April 18, 2014

Chasing Tale [4/18/14]: Bad TV Stars Make Worse Authors

Chasing Tale is a recurring feature of the blog in which I highlight the latest books to appear on my bookshelf. Some I find at bookshops, some are bargains on the Kindle Store, while others are review copies sent my way from authors, publishers, and publicists.

Last week, I was asked if I'd be interested in reading the latest book from a reality TV star. I think the person's claim to fame stems from one of those "Real Housewives" shows. My answer? While I was quite polite in declining, I wonder if the undercurrent of "Are you some kind of fucking moron?!" came through to the person who asked me.

TV stars have a sketchy track record when it comes to writing books--or rather dictating books to poorly paid ghost writers--but I'm guessing it's even worse with the glut of pseudo-celebs spawned from the fetid swamps of reality TV. And let's just set aside the capabilities they possess towards the English language for a moment to ask one dismal question: Do people who sit down to watch such dopey dreck even buy books?

I get the attempt to cash in on the popularity of Duck Dynasty or Honey Boo-Boo or the riveting life story of some American Idol reject, but these books are doing little more than propping up wobbly table legs or serving as gag gifts to actual readers. HA, fooled you! You thought you were getting that novel you really wanted and instead you got a book of poetry by one of the Bachelorettes (That's a real book, by the way).

Some may see me wasting my time by reading genre fiction, but those people lack the understanding that true drivel is not found in genre, but in the nonfiction section.

No sir, I will happily while away my time with books like these, thank you very much:

Queenpin by Megan Abbott - Abbott has a new novel out this summer, a rather gruesome one too by the sounds of it, but this one I snapped up is one of the nostalgic noir titles that put her on the map. Plus, I haven't read a whole lot of crime fiction lately with female characters in the spotlight, so cheers for that.

Peckerwood by Jedidiah Ayres - This one from Broken River Books looks like smalltown noir with the dial turned up to 10, and it comes highly recommended from a couple authors whose work I enjoy greatly, so I'm sure I'll get a kick out of it. I already love that bony two-finger salute on the cover.

The Greenland Breach by Bernard Besson - This one is described as a "cli-fi spy novel." What the aitch is that? Oh, climate-fiction ... gotcha. Anyway, this is a tranlation of a French novel. I read a French novel last year with pleasing results, so let's hope this goes two for two.

Blood Groove by Alex Bledsoe - This is one I've had on my wish list for a while and I finally snagged a copy. I guess it is one that is under-appreciated by Bledsoe's readers, perhaps preferring the more adventurous tales than a stylistic vampire tale set in the 70s. Me, I want this one.

The Impostor #1: Half a Hero by Richard Lee Byers - I first heard of Byers a few years ago when an urban fantasy novel he wrote was published by Night Shade Books called Blind God's Bluff. Not sure what happened to that series in the wake of NSB's shakeup, but this series of super-hero novellas looks pretty cool, so I got the first one.

The Christmas Ghost Stories of Lawrence Gordon Clark: Deluxe Edition - I actually already read this collection earlier in the month, but Spectral Press forwarded along a PDF copy of what they have planned for the deluxe hardcover edition and it just makes it all the better.

Night of Wolves by David Dalglish - I think David and I are in the same anthology, Fading Light if memory serves, but I've never gone out and gotten one of his books. Then I saw this one was free on the Kindle Store, so that took care of that.

Bad Karma in the Big Easy by D.J. Donaldson - The folks at Astor + Blue sent me a review copy of this New Orleans set mystery novel. I think I have the preceding novel somewhere on my TBR pile, but things have a way of getting away from a fella.

The Last Bastion of the Living by Rhiannon Frater - For as much praise Rhiannon Frater gets for her zombie novels, I've never read one. Then she came out with a 99 cent sale on this one a week or two ago and I thought I'd give it a go.

Ugly Little Things by Todd Keisling - I was lucky enough to win all four of Todd's short stories in his Ugly Little Things series: "Radio Free Nowhere" (which I listened to as part of an audiobook anthology last year), "The Harbinger", "Saving Granny from the Devil", and "When Karen Met Her Mountain." Very cool stuff by the sounds of it. I already loved one of the four so far, so ...

