Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Legend of Broken

Title: The Legend of Broken
Author: Caleb Carr
Publisher: Random House
ISBN: 9780812984521
Pages: 752

While some fantasy/sci-fi books seem to have been weaved almost by magic, their author seemingly doing little more than trying to follow the nib held by a mystical hand, other works appear to have been cut from a very different cloth. Caleb Carr's books are the result of years and years of reading and digesting history, and boy, doesn't all that learning show. When the place and time are relatively static and confined, as in his stunning novel, The Alienist, the result is hard to resist, detail upon detail building on top of one another to create a tale so utterly real, you feel the necessity to imbibe every word and phrase.

But when the landscape is less enclosed, as in the 8th century Germania across which The Legend of Broken sprawls and tumbles, the effect can be very different. Here, it's more akin to a master model-maker showing you the intricate world they've lovingly created, and then insisting on illuminating you about every last detail, when, really, all you want is for them to tell you a damn good story. So historically accurate does Carr wish The Legend of Broken to be, he even makes up a sub-story about the author having discovered the 'manuscript' for this book while poking around in the correspondence of 18th century historian Edward Gibbon. He maintains the semi-serious tone throughout the book, bolstering the work with endnotes and letters, and the story constantly breaks off to inform us of some 'important' nugget of information. We're left guessing as to how seriously we're meant to take this. Ultimately, I found it a little gimmicky, and Carr needs to remember that the story always comes first.

For all the surface complexity, the story underneath the ornamentation is relatively straightforward. The plot follows the tense stand-off between various inhabitants of Broken, an early medieval city-state, and the Bane, a community created by the outcasts from the city, dwarvish people who have been ravaged by plague, the Bane seeks to take advantage of the chaos to seize back the city. Despite being restricted in size, the Bane have some cunning minds in their midst. They also have the wits of the enigmatic magician Caiphrestos and the legendary panther, Stasi, a relationship that Carr plays with constantly.

The story, then, is relatively simple, even if the dense writing tries to obscure that. The real problem, though, is that much of the texture comes from the copious historical details. The psychological depth, in fact, is rather lacking. The best stories have an inner tension which the author expertly controls and manipulates, constantly tightening and untightening at key moments to keep us engaged and feeling the characters thoughts, motivations and emotions. Carr, though, doesn't know when to probe and when to hold off, and the book lurches between overdone and over-simplified.

The Legend of Broken certainly isn't uninteresting to read, and it's the questioning of how an ancient community might have developed is rather intriguing. However, Carr really needs to allow us to feel the characters rather than treating us to large chunks of exposition posing as dialog. For a book this long and this detailed, the actual substance is surprisingly thin.


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Time of Quarantine Review

Title: The Time of Quarantine
Author: Katharine Haake
Publisher: What Books Press
ISBN: 9780984578214
Pages: 294

The end of the world as we know it has formed the jumping-off point for so many novels, that it's hard to believe the unknowable contains anything we haven't read countless times before. And, yet, when we're in the hands of such an impeccable story-builder as Katharine Haake, the material becomes so original, so real, that it feels improbable that any other outcome should be possible.

The Time of Quarantine follows Peter, who has spent his earlier years being raised in a California commune. The commune was set up by Peter's father to protect its inhabitants from the disease and pestilence of the outside world. After its collapse, Peter leave his 'quarantine' to explore the outside world, and finds that the truth is very different from that recounted to him by his father. Along the way, he meets a similarly cast-adrift trio of characters, and together they start probing the land, looking for any remaining traces of humanity and identity. The book is set partly in the world of technology -- the protagonists have computer chips built into their brains, and trying to tap into these and make sense of the data stored within them forms part of the plot-action -- but also touches subtly on what might be happening to the environment. Haake is clearly well-versed in environmental science, and knowing the works of serious non-fiction writers like Jay Withgott and William Cunnhingham, and the other 'stories' they can tell us about what might be happening to the world, means that the author can weave little clues into the narrative without ladling it on.

Haake's voice is a lyrical one twisting and teasing words into long sentences and paragraphs that sometimes feel as though they have been minutely measured and weighed for perfection. It's a good thing this voice is so searing, as it tends to dominate the novel. We move between several different voices. None of these feel particularly distinctive from one another -- Haake is no Faulkner. And yet, because the author is so brilliant at tapping into fears and unlocking memories that feel vibrant and personal to all of us, it's hard not to feel this book penetrating to the core. At its essence, the book is about the world itself, and how it controls and acts upon the tiny characters within it. As such, it makes perfect sense that the protagonists should, at times become indistinguishable from one another.

This isn't a flawless novel. Some of the more finely wrought passages can feel slightly overblown and readers who don't like a challenge may struggle to survive until the end. Also, some of the details remain a little vague and obscure. At time, we're not really sure what the characters are doing. This sense of dislocation might be partly intentional, and Haake clearly intends us to feel as though we, too, are lost, helplessly groping around for meaning. Answers may prove hard to come by. Scintillating prose and innovative plot, though, are here in considerable quantity.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Return of the Sci-Fi Guy(s)

Well, it's been a minute. Just a little over a year. Life's been crazy, but I'm back on the saddle. For those who have been faithful, tuning in for new content here at Sci-Fi Guys, have no fear! I have returned.

The site will be bare for the next few weeks as I develop and write up new content. Expect some cool new stuff to pop up as well, particularly Rewind Wednesday, where every Wednesday I'll post a review of something old(er) that I've found appealing.

Stay tuned. And be good, folks!


Monday, June 11, 2012

Guest Blog: Author Justin Gustainis: Haunted Scranton

About a month ago I asked Mr. Gustainis to stop by Sci-Fi Guys and give us a little mouth watering tidbit to warm us up while we waited for the second book in his Haunted Scranton series to come out. But, since it's already been out for a while (I know, Bad Rodney!) consider Mr. Gustainis' guest blog a introduction to the series for those interested.

Welcome to “Haunted Scranton”

My books Hard Spell and Evil Dark (with Known Devil due out next Fall), are set in an alternate universe where supernatural creatures of every sort really exist – and everyone knows it. Although the publisher’s title for the series is “The Occult Crime Unit Investigations” I prefer to call it the “Haunted Scranton” series, since the books are set in and around Scranton, PA – but this is a Scranton with spooks.

The series protagonist (and narrator) is Sgt. Stan Markowski, a veteran detective on the Scranton P.D.’s Occult Crimes Unit. Here’s Stan describing his job: “Being supernatural is legal in Scranton, just like anyplace else. And doing supernatural stuff is also legal – within reason. But if a vamp puts the bite on an unwilling victim, or some witch casts the wrong kind of spell, that’s when they call me.”

I wanted to take this opportunity to introduce you to a few of the people (and some who aren’t, strictly speaking, people) and places in Haunted Scranton.

--Stan’s boss, Lt. McGuire. His wife was kidnapped and murdered by a gang of werewolves, years ago. “McGuire’s a good guy and an okay boss, but there’s a darkness about him that has nothing to so with the fact that he doesn’t see much sunlight. He’s no vigilante – he believes in the law. But God help any supe [cop slang for supernatural creature] who breaks it.”

--Rachel Procter, the Scranton Police Department’s Consulting Witch. One night, Stan visits Rachel’s office, to ask her for a necromancy that she does not want to perform. “Rachel Procter’s about five feet tall and built lean. She’s got auburn hair, smart-looking gray eyes, and a beautiful smile. The smile put in an appearance when I walked into her office, but when I told her what I wanted, it was gone, baby, gone. She was looking at me as if I’d suggested we have three-way sex with a goat some night. A real old, smelly goat.”

