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.
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.
Remember when Heart was a novelty because they had sisters as the lead singer and the lead guitarist? Remember The Runaways featuring Joan Jet? What about The Go-Go’s, The Bangles, The Ronettes, or The Supremes? You didn’t know there were that many female bands in the classic rock period 60’s, 70’s, and Early 80’s? Don’t feel alone. It was a rarity to be sure. The industry seemed determined to package the Rock’n’Roll lifestyle embodied in male vocals often singing in falsetto with males playing the guitar, bass, drums, and keyboards. There were some exceptions like Fleetwood Mac or the Talking Heads, where women played keyboards or bass guitar while also singing, but it was far from the norm.
The music industry has changed a lot since then. I was about to say it’s evolved, but in many ways, it’s devolved into its current state of overhyped, autotuned, commercial tripe. Supposedly, Rock died around 1996. At least that’s when I first heard someone proclaim that. At the time, I thought it was an uninformed opinion. You see, Rock music has always been rebellious and at least initially counter-cultural, distinct from the mainstream, even when it dominated the music charts and was considered the principal money-making vehicle for the industry. I believed it was wishful thinking on the part of tone-deaf executives looking to create a factory system to churn out cookie-cutter pop stars that they could exploit while ever cashing in on the latest trend. But then came Napster and later on Ipods. Music became more portable than just a CD or cassette player you could walk around with while you rocked out to tunes pouring into your ears through earbuds. It could be digitally converted into a compressed format suitable for sending and receiving over the Internet and storing en masse on a disc drive for easy playback.
I think a certain branch of Rock music actually did die around 1996. It was the sort that was heavily rooted in the Blues, the sort of stuff that Clapton and Page played, the kind of music that continued to live through Stevie Ray Vaughn until his untimely death, yet hangs on even now because it is essential and evokes a visceral response. Much to the detriment of the overall Rock genre and its many splintered sub-genres going off in different directions, along unusual tangents, its soul was anchored in the past to The Blues to which the up and coming artists rarely paid homage. Modern Rock became abstract, disjointed, and disconnected from the gut-punching emotion that has driven it from the mid-fifties until the nineties. Continuing forward as a viable medium depended on adopting some of the very things that were killing it.
Meanwhile, the Grammies began snubbing Rock bands, pushing their awards into the lower tiers of importance, not even worth a mention on the awards broadcast. Oh well, it had been a while since anyone in Rock took those awards seriously anyway, perhaps since Jethro Tull was picked as the best Heavy Metal band over Metallica, much to the surprise of anyone who followed either group and the chagrin of both bands. And being a Rocker from way back, I frankly never gave a crap about the Grammies. Only occasionally did they ever get things right in my estimation, about as often as the proverbial blind squirrel finds the elusive acorn. As proof, how many bands currently enshrined in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame never won a Grammy? But then again, The Hall of Fame’s credibility is often suspect as well. They seem notoriously slow to honor some of the greatest bands of all time.
I mention all this because long ago I sold my collection of vinyl albums. It was cumbersome to transport and I had entered a period of nomadic existence, exploring the world. Now, I pay monthly for the immediacy and portability of Spotify because I can take it anywhere, even if I only listen to it whenever I’m writing or editing. As important as music has always been to me, things have changed so radically over the past twenty-five or so years that very little about the current environment excites me. Certainly, there are some talented bands that stand out as exceptions, but you have to dig through the multiple layers of superficial crap on top to get to them because I’m convinced, the music industry does not want to give you and me anything truly fresh and original. They want to keep regurgitating the same tired tropes in the same mundane genres that already pollute the commercial airwaves of our corporately controlled world.
But then a band came along, a new power trio that serves as an inspiration, countering the prevailing narrative, bucking the system, maintaining artistic integrity, and all of a sudden it feels like there is a chance for a resurrection of Rock, performed the way it should be, the way it should have always been. They connect with their fans directly via social media on a regular basis and members of their ‘army’ have traveled from as far away as Europe, South America, Canada, Australia, and from all across the US to attend their live shows. And maybe – just maybe – you, too, are about to be warned.
