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Something Like a Review – The Chosen by John G. Hartness

August 28, 2016 Leave a comment

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.

John is one of the best marketers I’ve ever seen in action. If you’ve seen him at a con, you know what I mean. No panel is complete without his signature “buy our shit” proclamation, and if you’ve never witnessed his epic readings replete with Sasquatch dick jokes, you’re missing out. So when he promoted “The Chosen” as “the book that got me fired from one of my jobs for blasphemy,” I knew I had to read it.

In true John style, “The Chosen” is an irreverent and humorous poke at things people take “super cereal.” He introduces us to an Adam and Eve (yes, THAT Adam and Eve) that will send the devout for their rosaries, an angel that will make you question both your definition and affiliation with good/evil and an unforgettable motley crew as they set off on a road trip to save the world.

One of the things I loved most about this book, and I did love it, was the knowledgeable and respectful ways religious belief was handled. And warped. I listened to this as an audiobook, but I’ll be getting my hands on a copy of “The Chosen” to see how the hell he managed to have his characters refute the creation story in a way that 1.) makes sense, 2.) was amusing, and 3.) respected the essence of the story. While I’m not religious, I could tell that Hartness is knowledgeable about the material, respects those who believe it, and yet finds ways of cutting through the poetic language and creating a plausible story.

So, if he’s so respectful, why might he have been fired for blasphemy? Well, let’s just say that after millennia of walking the Earth after their expulsion from the garden, Adam and Eve aren’t exactly what the faithful may expect. But after all they’ve witnessed, I can’t say that I blame them for the way they change. Character development, yo. Even though it’s not what many would approve of, the changes to their characters feels genuine, as if they really are people who’ve lived tens of thousands of years, witnessed some of the greatest tragedies of history, experienced their own personal tragedies and yet, still manage to function in our crazy world. Theirs is a creation story I want to believe, and the choices at the end are believable and fulfilling.

And what are those choices? Well, that’s what you’ll need to find out. Suffice to say that there’s a Pandora’s box feeling to the tone at the end (and if you know your mythology, you’ll know what I mean). I read this and was able to put all the recent tragedies and horrific occurrences aside for a little while.

Pick up this book – however you choose to ingest it, and read it. If you’re super sensitive about religion, this isn’t the book for you, but if you’re willing to have an open mind and enjoy a well-written piece of fiction with a religious (though not proselytizing) bent to it, this is the one I’d recommend.

Medium: Audiobook from

Other: Available in various formats from

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Definitely, especially to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes. You’ll find your own reasons, I’m sure, but from this writer, my purchase is motivated by the need to figure out how the hell did did what he did.

Something Like a Review – NOS4A2 by Joe Hill

 The first book I read by Joe Hill was 20th Century Ghosts, and that was before I knew anything about him. I was so smitten with his work that I looked for more. To my surprise (at the time), he had a new book coming out – NOS4A2. Since I’m kind of a nerd for reading license plates, I was stoked over the vampire reference. Get it? Stoked? *rimshot*

On release day, I bought the hardback – an expense only reserved for my most favorite authors – yet I still didn’t have time to sit down and read it. Since I had audible credits, I snagged it, downloaded it and listened.

Hill tells a fantastic story, weaving character and world-building detail with enviable skill. Victoria’s ability to find things leads her to a magical passage to take her wherever she wants to go. But even her benign magic goes wrong, leading her to Richard Manx and his ’38 Rolls Royce Wraith. Victoria escapes Manx’s attempt to  whisk her away to “Christmas Land.” Years later, it’s her son in Manx’s magical car, and she has to get him back before he’s changed forever.

One would think that a place called “Christmas Land” is a place any child would want to go, but Hill makes even the most appealing place a horrifying prospect. While you feel the child you were celebrating the prospect, the adult recoils as the story unfolds. It’s chilling, and not just because of the snow.

