Review: See You When the World Ends

See You When the World Ends by Simon Paul Wilson (Not A Pipe Publishing 2021)

Tim loves Naomi Wong from Hong Kong. He just didn’t realise it until now.

When Naomi returns home for her sister’s wedding, it finally dawns on Tim that his feelings for her run deeper than friendship. He starts to have a recurring dream. Unfortunately, he can never seem to remember the exact details, but he knows it’s telling him something very important.

Then the ghostly apparition of a blurred-face woman starts to haunt his waking world.

My Review:

This novella is a quick, entertaining read with romance, comedy, and a shocking supernatural threat. It begins like a rom-com with a pair of best friends, Tim and Naomi, coming to terms with previously unacknowledged feelings when Naomi flies home to Hong Kong for her sister’s wedding. Then Tim has a disturbing dream and the story veers into creepy horror as his dreams come true in the worst way. This wishy-washy slacker has to find his inner hero to save the woman he loves … from herself.

I enjoyed Tim and Naomi’s easygoing friendship and banter. They know each other well and have their own language. It was no surprise that they had feelings for each other, and also no surprise that they were reluctant to jeopardize their friendship. The supernatural threat was shocking and spooky. I like that the ending was hopeful without being completely resolved.

Available at Auntie’s HERE.

Available at Powell’s HERE.

Available at Barnes & Noble HERE.

Available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

 

 

Square Pig in a Round Hole-June 19, 2021

I’m taking a break this weekend from the celebration of band names in order to participate with the Writing Against the Darkness team in The Longest Day, a dawn-to-dusk fundraising event for the Alzheimer’s Association. The team will gather virtually at 5:26 am on Saturday, June 19 to work together on our own writing projects until about 9:00 pm, when we will total and report our combined word count. (The official Longest Day is Sunday, June 20, but we’re doing our event on Saturday so the dads on the team will be free to celebrate Father’s Day.) Last year, we churned out about 89,000 words and raised about $5000 for Alzheimer’s research, care, and support. We hope to beat both those numbers this year!

And … we’re also giving away books! All donors to any team member will be entered in a drawing for their choice from a selection of books by participating authors. Donors to my fundraiser will also be entered to win my Daughter of Magic trilogy: signed paperback copies of Daughter of Magic, Wizard Girl, and Death’s Midwife.

Learn more and donate here.

I’ll be back next week with more band names. As ever, wash your hands, wear your mask, get your vaccine, and if you are able, please buy music and merch while we wait for a better day.

Two last things before you go:

  1. My new thing in 2021 is The Rage Brigade, a Facebook group for conversation about fantasy, science fiction, superheroes, and music (and the intersections thereof). If that sounds like fun, come join us here.
  2. I share highlights from this blog in my quarterly author newsletter, The Storypunk Report, as well as news of what I’m writing and reading, upcoming events, and other goodies, including “Wizard in the Mosh Pit,” an exclusive short story just for subscribers. Click the link to check out the first ten issues and subscribe here for future issues. (Or just follow the blog for your weekly dose of band names.)

Review: Denial Kills

Denial Kills: An Anthology of Poetry and Short Fiction (Not A Pipe Publishing, 2021)

In these pages, authors and poets point us to the dangers of refusing to see what is right before our eyes. Editors Viveca Shearin, Zack Dye, and Benjamin Gorman bring you the works of Jessica Mehta, Lydia K. Valentine, Kaia Valentine, Claudine Griggs, Ayodele Nzinga, T. J. Berg, Zach Murphy, Joanna Michal Hoyt, Simon J. Plant, Huda Tariq, Ndaba Sibanda, Sarah Jane Justice, Fable Tethras, Joann Renee Boswell, Eric Witchey, Janet Burroway, Mike Jack Stoumbos, Koraly Dimitriadis, Heather S. Ransom, Kate Maxwell, and Bethany Lee. New York Times bestsellers and those published for the first time, from across the United States and around the world, come together to question, explore, illuminate, and demystify.

FDR told us we have nothing to fear but fear itself. But there is another sinister threat that can be deadly. Denial, when allowed to fester, can have serious consequences. For example, a woman who refuses to see the ugly truth about her doomed engagement can end up trapped in a miserable marriage. A wife who refuses to accept that her husband is unfaithful can find herself confronted by his lover, by her own jealousy, and by her own willful ignorance. Denying women the rights to their own bodily autonomy can cost us our happiness, our sanity, and our lives. Denial can take many forms. And when one isn’t careful, denial can most surely kill.

