Sunday, October 27, 2013

Review--The Unlikely Journal of Architecture edited by Bernie Mojzes and AC Wise

I approached TheUnlikely Journal of Architecture edited by Bernie Mojzes & AC Wise with a certain amount of anticipation—my experience with their magazine, The Unlikely Journal of Entomology, and AC Wise's often excellent fiction, led me to believe this would at least be an interesting experiment. TUJOE is an eclectic mix of fiction, a journal with affection for the intriguing idea, and I expected the editors to choose with similar tendencies. In that I was not disappointed.

The Journal opens with Go Through by Alma Alexander—a piece which comes into the vicinity of taking itself too seriously, but redeems the effort by flirting with the profound. Following on its heels however, the mildly novel trappings of Three Adventures of Simon Says, The Elder prove mere decorations on an ultimately shallow, pointless story, falling flat on final examination. Empty characters bleed into the background of this post-apocalyptic adventure tale set in the graveyard remains of a playground. Next, The Painted Bones features a shrill MC who managed to at least interest me up until the last flippant, clichéd line, which took a topic and character with infinite opportunity for depth and meaning, and dashed them against the rocks of tired humor.

A standard and annoying main character, whose arc is fatally weakened by predictability and the inability to delve beyond the surface of the presentation, ultimately hides the interesting idea and structure of The Dross Record. The ending is an ending only in that the text stops, resolving nothing, nor inviting the reader to draw conclusions beyond those on the page. Similarly, The Tower is about a child MC coping with tragedy, an idea unaided by the weak prose which renders the voice childish instead of child-like. The uninspired idea and execution adds nothing of value to this predictable and tedious entry.

On the other end of the spectrum, Geddarien by Rose Lemberg is a surreal Holocaust story about music, the power to move past tragedy, and the ultimate deliverance of the dead into the future by those they leave to struggle on. MC Zelig's progression from student at his grandfather's knee to survivor is beautiful and elegantly offered within a poignant theme often mishandled. This story is by far my favorite, followed by The Latest Incarnation of Secondhand Johnny by Mark Rigney, the issue's closing piece about dreams,  empowerment and storytelling, then the lesser Go Through. Were the rest of the issue as well-laid as this, my overall impression would be incandescent.

In conclusion, the Unlikely Journal of Architecture shows promise for future installments, and offers a few pieces worth investigating, but falls short of being a completely masterful edition. Though an issue of erratic quality, the ideas presented prove sufficient enough I am interested to see what Unlikely does going forward. A journal supporting unusual ideas has considerable worth.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Vintage Review: The Great Lenore by JM Tohline 6/29/11

JM Tohline opens The Great Lenore with a dedication: “Dear Reader, Take this book and fly.

An auspicious opening, but one setting the bar high for the writer. So the question is, does Lenore have wings?

The characters of The Great Lenore are an ensemble thrown together largely by chance, and book surrounds the wave one young woman’s existence casts on the seemingly calm surface of their lives. All who meet Lenore love her. All who meet Lenore are changed by her.

From the point of view of Richard, a successful writer trying to start his second novel, Tohline leads down a trail populated by withered souls, copious amounts of alcohol, and the fickle depths of money, love and pain. We are presented with the conflicting truths of life, and watch as they crash against each other, indifferent to the bruises left behind.

This book drips with twists, littering the roadway with broken hearts and misplaced dreams. It is about how much influence luck has on our lives, the strange paths we find ourselves on, even when we never intended to leave the well-traveled one. Characters make tiny mistakes, with huge consequences. It is a study in frustration tinged with irony.

Tohline nods to his forebears in his prose and his themes, but his characters are his own. He knows them, and portrays them to the reader with grace. His characters struggle through their emotions, fighting to survive them when they are too far-gone to be concerned with what is right.

What I admire most about Tohline’s style, something I didn’t expect, was the sense of suspension. Not only does one become lost in the plot and characters, one becomes caught in the pause. The hesitation of a breath. The ticking of a clock. You linger in the silence between words, caught and held, savoring the moment. At one point, Richard says, “In general, I am a connoisseur of silence: I seek it out and enjoy it, and in social settings I use it to my advantage.” Like his narrator, Tohline uses silence and its fellows to great effect. It is a rare trait, and one I watch for in a writer.

