Review: GhostCityGirl

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

Now on pre-order! Releases October 27, 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.

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

Available for pre-order on Amazon HERE.

Available for pre-order on Amazon UK HERE.

Available for pre-order on Barnes & Noble HERE.

Available for pre-order on Kindle HERE.

Available for pre-order 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.

Square Pig in a Round Hole-August 8, 2020

Square PigNaming a band is an act of concentrated creative expression. Square Pig in a Round Hole exists to reward five favorite band names each week. Winners are (usually) listed alphabetically.

Selection is wholly unscientific and subject to whim, with a bias toward wordplay, humor, and local flavor. In most cases, I won’t know anything about the bands at the time of selection. Thanks to the Seattle Times nightlife listings for abundant source material!

SQUARE PIG IN A ROUND HOLE PANDEMIC EDITION #21

What a waste of a cool August weekend! It would have been tolerable to go out to a crowded club, but the choice to go out or not go out is not yet ours to make. Fortunately, I have a generous trove to share of summer-themed band names from the past. Be safe, wear your mask, and please buy these bands’ music and merch while we wait for a better day.

Long Shorts

(July 20, 2019) I love a good oxymoron. On the one hand, which is it? On the other hand, sometimes you don’t want to show your knees, even in summer.

Melt-Banana

(July 4, 2015) It’s so hot, even the fruit is melting! [Serendipitous update: this band gets a name-check in GhostCityGirl by Simon Paul Wilson (coming from Not A Pipe Publishing in October 2020) that I was advance reading mere days after I selected this one for a retrospective post.]

Mustard Plug

(July 4, 2015) This is one of those band names that shines a spotlight on a mundane or annoying object, elevating it to the hilarious sublime. It’s also a fitting name for a summer weekend of picnics and barbecues.

Pop Sickle

(January 11, 2014) The quiescently frozen confection that kills it every time.

PORCH

(October 24, 2015) I’m a fan both of singular monosyllabic nouns as band names, and also of porches. Porch season is over for another year, but it’s a great place to make music on a warm summer night. Also, somebody get these guys on a bill with Square Pig faves Pouch!

 

One last thing before you go: 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 seven issues and subscribe here for future issues. (Or just follow the blog for your weekly dose of band names.)

Square Pig in a Round Hole-June 6, 2020

Square PigNaming a band is an act of concentrated creative expression. Square Pig in a Round Hole exists to reward five favorite band names each week. Winners are (usually) listed alphabetically.

Selection is wholly unscientific and subject to whim, with a bias toward wordplay, humor, and local flavor. In most cases, I won’t know anything about the bands at the time of selection. Thanks to the Seattle Times nightlife listings for abundant source material!

SQUARE PIG IN A ROUND HOLE PANDEMIC EDITION #12

Special protest-themed post! We were expecting civil unrest to kick off around August, but apparently Junuary is here and the time is right for marching in the streets. This pandemic has made plain even to the privileged (like me) some deep-rooted inequities, biased and brutal policing being one of many legitimate grievances in communities of color. If you are able, please carry a sign, donate to justice organizations (see below for a humble suggestion), amplify unheard voices, and since there won’t be live music for a while yet, perhaps buy these bands’ music and merch while we wait for a better day.

And I Am the Riot

(July 28, 2012) I wonder what came before the conjunction — “You are the . . .” I like that it’s not a riot, but the riot.

Down with People

(December 31, 2011) This could be an anti-people protest slogan or a statement of support: “I’m totally down with them.” I like the ambiguity.

Molotov Colostomy

(June 22, 2013) Well, that took a surprising turn! Grossest protest ever.

Not a Part of It

(August 29, 2015) This could be an alibi: “It wasn’t me. I don’t even wear makeup.” But I like it better as an expression of wholehearted, all-or-nothing-at-all engagement.

Riot at the Dojo

(March 3, 2018) Over-the-top fight scene. Everyone bows at the end. (The resident young person was hoping for an exclamation point after Riot.” You can’t always get what you want.)

Shout+eBook+Cover+12_15_19.jpg?format=750wA small way to help and get something good to read at the same time: for every copy of Shout: an Anthology of Resistance Poetry and Short Fiction purchased, Not A Pipe Publishing makes a donation to Black Lives Matter and 3 other worthy justice organizations. (I recommend doing even more good by ordering from your favorite independent bookshop.) Full disclosure: I have a story in this book but I would make this recommendation even if I didn’t because the other stories are that good!

One last thing before you go: 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 six issues and subscribe here for future issues. (Or just follow the blog for your weekly dose of band names.)

Square Pig in a Round Hole-May 30, 2020

Square PigNaming a band is an act of concentrated creative expression. Square Pig in a Round Hole exists to reward five favorite band names each week. Winners are (usually) listed alphabetically.

Selection is wholly unscientific and subject to whim, with a bias toward wordplay, humor, and local flavor. In most cases, I won’t know anything about the bands at the time of selection. Thanks to the Seattle Times nightlife listings for abundant source material!

SQUARE PIG IN A ROUND HOLE PANDEMIC EDITION #11

Even if every bar is still a dead bar and there’s still no live music, we can enjoy a morning thunderstorm. BOOM! (If you need a live music fix, KEXP is posting sessions daily. They recently premiered this session with Square Pig faves Dead Bars.) If you are able, please buy these bands’ music and merch while we wait for a better day.

Power Skeleton

(October 19, 2013) I have it on good authority that October is Skeleton Awareness Month. I have a sore hip, so I’m quite aware of my own personal skeleton. When I eventually have my hips and/or knees replaced, I want them to put in a sound chip to make noise like a servo motor.

Shelter in Place

(November 9, 2019) This emergency directive is probably more pleasant to enact when the place in question is a bar, especially when the bar is called The Funhouse! [When I wrote this less than a year ago, I never dreamed it would become poignant.]

