Friday, March 27, 2015

WTF Friday: The New Bizarro Author Series

Every once in a while, as the mood strikes me, I like to indulge in those titles that are a bit odd . . . a bit different . . . a bit bizarre . . . and a bit freaky. These are books that don't get a lot of press, and which rarely get any retail shelf space.

They're often an underground of sort of literature, best shared through guilty whispers, and often with embarrassed grins. These are our WTF Friday reads!

For this week's feature, Donald brings us a trio of reviews from the New Bizarro Author Series, which pretty much defines the essence of WTF weird.

Deep Blue by Brian Auspice 
The machine is alive and Tuesday may never come, but if you can't beat them then join them.

A fast paced journey through the life of John, in a town who cares of nothing anymore. Who wants to be a man in the jar, fed to a machine, waiting for a Tuesday that will never come. This book packs a dark storyline of the human condition. Taxi drivers with no faces, driving around town between violet, gray, and red districts, and one man's journey to feed a machine nightly for nothing in return.

If you want something new to read with bizarre, interesting, poetic storytelling, then grab a copy of Deep Blue. The title alone lets you know its out there......but don't forget your coat.

Paperback, 82 pages
Published October 20th 2014 by Eraserhead Press

Pax Titanus by Tom Lucas 
A BIG! four/half stars.

Tom Lucas takes the gladiator battles to a whole new universe. Very strong characters (literally) and a likeable storyline. My early guesses were not corrected (Titanus's final battle guess and the outcome of the final battle), so that gives my thoughts on a awesome twist.

Titanus is a hero on his planet with a very, very BIG member, asked to join in on some arena battles with many different monsters from around the universe. On top of that, his son has been kidnapped and is being held hostage until he competes in the deadly battles. This is not WWE wrestling - here you leave your opponent dead in puddles of blood.

I'm calling for a BIG! sequel. More blood, more monster creativity, and the future (Titanus Jr.) to take more of a beating like Rocky did in his blockbuster battle against Apollo Creed.

Massive war hammers, a coach full of cuss words, sexual seepage ooze, and crushed skulls, all crammed together in this BIG epic arena style battles. Tom Lucas knocks a memorable sci-fi out of this world... GET SOME!

And always think BIG!

Paperback, 124 pages
Published October 20th 2014 by Eraserhead Press

SuperGhost by Scott Cole 
I'm calling this an "Ode to Ghostbusters" Funny, outrageous Bizarro and a very smart idea.

When a scientist pulls the curtains on his new creation, three friends are in tune to save the city they live in from destruction. The giant collection of Phantom Limbs, all pieced together, and somewhere in that giant heaping pile are their own phantom limbs and they want them back - despite the pain they gave them.

It begins with missing appendages jokes and a support group. A mad scientist that could have been one of the most intelligent to walk the earth, and an ending kinda like the famous kid song "On top of Spaghetti" and what happens to that item. But the mind of Scott Cole gives a whole new meaning to "Meatball"

Overall it's a ghost story in the likes of those slapstick style movies with gut wrenching laughter, and the Bizarro goodness that tastes so good with ice cream, no matter what flavor it is.

Paperback, 112 pages
Published October 20th 2014 by Eraserhead Press

Thursday, March 26, 2015

A World Apart by L.J.K Oliva (GUEST POST)

I briefly consider denying it, only to remember what Darius deCompostela does for a living.  I didn't make him a detective for nothing.  I cast what feels like a furtive glance around the tiny dim sum restaurant my creation has chosen for lunch.  Finally, I scowl down at my plate of steamed pork buns.

He's got me.  Worse, I suspect he knows it.

LJKO: Look, he's out of town on family business, okay?  Besides, you have your own book coming up.  I'm sure people wouldn't mind knowing more about you.

Darius deCompostela gives me a look I can't quite read.  Not that that's anything new.  He's an enigma wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a perfectly tailored suit.  Today it's gray wool over a crisp lavender shirt, with tie and pocket square in complementary shades of navy, violet, and periwinkle.
He would think I was crazy if I mentioned how good it looks on him.

DdC: So this is why you brought me here.  Bribery.

LJKO: Shameless, I know.  So, what do you say?

Wielding a pair of chopsticks with flawless skill, he pops a whole piece of har gau into his mouth.  He chews thoughtfully, then washes it down with a heavy sip of green tea.

DdC: What's in it for me?

I groan.

