Archive for the Books Category

Guest Post: Jason Sizemore, Irredeemable

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Books, Guest Post, Seventh Star Press with tags , , , , on May 8, 2014 by Jessica Nelson

Whether you’re a publisher or an indie author, one of the most challenging aspects of producing a book is finding cover art and doing proper title design. As publisher/author, you want something attractive, eye-catching. Even if it isn’t going to be sitting on the shelves of Barnes & Noble, you still need it to stand out in online listings of books. Also, as publisher/author, you want artwork that conveys some aspect of the book in a meaningful manner. In this post, I’m going to cover the steps undertaken that created the final version of Irredeemable’s cover.

My collection, Irredeemable, contains as its central theme the notion of duality, that the distance between being irredeemable and finding redemption is small. That all it takes is one decision, one personal act to not be so terrible. That’s when I jumped into the deviantART website.

If you’re a fan of viewing jaw-dropping contemporary artwork, you’ll love deviantART. It is a repository of artistic riches. My publisher (Seventh Star Press) and I decided to find something suitable on deviantART. In less than an hour I found the artwork that adorns the cover of Irredeemable.

I contacted the artist, Tomasz Trafial (as an aside, you really should check out his gallery here: http://trafial.deviantart.com) and queried him about licensing the work “open” for book cover rights.

open_by_Trafial

Thankfully, Tomasz sold us the rights to use the artwork. To me, it was perfect. The two faces define the metaphor of duality for me. It also functions as an eye-catching optical illusion. Do you see it? Are the heads facing each other, or are they half-heads facing the viewer? Push them a little closer, and you even have a suggestion of the classic “Faces or a Vase” illusion. The image also has a bit of an edge that fits the tone of the stories in the collection (mostly dark SF, dark fantasy, and horror).

Now that the artwork has been selected, the folks at Seventh Star Press began work on the title design. The artwork wasn’t an easy fit for a trade paperback cover. It’s a bit too wide to fit on one side without resizing. I mentioned that I would be okay with the faces appearing on either side of the book, but the art wasn’t wide enough. SSP’s designer decided to shrink the image and block off the top and bottom of the cover.

It is important for any cover to pass the Amazon thumbnail test. When your cover has been sized down to 200×300 pixels (72dpi), are the title and the author’s name legible? You want potential customers to be able to see these two key bits of information in the return list of an Amazon search.

Once all was said and done, here is the final version we decided to use:

Irredeemable_Cover800X600

I’d like to extend a big thank you to Jessica Nelson of AllwaysUnmended for the opportunity to geek out over cover art!

Irredeemable is available online as a trade paperback or eBook. You can read the first story in the collection, “Caspar,” for free at my website here: http://jason-sizemore.com/2014/05/06/free-fiction-caspar-by-jason-sizemore-from-the-collection-irredeemable/.

 

TRADE PAPERBACK
Amazon —USUKCA
B&N
IndieBound
EBOOK

Kindle — USUKCA
Nook
iTunes
Kobo

 

BIO:

Jason Sizemore is a writer and editor who lives in Lexington, KY. He owns Apex Publications, an SF, fantasy, and horror small press, and has been nominated for the Hugo Award three times for his editing work on Apex Magazine. Stay current with his latest news and ramblings via his website http://jason-sizemore.com/ and his Twitter feed handle @apexjason.

 

Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus, by P.C. Martin (Enhanced eBook for iPad)

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Mystery & Detective, Noble Beast, Steampunk with tags , , , , , , , , , on November 20, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

SteamHolmes1Title: Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus, Enhanced eBook Application for iPad

Author: P.C. Martin

Publisher: Noble Beast, 2013*

Length: 8 Chapters*

Price: $14.99

Available on iTunes

 

Beloved consulting detective Sherlock Holmes has gone steam in Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus. In this play between two classic tales, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Bruce-Partington Plans and Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, author P.C. Martin takes all the fun and innovation of steampunk, and puts it at the disposal of Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson, and … in the interest of not spoiling the story, we’ll just say others.

P.C. Martin does a wonderful job of stylistically keeping with the feel and flow of the Sherlock Holmes stories we’ve come to know and love. Her characters are generally true to their historical personality traits, with a little give and take here and there, as dictated by modern convention and the fact that she has, delightfully, made Mycroft Holmes ‘sister Mycroft’ rather than ‘brother Mycroft.’ Sister Mycroft is considerably slimmer than brother Mycroft, so she is somewhat more active, perhaps in part to explain away what would otherwise be a remarkable metabolism, but sister Mycroft is no more pleased at disturbances in her preferred routine than brother Mycroft has ever been. Given Doyle’s original description of Mycroft Holmes** in The Bruce-Partington Plans, it would seem the author’s compromise (when choosing between keeping true and pleasing current fans, or changing and perhaps getting angry letters accusing her of being indelicate, from those who had never read the original stories) was very well done.

