SOUL RETRIEVERS

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Bureaucracies are prone to error. In David Burton’s Soul Retrievers, innocent souls may be accidentally sent to Hell. Grieving relatives have a recourse—hire a specialist to return the innocent to Heaven’s gates. The job is risky, though. If the specialist dies in Hell, his or her soul is trapped there for eternity.

 
The protagonist, aptly named Getter, has a new assignment—he must retrieve the soul of a ten-year-old girl. But the already insane dangers of his centuries-old profession are worse than ever. Retrievers are disappearing, including Getter’s brother-in-law. And Getter seems to be the focus of a prophecy involving war in Hell.

 
Anyone who loves comic books will love the slam-bang pacing of Burton’s novel. This reviewer has become somewhat tired of the faux-Middle Ages setting so popular in fantasy novels. The shifting maze of traps and horrors that is Burton’s vision of Hell makes for a refreshing change. I enjoyed this novel immensely. Burton’s prose is straight-forward, with hints of noir. His imagination is part Dante, part drugs. Enter this bug-infested Hell at your own risk. (Four stars out of five)

PRINCE OF NIGHTMARES

Victor Teversham is staying at Ballador County House Hotel in the highlands of Scotland. The remote lodge serves gourmet food for dinner and nightmares for desert. The hotel has a reputation—patrons have horrific nightmares. (In a thrill-seeking world, that has become a draw.) Victor is curious about the nightmares himself, though he didn’t book the vacation. His wife made the reservation for him—just before she committed suicide.

PONIn John McNee’s novel, Prince of Nightmares, the scares are real. Good adult horror leaves the reader disturbed, and McNee is a disturbing author. Malicious forces are at work in the Ballador, and they’re not just nightmares. The mystery behind what’s at stake drives the story, punctuated by dark imagery, gore and some wonderful characterization.

Like most good horror authors, McNee isn’t satisfied with just scares. He digs into his characters, exploring the nature of evil in a way that transcends the usual horror themes. When Teversham asks, “Am I a good man?” the reader finds, not a book in hand, but a mirror. That may well be the most potent nightmare of all. (Five stars out of five)

AFTER I’M GONE

513LQbW-8CL._UY250_Got Christmas money? Have a Kindle? This is the book you are waiting for.

Let me start by saying that After I’m Gone is a romance with paranormal elements.

I write and read horror for the emotional jolt. When I delve into literary fiction, on the other hand, what I’m looking for is prose nuance and characterization. Reading Michelle Alstead’s After I’m Gone, I get everything.

Alstead’s book is about relationships (don’t revoke my guy card, please), with a paranormal twist (which serves my speculative urge). The prose is sharp and clean, though the fine writing is not the very best thing about the novel. Have you ever read a book and found yourself in love with the characters? Get ready.

The plot would appear to be familiar. Gabby’s husband Casey dies in a motorcycle accident. The trauma causes Gabby to miscarry. The tragedy carries the additional weight of past events, making the heartbreak more poignant. Then, the supernatural opportunity to change the past comes. But don’t think Peggy Sue will get married, or that Groundhog day will repeat. Alstead is too intelligent to serve up a platter of expectations. I was knocked out by the clever path the author cuts for the reader.

I don’t want to give away too much, because the book’s revelations are a pleasure. You’ll enjoy every moment you spend with Gabby. And the good news is, the author intends a series. Not a direct follow-up to Gabby’s story, but an exploration of peripheral characters—a guarantee of hours of great reading.

I loved this book. (Five stars out of five)

ZOMBIE MARKETING: THE EPIDEMIOLOGY OF BRAND AWARENESS

LarsonThis is a time of empowerment for independent entrepreneurs, who have access to global markets for the very first time. And in the wake of the Indy revolution comes the realization that the artists still must still reach an audience, and that connection must be made in the middle of a marketing blizzard. Bowker reports that in 2009, more than a million books were published in the United States. More than two-thirds of those books were self-published.

Jack Larson is an artist living in New Mexico. His book, Zombie Marketing: The Epidemiology of Brand Awareness, examines marketing strategies for independent creators. Larson comes by the zombie metaphor honestly—with art most often focused on the undead. His book is a brilliant examination of the use of social media for the modern entrepreneur. Prior to recent changes in the artistic marketplace, access to niche markets was too often impractical. Larson contends that now, “creativity and strategic thinking matter more…than a big advertising budget.”

Larson bases his approach to independent brand building on the World Health Organization’s five main phases of a pandemic. Want your art to go viral? Larson will tell you how. His approach isn’t a gimmick; any more than the viral marketing concept is merely metaphorical.

The book is every bit as entertaining as you might expect, given the approach. Better, the pandemic analogy is an effective way of approaching the subject. Along the way, Larson uses his own experiences marketing his art to illustrate simple (but profound) principles. His examples are designed to trigger ideas, rather than providing a bullet list of mass market strategies. As I read the book, I kept coming up with more and more applications—enough so, that I had to start listing them.

I would recommend Zombie Marketing: The Epidemiology of Brand Awareness to every writer, musician and artist. Whether you play guitar in a garage band or write for a big publishing house, you need to read this book. (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)

THE DEATH OF INK: BOOK ONE

death inkPaige Langley is a bright girl with a troubled home life. Devon Connors is a star athlete and school journalist with a past he wants to hide. When Paige reads Devon’s short story binder, Paige thinks she’s reading fiction. She doesn’t know about the dead girl who haunts him every night…

Rather than have his secrets exposed, Devon befriends Paige and helps edit her entry for a writing contest that Paige desperately wants to win. High school politics—and the spark of chemistry—keeps their relationship interesting. But can she trust him?

M. John’s The Death of Ink is a young adult novel with supernatural and thriller elements. But the novel’s strength lies in characterization. Paige, Devon and the other students are drawn with such spot-on realism that the reader can’t help but be drawn into the story. And John’s prose is deceptively poetic—straight-forward language with concrete images and an unmistakable sense for the music of words.

The Death of Ink is the first book in a series, so don’t expect a definitive ending with every twist neatly solved. Do, however, expect to be intrigued and entertained by a well-told story. (Five stars out of five)

THE AMAZING MR. HOWARD

Amazing_Mr_Howard_Front_Cover_Image-200x300When a Colorado girl goes missing, the police enlist the help of a psychic to find her. The psychic isn’t the usual paranormal crackpot—he’s a respected professor with a track record on previous cases. But State Police Detective Willard, flawed and unlikeable, suspects that there’s more to The Amazing Mr. Howard than meets the eye. And he’s right.

Kenneth Harmon’s horror mystery is a wonderful read, largely because of the title character, who is a creepy piece of work. Enjoy urbane, clever, eccentric villains that put a chill up your spine? Mr. Howard is your perfect partner.

For a while.

Harmon’s prose is clean, straight-forward and seamless. I was fairly certain I’d read the last take on vampires that I’d ever want to read, but this story proved me wrong. I rolled through the tale like someone in the front seat of a roller-coaster…in the dark…after the park was closed. Fast, furious and scary. (Five stars out of five)