Have you ever read a novel that you’d been excited about from the first time you read a synopsis of it, only to be disappointed? The Nebulon Horror qualifies as this for me. It’s not a bad book, but it’s dated in its language and the style of writing feels restricted. The synopsis is accurate, but it would help considerably if it said “In this reprint of a 1980 novel…” so that readers have a better sense of how the time period may have inspired this novel. 1980 is not even what I would consider “old”; many fun horror novels have been originally published in the 80s and the reprints are just as relevant and exciting now as they were then. The Nebulon Horror is a “different” novel.
The plot of The Nebulon Horror is perfect for fans of the evil child and/or occult subgenre(s). At its most simple, seven-year-old children in a particular school in Nebulon, Florida have become evil overnight and the adults in the town need to stop whatever is causing it unless they want to be the next victims. The cause of this evil is the summoning of a long-dead and powerful human man’s ghost via a unique symbol that he responds to. There’s scenes that are violent and gory (sort of, a point that I will address more in-depth), but the bulk of the story is about secrets that this community keeps from each other.
One glaring thing about this book is that the plot is slow-moving. I was drawn to this book from reading the synopsis because I expected action-filled scenes with small interludes of characters being introduced or characters wondering “What’s going on?” Simply put, it’s the opposite. To be fair, the scenes with the evil/possessed children Jerri, Raymond, and their classmates were compelling. The first chapter of the book, for example, was Jerri’s first sign of possession when she accused her mother’s boyfriend of molesting her and physically ripped his face apart in self-defense but when pressed for details said she couldn’t remember what happened. The boyfriend survives his attack and becomes an integral part of the story, which I won’t spoil beyond this except to reassure you that he survives. This attack/kill and then claiming innocence is common among all the children; there are multiple scenes of a normally-shy Raymond committing grisly murders of people in the community for example. This plot point is why I kept reading in spite of feeling disappointed. When the kids are off at school or playing in the park and the focus changes to the adults, the plot becomes “draggy” and repetitive. If you want to skip to the big reveal, go to Chapter 25 and read to the end.
Some literature lovers may enjoy the writing style-here referring to the language and word choices- of The Nebulon Horror. As I said earlier, I thought the language was dated. To give you a concrete example, in the first chapter there is an odd way of describing the difference in characters’ speaking styles.
“Born in New England of European-born parents, Vin Otto spoke an oddly formal kind of English, at least for this rural Florida town where speech was usually as casual as an old shoe.”
Vin Otto has a substantial reason for his formality of speech, but there are other examples of writing that seems “off”. I have no idea what “…where speech was as casual as an old shoe” means, and it gets even weirder from there. The word “queer” used throughout the novel is synonymous with “strange” or “bizarre” rather than its more familiar present reference to sexual orientation/gender studies, which may interest word lovers but did in fact throw me a bit. When attractive women are described, there are euphamisms such as “well-proportioned”. The second grade teacher, who is only 27, shamed evil/possessed Raymond by calling him “You wicked boy!” These are little moments of writing that eventually add up. Vin Otto, the character with textbook English, is less “old” sounding than some of this writing. I get the sense that while this book was originally published in 1980, Hugh B. Cave wrote it much earlier. One other thing I wondered was if Cave wrote a more blunt draft of this book but had to censor some words or phrases so these odd choices were the best he could come up with. Either way, the writing style does not make for enjoyable reading.
After kicking around the good and the bad of The Nebulon Horror, I have decided that it’s not for me but others may enjoy it. I hinted at it when talking about the writing style, but a surprising audience for this book is readers that enjoy “wordplay” and seeing how language changes through the years. I don’t recommend it for horror fans, however.
I am on a creature horror kick right now. Although the trend in self-published creature horror seems to be dinosaurs and robot entities (god knows why; they’re kind of blah), I particularly like aquatic horror. The idea that the majority of the ocean hasn’t even been explored and you don’t know what’s living in its deepest darkest depths is already the most terrifying concept I can think of. What happens when (fictional) people learn the answer to the mystery? Seaspawn is a speculative fiction horror novel in asking “What if these humanesque creatures overpopulated the ocean and needed to spread out to land?” I was totally hooked by the synopsis but in the end I am 50/50 on whether I liked how this book played with the idea.
