AND - New England/Boston area folks, check out KL's upcoming classes at GrubStreet. She's an excellent instructor and you are guaranteed to come away improved and inspired to write.
A new year means new books. What are you looking forward to? Here are a few on my radar:
The Ape Man's Brother by Joe R. Lansdale (January)
Orphaned by a plane crash, raised in the wilds of a lost world hidden somewhere beneath a constant mist, The Big Guy and his ape-man brother from another mother are living a life of danger amongst rampaging dinosaurs, giant birds, warring ape tribes, and all manner of deadly beasts. It's a wonderful existence for someone like The Big Guy and his furry brother, except for the flea problem. Then an expedition of explorers from the outside turn his world inside out. Or rather a very blonde beauty called The Woman does. It leads to his and his ape brother being convinced to fly to New York by zeppelin, where they become the toast of the town. They even make Hollywood movies. It seems perfect. At least until The Big Guy does something that comes quite naturally to him in the wild, but leads to public humiliation in this new found world. To make matters worse, his ape brother has grown to not only love the pampered life, meals he doesn't have to chase down, good cigars, fine wines and statuesque women, he's come to like the Wrong Woman.
Changes are afoot. They lead to a return to the world beneath the mist, and a deadly and unexpected encounter with a foe that is in many ways far worse than any dinosaur. Envy, jealousy, greed, fleas, and pyramids under the mist, are all part of this rollicking novella of the sort only Joe R. Lansdale could write. And don't forget dinosaurs.
Blood for the Sun by Errick Nunnally (March)
After more than one hundred and forty years, Alexander Smith is suffering from memory loss that plagues him like a supernatural Alzheimer's. He has lasted longer than most by clinging to the love he has for his adopted daughter, the vampire Ana, and puzzling out cases of missing or murdered children. Without them, he wouldn't be able to ignore the ghost of a child from his guilty past or fight the whispers goading him to kill. On his latest job, he's stumbled upon a vampire conspiracy that has left a trail of child murders up and down the East Coast-a conspiracy that promises inoculation against the sun. If true, the conspirators' success would mean a bloody conflict, altering the balance between humans and the supernatural forever. Losing more of his mind every day, Alexander has two impossible tasks ahead of him if the world is to survive: stop the vampire coven and reconnect with his humanity.
Plaster City by Johnny Shaw (April)
The raucous second book in the Jimmy Veeder Fiasco series returns to the Calexico/Mexicali border two years after the events of Dove Season, reuniting Jimmy Veeder and Bobby Maves—not exactly the luckiest guys in the Imperial Valley, but, hey, they win more fights than they lose.
Settled on his own farmland and living like a true family man after years of irresponsible fun, Jimmy’s got a straight life cut out for him. But he’s knocking years off that life thanks to fun-yet-dangerous Bobby’s booze-addled antics—especially now that Bobby is single, volatile as ever, and bored as hell.
When Bobby’s teenage daughter goes missing, he and Jimmy take off on a misadventure that starts out as merely unfortunate and escalates to downright calamitous. Bobby won’t hesitate to kick a hornets’ nest to get the girl to safety, but when the rescue mission goes riotously sideways, the duo’s grit—and loyalty to each other—is put to the test.
Stay God, Sweet Angel by Nik Korpon (April)
Damon lives a content life, playing video games and dealing drugs from his second-hand store while his girlfriend, Mary, drops constant hints about marriage. If only he could tell her his name isn't really Damon. If only he could tell her who he really is. But after he witnesses a friend's murder, a scarlet woman glides into his life, offering the solution to all of his problems. His carefully constructed existence soon shatters like crystal teardrops and he must determine which ghosts won't stay buried - and which ones are trying to kill him - if he wants to learn why Mary has disappeared.
The Poor Boy's Game by Dennis Tafoya (April)
When US Marshal Frannie Mullen gets one of her best friends shot during a routine apprehension, her career is over. Still reeling from the loss, Frannie is trying to sort out her feelings for Wyatt, the reformed outlaw who loves her, and to support her newly-sober sister, Mae, as she struggles with the fallout of their unstable, violent childhood.
