Trapped in Lunch Lady Land

Writing

In 2013 CBAY Books (which, I was happy to discover, stands for Children’s Brains Are Yummy Books) held their first writing contest, and I was the first winner in the Middle Grade category. The manuscript I won with clocked in at 15,000 words, but my wonderful editor, Madeline Smoot, suggested it would be a much stronger novel at 30,000 words. Turns out she was right.

Fast forward to 2014, and Trapped In Lunch Lady Land was born. Did my life change? Was I able to quit my job and become a full time author? Nope. But having a published novel was way up there on the bucket list. I had a book signing event at my local Barnes & Noble (no indie bookstores in my neck of the woods, unfortunately), which was a blast.

The very best part of the whole publishing experience, though, was doing school visits. I did a bunch, reading to kids from kindergarten through fifth grade, taking questions, and generally being flabbergasted by just how smart and funny they were. Kindergartners wanted to know what kind of pets I have, and told me in great detail about theirs. By fifth grade they were asking how advances work.

So what’s Trapped In Lunch Lady Land about? Here’s the elevator pitch:

Josh and Patty Anne aren’t exactly the best of friends (ok, they detest each other), but after they both end up trapped somewhere beneath their school in a land made completely of school cafeteria food, they quickly learn they have to work together if they want to survive. With the help of some unusual friends they meet along the way, the two must brave countless dangers unlike anything in the normal world. If they can survive the skybeater, the canisaurs and the tater-tot throwing ladle monsters, Josh and Patty Anne might just make it home alive.

Interested? Know an eight to eleven year old boy or girl who might be interested? You can check it out on Amazon at:

Here I am doing a school visit!

BOOK REVIEW: GWENDY’S FINAL TASK BY STEPHEN KING AND RICHARD CHIZMAR

Reading

I read some novels because I want to be dragged down a gravel road behind runaway horses, dangled head first over a yawning precipice, have my heart torn from a gaping hole in my chest…you get the idea. I want to be fucked with.

I read other books because the act of reading them is like settling in under a wool comforter in front of a roaring fire while a storm rages just outside, lashing the windows. I think of those novels as comfort reads. Make no mistake, for me comfort reads don’t necessarily have to be quiet, contemplative books. Some really extreme horror stories function as comfort reads for me. It’s more a feeling, I guess, when stepping into the pages of the novel feels like going home, like you’re in safe, capable hands.

The first two books in the Gwendy trilogy, Gwendy’s Button Box (Stephen King and Richard Chizmar) and Gwendy’s Magic Feather (Richard Chizmar) were definitely comfort reads for me. It’s not that the books are all rainbows and unicorns, free from stress and tension. Far from it. Like I said, it’s a feeling.

Gwendy’s Final Task, like its predecessors, is a comfort read for me. Having said that, I found this one much more tense, the stakes much higher. That infernal button box is back, doing what it does, and this time Gwendy is truly feeling the horrifying effects of carrying the weight of the world on her now-middle aged shoulders. There’s trauma and heartbreak in the pages here.

I’m not going to tell you much more than that. Gwendy’s Final Task is set mostly aboard a spaceship, and it moves at a breathless pace. I found myself reading just as quickly, one-more-chaptering when I should have been sleeping. It’s an immensely satisfying tale, well told. King and Chizmar are, let’s face it, really good at this writing thing.

About the ending. It is, I suppose, the only way it could end. There’s an inevitability about it. But it is not, I repeat not, comforting at all.

SCRIBBLES FROM MY NOTEBOOK: THOUGHTS ON ATTENDING MY FIRST WORLDCON

Reading

My son and I attended our first Worldcon, over Labor Day Weekend in Chicago. I’m still trying to process it all, and come down from the high of spending several days with a few thousand folks who want to discuss books, particularly science fiction and fantasy, as much as I do. Here, in no particular order, my scribbled notes:

• The organizers of Chicon (80th World Science Fiction Convention) really had their shit together. The only thing I have to compare it to is the 2019 NY ComicCon, and I thought this was run even better, granted that it’s a smaller event.

• SF and F fans are snappy dressers. Sure, there were plenty of schlubs like me wearing cargo shorts and genre appropriate t-shirts, but there was also a phantasmagoria of folks in steampunk hats, ornate gowns, cloaks, and every iteration in between. So cool for people watching. And speaking of snappy dressers…

• There were a surprising number of men in kilts, and they looked sharp as hell. Not sure I could pull off a kilt myself, but you never know. I may be inspired.

• My son and I both got a bunch of books signed. I’m more of a reader than a collector, but the chance to share a couple of words and get books autographed by some of my favorite authors was too hard to resist. Especially happy to meet John Scalzi, Seanan McGuire, Peter S. Beagle (holy shit), and Joe Haldeman (holy shit again). We also got autographs from Arkady Martine, Mary Robinette Kowal, Wesley Chu, and Meg Elison. They were all friendly, kind, and giving of their time.

• Speaking of Haldeman, he first signed a book for me (my tattered paperback edition of Forever War) at a con at Kent State when I was a teenager in the late seventies. The late, great Harlan Ellison was also a guest, and because he was late to the signing, Joe inscribed the book to me, “For Dave, who is also wondering where the hell Harlan is.”

• When we weren’t standing in autograph lines, we were attending panels. They were, every one, fascinating, exhilarating, sometimes uproariously funny, and sometimes poignant. It should come as no surprise that science fiction and fantasy writers are, every single one, terrifyingly smart and fun to listen to. Panel standouts for us: Scalzi, Arkady Martine, Meg Elison, Tracy Townsend, Fran Wilde, Ada Palmer, Elizabeth Bear, Daniel Kraus, and as always, Seanan McGuire.

• Speaking of panels, we attended one with horror authors reading from their work, and—you heard it here first—there’s a writer from Iceland who’s going to be big. Her name is Holder Knutsdottir, and back home in Iceland she’s won a bunch of awards, but her first novel in English won’t be out until sometime in early 2024. She was funny and charming, and the excerpt she read (translated by Mary Robinette Kowal, no idea why she knows Icelandic) immediately grabbed out attention.

• Seanan McGuire’s talent knows no bounds. Not only is she an amazing, prolific writer (now with two well-deserved Hugos to prove it), but she’s a helluva singer! Her and her backing band (The Dead Sexy, I think) put on an hour long concert of filk, folk and sea chanteys that was absolutely wonderful.

• Finally, as a lifelong science fiction fan, the opportunity to vote for the Hugos, and to actually attend the Hugo Awards Ceremony, was worth the price of admission all by itself. A dream come true.

