Epeolatry Book Review: Across Dimensions

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Title: Across Dimensions
Author: Gina A. Watson
Genre: Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Romance
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Release Date: 28 August 2017
Synopsis: Nine worlds. Nine tales. Countless lives at stake. From a vengeful ghost, to a mythical kelpie, to a mechanical dragon, and more, Across Dimensions weaves its way through multiple genres, offering something for everyone.

She didn’t speak; she was in a trance. Her eyes glazed over, and a smile spread across her delicate face. I always liked it when they smiled. She stopped on the bank of my river and stared into the now rippling water. I called to her again; I needed her to come to me.

Dragons, fairies, and corporate hacker vigilantes, oh my! Gina A. Watson’s Across Dimensions is one that fulfills its namesake, guiding us through realms of her own creation, each presenting new conflicts and the heroes and heroines that will overcome them.

Upon initial reading, Watson’s prose reads quite simplistic and very step-by-step, such basic design reminiscent of old fables, lending it a very juvenile style. Seeing as this is a short story collection, this allows for much action to take place in such a small span of time and allowing readers to be swept along for the ride. Each tale reads like a window, readers allowed a quick glimpse into a particular world that Watson has crafted before being drawn towards the next.

Despite its relatively short length, Watson manages to balance both fantasy and sci-fi with both an archaic and modern flair, balancing out her settings, even going so far on occasion to inject added bits of a secondary genre into the mix.

Unfortunately, this massive undertaking in so short a length leads to many issues of pacing throughout the collection. While we do get a glimpse into the world without the need to drastically re-establish an environment with each new installment, many of these worlds lack an overall context behind them, conflicts that are the driving force behind character action holding no real importance other than to justify character action in the desired moment, leaving these dimensions hollow and almost lifeless. At times, the world can seem confusing in regard to its time period or general sense of place. Brief mentions of the incorporation of magic and technology, or just the casual mention or use of such otherworldly elements can seem almost unnecessary and superficial in the grand scheme of the story’s events.

Characters also suffer from this breakneck pace, going through arcs at a rapid pace, failing to invigorate any emotional resonance from the reader, the protagonists then lacking any depth or true motivation for their actions. Watson also writes many characters with a certain sense of morality and justice, but in certain stories, this morality is not nearly as explored as it should be, especially when crucial decisions need to be made with resounding consequences. Characters can appear far from heroic because of this, losing much of their empathy and humanity, severing that connection between book and reader.

With such a stilted pace present in each tale, they read more as ideas of potential beats than fully fleshed out stories. Plot elements are introduced right as they’re needed to progress the story without any prior build-up. Romances form from so few interactions that it lacks a believability. Characters can switch personalities at the drop of a hat, shifting between antagonist and potential ally.

Across Dimensions tries to maintain a diverse range of lands for readers to explore and, as previously mentioned, can be a monumental task, which is to be commended. However, many of these worlds felt recycled, characters and elements reused without much differentiation other than character names. Dialogue can seem out of place and inconsistent in some, and certain rules or technologies of a world are forgotten when they would have been instrumental to the plot. This along with an extreme lack of cohesion between stories or a single thematic element tying everything together, made the whole venture seem empty and lacking meaningful substance, further reinforcing that these feel more like cliff notes than universe-traversing adventures.

Along with these major pacing issues, are several errors regarding tense, constantly shifting leaving a skewed sense of time and making it difficult to tell when exactly a tale is taking place.

Also, as previously mentioned, despite saying that this anthology reads closer to fables directed towards children, there is a far greater emphasis placed on graphic detail involving romance and violence, leaving a tonal dissonance. Across Dimensions has content certainly not directed towards children, but the simplistic fairy-tale like structure of its prose certainly does not suggest an adult audience, which begs the question who the narratives are really for.

With a busied narrative stream and a lack of variety, Across Dimensions is quite disappointing when proceeding its initial premise. However, for those curious enough for a quick read and a guilty pleasure for romanticized genre fiction, Across Dimensions may be worth a slight peek to sate the magical literary beasts.

Epeolatry Book Review: A World So Small

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Title: A World So Small
Author: Cameron Dreamshare
Genre: Sci-fi Romance
Publisher: Studio Dreamshare
Release Date: 31 March 2018
Synopsis: When all you ever wanted was to make music that sells, and all she ever wanted was you, but ex-lovers reappear and repeat like a catchy chorus.
Jordan Barker is a gig rat with a soul-crushing day job and big dreams of becoming a musician and Valkyrie Snow is an architect hitting her stride midlife. Everlasting love should be easy in a world of instant gratification, but it’s harder than ever.

