book review, Books, Crime, Mystery, New Releases, Noir, novel, suspense, Thriller

It’s Getting Creepy Out There – Review: MILE MARKER ZERO by Benny Sims

There’s a thin line of desperation between fame and infamy, where being a number turns deadly.

Description:

Tired of never achieving his goals, an aging blue-collar worker’s rage at the world reaches a boiling point. After a lifetime of failures, disappointments, and shattered dreams, his job has proved a fast track to nowhere. His wife left him for a younger man and his emotionally distant son has disappeared from his life. What’s left of his life has been hollowed out leaving him invisible, forgotten, and unimportant in a world where the American dream is on life support if it ever existed at all.

Tired of never achieving much of anything, he’s determined to change all that, taking charge of what’s left of his life. He sets an ambitious goal and develops a clear plan to achieve it. For the next year, he will kill one person a week, becoming the world’s greatest serial killer.

His morbid adventure zigzags across the country conjuring emotions ranging from happiness to heartache, to physical pain, to fear, and to anger. Week by week, as the highway miles mount and the body count of unsuspecting souls rises, he gets closer to his goal, but circumstances threaten to halt his progress. Will you be this week’s victim before the road ends at mile marker zero?

My Take:

Mile Marker Zero by the award-winning mystery/ suspense/ thriller author Benny Sims is a perfect book for the Halloween season. It checks both the creepy and disturbing boxes, guaranteeing a skin-crawling experience. But it’s not because it’s populated by ghosts, witches, werewolves, vampires, or zombies. Instead, the main character is a monster in the guise of an easily ignored retiree. It will leave you to wonder about the strangers who pass you on the sidewalk or in the supermarket aisles. Could the guy that follows you, maybe a bit too closely, harbor some unknown evil inside? What about that strange-looking character sitting across the aisle on the city bus or commuter train? The car behind you, the headlights you see in your rearview mirror, is someone waiting for you to exit so they can take advantage of you while you top off your tank?

Mile Marker Zero is about a goal-oriented serial killer. How’s that for words you don’t usually use together? The main character’s self-appointed mission is separating countless, nameless, undeserving innocents from those who happen to cross his path, sneaking up on them when their only mistake was being at the wrong place at the wrong time. He has prepared in advance, learning the best techniques to make it quick and bloodless – because he hates the sight of blood. He carries a calendar with him to keep track of his adventures, creating a weekly ritual around his Sunday morning breakfast and a cup of coffee at whatever diner he comes to in his latest theater of operations. Always before, he has been the perennial loser but as a retirement gift to himself, he decides to spend what money he has saved accomplishing something for once: killing one person each week for an entire year while crisscrossing the country to perplex and evade any authority that might have picked up his scent.     

I don’t know if you can read this book without shedding some tears, whether for the numerous innocent victims or the plight of those in the peripheries who suffer the consequences of the main character’s methodical carnage. We learn something about his past, his family, who, and what was important. And this is what makes Sims’ achievement singular in my estimation. Not only are we seeing events through the eyes of a deeply disturbed individual but also, at times we find we share some common ground. And that is what is most disturbing. Could there be a monster within each of us that, given the right circumstances and conditions, might appear in a moment of greatest weakness?  You have a cold-blooded killer who can be completely relatable in an eerie way that might remind you of someone’s grandfather – or yourself. What’s worse is he offs a few people that maybe deserve it. If you can maintain detachment from the lack of humanity contained in his acts of murder, he serves as an anti-hero with some odd standards but standards, nonetheless.

Certainly, there is commentary lurking in the background of this story about how screwed up our modern world has become and how unimportant other people can become to us, making them completely disposable in lieu of serving some overall mission. It begs to ask whether we should be less isolated and more aware of what is going on in the lives of those around us? After reading Mile Marker Zero you will consider what goes on in the minds of those we’d rather ignore? How often do we encounter a potential serial killer while never once suspecting? All it takes is for someone or something to flick the invisible switch that unleashes the unimaginable. How many of us have unwittingly had a brush with death courtesy of some interruption that distracted some self-made grim reaper?

When you turn the final page of this one, with the story concluded, you wonder if the main character ever put even half of his effort and focus on other pursuits over his sad lifetime, perhaps he wouldn’t have adopted such a psychotic plan.

The book releases worldwide on 10.19.22. Pre-orders are available from Amazon.

About the Author:

Benny Sims has always loved the art of storytelling. He can trace that fondness to reading Jack London’s “The Call Of The Wild” when he was in the second grade and listening to his great uncle tell war stories from his time as an artillery cannoneer in North Africa and Italy during World War II.

He was born and grew up in middle Tennessee, but his family moved to Benton, Illinois when he was fourteen years old. It was there that his teachers noticed his aptitude for writing, and encouraged him to pursue it. He attended college at Murray State University in Kentucky, where he studied journalism. His Journalism 101 professor saw his ability and affection for writing and fine-tuned his ability to tell a story. This ability helped him serve as a writer for the university’s newspaper and yearbook.

After college, he landed a job as a sports writer and editor with a small newspaper near his hometown in Tennessee. After a couple of years there, he accepted a job with the aerospace industry in nearby Huntsville, Alabama. He recently retired and moved to Foley, Alabama.

Thanks to a large family that threatened to disown him if he didn’t develop a well-rounded sense of humor, he intentionally puts something funny in most aspects of his life, whether it’s writing a blog post about how comedians were his heroes as he grew up, or by giving his niece a high school graduation gift of a check for $114.64.