Lenore lingers. Days after reading it, Lenore creeps into my thoughts. A mystery surrounds her, one that is never fully resolved. Lenore, for all her remarkable qualities, remains an undefined factor in the universe, her personal truths shrouded in the aura of her presence. Despite (or because of) her obscurity, she fascinates me.

So does The Great Lenore have wings?

Yes. And she flies.

This book is a wonderful introduction to JM Tohline. I will be watching for his next work.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Raven Girl by Audrey Niffenegger

In Raven Girl, Audrey Niffenegger (author of The Time Traveler's Wife) tells a story about the child of a raven and postman, a raven born in a girl's body who longs to fly. Written as a collaboration for a new ballet with Royal Ballet Resident Choreographer Wayne McGregor (Raven Girl ran May 24-June 8), gives us a fascinating new fairytale, deep, dark, and wonderful. Niffenegger's stunning and evocative illustrations support this beautiful narrative of longing and transformation. This modern and wholly new piece delivers a quiet heroin who seeks her own fulfillment, eschewing the savior white knight to subtly twist the trope. Our Raven Girl finds her peace through her own agency, with grace and determination.

We dwell within Niffenegger's world briefly in this short novelette, but the impact proves satisfying and her characters remain memorable, long after the cover is closed. A gorgeous book and story, with the depth to hold up to multiple readings, I highly recommend you add Raven Girl to your library.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Coconutty Goodness: Toasty Macaroon Meringues

These are so delightfully edible, I had to share the recipe.

I had egg whites leftover and extra coconut from the lemon curd filling I made for the coconut cake last week, so I went looking for coconut macaroon recipes. I found one from Alton Brown which was basically meringues with toasted coconut, and thought it sounded good, but the recipe didn't have enough coconut in it as far as I was concerned, so I used the idea as a jumping off point and made my own recipe:
Toasted chips

Coconut chips
Toasty Macaroon Meringues
Makes: approx. 7 dozen (depending on size)
Oven: 350˚ F
4 large egg whites (measures about half a cup)
Pinch of salt
2/3-3/4 cup sugar (to taste)
2 tsp vanilla extract
4 1/2 unsweetened coconut (half finely shredded, half coconut chips) toasted

Toast coconut in 350˚ F oven for 5-10 minutes, stirring at least once. Only toast one grate of coconut at a time so it browns evenly. Watch your pans closely as coconut goes from toasty to burnt in seconds. I used the fine shred and the bigger coconut chips because it's what I had. It would only change the texture slightly if you wanted to use all of one or the other.
Beat egg whites and salt in stand mixer or with electric hand mixer until they begin to stiffen. I usually do almost everything by hand, but with egg whites it is considerably easier with electricity. Be careful not to over beat your whites—easy to do in the stand mixer, particularly

add half of the sugar

Add half the sugar, beat until combined, add remaining sugar and vanilla

Add vanilla

Beat until stiff and glossy

Beat until stiff and beautifully glossy. Few things are as gorgeous as the glossiness of a meringue, IMO. Keep in mind these are raw egg whites as you try to resist tasting the lovely fluffiness. (I failed in my resistance. Thus far, still alive.)


Fold in fine coconut, then coconut chips. Again, keep in mind these are still raw egg whites. (Failed once again. HOLY CRAP LIGHTLY SWEET COCONUT MARSHMALLOW YUM)

Drop teaspoons 1-2 inches apart
Drop batter by teaspoons onto parchment lined baking sheet 1-2 inches apart. Feel free to crowd these, within reason, as they don't rise or spread. You just want ample air flow. I prefer them small, with more brown edges to chewy center. You can make them larger, but keep in mind the baking time will increase and they will be slightly softer in the middle. Still scrumptious, though, I'm sure.

bake 15-20 minutes
Bake 15-20 minutes until brown and yummy (18 minutes was the sweet spot on my oven) Try not to burn your tongue. (They cool quickly.) You're an adult, you can wait.