Up front, I’m going to tell you that I hate the way Edward Parker wrote this book. In the first seven or so chapters, readers are introduced to various characters who are vacationing in St. Meads, a tourist beach community. The novel opens with a small team of lobster fishers on a boat called The Esmeralda who are slaughtered by a seaspawn they were unfortunate enough to catch. In the second chapter readers meet the Collins family, who are visiting St. Meads at exactly the wrong time. A few chapters later the focus is on Keith Evans, a local restaurant owner who had money problems way before the seaspawn and did not need yet another problem to compound his cursed life. There are other characters as well but I would have to reread the novel to explain their purpose. As a good reviewer I have a responsibility to provide factual, accurate information, but let’s be honest for a second. If characters aren’t appealing enough for me to remember, they’re just not important. The point is that there is no one character that you can follow initially and in the middle and end of the novel when everyone’s paths converge, it’s not particularly important who they are. Here’s the thing: I loathe this style of writing and it was a potential deal-breaker for me. If you are a reader that can follow multiple characters’ storylines and you get into that deal, maybe this won’t be a problem for you. I just have to warn you because it did not endear me to this book and if there was nothing else redeeming then I would’ve given up.
The redeeming factor is the seaspawn themselves. An old homeless man named “Mick” refers to them as mermaids, which they are definitely not. What they are is the fictional creation of author Edward Parker, and they’re pretty creative. They are humanesque in some ways. They have all the basic human body parts that allow them to feed, fight, and basically function on land as they would in the water. They are such a threat because they are semi-immortal; the only thing that can kill them is firebombs dropped on the St. Meads’ community. I would assume that the idea Parker is playing with is that of the “four elements”, water is more powerful than everything but fire. Anyway, when these seaspawn come out of the ocean for new land, they are dead-set on making it theirs. They aren’t scared of humans even though they’re not familiar with humans and being physically attacked by their human victims/prey doesn’t phase them at all. I like reading about creatures that are bloodthirsty and emotionless. Parker could’ve easily written a novel where some of the seaspawn become pets of the tourists and break from their animalistic instincts, but instead he writes them to be all about the food and generally unpleasant little things. I enjoyed reading about these creatures and I’m disappointed that they weren’t featured in a better-written novel.
There was one other thing I genuinely liked about this novel, but I’m cautious to explain what it is because it’s the “end” of the novel and it would be a huge spoiler. I’ll leave you with this: Consider that these creatures are called seaspawn. What does the word “spawn” suggest to you?
I’m going to avoid giving an official recommendation because I realize that the things I disliked about this novel are liked by other readers. There’s nothing horribly wrong with this novel from a storytelling perspective (as in, everything is justified and Parker leaves no loose ends) and there were no obvious grammar or spelling errors that I picked up on. I would just recommend that if you purchase this novel, be sure to read other reviews so that you know what to expect in advance. Finally, I want to add that I am not turned off from this author. Edward Parker has written other novels that sound interesting and I’d be willing to give them a chance. He has excellent concepts in his novels, so I’d like to give him a fair chance to impress me with other works.
Did you know that I wasn’t terrified of clowns until I realized so many people were? To make a long story short, they made such convincing points of why everyone should fear clowns that I began to fear them as well. I mean, who in their right mind would wear globs of ridiculously tacky make-up and a much-too-large painted-on smile? Well, besides 95% of the girls I knew in high school, that is. Anyway, since then I am happily anti-clown. Well, not exactly. Because I don’t like clowns, I automatically think of them as villains. As a literature girl I believe there should always be a good villain and why not make the villain a clown? Enter the novella Clown by Matt Shaw.