--Barney Ghougle (not his real name, but everyone calls him that), a local ghoul and one of Stan’s best informants. “For the latest gossip, a ghoul will put a roomful of Polish grandmothers to shame,” Stan says. To no one’s surprise, Barney’s a mortician. “I hear his funeral home is pretty successful, but I’d never do business with him. I like my relatives to be buried with all their parts intact.”

And if you visit Haunted Scranton, be sure to stop in for a drink (after sundown, naturally) at Renfield’s, the biggest “supe” bar in town. Most nights, you’ll find Elvira tending bar. That’s not her real name, but she’s dressed and made up in a good imitation of a certain TV horror hostess from the West Coast. Stan figures that the cleavage is probably good for tips. Most kinds of drinks are available in Renfield’s, but if you order a Bloody Mary, be sure to specify whether you want it with real blood.

If you get the munchies, Stan recommends Three Witches Bakery. He’s always hearing their commercial jingle on the local radio station, WARD: “Nothing says lovin’ like something from the coven….”

There are a couple of other people who are important in Stan’s life – his daughter, Christine and his partner, Karl Renfer. But I’d rather let you meet them for yourselves – and I hope that, one of these nights, you will.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Corpse-Rat King Cover Revealed

Angry Robot just recently revealed the new cover and synopsis for what will be a debut novel from author Lee Battersby. Titled The Corpse-Rat King, when AR first made the announcement that they had signed Battersby on, without even knowing what the book was about, I was all in. With a kick ass name like The Corpse-Rat King, how can you not be?

And once again, AR has put my uneasy feelings at rest with providing Mr. Battersby with a kick ass cover (but, then again, aren't all of Angry Robot's covers pretty B.A.?). It definitely has a medieval plague meets Dante's Inferno feel to it. And why shouldn't it, especially with a synopsis like this:

Marius dos Hellespont and his apprentice, Gerd, are professional looters of battlefields. When they stumble upon the King of Scorby and Gerd is killed, Marius is mistaken for the monarch by one of the dead soldiers and is transported down to the kingdom of the dead.
Just like the living citizens, the dead need a king -- after all, the King is God's representative, and someone needs to remind God where they are.
And so it comes to pass that Marius is banished to the surface with one message: if he wants to recover his life he must find the dead a King. Which he fully intends to do.
Just as soon as he stops running away.
With a release date of August 28th, I'm sure readers could start looking a few days before that for this awesome novel to hit the shelves of their local bookstore. And around the same time look for a review of The Corpse-Rat King.


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sela Book Review

Title: Sela
Author: Jackie Gamber
Publisher: Seventh Star Press
Pages: 308
ISBN: 9781937929893

Sela is the sequel to Jackie Gamber's first young adult novel Redheart, which began the Dragons of Leland series published through Seventh Star Press. From the back of the book, here's the synopsis for Sela:
Peace was fleeting. Vorham Riddess, Venur of Esra Province, covets the crystal ore buried deep in Leland's mountains. His latest device to obtain it: land by marriage to a Leland maiden. But that's not all.

Among Dragonkind, old threats haunt Mount Gore, and shadows loom in the thoughts of the Red who restored life to land and love. A dragon hunter, scarred from countless battles, discovers he can yet suffer more wounds.

In the midst of it all, Sela Redheart is lost, driven from her home with only her uncle to watch over her. As the dragon-born child of Kallon, the leader of Leland's Dragon Council, she is trapped in human form with no understanding of how she transformed, or how to turn it back.

Wanderers seek a home, schemes begin to unfurl, and all is at risk as magic and murder, magic and mystery strangle the heart of Esra. A struggle for power far older and deeper than anyone realizes will leave no dragon or human unaffected.

In a world where magic is born of feeling, where the love between a girl and a dragon was once transformative, what power dwells in the heart of young Sela?
When I first started reading Sela, one of the things that I noticed about it almost immediately: it's ability to stand alone. Although Sela is part of a series, first and foremost it's a coming of age/young adult on the cusp of finding herself story. Gamber does an incredible job in highlighting and primarily focusing on Sela's story, while progressively interweaving the themes and major plotlines of the series, as an ideal middle book should do.

I was surprised to pick up Sela and find that not a few, but several years have passed since the events in Redheart. Leaving all of the main cast from Redheart older; something that Gamber managed to write very well, and used to the stories advantage several times throughout Sela, including suppressing the characters that readers have grown to know, using them as a supportive cast for Sela.

For those that have enjoyed Redheart, the return to Leland will be a familiar one, especially for younger readers. Although I haven't read many young adult novels, Sela ranks at the top for YA novels I would recommend. The language is sparse, what magic there is is simple enough to understand, and the story is appropriate for anyone to understand. And it's all written in Gamber's remarkable, clipped and to the point prose.

 Whether you're looking for a book for your kid, grand kid or just want something interesting to read, I can't stress enough how fitting and stunning Sela is, that's why I'm giving it 9.0 out of 10 TARDIS'.

 Like I said before, Sela works well as a stand alone, but if you want to start from the beginning (my personal recommendation), start with Redheart. You won't be disappointed!


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Poseidon's Children Book Review

Title: Poseidon's Children
Author: Michael West
Publisher: Seventh Star Press
Pages: 332
ISBN: 9781937929954

Much like the publishers that came before them, readers may not know how to classify Poseidon's Children at first glance. As Michael mentioned last month in his guest blog, "Bringing Poseidon's Children to Life"; without realizing it, he had found himself ahead of the publishing curve with a manuscript that would in today's market easily be labeled urban fantasy. An amalgamation of Leviathan sized nightmares written into 332 pages of hair raising, bone chilling, fist pumping action with a little bit of adventure thrown in for good measure, Poseidon's Children has the perfect blend of two popular genres: science fiction with overtones of horror.

And if you don't believe me, here's the synopsis from the back of the book:

In Poseidon's Children, man no longer worships the old gods; forgotten and forsaken, they have become nothing more than myth and legend. But all that is about to change. After the ruins of a vast, ancient civilization are discovered on the ocean floor, Coast Guard officers find a series of derelict ships drifting in the current–high-priced yachts and leaking fishing boats, all ransacked, splattered in blood, their crews missing and presumed dead. 
And that’s just the beginning.

Vacationing artist Larry Neuhaus has just witnessed a gruesome shark attack, a young couple torn apart right before his eyes… at least, he thinks it was a shark. And when one of these victims turns out to be the only son of Roger Hays, the most powerful man in the country, things go from bad to worse. Now, to stop the carnage, Larry and his new-found friends must work together to unravel a mystery as old as time, and face an enemy as dark as the ocean depths.
In his first book in a projected four book series entitled The Legacy of the Gods, West manages to take Atlantian myths -- you know, from the fabled, ancient city of Atlantis -- and imbue them into an already great story, bringing a richer tapestry of world building to the urban fantasy genre. This is something that I've found to be absent in other urban fantasy series as of late. Where most urban fantasy authors are happy with writing the same thing with only marginal re-imaginings, West has breathed new life into a bloated, redundant genre, commanding it with a voice that cannot be ignored.

Although it's not West's first published work, at times Poseidon's Children reads very much like a first novel. Slow in parts and lacking time for character development (this only applies to a few specific main characters), West still manages to pull off juggling such a large cast of characters fairly well, something he manages to pull off fairly well, with only a few bumps along the journey. Hopefully the second installment, Hades' Disciples will give the characters who weren't given the time to mature as main characters the opportunity to do so.

Fast paced and in your face, there were several scenes that scared the living piss out of me and several more that made Poseidon's Children a memorable read for me; one that I'm not soon to forget. If you're looking for that subtle horror that West does so well, then be warned because there is nothing subtle about this novel! From the first gruesome "shark attack," readers will know exactly what they're dealing with as they delve into the deep with Poseidon's Children.

