Alternative Worlds: Science Fiction and Fantasy Book Reviews

03rd April 2015

Fantasy and sci-fi book reviews

Alternative Worlds is a science fiction and fantasy book review site, written and published by accomplished reviewer Harriet Klausner. For more information, please check the About page.

Please feel free to use the links below to navigate to book reviews alphabetically, either by Author Name, or Book Title, or else use the main left-hand links to main genres, or most recent reviews.

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Latest Reviews

October 31, 2013

The Influence-Bentley Little

Filed under: Author: L,Horror,Title: I

The Influence
Bentley Little
Cemetery Dance, Oct 29 2013, $25.00
ISBN: 9781587674198

Engineer Ross Lowery lost his position at Air Research during the Great Recession and has not found work since. He always sent money to his family when they needed it even when he didn’t have much. However, now that he needs assistance, all (including his siblings) except his cousin Lita ignore him. Though not wealthy, Lita and her husband Dave invite Ross to stay with them in remote Magdalena, Arizona for a few months while he applies for jobs over the Net.

At the town’s New Year’s Eve bash, everyone shoots into sky at midnight; only something falls to the ground. Soon afterward the townsfolk begin to face changes in their fortunes. A rancher’s cattle die with eerie creatures leaving the corpses before vanishing and Lita’s eggs hatch lizards and spiders; Ross receives job offers and falls in love, and a beautician wins the mega lottery. When children vanish, realizing something is not right in Magdalena ever since the creature fell from the sky and altered 180 degrees the fortunes and misfortunes of everyone, Ross believes he and others must rescue the young and prevent whatever is occurring from spreading.

The Influence is a strong horror thriller in which darkness threatens life as the townsfolk knew it. The reactions by the affluent suddenly hammered by bad luck and the threat of poverty, and the impoverished suddenly charmed with a run of good fortune make for a super storyline. With deep underlying social messages from scriptures: “But by the grace of God I am what I am …” and “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (karma aside). Bentley Little provides a taut thought-provoking tale.

Harriet Klausner

October 23, 2013

The Heavens Rise-Christopher Rice

Filed under: Author: R,Horror,Title: H

The Heavens Rise
Christopher Rice
Gallery, Oct 15 2013, $26.00
ISBN 9781476716084

In the Bayou in 2005, Niquette Delongpre’s father dreamed of changing the land surrounded by swamp water into Elysium an estate like no other. The construction crew diligently working at the site dig into a long buried well. None of them or the Delongpre family knew at the time that they liberated an interred parasite better for mankind left buried. Soon afterward, the entire Delongpre family except for Niquette disappears near Bayou Rabineaux leaving behind the frightened teen and signs that their car went through a guardrail.

Niquette knows what has happened to her and her family. Filled with rage and remorse, she vows to never allow her recent need for violence to harm her boyfriend Ben and their best friend Anthem so pushes them away. However, they refuse to walk away from her. In 2013, Niquette realizes that the parasite infected another childhood peer Marshall who while he resides in a coma in an Atlanta Hospital plans to release his inner violence in an unsuspecting world.

Rotating viewpoint between the four protagonists and two time periods, readers get to know what motivates each of the quartet; especially the pair hosting the parasite inside them. Character driven, readers will relish this strong horror thriller that builds suspense from the eeriness of what was released from deep in the murky Bayou.

Harriet Klausner

September 25, 2013

Tropic of Darkness-Tony Richards

Filed under: Author: R,Horror,Title: D

Tropic of Darkness
Tony Richards
Pocket, Sep 17 2013, $1.99
ISBN: 9781476727097

In 1958, a disgusted and disappointed Meyer Lansky flies from Vegas to Havana. Two big goons meet him at the airport to tell him that Mario Mantegna is acting strange by insisting she is “under my skin” and he needs her back. Meyer confronts Mario though a closed hotel suite door; instead of responding Mario kills himself.

In 1995, Frank returns from a business trip to his home in Toronto. His wife Ellen notices him acting strange as he sings in his sleep about a girl “under my skin”. She can’t wake him up so calls Dr. Hague; Frank kills himself with a knife.

A few days after Frank’s suicide, Jack Gilliard arrives in Havana. This is his latest stop while on his decade-long musical tour of the world with his cornet since he left his unhappy home in America when he was a teenager; his only other possession he prizes is a knife. Jack hopes to play some gigs in Cuba, but instead has haunting dreams of the Mafia ruling the island in the 1950s and Castro’s revolution. Disoriented Jack soon learns of an ancient curse involving a girl “under my skin” that once inside his head leads to suicide; to escape he must leave the island before he becomes the latest person singing I’ve Got You Under My Skin” as his funeral hymn.

Putting aside the late great Cole Porter’s reaction, Tropic of Darkness is an exciting horror thriller as the past haunts the present. Flashbacks add depth to understanding the curse and the related betrayal with Jack, due to his past, as the latest target of the darkness.

