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This was later than planned, still working on fixing that. I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time. Here’s James Aquilone’s Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher. Enjoy!

Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher cover

Dead Jack, the best zombie detective in Shadow Shade, saved Pandemonium from certain destruction. It was totally him. The cost was high though, Oswald hasn’t woken up since her took the blast from the Pandemonium Device exploding. Without Oswald there Jack’s fallen off the wagon, spending his days in a haze of dust and Devil Boy. He hasn’t had a case in weeks. Lucky for Jack an old army buddy from his living days, Garry, has tracked him down with the promise of finding their souls. Just, get someone to translate the diary Garry stole, find the alchemist who has their souls, and dodge the neo-Nazis that want to use his sidekick to wipe out Pandemonium. Nothing difficult for the best zombie detective in Shadow Shade. Right?

Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher follows a book that I enjoyed a great deal, removes a big chunk of what I liked about it, and still leaves me waiting for the next book. The last book gave us a noir style detective with all the tropes associated, but then never tried to make him right or to present his behavior as correct. Dead Jack is a massive jerk, and that’s great because he gets called on it. Here though, Oswald is out of the picture so that element of humanization is absent. Instead we get more of Dead Jack the character instead of Dead Jack the plot device, we get into his history as he’s forced to deal with feelings and memories and a lot of things that he generally doesn’t.

A lot of Jack’s memories tie into his time in World War 2, particularly dealing with his death and the horrific experiments visited upon him. The way he became Dead Jack. This works pretty fantastically to show the reader more about the man Jack had been, especially when that man and the zombie we know don’t line up quite right. That’s a fantastic draw for me. Tie it in with Dead Jack seeming to soften up to his companions a little and I’m excited to see where his characterization goes from here.

Now, the group of neo-Nazis who had been experimenting on him follow Garry into the story. They’re after the diary and him again, but more than that, they want Oswald as part of a plan to steal all the souls in Pandemonium. They are the biggest threat of the book, bigger than dark elf prison guards or giant spiders or the devil himself. They have the ability to potentially bring Pandemonium to its knees. They’re weirdly obsessed with their uniforms and how nice they are. The book manages to strike a balance between making it clear that they’re fanboys for the original Nazis and that that is ridiculous and making it clear that they are an actual threat to Pandemonium and very dangerous. It also makes it incredibly satisfying when they get punched.

Much like Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device this isn’t a super serious book and it plays with familiar tropes. I enjoy it all the more for that. This was a fun read, it maintains the quality of the first book, and it leaves me impatient for the next one. So, yeah, Dead Jack and the Soul Catcher gets a five out of five. If James Aquilone keeps this up he’s going to wind up one of my favorite authors.

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House Keeping 7/17/18

This is late and I’m late and it feels a touch like everything is sliding out of control again. That’s life though, right? Not sure what my excuse of the week is but, trust me, it’s a good one.

While I missed the review for last week I am planning on having one up this week. I should be able to get things leveled out a bit soon.

That said, as soon as I can reasonably make time I’m going to grab a copy of Seanan McGuire’s The Girl in the Green Silk Gown. As much as I enjoyed Sparrow Hill Road I’ve been super excited to get my hands on the sequel and it just came out today.

I’m also thinking of going ahead and finishing and posting some of the comparison work ideas I’ve been bouncing around here. Since I can’t do anything with videos yet and I don’t want them to get stale.

For now though, that’s about it. It’s been a busy, weirdly stressful past few weeks, and I’m hoping that this is where I start climbing out of that.

Standard stuff at the end here. If you like what I’m doing here feel free to leave a comment or a like. If you really like what I’m doing here, you can feed my caffeine addiction and buy me a ko-fi. Anything from that is going towards replacing my video camera. So, that’s that, have a good week and enjoy!