Steampunk Holmes will be a series extending beyond Legacy of the Nautilus. The series as a whole will bring in other classic tales besides that of Jules Verne to mash up with those of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Legacy of the Nautilus is only the beginning; but oh, what a beginning. The enhanced eBook app for iPad was funded on Kickstarter in May of 2012. The Kickstarter page lists future mash-up possibilities including “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, H.G. Wells’ Dr. Moreau, The Invisible Man,” and more. Follow @SteamHolmes on Twitter for updates.

With art by Daniel Cortes, music by Abney Park, and voice acting by Gerald Price, Shash Hira, and Nicky Barber, the enhanced eBook app for iPad is exquisitely rendered in every way. Illustrations include pencil sketches and paintings throughout the book. There are subtle hyperlinks in the text and a toolbar overhead which the reader can also use to view many of the illustrations at any time they choose. When the illustrations are opened for closer examination, they become even more interactive, as the portraits blink their eyes or blow smoke. Diagrams for mechanicals are also included, right down to that of our dear Doctor Watson’s arm. Further examination of these diagrams, by tapping each part of the diagram, show working parts, and burst-views slide together to show how everything fits one piece into the next.

Readers can choose, by virtue of a toggle, whether or not to have musical accompaniment, as well as whether or not they’d like to have the narrative read aloud to them. There is also an option to have the page turn automatically when the narrative is read aloud, so the reader may either read along and explore the interactive nature of the visuals, or simply listen, as with an audiobook.

The page-turn itself, though, with this app, is a bit of an experience. This is no ordinary eBook in that respect, and those particular people, like myself, who hold a strong preference for paper books over eBooks will be especially appreciative of the attention to detail given here. Playing at the edge of the page, the app acts more like paper than anything I’ve ever seen: fluid, rolling, and realistic. As you can probably tell, once I noted the difference, I got distracted playing with it for far longer than I’m willing to admit.

The only drawback to the app that I noted was that although text could be copied or defined, there is no way (currently) to highlight or underline favorite passages, nor is there any way to take notes within the app, as there is in most eBooks.

All in all, the Steampunk Holmes: Legacy of the Nautilus enhanced eBook app for iPad is a fascinating and fun experience that is truly interactive. Noble Beast has brought eBooks to an entirely new level.

 

 

*Other versions of this work were made available in 2012, including print and eBooks which have only a few illustrations. These versions contain 144 pages. An audiobook version is also available.

**”A moment later the tall and portly form of Mycroft Holmes was ushered into the room. Heavily built and massive, there was a suggestion of uncouth physical inertia in the figure, but above this unwieldy frame there was perched a head so masterful in its brow, so alert in its steel-grey, deep-set eyes, so firm in its lips, and so subtle in its play of expression, that after the first glance one forgot the gross body and remembered only the dominant mind.”

-Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Bruce-Partington Plans

Book Review: The Deaths of Tao, by Wesley Chu

Posted in Angry Robot Army, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Science Fiction, Spy, Thriller, Urban Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

TheDeathsOfTao-144dpiTitle: The Deaths of Tao (Tao #2)

Author: Wesley Chu

Publisher: Angry Robot, 2013

Length: 464 pages

Price: $7.99 US/ $8.99 CA

ISBN: 978-0-85766-332-0

An alien race known as the Quasing have been inhabiting the earth since their ship crashed here long before the dawn of humankind. They have survived by inhabiting the bodies of native forms of life, from dinosaurs, to sharks, to humans. Throughout prehistory, the goal of the Quasing has always been to find a way to return to their home planet, but over time, disagreements arose as to how best to go about achieving this goal, and two factions were formed. The Genjix are completely willing to sacrifice humankind to return home. The Prophus have charged themselves with the dual task of keeping that from happening, and finding a better way.

The Deaths of Tao is the second book in the Tao series. A number of years have passed since the end of The Lives of Tao. Roen Tan and his Quasing, Tao, have been in hiding, playing from the sidelines for years after uncovering a global conspiracy so brazen not even senior Prophus officers want to believe it. But now, there’s proof, and it’s going to take some bold moves to save the human race.

