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Friday, May 31, 2013

Interview with Tamara Romero (Bizarro author of Her Fingers)

Tamara Romero comes to the New Bizarro Author Series (NBAS) hosted by Eraserhead Press of weird fiction. It showcases strange fiction by unknown authors who may not get a chance with other publishing companies.

About the Book:
A red-haired witch with steel fingers, dragged unconscious from the currents of the Adrenaline River. An isolated researcher suffering from a disease called, the Gag. Covens of stoned witches dancing to techno in the forest. A punk whose specialty is replacing body parts with metal replicas. Sleepwalkers who don't want to wake. Trees hiding a filthy secret--the result of a perverse dictator's mind. A pink spy-swan, monitoring every move. A lyrical, dark and charming bizarro story of intrigue and discovery from a dimension just beyond ours


About Author:
Tamara Romero was born in Barcelona. She has worked as a TV producer, a bartender in a metal bar, a press manger for comics publishing house, and a writer and freelance editor at an erotic film company. Now she writes weird fiction and goes to the movies. This is her first book. Her book also has a discussion going on now at ireadoddbook.com.


Our very own Donald Armfield sat down for a chat with Tamara, to talk about Her Fingers, her writing, and more . . .

Q. This didn't seam like the typical bizzaro read, was this story originally a fantasy?

If something can be called a typical anything, then it’s not very exciting. The point is to surprise and confound. I wrote this four years before I even learned about bizarro. When I was told it qualified, I was more than happy to agree.

Q. How did you find you way to the strange grounds of Bizarro Fiction?

First: Goodreads. That site is fantastic to find out about new books. And then I went and met these people in Portland, Oregon, in the strange netherworld of inventive invective and crazy coffin vision and felt right at home.

Q. Do you kinda have an infatuation with witches, or just decided to write about one?

For legal reasons, I cannot answer this question. BUT! when I wrote Her Fingers I had just ended reading The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley and I loved the character of Morgana Le Fey. She was a big influence for my witch, Misadora. Now I have my own coven.





Q. What's is a couple of the strangest things you have ever read?

The weirdest fiction you’ll ever read is usually found in government forms and applications. And terms and conditions on the back of metro tickets give me the giggles. Completely useless for publication, but whaddareyougonnado. As for novels, one of the strangest texts I’ve read is Veniss Underground by Jeff Vandermeer. I loved that novel!



Q. An erotic film company, I love erotica reads lately did you enjoy that job?

I did, actually! My job was mostly related to erotic books (not movies): writing, editing… I don’t read erotica at all anymore, but one of my favorite novels happens to be Story of O.

Q. How about something funny, straight out bizarre off the top of your head?

I ain’t no right wing or left wing or in the middle I am a real fed up American and call it as I see it.

Q. What helps you get in the mood for writing?

A bottle of gin for breakfast.

Q. Whats next for Tamara Romero?

A bottle of gin. And also supporting Her Fingers out there and writing some new short fiction. I’m also working on a detectives novel. Awkward detectives.


A huge thanks to Tamara for stopping by!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Interview with Ira Nayman, author of the sci-fi comedy Welcome to the Multiverse

Good morning, all! Please join me in extending a warm welcome to Ira Nayman, author of the science fiction comedy, Welcome to the Multiverse*. Ira and I were first introduced way back in December, and were schedule to meet up for a chat at the Ad Astra convention back in April, but circumstances - mostly car trouble - waylaid those plans. Fortunately, I was able to catch him between projects, and he was able to share a bit of his wit, wisdom, and words of wonder . . .


Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by, Ira. For those who may be new to your writing, and who haven't yet had a chance to give Welcome to the Multiverse* a read, please tell us a little about yourself.

I’m just this ordinary guy who leads a very dull, very unexciting life – seriously, if you saw me on the subway, you wouldn’t give me a second glance! – who just happens to have a rich and bizarre inner life which I share through my writing.

Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and how did you feel when you first saw your work in print?

I decided to devote my life to writing humour when I was eight years old. I started right away by writing parodies of the Sherlock Holmes stories I was then reading. Throughout my youth, I did what I could when I had the time (I remember doing a series of cartoons by cutting and pasting images from newspapers and magazines and adding a punchline to the bottom – I sure could have used a graphics programme back then! I did a second series of cartoons drawing the images with a Spirograph – remember Spirographs? anybody? ANYBODY? – and adding punchlines.) When I was 14, a friend and I wrote The Tragedy of Richard Nixon, a parody of Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Julius Caesar  which replaced his characters with characters from the Watergate scandal. I’ve been writing prose and scripts steadily since 1984.

I always get a thrill the first time I hold a published work in my hand. The ebook version of Welcome to the Multiverse* was published three months before the print version, but it didn’t seem real to me – I mean, really real – until I received my first print copy.



Q: For what it's worth, I remember Spirographs . . . somebody introduced me to the mathematical basis a while back, and I lost all interest.

While genre fiction and humour so often seem to go together, writing a genre novel that’s centered around humour is often a daunting task. What made you decide that’s the kind of stories you want to tell, and have you ever found it tough to balance the humour and the story?

As I mentioned, my life’s ambition has always been to write funny things. I have done my best to explore the widest range of media (everything from film and radio to fake news and Web comics), and varieties of humour (from romantic comedies and sitcoms to surrealism and political and social satire). I find that humour is a meta-genre that blends well with a variety of other genres.  I have written a lot of humourous speculative fiction in the past decade because I find that SF gives me a lot of room in which to play with funny ideas. If I find that I have exhausted the possibilities, I will likely move on to another genre, but I don’t see that happening any time soon. :-)

Despite being a digressive sort, I don’t think I have a problem balancing humour and story, but I do occasionally get the criticism that my humour sometimes gets in the way of the plot. The assumption, I believe, is that story and character are what people read narratives for, and, therefore, should be more important than any other aspect of a piece of writing. (In fact, comic characters are usually more fixated on one thing than dramatic characters – because fixation is funny, especially when thwarted – and varying degrees of ratio of plot to humour – from thin to ornate – have led to successful works.)

I have a different approach. I believe that once a writer has established that his work is supposed to be funny, the reader will expect it to be consistently funny throughout. The writer might be able to get away with a paragraph or two of exposition (although I have “exposition = death” tattooed behind my eyelids, and always try to present necessary exposition in a humourous way), but if the reader is left not laughing for too long, s/he may come to the conclusion that the writer is not very good. As long as my readers are laughing all the way through my books, I feel like I have done my job.

Q: In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?

