Tag Archives: fantasy

Fantasy? Or Formula?

CBR_Logo2Chicago, The Windigo City
A Novel
by Mark Everett Stone

Mark Everett Stone delivers an action-packed espionage thriller, or so the cover of Chicago, The Windigo City claims. While the fourth installment in the “Files of the BSI Series” does in fact speed right along, the novel falls short of a thriller rating and even shorter of originality.

Everett’s star character, Agent Kal Hakala, narrates a small portion of Everett’s story, handing the storytelling over many times to friends, colleagues, and a faerie who’s come to warn the Bureau of Supernatural Investigations of humanity’s impending doom via otherworldly cannibals. These Windigo creatures (after whom the book is named) don’t make an actual appearance until very late in the novel. The narration falters quickly as chicago windigoit jumps through centuries of time, back again and forward again with a few pages in between, and a new narrator at every turn.

First, the agents fight werewolves, then bad faeries and many unnamed alien-like creatures. Alien-like because their origins are rarely discussed in detail. They explode into the scene, fangs dripping, sores seeping, and hunger raging. They are the epitome of fear and strength, surely the most formidable foe ever to threaten mankind. Just as quickly, they exit without much more than a swing of a hunting knife by the hero. The novel forgets them until the hero needs an ego stroke, recounting their acts of Herculean strength to newbies in the agency, or just to themselves when bored and reminiscing. But the novel treks on and, with the token apocalyptic doom approaching, best friends Kal and Canton fight alongside witches to save the fate of humanity.

If a reader should decide to pick up this novel in hopes of learning more about Chicago, those hopes would be in vain as less than half of the setting involves the “Windigo City.” This novel skips over the architecture, the diverse neighborhood life, the food, and even the sandy beaches of the real Windy City. In brief scenes that enter Washington Heights, Chicago seems a stinky afterthought—a city whose smells can’t be forgotten, apparently because the stench of the city is the only sensory description given, unless clustered traffic is considered.

Chicago is not alone in receiving only a surface description, however. Setting itself stays nearly non-existent throughout the novel; even in an exotic place such as Egypt, Everett reduces that interesting and varied landscape to a description of hot and dry. These missed opportunities to fully engage the reader plague the novel and keep the story skimming the surface of actual emotion, in the end arriving at less than a sitcom level of entertainment.

Hope does exists inside the pages of Everett’s latest work, and it’s clear he has some talent: his standalone novel, The Judas Line, (2012) earned a starred review in Publisher’s Weekly and was a finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award in the Fantasy Category. He has won something of a loyal following for his series as well. His characters can be funny, and his pacing is usually spot on. Also in his favor: The novel doesn’t take itself seriously (so the reader should strive not to, either). If approaching this novel with mind shut off and eyes wide open—maybe with a little drool escaping down the chin and a club in hand—the reader might enjoy the ride as one would America’s Funniest Home Videos, the crotch-hitting clips in particular.

Zero-Star Review

January 2014, Camel Press
Urban Fantasy
$14.95, paperback, 288 pages
ISBN: 9781603819299

—Reviewed by Mindy Jones

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Fun, Funny, Frightening Fantasy

CBR_Logo2Ruler of Demons
by Scott A. Lerner

A single attorney in downstate Illinois, Samuel Roberts should be comfortable tending to his garden, serving his clients, and spending time with the love of his life. But based on a case readers learned about in Scott A. Lerner’s first book, Cocaine Zombies, Samuels has reason to look over his shoulder and eye with suspicion the black crows that seem to alight wherever he goes.

demons cover 187x300“In short, I am afraid I might be a magnet for the forces of darkness,” says Sam, the main character in Lerner’s recent novel, Ruler of Demons.

Sam seems to be right. A law school acquaintance beckons him to Chicago to meet with attorneys for a high-powered but low-profile firm that was aware of his prior work with the supernatural. Soon he’s seated in a luxe conference room with not only one of the law firm’s founders, Mr. Smart, but also a private investigator, a Catholic priest, and a cardinal.

Sam has been called upon to investigate three gruesome murders in Chicago, Jerusalem, and Paris. The victims were nuns, and they appeared to have been killed in some kind of ritual. Smart plans to send Sam to learn what he can from a history professor, a rabbi, and an archaeologist to piece together who is behind the killings and stop them before another person is sacrificed.

So begins Sam’s crash course in satanic cults and an ancient scroll containing instructions for summoning Satan. It appears the nuns were the first, but not the final, of those to be sacrificed. And the last sacrifice, according to the ancient text, is to occur on December 20, just nine days away.