Available on Bookshop.org HERE.

Available on Powell’s in hardcover HERE and in paperback HERE.

Available on Barnes and Noble HERE.

Available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

My review:

Once again, an anthology from Not A Pipe Publishing provides a diverse array of responses to the theme. This time, we see denial in all its forms, whether personal or societal: about trauma, about cancer, about racism, about relationships that aren’t what they appear. About the fragility of freedom, about who belongs in Heaven, about dementia. About education, about “how we’ve always done things.”  Some takes are bitter, others almost sweet when it isn’t too late to change course.

Every piece is strong and worth a read. Here are four that made a lasting impression on me:

“Motherhood” by Fable Tethras follows a pregnant teenager as she is detained in a prison/school/hospital for those who would terminate their pregnancies or who are not deemed suitable to raise a child once it is born. It was chilling to watch the protagonist’s choices limited and limited again even as she dreamed of a possible new life after pregnancy.

“The 100th Heroine” by Heather Ransom opens like a slasher movie, then soothes with the revelation that the character is taking part in a theatrical re-enactment of a historical event. Horror returns as more is revealed about this annual event, until the rug is pulled out one more time.

“Oracles” by Janet Burroway is an elegantly told tale of a young woman intellectual in the 1950s, misreading the signs about her own future with the fellow intellectual she hopes to marry.

“Scorched Earth” by Zack Dye layers present-day climate-change denial under a story of domestic disharmony and reconciliation set in a future when agricultural land is burned on a regular schedule to prevent wildfires. Two burns, five years apart, provide the backdrop to one family’s small dramas as they prepare to evacuate.

I received an advance review ebook from the publisher.

Review: Once Upon a Fang in the West

Once Upon a Fang in the West by John Dover (Not A Pipe Publishing 2021)

The Braided Pony saloon is no stranger to gun fire and blood stains on the floor. But when a mysterious gunslinger turns up dead in Ruby’s room, it’s up to the town’s drunken sheriff to investigate. Lucky for him, Samuel, a fast-talking vampire, arrives looking to settle a score and attempting to resurrect his dead friend. Now they’re on the hunt across the rocky plains of the Wild West to recover the life that was stolen.

Available on Barnes and Noble HERE.

Available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

My review:

The name of the town is the first clue that this isn’t your typical Western. The frontier outpost of Thrall has all the expected accoutrements: saloon complete with rotgut whiskey and ladies of the night; livery stable, mercantile, schoolhouse, and church; drunken sheriff haunted by a past mistake; mysterious stranger; oh, and vampires.

Samuel, an ancient vampire and necromancer, is hunting something worse, a monster that preys on his kind and humans. He has tracked it to Thrall and persuades the sheriff to join the hunt by freeing him from the ghost that has haunted him for 15 years. With nothing better to do, the ghost comes along for the ride. Samuel resurrects Finn, a powerful vampire with whom he has a complicated relationship. There follows a lot of ridin’ and shootin’ and bloodshed.

I enjoyed Dover’s assured use (and subversion) of the expected tropes of both Western and horror fiction. The characters are developed well beyond cardboard, yet remain true to their roles. I was particularly fond of Jesse, the ghost of a youth cut off before manhood, who uses his afterlife to learn and grow and see the world. I also loved the old-fashioned innocence of the chapter titles that baldly state what is coming next while carrying ominous overtones.

Recommended if you like a loving sendup and can stomach oceans of gore.

I received an advance-reader ebook from the publisher.

Review: GhostCityGirl

GhostCityGirl by Simon Paul Wilson (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

Serial killers, starvation cults, and spicy noodles −  just another day in Nihon City.

It’s been one hundred years since Tokyo was ravaged by a ghostquake and talking about the supernatural was forbidden. To escape her unhappy family life and mundane job, Kichi Honda spends her days off visiting Mister Tanaka, an old man who tells her illegal tales of haunted Japan. But when Kichi gets stranded on Level One, she meets an impossible girl who claims to have come from Tokyo.

Kichi learns the truth about what really happened all those years ago … and discovers history is about to repeat itself.

