Friday, December 19, 2014

WTF Friday: Carlton Mellick III & Kevin Strange

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

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

A pair of Bizarro style reads for you today, with my own review of Carlton Mellick's latest, and Donald's review of a Kevin Strange classic (complete with an appropriately twisted holiday gift).

Continuing his long-running trend of Bizarro successes, Carlton Mellick III invites us to gorge ourselves on a rain of candy in Sweet Story. It's an entertaining story that's equal part bizarro horror, fairy tale homage, children's story parody, post-apocalyptic thriller, and dark morality play. Not to indulge too much in sweet allusion, but it's like the richest chocolate bar,coated in the finest candy, surrounding a core of sponge toffee . . . which hides a surprise center of the thickest, foulest medicine.

It all begins, innocently (and weirdly) enough with a young girl, her chubby admirer, and a chase through the blurry side of town to find the end of the rainbow. Because this is fantasy, they actually find the end. Because this is parody, the leprechaun turns out to be actual a dirty old homeless man. Because this is Bizarro, he's actually a rainbow pirate, and he offers the children one wish each.

Little Timmy Taco wishes he and Sally could be married forever, while little Sally Sandwich wishes it would rain candy forever. Oh, and her pet turtle wishes he could fly . . . which he does.

Since 'be careful what you wish for' is the oldest kick in the teeth fairy tales have ever offered us, it's no great surprise that those wishes don't turn out well for anyone. Just imagine what might happen if it were to rain candy instead of water, with jawbreakers and hard candy plummeting from the sky, and you can imagine the kind of sweet, sticky, bloody, catastrophic damage that ushers in the end of the world.

Carrying us into post-apocalyptic horror is a goth sister (who is very much an older, darker mirror of Sally), a spiteful mother (who drinks almost as much as she bitches and whines), a disturbingly creepy dad (who smiles and laughs at everything, no matter how horrible and grim, and does so without the slightest sense of irony), and a bunch of talking toys (who have an odd predilection towards torture and murder).

By the end of Sweet Story, Mellick has abandoned us in a world of cannibalistic madmen whose teeth rotted out long ago, alongside two kids who learn the hard way what 'till death do you part' means in the context of a wish to be married forever. It's a fantastic tale that goes wrong at every turn, but which does so with fairy tale style and childish flare. Just don't blame Mellick if you come away from it never wanting to see another piece of candy for as long as you live.

Paperback, 120 pages
Published July 1st 2014 by Eraserhead Press

Murder Stories for your Brain Piece is top-notch gross out horror. Thanks to Kevin Strange, your brain piece will never again center itself right inside your cranium after reading this.

Killing Jessica Again was my overall favorite, with a story of love taken to an extreme, and a murder story of pure raging madness. This is actually a surprise for me from Kevin, as he took a different approach with this story.

Loch Ness Lay is for all you monster erotica fans, with Kevin Strange dropping a visual of bizarre fetishes, all beginning with a woman who joins a boat ride in search of Nessie. But she wants more, she has this hunger for snakes and reptiles, but its not the taste she is after. It's what married people do in bed, or boyfriend, girlfriend kinda stuff . . . I'll be PG-13 and say that it will take your smut-reading mind for a ride on the wild side.

Kevin told me "I save the best for last" and, my god, he was not kidding. The Last Story is a flash before the eyes, as a man recalls all his past deaths and raging boner moments. Extreme blood splattering, crawling bugs, and sexual brain gore "for your brain piece."

Kevin Strange never disappoints. If this is your first book, then you're in for one heck of murder plot and some Bizarro horror gruesome goodness.

Paperback, 172 pages
Published August 17th 2014 by Strangehouse Books

Now, as for that appropriately twisted holiday gift, stop by today, sign up for his monthly newsletter, and on Christmas Day he will deliver a free digital chapbook to your inbox - THE WITCH WHO F*CKED CHRISTMAS!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

First Books VS Second Books by Lee French and Erik Kort (#HarbingerTour)

The differences between writing a second book than the first

With the first book, we spent a lot of time initially working on the setting, the characters, and the basic arc of the major points of the series. Chavali's powers and abilities had to be defined and mapped for growth, and we had to construct her clan and make hard decisions about who got to live and who had to die.

