Something Like a Review – Year One: A Quincy Harker, Demon Hunter Collection by John G. Hartness

Disclosure: I know the author personally. I purchased this book with my own Audible credit because I wanted to read it. This post is simply a reflection of my desire to share a piece of fiction I enjoyed from an author I choose to support.

One of the benefits of connecting with local writers is getting an opportunity to meet interesting people and discover stories you might not have found otherwise. Buying books becomes an act of shopping small, and when you find something you love, sharing that love promotes and supports people you know and care about.

I discovered John’s work after encountering him at ConCarolinas. And, yes, “encounter” is the correct verb. Though I was slow on the uptake, I did become hooked on Bubba and was curious about his other writing. His pitch for Quincy Harker snared me: “Mina Murray and Jonathan Harker had a son. They named him Quincy. His guardian angel calls him Q. Dracula calls him nephew.” Given my love for things horror, and his sense of humor, I was sold.

If I could imagine a figure from classic horror coming to live in Charlotte, North Carolina, Quincy and Uncle Luke (aka – Dracula, to the rest of us) would be the perfect fit. There’s plenty of culture to suit an old vamp like Luke, and enough to keep Quincy and Charlotte-Mecklenberg police officer Rebecca Flynn busy for a long time. And that’s before we through Federal Agent John Smith into the mix.

I already knew Hartness is adept at blending horror and humor, but in the Quincy Harker novellas, he skillfully tilts the scale away from the humor while still retaining snark to keep you snorting through Quincy’s one-liners. This series is darker, and deeper than the Bubba stories, but showcases John’s potential for range. His writing style is cinematic, and breathes life into the mundane that has me looking over my shoulder whenever I go through parts of Charlotte that show up in the novellas. This is one of those series that you can just imagine Netflix or Amazon Studios picking this up and making a series out of it. So, how ’bout it, guys? #HarkerTV Hells, yeah.

In the end, this is a series that should not be missed. The voice talent on the audiobook does a great job with all the characters, but especially Quincy. He’s the voice I hear in my head when I imagine this badass Demon Hunter. You can buy the individual novellas, but really, you’re going to want them all, so go for the compendium. It’s worth every cent.

 

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Yes, especially as the other novellas/collections are released.

Dead-tree worthy?: Probably, but I liked the audiobook so much that I probably will stick with that.

Something Like a Review – The Mussorgsky Riddle by Darin Kennedy

Disclaimer: I know this author personally, though I did purchase this on my own. My decision to review it to share my discovery with others is my own and not influenced or requested by the author.

Music has played a big part of my life since I was young. I stalked the radio with blank cassettes to make mix tapes of my favorite songs – which I considered the soundtrack of my life. I got addicted to the stories in all kinds of music and listened as much for the lyrics as the melody. Chasing stories brought me to dabble in opera. I lost myself in the stories from those as simple as Peter and the Wolf to my favorite opera, Pagliacci. But I’ve never had a love for an operatic story like Anthony, and his love for the Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky. And while I’ve found stories that use music as a key part of the story, I’ve never encountered a story quite like The Mussorgsky Riddle by Darin Kennedy.

Earworms are a plague against those for whom music is an integral part of life. It’s like a skipping record in the brain and jostling the needle is nearly impossible. Imagine that your earworm is limited to 13 notes. Imagine that it has trapped you inside your own mind. Imagine that only an outside force can help you break through it, and that breaking through it is only the first step in navigating an opera in your own mind.

Anthony is nearly catatonic, stuck in a protective musical web, and Mira Tejedor and her unique ability to travel through Anthony’s mind is his only hope in resolving that which has trapped him there. Stepping into his world as Scheherazade, only she can navigate the Pictures at an Exhibition and make sense of the riddle of his mind.

One of the most unique aspects of this story is the intricate story Kennedy weaves. He skillfully and artfully weaves the narrative of the opera with mythology and layers that throughout the story of the world continuing around Anthony. Kennedy becomes our Mira Tejedor and takes us between both worlds, hinting at the mysteries, but letting us figure out what we can and leaving us to be surprised by the rest. I adore the level of complexity he’s achieved. The narrative’s richness is remarkable throughout the story, but can only really be appreciated at the end.  This is one of those books to be relished, to be consumed slowly for utmost enjoyment, but the reader is doomed to rush through it with a gluttonous impulse. I can only take comfort in knowing that Book 2 is DONE. As soon as I know more, I’ll share it with you…

Still not convinced? Try a sample here (with links to a free sample of the audiobook as well).