My Review:

This is a ghost story (of the gory variety) and also a heroic origin story. Kichi Honda is a young woman with not much life to speak of. She lives with her mother, a VR TV addict, in an extremely high highrise apartment and works in the meaningless position of mall greeter. But Kichi finds joy where she can, in spicy food, old pop music, and the ghost stories shared by her elderly friend Mr. Tanaka. “Spook talk” has been forbidden by the Department of Paranormal Activity since the Tokyo ghost quake a century before, but Mr. Tanaka is able to keep their conversations secret. Kichi has never seen a ghost and isn’t sure she wants to, but she loves the stories. Then she meets Miaka, a girl who has escaped from Tokyo on a mission to prevent a recurrence of the ghost quake. Kichi and Mr. Tanaka team up with Miaka to stop the world from ending, but the clock is already ticking and things are getting weird.

Kichi is an appealing companion in a story that goes from quirky to spooky to straight-up terrifying. Although frustrated with her home life and government restrictions and surveillance, she retains curiosity, compassion, and a snarky sense of humor. Her interest in a local serial killer and encounters with creepy cultists end up being central to the apocalyptic plot. This is the first book of a trilogy; the cliffhanger ending hints at an even more heroic role for Kichi in future volumes.

I received an advance review ebook from the publisher.

Order your copy today from your local independent bookstore. Find it using IndieBound.org.

Available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Amazon UK HERE.

Available on Barnes & Noble HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

Available on Kindle UK HERE.

Review: Tooth & Claw

Tooth & Claw by Michaela Thorn (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

Vampires.

The Man in the Moon’s bloodthirsty children forged from his scorn.

Shifters.

Mother Nature’s fearless, noble servants, who risk death by bite in their constant struggle to keep the vampires at bay.

Macy’s entire life has been devoted to Mother Nature and upholding her glory, despite Macy’s incompetence as a shifter. When she’s bitten by a vampire but doesn’t die from the venom, everything changes. Overnight, she becomes one of the monsters she reviled. Severed from her girlfriend, her people, her home, and her faith, everything is called into question.

And then the Man in the Moon whispers about something even more terrible lurking on the horizon.

My review: Just when I thought there couldn’t possibly be a new take on the YA vampire novel, along comes Tooth and Claw to flip the script. For one thing, it’s not a romance, though there is love. This is a thriller driven by every human emotion, though humans barely appear in the story. This is a tale of justice deferred, with potentially world-ending consequences: timeless, yet perfectly of our times.

Macy is a young wolf shifter about to take the examination that will determine her place in the pack. Her prior attempts went poorly. If she fails a third time, she will be stuck as a lowly omega, separated from her beta girlfriend and an embarrassment to her parents. She’s feeling anxious and useless, and then she’s bitten by a vampire. Everyone knows shifters can’t be turned, so she resigns herself to death. When she regains consciousness as a vampire in a walled vampire coven far from home, she’s not thrilled to be alive. Vampires are the hated enemy that shifters were created to control. How can she be one? Gradually, she makes friends with other young vampires who have their own harrowing stories. Macy begins to question everything she was taught about evil vampires and virtuous shifters as she learns about centuries of cruel domination … and experiences it herself. Then she discovers she is the second of two Prophets. Her annoying new friend Nico is the other, and they are both having dire visions. They will have to work together (with each other, and with other vampires and shifters) to defeat a radicalized rogue vampire and his Wormwood League before he can complete the ritual to bring about the end of the world.

Throughout the page-turner of a story, Thorn paints her scenes with beautiful descriptive language—unusual in a thriller, but understandable when you know she’s also an artist. She also did a lovely job developing the mythologies of the shifter and vampire cultures, the former revolving around Mother Nature and the latter around the Man in the Moon. Shifters can not only transform to wolves, but are born with a Marrow Mark that is more than decorative—it becomes a magical weapon when the shifter makes contact with their Grounding, an ancient shifter spirit residing within but only reachable with effort. Magic is hard won in this world. Macy’s frustration with it is relatable, as is the tale of domination leading to uprising. May we humans learn something from the monsters.

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher.

Pre-order your copy today from your local independent bookstore. Find it using IndieBound.org.

Available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Barnes & Noble HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

Review: Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

Don't Ask Don't TellDon’t Ask, Don’t Tell by Claudine Griggs (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

This astounding LGBTQ crime thriller is available now.

Josie Waller, a San Francisco cop, and Emmanuel Cerrillo, a Pomona, California, detective suspect two bizarre suicides are actually murders, and the victims—a teetotaling Baptist preacher who died of a heroin overdose and a school board member who injected herself with cobra venom—are connected by their vitriolic homophobia. The officers launch an unofficial investigation and find more than expected.