Their father Patrick Mullen is a thug, a vicious enforcer for a corrupt Philadelphia union, and when he escapes from prison, bodies of ex-rivals and witnesses begin piling up. Now Frannie is suspected as an accomplice in his escape and targeted by shadowy killers from the Philadelphia underworld. Unsure who to trust, drawing on the skills she's learned as a Marshal and her training as a boxer, Frannie is forced to fight to protect her shattered sister and Patrick’s pregnant girlfriend from the most dangerous criminal she’s ever faced—her own father.
Tequila Sunset by Sam Hawken (June)
In Tequila Sunset, three people are confronted by Los Aztecas's ruthless power: a reluctant gang member, an El Paso police officer, and a Mexican federal agent. As their paths cross with the gang and each other, they all become involved in a complex struggle between law and crime, violence and order, and ultimately, life and death.
The Fever by Megan Abbott (June)
The Nash family is close-knit. Tom is a popular teacher, father of two teens: Eli, a hocky star and girl magnet, and his sister Deenie, a diligent student. Their seeming stability, however, is thrown into chaos when Deenie's best friend is struck by a terrifying, unexplained seizure in class. Rumors of a hazardous outbreak spread through the family, school and community.
As hysteria and contagion swell, a series of tightly held secrets emerges, threatening to unravel friendships, families and the town's fragile idea of security.
In what may be the last 'a book a week' of the year, I give you a smorgasbord of goodies. And keep your eyes peeled for a little Black Friday giveaway. (Pssst - if you want a head start on the giveaway, 'like' my author page and follow my blog by typing in your email in the box to the upper right of this post.)
Country Hardball by Steve Weddle
A novel-in-stories, COUNTRY HARDBALL explores the happenings and relationships in a rural small town. It's the story of Roy Alison, a young man with a checkered past who returns home to a community on the brink after the economic downturn.
What makes COUNTRY HARDBALL and Weddle's writing so strong is his ability to pull out and focus on such vivid details. A single father just barely holding things together with his young son, and their focus on a walking stick. Picking purple hulled peas in a field. Parents who deal with their own internal struggle while watching their son play baseball. The generational gap between a hardworking father and his entitled son. Weddle breathes life into these characters and makes you care deeply for their story, no matter how uneven or difficult a road they travel.
COUNTRY HARDBALL is one of my favorite reads of the year and has found a permanent spot on my shelf alongside the works of John Mantooth and Frank Bill.
Day One by Nate Kenyon
A thriller outside the books I usually read, DAY ONE sucked me right in with its contemporary and very present, almost in-the-news plot. It follows John Hawke, a hacker journalist formerly associated with the hacker group Anonymous, in pursuit of a story to save his career and family from financial ruin. A software giant is on the cusp of a breakthrough, and Hawke is determined to be the first to break the news.
Immediately the reader is thrust into total chaos in the heart of New York City. All technology has been taken over and Hawke is on his own, desperate to get back to his family. Great pacing, twists and turns drive the book, but the scary heart of the matter is how close we are (in real life) to having something like DAY ONE as a real potential crisis. A compelling book that pushed me to read non-fiction about the current state of artificial intelligence.
The Inner City by Karen Heuler
I love the cover of THE INNER CITY. Chizine used the image for their banner at this year's Readercon and when I saw it I was instantly pulled in. While I read a lot of crime, weird fiction is probably my second favorite genre/sub-genre. (I've got the Vandermeer's immense THE WEIRD sitting on my shelf, begging to be read.) Heuler's work in this collection is excellent. I'd recalled reading two of the stories ("Fish Wish" and "Landscape, with Fish") in Weird Tales (2011 and 2008 respectively) and it was of note that they had stuck with me for so long.