As a former athlete, he’s a fan of most sports. But since he lives in Alabama, he has to declare a love for college football or risk getting kicked out of the state. He considers himself a bit of a trivia nerd with a weird ability to remember the names of obscure musicians and songs from decades ago. One of the greatest mysteries of his life is how this ability hasn’t enabled him to land a high-paying job as the host of Jeopardy.

Among his favorite accomplishments in life, aside from getting “Code Gray” published, is teaching himself to play the guitar and attaining the rank of second-degree black belt in karate. He likes to warn people not to antagonize him because he knows karate, jujitsu, judo, and several other Japanese words.

Along with his novel and blog posts, his writing credits include a self-published novel titled “The Protester,” and a short story that was published on the Huffington Post. His hobbies include traveling, fishing, reading, going to the beach, and writing…preferably at the beach.

Learn more about Benny Sims and his writing on his website.

book review, Books, Crime, Dee Rommel Mysteries, Mystery, New Releases, Noir, novel, Publishing, suspense, Thriller

Another Mystery Solved, One Less Day

Description:

A powerful family will stop at nothing to protect its secrets…

Famous astrologist Agnes Sants-Mekler, a member of one of Maine’s elite families, pleads guilty to murder. Her gifted, pre-teen son, Zar, says she’s lying and he wants Dee Rommel to prove that – in nine days.

Former policewoman Dee Rommel, not yet thirty, is dealing with a permanent, life-changing injury sustained while part of Portland’s police force. Her medical leave is up; she’s made a contested decision to delay her return to the department and continue working with her godfather, PI Gordy Greer. Dee discovers the police are content with Agnes Sants-Melker’s confession, but her intense curiosity – and need for justice – compels her to dig deeper to find the truth. As she sifts through the evidence, misdirections, and deceptions she finds that trusting the wrong person is unraveling a more devious plot – and leading to a life-threatening confrontation.

9 DAYS is the thrilling second installment in the award-winning Dee Rommel Mystery series.

My Take:

Dee Rommel is a tenacious, badass, justice-seeking, sleuth who is recovering from a life-altering injury and amputation of her lower left leg she suffered while a member of the Portland, Maine Police Department. In 9 DAYS, the sequel to award-winning, crime, procedural, mystery, noir, suspense, thriller 10 DAYS, Dee has one less day to break the case wide open and prove the innocence of a famous astrologist who has just confessed to murder. This book checks all the boxes for me: a witty female protagonist, a fast-paced, page-turner of a plot with unexpected twists and turns along the way as Dee peels back the convoluted layers of well-kept secrets to expose the dysfunctional, darker side of a prominent New England family.

With each installment we see this fascinating protagonist grow. Not only does she mature in her new role as a private investigator, which still isn’t quite official yet, but also we are allowed more glimpses into her private life and the obstacles she deals with daily due to her injury, and how she overcomes the what life had put in her way. Her life is more than survival. It’s learning to thrive. Selbo uses this connective tissue to bind the first and second books in the series, along with a returning cast of favorites. We expect it to continue as Dee’s character is further developed. As the series counts down to an inevitable mystery that Dee must solve in a single day, I wonder what sorts of mysteries are ahead and how many criminals the seedy side of Portland, Maine will throw at her. It’s not like the small city is renowned as a hotbed of crime, but it is a large enough community to share many of the same problems bigger cities face. There are hints in the first two books, though, about some of the directions Dee’s story may take as she struggles to reclaim the life she had before a notorious local bad guy robbed her of it. And for that reason, I will continue to follow this series to its conclusion and recommend you do the same. Although 9 DAYS stands alone well as a story and the plot points are resolved by its conclusion, you should start with Book 1 of the series and join me on this wonderful reading journey.

Author Bio:

Jule Selbo grew up in Fargo, North Dakota. She is a novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and academic in film history. Her mystery/romance FIND ME IN FLORENCE (Pandamoon Publishing, Fall 2019), inspired by the art, beauty, romance, and history of Florence, Italy was written while working with students in Florence, Italy, and was awarded FIRST PLACE in the Chatelaine Awards for best women’s fiction/romance. Her book BREAKING BARRIERS, based on the life of 18th-century scientist Laura Bassi was released in April 2020 and is a finalist for the Goethe Award. Her historical fiction book, DREAMS OF DISCOVERY – BASED ON THE LIFE OF JOHN CABOT, was released Fall of 2018 by Mentoris/Barbera Publishing. She is an award-winning American screenwriter and playwright with work in feature film, television, and animation. She has worked with filmmakers and producers such as George Lucas, Michael Newell, Aaron Spelling, and Roland Joffe as well as with all the major Hollywood studios; produced credits include projects for Disney, Columbia Pictures, Paramount, and Universal.

She has also written for theater, with productions in New York and regional theaters around the United States).