LJKO: Shrimp dumplings aren't enough?

He gives me a deadpan look.

DdC: Please.  I may be easy, but I'm not cheap.

I know for a fact he is neither easy nor cheap.  I groan again.  My list of questions is burning a hole in my pocket.  At this rate, we'll never get to them.

Darius arches an eyebrow.

I blow out a breath.

LJKO: Fine.  What if I give you a really, really hot sex scene in your book?

His other eyebrow goes up.

DdC: You serious?

LJKO: I'm a writer.  We never joke about such things.

He puts on a show of thinking about it, presumably for my benefit.  Then he gives me a short, sharp nod.

DdC: What's the first question?

I don't pause to savor my triumph.  I snatch the slip of paper from my pocket, and read it off.

LJKO: What impression do you make on people when they first meet you?

Darius snorts.

DdC: I scare the fuck out of them.

I don't ask if that bothers him.  He's trying to be flip—again, presumably for my benefit—but I've known him long enough to know it does.  I move on to the follow-up.

LJKO: How about after they've known you for a while?

Darius shrugs.

DdC: Hard to say.  Guess they like me all right.

LJKO: Your introspectiveness is truly refreshing.

DdC: Well, shit, what do you want me to say?  MacMillian and I have been sharing an office for...

He mentally calculates.

LJKO: Three years.  Give or take.

He rolls his eyes.

DdC: Wise-ass.  Fine.  Three years.  He hasn't tried to break my nose yet.  You ask me, that means he likes me.

I give him that.

LJKO: How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change?

DdC: My life right now...fine, I guess.  I mean, it's as good as it's ever been.

LJKO: And if you could change anything?

DdC: Well, there is that little matter of being able to see and hear dead people.  Think you could do something about that, oh all-powerful author-God?

I make a mental note to have that embossed on my business cards.

LJKO: Sorry.  No can do, Ghost Whisperer.

He mutters something under his breath about "writers and their stupid plot devices."  I graciously pretend not to hear.

LJKO: What's the most important thing in your life? What do you value most?

I can tell from the hard set to his mouth he's debating telling me to fuck off, but the promise of cosmic sex apparently wins out.

DdC: My privacy.

LJKO: Is that all?

DdC: And my Ray Charles collection.

I roll my eyes and move on.

LJKO: What's the worst thing that's happened in your life?

DdC: What the fuck kind of question is that?

LJKO: I'm sorry, okay?  I got these off the Internet.  But we had a deal.  Come on, D, I'd hate to have to give you a string of mediocre sex scenes...

Darius scowls, but is saved having to answer by the arrival of the dim sum cart.  It's being pushed by the most stereotypical Chinese-grandmother-type I've ever see in my life.  Darius's eyes light up at the assortment of dishes on offer.  He looks back at me.

DdC: Mind if I...?

LJKO: Go for it.  You're better at this than I am.

DdC: That is true.

He sweeps a quick, critical eye over the dishes again, then gestures.

DdC: Wo yao yi cha siu bao, wah tip, fung zao.

I try not to look impressed.  The cart auntie beams like he's her long-lost son, and shuffles the specified plates to our table.  She asks something in what I guess is Cantonese.  Darius nods, and she refills our teacups.  Darius taps the table with his pointer and middle fingers.

DdC:  Mmm goi.

Auntie: Mmm sai.

She smiles again, and moves on.

LJKO: So, what exactly am I being subjected to here?

Darius is already helping himself to a gelatinous morsel that smells heavenly and looks suspiciously like a chicken foot.  Sure enough...

DdC: So, these are chicken feet in black bean sauce.

He uses his chopsticks to point to the other plates.

DdC: Those are pot stickers, and the other ones are barbequed pork dumplings.

I stare down at the remnants of my last steamed pork bun.

LJKO: Oh, god.  Not more pork.

Darius rolls his eyes.

DdC: Don't even play, porkivore.

LJKO: Touché.

We tuck into the food with gusto.  I've always like that about Darius; we share similar appetites.  Under the influence of delicious piggy parts, I feel suddenly generous.

LJKO: Okay, forget that last question.  It'll come out in your book, anyway.

DdC: Great.  That supposed to make me feel better?

I shrug.

LJKO: I get to ask one more question, though.

DdC: Of course you do.

I chew on my pork bun thoughtfully.  I want this last question to be meaningful.  Probing.  Something that will get to the meat of the man in front of me.  A man who, if I'm being completely honest, scares the fuck out of me.