A few months ago I discovered (or rather rediscovered) The Warning, the trio of Villarreal sisters from Monterrey, Mexico. The band is bi-lingual, singing most of their songs in English. Daniela (Dany), the eldest at 21, plays the lead guitar and sings lead on most of their songs. Paulina (Pau), at 19, pounds the drumkit and sings backing vocals except for several times when she takes over the lead. Alejandra (Ale), at 17, is the youngest but curiously the tallest of the three, though she claims she is also short. She plucks and slaps the bass while she also sings background vocals. All three play piano, having taken lessons from an early age. In fact, all three compose their original music on the same piano in their home where they learned. Some of their songs utilize the keyboard and when performed live, one or another of the trio switches from their primary role.
Like a lot of people, I first heard of The Warning in 2015 when they appeared on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. At the time they were a curiosity – a novelty of some note, mind you – because they were so young (Ale was 9 at the time) and yet already so professional. Their schtick was doing competent covers of metal songs like Metallica’s “Enter Sandman”, Guns and Roses’ “Sweet Child of Mine”, and AC/DC’s “Back in Black”. But the fact that they could play real instruments with such a high level of skill should have served as my warning to keep a closer eye on their further development. You see, they took advantage of every opportunity beginning with a YouTube video gone viral. They leveraged the flash-in-the-pan fame of millions of views to launch a Kickstarter to fund their first recording sessions and live performances. And with the help of Ellen granting them a summer course at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, they were primed to focus on a career as professional songwriters and musicians.
Seven years, two EP’s, and two albums later, they have become an inspiration to a lot of young girls who dream of one day following in their footsteps to become rock stars, or at least learning how to play an instrument or two and experience the beauty of creating music. And it’s about time for that to become the norm in music. The sisters have crafted a system for maintaining control over their art, having released all but their most recent EP with only the organic funding from their fan base’s purchases of their albums, clothing items, and swag on their website as well as the loyal support of their followers on Patreon. And over the past few years, they have opened for such legendary acts as Aerosmith, Def Leppard, and Alice Cooper and plan to open for The Foo Fighters for a show on their upcoming tour.
In August of 2020, following lengthy negotiations spanning several months, The Warning signed a contract with Lava/Republic Records to produce the first of five albums for the label with multi-platinum award-winning producer David Bendeth while the band retained an almost unprecedented level of control over the process. Now, along with a growing handful of youthful bands, The Warning is already at the vanguard of Rock’s resurrection.
Their debut EP with Lava/Republic, titled “Mayday”, which was released on October 8, 2021, features six original songs. I’ve heard that its release resulted from a compromise with the label that wanted to delay the release of a full album due to current market conditions caused by the resurgence of the pandemic. The band had already begun launching and promoting singles since May of 2021 in anticipation of a tour, and they wanted to maintain the momentum they’d already achieved from the popular songs and music videos that had created a buzz throughout their growing fanbase, including a number of reaction channels on YouTube.
The EP’s first track, “Disciple” is a driving rocker warning us about our dependence on social media and the influence of those wanting to control us. “Choke” is about the feeling of being stifled and dominated by others. “Animosity” is a rage song that is ostensibly about breaking up with someone but written in such a way as to be construed in a number of other ways. “Z” is about being born into the world of Generation ‘Z’. “Evolve” is about overcoming expectations to become yourself. And “Martirio”, the final cut on the EP and the only one sung in Spanish, is about Martyrdom where some live a life dedicated only to the sacrifice of self. Additional material is expected later this year as either another EP or a full album comprising the original songs along with the previously unreleased material. I don’t know which is the official plan as I’ve heard rumors of both.
The Warning was also slated to begin a North American tour back in 2020 which was first delayed but then canceled due to the spread of Covid. A new tour was scheduled to begin this month but has also been delayed due to the surge of cases. Expect new dates to be announced for later this year when, hopefully, things get back to normal and we can all enjoy live music performances again. But until then we have “Mayday” and the back catalog of their first EP, “Escape the Mind”, and their two albums, “XXI Century Blood” and “Queen of the Murder Scene”, along with solo single releases of “Narcisista”, their first single performed in Spanish which serves as a response to those who complained about them singing only in English, and “Enter Sandman” (featuring Alessia Cara), a track from “Metallica Blacklist”, a Thirtieth Anniversary tribute to the Black album’s release comprising covers performed by over fifty artists.