As if losing myself in a great story by a great author wasn’t enough, imagine my delight in discovering Stephen King universe Easter eggs. This was the story that secured future shelf space for more Hill books and recruited me to his legion of fans.

Though comparison to King is unnecessary (and a bit unfair), the biggest compliment I can pay Hill is that he’s taken up King’s mantle as a Master of Horror, and I look forward to reading more of his work.

Medium: Audiobook from

Other: Available in various formats from

Overall rating: 5 stars

Potential re-read: Absolutely. I want to go back and read the dead tree version and see what I missed!

Dead-tree worthy?: Yes. Just yes.

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

Other: Available in various formats from

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

Other: Available in various formats from

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

Other: Available in various formats from, 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 – The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

January 13, 2014 Leave a comment
read by Jake Gyllenhaal

The Great Gatsby

I read this book many years ago. At the time, my intentions were ignoble at best. I was in high school, in the midst of college application chaos an trying to prove to the world that they wanted me, that they wanted to pull me out of the tiny little town I’d grown up in and pay for the pleasure of doing so. I think part of me was pretty frustrated and disenchanted with the whole process. While I didn’t know exactly what my parents could afford, I knew that they cringed with the names of colleges  and the names of their respective cities were mentioned. That disenchanted part seemed to think that I didn’t belong to that world, or somehow, wouldn’t make it. That I was trying to slog through The Fountainhead and come up with something profound to say about it only seemed to confirm this.

Of course, my friends were going through similar things, though perhaps without the exact same concerns, doubts and stresses. We didn’t talk money, and their aspirations seemed far more realistic and achievable than my own. When we talked about the various hoops of our respective applications, a friend of mine was reading The Great Gatsby, and seemed to have interesting and profound things to say about symbolism. What bothered me most about this was that she was a science major and I was the book nerd. I was supposed to have deep things to say and she was supposed to struggle with art. Needless to say, this did not contribute to my overall positive perception about my future. In a blaze of confidence, I picked up the book and burned through it. Too fast, perhaps since it left little impression on me except about fake people, mint juleps and confirming my desire to live an urbane, cosmopolitan lifestyle. It must have assuaged my concerns about my literary bankruptcy since I managed to get through The Fountainhead and compose an essay that Sarah Lawrence College deemed acceptable for admission.

When the movie came out, I made a mental note to retread the book, irked that I couldn’t remember much about it. Since Audible seems to be my savior when it comes to wanting to read something without wholly dedicating time to doing so, I found a copy narrated by Jake Gyllenhaal and plugged in.

The first thing that struck me was that the language Fitzgerald used, and I was very aware of his merits as a poet. Though it sometimes struck me as a little overblown, the language was something that felt distinctly out of time. It felt like the glamour and intricate delicacy of the 20’s and how the decorous often hid ugliness and brutality.

Though I won’t dwell in on the details of the story, since the plot is pretty well known (if probably distorted by Hollywood), a few things stood out to me in this revisit that seem worthy of comment beside the language. First, the character development that hinted at depth in intentionally shallow people. Their superficial behaviors masked the reality of emotion behind them, or the intentional ignorance of them. Instead of allowing the characters to be as shallow as they wanted to be, Fitzgerald gave them depth they denied  and sometimes worked to eliminate. Second, the eggshell fragility of beauty he used to encapsulate even tragedy. Listening, there was a sense that examining what happened too closely would fracture the beauty he created. It was like listening to the tragic photos of a disaster and finding them breathtaking and ethereal, but lacking horror. Lastly, there was a sense of relevance, even today. While not in the same context, and lacking some of the contemporary distractions, the same superficiality still persists in pop culture. Instead of watching from a table in the party, we watch Gatsby parties from the comfort of our couches. We plunge ourselves into celebrity-stalking, make people famous for being famous, idolize the vanities and declare ourselves entertained. Though this story is almost 100 years old, it retains a vibrancy that bridges the distance of time.