Hey all, sorry for going radio silent again. Odd week. It’s Friday the 13th and I figured what better time to treat you all to an excerpt from a book that, as I hear it, does some really cool stuff with werewolves. The author, Dan O’Brien is re-releasing his entire bibliography, so if you’re interested this could be an awesome time to check him out. Either way, enjoy!

cover

Synopsis: A predator stalks a cold northern Minnesotan town. There is talk of wolves walking on two legs and attacking people in the deep woods. Lauren Westlake, resourceful and determined FBI agent, has found a connection between the strange murders in the north and a case file almost a hundred years old. Traveling to the cold north, she begins an investigation that spirals deep into the darkness of mythology and nightmares. Filled with creatures of the night and an ancient romance, the revelation of who hunts beneath the moon is more grisly than anyone could imagine.

An excerpt from Bitten:

THE CREATURE crashed into the sides of its space. Tearing broken, rusted objects from the shelves, it threw them to the ground in angry fits of rage. Tears streamed down its face and the guttural whimper that echoed in the oversized shed was the only shred of humanity that remained.

With each mashed piece of its life, it plunged deeper into madness; closer to the monster it was slowly becoming. The light of the day had all but faded. Reaching out and grasping a light bulb that hung dimly at the center of the shed, it crushed it, allowing the shards to rip apart its hands.

Blood dripped on the work table and the partial husk of Wayne Joyce’s mutilated face. It had stretched out the flesh, drying it and coating it with deer oil. Its cries were crocodile tears; there was no emotion left except rage, hatred. Remorse and guilt long since disappearing into the abyss that was its mind.

The winds howled.

It responded.

Black thread, spooled with a sharp needle, sat beside the human mask. It reached down with one of its mangled hands, lifting the needle and then the flesh. Pressing against its skin, it drove the needle into its own face, drawing blood and an angry snarl. Each time through, there was a growl and a pool of blood. The task was complete: the flesh attached to the monster.

Little folds lifted from its face. The wind whipped against them, drawing its attention. Reaching out to a staple gun, it pressed it against its face. The creature drove thick steel staples into its face, flattening out the macabre mask.

The table was a massacre.

Leftover pieces of the trophies it took were lifeless artifacts of its ascension to death-bringer. Reaching out for the long claw of torture it wore as a glove, the creature groaned. Language was lost. More and more, it felt like an animal, a creature meant to destroy everything.

The rage built like steam. It coursed through its veins, polluting every aspect of humanity that remained. The moon would rise soon––full and omniscient. That would be the moment of its ascension.

It would be its masterpiece.

 

If you love supernatural fiction, a good mystery, and a fun story, then you’ll want to give Bitten a look. Releasing in July as well is the follow-up novella, Drained. The third novella in the series, Frighten, will be released in early 2019.

What readers are saying about Bitten

“Bitten is an extremely well-balanced and engaging novel. It contains mystery, suspense, horror, romance, and best of all – a creative, genre-bending twist on werewolf mythology. The story is quick-paced and dark without being too heavy or overdramatic. The protagonist is a strong and courageous FBI agent who is able to assert herself without casting aside her femininity. She reminds me of Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone and Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum…. If a sequel follows, I will definitely read it.”

“Author Dan O’Brien left his mark with Bitten. I’ve now read three books by O’Brien, but BITTEN is by far my favorite. It not only showcases his literary skills, but leaves the reader wanting more. What else could an avid reader ask for?”

Get it today on Kindle!

Dan OBrein author picture

Dan O’Brien has over 50 publications to his name––including the bestselling Bitten, which was featured on Conversations Book Club’s Top 100 novels of 2012. Before starting Amalgam Consulting, he was the senior editor and marketing director for an international magazine. You can learn more about his literary and publishing consulting business by visiting his website at: www.amalgamconsulting.com. Follow him on Twitter at @AuthorDanOBrien.

House Keeping 7/10/18

I was so late getting that up last week. It’s funny now, because the review is up and I’m not worried about it any more, but that was a mess. I can’t say I won’t be late again this week, but I have a better grasp on what I want to say this time so it shouldn’t be nearly as bad.

Still behind on reading, but I’m slowly making progress there. I’ve hit a book that reads like eating pop corn, so I’ve wound up half way through without really realizing. So that’s been a lot of fun.

I’ve also got a guest post coming up later in the week. It’s an excerpt this time, so you’ll get a taste of the book in question.

