Book Review Round-up!


I like to include my Amazon reviews over here as well, and there are a few that I missed lately. I am so impressesd by so much that I see coming out of the indie publishing scene — so many great and new ideas and great voices to showcase their works. Without further ado, here are my reviews for Stefan Bolz’s Apocalypse Weird entry Genesis: The White Dragon, the latest short story from Carol Davis entitled Being of Value, and a great novel by Travis Mohrman, Humid.

aw-genesisStefan Bolz has a unique style to his writing that I have yet to see duplicated. Even as he destroys the world in his Apocalypse Weird story Genesis, there is a hope and an optimism that is still visible. But, while that hope is there, that sometimes makes the violence all the more brutal knowing the end may not be pretty for everyone.
In Genesis, we follow Kasey Byrne on the day she turns 18 years old. What should be one of the best and most joyous days of her life takes a dramatic turn in the opposite direction very quickly. She watches in horror as hundreds of dolphins turn up en masse to commit suicide on the beach, then is helpless as her mother commits suicide, and is stuck with an insane police officer who is about to murder her and her boyfriend in cold blood. And that’s just the first couple hours.
What’s great about Bolz is that he presents a Young Adult Apocalypse Weird tale. The immediacy of Kasey’s actions are all the more intense as we follow her life from the graduation party on the beach to the end when everything changes. The emotions and inner turmoil of teenagers is so much more intense, then say a 35-year-old man. We sense that not only is it the end of the world, but it’s also the end of everything Kasey knows. Everything is ripped from her as the forces of evil search for something only she would have.
I loved Bolz’s take on the apocalypse and if any is due a sequel, it’s this one. Bolz bold and memorable characters are prime for the next chapter in their lives and I know his fans will eat up the story Bolz has up his sleeve next.

being-of-value-smallIn Carol Davis‘ writing, the reader can almost always get a clear picture of the drama and action. She has a definite style that lends itself towards visualizing the story on the screen, whether as a movie or TV show. Her latest sci-fi short Being Of Value is right there as well, putting the reader in an unfamiliar environment, but making the story so palatable and palpable you can picture it immediately.
As is the case with so many great A.I. stories, the protagonist of BOV, Matthew, makes you question what it really means to be human. Is it just flesh and blood? Is it an organic mind, born from a lifetime of experiences? Or…is it something else? Is human even something to aspire to? The tale moves along at a good clip, but the questions of ethics, of right and wrong, of whether humanity is defined by our morals continue to haunt Matthew and the reader along the way.
Davis’ background of writing with the sci-fi TV screen in mind definitely plays a part in this story. There is a general positive futuristic vibe to it, almost a Star Trek related theme of sorts when we see Matthew host some foreign dignitaries in the Dome — a Holodeck of sorts in a contest between man and android. Although androids have advantages of a body and mind that never tires, the contest ends up more than he was counting on.
I enjoyed the story and could definitely see a continuing series with Matthew as he continues to discover who he is in relation to the human universe and what that means.

humidEver since I read Travis Mohrman’s book Singular Points, I’ve been excited to see what else he had up his sleeve. In many ways, Humid is a spiritual successor to SP as we see Mohrman’s signature style on full display with a flair intense sci-fi action.
What happens when all of a sudden, the weather patterns stop, the humidity gets cranked to levels off the scale, and water all over the earth no longer stays on the surface, retreating to the atmosphere? That’s what everyone wants to know, including our hero, Wendy, a meteorologist living in St. Louis. Wendy is tasked with being the lone researcher left at a weather station as the humidity continues to ramp up, destroying modern society in its wake.
I don’t want to spoil too much of the book, but Wendy encounters interesting characters along her journey to discover the truth of what is happening to the planet. Eventually that truth leads to a confrontation between her and the cause of the entire planetary disaster. I liked the characters, and was constantly looking for what Mohrman had up his sleeve next.

Book Review – The Serenity Strain


tssChris Pourteau is a perfect author for the Apocalypse Weird series. While the other novels give us explanations and grand statements about the end of all things, Pourteau straight up delivers an action-packed thrill ride in his book, The Serenity Strain.

