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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

What Rayden Valkyrie Offers to Today's World


I've said many times that Rayden Valkyrie has become the character that enjoy the most when it comes to my writing.  With my roots in fantasy, there is no question that the world she travels and explores holds great appeal to me, as do the plots that she is a part of.

Above all, though, the things that she offers the world of today comprise the majority of reasons as to why she has become so near and dear to me.

An inspirational character is timeless. It doesn't matter if they are in an ancient world setting, such as the one Rayden Valkyrie lives in, a modern one, or some distant futuristic one in a galaxy far away.  It is through inspirational characters that light can come into the world from the page, especially during trying times.

The inspirational qualities of Rayden Valkyrie were battle-tested with me before the first manuscript was ever sent to an editor.  From the first time I grasped a vision of her character, she served as a beacon of inspiration during some personal times of trial for myself.  I have since seen her become an inspiration for many readers, several of whom have shared very personal stories that illustrate why they developed a close bond with the Rayden character.

Looking at Rayden and the world of today, I can see a number of ways in which she can have a positive impact.

The essence of Rayden is self-esteem and self-confidence.  She believes in herself and knows both her strengths and weaknesses.  She is confident without becoming arrogant, and this confidence encourages those she assists and gives pause to enemies confronting her.  In a world where so many struggle with issues of self-esteem and confidence, Rayden calls to everyone to believe in themselves, and stand tall each and every day.  Through her character, she gives encouragement to develop that inner strength that comes from self-esteem and self-confidence, and that is something I see a great need for in the world of today.

Self-determination is another key component of Rayden's inspirational ability.  When she decides on a course of action, she sets out to accomplish her aims without second-guessing or wavering.  She does not allow others to control her or tell her what she should be.  She follows her heart, something a lot of people are dissuaded from and discouraged from doing in our world.

Rayden also exudes a high level of discipline.  She trains hard, and regularly, to keep up her fighting skills and advance them.  She keeps a focus on the things that must be done, and adheres to them with a steadfast approach.

She is not one to procrastinate or do something halfway.  Her discipline and ability to take the small steps every day that build up to make major steps possible separates her from most of the crowd, but it also serves as a good model of what it takes to be successful in any kind of pursuit.  In that way, she speaks powerfully to the world of today.

Rayden is also an independent thinker.  In a world where there is a tendency or drive to categorize people, and fit them into neat boxes and apply labels to them, Rayden is a character that shuns categorization and labeling. Her moral code can find genuine connection with people of all types and backgrounds.

This core is something not driven by politics, religion, or any sort of ideology, but truly on an individual level, guided by what she finds to be right or wrong.  It is in this area of true independent thought that she stands as a major threat to the characters in her world that seek to control others.

In a similar way, she calls to the people of our world to think for themselves, question everything, make use of reason, and scrutinize situations on a case by case basis.  A person that becomes that sort of individual is not one that can be labeled or grouped, and these kinds of individuals are perhaps the greatest obstacle to the would-be puppet masters of the world.

Living with an honor code is another defining characteristic of Rayden that I find to be part of her inspirational appeal.  It is a dynamic aspect of her character, as she is always honing herself and working to live up to the ideals and values she embraces.  She is not dogmatic, but neither is she bogged down by a mindset that is afraid to identify rights and wrongs.

Rayden respects differences and the many varied things found among other people and cultures, but not to the point where she gives a pass to things that she sees as true evils.  If she encounters a wickedness, she will confront it and does not care one bit what others might say or whether her action will be popular.   This kind of honor code is not something that needs validation from others, and it is a harder road to travel, but develops the kind of people who will not stand by in the face of tyranny, abuses, and other evils that plague the lives of people worldwide.

As a character, Rayden has a lot to offer the people of today.  Through her actions, she serves as a powerful example of what an individual can be for others.  In a world that so many are finding increasingly rudderless and uncertain, she can be a beacon in the darkness, and this is why I have grown to have such a passion for her character and story.

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About the Author

Stephen Zimmer is an award-winning author and filmmaker based out of Lexington Kentucky. His works include the Rayden Valkyrie novels (Sword and Sorcery), the Rising Dawn Saga (Cross Genre), the Fires in Eden Series (Epic Fantasy), the Hellscapes short story collections (Horror), the Chronicles of Ave short story collections (Fantasy), and the Harvey and Solomon Tales (Steampunk).

Stephen’s visual work includes the feature film Shadows Light, shorts films such as The Sirens and Swordbearer, and the forthcoming Rayden Valkyrie: Saga of a Lionheart TV Pilot.

Stephen is a proud Kentucky Colonel who also enjoys the realms of music, martial arts, good bourbons, and spending time with family.

Twitter:  @SGZimmer
Instagram: @stephenzimmer7

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About the Book

Thunder Horizon
by Stephen Zimmer

A deadly menace stalks the shadows of the lands to the north, stirring the winds of war. Farther south, the power of the Teveren Empire spreads with every passing day, empowered by dark sorcery. Formidable legions bent on conquest are on the march, slavery and subjugation following in their wake.