I take a deep, fortifying breath and go for it.

LJKO: What do you want?

Darius gives me another one of those looks I can't read.  Then he reaches out with his chopsticks and plucks a chicken foot off the plate between us.  There's the barest hint of a twinkle in his black eyes.

DdC: More fung zao.


About the Author

L.J.K Oliva is the devil-may-care alter-ego of noir romance novelist Laura Oliva.  She likes her whiskey strong, her chocolate dark, and her steak bloody.  L.J.K. likes monsters... and knows the darkest ones don't live in closets.

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About the Book

A World Apart (Shades Below: Book One)
L.J.K Oliva

Genre: Urban fantasy

"There are things that go bump in the night, Mr. MacMillian.  It's my job to bump back."

Private investigator Jesper MacMillian was sure he'd seen it all.  After all, in a city like San Francisco, strange is what's for breakfast.  Following a long  recovery after a horrific accident, his life is finally the way he wants it- or at least, close enough.  The only monsters on his radar are the ones that keep him awake at night.
All that changes the day he meets Lena Alan.

Before MacMillian has a chance to brace for impact, Lena drags him into a world where monsters aren't just real, they're hiding in plain sight.  Suddenly, everything he knows is suspect, starting with his current case.  For Lena, a medium since childhood, it's just another day at the office.

For MacMillian, it's the beginning of the end of everything he thinks he knows.

Tough Travels with . . . Beloved Mounts

Every Thursday, Nathan (over at Fantasy Review Barn) leads the gang in touring the mystical countryside, looking for fun and adventure. His Tough Traveling feature picks one of the most common tropes in fantasy each week, as seen in The Tough Guide to Fantasyland by Diana Wynn Jones, and invites us to join in the adventure. All are invited to take part, so if you're joining the journey late, no worries . . . we'll save you a spot in the caravan.

This week’s tour topic is: BELOVED MOUNTS

A combination of suggestions from several people, as it seems many want to talk about the various animals that people in fantasyland ride. So be they horse, bear, or other let’s talk about favorite rides.

The Lord of the Rings brings us one of the coolest horses to ever grace the page, a noble steed that not even the horse-riding tribes of the Rohirrim were able to tame. Shadowfax was, however, tamed by Gandalf and served as his brave, noble, steadfast steed from then on.

Mercedes Lackey was the first author I can remember who elevated horses to something more than just a wild animal. In her Heralds of Valdemar books, they are magical Companions who choose the human ride to whom they'll bond. In The Last Herald-Mage Series it is Yfandes, a caring and protective horse-like creature, who chooses Vanyel and serves as his loyal Companion.

While unicorns are often portrayed as pretty, magical creatures, in The Obsidian Trilogy (co-written by Lackey & Mallory), the unicorns are smaller, almost pony-sized steeds who abhor the touch of a demon, are most comfortable around virgins . . . and are general smart-asses. When Shalkan rescues Kellen from the Outlaw Hunt, Kellen finds himself bound to both the unicorn and celibacy for an entire year.

Kristen Britain's Green Rider series brings us Condor, the mount of Karigan G'ladheon, the Green Rider at the heart of the series - although she simply calls him Horse. Condor is a Messenger Horse from the Wanda Plains, one of the magical beasts that somehow know when a Rider need a new mount. Tall, long-necked, and long-legged, Condor bears the scars of serving its first rider, F'ryan Coblebay.

There are only two horses who appear in every book of the Wheel of Time series. The first is Bela, the shaggy brown mare owned by Tam al'Thor, ridden most often by Egwene al'Vere (including a dream version), and Mandarb, the highly trained warhorse ridden by al'Lan Mandragoran. Bela is a placid, but loyal beast who really doesn't really seem like much, but who does get to be a hero in the end. Mandarb, on the other hand, is a living weapon who is a hero throughout the series, earning his fair share of scares in the process.

A similar warhorse is found in A Song of Ice and Fire - Stranger, Sandor Clegane's warhorse. Strange is a massive, savage, black warhorse that violently lashes out at anybody who tries to get near, but who is a gentle companion to Sandor. Whereas Mandarb simply meant 'blade,' Stranger is named for the god of death and outcasts, a name that has specific meaning to Sandor.