Wesley Chu is an Associate Vice President at a bank by day, and a husband/writer/dog owner/Kung Fu master/gymnast/actor/gamer/former stunt man by night.  He is a contributor to the magazine Famous Monsters of Filmland.

As the second book in the Tao series, The Deaths of Tao is also Chu’s sophomore novel. The second book always comes with a bit of fear surrounding the tale of sophomore slump, both on the part of the reader and the part of the author. Go back and read that bit of bio in the previous paragraph. Back? Okay. Then believe me when I tell you, Chu stared the possibility of a slump in the face, summoned his inner stunt man, then Kung Fu mastered it to a bloody pulp on the mat.

Whereas The Lives of Tao is often referred to as a humorous sci-fi spy novel, The Deaths of Tao is so much more. The Deaths of Tao is a solid sci-fi spy thriller, this time with more political maneuvering and human drama. Characters and situations show greater depth in this book, and the humor has taken on a subtler, somewhat more realistic tone. That doesn’t mean Chu has thrown out the ridiculous scenarios Roen and Tao find themselves in or talking about, by any means – after all, life is often silly and ridiculous – but the story has taken a slight turn away from the parody it might have been, in favor of exploring the stories of the people populating it to a greater degree. Here is where the author took one of his largest gambles. Much of what has made The Lives of Tao so successful is how ridiculously funny it is. Adding so much real tension and human drama (but, you know … with aliens) in a series known for its comedic value. But Chu does it, and he does it well.

The Deaths of Tao is, simply put, such a fun read. Jam-packed with espionage and intrigue, intense action and fighting scenes punctuated by humor at just the right moments, and characters that are well worth becoming emotionally invested in, it never seems to falter in pace or flow. Joy, hope, humor, fear, sadness, are all expertly conveyed, sometimes even within a single paragraph.

And the things many readers love most of all? Huge plot twists – some you’ll see, some you may not, all perfect for the story. And one hell of a cliffhanger ending…

Book Review: Glitter & Mayhem, by John Klima, Lynne M. Thomas, & Michael Damian Thomas, ed.

Posted in Apex Book Company, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fantasy, Fiction, Horror, Occult & Supernatural, Science Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 11, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

glittermayhemTitle: Glitter & Mayhem

Author: John Klima, Lynne M. Thomas, Michael Damian Thomas, ed.

Publisher: Apex Book Company, 2013

Length: 346 pages

Price: $16.95

ISBN: 978-1-937009-19-9

 

You may recall me mentioning the Kickstarter for Glitter & Mayhem some time ago. The book is now out and about in the world, finding its way to bookshelves and e-readers everywhere. If you do not remember me talking about the Kickstarter, or if you’re new to the site or just got here through a search engine, let me catch you up to speed.

Glitter & Mayhem is a speculative fiction anthology based on the “secret history of 20th Century nightlife/party culture,” and contributors were given the prompt, “Roller Derby,  nightclubs, glam aliens, (literal) party monsters, drugs, sex, glitter, debauchery, etc.” (quotes taken from the Kickstarter project page) And does it ever deliver.

In ‘Apex Jump,’ David J. Schwartz introduces us to Huggernaut, a jammer for the Douglas County Rollergirls. When Huggernaut and her team accept an invitation to an away bout in a place they’ve never heard of, they’re in for a few surprises. Schwartz delivers a story that is highly imaginative and gloriously fun. It is also sad at times, adding elements of realism and gravity. The story manages to tackle some important gender issues while being entertaining and compelling.

Kat Howard‘s contribution ‘With Her Hundred Miles to Hell’ tells the tale of a woman named Morain. You might think your workplace is Hell, but Morain, she works at the real deal. Every day, she goes to Hades, where people are willing to die a little bit to live the dreams she dreams. As always, Kat Howard‘s writing is strong, clear, poetic, vivid, and dreamlike. Rich red velvet and diamonds scattered across a black-mirror table. And as always, those words seem to fall so very short of describing her writing. Imagine, then, my surprise, when the narrative’s description of the allure of the nightclub describes exactly what it is I always wish I could say about the author’s own storytelling:

“That was the other reason to come to Hades. To live, temporarily, in a dream. Here, you could dream whatever you wanted. They were made for you. Little faceted jewels that you swallowed like Alice drinking and eating in Wonderland. And for that space of time, here in these walls, the dream was real. Tangible. Yours.”

