Saturday, December 3, 2016

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

In case you missed it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


Horror Review: All In Fear edited by May Peterson

Embers, Masks, and Guards: Catching up with the review pile

Horror and Romance guest post by Steve Berman

A Creative Dialog With Myself guest post by David B. Coe


Coming up this week . . . my annual Year In Review wrap-up of the best reads of the year.

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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.

Okay, so I fell off the wagon a little bit this week and succumbed to a trio of review titles:

Mona Lisa's Secret by Phil Philips
I'm always up for a good treasure hunt adventure

Dragon Apocalypse: The Complete Collection by James Maxey
I loved the first book, so I'm excited to read through the rest of series

The King's Tournament by John Yeo
I couldn't resist a lusty centaur woman, a deformed lunatic, and a beautiful slave girl

      

The wife and I took a mini vacation last weekend, so we (of course) hit a few used bookstores along the way, stocking up on the likes of Sharon Green, L.E. Modesitt Jr., R.A. Salvatore, and Margaret Weis & Tracy Hickman.


Armed with an Amazon gift certificate, Foster took advantage of the Cyber Monday sales and picked up a nice selection of potential WTF Friday reads.

The Book of a Thousand Sins by Wrath James White

Vamps: An erotic horror novel by Mawr Gorshin

Operation: Deep Nine by Alana Melos 

The Devil and Delilah by Alana Melos

The Queen of Swords by Alana Melos 



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

I have a few reads I've finished over the past couple of weeks that I need to get reviewed soon, but this week is a fresh dive into the review pile, with:

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story by Douglas Preston
(the new season of Oak Island has me on a treasure kick, as you may have noticed)

(I've been sitting on this for a few weeks, but it's finally time to revisit Osten Ard)

Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluce by L.E. Modesitt Jr.
(So far this is fantastic . . . such a diverse world of stories)


What's topping your shelves this week?

Friday, December 2, 2016

Horror Review: All In Fear edited by May Peterson

The introduction of All In Fear: A Collection of Six Horror Tales promises a "compilation of chilling horror stories from six of the top names in queer romance." While I felt it missed the mark on the terrifying side, and wasn't quite as titillating as I expected, there were still some exceptionally strong stories here that make it a worthy read.

'Company' by Roan Parrish was a creepy little tale, featuring a lonely teenager, his first real love, and a comic book obsession. While you never know whether Michel is a real threat or just a figment of Nick's imagination, Nathaniel's accidents do seems to suggest the former.

'Love Me True' by Kris Ripper was one of those stories where I saw the big twist coming very early on, but it does deliver on the titillation, and it had a very kinky Hitchcock type feel to it.

'The Price of Meat' by KJ Charles was probably the best written story in the collection, and the most engaging. It's period setting captured me from the start, with some great set pieces and a few fantastic characters. It also has the best payoff of all the stories.

'His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl' by Steve Berman was an interesting story with some Twilight Zone style promise, but it just felt too . . . well, thin for my tastes. The whole frat hazing didn't help (I've never understood that culture of bullying and torment), but I really expected more of a payoff from that mysterious flask.

'Legion: A Love Story' by Avon Gale was definitely the weirdest story here, told through journal entries, emails, browser histories, and voice recordings of a lone Marine, charged with observing a strange prisoner. The slow, gradual seduction of evil was very well done, and the ending was nicely creepy.

'Beauties' by J.A. Rock was a fascinating study of human behaviour, of nature versus nurture, and of the potential in artificial intelligence. It's a dark, sci-fi mystery, with a lot of tension, questions, and suggestions throughout. This one had twists aplenty, including a final scene that tops everything else in the collection.

More creepy and surreal than terrifying, and more suggestive than titillating, All In Fear was still a strong collection of well-told stories.

ebook, 245 pages
Published December 1st 2016 by Open Ink Press

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

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Embers, Masks, and Guards: Catching up with the review pile . . .

I used to feel bad about these catch-up posts, but I've actually come to like them. There's a definite appeal in getting straight to the point and talking about my reaction to the text. I also find they've freed me to read more, and that I'm enjoying more of what I read as a result, which is awesome.