Non standard for me here, but today Amazon employees in Spain will be on strike for better working conditions. In addition to reaching out to other Amazon employees across Europe, they’re asking that customers not shop with Amazon or it’s partners today in solidarity. With today being Amazon’s “Prime Day” that could be a really great way to hit the company in the wallet and make them take notice. If you’ve got a minute you can also shoot Amazon a tweet mentioning why you aren’t buying from them today.

And that’s it for this one.

Standard stuff. If you like what I’m doing here feel free to leave a comment or a like. Or, if you really like what I’m doing here, you can feed my caffeine addiction and buy me a kofi. Anything from that will be going to the fund for a new video camera. In any case, enjoy!

Free Chocolate

Sorry about taking so long on this one. I had a lot to say but not a great way of saying any of it without spoiling the last third of the book badly. I feel like there’s a lot here that I want to flesh out elsewhere, since that would entail spoilers. In any case, this one’s courtesy of netGalley. Here’s Free Chocolate. Enjoy!

Free Chocolate cover

After the alien Krom made first contact Earth was left with one unique commodity, chocolate. Everyone in the galaxy adores the stuff and will do whatever it takes to get their hand equivalents on it. To protect itself Earth has closed its doors to the greater universe, no aliens allowed. In light of that and recent pirate attacks resulting in the accidental destruction of a civilian ship by and HGB pilot, culinary student Bodacious Benitez is summoned back to Earth to serve as the face of HGB, the Princess of Chocolate. Face of the company or not Bo has long disagreed with HGB’s methods and, with her Krom boyfriend’s help, is going to do everything she can to break HGB’s monopoly and bring chocolate to the universe.

I have a lot of thoughts on Amber Royer’s Free Chocolate. There was a lot of stuff that I feel like could have been fun and some stuff that I feel like needed more focus to work at all. More than anything, I feel like the book lacks focus. There are a number of places in Free Chocolate where it feels like Royer had three or four ideas for a book but not enough for any single one of them, so she kind of stitched them together. Things happen and don’t seem to have any consequences. There’s some stuff that gets talked about not at all, but then both Bo and the reader are expected to just roll with it. It feels disjointed.

A lot of this is down to how the book deals with its timeline. It takes ages for Bo to actually get into space and on the run from Tyson, the space cop, and then it seems like the action is constantly interrupted. There’s the corporate assassin who calls Bo repeatedly to remind her that there’s only so long until he has to hurt her family. There’s cooking for aliens while on the run and being terrified of said aliens. It slows things to a crawl and makes the book super easy to put down

There is also a linguistic thing that I feel slows Free Chocolate down as well, it also contributed to it being pretty easy to put down. There’s a number of alien languages mentioned as being spoken and a handful of words used when Bo doesn’t know them. It’s just sort of tagged and let go. But then Bo is a native Spanish speaker so, while I would expect some Spanish to be used, it’s done largely in a way that feels like the author is reminding the reader of that rather than as a natural part of how she talks. It’s this sort of immersion breaking thing that Bo never says but or head, it’s always pero or cabeza, or she’ll use a phrase and then immediately provide the translation. This wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that a lot of this happens in Bo’s internal monologue, so she winds up translating for an audience she shouldn’t be aware of. I feel like leaving the phrases without the extra translation could have worked well. Bo referring to Brill using various terms of endearment worked really well, I thought. It just sort of feels strange that we get more translating for the existent Earth language than the handful of alien languages.

All of that boils down to it being kind of hard to care about the characters and what’s happening to them. Bo is on the run from a massive corporation with an assassin threatening her family and a venomous space cop on her tail. She’s stuck surrounded by aliens that could easily eat her if she messes up while her boyfriend may have been playing her this whole time. All of that, with all the interruptions and characters dropping in and out in an attempt to keep the drama level high, and I really just could have cared less. Like, the pilot who’s accident kicked off the plot, he’s given this level of importance within Bo’s story that is usually saved for major side characters, love interests or best friends. But after she leaves Earth, he takes a background spot for the vast majority of the story. This is the guy she’s essentially willing to trade her life for, they knew each other for two or three days, tops. Brill, the alien boyfriend, swaps between being super loving and sketchy to no end. It’s like the story couldn’t make up its mind about if he was one of the antagonists, just using Bo to get a hold of the cacao beans, or if he legitimately cares about her and is doing something at least sort of heroic. That leaves the reader to decide about him right up until the end, but then there’s this attempt at explaining his behavior in context of Krom society, but he had not wanted to talk to Bo about Krom society so neither she nor the reader knows anything about it until then. It just doesn’t work for me. I’d have liked to have seen more of the space cop, especially the post Bo stowing away version of him, and Chestla, the cat girl TA, though. They were pretty entertaining.