This man is a clown and he loves it. He loves making children laugh when he performs at their birthday parties and he even said he’s not in the profession strictly for the money. The conflict: Some kids are too mature for clowns, as revealed when a birthday he was hired for fell through for him. He was the type of person who was so even-tempered he didn’t even realize the cancellation-with-no-phone-call hurt him until at least five minutes (probably even longer, although no time frame was given) after finding out. The even larger conflict: This man probably has DID/Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) and his second personality is a serial killer. The novel is told from the perspective of the man and the perspective of his second personality interchangeably and it can get confusing to know who’s talking. Overall, the best way to know is that the man is a non-violent, good-hearted, but unfortunate character and his second personality is foul-mouthed and only interacts with people if it benefits him. In the end, the second personality gets so strong it overpowers the man and only one personality can “win”. I won’t spoil the ending because it’s interesting enough for everyone to read for themselves, but let’s just say that I was surprised.
I had a few small problems with this novella but I also liked it. Before I go into my reasons, I want to put it out there that Matt Shaw is a hit-or-miss author for me. Some of his novellas have a compelling villain but there’s no character that emerges as the hero or that you can root for. If you’re like me and like the traditional good vs. evil angle, Matt Shaw may not always deliver for you. This one is similar where in fact there aren’t many supporting characters outside of the man and his second personality, but you can cheer for the man because he’s likable. Furthermore, I appreciated that when this novella was advertised on the cover as psychological horror, it was exactly that. I’m just thinking that with an author like Matt Shaw, it’s not a case of “I love everything he’s ever written!” or “Oh my god, this guy thinks he’s a writer?” Clown was particularly interesting, but I felt like based on other novellas I read from him, it’s an outlier.
Now let’s get into the meat of this novella (no pun intended). There were qualities that deeply bothered me and I definitely need to share them with all of you before offering the redeeming aspects. You don’t have to answer this question if you don’t want to, but before reading Clown, ask yourself if you can read about poorly portrayed mental illness without being offended. It is the psychological angle that kept me reading but I also felt like there are unfortunate implications with the way DID was portrayed. I’m not an expert, but I know that there are different types of DID. The man had an extreme version where not only was his second personality a serial killer, but he was out-of-the-loop with actions “he” committed when the second personality came out. For example, the second personality revealed that after he killed children, he organized their corpses in the basement and painted a particularly graphic image of each one. The man didn’t even know what happened when the second personality took over even though the secondary personality “talked” to him about what he was doing. From what I’ve read about DID, it’s either that you know about all your personalities and they know about you or you make sudden changes and don’t remember anything from one personality to the next. It’s not like the way Matt Shaw portrayed it in the novella. In addition to this, I feel uncomfortable calling this an evil clown novella because it’s a little more complicated than that, but the synopsis doesn’t pay it justice. There is an evil clown, but it isn’t the man except when he’s controlled by the second personality. I also give a loud “Boo!” to Matt Shaw for making it sound like the second personality was a physical entity walking beside the man wherever he went. It didn’t add to the drama of the novella; in fact, it made the novella more confusing than it had to be.
My final thoughts about Matt Shaw’s Clown is that if you can get it “free” on your Kindle Unlimited, do that before you purchase it. I like it in spite of its (major) flaws, but I’m sure there are going to be people who are immediately turned off for some reason or other. It is worth a read according to me, but like any book that I’ve enjoyed in some sense, I advise you all to exercise your own judgment.
When we move away from the portrayal of DID, there are some seriously redeeming qualities of the novella. As I said in a previous paragraph, the man was a likable character. When readers were meant to feel sorry for him, they could because he was put in unpleasant situations and made honest attempts to put aside his “Poor me, poor me” sentiment. When the secondary personality overruled him, you could still separate that personality from the man. The villain of the novel that you were supposed to hate was always the second personality, not the man. Furthermore, I know this isn’t part of the plot or characters in the novella, but the writing style was readable and had a decent flow. I know it seems like a weird thing to compliment an author/novella on, but this was a self-published novella and, uh, there are things about self-published novellas. Mainly that they are assumed to be of poor writing quality. I could definitely think of changes that would make Clown better than it is, but there weren’t major spelling, grammar, or formatting errors.
