Sunday, June 16, 2013

JENNY POX by J.L. Bryan

Jenny Pox
Jenny Pox
(The Paranormals, #1)
by J.L. Bryan

Avoid her
like the plague.

It’s hard for me to be utterly blown away by anything anymore. With most of the common themes being rehashed to death and abck again, there's literally nothing that comes out of the woodwork and strikes me right in the face. I'd heard about one author who was making big strides in the Kindle publishing world, and had even read a bit of his novel I'm about to review before I actually sat down and read it straight through months later, but I never would have anticipated being so impressed.

Let me tell you, I'm so glad I did.

Jenny Pox is to 2000s like Stephen King's Carrie was to its time period--raw, visceral, gritty, a dirty slate amongst the commonly-portrayed 'good times' of high school. Told from the view of Jenny Morton, who possesses the power to cause infectious disease and then kill with her touch, we follow her story through her sophomore year of high school and the trials and tribulations that come with it. Ashley--mean girl number one--is amping up her game, and when Ashley's boyfriend, Seth, forms an unusual relationship with Jenny after a chance incident along the side of a winding road, Jenny will come to find out that the roots of her small North Carolinan town may be filled with more than just the greed for money and power.

I'll start off by saying that Jenny Pox is not what you'd expect. Going into it, I thought I was about to read a young adult book (given the age of the characters and the overall scenario,) but quickly found that to be quite the opposite when mentions of cannabis, alcohol, graphic depictions of sex and brutal depictions of gore came into play. I compared it to Carrie for a reason. This isn't your run-of-the-mill young adult novel. This is fully one for the adults, which I think makes it so much more powerful. Told from a young adult perspective, this would've been a much weaker book, as it would have glossed over the realistic details that are far too prevalent within the real world. The power wrought within Jenny's condition and her overall coping mechanisms in a town where everyone knows and despises her makes her an extremely dynamic character that you feel instantly connected with.

The writing--genius. It's striped down in a way that strikes envy into the reader. It isn't often coated with rich, verbose description--the purple prose most associate with the idea of writing talent. Rather, it's armed with the casual, straightforward tone that a young girl would use -- and for that it paints the picture within in a much more realistic light. The shining moments of clever description are true gems within this novel and truly mark J.L. Bryan as the witty, clever and masterful storyteller that he is.

Finally, though, I have to mention: the ending. I won't spoil it for you, but let me just put it this way: this is the way Stephen King's Carrie should have ended. The complete refusal of censorship makes this one hell of a shocking ending, which instantly left me wanting more.

Brutal, intense, unrelenting in its portrayal of the human condition--Jenny Pox is what Carrie should have been, and is absolutely terrifying while doing so.

* * * * *
5 Stars
Get Jenny Pox
in paperback (left) or Kindle (right)

Reviewer's notation: I downloaded Jenny Pox for free on

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Valley of the Dead by Kim Paffenroth

Valley of the Dead
(The Truth Behind Dante's Inferno)
by Kim Paffenroth

During his lost wanderings, Dante stumbled upon an infestation of the living dead. The unspeakable acts he witnessed--cannibalism, live burnings, evisceration, crucifixion, and dozens more--became the basis of all the horrors described in Inferno. Afraid to be labeled a madman, Dante made the terrors he experienced into a more "believable" account of an otherworldly adventure filled with demons and mythological monsters. But at last, the real story can finally be told.

It’s hard for me to swallow anything that even remotely resembles a mashup. With Pride and Prejudice and Zombies having been the first, most after seem nothing more than imitations, which is why I initially had reservations about reading Valley of the Dead. Given Kim’s debut novel Dying to Live, though, I was willing to give it a try, and I’m glad I did.

Valley of the Dead follows the pseudo narrative of Dante from Dante’s Inferno, in which he and a ragtag team of other survivors (including but not limited to a pregnant woman and a soldier from an army who is attempting to eradicate all life in the great valley) seek to cross a mass of land in order to escape the ravenous undead. This plight isn’t new—oh no. Such outbreaks of the ‘plague,’ as they call it, have happened time and time again. Almost everyone alive has at least one memory of the plague, or an instance where a plague-ridden victim has stumbled into their life asking for help. This time, however, the outbreak has grown far more severe—far worse than anything anyone has ever seen—which makes the situation all the more grim.

In the past, the army has dealt with the plague and things have gone back to normal.

This time, it seems, things might be taking a turn for the worst.

