Book Review – Night Shadow by B.K. Bass

2019 was the last time the world was normal. Our president was loud-mouthed idiot, but we’d learned to make fun of him, everyone was still working in offices, and we didn’t have to wear masks everywhere or listen to mouth-breathers explain how vaccines turned us into mindless robots with 5g connectivity. Covid was lurking, but it was still in the shadows, and we all had heady expectations of 2020 being a great year instead of the massive cluster-fuck it turned out to be.

2019 was also the year I got to read B.K. Bass’s first entry in his Night Trilogy – Night Shift. It was a novella focused on taking a traditional hard-boiled detective and dropping him into a cyberpunk reality with all the fun gritty nastiness one would expect from such a mashup. Early 2020 saw the release of part two – Night Life – where the antes were upped and nastiness got, uh, nastinesser. Nastierness. Let’s just call it a good time in a city that likes to eat people.

Now 2021 is grinding to a halt and sharpening its claws for one last dig into our throats, but at least we’ve got the conclusion of Bass’s trilogy – Night Shadow.

Night Shadow finishes the adventures of Harold Jacobson, now on the run and hiding out while he plots his revenge. The world has other plans for him, though, and Harold finds himself stuck in the middle of fiery revolution that will leave the city quietly sobbing to itself in the corner. Being the badass that he is, ol’ Harold will find a way to use the revolt to his own gains.

While the first two books in the series focused on corruption growing like a cancer in the shadows, Night Shadow lets the cancer loose on an unsuspecting city. My guess would be Night Shadow was heavily influenced by the events of summer 2020 (see, there was a reason I was talking about last year). 2020 was the year the United States exploded. Too much pressure, too much uncertainty, and way too much fear and loathing. Bass manages to capture that powder keg atmosphere in Night Shadow and isn’t afraid to let it loose.

It could be argued that there’s a certain meta-ness to the story. A hint that while the revolution is of the people and for the people, there are plenty of folks out there who, for better or worse, have no qualms about using the chaos to their ends. The final entry in the Night trilogy is bigger and badder than the first two and takes us in an unexpected direction. It still feels like part of the trilogy, though, and that’s no mean feat to pull off.

Taken as a collection, it could be argued that there was a certain prescience in the trilogy. All the corruption and violence of the first two books only served to increase the pressure until an explosion was inevitable. The ethical quandaries of exploiting the explosion aside, the only question left to ask is whether Harold did the right thing for all the wrong reasons or the wrong thing for all the right reasons.

And questions like that are what cyberpunk/detective-noir mashups are all about.

New Angeles is in turmoil.

The government, the corporations, and the organized crime families have the city in an iron grip. As that grip tightens, the people decide they will not take it anymore. When the citizens rise up and the city burns, Harold sees an opportunity to exploit the chaos.

But is his crusade one of justice, or vengeance?

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Book Review – The Evening Lands by C.L. Spillard

Some people get guardian angels. Others get guardian devils.

That’s a key element in The Evening Lands, a philosophical masterpiece from Dr. C.L. Spillard. Evil isn’t necessarily something we are, it’s something we do. So, even though Mills is a guardian devil, he has something of a close relationship with Verity Player, a woman who’s outplayed him in the past. This interplay between human and devil is at the heart of Dr. Spillard’s deep dive into the nature of evil.

It’s not the entire plot, but it’s a key portion of the plot. The basic plot is in the blurb below. Anyone who’s read this blog for a while now knows a couple of things about my reviews. Notably, I very rarely regurgitate the plot – this a book review not a book report. I also won’t review a book I didn’t enjoy. If you want to read negative reviews of books check Amazon, there’s always someone who didn’t like a book and wants the world to know about it.

While I very rarely discuss plots, the subplot of Mills and Verity is an import piece to understanding a book that sometimes reads like a dream. That’s not a bad thing. We need more books that read like dreams and we need more tales where not everything is laid out in easy-to-digest chunks. Sometimes pondering a portion of a book is a good thing. It makes us think through things the author wants us to think through.

The Evening Lands isn’t a completely traditional book. The important elements aren’t necessarily the things happening in the foreground; they’re the parts happening in the background. The vague shapes lurking in the shadows, ready to leap out at you. It’s also one of the rare books where the plot is moved along largely through dialog rather than traditional narrative.

