Monday, March 30, 2015

As Above, So Below By Laura Bickle (Guest Post - Review - Giveaway)


As Above, So Below
By Laura Bickle

Things are rarely what they seem, especially in the town of Temperance.

Temperance, at the crossroads of Yellowstone National Park and ranch land, was founded by an alchemist back in the Gold Rush days. The alchemist, Lascaris, was able to conjure enough gold from rocks to keep the town running. That is, until he died mysteriously in a fire.

But some of his alchemical experiments remain behind, persisting to the present day. They adhere to the principle of “as above, so below” – that the world above reflects the inner, hidden world. And there’s a whole lot to hide in Temperance.

The Alchemical Tree, the Lunaria, represents that principle. Its roots dig deep into the earth, with branches reaching to the heavens. It stands at the center of a warren of secret tunnels stretching for miles underneath a cattle rancher’s field. The Lunaria has its secrets – it’s a remnant of Lascaris’s quest to find the secret of eternal life. It’s the source of power for the local undead, the Hanged Men. The Hanged Men were created over a century ago among the branches of the tree. They must return to the Lunaria every night to decompose and be reformed. They can’t wander far from the shadow of the tree, and are forever in the company of their raven familiars.

One of the oldest Hanged Men, Gabriel, has masqueraded as human for all this time as a ranch hand for the cattle baron who owns the land around the tree. Later generations of the Hanged Men lost the ability to speak, memory, and even human appearance as the power of the tree waned. The Lunaria’s leaves are beginning to curl and fall. Whatever power remains, the Hanged Men must protect it to survive.

Petra Dee, a geologist, has come to Temperance to find her missing father and escape her own personal demons. She only believes in what she can see and bring to light beneath her microscope. But she discovers the hidden world beneath Temperance when she digs up an artifact that dates from Lascaris’s time – a golden compass. The compass has the ability to locate magic, and runs on blood. It leads her right to the doorstep of the Hanged Men, who will kill to defend their underground secret.

The Hanged Men are not the only threat Petra faces. Caught in a war between the local meth lord and a ruthless cattle baron, Petra stumbles across a string of bent and twisted corpses. The bodies are calcinated beyond her ability to explain scientifically. Are they the product of fresh alchemy gone bad? She must suspend disbelief to explore what lurks beneath the surface, before the things beneath the ground find her.

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About the Author

Laura Bickle grew up in rural Ohio, reading entirely too many comic books out loud to her favorite Wonder Woman doll. After graduating with an MA in Sociology – Criminology from Ohio State University and an MLIS in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, she patrolled the stacks at the public library and worked with data systems in criminal justice. She now dreams up stories about the monsters under the stairs, also writing contemporary fantasy novels under the name Alayna Williams.

Her work has been included in the ALA’s Amelia Bloomer Project 2013 reading list and the State Library of Ohio’s Choose to Read Ohio reading list for 2015-2016. THE HALLOWED ONES and THE OUTSIDE are her latest young adult novels.

www.laurabickle.com

https://twitter.com/Laura_Bickle

https://www.facebook.com/Author.Laura.Bickle

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About the Book

Dark Alchemy by Laura Bickle

On-sale: 3/24
ISBN: 9780062389862

Stephen King’s The Gunslinger meets Breaking Bad in Laura Bickle’s novel Dark Alchemy.

Some secrets are better left buried…

Geologist Petra Dee arrives in Wyoming looking for clues to her father’s disappearance years before. What she finds instead is Temperance, a dying Western town with a gold rush past and a meth-infested present.

But under the town’s dust and quiet, an old power is shifting. When bodies start turning up - desiccated and twisted skeletons that Petra can’t scientifically explain - her investigations land her in the middle of a covert war between the town’s most powerful interests. Petra’s father wasn’t the only one searching for the alchemical secrets of Temperance, and those still looking are now ready to kill.

Armed with nothing but shaky alliances, a pair of antique guns, and a relic she doesn’t understand, the only thing Petra knows for sure is that she and her coyote sidekick are going to have to move fast, or die next.

Available at

Amazon    BN  

Google Books    HarperCollins

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Review

An odd mix of urban fantasy and supernatural horror, with a strong heroine, a kick-ass coyote familiar, and a fascinating villain, all adds up to one of the more refreshingly unusual reads I've enjoyed in a long time. Unlike so many books in the genre, Dark Alchemy isn't concerned with saving the world, defeating the ultimate evil, or consummating the perfect paranormal romance. Instead, what Laura Bickle has crafted here is a story of weird people, weird history, and weird science, all told on a rather intimate scale that keeps the action focused and compact.