The easiest thing for me is developing ideas – I already have more than I could possibly write in this lifetime, and I get more every day! I was very conscious of this while writing the follow-up to Welcome to the Multiverse*; I would go to sleep at night thinking about the scene I would like to write the next day, and, most often, it was there for me when I woke up! (This is not a matter of luck, by the way: over the years, I have trained myself to see the world as brimming with comic potential.  Add to this all of the reading I do, and my subconscious is primed for creativity.) Because of this, I usually have the title and most of the major plot points, from beginning to end, before I actually sit down to write a story. As you can imagine, this gives me the confidence to do it.

If one aspect of writing comes less easily to me, I would say that it has been professional promotional writing: cover blurbs, press releases, bios, etc. I realized a few years ago, though, that if you approach these things the same way you approach your fiction writing (in my case, by applying humour), they are not only much more fun (and, thereby, easier) to do, but the results are much, much better.

I should also say that, although not really encompassed by your question, the hardest thing for me as a professional has been self-promotion. I go to a lot of science fiction conventions, for instance, to sell my books; as a recovering shy person, they were, at first, very difficult for me. Even now, with some experience, I don’t always have the energy for that kind of direct salesmanship. I am also on social media (I have a Twitter account as well as a personal and a fan/author/whatever page on Facebook), but I have no idea if what I am doing there is helping me. This is my main frustration as a write: I know that a lot of people would really enjoy my writing, but I don’t know how to make them aware that it’s there for them.

Q: Definitely a challenge, getting your name and work out there in front of people, but hopefully a few wandering souls will stumble by and decide to pick up a copy today. 

*hint, hint* that goes for all you readers! :)

Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated. Were there any twists or turns in Welcome to the Multiverse* that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans?

As I previously mentioned, I plan in a lot of detail before I start writing (I had over 10 pages of single spaced notes before I typed word one of the novel), so I am rarely surprised by the direction a story goes in. Because I like to keep my writing plum full to burstin’ with comic invention, though, I am always open to incorporating ideas right up to the point I finish a manuscript, and once in a while I will come up with an idea that gives unexpected (to me) depth to what I am writing. An example of that actually happened with Welcome to the Multiverse*.

The main character in the novel is a new recruit to the Transdimensional Authority (the organization that monitors and polices traffic between dimensions) named Noomi Rapier. I knew I wanted to have her meet four different versions of herself in different realities over the course of the novel, and had planned their similarities and differences in some detail. However, it wasn’t until I sat down to write the chapter where she encounters the first alternate version of herself that I decided to write it from the point of view of the other version of Noomi. So, we see the alternate Noomis living their lives before the main Noomi shows up, we see their reactions to her after she leaves and we see the interactions between the characters from their point of view. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I have come to believe that this gives those characters a reality that they wouldn’t have had if we saw them through the main Noomi’s eyes, and this in turn strengthens the main theme of the novel (that choice and chance determine who we become at any moment in our lives).

Q:  Do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood, or do you require quiet solitude?

I usually have music going on in the background while I’m doing just about anything. When I listen to the radio, I divide my time between oldies and new rock stations. When I listen to music on CDs or the Internet, it runs the gamut – I like just about everything except country and gangster rap (political rap, on the other hand, is awesome). Sometimes, I will stop what I am doing and listen to a favourite song. Most often, though, it helps me concentrate on what I want to say, and, when the words are not coming, gives my conscious mind something to process while my unconscious mind works on the creative problem at hand.

Q: In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to date?

Being, as I am, a recovering shy person, I am not effusively humorous in public, and, when I do make jokes, they are often so dry that people cannot tell if they are meant to be funny or not. When I first started distributing my writing among my friends, a common reaction was, “Wow, this was a lot funnier than I was expecting it to be!”

Gee, thanks.

I don’t get that reaction any more. Much.

I haven’t had that many reactions to the novel, to be honest with you. Reviews of my books have been almost uniformly positive. I’ve been at enough cons that people who have bought previous books and enjoyed them seek me out to buy my latest books. At the latest Ad Astra con, where I launched the print version of Welcome to the Multiverse* in Canada, a woman bought a copy on Saturday; the next day, she came up to my table and said, “I started reading your book and am enjoying it so much that I want to buy everything else you’ve written because I don’t know if I’ll eve get another chance.” And, son of a gun if she didn’t buy a copy of my three self-published Alternate Reality News Service books on the spot!  I’m still relatively new and sufficiently unjaded to still be touched by such sentiments.

Q: I think the day you become jaded to those kinds of sentiments is the day you stop being an author and start becoming a celebrity.

To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

My two other earliest influences were Monty Python’s Flying Circus and the Marx Brothers. At first, this may seem like an unlikely combination, but they both taught me two lessons that affect my work to this day: 1) maintain a high volume of comic elements, and; 2) use all of the comic devices at your disposal. The first point is important because the reader soon learns that if he doesn’t get a specific bit of humour, another will be along soon; as long as the reader gets most of the jokes, he won’t begrudge me some of the more topical or obscure or flat out strange. The second point is important because writers who use only one or two comic devices can become predictable, and surprise is one of the main characteristics of humour.

Over the years, I learned about how to structure satire from such filmmakers as Stanley Kubrick (Dr. Strangelove) and Paddy Chayefsky (Network and The Hospital), as well as authors such as Joseph Heller (Catch 22) and, of course, the incomparable Alexander Pope (“A Modest Proposal”). I learned that it was okay to work ideas into your humour from writers like Woody Allen and Douglas Adams. And, I was drawn to the surreal (for example, the plays of Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco and the art of Rene Magritte and Salvadore Dali), and, as a result, have a fondness for non-sequiturs.

From most of these individuals and groups I learned comic timing and how to write rich, effective comic dialogue.

I could go on (how could I have not mentioned Thomas Pynchon?!), but that’s probably something better handled by a PhD candidate.

Q:  It’s a tough question, especially if you’re wary of putting faces before your readers, but if Welcome to the Multiverse* (or any of your other titles) were being made into a movie, and you had total control over the production, who would you cast for the leading roles?

As somebody who has written a lot of scripts over the years (and who has not only written but produced the pilot for a radio series based on Alternate Reality News Service stories), I do think about adapting works in other media. And, yes, as part of this, I do think of casting (although, honestly, in many cases it is with local actors whom I have had the pleasure of working with in the past but who may not be well known outside of Canada). However, as you rightly point out, naming them would interfere with readers forming their own images of the characters in their minds, so I’m, going to keep those thoughts to myself.

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?

A: I have mentioned the Alternate Reality News Service: it sends reporters into other universes and has them write articles about what they find there. A couple of readers have described it as “a science fiction version of The Onion.” I have two new collections ready to go: The Street Finds Its Own Uses for Mutant Technologies (a general collection of articles), and; The Alternate Reality News Service’s Guide to Love, Sex and Robots (a collection of advice columns – a kind of sci fi Ann Landers). They should be available in ebook and print formats in August or September (to coincide with the 11th anniversary of my Web site, Les Pages aux Folles, which happens the first week in September).

