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LA PETITE GUERRE (THE LITTLE WAR)

51Zv2qhB-gLKirk Duncan runs a trading post in the wilderness. When his partner is killed, Duncan takes on a role as a Ranger, defending English settlements, and his partner’s lovely widow. Aided by his Mohawk allies, Duncan is part scout, part spy, and all fighter.

To the north, the French have allied with the Abenaki, sworn enemies of the English settlers.  Duncan’s nemesis, Jacque de Lamar, instigates war by sending raiding parties from New France (Canada). Duncan and his French counterpart find themselves in the middle of a proxy war between the French and British governments, using Native American tribes as combatants.

La Petite Guerre is Book Two of John H. Lambe’s American Scouts and Rangers series. The novella is a throwback—great storytelling with brave heroes and ruthless villains. Lambe writes with a sense of authenticity without jamming up the narrative with historical asides. His prose is clean and straightforward, reading very much like a movie.  La Petite Guerre is pure, story-driven joy. (Five stars out of five)

DRIFTING IN THE PUSH

514AdfuBerL._SY346_Daniel Garrison’s Drifting in the Push is a loosely organized, fast-paced memoir, tracing the author’s manic, comic adventures on the road less traveled.

Dan, the narrator, traces his journey from boyhood to early manhood, in settings from Oregon and Colorado, to Alaska and Mexico. Recurring characters include childhood friends Bryan and Shane, and a dog named Hank. Fate is a character of sorts, since much of what happens to Dan is unplanned and inadvertent. Some of Dan’s misadventures, however, are self-inflicted.

One story involves trying to refurbish a $75 dollar a month cabin in the dead of winter. Repairing plumbing becomes a nightmare: “Time didn’t matter in the crawlspace anyway. It was an uncaring black coffin of agony.” What follows, from walls of frozen excrement to setting himself on fire, will have readers slapping foreheads. The writing is excellent. Garrison’s prose is clean, funny, and often touching.

It’s difficult to tell how much (if any) of the book is fiction and how much is a memoir. Doesn’t matter—the stories have the authenticity one attributes to real events, and the narrative drive associated with the very best fiction.

Drifting in the Push was published by Tongue & Groove Publishing, located in Oregon. Garrison’s story ends somewhat abruptly, but a sequel is currently in the works. I intend to read it. (Five stars out of five)

L.I.F.E. in the 23rd Century

lifePat is a patriotic cubicle production tech who falls victim to a freak, one-car accident that the media spins into a terrorist attack. When he fails to die (martyrdom is so much more newsworthy), questions arise. Is he the most dangerous terrorist in the two-hundred-year war on terror, the “Chosen One” destined to lead the next American Revolution, or just a guy who’s removed his L.I.F.E. bio-mechanism to live off the grid?

Jason Richter’s “L.I.F.E. in the 23rd Century: A Dystopian Tale of Consumerism, Corporate Coffee, and Crowbars,” though crafted in the absurdist tradition, has serious concerns in mind, including wag-the-dog news coverage and the erosion of civil liberties. Richter’s fable is laugh-out-loud funny, but the humor is more like a hot stick in the eye than slapstick. Satire that cuts this close to the bone should carry a warning sticker.

Richter’s novel is the first release from Diskordian Press. I look forward to their future publications. (Five stars out of five)

Before It’s Done: The Sequel to After It’s Over

511ibipijlMichelle Alstead’s Before It’s Done is the sequel to her excellent novel, After It’s Over. Paige has a second chance with Kade, the love of her life, but “happily ever after” doesn’t seem possible. Too much has happened. As a teenager, she lost her parents. Later, she lost a baby. As an adult, she watched her cheating husband Ben die at the hands of his ex-girlfriend.

Those tragedies are behind her. Kade is ready to tie the knot, but Paige is afraid to set the date. Something bad is going to happen. Paige feels it.

And she’s right.

