Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Carvings Collection: A selection of stories from the crinkled mind of Drake Vaughn

3.5 of 5 Stars    Review Copy

A little over a year ago, I read and reviewed The Zombie Generation  by Drake Vaughn. A different take on zombies and worth a look.

This time it's a collection of 10 stories on a wide range of subject matter.  No two have any similarities except for one.  They all seem to lack an ending.  True, this is a fairly common literary device where the outcome is left to the reader to imagine, but as a steady diet, it's less than palatable.

Drake is apt at developing some original stories and at fleshing out characters, but when it comes to closure, it's just not there.

The collection started, promisingly enough, with "Dolls."  Evil doll comes to life, talks to little Ella.  Creepy, in a Child's Play kind of way.  Plus it was told from the child's point of view, which I found entertaining.  But, then it ended.  It was a natural place to end, but so much was left unresolved.

On to the next story, "Driver's Seat."  A protagonist, named Minji, who has Amaxophobia. She's afraid of cars.  In the telling of the tale, we learn the root cause of that fear and I'm finding the story interesting...and then it ends with much left untold.

There's a pattern developing and for most of the book the pattern is consistent.  Great story, original concept, but with a vague or abrupt ending.

Some stories are better than others, for example, "In the Chair."   A novelette length tale, disturbing and cringe-worthy, is about a man forced to remain in a chair for days on end as punishment for allowing his mother to die in a similar manner.

"Tests," was another longer short story that held my interest.  Just a taste of horror, more of a coming of age story and one of the stronger entries in the collection.

"Trip to V-Town" is an interesting take on prejudice as seen through a treatment on vampires or piners as they're refered to in the story.

At the end is "Flatheads." For me, this was the most complete story of the bunch.  A futurustic tale where people are surviving in high-rise apartments above flood levels and water is both a danger and a precious commodity.

In all, I found The Carvings Collection to be entertaining and unfulfilling at the same time. The stories were good enough to grab my interest and keep me reading, but each one left me wanting more.

The Carvings Collection is available now, through, for the Kindle and is FREE if you subscribe to Amazon Prime and want to make it your current selection in the Kindle Owner's Lending Library.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Second Chance - by Chet Williamson - Takes "what if?" to the extreme

5 of 5 Stars    Review copy

Originally published by Cemetery Dance, nearly twenty years ago, Second Chance, holds up well.

Second Chance is once of those stories that's difficult to categorize.  Part love story, part fantasy, elements of horror, science fiction and much more.

1969 was a turbulent time on college campuses and it was no different at a small college in Western Pennsylvania.  This is where Chet Williamson starts his story with friends trying to make a statement by blowing up the ROTC building on campus.  No one was supposed to be hurt, but things go terribly wrong and both Keith Aarons and Tracey Zampelios are killed.

Nearly twenty-five years later, Woody Robinson, now a successful musician, is looking to rekindle the vibes from his college days and goes to extraordinary lengths to get as many of his old college friends together in the same apartment where they would gather all those years ago.

What transpires is nothing short of magical and what seems to be wonderful slowly becomes a horrible nightmare.

I don't want to give up a lot of the secrets of Second Chance, most of the fun comes from the series of twists and turns along the way.  Seriously, each time I though I might have an inkling of where the story was going, there was something new to keep me guessing.

Just a little something from their impromptu reunion..."Woody remembered it all, saw it all. The sofa on which he sat looked across the room at another sofa, even more worn, if such a thing was possible.  A window behind it was open, but did little to disperse the thick haze born of cigarettes, incense, and the occasional joint.  Frank, his roommate, sat on that sofa with Judy, and they both looked decades younger than when he had last seen them in Atlanta.  Frank held a can of Iron City Beer, Judy a cigarette.  They were both nodding, eyes half-closed. listening to the music.

"Keith, the other roommate, was standing in the wide doorway of the dining room, leaning against the pillar, talking in a low but passionate voice to Sharla, whose afro bloomed like a crimson dahlia, and whose coffee-colored skin seemed the same shade as Keith's in the monochomatic glow.  And there, sitting and standing about the two rooms, were all his old friends, Alan, Diane, Eddie, Dale, the living and the dead together, in memory."

At this point in the tale, anything seemed possible. After all, isn't there a time and place each of us would love to return to?

Second Chance  is a bit dated in places, but certainly not enough to distract from an amazing story.  At times the language and situations could be considered offensive, but in my opinion it is the character that is the culprit, not the writer.  There are other times, that events are genuinely disturbing, but it all serves the story well.

So, one of the best stories I've read in 2013 was written twenty years ago.  I have no idea what that means, if it means anything at all.  All I can say is, if you missed this one, like I did, it's never too late to enjoy a good story well-told.

Second Chance  is available in e-book format from Crossroads Press and

Strongly recommended.