The Stormlight Archive offers us the Ryshadium, another breed of horses who pick their riders. The fact that Dalinar and Adolin have their own Ryshadium mounts is a source of rage and frustration for Sadeas, who has never been similarly chosen, and who cannot buy himself such a horse. Dalinar's horse is a black beast by the name of Gallant, while Adolin's is a white stallion named Sureblood. These horses are strong enough to bear the weight of a Shardbearer, and smart enough to communicate with them, even obeying commands during the heat of battle.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Positive by David Wellington

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

Positive by David Wellington
Kindle Edition, 448 pages
Expected publication: April 21st 2015 by Harper Voyager 

In the bestselling vein of Guillermo Del Toro and Justin Cronin, the acclaimed author of Chimera and The Hydra Protocol delivers his spectacular breakout novel—an entertaining page-turning zombie epic that is sure to become a classic.

Anyone can be positive . . .

The tattooed plus sign on Finnegan's hand marks him as a Positive. At any time, the zombie virus could explode in his body, turning him from a rational human into a ravenous monster. His only chance of a normal life is to survive the last two years of the potential incubation period. If he reaches his twenty-first birthday without an incident, he'll be cleared.

Until then, Finn must go to a special facility for positives, segregated from society to keep the healthy population safe. But when the military caravan transporting him is attacked, Finn becomes separated. To make it to safety, he must embark on a perilous cross-country journey across an America transformed—a dark and dangerous land populated with heroes, villains, madmen, and hordes of zombies. And though the zombies are everywhere, Finn discovers that the real danger may be his fellow humans.

Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome meets World War Z and I Am Legend in this thrilling tale that has it all: a compelling story, great characters, and explosive action, making Positive the ultimate zombie novel of our time.

Generally, zombies just don't do it for me, but this sounds like a very cool approach to the genre. It sounds strange to hear it described as Wellington's breakout novel when he already has a dozen titles on the shelf, but I hope it does thrust him into the mainstream. Despite my complaints about the last Jim Chapel adventure, I like his style, from what I've read (the ARC has been sitting on my Kobo since November), this should be great.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Horror Review: The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker

Disclaimer: I received an ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. While I make every attempt to avoid spoilers, please be aware that an ARC synopsis, press release, or review request may disclose details that are not revealed in the published cover blurb.

Like many fans, I entered into The Scarlet Gospels with significant expectations. Not only is it Clive Barker's first novel for adults since 2007, it's one he's been teasing since 1993. Over the course of those 20+ years it's grown from just another short story destined for a new Books of Blood collection to a massive 232,000 word epic, before being edited back down to the 100,000 word final book. That means, of course, that more than half the story has been edited out of the final text, including many of the scenes Barker himself has teased. There's no Joseph and the Holy Grail to be found in its pages; no first encounter between Pinhead and a 12 year old Harry D'Amour; and no conversation between Harry and Jesus, discussing the subject of suffering, and remarking on how Pinhead's nails are akin to his crown of thorns.

While I would have loved nothing more than to immerse myself in another Imajica-length door-stopper, I'm actually glad none of those scenes are to be found here. This is Pinhead's story. This is the story of Hell. There's no room in it for the 'other side' to tell their story. Similarly, with Harry serving more as witness here than epic hero, it's simply not important for him and Pinhead to have ever met . . . and the story works better for it.

The Scarlet Gospels is the dark, bloody, brutal, magnificently epic horror novel we've needed from Clive Barker for so long. If you've worried that absence may have made the heart grow softer, or that he'd have trouble getting back into the blood after so long spent in the Abarat, then fear not. This is a book that's influenced by his entire career, seamlessly meshing the sadomasochistic brutality of The Hellbound Heart with the epic mythology of Weaveworld, while incorporating the same depth of character we found in Sacrament. More than that, after the somewhat sterile novella that was Mister B. Gone, Barker has recaptured the power of his narrative voice, marking a return to the kind of storytelling where you're compelled to linger over every word.

The first third of the novel is a contemporary horror story, full of magic, ghosts, demons, and monsters. It serves to establish Pinhead as more than just another opportunistic Cenobite answering the call of Lemarchand's box, establishes Norma Paine as a friend for whom Harry D'Amour would willingly go to Hell to save, introduces Harry to the horrors of Lemarchand's box, and introduces Pinhead to the one mortal worthy of being considered a true adversary. It's dark and it's violent, but there are also some strong touches of humor, especially with the banter between Harry and his crew.