If John Carpenter wrote prose, his pen name would be Michael West. Poseidon's Children reads exactly like a Carpenter film in all the right places, which isn't much of a surprise since Poseidon's Children was originally conceived as a screenplay. West proves that he can flawlessly write vivid scenes with a director's eye, tactfully inserting all of the Hollywood hallmark scenes and expectations into prose, without pulling the reader away from the story; explosions, fascinating creatures, budding romances between protagonists, a cult of chuthulu-like worshippers seeded on earth from an alien identity, and a fabled city risen from the darkest depths of the earth. This novel makes for one hell of a read. That's why I'm giving Poseidon's Children 8.5 out of 10 TARDIS's.

If you're looking for an urban fantasy series that puts a new twist on urban fantasy, then Poseidon's Children should be your next read!


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Guest Blog: Author Chris F. Holm: The New Noir

I recently contacted Chris F. Holm after reading his debut novel from Angry Robot, Dead Harvest, and loved it so much I asked him to stop by The Sci-Fi Guys to share a bit about the genre of noir.

The New Noir
Chris F. Holm

“Noir” is perhaps the slipperiest term in all of literature. That’s in large part due to its muddy origins; our modern use of the term derives from the film noir of the ’40s and ’50s, which in turn borrowed heavily from the bleak crime tales that began cropping up in the U.S. during the Depression. James Cain, author of THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE and DOUBLE INDEMNITY, is widely credited as the creator of the modern roman noir. Before Cain, the term was used to refer to what we’d now call Gothic novels, but afterward, the term took on a life of its own.

Thing is, Cain wasn’t wild about the label, and those classic film noir flicks? Yeah, they weren’t called that then. The title was bestowed upon them by a French critic years after they began popping up in theaters, and the so-called noir canon wasn’t really well-defined until the ’70s, when critics and cinema historians adopted it en masse; before then, most of what we consider film noir were simply melodramas. So really, noir fiction is the result of a decades-long game of telephone that bounced from books to movies and back again, with stops on two continents along the way. (For a modern analog, ask any group of kids what “emo” means. I’ll bet you get a couple dozen different answers, none of which will correctly trace the term back to the hallowed ’80s D.C. hardcore punk scene. But I digress.)

The definition that’s gotten the most traction of late is noir preservationist Eddie Muller’s; he called noir “working-class tragedy,” That ain’t half-bad, but it’s more descriptive of where noir’s been than what noir is. For my money, noir boils down to bleak humanism. It’s all about lousy options, bad decisions, and dire consequences.

But regardless of whose definition you go with, you’ll notice something’s lacking: namely, any mention of genre. That’s because for as much as noir’s assumed to be a subset of crime fiction, it’s more vibe than subgenre. And, as many an enterprising modern writer seems intent on proving, that vibe is one that plays just as well with fantasy and science fiction as it does with crime. Witness William Gibson’s brilliant NEUROMANCER (which, okay, came out a while back, but then Gibson’s always been ahead of the curve), Jeff VanderMeer’s unsettling FINCH, or any number of works put out by my (utterly fantastic) publisher, Angry Robot, by folks like Adam Christopher, Tim Waggoner, and Lauren Beukes.

Or, if you’d prefer, witness my humble entrant in the realm of fantastical noir, DEAD HARVEST.

DEAD HARVEST is the tale of Sam Thornton, a man condemned to collect souls of the damned for all eternity, and ensure they find their way to hell. Sam was collected himself decades ago, after striking a deal with a demon to save his dying wife. When Sam’s dispatched to collect the soul of a young girl accused of slaughtering her family, he comes to believe she’s been framed. So he decides to do something no Collector’s ever done before: he defies hell and sets out to prove her innocence.

Yeah, sure, DEAD HARVEST contains its share of crime. But I’d argue it’s not the crime that makes it noir. What makes it noir is Sam’s predicament – the fact that his choices led him down a path where the only redemption he’ll ever achieve in life is in his own mind, because his fate is long since sealed. What makes it noir is the fact that every option available to him is shit, and absolution’s off the menu.

Of course, I could be wrong. But then, the book is what the book is, regardless of how it’s tagged. And if I’m very, very lucky, maybe twenty years from now, some enterprising historians will lump me and all those other folks together under the moniker of new noir.

Hell, if I’m read that far out, they can call me whatever they’d like.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Dead Harvest Book Review

Title: Dead Harvest
Author: Chris F. Holm
Publisher: Angry Robot
Pages: 384
ISBN: 9780857662187

Dead Harvest is the riveting debut of author Chris F. Holm. The novel first caught my interest several months back when Angry Robot made the announcement on their website that they had acquired a new author for a two book deal. I'll admit, the announcement piqued my interest, but what really got me all revved up and ready to review were the amazing hardboiled, pulp-style covers for both books. Without peeking at the first page, I knew what to expect.

With Dead Harvest, Holm introduces Samuel Thornton, an archetypal, chain-smoking, hardboiled badass. But he's not your typical badass; he's a Collector of Souls. After striking a deal with a demon to save his dying wife, he's now damned to an afterlife worse than Hell, Sam hunts the souls of those who have been marked with similar fates. When he's assigned to pluck the soul from a young woman named Kate, whom he believes to be innocent of the horrific crime of killing her family, he does something no Collector has ever done before: Sam refuses to dispatch her soul to Hell. What culminates within the pages of Dead Harvest are the repercussions of uttering such a phrase. Sam will have to do everything within his power to keep the world from ending while proving the innocence of his assignment.

With such a powerful synopsis, I found myself jonesing for more before I had even managed to crack the spine of Dead Harvest. From the cover of the book to the basic premise, I couldn't wait to dive in. When I finally did, I found myself prolonging the inevitable: finishing it. 

With his debut novel, Holm's managed to do something that not many authors have been able to do in the span of an entire career, let alone with their debut novel: flawlessly mesh urban fantasy with a darker, grittier sub-genre that urban fantasy demands. Although not the first to do so, Holm has certainly managed to set himself apart from authors who preceded him. I think within the next six months to a year, a handful of authors will float to the surface to be the new torchbearer's for the noir genre, and Chris F. Holm will be leading the charge. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Angry Robot spearheads this quasi-renaissance. With such an arsenal of titles already in their quiver (and with more in the works, they'll be hard to stop.

On the run from demons, angels, forgotten gods, and a kamikaze Collector named Bishop, Thornton will do anything he can to save the life of Kate, even if that means being chased through New York City while he plans his next move (cue: Robert Johnson's "Hellhounds on My Trail"), and decides on Kate's innocence.

With succinct prose and believable characters, Holm introduces not only a hardboiled hero, but a supporting cast that carries the pace, while also building the intensity. Something I would have never expected from a first novel.  Holm does a wonderful job of filling in the reader as the story unfolds, using flashbacks perfectly; right when I wanted to keep reading, he threw me into the past. There wasn't a single infodump throughout the entire novel. Instead, Holm flawlessly jumps through time and space to show the reader everything they need to know.

For those that like noir or are curious to see it blended with a more popular genre, then don't miss Dead Harvest . Memorable characters, situations and style are all the things that will keep me coming back for more of Holm's work in the future. The Wrong Goodbye, -- the sequel to Dead Harvest -- is already on my TBR pile for 2012, and will probably land at the top when an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) surfaces. Holm delivered in spades, and I loved every second of it. That's why I'm giving Dead Harvest 8.5 out of 10 TARDISes
Yeah, it was that good.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

RJ Sullivan Signs to Seventh Star Press

Congratulations to one of our very own Sci-Fi Guys, RJ Sullivan, for his new four book deal with Seventh Star Press! Labeled as a writer of Paranormal Thrillers, here's the full press release as per Seventh Star's site:

Seventh Star Press proudly announces a four book deal with author R.J. Sullivan, making him the seventh author to come aboard the publisher's main roster.