The past two years have been insane for everyone. I don’t need to tell you why. But it’s been extremely difficult for the publishing industry and especially hard on authors. You see, for most of us to succeed we need to make personal appearances to promote our books. Despite our wares being available online that is seldom the best way to attract readers.
So we have had to resort to other means to get the word out about our latest books. One of the good things that have come from it is the launching of The C & E Show on the Pandaverse Book Club channel on YouTube where Christine Gabriel and I interview other creative people like authors, artists, and others who are involved in the industry. Although we have a ready-made bench of talented writers who are also signed with Pandamoon Publishing, we have interviewed many authors we have met through our other associations apart from our publisher. Look for an exciting calendar of new guests for the coming year.
Back in October of last year, THUPERHEROES, the concluding installment of the Thuperman Trilogy launched. For those who live near Las Vegas, I will be scheduling some personal appearances as soon as the dark cloud of the pandemic has lifted. By then we will be close to releasing NINJA BREAD CASTLES, Book 2 of The FRIED WINDOWS Series. Be on the lookout for the Spring 2022 release date on that as well as pre-order availability through Amazon and Pandamoon Publishing website. Later in the year or early next year, will be the release of the long-awaited first book of the Wolfcats Series, DAMMERWALD. So, it will be a busy year for me. And 2023 promises to be just as busy with new releases from The Wolfcats and Fried Windows Series, and possibly the first of a new series as well. As all of my books share threads of continuity, being set in the same sets fictional universes, it will be like reconnecting with old friends as they appear in other stories.
As for some of the other exciting launches coming from Pandamoon:
Description: A NIGHT ON THE TOWN IN AMSTERDAM TURNS INTO A DEADLY GAME OF DECEPTION
To find the missing device, Reynolds forces David to undergo a procedure to “host” the last thirty seconds of the spy’s memories. The procedure goes awry, however, and the spy’s memories, skills, and abilities download into David and break him free from Reynolds’ clinic. Dazed and disoriented, David stumbles out into the Amsterdam night and into a world he has only ever encountered in spy novels.
On his first international tour with the National Ballet of Canada, dancer David Knight is abducted from Amsterdam’s Red Light district and dragged to a clinic owned by Richard Reynolds, a billionaire with a serious problem. A prototype for a device that could save Reynolds’ company has gone missing and the only one who knew its whereabouts, a Cold War spy, is dead.
As the hunt begins, Reynolds needs David alive, but a rich televangelist wants him dead. Another man’s memories become David’s only protection in a battle between religious greed and corporate profits.
My Take: This one has a little bit of everything going on. A young ballet dancer is out for a night of exploration with his friend who wanted to go to the red-light district of Amsterdam. And, you guessed it, he and his friend are in the wrong place at the wrong time. They are kidnapped which results in our main characters being dragged into a complicated, international mess involving a corrupt evangelical church and a Silicon Valley billionaire with lots of aging, leftover spies from The Cold War.
There are some features paying homage to the usual spy thriller themes, as you would expect. But there are some innovations, which at times, brings this one a bit closer to something out of a James Bond novel. For example: cutting-edge, sy-fy high-tech for implanting the memories from a dead man into another person and a VR video game on steroids that everyone seems to be after getting their hands on for one or another reasons. The result is exciting, page-turning reading from start to finish with several surprises along the way, just to keep you on your toes.
I’m ecstatic that this is the beginning of a series. The main character has a fascinating life, though he believed his life was rather mundane before the experiences in this story. This is a must-read for spy-thriller and mystery fans, but even if you don’t follow the genre there is plenty of action to hold your attention.
Tony Ollivier has stacked hay bails, picked tobacco, pinstriped cars and bartended his way through Canada before settling in Vancouver. Moving into technology early on, he’s worked for Apple, IBM and Microsoft. He now writes thriller novels while doing most of the cooking for his full-time family. He lives in Vancouver, British Columbia with his wife, son and daughter. Visit his website, publisher’s website, and Amazon for more.
From the Book Description: Lethal mistakes during a secret experiment drive scientists insane and plunge their therapist into a frightening search for the truth—and a dangerous fight for her life.