Cool on wire rack for at least an hour before storing in air-tight container, making sure to put parchment between each layer of cookies. These stick together rather well after a few days

cool on rack for an hour
Fabulous warm or room temperature, these are best when still crispy from the oven, though they remain toothsome and wonderful for several days. Keep in mind these are basically meringues, so moisture is the enemy. They will soften up a little, but I made them on two wet days, and they still retained some of their crispness around the edges. It really doesn't matter, they are toasty chewy coconutty deliciousness, through and through. Don't expect them to last long though. I had to make a second batch because there were only six left from the day before. Everyone I've tested them on is enthusiastic, particularly the coconut lovers. Plus they are gluten-free, relatively low in sugar and fat, but taste quite decadent.

Also, if you were so inclined, I'd be willing to wager they'd be lovely with a 1 to 1 ½ cups of toasted sliced almonds folded in with the coconut. Or dipped in chocolate. Or both.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Having Your Cake

My mom fell drastically ill in April, as I've mentioned on Twitter, and I'm her day-to-day caregiver so blogging has had to take a backseat. She is well on the road to recovery and we're counting our blessings at this point. Life is still really stressful, busy and tiring, but we're beginning to find some stability, and I hope to return to reviewing soon. In the meantime have pics of the gluten-free Coconut Cake with Lemon Curd Filling I made for my mom and grandfather's birthdays. <3

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Vintage Review: Shock Totem #4 - September 4, 2011

The glossy cover of Shock Totem #4 is striking. More like a high-quality paperback or graphic novel than a magazine, it holds its place on the shelf with confidence. This publication will never be found in the recycle bin, nor filed away for later reference as market research, like some of my other fiction magazines. The art design and layout is to be applauded; inside, creepy black-and-white images accent the text.

But content is what counts in a publication, and thankfully Shock Totem #4 is brimming. With approximately one-hundred and thirty pages, there are nine short stories, two interviews and a number of non-fiction pieces. They are worth the time.

I was looking forward to Lee Thompson’s story Beneath the Weeping Willow, and wasn’t disappointed. Told in second-person POV, it is the experiences of a twelve-year-old autistic boy as his family tries to handle his condition. The piece is beautiful and moving, and I cannot recall a better use of second-person POV. I can't put it better than K. Allen Wood, Shock Totem's editor-in-chief did in the Editor's Note: "as you read it, you will realize it is the only way it could have been told." This is the first work of fiction in the issue, and sets the bar high.

Other stories which stood out were Rennie Sparks's Web of Gold, the tale of a sociopathic temp; Full Dental by Tom Bordonaro, a hilarious look at what happens to office workers and the Demons of Hell under the influence of today's PC-panicked HR departments; and, The Many Ghosts of Annie Orens by A. C Wise, about how chronic visitations by ghosts influence a woman through her life.

The interviews by Mercedes M. Yardley and Nick Contor, of Rennie Sparks and Kathe Koja respectively, are insightful and amusing. Shock Totem's crew also review a number of books, movies and albums in the section Strange Goods and Other Oddities. The writing is vibrant, and though reviews of Doom Metal and Power Metal albums are not usually my thing, the two by K. Allen Wood and Alex Mull were both of interest, and Mull actually raised a chuckle from my skeptical self. The book and film reviews were well-presented, enthusiastic and often amusing, irrespective of their subject--particularly Ryan Bridger's idiosyncratic look at the graphic novel Harbor Moon.

K. Allen Wood's essay Living Dead: A Personal Apocalypse reads like fiction. Good fiction. A gripping piece about his father, it is poignant, grim and redemptive. I've read it several times now, and it still holds my attention.

My favorite section is Howling through the Keyhole, in which the writers featured in the issue present "The stories behind the stories". As a writer, it is both fascinating and educational to read what writer thinks about their work, to hear the inspiration for an individual piece. The fact that several columns are lovely to read, or outright funny doesn't hurt.

Overall, I am well pleased with Shock Totem #4, and will be saving my pennies for the both the next issue and the three previous.

Sunday, March 31, 2013



Big Dog and Littler Dog say "Happy Spring-related Holiday-of-your-choosing!"

