Online Issue 19: Countdown To C-Day

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Following the Thanksgiving goodies in Issue 18 (Rusty Barnes, Susanna Beard, Barbara Winkes, Jenn Stroud Rossmann) we return this week to a transitional issue.

First, Wendy Webb talks about Daughters of the Lake. Imagine experiencing the dreams of a dead woman. Creepy!

CJ Lyons not only shares the goodies on her TBR pile (Laini Taylor, Ben Winters, Joseph Luzzi to name a few), but she also talks about the inspiration for The Color of Lies.

“What if someone’s entire life was colored by what they wanted to believe instead of what was real? Answering that question led to The Color of Lies.”

And I kick off the Christmas festivities for this issue with Day 27 of my advent calendar.

‘Best of’ lists are limited; no single person has read every book or seen every movie or TV show released in a year. No single person has read any book even in just one genre.

I can only say what I’ve enjoyed from what I’ve consumed. To say it’s the ‘best of’ the year is, at best, inaccurate. At worst, conceited.

That’s why I’ve decided to do an advent calendar, leading up to Christmas, featuring something I’ve enjoyed from the past year every day from now until December 24. This advent special will include books, movies, TV series and more.

What I’m featuring on the Advent calendar is presented in no particular order.

My first Advent feature is a book I read in the summer, and you can find out more here.

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Eryk Pruitt, Vicki Hendricks, Gary Philips, Christa Faust and more: what Rusty Barnes has on tap for holiday reading

What are some of the titles in your current TBR pile?

Townies-Cover-DesaturatedI only buy new books on Kindle these days, so what’s on deck is mostly newish material: My Darkest Prayer, by S.A. Cosby, The Long and Faraway Gone, by Lou Berney, Townies, by Erik Pruitt, Peepland, by Christa Faust and Gary Phillips, Cruel Poetry by Vicki Hendricks, The Girl from Blind River, by Gale Massey.

What book are you currently reading?

Some Die Nameless, by Wallace Stroby. The opening action scene seems to me to be a clinic in how to do it well, and so far, it’s taking a grizzled old plot–the over-the-hill special operative brought in for one last job–and making it new for me again. I’m also reading the poet Philip Larkin’s letters over. He was a complicated and curmudgeonly man who wrote some the most beautiful and feeling poems I’ve ever read while simultaneously being an often repellent personality, at least in some of his correspondence.

What do you hope to add to your TBR pile soon and why?

There’s a new biography of Ross MacDonald I’ve been itching to get to after reading his correspondence with Eudora Welty, as it’d be tough to find two more distinctly different writers. I’m a fan of Welty’s from way back when my obsession with things Southern began twenty-five years ago in the Kmart bargain book lot when I discovered Larry Brown and now I want to become a fan of MacDonald’s based on the letters.

Bonus: Which author do you want to see have a new book out soon?

I have a hankering for Appalachian literature lately having finished my friend Charles Dodd White’s most recent–and great–book In the House of Wilderness, so it would be especially nice to see a new Ron Rash or Pinckney Benedict novel or to see Chris barnes-the-last-danger-3Holbrook or Chris McGinley publish a new book. They have a knack for the vernacular and a love for the country,which shows in the writing. I’m always on the lookout for new crime writers, too, but I keep my ear pretty close to the ground on those.

Rusty talks about his latest novel, The Last Danger, here.

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Rusty Barnes is a 2018 Derringer Award finalist and author of the story collections Breaking it Down and Mostly Redneck, as well as four novels, Reckoning, Ridgerunner, Knuckledragger, and The Last Danger, His fiction, poetry and non-fiction have appeared or are forthcoming in many journals and anthologies. He founded and edits the crime journal Tough.

 

Online Issue 17: “Living My Best Life”

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This issue begins and ends with mourning. We mark the passing of long-time reviewer and crime fiction enthusiast, Theodore Feit, with his final review.

We’re also reeling with the fresh pain from the news that Evie Swierczynski has passed away after her fight with leukemia. Many years ago, I was hired to travel to Philadelphia and interview Duane Swierczynski for a magazine feature. I got to meet his children and Meredith. I’m lucky enough to say I’ve known Duane for many years, and yet I do not know him and his family well … and yet Duane’s posts over the past several months have made many of us feel as though Evie was a part of our family, because he captured her spirit and shared her with us all.