As an academic, she has contributed to numerous journals with essays on the History of Screenwriters, her book (co-written/edited with Jill Nelmes) WOMEN SCREENWRITERS, AN INTERNATIONAL GUIDE delineates the rich past of female screenwriters from the 1890s to today. Jule was co-editor for eight years of the successful “Journal of Screenwriting” (Intellect Press) and has written extensively on film history, screenwriting, and film genre. She holds writing seminars around the world and is a script consultant for production companies and writers in Hollywood. As a professor in the Cinema and TV Arts Department at California State University, Fullerton, she has written two books on Screenwriting Structure that include information on the business of screenwriting: SCREENPLAY: BUILDING STORY THROUGH CHARACTER (Routledge) and REWRITE: FIRST DRAFT TO MARKETPLACE (Gardner); her book is FILM GENRE FOR THE SCREENWRITER (Routledge) explores all the main film genres, their components and uses for film narratives. She has been an invited guest lecturer on film genre and screenwriting at New York University, Moscow’s film school VGIK, Oxford Bridges University in Oxford, England, Bournemouth University in the UK, Disney Writers Program, Emerson College in Boston, and other venues and is a member of Screenwriters Research Network. She has earned her Ph.D. with her work in Film Genre, its historical components, and how a knowledge of film genre can be used by the screenwriter in the constructive stages of a screenplay.

For more information visit www.juleselbo.com

Purchase your copies of 9 DAYS, 10 DAYS, and FIND ME IN FLORENCE

Blog, book review, Books, Fantasy, Magic, New Releases, novel, Uncategorized

Book Review: Bonds and Envy – The Faie King’s Mortal Book 2

Description:

I had crossed the sea and sky to find Evander.
I had unraveled my body of its last, frayed edges of strength. I had torn across the vales and battled the demons of time to save him, to save our people, and here at last, we had reached the end of our bonded tapestry—the Gods in their envy had stolen him from me. And they weren’t giving him back.

The Faie King, Evander, has saved Anwen from weeks of torture at the hands of Envy, but the danger is far from gone. Erinyes ravages the vales with merciless wildfires, and the three entities Fury, Envy, and Ruin will stop at nothing to bind the mortal to their side again. Starving creatures follow Anwen and Evander as they race through the vales to reach their people, and even the Gods themselves conspire to steal the Faie King and undo everything they have worked for. Anwen must survive in a world of stolen faces, trust a devious selkie prince with hidden motives, and solve the prophecy that would return Evander’s power to his hands. If not, the mortal princess will forfeit her power to Envy and succumb to the bonds that creep around her from the darkest edges of the Faievales.

My Take:

See my previous review of the first book of this series, Faie and Fury. The continuation of the story from the first book is seamless. With the characters of Anwen and Evander well established, Devon Atwood expands her world vision allowing the reader to further explore the fantastic, multi-layer world of the Faie. Her descriptive detail lends an underlying substance to the story that transcends imagination. At one point she casually mentions how magic is integrated into the world and how it can be accessed. This becomes a critical underpinning of the conflict and between the elements of good and evil that drives the story as it offers both potential and limitation. It is exceptionally well done, resolving the major questions a reader of fantasy may have before suspending disbelief and accepting the story’s premise.  

Anwen struggles with inner turmoil and guilt throughout her travails in the Faie world. But has she forsaken her family? And will she accept what appears a fated marriage to Evander? The latter continues to be the major question that prevents her from pursuing what her heart is telling her to do. Was she created to be who Evander would have her become? Does she have an individual purpose apart from him? Will she lose herself if she consents to become his queen? This is a particularly poignant point of contention between the two main characters who despite the love they share for one another remains a wall between them. All this is operating in the background of the major conflict as the three aspects of Fury continue to destroy the Faie world and threaten Anwen’s world as well. This is fantasy at its best, perpetuating the growing legend behind the tale Atwood has conjured for us to share. Bonds and Envy takes us on a wild and thrilling ride through several portions of the Faie world, granting a glimpse of the complexity that underlies this magical universe. It hits on all cylinders delivering a compelling read from start to end. Although it might stand alone, providing the reader with enough background to understand the story, why limit yourself to only knowing half of the story? Start at the beginning with Faie and Fury. Order it now! And while you’re at it, preorder Bonds and Envy so that you’re ready to continue the story when it is released on August 29, 2022.  You won’t regret it.

About The Author:

Devon Atwood lives in the mountains of Wyoming with her husband, their seven children, and a menagerie of animals. Devon’s favorite thing is writing in silence with a good playlist on in the background, but she will settle for her usual ambiance of bickering children, barking dogs, and Cheerios crumbs under her butt.

​Atwood holds a Bachelor of Science from Brigham Young University-Idaho, and her currently published works include The Faie King’s Mortal Series,  LunulaInito, and K-Love.

music, Music Reviews, New Music, New Releases, Rock Music, Rock'n'Roll, The Warning, Villarreal Sisters

The Wait is Over! ERROR, the Latest Full Album by The Warning Is Here!

Recorded in 2020, the release of ERROR was delayed for two years due to the pandemic leading to a late 2021 release of the MAYDAY EP comprising six of the tracks that are included on ERROR. The new album includes the brief instrumental “INTRO 404” as well as the bonus track “BREATHE” plus six other tracks, beyond the recently released single “MONEY”, the title track and newest single, “ERROR”, “AMOUR” – which features a verse sung in French, “KOOL AID KIDS”, “REVENANT”, and “23”.