The galley crew on the Zantite ship were also interesting and I found myself enjoying the cooking segments. Talking about cooking and food were the parts where Royer’s writing shines best. If this had been more of a science fiction cozy mystery thing and focused more on the food and cooking I think it could have worked better, those scenes are just that enjoyable.

That’s where I land on Free Chocolate I think. There are a lot of first novel issues here, largely in the character work and how scattered the overall plot can feel. There are the bones of something good here, but it exists in the small moments where Bo is allowed to be a chef and interact with other characters on that level. I could see Royer handling the grander scale, galactic conflict stuff after she’s written more fiction. That said, this is a book that I found incredibly easy to put down in favor of doing any number of other things. So, I’m giving Free Chocolate a two out of five with the note that, while I’m not likely to read the inevitable sequel, I might check out another one of Royer’s books later on in her writing career.

Quick Note

This review is killing my ability to write anything, so it’s going to be later than it already is. I’m getting the words equivalent of cabin fever here, so I’m hoping that I’ll be able to get a bunch done once I’m done with this one.

Sorry for the delay all.

House Keeping 7/3/18

Not sure what I’m doing this week. Words haven’t been flowing super well, but that might be more down to the book I’ve been reading and residual stress from car stuff. Which feels silly, but these things happen.

I’m behind on my reading, what’s new. Some of that is down to the books I’ve been reading, I’m able to read a lot more ebooks than hard copy books lately. I’m finding that ebooks are weirdly easy to jump from one to the next, so I find myself reading a lot but then not reviewing them as I finish them. It’s getting to be more of an issue than I had figured on. As always, I’m working on a solution to that. Someday I might even have one.

As far as all that goes, if I can manage it, I might have a few weeks where there are two reviews a week instead of one. That’s somewhat contingent on my getting some that I’ve had on the back burner finished in the next few days, but I think it’s worth giving a shot. Plus, I’ll need to double up if I’m ever going to get caught up. I really don’t want to have to blank slate my reading list again any time soon. I think I can do better than that.

Also still working on things for potential videos. I might have an idea of something I could do between now and when I have a new video camera. So I’m going to see if that’s workable.

That’s about it, not a ton going on lately.

As always, if you like what I’m doing here feel free to leave a comment or a like. I feed on attention and knowing what people think allows me to adjust things as I go. If you really like what I’m doing here, you can feed my caffeine addiction and buy me a ko-fi. Anything I get from that is going directly into the new camera fund. More importantly than all that though, enjoy!

I’m later than I meant to be. After spending the first half of the week stressing out and not getting anything done I kind of crashed yesterday and got even more nothing done. I also hit PM instead of AM scheduling it, which it A+. But I’m back now, so it’s all good. This one is thanks to the awesome folks at Curiosity Quills Press. This is Sarah Madsen’s Weaver’s Folly. Enjoy!

Weavers Folly cover

A run gone bad leaves elven thief Alyssa D’Yaragen, Lysistrata when she’s on a run, with a fantastic opportunity. All she has to do is work with the guy who made the last run go bad for her and steal some data from a company. A super high profile mega corporation , Americorp, whose security is guaranteed to give both of them more than a run for their money, but still. The pay and challenge are way too good to pass up. Complicating things somewhat her ex, Tristan, shows up begging forgiveness and offering a too good to be true opportunity for information gathering. More complicated even than a cheating ex are the sparks that fly when she meets gorgeous Seraphina Dubhan, feelings and all that. When she becomes the target of magical attacks any other concerns have to take a back seat to keeping her friends out of the cross fire and surviving. Surviving and, of course, getting the Americorp job done.

