise move of focusing our attention on one character and his reason to survive. Cale is likable and determined but no superman. He has his weaknesses and doubts which makes me want to root for him even more. We feel his pain when he needs to make a decision that has no easy answers. The ability for the author to make his main character a flawed but good man in a bad situation is what makes this zombie novel different from the rest of the pack. The action segments are very well written which again attests to the author’s focus on the military aspects and the reality of combat even as our heroes leave Iraq to go on their journey.

There are some aspects to the book that tells me this is a first novel. For instance, the changes in perspectives seems a bit awkward and there are some lulls in the book that break up the tensions more than necessary. But these are minor things considering how well most of the book moves and how the author keeps the reader involved in the story. Overall it is a formidable debut.

But what about that cliffhanger? Am I ready to invest emotionally in the series?

In a word, yes. When I got to the end, even knowing that it would be continued, I felt I read a complete first part of the series. The ending, which of course I won’t reveal, was a satisfying first installment that had me looking forward to a more revealing second installment. That is the way a series should work.

Those who crave the Z’s (Zombies) and want a series who’s Z Plan (Zombie Plan) has a determined and realistic protagonist will enjoy this novel. Hopefully the rest of the books will be as intriguing as Blood on the Sand for it is a very promising start.

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last horror novelThe Last Horror Novel in the History of the World
Brian Allen Carr
Lazy Fascist Press (May, 2014)
ISBN 978-1621051466
$9.95 PB, $4.95 Kindle
128 pp.

Reviewed by Marvin P. Vernon

Brian Allen Carr’s The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World features the author’s sparse but very literary style in a short novel of about 120 pages, yet managed to fill each page with jarring descriptions and fantastical imagery enough for 10 books. He seems to enjoy flash fiction styled chapters that teases the mind and delight the eyes evidenced in the first paragraph (and chapter) of the novel…

“Scrape, Texas – far from fame or infamy – appeared on maps, was passed through by travelers. A blink of crummy buildings, wooden households – the harsh-hearted look of them, like a thing that’s born old.”

And on to the next chapter.

Scrape, Texas is indeed a desolate blink of the eye. Its residents might be called losers but they never appeared to have been anyplace but Scrape and never had the choice of either winning or losing. When Carr’s bizarre apocalypse arrives, you can almost hear the sigh of “What now?” coming from the town’s inhabitants. The author evokes a number of Latin American mythologies in his very literary end of the world, appropriately so since the fictional town of Scrape exists close to the West Texas-Mexico border. Many sections are fittingly disturbing and horrific. But I am not sure this should be called a horror novel. From the first few pages, Carr have created an eerily accurate description of small town desert life with its drunks, gun aficionados, directionless teens, and an endless sense of resignation. It takes Mexican apparitions like La Llorona, disembodied hands and the whip-ladened El Abuelo to truly pull Scrape’s inhabitants out of their present indifference.

The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World is best read as a painting in prose; a look at taken-for-granted ennui placed on its head and shaken. It is a beautifully odd and quirky vision. There may be some hidden meaning to life in this work but if there is, Carr is going to make you work for that meaning. Yet it is unarguable that this thoughtful work reads quickly and effortlessly in a way that keeps the reader both entertained and pleasantly, if disturbingly, disoriented. The only minor issue is with the ending that comes abruptly, leaving the reader thinking, “And then what?” But it fits. There is nothing ordinary about this novel. If you are looking for something different in literary fiction, you found it.

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last horror novelThe Last Horror Novel in the History of the World
Brian Allen Carr
Lazy Fascist Press (May, 2014)
ISBN 978-1621051466
$9.95 PB, $4.95 Kindle
128 pp.

Reviewed by Marvin P. Vernon

Brian Allen Carr’s The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World features the author’s sparse but very literary style in a short novel of about 120 pages, yet managed to fill each page with jarring descriptions and fantastical imagery enough for 10 books. He seems to enjoy flash fiction styled chapters that teases the mind and delight the eyes evidenced in the first paragraph (and chapter) of the novel…

“Scrape, Texas – far from fame or infamy – appeared on maps, was passed through by travelers. A blink of crummy buildings, wooden households – the harsh-hearted look of them, like a thing that’s born old.”

And on to the next chapter.