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Definitely.

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes, but it was so well done as an audiobook, that I think I’ll stick with this format. It makes the ride to work a pleasure – except the mornings when I couldn’t leave the car because I just couldn’t stop listening. (The author takes great pride and pleasure in this, kids. Remember to leave a review on Goodreads or any other site of your choosing and tell him how lat you were to work!)

Something Like a Review – Z-Burbia by Jake Bible

The longer this year’s political campaign runs, the more I’m hoping for the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.

Then again, looking at some of the candidates, I’m not sure it hasn’t already happened. But this isn’t Something Like a Review about something as undead as the American political process. Instead, it’s about a charming gem of a book I discovered somewhat by accident. Let’s start over, shall we?

I am a little late to the zombie party. They seem to be everywhere. While I was in school, my stress dreams were always about the zombie apocalypse. Oddly, not in being afraid of it, but being in the midst of it and the weariness of having to endure it AGAIN. (Weird, right?) Then, when I could claim time as my own, I got into the cultural phenomenon known as The Walking Dead. Heavily. As in binged-five-seasons-in-4-days heavily. Then I remembered that I heard about (and wish-listed) a series at The World Horror Convention in 2015 by Jake Bible, and I decided to seek it out. I may be late, but the zombie party is still raging, and I’m glad that I found Z-Burbia.

With all the little suburban developments popping up like mushrooms, can you really imagine life post-zombie without imagining those clusters of cookie-cutter houses? Or of what survival will look like among the disparate families that inhabit them? Everyone knows that the HOA is the biggest pain point of living in these little suburbs…now just imagine if it survived the apocalypse too.

Gives you chills, doesn’t it?

Jake Bible does a fantastic job of creating a post-apocalyptic world rife with the challenges you expect – hungry zombies, resource shortages, and human threats – and sets it in the Blue Ridge mountains just outside Asheville, NC. And if zombies and cannibals weren’t enough to worry about it, he threads in the complications and frustrations of dealing with the HOA president and her cadre. Jason “Jace” Stanford (a.k.a. “Long Pork”) is one of the most delightfully sarcastic and funny characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading. Bible weaves Jace’s unique perspective through the horrors and gore of living through the zombie apocalypse in a way that kind of makes you want to hang out with him. If it weren’t for all the zombies and cannibals, that is.

This book was a lot of fun. I listened to it as an audiobook, which I think is the perfect way of enjoying it. Jace’s conversational asides draw you in, and the voice talent does a great job of presenting his sense of humor in a way that literally makes you laugh out loud. I very much look forward to reading/listening to the next books in this series.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com, or order an autographed copy from Malaprops (Indie) Bookstore in Asheville, NC

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Very possibly, but there are 6 novels in this series, so not any time soon. 🙂 New Jace is too enticing to revisit past Jace.

Dead-tree worthy?: Possibly, but I think I will probably stick with the audiobook. The conversational tone of this book lends itself so well to the medium, and the voice talent was great. The only drawback is that I giggled at otherwise inappropriate times, like walking down the aisle in the grocery store.

Something Like a Review – Scattered, Smothered, and Chunked: Bubba the Monster Hunter, Season 1 by John G. Hartness

February 11, 2016 1 comment

Disclosure: I know the author personally, but I don’t hold that against him when it comes to reading his work. 🙂 Even though I do know this guy, I purchased this book with my own Audible credit because I wanted to read it. This post is simply a reflection of my desire to share a piece of fiction I enjoyed from an author I choose to support.

Even with all that out of the way, I still have a bit of a story to tell. I am not a new-comer to the Bubba legacy. In fact, I learned about Bubba the Monster Hunter several years ago at ConCarolinas. John is one hell of a panelist and storyteller and hearing him talk about this “new” series was enough to get me out to author alley to buy an author-graphed copy. 