All the Earth, Thrown to the Sky by Joe R. Lansdale - Here's a YA novel from one of my favorite authors. I've read a couple stories of his that feature young protagonists, but I think this is the first novel he wrote geared towards a young audience. Ought to be interesting.

The Axeman of Storyville by Heath Lowrance - BEAT to a PULP released this novella as a freebie a week or two ago. Love the cover and Lowrance can spin a yarn, so I'm happy.

A Swollen Red Sun by Matthew McBride - This is one of the novels I've been eager to read ever since I first heard about it. McBride's Frank Sinatra in a Blender was one of my favorite reads of 2013 and this one sounds like it could be even better.

Infinity House by Shane McKenzie - This one looks to be firmly rooted in the horror genre. Even the cover makes me queezy a little bit.

Hot Rock by Annie Seaton - I won a giveaway just a little while ago that was hosted by Bitten By Books, so when perusing Annie's lineup of books this romantic one with a time-travel twist caught my eye. Hey, if you want me to read more romance, throw in some tropes I already love.

The Waiting by Hunter Shea - A new short novel from Hunter Shea and Samhain's horror line that sees a worried husband who sees a boy's ghost lurking around his comatose wife. Eesh, sounds deliciously creepy.

Switchblade Goddess by Lucy A. Snyder - As Lucy A. Snyder got the funding for her fourth Jessie Shimmer novel, I figured I ought to buy the third. I have a little catching up to do.

The Blonde by Duane Swierczynski - This is one of Swierczynski's earlier novels, but it sounds like a doozy, with a femme fatale keeping a poor schmoe hostage in her bid to stay alive.

Vile Blood by Max Wilde (aka Roger Smith) - This premise for this one sounds so effing bonkers I can't believe I hadn't heard of it until last week. Smith writes riveting thrillers, but this one is straight-up horror and has got some big-time praise from some amazing authors.

April 16, 2014

The Hardest Part of Being Haunted: a review of Hunter Shea's "The Waiting" (+ a giveaway)

The Waiting
by Hunter Shea
Samhain Publishing (2014)
112 pages

The opening chapters of The Waiting are gut-wrenching, and in the case of a bride on her wedding day that is taken quite literally. Overcome by searing pain in her abdomen, Cassandra Pagano, collapses and is hospitalized with a seriously debilitating condition that sees her comatose and in need to long-term care as her body heals from not only the sickness, but also the surgery that saved her life.

Her new husband, Brian, dutifully watches over her when she's brought to their new home, along with his mother-in-law and a registered nurse, hoping for Cassandra's full recovery. But a spectre arrives in the house and the question becomes if it's a guardian angel or a malevolent spirit.

This creepy novella from Hunter Shea doesn't waste time, as that opening scene with Cassandra is pretty brutal. From there it just piles on the anguish and the torment, with much of the story seen through Brian's eyes as his wife incrementally deteriorates before his eyes over the weeks and months of caring for her, and alternating chapters from the mother-in-law's vantage, and even brief interlude's from Cassandra. It plays on atmosphere, paranoia, the struggle between managing the terrors at home with the mundane turmoil of life in general, and all handled quite well.

My one hangup came from not really understanding until very late in the story just what the "rules" were for the spirit. It seemed to be linked to the house, then to Cassandra, then to the house again. Moments surrounded that part of the book seemed to contradict each other at points.

Aside from that, it's a very good outing from Hunter Shea, and a reminder to me that I need to read more of his stuff.

Available at Amazon.com

GIVEAWAY: Hook of a Book is hosting a blog tour for Hunter Shea right now, so you should check that out for more Hunter Shea goodness. Plus, there's a giveaway in which lucky winners will walk away with books. You just need to fill out the Rafflecopter form below. You gotta love that, right?

The Southern Gothic Noir Soundtrack: a guest post by Eryk Pruitt, author of "Dirtbags"

Dark fiction splinters into many sub-genres, and those sub-genres continue to splinter. One of my favorites is Southern Gothic, which manages to bridge the gap between literary and horror. Furthermore, the crime fiction offshoot of noir can barely be contained with a single definition, and gets even blurrier as you move its traditional urban setting to locales more rural and desolate.

To combine elements of both is to create a dark genre all its own.