It is, in a word, brilliant.

It’s an easy book to read, but it’s not an easy book to get, at least not to squeeze the important parts out of it. But much like climbing a mountain, the view from the top makes it all worth it. If you’ve ever seen black box theater with all of its intimacy and grandiose nuance, you’ll recognize what The Evening Lands feels like.

Dr. Spillard is asking big questions here. What is evil? At what point does regular dickishness tip over into bald-faced evil? Fortunately, she’s not shy about providing some answers. She’s also not shy about poking the United States in the eye because, let’s face it, we in the US are full-on into dickishness and it would take just a nudge to push us face-first into evil.

Her guardian Devil plans to drive the world mad through fear—the fear on which he feeds. Verity needs allies—and fast. She crosses the ocean to meet The Professor and agrees to participate in his gruesome, dangerous experiment into the nature of Evil, hoping that in return he will use his knowledge to help her.
She never expects him to hold her captive and threaten to destroy her mind!
Can Verity escape The Professor’s lab and save the world from the wrath of her Guardian Devil?

Get your copy on Amazon

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WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

This post might piss a few people off, but fuck it; here goes.

Robert E. Lee was a vicious bastard. In a world of slave owners, he reveled in cruelty. And yet, for some reason, there was a 12 ton statue of him in Richmond, VA. The question of whether or not he was a great general is debatable, but the question of whether or not he was a decent person is crystal clear.

Now, before we get too deep into the weeds, remember something: I’m not calling you a racist. So put down the pitchforks and torches and listen for a moment.

Lee has been lionized by history as a great man, a scholar, a gentleman, and a war hero. But the simple fact of the matter is he was a traitor to the country, a slave-owner, and an avid believer in the racist treacle he espoused. To sum it up: he genuinely felt blacks were not smart enough to take care of themselves. And for this he got a statue.

That big ol’ honkin’ statue of Lee astride his horse was erected in 1890, not long after the US Civil War and a time when the South was still licking its wounds and referring to the war as “The War of Northern Aggression”. They’d been hurt badly, stomped into the ground by Grant’s larger and better outfitted armies and Sherman’s march to the sea. The Confederacy was smashed and dragged kicking and screaming back into the United States where it’s continued to be a thorn in our side.

Last summer, after Derek Chavin – bastard and murderer – knelt on the neck of George Floyd for nine minutes, people had enough. The statue of Lee was graffiti tagged eight ways to Sunday and calls to remove a memorial to white supremacy were renewed. In a similar vein, the statue of Juan De Oñate, another brutal murderer and general bastard, was removed from Old Town in Albuquerque, NM. It’s almost as if the country is waking up and looking at the past without the rose-tinted glasses we were handed in elementary school.

And what went up in place of Lee’s statue? Nothing for now. But just a couple of miles from Lee’s old statue a monument honoring abolition was erected. Now, you tell me which is better for a country that has right in its Declaration of Independence the phrase “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”? A monument to white supremacy and failed insurrection or a monument to actually trying to live up to the words we like to say?

You may now pick your pitchforks and torches back up. The comments section is below.

Read the article here

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are: Susan Scott and yours truly.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~
1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).
2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.
3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.
4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.
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Your Author Website And You

Web design is one of those things I never could completely wrap my head around. I’m decent at print design, bordering on good when the right inspiration strikes, but I suck at web design. Which is kind of odd since I’ve been a graphic designer and I am a programmer. You’d think that mesh of skills would work, but whenever I start designing website, I fall back to the mid 90s and start throwing animated gifs at the screen until it looks like Homer’s site.

I honestly miss the flying toaster screensaver. Or screensavers in general.

Fortunately for me, there are skilled and qualified folks out there who create site templates and sell them. Then, I can leverage my programming skills to modify the raw code until it’s more to my liking. Add in a purchased URL and an AWS S3 bucket and I’m good to go.

In case you’re wondering, my author website is here: http://ericlahti.com

Why no www? Because I hate www, that’s why. If the world wide web consortium had been on the ball, they would have standardized on web instead of www. One syllable instead of nine. Talk about a cost savings. Also, the www isn’t technically necessary. www is supposed to indicate a website in a DNS name, just like mail indicates incoming mail, either POP3 or IMAP and smtp indicates outgoing mail. See what kinds of interesting but useless bits of trivia you learn when you hang out here?

