Tag Archives: novels

Isabella Steel Crafts an Engaging Paranormal Thriller Novel That Balances Beauty with Brutality

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

The charming New England community of Nollesmic Village is keeping a hideous secret.

On the outside, this little Maine town is everything a burned-out New Yorker needs to escape the clamor of the concrete jungle -– lovely autumn foliage, babbling brooks, placid lakes and a comfy mom-pop-eatery that serves up to-die-for flapjacks.

Speaking of “to-die-for,” this has become … um, well, let’s just call it “an issue” … for the people of Nollesmic.

That’s because lurking in the woods just a few miles outside of city limits is a place the locals not-so-fondly call Haunted Gap. It’s the abode of an unspeakable ancient evil that has a nasty hankerin’ for twin children and also nice mommies who happen to be pregnant with twins.

The local Native Americans have been grappling with the evil entity for centuries. Unfortunately, exorcising the Maine woods of the SKADEGEMUTC GHOST WITCH has proven futile time and again.

The best the indigenous tribes have been able to achieve is an uneasy truce. Even when the wicked thing is defeated with powerful shamanic magic, it just bides its time and keeps coming back generation after generation.

That’s about as much as I want to give away about this fine paranormal thriller novel by ISABELLA STEEL.

If it’s perhaps a bit formulaic — as in your standard good-vs-evil yarn – it overcomes conventionality with vibrant characters, a suburb sense of background along with just enough plot twists to keep us surprised and eagerly turning pages.

The great science fiction writer Ben Bova said, “All fiction is based on character.” Steel excels here, cobbling together in-depth literary figures that come alive on the page and make us want to root for their triumphs or lust for their bitter downfalls.

Isabella Steel

Steel is even better at creating a sense of place. Her creation of a bucolic New England town and woodlands made me feel immersed in a real environment. She does that cleverly with small details that zap you into the scene before you know it. For example, her characters don’t just take a seat in a restaurant – they slide into “an old Naugahyde booth with a Formica tabletop” and you hear the sound a patron’s tushy makes when he slides across a well-weathered leather seat.

You can almost smell the coffee and taste the fresh maple syrup!

But wait a minute! Does that mean you also have to hear the sickening “squelch” of rotting flesh being jabbed with a spear — or smell the corrupt bodily fluids of an undead demon?

Ahh, well, this is a horror novel after all. If you buy a ticket to enter, expect to get what you pay for.

I hasten to add that this is a book that balances the brutal with the beautiful. The opening scene, in particular, reads like a lovely mythopoetic folktale that may wax dark and disturbing — but it does so while entrancing us with the intoxication of a dangerously erotic dreamlike vision.

So, Skadegemutc Ghost Witch is a great “read on the beach” kind of book, but it is also a work that perhaps rises above what you might call a literary version of a “popcorn” movie.

One last thing — I can’t help but feel that Steel has a certain CECELIA HOLLAND vibe going for her in terms of style. After all, the Skadegemutc is a genuine historical reference — it was an apparition of the Wabanaki Confederacy of the Algonquian nations. Like Holland, Steel has deftly drawn upon fascinating historical material to produce a terrific book.

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Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of BIRD BRAIN GENIUS


British Author Peter Martin Serial Torments his Character And Readers Will Enjoy Watching The Tragedy Unfold

Review by: KEN KORCZAK

What was it that Hamlet called it? Oh yeah: “The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” The Free Dictionary helpfully fleshes out this phrase as, “bad things that happen to you and that are not your fault.”

That describes the troubled life of Billy Price, an ordinary middle-class British boy growing up with his mom and dad in a nice home in some pleasant Anytown in the U.K.

But as we enter the life of Billy, we find his family living under pall cast by the recent death of his little sister from cruel cancer. Dad is coping by drinking to much and mom appears to be having a sexual dalliance … with the lesbian next door.

If that’s not enough for a 13-year-old, just wait. His life is about to get worse … much worse. In fact, it’s going to get bloody. And so begins he long, troubled journey of Billy Price. He moves into adulthood straddling one crisis to the next. 

In choosing “adversity” as his theme, author PETER MARTIN is proposing a scenario suggesting: “Let’s see how much calamity we can throw at an ordinary human being and see how he holds up, how he copes, how it affects his mental health and his social adjustment in society.”

Peter Martin

That’s what makes this a fairly absorbing read. Mr. Martin is an agile writer who commands a lean style devoid of digression and cumbersome language. This keeps the plot and narrative moving forward at brisk pace. One marker of a good book is when you get to the end of a chapter and you get that urge that says, “Oh well, I might as well read one more to see what happens next …” and this book has that quality.

But let me add this, and if I might borrow a descriptor from the world of cinema, this is a B-List Novel rather than an A-List novel. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, so read on and let me explain.

You know how when you’re watching a movie and you are fully aware that what you’re watching is a “B Movie.” It’s not a top-flight, high-budget major studio A-List flick with major stars and expensive production values … and yet, you still find yourself enjoying this low-budget B-Movie to an unusual degree.

IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY has that aura of a B Movie that somehow transcends itself to offer a higher level of interest and enjoyment.

But the reason I categorize this as a “B Novel” is a decidedly odd placement of philosophic or perhaps epistemological depth on behalf of what constitutes “meaning” from the perspective of the viewpoints of these characters.

What I mean by that is, the ultimate sense of attainment presented is a kind of flat secular salvation. In other words, what is judged to be “successful” and the achievement of “happiness” is narrowly defined within the realm of material success, or in terms of one’s social position and perhaps one’s gaining a healthy relationship, and then maintaining that relationship. Billy is plagued throughout his life by relationships that don’t last, even with his own children.

At the same time, children are portrayed in terms of something to “have” and “appreciate” and “enjoy” not terribly different from the way one might “have” and “appreciate” and “enjoy” a purchase from Ikea.

I’m not saying that Peter Martin should have added some kind of lofty religious or spiritual theme. There are more ways than that to create a universe of nuanced depth. But the real tragedy, for me, is how these characters remain rutted within a mundane realm of ordinary pursuit of jobs, a modicum of social status, maybe a nice flat. It’s what Henry Thoreau called, “A life of quiet desperation.”

Since Mr. Martin is British, I’ll use two of his literary countrymen for comparison — Thomas Hardy and John Cowper Powys. These two writers spring to mind because they, too, created relatable characters and then proceeded to torment them with earthly problems over the span of their lifetimes.

But Hardy and Powys built a deeper dimensionality of existence and meaning for their characters – and they did so largely by leveraging the powerful presence of nature, the earth and proximity to ancient sites and history. In this way they imbued their character’s predicaments with a greater sense of tragedy, but also heights of joyful attainment that transcended mere economic/social success.  That’s because they had placement within a more profound reality. In this way Hardy and Powys elicited a haunting depth of meaning to their narratives.

So, what I’m saying is, IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY is a perfectly fine novel as it stands in the B-Novel realm. It’s a compelling story well told and difficult to put down. A certain greater depth of meaningful dimensionality would have elevated it to A-List status — but, you know, sometimes we don’t want to read “great literature.” We just want to read a good book.

NOTE: To find other Peter Martin titles, click here: PETER MARTIN

Ken Korczak is a former newspaper reporter, government information officer, served as an advocate for homeless people as a VISTA Volunteer, and taught journalism at the University of North Dakota for five years. He is the author of: BIRD BRAIN GENIUS