Friday, March 29, 2013

Vintage Reviews: Amazon and Goodreads

No doubt you've heard about Amazon's acquisition of Goodreads.

I mostly use Goodreads for reviews (reading and posting) and as a giant book list. I've tried to be more involved with the communities there, but just never found the time. But I visit the site every few days (at least once a week), and appreciated it, in large part because it wasn't attached to a site like Amazon or Barnes and Noble. It was nice to go to place that was about the books, not making the sale.

My view: Monopolies are not good things. Amazon is damn close to one now, and shows no interest in halting its growth, particularly in regards to the publishing industry. I also don't like the language they've used in regards to user data and potential changes at Goodreads. I hear a lot of "in the short term", for my comfort.

So, what to do?

Well, every few weeks I'll be posting one of my old Goodreads reviews here. I'll pull most of the text on each Goodreads review, leaving a paragraph on the site and adding a link to the post here. I'll be heading them under Vintage Reviews, with the original post date. I started posting links on Goodreads for new reviews this year, but with this merger, I decided to go do my 2011-2012 reviews as well. This way, my Reviews page here will no longer link to Goodreads, I get a little traffic to my blog rather than simply giving Amazon/Goodreads content and hits and I'm still not removing reviews for books I want to support.

I don't shop at Amazon because I don't like their business practices. (Now with more Nazis!) I think they are more-than-averagely mercenary in their pursuit of profit and are too opaque about their operations. YMMV (Seriously, I don't hold it against anyone who uses Amazon's services, particularly self-pub authors. Things are hard enough without cutting out a giant chunk of your potential audience.) My stance on Goodreads is slightly less stringent and I'll continue to post links to my new reviews to help support the books and industry, but I won't be using it with the easiness I did before.

So you'll see a Vintage Review go up now and then until I've minimized my presence on Goodreads.

UPDATE: A couple of links, one regarding Amazon/Goodreads and one about Amazon's business practices.

Review: Goldenland Past Dark




"Only a child would choose a warped mirror over one that showed him the truth."

Sixteen-year-old Webern Bell's spine is twisted, his body small. He is a dreamer and an artist, a clown as bent on expressing the intangible as he is amusing his audience. With all the spirit of youth, he wants to be not just a clown but a king of clowns. As Goldenland Past Dark opens, Chandler Klang Smith presents the tableau of Webern's ambitions, colorful and expressive, painting her landscape with precise strokes. Webern travels not with a fancy and flush big top, but with Dr. Show and his band of freaks and middling talent, performing in a dingy and rundown traveling show, soldiering on in poverty with the rest of them. Webern does his best with what he has, and suffers the jabs and teasing of his fellow performers with mostly good humor. He nurses his affections for the fierce-tongued Lizard Girl, Nepenthe, quietly worshiping her from the lowly position of clown and circus gofer. Clowning is Webern's escape, his passion and his most eloquent form of expression. When words fail, he articulates his deepest longings through pantomime, his hopes and dreams, his grief, love and deep sadness, to himself as much as his audience. He takes solace in the ritual of performance, no matter how small or rundown the ring, how small the crowd, escaping his awkwardness.

Dr. Show, a blowhard and perhaps a cheat, a former magician and bombastic ringmaster, plays a surrogate for Webern's disconnected father. Prone to bouts of Shakespeare quotes and empty gestures, he is a fading figure in the world, and unsurprisingly, he is the last to realize it. As his performers rebel and their pitiful little show hobbles on, he sees the truth far too late. Dr. Show's past catches up with him, the company suffers the consequences, and before long, kindhearted Webern must choose where his path lies.

Goldenland Past Dark's story is one of mystery and pain, the story of Webern's childhood and self-deception as much as his future. Just who is Webern's childhood friend, the mischievous and volatile Wags? The author does not shy from this profoundly sad yet never maudlin tale, choosing the warped mirror and the tragedy beneath the clown's façade to frame universal truths while revealing the depths of her characters' souls. Smith's colorful cast is diverse and deeply drawn, a showcase of the hearts within the freak show shells. Smith decorates her narrative with masks and images of perfection, a fun-house mirror's reflection of Webern's hunchback and sideshow acts made center, giving her readers something deeper to ponder while weaving descriptions as melancholic as they are unsettling and beautiful.