Imagine the tenets of Southern Gothic and its tendency to reflect on what makes the South odd and grotesque: race, religion, and an inner violence passed down through generations like an heirloom. A mystical realism that would make any sparkly vampire tuck tail and run. Add noirish ingredients – hard-boiled characters beyond redemption, femmes fatale, everybody with a crooked, transgressive angle and outlook. Employ the Southern love of storytelling and there you have it:

Southern Gothic Noir.

Literature has no shortage of material in the Southern Gothic Noir canon. I'd say Flannery O'Connor is the grandmother. Cormac McCarthy pops in and out. Daniel Woodrell is a master. There was never any question about what in what style I would write my novel DIRTBAGS.

Film has its say as well. One of the perfect recent examples is Beasts of the Southern Wild. More self-aware, but still beyond amazing is Mud, or even the hit HBO miniseries True Detective.

But how about music? If you were amped up and in a Southern Gothic Noir mood, but couldn't manage a television show or movie, what exactly would you pop into the CD player or play on the iTunes?

Allow me...


An entire Southern Gothic Noir playlist could revolve around the independent acts that make up the Americana supergroup Slim Cessna's Auto Club. From Slim's original band, The Blackstone Valley Sinners and their "Lethal Injection," to Jay Munly's "Shoot Her with the Good Hand Gun," (and more), their sound and lyrics are rich with dark, twisted nuance. However, there should be no mystery why this song should launch such a collection. All of the elements of traditional murder ballads are present: the cold-blooded and senseless murder of another, the aftermath, and the insight into the killer's icy mind. In the third act of the song, the killer eschews hope of redemption, choosing rather to "straighten out this town with might," altering their tools. It is as if Jim Thompson himself wrote the lyrics. Any exploration into small town murder could be prefaced with this song's harrowing refrain because this indeed is how we do things in the country.

The strength of Southern storytelling is on fine display with this tormented tale of a man who does what he has to do to provide for his family after "momma took sick." The haunting twang of the banjo and the weeping wail of the fiddle provide the perfect backdrop, but the true horror exists in the tale. This particular video is shot during Music City Roots, an amazing music program hosted by the Loveless Cafe in Nashville. Nothing in my mind is more Southern than the biscuits at the Loveless.

It could be argued that music wouldn't be the same today, had Jimmie Rodgers not shown up in Bristol without his backing band. Those sessions with Victor Talking Machine Company representative Ralph Peer are known as "The Big Bang of Country Music," and that day shepherded a new era of music that still influences us today. While Rodgers was influenced by many things (minstrel shows, railroad songs, etc.), nothing had a greater effect on him than his own mortality, thanks to tuberculosis. When Rodgers sings "I hate to see that evening sun go down/It makes me think I'm on my last go-round" and the resulting yodel, you feel the horror the man faced daily. That line has been repeated throughout the history of music, but Rodgers' is perhaps the most daunting. Famed Southern Gothic writer William Gay obviously agreed, as he titled both a short story and collection of stories after that line. (Later to be made into a beautiful film)

Speaking of William Gay, his greatest novel is Provinces of Night, which tells the tragic tale of the Bloodworth family. I honestly think this book puts him alongside McCarthy and O'Connor for greatest Southern Gothic storyteller of all time. There is no reason for anyone not to have read this book.
That being said, the tone, characters, and feel of the book are strongly influenced by the chilling banjo strains of Dock Boggs. Just as Jimmie Rodgers rocked Gay's soul in the aforementioned short story, Boggs' fingerprints are all over these pages. Later, a film was adapted, but by removing the banjo and inserting Kris Kristofferson, they effectively knocked the William Gay right out of the material and ruined the film. Don't watch it unless you have first read the book.

The devil runs amok in Southern culture these days, but such was not always the case. White churches never discussed Satan in the South, as they considered that a northern concern. But stories imported from Africa or the Caribbean delivered him, and the evangelical movement of the late twentieth century (as well as Charlie Daniels) really gave him a platform. But previous to that, pockets of Southern culture have interesting devil stories. One of my favorites is the tale of Robert Johnson who legendarily was a shitty guitarist until he sold his soul at the crossroads. Suddenly, he could play like the dickens. His light shone bright and fast, as only twenty-seven of his songs were ever recorded. But that brief career inspired many, from Howlin' Wolf to Son House to the Rolling Stones. Johnson sang about things folks didn't talk about, and his songs "Hellhound on my Trail" and "Cross Road Blues" tell the stories of his jaunt to the other side. Even his death achieved mythological status, as many men have later sang about being slipped poison into their moonshine.