Scrape, Texas is indeed a desolate blink of the eye. Its residents might be called losers but they never appeared to have been anyplace but Scrape and never had the choice of either winning or losing. When Carr’s bizarre apocalypse arrives, you can almost hear the sigh of “What now?” coming from the town’s inhabitants. The author evokes a number of Latin American mythologies in his very literary end of the world, appropriately so since the fictional town of Scrape exists close to the West Texas-Mexico border. Many sections are fittingly disturbing and horrific. But I am not sure this should be called a horror novel. From the first few pages, Carr have created an eerily accurate description of small town desert life with its drunks, gun aficionados, directionless teens, and an endless sense of resignation. It takes Mexican apparitions like La Llorona, disembodied hands and the whip-ladened El Abuelo to truly pull Scrape’s inhabitants out of their present indifference.

The Last Horror Novel in the History of the World is best read as a painting in prose; a look at taken-for-granted ennui placed on its head and shaken. It is a beautifully odd and quirky vision. There may be some hidden meaning to life in this work but if there is, Carr is going to make you work for that meaning. Yet it is unarguable that this thoughtful work reads quickly and effortlessly in a way that keeps the reader both entertained and pleasantly, if disturbingly, disoriented. The only minor issue is with the ending that comes abruptly, leaving the reader thinking, “And then what?” But it fits. There is nothing ordinary about this novel. If you are looking for something different in literary fiction, you found it.

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devourer of soulsDevourer of Souls
Kevin Lucia
Ragnarok Publications
ISBN 978-0990390923
June 30, 2014; $10.95 PB, $3.99 eBook
 

Reviewed by Josh Black

Kevin Lucia’s debut collection, 2013′s Things Slip Through, was a fine set of stories set in the fictional Adirondack town of Clifton Heights. Framed by a wraparound story that connected each piece to form something potentially much bigger, it introduced its readers to an intriguing mythos. Devourer of Souls is set up in much the same way, but connects two novellas rather than a host of short stories. A new set of characters is introduced, with a few familiar faces showing up here and there.

“Sophan” sees a return to Clifton Heights. Set in the late 80′s, it’s supernatural horror of the classic, slow-burn variety. The narrator, Nate Slocum, recalls the strange, life-changing events of one boyhood summer, beginning with the discovery of a seemingly innocuous game. Playing the game has dire consequences, and souls are at stake when the secrets concealed by a kindly old man and a grudge-bearing boy collide. Lucia skillfully incorporates PTSD and abuse into eldritch occurrences, and here, as in Things Slip Through, the supernatural and human horrors are bound inextricably.

“The Man in Yellow” is set in Tahawus, a small town north of Clifton Heights. A deeply unsettling story of faith tested and twisted, it concerns a stranger whose sermons reach straight into the truest desires of his new acolytes. His motives, of course, are decidedly nefarious. Much of the prose is dreamlike, as the insecurities of the protagonist draw him into a crippling darkness he may never return from.

A high level of suspense is maintained in each novella, and the feeling of dread is strong, particularly in “The Man in Yellow” (as well as the brief coda that follows). There’s a vaguely moralistic tone to the stories but, as one character remarks, “This town’s grayness is something I’m still getting used to.” On a technical level, the writing is tight and the plots well-constructed. Devourer of Souls further cements Kevin Lucia as a distinctive voice in horror and the fantastic, and it’s as good a place as any for new readers to jump in. Recommended.

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Zombie-Attack-Army-of-the-DeadZOMBIE ATTACK
BOOK 2:
ARMY OF THE DEAD
By Devan Sagliani
Permuted Press Publishing
218 Pages
ISBN: 9781618682697

Reviewed by Rick Amortis

Just when a glimmer of hope seems to illuminate in restoring some normal society, Xander MacNamara finds himself engulfed in turmoil once again. Happily married to the love of his life Felicity Jane and adapting to his newfound military rank in Freedom Town life is good. Little does he know his new found comfort is merely the calm before the storm. There appears to be some deception in the ranks.  A fellow actor has taken a shine to Felicity Jane that doesn’t sit too well with Xander. His actions and reactions cause an impromptu court marshalling and banishment from Freedom Town. While being shipped to another base a mysterious assailant named Sonya appears and breaks him and Felicity Jane free of their shackles. Now officially on the lamb, danger lurks at every corner as he learns there is a bounty on his head. With obstacles and adversity around every corner, Xander and company vie to stay alive before ending up in the clutches of his former nemesis John who has a sinister plot to unleash a genetically altered legion of super zombies. Will Xander be able to reunite with his brother Moto and salvage civilization with the cure or will their efforts ultimately succumb to the Army of The Dead?