Medium: Audiobook from

Other: Available in various formats from

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: Yes. Even though there’s a veneer of superficiality about the story and the characters, to the ambitious (and/or philosophical) there is great potential to mine for meaning and depth. If nothing else, the story stands the test of time and can easily be related to the current state of the superficial in current American culture.

Dead-tree worthy?: I’m torn on this. To some, this is a no-questions-asked staple. To others, it can be moving in just about any format. I think this one should probably start out as a a library borrow and then translate into whatever suits the reader best. There will be some who won’t understand it, or won’t be able to see its value, and frankly, I’d rather see a copy sit on the shelf for someone who can appreciate it rather than be bought and discarded for no reason. Even though this story has been around longer than anyone I know, don’t get too excited about finding a public domain/Project Guttenburg copy online; due to copyright renewals, that won’t happen until at least 2021.

Things You CAN Accomplish in 3 Minutes

February 28, 2012 Leave a comment

Why three minutes? Because time is precious and that’s how long it takes to nuke a mug of hot water for tea while doing work and/or school work:

  • Empty the dishwasher
  • Reload the dishwasher
  • Empty the dish strainer
  • Scrub 2 pots/pans used in making dinner
  • Fill and program the coffee maker for the morning
  • Take the trash out (either shoeless or with random slip-ons by the door)
  • Go to the bathroom
  • Reboot the laundry
  • Clean out and re-prepare loose-leaf tea in my tea infuser
  • Work on the grocery list
  • Change into pajamas
  • Check (but don’t answer) email
  • Use up your credits on something in your cart for a new “read”
  • Make a playlist to boost studying focus
  • Write this blog post

Time’s up! Back to my homework – at least until the next refill. 😉

Something Like a Review : Macbeth by A. J. Hartley and David Hewson

July 6, 2011 2 comments

When I first heard about the novelization of Macbeth by A. J. Hartley and David Hewson, I was excited. I have enjoyed Shakespeare for a long time, and of all the plays of his that I’ve read and seen performed, Hamlet and Macbeth are my favorites. Macbeth was the first play that gave me chills and struck a deep chord in the twisted part of my brain that creates scary things. I couldn’t wait until the day this audiobook was released on

I was not disappointed. In fact, I was more enthralled by this story than any other audiobook I’ve listened to. Where I normally lose the thread of the story occasionally, I never had a moment where I had to rewind the story because my mind had wandered. Not once.

I could write this review in one sentence: “If Shakespeare had been a novelist instead of a playwright, this is the Macbeth he would have written.”

But far be it for me to be brief when there’s so much that can be said about this story. Hartley and Hewson’s telling of the iconic story of the Scottish thane is a loving re-imagining of the story that is both an honor and homage to the original text. Where the original play leaves much to the imagination and interpretation of the producers and performers, the authors have filled in the gaps. Instead of a villainous portrayal of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, the main characters have been humanized and, somehow, made more terrifying for their development. Macbeth and Skena*are now well-rounded characters whose descent into regicide, murder and betrayal becomes…understandable and relatable. Their madness and treachery aren’t as “safe” as in the play because the listener can follow their good intentions and motives as they wind their way through the dark side of human nature and emerge as a twisted and warped means-to-an-end.

The story is lyrical, and not only because of the voice talents of the narrator, Alan Cummings, and the enchantment his amazing accent invokes. Listening to this story, it’s clear how much attention was devoted to the way it sounds. Even the casual listener will be able to tell that this story was written to be read aloud, much like the original text which inspired it. That’s not to say that it’s all pretty words. Macbeth lives up to its bloody reputation – there are vivid battles, grisly, visceral descriptions and striking descriptions of the Scottish landscape that transport the listener into Macbeth’s world.

Personally, I’m hoping that this will be released as a print version. I loved the audiobook, and I will definitely listen to it again, but this one is deserving of a spot in my library.

*closest approximation to the spoken name used in the audiobook. Since there’s not a text version of the story yet, the spelling could vary.

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