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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 – The Fireman by Joe Hill

The second I saw the promo for this release, I marked it down on my calendar. Fate intervened on my behalf and prevented me from buying it right away.

An ominous start for Something Like a Review from an author I’ve raved over in the past, isn’t it?

Patience, grasshopper.

My local indie bookstore hosted a release party for an author friend’s book, Daughters of Shadow and Blood, Book 2: Elena. While wandering the stacks, to what should my wondering eyes should appear, but an autographed copy! After spending roughly two hours cradling this substantial book to my chest, I knew I’d need to invest in a digital copy to prevent damage to my preciousssss.

Ahem.

Sorry.

Draco Incendia Trycophyton, aka Dragonscale, infects people all over the world. People spontaneously combust and spark wildfires decimating the land. The infected are feared, hunted and killed to contain the infection and prevent fires. But not everyone falls prey to the spore. Some learn to coexist with the fungus and band together to survive, living in harmony with the spore and each other.

This is a rich, complex story that has lingered in my mind long after finishing the book. The lush detail evoked a vibrant, post-apocalyptic world, but in the end, it wasn’t the spore I feared. Harper flees the world she has known after she’s infected and finds a group of survivors hiding out in the New Hampsire woods. Under the care of a mad leader, the group evolves into an zealous, persecutory evangelical knot more terrifying than the prospect of burning to death.

There’s a foreboding sparked by the realistic, plausible and almost prophetic example of the camp inhabitants and leaders and speaking to the larger problems in the real world lurking under the plot lines. Not only does it give the story depth, it creates a lasting impression of disturbance and unease.

And though expertly done, there were a few quirks that irritated me throughout the novel. Pop culture references are a pet peeve of mine because I think they can take away from the timelessness of the story. In this novel, there were a lot and covered everything from classic rock to Mary Poppins and Harry Potter. A few were great and integral to the character, but overall, I could have done with less and been happy. The other quirk I hadn’t noticed in his previous books was the habit of including little “throwaway” comments. These usually appeared at the end of chapters, and while they could be considered overt foreshadowing, they felt spoilery and frustrating. Omitting them altogether would punch up the tension, but that’s my opinion.”

Like NOS4A2, there were a couple of Easter eggs throwing back to King’s universe (like a character’s behavior leading to the comment that she had “forgotten the face of [her] father.” Even as hill builds a solid reputation for himself and his work apart from the spectre of his dad’s work, these little homages make my inner (and outer) fangirl squee with delight.

Overall, I loved this book and I’m glad I’ve read so few of Hill’s books that I still have plenty to get me through until the next one.

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.

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 Audible.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

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 – Zer0es by Chuck Wendig

We all have a special place in our hearts for the loud, brash personalities in our world. How else do you explain the popularity of the “carny-handed mango man,”or Nigel Farage?  Or the she-beast, Ann Coulter?

Granted, that place we hold for the blustery and abrasive might be a gator-filled swamp or an oubliette, but hey, those are places.

And sometimes, we seek out these personalities because we sense the benevolence behind the shock-and-awe tactics that make us laugh. For me, this is the lure of Chuck Wendig.

Everyone has their own opinion, of course, but I find Wendig’s particular brand of hyperbolic (and sometimes juvenile) humor is exactly the sugar to help me swallow writer life lessons and general insight buried within. I’ve drunk deep of his audacious wisdom from his daily blog posts at terribleminds.com, his Kick-Ass Writer and all his other writing books. But, until now, all I’d read was his writing advice.

Intrigued by the hype around his new cyber-thriller, Zer0es, I picked it up. The premise of technology becoming a horror thrilled me, and I had to see what he could do.

Overall, this is a great book, though I say that with a caveat.

When I was still in the first third of the book, my writing group was discussing what we were reading. I mentioned this one, and there was a lot of curiosity about it given Wendig’s blustery portrayal of himself on his blog. My only fair answer at the time was that it was … odd, but that I wanted to keep reading. The beginning, in my opinion, is somewhat jarring and disjointed. I felt thrust around, not really given a chance to orient myself with the characters, and how they were connected. In my opinion, there was something missing, though I still can’t identify what. As the book progresses past that point, however, and the characters converge, that jangling sense of disharmony dissipates and the story comes together in a beautiful, terrifying way and barrels through to its chilling end.

Wendig’s panoply of characters rings true to their stories, and histories, even if they become overwhelming and obnoxious at times. This is one of those casts of characters that is both unforgettable, and sometimes difficult to spend to spend time with. Wendig works a bit of magic, though, making you care about the most abrasive personalities even though you’d gladly reach into the story and slap them silly (I’m lookin’ at you, Rachael).

The punchy style and staccato rythym has been a matter of contention in some of his books. At times, I felt like I needed a break to catch my breath, but that sensation served the story. Wendig used the style to great effect and I’d argue that it was necessary to create the pace and physical effect on the reader that this novel achieves.

Zer0es is a chilling book because of the sheer plausibility of the technological horrors Wendig concocts.  We could be living with a similar, undetected tumor of dystopic existence growing in our midst. Our own Typhon might be watching now…

Definitely worth the read, I’d give Zer0es my standard “Lord of the Rings disclaimer” – get through the beginning, and you’ll be sucked in. Now, it’s all over until the release of the second book in the series, Invasive, in August.

 

Medium: Kindle version from Amazon.com

Other: Available in various formats from Amazon.com

Overall rating: 4 stars

Potential re-read: When I feel the need to be reminded of technology’s dark side, yes.

Dead-tree worthy?: Maybe. I think I’ll need to read through it again to figure that out. There is a certain amount of irony of only owning a digital copy, though.

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.

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