Robert Davenport, an overly intellectual gay English professor at an Ivy League university with subliminal dreams of being an action hero, responds to a personal ad that delivers him to a recruiter for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” In theory, the group wants Davenport to write a literary manifesto, but just how far is he willing to go, and will the officers find him before it’s too late?

My review: What if victims of prejudice and discrimination—sometimes violent, sometimes insidious, always maddening—took up arms and fought back? What if they were backed by a well-funded organization? That’s what happens in this all too believable thriller. Set in the near past, Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell covers about 18 months in the lives of a wide variety of characters (cops, academics, scientists, activists) as a secret organization recruits LGBT activists who want to fight for justice … including murder of homophobes with platforms and ambition for power.

Robert Davenport, a closeted Ivy League English professor, has been waiting too long for tenure when he spies an ad for an LGBT organization interested in justice activists. Vetted and recruited by Tanish Padgett, who is settling scores for childhood trauma, he finds himself in deep with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, an organization ready to go public with violence on homophobes. Meanwhile, on the other coast, Detective Manny Cerrillo and Officer Josie Waller are putting the pieces together on a couple of suspicious suicides that are linked to DADT. As they race to identify the mysterious Gulf Stream who seems to be pulling the strings, DADT is preparing for a big “Pearl Harbor” event. Even with the feds involved, will they be able to prevent catastrophe?

This book is tense and exciting, as a thriller must be, but what makes it is the characters. They are all complex, interesting, and exasperatingly human. Friendship is as big a theme as murder. Partnership is the saving graces for so many of these people. Even the bad guys are at least understandable, even sympathetic. Though he’s all in with the terrorists, Davenport seems like he should be the hero, especially in a late twist. Cerrillo and Waller make a great team, though they are thrown together almost by chance. The ending presents a societal mess not unlike our present day, with things left open for at least a sequel, if not a series. The cops and Padgett all have unfinished business.

I received an advance review copy of this book from the publisher.

Order your copy from your local independent bookstore. Use IndieBound.org to find it.

Also available on Barnes & Noble HERE.

Also available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

 

 

Review: Shadow Queene

Shadow QueeneShadow Queene by Kate Ristau (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

While Áine returns to the light, Hennessey falls into shadow. Just when her dreams are about to come true, Hennessey’s world is torn apart. She is dragged into the Shadowlands, while Áine is forced into the light. But in a world of magic and darkness, where the fae wither and monsters reign, Hennessey finds a power all her own. She embraces the shadows and enters the endless night.

I have been eagerly awaiting this sequel since I read Shadow Girl in 2018, and it does not disappoint. Picking up where Shadow Girl left off with Aine, her old friend Ciaran, her sister Keva, and her new human friend/love interest Hennessy trying to cross from the dangers of the human world to relative safety in the Aetherlands. But it can’t be that easy. Shadows drag Hennessy to the Hetherlands (fairy hell) while the Eta (magical light particles) shove Aine through to the Aetherlands and destroy the crossing. Both girls spend the book surviving, learning, fighting, all with the goal of finding each other again.

I loved Hennessy in Shadow Girl, so I was excited to see her get her own story arc. This spitfire of an Irish teenager had been raised on fairy stories and wanted them to be real, but not like this: bones and monsters and darkness. But those stories and other memories of her Nana help her pay attention and make choices that increase her chances of survival. Those, plus a mysterious spear and an ugly dragon puppy named Rego. Meanwhile, Aine returns to a home that is out of balance and she may be contributing to the problem. She makes a drastic choice that sets her on an unknown path to restore balance and find Hennessy again.

Like Shadow Girl, this book ended before I was ready. The way things were left, this must be the middle act with a rousing conclusion still to come. Looking forward to it!

Review: Someone to Watch Over

Someone to Watch Over by William Schreiber (Not A Pipe Publishing 2020)

Someone to Watch Over

Winner of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association Rising Star Award!

When Lennie returns home to the Great Smoky Mountains, she’s devastated to learn from her brother, John, that their father has died. For her, it’s too late for love to conquer all—her estranged dad was the key to discovering the fate of a child she gave up when she was a teen.

Desperate, she sets out with skeptical John to find a rumored guardakin angel in the Appalachian Mountains who can connect deceased parents with their children.

Love builds and sustains families across generations. But can it conquer the divide between life and death? Lennie’s answer hinges on a daring leap of faith for a second chance with the child she never knew.

My review:

Siblings, parents, and children all have a shot at a second chance in this story of a dysfunctional family road-trip to connection. This book began life as a screenplay and would be gorgeous on the big screen. The characters and Southern settings are grounded and real—even the ghosts. Someone to Watch Over flirts with the supernatural, but in a grace-filled rather than spooky way.