Harriet Klausner

September 18, 2013

The Demon’s Wife-Rick Hautala

Filed under: Author: H,Horror,Title: D

The Demon’s Wife
Rick Hautala
JournalStone, Sep 13 2013, $18.95
ISBN: 9781936564958

In Portland, Maine, lonely and bored Claire McMullen works as a purchasing agent for Montressor; her time spent inside her broom closet-sized office is listening to a Philadelphia radio station streaming over the internet and checking out social media sites. She shares an apartment with Sally Lewis, who persuades Claire to stop at the Margarita Grille before they see The Economy perform.

At the Grille, Sally flirts with Samael, but he focuses on Claire. When someone assaults her just outside, Samael rescues Claire. She goes to the hospital, but once released Samael takes her home. When they finally make love, Claire is stunned by his lack of the usual male tools and by how sensational his tail proves to be. However, Claire fears he wants her soul for some nefarious purpose besides love’s redemption. As Samael makes his case that they belong together, raging demons believe this coupling is a sinful transgression of the natural order and must end with the human banished for eternity.

The Demon’s Wife is an engaging romantic urban fantasy starring two fascinating characters falling into a taboo love that shakes the eternal cold war order of Heaven and Hell. Fast-paced with plenty of action and strange bedfellows; the demons mount a campaign to end this immoral horror and the angels reluctantly protect the partnering. Samael’s reformation never feels right as he recognizes his nasty history though love enables him to say Honest to God. Still fans will appreciate the late Rick Hautala’s wicked relationship drama; summed up by Milton in Paradise Lost: “The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”

Harriet Klausner

September 12, 2013

Under A Graveyard Sky-John Ringo

Filed under: Author: R,Horror,Title: U

Under A Graveyard Sky
John Ringo
Baen, Sep 3 2013, $25.00
ISBN: 9781451639193

In New York City, at an emergency meeting of Bank of the Americas’ top brass, virologist David Curry describes a horrible viral plague released by bioterrorists. The disease starts off like any airborne flu, but turns into a neurological disorder transmitted by bites from sick victims acting like zombies. Attendee security chief Thomas Smith sends a coded text to his brother Steven in West Virginia warning him of the potential for a global pandemic disease.

A high school history teacher, the Australian born Steve tells the assistant principal that his wife Stacey was in an accident; he leaves with his daughter Sophia and picks up his other child Faith at middle school. After Stacey joins them, Steve rents a boat when Warrenton, West Virginia Police Officer Jason Young arrives to insure there is no abduction. Satisfied, Jason leaves, but Steve warns him to be careful of crazed naked assailants; which the cop soon encounters as insane nudes try to bite anything including squad cars that move. Meanwhile the Smith family and others sail the Atlantic with Steve heading to New York to pick up his sibling.

The key to the fabulous first Black Tide Rising apocalypse thriller is the biological weapon of mass destruction seems plausible though excess humor detracts from the horror of the pandemic assault. Fast-paced and loaded with action, readers will enjoy this engaging zombie tale as civilization takes to the sea to escape the madness on land.

Harriet Klausner

July 26, 2013

The Dark Man-Stephen King

Filed under: Author: K,Horror,Title: D

The Dark Man
Stephen King
Cemetery Dance, Jul 30 2013, $25.00
ISBN: 9781587674211

He is the ultimate dangerous wanderer because as the outsider with no attachments, he loathes those with friends and families. In his denims, fuming with rage 24/7 he nightmarishly rides the rails frightening the hobos who recognize what he is and what he is not; or hitches at night with those moronically picking him up learning too late why he is The Dark Man.

A forerunner of Randall Flagg, Stephen King wrote this aptly titled short poem while in college. Artist Glenn Chadbourne provides his interpretation through approximately seventy intriguing illustrations to the 200 or so dark words. Fans of Mr. King will enjoy this entry though the picture to word ratio at times fragments the structure of the dark ode.

Harriet Klausner

June 5, 2013

Cradle Lake-Ronald Malfi

Filed under: Author: M,Horror,Title: C

Cradle Lake
Ronald Malfi
Medallion, Jun 1 2013, $14.95
ISBN 9781605425108

English college professor Alan Hammerstun inherits a house from his paternal Uncle Phillip; a man he met a few times and a place he visited once thirty years ago. He persuades his wife Heather to move from New York where they lived their entire lives to start fresh in this home in the Smoky Mountains. Depressed Heather agrees to leave the bad memories of two miscarriages and her subsequent suicide attempt behind. Thus they and Jerry Lee the farting dog drive to North Carolina.

Their new neighbors seem young, healthy and friendly, and the air quality perfect. Oriole fanatics especially Hank Gerski befriends him. Alan finds a path with strange stone markers through the forest. That night he dreams the path leads to a lake and he dives into it. When a child is hit by a car, Hank and others carry the injured lad to the nearby lake. The kid heals almost instantly. The neighbors warn him to be careful with the lake; while psychic George YoungCalfRibs tells him the lake can do bad things against those poisoning the land and water. Alan ignores them as he spends all his time there wondering if this water will heal Heather’s health issues unaware of his increasing paranoia that the neighbors hold him culpable.