Within the rising maelstrom, Rayden Valkyrie has returned to the Gessa, to stand with the tribe that once took her into their care as a child. No amount of jewels or coin can sway her, nor can the great power of her adversaries intimidate her.

With a sword blade in her right hand and axe in her left, Rayden confronts foes both supernatural and of flesh and blood. Horrific revelations and tremendous risks loom; some that will see Rayden's survival in the gravest of peril.

Even if Rayden and the Gessa survive the trials plaguing their lands, the thunder of an even darker storm booms across the far horizon.

Thunder Horizon is the second book in the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy.


Heart of a Lion
by Stephen Zimmer

Rayden Valkyrie. She walks alone, serving no king, emperor, or master. Forged in the fires of tragedy, she has no place she truly calls home.

A deadly warrior wielding both blade and axe, Rayden is the bane of the wicked and corrupt. To many others, she is the most loyal and dedicated of friends, an ally who is unyielding in the most dangerous of circumstances.

The people of the far southern lands she has just aided claim that she has the heart of a lion. For Rayden, a long journey to the lands of the far northern tribes who adopted her as a child beckons, with an ocean lying in between.

Her path will lead her once more into the center of a maelstrom, one involving a rising empire that is said to be making use of the darkest kinds of sorcery to grow its power. Making new friends and discoveries amid tremendous peril, Rayden makes her way to the north.

Monstrous beasts, supernatural powers, and the bloody specter of war have been a part of her world for a long time and this journey will be no different. Rayden chooses the battles that she will fight, whether she takes up the cause of one individual or an entire people.

Both friends and enemies alike will swiftly learn that the people of the far southern lands spoke truly. Rayden Valkyrie has the heart of a lion.

Heart of a Lion is the first book in the Dark Sun Dawn Trilogy.

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Friday, August 18, 2017

Promo Blitz: Shadows & Teeth Volume 3




Horror
Date Published: June 15, 2017
Publisher: Darkwater Syndicate, Inc.

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Out of the shadows and meaner than ever, volume three of this award-winning horror series packs international star power. Featuring ten brand-new stories by the legendary Guy N. Smith, the prolific Adam Millard, master of horror Nicholas Paschall, and others, this collection is certain to keep you up at night. Take care as you reach into these dark places, for the things here bite, and you may withdraw a hand short of a few fingers.