If you haven’t yet heard of The Warning (or haven’t read my previous review dated 1.18.22 for their MAYDAY EP) the band consists of three hard-rocking sisters from Monterrey, Mexico who have been performing together for over ten years. They began as children recording videos of music covers from such bands as Metallica, Muse, Foo Fighters, Twisted Sister, and more, several of those videos have long since gone viral. They are currently under contract with Lava/Republic Records. ERROR is their third studio offering, the two previous albums – XXI CENTURY BLOOD and QUEEN OF THE MURDER SCENE were independently produced and financed by their ever-growing legion of fans. They have released two EPs: ESCAPE THE MIND and the aforementioned MAYDAY. Their discography also includes NARCISISTA, a stand-alone single performed in their native Spanish, and ENTER SANDMAN, a reimagining of Metallica’s chart-topping single. The Warning’s version features Grammy Award-Winning artist Alessia Cara and was included on last year’s 30th Anniversary Black List tribute album.

Dany (Daniela Villarreal), 22, the band’s lead guitarist who also plays piano, is the lead vocalist on the new tracks: “MONEY”, “AMOUR”, “ERROR”, and “KOOL AID KIDS”. Her range is well established from their previous releases. She has a powerful, expressive voice well suited for Rock music and the ability to belt it out whenever the song calls for it. She is always busy on the stage, crafting the guitar sound with her pedalboard between stretches of “Dany Dancing”, hopping around, and engaging the crowd with her self-deprecating humor and energetic stage presence. She is a human dynamo that powers the band on stage, not that her sisters aren’t contributing their energy to one another, but you can see the difference whenever she is under the weather, as she was for a couple of shows during the recent Mayday Tour.

Pau (Paulina Villarreal), 20, who is the band’s regular background vocalist as well as the percussionist and occasional pianist, serves as lead vocalist on three of the new tracks -“23”, “REVENANT”, and “BREATHE”. Although she sings lead on other tracks from previous releases and all of them are fan favorites, I find her voice raspier and perhaps more emotional though her range as a belter hasn’t compared to her sister, Dany – or at least not until this album. “BREATHE” is a simple but powerful and emotional acoustic track featuring Pau’s talent on the keys, the same piano on which TW composes their songs. I think the three tracks featuring her voice will introduce her to the wider world as a gifted lead vocalist.

Ale (Alejandra Villarreal), 17, the youngest of the sisters, is the bassist and background vocalist who anchors the instrumental elements of the band, consistently laying down the rhythmic foundation with inventive runs around the chord sequences. Listen to “KOOL AID KIDS” for a great example of what she does to compensate for the lack of a rhythm guitar. Also, listen to the driving bass lines of “Z” that carry the song throughout while for stretches the guitar is intentionally absent under the lead vocal. She is the perfect complement to her sisters for the power trio concept. The Warning would not be as hard-hitting without her. Her work on “ANIMOSITY” is also worth a listen. For whatever reason, the bass is sometimes subdued in the overall mix on this album – meaning you have to listen for it. But if you pay attention you will quickly appreciate Ale’s ability.

My Take:

Many (if not most) fans of The Warning will claim they are the greatest Rock band ever. Despite the hyperbole, they have impressive skills and a lot of potential to grow. The fact is they write consistently solid songs with catchy lyrics around earworm-quality riffs that hook well. Some comment that they are still so young, as if that is some kind of curse, or that their abilities are so impressive because of their youth. While it’s true, that needs to be reconciled against their experience. They have been playing as a band for over ten years. And being sisters, they have a level of natural cohesion bordering on being telepathically linked.

Historically, most recording artists have achieved their best work well before age 30. So, I rather think The Warning is just now entering their prime creative years. The composition process usually starts with Pau at the piano in their house. She also serves as the band’s primary lyricist. Dany and Ale contribute in the collaboration with their instrumental parts before the trio debates any changes to adjust for nuance to refine the song. You see, they each have specialties though they are multi-instrumentalists. There are some amusing videos out and about on the Internet of each of them attempting to teach their sisters how to play a different instrument. I wouldn’t count any of them out at mastering another instrument, at least enough to perform on stage for a song or two, but none of them are there quite yet. Still, it is a good exercise, to learn to appreciate the subtleties of crafting a song on a different instrument.

The band is certainly gaining attention and frankly, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. Will these ladies ever write a bad song? Well, they have over 50 in their current discography and a solid case can be made that there isn’t a single filler tune in the lot. They are adventurous and ambitious, having composed and recorded a ‘rock opera’ when the eldest member of the band, Dany was 17 or 18 years old. A music video that accompanied the title song of their debut album, XXI Century Blood won several awards. It’s debatable whether anything they do is groundbreaking or even earth-shattering except to say that they are rare as an entirely female rock trio, and rarer yet that they don’t overtly play up to the hypersexuality one might expect from marketing an all-female group. They let the quality of their music become the featured selling point and it is for this reason I eagerly look forward to their future. They have four more albums remaining in their current contract and I bet there will be plenty more to come after.

Obviously, The Warning didn’t have much of a choice about when to release these songs. Not only did the pandemic intervene to thwart the best intentions of a marketing plan, but also twice their North American Tour in support of the release of their MAYDAY EP was delayed a couple of times before finally realizing a successful start earlier this year. Since the EP songs also appear on ERROR, they have been performing half of the new album’s songs live as they have traversed the US and eastern Canada, meeting their fans and performing to adoring crowds. Several of their appearances were sold out.

