Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Pied Piper of the Undeadd by Michael Whetzel

This week I had the feeling.  I know you’ve had it, all readers have.  When you read a book that is so cool and so everything you love, you are practically vibrating with excitement.  Several times I had to consciously stop myself from writing a one line review.  “Go get this book now.”

The Pied Piper of the Undead by Michael Whetzel is a book seemingly based on the principal of going back in time and undoing some of the features that have becomes staples in the zombie apocalypse genre in order to give us a fresh start.  He leaves out the armies of survivalist psychos. He takes out zombies that are more powerful than humans.  He leaves out the drawn out predictable description of the end of the world.  He leaves out the religious dogma.

So you are wondering, what’s left?  Glad you asked.  There is a sense of mystery that drew me in as I was confronted with a world inhabited by only one human survivor, a thirteen year old boy named Peter.  He lives on top of a water tower at the edge of his small town, and the horde of the living dead ambles below.  As he looked down at them, waiting for him, in some cases signaling for him to climb down the ladder they do not have the motor control to climb, I was reminded of I AM Legend.  The undead calling to Robert Neville is my most enduring memory from reading the 1954 classic, and I felt that again.  Just like in the classic, we don’t know why Peter is there.  We don’t know any of the circumstances, and Micjael shows us instead of telling us boring back story.

The novella also delivers a young protagonist that offers a totally different emotional backdrop than the twenty to forty something plot of fighting for survival in order to reach the haven.  Peter is in that puberty time of immortal thinking.  He doesn’t fear his circumstances because in his simple, non developed mind he has figured out the system of how to get supplies and how the zombies “work”.  His view of the zombie apocalypse allows for different interactions with the undead. 

It is pretty standard for characters in these stories to struggle with one of their loved ones becoming a corpse and having to go through the mental anguish of killing them.  However, Michael Whetzel goes beyond that struggle with Peter’s interaction and feelings about the dead.  And the reason he was able to make this emotional landscape so rich is that he zooms in a small fragment of Romero’s description of mall zombies in Dawn of the Dead.  It all wraps up into a nice coming of age zombie story.

I will say that if you like the caravan quests of zombie killers driving around in endless search of bullets, gas, and other supplies you might not be into this story.  It’s a small scale character experience that I thoroughly enjoyed.  If I had a genie wish, I would have wanted the big ending to slow down just a touch, but that is mainly because I didn’t want the great read to come to an end.

happily give The Pied Piper of the Undead by Michael Whetzel five rotten severed heads.  Because I loved Michaels work so much, here is a link for you to check out all his fiction.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell


Saturday, August 18, 2012

Dark Confluence by Rosemary Fryth

This week I began my adventures in the genre of Paranormal Romance.  Other than listening to my wife talk Twilight and Hunger Games with her friends, this world is foreign to me, so I was very excited when a member of the horde asked me to review her latest book.

Conflict came at me from all sides as I read Rosemary Fryth’s Dark Confluence.  The story begins with a jolt of adrenaline as Jen McDonald narrowly avoids driving into a strange woman dressed in black.  This event leads her into a web of paranormal activity and warring factions of faeries just below the surface of the pristine tourist town of Emerald Hills.

The majority of the story is split between the actions of Jen and a woman named Carma who serves in a local political action group as well as runs a new age shop.  Carma dabbles in low level magic, and an encounter with a customer brings her into the supernatural drama unfolding in the town.
Without a doubt, the near car crash is exciting and kicks off an involved plot that many readers will enjoy, but I felt like the action began before I could develop a reason to care about the main character.  As a result I read along as a distant observer.  I was never able to become immersed in the story.

As Jen learns more about the Faerie folk and their involvement in her small town, we are introduced to lots of characters, way too many for me.  They would be here, then gone.  I got tired of looking for a way to connect to all of them.

Rosemary writes believable characters that are interesting to follow.  Jen has a wonderful relationship with an elderly widower named Tom that reminded me of millions of Baby Boomer daughters caring for aging parents and learning about their pasts.  But she also has a fiery desire for a mysterious young man named Fionn that provides the story with a backdrop of sexual tension.  The same is true for Carma.  She is fun to watch as she carries out her self-interested plans.  As much as the characters were interesting to me, I never lost myself in the story.  I was always very aware I was reading fiction.

Readers will appreciate Rosemary’s writing.  The story is pleasantly linear.  She is quite sensual in her descriptions.  She has a magician’s ability to manipulate time with her words.  She lingers us through scenes of desire between Jen and Fionn, and she harrows us through deadly encounters with the paranormal. 

The final conflict for me was faeries.  I don’t like them accept in children stories.  I never could get over it.  I do not see them as grown up.  I do realize that is a character flaw on my part.  When I discovered Dark Confluence was the first in a trilogy, my jaw dropped.  I can tell you now the other books don’t interest me, but it’s because of the faeries.  I would love to know how things end up for Jen and Carma.  I really would.  

Rosemary is a writer I could enjoy, but this is not a book for me.  If you don’t have a faerie hang up, this is probably a fun read.  Even though this is the end of the road for me, I think Dark Confluence by Rosemary Fryth is a solid three …hmm…severed fairy heads.  That might be too much.  Let’s just say three.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Misunderstood And Other Misfit Horrors by Jason Brannon

My biggest problem with Jason Brannon’s, The Misunderstood And Other Misfit Horrors, is the title.  It would be all too easily, unfortunately, to scroll right past this super collection of fiction because of the generic title.  I am very grateful Jason sent it to me for a review because I might have been one of the people that missed out.  I also feel “horror” is a little bit of a misnomer.  I do realize I’m splitting hairs, but it stuck with me.

Rest assured Jason’s brief collection of nine stories is dark, but its foundation is imagination and mystery rather than terror.  Each of his fiction gems focuses on an atmosphere that is genuinely creepy.  I really liked the quiet settings of most of the stories.  I could almost feel the foreboding silence.  I was happily reminded of several Bradbury and Matheson stories.

My favorites of the collection included “Beware The Death Angel” and “The Misunderstood” for their great additions to Halloween mythology.  “Follow The Leader” was downright sinister in its delivery giving it an awesome Richard Laymon feel.  I didn’t like the ending of “The Fourth Key”, but the delivery was perfect for a late night read on a quiet couch.  “The Oracle” was a great traditional tale of terror, and “The Juggler” could have been an episode of Tales from the Darkside.

I immediately started hounding Jason for copies of his other books, and thank goodness he offered a few.  This collection really wet my appetite for some of his longer works.  I give The Misunderstood And Other Misfit Horrors by Jason Brannon a solid four severed heads delivered on a silver platter by Rod Serling.  Don’t miss it.

Heads Will Roll,
Everette Bell