Excerpt

My body crumpled forward, my forehead resting on the floorboards. I would have remained this way, if I had not been roused by a shout from behind me. Rosario roared and shook his head like an enraged bull, stamping his feet and frothing between gritted teeth. He clutched his temples and shook his head, and when he had gathered enough clarity of mind, he leveled a penetrating stare at the djinni and yelled, “Enough!”
All around Rosario, the peasant men stood frozen as though they were statues, eyes on the djinni. Clenching his jaw, he staggered forward a step, inadvertently brushing against one of the men. The man instantly spilled to his knees in supplication, droning, “I adore thee, oh my lord!” in such rapid succession that the words were hardly perceptible.
Scowling with rage at this irreverence, Rosario let fly an uppercut swing with his hook. The metal flashed in the dim candlelight and caught the man in the crook of his lower mandible. The man did not so much as scream, so overawed was he by the djinni.
Rosario raised his arm aloft, lifting the man fully erect, looking like a fisherman with a prize catch. Then he tore his dagger out of his belt with his opposite hand and plunged it into the side of the man’s neck between the skull and the shoulders. The skin at the peasant’s neck pulled apart, opening his throat as though his shoulders were yawning wide, until at last the weight of his collapsing body snapped his head off his neck. The body slumped to its knees and spilled headlong, gushing blood in spurts from its severed arteries.
Something like a sigh came from the djinni. Then it said, “Man is a foolish child who calls many things gods. Man knows not the gods.”
Its skin seemed to dull, losing some of the magnificent radiance it exuded, and I found that I was no longer overawed in its presence. Rosario helped me to my feet and together we addressed the djinni. The remaining three peasants all were unconscious, seemingly asleep on the floor.
“In the name of the most high, I command you to speak your name, djinni!” I yelled, thinking it could be cowed in the same manner as a demon might.
The djinni’s eyes widened. If it had eyebrows, they would surely have bobbed at my effrontery. Its eyes narrowed into angry slits that contained all the deadly chill of a winter snowstorm. “Hadst thou instead come to visit me, I would have attended thee in the manner befitting of a guest. I would have filled thy mouth with rotten pus until thy belly were full. Thou wouldst have told me a great many wondrous things of thy life, and I, having learned such, would have sent thee home with an anus so full of scorpions the trail of blood behind thee would stretch for miles.”
The images each word represented, along with the concepts and sensations those phrases conveyed, flashed in my mind as the djinni spoke. They are as vivid now as then—by God, I still taste the pus! These images are always in the forefront of my mind, constantly playing out before my eyes, and it is hard to focus on anything else except through purposeful concentration.
“Wherefore hast thou brought me here?” it asked.
Seeing how my last attempt at communication had failed, I bowed my head and spoke in lowered tones. “Djinni, we have called you to ask a favor.”
“Indeed,” it cut me short, “it is always so when mortals call upon the djinn. Impudent humans! What boon seeketh ye? Be it pleasure? I shall show ye such pain that the greatest pleasure would be anticipating its end! I ask again: wherefore disturbest me thou?”
It was then I explained we sought to spare your daughter from the ailment that would surely take her, and requested the djinni’s succor.
The djinni sighed, if otherworldly beings can be said to sigh. “Alas, thy mortality is a concept thy limited intellect can only dimly grasp.” It looked down at the floor as it considered this, then raised its gaze to make eye contact with me. “What wouldst thou have me do? The child is already dead.”
An image of her flashed in my mind’s eye. I was there, in the room with Bernadette as she languished in her bed, delirious with fever. The eyes I saw her with were not my physical eyes, as they saw more than human eyes could ever hope to detect. Bernadette’s body was like a red-hot fireplace poker, glowing orange from her core. The glow collapsed on itself, giving way to lifeless, cold black, shriveling into her center like a bonfire shrunk to embers. I knew she was dead when the light faltered and snuffed out, leaving nothing but a dreadful stillness in its passing.
Brother, do not think for a moment that so terse an account of your daughter’s death should mean I was hard-hearted about the matter. Nothing could be further from the truth. She was my niece, and—by God!—my only living relative; that is, save for you of course, if ever you should return to read this.
Her passing crushed me. It opened wounds in me, wounds that weep much as my eyes might weep. And while time has dried my tears, it has done nothing to soothe the ache of missing her.
I was flashed back to my study with the djinni standing before me. The realization that Bernadette was dead weighted my body; I crumpled to my knees and collapsed to all fours.
All of this, for naught! Frustration churned the searing bile in my stomach. “You must be able to do something,” I pleaded.
The djinni cocked its head to one side. “Thou hast misunderstood. I can do a great many things.”
“You could not save her!”
“Thou didst not ask.”
My mouth went dry on realizing it was right—I had not asked it to save her from the disease. “Save her!” I blurted, figuring this was as good a time to ask as any.
“I cannot. She has died.”
I plunged my fingers into my hair and clawed at my scalp. “Quit speaking in circles!”
“I speak as plainly as I can. Ye men possess little aptitude for understanding.”
“If you cannot save her, then…” I stammered. At the time, I did not know why I had broken off; I was only aware that I had stopped mid-sentence. I had found that strange, especially since I had already deliberated on what it was I wanted to say before saying it. In retrospect, I think I know what halted my tongue—some combination of my conscience and divine intervention giving me one last chance before I could commit a heinous sin.
“Then… bring her back,” I finished my sentence.
“It is already done.”
I blinked, and then again, looking upon the djinni in mute shock as its words sunk into my mind. Was Bernadette alive? When had she been brought back—when I asked, or sometime prior? Had she even died? It was not lost on me that the djinni could be lying, but before I could ask any questions, it said, “Thy niece lies upon her deathbed. Lay her body down in this circle before moonrise tomorrow night, and thou shall have what thou seeketh.”
A thought occurred to me then that I wanted to give voice to, but I stopped myself. To even reflect upon it sent shivers down my spine. What might the djinni want of me in exchange?
As if it had sensed my thoughts, the djinni said, “Thou wonderest what thou must offer to uphold the bargain. Rest assured, human, thy debt is paid in advance.”


About the Author


Our award-winning horror series brings together the very best in international horror. Volume three features the UK’s legendary Guy N. Smith, the prolific Adam Millard, and master of horror Nicholas Paschall, among other established names in the genre.

Bio For Series Editor, Ramiro Perez: 
Born in Cuba in 1941, Ramiro Perez de Pereda has seen it all. Growing up in a time when then-democratic Cuba was experiencing unprecedented foreign investment, he was exposed to the U.S. pop culture items of the day. Among them: pulp fiction magazines, which young Ramiro avidly read and collected. Far and away, his favorites were the Conan the Barbarian stories by Robert E. Howard. Ramiro, now retired from the corporate life, is a grandfather of five. He devotes himself to his family, his writing, and the occasional pen-and-ink sketch. He writes poetry and short fiction under the name R. Perez de Pereda. He serves Darkwater Syndicate as its Head Acquisitions Editor—he heads the department, he does not collect heads, which is a point he has grown quite fond of making. Indeed, it’s one reason he likes his job so much.


Contact Links


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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: A Column of Fire by Ken Follett

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

A Column of Fire by Ken Follett
Expected publication: September 12, 2017 by Viking

International bestselling author Ken Follett has enthralled millions of readers with The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, two stories of the Middle Ages set in the fictional city of Kingsbridge. The saga now continues with Follett’s magnificent new epic, A Column of Fire.

In 1558, the ancient stones of Kingsbridge Cathedral look down on a city torn apart by religious conflict. As power in England shifts precariously between Catholics and Protestants, royalty and commoners clash, testing friendship, loyalty, and love.