I initially found myself comparing Sarah Madsen’s Weaver’s Folly to a number of things, mostly Shadowrun. The whole protagonist is a highly specialized thief in a world with both magic and cyber punk style tech is what does it I think. Magic and technology not working together is also a similarity, but I feel like that is a sort of ground rule thing. You don’t want to give a character supercharged magic powers and a cybernetic body to keep them from getting worn out using them, so it’s a functional limiter in the world of the story.

I like that a lot actually. It separates the main character from a near necessary set of tools and forces her to rely on other characters, particularly Logan.  It also gives her an edge that most other characters simply can’t access while forcing her to keep it a secret. I feel like more weight could be given to the secrecy aspect later in the series, but it does make a degree of sense. I feel like this would go hand in hand with more focus being brought in on the elven aspect of the magic, or the elven aspect of Alyssa.

The characters interest me more than the magic though. There are a few places where the interactions are a bit stiff, but most of those feel like they’re meant to be a little awkward. I like most of the characters and enjoyed seeing Alyssa and Logan working together. I wanted to see more of Alyssa’s roommate and more of Seraphina, the mysterious woman Alyssa winds up crushing on. Alyssa herself has an interesting thing going on with regard to where she belongs between Arcadia and Atlanta. She has people she cares about in both places and both places are part of her. It was interesting to see her think on that some.

Weaver’s Folly feels like a first book in a couple of ways. This is largely due to some clunky exposition early on, a couple of things get explained in a block immediately upon being brought up rather than later where they would have flowed better. The bit with light elves, like Alyssa, and dark elves historically hating each other was a particularly jarring example. I would have liked to have seen more on that throughout, since it seems like it should be important in later books.

That kind of ties into my other issue, there’s this prophecy early on that comes back up a couple of times and it feels like it should tie really heavily into one of the antagonists. It feels like it should but the support for that connection isn’t there, just boom here’s an antagonist. This was really frustrating for me for a lot of reasons, but a lot of it boils down to looking back and seeing places where foreshadowing might have been attempted but wasn’t done well enough or consistently enough to add up to anything. It wound up feeling like it had been shoved in at the end to lead into the next book.

The thing at the end affected my reading of the book more than anything else. Stumbles are an expected thing in the first book in a series. But I flat don’t like it when the end of a book feels like the prologue to the next. That said, there’s enough that Madsen did well in Weaver’s Folly that I was already planning on reading the next one when it comes out. I liked her characters and would have liked to have seen more of them. The separation between cyber punk Atlanta and deeply magical Arcadia is fascinating to me. I’m curious about the specifics of how magic works here. The whole of the book leaves me wanting more and for that, Weaver’s Folly gets a four out of five.

House Keeping 6/26/18

Hey all! Running a bit late this week. Things have gone a bit sideways, as they do, and I’m working on getting them back on track.

I’m still planning on having a review up tomorrow, but it might be a little late. It might wind up going live Thursday.

Continuing saga of planned things is as much on going as it ever is, though I’m a bit stuck for getting anything finished. So, that’s basically in a holding pattern.

That’s about it. Standard stuff, if you like what I’m doing here feel free to leave a comment or a like. And, if you really like what I’m doing, you can feed my caffeine addiction and buy me a ko-fi.

Mad Cat Franz and the Bomb cover

For me there has always been something a little weird about books. That someone you’ve never met, who may even be long dead, had an idea for a character, a place, a scene, a story form in their mind and translated it into lines of squiggles on pieces of paper. Years later you come along and pick up those pieces of paper and decipher the squiggles and in your mind the images re-form. You may say, well duh-huh stupid, that’s writing and reading! This I know, but there still seems a little magic involved.

Personally, an idea for a novel can quite literally trigger from anything at all. Something seen, heard, read, an event, a feeling experienced, a comment, a joke, an injustice particularly, a silly fact, a conversation overheard. There’s no end to the list really. Also this trigger can provide the missing links to let you chain together any number of ideas you’ve been carrying around for some time into a workable synopsis.