Heuler's characters, while sometimes cold and detached, immerse the reader in their worlds, often making the very odd normal and acceptable when it is dangerously not so. My favorite story is "Thick Water," whose sci-fi/horror twists gave me chills in the vein of ALIEN, D.O.G.S. OF MARS and DEAD SPACE. As it states on the back cover, "Everything is familiar; everything is different." If you are in search of unique weird fiction with a good mix of light and heavy stories, look no further than THE INNER CITY.
The Last Porno Theater by Nick Cato
New York City, 1989. Times Square is being sanitized and The Metro is the last theater to show adult films... wait a minute - what's that breast doing growing out of the wall!?
THE LAST PORNO THEATER (a bizarro work, I might add...) is a hell of a lot of fun. Cato lures you in with Herschell, a hardworking, if a bit naive protagonist, and the next thing you know, [spoiler alert!] you're knee deep in clones with a giant fifty-foot tall clown breathing down your neck. TLPT is my first venture into bizarro territory, and while I've heard a lot of the genre features over-the-top craziness with little connection to the story, Cato's left turn to crazy town fits right in line with his themes and his character's attempt to hold on to their ideal image of a Times Square that is quickly evaporating before their eyes.
The Thicket by Joe R Lansdale
I must confess that when it comes to Lansdale I am criminally under-read - especially since his short story, "Santa at the Cafe," moved me to write crime/noir. THE THICKET is brilliant, just brilliant. Truly, I could sit and read endless pages of banter between Shorty, Eustace, Jack and Jimmie Sue. (Oh, and hog, of course).
THE THICKET follows a party made up of the son of a slave, a dwarf, a former prostitute, a giant hog, a former bounty-hunter-turned-lawman, a janitor, and the narrator, Jack, whose sister was kidnapped by a group of foul men no better than monsters. Needless to say, the posse maintains some interesting personalities. Eustace, a giant of a man, with his 4-gauge shotgun and abilities to track (sometimes). Shorty, the well-spoken dwarf with a thirst for knowledge feels tailor-made for Peter Dinklage (fans of Game of Thrones, especially the television show, will fall in love with this book). Jimmie Sue, the former prostitute, is a hoot, always chiming in at the right moment. And Jack, the narrator who fills the boots of a young naive boy and grows throughout the novel.
You might say it is a 'western' but it is more than that; an adventure full of wit and humor, both light and dark, and doesn't shy away from the horrors of the time.
Well, that's all I've got. I hope you enjoyed my reviews over the past year and maybe even picked up a book or two. There is a lot of excellent fiction out there, and I count myself lucky to have stumbled upon (or in many cases, been recommended) some of the best.
Pour that cup o' joe and get reading.
Laird Barron on the resistance writers receive in pursuit of their craft.
Daniel Menaker on publishing industry insanity. What Does the Book Business Look Like on the Inside?
Meghan Arcuri gives a great recap of this year's Anthocon.
AND...last but certainly not least, I give you three wonderful stories that are FREE to read.
PUSH WITH ALL YOUR LOVE by KL Pereira @ The Golden Key
SWIM WANTS TO KNOW IF IT'S AS BAD AS SWIM THINKS by Paul Tremblay @ Bourbon Penn
SALVAGES by Gabrielle Hovendon @ Whiskeypaper
Enjoy this little roundup? Let me know and I'll keep 'em coming.
The Horror! Autumn has finally arrived and that means it's time to delve back into one of my favorite genres. Without further ado....
Jack & Jill by Kealan Patrick Burke
As a big fan of Burke's work, I was psyched for the chance to get my hands on an early read of his latest novella, JACK & JILL. Having read four of his novellas (and way past due on the rest) I can say that Burke has mastered this short form - providing tight pacing and plots that pack an emotional punch, along with his style of scares and dread that has become so well known.
The novella follows Gillian, one half of 'Jack and Jill,' as an adult, and deals with her struggle with recurring nightmares/dreams from events of her childhood.
JACK & JILL is one of my favorite reads of the year. The beautifully odd - and sometimes ugly - dream sequences took me back to the opening pages of Burke's novel, KIN, and one of the best scenes I've ever had the pleasure of reading. The images of Gillian's 'dream version' of her father are truly frightening, especially when...well I won't spoil that. Likewise, near the end of the novella (no spoilers) there is a pivotal moment that hangs on one phrase, and just when you might think there isn't enough space to pull it off, you realize Burke had already set the foundation and it makes perfect sense.