The addition of R.J. Sullivan comes close after Seventh Star Press' strongest year yet, during which titles such as Jackie Gamber's Redheart and Michael West's Cinema of Shadows received excellent critical reception, and the artwork featured by the press also received increased recognition, as Matthew Perry recently won Top Cover Art in the 2011 Tor.com Readers Choice Awards for his cover art on Stephen Zimmer's The Seventh Throne.

The first title to be released by Seventh Star Press, Haunting Obsession, tells the story of Daryl Beasley.  Daryl collects all things Maxine Marie, whose famous curves and fast lifestyle made her a Hollywood icon for decades after her tragic death. Daryl's girlfriend, Loretta Stevens, knew about his geeky lifestyle when they started dating, but she loves him, quirks and all.

Then one day Daryl chooses to buy a particularly tacky piece of memorabilia instead of Loretta's birthday present. Daryl ends up in the doghouse, not only with Loretta, but with Maxine Marie herself. The legendary blonde returns from the dead to give Daryl a piece of her mind—and a haunting obsession he'll never forget.

A member of the Indiana Horror Writers, R. J. Sullivan resides with his family in Heartland Crossing, Indiana. His first novel, Haunting Blue, is an edgy paranormal thriller about punk girl loner Fiona "Blue" Shaefer and her boyfriend Chip Farren.

R.J. is hard at work on the next chapter in Fiona's story, Virtual Blue, which will be released in 2013, followed by two more novels over the course of 2013 and 2014.

"I was with Michael West at several events last year, and I couldn't help but notice the slick marketing materials he was handing out," R.J. Sullivan commented as to why he wanted to bring his work to Seventh Star Press.  "I saw how Seventh Star had a personal presence nearby to assist at the cons. I realized that having the publisher at those events changes the convention vibe, which can otherwise be an isolated experience. I love that they produce interior artwork as part of their product--it shows an understanding of the genre and its readers.  It's clear Seventh Star understand the modern publishing world, and does everything they can to open up opportunities for the author to succeed."

Bonnie Wasson, whose cover art and illustrations are featured in Seventh Star Press titles such as D.A. Adams' The Brotherhood of Dwarves series, will be creating the artwork for the R.J. Sullivan novels.

Haunting Obsession will be released in limited hardcover, softcover (trade paperback), and several eBook editions, including versions for Kindle, Nook, the iBookstore, and Sony-compatible devices.

For further information on R.J. Sullivan and the upcoming releases, please visit www.seventhstarpress.com or the author's site at www.rjsullivanfiction.com
Again, congratulations to Sci-Fi Guy RJ Sullivan!


Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Switchblade Goddess Book Review

Title: Switchblade Goddess
Author: Lucy A. Snyder
Publisher: Del Rey
Pages: 323
ISBN: 9780345512116

I have to be honest here: I've been waiting to read this book since the moment I shut the cover of Shotgun Sorceress. It didn't help that at Mo*Con last year, Lucy was awesome enough to read from Switchblade Goddess, so needless to say, it's been a painful year of waiting. But now, alas, the waiting is over.

I wasn't sure how to take the release of Switchblade Goddess. On one hand, I was excited to see what happened next, especially after the succulent morsel Mrs. Snyder read at Mo*Con, but on the other, I was reluctant to open to the first page. Because, no matter what, once I started reading there would be no turning back, and ultimately, when the book ended, so would the incredible story that Mrs. Snyder has managed to weave.

After much contemplating, I finally dug in. It was three hours before I finally decided to acknowledge the outside world, or for that matter, air to breath. The next night, I finished the book, much to my chagrin. It was everything I expected, and so much more. Let's just say there were a lot of tears and fist pumps along the way.

If Spellbent was dark, and Shotgun Sorceress was darker, then Switchblade Goddess is a nosedive straight into hell! Switchblade Goddess picks up right after Shotgun Sorceress, except now things have gone from worse to unfathomable. Jessie has to deal with Miko in her hellement, while the Warlock and Cooper (Jessie's lover) deal with one of Cooper's younger brothers. As the story dives closer and closer to hell, things begin to unravel and get worse for Jessie, including an exorcism-like ceremony, and the poisoning of one of the most enjoyable characters Snyder has created within Jessie's universe.

The main theme of Switchblade Goddess featured heavily on possession; fighting inhibitions and personal demons, and outside invaders to body and soul. Whether Snyder intentionally set out to do this or not, it worked remarkably well as a tool for tying up the majority of the loose ends that have popped up since Jessie's introduction in Spellbent. This has become a pet-peeve with me within recent years; not every author can manage to so elequantly tie up loose ends like Lucy can.

Snyder finds a way to successfully immerse the reader back into the world of Jesse Shimmer, picking up the trails and hell that she's gone through before, and the desperation of the situation that she finds herself in with Switchblade Goddess. With hardly any new major characters to introduce, Switchblade Goddess mainly sticks to resolving the older, and new stray storylines that pop up along the way to the series climactic ending.

As for the story as a whole, at times I cried, but for the most part I couldn't help but jump up and down in hysteria, waking everyone in the house with my squees of glee. If you've read this far in Jesse Shimmer's adventures, then you know what you're in for: a tight story, characters you love to hate, a special kind of magic that leaves you wanting more, and all the sexual tension you can handle without having to excuse yourself for some alone time. None of that lacks in Switchblade Goddess. In fact it's more prevalent than in any of the past tiltes. That's why I'm giving Switchblade Goddess 8.5 out of 10 TARDISes.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Guest Blog: Author Michael West: Bringing Poseidon's Children to Life

2012 is going to be a big year for Sci-Fi Guys Book Review. Each month will see several authors either make a guest blog appearance or an interview appearance, which will focus on their new or up and coming titles. This month, and the first guest blog of the year on Sci-Fi Guys, is from author Michael West.

By now readers of this site should be familiar with West's name. Last year he made the Best of 20111 list not once, but twice. He also made the Most Anticipated Releases of 2012 list with his new novel Poseidon's Children, which launches the first book in a four part Urban Fantasy series entitled Legacy of the Gods. With the release of Poseidon's Children just a little over a month away, I thought it only fitting to invite Michael to share a bit of the story behind Poseidon's Children.

So, without further ado, here's Michael West:

Bringing Poseidon’s Children to Life
Or: How the Star Wars of Horror became the Texas Chainsaw Massacre of Urban Fantasy
By Michael West

I had a very vivid, very strange dream. Some dreams fade as soon as you open your eyes. Others stick with you for days. This particular dream has been with me for over twenty years. It involved an ancient stone temple, with odd markings etched into its walls, and a very seductive sea-creature. Most people have fantasies about movie stars and musicians; mine get directed by H.P. Lovecraft.  

Go figure.

Inspired by the visuals of this dream, I set about writing a screenplay. I was still in college at the time, studying film and television, still holding onto my boyhood dream of being the next Steven Spielberg or James Cameron. This was back when computers used huge 5 ¼” floppy discs to store information. I had a case full of them, and in between classes, you could find me in one of the campus computer labs, working on my epic. It was dark, filled with horrible monsters and bloody mayhem, with a touch of Science-Fiction sprinkled throughout; a project that I lovingly described to friends as “the Star Wars of Horror.”