That was…something like 2012 or 2013.

Like I said, not a new-comer.

But, school happened, and time evaporated. I still attended cons and every time I caught him on (or crashing) a panel, his comments about his Bubba stories intrigued the hell out of me. When he announced the collection’s release as an audiobook, I finally sprang at it because I knew I could work that in to my crazy schedule. Until my iPod died. But that’s another story. Fast forward to last month, and finally, FINALLY, the stars aligned properly. I queued up Bubba and his redneck hijinks, and let me tell you, it was worth every sarcastic, irreverent second.

There is a fine balance between using evocative language and detail to bring a place to life for a person who’s never visited it and creating hyperbolic clichés. While I don’t consider myself an initiate in the Southern Gothic tradition, or even the Southern culture, living here for 15 years has introduced me to where the line is and how easy it is to lumber over it, even with the best of intentions. Hartness, however, uses a deft hand with language and detail to bring that humid Southern air into his stories without actually suffocating readers with farcical descriptions. That’s not to say that this shit isn’t funny as hell – or that Bubba doesn’t have “authentic” redneck qualities and characteristics. I giggled my ass off throughout the collection of stories. Bubba has a distinctive voice and personality all his own and is unabashedly, unapologetically a Georgia good ol’ boy, albeit with a few upgrades and refinements. Not to mention a serious calling to kick monster ass. His friends and family, like Skeeter and Agent Amy, are equally vibrant and create a story world you just want to hang around in, even if it means occasionally getting covered in exploded glittery fairy guts.

Hartness takes on some of the best monsters around – zombies, vampires, goblins, werewolves and even Bigfoot – and manages to bring something new to each. Then, he takes on some of the less expected evils – like cupids. You never get bored with a re-hash of a monster trope on Bubba’s watch because they’re all a little different than what you expect. Funnier, too.

One of the great things about this collection is that it is a collection. All of the stories in this book are both stand-alone novellas (available digitally), yet create an on-going narrative when read together. There are throwback references to other stories, especially as the characters develop a history with each other and the reader, yet each story stands on its own merit. Since Hartness releases stories about once a month or so, readers get a quick fix instead of having to wait for the bundled collection. The one minor drawback to this approach, however, is some of the repeated details that you encounter – like Bubba’s description, or being re-introduced to Bertha, his .50 Desert Eagle pistol. Taken as individual stories, these details are entertaining and helpful to re-orient the reader, but as a collection, even a different presentation in each story made me itch to get past it so I could get to the good stuff.

Since I listened to this as an audiobook, I had the added dimension of the voice talent to layer on top of already fun and engaging stories. By far, this collection hosts one of my favorite combinations between story and voice talent. The combination of Bubba and his cast of cohorts and rivals and the way Andrew McFerrin brings it to life is perfect. The only frustration I have is that I have to wait for another audiobook collection. It’s a first world problem, I know, especially since all the novellas are available digitally on John’s site and on Amazon, but I think I’m hooked to the auditory experience for this one. I’ll read the novellas to get me through, but I’ll definitely grab the next audiobook collection.

In a way, I’m glad I waited to get the audiobook as my first Bubba experience, but now that I know what I’ve been missing, I’m eager to get caught up and stay that way. I’m proud to say I’m a Bubba fan.

Medium: Audiobook from Audible.com

Other: Available digitally on John’s site, and in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Yes. Definitely.

Dead-tree worthy?: I have been staring at this question for a long time and wrestling with an answer. It’s not a reflection on the work, but on a question of preference. Can I imagine pulling this book off my shelf just to re-read the cupid story? Yup. But then again, it wouldn’t have that same…ambiance of the voice talent. I think the best answer I can give is YMMV. I think I’d prefer to keep this as an audiobook because my introduction to Bubba was an experience, and I’d hate to lose a part of that for the sake of shelf convenience.

Something Like a Review : Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck by AJ Hartley

January 17, 2016 Leave a comment

What feels like a million years ago, I read Darwen Arwright and the Peregrine Pact by AJ Hartley. I’d attended ConCarolinas, heard him speak about it and was intrigued by the premise, and charmed by what sounded a little bit like a Harry Potter-ish type story. After reading it, I made an exception of sorts and wrote Something Like a Review about it. I’ll wait while you click that link and go read what I had to say.