Consider Shack Shakers front man Col. J.D. Wilkes the ambassador to Southern Gothic music. His sometimes swampy, sometimes carnival, sometimes juke joint sound is many things, but one thing for sure you could call it is Southern through and through. He's got murder ballads, like Kentucky's "Blood on the Bluegrass" and he's got updates to classics, like "Sugar Baby." But "Nightride" from their album Agridustrial pays homage to one of the greats in the Southern pantheon. Robert Penn Warren's first novel told the horrific, noirish story of the Night Riders, a band of hooded outlaws who took up arms against the Duke tobacco interests in the early Nineteenth century. This nugget of history may have fallen forgotten to the rest of the country, but in Western Kentucky it is a badge of pride, proof that Southerners could and would band together to fight a cause without regard to it being "lost" or not.

The tenet of mystical realism in Southern Gothic is one that won't go away. Be it inside Gay's Provinces of Night, where we wonder if Brady Bloodworth truly has the power to curse a man, or in the film Beasts of the Southern Wild, where we are not sure if the child can speak with monsters from another world, or has she inherited her father's insanity. No, cultures from the South care not for sparkly vampires or staggering zombies... they have their own horrors. And just as they have their own brand of fear, they also have their own cures. Why call up a doctor for a boner pill when you can go to Louisiana for a "mojo hand?"

Obamacare don't cover no trip to Marie LaVeau, child. (FYI: This man is my favorite musician of all time.)

Let's face it: thanks to Kurt Cobain, we will never hear this song the same way ever again. Lead Belly is perhaps one of the most influential musicians to come out of the South, but one night on MTV Unplugged changed our perception of him forever. But his canon is straight-out Southern and creepy. These dark tales of murder, deceit and treachery are commonplace in Lead Belly's universe of cotton fields, jook joints, and prison. His chilling song "Take This Hammer" belongs in a horror movie. Even the man's life is straight noir. A cotton picker who got mixed up in the wrong place, wrong time, landed in prison, then was pardoned for singing a song to the governor. He rolled with greats like Blind Lemon Jefferson, who gave us songs about what Southerner's truly fear when the lights go out, like "Black Snake Moan." He killed a man. Maybe more. 
Lead Belly is the stuff of Southern noir legend and he left us leagues of music for us to celebrate him.

The Pine Hill Haints are an Auburn, Alabama band who got their name from the cemetery where they used to practice. Pick any song of theirs and you will have a spooky Southern experience filled with dead instruments, such as the saw, washtub bass, or banjo. Their albums Ghost Dance and Welcome to the Midnight Opry are the perfect soundtrack to any Southern Gothic Noir. They sing of ghosts at the pet cemetery, eerie trains, and the clock striking twelve... thirteen times. This particular song is a standard covered by many Southern Gothic acts, but perfectly demonstrates the skills of one of the greatest bands no one has ever heard of.

And you have to catch them live.

Let's face it: The South is a scary place. It always has been. When Colonial America fought for independence, these guys were a haven for the enemy. In antebellum days, what is a more frightening practice than the "peculiar institution" of slavery? Horrors never before seen occurred on this soil during the war, and after the war this region was occupied territory. Most people traveling through the South during the first half of the twentieth century rode in fear. And today is no better. Between the heat, the mosquitoes, the snakes, gators, and worst of all, some of the angriest and violent people mankind may ever know, there is plenty to fear. It takes a strong sort to make it through. It ain't for everybody. Darkness lurks around every corner, danger hangs in the air like Spanish moss. There is no place in America more dangerous. No place more Gothic. No place more noir.

No place more beautiful.

Eryk Pruitt is a screenwriter, author, and filmmaker living in Durham, NC with his wife Lana and his cat Busey. His fiction has appeared in Thuglit, The Avalon Literary Review, and Southern Gothic: New Tales of the South, as well as many others. He is the author of DIRTBAGS, the Southern Gothic Noir released by Immortal Ink Publishing, LLC. DIRTBAGS is available in print and e-formats at Amazon, Nook, and iTunes. A full list of his credits can be found at www.erykpruitt.com.