I never finished that script. The more I wrote, the more I realized that the story I wanted to tell was just too large in scope for my meager budget at the time. Instead, I took all the work I’d done and began the task of converting dialogue and stage direction into paragraphs and prose.  

 When I finished the first third of my manuscript, I printed it off in sections using the computer lab’s dot matrix printer (Oh man, I’m really dating myself here!), and like a proud papa, I handed it off to some friends, asking them to offer their critiques. I didn’t have the time or paper to print more than one copy, so this huge ream of paper--about two hundred pages worth--got passed along from one person to another, each one writing me notes along the way.

Then, tragedy struck. Remember those 5 ¼” discs I told you about? Well, I lost them. All of them.  Don’t ask me how. I left them in a classroom, dropped them in a parking lot...to this day, I still have no idea where they are. At the start of the day, I had them, and at the end of the day, they were gone, and with them went my novel-in-progress.  

But at least I still had that hard copy, right?  

Nope. I went back to all of my friends, trying to track it down, but I had no better luck with them than I’d had with those classrooms and parking lots. No one seemed to know where that stack of paper was, and even if they did, nobody wanted to admit that they were the one who lost it.

And so, for a time, I tried to forget about the story and move on.  I mean sure, I could’ve gone back and started the novel all over again from scratch. But let’s be honest, shall we: it’s one thing to have your friends and family give you some bad feedback on a project, but when fate steps in and takes away all known copies of your work, that’s the universe telling you that you just need to stop. At least, that’s what I thought at the time. 

That dream just wouldn’t die, however, and the more I thought about it, the more I talked about it with other people, the more I realized that it was something I would have to tackle again someday. 

In the meantime, I got married. Three years later, my oldest son was born. And three years after that, with another son on the way, a friend from Indiana University unpacked a box of stuff from his college dorm room and found a stack of paper with my name on it.

Poseidon’s Children.  

The prodigal offspring had returned.  

And so I sat down and read the manuscript for the first time in almost a decade. A lot had changed since I’d written it.  In addition to my new family, I now had a computer in my home, and I’d written some short stories, found my voice as an author, a voice that now screamed in agony at the clunky prose and horrible dialogue on display in the faded dot matrix ink on those two-hundred pages. And yet, all those ideas that I’d been toying with over the years were still there, begging me to pick them up and play with them again. 

Over the next year, I rewrote the existing portion of the manuscript and just kept going, finally finishing the story. I weaved in more mythology, loading up the novel with all of those cool ideas that had been crawling around inside my brain. And when I printed it out on my laser printer, the final product was nearly eight hundred pages long and weighed over ten pounds, dwarfing the latest edition of the Indianapolis white pages. 

Obviously, it was in need of some editing. So I did what any professional author would do: I went to said Indianapolis phonebook and looked up “Editor, Books.”  Believe it or not, I found one name. She used to read slush for a New York publisher, but now she edited text books and instructional manuals for corporations. As luck would have it, the idea of working with fiction again excited her, and she agreed to help me whip my manuscript into shape. For the next two years, that’s exactly what we did.  

When we felt we had it ready, I sent it to several publishers. As a writer, you get a story in your head that you’re passionate about, and you just want to tell it in the best way possible. You don’t stop and think about what genre you’re writing in. But, since I considered myself a Horror author, I approached the Horror market first.      

Over and over again, the same response: “We really enjoyed Poseidon’s Children, but we didn’t find it to be scary enough to be Horror.” Based on some of the story elements, they suggested that I try a Science-Fiction publisher instead. And so I took their advice, hoping to have better luck, but finding only further rejection. “We found this to be a fast-paced, enjoyable read,” they told me, “but it’s just too horrific to be part of our Sci-Fi line.” 

So there I was, stuck with a book that everyone liked, but nobody wanted. No one could even agree on what it was! It was dark, that much was certain, and bloody; it had elements of Action Adventure, Mystery, Thriller, Science Fiction, and, of course, Horror. So where should I turn?

Frustrated, I shelved the novel once again, focusing instead on other projects. I published enough short fiction to fill a collection, Skull Full of Kisses, which was published by Graveside Tales, and I wrote two more novels, The Wide Game, also for Graveside, and Cinema of Shadows, which I sold to Seventh Star Press as part of a multiple book deal.  All Horror. 

And still, that dream kept gnawing at me. I loved those characters, that mythology, and I wanted to get it out there.  

I decided to take another stab at Poseidon’s Children. This time, I turned to the other writers of my writing group, Indiana Horror Writers, for suggestions. It was Maurice Broaddus, who was writing his own series of novels at the time, who told me that what I had was clearly Urban Fantasy. I questioned this, thinking that all Fantasy, even Urban Fantasy, had to have wizards and dragons. The more I looked into it, however, the more diverse the genre became. Urban Fantasy could have vampires and werewolves, it could have demons and monsters, even aliens.And the more I read, the more I thought that my novel was a perfect fit.  

I decided to do one final polish. I played up some elements, jettisoned others, and expanded the whole mythology into a series I was now calling The Legacy of the Gods. But I still kept it dark, kept it bloody; in fact, I lovingly described it as “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre of Urban Fantasy.” Satisfied with the finished product, I approached my current publisher, Seventh Star Press, who had released a fair amount of Fantasy and Urban Fantasy before taking on my Indiana-based Horror Series, and I waited nervously for their response. 

When they told me they loved Poseidon’s Children, I was overjoyed, and yet I kept waiting to hear “but it’s not scary enough for this,” or “it’s too Sci-Fi for that.” This time, however, it was just right. They greenlit the entire series and set a release date for March of 2012; more than twenty years after that initial dream.

So now...here we are, on the eve of the novel’s release. Soon my faithful readers will be able to dive into the world I’ve been swimming in alone for so long. In fact, some reviewers already have their copies. "A little more gruesome than most of the Urban Fantasy novels I've read," one of them has already commented.
Oh yes, my work here is done.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

A Pack of Wolves Book Review

Title: A Pack of Wolves
Author: Eric S. Brown
Publisher: Gran Mal Press
Pages: 132
ISBN: 9781937727062

A Pack of Wolves is the first book in a new series by horror author Eric S. Brown. In a handful of years Eric S. Brown has gone from a nobody to a somebody, especially when it comes to Bigfoot or weird westerns that have a horror edge. With novella length titles like Bigfoot War, Bigfoot War II: Dead in the Woods, The Weaponer, Last Stand in a Dead Land, and How the West Went to Hell, Brown has managed to carve out not only his name, but a large section of territory in the horror genre.

A few days before A Pack of Wolves released, Brown posted on Facebook that he would be handing out a few electronic copies for review. Since an Eric S. Brown title was virgin territory for my hungry eyes, and because I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, I volunteered to review it.

A Pack of Wolves tells the story of "The Family." To say that the phrase: "A family that kills together, stays together," would be adequate in this family's case would be a lie. After one of the brothers decides to go rogue, it's up to the remaining family members to band together to stop him from bringing about the end of the world, exposing the family's secret, and acknowledging the existence of werewolves.

If you're looking for a story that leaves cliches at the door, you might want to look elsewhere. Before the story can even properly start, Brown manages to fill "The Family" full of cliches. There's Graham, the older, wiser brother who takes charge and reigns in his younger siblings to help stop their bloody thirsty brother. Then, there's Shannon, the outcast of the group, who has fallen in love with a human; an undesirable who he's managed to start a life with. And don't forget the added muscle, because there's nothing better than knowing a hulking behemoth of a man is watching your back. In case that's too much testosterone for you, let's not forget Sarah, the busty, drop-dead gorgeous redhead who is the eye candy for every male within a mile radius.