Meanwhile, Kade struggles to find a purpose now that he’s no longer in law enforcement. All he’s certain of is that he and Paige belong together. But when a new tragedy strikes, will their love survive?

Alstead is a gifted storyteller. Her prose and pacing are perfect, but what really makes her new novel such a great read is characterization. From internal dialog to conflict and ambivalence, her portrayal of good people struggling to find their way is riveting.

An interesting subplot in the novel involves Kade’s efforts to return to law enforcement, introducing new characters, and hinting at another book in the series. I can’t wait. (Five stars out of five)

The Goat: Building the Perfect Victim

81tb1ibjdvlGlenn suffers from species dysphoria—despite his human appearance, he identifies as a goat. Frank is a former high school bully turned savior who rescues Glenn from a pack of werewolves. Now, awash in a dystopia built on magic and rotting technology, it’s up to Frank to beat away Glenn’s remaining humanity.

Sound insane? Bill Kieffer’s The Goat: Building the Perfect Victim is a dark fantasy that melds fantasy, psychological horror, and biting social commentary. The resulting tale isn’t for everyone. The story goes to uncomfortable places, reminding us of one writer’s advice for writing complex characterization (“Poke a wound”). Expect a surprise ending, though the biggest surprise may be the love story that constitutes this tale’s twisted spine.

The Goat is an impressive fable—clever and subversive. Kieffer’s prose is playful, poetic and brutal in turns. Highly recommended. (Five stars out of five)

THE GIFTED: REBORN

Michelle Alstead’s The Gifted: Reborn opens with one of those classic lines that demands the reader’s attention:

I brought my mother back from the dead, and it’s a mistake that could kill us all.

giftedFifteen year-old Sarah Proctor is “gifted” with supernatural abilities. What she wants is a normal life, but between her abilities and the efforts of the Mallum—an evil race that wants to use her powers to their own ends—her life is anything but normal.

The Mallum possess an ancient staff that could enslave the entire human race. Sarah’s ability to channel energy from the earth could activate the staff. As the Mallum close in, Sarah will find herself with a choice—save the people she loves, or save the human race.

This is the second book in Alstead’s Gifted series. The first, The Gifted: Awakening Begun is good intro to Sarah Proctor’s saga, though the second book is enjoyable as a stand-alone. The story’s main strength lies in Alstead’s unerring sense of character. Sarah is, above all else, a teen. She walks the delicate line between compassion and chaos that any young adult reader (or parent) will recognize. The character-driven twists and turns are surprising; never contrived. Alstead’s prose is “gifted” as well. You will enjoy the sure voice and fierce pacing of this extraordinary YA novel. (Five stars out of five)

AWFULLY APPETIZING

Walter has the perfect job. He runs a funeral home, which allows him a quiet, secluded lifestyle, fitting his personality. The job has additional benefits—the food is good.

Walter, you see, is a ghoul.

51F9hb06j9L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_That’s right, a ghoul. The carrion of night creatures. Leod Fitz’s Awfully Appetizing is a paranormal novel, book one of The Corpse-Eater Saga. Yes, there are werewolves and vampires, but taking center stage is one of the more outrageous protagonists in recent memory. Raised in a human home, Walter enjoys his solitary existence, but longs to fit in to the human world. Now, both home and health are at risk as Walter finds himself at odds with various paranormal factions. And someone—maybe everyone—wants him dead.

Though Fitz seems to relish the more horrific scenes, you may find yourself more surprised at the wit, owing much to Walter’s first-person voice. The political subtext is razor sharp, particularly when it recalls high school cliques. The prose is clean and the dialog is trigger-quick:

     The girl glowered at me, catching the rabbit mid-air. “I want a human.”

     I shrugged, “And I want a pony.”

 I don’t enjoy many stories in this genre. But this Winlock Press release had me from the first few pages. Funny, gross and clever, Awfully Appetizing  is an original. (Five stars out of five)