Cradle Lake is an exciting horror tale that feels like a throwback to 1970s books and movies in which Mother Nature revenges the destruction of the environment. Readers will be hooked early on as the atmosphere gets increasingly darker as Alan who holds the storyline focused slowly loses his mind. Although fans will anticipate the climax, Ronald Malfi provides a tense thriller.

Harriet Klausner

The Homecoming-Carsten Stroud

Filed under: Author: S,Horror,Title: H

The Homecoming
Carsten Stroud
Knopf, Jul 16 2013, $25.00
ISBN: 9780307700964

The FBI agent demands tower controller John Parkhurst to ground the Lear containing Chinese nationals. However the plane already is in the sky when crows commit suicide destroying the engines. The craft crashes on the fourteenth hole; at the same time a Cessna flown by Morgan Littlebasket is no longer on the screen.

County Sheriff Nick Kavanaugh finds his plate overflowing with the disappearance of his father-in-law, several unexplained deaths and a bank robbery (all occurring in Niceville). Now he adds investigating a plane crash to his immediate to do list. However, his biggest concern is ten year old Rainey Teague ever since he and his wife Kate were named the lad’s guardians. Nick fears the tweener will prove as evil as his blood was. Meanwhile, four officers die in an armored car robbery shootout and a mobster and his grandson also die in another police shootout. Nick tries to find the common thread behind all the violence, but his conclusion makes no sense to him; as he begins to consider the local Native Americans are right when they supernatural evil freely flows throughout Niceville.

The second Niceville horror police procedural is an exhilarating thriller that contains several subplots but deftly moves between them making for a smoother tale than its predecessor. The Kavanaugh couple still has too much to deal with, but readers will appreciate their efforts while relishing a second trip to ironically named Niceville; the sink hole of paranormal evil.

Harriet Klausner

June 1, 2013

Fiend-Peter Stenson

Filed under: Author: S,Horror,Title: F

Peter Stenson
Crown, Jul 9 2013, $22.00
ISBN: 9780770436315

Typewriter John tells Chase that he is going to the bathroom in spite of the fact that neither has eaten in almost three days as both have been in a meth daze. Chase looks out the window only to believe he remains as deep as he ever has on a trip when he watches a giggling little girl rips apart a Rottweiler. Type joins him and makes Chase feel worse when he affirms that he sees the same horror. They soon learn that while they went into their meth zone, most of the world became zombies.

Chase persuades Type to help him find his girlfriend KK. Before beginning their quest, the stoners draw up a survival list starting and ending with meth; not aware of how important that will prove. As they meet other humans including KK, Chase dreams of having babies with her. Only what is left of his brain, besides the meth icon that occupies almost all of his cells, gets through to him with a horrific truth.

Fiends is a refreshing unique Zombie thriller that focuses more on addicts struggling to survive the pandemic. The key to the tale is Chase, who in spite of his seemingly endless daze state, keeps the storyline focused while he remains loyal to his friends and loved ones even when stoned, but especially during an end of the world as we know it outbreak. Although the zombies are not developed beyond dining on live organisms and laughing like deranged clowns, readers will enjoy Peter Stenson horror tale as T.S. Eliot says in the Hollow Men: “This is the way the world ends; not with a bang but a whimper” (albeit a chuckle).

Harriet Klausner

April 24, 2013

Prophet of Bones-Ted Kosmatka

Prophet of Bones
Ted Kosmatka
Henry Holt, Apr 2 2013, $27.00
ISBN: 9780805096170

In 1954 at the University of Chicago, scientist Willard F. Libby invented Carbon-14 dating. Six years later he won the Nobel Prize for debunking Darwin and the evolutionists when he proved the Earth is 5,800 years old. At the same time public school student Paul Carlsson, abused as is his Chinese mother by his violent but brilliant father, enjoys studying mice.

Years later, the Axiom Corporation sends ancient DNA expert Carlsson to join an archeological dig in Indonesia. He and others find bones that shatter their beliefs as the tests prove them to be older than the Libby accepted theory of the earth. Axiom Corporation CEO Martial Johansson wants the discovery to remain buried so sends goons to kill those at the excavation site. Paul escapes initially but when caught he learns the secret of the bones and much more.

Prophet of Bones is an exhilarating action-packed thriller that grips the audience even before the protagonist heads to Indonesia. The storyline is fast-paced and switches from the fascinating DNA science fiction mystery to a more standard albeit thrilling horror tale especially on Flores with a stunning late twist. Though readers will question Johansson’s decisions, we also will relish joining Paul as he makes one incredible discovery after another while trying to stay alive to tell the world what he found.

Harriet Klausner

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