Catch-Up Quickies 18

First a quick explanation!

Due to some severe health issues over the last few years, and a lingering chronic condition, my planned review schedule went right out of the window and I have been scrabbling ever since to get it back on track.

In my latest attempt to try to regain some lost ground, I have been scrunching some of my (overdue) reviews together into one or two posts each week: shorter reviews, but still covering all of the points I intended to.

That was the plan anyway. Recently, the dreaded C-word virus made its appearance in our house, bringing various other seasonal viral friends to the party, and progress has been slow-to-nonexistent, but I’m still trying.

So, here goes…!

Title:  The Goodbye Family and the Great Mountain
Author:  Lorin Morgan-Richards
Publisher:  A Raven Above Press

Blurb:  The Goodbye Family and the Great Mountain follows the lives of Weird West undertakers Otis, Pyridine, and their daughter Orphie. Pyridine is a witch and matriarch mortician, Otis is a brainless but bold hearse driver, and Orphie is appointed grave digger for her strength of twenty men. Through bumbling, Otis discovers his neighbors are turning into zombies, a mystery that is directly affecting their burial business. In their backyard cemetery, they travel to the underworld for answers and uncover a plot to surface the evil entities that would otherwise burn in the Lake of Fire, have risen again through oil pumps that are bottled up as a tonic medicine for the ground above. The tonic goes fast, and the host takes over the body when the body perishes. Can the Goodbyes hilarious gaffes and revelations plug up the works? Find out in this fast-paced carriage ride through the underworld. The story includes an exclusive foreword by entertainer and medium Richard-Lael Lillard.

Review: I am definitely a fan of the strange and unusual (for much the same reasons as Lydia Deetz) and this book certainly qualifies on those counts.

It reads like a drug-induced mash-up of The Addams Family with Westerns and zombie-fic, and with a Goon Show style of humour – surreal and dreamlike… or nightmarelike, as some bits are quite gross!

Orphie, Otis and Pyridine march their way through the underworld to uncover a nefarious necromantic plot, scattering puns, malapropisms and other clever wordplays in their wake. The worldbuilding is similar to that of Alice in Wonderland or the Jabberwocky, with little seeming to connect or make sense until the reveal towards the end.

The book is illustrated with cute, cartoony, black and white sketches, which perfectly capture the nature and style of the characters and settings and will definitely appeal to young readers.

Definitely one for fans of the quirky and bizarre, this is story is a wild and spooky ride, suitable for children who like their stories on the dark and disgusting side. I struggled to make sense of it, but then, I am old and staid and probably not the target audience here!

Purchase Link: The Goodbye Family and the Great Mountain on Amazon

Title:  Chameleon
Author:  Layden Robinson
Publisher:  Independently published

Blurb:  The epic tale of a mysterious man in search of peace, love and eternal answers. An acid trip frenzy that delivers color and intensity the whole way. Think David Lynch, “Twin Peaks” meets Stephen King “Dark Tower” series. Download this massive story. You will not be disappointed.

Review: This short novella is not a cohesive narrative with a clear plot or characters, but instead a stream-of-consciousness style fever-dream that whisks us through a series of dark and disturbing vignettes.

The overall impression is that of a psychological or moral journey (like Pilgrim’s Progress or a Mitch Albom book, but on acid!), in which philosophical questions – What is our purpose? Why do some die young? – are posed and explored through striking imagery and vivid language choices.

I found the ending a little abrupt, and was left feeling like a passenger on a high-speed, breath-taking rollercoaster when the ride suddenly ends at the station after what feels like mere minutes of adrenaline-fuelled madness.

In short, I had no idea what to make of this story, other than that the writing is compelling and the ideas stay with you. Make of that what you will!

Purchase Link: Chameleon on Amazon

Title:  Fantastica – Surreal Prose & Poetry
Author:  Andrea Lightfoot

Blurb:  Fantastica – Surreal Prose & Poetry is a guide to Fantastica, one of the most mystical and mysterious places on Earth. It is the nearest place to Fairyland and there is an immense number of magical and paranormal folk who reside here. You will find stories, poems, interviews and information created by Fantastica residents and visitors from other places and countries designed to inspire you.

Review: I received my copy of this book via Voracious Readers Only. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.

Fantastica is less a stand-alone book and more of a themed collection of worldbuilding ideas and bonuses, which would be ideal as a companion resource to a novel or series set in the Fantastica world.

Within this collection you will find brief histories, character’s letters and poems set in a realm that exists between our own reality and ‘Fairyland’. There is magic, witches and wizards, fairies, goblins and elves, but it was a little difficult to get a feel for the setting or how it all fitted together, as there was no cohesive narrative to hang it all on and the documents presented felt random and disparate.

I was left with the impression of a dreamlike world, similar to those created by Enid Blyton in the Faraway Tree or Wishing Chair series (but for older readers), and with the desire to see these magical characters and surreal setting in a longer story form.

Purchase Link: Fantastica – Surreal Prose & Poetry on Amazon

Title:  The Crimson Inkwell
Author:  Kenneth A. Baldwin
Publisher:  Eburnean Books

Blurb:  I didn’t believe in magic.

Before he died, my father taught me the world was solid. Hard facts. Logical inferences. That’s what good stories are about. Then again, I wasn’t exactly an award-winning reporter so what did I know?

When Detective Edward Thomas told me he had seen a phantom, something woke up inside of me. I could have tried to dismiss it as a trick of the lamplight, but how else could I explain the body on the cobblestones?