Pourteau centers his story around Houston, a large city in its own right, but specifically hones in on a broken family. Mark works for the traffic management company for Houston and has already broken his marriage vows with a co-worker, Iris. Meanwhile, his soon to be ex-wife Lauryn and daughter Megan are trying to make it in a poor excuse for an apartment. When hurricane after hurricane after hurricane pummel the southeast coast of Texas, the three find themselves thrust back together, trying to survive a disaster exponentially bigger than Hurricane Katrina.

So what about the title of the book? The Serenity Strain? That is the brainchild of Dr. Eamon Stavros, a man who believes he can “cure” homicidal maniacs. He has given the serum to six individuals at the nearby prison with early promising results. However, in typical AW fashion, the serum backfires just as the hurricanes are making a mess of the city. Head of the “Serenity Six” is Peter Marsten, a serial killer who is now even more dangerous with Serenity focusing his thoughts. He breaks the six out of prison and they proceed to terrorize the city, acting as the precursors to someone even worse.

Out of all the AW books so far, the character of Marsten is the most evil, most gloriously psychopathic villain yet. One scene in particular is NOT for the faint of heart as Marsten really discovers who he is and the power he now yields.

Of course, Mark, Lauryn, and Megan are on a collision course with Marsten and his merry band of misfits with terrifying consequences. There are few moments of respite in this book and it makes for the quickest read out of all the AW books by far at this point because of that. Each moment acts as a springboard to the next with little fat in between.

You’ll love the Serenity Strain if you love great thrillers. In a very Dean Koontz-esque novel, Pourteau has given the Apocalypse Weird universe a wonderful and frightening tale.

Book Review – Reversal


Reversal_FT_FINALHow to describe Reversal?

Take a Clive Cussler sea thriller, add a Lee Child Reacher murder mystery, combine it with a creepy supernatural Dean Koontz story, shove in a little bit of Stephen King’s The Stand along with March of the Penguins, and you’ll be close. Jennifer Ellis has pulled off a remarkable book that keeps you guessing at every turn with a mixture of sci-fi, supernatural, and good ol’ fashioned thriller.

I first became familiar with Ellis when I read the time travel anthology Synchronic. Her story “The River” was a fascinating and out-of-the-box time travel tale. Lucky for us, Ellis took the same tack when it came to her first entry into the Apocalypse Weird universe. It would have been easy for her to destroy a major city like L.A. or New York, or even something more familiar to any reader, but instead she took on the North Pole.

No Santa Claus here, but instead we are talking about the magnetic north pole. Instead of zombies or autoimmune diseases, Ellis supplies her apocalypse with pole reversal, solar flares, super volcanoes and methane-venting craters. The death toll is probably lower than any of the other AW books (except for the penguins. RIP penguins…) but the carnage is implied as the reversal of the magnetic pole causes GPS systems to go haywire, and the environmental disasters involved could potentially devastate the entire planet for years to come.

Our hero is Sasha Wood, a researcher at the International Polar Research Station on Ellesmere Island. She’s there with a handful of other scientists, including the station caretaker Soren Anderson. The trouble starts on the second day of the story when everyone wakes up blind (a common event to each of the AW books). Ellis really paints the picture of the Blindness really well, amping up the tension in the first few chapters and never letting it slide.

And that was one of the things I liked best about Reversal. The book never gives you much rest. There are a few “down” times, but even in those moments, Ellis tosses in bits of important information that relate to the causes of the event, Soren’s complicated history, or more and more craziness that is bound to happen next.

All throughout the book, Sasha and Soren have to deal with problems unique to a polar expedition. Instead of taking a car on the highway, they must travel via snowmobiles. Instead of having dogs for pets, the dogs are important survival tools. The accuracy to real polar research is amazing and a nice touch.

I really can’t say enough about Reversal and I hope Ellis gets a chance to play around in her polar playground once again.

Book Review – Immunity


ImmunityCoverWhat if those experiencing the end times in the Apocalypse Weird stories could look at why it was happening? What if they were able to take a look at it all from a purely scientific basis and figure out what exactly was going on, and better yet – where it all originated?

That’s what we get in the form of E.E. Giorgi’s Immunity. We’ve seen the world get torn apart in Nick Cole’s The Red King, but in Immunity, we really take a look at why.