I have also just completed the first draft of a follow-up novel called You Can’t Kill the Multiverse** and sent it off to my publisher. All being well, it will be published in January, 2014.

Of course, these are complete, which means I’ve already been living with them for at least a couple of years. The projects I’m most excited about are the ones I am still developing ideas for and may soon write. But, alas, I can’t really talk about them…

* Sorry for the Inconvenience

** But You Can Mess With its Head


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About the Book

This hilarious science-fiction comedy novel follows the first case for Noomi Rapier, rookie investigator with The Transdimensional Authority – the organisation that regulates travel between dimensions. When a dead body is found slumped over a modified transdimensional machine, Noomi and her more experienced partner, Crash Chumley, must find the dead man’s accomplices and discover what they were doing with the technology. Their investigation leads them to a variety of realities where Noomi comes face-to-face with four very different incarnations of herself, forcing her to consider how the choices she makes and the circumstances into which she is born determine who she is.

Ira Nayman’s new novel is both an hilarious romp through multiple dimensions in a variety of alternate realities, and a gentle satire on fate, ambition and expectation. Welcome to the Multiverse (Sorry for the Inconvenience) will appeal to comedy fans who have been bereft of much good science-fiction fare these last eleven years. Ira’s style is at times surreal, even off-the-wall, with the humour flying at you from unexpected angles; he describes it as fractal humour. Anyone who has read his Alternate Reality News Service stories will know how funny Ira is. The characters we meet from around the multiverse deserve to become firm favourites with all fans of science fiction comedy.


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About the Author

Ira Nayman's dream when he was growing up was to be Francois Truffaut. Unfortunately, the position was taken. So, he grew up to be a comedy writer instead, something he has been combining with speculative fiction for almost a decade. His first novel, Welcome to the Multiverse*  was recently published by Elsewhen Press. The fourth and fifth books in the Alternate Reality News Service series (The Street Finds Its Own Uses for Mutant Technologies and The Alternate Reality News Service's Guide to Love, Sex and Robots) will be self-published by September. Ira updates his Web site, Les Pages aux Folles  weekly and contributes irregularly to the Facebook author/fan/whatever page "Ira Nayman's Thrishty Friednishes." In 2010, Ira won the Jonathan Swift Satire Writing Competition. Beat that, pretentious French filmmaker!

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Dawn's Early Light Cover Reveal




Dawn's Early Light
Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Book Three
Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

Cover Reveal May 29

Coming Soon

Working for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, one sees innumerable technological wonders. But even veteran agents Braun and Books are unprepared for what the electrifying future holds…

After being ignominiously shipped out of England following their participation in The Janus Affair, Braun and Books are ready to prove their worth as agents. But what starts as a simple mission in the States—intended to keep them out of trouble—suddenly turns into a scandalous and convoluted case that has connections reaching as far as Her Majesty the Queen.

Even with the help of two American agents from the Office of the Supernatural and the Metaphysical, Braun and Books have their work cut out for them as their chief suspect in a rash of nautical and aerial disasters is none other than Thomas Edison. Between the fantastic electric machines of Edison, the eccentricities of MoPO consultant Nikola Tesla, and the mysterious machinations of a new threat known only as the Maestro, they may find themselves in far worse danger than they ever have been in before…

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About the Authors:

Philippa (Pip) Ballantine
Born in Wellington, New Zealand, Philippa has always had her head in a book. For this she blames her father who thought Lord of the Rings was suitable bedtime reading for an eight year old. At the age of thirteen she began writing fantasy stories for herself.

She first earned a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and Political Science and then a Bachelor of Applied Science in Library and Information Science. So soon enough she found herself working in the magical world of libraries where she stayed for over a decade

Her first professional sale was in 1997, and since then she has gone on to produce mostly novel length fiction. In 2006 she became New Zealand’s first podcast novelist, and she has voiced and produced Weaver’s Web, Chasing the Bard, Weather Child and Digital Magic as podiobooks. Her podcasts have been short listed for the Parsec Awards, and won a Sir Julius Vogel award.

Philippa is the author of the Books of the Order series with Ace - Geist and Spectyr and Wrayth out now, and Harbinger to follow. She is also the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series with Tee Morris. Phoenix Rising debuted in May 2011 and The Janus Affair came out in May 2012. She also has the Shifted World series with Pyr Books, with the first book Hunter and Fox out now.

When not writing or podcasting, Philippa loves reading, gardening, and whenever possible traveling. With her husband, Tee and her daughter, she is looked after by a mighty clowder of three cats.


Tee Morris
Tee Morris began his writing career with his 2002 historical epic fantasy, MOREVI The Chronicles of Rafe & Askana. In 2005 Tee took MOREVI into the then-unknown podosphere, making his novel the first book podcast in its entirety.

That experience led to the founding of Podiobooks.com and collaborating with Evo Terra and Chuck Tomasi on Podcasting for Dummies and its follow-up, Expert Podcasting Practices for Dummies.

He won acclaim and accolades for his cross-genre fantasy-detective Billibub Baddings Mysteries, the podcast of The Case of the Singing Sword winning him the 2008 Parsec Award for Best Audio Drama. Along with those titles, Tee has written articles and short stories for BenBella Books’s Farscape Forever: Sex, Drugs, and Killer Muppets, the podcast anthology VOICES: New Media Fiction, BenBella Books’ So Say We All: Collected Thoughts and Opinions of Battlestar Galactica, and Dragon Moon Press’ Podthology: The Pod Complex.

Tee bought all these skills to the award-winning Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series which he wrote with his wife, Pip Ballantine. When he is not writing, Tee enjoys life in Virginia alongside Philippa Ballantine, his daughter, and three cats.

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Right now Pip and Tee are also running a Kickstarter for a brand new anthology and a roleplaying game set in the world of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences.

Check out the project here http://bit.ly/ministry-initiative


Waiting On Wednesday - Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik

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

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Blood of Tyrants by Naomi Novik
Aug 13, 2013 (Del Rey)

Naomi Novik’s beloved Temeraire series, a brilliant combination of fantasy and history that reimagines the Napoleonic wars as fought with the aid of intelligent dragons, is a twenty-first-century classic. From the first volume, His Majesty’s Dragon, readers have been entranced by the globe-spanning adventures of the resolute Capt. William Laurence and his brave but impulsive dragon, Temeraire. Now, in Blood of Tyrants, the penultimate volume of the series, Novik is at the very height of her powers as she brings her story to its widest, most colorful canvas yet.

