Review of R. Thomas Riley and John Grover’s “If God Doesn’t Show”
If God Doesn’t Show is a modern take on Cthulhu mythos by H.P. Lovecraft and the efforts of a cult to bring about his return. We are introduced to Thaddeus Archer, a secret service agent who is dealing with a wife who is struggling with mental illness and a teenage daughter who resents him for having her mother locked away in a mental institution. Things change when Casey, his daughter, is abducted by the same mysterious cult which desires the Old Ones return. Time passes and Thaddeus gets close but cannot find his daughter, and his obsession causes him to get demoted after several agents die in a bloody raid on the cult.
Then in an instant, everything changes, and the world shifts as the cult prepares to open the way for Cthulhu to return. But before he can come, the rift into the void brings with it shadows-dark creatures that makes puppets of the dead and sometimes even the living, with their only goal of destruction of humanity. But these creatures, or even the doomsday cult who accidentally let them into our dimension, are not the only forces at work trying to destroy humanity. Thaddeus will have to work not only with the few other survivors at his side who have escaped the initial onslaught of the shadows, but a man who has lived through many lives and has struggled with darkness and evil in every one of them if the former secret service agent wants to save his daughter and prevent the Old Ones from rising up from the mysterious island that now floats in the pacific ocean.
If God Doesn’t Show is an interesting take on the Cthulhu mythos, filled with action from start to finish and topped off with plenty of darkness and intrigue. What starts out as a personal tale of one man on a hunt to find his daughter abruptly changes into something far more earthshattering in a grand and dramatic fashion. We are introduced to Blount, the character who has been reincarnated time and time again, about halfway through the book. He is positioned as a possible savior of humanity, destined to struggle with all forms of evil in each of his lifetimes. When we are introduced to him, he is on a mission with a group of government operatives heading to the strange island in the pacific that has a dark, impossible city buried within its jungles.
The two main characters spent most of this tale rushing toward the same objective and the pacing is fast and intense. While I found myself rooting for Thaddeus, Blount is the far more interesting character, surrounded by the supernatural and flashing back to past lives filled with battles against darkness. Their separate treks are both filled with mystery and energy, though that energy dissipates somewhat toward the end of the story, with what I could best describe as an extended epilogue. Giving away more details would be providing spoilers, which I like to avoid, but I felt as if the story lost a bit of its momentum going into the home stretch.
The authors provide excellent details surrounding the mixture of Lovecraft and Christian elements, though there were some questions I had that were left unanswered about the cult and their choices of sacrifice, though those quibbles were fairly minor. Overall, this was a fun read-a nice spin on the Cthulhu mythos with a few twisty elements tossed in for good measure. Of the two main characters, Blount was by far the more intriguing and the brief flashbacks to his past lives were intriguing tidbits that I would have liked to have seen more of. Perhaps this story doesn’t call for a sequel, but it might be interesting visiting some of Blount’s past lives.
If God Doesn’t Show can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1618680560/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Review of Tim Long’s “Among the Dead”
Among the Dead is the sequel of Tim Long’s zombie apocalypse novel Among the Living, which takes place in Seattle in the initial hours and days after patient zero is infected with an experimental cancer vaccine. The first book followed four separate story lines, telling the individual tales of Mike, a reporter, which is in first person, and a trio of other characters told in third person: Lester, a drug dealer, Kate, a budding serial killer who tortures and kills men in hotel rooms, and Grinder, the lead singer of a heavy metal band playing a gig in Seattle. Much of AtL takes place before and during each character’s realization that the zombie apocalypse is upon them. It provided the reader with insights into their normal, everyday lives before they kick into survival mode and witness firsthand how both their lives and the city is falling apart all around them. The zombies in this story are a mixture of fast and slow movers, with those initially infected retaining most of their normal physical abilities and then slowing down as they begin the process of rotting away.
The first book ended with the quartet coming together-their stories intersect as they are rescued and put into the football stadium by the military, along with the rest of the huddled masses who have managed to escape turning into the undead. Among the Dead, being the second book of a trilogy, serves up a different type of tale, with what amounts to a single day for the quartet-a day that each of them attempts to survive from moment to moment as the undead overwhelm the city around them and threaten to overwhelm the stadium as well. The characters are once again separate for the most part. They now know one another, but Kate tags along on a rescue mission with some soldiers while Mike interacts with Nelson, one of the soldiers who helped him survive in the first book. Lester, coming down off his permabuzz, is trying to cope with the loss of his girlfriend from the first book and perhaps sneak out and find a safe haven in the city so he can keep the party going. Grinder is MIA for part of the book, but reconnects with one of the other characters more than halfway through.