Ned Willard wants nothing more than to marry Margery Fitzgerald. But when the lovers find themselves on opposing sides of the religious conflict dividing the country, Ned goes to work for Princess Elizabeth. When she becomes queen, all Europe turns against England. The shrewd, determined young monarch sets up the country’s first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions, and invasion plans. Over a turbulent half century, the love between Ned and Margery seems doomed as extremism sparks violence from Edinburgh to Geneva. Elizabeth clings to her throne and her principles, protected by a small, dedicated group of resourceful spies and courageous secret agents.

The real enemies, then as now, are not the rival religions. The true battle pitches those who believe in tolerance and compromise against the tyrants who would impose their ideas on everyone else—no matter what the cost.

Set during one of the most turbulent and revolutionary times in history, A Column of Fire is one of Follett’s most exciting and ambitious works yet. It will delight longtime fans of the Kingsbridge series and is the perfect introduction for readers new to Ken Follett.


I don't read a lot of historical fiction, but The Pillars of the Earth & World Without End are two book that I enjoyed (and appreciate) immensely. Hard to believe it's been 10 years, but I'm definitely up for the next chapter.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

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.



A pair of dark new titles this week, one from a fellow Canuck and the other from a scholar of Cenobites:

Worship Me by Craig Stewart
[August 1, 2017]
Something is listening to the prayers of St. Paul’s United Church, but it’s not the god they asked for; it’s something much, much older.

Before by Paul Kane
[September 5, 2017]
Described as "the dark fantasy version of Cloud Atlas," Kane's BEFORE is as wide in scope as it is in imagination


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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.

I'm just starting in on a few titles, so we'll see if they grab me - Sip by Brian Allen Carr and Wrath of the Ancients by Catherine Cavendish.


   

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Fantasy Review: The Black Elfstone by Terry Brooks

It has been a very long time since I last read a Terry Brooks novel but, as was the case with Raymond E. Feist bringing his Riftwar Cycle to a close, the prospect of seeing Shannara come to an end brought me back.

The Black Elfstone feels very much like a return to form for Brooks, despite it's disappointing page count and its unprecedented weight of darkness. It's a broad-sweeping epic fantasy, with multiple stories intertwined, a dire threat to the Druids, and a seemingly unstoppable force marching upon The Four Lands.

Everything and everyone here are in conflict, ranging from the intimate (between individuals) to the massive (between races). The only problem is, with such a short novel to kick-off the series, it isn't always clear how or why those conflicts are relevant. For instance, the whole storyline with Tarsha Kaynin' brother is a bit muddled, although I suspect his magical madness is establishing him as a foil for his sister somewhere down the line.

The characters are reasonably strong and interesting, something Brooks has always excelled at, but their motivations are somewhat suspect. For instance, Drisker Arc is an ex-Druid who evokes memories of Allanon, complete with his estrangement from Paranor, but his willingness to trust in old foes is foolish. Similarly. Dar Leah is a swashbuckling sort of hero, at the forefront of the action throughout the book, but it seems like he can't decide on when to take a stand - and it costs him. Finally, Tarsha Kaynin may be one of the strongest female characters Brooks has written, but even she can't decide between loyalties and impulsive frustration.

What ultimately redeems all of those flaws, however, is the finale. The Black Elfstone has a big climax, and pays off beautifully.

Hardcover, 318 pages
Published June 13th 2017 by Del Rey Books

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey
Expected publication: September 3, 2017 by Angry Robot

An apprentice sorceress is dragged into a vicious quest across an endless sky in this Star Wars-inspired space fantasy

The Axiom Diamond is a mythical relic, with the power to show its bearer any truth they desire. Men have sought for it across many continents for centuries, but in vain. When trainee sorceress Aimee de Laurent’s first ever portal-casting goes awry, she and her mentor are thrown into the race to find the gem, on the skyship Elysium. Opposing them are the infamous magic-wielding knights of the Eternal Order and their ruthless commander, Lord Azrael, who will destroy everything in their path...


I actually landed an ARC of this last week, so I won't be waiting quite as long as many of you, but I think you'll agree this sounds like a whole lot of awesome.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

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.



Just when I thought I was getting caught up on the review pile, a whole shelf-load of requests came through, including:

Skyfarer by Joseph Brassey
[September 5, 2017]

The Twilight Pariah by Jeffrey Ford
[September 12, 2017]

   

Paperbacks from Hell: A History of Horror Fiction from the '70s and '80s by Grady Hendrix
[September 19, 2017]


Wrath of the Ancients by Catherine Cavendish
[October 24, 2017]

   

Bubba and the Cosmic Blood-Suckers by Joe R. Lansdale
[October 31, 2017]

Seventh Decimate by Stephen R. Donaldson
[November 14, 2017]

   

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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.

While I'm still enjoying Weldon Burge's Zippered Flesh 3 and Terry Brooks' The Black Elfstone, it's been a rough week and I've been in a foul mood. So, rather than take out my anger on the people around me, I've reached into my Laymon/Lee/Little paperback shelf and indulged in some cruel horror escapism with Dispatch.


   


What's topping your shelves this week?