Shipwrecked and cast ashore in Japan with no memory of Temeraire or his own experiences as an English aviator, Laurence finds himself tangled in deadly political intrigues that threaten not only his own life but England’s already precarious position in the Far East. Age-old enmities and suspicions have turned the entire region into a powder keg ready to erupt at the slightest spark—a spark that Laurence and Temeraire may unwittingly provide, leaving Britain faced with new enemies just when they most desperately need allies instead.

For to the west, another, wider conflagration looms. Napoleon has turned on his former ally, the emperor Alexander of Russia, and is even now leading the largest army the world has ever seen to add that country to his list of conquests. It is there, outside the gates of Moscow, that a reunited Laurence and Temeraire—along with some unexpected allies and old friends—will face their ultimate challenge . . . and learn whether or not there are stronger ties than memory.


File this one as another of those series I'm curious about, and intend to start reading soon, but also one that's going to take a while to get caught up with. I've heard good things about Naomi's writing and the series overall, and I'm excited to dive in with His Majesty's Dragon. While I don't see myself getting caught up in time for Blood of Tyrants, maybe by book 9. :)

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (#bookreview)

Like the coldest, most diligent of intelligence officers, I have been patiently sitting on the secrets of this book for nearly 6 months now. I was quick to accept when Simon & Schuster Canada proposed the mission - to review, and to be a part of the tour - and gave it a read almost as soon as the ARC arrived on my doorstep. It reminded me of the cold-war espionage thrillers I read growing up, and I drafted my review right away, while the source material was still fresh in my brain, safe from any sort of foreign government tampering.

It's a good thing too, since the mission ended up being delayed by a month, taking us into the end of May for the review, and the first week of June for my interrogation - I mean, friendly Q&A, of course - with the author. Check back next Tuesday for that!

With all that having been said, I can safely say that Red Sparrow is worth the wait. If you find yourself missing the cloak-and-dagger world of the Cold War - somewhere between the time when spy thrillers stopped being all about the gadgets and started being all about gritty, action-packed reboots - then this is a book you will certainly appreciate. This is a contemporary thriller, set in Putin's Russia, and it contains some clever nods to the classic spycraft elements, but it reads like it could have come direct from Gorbachev's Soviet Union  It's an intelligent, slow-moving tale (at least in the early chapters), but no less compelling for it. Jason Matthews quickly establishes the players, the stage, and the stakes, drawing us in and holding us close throughout.

Nathaniel (Nate) is a great character, a charismatic lead who manages to retain the sense of being familiar and down-to-earth, while also demonstrating a propensity for quick action and bold heroics. He's both likable and admirable, which is a difficult mix to pull off, especially in this kind of a story. At the same time, Dominika comes across as an authentic, if seductively dangerous, woman, placed in an awkward situation. A graduate of the Sparrow School of sexual espionage, she could easily have fallen into the disposable Bond-girl mold, but she not only holds her own, she proves herself worthy of sharing the lead.

What I really appreciated about the story was the amount of deceit, double-dealing, and treacherous twists that permeate the text. You're never quite sure who you can trust or what their ultimate motives are, and that's as it should be. As soon as your readers find themselves becoming familiar with the characters, and feeling secure in their presence, then you've failed the genre. Matthews deftly avoids that pitfall, making us want to be believe Nate, and compelling us to want to trust in Dominika, but he never makes any promises. They're never cheap twists, and you never feel as if you've been blindsided, but it's worth remembering that red herrings are part and parcel of the genre.

While this is not an action-packed novel, screaming for a big-budget, blockbuster treatment, it contains more than its fair share of sex, violence, and dramatic tension. The stakes are high, and the story never allows us to lose sight of that. Political diplomacy aside, we're talking about warring forces here, enemy combatants who may operate in the shadows, but who fill those shadows with torture, murder, and sexual exploitation. It's a frightening, ugly world in which to operate, full of necessary evils and uncomfortable decisions. Matthew maintains that tension right to the very last page, keeping the reader intrigued, almost to the point of paranoia.

To say much more than that would be to get into spoiler territory, and I'm far too aware of my own morality to risk crossing the wrong people. However, I will add this - the assassination in the final pages makes for a fitting end, but it also provides ample motive and opportunity for a Red Sparrow sequel. To be honest, I'd like to see Matthew simply leave it at that, since the end works so beautifully, but I wouldn't be too disappointed were he to pick up the threads for a sequel.

As a final note, while I suspect the recipes that follow each chapters are carefully crafted secret messages to Nate's bosses, I'm also reasonably sure they're not meant to poison the enemy, and are likely as tasty as they are intriguing. :)


Expected publication: June 4th 2013 by Scribner
Hardcover, 448 pages

Monday, May 27, 2013

Love & Zombies by Eric Shapiro (#bookreview)

Although Love & Zombies doesn't quite manage to deliver upon the truly twisted potential of its unusual premise, that's probably a good thing, since I doubt few readers would have stuck around for the ugly climax. Instead, Eric Shapiro deftly teases, traumatizes, and torments us, constantly raising the stakes of his darkly comedic brand of over-the-top horror, before he finally relents, ultimately tweaking our expectations with a few twists of his own.

We begin with a narrator who is brutally honest and upfront about his failings, constantly warning us that we're not going to like him. By the time he lays it all on the table, outlining for us just what we've gotten ourselves into, there's still plenty of shock value to the basic premise, but there's also a grudging appreciation for a very real payoff to all that narrative foreshadowing. Rather than growing tired of all the self-depreciation, we're left wondering what he hasn't told us yet.

Henry is a man with a problem . . . okay, a lot of problems. He's a wanna-be writer/director working in a pizza place, dreaming not of Hollywood glory, but of managing his own store. His girlfriend is one of the hottest women on the planet, but the pressure of topping their exhibitionist strip-club affairs has all but rendered him impotent. She is, as he so eloquently puts it, "so hot that she makes mentally healthy other girls rapidly begin to contemplate suicide" with a "face that could make you weep till dawn, then telephone Merriam-Webster when their office opened and demand they work harder on defining “gratitude.”

He only has 2 friends in life, and one of them is a crazy, messed-up, drug-addicted, rich-boy with ties to organized crime. When Sam comes knocking, demanding Henry's help in a money-making scheme that marks a new moral and ethical low for both, he knows he should decline, but not because it's just amoral and wrong, but because Teresa won't approve.

As for the scheme itself, Henry and Sam are planning nothing less than finding a beautiful young woman, kidnapping her, deliberately having her get bit by a zombie, and then turning her over to be bound and restrained for use in a little zombie porn. You heard that right, zombie porn. Try not to dwell on it.

To his credit, Shapiro carries on with that simple premise for about half the novel, presenting us with a psychotic zombie road-trip comedy that makes The Hangover trilogy look like something that Disney passed on for being too cute and innocent. It's funny, action-packed, and completely over-the-top. There's a significant twist about halfway on, where the mission turns from kidnapping to rescue, but the pace never falters, and the humor only gets darker.