Anyway, websites.

Like I said, I’m crap at designing them. I’d much rather be lurking in the back-end of the server space setting up databases and service code. But the fact of the matter is, any author should have a website. Fortunately, it’s a hell of lot easier to get one up and running than it used to be. About ten years ago, all sites were custom-coded html and css hosted on a fly-by-night hosting service run out of some backwater. Hosting was expensive and painful to set up. So much so, that I finally got frustrated at one point and set up my own server and hosted my site straight out of my house.

Nowadays, you’ve got AWS, Azure, and whole host of cheap, effective hosting systems that are easy to set up and maintain and don’t require you to build a server and do a whole lot of port forwarding on your local router.

I have no idea what this is supposed to prove, but it’s apparently a firewall gif.

Or, you can go the easier route and use a company like Wix or WordPress that not only have slick interfaces for building your site, but will host it for you, too. Often for free. Don’t worry, they get their money by putting ads up on your site, so they’re not going to go hungry.

If we break down the pros and cons of each type, you’ll find there is no clear answer. Wix and WordPress are free and have snazzy tools for design, but you’re limited by what they make available. AWS and a custom site aren’t free and take more time to implement, but you can do exactly what you want to do. The choice is yours.

But all this stuff begs a question: What the hell is an author website and why do you need one? We’ve got Twitter and Facebook and blogs and Instagram and all these other places that you can get information out to people with. Why a website?

Aside from the simple fact that you can put whatever you feel like on your website without worrying about character counts or getting lost in the maelstrom, your author website is your home. It’s likely going to be the first thing people come across when they look for their new favorite author. (What’s that website address again? That’s right: http://ericlahti.com. So much awesome.) It allows you to brand yourself, display your wares, drop the occasional free short story, set up mailing lists, list all your social media, market yourself, tell the media how to contact you, and is a perfect place to drop that dancing Jesus gif.

Never gets old

Ingram Spark, who knows a lot about these things, put together a nice list of what to include on your author page. Check it out here: https://www.ingramspark.com/blog/what-should-i-put-on-my-author-website. Then go check out what other authors are doing. Kinda feel like I’m beating a dead horse here, but…http://ericlahti.com is a nice place to check out with lots of cool images and very few pictures of Lahti himself.

I reached out to the writing community on Twitter to get some samples of sites to check out. You’ll soon find out there is no standard template of what to do or how to do it, but there are some good ideas to pilfer borrow for your own site. Just remember to set aside some time. An author site requires a lot of work to set up and should have the same level of polish as your latest novel.

Casey Kimberly’s blog: https://caseykimberly.wordpress.com/

R.A. McCandless’s site: https://www.ramccandless.com/

Rowena Tisdale’s site: http://rowenatisdale.com/

Damyanti Biswas’s site: https://www.damyantiwrites.com/

DK Marie’s site: https://dkmarie.com/

Ryen Lesli’s site: https://ryenlesli.com/

Robert People’s site: https://robertpeople.com/

Peggy Sue Perry’s site: https://dragons4me3.com/

Nancy E. Dunne’s site: https://nancyedunne.com/

Eric Lewis’s site: https://ericlewis.ink/

In researching this, I found there’s a lot of technical elements to setting up an author presence. Getting hosting, buying domain names, stuff like that. Over the coming weeks, this blog will be taking a deep dive into the technical abyss to better explain what things like DNS, SEO, AWS, and so on are. Don’t worry, I’m a professional; it won’t be overly confusing or boring, and you might just get some useful information out of it.

#WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

Remember Rick Perry? The dumbass who wanted to shut down the Department of Energy because he thought all they did was study alternative forms of energy like hippie solar panels and liberal windmills. The same guy went on to become Secretary of Energy and therefore in charge of the Department of Energy where he hopefully learned that the DOE is in charge of all things nuclear, including the fun stuff that makes the big ol’ kaboomies.

The DOE actually does do a lot of stuff; it’s not just a bunch of people playing with nuclear weapons. To be fair to Rick, they do research into alternative means of energy – it is part of their charter to do energy-related research among other things – it’s just not all they do. But, contrary to popular belief, there is no liberal conspiracy running wild at the DOE to take away your car and make you ride bicycles everywhere. There is, however, a deep desire in the DOE to make sure that nuclear weapons don’t go off unexpectedly, nuclear reactors keep reacting correctly, and no one makes off with enough fissile material to level the Eastern seaboard.