As the cries of a volatile patient in the psychiatric ward of Sinai General haunt therapist Alexandra Kraig, she realizes something terrifying has happened at the Complex. Mistakes have occurred there, mistakes that have changed him.
When Alex’s closest friend, also a scientist at the Complex, develops deeply disturbing behavior, she becomes determined to uncover the truth about the particle physics experiment hidden deep within the Complex walls, a project her missing father warned against many years before.
With her friend on the brink of madness, Alex resurrects her father’s research, infiltrates the Complex and races to halt the experiment’s destructive force. A dark element has another plan, hijacking the system, intensifying an already looming catastrophe, and propelling the Complex toward implosion. With time running out, Alex joins forces with the very scientists that created this monstrous experiment. Battling the enemy and the machine, Alex faces a ticking clock as she struggles to find the answer buried somewhere in her father’s secrets; an answer she desperately needs if she is to save her own life, and the lives of thousands more.
My take: As I read this intriguing story, I never knew what to expect next. On the face of it, the foundation seems absurd, but that is the real strength of the author’s genius. As the story grows, expanding to reveal a cast with diverse backgrounds and interests, the premise of interconnection that underlies the universe becomes all the more plausible.
Researchers blinded by their ambitions to unlock the mysteries of the universe begin to unlock a secret dating back to the first moments of creation exposing themselves to unknown dangers. The author does a fantastic job tying the characters, their friendships and their occupations to the major conflict while exposing the elements of good and evil within their natures as well as their internal battles to maintain balance and protect what each holds dear. The result is an intense drama that evolves from page to page leaving the reader in doubt to the outcome.
I found the ending surprising but also satisfying. Also, there is enough room for a sequel, which I would certainly read. I look forward to more captivating stories from this debut author.
About the Author: Growing up in Michigan, Joanna was an avid reader at a young age. Her wild imagination led her sixth grade teacher to encourage her to become a writer. Instead, she aspired to be like Dr. Joyce Brothers. Upon completing her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Michigan, she moved to North Carolina and led a successful career as a psychotherapist for adults and children, with specific expertise in trauma treatment. But, her love for books and writing never left her.
Inspired by Stephen Hawking’s A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, Gary Zukav’s THE DANCING WU LI MASTERS, and any ancient spiritual or religious text she could find, she became fascinated with particle physics, the purpose of life and the need for a story that illustrated how intertwined we all really are. Eventually, her craving for an action-adventure set inside a place like CERN led to the creation of Sinai Unhinged.
Additionally, because where there is darkness, there must also be light, her romantic holiday screenplay, A CRYSTAL CHRISTMAS, has been optioned by Citizen Skull Productions.
In her spare time, she and her husband can be found traveling up and down the southeast coast in any season, even the hot and steamy summer. More information can be found at her website.
Gertie MacLarsen believes she was given ugliness at birth. Growing up in an estranged home, the only times she feels beautiful are the nights her father comes in to show her the stars. The day of her 16th birthday, the same day that Sputnik traverses the sky, Gertie’s life is irrevocably changed. After a family
tragedy, her elusive and alcoholic mother sends her to Willow Estate, a private mental institution, where she is thrown into a world of harsh therapies, dangerous hospital politics, and, surprisingly, a sense of family.
Within the walls of Willow Estate Sanatorium, Gertie finds awfulness and grace, terror and family. From hydro and shock therapy, to first love, to rape and suicide, the only thing Gertie is sure of from day to day is that growing up is not a choice and that forgiveness and acceptance are…
Crescent City Moon by debut novelist Nola Nash has a creepy vibe throughout that establishes it as a great Halloween read…or a perfect book for anyone who loves supernatural mystery, suspense, thrillers. It is set in 1820’s New Orleans and captures the essence of the French Quarter, tapping into what residents know is the special nature of their beloved city – that things happening there are taken in stride that might not be accepted anywhere else.
Like many young people in the city, Zoelie Cheval has a curiosity about the occult. She plays with Tarot cards, dabbling in fortune-telling without completely understanding all the implications, or knowing the extent and peculiar nuances of her gifts. On her 21st birthday, when her father mysteriously dies her world is shattered. Then, while the police are investigating with officers everywhere throughout her house, a priest who was called upon to give last rights is also killed, and the stage is set for the kind of mystery you know is going to hold your attention for as long as it takes to reach the conclusion.