Of the new tracks, ERROR and AMOUR are likely the most commercially viable candidates for immediate airplay. They feature Dany’s powerful voice and follow the tradition of their earlier singles CHOKE and EVOLVE. However, I find the new tracks that feature Pau’s vocals most intriguing. They are a bit more subdued that the usual fare I’ve come to expect from The Warning. Pau’s voice has always been a refreshing change-up from her sister’s, lending a husky rawness that stands out. But here, Pau’s voice presents a level of softness that we haven’t heard before. Even though the role of her vocals is more often to blend and harmonize, her performance on the three tracks that feature her is a stunning example of her potential for a front person, something I’d love to see more of in the future. Also, having two lead vocalists in the band (as Pau has performed in the lead role on several of their past songs and occasionally substituted for Dany in a pinch whenever her sister was ill) allows Dany’s voice to rest during a concert. As the band’s tour schedule expands in the near future to become even more rigorous, this ability to change things up with the vocals will become increasingly important. Even Ale, who rarely sings lead, has pitched in to help out from time to time. Those unicorn moments are revered among faithful fans and fan musicians who understand the complexities of being able to play an instrument while singing, especially singing lead while playing bass guitar. That must require the use of two different parts of the brain.

There is a special feeling about the ERROR album that belies its lyrics. It is a concept album in the truest sense, though not as overtly as its predecessor, Queen of The Murder Scene. The songs share a thread of continuity and an overall theme. The ladies readily borrow elements of style from their musical influences, but what they produce is distinctly their own take on Rock music – a reinvention of what is still possible in the genre. Several of the new songs have the potential for airplay and even reach the mainstream pop charts. Will that happen? Who is to say? The music industry has been trying to bury the Rock genre since at least the mid-1990s. But what is more Rock’n’Roll than coming back from the dead as a new generation adopts the rebelliousness that allows for the greatest possible freedom to express? The Warning has all of that in spades. Don’t be deceived by their youthful cuteness or diminutive sizes. They are predators, albeit disarmingly attractive ones, aiming to take the world, one song at a time.

We can expect more great things from The Warning as their fanbase continues to expand based on the exposure their music is now receiving through airplay and being featured at sporting events and on TV. I can’t wait to see what they do next. Their lyrics are never ill-guided or meaningless fluff. These young women have something to say and being multi-lingual, they’re able to communicate to the masses on a level that is rare in Rock music. Yes, most of their songs are composed in English, but their fluency allows them to impress interviewers with how comfortable they are at handling the media. Their slight accents are easily overlooked. What is perhaps more impressive is that during their concerts, a lot of native English speakers are singing along in Spanish to MARTIRO and NARCISISTA and the beg ‘otra’ when it’s time for an encore.

Rumor has it they are working on a UK and European Tour for next year. But closer to home, this Summer they are touring with Halestorm, The Pretty Reckless, Lilith Czar, and later in the Fall, they will be touring Canada with Three Days Grace. With this level of exposure before larger crowds, expect future US and Canadian tours to be on a grander scale in much larger venues. If you don’t see them on this tour, you may miss your chance at catching an intimate performance in a small club.

For more information: THE WARNING BAND

Blog, book review, Books, Mystery, New Releases, novel, Publishing, Uncategorized, Writing

Review: BLUE BILLY by Laura Ellen Scott

Description:

Turn the Living into Corpses

I am the dirt. I am the grave.
I don’t meditate nor drink. I don’t write manifestos.
I turn people into bodies.

So begins the confession of a boogeyman that no one believes in. As he settles into the abandoned Magic River Café, Blue Billy doesn’t care that it has deteriorated into a derelict, filth-ridden shack on the banks of a rancid backwater. This is his home, now. Or it could be, if it weren’t for three women out to prove that he is real.

Crocus Rowe is a parolee with anger issues, who finds herself on the run after she assaults a professor over his unspeakable crimes. When the professor winds up in a refrigerator submerged in the ironically named Magic River, things look bad for Crocus, whose first call is to Alma Bell, a memoirist and much-maligned Blue Billy “expert” from New Royal University’s notorious Crime Writing Program. Haunted by the unsolved 1992 murder of her best friend, Alma will go to any lengths to prove that Blue Billy is responsible. And then there’s Tara Rowe, Crocus’s damaged cousin. As one of Blue Billy’s rare survivors, she’s endured years of experimental therapy and exploitation to become the person she is today: Blue Billy’s stalker.

Children still whisper “Blue Billy” around the campfire, but if Crocus, Alma, and Tara can uncover the truth behind New Royal’s darkest mystery, they may just put an end to the legend, once and for all.

My Take:

In BLUE BILLY, the third book in Laura Ellen Scott’s New Royal Mysteries Series, she has created a monster that is equal parts myth, local legend, and deranged psychopath. As has become a tradition for Scott’s novels, she assembles a cast of quirky, damaged, dysfunctional characters to resolve the essential crime mystery, a thread that strings all three installments of the series together. And she does it with the expected attention to detail of which nightmares are made and carefully crafted exposition that often makes one’s skin crawl. A deviation from the previous parts of the series, this one ventures into the country where the natural decay of nature has intersected with the demise of what was once a recreational hot spot. There is a scene that involves a submerged refrigerator that I guarantee will haunt you afterward.

But this gritty, visceral story is as much about relationships as it is a series of unsolved murders. Crocus and Tara, cousins who share as much disappointment in their lives as DNA, must resolve enough of their past issues to join forces with Alma, a self-proclaimed expert, in exposing a demonic presence that has plagued the surrounding community. It’s no Sunday picnic at the riverside where the drama draws to its climax where the survival of the trio demands destroying their shared nemesis that no one else believes exists.