“The man on stage was sitting on a stool, his eyes closed, and big dark waves of hair falling around his chin. Val felt her heart beat faster. She felt intoxicated, lightheaded. She couldn’t look away. She didn’t understand the words he was singing; she could only hear the vibration of his voice in her whole body. She held the sticky table with her hands, watching him sing.”

Jordan is an aspiring musician who’s in an all-time slump. Stuck in a dead-end job to pay rent on his apartment which never seems to be free of disarray, he just can’t seem to catch a break. His relationships with girls are quick and fleeting, never capturing that true essence that he’s been searching for, someone he can love. Valkyrie is an architect, head of her own company, building the things she had always dreamed of, except for that certain someone, someone she doesn’t know if she truly wants or is ready for.

Set in a futuristic version of Ottawa, Canada, Cameron Dreamshare’s A World So Small tells tale of two star-crossed lovers from opposite ends of the economic ladder, and how their fateful union will bring about what was missing in their lives.

Within A World So Small, Dreamshare puts a strong amount of content into her world building, throughout the pages of this story, we’re painted vivid pictures of how this society operates and all the issues that arise as such. Robots within operated vehicles create a technological incline, while localized terrorist groups threaten to divide cultural unity and freedom of expression. Richly layered with intense political undertones, Dreamshare painstakingly crafts a world in peril, tearing itself apart at the seems, yet against the schism two may come together to face it.

However, despite this vast and expansive world Dreamshare attempts to create, the theme of divide unfortunately spreads to the structure itself. A World So Small is immensely unfocused in its narrative, the political undertones serving as what could be a side story leading to the inevitable climax, only to later be shown as just a side plot (if not preparing for another conflict come a potential, if not guaranteed, sequel). It felt dreadfully underwhelming after having been mentioned so often alongside the main plot, that it deceives its importance, seeming only as attempted world-building in a story that’s true focus really does not reflect the world. As often as the technology of this new age is mentioned, it never directly has an impact on the plot other than to occasionally, and rather quickly, wrap up any possible conflict that had arisen.

Dreamshare’s focus was primarily on her characters, their journeys and how these lone paths were to intertwine and come together as one, the unity amongst the separation. Dreamshare puts just as much attention into this as she does her world, long detailed descriptions thoroughly shaping these people in the mind, their goals and ideals firm, stated with a confidence.

The male lead of Jordan appears to be without much agency, his advancements in the plot catering mostly to action caused or influenced by a third party. His inaction truly has no consequence in the grand scheme of the story, as most issues he has are either left by the wayside or resolved. Even so, these struggles that come accommodated with his current class, do have their weight, and emotional moments can draw empathy from readers as he seeks to correct his way of life only to have it come to a halt yet again as he tries with a desperation to grow and escape it.

Valkyrie, the female lead, is surrounded by an air of mystique, shrouding her background and origins behind her ambitious projects and social life. While these elements are later added that expand her lifestyle, many of them fall short as they do little to further progress the character or give much of a common ground for readers to relate. With her being as prevalent a character in the book as she is, her mystique only serves as a hindrance to her complexity and depth, coming off as very one note with little flaws or imperfections. Through her we are introduced to several side characters of whom present certain conflicts, some of which make their reappearances, but others are simply present for a sole scene. Her segments seek to develop her as a person, but only serve to pad time and draw back the pace. And herein in lies the fundamental issue with A World So Small.

The simultaneous plot threads have little to no satisfying conclusion. Many of the conflicts in the story are set up, and built up throughout the course of the story, from political tensions rising to extreme heights, to antagonistic past lovers returning to complicate matters. If certain sections like these were removed the story would truly not be missing any crucial information, especially so when most of these threads are repeated later in the story, characters getting dropped altogether in favour of new characters with very similar roles. Some threads even go so far as to incorporate rather adult and serious issues, only to have them not carry much overall weight to the main story in the end, which makes light of these issues and not give them the respectful gravity they deserve.

In Dreamshare’s defense, A World So Small is the first in a future series that will be coming out. Many of these plot threads may be explored, but for now have felt hollow and abandoned with very little meaning behind their inclusion.

A World So Small speaks of great ambition, and rather unique and interesting perspectives placed within a future society. However, it hinders itself with attempting to cover many aspects of its universe and its inhabitants that have little to no relation, and this lack of cohesion and often preachy form of expression leads to its unraveling. This seems best recommend to hard fans of Harlequin-style romance with a bit of a modern political edge, otherwise those hoping to be invested in any sci-fi angle, will likely be sorely disappointed.