The story is told from the perspective of two protagonists – Dave, a computer specialist, and Anu, a genetic researcher. Together at a lab in a remote part of New Mexico, they work to solve the so-called “zombie flu.”

Being one of the first books written by someone besides Nick Cole, we find a different pace and a different style, and that is certainly welcome (and with Reversal and The Serenity Strain, we get two more diverse voices contributing to this crazy universe as well). Giorgi brings her background as a scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory into play with convincing results.

What I probably enjoyed the most was seeing this remote laboratory – supposedly far away from the reaches of the strange apocalyptic events around the rest of the world – getting “infected” during the Blindness that had its tentacles everywhere.

In the end, we find that the virus that is a threat to so many has its roots deep in Anu’s past, and she may hold the secret to unlocking the virus and its deadly effects.

I really enjoyed the book and look forward to seeing more out of Giorgi in the future. Well done!

Book Review – The Dark Knight


Dark nightWith his hand solely responsible for two of the Apocalypse Weird novels thus far, and half of another, it’s safe to say Nick Cole is guiding the direction of the AW stories. With The Dark Knight, Cole ups the ante even farther, introducing new characters we can’t help but root for, and a startling aspect that no one saw coming.

Out of the six AW novels complete so far, Cole’s The Dark Knight (releasing Monday, Feb. 23) is the first sequel in the ranks. Because of that, there is little stage setting for the main group of characters we met the first time out. But, Cole gives us a new character – literally the title character of Cory, who goes as Batman (or The Dark Knight). I’ll come back to him in a moment. The sequel gives Cole a lot of freedom to push the boundaries of his existing characters (which he wasn’t afraid to do back in The Red King anyway) as well as smash the expectations of a sophomore effort.

Back in TRK, Cole gave us the shady figure of Holiday, along with the steady Frank, and the mysterious Ashley. By the end of the book, we find Holiday refusing to accept reality, diving back into his drunken ways, and almost killing his friends along the way. In his wanderings, he finds new survivors and brings them back (and they’ve got their own issues and mysteries as well), but Frank swears Holiday off. The two men who depended on each other and survived due to that trust are done. Frank will not give Holiday any measure of trust, no matter what Holiday does to try to become the hero the group deserves.

While that is playing out, we wander outside of Frank’s newly-built castle and meet Cory. Cory is special. Cole doesn’t ever say what it is that makes Cory special – Down’s Syndrome, Fragile X, or whatever – but it’s clear a person like Cory wouldn’t survive long in a post-apocalyptic world without help. So where has he been the past few weeks as zombies terrorized the city? That’s a twist I’m not going to share, but suffice it to say, I didn’t see it coming. It adds an entirely new dimension for the AW world to explore and I loved it.

Cory is searching for his father, a police officer, who inspired Cory to become Batman, costume and all. Whether searching for diabetic supplies for his neighbor at the nearby pharmacy, or trying to survive a world gone mad, Cory’s safety and security lies in his alter-ego.

I am Batman.

I am the Night.

Cory becomes the Night and survives the horrors of Apocalypse Weird, only to be discovered by Ashley, setting up some potentially exciting scenes in Cole’s third book, already named The Lost Castle.

There is a great story in this book, but at the same time, Cole is teasing us. He is setting the chess board. The titles aren’t coincidental – The Red KING, The Dark KNIGHT, The Lost CASTLE (otherwise known as a ROOK). Cole has a master plan up his sleeve and isn’t willing to tip his hand just yet. There are more moves to be made, some by him, perhaps some by other writers.  I can’t wait for the third book, and frankly every book to be put out under the AW banner in the future. The world is being destroyed and I’m having a great time in the process.

Book Review – Texocalypse Now


A few weeks ago, I had my first taste of the wave of Apocalypse Weird novels to be released next week in the form of Nick Cole and Michael Bunker’s Texocalypse Now. The book has some great moments and sets up a lot, but I was really unprepared for the quality of stories I would find in the other three AW stories not written by Cole or Bunker. The following is my review for TN, but over the next few days I’ll share reviews for Jennifer Ellis’ Reversal, E.E. Giorgi’s Immunity, and Chris Pourteau’s The Serenity Strain in addition to my thoughts on the first sequel in the AW Universe — Nick Cole’s The Dark Knight. 

tex nowThere have been some early comparisons between the Apocalypse Weird series and the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Most of us are familiar with how Marvel is expanding their comic books with tales on the Silver Screen in the form of Iron Man, Captain America, The Avengers, and Guardians of the Galaxy. While that familiarity may not be present in the Apocalypse Weird series, the analogy is appropriate nonetheless, especially when it comes to the Nick Cole/Michael Bunker novel, Texocalypse Now. And that familiarity will come in time if the quality of the stories in AW continues like it does in this novel.

