Saturday, April 19, 2014

Mailboxes, Shelves, and What I'm Reading

Stacking The Shelves and Mailbox Monday are a pair of weekly memes that are about sharing the books that came your way over the past week, and which you've added to your shelves - whether they be physical or virtual, borrowed or bought, or for pleasure or review.

With a towering review pile before me I'm desperately trying to cut back on the new additions, but this week brought in one Bizarro title I just couldn't refuse, and a fantasy novel from an author I've been meaning to read for a while now:

Dungeons & Drag Queens by MP Johnson
Paperback, 150 pages
Published April 1st 2014 by Eraserhead Press

What happens when a small town drag queen gets sucked into a realm of sword and sorcery and forced to do much more than lip-sync for her life?

After a weird wizard transports Sleazella LaRuse to the realm of Houmak, Green Bay's number one diva must battle to save her life and protect the lip-syncing, potty-mouthed persona she's worked so hard to cultivate. Will her bones be devoured by the gnawing nipple-mouths of slavwolves or crushed by the brutal Blada Femma? Worse yet, will she find love amongst the scum sailors and slopulating sky serpents? Will she win this glamorous game of thrones? The answer is clear in the most fierce and fabulous fantasy epic ever.


Half a King by Joe Abercrombie
Hardcover, 352 pages
Expected publication: July 15th 2014 by Del Rey

“I swore an oath to avenge the death of my father. I may be half a man, but I swore a whole oath.”

Prince Yarvi has vowed to regain a throne he never wanted. But first he must survive cruelty, chains, and the bitter waters of the Shattered Sea. And he must do it all with only one good hand.

The deceived will become the deceiver. Born a weakling in the eyes of his father, Yarvi is alone in a world where a strong arm and a cold heart rule. He cannot grip a shield or swing an axe, so he must sharpen his mind to a deadly edge.

The betrayed will become the betrayer. Gathering a strange fellowship of the outcast and the lost, he finds they can do more to help him become the man he needs to be than any court of nobles could.

Will the usurped become the usurper? But even with loyal friends at his side, Yarvi finds his path may end as it began—in twists, and traps, and tragedy.

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It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is another weekly meme, this time focused on what books are spending the most time in your hands and in your head, as opposed to what's been added to your shelf.

With an eye towards my scheduled reviews for the next few weeks, I'm currently turning pages with:

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson
A good, solid fantasy, pretty much what I was hoping for, and flowing much better with the hardcover in front of me.

• Best British Horror 2014 edited by Johnny Mains
"Too much Semtex was an obvious, beginners mistake, and I noted I needed to remove more brain in future" - best line so far. :)

• The Very Best of Tad Williams by Tad Williams
Having never read any work outside his novels, I'm quite excited to check out Tad's short fiction.

What's topping your shelves this week?

A to Z Challenge: Ralph McQuarrie

The A to Z Challenge is a meme posting every day (except Sundays) in April. Check out the list of 2000+ participants and follow along for 26 days (and 26 letters) of fun. The 2-letter code after each blog name may help narrow your choices - (BO) is Books, (WR) is Writing, (PH) is Photography . . . and, if you're concerned about those NSFW pages, (AC) is Adult Content.

For my theme, I thought I'd do something I generally try very hard not to do, and that is judge a book by its cover. Yes, this year my A to Z Challenge is all about the cover artists who give the books we know and love so much damn shelf appeal.

Continuing through the alphabet, we have . . . well, I couldn't find a 'Q' author, so I'm cheating a bit with Ralph Mc'Q'uarrie, right-hand man to George Lucas, and the man behind the classic covers below:







Although best known as a conceptual artist on everything from Star Trek to the original Battlestar Galactica, and as the man who shaped the look of Star Wars, McQuarrie was also a prolific cover artist during the 70s and 80s.

Friday, April 18, 2014

An Abundance of Odd-Ball Characters by Mike Phillips (Guest Post)

Hello everyone, and thank you for joining me for my second guest post with Beauty In Ruins. My name is Mike Phillips and my new book is The World Below.

I was asked to talk a little about the characters in the book, so I thought it might be fun to discuss some of the lesser known weirdos that make an appearance. An important part of the book is that all the fairy tale creatures of legend still exist, hiding in a place known as the World Below, a sort of refugee camp for those creatures that don’t have enough magic to blend into modern society. As a result, the book is absolutely packed with an abundance of odd-ball characters.

When our hero, Mitch Hardy, becomes involved with Lady Elizabeth, herself one of the Faerie Folk and a little offbeat, he has no idea what strange people he is bound to meet. The first and most prominent, of course, is Puttygut and the other goblins. After an act of kindness, the goblins adopt Mitch as one of their own. As it turns out, goblins aren't as all bad as they are made out to be in myth and legend. They are a fun bunch of guys to be around, if they smell bad and behave like fifth grade boys.