See, energy production and use is big-time national security stuff. Any time you have to do business with people who don’t really care for you, you’re running the risk that someday the other shoe will drop and your supply of sweet, sweet crude will dry up. That’s in addition to the environmental hazards of things like internal combustion engines and the looming threat of simply running out of things to burn for fuel. Bottom line: Traditional energy mechanisms are outdated and dying off and something has to give or we’re all gonna be walking everywhere.

So, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the Department of Energy has set up a fund to help support scientific innovation and energy research in the civilian corporate arena. They’re doling out $127 million in Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfers to see if they can get corporate American to help bring government breakthroughs to market. Yes, you read that correctly: Breakthroughs that happen in government-funded research are being handed off to small businesses along with a check and a request to turn those breakthroughs into viable products.

In case you’re wondering, my idea of strapping a piece of buttered toast to a cat’s back and then dropping the cat has NOT been approved. Since toast always lands buttered side down and cats always land on their feet, there’s no way either could ever touch the ground and the resultant spinning in space could be tapped for endless energy. I guess it’s just too advanced a project for some people. Study it out, eggheads!

At some point, advanced government research will trickle down into day-to-day life. Maybe it’ll be cheaper electricity, more efficient solar panels, or a Texas power grid that can sustain the pressure of being used. So, the next time some knuckle-dragging dirthead screams about shutting down the Department of Energy, kindly remind them that the DOE a) has nuclear weapons and b) does some important stuff that can directly impact you in a good way.

