A Touching Early Review of Consumed

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Sunday, 14 September 2014

ARC Review: Consumed by Justin Alcala

Author: Justin Alcala
Publication Date: September 11, 2014
Published by: Zharmae Press
I received the e-ARC/Media Kit from the publisher for the blog tour.
 

Goodreads Synopsis:

Sergeant Nathaniel Brannick is trapped in Victorian London during a period of disease, crime, and insatiable vices. One night, Brannick returns from work to find an eerie messenger in his flat who warns him of dark things to come.
When his next case involves a victim who suffered from consumption, he uncovers clues that lead him to believe the messenger’s warning. Despite his incredulity, he can’t help but wonder if the practical man he once was has been altered by an investigation encompassed in the paranormal. That is, until he meets the witch hunters, and everything takes a turn for the worse.

Nath’s Thoughts:

One of the beauties of knowingly reading outside your genre is that you get to experience the story with no expectation/presumption. I had that exact experience when I read ‘Consumed’, walking into the threshold its mesmerizing, terrifying Victorian horror world with little idea of what was going to happen and what I would be subconsciously looking for. It was a pleasant experience overall, something I am grateful for — something I might do again in the future, for a limited set of genres (‘genre’ as in ‘what is actually in this book’, not as in ‘what age group this book is targeted for’).
Consumed was — to me — the story of a broken, lost man’s journey back to a meaningful, purposeful life. Granted, that journey involved a murder mystery to solve, vampire hunters and their targets swarming parts of London, an addiction to opium, and a shady work partner. But putting back together pieces of a broken life is the essence of Nathaniel Brannick’s emotional journey — this was what I saw him doing between the lines of the action. Each event in the book was a wake-up call for him, and with each screw-ups and near-misses he was forced to see what he had been doing to himself and his life.
Of course, this doesn’t mean the action and the twists within the plot weren’t great. Consumed was so quick-paced, and throughout the wild ride, I was on the edge of my seat the whole time trying to guess what would happen next — and most of the time I would guess the wrong thing! Every scene, character, and setting in this book lived and breathed horror. Even in the lightest moments, I could still feel a lingering sense of terror, of a dark shadow lurking in the background. I had a hard time trusting every new character, to the last moment their motivations were explained. And even after the last page, the question of whether Nathan had chosen the right allies still lingered in my head. Who were crazy, and who were not? To what extent did everyone tell Nathan the truth? I must say I was quite delighted to know that a sequel is a possibility. Nathan’s story simply couldn’t end where it did in Consumed!
Character-wise, Consumed has a lineup of interesting, quirky characters. Whilst some of them did fill archetypal roles, they didn’t feel archetypal — talk about Davis, the womanizing/overeating detective partner; the witch-hunter siblings Vasile and Vasilica Ivanescu (the latter delighted me a lot — a fighter female in historical fiction :D); Nathan’s lively, not-quite-the-shrinking-violet-proper-lady late wife Catherine; the cat appropriately called ‘Hades'; a lot of others. And, of course, one just can’t leave out Nathaniel Brannick. A brilliant detective with flaws and heartbreak, a distinct way of speaking (I found his sarcasm endearing), and a honest voice. Nathan’s voice was one of the things I adored about Consumed. It was era-appropriate in terms of grammar and vocabulary choice, but it didn’t feel faked and I didn’t have to strain to read it (as I sometimes had to do some other historical fiction work, as they tried really hard to emulate classics).
Overall, Consumed was an enjoyable haunted-house-roller-coaster ride in a foreign theme park for me. Apart from a few paragraphs of chunky dialogue/exposition towards the conclusion, I liked everything that I read. Whilst this book didn’t shatter my world the way some other books did in the past, I would still recommend it to older teenagers and adults who are keen to read an action-packed, distinct historical horror. I think ‘Consumed’ won’t disappoint.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5
 

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What Makes a Good Book?

bookWhat makes a good book? Is it well-developed characters or a strong story arc? Is it a specific genre or a certain writing style? Don’t Google the question unless you’re prepared to sort through hundreds of slapdash opinions. Everyone has an answer, and none of them are the same. But perhaps that’s exactly what makes a good book? Maybe it’s not poetic hyperboles, dramatic irony or well-placed flashbacks as much as the author’s ability to connect with the reader as a whole- an ability to take them places through alluring and comprehensive thoughts.

            “The Alchemist”, by Portuguese author Paulo Coelho, is an international best seller that has been published in 56 different languages, with over 65 million copies sold. Its captivating plot is about a shepherd boy who experiences mysterious dreams that take him on a journey to fulfill a greater destiny. The story is simple and charming. The writing style is very humble, so humble that it is one of the most translatable novels of all time, and the characters are basic, but captivating. There is no complex storyline, no unexpected ending or hidden agenda. Yet, according to the AFP and Guinness Book of World Records, The Alchemist is one of the best selling books in history. But why?