The idea-spark for my latest novel Mad Cat, Franz and the Bomb came from a quip, too vulgar to repeat here, made by a good friend of mine when he deranged a line from the musical Oklahoma. For some bizarre reason it combined with an image I’d had in my head for years that goes like this.

It’s a beautiful summer day and you’re sat at the beach gazing at a calm sea when you notice something moving in the water close in front of you. As you watch, the surface of the water is broken by the top of a blond head, a forehead appears, eyes, a face, shoulders until the figure of a German World War Two pilot in uniform steadily walks up out of the water bone dry. The beach is crowded but no one else sees him. Only you.

In the novel the ‘you’ concerned is a teenage girl, Catherine McEvoy, also known to one and all in the small seaside town as Mad Cat because as a young child she insisted she had three invisible friends who tormented her horribly. Franz is the German pilot and the Bomb in question, which maybe real or not, is used as a metaphor for what is happening to Cat.

The other main characters are two retired gay actors, Teddy and Perry, who are as good as family to Cat. Perry is calm and loving while Teddy is profane and raucous and also, in the story, dying. That these characters are polar opposites allows for the injection of humour at regular intervals to prevent the story becoming too sad or introverted. This wasn’t a conscious, contrived device on my part as the two characters occurred naturally alongside the initial idea, but I did find I enjoyed them as I wrote their scenes and so their interjections became more frequent as the story unfolded.

The world building for the novel was relatively easy given the geographical setting of the story. We’re all familiar with such small, seaside towns and the one I describe is an amalgam of a few I am familiar with. The houses and rooms are imagined to reflect the characters who live in them and are assembled with as much of an eye for detail as possible to try to bring them alive. It wasn’t as if I had to envisage a dystopian future world and I admire writers who are capable of that type of imagination.

I read somewhere Stephen King will sometimes begin writing a novel or short story with no idea how it will end and just let it continue not knowing where it will take him. Just writes. Amazing. Being a mere mortal and old school in comparison, as soon as I get the initial story idea I pretty much know most of the beginning and always the ending and much of the arc leading from one to the other, though as the story develops it can go off at tangents I hadn’t originally thought of at all.

This being in many ways three stories woven and linked together around the central character Cat, made keeping the events and scenes in the arc fluent a little complicated, rather like juggling at times. Also there was quite a bit of historical research involved which can be laborious but it does sometimes uncover unthought-of pearls that enrich the story. I shouldn’t say this but it also looks like you know what you’re talking about!

And as for characters, well, they can cause a real problem. I’m lucky in that they mostly come fully formed right down to the sound of their voice and their clothes  and once they are realised they are fixed as firmly as something ghastly you’ve seen and can’t un-see. Some very occasionally require a little polishing to make them, hopefully, memorable for the reader.

The problem being invariably when writing, other characters will appear which are great but ultimately not right for the particular story and so you have to, as Faulkner says, “…kill all your darlings.” That can be a tough call sometimes to know if it is the right decision or not and the upshot is you end up with a disgruntled mob in the back of your mind grumpily waiting to be employed in their own yarn. Likewise a scene you’ve written can be really on the money but it jars in the context of the overall story. You read and re-read looking for any excuse to include it but eventually and however reluctantly, you admit it just has to go.

Mad Cat, Franz and the Bomb is in essence a ghost story and the three invisible friends who torment Cat as a child I saw as perhaps, the horrid spirits of Victorian children who once inhabited the house where she lives. The concept of invisible friends is interesting to me too in that, in young children they are tolerated but in adults it’s labelled as delusionary or schizophrenia, which is something I explore in the story too. So are they real or is Cat indeed going mad as everyone believes?

Author Picture

Bio of Tony McAndrew:

Having what little education thrashed into him by nuns at the convent caned out of him by grammar school, Tony kept a promise to himself to begin writing when he finished doing tedious stuff like working full time. After a wander through psychiatric nursing, the Met Police and almost thirty years as a frontline paramedic the time seemed about right. He still works now and again in Primary Care somewhere in Wales and lives happily on the Gower indulging in writing, reading, talking with friends, drinking beer and floating in the sea with his wife.