JACK & JILL hits the stands (e-book) in November 2013.
Brew by Bill Braddock
Holy smokes... you know when you read, "His eyes focused on her abdomen, just below the floating rib, where several inches of plump, externally herniated intestine shone in the light. He licked his lips. What would it taste like?", in the first few pages, that you are in for a ride. It's the Hell Yeah kind of ride that took me back to what I love about horror, and reminded me why I was so taken by the genre many years ago.
One minute the city of College Heights is party central and the next...well, green ooze dripping psychos are going to town on each other. BREW nails survival horror - tight pacing, blistering action, and well-developed characters (spread throughout the city/campus, natch) who are real and whose decisions throughout the course of the novel make sense (crucial). When done poorly, survival horror boils down to a handful of paragraphs detailing whatever creative deaths the author could conjure up. When done well, or as in the case with BREW, very well, you hang on every word.
Every House is Haunted by Ian Rogers
Some of the best dark/horror fiction these days can be found in short story collections. Ian Roger's EVERY HOUSE IS HAUNTED is no exception.
EVERY HOUSE IS HAUNTED lands smack in the middle of some of my favorite kinds of horror. It's haunting (as the title suggests) but more than that, it carries a ghostly vibe throughout. The stories are moody and thought provoking, odd and sometimes bizarre. The story "The House on Ashley Avenue" was nominated for a Shirley Jackson Award this year. My other favorites were "Autumnology," "The Currents," "Leaves Brown," "The Rifts Between Us," "Hunger," "Inheritor," and "Twillingate."
Rogers has also pulled together a little commentary on the collection. While it didn't make the book, I recommend you check it out HERE after you've read the stories. I'm a junkie for that kind of 'behind the scenes' look - there is always something fascinating behind excellent short fiction, especially when you veer into dark/odd/haunting tales.
Sacrifice Island by Kristin Dearborn
SACRIFICE ISLAND is a novella about a pair of paranormal investigators who head to the Philippines in search of material for their latest book. It's difficult to delve into more of the plot without getting into serious spoiler territory, but suffice it to say, Dearborn does an excellent job of reinvigorating what may seem like an old story and worn tropes. She doesn't waste time with pieces of the mystery that you can put together early on, instead focusing on the characters and their unique traits which are cleverly revealed along the way. Overall, what appeared at first to be an easy trek through the jungle, turned out to be much more and a fun read. Another great example of why I love the novella. Looking forward to Dearborn's novel, TRINITY.
Candy House by Kate Jonez
Roland, a brilliant young scientist, loses his prestigious job and is forced to move back home with his parents. If that weren't bad enough, his neighbors are a family of witches, imps and demons.
It has been quite a while since I read any Dark Fantasy, but I'll be seeking out more after reading CANDY HOUSE. I found Jonez's writing to be very engaging, especially the scenes at the neighbors. The vibe of CANDY HOUSE reminded me of Brother's Grimm and Alice and Wonderland - full of odd/bizarre moments, unreliable characters, and dream-like sequences. It took me a little bit to get into the book, but once the full extent/agenda of the neighbors is revealed, I was hooked.
So...what's next? My TBR pile is ever-changing, but with the end of the year fast approaching, these are the five I have my sights on:
Post-Bouchercon review time. A lot of new friends and a few recommendations later, I'm swamped with more books on my plate than ever before. But how can I complain? It only gets better and better. On to the reviews!
Bar Scars by Nik Korpon
Nik Korpon was one of the usual suspects in the small group I toured with most of the time around the Bouchercon campus. A very cool guy and a fantastic writer. I had a great time talking everything from Baltimore to Pigeon books with him (parents with small children...it happens). So it was cool to see that his short story collection, BAR SCARS, was set in Baltimore.