April 14, 2014

The Madness of Moon Hill: an audiobook review of Anthony J. Rapino's "Reality Engineers"

Reality Engineers
by Anthony J. Rapino
narrated by Ian Baldwin
In Ear Entertainment (2013)
2 hrs. 28 min.

Time to revisit Moon Hill. I had a weird and wonderful time the last time Rapino plunged by consciousness into the madness of Moon Hill with his short story collection, Welcome to Moon Hill. This time it's a novella-length mind warp, though I checked it out in audiobook form courtesy of In Ear Audio Entertainment. I remember Anthony telling me he was working on a longer work set in Moon Hill, Pennsylvania, but I had no idea he was going to crank the crazy up to eleven.

It's starts off simple enough. Just a guy walking his dog in a dog park. Nothing out of the ordinary there, except for the fact his dingle is dangling out of his pants and he's pissing on the grass right along with his dog, and he doesn't remember doing it or how it could have happened. Okay, pretty weird. The giant bird chasing him down? Super weird. Or how about the woman whacking a tree with a stick that has a walnut tied to the end of it? That's pretty gosh darned weird. The sack of mangled meat that drops out of the sky, courtesy of that giant bird? Super weird.

And that's just the first couple chapters of the book.

Reality Engineers is like a cross between Stephen King's The Regulators and Rod Serling on an acid trip. The cast of characters grows with each chapter until about midway through, and then the whole thing unravels literally and figuratively with an apocalyptic free-for-all with cosmic creatures fighting for dominance and rewriting the very fabric of Moon Hill's reality.

As for Ian Baldwin, he does a great job in conveying the utter weirdness that is Anthony J. Rapino's thoroughly corrupted imagination. I'm no expert on cosmic horror, but I'd say Mr. Rapino has a knack for it, because this delivered the goods.

April 11, 2014

But It Feels So Right: an audiobook review of Max Allan Collins' "The Wrong Quarry"

The Wrong Quarry
by Max Allan Collins
narrated by Dan John Miller
Audible, Inc. (2014)
Hard Case Crime

I've never read a Quarry novel before, let alone listened to one, but I've heard more than enough praise for Collins' work that I didn't hesitate in downloading a review copy of The Wrong Quarry.

For the uninitiated like me, here's the catch-up: John Quarry is a Vietnam vet turned hitman, now making a living taking out other hitmen after a falling out with his former employer, the Broker. He has his own code to live by with little to no compunction when it comes to killing or fornicating. If he has you in his sights, he's either going to blow your brains out or f**k your brains out. I guess it all depends on who's wearing the skirt, in Quarry's eyes.

His latest job has him meeting up with an effeminate dance instructor based in Missouri named Vale. Vale is frightened someone in town has put a hit on him following the disappearance of one of his star pupils, Candy Stockwell. It doesn't take long for Quarry to suspect the wealthy Stockwell clan may be the ones responsible, but things get complicated when he hooks up with Candy's aunt, Jenny. Jenny, in between carnal distractions with Quarry, insists her family had nothing to do with any proposed hit, but Quarry can't help but be suspicious of the rich, old curmudgeon that is Jenny's father and Candy's grandfather, a gruff octogenarian whose aggressiveness belies his age. Then there's Candy's best friend, Sally Meadows, who might be even more tightly wrapped trouble for Quarry when he starts snooping around town for answers.

If hard-boiled P.I. fiction is what you want, this book delivers with all the attitude you'd expect for a war-weary gunman. Sardonic wit with a forever-young outlook on life in general, not to mention every woman he meets, Quarry is certainly an entertaining character, even when he isn't the most likable. And while parts of the story had characters looking like they'd been plumbed from the trashiest dimestore novels, Collins works hard to give them all an organic appeal to defy any attempts to dismiss them as cardboard. Plus, Dan John Miller does one heckuva job in capturing Quarry's voice throughout the novel. And, heck, even his voice work for the female characters is entertaining in its own right.

I have the first Quarry novel sitting on my Kindle. It was a 99-cent, on-sale impulse buy at the time, but I'll definitely be reading it and more from the Quarry series after being so thoroughly impressed by this atmospheric pulpfest.