Anyway, if you’d like to read the original brief article, you can find it here.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are: Sylvia McGrath and Belinda Witzenhausen

~~~GUIDELINES~~~
1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).
2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.
3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.
4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.
5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.
6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.
This is a Blog Hop!
Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now, your moment of Zen:

Book Review – Owl Eyes Motel by Barbara Avon

No matter what that huckster on late night TV claims, no one actually knows what happens to you when you die. Yeah, yeah, yeah, bright lights and a sensation of floating. Maybe some angels doing angel stuff or some devils shooting dice in an alley. When my dad died, I had a dream where he had managed to get a message to me that basically said the afterlife was a place to unlearn all the bad shit we’d done in life. An anti-college, if you will, where forgetting was the key. Probably no raging keggers, either. So, kind of like going to Oral Roberts U.

Personally, I think it’ll be different for everyone and I’m hoping somehow or another drag racing factors into the afterlife equation. Not because I’m good at drag racing or have even ever drag raced, it just seems like it would be fun and if you’re already dead it’s not like drag racing accidents could make you even more dead. Plus, I’m sure dragsters in the afterlife would be bumpin’ AF.

Owl Eyes Motel, the latest work from multi-genre author Barbara Avon, does not have any drag racing in it. But that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. What the motel does offer is a full service afterlife experience including clean rooms, an experienced staff, and an on-site psychotherapist. Think of it as a stopover on the road between life and death where you can wash up, relax, and get excellent room service. Which, if you think about, is almost as good as drag racing and significantly quieter. And, when you realize that most of the people in the Owl Eyes don’t realize they’re dead, the place makes even more sense. It also explains the lack of drag racing since the recently deceased suck at driving. But don’t let anyone know I told you that; it’s a secret.

It would have been easy to simply tell a story about each guest’s death whether untimely or expected and call it good. Drop a little morality play in there and you’ve got comedy gold. But Avon took it a bit further and even though most of the stories center around a single person’s death, the novella as a whole revolves around the hotel itself. While individual deaths could be interesting for a while, even spinning yarns about people managing to run themselves over while back out of their driveways can get old. But hints of history and purpose about a stopover point for the newly dead that includes a breakfast buffet and nightly lounge acts? That’s cool stuff right there.

Avon writes with a certain glee, not necessarily happy that people are dead, but rather a tone that she appreciates her words and wants them to live and breathe. While the subject matter may vacillate from melancholy joy to crushing sorrow, the words – and the characters they represent – hop off the page to tell you their tales. In this collection, Avon is the thrilling narrator, but the stories all belong to the characters.

All in all, a good weekend read that doesn’t get bogged down with its subject matter. I’m not sure I’d fully classify as horror because horror doesn’t carry your luggage or provide room service, but it’s an excellent musing on life, death, and what comes beyond those things.

Get your copy on Amazon

The year is 1985, and there’s a storm brewing. It’s the kind that forces even the derelicts to retreat to their gutters. Each room is its own unique story; each chapter, a room. Check in at Owl Eyes and stay a spell, won’t you? There’s always room for the dead.

“Come in! Come in! Welcome to the Owl Eyes Motel. My name is Milton and I am the owner of this fine establishment, situated on Route Number 666. That’s six-hundred and sixty-six. Owl Eyes offers impeccable service. There is no lack of creature comforts at this here motel. At Owl Eyes, we pride ourselves on our attention to detail. Management kindly reminds you that we are not responsible for lost luggage…or souls.”

*Some scenes depict dark and sensitive themes.

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Book Review – The Cauldron by Sirren Rossi

This was a departure from my normal reading fare, which is kind of odd if I stop to think about it. The Cauldron is billed as sci-fi erotica, erotic sci-fi, and sci-fi romance. All good-hearted people love sci-fi and most people can dig on erotica when the mood strikes. Yet, somehow or another this was a story I wouldn’t have sought out. But you meet other authors on Twitter, someone asks nicely for a review, and, well, the rest is history.

Long story short: I really enjoyed this story.

Now, for those of you who don’t think you can intertwine erotica and sci-fi, I’d suggest a little-known book called Altered Carbon, which contains more sex than the average Game of Thrones episode and without the ritual beheading at the end. Sex and sci-fi can play nice with each other if the author has a solid handle on both genres and understands how to intertwine them for the best effect. That doesn’t necessarily mean busting out the R-4310 Orgasmatron, either. It means linking science fiction – the best examples of which are about people not tools – and erotica – again, people not tools. Not saying there’s no room for the R-4310 Orgasmatron in erotic sci-fi, just that the story shouldn’t be solely about advanced sex technology.

So, enter Sirren Rossi, an author who gets that good stories, no matter the genre, always come down to people. And the people in this case largely revolve around one Commander Scirocco Piers who starts the story doing a little sex therapy for a crewmate and ends up showing a softer side of herself spending time with a friend. After fighting off an alien ship with all the gusto of a Klingon yelling, “Perhaps today is a good day to die.”

Ostensibly, The Cauldron is part one of a series and the novella does a good job of leaving us wanting more. It wraps up its own plotline nicely, but teases that’s there’s much more to the story than we’ve seen so far. One would hope Rossi is working on a sequel that will answer some of the underlying questions left behind as well as provide another opportunity to let Commander Scirocco spread her wings and fly a little further into the manic wonderland The Cauldron is setting up.

As an added bonus, like all good sci-fi, this one comes with detailed pictures of the ships involved. It’s like a bit of sex, a lot of action, and some cool nerding out to spaceship porn at the end. Everything you really need in one tight, taut, story about aliens, sex, and interstellar naval battles.

It is the 24th century. Deep in unexplored space lays the uncharted star system GS-104. The Terran Alliance starship ‘Lightning’ – a long range scout vessel – is tasked with surveying this far-flung system for potential colonization. The ‘Lightning’s’ Chief Intelligence Officer – Commander Scirocco Piers – part spy, part officer, and part sex therapist – expects another routine mission.

What she does not expect is that the Lightning will encounter an alien ship from a rival galactic empire – and that the ship will break a long-standing treaty and attack – stealing secrets vital to Terran security across known space.

Now, Scirocco is called upon to use her many and varied skills to attempt to retrieve the stolen secrets and prevent the enemy from getting away with them and putting the whole of the Terran Alliance at risk – all without starting a war.

But with her captain dead and her plans falling apart, Scirocco is faced with challenge after challenge – on the alien ship, on her own ship’s bridge, and in bed – forced to test all her skills with the fate of two empires hanging in the balance.

Can she find it in her heart to be what she must be and do what must be done?

Get your copy on Amazon

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WATWB – Your Monthly Shot of News That Doesn’t Suck

Things is getting better. Cops are rescuing kittens from rush hour traffic, the former record for tallest stack of M&Ms has been broken, and more than 7000 schools are now solar powered. Also, Rudy Giuliani lost his license to practice law in New York, but that’s a whole other story.

Despite all the good news of the day, this is gonna be a short post. Despite the fact that Guinness Book of World Records has seen yet another record smashed, I think it’s best to focus on the gorilla in the room: Solar power. Now, the fact that 7000 schools in the US are going solar sounds really cool – and it is! – but they account for a tiny percentage of total schools, something like 5.5% of the total schools in the country. But it’s a start. Just like the biggest stack of M&Ms in the world started with only two pieces of candy, a switchover to renewable energy – which has huge implications even at the national security level – will start a bit at a time. Eventually, we’ll hit a tipping point and the amount of energy we dig out of the ground at ever-increasing expense will be replaced with panels you strap to your roof. Given the amount of all-electric vehicles I’ve seen lately, that can only be a good thing.

Read the full story here and feel free to slag me for being a liberal tree-hugger in the comments.

If you’d like to connect your blog and help spread a little joy (or snark, like I do), it’s easy to sign up. Just ask and ye shall receive. Or go check it out here: here.

Our lovely and talented hosts this month are: Sylvia McGrath and Belinda Witzenhausen.