Nash seasons her realistic dialogue with well-placed French expressions and colorful descriptions of the settings. Always there is ample attention given to the arcane aspects of the plot, which straddle a line between real and surreal. Magic, though doubted at first, becomes increasingly real, and its limitations play a part in the resolution of the story, as well as its underpinnings in the balance of natural forces.
There is also a compelling love story developing in the background as Zoelie is attracted to the handsome and gallant Louis who labors to resolve the growing series of murders while protecting the young lady who is constantly in peril. I wholeheartedly recommend this book and look forward to the next in the series.
These days there are many books that bend genres, making them next to impossible to classify. It’s to the point that lately, I’m not sure that any book deserves its pigeon hole. But people like making comparisons to whatever they know. That’s why genres are assigned. I’m not sure they are as relevant as they once were, though. When a reader has fallen in love with a given author’s work the importance of artificial categorizations diminishes. You read a book expecting the author to deliver and you follow no matter where his or her imagination takes you.
Steph Post writes Southern Noir, what a lot of people refer to as Grit Lit. Her novels are about rural Southerners who often get sucked into get rich quick schemes that are illegal. But people who live on society’s fringe face hardship daily and must make desperate choices.
Post’s previous works are A Tree Born Crooked, Lightwood, and Walk in the Fire. If you have already read those you respect Steph Post’s writing chops. You know her characters are lifelike down to the grit under their fingernails and the grease that doesn’t wash off their calloused hands. Her gut-wrenching scenarios present authentic dilemmas. Her settings are based on her experiences growing up in a part of Florida far removed from the resorts and amusement parks. In Post’s books the American South feels genuine down to cypress knees jutting up from the oozing mud. Snakes hide in the tall grasses and gators lurk in fowl smelling, murky waters. If you know Steph Post’s stories you have probably been waiting eagerly for the release of Miraculum, which entered our edge of the universe on 1/22/2019.
From the first page, Post grabs hold of your faculties and doesn’t let go for the duration of the strange ride that often dips into the darkness that underlies the superficial world that others, those who are invested in the systems and institutions of decent society, believe is real. Ostensibly, the story is about a carnival/circus experiencing an identity crisis as it struggles to adjust to changes in the early 1920’s. America has emerged as a major industrial power having survived intact while Europe was devastated by The Great War. To compete with other forms of entertainment for the nickels and dimes in the audience’s pockets, the circus must exhibit what people can’t find anywhere else, or at least convince them that its assortment of geeks, freaks and exotic enhancements is unique.
In the circus Ruby is the snake charmer. Most of her body is decorated with multiple tattoos – not particularly well-done ones at that. She’s a survivor and, as the story unfolds, we are privy to some of her secrets, her origins, her past relationships, and her few aspirations. We understand how much the world around her limits her life.
Daniel, a stranger, who is a study in contradiction, joins the circus as a glommering geek. Yet he always wears an immaculate and obviously expensive suit that never seems to soil. He never appears to sweat, despite the muggy heat of summer int he deep South. Apart from the side show performance, he’s urbane, well-educated, and well-traveled, leading most everyone to wonder whatever he is doing there. Of course, Daniel is attracted to Ruby but not for obvious reasons. Where he can control others, she is exempt. He finds this both frustrating and fascinating.
As always, Post breathes life into her characters with a careful eye for detail and well-tuned ear for dialogue. Her research into the period and the nuances of backstory are evident as the past collides with a present that cannot possibly be. Still, the haves shun the have nots. Shady people pop out of dark corners, trying to make a fast buck, even if it’s not completely legal. Rejected people, those who are discarded through no fault of their own, congregate in the only place that allows them to make a living, as freaks in the circus side shows.
All the elements that have made Post’s past novels visceral and gripping anchor what becomes a bizarrely compelling novel that dabbles in beliefs apart from the mainstream. Miraculum offers a weird, creepy, supernatural vibe beginning on page one. Along the way it simmers just beneath the surface while the story gains its legs. And then, it bubbles up violently toward a tumultuous and inevitable climax.
Miraculum by Steph Post Available in eBook, Hardcover from Polis Books