ARC REVIEW: THINGS HAVE GOTTEN WORSE SINCE WE LAST SPOKE AND OTHER MISFORTUNES BY ERIC LAROCCA

Reading

I rarely read two books by the same author back to back—so many books, so little time. The last time it happened it was S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears, an audacious one-two punch.

Well, it’s happening again. Just as I finished Eric LaRocca’s stunning masterpiece of grotesque horror, We Can Never Leave This Place, NetGalley gifted me with Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes, and I moved it right to the top of my TBR pile.

This new edition includes the notorious title novella, along with two new short stories. Taken together, this is a devastating, unnerving collection that burrows into the shiver center of your brain. When it comes to contemporary horror writers, I said it about Gabino Iglesias, and I’ll say it here: Eric LaRocca does not fuck around.

I mentioned above that the previously published “Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke” is notorious, and I meant it. Structured as an email and chat room conversation between two women, this story lurches quickly into a dark place, then digs so much deeper, and gets so much more disturbing. I found myself thinking, more than once, LaRocca is fearless. He is absolutely uncompromising in his vision, and has the writing chops to bring it to glorious, subversive life.

The other two stories are just as strong, and showcase the breath of LaRocca’s macabre imagination. There are echoes here of writers as varied as Clive Barker, Poppy Z. Brite, Stephen Graham Jones, and Roald Dahl (a knowing nod to his classic short story “Man From the South”), but LaRocca has a fiercely original voice that’s all his own.

Things Have Gotten Worse Since We Last Spoke and Other Misfortunes will be available September 6th. If you’re a fan of unapologetic horror, do not miss this collection.

MY FIRST NOVELLA: THE WILD HUNT

Writing

When Canadian author Renée Gendron presented me with an intriguing idea—that we would each take our linked stories from the Heads and Tales anthology and turn them into novellas—I found myself staring at my monitor, head in hands. The story I was working with was a historical supernatural war story, the myth of the Wild Hunt—berserker warriors and their hounds from hell, heralds of war—transposed to the battle for Fort Detroit on the U.S./Canadian border during the War of 1812.

The problem for me was that my story was relatively self contained and complete. I quickly came up with a prologue of sorts, set decades before when my main character was a young boy. As I wrote that new opening chapter, things presented themselves, symbolic elements that I thought might be useful later in the book. How? I wasn’t remotely sure. More monitor staring.

The trick for me, the thing that broke the story open and let it breathe, was realizing that I did not have to stick to my historical period. I decided to lean hard into fantasy and a healthy dollop of horror, to let my imagination run wild. I made sure that all the historical aspects of my story were historically accurate, relatively speaking, but for the rest of it I decided to have fun. Those symbolic elements became recurring motifs, and in one case a full-fledged character that was a joy to write.

This is Book 2 of the Wild Hearts and Hunts duology, in that it shares a place, time, and a couple of characters, but both books can be read completely independently.

The result of all this is The Wild Hunt, a 36,000 word novella that I’m truly proud of. It’s now available on Amazon in paperback or e-book, free with Kindle Unlimited. You can find it here:

BOOK REVIEW: WE CAN NEVER LEAVE THIS PLACE BY ERIC LAROCCA

Reading

If, through some infernal alchemy, the DNA of Franz Kafka, William Burroughs, and Clive Barker, were combined, and the resultant child was raised in a haunted house, on a steady diet of Hershel Gordon Lewis and David Cronenberg movies, EC and manga comics, Grimms’ fairytales, and powerful hallucinogens; and if that child grew up to be a writer, they might, just might, create something like We Can Never Leave This Place.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Eric LaRocca is a utterly original, uncompromising writer, and We Can Never Leave This Place is a masterpiece of grotesque horror.

Mara is a fifteen year old girl trapped in an apocalyptic nightmare. Her father has been killed in the stark violence that surrounds the crumbling, bombed out flat she shares with her cold, hateful mother. They are both consumed and overwhelmed by sorrow, devastation and loss. There is little food, and raw sewage pools on the floor.

Then a series of monstrous visitors arrive, and shit gets weirder than you can possibly imagine.

Eric LaRocco has been on my radar for awhile, but this is the first book of his I’ve read. I plan to quickly remedy that, as I haven’t read horror this fiercely imaginative in a long time. If his other books are anything like We Can Never Leave This Place, consider me a huge fan.

BOOK REVIEW: JUST LIKE HOME BY SARAH GAILEY

Reading

Okay, go with me here—you know how in The Exorcist movie, each time the camera pans up the staircase (the one in the living room where the spider walk happens, not the one outside that features in the end of the movie), stopping at the closed bedroom door Regan is ensconced behind? You know the overwhelming feeling of oppressive dread that accompanies that camera, not knowing what you’re about to see behind that bedroom door?

Yeah. Sarah Gailey absolutely nails that feeling with Just Like Home. This is an oppressive, claustrophobic, deeply unsettling gothic masterpiece that is unlike anything else I’ve read by Gailey, except of course in terms of writing excellence.

Vera’s mother is dying, and asks her to come home to the house she grew up in, the house her father built with his own two hands—the same hands he used to torture and murder men in the basement. Vera’s feelings about her father are deeply conflicted, as he may have been a notorious serial killer, but they shared a loving, close relationship. Her mother, on the other hand, was a cold, hard, unloving woman, and even now, near death, her heart has not thawed.

Vera has conflicted feelings about the house as well, a place where unspeakable atrocities happened. Her homecoming is haunted by the horrors that have seeped into the walls and foundation, by the hostile townspeople with long memories who still hate her for what her father did, and by the latest in a long line of artists living in the guesthouse, parasites looking for inspiration and leeching off the soul of the serial killer.

Gailey excels at putting us inside Vera’s troubled mind, a dark place, and forcefully keeping us there, never letting us look away. Vera’s childhood home is a prison of sorts to her, and her mind mirrors that, a malignant coffin box of memories and trauma. Just Like Home is unrelenting, sometimes punishing, but always mesmerizing.

I mentioned earlier that this is unlike anything else by Gailey, and that’s true. Their last novel, The Echo Wife, was a tour de force science fiction drama about cloning. Now, having read this, I hope they play in the gothic horror sandbox again. Just Like Home is absolutely brilliant.

DIGITAL ILLUSTRATION: GREG AND MADI

Drawing

While my son and I were at Plummer’s Great Bear Lake Arctic Lodge a few weeks ago, we became friends with a father/daughter duo, Greg and Madi. They shared with me an old photo of Greg taking Madi fishing when she was a toddler, and asked me if I could draw an illustration based on it. Here’s the result, which I’m very happy with. This was created on an iPad using Procreate with an Apple pencil.