If you haven’t yet discovered Laura Ellen Scott, Blue Billy is a great place to start. Even though it is part of a series, it stands on its own, though it will compel you to dive further into the weird world of New Royal, Ohio for more of the background.

About the Author:

Born and raised in the tiny Northern Ohio town of Brimfield, Laura Ellen Scott was named after the classic noir film and song, “Laura,” so it makes sense that she enjoys writing dark, quirky fiction in the tradition of Tom Robbins, Kelly Link, and Robert Altman. She started out writing short fiction, and her stories can be found in places like Ploughshares, Pank, Mississippi Review, and Wigleaf, but it wasn’t until she received an out-of-the-blue email from the great Dorothy Allison (BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA) that she started writing novels. That email said, among other things: “Damn you are good. You are just seriously satisfyingly good.” Eventually, Allison would blurb Laura’s first novel, DEATH WISHING (Ig Publishing, 2011), a comic fantasy set in post-Katrina New Orleans.

These days she is an author with Pandamoon Publishing, and her latest novel, CRYBABY LANE, is the second book in the NEW ROYAL MYSTERIES, a series set in a fictional college/prison town in Ohio. The first book in the series is THE MEAN BONE IN HER BODY (2016). The second book is CRYBABY LANE (2017). Book 3 is titled BLUE BILLY, coming 5.11.22. Prior to launching the series, Pandamoon published Scott’s THE JULIET (2016), a western/mystery about a cursed emerald lost in Death Valley.

Scott is a term full professor in the English Department at George Mason University, and she divides her time between Fairfax, VA and Great Cacapon, WV.

Blue Billy is available at Amazon as of 5.11.22.

Alien, Blog, book review, Books, Fantasy, New Releases, novel, Publishing, Science Fiction, Space

Review: The Greys by Becky Barnard & Dave Housley

Description:

Every teenager feels like an alien.

Deerdra Grey is the typical new girl in school. In fact, she’s been designed to be scientifically, perfectly typical. Her mission? Assimilate into Indiana’s Danaville High, 600 light years away from her home planet. While her parents go about the traditional alien business of gathering soil samples, examining crop circles, and inadvertently mutilating cattle, Deerdra’s goal is to find her missing predecessor, Eunice Tiffany.

As she digs deeper into the mystery, Deerdra enlists the help of Gavin and Barb, two high school classmates who are skeptical of the official reports about Eunice’s disappearance. Eventually, Deerdra and her allies will come up against the Reptilians, a predatory advanced species who resemble the Real Housewives and intend to take over the planet for themselves.

The Greys is a fun and propulsive read about what happens when one alien girl is forced to make a choice between following orders and following her heart.

My Take:

Growing up is a challenging time at best. For most, figuring out where to fit in is a struggle while simultaneously coping with the myriad of physical and psychological changes. Choosing the right friends, the right clubs, the right team sports, whether to be a thespian or participate in a music program helps define each of us not only in our own eyes but also in how others think of us. The risk of not belonging is intense and persistent. Consider all that in addition to being a visitor from a distant planet sent on an important mission. It doesn’t help that understanding of what it means to be young and human is somewhat flawed.

The premise of this book is immediately engaging. It’s easy to identify with Deedra Grey’s plight. We’ve all felt out of place, forced into the precarious situation of having to adjust to strange situations. But Deerdra Grey is more than just the new kid in school. Her mission is of supreme importance, but in order to accomplish it, she must break some rules and trust a couple of human friends who she discovers are not all that different from her. The Greys is a nice escape into another world that superficially seems familiar but proves to have just enough spicy strangeness to keep the adventure interesting. It pokes some fun at SyFy tropes as well as the traditional coming-of-age story while holding close to what’s expected of a well-told story. It’s a great weekend excursion I fully recommend.

About the Authors:

Dave Housley is the author of the novel The Other Ones. His other novels are Howard and Charles at the Factory and This Darkness Got to Give. He is also the author of four collections of short fiction, the most recent being Massive, Cleansing Fire, a collection of stories that all end in a massive, cleansing fire. He is one of the founding editors of Barrelhouse, a national literary magazine, small press, and literary-based nonprofit. He is also one of the co-founders and organizers of the Conversations and Connections writer’s conference. He is the Director of Web Strategy for Penn State Outreach and Online Education.

Becky Barnard is a book nerd who fell in with a crew of fantastic writers and eventually wrote a book to try to blend in. The Greys is the result, and also her first novel. She’s an editor-at-large at Barrelhouse literary journal and a web project manager in State College, Pennsylvania, where she lives with her husband and their awesome dog.

The Greys is available as of 5.4.22 at Amazon in Print and eBook.

Blog, book review, Books, Fantasy, Magic, New Releases, novel, Publishing, Writing

Book Review: Faie and Fury – The Faie King’s Mortal Book 1 by Devon Atwood

Description:

Anwen is pretty sure she loves her future husband. The problem is, he’s not real.
When Anwen discovers that she has been under an enchantment for months and that her betrothed, Gresham is a mysterious being obsessed with keeping her forever, she escapes to the forbidden Faiewood after a voice on the wind calls her to safety. She finds herself the captive of a green-eyed Faie king who gives cryptic half-truths to Anwen’s questions and refuses to let her leave the Faiewood. With her family’s life at stake, and the safety of all Faie hanging in the balance, Anwen learns that she is his birthright. They are bound by the strings of fate, and she is left with only one choice: trust him, or watch the vales burn.