-Kat Howard

Uncanny.

In ‘Such & Such Said to So & So,’ Maria Dahvana Headley strikes a hot, sultry tone in a wonderfully written story sure to tug at the heartstrings as she blows away the glitter and takes a look at what’s underneath. Jimmy’s a nice guy. Gloria’s a bad girl. He likes his Old Fashioneds.  She likes her Gin Martinis – neat. For awhile. Headley makes excellent use of fantastical imagery, and the sadder elements of the story are balanced by the author’s delightfully charming imagination.

Tim Pratt‘s ‘Revels in the Land of Ice’ is another worth a brief mention. Just a great story in every way: characters, setting, tone, pacing … everything fit together perfectly, making for a highly absorbing story that was fun to read.

And that’s really what Glitter & Mayhem is all about. From the very first pages, even Amber Benson‘s short introduction glitters and entices, luring readers in. From cover to cover, this anthology is loaded with sex, drugs, and rockin’ roller rinks. Glitter & Mayhem really is a party in a book, and I found myself continually surprised that it didn’t burp puffs of glitter at me every time I opened it like some trick party favor.

All of the stories were well-written and true to the general theme. There was roller derby and night clubs, as promised. There were aliens, ghosts, and more cryptids than you can shake a feather boa at. At the same time, there were stories of living, and of dying, and stories of love, and of friendship in the truest sense. While the most overt themes and tones are the fun of the party and club scenes, it never quite lets you forget the dark undercurrent waiting to suck you below the surface, where things are more mayhem than glitter. And that’s a good thing. Because as much as we might like to pretend some things are all glamour all the time, that’s when the real mayhem begins.

Headspace Wars: A Guest Post by Andrez Bergen

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Books, Guest Post, Perfect Edge Books, Writing with tags , , , , , , on September 18, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

If you want to know the truth, writing my new novel Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? shaped up into a headspace tussle of epic proportions – so far as my wee intellect was concerned.

front cover imageEspecially around September last year, which was when I finished the first draft.

The book was half the length, the characters fleshed out far less, and it wore clearly on the sleeve the huge influence of a fun, bickering superhero quartet cooked up by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby with the Fantastic Four comic book in the 1960s.

The finale? A rousing, Three Musketeers moment in a café in which our heroes toasted one another under a veil of sham cynicism and rallied to fight the good fight.

Which was the purpose of the novel: to pay tribute to the Marvel Comics bullpen of the ’60s and the punch-drunk, ever optimistic yarns of Lee, Roy Thomas, and the artists they worked with, especially Jack Kirby. An era we now call the silver age of comic books.

This is the stuff I grew up on, thanks to an older sibling’s stash of comics, and the first draft did the homage thing relatively well. And yet – I wasn’t happy.

See, I grew up during the bronze age of four-colour ‘zines – basically the period from 1970 – and have been equally influenced by darker excursions into the comic book world, stories in which the quips flew less frequently, characters really did die, and a happy ending was not a given.

When I was a kid, storylines such as the Dark Phoenix saga (by Chris Claremont and John Byrne) in X-Men from 1979-80 along with Frank Miller’s work with Daredevil in 1981/82 reconfigured my imagination and the way in which I perceived both fiction and art.

While I loved Miller’s later reinvention of the Batman in 1986, mainstream comic books then became a little too gloomy and repetitive for my liking, I found other interests, and fell into manga and indie ‘zines.

But the emotional impact of issues like X-Men #137 and Daredevil #181 still rings somewhere in my cranial coin-locker, and this was the clamour that got into fisticuffs with the sunny-side-up, quirky optimism of that first draft of Heropaxmen137

So I rewrote the book through to February this year, injecting a somewhat darker undercurrent that related to these early ’80s genre-breakers, but also segued into the terrain of something else I love: hardboiled noir, the kind pushed through by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler more than a half century ago.

Which meant I had three prizefighters beating about my brain, each one trying to assert a dominant flavour.

I like to think I succeeded in making it an equal bout.

Funnily enough, I’m currently going through a similar internal nosebleed with the next novel in the works, Planet Goth.

You could almost call this historical fiction, since it’s based 27 years ago in 1986 – two of my novels have been based in the near future, while in the third time was relatively redundant, so this is new terrain for me.

Yet I’ve been here before.