The author also introduces some side characters that interact at one point or another with the main characters to a certain extent, even if it is as the undead in some cases. Some, like the bum LeBeau, are more interesting than others and added some good texture to the tale. The author spends a lot of the time with Kate, who I am guessing was a favorite of many readers of the first novel. Kate is in her element in the apocalypse, or so it seems, having the excuse to let the “other” out to play. The “other” is the dark part of her that takes over and craves murder and violence and makes her the serial killer she has become. The temptation to slaughter not only the undead, but other survivors and even the soldiers Kate is with is a constant reminder of dark nature for the audience.
Among the Dead, being the second book of a planned trilogy, is clearly the second act in a three act play. We move forward with the story with the presumption that you know what has come to pass for Mike and the others from the prior book. The author does make a solid attempt to let this book stand on its own in many ways, though we are, of course, left hanging somewhat by the ending, which lures us down the path to its completion when Among the Ashes is published and completes things. I would, however, not recommend picking this book up without reading AtL first.
This is a solid follow up by the author, though a different type of novel just for the fact that things move here rather quickly, and there is little room for subtlety given the circumstances the characters find themselves in. Death and mayhem are all around them from start to finish, and the death of the city is well under way. The reader is granted some new insights and some of the characters are transformed by the events of this book (Kate in particular), but Among the Dead is focused primarily on action more than character development.
Overall, this book does solid duty in keeping the reader aware of what is going on with each character. Though Grinder wasn’t my favorite of the quartet, I would have liked to have had him share more of the spotlight in the early part of this book. He felt almost like a secondary character this time around. As mentioned, Kate steps forward as more of a main character and is allowed to develop in much greater detail than the other three. Unfortunately, her inner monologue, at certain points, felt a bit repetitive with her thoughts on killing virtually everyone around her overwhelming almost everything else inside her head. Despite this, Kate remains fascinating, especially with some of the vulnerabilities we discover about her and the new depths that her darkness seems to be taking her as she lets the “other” run amuck.
Again, this is a solid sequel to Among the Living that keeps the adrenaline flowing and gives fans of Kate in particular something to really sink their teeth into. Tim Long definitely keeps you on the hook with Among the Dead, intrigued to find out how things end up for the survivors in the final book in the trilogy.
Among the Dead can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00AXOR1HS/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Review of Peter Giglio’s “Sunfall Manor”
Sunfall Manor tells the tale of Edgar, a ghost who has no memory of who he once was, living in a farmhouse divided into five apartments. This novella explores the inhabitants of those five apartments with Edgar, who is mostly repulsed by all of them, with each of them lost, sad, or sick in their own ways. We spend the night with him-a night where he has decided to intervene, to manipulate things when before he remained separated from the living, content to watch their lives fall apart night after night. Tonight will also take him on a journey of discovery about them and who he once was, and also how Sunfall Manor played a part in the life he once led.
Sunfall Manor reads like a slowly unraveling mystery, though most of the answers Edgar receives are in a sudden, dramatic burst near the end of the tale. Still, there are details to be discovered about him and about those around him before that-how perceptions can change shift in an instant as more is revealed. This is a well-crafted ghost story that is filled with sadness and regret that left me with a bittersweet aftertaste after the last page-echoes of what the story reveals on its pages.
With the author promising more tales of Sunfall in the future, I look forward to finding out more about this little town in the middle of nowhere and all its deep dark secrets.
Sunfall Manor can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1938644050/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Review of Alan Draven’s “Spooky Showcase”
Spooky Showcase offers the reader a return to Alan Draven’s world of the supernatural and surreal. Bitternest is a city in Louisiana where ghosts, vampires, and other creatures exist and terrorize the inhabitants in pretty much all of the author’s novels and short stories. All but one of the tales in this book take place in Bitternest, including a novella entitled “The Paradigm” which is noir-ish detective tale that takes place back in the 80s and starts out like all the classic detective tales you’ve ever seen with the gruff private eye and the sultry dame in trouble, but dives into the deeply supernatural from there. Three short stories follow, two of which involve children and the real terrors that haunt them in Bitternest, before the reader is treated to a re-imagining of the classic Jack the Ripper saga with “Vengeance is Mine”.