Impatient? Ok, fine. The “tl;dr” was that I enjoyed it enough to eagerly anticipate the next installment on the story. The caveats were few and trivial enough that I attributed them to being a grown-up reading YA fiction. I’ve had this book in my TBR pile for a LONG time, and thought that reading this would be a great way to kick off my 2016 Recover from College initiative. I expected it to be light and fluffy reading.

Well, in some regards, it is, but in others, it’s really NOT. Let me explain…Darwen Arkwright and the Insidious Bleck

When I read the first book in the Peregrine Pact series, I got exactly what I expected: a fun, spunky adventure with mishaps and hijinx and a premise that still makes me wish I’d thought of it. Mirroculism. How cool is that phrase, to begin with? And the ability to jump into another world through mirrors or other reflective surfaces? I don’t really have words for the reaction, just strange gestures and facial expressions. (Damnit, damnit, damnit. Why didn’t I come up with that?) Reading this new installment met my expectations in that I was reunited with three quirky characters, that I saw them develop over a new story arc (and yes, that means gaining a new affection for Alex), and I got a worthy story. What surprised me was the depth of development in these characters, in the writing, and in the handling of a dangerous adventure.

Mr. Peregrine returns, but as a teacher at Hillside, with an unusual plan. His methodology for teaching includes taking the students out of Atlanta…and all the way to Costa Rica. And, if carting a bunch of sixth-graders into the jungle (rainforest) wasn’t terrifying enough, the perilous mission before the Peregrine Pact and the dangers that await them in the dense flora should do the trick.

I pulled out the first book and skimmed through it again to see what was different between them, and to try to figure out why the two books were so different. They both had difficult and dangerous adventures, though the perils of Darwen’s Costa Rican adventures were much more extreme than the first novel. Yes, there was additional character development so I was more attached to them. The obvious answers were easy to list: there were conflicts between the characters where the stakes were higher, there were moral dilemmas even an adult would have struggled with, and taking the characters out of their “normal” lives and putting them in the unsafe and unfamiliar will bring out new qualities. These were all good explanations, but they weren’t… “it.” I thought about it for a few days, and I think the difference lies in the writing style and approach to the story. Both stories were well written, and there’s no dramatic change in authorial voice, however, the Insidious Bleck felt as though it was consciously written to kids and committed to treating them like adults. The story telling was not pedantic or didactic, but posed the same kinds of concerns you’d find in “adult” fiction without flinching, without pandering, and without coddling. In my opinion, there’s more “meat” here for a kid to think about, to have a visceral reaction to, but to do so in a way that respects their childhood at the same time.

To clarify, while there are some similarities to the Harry Potter series, Darwen and the Peregrine Pact aren’t those characters. They are their own people (in so much as they can be in a fictional work), and they have their own personalities, stories and experiences. Hartley’s series would likely be embraced by Potter fans, but will stand on its own merits even without the association and/or comparison. Kudos to AJ Hartley for stepping up his YA game and generally elevating the middle grades YA game.

Medium: Dead-tree version purchased from and autographed by the author at ConCarolinas.

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Yes, even if just to introduce my kinda-nephew to the series.

Dead-tree worthy?: I haven’t decided. In this case, with an author-graph, I’ll be keeping it. Until, that is, the time comes to pass the gauntlet to the next generation. Right now, though, he’s a three-nager, and still a little young for chapter books. I’ll be purchasing the third in the series as a Kindle book, simply because I might die if my TBR/bookcase ever toppled over on me.

What I Read This Year…and Last

December 30, 2015 Leave a comment

I think just about everyone I know had a rough 2015, so there won’t be many tears as it departs in a matter of hours. To all who struggled, I wish you a better 2016, and to the feeling of renewal as the calendar switches over. 2016 will have its own set of challenges, but we at least have a warning about a good many of them already. Preparation is on our side this time, right?