A World So Small can be found on Amazon

Epeolatry Book Review: C.H.U.D. Lives: A Tribute Anthology

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Title: C.H.U.D. Lives: A Tribute Anthology
Editor: Eric S. Brown
Genre: Horror
Publisher: Crystal Lake Publishing LLC.
Release Date: 27 April 2018
Synopsis: C.H.U.D. is a genre defying, cult classic film featuring monsters living in the sewers below New York. The stories in this anthology expand the world created by the film and add depth to the C.H.U.D. universe like never before. From stories of apocalyptic horror and all out monster action, to tales of underground parties interrupted by uninvited guests and evening strolls that end in death, this anthology will leave you both smiling and breathless.
Relive the fear as these original stories take you beyond the movie to events that occurred before, during, and after the scenes we remember so well.
Includes C.H.U.D. related stories by Jonathan Maberry, Tim Waggoner, JG Faherty, Mort Castle, Michael H. Hanson, Martin Powell, Ben Fisher, Jason White, Chad Lutzke, Ross Baxter, Philip C Perron, David Bernstein, Nick Cato, Alex Laybourne, Christopher Fulbright, Angeline Hawkes, David Robbins, Robert Waters, Greg Mitchell, Ryan C. Thomas, and Eugene Johnson.
With an introduction by David Drake. Compiled by Eric S. Brown.
C.H.U.D. Lives! also features in-depth interviews with Andrew Bonime (producer) and Parnell Hall (screenwriter), as well as never before seen behind-the-scenes photos from the classic 80s horror film.

I can’t sleep. Visions of Eliot gleefully swaying his arms against a glowing backdrop haunt my dreams. I woke to his voice, talking in hushed, urgent whispers with the others.

They are beings that dwell beneath.
They are beasts that feast on flesh.
They are creatures not of this earth, and yet, they are.
They are…C.H.U.D.

Paying homage to the 1984 horror cult classic of the (relatively) same name, C.H.U.D. Lives is a collection of short horror stories based in a world plagued with NYC sewer monsters known only as Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers (or the much catchier and titular C.H.U.D.). Now, this is a rather unique take on the horror anthology, having several stories from varying perspectives centred around one piece of media, especially one different than its source material. Eric S. Brown has compiled quite the gallery of fan-based world-building, expanding a quick concept done in two hours to something that transcends its cinematic boundaries. Each story is not held back by the old medium, and translates well to the page, the variety of stories allowing for a steady pace that offers new surprises with each new tale told.
The book surrounds itself with additional content, interviews with crucial players in C.H.U.D.’s origin, providing some extra background into how the film eventually became the revered product it is today. It acts as a kind gesture towards fans, and an way to intrigue newcomers as to what made the film so endearing to its creators.
The film itself totes underlying themes of political corruption and environmental awareness that allows for more dimensions to appear more than a standard B horror picture, to which the writers take full advantage. Some tend to discuss the sheer horror of encountering such ravenous and ruthless monsters, while others lament the means of their very existence, commenting on the true source of the city’s calamity, the root of these beasts’ creation. This exploration of monster flick and green-initiative never feeling mutually exclusive to one another.
The primary location does well to help centre these tales. NYC being a hub of multiculturalism aids itself to the abundancy of perspectives and acts as an excellent backdrop to both pieces, leading to interesting locales both above and below ground. Authors paint detailed subterranean landscapes and haunting urban jungles, danger and safehouse entwined in a maze of concrete and filth.
Now as someone who had not personally seen the film beforehand, I never felt disengaged or excluded from the content I was reading. While some film characters are mentioned or even make heavy appearances in some stories, none lose the reader and have them question if they had missed integral information. This is where each author excels, investing readers in their own self-contained weave allowing for easy duck-in/duck-out reading sessions. Sharing a basic group of themes allows for a sense of coherency between tales, as if all the stories are happening in the same world and really makes C.H.U.D. Lives feel less like an anthology and more like a unified novel.
There should be something here for every horror reader. Featuring deliciously brutal descriptions of death and gore, ripe with vivid dismembering, and those with a character-oriented approach for more of an emotionally charged journey. This working in tandem with the surface-level and sub-textual themes the film promotes, lends itself to a more three-dimensional experience to keep everything fresh.
From Samsa’s Party, a very personable tale of a man’s slow descent into the throes of madness to That’s Entertainment! providing a (albeit on-the-nose) commentary on the rocky relationship between traumatic events and modern media.
However, it is important to note that with such a formidable selection of stories included, the subjectivity of quality has the hazard of being an issue for some readers, certain tales standing far higher above the others.
As ambitious and extensive as its catalogue is, many tales can feel repetitious and appear a retread of something previously written, be it similar scenarios or character backgrounds without too much iteration to help separate them. The overabundance of the homeless, death by evisceration, and the blatant mention of toxic waste (hinthint) may have worked in the timeframe of a film, but when coming from several different voices in a decently sized book, it can become rather grating. This along with both the film and the book proudly displaying its main attraction: C.H.U.D. prominently in both title and story, plots can get relatively predictable once readers are a good portion of the way through. The authors themselves also making sure readers know what the titular acronym means.
And this is ultimately where it fell short for me. While I did enjoy my time reading, I couldn’t help but want more from these stories, sensing an unearthed potential. With each story being restricted by length, no story truly had an established enough character to satisfyingly wrap, leaving many stories feeling hollow and without much life, evidently so in the ones that seek a more introspective experience.
I can see where C.H.U.D. Lives will entertain and scare, but for me it left me with something a little more to be desired.
If the beasties don’t scare you, or perhaps if they do, C.H.U.D. Lives is an interesting read for both fans and strangers alike. Unless they happen to reside in the Big Apple.