Valley of Embers (The Landkist Saga #1) by Steven Kelliher
This was a book that wasted no time getting straight to the action, showing (as opposed to telling) the reader the dangers of The Valley. There's a lot of very cool world-building and info shared throughout, but it's all delivered via the story, free of info-dumps or long-winded lectures. This is a complex world of darkness and monsters, where fire itself is a legitimate magic. There's also an interesting history behind it all, a sort of post-apocalyptic high fantasy.

While the characters were nothing special, with only a few really standing out in my mind, there was nothing wrong with them. They were entirely serviceable, with both strengths and flaws, but I felt some of them could benefit from a little more personality. Similarly, their dialogue sometimes felt a little stilted or forced, without the easy rapport of natural conversation. The storytelling itself, though, was well done, with a style and a pacing that lends itself to a quick, easy read.


The Ruling Mask (The Grey City #3) by Neil McGarry & Daniel Ravipinto
When you're lucky, the second book in a series manages to top the first. When you're really lucky, the third book manages to top that. When you're really, really lucky . . . well, I don't want to put too much pressure on Neil and Daniel, but I like their chances. Although this is just as complex and deeply layered as the first two books, with the same strength of characterization, the interconnectedness is what puts it over the top. This is that keystone book where all the plotlines and mysteries start to come together, but somehow it never gets weighted down and actually has the best pacing of the series so far.

Duchess is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters in fantasy, a remarkable young woman who has finally stepped into her destiny with the Grey. With the city at war with itself, torn apart by political threats and religious fervor, the stakes are higher than they've ever been before. Fortunately, with this being the longest book in the series, there is plenty of time to explore all the ramifications of Duchess's plots (and those against her), giving characters like Jana and Lysander ample space to develop and play their own role in Rodaas. It's a busy, complex story, but one that gets its hooks into you early and never lets go.


The Black Guard (The Long War #1) by A.J. Smith
Although it does suffer from some pacing issues (a great start, a bit of a slog, a fantastic middle, and a rushed finale), this delivered on everything it promised. The storytelling was strong, and the world-building both deep and thorough. This isn't grimdark in any sense, but it is a realistic world where people have needs, where they get hurt, and where they need the escape of illicit pleasures.

It's become increasingly rare to find admirable, likeable protagonists in the genre, so it was refreshing to find them here. Smith's characters are largely what you would expect from a more traditional fantasy novel, with heroes who are (mostly) good and villains who are (mostly) bad. They're not perfect, so don't worry about clichés, but their flaws are subtle and reasonable. As for the magical element and the mythology, it's really exciting. At this point in my reading, I thought I'd seen just about everything in fantasy, but there are some cool twists and surprises here that make for a fun read.

I have to be honest. I like my epic fantasies to be big and deep. I like a heavy page counts, long chapters, and a large cast of characters. I want to get so immersed in the tale that I'm surprised at how much time has passed between looking up from the last chapter. This delivered.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Horror and Romance by Steve Berman (Guest Post)

Although I have always known him best as editor of such anthologies as Wilde Stories and Heiresses of RussSteve Berman is also an accomplished author in his own right. We chatted a bit about stopping by when I won a copy of Daughters of Frankenstein earlier this year, and it looks like the upcoming release of All in Fear (which I'll be reviewing later in the week) is just that opportunity.

Horror and Romance
by Steve Berman
author of His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl

A phrase from high school Latin class that has never left me is odi et amo, I hate and I love. There have been men that have made me mutter this under my breath. And the overlap of horror and romance demands this phrase be in the mind of the reader; even hardcore horror fans should have a visceral sense of anxiety, of looming pain and of loss. If the author has done the right thing, the reader will hate to have something terrible happen to favorite characters in the story. Romance is the flip-side of this; readers anticipate characters they have come to care for will find happiness through emotional and physical intimacy.