DIGITAL ART: FISHING AT GREAT BEAR LODGE

Drawing

My son Eric and I recently spent a week fishing at Plummer’s Great Bear Lake Lodge above the Arctic Circle. I promised Chuk, the lodge manager, that I would write a story for their newsletter, and do an accompanying illustration. Here’s what I came up with, an image of the lodge sign, along with Eric and I and our guide in our boat with a double hook-up, based on a photo a friend in another boat took. I did this on my iPad using Procreate, and I’m very happy with how it came out.

BOOK REVIEW: THE PALLBEARERS CLUB BY PAUL TREMBLAY

Reading

In a very few short years, Paul Tremblay has become one of my favorite horror authors—actually, make that one of my favorite authors, period. In his novels, and particularly in his short story collection, Growing Pains, Tremblay combines truly frightening scenarios with deeply felt characters, bravura storytelling, and sometimes experimental techniques.

The Pallbearers Club is all that and more. It’s structured as a memoir, starting with high school, of Art Barbara, a tall and painfully thin social outcast plagued with severe scoliosis, acne, and zero self esteem. In dire need of something, anything, to impress college admissions counselors, he starts the Pallbearers Club, a group tasked with attending the funerals of those without families or friends. The club is not an overwhelming success, but it brings Art one thing—a young woman named Mercy Brown who will be inextricably link to him for the rest of his life.

Mercy is mercurial, too cool for school, a force of nature with her ever-present Polaroid instant camera and love of early punk music. Her and Art have virtually nothing in common, but they become friends of a sort as she introduces him to the music he will become obsessed with.

What follows is Art’s life story as he stumbles through the decades, a life fueled by alcohol and painkillers, with more failures than successes. Mercy appears and disappears, sometimes for years at a time, but she’s always there.

If you’re wondering at this point if Tremblay has veered away from horror with The Pallbearers Club, there’s one thing I haven’t mentioned. Art becomes convinced at some point that Mercy is a centuries old psychic vampire, feeding off his life force, the primary reason his life is in shambles. A series of strange, possibly supernatural encounters between them only adds to his belief.

Is Mercy a monster? Art thinks so, but we also get another view—one from Mercy herself. As we read Art’s unpublished manuscript, we also get to read Mercy’s hand-written comments on it. She’s funny, snarky, always brutally opinionated, and frequently at odds with what Art has written. Tremblay is working without a net here—hell, he’s working without a high wire—and pulls every bit of it off. With Mercy functioning as a kind of Greek chorus, we get to see their often antagonistic, even toxic, but also genuine friendship from both sides. Can we as readers trust what either of them is saying? Great question, one that I’m not going to answer. You’ll need to find out for yourself.

One other thing. Much of Art’s early years mirror Tremblay’s own, which may partly account for how painful and true it feels.

The Pallbearers Club is a tour de force that easily ranks with Tremblay’s best work, and that’s saying something. Join the club.

BOOK REVIEW: SPECTACULAR SILVER EARTHLING BY MARA LYNN JOHNSTONE

Reading

I was an indifferent reader until I walked into my junior high school library the first week of seventh grade and found a bookshelf labeled science fiction. That day I took home I, Robot and The Martian Chronicles.

I’ve never looked back. I read other genres now, mostly fantasy, horror, and crime fiction, but science fiction has remained my sweet spot. I think I like it because it’s a literature of ideas, because it’s often a sharp, even devastating commentary of current events (hello The Handmaid’s Tail, Fahrenheit 451, and 1984), and especially because of the endlessly inventive world-building.

Speaking of endlessly inventive world-building…Mary Lynn Johnstone’s Spectacular Silver Earthling has some, I’ll say it, spectacular world-building. In her world, humans have spread throughout the universe, and robots are fully recognized as citizens. Hubcap, her main character, was formerly a rescue bot, saving humans lives. Now that he’s his own person, he has a new job—co-host of a tv show that reports on different jobs throughout the universe. Think reality TV like Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs.

Now they’re filming on a new, supposedly uninhabited planet where humans harvest jetpods, but the people there are being plagued by “space frenzy”, which sends victims into an emotional frenzy. When you add in dangerous flora and fauna, and the fact that the planet may not be uninhabited after all, and Hubcap has his hands full.

The thing is, Hubcap can handle it, and he’ll be the first one to tell you that. He’s a robot with an attitude, a snarky smart ass who can run rings around the squishy humans who surround him. A fact he’s happy to remind them. Hubcap is a wonderful character. He’s hilarious, with a huge heart (even if he doesn’t have one), and truthfully, he may be a spectacular silver earthling, but he’s also delightfully human. Just, you know, a little better.

Johnstone is writing classic, old school science fiction here. I don’t want to give much more away here, but the alien world where she’s set her adventure is complex, inventive, and well-thought out. Her narrative gallops along at breakneck pace with excellent action, and a ton of humor. As I read, I was reminded of The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells, and Becky Chambers Wayfarers series, both for the humor and the hopeful, optimistic worldview. But Johnstone is very much doing her own thing here, and she’s written a winner.

Spectacular Silver Earthling left me hoping for a sequel, even a series. I can’t think of higher praise.

ARC REVIEW: DAPHNE BY JOSH MALERMAN

Reading

I have a confession to make…this is the first novel I’ve read by Josh Malerman. I blame all the wonderful writers out there writing all the wonderful books. After reading Daphne, Malerman’s brutal, terrifying new novel, I’ll be happily dipping into his back catalog, because this book rocks. It’s part serial killer novel, part slasher, part urban mythology, and part coming-of-age. Oh, and it’s scary as hell.

Daphne revolves around a high school girls basketball team who unwittingly awakens an evil—a hulking, unstoppable murderer named Daphne—that has stalked other basketball teams in the small town for decades. The story of Daphne is part urban myth, part scary story whispered at sleepovers, but that’s not quite right either, because the town seems to be suffering from a collective amnesia. Over the years, Daphne, who according to the stories was murdered by a group of townsfolk for various transgressions, has come back to slaughter young ballers; and then the locals, for the most part, forget it happened. Until it happens again.