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Horror Review: Harkworth Hall by L.S. Johnson

Harkworth Hall is one of the most interesting stories I have read in quite a while. It's a deceptive piece of literature that seems to be one thing, but which has a whole other story lurking beneath the surface. L.S. Johnson simultaneously captures the feel of old-school Gothic romance and Victorian horror beautifully, but imbues it all with some contemporary sort of sexual confidence.

Rather than being your typical gothic protagonist, Caroline is a strong, confident woman, not afraid to play a role outside her father's approval. Mr. Masterson is an interesting twist on the gothic antagonist, a seemingly suave and sophisticated gentleman with ulterior motives, but it is Mr. Chase who brings the whole story together. Minor spoiler here, but he is actually a heroine in disguise, a woman who kindles an inappropriate spark within Caroline while working to expose her employer.

On top of the Gothic romance and Victorian horror, there is also a paranormal thriller that, perhaps, fits a bit awkwardly within the final pages, but makes for an enjoyable whole. Harkworth Hall wasn't at all what I was expecting, and it's all the better for the surprise.

Paperback, 164 pages
Published August 1st 2017 by Traversing Z Press

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday: The Core by Peter V. Brett

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, originally hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. Since Jill is no longer hosting it, I'm joining Can’t Wait Wednesday movement over at Wishful Endings.

The Core by Peter V. Brett
Expected publication: October 3, 2017 by Del Rey

New York Times bestselling author Peter V. Brett brings one of the most imaginative fantasy sagas of the twenty-first century to an epic close.

For time out of mind, bloodthirsty demons have stalked the night, culling the human race to scattered remnants dependent on half-forgotten magics to protect them. Then two heroes arose—men as close as brothers, yet divided by bitter betrayal. Arlen Bales became known as the Warded Man, tattooed head to toe with powerful magic symbols that enable him to fight demons in hand-to-hand combat—and emerge victorious. Jardir, armed with magically warded weapons, called himself the Deliverer, a figure prophesied to unite humanity and lead them to triumph in Sharak Ka—the final war against demonkind.

But in their efforts to bring the war to the demons, Arlen and Jardir have set something in motion that may prove the end of everything they hold dear—a Swarm. Now the war is at hand, and humanity cannot hope to win it unless Arlen and Jardir, with the help of Arlen’s wife, Renna, can bend a captured demon prince to their will and force the devious creature to lead them to the Core, where the Mother of Demons breeds an inexhaustible army.

Trusting their closest confidantes, Leesha, Inevera, Ragen, and Elissa, to rally the fractious people of the Free Cities and lead them against the Swarm, Arlen, Renna, and Jardir set out on a desperate quest into the darkest depths of evil—from which none of them expects to return alive.


I'm anxious to see how Brett wraps up the story, but so far my requests are pending on both NetGalley and Edelweiss. Who knows, maybe the publisher will see this and click that approve button. :)

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Memories of The Gunslinger (with The Dark Tower #giveaway)

I remember when The Gunslinger was an extremely rare, limited edition, highly sought after piece of Stephen King memorabilia. A collection five short stories, previously published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction between 1978 and 1981, that first novel had only 10,000 copies printed.

Compare that to Cujo, which was published the year before with 150,000 copies; Christine, which was published the same year with 270,000 copies; and Pet Sematary, which was published the year after with 250,000 copies; and you begin to get an idea of just how rare that first edition was.

Oddly enough, it was a book that might have slipped under the radar for most readers, if not for the fact that it was listed in Pet Sematary's bibliography. Here was this mysterious Stephen King novel that nobody had ever seen, and that wasn't carried in any bookstore. It was a mystery and that, of course, made fans like myself rabid for any news they could find about it.

It would be a long wait.

In fact, it wasn't until 1988 that The Gunslinger received its first mass market release, following publication of The Drawing of the Three and The Waste Lands, as a trade paperback edition that I still have on my shelf today. Then, in 2003, it joined the ranks of The Stand as the only King titles to get a revised and expanded edition - although that almost didn't happen.

Wizard and Glass was published in 1997, and then King nearly died in the infamous van accident less than 2 years later. With his frantic writing pace having slowed to a crawl, he even declared at one point that, due to the pain and his own frustration with his injuries, he would stop altogether - unless he came up with "something really, really good." Just when it seemed The Dark Tower saga might remain forever unfinished, that revised edition surprised everyone, with books 5, 6, and 7 - Wolves of the Calla, Song of Susannah, and The Dark Tower - coming out one after another during 2003 and 2004.

Now, after a decade of talks, including major plans with both J.J. Abrams and Ron Howard, Nikolaj Arcel is poised to finally bring the story to the big screen later this week.

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About the Book

The Dark Tower I: The Gunslinger
by Stephen King

Soon to be a major motion picture starring Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba

“An impressive work of mythic magnitude that may turn out to be Stephen King’s greatest literary achievement” (The Atlanta Journal-Constitution), The Gunslinger is the first volume in the epic Dark Tower Series.

A #1 national bestseller, The Gunslinger introduces readers to one of Stephen King’s most powerful creations, Roland of Gilead: The Last Gunslinger. He is a haunting figure, a loner on a spellbinding journey into good and evil. In his desolate world, which mirrors our own in frightening ways, Roland tracks The Man in Black, encounters an enticing woman named Alice, and begins a friendship with the boy from New York named Jake.