I know Freud has been relegated to the history of psychiatry rather than its practice, but part of his theory about the drives that motivate people resonates with me, especially when writing speculative fiction: the Eros instinct and the Thanatos instinct, arguably the libido and morbid fascination with mortality respectively. When writing stories with both horrific and romantic elements, it's important to remember that most of us ponder these two inclinations often throughout our lives. Our circumstances may make us prone to one more than the other (first dates should be falling under the Eros camp or else that is a very horrific tale about to happen). Tapping the reader's memory of love and lust and danger and death can provide a writer with a rich framework.  The lack of good judgment because infatuation clouds the mind. That moment when an inappropriate tryst could go horribly awry and who knows where you are?

And when I write horror, I am always aware of the bodies of the characters in the story. My comfortable means for exploring the Thanatos urge is to be cognizant that society places a great deal of importance on physical attractiveness and to twist that obsession. It's hard to tell an engaging romance with a rotting zombie because of this. Nicholas Hoult's character of R in the film Warm Bodies barely registers as undead because they knew women (and gay men) would not desire him if his gorgeous face was fIyblown and one of those pretty blue eyes had been plucked out by a crow. The movie became an action-adventure flick with hints of romance and the trappings of ghouls. If the love interest had been more fleshed-out (haha!) and put R back to together, piece by piece, I would have been smitten.

Reaching the end of a horror novel where the protagonist survives can be very reminiscent for emerging from a terrible relationship. Yes, the idea of abuse cannot be easily escaped. As an adolescent I was enthralled with the vampire's ability to beguile his victims. I envied this trait above all others because it allowed me to fantasize about seducing the high school boys that never knew I was gay. As an adult I realize that any coercion, supernatural or mundane, is an echo of rape culture. After experiencing terrible relationships, including years spent as a co-dependent, I became aware that consent is mandatory for me in my romance...unless I want to write a story with a young lead who is being tempted to walk a very dark and destructive path to fulfill his libido.

In my novelette  "His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl," a magic flask seems to offer the main character everything he could ever want. Unfortunately he's not very sure what he wants. And having the attention of some guys can lead to trouble. And it does. I actually rushed a fraternity for a terrible reason: I thought I was in love with one of the fraternity brothers. Even when he beat me up. Because he eventually apologized and he was incredibly charismatic and sexy and I was naive and he paid attention to me, on occasion. I remember spilling blood around him.

I'll continue to write my stories of men who find themselves is precarious positions, often because of bad choices. Sometimes the person on the other end of that late night call promising an unforgettable evening is just being romantic. Even when the directions sound off, the voice is too eager. And sometimes, well, pages later, the reader wishes they had never answered.

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About the Author

Steve Berman loves to tell stories that are both queer and weird. He was a Zeta Psi back in his college days at and remembers being hazed. He survived and graduated and even earned a Masters Degree in Liberal Studies. He has written and sold over a hundred articles, essays, and short stories. His YA novel, Vintage, was a finalist for the Andre Norton Award.


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About the Book

Want something a bit different for the holidays? Horror has never looked this enticing! New release, All in Fear, is a gorgeous collection of horror tales from some of the hottest names in queer fiction. Be prepared to be titillated...and terrified.

By KJ Charles, Roan Parrish, J.A. Rock, 
Steve Berman, Avon Gale, and Kris Ripper

Horror wears many faces, and its masks can be tantalizing. Some of the top names in queer fiction come together to spin their own versions of horror. Worlds rife with dark beauty and mystery, the familiar becoming terrible, creatures ethereal and alluring—and all bearing the gleam of love. Does hope lie along these grim passages or only doom? It will become clear. All in time—and all in fear.

Company by Roan Parrish
Nick Levy’s family is falling apart and he has no friends, but at least he can escape into the world of his favorite comic book series, The Face of the Vampire. Naturally, when the vampire in question shows up one day, Nick is enthralled. After all, what could be better than his own personal fantasy made real? Except that Nick isn’t exactly sure whether Michel is real or not. And when the arrival of a new boy in school promises romance, Nick sees a side of Michel he never could have imagined. This Michel is cruel, jealous . . . and he’ll do anything to keep Nick for himself.

