Wednesday, December 29, 2010

On The Other Side---Getting Reviewed

I must say I rather like the review below on a book available in print and as an e-book---for obvious reasons.


Carpathian Shadows, Volume 2
Books for a Buck
Various authors, editor Lea Schizas

First, let me say up front, this bills itself as Volume 2. Having not read Volume 1, I can state with certainty that this book works as a stand alone, in case anyone worries about that.

This is a theme-anthology, horror stories with a bit of a twist. The visitors to the Cornifu Hotel, deep in the Carpathians Mountains of Transylvania, are individually invited for a free one day bus excursion to nearby Erdely Castle, said to be haunted. Each story is about a different group of travelers to visit the castle. And with that setting and that common theme, one can rightly expect vampires and ghosts and werewolves—just about all those things that go bump in the night show up here.

As in any anthology of stories by different writers, the quality of the writing varies—and, of course, readers’ tastes are different, which is to say what one likes, another may not. I did not find any real clunkers here, but I did find some that I preferred over others.

To my tastes, one of the standouts in the book would have to be The Scholar by author Seana Graham. Most of the tales here are focused on the supernatural, as is to be expected, but this is really a well written story of a mismatched marriage and “the other man,” with the scary stuff more of the frosting on the cake. It’s a bit less fanciful than some and not particularly horrific (though not without a creepy moment or two), but it compensates with well sketched characters and believable interactions.

Kristin Johnson’s vampire story, Divine Curse, seemed a bit murky to me, but that in itself is not altogether inappropriate to the genre. A bit of ambiguity can be an asset in spooky fiction. This is, after all, a genre that dispenses with conventional reality. And, this tale stands out for its gay elements, not usually found in horror collections. So, I give it a passing grade, but not without some reservations.

Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil by Donna Amato is likewise ambiguous, particularly in its ending, and the cast of characters occasionally seems to be tripping over one another, but the writer manages to make the implausible reasonably plausible, which is as much as one can fairly ask of horror fiction. Let’s face it, parts of Dean Koontz’s books make no sense at all. The real question is whether the writer can carry the reader along, and Ms. Amato does that admirably.

A Visitor From the Past by Carol A. Cole is somewhat of a time travel, or maybe, more correctly, dimensional-travel. Anna has been short-tempered with her husband, Rob, since returning from a trip to Germany months earlier, and this trip is intended to rekindle their relationship, but the results are not what Rob expected. Many of these stories have downer endings. This one is more bitter sweet. I found that it lingered with me after I had finished reading.

The other standout, for me, is Kevin Tipple’s By the Light of the Moon. While most of the stories in the book follow a quickly familiar plot line—the busload of tourists comes to the castle, a storm strands them there, and mysterious events follow—this one distinguishes itself by going its own way. To be sure, there is the bus, and tourists at the castle and eerie doings, but Tipple sets his story elsewhere and afterward, and we hear about the events at the castle in flashback narratives. It’s a tricky sort of structure but he pulls it off neatly.

In short, this is not great literature—it surely wasn’t intended to be—but if horror is your cup of tea, I can heartily recommend this for a couple of hours of goose-bump reading.

Reviewed by Victor J. Banis


Earl Staggs said...

Waytago, Kevin. I thought your story in this antho was the best of the bunch.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Thank you, Earl. If it was it is only because you and everyone else slogged through the early drafts.