A huge part of constructing the Marvel movies is telling an engaging story while advancing potential threads that can branch off into different plotlines for future movies. For example, Captain America’s shield was seen in Tony Stark’s lab in Iron Man 2 and Thanos was seen in a post-credits scene of The Avengers – both of which helped to set up future stories and villains.

I don’t think many would say The Avengers didn’t deliver as a stand-alone movie, yet it laid the groundwork for potentially dozens of future movies. That’s because Marvel went in with a plan and made sure certain threads were maintained and manicured throughout the editing process.

The same is true of Texocalypse Now. After The Red King, it serves as one of the next in a wave of AW stories to be released in February, and by being in that wave, it needs to serve two functions – be a wicked-awesome story (check), and further the overall mythology of AW (check).

We’ll get back to the overall mythos in a bit, but let’s take a look at what Cole and Bunker did here.

It’s an apocalypse story, so we need at least one apocalyptic event, and the authors take care of that with the Blindness — a moment when the entire world went dark, causing madness in most people. Combine that with zombie hordes who scour the earth after taking the weight-loss drug, Slenderex, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster and Mad Max-type scenarios.

In the wake of this, a family comes together. Not one of blood, but of circumstance, that has a bond forged by violence. To save themselves, they turn to a series of tunnels under the ground — tunnels put there years before for a different purpose (which is a fascinating side story that deserves a book of its own). As the book progresses, the action ramps up, powered by an evil figure: Mayhem.

Even as all of this happens, Cole and Bunker make sure to plant seeds for future installments of Apocalypse Weird books. Not all of those seeds are blatantly obvious, but just like in the Marvel Universe, they are important and play a key role in the proceedings.

Texocalypse Now stands perfectly on its own and is an exciting, powerful book. But, when you look at it as part of the AW series, it works tremendously well and will be an important book to read for anyone interested in the Apocalypse Weird novels. I thoroughly enjoyed the Cole-Bunker collaboration and hope to see more from the two in the future.

Author Interview – Chris Pourteau


Yesterday, I had an interview with Apocalypse Weird writer Jennifer Ellis, author of the amazing polar apocalyptic tale, Reversal. Another one of the AW stories to be unleashed next week is Chris Pourteau’s incredible book The Serenity Strain. Just like with Reversal, I felt like I was on the ground with the characters, living their lives with them for better or for worse (usually worse). There are a lot of great things to like about The Serenity Strain. I highly recommend it. To talk about the book and his experience in indie publishing as well as AW, here is Chris Pourteau:

WS: First off, give us a short background about who Chris Pourteau is and your career thus far.

CP: Well, I’ve been a technical writer and editor for the past 20+ years at the Texas A&M Transportation Institute (TTI). I started working there after I finished my master’s degree in English at Texas A&M and, you know, needed a job. TTI is the dayjob that pays for my fiction writing in my spare time. In Sept. 2013, I indie-published my first novel, Shadows Burned In (SBI). Short of the technical aspects of putting it up on Amazon, I had no idea what I was doing. Like many first-time indie authors, I think I had it in my head: “OK, here’s the opportunity to show the world what the traditional publishing world was too stupid to see.” So I put it out there and waited. And waited. And waited. Lightning did not strike. I was not declared the next Great American Author. What a pisser, right?

But that turned out to be a good thing. The best thing that’s happened to me in the last year and a half is that I got plugged into the independent publishing community and met great folks like Nick Cole, Michael Bunker, Jennifer Ellis, Hank Garner, and yourself, all of whom seem determined to help one another out. What a concept! So, in retrospect, I’m glad SBI didn’t take off. Quick success might’ve robbed me of getting to know, and coming to rely on, my fellow indie authors. Every one I’ve met has been generous and helpful to me in my quest to become a successful fiction writer. And whenever I can, I take the opportunity to pay forward the kindness to others who are just entering the world of independent publishing. I’m a big believer in karma, and that if you put good out into the world, it’ll come back to you.

tssWS: How did your involvement in AW come about?