            It’s easy to comprehend once you understand the author. Believe it or not, it took Paulo Coelho only two weeks to write the book in 1987, and as he explains it, it’s because the story was already written in his soul.

            “When you really want something to happen,” he explains through an old king in the book, “the whole universe conspires so that your wish comes true.” This core value of the novel is something that all readers can relate to. It’s something that nearly everyone understands and associates with. We all have hopes, dreams and destinies that we chase. Coelho just makes it relatable through a great story.

            So why then do some readers put so much value in cerebral plots or structurally complex stories? Why do they like speculative metaphysics or multiple narrators and storylines? Well, that can be like asking why do people like certain colors or types of food? For some readers, it’s the relationship that they build with the book. Larger, more complicated stories keep readers on their toes, creating a literature-romance that has them constantly thinking about where the story might go next. For others, its not so much a story they’re into, but the addictive characters that they can revisit in books with thousands of pages and multiple sequels (I know that I’m not as worried about what magical creature Harry is chasing in “The Dresden Files “ as much as what will happen to Michael, Murphy, Butters, and the slew of other side characters). Or perhaps, just like anything, some people just want a book that tailors to their lifestyle. Logical thinkers prefer intelligently written books, while dreamers enjoy stories that some might consider a bit unordinary.

Regardless what the reason, more than any other article I’ve read or theory that I can muster, there’s one element that always seems to stand out in every great book. It’s not its complexity, multifaceted worlds or innovative ideas. Then again, its not its straightforwardness or minimalism either. A great book, compared to an average one, knows how to connect with what makes readers human. Well-written settings and descriptions are a perfect compliment to a tale, but they can never take the place of identifiable plots and characters in a story.

According to the NY Times “Best Seller List,” the top three books as of 2014 thus far are “Hopeless” by Colleen Hoover, “All the Light We Can Not See” by Anthony Doerr, and “The Shoemaker’s Wife” by Adriana Trigiani. All three books are titans in their genre, yet none of them are excessively intricate. Instead, they deal with human characters and the challenges they have, whether it’s dealing with the devastation of World War II or multigenerational love. They are, for lack of better words, “human-books.”

So the next time you’re looking for a new paperback to take on your flight, or downloadable story to read during your lunch break, remember that no matter what reviews may say, no matter how many copies are sold, books are reflections of what makes us human. Think about what you’d like to get out of a story before making your selection. After all, it’s what you are as a human that makes you like the great books that you do, not the other way around.

“Consumed” Book Signing: Days of the Dead Horror Convention

                                            Days of the Dead Large

Join me November 21st-23rd, 2014, at the Chicago Marriott Convention Hotel for the “Days of the Dead” Horror Convention. I’ll have copies of Consumed, and will be signing them, as well as giving away great prizes. There will be vampire babes and drawings at my booth, “Consumed.” And don’t forget that Consumed is due September 11th, 2014. 

Days of the Dead Convention..

Chicago Marriott Hotel

50 North Martingale Road, Schaumburg IL 60173

Continue reading

Getting Back to the Basics

When was the last time that you wrote without worry? I mean really wrote without hearing the naysayers, critics and self doubt in your head. If you’re an everyday writer, then it’s probably been a while. But why is that? Regrettably, a big part of it almost certainly has to do with the writing world today, and the emphasis it puts on book ratings, author critiques and reader reviews. It’s become so bad that for some writers, doing what they love also means having a nervous breakdown. But allow me to send out a plea to all of the bloggers, novelists and poets out there. This isn’t how it should be. We should be thrilled to write. We should be hungry to start our next piece, thinking about it while cooking breakfast or trying to get some sleep. Maybe it’s time for a change. Maybe it’s time for us… to get back to the basics.

I first started writing when I was just a boy, no older than nine or ten. I was one of those weird kids who was obsessed with comic books and spooky monsters, and decided that it was about time for someone to combine the two. I constantly wrote short stories and drew pictures about the misadventures of my favorite ghouls and ghosts as they tried to save the world while dealing with the pain of being a misunderstood. Back then it was simple. Someday, I’d give my homemade penny dreadfuls to Stan Lee or R.L. Stein, and they’d shake my hand and say, “Justin, I want you to write for me. When can you start?”

As time passed and high school struck, I continued to follow my favorite horror authors, getting into classics like Bram Stoker, Edgar Allen Poe and Stephen King. But this was a confusing era, and my writing had been put on a brief hold for more “palpable” desires. After the girl craze passed, I delved back into writing, this time for my friends. I started to pen roleplaying campaigns for the guys, telling tales of eerie dungeons and nightmarish crypts for their roleplaying pleasure. The joy it brought both them, and myself, was enough for me to decide that someday I’d write professionally.