Clearly, this is Henry's story, and he develops quite nicely throughout. You can't help but appreciate his deadpan honesty, and his reluctant urges to do the right thing actually make him quite likable. He needs help - mentally, emotionally, and sexually - but he knows it, and isn't shy about admitting it. The introduction of Becca as his sidekick for the second half changes both the story and his character for the better, putting the Love element into Love & Zombies, and allows Shapiro to navigate that crucial twist towards an ending, rather than away from one.

It's a story that is just wrong on so many levels, but Henry works great as a narrator, and some of the language he uses to spin the tale is just priceless. It's both a bloody, catastrophically gory tale that makes perfect use of the 'fast' zombie, and an insanely black comedy that will leave you feeling guilty over every laugh. It's also, at it's heart, a love story - not a normal, happy, romantic one, but a love story all the same. You have to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy it, but if you can trust Shapiro to carry you beyond the zombie porn premise, you'll have one hell of a time.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Bang Bang, meet the Man in the Empty Suit, and the Realmgolds (#bookreview)

Okay, it's time to play catch-up with the old review pile. I've got a small mountain of books that I've read over the past few months (mostly while either my son or myself was sick) just waiting for me to write something intelligent about them. Unfortunately, if I keep waiting for time to do them justice with the kind of detailed, in-depth reviews they deserve, that pile is only going to get larger - especially since I have some freelance projects that are likely to be keeping me busy at night for the foreseeable future.

So, while I apologize ahead of time for my brevity, I am very pleased to finally be able to introduce you to a few worthy titles.

Bang Bang by Patrick Malloy

What do you do when modern pharmaceuticals have all but cured death, and your entire livelihood revolves around . . . well, death? Well, if your`re a couple of guys working in a funeral home, you bide your time, listen to old Beatles tunes, and take on a side-job as serial killers. I mean, who can blame them, right?

That`s the basic concept here, and it`s just as weird and inappropriate as you might expect. Max and Bligh are an odd couple to drive a novel, but they`re right at home here. This is a very dark comedy, almost surreal at times, with Mob bosses, teenage girls, widowed old women, and some rather inept FBI agents rounding out the cast. For a debut novel, this is a strong one, somehow managing to find that awkward, tough balance between alienating and amusing your readers. Yeah, I groaned out loud more than a few times, but I laughed out loud twice as often.

This is a witty, satiric tale, and one with some deep thoughts buried amid the chaos. Malloy understands what kind of questions he`s raised for the reader regarding life, death, and the widening gap between the two, and he demonstrates that in the motivations of heroes and killers alike. Expect the worst, enjoy the best, and give yourself permission to be inappropriate alongside the boys.


Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell

Time travel. It`s an overused science fiction plot device, but one that still has some life to it, provided you can either offer the reader a new spin, or find a new way to incorporate it into a story that uses it, but doesn`t rely upon it. Ferrell does both, providing us with a weary time traveler who spends every birthday with his selves - those who`ve come, those who`ve gone, and those who might never be. This year, however, the party takes an unusual turn, leaving him to find out who will kill him in the coming year.

This is a clever read that almost falters under the weight of its paranoia, but which really hinges on an uninvited guest at the party. It`s a very literary tale, one that sometimes tries a bit too hard to eclipse its genre roots with moments of artistic eccentricity, but which largely succeeds. It`s a near-future mystery, a science fiction drama, and a human interest story, all rolled into one. It`s not as odd or as oddly funny as I expected, but that`s likely a good thing - given the variations on the main character, and novelty of simultaneously investigating  and possibly causing your own death, too much humor could have propelled this into the realm of parody.

If you like your science fiction big, bold, and bombastic, then this isn`t the story for you. If you`ve any appreciation at all for one-man-plays and cerebral dramas, then give it a shot. You`ll be glad you did.


Realmgolds by Mike Reeves-McMillan

A political fantasy, set in a steampunk world, and populated by high fantasy races. The story of a magical world on the verge of the industrial rebellion, being held in check by hate groups against race and culture. It`s driven by an interesting concept, but it`s the characters who make it work.

Determined is a curious leader, while Victory makes for an interesting ally-slash-foil. Denning is a country falling apart at almost every level, saddled with a dedicated, yet ineffectual leader. There`s a lot going on here, but it`s Determined`s growth and evolution that makes the story work. He`s neither your typical fantasy youth, looking to come of age, nor your cliched hero, just looking for a purpose. Instead, he`s a fallible leader with an honest desire to do better, despite himself.

The writing here is strong, although the pacing is a bit awkward, the end comes on rather abruptly. It`s not an action-packed novel, but there are moments of conflict, drama, and even combat. It`s really a story of what lies behind the conflict, the decisions that lead to combat, and what it takes to play that role. Decidedly unusual, but largely entertaining. Stick with it for the few dry spots early on, and you`ll be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Introducing Martian Marauders, Black Sea Gods, and Furies (#bookreview)

Okay, it's time to play catch-up with the old review pile. I've got a small mountain of books that I've read over the past few months (mostly while either my son or myself was sick) just waiting for me to write something intelligent about them. Unfortunately, if I keep waiting for time to do them justice with the kind of detailed, in-depth reviews they deserve, that pile is only going to get larger - especially since I have some freelance projects that are likely to be keeping me busy at night for the foreseeable future.

So, while I apologize ahead of time for my brevity, I am very pleased to finally be able to introduce you to a few worthy titles.

The Martian Marauders by Michael D. Smith

Given the dearth of science fiction in my reading over the past year, I was really excited to give this one a read. I actually started it three times, but decided it was the kind of book I wanted to dedicate myself to, to immerse myself in, and thoroughly enjoy, rather than just sampling chapters as opportunities presented themselves. That meant a long wait for a review - sorry, Michael! - but certainly made for a better read.

Let me set the stage for you. Beset by astronomical disasters, humanity has deliberately raced towards an unhealthy advancement in space exploration. Leaving the ruins of Earth behind them, they have actually found themselves a new disaster, arising from conflict with the Martians they somehow managed to overlook in their desperate race for colonization. This is a dark, paranoid, and largely somber swashbuckling adventure, one that draws the reader in and does a superb job of demanding we sympathize with damaged heroes and traitors. The sci-fi elements are exceptionally strong, especially in terms of military technology, and the development of the Martians as a truly 'alien' race is fantastic.

What really makes the story work, however, is the eventual shift that Smith orchestrates - a shift that encompasses both characters and the reader, transforming the weird into wonderful, and desperation into hope. It's an exciting, action-packed story, but one that's also thought-provoking and intelligent. A great read.