C.H.U.D. Lives can be found at Amazon: https://amzn.to/2Lxk900.

Epeolatry Book Review: Scouse Gothic

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Our reviews may contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through the links in this article we may receive a small commission or referral fee. This happens without any additional cost to you.

Title: Scouse Gothic
Author: Ian McKinney
Genre: Gothic
Publisher: YouCaxton Publications
Release Date: September 1 2015
Synopsis: Melville wakes with a pounding headache – there had been too many hangovers recently, but this one felt different. What had he been drinking last night? Then he remembered – it was blood. Enter the bizarre world of Scouse Gothic where a reluctant vampire mourns a lost love and his past lives, where a retired ‘hit man’ plans one more killing and dreams of food, and a mother sets out to avenge her son’s murder, and, meanwhile, a grieving husband is visited by an angry angel. Set in present day Liverpool, vampires and mortals co-exist, unaware of each others’ secrets and that their past and present are inextricably linked. But as their lives converge, who will be expected to atone for past sins?

“He was a professional as much as any surgeon, only he used a gun with a silencer rather than a scalpel…”

A vampire who pays rent, a hitman antique salesmen, a PhD student with a talking pigeon. Just your average day in Liverpool.

Whatever readers may take away from reading Scouse Gothic, one cannot deny it’s quite an ambitious project. A collective of perspectives shifting genre and tone, introducing character upon character, each at the forefront of their own fresh narrative, simultaneously weaving towards a collaborative, single stream story, it seems quite a feat.

McKinney tackles such genre blending with an established confidence right from the get-go, following the tale of Melville, a vampire who’s seen the world change around him, yet he feels as though he’s standing still. An ancient being in a modern world, he adjusts as best he can, but always has grim reminders of memories and souls of those lost. This is until, he meets someone, someone who might relate to him more than he might expect.

This then bleeds into other people’s lives, each segment of this tale a fresh perspective from someone new, always keeping readers guessing as to who the next person could be and where they fit in this odd alternate take on Liverpool. Supernatural or natural? Mortal or immortal? Scouse Gothic has a very diverse cast of characters in terms of their roles and the events their own stories revolve around. This of course is no easy job.

With as many stories happening at once and with such a short length, Scouse Gothic becomes very selective with the level of detail in which it tells its tales. Some stories have fully fleshed out narratives with their own miniature climaxes and conclusions, while others tend only to serve as introductions to the characters as if to establish them, so they can be brought up again once any character convergence occurs. These meager introductions are often fraught with expository dialogue in an attempt to provide depth and emotional weight to these protagonists, but instead come off as rather superficial additions to the overall world McKinney creates. Some fail to truly have a deeply rooted conflict and are instead peppered with bits of tension and mystery, only serving as brief setup for a rather formulaic and cluttered climax.

McKinney has set up a rather daunting task and for the vast majority of the book, establishes characters with intrigue. The genre hopping (while occasionally jarring) keeps a rather steady pace and refreshing outlook during the book’s brief stay. It’s only until that fated convergence of characters where the pace becomes an issue. With so many characters to balance in only so many pages, the end does appear rather rushed in terms of how it chooses to close everyone’s story.

This is not the end, however, as McKinney has written two more entries to this anthological series to continue these narratives and lead them down several other pathways. Don’t let the lack of conventional horror or the multiple storylines concern you, McKinney’s take on monsters in a modern world is a rather interesting one, choosing to explore characters and their dynamics rather than the age-old monster tale, Scouse Gothic can offer many readers a fresh perspective (or perspectives) on the modern monster, both human and otherwise.

 

You can pick up a copy of Scouse Gothic on Amazon.

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