Greg and Sheila Heyman have a monster of a son. No, really. Their son Gabe is a scientific experiment created by an underground organization. They don’t care that at six years old Gabe is more animalistic than human and requires live animals for food. He’s their son and they conveniently ignore all of his monstrous qualities. Their unusual but routine existance is shattered when Gabe matures into a teenage creature that needs to kill his own food. Will Greg and Sheila allow their son to make his kills as science intended, or will they finally put the kibosh on him?
Proud Parents is a difficult book to review because it’s exactly what I wanted to read when I purchased it and the writing is engaging from beginning to end but…I really didn’t like it. I want to tell you that my two main problems with the book are the characters of Greg and Sheila and the explanation of Gabe’s creation, which absolutely are problems. I’ll definitely explain why because those two qualities are the easiest to explain. There was another major problem I had as well but it’s harder for me to pinpoint it. The best way for me to explain it is that the synopsis of this novel was excellent and 100% accurate but the synopsis was considerably stronger than the novel itself.
Greg and Sheila Heyman were the worst characters I’ve read about in a month, and this includes characters from novels and short stories I’ve read for college. My college reading has the defense of being required reading while Proud Parents as “fun” reading does not. I completely understood that after Greg and Sheila couldn’t get pregnant through natural means they would fiercely protect their science experiment offspring like their own blood and that could mean doing unethical actions, but that they never questioned such things as killing people for Gabe to have fresh blood was just wrong. There was only one example where it possibly crossed Sheila’s mind that even to keep Gabe alive there had to be limits and that was in chapter 44 when Sheila internally ran over the problem of her husband immediately turning to “We have to lure people into the house so we can kill them and give them to Gabe.” Kristopher Rufty worded it better than this obviously, but that’s the gist of it. Furthermore, that is literally the only time that either of these people have any hesitation with their actions and in the end it doesn’t matter because Gabe is more important than morality.
The whole business of Gabe’s creation is far-fetched even for speculative fiction. If you read chapters five, six, and 45 you find out the whole story. Gabe was created as a part of Project: Newborn as an extremely underground experiment. There were six families plus the Heymans who participated in the experiment and four mothers died giving birth while only two were successful. Of the two that survived, only one family had a normal offspring. You see, these weren’t normal offspring. The scientists involved in Project: Newborn mixed human, primate, and reptile DNA thinking that the human DNA would take over. Furthermore, they expected that any hybrid offspring that was more creature than human would die in a short amount of time (not specified, although Dr. Henry Connors, one of the scientists involved in Gabe’s creation, was surprised that he had survived up to age six). Gabe was predominantly a lizard with his scaly green skin but he had the climbing skills of a primate and at a distance if people ignored his scales and claws and fangs he did resemble a young child. Slight problem: Gabe went through puberty midway through the novel and it was insanely disturbing to read about his bodily changes because he then functioned like a teenager but was still in a six-year-old’s body. In general I like the idea of a human/primate/reptile hybrid because authors are forced to use their imaginations since few already-published novels use those types of entity combinations, but I didn’t like how it was used in Proud Parents. To give credit to Mr. Rufty, once Gabe was created and going through mutations, that made some sense to me. Just like humans go through changes, I would assume primates and reptiles do as well. Still, I always come return to the idea that if these hybrid offspring weren’t supposed to live up to six years of age while Gabe was not only surviving but becoming immortal (or at least able to regenerate after major injuries), then what was so different about Gabe allowing him to do so?
Here’s the thing: This book had a delightful synopsis that actually summarized the story accurately. I appreciate that because I have read other books about non-human offspring where the synopsis said one thing and the book told a completely different story. I want to give credit where credit is due, so thank you Kristopher Rufty and Samhain Publishing for being honest with your synopsis and novel. I just felt like the synopsis told a stronger story than the actual novel. While the novel had filler descriptions of neighbors that became involved with the Heymans (usually as food), the synopsis cut out that blabber and focused specifically on the problem of Gabe being a monster. I would recommend that if you’re curious about reading Proud Parents, just read the chapters about the Heymans, Gabe, and Dr. Henry Connors.