This collection is DARK. One of my favorite kind of books - that I enjoy even more by putting down after a couple of stories and letting them soak in, rather than reading straight through. My favorite story was "A Sparrow with White Scars," followed by "His Footsteps are Made of Soot," and "Haymaker." Heartbreaking stuff and awesome prose.
Happy to be sharing a ToC with Nik in the newly release NOIR NATION #3.
Under the Dixie Moon by Ro Cuzon
Ro Cuzon was another cool cat in the small crew I rolled around with at Bouchercon. I was sold the moment another writer deemed UNDER THE DIXIE MOON to be like the television show, THE WIRE, only set in New Orleans. Like some of my favorite books, the setting, New Orleans, plays a huge role in UNDER THE DIXIE MOON - almost a character itself. It took me a few pages to get into the novel, but once I was in tune with Cuzon's style, I was hooked to the finish. Cuzon weaves a gritty, complex tale with compelling characters that I found myself liking more and more as I got to know them (even those 'unlikeable' ones). Solid Noir.
Blade of Dishonor by Thomas Pluck
Action-packed, pulpy goodness! I met Tom only a couple of times in passing and he's one of several writers I wish I had more time with. I'd been meaning to buy BLADE OF DISHONOR all weekend and as luck would have it, I won it by answering one of Todd Robinson's THUGLIT questions correctly at the "Noir at the Bar" panel. BLADE OF DISHONOR was a lot of fun and you can tell the amount of passion and research that Pluck put into it, especially for the WWII storyline. In a way, this book is like getting two stories for the price of one; the story of Butch, the main character's father, could stand on it's own as an excellent book, and while I enjoyed Rage Cage Reeve's storyline, I found myself looking forward to the next installment of WWII action with each passing chapter. Looking forward to more pulp from Pluck.
Drift by Jon McGoran
DRIFT had been on my 'to read' list since it was released and received praise from several of my friends. In another case of "wish I had read it before I met the author" (of which I appear to have a chronic condition), I had the great pleasure of hearing McGoran read at the "Noir at the Bar" panel (a great back and forth between the main character, Doyle Carrick, and his partner) and chatting with him again, later that night.
I found DRIFT (an excellent and very appropriate title, by the way...) to be compelling and entertaining on a number of fronts, not the least of which was centering the mystery around GMOs. McGoran successfully instructed me on a foreign subject matter without slowing the pace of the story and/or dumping paragraphs of information. I loved the small town setting and the suspended/powerless cop vs. Sheriff struggle early on, and the transformation of their relationship. Tightly paced, great characters and a fascinating mystery. I'm looking forward to McGoran's next book, the sequel to DRIFT, entitled, DEADOUT, coming summer 2014.
It goes without saying that one of the best moments of Bouchercon 2013 was getting the Shotgun Honey crew together in person for the first time. Jen, Erik and Ron are wonderful people, and I'm more proud than ever to be in their company.
Not only are they wonderful people, but they produce some excellent fiction as well. Check out their latest works (several of which are available online for free) at the links below:
Jen Conley - "Mary Mulligan" (Grand Central Noir), "Kick" (Literary Orphans), "Howling" (Beat to a Pulp), AND her story, "Finn's Missing Sister" (NEEDLE) was shortlisted for BEST AMERICAN MYSTERY STORIES 2013!
KWIK KRIMES edited by Otto Penzler drops this week, containing 81 short crime stories by some of the best writers in the field - both new and established. Featuring five stories originally published in Shotgun Honey (Erik Arneson, R. Thomas Brown, Matthew C. Funk, Jim Spry, Jim Wilsky) and other fantastic works from Shotgun Honey alum such as Patti Abbott, K.A. Laity, Joe Clifford, Tom Pitts, Eric Beetner, Dana C. Kabel and more.
Add in the likes of Christa Faust, Ken Bruen, Reed Farrel Coleman, Jim Fusilli, Chuck Hogan, Joe R. Lansdale, Lyndsay Faye, Andrew Klavan, Tasha Alexander and David Corbett, and you've got a must read collection.