Daphne works perfectly as straight-ahead horror—honestly, it might be a new classic—but it’s much more than that. Kit, the main protagonist, suffers from severe anxiety, and Malerman handles that with clear-headed sensitivity. Kit is a complex, winning character who I was rooting for from the beginning. In some ways, this is her coming-of-age story, and watching her dig deep, battle her anxiety, and find hidden reserves she didn’t know she had, is awe-inspiring. Malerman also excels at showing the easy interplay, the comaraderie, between the girls on the team.

Malerman talks about his love of basketball in the afterword (Yes, I read afterwords. In fact, I love them.), but I would have known that just from reading Daphne. His affection for the game is clear in the exciting game descriptions. The final, nerve-shredding showdown put me in mind of another one-on-one basketball game with similar high stakes—the one that caps Stephen Graham Jones’ The Only Good Indians.

Put this one on your radar, and give it a pre-order. Daphne delivers.

ARC REVIEW: LITTLE EVE BY CATRIONA WARD

Reading

Like many readers, I’m guessing, I discovered Catriona Ward with the one-two punch of The Last House On Needless Street and Sundial. Those two novels heralded a seismic shift in horror fiction. They were so sharply written, so self assured, so downright audacious, it was like someone had found long-lost novels by Shirley Jackson. Which makes sense, because as it turns out, those were not Ward’s first novels. In fact, Little Eve was her second novel, and won the Shirley Jackson award for best novel. This is an ARC review because it’s now being reissued on October 11, 2022. I can’t think of another novel more deserving of reissue.

Here’s the thing, though. Much like The Last House On Needless Street and Sundial, when it comes to reviewing, to say too much about Little Eve would be a literary crime. One of the chief pleasures of this book is discovering the gothic horrors awaiting you beyond each and every turn of the page.

The bare bones, and that’s all your getting: On the desolate Scottish Island of Altnaharra, a small cult-like found family with limited interaction with the outside world prepares for the end of the world. There are relationships that are twisted, corrupted at the core. There are secrets, mysterious ceremonies, and betrayals, all of it set in a crumbling castle on a windswept island beneath a threatening sky, surrounded by the unforgiving sea. Speaking of secrets, every character has them. More than that, they are bound up in them, like barbed wire that’s been pulled tight.

Ward excels at weaving the various threads of her story into a gothic tapestry. Her language is darkly evocative, and she keeps you guessing. Every time I thought I knew where the story was going, she spun me in circles until I was dizzy and disoriented, and I loved every minute of it. Little Eve is unnerving, sometimes overwhelmingly bleak, and always mesmerizing. I loved this novel.

As I mentioned above, Little Eve will be reissued October 11, 2022. Definitely worthy of a preorder. Do not miss this one.

THE TEAR COLLECTOR BY SHAWN BURGESS

Reading

The Tear Collector gives me Stephen King feels, and that’s a good thing. I’m thinking specifically of It and The Body (the story that the movie Stand By Me is based on), as The Tear Collector features a group of teenage boys banded together, supporting each other, and coming of age, against a formidable, deadly foe.

The setting in this case is the small Appalachian town of Harper Pass. When a young autistic girl disappears in a place where tragedy struck several years before, it sets off a chain of events that envelopes the town and entangles the boys in a high-stakes game of cat and mouse. There’s a smart detective who’s way out of his depth, an overly aggressive young reporter, a disgraced, eccentric college professor, and a centuries-old evil bent on revenge. The friends are all well-developed characters with distinct, believable personalities.

Burgess has a flair for ratcheting up tension. The central mystery is well thought out, with a nice dive into the history that brought the reader to this point. This is a small-town thriller with a heavy dose of horror, and his big-bad is fun and inventive. Give this one a try!

BOOK REVIEW: ATTACK FROM THE ’80S EDITED BY EUGENE JOHNSON

Reading

An anthology of short stories inspired by ’80s horror? Yes, please!

For fans of the genre, the ’80s were ripe—make that festering—with horror, and the 22 authors included here enthusiastically embrace the decade. This book is a rich, bloody stew of pop culture references, not just horror of the time but literally all of popular culture. The authors clearly looked at the subject as a challenge, and they pull out all the stops. There’s an unbridled, anarchic joy in the way they attack and subvert various tropes, finding new ways to go for the jugular. Editor Eugene Johnson has a great eye—this is a unified, cohesive collection.

Some of these stories are chilling, some downright scary, and a few funny in an I can’t believe they went there way. Nearly all of them are over the top, in the best way.

Some of my favorites:

Snapshot by Joe R. Lansdale and Kasey Lansdale. Seeing Lansdale in any TOC is always cause for celebration, and working with his daughter here, they deliver.

Ten Miles of Bad Road by Stephen Graham Jones. Typical Jones, which means this story kicks ass.

Stranger Danger by Grady Hendrix. Hendrix is always fun and inventive, and I loved this one.

Your Picture Here by John Skipp. One question for Skipp—Are you okay? This story is all kinds of WTF.

Mother Knows Best by Stephanie M. Wytovich. I wasn’t familiar with Wytovich, but wow, this burrowed beneath my skin like rusty fishhooks.

Perspective: Journal of a 1980s Mad Man by Mort Castle. Possibly the most ’80s of all these ’80s inspired stories, and it’s a rollercoaster ride with half the track collapsed.

Those are my favorites, but every story (and a couple of poems) here hit their mark. I also want to mention that the introduction by author Mick Garris, himself no stranger to horror and popular culture, is an excellent overview of what’s to come.

Thank you, Mr. Johnson, for bringing me back to the ’80s in such a fun, if blood-drenched, way.

ARC REVIEW: HEROES & HARBINGERS BY ARK HORTON

Reading

Another Twitter friend and member of the #WritingCommunity, another fantastic writer. Ark Horton is a writer I’ve shared a couple of anthology TOCs with, and I’m continually impressed with her skill and imagination. Heroes & Harbingers is the first novel I’ve read by her, and it won’t be my last.

Heroes & Harbingers checks a lot of the boxes—urban fantasy, dark academia, portals to alternative realities—that I look for in a book. On top of that it takes a deep dive into Greek mythology, another favorite of mine.

It’s set in and around Annie Lytle Magical Magnet High School, but unlike most novels set in the magic school sub-genre, the main characters are for the most part teachers instead of students. There’s a History of Magic teacher who’s also a bird woman and harbinger of death from Russian mythology, and an immortal Irish warrior serving out the last decade of a hundred year community service sentence as a public school teacher. Bree, a student to both of them, and her younger, sick sister, are recently orphaned, and life is about to throw them an entire novel’s worth of curveballs. They are ruled over by the Council of Pantheons, a powerful organizations of gods and demigods, who have named Bree as this century’s Chosen One. There are hidden agendas, secrets, and forces at play, and knowing who can be trusted is a dangerous game with potentially deadly consequences.