In the end I refuse to make a “Read this!” or “Never touch this with a million foot pole!” judgment because there are good and bad points about this book. If you like reading books about offspring that aren’t entirely normal, maybe you’ll find the science/”science” compelling enough to give this one a try. I do love the “evil kid” genre of entertainment media and I feel safe in saying that that is why I purchased this book. It’s true that I thought there wasn’t solid justification for how Gabe was created and managed to survive and become stronger but I feel like another reader may not have problems with this. The only thing I’d definitely recommend is reading the reviews of this book on Amazon or Good Reads (if the book exists on there) before purchasing it.
Recently Amazon unveiled a new Kindle option called Kindle Unlimited. It’s similar to a Netflix streaming movie subscription in that if you pay 9.99 per month, you can download as many books labeled “Kindle Unlimited” as you want. The catch is that the majority of available books are self-published or published by a small press. The mainstream, traditionally-published only reader needs to be warned that Kindle Unlimited may not be their best bet for an e-book subscription service. This reader would be better off checking out Entitle, a similar service that does offer mainstream, traditionally-published e-books. Kindle Unlimited is a delicious resource for self-published and small press-published horror novel fans, however.
Are you a fan of unknown and/or potentially authors that could be the next big thing in the horror genre? Kindle Unlimited is a great way to read these authors without risking your hard-earned money. Your 9.99 monthly subscription fee guarantees that you can try as many e-books as you want. Well, within reason. The deal is that you can check out up to ten books at a time and if you want more, you can return however many you need in order to download more. Technically there is a limit. If you’re interested in recommendations of titles that I personally read and that are available as Kindle Unlimited reading material, check these out.
Do you like your horror novels about a female protagonist turned antagonist? Sadie the Sadist by Zane Sachs is a yummy read. I won’t spoil anything in this brief blurb, but I’ll get you excited with this teaser: Even as Sadie loses touch with reality and human decency, she’s still a semi-sympathetic character. Yes, even when she’s covered in other characters’ blood.
Maybe creature horror is more your style. From the Depths by J.E. Gurley is a decent short read. The synopsis describes monstrous, mutated sea creatures and a dinosaur-esque entity. The actual story delivers on the promise. The death scenes and human vs. sea monster fights could’ve been better but there’s enough of them to be gripping. I think the thing that worked well was that the novella didn’t end happily. It did, however, end in a satisfying and believable way.
If you like horror mixed with a police procedural, Michael McBride’s Innocents Lost blends the two genres well. I didn’t actually love this novel but there were a few good points about it. First, McBride started out as an unknown writer but by virtue of coming under established horror authors’ radars, blew up in the genre. He’s solid at writing. The style feels like any traditionally-published author rather than some amateur self-publisher looking to make a quick buck. I loved that once again, the ending wasn’t happy but was believable and satisfying. This one didn’t do it for me but he has other novels available as Kindle Unlimited releases. Yes, I plan to give these others a chance.
I could ramble about other novels I got to experience but admittedly they aren’t horror. One nice point about Kindle Unlimited is that you can read in genres you might not try unless you had free access to reading material. This subscription allows you to do such a thing without having to worry about the risks attached to paying 2.99 or whatever exorbiant price e-books are going for now. Again, you’re looking more at self-published books, but this gives you an opportunity for exposure to new genres.
Note: Don’t expect to find much in the way of criminology books. I already checked and I’m “Meh” on the available selection.
With a subscription to Kindle Unlimited, anyone who wants more exposure to unknown and up-and-coming authors has the chance to find potentially good reading material. Just don’t expect many (if any) traditionally-published e-books. Kindle Unlimited is actually a better fit for horror fans since most horror is in e-book format anyway.