Army of the Dead (or Zombie Attack 2 if you prefer) serves as equally effective as a stand-alone novel or if you enjoyed its predecessor Rise of The Horde. In a genre that is bountiful with sequels, the author has a firm grasp with maximizing his marketing potential in outreaching to the largest mass audience as possible. While I strongly encourage curious readers to enjoy the first volume, readers who happen to stumble along Army of the Dead first will certainly have no regrets.

One of the first things I noticed about this edition is the vast array of varying settings. We’re led into a journey with frequent change of scenery, keeping us engaged and swirling our subconscious deeper into the thick of it all with a mesmerizing clarity of the action that unfolds.

Rising tension is presented unto our protagonists that we’re familiar with from Rise of The Horde and some new faces as well. We get a little deeper into understanding what makes our characters tick and the madness that lies behind our antagonists’ eyes.

The inner monologue of lead character Xander is heartfelt and enhances his realism. Insecurities and doubts that each of us can readily relate to surface time and again. We get behind Xander even further reinforcing our admiration in his plights and conflicts.

Dialogue tells a great deal of the tale strengthening interpersonal relationships and showing the story rather than telling. Exposition is revealed for those of us unfamiliar with certain circumstances and brings us right up to speed. All the while deep, inner emotion is high-lighted without coming across as gratuitous or extravagant, no easy feat for even the most seasoned of authors and Sagliani achieves this in spades.

Some have gone so far as to label Army of The Dead as a teen or young adult novel where I’d tend to have to disagree. The concepts or vocabulary and underlining themes certainly haven’t been toned down. If anything the grisly details will have even the most cynical of horror fans squirm with delight. Suffice to say there is a little something for everyone in Army of The Dead.

It’s been a thrilled and esteemed honour to witness this author Devan Sagliani flourish into the level of story-telling in which he’s achieved today. I’ve been an avid enthusiast along his journey from The Rising Dead to Undead LA and Rise of The Horde. Army of the Dead is arguably his most polished effort to date. His sense of comedic relief interwoven with gripping suspense, action and characters we can all relate to certifies this read as a future classic in a sea of unrelenting subgenre

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Aug
17

Horror Guide to Mass review

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horror guideHorror Guide to Massachusetts
David Goudsward & Scott T. Goudsward
Post Mortem Press (June 22, 2014)
PB $15.30; Kindle $5.58

Reviewed by Jess Landry

If brothers/authors David and Scott Goudsward didn’t know Massachusetts before, I bet they know it now. The Horror Guide to Massachusetts is a thorough compendium of almost everything and everyone horror-related that has come to pass within the Bay State, be it through film, television and literature, fictional and non-fictional. From an episode of The Simpsons where Homer drives his car into Edgar Allan Poe’s house to the tragedy of the Salem Witch Trials, the Brothers Goudsward leave no stone unturned.

After a forward by critically acclaimed author (and Massachusetts resident) Greg F. Gifune, the guide begins with a brief introduction that offers a disclaimer: “If your first impression is that this is simply a compilation of Lovecraft, Poe and Hawthorne stories, you’re wrong.” The trio are certainly among the more well-known authors with ties to the area, and what guide to horror would be complete without a good chunk dedicated to their respective legacies? The Goudsward’s do their best to provide readers with hefty sections touching upon the Lovecraft, Poe and Hawthorne universes without omitting other notable names from the state’s history, including authors Emily Dickinson and Louisa May Alcott, thespians Leonard Nimoy and the Wahlberg brothers, and names that will forever live on in infamy like Lizzie Borden and the Boston Strangler, among others. Also mentioned are movies that were either filmed or based in the state, with some popular titles such as Jaws, The Good Son and a childhood favourite, Hocus Pocus. The Goudsward’s also do their damnedest to list novels and short stories set throughout the state; a task that, no doubt, required a lot of research and patience.

All listings in the Guide are organized alphabetically by town, often followed by a specific location (example: Arkham, Miskatonic University or Boston, South Station), making the search for a certain movie or book seem easy…but only if you happen to know where it takes place.

Although it’s evident a lot of time and effort went into its creation, the Horror Guide to Massachusetts is not a book one would sit down with on a stormy night, curled up under a blanket, a roaring fire close by. No, this book is best suited for those who like the cold, hard facts and the native New Englander, someone familiar with the area, who would read the blurb about, say, the town of Quincy and think “Cool, I know where that is!”. Yet, having never been to Massachusetts, I still found some value in the material – mainly a handful of tourist locations that get a quick mention.

In the end, one thing is abundantly clear: based on all the information crammed into the 322 pages of the Horror Guide to Massachusetts, it’s safe to say the Bay State was and always will be a horror hub.

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