Reluctant at first, Sam concedes to take on the job after a few days mulling it over and experiencing a little jolt back home in Urbana. Joined by his friend Bob, he travels to New York, Jerusalem, and Paris, working against the deadline to prevent more murders. They try to remain skeptical, nonbelievers despite their past brush with the supernatural. But they soon realize that someone—from this world or the netherworld—is trying to thwart their mission, and they have to rely on quick thinking and physical strength along with their sleuthing skills.

Ruler of Demons is creepy and fast-paced, with a few thrilling twists to keep the reader up at night. It’s also sprinkled with the kind of humor one hears in a police procedural show, the wisecracks one imagines veteran cops make. They may not be the most realistic bits of dialogue, but the blurb on the back cover gives a good idea of the wild-ride tone of the novel: “Only eleven shopping days till Christmas. And less than a week to save the world.”

Lerner, who actually is an attorney in Champaign, Illinois, won a bronze medal in the mystery/cozy/noir category of the 2013 Independent Publisher Book Awards for Cocaine Zombies, and his second novel is a fun ride as well.

Three-Star Review

May 2014, Camel Press
Urban fantasy
$13.95, paperback, 202 pages
ISBN: 978-1-60381-905-3

—Reviewed by Paige Fumo Fox

Learn more about the author and his books.

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Local Author Spotlight: Adam McOmber Works in Concrete and Imagination

CBR_Logo2“Writing is always a mix of excitement and frustration.”

So says Adam McOmber, a transplanted Ohioan who now calls Chicago home. McOmber, author of the novel The White Forest and a short-story collection titled This New and Poisonous Air, teaches literature and creative writing at Columbia College Chicago, where he is also the associate editor of the literary magazine Hotel Amerika. Writing for him is both unfettering and work.

“I find writing in general to be liberating,” McOmber says. “To enter these fantastic worlds.”

McOmber certainly seems to know about fantastic worlds. Critics praised The White Forest as “absorbing,” “compelling” and “exceptionally well-rendered.” The novel, released last year and now available in paperback, was named as one of the Top Ten Most Highly Anticipated Sci-fi/Fantasy Novels of Fall 2012 by Kirkus Reviews’s “Book Smugglers.”

The story, about a young woman in nineteenth-century London who has a gift for perceiving the souls of inanimate objects, originated in some of the writing of one of McOmber’s favorite authors: Edgar Allen Poe. That and some other sources.

“My writing comes from a lot of research,” McOmber explains. “For The White Forest, I read Victorian comparative mythology and ghost stories and various things like that and mixed all of it up in the blender that is my brain.”

Inspiration, research, and imagination combined with concrete details, character development, and a good plot work together to serve as a foundation for a good story. That and a good editor. And knowing when to abandon things that aren’t working.

These are among the things McOmber teaches his students at Columbia, although he admits that he, too, at least in some ways is still a student himself. “I’m still learning,” he says. “I’m still experimenting.”

Adam-McOmber3-286x300

Author Adam McOmber

McOmber says he always wanted to write, but that it took him about seven years to actually learn to be a writer. A highly influential teacher in high school shared one of his early stories with the school principal, who lavished him with praise. “I felt like I had dome something special,” McOmber says, particularly in a world where everyone else was being commended for sports.

School was an important launching pad, but that’s not where McOmber truly learned his craft. “You won’t learn how to be a writer in school,” he says, “but you will learn what to read and how to develop relationships with writers. You learn how to be a writer by reading, and you learn more about writing just through the act of writing.”

With two published books under his belt and another in the works, McOmber seems to have the act of writing down pretty well. But that doesn’t mean he’s resting on his laurels. “I’m always trying to become a better writer,” he says.

Living and working in Chicago has done much to help McOmber forward on that path. “I feel energized by the city,” he says. “Chicago is a vibrant city, and I think it’s filled with places that fuel the imagination.”

From the city’s theater scene to its film scene to just about anything he sees on the street, Chicago sparks McOmber’s imagination, and various details from home find their way into the places in his stories. “I see so many different things here in Chicago that creep into my version of Victorian London.”

Indeed, McOmber’s version of Victorian London may not be exactly like the real version. Although he does a lot of research and looks up key details, it’s the feel and the sensibility of the place and time that is important to him. “Too much research can kind of constrict the imagination,” McOmber says. “It has to feel real to the reader.”

Indeed, McOmber always keeps the reader in mind when crafting his stories. “I am trying to provide an interesting escape for the reader,” he says. “Something that will excite the reader’s imagination in an intelligent way.”

Doing so may at times be exciting, frustrating work, but McOmber’s readers certainly appreciate that work and will look forward to his next book.

—Kelli Christiansen

Learn more about Adam McOmber

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