Once the story shifts to Hell, however, it's a whole different story. Pinhead's march through the streets of Hell and into the Monastery of the Cenobitic Order is some fantastic stuff, with images that linger with the reader long after the cover is closed. Barker describes it as an immense fortress of sadomasochistic solitude, built over seven hundred thousand years ago to isolate its priests from the politics of Hell. There's a confrontation here that allows Pinhead to put his grand scheme into motion, with bespelled origami birds, deathly plagues, and a fog the likes of which has never been seen before. Following that we have a suitably epic journey across the landscape of Hell, taking us through the cities of the damned, a wilderness of dead trees, and across a lake haunted by a monstrous force of pure hunger and malevolence - all to reach the hidden, secret fortress of Lucifer himself.

If I were to have one minor complaint about the novel, it's that this really isn't the 'Pinhead versus Harry' tale that we were promised. While Harry undertakes his epic journey for the noblest of reasons, entering Hell itself to save Norma's body and soul, it turns out he's really only been drawn there to witness Pinhead's grand plan. The two do have their confrontations, and they are brilliantly entertaining, but Harry has absolutely no hand in Pinhead's fate. Fortunately, by the time we get to the end of the novel, we've already come to realize that his is Pinhead's story (not Harry's), and when a creature of such monstrous cruelty is striving to do no less than overthrow Lucifer's throne . . . well, he deserves a foil even greater, even more mythic, than the Cenobite himself.

As works of epic mythology go, The Scarlet Gospels is absolutely magnificent. At this point, it's hard to add much to the story of Hell, but Barker succeeds brilliantly. It's absolutely breathtaking the way he just keeps upping the tension and expanding the scope, adding layer upon layer to the horror, even as he takes us deeper and deeper into Hell. The final set piece is . . . well, there's not much I can say about it without spoiling the story, but it's one of the finest Barker has ever created. The finale may leave some readers feeling a little unsettled, especially with the odd sort of epilogue (with it's entirely self-indulgent, yet gloriously satisfying confrontation with a wealthy preacher), but so long as you remember this is Pinhead's story, it all works.

Hardcover, 368 pages
Expected publication: May 19th 2015 by St. Martin's Press

Monday, March 23, 2015

Horror Review: The Wolf at His Door by Adrian Lilly

As opening scenes go, The Wolf at His Door has one hell of a kick-ass means of dragging us, kicking and screaming, into the story. It all begins with a flashback to a pregnant mother, suffering from both physical and emotional distress, convinced that something is terribly wrong with her unborn child. It's a chilling scene, and one in which this woman attempts some unspeakable acts in an attempt to end the life eating her alive from the inside.

I thought I knew what to expect from Adrian Lilly's pitch, but was excited to discover that this is a full-on, hardcore horror novel - with a strong undercurrent of mystery. It goes to some very dark places, and takes some exceptionally violent roads to get there. Werewolves are often wasted in the genre, used to symbolize some sort of internal struggle, but Lilly lets the wild side of the monsters loose. They are allowed to be monstrous here, to be wild and fearsome, with matted fur and bloody fangs contributing to the carnage.

Similarly, where I expected the gay romance to be more of a factor here, with a strong connection between coming out as either gay or wolf, it's less of a plot device and more of a character element. Lilly doesn't devote a lot of attention to building up the romance, and simply drops the sexuality angle into the story, with no time wasted on big revelations. Alec and Jared are friends who happen to be gay, but it's their friendship that's central to the story, not the romance.

If I were to have one complaint about the novel, it's that the characters don't always make a lot of sense, and fall prey to poor decisions again and again. There were numerous instances where I thought they were slow to react, or where I felt their response to the horror and carnage around them was somewhat muted. It's a shame, because the story itself is strong, and the horror element is fantastic, and I think stronger character reactions would have really helped to sell the fear.

With The Wolf at His Door being the first book of a trilogy, there's a lot of world-building and mythology that's hinted at, but not yet fully developed, and that's a bit of a frustration. The plot is both deep and complex, with some creative twists (including those not yet fully revealed), while the gruesome scenes are superb, especially when contrasted against the few romantic/erotic elements. You can sense this larger story beneath it all, though, one that has much larger implications than just a family struggle, but it seems we'll have to wait for the next two books to have it fully developed. What is here, however, is interesting enough to make me want to keep reading, and that's about all you can ask for the opening stanza to a larger tale.

ebook, 348 pages
Published July 2nd 2013 by One House Hill