Sunday, April 4, 2010

Bloody Pages Book Reviews

By Jeff Strand
Review by Nickolas Cook
Leisure/Dorchester Press

Jeff Strand finally did it!
He impressed me.
That’s right; he finally wrote a book that not only works as a horror novel, but has the thematic poignancy the likes of which most modern mass market horror authors fail to produce, most of them even on a rudimentary level.
DWELLER works because it is a simple story of a young boy who befriends a monster in the woods behind his house—something every young boy with any imagination probably does at some point in their young life. The difference here is that the monster isn’t imagines, but an orphaned young creature, whose monstrous flesh eating family has been destroyed by humans.
Yes, Strand gives us the requisite scenes of gore and mayhem, suspense and physical terror. But what makes DWELLER work on a higher level is the fact that the young boy, Toby, and his pet monster, which he names Owen, are both social outcasts in their own way. Unfortunately, Toby never stops being such, and because of some horrible lapses in judgment, which invariably lead to some fairly horrible consequences that can never be taken back, (And, no, I’m not gonna tell you what there are here, because, trust me, to do so would ruin the fun of the book for you), he spends his life mostly alone and embittered.
Strand does some smart writing here, folks. Because he knows how difficult it would be to put a whole life into such a small space as a 300 page novel, he gives us ‘glimpses’: fast forwarded moments in Toby’s life, mostly innocuous, but also telling because of their very ordinariness. Toby is just an everyday guy, after all, who happens to be best friends with a hideous flesh eating creature. And in the end, he’s like most of us: a hardworking guy, who sees humor in the world, and who ultimately just wants to love and be loved. It’s sort of his desperate need for that love which does him the most harm.
But that’s all the spoilers you’re getting from this reviewer. I want you to really dig in and enjoy the story of a boy and his monster, like I did.

--Nickolas Cook

The Occult Files of Albert Taylor
By Derek Muk
Review written by Nickolas Cook
Publisher: Impact Books

In Derek Muk’s 2009 short story collection, we meet his recurring paranormal investigator, Albert Taylor, an anthropology professor, who just happens to solve paranormal and cryptid mysteries as a hobby. During his adventures, he meets and associates with various minor characters which one can only surmise he’s based on real people, at least in some part.
As far as writing goes, Muk is okay. Not great, mind you. But there’s some potential there, bubbling under the dull glazed surface. Unfortunately, there’s very little in the way of style; it’s a straight forward, almost clinical, and certainly mostly unemotional, school of storytelling, strictly for those who enjoy SyFy’s Ghosthunters and Destination Truth, or even reruns of The X-Files. So if that’s what you’re looking for in your speculative fiction, then you’ll probably enjoy reading this collection of eleven short stories with fictional character Albert Taylor chasing down ghosts, demons and Bigfoot.
But if you’re like me, and you want style, solid character development and archs, emotive writing and the thematic elements that elevate the narrative to another level, you will be sorely disappointed.
Which is frustrating to me as a reader, because I can see Albert Taylor’s potential as a recurring character. He certainly gets into some strange adventures; but, unfortunately, that’s about all he does. What he doesn’t do is live and breathe on the page. Not in the least. He’s as flat as the paper upon which Muk has self-published these lifeless tales. And Taylor is the main character. All the other characters in the book are even less exciting. None of them standout.
The main problem with Muk’s book (and with just about 99.9% of self published books) is that there was no editor to guide the writer, no one to give an objective opinion about the style (or lack of), and no discerning eye to advise when the book was falling flat on its face.
As a reviewer, I’m always a little suspicious of books that look like Derek Muk’s THE OCCULT FILES OF ALBERT TAYLOR. From the cheesy looking cover, which was obviously photoshopped by someone with very little imagination, to the fact that the book publisher doesn’t appear anywhere online (because it was self published, using CreateSpace). But I always try to go in with an open mind and crossed fingers, hoping against hope that THIS self-published work will NOT be like all the others.
Sometimes- very few times- I get lucky.
Most times, I am disappointed and astounded that anyone who fancies himself a real writer would allow such garbage to represent them in the world.
In this reviewer’s opinion, what Derek Muk needs to do is follow the traditional approach: submit, submit, submit and get rejection letter after rejection letter, until he gets better at his craft. He has potential to be a halfway decent writer of speculative fiction. Unfortunately, THE OCCULT FILES OF ALBERT TAYLOR does not meet that potential in the least.

--Nickolas Cook