Horton sets all these pieces into motion and then steps back with what I’m sure was an evil grin. The plot gallops along at a breathless, often intense pace. The characters are well-developed, and I cared about what was happening to them. She writes with compassion and care. Horton’s magic systems and mythologies are all internally consistent and imaginative, with tantalizing glimpses into alternate realities that I hope will be explored more in the next books. Did I mention that this is the first in a trilogy?

One other thing I want to mention. Heroes and Harbingers is set in a magical, fanciful Jacksonville, Florida, a city Horton clearly knows well. It works well as an anchor to the fantasy. I’ve spent a little time in Jacksonville, and she nails the city’s vibe.

Heroes and Harbingers debuts on June 11, 2022, and is worthy of a pre-order now!

NOT A BOOK REVIEW: NEIL GAIMAN LIVE AT THE STATE THEATER IN CLEVELAND, OHIO

Reading

I didn’t discover Neil Gaiman the way it seems many folks did, through the Sandman comics. My first exposure was American Gods, at which point, mind blown, I dove in and read everything by him I could find (including, eventually, Sandman). He’s since then been firmly planted in my top 5 authors of all time.

Fast forward to last night, when his American tour brought him to my hometown of sunny Cleveland, Ohio. Did I fanboy a little? Yes. Did I create a custom t-shirt for the occasion? Also yes.

Anyway, and to keep this short and sweet, Gaiman put on a wonderful show. He read several stories and poems, making it clear why he’s the perfect person to read his own work. He answered a bunch of questions submitted by audience members, and his answers were charming and funny, truthful and sometimes touching. He mentioned visiting our local Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which was cool.

Gaiman talked for two hours. I would have gladly sat there for a couple more. I also grabbed up signed editions of American Gods and Good Omens, for the icing on the literary cake.

ARC REVIEW: PERCEPTION CHECK BY ASTRID KNIGHT

Reading

Since joining the Twitter writing community a couple of years ago, I’ve learned several things. For instance, that writers are, by and large, kind, welcoming, generous with their time, and insanely talented. I’ve made what I hope will be lasting friendships. And, as I’ve ventured out from the usual writers who make up my towering TBR pile to read some of their work, I’ve been reminded over and over that self-published and indie-published books are every bit as well-written as their traditionally published counterparts.

Case in point: Perception Check by Astrid Knight. I met Astrid, as I’ve met many writers, when we both wrote stories for the same anthology. I liked her short story work right away, and Perception Check (The Mages of Valmyra Saga Book One), an epic fantasy, is a rollicking good time.

When Violet Spence was 13, her and her best friend May were attacked by monsters, and May was abducted. No one quite believed her story, of course, and now, ten years later, she’s still haunted by that night. Her only solace is a Dungeons and Dragons-like tabletop roleplaying game called Mages of Valmyra that she doesn’t actually play, but studies obsessively. Then one day she finds a character in the guidebook that looks and sounds exactly like May.

Through a combination of sleuthing and luck, Violet and some friends find themselves in a real life Valmyra, a land of goblins and magic tormented by powerful mages. Their quest to find May and bring her home is an exciting, sometimes harrowing, and altogether epic adventure. Knight writes with spirit and imagination, with plenty of humor to leaven the tension. Her characters feel real and well-rounded, each of them flawed but with moments of heroism. I found myself cheering for them to succeed.

Knight mentions in the afterword that Dungeons and Dragons played an important part at a crucial time in her life, and that’s clear in every paragraph of Perception Check. If you’re a fan of tabletop games, you’ll find plenty of knowing asides. Knight plays with fantasy and gaming tropes like a pro. The magic system that infuses the novel is well thought out, inventive and internally consistent.

Perception Check releases May 24th, and is available for pre-order now. Whether you’re a tabletop gamer, a lover of fantasy, or just someone who appreciates an epically fun read, give this one a try!

ARC REVIEW: SEASONAL FEARS BY SEANAN MCGUIRE

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As a public service announcement, just in case you don’t have time to read this whole review:

Seasonal Fears is a “sidequel” of sorts, set in the same alchemical universe as McGuire’s miraculous novel Middlegame, with several returning characters. I finished reading it literally fifteen minutes ago, so I haven’t had much time to ponder, but I think, for me, it’s at least as good as Middlegame, and maybe, just maybe, even better. Ask me again in a couple of weeks, after the overwhelming experience of reading this book has properly settled in.

Melanie and Harry have been inseparable since they were small children, and there’s a reason for that. They were both born (although in Melanie’s case it’s a bit more complicated than that) to be the living embodiment of seasons—Harry the summer and Melanie the winter. Now, after 300 years, the king of winter and the queen of summer have died, and new ones must be chosen to take their place. Without warning, without preparation, this high school football player and cheerleader are thrust into a world they know nothing about, with death for both of them as a possible, even likely outcome.

That’s about all you’re getting from my in terms of plot. I don’t believe in spoilers. What I will tell you is that Seasonal Fears becomes a perilous road trip across America, with heart stopping danger and jaw dropping wonders around every corner.

McGuire is at her very best here, and it’s so much more than just the plot, which hums along like a fine-tuned engine.

As the father of young adults who were teenagers not that many years ago, I can attest to the fact that she understands how teenagers think, and act, and talk. McGuire has proved this again and again, particularly in the Wayward Children novels, and she truly delivers here. Melanie and Harry are living (well, that’s complicated too), breathing (also complicated) characters, filled to bursting with love and hope, but also despair and anger and frustration. The other characters, and most of them are teenagers as well, are just as achingly real.

There’s another thing McGuire is better at than just about anybody. She explains the complex alchemical concepts underpinning Seasonal Fears (and Middlegame before it)—humans as the living embodiment of things like math, language, and the seasons, for instance—in a way that makes it understandable, without dumbing it down, but more importantly without taking away the breathtaking, mind-blowing grandeur of her ideas. That, my friends, is a high wire act.

A couple other thoughts:

  1. Sprinkled throughout the novel are excerpts from a children’s book that retell, in children’s fantasy book language, the history and mythology of McGuire’s world. These snippets are so good that, just putting it out there, if McGuire were to write a full-on children’s fantasy, it would be a game-changer, an instant classic.
    2. This would make one helluva television series. Please.
    3. I’m supposed to be working on a short story with a deadline this weekend, but I just kept reading instead. Those last hundred or so pages are a freight train I was not capable of stopping. So I guess what I’m saying is, it’s not my fault I’m behind.