Black Sea Gods (Chronicle of Fu Xi) by Brian Braden

This a book that I really wasn't sure what to think of, at least for the first few chapters. It's an odd sort of aquatic, apocalyptic fantasy, propelled by a deep (pun intended) mythology. It has a feel of the classics, tales where gods and goddesses are made human, and left to mingle with us lowly mortals, often as much for their own benefit as ours. There are, I'm sure, some biblical parallels or inspirations, but I honestly don't know (or care) enough about the source material to comment.

There is a strong Chinese influence here as well, which makes for a fascinating contrast, but which does tend to weigh the text down in places with difficult names and terms, but shouldn't be an issue for readers of epic fantasy. In terms of narrative, the different voices are as strong as they are unique, really adding a poetic flair to things that, again, hearkens back to the classics. Visually, it's a stunning read, with a significant amount of detail imbued in almost everything. It can be overwhelming at times, particularly in its most violent aspects, but in a way that makes you appreciate, rather than resent, the picture being painted.

Above all else, this is an epic fantasy that feels new . . . fresh . . . unique. It's not your typical swords and sorcery epic, but neither is it your traditional historical epic. I hesitate to make the comparison, as it's unfair to hold Braden to such lofty standards, but there's a taste of Guy Gavriel Kay here that promises a bright future. I definitely enjoyed the telling of it more than the story itself, but it's worth the read.


Furies: An Ancient Alexandrian Thriller by D.L. Johnstone

This is probably one of the most intriguing historical crime thrillers I have ever had the pleasure of reading. It's not just a police procedural awkwardly transplanted to the Roman era, but a story of criminal intrigue that belongs entirely in that bygone, almost mythological era. Admittedly, I don't remember a great deal about my University studies in ancient history, but my sense is that Johnstone really knows his stuff.

Let's get the obvious out of the way and talk about the history. The setting here is impeccable, well-developed, perfectly detailed, and nicely balanced in terms of that with which we should be familiar - particularly the darker, poorer side of the city - and the elements most readers likely never encountered in school. The characters are strong as well, playing their expected roles in the world of ancient Alexandria, but also coming alive as living, breathing, individuals with whom we, as readers, interact. I suspect their crassness and vulgarity may be a bit anachronistic, but the genre pretty much demands it.

While more properly described as a thriller than a mystery, this is still a story that manages to build suspense, keep us guessing, and throw in a few twists along the way. Murder, theft, lies, and backstabbing betrayals, it's all here. Aculeo's story could just as easily have been a contemporary one, but likely not half as interesting. Despite beginning the story as a washed-up, bitter drunk, he's a character to whom we quickly warm up. Sekhet is a woman whom I'm sure is an anachronism, but I wouldn't have it any other way. She serves an important role in terms of plot, but also plays well off of Acuelo. There's a large cast of supporting characters, many of whom we only see for a scene, but they're all important.

Overall, probably the most unique read I've encountered in quite some time, and an altogether pleasant surprise. As genre-crossovers go, this one is not to be missed.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Interview & Giveaway with M.L. Brennan (author of the vampire thriller Generation V)

Good morning, all!

Stopping by to join us today is M.L. Brennan, author of the vampire thriller Generation V. One lucky reader will get a chance to win a signed copy of the book (details below) but, before we get to that, let's get talking . . .


Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today.

A: Thank you so much for having me!

Q: For those who may be new to your writing, and who haven't yet had a chance to give Generation V a read, please tell us a little about yourself.

A: Sure! I’ve always been a huge reader in science-fiction and fantasy, and one of the genres that I’ve really enjoyed in the last few years is urban fantasy. Generation V is my first published book, and it’s an urban fantasy that I really hope will offer readers in the genre both a lot of the things that they enjoy (mystery, fights, strange creatures, and witty repartee), but also bring in a few elements that aren’t as common. My main character, Fortitude Scott, is a vampire, but I’ve made some pretty major changes and alterations to the vampires in my books – I can promise everyone, these aren’t your usual vampires. I’m also bringing in a character named Suzume who is a kitsune, which is a Japanese shapeshifter fox.

One of the biggest ideas that I had when I was planning this book was that I didn’t want a hero who was the biggest, baddest, and most powerful character. I didn’t want the bad guys to be scared when he walked into the room, or for people to be saying things like, “Oh, but he has the Mystical HooDoo! None of us can stand against the Mystical HooDoo!” So at the beginning of Generation V, Fort is a guy who no one is scared of – and when he’s going into the big battles and confrontations, he is massively outgunned and overmatched – but to me that made him a more interesting character, because he has to outwit a villain, or work on bringing in other allies to help tip the scales. It makes him work harder as a character, which also made him grow and evolve more than if he could just wave a hand and win a fight.

Q: The journey from 'aspiring' to 'accomplished' can be a long one, even in the era of small presses and digital publishing. When did you begin writing, and how did you feel when you first saw your work in print?

A: Writing and making up stories was always something that I enjoyed doing, but I didn’t really become serious about it as a craft and a profession until I was in college. What I consider my first real experience of seeing my work in print was the first time it was published by people I had never met and had no prior connection to – that was in my senior year of college, when one of my short stories was published by a literary journal. It was a great experience – I’d gotten a lot of form rejection letters and worked extremely hard to get to it. One of my professors got me a bottle of wine to celebrate.

I probably spent about ten minutes just enjoying the moment – and then I was immediately thinking about getting published again, but this time I wanted it to be in a bigger journal with more readership.

Q: Given its rather diverse evolution (or, perhaps, dilution) over the past decade, what was it that compelled you to contribute fresh blood to the vampire genre?

A: I really enjoy vampires in books, film, and TV, but in a lot of storytelling the vampires are a fairly static character. Here you have this immortal undead creature who will never age or change, just kind of brooding through an endless existence – usually the change to the situation comes with the introduction of a human love interest, or a werewolf battle, or something along those lines. All the change is external, because the vampire character itself has no real desires or pressures – why worry about something or want something when you are exactly the same as you were a century ago, or will be in another two centuries? So something that I was really interested in doing was having a vampire be a dynamic character – one that actually is capable of internal change and movement without that change being dependent on an outside character.

This required a pretty big change – the vampires I created aren’t undead. They are a separate species that has a lifecycle, an aging process, and a reproductive system. Fort is a young vampire – but someday he’ll be an old vampire, and will eventually die. That means that he has a finite time (albeit a much longer time than a human) to achieve his goals and desires. He also has a family with their own expectations of what his life will be like. And as soon as I’d made these changes, I had a ton of ideas for where this character could go.

Q: Definitely an interesting approach, and one with a wealth of potential.

In terms of writing, what comes easiest for you, and where do you struggle the most? Is it the title? The first paragraph? The last chapter? The cover blurb?