The story begins with the execution of the parents of "The Family" by a fourteen man posse with a man in white spearheading the group. From there the story begins. "The Family" assembles under the supervision of Graham, and the pack sets out to kill their kin or die trying.

At 132 pages, A Pack of Wolves is a quick read. Yes it's short, but it's worth it if you're looking for a quick, mindless read that you can get through in a matter of an hour or two.  With hardly any connective tissue, A Pack of Wolves reads as though Brown decided to only write the pivotal scenes, leaving out room for character development or for that matter, a better story. That's why I'm giving A Pack of Wolves 4 out of 10 TARDISes.


Friday, January 20, 2012

A Look Ahead: Most Anticipated Releases of 2012

Since I've taken a look back on last year, I figured I'd give you all a glimpse forward of the titles that I'm most looking forward to cracking open in 2012. Some of these have book covers that have already been released, and other don't. For those books that don't have a cover yet, I'll post them when they're released. Also, not all of the books in this list have an available synopsis yet, but when they become available, I'll link them.

So, in no particular order, here's a list of books that I'm looking forward to reading in 2012:

First up, is Gaie Sebold's debut fantasy novel, Babylon Steel, which, although it came out in the very tail-end of 2011, I'm still counting as a 2012 release. From the moment I saw it on Amazon, I knew I was going to pick up a copy and review it. Luckily enough, the kind folks over at Solaris sent me a review copy, along with Christopher Fowler's new horror novel, Hell Train, which I'll also be reviewing soon.

One of my favorite characters in recent years has been James Enge's crooked maker, Morlock Ambrosius. Not only is James a great guy, but he's also one hell of a writer too. One of the first authors that was interview for the Sci-Fi Guys podcast, I've kept a very close eye of Enge since that interview, and I'm super excited for the release of his new Morlock novel, A Guile of Dragons, which is slated for an August release. Here's a synopsis of the book from amazon:

Before history began, the dwarves of Thrymhaiam fought against the dragons as the Longest War raged in the deep roads beneath the Northhold. Now the dragons have returned, allied with the dead kings of Cor and backed by the masked gods of Fate and Chaos.

The dwarves are cut off from the Graith of Guardians in the south. Their defenders are taken prisoner or corrupted by dragonspells. The weight of guarding the Northhold now rests on the crooked shoulders of a traitor's son, Morlock syr Theorn (also called Ambrosius).
But his wounded mind has learned a dark secret in the hidden ways under the mountains. Regin and Fafnir were brothers, and the Longest War can never be over. . .
Since the release of The Desert of Souls, I've had my eye on author Howard Andrew Jones. An editor for Black Gate Magazine, -- the same magazine in which Enge's Morlock first appeared, and Enge found his start -- The Desert of Souls is currently on my TBR pile, after accidentally stumbling upon it at my library. I've read the first chapter, and I'm seriously looking forward to not only reviewing the first book in the series, but also getting my hands on it's sequel, Bones of the Old Ones, which has one of the most badass covers I've seen in a while.

And while I'm on sequels, I'll throw a couple of more at you. First up, is the second book in Justin Gustainis's Occult Crimes  series, which started with Hard Spell, and continues with Evil Dark, which is slated for a May release. Hard Spell made my Top 11 List of 2011, coming in at number three. So, to say that I'm seriously looking forward to reviewing Evil Dark goes without saying. If it wasn't for being a sequel to a book I've already read, I probably would have picked this book up based solely on it's cover.

One of the authors that I've come to enjoy within the past few years is Karen Miller, whose novel A Blight of Mages also made my Top 11 of 2011 list. Since picking up and reviewing the first novel in her Rogue Agent series, The Accidental Sorcerer, I've been following her blog. After many troubles with her health, and fighting to finish the manuscript for the newest Rogue Agent novel, she's begun researching and outlining for a new series which she's dubbed The Tarnished Crown Quartet. Although I'm looking forward to reviewing Wizard Undercover, I can't help but daydream about her newest series. The first book of which I doubt we'll see in 2012. But that's okay, I've still got the rest of her Mages series to work my way through, starting with The Innocent Mage, and also books two and three in the Rogue Agent series to read before the fourth books release in late April.

Continuing on with sequels: although it's only recently been announced, Mike Resnick's third and fourth installments in his Weird Western Tales series, The Doctor and the Rough Riders and The Doctor and the Dinasours are on my list. The first because it has a 2012 release date, and the latter, because the series is just so damn cool. Steampunk set in the American West, with famous gunfighters... could it get any better than that?

I recently awarded Seventh Star Press one of the four publishers of the year, as well as small presses to keep an eye on in 2012. So, it's no surprise that three of their titles have made my list for novels I'm most looking forward to. This spring sees the release of not one, but two of those titles, including the first in a new urban fantasy series by Michael West with Posiedon's Children, and the newest sequel/prequel in Steven Shrewsbury's Gorias La Gaul series, Overkill. And the third title, which is another Michael West novel, Spook House, the third book in his New Harmony series.

In addition to Seventh Star Press in the Publishers of 2011 category, is Deadite Press. An imprint of Eraserhead Press, Deadite focuses on authors with a cult following, which makes perfect since as to why they're re-releasing a slew of old and new titles from such authors as Bryan Smith, Wrath James White, Edward Lee, Nate Southard and Brian Keene. In 2011 two of their releases popped up in my best of list: Brian Keene's Jack Magic Beans, and Nate Southard's Just Like Hell. With the release of so many back titles from such great authors, it's not a surprise to me, that several Brian Keene titles have made it into this post. An Occurrence in Crazy Bear Valley, The Cage, and Earthworm Gods: Selected Scenes from the End of the World. For anyone who likes Keene, you should check out Deadite Press.

The third and final small press that I'm going to be keeping my eye on this year is Apex Books. With a plethora of awesome staple of authors, 2012 will see the release of several titles from fairly known names in the writing industry, such as Tom Picirilli, Brian Keene, Lavie Tidhar, Gary A. Braunbeck, Maurice Broaddus, and Jerry Gordon. All of these names have scheduled releases for 2012: Brian Keene with his novel The Lost Level, Gary A. Braunbeck with A Cracked and Broken Path, Tom Picirilli with What Makes You Die, and Maurice Broaddus and Jerry Gordon with their new anthology Dark Faith II.

Since it's establishment only a few years ago, Angry Robot has taken the science fiction and fantasy genres by storm with their unique flavor of publishing. The final publisher on my 2011 list, they have some exciting releases scheduled for this year, including Dead Harvest by Chris Holm, and The Rat Corpse King by up-and-comer Lee Battersby.