While I was encumbered by some of the 2015 drama, I did not get nearly as much as others and for that, I feel grateful. My own challenges were relatively self-imposed, with a few notable exceptions. Keeping up with all the things I wanted to do over the past couple of years has been a real bitch, as a result. Not only because of school, but I also lack a certain…something…that facilitates consistency and discipline. This blog suffered pretty hard, and keeping up with everything I read was another casualty. (Let’s not discuss my housekeeping skills…) But silence on the blog front doesn’t mean I didn’t read some pretty incredible work, or that I didn’t read at all. I managed to squeeze in quite a bit through the joint witchcraft of audiobooks and mp3 players.

To that end, I’m going to update my “What I’m Reading” page with as many of the books as I can remember and retire it as a 2014 and 2015 blend. I know I won’t be able to capture them all, but I will do my best to post snatch reviews here and on Goodreads. The 2016 page will start fresh as of January 1st, and I am already reading the first book I will finish after the new year arrives. I have a couple of posts to review the notables of 2014/15 until I have some more to report on for 2016. Here’s to a new year, a fresh start and more TIME to accomplish goals!

Something Like a Review – “Fun Home” by Allison Bechdel

September 20, 2015 Leave a comment

This is going to be an unusual SLaR, mostly because I’m going to go beyond just reviewing the text, mix in a little current events, and then thrust my thoughts upon you and anyone else willing to listen. (Aren’t you excited?) I pay attention to book news, primarily because it’s interesting to me, but also because I want to know what’s going on in the shark tank that my toes are dangling in. When a book gets praised or maligned, I want to know why. I want to know what works, what doesn’t, and what stirs the pot in positive and negative ways. It’s one of the reasons my “free” time has a hole in it. Jon Stewart presented challenging books and content regularly and I miss his interviews and exposure to stories I might not have read otherwise. In his absence, I’ve been haunting other outlets, and that’s where this (excruciatingly) long post comes from.

Between living in North Carolina Piedmont area and living with a Duke basketball fan, Duke University frequently ends up on my radar even though I have no real vested interest in it. Most of the time, it’s a story that holds so little of my interest that I don’t even recall it. Then there are the occasional stories of infamy. And then there was this one.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

                      Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

“Freshmen skipping ‘Fun Home’ for moral reasons.”

Knowing that Duke is a conservative university, my curiosity was piqued. Had some radical liberal influence managed to throw something truly controversial into the mix? After digging around a little, I found that this graphic novel was on the summer reading list and getting all kinds of panties in a knot because of, well, sexual content.

I’m not a stranger to boundary-pushing college assignments. I went to Sarah Lawrence where I was exposed to things that blew my provincial little mind wide open. Not only were they “suggested,” assigned, some were even revelations of self-directed exploration. One of the books that ended up on one class reading list was a set of graphic novels that made me cringe – Maus I and II – though not for sexually explicit content.

Seeing the article and the statements of the students cited by the press, I decided that “Fun Home” was something I simply had to read to see what all the fuss was about.

When I got it, I flipped through the book just to see what jumped out at me. Nothing, really, except for the vague recollection that I’d seen it before. Or parts of it, at least. I looked at the publication date and realized that at some point between its 2006 copyright date and the time the book was in my hand, I’d come across some of the images and text online. I had not, however, read the whole thing or seen anything in it that even blipped the sexual radar, so I dove in.

The story chronicles Bechdel’s relationship with her father and the parallel story of navigating her sexual identity. Complicating the matter, of course, is her parents’ relationship with each other, her resulting home environment, and her father’s struggles with his sexual identity and expression. Bechdel walks us through her own coping mechanisms as a child and allows us to find the humor and the compassion for those that fail, as well as the recognition that we’ve all struggled to cope with things in ways that were not healthy, only to make the problem worse. Yet there’s still an element of hope in her narrative – we still manage to persevere, just as she does.