Love Me True by Kris Ripper
Palmer's life is as good as it gets. Well, okay, so he hates his mind-numbing office job. But he's found a hot, smart, incredibly kinky guy. The sex is explosive. The power play is off the hook. And if he gets his way, Jon will soon be his husband.

When Palmer asks, Jon says yes. For the first time ever, Palmer thinks things might be really good. Sure, bad things happen in the world—to other people. But this is all he needs: Jon at the end of the day, in their bed, arms around him.

How could he have possibly been so stupid?

The Price of Meat by KJ Charles
Johanna Oakley will do anything to save her beloved Arabella from the cruelty of Mr Fogg’s madhouse—but ‘anything’ turns out to be more than she bargained for when she finds herself working for a man suspected of worse than murder. As Johanna is plunged from the horror of Sawney Reynard’s barber shop into the foul, lawless labyrinth at the heart of London, can she or anyone get out alive?

His Mouth Will Taste of Chernobyl by Steve Berman
Joining Zeta Psi isn’t Steve’s dream, it’s his dad’s. Nevertheless his dad’s gift of the mysterious Bailey flask gets Steve an in to the frat house, and maybe his best shot at being accepted on campus. But the flask’s silver sheen may only be lighting his way into the darkness at the heart of the frat—and the darkness he’s learning is within himself. Steve wants to choose who he is, but choices are dropping like flies as he learns the true mystery of the Bailey flask. How does he give back a gift that’s also a curse?

Legion: A Love Story by Avon Gale
STAFF SERGEANT JASON ESSEX, YOU HAVE RECEIVED THE FOLLOWING ORDERS FROM THE UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS:

REPORT TO: CAIN INSTITUTE [ADDRESS REDACTED]

ACTIVE DUTY COMMITMENT: GUARD AN ENTITY CURRENTLY HELD IN AN ENCLOSURE AT THE CAIN INSTITUTE. RECORD DAILY MEASUREMENTS. KEEP ANY AND ALL PERSONS FROM ENTERING OR LEAVING THE FACILITY. ENSURE THE ENTITY REMAINS COMPLETELY INCARCERATED. OBSERVE THE ENTITY WITHOUT ENGAGING. 

ADDITIONAL INSTRUCTIONS: THIS ASSIGNMENT WILL BE CARRIED OUT IN FULL ISOLATION. PLEASE BE ADVISED.

Beauties by J.A. Rock
When Dr. Lester Usole attends an event at AI developer Carnificiality, he’s introduced to Beauties: artificial beings designed to provide tailored sexual experiences for their human owners. Lester isn’t interested in sex—but he is fascinated by Ira, a Beauty too violent to be sold.

Lester convinces Carnificiality to give Ira to him. Lester has always wanted the chance to work with an adult AI, and around Lester, Ira isn’t violent. He’s strangely innocent, uncannily perceptive, and his company does much to ease Lester’s loneliness. Except something’s not quite right: Ira roams at night, even when Lester’s sure he’s locked Ira’s door.

Soon Lester is certain of only one thing: Ira has a secret. Something that will link their pasts and change the course of their future—if Lester is willing to face what’s on the inside.

Learn more on Goodreads.

Order it now: Publisher’s Site  |  Amazon  |  B&N  |  ARe  |   Apple  |  Kobo

“An engaging anthology of queer fiction filled with monsters, mysteries, and menace.”  — Kirkus Reviews

Monday, November 28, 2016

A Creative Dialog With Myself by David B. Coe (Guest Post & Giveaway)

Whether you know him as David B. Coe or D.B. Jackson, there's no doubt that David has put his mark upon the fantasy genre. While many readers may be more familiar with his current projects, Case Files of Justis Fearsson and Thieftaker Chronicles, I had the great pleasure of reading his debut LonTobyn Chronicles as they were released. With that trilogy not only back in print, but now available in a preferred Author's Edition, I'm exceptionally excited to be able to host David as part his celebratory tour.


“A Creative Dialog With Myself”
by David B. Coe

I have recently released the Author’s Edit of The Outlanders, volume two in my Crawford Fantasy Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, and the second novel I ever wrote. This follows the release in July of the Author’s Edit of Book I in the series, Children of Amarid. The new version of the final book in the trilogy, Eagle-Sage, should be out in December.