April 9, 2014

Chasing Tale [4/9/14]: April Showers (or It's Raining Books)

Chasing Tale is a recurring feature in which I highlight the latest books to show up on my bookshelf and Kindle. Some are freebies, some are review copies, some are bargains and hidden gems.

What are your most anticipated reads of 2014? I never really took the time to think about yet this year. Off the top of my head there are two future releases that are on my watch list: Stephen King's Mr. Mercedes and Matthew McBride's A Swollen Red Sun. There's also Megan Abbott's new one, The Fever. I dunno, maybe I will make a list sometime.

In the meantime, as you scroll down to leave a comment to tell me yours, have a gander at the books I longer have to anticipate as they are now on my to-be-read pile.

The Night Inside by Nancy Baker - Here's an ebook reissue from Chizine Publications of a novel from around twenty years ago, with such a cool-sounding twist on vampires I'm surprised this is the first I'm hearing about it.

The Year I Died Seven Times (Book #3) by Eric Beetner - The serial crime novel continues with its third installment this month. Got some time to read all three before the fourth installment arrives in June.

Gnomageddon by Tonia Brown -Okay, Tonia has a pretty wide scope when it comes to her genre loves. Zombies, steampunk, and now gnomes. I can only imagine how she has twisted these little guys to her will.

Bless Your Mechanical Heart edited by Jennifer Brozek - A clever title for an anthology dedicated to all things robot. Evil Girlfriend Media sent this one my way.

Linden Manor by Catherine Cavendish - Last year Samhain Publishing held a competition for writers to submit novellas in the gothic horror genre, and Cavendish's novella here is the first place winner and gets the first release this spring.

Bombshell by Barbara and Max Allan Collins - This sounds incredible. Marilyn Monroe protects Russian ruler Nikita Khrushchev from assassins in Disneyland. If that doesn't sell you on this book, nothing will.

Ravenswing by Jonathan Glendening - Director by day, author by night? This is Glendening's first horror novel, but it sounds promising, with a man seeking help for a young girl after a terrible car wreck only to be chased by the girl's psychotic father.

Regulation 19 by P.T. Hylton - An ex-con is unexpectedly afforded his freedom, only to returned to his Tennessee hometown and find things aren't quite right. And something even worse might be lurking on the outskirts of town. Spooky.

Miles to Little Ridge by Heath Lowrance - Ah, some western goodness with Gideon Miles doling out some justice.

After: Milepost 291 by Scott Nicholson - This is the third book, fourth if you count the prequel, to Nicholson's post-apocalyptic thriller series. I snagged it last week for a buck, and if you're quick you might do the same.

Deceiver by Kelli Owen - A widower grieves for his murdered wife, then finds out through a hidden diary that she was leading a second life. Oh, this good be good with Owen at the helm. Very keen on checking out this novella from DarkFuse.

Witches, Stitches & Bitches edited by Shannon Page - This was a freebie I snagged off the Kindle Store by Evil Girlfriend Media.

Peeler by Gord Rollo - Here's a free novelette I found last week by fellow Canadian and horror hound. Nto sure what it's about, but I wouldn't be surprised if the title took on a literal connotation.

Dove Season by Johnny Shaw - Suppose your dad is dying of cancer and you go to be by his side in his final days. What do you suppose would be his last wish? In this case, he asks his son to go to Mexico in search of a hooker. Hunh.

The Booked. Anthology edited by Pela Via - One of my favorite podcasts has an anthology, featuring authors I either already read or am keeping on my watch list from here on out.

Night Terrors by Tim Waggoner - A new series from Waggoner via Angry Robot. I really like that cover. I'll keep my fingers crossed that the story matches it.

The Busy Body by Donald E. Westlake - A mob boss finds out the henchman he just buried was wearing a suit lined with a small fortune in heroine. One poor sap will have to dig him up, then go on a desperate hunt when the body isn't there.

Little Boy Lost by T.M. Wright - Re-published by Uninvited Books, I picked this one up after seeing multiple recommendations following word of Wright's health issues. I have The Island on my TBR pile already, but this one was less than $3 on Kindle, so struck me as a bargain.