A: The easiest part for me is usually about the last third of a book. If I’ve done everything right, then all the groundwork has been laid for where I want to go, and it goes pretty quickly. I also really love that portion of the book, because usually most of the really big, iconic moments that I’ve been thinking about and planning for months are in that portion, and I finally get to write them!

I loathe writing the cover blurb. It’s probably the part that I hate the most about the process, and it takes me days. I’m horrible at distilling down the entire book into a few pithy sentences. The only thing I hate even more than writing a description of the book is putting a title on it. I’m terrible at titles – I went through about three different bad ones before my editor finally came up with Generation V –  my versions were so bad that I’m not even going to mention them!

Q: Aw, shucks? Not even one? Not even for laughs? :)

Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated. Were there any twists or turns in Generation V that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans?

A: I think the biggest surprise I had when I was writing was when I introduced the character of Suzume Hollis, the kitsune. I’d planned out ahead of time that she and Fort would have a challenging relationship that would eventually start maturing into mutual respect and the start of a friendship, but what I hadn’t counted on was just how incredibly well the characters played off of each other and interacted. Suddenly a scene that on my plan was just “get out of car, start hunting” and that I figured would be barely half a paragraph of exposition would turn into a page-long dialogue with banter and practical jokes. It was a wonderful surprise.

Q:  Do you have a soundtrack to your writing, a particular style of music or other background noise that keeps you in the mood, or do you require quiet solitude?

A: I go through phases. Sometimes I’ll work for a few weeks in complete silence, but other times I’ll want background music. But the music is just to provide background, not mood – Mumford & Sons, The Killers, P!nk, Dixie Chicks, Florence and the Machine, even a little Springsteen (I had Live In Dublin going for a while at one point). Usually I like music that has some energy to it. Sometimes I also use music as a way to keep myself working when I’m close to a deadline – when I was writing the original draft to Generation V’s sequel, Iron Night, I started putting on a YouTube clip of Swan Lake in the background. I wouldn’t let myself stop writing until Swan Lake was finished – that would keep me on task for just over three hours.

Q: Hmm, I suspect 3 hours of Swan Lake would drive me quite mad, but I can see the motivational factor. LOL

In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to date?

A: There are things in the book that I thought would get big reactions, but almost no one comments on them, whereas elements that I didn’t even think about much have gotten a lot of focus. It’s really fascinating to see how such wide and varied readers react to my book, and it’s also a great learning experience.

In terms of the most surprising, though – it’s definitely seeing my friends and family react to seeing my work actually in stores. It cracks me up to hear how shocked they sound when they read a few chapters and then say, “Oh, you’re actually good!” I’ve always had a policy where I don’t show my work to my family until it’s actually published, so I didn’t realize that most of them probably privately thought that I was a terrible writer, since I was never showing anything to them!

Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

A: When I’m in the serious writing phase of a book, there’s usually about a one to two month period where I’m just focused on the manuscript and getting as much written per day as possible. It’s pretty exhausting, so I’m usually not reading any new books, just old favorites. Sharon Shinn’s Troubled Waters is so amazing and beautiful with its world-building and its characterization – I can just pick it up and read a dozen pages anywhere and feel better. I also love Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal – it always makes me laugh. Anne Bishop, Sheri S. Tepper – both great, great writers. Finally – I defy anyone not to read through one of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman books and not feel ready to write!

Q: Pratchett is always a lot of fun - one of the few authors who can so deftly juggle story and humor.

It’s a tough question, especially if you’re wary of putting faces before your readers, but if Generation V were being made into a movie, and you had total control over the production, who would you cast for the leading roles?

A: Madeline is my vampire matriarch – she’s deceptively grandmotherish and sweet, but is actually completely calculating and deadly. I would cast Betty White in that role – she would be amazing.

Q: Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Is there a project on the horizon that you're really excited about?

A: There actually is – the second Fortitude Scott book, Iron Night, will be published in January 2014. I’ve had so much fun writing about Fort, and the book brought a lot of exciting elements together. I can’t wait to see it in print.

Thanks again for having me, and for the really fun questions!

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About the Book

Reality Bites
Fortitude Scott’s life is a mess. A degree in film theory has left him with zero marketable skills, his job revolves around pouring coffee, his roommate hasn’t paid rent in four months, and he’s also a vampire. Well, sort of. He’s still mostly human.

But when a new vampire comes into his family’s territory and young girls start going missing, Fort can’t ignore his heritage anymore. His mother and his older, stronger siblings think he’s crazy for wanting to get involved. So it’s up to Fort to take action, with the assistance of Suzume Hollis, a dangerous and sexy shape-shifter. Fort is determined to find a way to outsmart the deadly vamp, even if he isn’t quite sure how.

But without having matured into full vampirehood and with Suzume ready to split if things get too risky, Fort’s rescue mission might just kill him.…


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About the Author

My first novel, Generation V, is coming out in May 2013 from ROC Books, and is a work of urban fantasy.

I cut my baby bibliophile teeth on my older brother’s collection of Isaac Asimov and Frank Herbert, but it was a chance encounter with Emma Bull’s War For The Oaks as a teenager that led to genre true love. Today, I’ll read everything from Mary Roach’s non-fiction to Brandon Sanderson’s epic fantasies, but I’ll still drop everything for vampires and werewolves in the big city.

I hold an advanced degree in the humanities, and I am work as an adjunct professor, teaching composition to first-year college students. I am currently hard at work on the second Fortitude Scott book, Iron Night, which will be published by Roc in January 2014.

On the Web - http://mlbrennan.com/
On Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/ml.brennan.7
On Twitter - @BrennanML

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Vegan Zombie Apocalypse by Wol-vriey (REVIEW)

Vegan Zombie Apocalypse by Wol-vriey
Paperback, First, 322 pages
Published April 16th 2013 by Burning Bulb Publishing


Synopsis:

Fear not mankind, the omniscient God Necro proclaims that your tasty brains will be safe from the ravenous undead during the impending zombie apocalypse. Unfortunately for most of you, however, the enlightened zombie hoard plans to herd you like cattle on their potato plantations and use your fertile bodies to grow their specialized blood veggies.

Only by prostrating yourself before the Great Necro can you join forces with other faithful necros and defend humanity from the ever encroaching zombie invasion. But it won’t be easy, especially if you’ve just escaped from the vegfarm – and you already have the cattle brand on your forehead and the telltale potato vines sprouting from your body.

Bounty-hunting zombinators, flying cleaver-laden helicopters and cockrockets, will soon be hot on your trail as you race toward the Promised Land and the sanctuary that is known as the Republic of Texas.

Not only is “Vegan Zombie Apocalypse” one of the most bizarre stories ever conceived, but its universal appeal should extend far beyond its bizarro fan base. Enthusiasts of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror, and especially zombie fiction lovers, should relish this book, even though it ventures into the dark realm of the extraordinarily grotesque at times… many times actually.