Seasonal Fears debuts on May 3, 2022. Pre-order it now. Get a few extras for friends and family members. It’s that good.

ARC REVIEW: THE DEVIL TAKES YOU HOME BY GABINO IGLESIAS

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After Zero Saints, Coyote Songs, and now The Devil Takes You Home, I have just one thing to say: Gabino Iglesias does not fuck around. This new sub-genre of thriller he has created and wholly owns—part high-octane crime novel, part blood-curdling horror, part merciless depiction of the desperation spawned by grinding poverty—is utterly original and devastating. I’ve seen it called barrio noire, and that seems apt to me. Like his other novels, The Devil Takes You Home is set along both sides of the frontera, the U.S./Mexican border. The tone is pitch black, honed to a razor edge, and steeped in a rich, atmospheric stew of Catholicism, mysticism, and supernatural lore. As always with Iglesias, Spanish is sprinkled liberally throughout the novel’s dialogue, lending it authenticity.

The story begins in a moment of grief, sorrow, and rage for a man named Mario. He falls into being a hitman to pay for his young daughter’s overwhelming medical expenses, and then finds himself drawn into the proverbial one last job that promises a large enough payoff to maybe, just maybe, let him start a new life. This leads to a harrowing descent into violence and unspeakable horror.

I won’t give away the particulars here. Those are for you to discover. Iglesias writes with an unfettered, feverish intensity. At the point where other authors might pull back and fade too black, he puts the pedal to the metal with what I’m sure was accompanied by, as he wrote it, a primal scream. There are a couple of scenes in The Devil Takes You Home that made me set the book gently down and step away for a little while. He writes with what I can only describe as a reckless bravado. Even when he’s showing you something you don’t want to see, he does it with such sensory-drenched language, such a flair for description, that you can’t look away. There’s a rhythm to the words, a musicality that I loved.

Iglesias’ characters, to a man and woman, are complicated and original, with backstories often delineated by heartbreak and violence. Mario, in particular, is filled with so much anguish and pain that I found myself understanding the choices he makes, no matter how foolish they ultimately are. The other characters are just as strong.

The Devil Takes You Home is not for the faint-hearted. Iglesias takes you on a tour through a world saturated with blood and defined by evil. It’s a frightening but exhilarating ride. It will be released on August 2nd, 2022. Don’t miss this one.

ARC REVIEW: THE WILDERWOMEN BY RUTH EMMIE LANG

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I’m going to compare this novel to another novel that isn’t really anything like it, but go with it. There’s a method to my madness. When I read The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix E. Harrow, I found myself smiling the entire time. The same thing happened with The Wilderwomen. This novel bursts with beautiful ideas, incandescent language, and moments that invoke a true sense of wonder. I couldn’t help smiling as I read it, even when the words simultaneously brought tears to my eyes, which happened more than once.

Teenage Finn Wilder and her older sister Zadie were set adrift when their mother Nora disappeared five years ago. Finn lives with a foster family, Zadie is on her own, and they’ve also drifted apart from each, overwhelmed by the pain and hurt caused by Nora walking way. Something was increasingly wrong with her in the months before her leaving, but they don’t know what.

One thing the sisters share besides the loss of their mother is that they both have special talents. Zadie can sometimes see future events, and Finn receives “echos”, of other peoples memories they’ve left behind. When Finn loses herself in an echo from Nora, she convinces Zadie to go on a road trip following that echo in search of their mom.

This road trip becomes a journey that forces Finn and Zadie to confront things that have been left unsaid, brings them together, and shows them a world filled with mysteries and wonderment. Lang has crafted a novel that sings and dances—the quiet, tender moments are balanced with joyful sequences that had me, as I said above, smiling in delight. Her characters, particularly the three Wilder women, are richly drawn and fully realized. I was fully invested in them and their journey from beginning to end. Speaking of the end, Lang nails it. It’s deeply satisfying.

The Wilderwomen will be released on November 15th, 2022. Believe me when I tell you, this is worthy of a pre-order. And one last thing, as a Clevelander, I was happy to discover that Lang is a fellow Ohioan. We’re lucky to have her.

ARC REVIEW: SILK HILLS, GRAPHIC NOVEL by Ryan Ferrier (Author), Brian Level (Author), and Kate Sherron (Illustrator)

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I don’t read enough graphic novels. There, I said it. Here it is March, and this is the first graphic novel I’ve read. Silk Hills is so good that I’m kicking myself for not adding more graphic novels to my TBR pile, and I’m going to remedy that.

The ad copy for Silk Hills mentions that it would be perfect for fans of The X-Files and Twin Peaks, and that’s right on. I would also add for Mothman aficionados. It has that vibe. Silk Hills is a hardscrabble Appalachian town fallen on hard times since the mines closed. When Beth, an ex-military private investigator, comes to town in search of a missing kid, she runs up against not just the grinding poverty of a town rotten at the core, but drug dealers and a potent, sinister new high made from moth dust.

Silk Hills is creepy and relentlessly atmospheric, anchored in grim reality while also delving in dark flights of fancy. Sherron’s artwork is loose yet detailed, packed with unsettling imagery that made my horror-centric heart happy. There’s great energy here. The words from Ferrier and Level dovetail perfectly with the art, telling a deeply involving story rich in Appalachian folklore. Beth is an especially winning protagonist, and a total badass.

Silk Hills will be released May 24th, 2022, and is well-worth a pre-order.

BOOK REVIEW: RAZORBLADE TEARS BY S.A. COSBY

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You may have noticed, if you’re one of my many (at least three or four) regular readers, that the last book I reviewed before this one was S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland. I’m not in the habit of reading two novels in a row by the same author—so many books, so little time—but Blacktop Wasteland, the story of a former criminal pulled into one last job to give his family a better life, blew me away.

The excellent news for lovers of crime fiction is that Razorblade Tears is even better.

A gay, biracial couple is savagely murdered, leaving behind a young child. Not surprisingly, the police do not seem overly concerned with solving this brutal crime. Enter the fathers of the two men. The fathers—one white, one black, both ex-cons with violent histories—share a common shame and regret. Neither was accepting of his son’s sexuality. Haltingly, grudgingly, they agree to team up in search of their sons’ killers.

This is a tale of revenge, yes, and Cosby writes action scenes and violence with a frightening intensity, a kinetic energy that makes his prose charge along like a dynamite truck without brakes. But Razorblade Tears is so much more than just a crackling good crime novel. Ike and Buddy Lee, the two fathers, are forced to confront their demons directly, to deal with uncomfortable truths about themselves. Cosby never shies away from subjects like racism, homophobia, and transphobia.