April 7, 2014

Five More Weird, Funny Books You Should Read: a guest post by Jeff Strand, author of "I Have a Bad Feeling About This"

Jeff Strand has a not very brief bio posted HERE on his site. Long story, short: he's a talented author with a penchant for humor and horror. His new novel, I Have a Bad Feeling About This, leans towards the former. You can click HERE to get yourself a copy. Or you can click HERE to read the interview he did with Lisa Morton for Nightmare Magazine. Or you can read his latest guest post right here on the blog. Enjoy.

Five More Weird, Funny Books You Should Read
By Jeff Strand

My last guest blog for Wag the Fox was "Five Weird, Funny NovelsYou Should Read." In an effort to demonstrate my astounding range as a guest blogger, I have decided to do the sequel. As with before, this is not my list of the funniest novels of all time--just five more funny, weird novels you should read, assuming that you like funny, weird novels.

1. The Bear Went Over the Mountain by William Kotzwinkle. An author finishes his novel but loses the manuscript, which is then found by a bear, who publishes it as his own. So, yes, it's a talking bear book. A very funny talking bear book. One where nobody seems to realize that our hero is, in fact, a bear--he's just eccentric, like all genius authors. A great blend of fairy tale whimsy and deep cynicism.

2. Edgar Gets Going by Trevor Strong. Subtitled The Rise And Fall And Rise And Fall of a Fairly Decent Bass Player. An 80's one-hit-wonder gets a second chance at a musical career...in a children's band...dressed as a giant bee. This very funny, shamelessly silly book is a delight from beginning to end, and even more of a delight after the end, when the complete lyrics to all of the made-up songs that are referenced during the book are included.

3. Laughin' Boy by Bradley Denton. A group of terrorists at a carnival open fire and massacre dozens of people. One of the survivors, Danny Clayton, is captured on video, laughing hysterically. This makes him one of the most hated people in America...and might just get him his own TV show. Written before 9/11 and the Mass Shooting of the Week phenomena, Laughin' Boy is a truly bizarre satire of celebrities and the media.

4. Choke by Chuck Palahniuk. I want to read all of Chuck Palahniuk's books, but I've only read four, and of the four, this is the funniest. And also the most accessible, though still ultra-weird. His novel Diary was too weird for me. Someday I will revisit Pygmy, which was so weird that I only read the first chapter. But Choke was the right level of weirdness for me, and I loved the hell out of it.

5. This Book is Full of Spiders by David Wong. The sequel to John Dies at the End is even funnier than the original. You could say "It's a zombie comedy!" but then you'd need the crap slapped out of you for categorizing it as something as simple as a zombie comedy. A fairly long book that is more inventive than six or seven even longer books combined. 

April 4, 2014

My Favorite Scene to Write in "Summoned": a guest post/excerpt/giveaway by Rainy Kaye

Rainy Kaye is an aspiring overlord. In the mean time, she blogs at RainyoftheDark.com and writes paranormal novels from her lair somewhere in Phoenix, Arizona. When not plotting world domination, she enjoys getting lost around the globe, studying music so she can sing along with symphonic metal bands, and becoming distracted by Twitter (@rainyofthedark). She is represented by Rossano Trentin of TZLA.

About the novel: Twenty-three year old Dimitri has to do what he is told—literally. Controlled by a paranormal bond, he is forced to use his wits to fulfill unlimited deadly wishes made by multimillionaire Karl Walker.

Dimitri has no idea how his family line became trapped in the genie bond. He just knows resisting has never ended well. When he meets Syd—assertive, sexy, intelligent Syd—he becomes determined to make her his own. Except Karl has ensured Dimitri can't tell anyone about the bond, and Syd isn't the type to tolerate secrets.

Then Karl starts sending him away on back-to-back wishes. Unable to balance love and lies, Dimitri sets out to uncover Karl's ultimate plan and put it to an end. But doing so forces him to confront the one wish he never saw coming—the wish that will destroy him.

My Favorite Scene to Write In Summoned
by Rainy Kaye

I wrote the draft of Summoned in sixteen days. Sixteen long, caffeine-induced, sleep deprived, delirious days. I had already outlined it down to each scene. That's not to say it didn't deviate a little from the outline, because it did.

For example, Karl Walker's daughter, Silvia, originally didn't have much of a role. However, when she made her entrance, I knew she was going to stick around. She added another layer that made Dimitri's situation go from being unsavory to being downright disturbing.