CP: I met Michael about a year and a half ago via Nick Cole’s Facebook page. Michael’s a fellow Texan and we share the same barbed sense of humor, so we hit it off pretty quickly. I did the standard “new author” thing of “Hey, would you read my book?” So Michael read SBI and liked it, and I wrote some fan fiction in his world of Pennsylvania, and he loved that. So he invited me onboard AW.

WS: What inspired your story The Serenity Strain?

CP: Back in September, Nick asked for a pitch. I gave him one, he liked it, and he assigned me a deadline of mid-December for my novel. I was horrified. I’d written SBI back in 2000 or so, shelved it due to disinterest from the traditional-publishing establishment, picked it back up in 2013, reworked it several times . . . well, as you can see, publishing SBI wasn’t a fast process. So the idea of banging out a full-blown novel in a couple of months was very daunting. (Nick can knock out a Hemingwayesque classic over a weekend in Sausalito… 😉 ) Plus, I was in the middle of producing Tales from Pennsylvania, a short story collection set in Bunker’s world of Pennsylvania, and my second Pennsylvania fanfic novella, Susquehanna. So I didn’t even get started on TSS until mid-October. I even remember PM’ing Nick and telling him, “I’m gonna bust my ass for you, but prepare for me to blow past your deadline, man.” He was totally cool about it, though.

So, I had very little time, in my book (heh), to produce a quality novel. To save time, I decided to go with what I knew (the old writer’s mantra, right?).

  1. I’ve lived on the Gulf Coast all my life, so multiple hurricanes seemed natural apocalyptic fare to use;
  2. I set the novel in North Houston, a region I know very well;
  3. The concept of a demon who unleashes appetite-driven inhibitions was very appealing to me. I’m a licensed professional counselor [LPC], so understanding Freudian psychology is part of my DNA;
  4. The 3-part, 7-chapter organization I’d used in SBI gave me some structural reassurance amidst the “crap! I have to do this in two months!” feeling;
  5. And last, but certainly not least, I’ve been through the pain of divorce, so it wasn’t hard to plug into those feelings for my main characters.

All those elements became my essential equation for TSS. And, by the way, I was only a week off Nick’s schedule in bringing the novel in, so I was kinda proud of (more or less) making his deadline.

WS: Do you think this was easier because you did Pennsylvania fan fiction? Why?

CP: Absolutely. Michael Bunker liked SBI, and that was very gratifying. But he was really enthusiastic about my writing after he read Gettysburg, and he had a similar reaction to Susquehanna, as did Nick to both novellas. I think those two pieces, plus co-helming Tales, showed them both I could write well enough and be organized and reliable about it.

WS: I really liked the nonstop thriller aspect. From what I can tell, you had four distinct storylines that intersected here and there, eventually coalescing in the final scenes of the book. Talk about the challenge of writing a multi-strand book and making sure all the chess pieces end up at the right place.

CP: Thanks! You know, I don’t think a lot about the plotting while I’m writing. For me, the story is all about characters and how the circumstances of the story make them into the people the reader comes to know, if that makes sense. In TSS, a couple of my “heroes” aren’t very likable people at first. But black and white hats bore me. Sometimes life has a way of forcing us to step up, and that’s what I try to remember when writing characters. I want to write about complex people who aren’t perfect but who, at the end of the day, find it within themselves to reach for nobility, usually through an act of self-sacrifice. That appreciation for the journey of self-awareness and self-actualization probably comes from the same place that drove me to become an LPC.

Having said that, I did a lot of outlining for each section of TSS before I started writing. Again, I was writing a lot and fast, so I needed to give myself direction. (I’m pretty anal retentive—if I don’t have a plan, I’ll just stare at a blinking cursory with no idea what to do; I’m not good at improv.) I basically wrote an extended story arc for each of the three sections before I started them, so I could aim at a target. I don’t want to give too much away, so I’ll keep it general, but I knew the basic plot—family in crisis crosses paths with the evil characters in the book—who the Big Bad Boss was gonna be, and how she’d enlist the lesser bad guys in the novel.