Bohemian free spirit Eleanor (Lennie) Riley has hit the skids. Her past is filled with trauma and heartbreak, which she has dealt with by running away and reinventing herself. Now she has returned to her hometown, hoping to work up the nerve to reconcile with her father. Dad’s death spoils that plan but puts Lennie back in the orbit of her tightly wound big brother John, a successful engineer with a beautiful family and all the comforts … and his own unanswered questions about their blue-collar father. Just as Lennie is setting out to find a “guardikin angel” to reconnect her with her late father, John decides to recreate a long-ago family vacation to Cape Canaveral and demands that Lennie lend him her old Pontiac Bonneville, the car Dad bought for that trip. She says no but agrees to merge her trip with his. He refuses to consider her supernatural explanations of the dreams or visions she’s been having, even when he starts having them himself. Are they hallucinations brought on by stress and grief? Will the trip go according to John’s plan or will he accept a little of Lennie’s spontaneity? And who is watching over them?

I’m a sucker for a good sibling story, and this one does not disappoint. It’s no surprise that both thought Dad favored the other and that neither really knew Dad at all. Lennie and John seem like opposites—the only thing they had in common was basketball—but they manage to complement each other when they give it a chance. Nothing runs smoothly for them even when apparent miracles occur. The ending is satisfying and not cheaply won.

Order your copy from your local independent bookstore. Use IndieBound.org to find it.

Also available on Barnes & Noble HERE.

Also available on Amazon HERE.

Available on Kindle HERE.

Review: Back to Green

Back to GreenBack to Green: Part 3 of the Going Green Trilogy by Heather S. Ransom (Not A Pipe Publishing, 2020)

Available now!

Order your copy from your local independent bookstore. Use IndieBound.org to find it HERE.

Order online from Oregon Books and Games HERE.

Order from Barnes & Noble HERE.

Order from Amazon HERE.

Back to Green wraps up Ransom’s Going Green trilogy with an exciting and satisfying story that keeps a few surprises until the end. (If you haven’t read Going Green and Greener yet, what are you waiting for? This one could be read on its own but will make much more sense with that background.)

Calyssa Brentwood used to be a spoiled rich girl. At 18, she underwent the Green enhancement procedure that would allow her to photosynthesize and be part of high-class Green society. As the process was taking effect, she fell hard for non-Green Gabe Stayton and learned about the anti-Green, anti-GMO rebellion taking place just outside SciCity. Then she and Gabe both suffered terrible losses for which they blamed each other, ending their romance. But when their home was destroyed in a flood, Calyssa and her father sought refuge with the Staytons on their farm. Back to Green opens in that awkward position, with Calyssa and Gabe on speaking terms but not much else.

Calyssa’s father has contracted the deadly PKPH virus and is returning to AGHA (his research institute) to begin an experimental treatment. He wants Lyssa with him. In packing to leave, Lyssa and Gabe discover a journal from over a century before, when plants were dying from the PK virus and the Green enhancement was being developed as a way to save lives and resources. The friendship warms over this shared interest. But her return to AGHA puts her back in the orbit of charismatic Maddax Steele … and Eve Huxley, the mother who doesn’t remember her but is obsessed with her DNA for a project to create superior humans.

Calyssa is often scared to the point of hysteria, but who wouldn’t be, living in the same building as a driven psychopath who has lost all empathy? She doesn’t know who she can trust and almost drives friends and family away. But she finds her courage when she needs it, risking everything for a friend.

I appreciated how Calyssa and Gabe didn’t just get back together, forgive and forget, no hard feelings. The relationship they rebuild is earned. The book ends on an upbeat note, full of surprises, including one that leaves the door open for more stories.

After losing her sister and almost losing her father, Calyssa Brentwood is finally returning to a somewhat “normal” life … until the PKPH virus mutates and attacks, and she once again finds herself scrambling. When her maniacal mother who had been presumed dead resurfaces for a second time, there’s far more danger than Lyssa has ever known. But now, when it matters most, she must decide who she should trust and what is truly worth fighting for.

“Riveting, intense, and thought-provoking. Back to Green masterfully weaves the action and tragedy of unregulated science and politics with hope for a better future.”

Mikko Azul, author of The Staff of Fire and Bone

“This series grows with every installment, and Back to Green is a perfect conclusion. Nothing short of a triumph!”

Benjamin Gorman, author of Corporate High School