A piece about alienation and humanity, infused with compassion, Goldenland Past Dark is a redemptive narrative of love, loss, and inner demons. If certain elements prove predictable there is little to forgive, for what end could the sad clown have, but one layered with bittersweet? Highlighting the hopelessness of the clown's fate, Smith stops short of snuffing out Webern's buoyancy, and asks, what is life but the journey?



"It was hopeless, of course. So what? A clown's quests always were." 

From the Clown King struggling to return to his two-dimensional throne, to the lachrymose image of a weather-beaten jester suspended high in the air, Webern's destiny is one of mournful inevitability, no less riveting or beautiful because of it. Readers intrigued by intelligent narratives and complex themes should not hesitate to seek out this haunting debut novel. I suspect we may anticipate great things from this author.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Vintage Review: Unearthed by Gina Ranalli 2/1/12

As UNEARTHED opens, New Year’s Day finds Rebecca Robinson calling for her dog at an hour most people would be sleeping off the previous night’s festivities. The Pacific Northwest’s classic weather has saturated the ground, and though initially terrified when a 4x4 sinkhole opens nearly under her feet, Rebecca isn’t very surprised. But then one opens under the house and giant bees begin to show themselves…

UNEARTHED is good clean fun. Ranalli doesn’t waste time bogging us down with lengthy back-stories, giving just enough to establish who her characters are and where they are in their lives. As her characters struggle to survive, the 900 acre forest Rebecca lives in falls beneath the surface of the earth in mind-bogglingly massive chunks and the bees stake a claim to man’s earth. As the ground gives way beneath your feet and giant bees do what giant bees must, you grin and hang on as Ranalli hurtles the tale forward.

This short novella is perfect for an afternoon or evening, when you need a quick treat to pick you up. There is more depth to the sinkholes than to the plot, but it is, overall, an amusing way to spend time. Light and easy to read, the story is contained perfectly within its pages. There is engaging action and a nice bite of humor.

If you want a tasty little read, UNEARTHED is a good choice.

Vintage Review: Willy by Robert Dunbar 1/9/12



Then I tumbled over a stiff knob of root that twisted like tree guts. green green wet deep taste green and a little red Slow to get up. Twigs and dead grass stuck to me, but I like to feel them on my skin, the needles, in the palms of my hands, like I’m not just myself but part of ithe woods. Kneeling there, it felt like I was thanking them for Willy.

In Robert Dunbar’s WILLY, passage after passage is worthy of note. In some sections, one senses a deliberate choice made for every word—a remarkable feat, given it is written as fourteen-year-old’s journal, complete with spelling errors. WILLY drips with atmosphere and tension.

Dunbar’s protagonist is a troubled boy newly arrived at yet another reform school or a ‘dump’ as Willy calls it, a dump for all the kids no one wants to deal with anymore. He’s been abandoned and beaten down for so long he’s forgotten anything else. Until he meets his roommate, Willy, and is taken under his wing.

Willy seems to all but run the school, battling its warped teachers, leading its damaged pupils, despite bouts of some mysterious illness. The teachers’ hate and fear of him is palpable. And yet, the boys love Willy. He is kind to the MC, protecting him, transforming him. But there is something sinister about Willy. He sees, he knows, too much. He is too aware.


“You don’t know what you are. You’re lost in yourself and can’t always be. Would be a tragedy. Yes? No? Don’t nod like that. You don’t understand. Are you even awake enough to hear? It would be a tragedy because you feel, and you can’t imagine how rare that is, not yet. But you could. Be strong. If you can survive long enough.”

So Willy tells the protagonist. In Willy’s world, survival is not guaranteed.

Dunbar layers the plot with depth and subtlety. The MC is an unreliable narrator with an imperfect memory and a distinct lack of mental stability. He is damaged and desperate for love. His attachment to Willy borders on frantic. To inhabit his reality is intoxicating. And creepy.