Not surprisingly, these books -- my first trilogy -- are special to me. They established me critically and commercially, and sold well for many years; it bothered me when they went out of print in the mid-2000s. So when my agent and I had the rights to the books reverted back to us, I knew that I wanted to get the books out in front of the public again.

But I also knew that I wanted to edit the books first. Most writers will tell you that their first books, while dear to them and in many respects very good, are also flawed. My LonTobyn Chronicle was no exception to this. The stories were fun, fast-paced, readable; the characters were well realized and relatable; the world building was complex and intriguing. But the writing itself suffered due to my lack of experience.

And so the idea of the Author’s Edit. Think of these new versions as the Director’s Cut of the books. I kept everything that I loved -- the pacing, the storyline, the characters, the magic -- and changed other stuff that had always bothered me about these books. I tightened up the prose, got rid of a TON of adverbs, removed unnecessary dialog tags, gestures, and facial expressions, and cut some exposition that didn’t need to be there. The result is a book that’s 14,000 words shorter (though still close to 200,000 words long) and far easier to read.

But the edits were more than just cleaning up a bit of clunky prose. They were a learning experience in many ways. Some people have asked me if I wished I could have rewritten the books from scratch rather than just editing them. And the answer is no. These were and are good books. More, they reflect a passion and ambition that, I believe, is unique to first books. I know: That seems to contradict what I said about first books a little bit earlier. In fact, it doesn’t. Let me explain.

I had so much to learn as a young author. I was honing my craft, figuring out my voice, looking for ways to set myself apart and make my mark on the genre. So in some respects the work was bound to have some shortcomings. I was a rookie, and like all rookies I lacked polish. But at the same time, I was thrilled to be writing, and bursting with all sorts of ideas for story, for setting and magic, for characters.

The Outlanders in particular was an ambitious novel and, in part for that reason, one of my favorites of all the books I’ve written. It was ambitious because it had two distinct venues, a pastoral land that possessed magic but only medieval level technology, and a highly developed urban land with tech that outstrips our own. Blending those two threads into a coherent whole was challenging to say the least. And yet it worked, in large part because the characters I created for the book were far more complex and interesting than any I’d written before. This was a “bigger” book than Children of Amarid. Not longer, but further-reaching. I tried to do more, I strayed more from my comfort zone. And in doing so, I proved to myself that I could write more than one kind of book.

Reading through this first trilogy has inspired me. I’m actually working on a new epic fantasy now, after taking a hiatus from the genre that has lasted some six years and seven books. I’m not returning to the LonTobyn world for this new project -- far from it. But I’m drawing on lessons I learned nineteen years after the fact from that younger me who wrote the first series. I’m pushing myself to take all sorts of creative chances, following bolder storylines and developing exotic characters. I’m writing leaner, sparser, the way I wish I’d written the old books. In short, I’m trying to make this next project something that the younger me would think was totally cool and the older me sees as an expression of all I’ve learned through my career about writing and storytelling.

That, in the end, is the best thing that’s come out of this process of editing my old books. I feel that I’ve engaged in a dialog with myself, the older me and the young me. The result is a new version of an old trilogy of which I’m now doubly proud, and a new approach to an old writing passion that has me deeply excited about my writing future.

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About the Author

David B. Coe/D.B. Jackson is the award-winning author of nineteen fantasy novels. As David B. Coe, he writes The Case Files of Justis Fearsson, a contemporary urban fantasy from Baen Books. The first two books, Spell Blind and His Father’s Eyes came out in 2015. The third volume, Shadow’s Blade, has recently been released. Under the name D.B. Jackson, he writes the Thieftaker Chronicles, a historical urban fantasy from Tor Books that includes Thieftaker, Thieves’ Quarry, A Plunder of Souls, and Dead Man’s Reach.

David is also the author of the Crawford Award-winning LonTobyn Chronicle, which he is in the process of reissuing, as well was the critically acclaimed Winds of the Forelands quintet and Blood of the Southlands trilogy. He wrote the novelization of Ridley Scott’s movie, Robin Hood. David’s books have been translated into a dozen languages.