All I really know today is that their grief is unfathomable. In the days and weeks ahead I’ll be thinking of Duane, Meredith and Parker as they begin the unfathomable journey forward without Evie.

One thing Duane mentioned months ago was that Evie always said, “Living my best life.” For her, it was a statement of sarcasm in response to misfortunes. (DS FB June 7)

May we all cherish the moments we have and truly live our best lives.

Scroll down a bit and you’ll see a list of ways to pay tribute to a loved one’s memory.

Sticking with the Music Theme

Paul D. Brazill’s Supernatural Noir is out in stores now, and he’s sharing his new work’s playlist with us.

Author Interviews

Kelli Owen talks being a Nerdy Klutz, how that impacts her zombie apocalypse plan, and what a vampire story has to do with prejudice.

Brian Lindenmuth chats with Terrence McCauley about writing westerns.

Robert White talks about Thomas Harris, David Lindsey and Martin Cruz Smith, his protagonist’s biggest fear, and how real life events inspired Northtown Eclipse.

When The Hunger Games and The Handmaid’s Tale Collide: Barbara Winkes talks about her Dystopian tale, Cypher.

Reviews:

Sandra Ruttan takes a look at In The Galway Silence, the latest Jack Taylor novel by Ken Bruen.

Brian also has a horror review column up, just in time for Halloween.

And, in sad news, the review of The Line by Martin Limon marks Theodore Feit’s final review. Our condolences to Gloria on Ted’s unexpected passing last month. He was a long-standing reviewer who was committed to sharing his love of books, and will be missed.

Actors Wanted

Tom Leins picks the Actors who Could play Joe Rey, the Gunrunner, Slattery and Wila.

To Be Read Features

Wondering what some of your favorite author are reading these days and hoping to crack open soon?

What Do John Verdon, Annette Dashofy, Gwen Floria, Eric Beetner and Kyle Mills Have in Common? JJ Hensley talks recent reads and more.

J.L. Abramo talks about global events that impact his current reading, works by Erik Larson and Bryan Burroughs and his hopes for new Tim O’Brien novels.

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Eclectic Mayhem – Halloween Horror Edition

I spent October reading horror. Here’s a couple of quick take reviews.

Cockblock by CV Hunt (Grindhouse Press) – I’ve been a fan of CV Hunt for a couple of years now. I missed it back in June when it first dropped but scooped it up with the quickness when I was prepping my reading list. The President is delivering a speech across all technologies that turns men to mindless rapists. The only way to stop them is a shot to the balls. Cockblock is a fresh take on the zombie story, one for the Me Too era. It also acts as a critique on the pervasiveness of technology and how quickly information can spread. The world created here is a patriarchal system cranked up to 11 with women leading the larger resistance that must take place to stop the President. It veers from the horrific to the humorous while maintaining a relentless drive forward. This is a very zeitgeisty novel without being overly obvious. Highly Recommended.

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Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books) / My Best Friend’s Exorcism by Grady Hendrix (Quirk Books): Grady Hendrix, with these books, writes what I’ll call horror with a light touch. They largely maintain a sense of fun, even through moments of genuine horror. There is nostalgia for the 70s/80s horror boom (an era we know Hendrix likes) without feeling like regurgitations or reproductions. Horrorstor is a haunted house story where the “house” in question is an Ikea knockoff store called Orsk (included are product descriptions that get increasingly more horrific). My Best Friend’s Exorcism seasons in some 80s nostalgia (never over the top) and brick by brick builds the great relationship between the two girls, building the the titular exorcism that will test them.

The first thing that needs to be said is that the physical versions of these books are gorgeous and are worth owning. Horrorstor is designed to look like, in part,  a store catalog. The paperback version of My Best Friend’s Exorcism looks like an 80s VHS tape.

It’s almost the kind of think you hate to say but, these two books might be a good fit for folks who say they don’t really like horror. Both Highly Recommended (though I liked My Best Friend a bit more).