For the second book, we already had the basics and prodded the setting for more details. Chavali naturally flowed - and continues to as we work on the third book (expected to be available in April of 2015). The hardest part turned out to be making sure we didn't contradict details mentioned in the first book.

Several times, I had to flip through my copy of The Fallen to check where this character came from, or how that character was described, and that sort of thing. This task will only get more onerous as the series goes on; it's hard to foresee which details will matter for note-taking!

We consider The Fallen to be an origin story, a foundation for understanding everything that happens after it. Harbinger, on the other hand, is a piece of a puzzle laid over that foundation. The books yet to come will continue to reveal the picture, bit by bit. Along the way, Chavali will in power and mature. Don't worry, though, she'll always be cranky.


About the Authors

Lee French lives in Olympia, WA with two kids, two bicycles, and too much stuff. She is an avid gamer and active member of the Myth-Weavers online RPG community, where she is known for her fondness for Angry Ninja Squirrels of Doom. In addition to spending much time there, she also trains year-round for the one-week of glorious madness that is RAGBRAI, has a nice flower garden with one dragon and absolutely no lawn gnomes, and tries in vain every year to grow vegetables that don't get devoured by neighborhood wildlife.

Erik Kort abides in the glorious Pacific Northwest, otherwise known as Mirkwood-Without-The-Giant-Spiders. Though the spiders often grow too numerous for his comfort. He is defended from all eight-legged threats by his brave and overly tolerant wife, and is mocked by his obligatory writer’s cat. When not writing, Erik comforts the elderly, guides youths through vast wildernesses, and smuggles more books into his library of increasingly alarming size.


About the Book

Title: Harbinger
Series: The Greatest Sin #2
Author: Lee French and Erik Kort
Publication Date: October 2014
Genre: Fantasy

Adjusting to her new life as a soul-bound agent of the Fallen has Chavali pushing herself harder than ever before. Between learning to fight, dealing with idiots, and climbing stairs - lots of stairs - she has little time to waste on thoughts of the future. Or the past.

When another agent fails to report in, Chavali is sent on the mission to discover her fate. Ready or not, she saddles up for a new adventure with new dangers.

The search takes her to Ket, a coastal city slathered in mystery. There, she faces ghosts from her past and demons of her future as she seeks answers. All she seems to find are more questions.

Plague, murder, lies, espionage...this city harbors much more than meets the eye, and maybe too much to handle.


Tough Travels – Travelling Folk

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

This week’s tour topic is: TRAVELLING FOLK

TRAVELLING FOLK are quite common. They are of two kinds: Land travellers and River travellers.

These people are merry, colourfully dressed, dishonest, and knowledgeable…they will cheat you, cure your wounds, and hustle you off to the cart of their oldest lady who will tell you something about the future you need to know.

The first group that comes to mind are the The Tuatha'an of The Wheel of Time, also known as the Traveling People or simply Tinkers. They hold to the Way of the Leaf, vowing to do no violence, regardless the cause or provocation, going so far as to be vegetarians. Given their unfair reputation as thieves and kidnappers, they avoid the cities, sticking largely to the Aiel Waste. As for why they travel, they are searching for The Song that was lost to them long ago.

Another that comes immediately to mind is the Tsingani of Jacqueline Carey's Kushiel novels. Stereotypical Eastern European traveler, they're known as much for their bright clothes and dancing as for stealing and breeding champion horses. Hyacinthe, a half-Tsingani boy who befriends Phédre in the first book, spends most of his time soliciting business for his mother's fortune-telling, He works along side Phédre to discover the truth about her past, although his mother warns them both that they'll regret it.

One of the more unusual depictions I can remember of travelling folk is the Gypsy Nation that Elric encounters in Revenge of the Rose. They are enormous caravan of travelers who live in (quite literally) a traveling wooden village, circling the world on a mile-wide pathway that is constantly repaved by the trash they leave behind and then roll over on their next pass. I remember them as much for their insistence that life is about either moving or dying as I do for that globe-spanning road of trash.