The first creatures Mitch encounters after he meets Puttygut and his crew are the goblin’s mortal enemies, the Ferikrakneh Imps. The Ferikrakneh have been trying to take over the landfill and get rid of the goblins for as long as either can remember. The Imps are tiny little creatures, vaguely human-shaped, but tough. When Mitch accidentally reveals the location of the goblin hideout, the Ferikrakneh are ready to attack. There are so many of the little buggers, that Mitch and the Goblins are soon overwhelmed, and have to resort to drastic measures to escape their wrath.

Later in the story, desperate to find Elizabeth (describing the circumstances surrounding it would be a terrible spoiler) Mitch asks the goblins for help. There are many strange and wondrous creatures in the World Below, but only one that has the information they need. The Mulak is a sorceress and seer of great power. The goblins all fear her, but they know she can be bought. The Mulak has a weakness they can exploit, a serious drug addiction. A case of heroine is her price. After a taste, she tells them what they need to know, changes herself into a spider, and continues her sad decline into oblivion.

Baron Finkbeiner is the despotic ruler of the World Below. His dungeon is filled with all sorts of dangerous creatures. To keep them in line, the guard must be equally as formidable. The Baron’s jailer is just such a person, though you wouldn't know it by looking at him. The jailer is a squat, funny little man. Like many of the inhabitants of the World Below, the jailer is possessed of unusual powers. When the Baron’s henchman throws a tantrum and obliterates part of the dungeon, we find out that the jailer is nearly invincible to physical attack. His body is homogeneous, all made up of the same stuff, like a Gollum of clay. Picking debris from his body, he explains to the henchman the importance of being able to get along with others.

Inside Finkbeiner’s dungeon, there is a creature known only as the Blackness. It has no shape or form. It looks like a cloud of black dust. Though it as no physical body, the creature seems to have all the senses that people do. It can even talk. The Blackness is held in prison by an enchanted collar made of silver. The creature has fallen in love with Lady Elizabeth, and when the Baron’s henchman comes to do her harm, it does everything it can to protect her.

We end this discussion with one of the strangest creatures of all, the Gooch. It is a shape shifting, pan-dimensional being that is drawn to supernatural creatures as a food source. When it can’t get that, any road kill will do. As the Gooch first appears, it takes the form of a mailbox. People with magical ability may be able to see it, but normal humans can’t. The Gooch is so good at hiding itself from the general public that there must be some sort of magical influence involved. Later on the Gooch takes the form of a basketball, and then a garbage dumpster. Characters in the book often have questions about the Gooch, the typical answer to most of those questions being, “no one really knows what that thing is.” As a writer, it’s fun sometimes to leave things up in the air, allow the reader to fill in the gaps, maybe even give yourself some room for the character to play a wider role in future projects. That is my hope for the Gooch. As I write the sequel to The World Below, the Gooch is already making trouble for our hero, Mitch Hardy. That, however, is a story for another time.

Thank you so much for joining me. I hope you check out all the strange characters in The World Below. Please visit me at mikephillipsfantasy.com.

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About the Author

Mike Phillips grew up on a small farm in West Michigan, living much the way people did at the turn of the century. Whether it was growing fruits and vegetables or raising livestock, Mike learned the value of hard work and responsibility at a young age.

While his friends spent their summers watching reruns of bad sitcoms, Mike's father gave him a very special gift. He turned off the television. With what was affectionately referred to as "the idiot box" no longer a distraction, Mike was left to discover the fantastic worlds that only exist in books. When not tending sheep, gardening, building furniture, chopping wood, or just goofing off, Mike spent his time reading.

With all that hard work at home, Mike was always eager to go to school. He excelled as a student and went on to pursue a career in the sciences. Working as a Safety Engineer in the Insurance Industry, Mike soon became bored with the corporate grind. Writing engaged him like nothing else. After a few novels and numerous short stories, he thought getting published would be a pretty neat idea. And so, here it goes...

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About the Book

The World Below by Mike Phillips
Damnation Books, LLC (March 1, 2013)

In ancient times, magical creatures inhabited the earth. They lived on mountaintops, in trees, at the bottom of lakes and rivers. But that was long ago, before the human race declared war on the creatures they feared and hated. Now the enchanted peoples are all but gone. Those few that remain fear being stretched out on an examination table in some secret, governmental facility. The only place they can hide from the ever increasing number of satellites and smart phones is in the World Below.

Mitch Hardy is going through a hard time in his life. In his early twenties, he was working his way through college when he suffered an accident that left him flat broke and physically deformed. When Mitch decides to make a fresh start in a new town, things start looking up. He finds a place to live, a decent job, good friends. He even meets a nice girl. Unknown to Mitch, his new girlfriend is one of the Elder Race, what some call the Faerie Folk. Mitch doesn’t know that Elizabeth is looking for a father she never knew. The key to finding him is somehow tied up with the mysterious Blade of Caro. Desperate, she steals the Blade from its protector, the despotic ruler of the World Below, the Dragon of Worms, Baron Finkbeiner. When Elizabeth is kidnapped by the Baron, Mitch is pulled into a world or magic and monsters he never imagined.