 

 

The Last Safe Place by Rob Hart – Hey, remember that time Rob Hart, author of the successful Ash McKenna series, wrote a zombie novella? Wait, what? It’s out of print now but he did. In The Last Safe Place Rob Hart places his zombie apocalypse survivors on Governor’s Island in New York. They have cobbled together a surviving, but not necessarily thriving, community. Then shit goes wrong, as it always must. Clocking in at a little over 100 pages, it is the perfect length for Hart to get in, establish some characters and their relationships and dynamics then quickly jump to a couple of zombie action sequences. It’s lean, mean, and moves quick, exactly the way you want a story like this to be. Recommended

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Lost Films edited by Max Booth III and Lori Michelle (Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing) – One of the things that I appreciate about this anthology, and what the fine folks at PMMP are doing, is that it can, in no way, be considered run of the mill. It’s unlikely they will ever publish an anthology with some general theme, like Haunted Houses. With them you get anthologies about haunted films, haunted sounds, or pizza horror. And that original starting point pushes the authors out of their comfort zones some, with some strong fiction as a result. Recommended.

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Review: Creatures of Want and Ruin by Molly Tanzer

What if the scariest childhood stories you ever read were real? What if the horrors that haunted those pages stepped into your adult world and threatened to destroy your home and family – everything you’ve ever loved?

Would you have the courage to face your fears and find a way to conquer your fears and save the world?

51lydagc9rl-_sy346_I can imagine this being the driving concept behind Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Want and Ruin. The story is told in three main parts; Susan’s, Ellie’s and Fin’s. While we start off with a snapshot of Susan discovering what’s happened to her friend, Ms. Depth, we’re soon brought into Ellie’s world. The enterprising bootlegger is independent, resourceful and soon forced to fight for her life when she tries to help a man who appears injured, who then tries to kill her.

Saying too much about the specifics of the women’s roles would risk spoilers. At it’s core this is a story about the high price of selling your soul to a demon, and the unintended horrors that ensue when people embrace evil. It isn’t just the horrific elements and supernatural aspects of the story that wreak havoc; embracing evil threatens families and relationships with tragedies that are all too real.

Creatures of Want and Ruin is a horror story about battling ancient evils. Tanzer takes her time to develop her characters and their dynamics as the plot unfolds, and the pace and intensity build to bring us to the climax. Tanzer blends the fantastical and horrific with the real world in a way that make you feel as though you could turn a corner and find one of those oily mushroomy things growing in the woods behind your home, threatening to erupt with demonic force or swallow you whole.

That alone is an accomplishment. Tanzer goes deeper, though. Like the strange growths networked beneath the earth on Long Island that she writes about, there are threads of other stories and themes that are also being told. Fin and Ellie are both strong women who must take heroic actions. I think one of the crucial things of note is that, although this story is set during Prohibition, it centers on strong women who are not inclined to run to a man to solve their problems for them. These women are learning to stand up for themselves and others and are not willing to be pushed around by the people who try to coddle or control them. They are characters that resonate in the wake of the #metoo movement.

There are other timely themes at work. Those who have embraced the demons are anti-immigrant and are responsible for assaulting anyone they don’t feel has an acceptable bloodline. Even those born in America are attacked if their parents are foreigners.

Fin’s husband and his entourage are also used to convey a message. They are the idle rich. Indulged. Unaware and unconcerned about anything other than their own entertainment.

There are a lot of important truths Tanzer’s story highlights. The real genius is that it never does this at the expense of the story. At no point did I ever feel like a character got on a soap box and preached to the reader (although there was a sermon, but it was part of the story). In fact, it was the forward thinking of these women that was a key part in addressing the threat the demons posed. Like all great stories, the core of the characters informed their choices, which had a direct bearing on the plot and its resolution.

How Bella keeps author Lee Murray on her toes when she’s writing

Fun Fact: “A big lover of cheese, I have been lucky enough to have lived for several years in some of the most significant cheese locations of the world, beginning with my home country of New Zealand, then England (home of Red Leicester and Wensleydale), France (my favourite is still the Tome de Savoie) and America’s Dairyland, Wisconsin, famous for its cheese curd and Montforte Blue.”