My Take:

Let’s talk about world-building. It is essential for constructing all fiction, even the genres that appear to be close variants of our world. With fantasy, where the existence of magic redefines the relationships between the living and the physics of their universe, the author’s imagination is fettered only by the nature of magic and the level of magic inherent in nature. For example, do all the inhabitants of the world have access to magic? If not, how is its distribution limited? Do only special beings control the magic? Is there one being or group of beings inherently more powerful? How well the author establishes the rules and consistently follows them allows the reader to suspend disbelief, escape into the story, and become immersed in the conflicts and adventure, same as any other well-told story.

Enter the world of Faie and Fury. Here, Devon Atwood has borrowed some character types and themes from the genre while also paving new ground, redefining myth and legend to suit a well-crafted variation of the eternal conflict of good versus evil. Anwen’s family is under attack without knowing it. When she discovers the truth, she takes flight from the source of the evil, escaping into Faiewood, a mysterious place chock full of dark places and stories of enchantment. Even though the wood borders on her kingdom, she knows next to nothing about it, having never been within it because of the suspected dangers lurking within. And it’s there that her adventures truly begin as she discovers that her fate is directly bound to a Faie who would be king. And in order to save her own family, she must enlist the aid of the creatures of a fantastic world who have at least as much apprehension and misinformation about humans as Anwen does about the Faie.

Faie and Fury is the beginning of The Faie King’s Mortal and for lovers of stories about mythical beings and magical powers. This one does not disappoint. Atwood’s imagination reveals her creation through descriptive prose detailed enough to engage the reader’s senses and it compels us to follow the characters’ travails. We cheer their triumphs and suffer their defeats, eagerly turning pages unto the end. It’s always best to get in on the ground floor of a new fantasy series and having read this one, I’m already waiting for the next installment’s release. As I understand it, the raw tale for Book 1 was composed in about a month. Atwood’s prolific writing schedule bodes well for expectations of Book 2 sometime in the near future. But for now, savor this one as your weekend read. Preorder it now and enjoy the spellbinding tale on Kindle starting April 4, 2022.

About The Author:

Devon Atwood lives in the mountains of Wyoming with her husband, their seven children, and a menagerie of animals. Devon’s favorite thing is writing in silence with a good playlist on in the background, but she will settle for her usual ambiance of bickering children, barking dogs, and Cheerios crumbs under her butt.

​Atwood holds a Bachelor of Science from Brigham Young University-Idaho, and her currently published works include Lunula, Inito, and K-Love.

Authors Life, Blog, Books, Fantasy, Fried Windows, Magic, Magical Realism, New Releases, novel, Publishing, Science Fiction, Urban Fantasy, Writing

Get the Backstory for Free

Some of you may have interest in this. It’s for everyone and it’s FREE.

On my Medium account you’ll find the backstory for the Brent Woods character who appears in The Fried Windows series as well as The Thuperman Trilogy. He also pays a visit to The Wolfcat Chronicles which will begin publication later this year with the novel Dammerwald. And Brent is involved here and there along the way in many of my yet-to-be-published manuscripts.

Brent tends to be an alter ego for me, as most of the novels in which he appears are written in the first person POV. He is a lot like me, shares some of my life experiences, but generally, he is more adventurous and less risk-averse than me.

Currently, I am posting chapter installments of FINDING IT, which is part of The IT Series that begins during Brent Woods’ senior year of high school and eventually culminates with his first semester of college. It is important, perhaps, to a better understanding of the events and character interactions in FRIED WINDOWS and NINJA BREAD CASTLES, the latter releases on 4.13.22. You will learn a lot more about what it means to be a wolfcat and how Brent came to realize his incredible abilities. The story is a magical realism/coming of age escape into a world of 70s nostalgia, teen angst, and budding romances. It also provides insight into the illusion that underlies the world and an ongoing battle between those who have the attributes, aka magical abilities, and those who have not.

I invite everyone to follow me on Medium and enjoy FINDING IT, available now.


Authors Life, Blog, Books, Fantasy, Fried Windows, Magic, Magical Realism, New Releases, novel, Urban Fantasy

Do You Want the Backstory?

A few days ago I finished a revision of an unpublished manuscript. I have submitted it previously to my publisher but initially, I composed it as one book and it weighed in at a hefty 200K+ words, which is just not viable for a print book these days. Yet, after painstakenly condensing it and breaking it into two books, it was still passed over. It is not a critique of the work or the story so much as whether it meets the publisher’s overall preference for genre. You see, it’s a quirky story like Fried Windows, but it is more of a coming-of-age tale with a good bit of romance in it as well. It tells the story of Brent Woods coming to terms with his true nature as a wolfcat and his experiences during his senior year of high school. As you might expect of a book set in the mid-1970’s, there is an overall nostalgic feel to it and, of course, it is also filled with magical realism, since the main characters are wolfcats and witches.

Long books, especially when an author is nurturing a following, are not necessarily a good gamble for a publisher’s investment. However, I feel the story told in the manuscript is essential to understanding Brent Woods, the main character in the Fried Windows series. It even serves as the backstory for Pamela Roberts, a character who appears in the soon-to-be-published Ninja Bread Castles (coming April 13, 2022), the second book of the Fried Windows Series, and Dawn Penobscot, a character who will appear in book 3 of the Fried Windows Series.