~~~GUIDELINES~~~
1. Keep your post to below 500 words, as much as possible. (Wow, I totally missed that mark this time around).
2. All we ask is you link to a human news story on your blog on the last Friday of each month, one that shows love, humanity and brotherhood.
3. Join us on the last Friday of each month in sharing news that warms the cockles of our heart. No story is too big or small, as long as it goes beyond religion and politics, into the core of humanity.
4. Place the WE ARE THE WORLD Badge on your sidebar, and help us spread the word on social media. Tweets, Facebook shares, G+ shares using the #WATWB hashtag through the month most welcome. More Blogfest signups mean more friends, love and light for all of us.
5. We’ll read and comment on each others’ posts, get to know each other better, and hopefully, make or renew some friendships with everyone who signs on as participants in the coming months.
6. To sign up, add your link in WE ARE THE WORLD Linky List below.
This is a Blog Hop!
Click here to enter your link and view this Linky Tools list…

And now, your moment of Zen:

5. The tallest stack of M&Ms is 5 candies.

Book Review – The Devil’s Valley by DM Shepard

Back in May of 2020, I reviewed a great novel by DM Shepard – The Dark Land. Even though 2020 felt like it lasted twenty years, that was only a little over a year ago. The Dark Land was a horror novel set in that arctic hellscape we like to call Alaska – a place where the mosquitos are organized and voracious, it snows in July, and vampires stalk the long night to feast on the blood of the living. No. Wait. That last bit was the plot to 30 Days of Night, a movie which, um, had vampires in it.

Anyway, rather than rely on the trope of vampires as the prevailing monsters, Shepard did her research and found Alaska was already populated with far worse monsters than a 19th century gentleman in Ireland could come up with. Rather than sucking the blood out of victims and making women pine away for the vampire’s gaze, Shepard’s Tailed Men played soccer with human heads and turned women into zombie sex slaves. Perhaps the gentry of 19th century Europe found rejecting the church and drinking blood to be oh so gauche, something only the lower classes would do, while a gentleman was expected to avoid such tawdry things.

Alaska has a long and rich heritage of people living there for millennia. These were tough SOBs who would probably say, “Drinks blood? So what? Had bloodsicles for breakfast since I ran out of whiskey.”

By taking the sheer toughness of Alaskans and pairing it with a long native story-telling tradition (What else are you going to do when it’s 0 degrees Kelvin outside?), you get tough hombres facing off scary tough hombres in an epic hombre cage match. Only the cage is made of ice and the chill in the air will freeze your lungs.

The Dark Land ended on a relatively upbeat tone. Sure, a lot of people were dead, but it looked like the enemy had been pushed back across the 39th parallel and things would calm down for a while. In the fine tradition of sequels everywhere, in The Devil’s Valley we find that while the Tailed Men may have been pushed back, they were by no means down for the count. They come roaring – well, snarling, snapping, and chittering – back with vengeance in their dark little hearts.