Overall, this is a story of struggles between individuals and trying to simultaneously live an authentic life. It is NOT a story about promiscuity, hedonism, or lascivious sexuality. Homosexuality is a theme that threads throughout the story, yes, but the focus is not on the sex, or sexuality, but on the development of self-identity, the journey of self-discovery and all the shit that happens while you’re just trying to live your life. Homosexuality is an aspect of who Allison Bechdel is and is an inextricable part of this story, however this story could be written about someone else struggling with a burgeoning religious identity and the struggles would be the same. Replace her developing sense of homosexuality under the shadow of a father who may or may not be as well with the developing call to, say, Catholicism under an overtly agnostic or atheistic household. Instead of questionable sexuality, give the father quirks that may hint at a not fully repressed religious bent. Whisk vigorously, and voila! You’d have a similar story. This story is not condoning sexuality in any regard, but is examining the journey of figuring out who we are and what our place is in this mad world. It’s not about sex, it’s about love in the broad sense of the word. Love and acceptance, particularly of self, and of those with whom we have the most complicated relationships. Judgment, stigma, and social consequence gets introduced with sex because sex involves “naughty” fun bits, exploration, empowerment, and orgasms. And other fun things.

However, to be fair, some people find affectionate, consenting interactions between adults (even as teenaged proto-adults) as infinitely more offensive that religions. Because nudity. God forbid we see the balls and boobies.

Religion (and snark) aside, let’s keep this in perspective. We all experience sexual awakening. Every one of us. “Fun Home” looks at how one person on this big blue marble in this one pinwheel arm of this one galaxy in this one universe experiences it. It does not call into question anyone else’s experience, but simply gives us a medium through which we can relate to Bechdel’s experience and establish human connection. It’s one person’s way of saying, “hey, I survived all this and came out the other side ok. You can survive your fight.” This book doesn’t promote or advocate any behavior, it simply extends the hand of compassion and understanding and invites us to examine the life of another and compare it to our own.

Having read it, I can say with confidence that the issues Bechdel explores are NOT salacious, nor there for the titillation of the reader. The sexual content and exploration is tasteful and appropriate to the story. Her viewpoint is as valid as any other, and belonging to a minority perspective, it is important that others are exposed to it regardless who it makes uncomfortable. Discomfort is a sign of growth, and of challenging your worldview with a new perspective.

It’s also important to remember that we’re all fighting, especially when it comes to the tough stuff like identity, sexuality, or anything other aspect that doesn’t conform neatly to social and cultural “norms.” We all have to figure out what being our own gender “means” to us, and then what it “means” in the grand scheme of our world. Some will struggle with the dissonance between who they are on the outside versus who they are on the inside. And once that’s sorted out, there’s still the whole messy experience of what it means in relation to other people – whether they are the same gender, the opposite gender or maybe even without gender. Then, there’s the question of what sexuality is in relation to those other people and figuring out if one’s own sexual expression means asexuality, or pansexuality, or homosexuality, or plain ol’ heterosexuality. For some, these are easy assimilations because they share their experience with the majority and are considered “normal.” For others, artifice is easier than discovery and authenticity – but artifice doesn’t last long.

To the Duke students that stand on moral objections when refusing to read the book: you are welcome to make that choice and exercise your freedom as you see fit. My advice to you, however, is not to get caught up in the trap of avoiding material that challenges your worldview because it is uncomfortable. Understand that walking away from an opportunity to share another perspective, you isolate yourself from the incredibly diverse experience of life, and you actively avoid making connection with another human being. Instead of seizing the chance to create connection and find common ground (and possibly even helping you understand yourself or your experiences), you’re actively creating division and difference and isolating yourself out of the fear of change. Your morals and values should still be able to withstand exposure to different ideas without corrupting you. The risk you take in finding humanity in another person is worth it. Open your heart and your mind and listen beyond the words. The chord of harmony is easier to hear when you’re not seeking out the dissonance. Don’t sell yourself short – explore and experience the world, even if you choose not to partake of all there is on the buffet.

 

Medium: Dead-tree version from Amazon.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: Most likely.

Dead-tree worthy?: This is a hard one to call, so I will simply say: YMMV. I think it would depend on the type of e-reader you’re using, or the quality of the digital content. Since I don’t imagine this would translate well to my Kindle (paperwhite), I would say that I’d prefer to have this as a hard copy. Maybe check out the sample on your device and then look over the sample pages online. Then, come back and give your recommendation 🙂

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