There are some other unpublished manuscripts hanging around in ‘limbo’, which is what I call one of my computer’s storage drives that contain lots of my writing which may or may not ever be published. You see, it is a writer’s job to write and in order to do that, sometimes you create character profiles that evolve into background stories that allow for a better understanding of a character’s influences and motivation for a work that becomes published. Still, for those readers who become heavily invested in characters, knowing the full backstory is compelling enough that it merits an author sharing the notes in a story form. For that reason, I’ve decided to publish Brent’s story as chapter installments via Medium.

The process of publishing through Medium may take a year or so to complete. There are currently three books in the ‘It’ series (Finding It, Going For It, and Losing It) that are at a point of being ready to post as chapters for consumption. And, in the future, there is another story that I may bring to the world in this same way. That one goes much further back in Brent’s life, to the time when he was around 7 or 8 years old.

Look for my posts on Medium here

Books, Fantasy, Magic, Magical Realism, New Releases, novel, Publishing

Review of ROSEWOOD BURNING: Everly Series Book 2 by Meg Bonney

Published December 15, 2021 by Pandamoon Publishing #Fantasy #Magic #Adventure

Description:

Madison Rosewood returns to the cloaked magical world of Everly on a mission to find her mother, unite the kingdom against her tyrannical father, and stop the execution of the Magics once and for all. Before her revolution can even begin, however, Madison quickly finds her new life in flames.

As she prepares for the upcoming confrontation with her father, Madison grapples with her masked grief as she struggles to both control her new magical abilities and be the leader that her friends and Everly expect her to be. Vengeful villagers, blood-thirsty mermaids, deadly energy storms, and unexpected romances challenge her at every step. Forced to turn to her enemies for help, Madison faces revelations and betrayal and in their wake must make a decision that will change every relationship she has in Everly, including the one with herself.

My Take:

In the first book of the series, Bonney focused on establishing characters, the conflicts that would play out not only over the course of the first installment of the story but also the entire series. She also did a great deal of world-building so that we could experience the realm of Everly through the main character’s eyes. This is essential in fantasy writing because the physics of the created world might operate differently than the world with which we as readers are familiar. Since magic plays a key role in this story, ground rules were set for how it works and what the limitations are for its use. And the reader needs to know whether magic depends on the peculiarities of certain species or individual characters who may have mastered their abilities to stand out as somehow unique from others even of their own kind.

Bonney introduced us to Madison, who hates her nickname, Mad Dash, which she earned from her amazing speed on the high school track team, something that also gave her hope of a college scholarship. Despite her great ambitions, she suffers from several internal conflicts about her past and not knowing much about her parents, information about which her aunt who has cared for her since she was an infant has not been forthcoming. Her aunt has also been obsessed with preparing her with warrior skills well beyond mere self-defense. The adventure begins when Madison and her best friend Jason are lured into the fantastic world of Everly where magic is real and much less restricted than it is in our world. We are also introduced to the variety of mythical and magical beings that populate Everly.

In Book 2, Meg Bonney’s imagination unleashes greater detail and substance for the reader to explore as Madison and Jason return to Everly on a mission to save the magical beings from persecution and lead a revolution that everyone knows is necessary but hardly anyone seems eager to join or eagerly support. Madison’s heart is still broken over her tragic loss which intensifies her internal conflict. She is as irrational as any other teen can be, and her focus is divided at times, but her motives are pure. She wants to save Everly from her father who she blames for everything wrong with her life and Everly. In a real sense, the fantastic world around her seems to reflect her confusions and frustrations, serving as a metaphor for her life. She seeks revenge against her father and his tyrannical rule but also she fights against her own failing and uncertainty. What results is a solid and necessary next step in advancing the story and setting the stage for the third installment in the series.

Returning are all of the primary and most of the secondary characters from book one with whom we are familiar and whose stories we have invested in. But as the variety of Magics is expanded the reader experiences the diversity of culture and customs lending more of a realistic feel to the story. As was true of the first book, the story continues to have believable dialog despite the magical elements of the story and the fantastic environment of the settings. For example, Madison and Jason live comfortably safe amongst the Trolls who are extremely gifted at preparing meals. We also learn more about Mermaids and Witches as the story progresses and we root for the revolution that suffers as much from its ambitions as its disorganization. And there are some secrets that were hinted in Book 1 that are revealed as well as a surprise ending that foreshadows the major conflict ahead in Book 3.

Will Madison resolve the issues with heritage and spare her friends in Everly from the prohibition on magic? Rosewood Burning provides an exciting escape that I highly recommend as a continuation of the Everly franchise, which by the way, has been optioned for a future film or TV series.

About the Author:

Author Meg Bonney is a paralegal by day, a TV reviewer by night, and a writer every moment in between. Meg enjoys stories with strong emotional relationships that aren’t necessarily romantic. Her TV watching and writing have always been more focused in the sci-fi/fantasy genre where the stakes are high and the consequences are dire and because fairies, mermaids, monsters, and witches make her happy. Meg lives in Wisconsin with her husband, her two young daughters, two cats, three hermit crabs, and one very spoiled fish. Meg enjoys impromptu dance parties with her daughters, strong coffee, baking, and getting way too emotionally invested in fictional characters.

Book Available at Amazon.

Watch The C & E Show’s Interview with Meg Bonney