He also has a real gift for dialogue that can be by turns threatening and funny, but always feels authentic.

Razorblade Tears‘ characters, both main and supporting, are well developed and fully realized. I was especially drawn to Cosby’s depiction of family, the way grief can tear it apart and love can, just maybe, hold it together.

The fact that Razorblade Tears is an amazing read should come as no surprise, as it’s made many best-of lists. I can only add that it belongs right near the top of those lists.

BOOK REVIEW: BLACKTOP WASTELAND BY S.A. COSBY

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Here’s a thing I love as a reader: When you read a novel by a writer new to you, and it’s so good you immediately start another by the same author. That happened to me with S.A. Cosby. I finished Blacktop Wasteland and began Razorblade Tears that same night.

Here’s another thing I love as a reader: When a writer takes a trope dear to your heart and redefines it, does it so well that all other authors thereafter must acknowledge it. Again, that happened for me with S.A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, the trope in this case being the criminal gone straight who gets pulled back in for one last job, for the sake of his family.

Cosby takes that premise and dips it in blood and engine oil. At one time Beauregard “Bug” Montage was the best wheelman in the south, having learned the trade from his father, and all-around bad man who ran out on his family, leaving behind his car and a gaping hole in his heart.

Now Bug is a mechanic and family man, but business is tough and money is tight. When a “can’t miss” jewelry store heist presents itself, he decides to get behind the wheel one more time. Needless to say, shit goes south, betrayals abound, and bullets fly.

Blacktop Wasteland is a white-knuckled ride filled with memorable set-pieces and even more memorable characters. Cosby orchestrates the violence like a virtuoso, with a staccato rhythm to his prose that moves the story along at breakneck speed. He has a special gift for describing motor vehicles with precision, from their inner workings to the thrill that comes from being the best at driving them at top speed, on the bleeding edge of control.

Bug is a father, a son, and a husband, and he examines all those relationships, the good and the bad, with heartbreaking honestly.

Cosby writes crime fiction with a style all his own. Blacktop Wasteland is a must-read, and a couple of chapters in, I’m confident that I’ll say the same thing about Razorblade Tears.

BOOK REVIEW: UNTOUCHED BY JAYME BEAN

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We all have our weaknesses when it comes to books, tropes or character types we’re immediately drawn to. One of mine, and I have many, is environmental/biological horror. More specifically, nature run amok/striking back. It can be animals (Dr. Rat by William Kotzwinkle), insects (Invasive by Chuck Wendig), plants (The Ruins by Scott Smith)—you get the idea.

Jayme Bean’s Untouched definitely has some The Ruins vibes, but she’s very much her own writer, and this is an exciting, original and engrossing novel.

The setup is simple and devastatingly effective—a doctor takes two grad students into the remote Amazon rainforest for research purposes, but also to find a fellow researcher who has stopped checking in. Shit gets real quickly when the jungle, seemingly with a mind of its own, separates them, and Untouched becomes a tale of discovery and survival.

Bean excels at describing the rainforest as something beautiful yet overwhelming and ultimately terrifying. She makes you feel the oppressive heat and humidity, the claustrophobia that can come from lush vines and sharp, spiky, dangerous plants pressing in on you from all sides. She has a background in zoology, which comes through clearly in her vivid descriptions of the wildlife they encounter. Her descriptions of plant life are just as vivid, just as detailed. Bean writes with a scientific authority that makes her story feel all the more plausible. Untouched is at heart a cautionary tale—nearly all living things, when threatened, will take steps to protect themselves.

If Bean’s rainforest setting feels authentic, so do her characters. They are all complex and fully realized, with interesting back stories. Threaded throughout the novel, weaved into the terror, is a touching new romance with beats that feel just right. Bean writes straight, gay, and bi characters equally well. I found myself rooting for them to survive, just to see where the relationship would go.

If I haven’t made it clear by now, you should read Untouched. And one other thing—Bean got the idea for this novel while visiting the Amazon, and she has an engrossing post, with a bunch of great photos, here: https://jaymebeanauthor.com/untouched/inside-untouched/

THE MOST POPULAR DESIGNS IN MY REDBUBBLE SHOP

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I’ve now had my RedBubble shop for about a year and a half, so it seemed like a good time to look back and see which designs are most popular.


First, my most popular by a long shot, followed by my second most popular. You’ll notice a theme here. Seanan McGuire’s fans are passionate, and I count myself as one of them.

Next is a much more recent addition to the shop, but this one is catching up to the first two.

The next two are favorites for both stickers and masks. I’m guessing high school English teachers are the main reason why.

Finally, my two personal favorite designs that also, happily, get lots of love.

Here’s a link to my shop if you’d like to see what else is there:
https://www.redbubble.com/people/fan-tasm/shop?asc=u&ref=account-nav-dropdown

I’ve really enjoyed working on all these. More designs coming soon!

ARC REVIEW: THE FERVOR BY ALMA KATSU

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Alma Katsu wields research like a scalpel, deftly flaying open your tender parts with surgical precision, leaving your nerves quivering, exposed. I first discovered this talent of hers when I read The Hunger, which uses the meticulously researched story of the Donner party as scaffolding on which to build a supernatural horror novel that was equal parts terrifying and heartbreaking.

Now, with The Fervor, Katsu uses as her foundation one of the most shameful occurrences in U.S. history—the imprisonment of those of Japanese descent, the majority of them U.S. citizens, in internment camps during World War II. With painstaking detail she describes the very real horrors our government committed, interning men, women and children, entire families, stealing their property, destroying countless lives. Katsu starts with those raw materials, then weaves in supernatural horror steeped in Japanese folklore.

Katsu follows the lives of several characters—a young Japanese girl and her mother, a Japanese woman interned even though her husband is a white pilot off supporting the war effort, a white small town pastor, and equally small town reporter—as a mysterious, horrific sickness descends on an internment camp, causing the victims to become violent before succumbing to death. The sickness soon spreads beyond the confines of the camp. There’s a secret government plot, evil doctors, and breathless escapes and chases. All of it with a virulent, and sadly historically accurate, racism as a constant backdrop.

Katsu is a richly descriptive writer. She’ll make you squirm in the more horrifying supernatural passages, but you’ll also feel a righteous anger during the parts that are all too human, and no less horrifying.