But my favorite scene isn't about Silvia. It actually took the longest to devise, because everything had to be aligned just right to pull it off. Even though I had spent the most amount of time and effort on that scene, I still twitched at the thought of the beta readers reading it.

Writerly doubts took over.

Then their responses came in, and it was exactly what I had aimed for.

And now, thanks to the some amazingly talented people, it's on the cover.

You get to read the book to figure out what it means, though.

An excerpt of


My boots clunk down the stone floor of the mansion hallway. I have my head down, sorting through the papers. My intel does a good job. I have a picture, an address, everything except the target's baby book. Hell, I could probably get that too, if I asked.

But I have all the information I need. The trickiest part will be getting him alone. I could try to find an in with the guy and lure him off somewhere. Click of the trigger and problem solved. Or, I could use brute force and break into his house. Unfortunately, that increases the chances of the first shot fired being at me. Not a big fan of that idea.

See, most people won't shoot to kill. They'll take out a knee or something. Personally, I would rather die than what happens if I don't fulfill a wish.

Failure isn't an option. Not for as long as I'm still breathing.

A familiar voice says my name.

I look up from the papers in my hand and stop short.

Silvia is standing at the hall doorway, twirling her crimped black locks and eying me up and down. She does that a lot. It's unnerving.

“Daddy sending you on another mission?”

“Yeah. Wanna take this one?” I offer the papers and envelope as I head toward her.

She laughs, but it's also unnerving. Everything about her is unsettling, ever since we were kids.

She pops her gum. “Afraid not.”

I push past her into the foyer, passing underneath one of the two massive white staircases, and head toward a set of exit doors.


I glance back. She has her head tilted, still running her eyes up and down like she's grooming me in her head. She probably is.

She smiles. “Don't waste my inheritance, okay?”

I scoff to hide the shudder, then let myself out. I expect Silvia to follow, but she remains inside where she belongs.

A white Honda Civic is waiting in the carport, engine idling. Low key. That's how I roll.

I slide in, drop the file into the passenger seat, and pull out to head toward Phoenix.

Her inheritance. That's what Silvia calls me.

If Karl thinks of me as his guard dog, then Silvia considers me her puppy.

And she's just itching to get her hands on me.

The Giveaway:

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April 2, 2014

Crazy Good: a review of John Skipp's "Psychos" anthology

edited by John Skipp
Black Dog & Levinthal (2012)
640 pages
ISBN13: 9781579129149

Psychos and serial killers are so prevelant in popular culture these days, they're like VW beetles on the highway. Once you see one, you see a multitude. Actually, you're more likely to see a psycho thumbing a ride on the highway than you are to see a lovebug putting down the road.

For this anthology, John Skipp has assembled a veritable who's who of authors from today and yesteryear. Thirty-five stories in all, and when you pick up a trade paperback copy, rather than download it to your ereader, you feel the weight of every demented page.

If there's one story that made the book worthwhile, it had to be Adam-Troy Castro's "The Shallow End of the Pool." I had heard about this story a few years ago, but as a novella it was near impossible to find, so it was an added bonus to find it in the table of contents for this anthology. It tells the story of a teen girl accompanying her father into the desert to visit her estranged mother, and to meet her brother for the first time. This is about the furthest thing from a conventional family reunion, though. It proceeds along with a very matter-of-fact style, simply showing the scene as it happens as they all prepare for winds up being a fight to the death between brother and sister, all for the honor of one of the parents. It's riveting, to say the least.

"Incident On and Off a Mountain Road" by Joe R. Lansdale was included, a taut little thriller I had previously read as a separate offering on Kindle. Among the other stalwarts in the book, Bentley Little's "Life with Father" and its unsettling portrayal of two young girls living with a deranged father did its part in sending a shiver up my spine, too.

In the up-and-coming department, "Marla's Eyes" by Ed Kurtz showed off an appreciation for the old British gothic touch with a super creepy ending. Also, Mercedes M. Yardley's "Murder for Beginners" is one more reason to seek out Yardley's work in all its forms. "Righteous" by Weston Ochse took a slightly different tact with a grieving man's last violent act.

Throw in an all-star table of contents that features the likes of Jack Ketchum, Kathe Koja, Lawrence Block, and Neil Gaiman, and you have a weighty anthology that is bound to entertain you--and disturb you in the process.


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