He lives on the Cumberland Plateau with his wife and two daughters. They’re all smarter and prettier than he is, but they keep him around because he makes a mean vegetarian fajita. When he’s not writing he likes to hike, play guitar, and stalk the perfect image with his camera.



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About the Book

The Outlanders
by David B. Coe

Four years after the insidious, devastating invasion by agents of Lon-Ser, Tobyn-Ser’s Order of Mages and Masters is riven by conflict and paralyzed by inaction. From the outlander, Baram, they have learned much about their neighbor to the west: Unlike Tobyn-Ser, which is served by the Mage-Craft of the Children of Amarid, Lon-Ser is devoid of magic. Instead it possesses a dazzling and deadly technology that shapes every aspect of its people’s daily life.

Frustrated by the Order’s inability to act, Orris, a young, rebellious mage, takes it upon himself to prevent further attacks on his homeland. Taking Baram from his prison, he embarks upon a perilous journey to Bragor-Nal, an enormous, violent city in Lon-Ser, ruled by a brutal, feudal-like system of Break-Laws, Nal-Lords, and Overlords. As Orris soon learns, however, Baram has been driven insane by his captivity. Upon reaching his strange and fractured homeland, the man abandons Orris.

Armed only with his magic, Orris is thrust into a world whose language he does not comprehend and whose technology he can barely fathom. Together with Gwilym, a man with strange powers, whose vision of Orris has lured him out of the mountains and into the chaos of the Nals, and Melyor, a beautiful Nal-Lord who harbors a secret that could cost her life, Orris must end the threat to Tobyn-Ser without getting himself and his companions killed.

THE OUTLANDERS is the second volume of the LonTobyn Chronicle, David B. Coe’s Crawford Award-winning debut series. This is the Author’s Edit of the original book.

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a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, November 26, 2016

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

In case you missed it, here's what happened in the Ruins this week . . .


WTF Friday: Primitive by Hannah Heat

Horror Review: Horrors and Occupational Hazards by Sharon L. Higa

Waiting On Wednesday: With Blood Upon the Sand by Bradley P. Beaulieu

Fantasy Review: Arcanum Unbounded by Brandon Sanderson

TV Tuesday: The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

Fantasy Review: The Sleeping King by Cindy Dees and Bill Flippin


As for what's coming up, we have two awesome guests wandering their way into the Ruins this week - David B. Coe and Steve Berman.

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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 the two new review title this week. I couldn't resist the allure of "an order of deep-sea diving nuns caring for a sunken chapel" and I have long been fascinated by the tales of the Wraeththu.

The Kissing Booth Girl and Other Stories by A.C. Wise

Blood, the Phoenix and a Rose by Storm Constantine

  

My long-awaited copy of Unbreakable by W.C. Bauers arrived this week as well - a signed edition that I won via a Facebook reading party.


I also hit some used bookstores this week, and stocked up on a little adventure with Will Adams, some pulp fantasy with Sharon Green, and some classic/traditional/high fantasy with the likes of Lackey, Mallory, Newcomb, Weis, and Krammes.


And, finally, even though it wasn't Thanksgiving here, I took advantage of the Black Friday sales to do a little Kindle shopping, picking up a pair of adventures . . .

The Dane Maddock Adventures - Volume 2 by David Wood

Blood and Sand by Matthew James

   

. . . while Foster, of course, snagged himself  a pair of new WTF Friday reads.

Diablo Grotesque by William P Blight

Dirty Journey To Parallel Worlds by Ruby City Books

   

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

I have a few reads I've finished over the past couple of weeks that I need to get reviewed soon, but this week is a fresh dive into the review pile, with:

The Lost City of the Monkey God: A True Story
(the new season of Oak Island has me on a treasure kick, as you may have noticed)


(Steve Berman will be stopping by for a guest post this week)



Recluce Tales: Stories from the World of Recluce
(I'm very excited to be diving into this as my next paperback read)


What's topping your shelves this week?