Review:

The world in Wolvie's mind, population Zombie. He does it again - Wol-vriey drops a zombie story without the boring "eat brains" cliché. Instead we have Vegan Zombies who feed on blood potatoes, grown in Vegfarms.

As the story unfolds, a multikey is stolen, and the even more bizarre comes into play. Zombies with zippered private parts, doors in the shape of female sexual organs, sex with maggots, and even a Humansauras.

Fans of Wol-vriey will be struck again with wonders and new readers . . . I suggest you hang on for one hell of a ride.


(as posted by Donald on Goodreads)

Waiting On Wednesday - Grimm: The Icy Touch by John Shirley

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

This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

Grimm: The Icy Touch by John Shirley
Nov 5, 2013 (Titan Books)

Portland homicide Detective Nick Burkhardt discovers he is descended from an elite line of criminal profilers known as "Grimms", charged with keeping balance between humanity and the mythological creatures of the world.

No official cover blurb as yet, no indication whether the novel will be a 'mythology' tale or a 'monster of the week' story, and no way to tell whether it's a 'lost' adventure from the first 2 seasons or something set in the upcoming third season, but with season 2 wrapping up on a cliffhanger last night, any new Grimm is good Grimm . . . no matter how long the wait!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Burning the Middle Ground by L. Andrew Cooper (REVIEW)

"A character-driven sensibility like Stephen King's and a flair for the bizarre like Bentley Little's delivers."

There you have it, the single line in the cover blurb for Burning the Middle Ground that absolutely demanded I give it a read. Yes, the mention of religious conspiracy, supernatural mind control, and bodies with the eyes and tongues removed certainly caught my eye, and the overall story line sounded intriguing, but it was with the promise of a King/Little mash-up that really got me excited.

While I wouldn't go so far as to call L. Andrew Cooper the next King or Little, at least not based on his debut, I can definitely see the influences in his writing. Like King, he presents us with a largely character driven tale, set in a small town, where dialogue tells a significant piece of the story. Ronald Glassner, the opportunistic journalist, is a great character - someone with whom we can identify or relate, but with a darker, selfish (or perhaps self-serving) edge that we'd rather not admit exists within ourselves. Brian McCullough is a great sympathetic character, a young man who has experienced an unimaginable tragedy, and who simply cannot let go of the past, or his quest for answers.

The various inhabitants of Kenning, with whom we come into contact through the novel, are largely of the stock variety, but given enough personality to keep them distinct and alive in the reader's mind. As for the villains of the piece, it's hard to say much about them without getting into spoiler territory, but Jake Warren could definitely have slipped, crawled, and slithered is way out of Cooper's second source of inspiration. Everything about the man, particularly his creepy hypnotic charm, is just so well-suited to one of Little's tales.

Where I found Cooper hasn't quite nailed the technique of the masters is in his pacing. This a good book, an exciting story filled with interesting characters, but there is a lot of history and back-story that need to be imparted for it to work. King generally does back-story in snippets and flashbacks, teasing us with the significance of it all, while Little tends to lean on grandiose speeches and scenes of exposition, dropping a bomb of revelations upon us. Here, Cooper interrupts the flow of his story for an extended middle piece that shifts the focus of the story in terms of characters, plot, and feel. It's interesting enough on its own, but oddly placed, and too long for what it's intended to do.

Overall, despite the fiendishly malevolent touches of Little-inspired evil throughout the novel, this is less his brand of over-the-top horror, and more King's brand of subtle, unsettling, dread. It plays out very well, carried along, not just by the characters, but by the 'feel' of the small town. It's a very down-to-earth story, in many respects, driven by human emotion, interaction, and need. Most importantly, it's a story that raises a lot of questions as to 'how' and 'why' throughout, and which largely delivers on the answers. A great horror novel lives or dies by its resolution, and Cooper does a fine job of providing the pay-off to his tale.

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About L. Andrew Cooper:
L. Andrew Cooper thinks the smartest people like horror, fantasy, and sci-fi. Early in life, he couldn’t handle the scary stuff–he’d sneak and watch horror films and then keep his parents up all night with his nightmares. In the third grade, he finally convinced his parents to let him read grownup horror novels: he started with Stephen King’s Firestarter, and by grade five, he was doing book reports on The Stand.

When his parents weren’t being kept up late by his nightmares, they worried that his fascination with horror fiction would keep him from experiencing more respectable culture. That all changed when he transitioned from his public high school in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia to uber-respectable Harvard University, where he studied English Literature. From there, he went on to get a Ph.D. in English from Princeton, turning his longstanding engagement with horror into a dissertation. The dissertation became the basis for his first book, Gothic Realities (2010). More recently, his obsession with horror movies turned into a book about one of his favorite directors, Dario Argento (2012). He also co-edited the textbook Monsters (2012), an attempt to infect others with the idea that scary things are worth people’s serious attention.

After living in Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and California, Andrew now lives in Louisville, Kentucky, where he teaches at the University of Louisville and chairs the board of the Louisville Film Society, the city’s premiere movie-buff institution. Burning the Middle Ground is his debut novel.

Website/Blog: Website and Blog

Facebook: Facebook

Google+: landrew42

Twitter: Twitter

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Artifacts of the Niagara Gorge - A History of Human Folly

It's been a while since I've done much photography, but it's also been a while since I've wandered off the beaten path to find something new. Well, today was just such a day, with a morning hike down into the Niagara Gorge.  I didn't go down with any particular purpose or plan in mind, but once I'd taken the first few photos of man-made ruins scattered amid the beauty, I knew I was onto something



It started innocently enough with a cast-iron post and a fence gate. The first had clearly been there for sometime, and likely once served a purpose, but the gate was new.

And then I found the car, one I don't recall having stumbled across before.





For the next little while, it was just some random debris, all of it weirdly out of place within the beauty of the Gorge.






It was the old cable and pulley that caught my eye and dragged me farther off the makeshift trail than I had planned.



Which brought me to the old motorcycle, probably the most unique bit of wreckage I've found in many a year.





After that, mostly just another random collection of rust and ruin, nestled within the greenery.





And, finally, ending with one of the saddest, most nostalgic bits of debris down in the Gorge. When I was a kid, this was still a recognizable safe, sealed shut against the ages, and a target for my imagination. For the better part of ten years I would drop a couple of big rocks on it every time we hiked by, try the handle, and move on, defeated again.


At some point, the trickling steam rotted its way through the underside, making it top-heavy enough to tumble about 20 meters down the incline. It's hardly recognizable today, but every time I see it, I see that old safe, full of - to my young imagination - untold riches.