Sh*t Ghost

(July 17, 2016) Gross and funny and they have the most adorably disgusting logo.

Sidewalks and Skeletons

(June 22, 2019) More like trick-or-treat than end-of-school. Then again, no matter the time of year, everyone on the sidewalk has inside them a spooky, scary skeleton. (Happy coincidence: S and S is from Bradford, UK, the birthplace of my spouse’s grandfather.)

Skeletonwitch

(May 19, 2018) In case my new book [Daughter of Magic, released May 2018] does well enough to warrant them, I’m already planning sequels. One is likely to include as antagonist a skeletal hag called Old Mother Bones. This is her house band. [Book 2 Wizard Girl released in July, 2019. Book 3 Death’s Midwife was submitted to Not A Pipe Publishing this month and does, in fact, include an antagonist called Old Mother Bones.]

 

One last thing before you go: 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 six issues and subscribe here for future issues. (Or just follow the blog for your weekly dose of band names.)

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.

Square Pig in a Round Hole-April 11, 2020

Square PigNaming a band is an act of concentrated creative expression. Square Pig in a Round Hole exists to reward five favorite band names each week. Winners are (usually) listed alphabetically.

Selection is wholly unscientific and subject to whim, with a bias toward wordplay, humor, and local flavor. In most cases, I won’t know anything about the bands at the time of selection. Thanks to the Seattle Times nightlife listings for abundant source material!

SQUARE PIG IN A ROUND HOLE PANDEMIC EDITION #4

Well, here we are, Easter weekend, and the country is not close to being open for business. It goes without saying that every bar is still a dead bar. If you might have gone to church for Easter in less weird times, I hope you will enjoy this Easter story I wrote a few years back. And if you’ve run out of reading material, go here to receive 20 free ebooks, including my garage-rock fairy tale The Gospel According to St. Rage.

I have almost used up my first stash of pandemic-themed band names from the past but never fear: if this blog has taught me anything, it’s that band names will never be in short supply. If you are able, please buy these bands’ music and merch. And come back next week for more band names.

The Airborne Toxic Event

(June 4, 2011) Take 1 scary, potentially lethal occurrence, give it a calm official title, repurpose said title as the name of a rock band. I like the hyper-rational badassery that results.

Mechanical Plague

(June 2, 2019) The invasion has begun. I welcome our robot overlords.

Sci-Fi Fantasy Horror

(May 2, 2015) I’m not a fan of genre classification, but I admit this is my default section of the bookstore and where any books of mine would likely be shelved. Is there such a thing as “Speculative Rock”? [My first novel, the aforementioned The Gospel According to St. Rage, released a little over a year later.]

Sick Sad World

(April 23, 2016) See above, re: those damn wizards.* (This one reminds me of a recently published post-electoral dystopian blues, Ted Cruz Smiles and a Baby Dies, in which I have a story about the coming revolution.) [N.B.: a new version of that story, “Emma’s Knives,” was included in Shout: an Anthology of Resistance Poetry and Short Fiction (2020 Not A Pipe Publishing).]

* The same post included Blame the Wizards about whom I wrote: Maybe that’s the explanation for the awfulness so far this year: a wizard did a spell, taking Prince and Bowie, but leaving Trump and Cruz. Damn wizards.

Today I Caught the Plague

(March 21, 2012) This one seems to go with Not Dead Yet [featured on March 31, 2012 and in last week’s retrospective, April 4, 2020]. I like the complete sentence, apparently delivered with utter calm.

 

One last thing before you go: 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 six issues and subscribe here for future issues. (Or just follow the blog for your weekly dose of band names.)

Square Pig in a Round Hole-April 4, 2020

Square PigNaming a band is an act of concentrated creative expression. Square Pig in a Round Hole exists to reward five favorite band names each week. Winners are (usually) listed alphabetically.

Selection is wholly unscientific and subject to whim, with a bias toward wordplay, humor, and local flavor. In most cases, I won’t know anything about the bands at the time of selection. Thanks to the Seattle Times nightlife listings for abundant source material!

SQUARE PIG IN A ROUND HOLE PANDEMIC EDITION #3

The Longest March is finally over but here we still are, with every bar still a dead bar. I’m once again descending into the cellar to bring you a vintage pandemic-themed retrospective. The names are still great even if the bands aren’t playing. If you are able, please buy their music and merch. And come back next week for more band names.

Not Dead Yet

(March 31, 2012) I dig the Monty Python reference. And also: my first-born is 21 [now 29], and yet . . .

The Outbreak

(August 26, 2017) Sick maniacs making a bid for freedom.

Plague of Turtles

(April 29, 2017) In late 2013, I started writing a short story called “St Rage” that had in its backstory a teen band called Plague of Turtles (first mentioned publicly in this post). In 2015, the story was published as the January release in the Pankhearst Singles Club, then grew into a full-length novel, The Gospel According to St Rage. [Re-released in a new edition in August 2019 from Not A Pipe Publishing. –ed.] Plague of Turtles remains in the backstory but the members appear in a reconstituted group called Sack o’ Hamsters, then Legion of Morons, and finally, The Greebles. Yesterday, I was delighted to learn that Plague of Turtles is no longer fictional! It tickles me no end that someone else thought this was a perfect band name.

Plague Vendor

(September 28, 2019) I like this kind of wordplay, where changing a few sounds in a common phrase twists the meaning in an unexpected direction. Not just infecting others, but selling it to them. That’s a clever rat.

The Plot Sickens

(October 8, 2016) I probably wouldn’t read a book that got this review, but I salute the pun.

 

One last thing before you go: 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 five issues and subscribe here for future issues. Issue #6 coming next week! (Or just follow the blog for your weekly dose of band names.)