I'm looking forward to checking out Nathan Long's Jane Carver of Waar, which (to the best of my knowledge) is his first published novel outside of the Warhammer realm. The cover looks badass, and the synopsis is even better:

Jane Carver is nobody's idea of a space princess. A hard ridin', hard lovin', biker chick and ex-Airborne Ranger, Jane is surprised as anyone else when, on the run from the law, she ducks into the wrong cave at the wrong time-and wakes up butt-naked on an exotic alien planet light-years away from everything she''s ever known. Waar is a savage world of four-armed tiger-men, sky-pirates, slaves, gladiators, and purple-skinned warriors in thrall to a bloodthirsty code of honor and chivalry. Caught up in a disgraced nobleman''s quest to win back the hand of a sexy alien princess, Jane encounters bizarre wonders and dangers unlike anything she ever ran into back home. Then again, Waar has never seen anyone like Jane before... Both a loving tribute and scathing parody of the swashbuckling space fantasies of yore, Jane Carver of Waar introduces an unforgettable new science fiction heroine.
Within recent months my taste has started to become darker and edgier. It was soon after I discovered this genre called Noir, that I dug in and started reading the essentials: Raymond Chandler and the likes. I'd just finished loading up on the classics, when I attended Context last year. While going through a bunch of out of print books from a dealer, I managed to meet author John Hornor Jacobs, who at the time I had never heard, let alone met. So, after a brief conversation on books, we parted ways. When I got home at the end of the weekend, I looked up Jacobs debut novel Southern Gods, and quickly became a fan of his blog. Although I haven't started Southern Gods as of yet, it's on my TPR pile, and my sights are set on his sophomore novel, This Dark Earth, which hits shelves in July. Here's a synopsis I managed to find on bookdepository.com:
In a bleak, zombie-ridden future, a small settlement fights for survival and looks to a teenager to lead them...The land is contaminated, electronics are defunct, the ravenous undead remain, and life has fallen into a nasty and brutish state of nature. Welcome to Bridge City, in what was once Arkansas: part medieval fortress, part Western outpost, and the precarious last stand for civilization. A ten-year-old prodigy when the world ended, Gus is now a battle-hardened young man. He designed Bridge City to protect the living few from the shamblers eternally at the gates. Now he's being groomed by his physician mother, Lucy, and the gentle giant Knock-Out to become the next leader of men. But an army of slavers is on its way, and the war they wage for the city's resources could mean the end of mankind as we know it. Can Gus be humanity's savior? And if he is, will it mean becoming a dictator, a martyr, or maybe something far worse than even the zombies?
Second to last on my list of books to check out in 2012, is a novel that Jacobs recommended not so long ago on his blog. City of Lost Souls is the debut novel of author Stephen Blackmoore. A urban fantasy tinged Noir, I can't help but salivate to the cover and the synopsis (taken from the author's site):

Joe Sunday’s dead. He just hasn’t stopped moving yet.
Sunday’s a thug, an enforcer, a leg-breaker for hire. When his boss sends him to kill a mysterious new business partner, his target strikes back in ways Sunday could never have imagined. Murdered, brought back to a twisted half-life, Sunday finds himself stuck in the middle of a race to find an ancient stone with the power to grant immortality. With it, he might live forever. Without it, he’s just another rotting extra in a George Romero flick.
Everyone’s got a stake, from a psycho Nazi wizard and a razor-toothed midget, to a nympho-demon bartender, a too-powerful witch who just wants to help her homeless vampires, and the one woman who might have all the answers — if only Sunday can figure out what her angle is.

Before the week is out he’s going to find out just what lengths people will go to for immortality. And just how long somebody can hold a grudge.
And finally, last but certainly not least, is Saladin Ahmed's debut novel Throne of the Crescent Moon, which extremely promising! Check it out:

The Crescent Moon Kingdoms, land of djenn and ghuls, holy warriors and heretics, Khalifs and killers, is at the boiling point of a power struggle between the iron-fisted Khalif and the mysterious master thief known as the Falcon Prince.  In the midst of this brewing rebellion a series of brutal supernatural murders strikes at the heart of the Kingdoms. It is up to a handful of heroes to learn the truth behind these killings:

Doctor Adoulla Makhslood, "The last real ghul hunter in the great city of Dhamsawaat," just wants a quiet cup of tea.  Three score and more years old, he has grown weary of hunting monsters and saving lives, and is more than ready to retire from his dangerous and demanding vocation. But when an old flame's family is murdered, Adoulla is drawn back to the hunter's path.

Raseed bas Raseed, Adoulla's young assistant, a hidebound holy warrior whose prowess is matched only by his piety, is eager to deliver God's justice. But even as Raseed's sword is tested by ghuls and manjackals, his soul is tested when he and Adoulla cross paths with the tribeswoman Zamia.

Zamia Badawi, Protector of the Band, has been gifted with the near-mythical power of the Lion-Shape, but shunned by her people for daring to take up a man's title. She lives only to avenge her father's death. Until she learns that Adoulla and his allies also hunt her father's killer. Until she meets Raseed.

When they learn that the murders and the Falcon Prince's brewing revolution are connected, the companions must race against time--and struggle against their own misgivings--to save the life of a vicious despot.  In so doing they discover a plot for the Throne of the Crescent Moon that threatens to turn Dhamsawaat, and the world itself, into a blood-soaked ruin.
And of course, there are more titles that I'm looking forward to cracking open in 2012, but these are the core of my interest... for now!

So, what are some titles that you're looking forward to digging into in 2012? Leave a comment, and let me know!


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Best of 2011: Publishers

While writing up my Top 11 of 2011 post, my brain kept coming back to dozens of titles, all of which were excellent, and all of which I read in 2011. Needless to say, it wasn't easy trying to come up with a list of the best reads of last year. Each title I mulled over, until, finally, I had a preliminary list. As I looked over each title that had made the list, one thought kept sticking out to me: the publishers.

Just as important as the author, the publishers are the ones who make it possible in most cases for the authors on my 2011 list to be read and reviewed by people like me. After some thought, I finally decided to do two Best of 2011 posts, the first being books, and the second post -- this post -- focusing on the publishers.

So, who were my top publishers of 2011? Well, when I broke it down, there were only a handful that immediately came to mind. In no particular order, they are:

Seventh Star Press - Although Seventh Star has been around for a few years, it hasn't been until recently that they've made a splash in the water. 2011 saw their author roster increase significantly with authors such as: D.A. Adams, David H. Blalock, and Michael West.

2011 also saw some major releases from Seventh Star as well. The Fall of Durkhon, Redheart, Cinema of Shadows, Angelkiller, The Seventh Throne, are all titles that hit the shelves this year. And if that's what they've managed to produce in 2011, I can't wait to see what they do in 2012! Fantasy, Horror, and Urban Fantasy fans should take note. If you want good, quality reads that don't take a bite out of your check should head over to Amazon and check out there $2.99 e-books.

And for those of you that might be unsure, or don't want to spend $2.99 on an e-book that they might not enjoy, should check out their 8 e-book short stories for only $.99, from authors Stephen Zimmer, Michael West, and Steven Shrewsbury.

I have no doubts that 2012 will be a very good year for Seventh Star!

Deadite Press - A relatively new small press -- and an imprint of Eraserhead Press -- Deadite specializes in cult horror authors that have managed to make a name for themselves, and along the way amassed overflowing flocks of followers. So it's no surprise that they produce great and sometimes hard to find titles from authors including: Brian Keene, Bryan Smith, Edward Lee, Robert Deveraux, Wrath James White, G.F. Gonzalez, and Nate Southard. Two of the eleven titles that made it onto my Top 11 of 2011 list were Deadite titles, so they must be doing something right!

Angry Robot - And finally, the sleeping giant of the list, and of 2011: Angry Robot. Founded in 2008 by Marc Gascoigne, Angry Robot has been going strong since, and gaining momentum at every turn. In less than three years, Angry Robot has managed to enlist some of the biggest names in Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror (Dan Abnett, K.W. Jeter, Tim Waggoner) and along the way found new names of future greats (Maurice Broaddus, Lauren Beukes, Lavie Tidhar, Adam Christopher, Matt Forbeck).

Angry Robot managed to release a massive list of titles in 2011, and have already begun to announce some great titles for 2012, including Giant Thief, Dead Harvest, Carpathia, Evil Dark, The Corpse-Rat King, The Alchemist of Souls, The Hammer and the Blade (all titles I'm looking forward to with much excitement).

If 2011 is any indication, I have a feeling that 2012 is going to be one hell of a year for books!


Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Best of 2011: Books

Now that the New Year is over with and things have had time to settle down, I figured I would go ahead and put up my Top 11 list of 2011. These are the the cream of the crop; the 11 titles that I enjoyed reading the most in 2011. This year I didn't get around to writing a review of everything that a read, let alone enjoyed, so this list might look a little different than the list of books that I reviewed in 2011.

Most all of the titles in this list, in one way or another, were published in 2011. For instance, Nate Southard's Just Like Hell was originally published a few years back as a limited edition, but this year Deadite Press re-released it in an affordable paperback, therefore counting as a 2011 release.

So, without further ado, here's my top 11 List of 2011:

1.) Every Shallow Cut - One of the most powerful pieces of work I've read in a long time. It's gritty, real, and has a razors edge to it that will cut you if you aren't careful. This is Picirilli at his best. It'll be interesting to see if Picirilli can top Every Shallow Cut with his forthcoming 2012 titles: What Makes You Die, which Pic has already stated is in the same vein as ESC. If you like Noir, and stories that don't have a happy ending, then this is your cup of tea. And it's a rather short read, which makes it even easier to digest. I knocked it out in only a few hours.

2.) The Wide Game - The debut novel of horror author Michael West. A writer, I think many don't have an eye on yet, but should, and soon will. A man who loves his cinematic horror, the knowledge and appreciation for the genre shine through in The Wide Game. Add to that beautifully written prose that will at once steal your breath, send a chill down your spine, and make you lose all track of time, The Wide Game takes the reader back to a time when horror was thriving. Back to a time where storytellers and Hollywood didn't rely on gratuitous violence and stupid gore to shock the connoisseur. Back to a time when this novel would have easily made the New York Times, and quite possibly rivaled the newest Stephen King title.

3.) Hard Spell - The first book in the Occult Crime Unit series by Justin Guistainis, Hard Spell is a hard hitting crime story wrapped in a balls-to-the-walls premise, masquerading as an urban fantasy detective story. If you like cops, vampires, and an author with a great sense of humor, then Hard Spell is definitely for you. As soon as I finished it, I was hooked and ready for more. I'm glad that the release of the next book in the series, Evil Dark, is only a few months away (April), otherwise I'd be having issues.

4.) Just Like Hell - One of the best novellas I read in 2011. So much of the literature that's crammed into the horror genre is nothing more than gore porn; written for the soul purpose of invoking shock and awe in the reader. It was refreshing to pick up a title that, although the cover would have you think otherwise, was nothing like what I thought it would be. "Don't judge a book by its cover," is I admit, exactly what I did. Luckily enough for me, I was proven wrong. There's nothing in life that's more shocking than the truth. Something that's surreal; vivid to the point of believing you saw it headlining the news. Just Like Hell was the read for me. More so than anything else I read in 2011.

5.) A Blight of Mages - One of the few books I read in 2011 that hit me emotionally, and made me think from start to finish. It wasn't until I read  A Blight of Mages, that the phrase: "respect isn't owed, it's earned," made sense to me, and since then it's taken on a personal meaning for me. Not many books in the past have made me think, or cared for the characters for that matter, as much as this novel did. The prequel to Miller's fantasy series Kingmaker, Kingbreaker, A Blight of Mages has spurred my interest even further for the 'first' book of the aforementioned duology. Which is on my TBR list for 2012. If Miller can do in the Kingmaker, Kingbreaker duology what she did in this novel, she'll not only have made an urban fantasy fan out of me, but a fantasy fan as well. Anything and everything I can get my hands on by her, I will.

6.) The Doctor and the Kid - The Doctor and the Kid picks up soon after the events in The Buntline Special. It's been a year since Doc Holliday fought alongside the Earp's at the O.K. Corral, and months since he tore across the Arizona Territory on Wyatt Earp's Vendetta Ride seeking vengeance for the assassination Morgan Earp.  From the very first word I knew that this book would be better than its predecessor, and fortunately enough, I was right. Mike Resnick manages to reinvent the gaps in Doc Holliday's life just enough to add in fantastic elements and re-write it enough to tell one hell of a good yarn. Where The Buntline Special focused on the Earp's, Masterson and the shootout at the O.K. Corral, The Doctor and the Kid focuses in on Doc Holliday, and his dealings with Billy the Kid. Throw in some shamanistic magic, steampunk gadgetry and a handful of awesome historical figures, and you've got my number six pick for Top 11 Books of 2011.

7.) Jack's Magic Beans - Alongside Just Like Hell by Nate Southard, is Brian Keene's novella, Jack's Magic Beans. After nearly five years of sitting unpublished (and me waiting), this delectable novella finally saw publication in 2011. When I heard that this was the case I immediately jumped on the chance to review it. Also published through Deadite Press, Jack's Magic Beans isn't just a novella; it's paired with a handful of short stories written by Brian Keene that although they don't really add anything to the main title, are nevertheless great nuggets for anyone wanting more Keene.

8.) The Alloy of Law - Brandon Sanderson's triumphant return to the world he created in the Mistborn Trilogy. Set three hundred years in the future, everything that happened to the heroes in The Hero of Ages is now a form of religion. Wax, one of the few Allomantics who's a Twin Born returns home after twenty years in the Roughs. Forced to set his ways behind him and his guns aside, he's forced take on the family business much to the chagrin of himself and others. When the women he plans on marrying goes missing, Wax finds himself thrown into a web of mysteries that will change the city itself. Every bit of The Alloy of Law was fun, and I look forward to seeing what Sanderson writes next.

9.) Cinema of Shadows - 2011 saw not one, but two releases for horror author Michael West. Hot off the heels of his debut novel, The Wide Game, and a contract with Seventh Star for eight novels, Michael West returned in 2011 with his first release from Seventh, and the second book in his New Harmony series. Cinema of Shadows was everything that I could want in a ghost story: an intelligent professor with a sordid past, a group of teenagers searching for answers in a Ghost Adventures fashion, a haunted movie theater, a well paced story, and an exorcism from Hell. Plus a few familiar faces. Cinema of Shadows did not disappoint.

10.) Crab Town - Crab Town was my first official foray into the genre known as Bizarro. At first I wasn't sure what to expect, but after a long few weeks of doing some investigating, I finally decided on a Bizarro title to read. Crab Town is set in a post-apocalyptic future. One where radiation has poisoned the living, and balloon people are real. Carlton Mellick III manages to take a down right crazy assortment of ideas and make something intelligent and thought provoking out of it. Crab Town is the literary equivalent to the A-Team and Waterworld... minus the water.
11.) Devil Red - And last but not least is the newest entry in Joe R. Lansdale's Hap & Leonard series, Devil Red. With Devil Red Lansdale manages to keep all the familiarities of the past novels in tact,-- including Lansdale's memorable quick wit -- while subtly introducing hard cold realizations that will change the face of the Hap and Leonard's relationship, and their future as East Texas detectives. At first I wasn't sure how to react to Devil Red, but after several re-reads it all became clear. Here's the cover-flap description:
Hap Collins and Leonard Pine return in a red-hot, mayhem-fueled thriller to face a vampire cult, the Dixie Mafia, and the deadliest assassin they’ve ever encountered—Devil Red.

When their friend Marvin asks Hap and Leonard to look into a cold-case double homicide, they’re more than happy to play private investigators: they like trouble, and they especially like getting paid to find it. It turns out that both of the victims were set to inherit serious money, and one of them ran with a vampire cult. The more closely Hap and Leonard look over the crime-scene photos, the more they see, including the image of a red devil’s head painted on a tree. A little research turns up a slew of murders with that same fiendish signature. And if that’s not enough, Leonard has taken to wearing a deerstalker cap . . . Will this be the case that finally sends Hap over the edge?