Then college came. I majored in English, concentrating in Creative Writing at a downtown university. I’d write whenever I could find time, mostly after night shifts or on the early train to school. While my professors mostly enjoyed my work, it was the first time I’d begun receiving critiques. I don’t recall ever being offended, but it was confusing to hear teachers occasionally suggest toning down the weirdness. What I also didn’t foresee was that these opinions were only the first steps towards the inevitable…self-doubt.

Cue my mid-twenties. I was in love. My fingers wouldn’t stop typing sentimental poetry and short stories involving the woman of my dreams (who would one day become my wife, score!). Later, with her encouragement, I’d convinced myself to take a serious stab at becoming an author. After several months, and with the connection of a family member, I handed my manuscript to an editor. The results, well, were not so much what I’d been hoping for.

But as tough as the criticism was, I needed it. After taking a few months off, I jumped back on the horse with new fervor and tales to tell- one of those being Consumed. For years I concentrated on the book, bleeding over my computer. I’d share my work with respected family and friends. Their assessments were constructive, but as expected, sometimes tough to swallow. Finally though, after several serious edits, the manuscript was complete. After sending it off to dozens of publishers, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I had several takers, and in early 2014, signed with Zharmae Publishing. My first novel was born.

But getting your manuscript published opens you up to another world, one that involves marketing and promoting. I began doing my research, and found that sites like Amazon.com and Goodreads had some real tough critics. I read unnecessarily harsh reviews about my favorite books, some of the best of all time, and it scared the hell out of me. Who was I to think that I wouldn’t receive similar disapproval? No one wants to read a horror novel about a drug-addicted detective investigating a mysterious murder. Come October, it would be the end of my writing career. I was doomed.

Then it hit me. Call it a bitch slap from God or life’s cup of morning coffee, but I’d finally awoken from the anxiety driven stupor I’d put myself through. I’d been so crushed by the weight of what people might think, that I’d completely forgotten why I started doing it in the first place. It wasn’t to become the most popular author of all time or make tons of money. No way. I didn’t want to be trendy. I wanted to write bizarre and interesting stories as I’d done as a kid. I wanted to honor the horror novels I loved in high school. I wanted to make people happy like I did when I wrote for my friends. I wanted to be myself again, free of any worry.

Perhaps it was Paulo Coelho who put it best when he said, “I write from my soul. This is the reason that critics don’t hurt me, because it is me. If it was not me, if I was pretending to be someone else, then this could unbalance my world, but I know who I am.”

It may sound strange not cater to readers, but you’re honestly doing them a disservice by not writing from the heart. Readers can pick up on someone who is writing scared. I know I can. Instead, write for yourself and let the reader fill in the blanks. I think that you’ll find that far more people appreciate your work (even the critics) when you do it this way. Hell, maybe you can even apply this “apologize to no one” attitude to the rest of your life. Wouldn’t that be nice?

So writers, please, keep doing what you do. I beg of you. Don’t make the mistakes I did. Write those great blogs, short stories and novels, worry free. Keep penning what makes you happy and everything else will fall in place. It’s time that we put away our fears of the critics. It’s time for us to get back to the basics.

 

Consumed: Concept Art, Round 2

Hi all,

Here are some other great conceptual designs created for the upcoming Victorian Thriller,”Consumed.”

www.justinalcala.com

Let us know what you think!?

Detective Sergeant John Davis
http://i740.photobucket.com/albums/xx42/burt_reynoldz_mustache/burt_reynoldz_mustache089/Davis_zps6018079e.jpg
The protagonist’s unlikely partner, and perhaps most questionable support character.

Marcos “The Great Mago” Biachelli
http://i740.photobucket.com/albums/xx42/burt_reynoldz_mustache/burt_reynoldz_mustache089/TheGreatMago_zpsb48b54c3.jpg
An ex-criminal, and Nathan’s friend, “The Great Mago” helps Nathan with his research into the supernatural.

Chief Inspector Donald Swanson
http://i740.photobucket.com/albums/xx42/burt_reynoldz_mustache/burt_reynoldz_mustache089/ChiefInspectorDonaldSwanson_zps4b6c4daf.jpg
One of the only historically “real” characters in the novel, Swanson is not only the protagonist’s direct supervisor, but one of the investigators of the Ripper Case in real life.

“The Soldier”
http://i740.photobucket.com/albums/xx42/burt_reynoldz_mustache/burt_reynoldz_mustache089/TheSoldier_zpsced7f786.jpg
Timothy Dewhurst, also known as “The Soldier” is an army veteran and obsessive gambler. His lifestyle is less than ideal, but he tries to be a goodman nonetheless.

Vasile Ivanescue
http://i740.photobucket.com/albums/xx42/burt_reynoldz_mustache/burt_reynoldz_mustache089/Vasile_zpsd632cc20.jpg
Perhaps one of the most frightening characters, Vasile is a witch hunter from Romania, who along with his sister, has traveled to London in order to follow their latest mark. Is he righteous or foul? Nathan can’t be sure.

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