Finally, it's not fantasy, but how can you talk about stereotypes of the traveling folk and not mention Stephen King's Thinner? Here you have a fat, arrogant bastard who has just escaped a vehicular manslaughter charge when, on his way home, he gets distracted by his wife's handjob and runs down an old Gypsy woman. When he uses his legal connections to get the case dismissed, the old woman's father lays a Gypsy curse on him, caressing his cheek and whispering the word "Thinner." Billy tracks down the old man, following him to the dirty, chaotic, colorful traveling gypsy village you'd expect, but a cure doesn't come easily.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Most Anticipated Thrills & Chills of 2015

As we head into the final month of the year, I am taking a few Wednesdays to expand upon the usual "Waiting On" Wednesday event (hosted by Jill over at Breaking the Spine) and focus not just on one title, but look ahead to next year.

We've covered Fantasy and Science Fiction earlier this month, so we're wrapping things up this week with my Most Anticipated Thrills and Chills of 2015. Here you'll find some adventure, some horror, some thrillers, and some action-packed pages that are perfect popcorn reads.

So, grab your fedora and your leather coat, strap on your rifle and your GPS, get our your map and your ancient codex, and let's see what's out there . . .

We kick the new year off with the seventh and final adventure of Odd Thomas, in Saint Odd by Dean Koontz. Seventh adventure? Really? Wow. I've only read the first book so far, back when it was originally released, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Odd not only has the ability to see the dead, but he can also see bondachs, shadowy figures that hover around certain people just before their death. Apparently, after a life on the road, this book brings his journey full circle, back to where it all began, and back to where he lost his true love. [January 13th]

Also coming in January: The Deep by Nick Cutter

The coldest month of the year brings us a perfect book to curl up with before the fire in Cannonbridge by Jonathan Barnes. "Something has gone wrong with history in this gripping novel about a lie planted among the greatest works of English fiction." How's that for an opening tagline? As the world prepares to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Matthew Cannonbridge's greatest work, one person realizes something has gone wrong with history, and that the man who rubbed shoulders with Byron, Shelley, Godwin, Dickens, Tennyson, Kipling, and Stevenson is a complete fabrication. [February 10th]

Judging by the massive onslaught of titles coming in March, either the long term weather forecast is going to be keeping us indoors, or we're all hitting the beach for a glorious spring vacation. Picking just one title to highlight was tough, but I've decided to go with the historical action and adventure of Dead Wake by Erik Larson. Commemorating the 100th anniversary of the nautical disaster, the novel explores the sinking of the Lusitania from both sides of the tragedy, taking us from the decks of the luxury ocean liner to the bowels of the German U-Boat. This is a story that's even more fascinating than the sinking of the Titanic, and I'm anxious to see what Larson can do with it. [March 10th]

Also coming in March: Doll Face by Tim Curran,
The Assassin by Clive Cussler,
Orphans of Wonderland by Greg F. Gifune,
The Devil's Detective by Simon Kurt Unsworth,
The Doll Collection edited by Ellen Datlow,
The Fifth Gospel by Ian Caldwell,
The Einstein Code by Tom West,
& The Shadow Cartel by Layton Green

Spring brings us the tenth Nina Wilde and Eddie Chase adventure from Andy McDermott in Kingdom of Darkness. This time around, a ninety-year-old Nazi war criminal with the body of a healthy forty-year-old sparks a chase around the world, to the newly discovered tomb of Alexander the Great. Hidden inside is a guide to the spring waters of eternal life, which a group of Nazi survivors are just as eager to find. Nina's kidnapping draws Eddie to a secret Nazi enclave in Argentina, sparking a final battle to keep history's greatest evil from living on forever.[April 28th]

Also coming in April: The Dunfield Terror by William Meikle,
X-Files: Trust No One edited by Jonathan Mayberry,
& Positive by David Wellington