Valley of the Dead by Kim Paffenroth is written in a classical style. Straight-to-the-point but glistening with its varying phases of simplistic description, it’s not hard to awe over the tone that inhabits the novel. There’s always this sense of dread, which I believe most every writer strives for and which all readers grow to envy, and it never slips out at any time. Even in the more humanistic portions of the text there is still that primal depravity that undeniably exists in any horrible situation, which I feel is the greatest strength of the work.

With that being said, I do feel there’s a few things working against Valley of the Dead­—most notably, its style. It’s written in a very classical way and could easily divide audiences. This isn’t a book I would heartily recommend to someone who couldn’t read what is considered more classical literature, and for that it’s hard to recommend it to a horror fan because it suffers those same complications. That in itself is more of a personal stance rather than a true reflection of the work, but it limits its reach in doing so.

The other thing I would like to point out is that, throughout the story, a staccato beat begins to develop. I believe I only noticed this because it only started to occur more frequently in the latter half, but after second thought, I realized this pattern is almost a blueprint for the events that happen in the book. They walk there, they get there, something happens, they deal or don’t, they leave. Repeat that and it eventually becomes the scope of the book—which, in hindsight, can be considered all right to those who approve of and love such adventure-style storytelling, but may dissuade others.

In full, Valley of the Dead is definitely a work that stands on its own. With inspiration from Dante’s Infero, it weaves a story through the old world whilst following a group of people who must survive both the physical and moralistic implications that such a scenario has to offer. It’s not for everyone, but for those it is for, it’ll definitely be an enjoyable read. 

* * *
3 Stars

Get Valley of the Dead
 in paperback (left) or Kindle (right)

Reviewer's notation: I received Valley of the Dead for review from the publisher.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013


The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People

by William Todd Rose

I’ll be perfectly honest—I don’t like time travel stories. The few I’ve tried to read which I’ve thankfully forgotten have always been a mix of one thing or another: convoluted, nonsensical, unrealistic (in the sense that they are staying true to the times they are travelling to,) that sort of thing. That isn’t to say that all of them are like that, but The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People was not a book I would’ve willingly picked up based on its description. But given that I usually try to give all books with a unique idea a chance (especially, in this case, time travel mixed with the undead,) I decided to give it a go.

Boy, I’m glad I did.

The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People begins with a narrative that might appear as off-putting as it is interesting. Told from the perspective of whom we initially assume is a crazed druggy, the novel begins by telling us of Bosley Coughlin’s exploits with a great ‘Eye’ that shows him a vision of the distant future, which is not pretty in the least. Even he can hardly believe the idea of an America and a young girl who, at only fourteen, is struggling to survive and starving amidst the undead, but when a woman he knows begins exhibiting what he calls ‘The Seven Signs,’ the future becomes a distinct possibility, and he must do all he can to stop it.

Perhaps the most distinct and well-done thing about William Todd Rose’s The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People is its ability to seamlessly transport you between not only two different characters, but two different settings. Told, as I said, partially from Bosley’s view in the present, the narrative shifts to the future where we run into Ocean, the fifteen-year-old girl whose fate our present-day narrator desperately wants to change. This presents us with an incredibly-easy and cohesive story to read. It seems like it could be two distinct tales, yet at the same time are intertwined; one plotline is so radically different in idea from another they don’t seem to make sense; and the two narrators, an older man and a young girl, seem completely unlike one another, yet here’s the thing: it’s so seamless that your subconscious allows the two to merge to make the story one. That’s no easy feat, all things considering, but Rose’s power not only lies in interconnecting plots. Suspense, here, is key. Never is a chapter ended on a cliffhanger that doesn’t make sense, and while in some cases you would rather just skip ahead to see what was going to happen, Rose wrote the suspense so deliberately that the events coincide with one another. It’s like watching two rows of dominos fall at the exact same time. The pace never falters, the dread never lets up, and the mystique of the matter continues all the way up until the end, and persists even after it.

The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People is one of the best genre novels I’ve ever read. I can’t call it just sci-fi, and I can’t call it just zombie-horror, but I sure as hell can call it amazing. Five stars to this incredible work of fiction. This marks Rose as a name that has to be watched.

* * * * *
5 stars!

Get The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People
in paperback (left) or Kindle (right) by clicking below!

Reviewer's Notation: I downloaded The Seven Habits of Highly Infective People for free on via a publisher promotion.