I’ve been impressed with Alan’s ability to craft a real, vibrant city filled with all kinds of spooky and scary monsters since I read his first book about the strange place near New Orleans. While he does hint at future tales with Jim Coffin, the detective in his first story here, I felt that there was something missing from this particular story-a more fleshed explanation of what was happening to him was desired, though I’m sure more will be divulged in the future. Despite the desire for more, I thoroughly enjoyed the flavor of the piece. Future installments should be interesting, and I could see something along the lines of Glenn Cook’s “The Garrett Files” or Simon Green’s John Taylor series if Alan puts a bit more spit and polish on his next few Jim Coffin stories.
The short stories are all enjoyable, each with a surprise attached-that quick rabbit punch that often makes a short piece all the more enjoyable. I especially liked “The Rattling Man” with its Halloween ambiance.
While “Vengeance is Mine” is perhaps more of a homage than anything-a variation the Jack the Ripper mystery with the author’s embellishments, I did enjoy his take on what might have been with good ol’ Jack. Plenty of gore for those hungry for it, and the author used the historical elements so that they fit around the story he created quite nicely.
Overall, this was a fun read that went by fast. I look forward to more of the author’s Bitternest sagas, and will be curious to see where he takes Jim Coffin from here.
Spooky Showcase can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0981021336/ref=cm_cr_thx_view
Review of Vincenzo Bilof’s “Nightmare of the Dead”
Nightmare of the Dead introduces us to a young woman who wakes up on a train during the civil war, her memory lost, but her sense of what she is capable of with a gun still intact. As a strange green mist appears in another one of the train cars and seeps into hers, she discovers that some sort of horrific transformation is taking place among the men that surround her. Not all are affected by the gas. At least one other boy-a soldier for the confederacy-does not transform into a creature that dead yet still living like the others, and neither does she. These creatures are violent, deadly monsters that lust for flesh and must be killed with a bullet through the head. For all intents and purposes, they are zombies, and their introduction comes as quite a shock to her.
While seeking to discover her identity as faint traces of her past seep into her mind, the woman is pursued by a group of outlaws who know about her past and have plans for her. At the same time, we are introduced to a mad scientist who is the creator of the toxic gas she was exposed to on the train. He has been employed by Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy, in an effort to turn the tide of the war with his new invention, but the scientist’s main goal is to gain membership into a dark, underworld organization that is intrigued by what he has wrought. The story slowly reveals his relationship with the amnesiac woman and how she is valuable to both him and the “Nightmare Collective.”
Nightmare of the Dead is a zombie tale, though the zombies here are more mutations than anything-it does not appear that they infect you through their bites, but by the exposure to the gas, or other variations of the ingredients the scientist has mixed to cause the zombification.
The story has a different take on the zombie genre in some ways, and the undead play a very secondary role to the main characters and their quests to both understand more themselves and gain revenge upon one another for a very complicated past. I’ve read historical zombie tales-those of the old west included-but this one foregoes many of the traditional elements found in most and carves out its own path. Fans of the genre will get their fair share of zombie gore and action, and both the main character and villain are well developed, especially when the story dives deeper and deeper into their shared history, but don’t go in expecting a traditional tale of the apocalypse. Both the main characters are vile in different ways, but the author is able to give us at least a reason or two to feel sympathy not only for the obvious one of the two, but the other as well.
I think it only fair to share concerns that come to mind with any book I review, and with Nightmare of the Dead it came down to some overly descriptive verse and stiff dialog. This wasn’t something that was pervasive throughout, but came up enough to serve as a distraction. By no means did it wreck the story for me, but it did make some characters feel a bit more forced and awkward than others. The flow isn’t always natural with how they speak. Again, this served as more of a distraction than a major issue, but it was noticeable and I feel compelled to point it out.
Outside of this issue, the story is solid, enjoyable, and I liked discovering and learning about these characters. It is clear that a sequel must be forthcoming, and I look forward to checking that out as well.
Nightmare of the Dead can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1479129496/ref=cm_cr_thx_view