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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 Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

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.

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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 – 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.

The Night of Cussing in Books-A-Million

It would be very strange indeed if it was just a random night and all of a sudden there was an eruption of expletives from somewhere in the stacks. It would be epic to blame the rather askew nature of the magazines of the torrent of hot air carrying naughty words that cause titters even in grown adults.

But no.

It was actually a little better than that, and that requires me to back up a little.

For those of us who have been living under a rock (and yes, I include myself in this, since I only emerged from under mine within the last couple of months or so), the rest of the internet has been following a witty, wonderful woman who uses all these delightfully, decadently bad words in abundance named Jenny Lawson. Of course, most of the internet knows her as “The Bloggess.” She is hilarious, creative, honest, self-deprecating in a charming way, raw, open, snarky, tough…and really, I could go on, but I feel like that would require some kind of spoiler warning.

I blame Wil Wheaton for my discovery of The Bloggess and the introduction to her book. He’d been raving on Twitter, and thanks to the linkage which makes some other people intolerable, reposting those tweets to Facebook about The Bloggess and how much he was enjoying her book. Intrigued, I noted it and decided to soldier on with the homework and being a good little doo-bee.

As we all know, behaving only really lasts for so long and the benefits of being a good little homework-doer are only so gratifying when you feel like your eyeballs are going to fall out of your head. So, when one of these moods hit, I decided to figure out what the hell Wes- err… Wil Wheaton was talking about and I went on a trek to find out about The Bloggess.

I giggled my way through her blog, enchanted by her arguments with Victor and recognizing glimpses of myself through her arguments and just outlandish conversations. Yes, people, it is something like this in my head as well, but somewhat more violent. Mingle this with a horror movie or slasher film where you’re giggling at the overused tropes and conventions and you’re counting down the moments until the busty blonde who made the mistake of getting her itch scratched (brown-chicken-brown-cow) is gonna have to pay for her transgressions. (It’s not exactly a tourist destination, if you know what I mean…)

So I blame Wil Wheaton for my purchase of Let’s Pretend This Never Happened.

What was entirely awesome and I can only say was destiny was the fact that after I started listening to the audiobook (which you should totally buy because it is more awesome than Reese’s peanut butter cups and because Jenny Lawson is the one reading it in a way that no other ever could), I found out that she was going to be doing a reading at a close-enough-to-be-local Books-A-Million. So I made plans to go and see her read since I was already planning on buying a copy of the book for my shelves anyway.

And that was the night that we packed the BAM in Concord, NC and totally flabbergasted Jenny Lawson with the turn out. Seriously. We were packed in there, but it was a great experience. Books-A-Million definitely underestimated the turn out (I don’t think the philistines had read the book because if they had, well, there would have been more room and a sign on the door with a parental advisory warning.)

Even packed in like sardines in folding chairs with books clutched in our flippery little hands, the crowd was excited and energized and nary a cranky word heard (at least by me). I was somewhat surprised to see the cult following Lawson has already, but perhaps only in the expressive and inventive ways they showed their enthusiasm. There were lots of metal chickens, taxidermied critters, and even a cake with Hamlet von Schnitzel brought in by one fan. Though being somewhat overwhelmed by the number of attendees, Lawson was smiling, cheerful and took the time to chat and take pictures with the legion of fans lined up to get her personal touch on the books. She handled it with a southern grace and charm I think few people can really pull off while still being genuine and endearing. But that’s just the thing – in person, she was just as wonderful and funny and REAL as she is in her blog and in her book, and her in-person reading was fantastic. I giggled all the way through it and I was not the only one. I had the opportunity to get her author-graph on my book and tell her that she did the impossible – and made the ride in to work something I looked forward to. There will be Something Like a Review available on Sunday for Let’s Pretend This Never Happened, but I’ll give a minor spoiler: GO. BUY. IT. If you have the misfortune of living somewhere you can’t get your reader-ly little paws on it immediately, order it and go read her blog. Even if you can get it immediately, go read her blog. You won’t regret joining the rest of us. (And I promise, you get used to how bright the sun is after a while.)

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 audible.com.

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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