Bickle starts throwing mysteries at us right from the first page, offering just enough hints to really intrigue the reader. What's up with the two strange skeletons found in the field? What secrets are Sal protecting? What is Petra running from? What's with the odd coyote and its buried treasure? Why does such a small hick town have so many hick tweakers? What's up with drunken Frankie and his talk of prophetic ravens? What's the deal with Gabriel, a man who seems older and wiser than even his quick-healing flesh would suggest? Just how do Sal's secrets line up with Gabe's, and what do ravens and coyotes have to do with it all?

And that's just the first four chapters.

Yes, there's a bit of a Gunslinger feel to this, as the cover blurb teases, and it's easy to see the Breaking Bad element, but it's the small town Twin Peaks oddness to the town of Temperance that pulls it all together. I really liked the idea of The Hanged Men, led by mysterious Gabe, and Luneria (the Alchemical Tree of Life) was a very cool element that was incorporated into the story in ways I didn't really expect. Petra's story alone could have made for a decent book, and setting her against Sal could have made for an interesting conflict, but it's the addition of these supernatural, alchemical elements that really elevates the story to the next level. Petra and Gabe were, by far, my favorite characters in the story, and despite being a stereotypical villain based on the oft-used trope of the corrupt small-town landowner, I still loved the scene-chewing grandeur of Sal.

Dark Alchemy plays with the typical urban fantasy tropes, but puts a unique spin on them all. The magic and the mystery are the hook, but the characters are what will keep you reading. It's a fast-paced adventure, with something significant happening in every chapters, all racing towards a suitably epic climax that satisfyingly ties up all the loose ends . . . but which leaves the door open just a crack for another adventure.

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Saturday, March 28, 2015

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

A busy week this time around, book-ended by a couple of author visits, with some great features and reviews in between.
For those keeping tabs, you'll also noticed I've added a page above to track my reading progress with the 26 titles of the Great Self-Published Fantasy Blog-off. Please keep an eye on it for updates as I go.

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

Just a few new additions this week, all them small/indie press titles that I'm excited about.

First up is The Shadow Cartel by Layton Green, the latest in his Dominic Grey series, which puts a paranormal spin on the international thriller genre. Each book in the series has been better than the last, so I'm really excited to see what this latest adventure will bring.

Next up is Through A Glass Darkly, the just released haunted house horror tale Donald Allen Kirch, which will be my third read from his shelves. I've already enjoyed his old-school brand of vampires, bloody and monstrously evil, so I have high hopes for his take on hauntings.

Finally we have Heart of a Lion, the first book of Dark Sun Dawn by Stephen Zimmer. I've heard a lot about Rayden Valkyrie, bane of the wicked and corrupt, and the most loyal and dedicated of friends. Zimmer's know for his epic fantasy novels, so I'm excited about this one.


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

• The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu
A very oriental kind of fantasy, with a pantheon of gods and floating airships, in which we journey across seven kingdoms with two young men who find their friendship tested by ideas of justice and power, leading them into to war.

• Vostok by Steve Alten
A 5 million-year-old subglacial lake located beneath two-and-a-half miles of ice in Antarctica, a team of scientists and covert operatives, a prehistoric monster, and evidence of extraterrestrial life with huge implications all adds up to epic adventure.



What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, March 27, 2015

WTF Friday: The New Bizarro Author Series

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



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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

And always think BIG!

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 26, 2015

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DdC: What's in it for me?

I groan.

LJKO: Shrimp dumplings aren't enough?

He gives me a deadpan look.

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

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

Darius arches an eyebrow.

I blow out a breath.

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

His other eyebrow goes up.

DdC: You serious?

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

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

DdC: What's the first question?

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

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

Darius snorts.

DdC: I scare the fuck out of them.

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

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

Darius shrugs.

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

LJKO: Your introspectiveness is truly refreshing.

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

He mentally calculates.

LJKO: Three years.  Give or take.

He rolls his eyes.

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

I give him that.

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

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

LJKO: And if you could change anything?

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

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

LJKO: Sorry.  No can do, Ghost Whisperer.

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

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

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

DdC: My privacy.

LJKO: Is that all?

DdC: And my Ray Charles collection.

I roll my eyes and move on.

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

DdC: What the fuck kind of question is that?

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

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

DdC: Mind if I...?

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

DdC: That is true.

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

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

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

DdC:  Mmm goi.

Auntie: Mmm sai.

She smiles again, and moves on.

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

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

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

He uses his chopsticks to point to the other plates.

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

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

LJKO: Oh, god.  Not more pork.

Darius rolls his eyes.

DdC: Don't even play, porkivore.

LJKO: Touché.

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

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

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

I shrug.

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

DdC: Of course you do.

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

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

LJKO: What do you want?

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

DdC: More fung zao.

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About the Author

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

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About the Book

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

Genre: Urban fantasy

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

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

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

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

Tough Travels with . . . Beloved Mounts

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

This week’s tour topic is: BELOVED MOUNTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Waiting on Wednesday: Positive by David Wellington

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

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

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

Anyone can be positive . . .

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

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

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


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