Inspired in part by the Robert Browning narrative poem, “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came,” The Gunslinger is “a compelling whirlpool of a story that draws one irretrievable to its center” (Milwaukee Sentinel). It is “brilliant and fresh…and will leave you panting for more” (Booklist).

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Giveaway

Thanks to the good people at Simon & Schuster Canada, I have one (1) copy of the movie tie-in edition to give away - Canadian mailing addresses only.

To enter, just leave a comment below with your favorite Stephen King book and I'll draw a random winner on Friday . . . just in time to catch the premiere!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

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.



Three new titles this week - a finished hardcover of Killing is My Business by Adam Christopher; a movie tie-in edition of The Gunslinger by Stephen King (watch for my Dark Tower giveaway coming up this week!); and an electronic ARC of  Zippered Flesh 3 edited by Weldon Burge (with stories by Graham Masterton, William F. Nolan, Jack Ketchum, and more).


   


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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.

A fresh start this week, with Weldon Burge's Zippered Flesh 3 an immediate must-read, and Terry Brooks attempting to rekindle my fantasy nostalgia with The Black Elfstone.

   

What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, July 28, 2017

Fantasy Review: The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams

Sometimes you really can't go home again.

I read "Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn" back in high school, which was 20+ years ago, for those of you trying to do the math. While I don't have strong memories of it, I think I enjoyed it. Otherland didn't work for me at all, but I chalked that up to my not being a fan of the whole virtual reality/gaming/scifi genre. The War of the Flowers was an OK read, but I figured my lack of enthusiasm was due to my preference for epic, multi-volume sagas. In that case, Shadowmarch should have been a near-perfect fit, yet I've been stuck on book 3 for years now. I abandoned it, and return to it, and abandoned it more times than I can count.

Anyway, that brings us back to The Witchwood Crown. I was looking forward to this, but when the read itself seemed to fall flat, I blamed it on the ugly PDF, wrestled onto an e-reader, format. Call me old-fashioned, but when it comes to epic fantasy I like to hold a big, thick book in my hands, flipping back and forth between maps, glossaries, dramatis personæ, and the story. So, I went out and bought the hardcover for myself . . . and have realized now that maybe it's time to stop looking for excuses.

To put it bluntly - and I realize I'm in the minority here - I didn't like it. Honestly. I found this new book to be very slow-moving, with only fleeting moments of excitement. Whether it's something new, or something I blocked from my memory of the original books, the emphasis on the 'new' pseudo-Christian mythology was beyond tedious to the point that it really started to eject me from the narrative. Worst of all, however, I didn't really like any of the characters. As interesting as it was to see Simon and Miriamele grown older, all they've seemed to do is suffer and linger on as royal figureheads. Whatever spark they had in the original saga is sadly absent here. It is Miriamele who bothered me the most, having gone from one the strongest women I can remember in epic fantasy to a sad Shakespearean figure, terrified by dreams, and wallowing in self-pity. Don't even get me started on Prince Morgan, perhaps the most distasteful, most tiresome character Williams has ever crafted.

Actually, when it comes down to it, I found the non-human characters far more interesting than any of the humans. I liked the scenes with the Norns quite a bit, and Binabik and his family provided the only real joy of the read - but that fact itself is problematic. Given a choice between old gods and new, occult power struggles and weak political maneuvering, and . . . well, just about any monster and Prince Morgan, I'm kind of hoping humanity falls, because they just don't seem to be worth saving.

Anyway, I slogged through several aborted attempts to read The Witchwood Crown, ultimately skimmed ahead, and forced myself to finish it, but I really do wonder why I bothered.

Hardcover, 721 pages
Published June 27th 2017 by Daw Books

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Humor Review: Straight Outta Fangton by C.T. Phipps

I find humor, more than any other genre, to be dangerously subjective. While fantasy, horror, and urban fantasy can afford to have hit-or-miss elements, humor tends to be all or nothing. Fortunately, C.T. Phipps already struck my funny bone with The Rules of Supervillainy, so I was more than willing to give Straight Outta Fangton a read.

Not only is it a funny book, but it's a creepy vampire story, a kick-ass action novel, and an intriguing urban fantasy at the same time. There's a lot going on here, Phipps keeps it all under control and ties it all together in an entirely satisfying read.

First, let's talk funny. The humor here is subtle and clever, more knowing nods and amused chuckles than laugh-out-loud slapstick, and it works. Most of that humor comes from the dialogue, but there's some genuine laughs in the narrative as well. Peter and David are at the heart of most of that humor, with their master-servant interplay as awkward as it is entertaining.

As for the vampires, these are your vintage bloodsuckers, scary and powerful, with dark legacies and internal politics. Most of the humor comes from their integration into society, with the youngest of the breed struggling to juggle day jobs with nocturnal hungers. There are so many pop culture nods, from Buffy to Necroscope, it's almost hard to keep up, but it adds an air of authenticity to the story.