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My author assistant since April 2018 is Bella. She’s an 8-month-old Jack Russell-Shih Tzu cross with a penchant for adventure and causing trouble. The perfect antidote for depression, Bella’s main job is to encourage me to get up from my desk and stretch my legs at frequent-frequent-frequent intervals, a task she takes very seriously by bringing me balls to throw. She tends to go crazy whenever the postie stops by, no doubt in anticipation of new books to be added to my to-be-read pile, since Bella recognises the importance of reading to a writer’s craft. Occasionally, she’ll hop up on my office chair, squeezing herself into the gap between my back and the chair back. This spot serves the dual purpose of providing me with a lovely warm lumbar support, while also allowing her a sneak peek at my latest plot twist. She barks any time I’m too long on the phone, a gentle reminder that I have a book to write. She also makes short work of any pages that might land on the floor, saving me a trip to the rubbish bin. And recently, she ate through a TV remote in a not-so-subtle reminder that, in her view, the book version is always better than the movie, and for that reason I should keep at it. I’d already completed INTO THE SOUNDS by the time we adopted Bella, but she was my assistant while I wrote INTO THE ASHES, the final instalment in the Taine McKenna adventure trilogy. I hope Bella’s influence shows and, like her, the latest adventure is high-speed and action-packed.

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Lee talks about Into The Sounds here, and shares her casting call for the novel here.

Lee-15-Head-BWLee Murray is a ten-time winner of New Zealand’s Sir Julius Vogel Award for science fiction, fantasy and horror. Her books include the military thrillers Into the Mist and Into the Sounds, and supernatural crime-noir titles Hounds of the Underworld and Teeth of the Wolf (co-authored with Dan Rabarts). She is proud to have co-edited nine anthologies, one of which, Baby Teeth, won her an Australian Shadows Award in 2014. She lives with her family in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Find her at leemurray.info

Review: The Fragile Ordinary by Samantha Young

614af1ibwhl-_sy346_“I am Comet Caldwell.

“And I sort of, kind of, absolutely hate my name.”

Thus begins Comet’s journey in The Fragile Ordinary. Comet is a 16-year-old girl from Scotland with two disinterested parents who prefers escaping into the world of books or writing poetry to socializing. This can get her in a bit of trouble with her friends, Vicki and Steph, who are trying to pull her out of her shell. When a new boy at school makes Comet’s heart beat faster and her skin turn redder than its ever been, Comet struggles to understand and control her response to Tobias King. When King is assigned the seat next to her in one of her classes and they have to work on a project together she discovers there’s much more to the American “bad boy” than meets the eye.

Comet’s story is relatable for many teens who are trying to figure out who they are and struggling to adjust to the changes that growing up brings. Young walks a very fine line, presenting these teens as real without overusing curse words or overemphasizing some of the teen perils that are touched on. From Comet to Tobias to Vicki to Steph, all of the main characters in this book will have to grapple with who they are and what they want from life to some extent, and teens will relate to the challenges they’re facing themselves as they figure out their plans for the future. Bullying is a reality at school, and nobody pretends to have the perfect answer for how to deal with the problem. Just going through the thought processes for the decisions that Comet and others make may help some readers feel as though they aren’t so alone, and may give those struggling with similar issues ideas for how to resolve their own problems.

Family issues are front and center. Comet’s disinterested artsy parents are more wrapped up in each other than anything else and are anything but typical. Her neighbor is more of a parental figure than Kyle or Carrie, as Comet has been instructed to call Dad and Mom. As Comet gains confidence she confronts her parents about how they treat her, and comes to terms with what that means for her relationship with them moving forward.

Tobias comes off like a bad boy and definitely has an attitude. Once Comet starts to get to know him, all of the reasons for his anger make sense. I don’t want to say too much there because of potential spoilers, but this was a really believable and compelling part of the story. Both Comet and Tobias are dealing with imperfect parents and coming to terms with how their parents have – for better or worse – shaped their lives. Tobias also has family in town, and his cousin has a bad reputation. When his cousin’s mom is diagnosed with cancer things spiral, and both Tobias and Comet struggle with how to help him.

The dynamics between the three girls are also pretty interesting. Comet is better friends with Vicki than Steph, who is self-absorbed and likes to be the center of attention. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine a future where Comet and Steph have completely drifted apart. One of the things Comet really has to think about throughout the story is how her decisions (to withdraw, stay home and read, not go to parties or socialize) are affecting her friendships.

Overall, Comet matures and blossoms in this coming-of-age story, while grappling with some big decisions and big problems. Whether you’re a teen whose drifting apart from your more sociable friends or someone who’s being bullied or worried about a peer who’s having serious family problems or a parent trying to understand your teenager, you’ll find some keen insights woven into the fabric of this engaging story.