The intimacy between Willy and the protagonist is delicately displayed, never feeling heavy-handed—the hesitations, the tests of loyalty, of love are right. The narrator’s self-expression gradually matures, as Willy draws him out of his shell.

Novels written in the format of a character’s journal can be problematic. There is the danger of the narrator knowing too much, or relaying information in a way that kills the tension, whether through a disbelief the character would write something a particular way, or simply losing the immediacy of events. Dunbar pulls it off. I never felt manipulated as details were revealed, as characters showed their colors. Dunbar leaves it to the reader to draw their own conclusions. If you only like unambiguous endings, WILLY isn’t for you.

I won’t give anymore away. This is my introduction to Robert Dunbar’s work, and I cannot recommend it enough. I can’t help but be impressed by the balance between intense emotion and the dislocation of reality.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Saturday Night Live and Transphobia/Gender Issues

So I expected people to be all over this, but I haven't seen anything about it, so I'll have a go--even though I'm not an expert in trans/genderqueer issues.

This week, Saturday Night Live was hosted by Justin Timberlake, a host I generally enjoy and the show was decent--not great, but decent.

That is, until the last sketches, which I found disturbing. (Even more than usual. SNL skates close to racism/misogyny/homophobia/transphobia rather a lot.)

I'll start with the one I found less offensive, a sketch featuring two female cast members playing stupid and/or intoxicated porn stars shilling for a cheap champagne. My real objection to this one is the fact that it made me realize how few and the quality of the roles SNL seems to be giving its female cast. Timberlake also plays a porn star, but is portrayed as a victim of an inappropriate childhood relationship with a male gym teacher and sounds neither wasted or (overly) stupid. I watch SNL intermittently, both because I like sleep and simply because the writing quality seems to have slipped (especially since Samberg left), but I was shocked to realize just how far the writing for its female cast has fallen. Increasingly the actresses are reduced to playing token pieces designed to set up the male actors to deliver the punchlines or portraying stereotypical roles we are meant purely to laugh at. I'd also point out in an otherwise amusing sketch featuring iconic SNL hosts, Candice Bergen was the only woman, had about one line and it was about putting the toilet seat down.

That brings us to the "She Has A Dick" sketch. A prerecorded "film preview" of a romantic comedy supposedly starring Justin Timberlake. Perhaps (and given SNL's track record, I'm being very generous here and sincerely doubt it) this was meant as commentary about the way people who express gender outside the binary norms are treated, but if that were the case it fails spectacularly. The concept is Timberlake meets the perfect woman, pretty, funny, etc., the twist being, you guessed it, she has a penis. (Kenan Thompson plays the "confused black friend" who repeatedly asks questions about the physicality of Timberlake's girlfriend and ends the segment with "Can I see it?".) Timberlake eventually overcomes his (rather minor) misgivings and says it doesn't matter, that he loves all of her. Which is great, in and of itself.

What is glossed over is the profound threat trans/genderqueer people face, and the fact that this is not a light matter--the threat of violence is erased entirely from this Rom-com take of an often overlooked issue in mainstream television/film. As I was watching, I was far from amused because all I could think of was how frightening it must be to reveal something so intimate with someone you care about, but don't really know how they'll react. And to face that uncertainty and chance at rejection with the knowledge that some men will react violently.

But what disturbs me most was the live audience's reaction, specifically when they laughed. The laughter read to me as laughing at the idea of a perfect girl with a penis, at the very concept of someone who does not fall neatly into the boxes we've made for them. The whole sketch feeds into our binary view of gender and gender expression, that because someone falls outside these lines, they are somehow a point of humor in and of themselves. If people are laughing for apparently bigoted reasons, I think we can say the comedy has failed.

Truly, I think the intention of this sketch can only be interpreted as ridiculing trans/genderqueer individuals. This has been agitating me since Saturday night; it makes me a bit sick to my stomach, frankly. "Humor" and hate go hand in hand far too often and hate is a hairsbreadth from violence. Needless to say, this has rather put me off SNL. I don't think I'm overreacting, but as I said I'm not an expert in this area. I would love some feedback from the community as to how transgender/genderqueer persons feel about this.