If you don’t ordinarily read afterwords, please read this one. Katsu explains, with passion and fury, what led her to write this extraordinary novel.

The Fervor releases April 26, 2022. Don’t miss this one.

ARC REVIEW: HIDE BY KIERSTEN WHITE

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You know what I love as a reader? When I discover an author new to me, and on the basis of just one novel I’m hooked. It happened to me last year with Catriona Ward (to be fair, with her it was two novels, The Last House on Needless Street and Sundial). Now it’s happened again, with Kiersten White and her novel Hide. My friends and family members, and possibly total strangers, are going to get tired of me talking about this remarkable novel.

The premise of Hide is deceptively simple: A group of 14 people from all walks of life, all of them young, are invited to participate in a competition, a game of hide and seek set in an abandoned amusement park. The winner, the one who can spend a week without getting caught, wins $50,000. The amusement park is in ruins, overgrown with trees and vines, laid out in a maze meant to confuse and disorient.

Our main character, Mack, is a victim of violent trauma—her father slaughtered her mother and younger sister while she hid. Mack is broken. She blames herself for her sister’s death. She blames herself for pretty much everything.

The other competitors are a varied lot, and we get to know them all. White excels at creating memorable characters. There’s not a single cardboard cutout here. Still, it’s Mack that I fell in love with and found myself rooting for. She’s damaged, but has hidden reserves of strength and bravery even she doesn’t know she has. She reminded me, in little ways, of Jade, the main character in Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart Is a Chainsaw, and that’s high praise coming from me.

There’s a little bit of a Hunger Games feel, a little reality TV competition vibe, as alliances are formed and betrayals executed. Then characters begin to disappear. I don’t really want to give too much more away. Hide is a nerve-shredding supernatural horror thriller, accent on the nerve-shredding. White ratchets up the tension right from the beginning and never lets up.

White also has a lot to say about how trauma affects us, and our ability to overcome that trauma. About the transformative power of found families, and the sometimes corrosive, corrupting power of family obligations. There are old, evil family secrets, and, go with me on this, a nod to the Minotaur myth. I read the final 50 pages of this in a mad rush, heart in my throat.

The release date for Hide is May 24, 2022. Please pre-order this. I can’t sing this novel’s praises enough.

ARC REVIEW: BORN FOR TROUBLE, THE FURTHER ADVENTURES OF HAP AND LEONARD BY JOE R. LANSDALE

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I’m going to start this review with a short digression. Somewhere near the turn of this new century I walked into my local Half Price Books with a gift card burning a hole in my pocket. I had a plan—rather than choosing back catalog books from one or more of my go-to authors, I would expand my horizons with someone new to me.

I walked out of the store that day with four books. Strega and Blue Belle by Andrew Vachss, and Mucho Mojo and Bad Chili by Joe R. Lansdale. To say these books were revelations to me would not be overstating it. With Vachss’ Burke, I got hard-nosed noir as black as a moonless night, unflinching in their depiction of the horrors people are capable of, particularly against children. With Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard, I was introduced to pure, unfiltered mojo storytelling. From that day on I would seek out and read every book by them I could get my hands on. When I found out later that the two men were friends, I wasn’t surprised. Both men were uncompromising and unapologetic in their approach to writing and life. Sadly, Vachss passed away not long ago, which I found out in a post from Lansdale. The world of crime fiction has lost a giant.

Now back to our regularly scheduled review! Born for Trouble is a new collection of Hap and Leonard stories, which is always cause for celebration. Unlike the past couple of collections, which focused on the boy’s early years, the stories in Born for Trouble cover Hap and Leonard in their later, more mature years. Don’t panic, mature refers only to their age. They are still, for the most part, the same shit-talking, shit-kicking badasses you know and love. Hap may be coming to terms with married life and fatherhood, and he’s a little less quick to pull the trigger, but he’s still tough as nails. And Leonard is still Leonard, just as volatile, just as willing to fuck shit up.

As far as the stories go, this is a book of crime fiction, and there are few better than Lansdale. In several of them, Hap and Leonard are working as private investigators, with Hap’s wife Brett. His adult daughter Chance is along for the ride as well. They are often working with, and sparring with, their friend Marvin Hanson, the police chief of LaBorde, Texas. There are murders aplenty here, colorfully corrupt characters, and the sort of wall to wall mayhem and adventures Hap and Leonard always seem to fall into.

I had read several of these stories before as Kindle singles, and I didn’t mind rereading them a bit. Lansdale is a master storyteller. Settling down with this collection is like getting together with old, cherished friends—the kind of friends who you just know are going to get you in trouble, and you just don’t care.

Born for Trouble will be released March 21, 2022. This one’s a must-have.

ARC REVIEW: THE KAIJU PRESERVATION SOCIETY BY JOHN SCALZI

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John Scalzi isn’t just good, he’s deceptively good. Here’s what I mean. You pick up one of his novels and settle into your favorite reading chair, and maybe you mean to just read a chapter, but all of a sudden you look up, bleary-eyed, and three hours have gone by without you realizing it. He’s so damn readable that it’s easy to miss all the things he’s doing better than most folks writing science fiction today, from drum-tight plotting, to world-class world building, to believable characters, to solid, believable science. Scalzi pumps thrilling hard science fiction straight into your eyeballs, and makes it all look effortless.

Case in point: The Kaiju Preservation Society. Kaiju, the monolithic creatures (think Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, etc.) most often found stomping all over Tokyo, are real. They live on another Earth in an alternate dimension, and are sometimes able to cross over to ours when we explode nuclear bombs, which thin the barrier between worlds. I should probably mention that the kaiju have evolved to have internal, biological nuclear reactors. A small group of scientists, backed by our world’s governments, large corporations and billionaires, have established outposts on Kaiju Earth to study the beasts, to preserve them, and, perhaps most importantly, to keep them in their world and stop them from crossing into ours.

Scalzi takes this premise and has a rollicking good time. This is a thrilling, fast-paced adventure that had me flipping pages so fast I would have gotten paper cuts if I wasn’t reading on a Kindle. He’s worked out the flora and fauna of Kaiju Earth in exacting detail, so everything that happens, no matter how wild, feels utterly believable. Of course, when you mix giant creatures, their equally oversized and deadly parasites, snarky scientists, and nefarious billionaires, bad things are bound to happen, much to my delight. I can’t remember the last time I had this much pure fun reading a novel. Exactly what I needed to close out this dumpster fire of a year.

The Kaiju Preservation Society releases March 15, 2022. Preorder your copy today. If 2022 is anything like 2021, you’re going to need this.