The action novel and urban fantasy are tied together, especially with the epic battle that closes out the novel, pitting vampires against vampire hunters, religious fanatics, and other vampires. We're talking equal parts Underworld and The Matrix. That's also where the world building comes in, explaining how and why the vampires came to own/control so much of the world, and exploring the racism, bigotry, and religious intolerance that comes along with the new world order. There are elements of terrorism and vigilantism here, all combining in a pay-off that delivers all on the promise.

Like I said, humor is subjective, and as a hardcore vampire fan, I tend to be rather unforgiving of books that betray the classic ideal for sexy and sparkly. Straight Outta Fangton was everything I could have asked for, a novel that delivers on its promises.

Kindle Edition, 201 pages
Published August 18th 2016 by Crossroad Press

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this title from the author in exchange for review consideration. This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my review.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Waiting on Wednesday - Sleeping Beauties by Stephen & Owen King

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

Sleeping Beauties by Stephen & Owen King
Expected publication: September 26, 2017 by Scribner

In this spectacular father/son collaboration, Stephen King and Owen King tell the highest of high-stakes stories: what might happen if women disappeared from the world of men?

In a future so real and near it might be now, something happens when women go to sleep; they become shrouded in a cocoon-like gauze. If they are awakened, if the gauze wrapping their bodies is disturbed or violated, the women become feral and spectacularly violent; and while they sleep they go to another place... The men of our world are abandoned, left to their increasingly primal devices. One woman, however, the mysterious Evie, is immune to the blessing or curse of the sleeping disease. Is Evie a medical anomaly to be studied? Or is she a demon who must be slain? Set in a small Appalachian town whose primary employer is a women’s prison, Sleeping Beauties is a wildly provocative, gloriously absorbing father/son collaboration between Stephen King and Owen King


While I didn't care for how Chizmar wrapped up Gwendy's Button Box, I do think King's collaborations with Straub (The Talisman & Black House) are some of the best work he's done, so I'm really excited to see what he and Owen do here. Hopefully, the proverbial apple hasn't fallen far from the tree!

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dan Jolley talks Superheroes (and Supervillains) in Gray Widow's Web

Years ago, when I was still hip-deep in DC Comics (both reading them and writing for them), I was a guest at a sci-fi/fantasy convention and wound up on a panel about superheroes and the law. I don’t think I was very popular on that panel, because as much as I love superhero stories, I think there’s one thing about them that, if you apply any kind of logic, becomes inescapable: superheroes and the law mix about as well as a bucket of kerosene and a lit match.

Let’s take Batman for example. Now, I love me some Batman. Who doesn’t? He’s the Dark Knight, the Caped Crusader, etc. etc. He’s smart, he’s cool, he’s the pinnacle of what a human being can achieve, right? He’s also a vigilante, and in the eyes of the law, vigilantes are criminals. Pure and simple. There aren’t many Batman stories I don’t enjoy, but a sure-fire way to lose me is to get into the concept of Batman and/or Robin getting deputized by the Gotham City Police Department. That’s where my willing suspension of disbelief gets all unwilling-like.

(In fact, not only are almost all superheroes technically criminals, I would go so far as to say most of them are conservative criminals. One of the basic tenets of conservative philosophy is the desire to limit the power of government and put the destiny of the people in the people’s hands, yes? Superheroes, at their core, are making a statement: The government is inadequate to the task. Therefore, I will take the law into my own hands.)

But I digress.

During the aforementioned panel, I brought up the massive collateral damage caused by Superman or the Hulk or Iron Man when they’re fighting some insanely powerful villain. Sure, it’s cool when Superman picks up a car and uses it to swat some bad guy through a building. But if we’re talking about real life, there’s going to be some poor schmuck who runs out of his apartment and screams, “That was my car, you alien jerk!” I mean, seriously, that guy needed his car to get to his job. Is Superman going to come and take him to and from work every day? Is Superman going to cover his expenses now that he’s unemployed? Is the insurance company going to take every opportunity to deny his claim? (No, no, and yes.) Superman just destroyed that guy’s property and damaged his livelihood, but won’t be held even a little bit accountable.

In a different part of the discussion, someone else tried to make the point that, if superheroes existed, then it naturally follows that supervillains would exist as well. I further damaged my popularity, with the crowd in general and with that guy in particular, I think, when I said, “No, that doesn’t naturally follow, I wouldn’t say. If a superhero exists, and a supervillain then pops up, it’s because someone like me put that supervillain there.”

It’s all fiction. We just make it all up. The question becomes, how close to the real world do we want to make our fiction adhere? Are we writing stories in which Batman runs down a street carrying a big Snidely Whiplash-style bomb with a sparking fuse? Or stories in which the Punisher unloads an AK-47 at a group of bad guys, and a stray bullet punches through a wall and kills a four-year-old?

In the first book of the Gray Widow Trilogy, Gray Widow’s Walk, protagonist Janey Sinclair declares herself the protector of the city of Atlanta. A few years earlier, Janey mysteriously gained the power to teleport from one patch of darkness to another. She also developed the ability to see in total darkness, and her strength increased to roughly that of three very fit men. Janey eventually steals a suit of prototype military body armor, and decides to use her gifts to try to prevent other people from experiencing the heartbreak and trauma that she has.