I originally wrote the manuscript twice, in 1990 and 1993, using my old pillar-box-red Olivetti manual typewriter that I retired in 1995. Each comes under its own abandoned project moniker: Well, Actually, My Favourite Colour is Red (1990, dumped because it was too long-winded to fit on a book spine) and Subculture (1993, tossed away since it was too, um, pretentious. Not that Planet Goth is any less so).

Both versions were shelved (tossed into cardboard boxes) since I felt the piece could not be finished. I’m not sure why I brought the 1990 manuscript with me to Japan in 2001. Likely it was a mix of sentimentality and the fact it made a decent paperweight. The ’93 rewrite I lost touch with – until this year, when an old mate Kristina found it in her garden shed in outback New South Wales, collecting mold, and very nicely posted it over in a jiffy bag.

Sir Omphalos_from Heropa_art by Maan HouseYep, as you can likely imagine, it’s been weird going back to this.

I knew I’d adapted my so-called style over the years, and there are moments of goodness in there, yet I didn’t realize it was so bleeding-heart sentimental.

Also I’d filched one of the key character names (Valeska) and used that in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, so ended up changing this to Angelika. The K’s important.

Given it’s ‘real’ – basically a dark, harrowing coming-of-age yarn in Melbourne that’s influenced by actual people and events – I’m left with far less room to move with imagination wise and struggling to insert moments of humour to lighten up the drama.

This, I guess, is a good challenge. If I can resuscitate, save and reboot the story, great. If not… Well, at least I tried. Again.

Yowsers!

Book Review: About Time 7: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who, Series 1 & 2, 2005-2006, by Tat Wood

Posted in Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Mad Norwegian, Nonfiction with tags , , , , , on September 9, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

About-Time-7-Midpoint-204x300Title: About Time 7: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who Series 1 & 2 2005-2006

Author: Tat Wood

Publisher: Mad Norwegian Press, September 10, 2013

Length: 464 pages

Price: $34.95

ISBN: 978-193523415-9

 

About Time: The Unauthorized Guide to Doctor Who is a series of books devoted to dissecting Doctor Who. The series began in 2004 with the very first seasons of the Doctor Who series, and is a work in progress that will presumably continue for the duration of the show. Although the books are also mentioned from time to time, the About Time series concentrates most heavily on the televised series and movies. This review focuses on the seventh volume, Series 1 & 2, aired in 2005 and 2006.

Tat Wood has worked on the About Time series since its inception, formerly as a co-author but currently as its sole author, although Dorothy Ail has made “contributions” as well. Wood has previously written for Doctor Who Magazine, and has been editor for fanzines Spectrox, Yak Butter Sandwich, and Spaceball Ricochet.

About Time 7 is an encyclopedic work containing an entry for each episode of Doctor Who Series 1 & 2, 2005-2006. Each entry delivers a wealth of information, including overviews, continuity factors, cast, monsters/aliens, setting notes, analysis, things that don’t make sense, episode reviews, essays on various related topics, and trivia, trivia, trivia.

Overviews are extremely brief, containing just enough information to remind the reader which episode is about to be discussed. Setting notes include historical and/or planetary information and the like, and analysis is packed full of notes and tidbits for new viewers and things of importance in the UK which US and other viewers may not catch the significance of. The sections on things that don’t make sense – often my favorite section – covers bad science, character amnesia, and plot problems. It is noted that every attempt has been made to ensure facts are accurate and trustworthy, however the continuity sections do admittedly include some speculation when necessary, although such instances are clearly marked by brackets. No stone is left unturned when it comes to picking episodes apart. Wood gives every episode an enormous amount of attention and space.

Wood goes into great detail on how the Russell T. Davies re-launch (in particular, episode 1: “Rose”) broke a lot of new ground, not just where Doctor Who is concerned, but for the BBC as well. From where it was made to how it was made, there are so many firsts I couldn’t begin to keep track, and the fact that so many are recorded here in one place is a bit dizzying. Readers can learn much about Doctor Who past and present, as well as about UK television history and cultural facts. Sure to be a delight to Anglophiles especially is the section on “English Lessons,” which explains words and phrases those of us outside the UK may not be familiar with, even going so far as to distinguish how chips and fries are not quite as similar as generalizations may lead us to believe. The author takes great pains to spell out a lot of things for those of us from outside the UK, but ironically starts off a number of things assuming all school children know this or that or the other thing, which is frustrating at times, because no, we did not all learn the same things at the same time. This leads to a slight feeling of condescension at times, but it is usually followed by whatever it is he assumes all school children know, so the information is supplied and anyone who didn’t, in fact, know it isn’t usually left to be lost or confused.