Instead, I simply believed him, and not just because he was arrestingly handsome. I was engaged after all to a sensible, though older man–the same man who published my pathetic excuses for articles, in fact.

No. I believed him because somewhere, deep down, I knew magic was real. What’s worse, I knew it was a part of me. The detective’s ghost story had just woken me up.

As soon as I accepted this truth, everything changed. My writing career, my family, my domestic prospects, and my freedom. Perhaps something was bound to change. What woman, pray tell, can fit three men and a writing career in her life and still keep her sanity?

Byron was my fiance. He was sensible. He could provide a modest life of means for my sister and me. He could also continue to publish my little articles in his weekly magazine. He adored me.

Edward was my detective. He was so good and true, straight as an arrow and noble as a knight. He inspired me to be something more, but I could never live up to such a high standard.

Bram was my mystery. Who could say where his life had taken him before he met me. Everything he did was curious. I was drawn to him in ways I didn’t understand.

Could I escape this journey with my engagement intact? Which course would lead me down a road to the woman my father always believed I should be?

And why did I feel so angry all the time?

My fingers still have that enchanted twitch even as I peck these words out on an old typewriter. Before another episode comes, let me tell you what happened that fateful autumn in Dawnhurst-on-Severn. . .

A whimsical historical fantasy packed with wit and romance. If you like Jonathan Strange &  Mr. Norrell, The Night Circus, or The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, you’ll love The Crimson Inkwell.

Dive into this new fantasy world littered with gaslamps, cobblestones, and dark magic. Get your copy of the first book in the Luella Winthrop trilogy today, and start a journey readers are calling “imaginative and adventurous.”

Review:  I received my copy of this book via Voracious Readers Only. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.

A paranormal mystery about writing, publishing and dark magic, set in foggy Victorian London… what’s not to like?!

The reader follows Luella as she directly narrates her adventures with writing, investigating murder, magic and romance; attempting to balance her competing desires for a fulfilling career and a respectable home life, even as her eyes are opened to the idea of something more than either.

As the story unfolds, Luella constantly feels forced into one impossible situation after another, but actually the reader will note that she simply makes the worst possible choices in almost every situation she encounters. I identified quite strongly with Luella!

In addition to the obvious feminist slant, and themes of balance, ambition and anger, the magic pen provides a very neat supernatural analogy for the spiral into addiction and/or the burning need that writers have to write, whatever the cost. I was also very entertained to note that Luella’s conflict between writing what is morally appropriate and what actually sells to the general public is the same dilemma Jo March grappled with in Louisa May Alcott’s Good Wives (a childhood favourite!).

Packed with romance (three potential love interests!), the paranormal, murder and action, there is a bit of something for everyone in this story, and the murky smog of the gaslamp-fantasy setting gives it a pleasingly spooky atmosphere throughout. I’ll definitely be reading the next book in this series – I want to know what happens next, and whether Luella will prevail in the end.

Purchase Link: The Crimson Inkwell on Amazon

Title:  Sin & Zen
Author:  Steven Warren Stribling
Publisher:  S. W. Stribling

Blurb:  Will Strief has just fallen from the sky… Literally.

He is no angel. He is a parachutist for the infamous French Foreign Legion, or he was until one bad jump leaves him shattered: physically, mentally, and spiritually.

After a life in the military, jumping out of planes, and living a hero’s tale, the twenty-three-year-old Will finds himself floating about in the social gutters of Marseille, France. Despite his limp, he is reveling in his sudden liberation and rock-star life: hilarious drug experiences, vicious drinking, and a delicious sex life that would gorge a lesser being.

Yet, all he wants is to find some meaning in life. Is it found in romantic love? Silent meditation under the Bodhi Tree? Or climbing the Himalayas? Will must find the balance between ‘Sin’ and ‘Zen’. And through it all, he explores the idea of romance, lust, trust, friendship, and peace in a raw and realistic tone while living life at its ill-defined edge.

It is a fast-paced transgressive fiction that delves into the mind of a restless man trying to navigate an unplanned, but ultimately revealing, journey. Just jump and hang on for the ride.

Review: This story follows Will Strief – an American ex-soldier in France – in his first-person narrative account of life after being invalided out of the military at twenty-three.

On the surface, this reads like a toxic-masculinity wet-dream of a story, as Strief recounts the many times he got fucked up on drink and drugs, beat up various tough-men, fucked beautiful, crazy women and was envied and admired by all of his friends.

Beneath this veneer, however, the author explores his character’s feelings of drifting, purposeless, from one encounter to the next, lacking meaningful connections and relationships to others, and unable to trust to the happiness he senses but can’t quite capture.

Hence the second half of the title, in which Strief attempts to find meaning on a completely different path – one of mindfulness retreats and mountain-conquering, attempting to find his happiness in spiritual pursuits as opposed to the worldly desires he previously immersed himself in.

Less of an erotic fiction (although it does include fair amounts of graphic sex) and more of a psychological delve into the restless searching of an unhappy, unfulfilled man, this story is a bleak but fascinating insight into the darker side of the human psyche and into our burning need for purpose or connection, in order to make life bearable.

Purchase Link: Sin & Zen on Amazon

Quite a few in this batch that were outside my own personal comfort zone, but then, if we all liked the same books then book group discussions would get very dull and book reviews would be rendered pointless (the horror!!!)

I hope you find something you like the look of, and let me know what you thought of it in the comments section below (or on social media).

Happy reading everybody!


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