That determination leads Janey to make a surprise visit to a television studio and record a statement, part of which goes like this:

“The general public has branded me a criminal. I can’t argue with that. What I’m doing is illegal. However—and I say this with the utmost respect for the law enforcement community—I don’t care. No one can stop me. No cell can hold me. Atlanta belongs to me, and I will see that it stays protected. … There is a new law in Atlanta. The Gray Widow’s Law. It’s easy to remember: do unto others as you would have them do unto you…or else.”

It’s a nice sentiment. Comforting, even, depending on your viewpoint of the world—the thought that someone is out there, lurking in the shadows, watching out for the little guy. Too bad it’s utterly, wholly incompatible with the law. Societies have laws—that’s just the long and the short of it. If we start ignoring the law, the civilization we’ve put together can’t hold and will eventually collapse.

So where does that leave Janey? Well, characters grow and change and learn new things (or at least they’re supposed to), and in Book 2, Gray Widow’s Web, Janey Sinclair learns in a hurry that the world she thought she knew is just one tiny part of a much, much, much larger whole. Janey is left with little choice but to amend the way she looks at everything around her. Especially when extraterrestrials who view humans as little more than raw material make their presence felt.

I hope you’ll join her, and see where she—and the rest of the human race—end up.

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About the Author

Dan Jolley started writing professionally at age nineteen. Beginning in comic books, he soon branched out into original novels, licensed-property novels, children’s books, and video games. His twenty-six-year career includes the YA sci-fi/espionage trilogy Alex Unlimited; the award-winning comic book mini-series Obergeist; the Eisner Award-nominated comic book mini-series JSA: The Liberty Files; and the Transformers video games War for Cybertron and Fall of Cybertron. Dan was co-writer of the world-wide-bestselling zombie/parkour game Dying Light, and is the author of the Middle Grade Urban Fantasy novel series Five Elements. Dan lives somewhere in the northwest Georgia foothills with his wife Tracy and a handful of largely inert cats.

Learn more about Dan by visiting his website, www.danjolley.com, and follow him on Twitter @_DanJolley.

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About the Book

JANEY SINCLAIR never knew how or why she gained her ability to teleport. She never wanted it, and for years tried her best to ignore it. But when horrible violence shattered her world, she vowed to use her mysterious talent to protect the citizens of Atlanta, in an effort to prevent anyone else from suffering the kind of agony she had. Wearing a suit of stolen military body armor, Janey became known to the public as the GRAY WIDOW.

But now the extraterrestrial source of her “Augmentation” is about to reveal itself, in an event that will profoundly impact Janey’s life and the lives of those closest to her—

TIM KAPOOR, who barely survived the assault of twisted, bloodthirsty shapeshifter Simon Grove and still struggles to pull himself together, both physically and mentally.

NATHAN PITTMAN, the teenager who got shot trying to imitate Janey’s vigilante tactics, and has since become obsessed with the Gray Widow.

SHA’DAE WILKERSON, Janey’s neighbor and newfound best friend, whose instant chemistry with Janey may have roots that neither of them fully understand.

And Janey’s going to need all the help she can get, because one of the other Augments has her sights set on the Gray Widow. The terrifying abomination known as APHRODITE LUPO is more powerful and lethal than anyone or anything Janey has ever faced. And Aphrodite is determined to recruit Janey to her twisted cause…or take her off the field for good.

Unrelenting ghosts of the past clash with the vicious threats of the future. Janey’s destiny bursts from the shadows into the light in GRAY WIDOW’S WEB, leaving the course of humanity itself forever changed.

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 Tour Schedule and Activities
7/19/17            Jordan Hirsch  Review
7/19/17            I Smell Sheep  Top Ten's List
7/20/17            SpecMusicMuse Author's Interview
7/21/17            Sapphyria's Book Reviews  Top Ten's List
7/22/17            http://bookishlyme.blogspot.com/  Review
7/22/17            The Seventh Star Blog   Author's Interview
7/22/17            StoreyBook Reviews   Guest Post
7/23/17            Sheila's Guests and Reviews  Guest Post
7/24/17            Infamous Scribbler   Author's Interview
7/25/17            Beauty in Ruins   Guest Post
7/26/17            Paranormal, Urban Fantasy, Mystery and More!   Author Interview

7/26/17            Jeni's Bookshelf, Reviews, Swag, and More!  Review

Saturday, July 22, 2017

From the Shelf to the Page: This Week in the Ruins

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.



Just the one new title this week, but one I've been looking forward to - The Mongrel Mage by L. E. Modesitt Jr. 



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Weekly Recap

Fantasy Review: Scourge by Gail Z. Martin

Waiting on Wednesday - The Dragon Lords: False Idols by Jon Hollins

Coming up this week, a guest post from Dan Jolley, author of Grey Widow's Web.


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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.

On the e-reader, I just starting Straight Outta Fangton by C.T. Phipps, and in hardcover, I'm deep into The Witchwood Crown by Tad Williams.

   

What's topping your shelves this week?