Beyond that, I relied on my section outline to give me general direction, with the actual plot details coming about as I wrote. I guess the (too late) short answer is, for me as a writer, plotting is organic and derives from characters and their motivations. I know it’s not that way for everyone. But a general idea of where I’m going with the story is absolutely necessary to my going anywhere with it. 😉

WS: What other books were influential in what you put into this book?

CP: I tell anyone who will listen—Nick Cole’s The Old Man and the Wasteland is a modern classic of dystopian fiction. Someday (if they aren’t already), people are going to hold that up as one of the turning point works for independent publishing demonstrating how, quality wise, it could compete with traditionally published works. At its heart, Nick’s book is a “journey story” of self-discovery and adventure, like its namesake, Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. I’d also call out King’s The Stand or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Twain is also an author-hero of mine) as examples of that kind of story. Combine that journey/adventure-of-self-discovery model with the psychological grotesquery in Poe’s tales and the “normal guy next door thrown into a horrific situation” of King, and I think that pretty well defines my approach in TSS.

WS: What’s it been like being a part of the initial AW team?

CP: Awesome! I’d also make this point more generally about the indie-publishing community, but it’s certainly true of AW—we aren’t just a bunch of authors working on a common project. We’re a team—and here’s a quick example. When I was trying to figure out how the Serenity Virus would work, I did what all writers do these days—I Googled. But I couldn’t make heads or tails of some of the research—it’s complex stuff! Then I became Facebook friends with E.E. Giorgi and, within a week, found out she does HIV research. Wow! A real-live scientist! So, via Facebook, I reached out to her (she didn’t really know me from Adam) to help me figure out how Serenity might work, if it were real. She reached right back and was very generous with her time and expertise in doing that.

That’s very indicative of how everyone has worked together in AW. I do the same for the other authors, when they ask. I have over 20 years’ professional editing experience, so while AW has its own awesome in-house editor, Ellen Campbell, she doesn’t have time to answer every grammatical question that pops up. So if someone reaches out for that, I do the best I can for them. AW has been (and continues to be) a wonderful example of—as Nick calls it—a Community Created Bookverse, where authors, graphic designers, marketing experts, and all-around good people come together to help lift one another up and produce excellent works of speculative fiction. I’m honored and damned lucky to be a part of this group. I will now lead you in a chorus of Kumbaya 😉

WS: How about that M.S. Corley cover?

CP: Yeah, how about that!? Mike did a great job of individualizing each cover for the 5 launch books but making them obvious members of a family of AW works. Working with him was awesome. He asked for ideas for important characters/stuff to include, then gave me a sketch (which was pretty much on target). Then we refined the sketch together, and he added color and finalized it. It was seamless, painless, and he was very open to my suggestions as the writer. I recommend Mike very highly. A great guy and a very talented artist!

WS: Any hints on your next book?

CP: I’m actually working on two short stories at the moment—one for David Gatewood’s The Tinfoil Tales, one for Sam Peralta’s Dragon Chronicles—both due around March 1. I’ve outlined my third B Company tale, Columbia, which continues the story begun in Gettysburg and Susquehanna. Writing that will take me through March. After that, we’ll see. I have a futuristic/sci-fi/dystopian story idea about an over-the-hill mob enforcer who becomes the target of his own employer, and I’m anxious to pursue that. And I have a couple of what I think are unique ideas for short story anthologies I’d like to helm. Plus, hopefully TSS will be successful, and Michael and Nick will be knocking on my door to write the sequel. 😉 The immediate future is packed with projects, and that’s a good problem to have.

WS: Last thing…besides your book, what is your favorite AW book?

CP: Oh, besides mine? 😉 I’ll be honest, I’ve only read (to date) The Red King, Reversal, and Immunity. ALL of them are excellent. It’s like asking me: Stephen King, Robert Ludlum, or Bernard Cornwell—which is the better author? Well, they’re all great…but different. And that’s what I’d say about the AW novels. We all have different styles and different approaches to our stories, but each has its strengths and “great moments.” So, I’d say, read ’em for yourself…and you make the call.