A to Z Challenge: John Picacio

The A to Z Challenge is a meme posting every day (except Sundays) in April. Check out the list of 2000+ participants and follow along for 26 days (and 26 letters) of fun. The 2-letter code after each blog name may help narrow your choices - (BO) is Books, (WR) is Writing, (PH) is Photography . . . and, if you're concerned about those NSFW pages, (AC) is Adult Content.

For my theme, I thought I'd do something I generally try very hard not to do, and that is judge a book by its cover. Yes, this year my A to Z Challenge is all about the cover artists who give the books we know and love so much damn shelf appeal.

Continuing through the alphabet, we have John Picacio, the man behind the amazing covers below:







A nice variety of styles and looks, but I think the 2 Moorcock covers are my personal favorites (although the work he's done with Chadbourn is pretty amazing as well).

Be sure to check out his site here.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Review: Haunted Ontario 3 by Terry Boyle

Wow, talk about coming full-circle. When I first began blogging (about 5 years ago now), it was to share photos and stories of historic and abandoned buildings around Ontario (hence the name Beauty in Ruins). I've always been fascinated by ghost stories, so it just seemed a natural connection to add them into the mix and pair stories with photos. Every weekend I'd drag my family on road trips across the province, driving for hours just to snap a few photos of an abandoned homes and neglected cemeteries. For me, half of the appeal was in the appreciation of these beautiful old structures, often falling into ruin, but still evoking memories of the past. The other half of the appeal was in the depth of the stories, particularly those with a solid history to help illuminate the ghostly sights and sounds.

Terry Boyle's first two Haunted Ontario books were a part of my road map during those days, along with Barbara Smith's Ontario Ghost Stories, John Robert Colombo's Ghost Stories of Ontario, and more. For that reason, I was excited (not to mention surprisingly nostalgic) to see Haunted Ontario 3: Ghostly Historic Sites, Inns, and Miracles come my way for review. Unfortunately, reading it also reminded me of why I lost interest in the original idea behind the blog. I dropped out just as the current ghost-hunter craze was creeping in, as pseudo-science, psychic impressions, orb photography, and shaky-cam 'proof' got in the way of what mattered to me - the ruins, the history, and the stories.

A significant portion of the book is dedicated to the stories of Black Creek Pioneer Village, which are interesting as much for the history of the buildings themselves, with most of them actually relocated from across the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), bringing their ghosts with them. The story of the Blue Elephant Restaurant in Simcoe is one of my favorites, with a tragic love story behind the apparitions, cold spots, and other odd occurrences, while the Baldoon Mystery is fascinating as an historical ghost story, with the unusual events recorded back in the early 1800s. Greystones Inn in Orangeville is another great story, simple in its history and uncluttered with psychic impressions, complete with customer guest book comments about their experiences. The story of Port Perry Town Hall is another classic one, filled with strange sights and sounds, while Herongate Barn Theatre has a suicide that lies behind the story.

Perhaps my favorite in the collection, however, is the last - that of the Keefer Mansion Inn in Thorold, a place I've visited many a time. Constructed in 1886, the stone structure has served as everything from a private home to a maternity ward to a critical care hospital to an inn over the years. Its stories include a bed upon which some invisible figure appears to site, a child's handprint appearing on the window, and doors slamming (not just swinging) open and shut on their own.

Ultimately, however, while there are some interesting historical tidbits here, along with some great stories, there's far too much reliance on the pseudo-science elements for my taste. Ghost stories are most appealing to me when ordinary people encounter something spooky and unsettling, with the history of the site shedding additional light on their story, or where the inconsistencies from one witness to another simply can't be explained. Here there are far too many instances where psychic impressions are the whole story, or where mediums are relied upon to interpret their own emotions and experiences in resolving those inconsistencies.

Maybe it's a reflection of our times, and readers will be drawn to Haunted Ontario 3 by the elements that I find so distracting, but I prefer to share in the experiences of ordinary people, and I really do feel it's okay for things to be unknown and unexplained - in fact, sometimes that's what makes the strange sounds and sights so chilling!


ebook, 288 pages
Published April 14th 2014 by Dundurn Group

A to Z Challenge: Glen Orbik

The A to Z Challenge is a meme posting every day (except Sundays) in April. Check out the list of 2000+ participants and follow along for 26 days (and 26 letters) of fun. The 2-letter code after each blog name may help narrow your choices - (BO) is Books, (WR) is Writing, (PH) is Photography . . . and, if you're concerned about those NSFW pages, (AC) is Adult Content.

For my theme, I thought I'd do something I generally try very hard not to do, and that is judge a book by its cover. Yes, this year my A to Z Challenge is all about the cover artists who give the books we know and love so much damn shelf appeal.

Continuing through the alphabet, we have Glen Orbik, a man who has returned a very retro-pulp look to the genre:









King's Hard Case novels are a perfect fit for Orbik's style, as are the Crichton and Doyle reprints, but I think it's the Star Wars Corsucant Nights series that really impressed me - space opera and pulp noir seem an odd combination until you see it . . . and then it all clicks.

Be sure to check out his site here.