There's no single bigger title I'm looking forward to next year than the long-awaited new horror novel from Clive Barker, The Scarlet Gospels. How long-awaited? Well, he began teasing it back in 1999, then was dropped by his adult publisher just as he announced the completion of the first draft. In a truly iconic battle of good versus evil, Harry D'Amour (supernatural detective) faces of against Pinhead (Cenobite priest of Hell). Said to be "bloody, terrifying, and brilliantly complex," it's a novel that is promised to make your "worst nightmares seem like bedtime stories." Damn, but I want to read this! [May 19th]

Also coming in May: Piranha by Clive Cussler,
Palace of Treason by Jason Matthews,
The Forgotten Room by Lincoln Child,
Black River by Tom Harper,
Detours by Brian James Freeman

June brings us the first of two new releases from Stephen King with a sort-of sequel to Mr. Mercedes in Finders Keepers. Once again revisiting the theme of the psychotic fan and the reclusive writer, only this time the writer hasn't just disappeared from the shelves, he's sold out and launch a career in advertising. This time it's the trio of heroes from Mr. Mercedes who must step in to save the day, protecting a boy who found the author's lost manuscript from the vengeful murdering fan who has just been released from prison. [June 2nd]

Also coming in June: Iron Wolf by Dale Brown

Summer kicks into high gear with the eleventh Sigma Force novel from James Rollins, The Bone Labyrinth. Unfortunately there's no cover and no cover blurb yet, so we don't know much about it, but his Sigma Force novels always make for perfect summer beach reads. Similarly, July brings us a new Daniel Silva novel, currently Untitled, which will continue the blockbuster adventures of Gabriel Allon. [July]

Summer continues with The Eternal World by Christopher Farnsworth. It seems as if 2015 is destined to be the year of the fountain of youth, with this being a second novel to incorporate that particular MacGuffin. This time the source has already been destroyed, and a shadowy empire turns to the darkest, most dangerous fringes of experimental science to achieve a medical breakthrough. When the scientist in question discovers who he's really working for, and uncovers the truth about his exotic new girlfriend, a pawn becomes a predator. [August 4th]

Also coming in August: Lost Canyon by Nina Revoyr

While we don't have a cover or a firm release date yet, we do know that Fall will see the release of The Survivor by Vince Flynn. What makes this such a significant event is the fact that we all assumed we had seen the last of Mitch Rapp with Flynn's passing in 2013. Earlier this year it was announced that Flynn's editor has tapped Kyle Mills to complete The Survivor, which Flynn was writing at the time of his death, as well as two additional Mitch Rapp novels. I've only read one book by Mills (his stunning debut, Rising Phoenix, which involved curing America's drug problem by poisoning the supply), but he seems a fitting choice to provide fans with some closure.

This Autumn also brings us The Secret Lives of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost, which is probably my second most anticipated title of the year. Frost has promised that the novel will reveal what has happened to the people of Twin Peaks since we last saw them twenty-five years ago, while also shedding some additional light on the core mystery of who killed Laura Palmer. When Lynch and Frost announced a cinematic follow to Twin Peaks hitting screens next year, picking up the story in real time, I thought that was awesome, but having a book to fill in those gaps is utterly amazing. In addition to being co-creator of the original series, Frost has proven his literary chops with several novels and a few non-fiction pieces as well, so this isn't just some cheap tie-in.

No cover or listing of titles yet, but we do know that November will bring us a new short story collection from Stephen King, entitled The Bazaar of Bad Dreams. These are all previously published "but hard to find" stories, and King has promised "it should be a pretty fat book" of about 20 stories. Since I think King is at his best in either short fiction or doorstopper epics (his middling novels have never quite resonated with me), this is exciting news indeed. We do know that they'll all be solo stories, no collaborations, and the selections have been made, so it's just a matter of waiting for the big reveal. [November 30th]

*please note, of course, that publication dates can (and often do) change frequently, so please let me know if you spot a title that's shifted down the calendar

SPOTLIGHT: Rotate the Earth By Bryan W. Alaspa

Rotate the Earth
Book One: The Drivers
By Bryan W. Alaspa
Genre: Action/Adventure/Post-apocalyptic

There is no more United States of America. The world is divided between the dirt poor and the filthy rich. There are no jobs. There is no future. No hope. There is only one thing that the world cares about. One chance at happiness.