About Time 7 is an expertly written reference book which also manages to be both fascinating and highly entertaining, in turns. It is definitely a slower read, given its academic nature, but would make a worthwhile read for Whovians inclined to make their fandom an academic pursuit; hardcore fans will lap up the detail, while more casual fans get a crash-course in the new Whoverse. Each episode entry has within it one Who-related essay. Essays cover a range of topics, such as the influence real-world technological advances and changing human behaviors have on the show and its timeliness, as well as how those things tend to mess with continuity factors. Essays are referenced often in episode entries, so readers may find it helpful to read them first – reading each essay before the entry it is included in, or reading all essays before starting the entries at all, depending upon your current levels of Who knowledge and personal inclinations.

Perhaps About Time‘s greatest accomplishment is putting each episode in the political, cultural, and historical context in which it was written and aired. This brings  much more depth to each episode, highlighting meanings and significant facts that may have otherwise been lost on viewers, particularly those outside the UK or coming late to the show’s fandom. It also succeeds at making this reviewer want the first six books and all those that will follow, wondering what uncountable number of facts and tidbits I’ve been missing all this time. This book, too, I will need to re-read more studiously than reading for review in a timely manner allows – now, that’s high praise.

 

Book Review: Plow the Bones, by Douglas F. Warrick

Posted in Apex Book Company, Apex Magazine, Arts & Entertainment, Book Reviews, Books, Fiction, Weird Fiction with tags , , , , , , , on August 9, 2013 by Jessica Nelson

198x300xplowthebones1.jpg.pagespeed.ic.8JaXv1f1y2Title: Plow the Bones

Author: Douglas F. Warrick

Publisher: Apex Book Company, 2013

Length: 228 pages

Price: $15.95

ISBN: 978-1-937009-15-1

 

Plow the Bones is a work of Weird Fiction by author Douglas F. Warrick. It is a collection of 14 stories, with an introduction by Bram Stoker Award Winner Gary A. Braunbeck. It is also the first book in the new’ Apex Voices‘ series, highlighting new or underappreciated writers with unique voices, and Warrick certainly qualifies.

Douglas Warrick is a teacher and (per his blog) a “reluctant occasional punk-rocker.” His short stories have been published in Daily Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, Pseudopod, and the anthologies Dark Faith and Dark Faith: Invocations.

It would be easy to tell readers the stories in this collection are about ventriloquist dummies, or girls with hot air balloons for heads, because on the surface, that is just what they are. But none of these stories are surface stories. This book, though cloaked in a dark whimsy, has at its center tales of life, of death, of the impermanent nature of things. Although each tale sets itself up as ‘just a little story to entertain for a moment,’ each and every one is filled with those things humankind most struggles with: life, love, faith, pain, loss, meaning, death.

In ‘Behindeye: A History,’ Warrick delivers a delightfully captivating treatise on the dangers of an overactive imagination.

‘Come to My Arms, My Beamish Boy’ tells the story of a man named Cotton Lee, whose memories are being leeched away by the horrors of Alzheimer’s Disease. The tangible fear and sense of loss in this story is likely to bring readers to tears.

‘Ballad of a Hot Air Balloon-Headed Girl’ is a beautifully crafted story about a young soldier and the girl he loved. The writing in this story wonderfully illustrates what fills each of them with wonder, with despair, with hope.

Plow the Bones had me caught up in terrible wonder from the very first pages. Stories of dark beauty and liquid chaos, stories that float dream-like from one thing to the next, populate every page. Warrick’s brilliant, vivid imagery is always perfectly in tune with the mesmerizingly surreal flow of the stories. Warrick has a rare voice, as its inclusion in the Apex Voices series would suggest. It contains a perfect balance of chastity and corruption, virtue and guilt, innocence and deviance.  His writing is strong and clear; his prose is poetic and moving, with an uncommon feeling of emotional purity that shines through even in scenes of horrible depravity.

Plow the Bones is a stellar debut. I can’t wait to read more by Douglas F. Warrick.

 

 

***Personal Note: I usually prefer the reviews I write to be of a certain minimum length. Unfortunately, sometimes, the best books are the most difficult to review. This is one of those instances. Please forgive the brevity, as I thought it best to stop before the temptation to “EEK!” and  “SQUEE!” and “You must read THIS story in particular” became too much to bear. See there? I tried so hard, and they got out anyway. I’m a terrible professional.

 

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