Like The Dark Land before it, The Devil’s Valley is a terse thriller. It gives us believable characters stuck in a horrifying situation, but it’s not weighed down by subplots or other malarkey. Think of it as the Ariel Atom of horror stories. Pure, lean, mean, and ready to rip your flesh off. Which, frankly, is how horror stories should be. It fills in some details about the Tailed Men’s motives and expands on their general nasty demeanor while also giving us a bit of backstory about how this isn’t the first time the bastards have crawled out of their caves. The Devil’s Valley also hints at more stories to come and ends on a cliffhanger, so hopefully Shepard is hard at work in Alaska right now figuring out how to get her characters out of the pickle she left them in and also finding bigger pickles to put them back into.

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Five friends on a winter fishing trip discover that something bites harder than the Alaskan winter. Evil places earn their names for a reason, and were never meant for humans to trespass.

Rose and Ulrik must make a choice—return to the safety of civilization, or save the ones they love.

On the heels of their near-death battle with the legendary Tailed-Men at the Headless Ravine, Rose and Ulrik face a new challenge. The dead walk in the icy forest; leaving nightmares in their wake. Voices whisper in the darkness, driving people to question their sanity. Surrounded by monsters in a vast wilderness, the psychological warfare is now worse than the creatures’ obsidian claws and whip-like tails. When a group of their close friends on a winter camping trip are the next targets of the Tailed Men, Rose and Ulrik will risk everything to save them.

The answers to defeating the Tailed-Men hide behind the jade grin of an ancient and mysterious golden skull, and time is running out to unlock its secrets and save their friends. It’s a treacherous race against time and darkness to reach the north side of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park to a remote place known as:

The Devil’s Valley

The Dark Land is now waging war. The stakes are their lives…and the souls of the ones they hold dear.

#WritingTip – Forget What Those Guys Say

Stephen King has famously said get rid of adjectives and adverbs. H.P. Lovecraft used adjectives like a junkie uses crack rock. Some people tell you to only use “said” in dialogue tags while others eschew that recommendation. The world is awash with ideas about how to better your writing. Some good – read it aloud and see how it flows – others not so good – write exactly like this guy.

I’m not dumping on Stephen King. I actually enjoy his work and have been reading him for decades. H.P. Lovecraft, on the other hand, is one of those writers who had stupendous ideas that have survived the test of time but whose writing makes me want to pull my brain out. Frankly, I feel Lovecraft tried too hard to set the same morose tone with everything he wrote, but that’s just my opinion and nearly 100 years after his death people are still reading him so take my opinion with a grain of salt. The differences aren’t necessarily based on adjective or adverb use, though; they’re purely stylistic choices each author made or evolved into over time. And I know plenty of people who think Lovecraft was a genius while they feel King’s writing falls flat. Comme ci comme ça.

A couple of years ago there was a new writer on Twitter posting about how no one was reading his book because his writing style wasn’t popular. By not popular, I mean it was like reading stereo instructions: Dense, flat, and about as exciting as watching eggs boil. When I and a few others pointed out that he could always change, he wailed that he couldn’t change. I think in the end he really expected everyone else to change and appreciate the sublime majesty of his deeply underrated prose.

I don’t know that he ever changed and it’s entirely possible he’s still out there somewhere screaming into the void. Of course, it’s also possible he got picked up and turned into a Netflix series. You can never really tell these days.

This is just my take on it, but if you’re writing a book you’re the one writing the book. Sure, you can follow advice of others and, in some cases it might be a good idea, but it’s your book and you’re the one who’s got the final say. You may have that story kicking around in your head. It may be filled with alien sex and dive bars and getting drunk in alleys while pros lament about their latest job in the back seat of someone’s busted-ass Chevy Cruze. Or maybe it has puppies banding together to save the neighborhood from the hated cats. Whatever is in that book is your story and it deserves the respect that comes from you writing it. Like you you. Not half-assed clone of Stephen King or H.P. Lovecraft you, the real you. And if that means you’ve got a bag of adjectives at your feet, feel free to toss those suckers into the mix and see what happens. If it sucks, change it. Especially if people tell you it reads like VCR instructions. But don’t start down the path by limiting yourself to someone else’s ideas about what makes “good writing”.

We’ve already got those guys out there. We don’t need clones of them. What we need is your story in your voice on your timetable. Who knows, maybe your voice will be the next big thing and you’ll get to write your own theories on writing. But you’ll never know unless you find your own way and follow it.