The Race.

A desperate, dangerous challenge across the badlands. For the winner, it equals a life of wealth, fame, and comfort. But surviving The Race is nearly impossible. If your fellow drivers don't kill you, what's left in the former U.S. might.

They all have their reasons, but only one driver can win it all.


About the Author

Bryan W. Alaspa is an author from the Chicago area. He has been writing in one form or another since he sat down at his mother’s electric typewriter in the third grade and wrote his first story. He has written over 20 books and novels. He writes thrillers, suspense, thriller, adventure and mystery stories for fiction. He also writes non-fiction history and true crime books.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Horror Review: Prince Lestat by Anne Rice

For better or worse, depending upon your perspective, Prince Lestat is well-and-truly an Anne Rice novel in all respects. It's long and meandering, but lush and full of detail. It's full of heavy prose that invites you to linger, but scarce on plot development. It has a cast of characters that will challenge less-than-avid fans, but an inconsistency of character development that will challenge even avid fans.

Roughly 11 years have passed since we last met Rice's vampires upon the page, a decade during which she abandoned her atheism, returned to the Catholic church, nearly died (twice), rededicated her writing to glorifying God, once again distanced herself from organized Christianity, and ultimately returned to the world of vampires. For better or worse, that question of faith and that self-awareness of one's own mortality have more do with Prince Lestat than the Gothic opulence to which most fans so desperately wished to return.

Right off the bat (no pun intended), we realize this is going to be a very different sort of vampire tale. We're introduced to vampire doctors, scientists, and guinea pigs, all of them contributing to a pseudo-scientific explanation for vampirism that reeks of midi-chlorians. Not long after that, we're introduced to Lestat's son, a plot development that seems a desperate attempt to put a new spin on the idea of mortality, countering that dark cloud of intellectual progress being pulled over the supernatural concept of immortality. Not only that, but there's a whole Christ-like allusion to his role that I almost expected, but could have done without.

Moving onto our titular character, this book is less about Lestat than it is the vampires pining for his absence from the world. I'm not sure how much of it is deliberate and how much is Rice having lost the voice, but Lestat is a pale imitation of his previous self. Gone is the arrogant, daring, charismatic monster of old, and in his place is a tired old man, overwhelmed by his own legacy, and disinterested in claiming his place in the world. The voice that draws him out of retirement is probably the most interesting aspect of the tale, leaving the reader to wonder what's real and what's madness, but the final reveal doesn't live up to the mystery.

Before that final reveal, however, we get a half book dedicated to exploring the other vampires of the world, fleshing out their stories, introducing their connections to one another, and establishing their ties to Lestat. Some of those stories are incredibly interesting (in a few cases, I'd read an entire novel dedicated to each), but what they all have in common is a tiresome bit of meta-fiction, constantly reminding us how successful and how important the original Vampire Chronicles were. At first it was funny, and then it became tiresome, and then it became embarrassing.

That said, there is an exciting story contained within the second half of the novel, but as is often the case with Rice, she makes us wait for it. Vampires everywhere are hearing the same voice as Lestat, with the old ones burning the young, and the young ones turning on one another. It's part civil war, part serial genocide, and it makes for a good bit of bloody, ashen drama. Some major characters die here, which is a bit of a surprise, although their deaths lack the shock factor we'd expect, and don't summon the kind of passionate response they would have in previous books.

Ultimately, while Prince Lestat is a beautiful book to read, with language to savor, it lacks the passionate emotion of the original Vampire Chronicles. It feels almost as if Rice has lost the love for her characters, and only approached the story as a personal challenge to put a spiritual twist on the saga and redeem her own work. It's interesting, and it certainly has its moments, but it doesn't stand up to the legacy of which it keeps reminding us.

Hardcover, 480 pages
Published October 30th 2014 by Chatto & Windus