But I do know I definitely did not find this funny.

***UPDATE*** An alternate take on the skit: (Thx, Tracie Welser for the link!)

I already tweeted a link to this, but there's also some interesting points in the comments here.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Review and A Giveaway

My last review for The Bag and The Crow is up! I'm so happy to go out reviewing the excellent collection The Inner City by Karen Heuler. Plus, if you leave a comment on the review, you'll be entered to win an e-edition. See the bottom of the review page for details, but hurry, you only have until 9pm EST Monday.

Many thanks to anyone who spreads the word about the giveaway and review! ;-)

Saturday, February 9, 2013

News from the Reviewing Front and Glitter (as always, contains Madness*)

After much thought, I have decided my next review (of The Inner City by Karen Hueler) will be my last on The Bag and The Crow (formerly The Crow's Caw).

Although I've completely enjoyed my experience as a member of The Bag and The Crow team, time is ever in short supply and with a year and thirteen reviews under my belt, I decided I needed to reprioritize in favor of my own fiction. I'll still review books here quite often, of course, but the books won't be so focused in genre and the frequency will fluctuate.

It's been great to have my name alongside Bob Freeman, Nick Cato, Jordan Norton, and Sheri White and I'm grateful to Jassen Bailey (proprietor of The Bad and The Crow) for the opportunity. I wish him and his team all the best.

Of course, this means Jassen is looking for a reliable reviewer with a taste for dark fiction. If you think you might be interested contact him.

On another matter, if you've somehow missed it, there's a nifty Kickstarter running for another six days (until Feb. 16th) for a speculative anthology called Glitter and Madness***UPDATE: Name of the anthology has since been changed to Glitter and Mayhem***to be edited by Hugo award-winners John Klima (editor at Electric Velocipede), Lynne M. Thomas (head editor at Apex Magazine) and Michael Damian Thomas (managing editor at Apex), and published by Apex Publications.

The prompt:

"Roller Derby, nightclubs, glam aliens, (literal) party monsters, drugs, sex, glitter, debauchery, etc."

There's a million brilliant writers (well, not quite that many, but a lot), including Damien Walters Grintalis, Kat Howard, and Seanan McGuire, already attached to this, and some great incentives for backers. They've made it past the half-way mark and are now open for submissions. (I'll be reading slush for this, as well as EV, btw!) It's an entertaining idea, and if you have the means, please consider contributing. ***UPDATE: GLITTER AND MAYHEM IS FUNDED!***And if you have a fab, glittery and mad, nightclubby story with glam aliens or roller derby party monsters, (up to 6,000w), may I suggest submitting it? (deadline March 15th)

I'll be writing my review of The Inner City over the next few days so my final Bag and Crow review should be up on the site fairly soon. I'll keep you posted. ;-)

*Yes, the post title is a feeble attempt to be amusing. I LAUGHED IT IS SO FUNNY SHUT UP

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Bag and The Crow and Tom Piccirilli (new review!)

By now you'll likely have heard about writer Tom Piccirilli's battle with brain cancer, and the various efforts to raise funds for him. One such gesture comes from Crossroad Press who are donating the proceeds from all Piccirilli e-titles sold through them.

A few weeks ago Jassen Bailey told his The Bag and The Crow reviewers he'd (generously) like to purchase Tom Piccirilli ebooks from Crossroad Press for our January reviews--the hope being to highlight Piccirilli's work and fight, and Crossroad's generosity, and maybe push a few sales their way.

I, of course, thought this was an excellent idea and participated with enthusiasm. Jordan Norton's review of Fuckin' Lie Down Already went up a few days ago, and Jassen posted my review of Piccirilli's Nightjack last night. (This is my first review since Jassen moved the review team over from The Crow's Caw, so take a look around the site while you're there.)

So, check out The Bag and The Crow's month of Tom Piccirilli reviews and please spread the word!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Review: Over the Bridge by Lisamarie Lamb

Over the Bridge contains sixteen short stories of the creepy variety, often quirky or humorous. Opening with The Plot Thickens, the tale of a couple who independently, but simultaneously, decide their spouse must die, Over the Bridge is dependent on Lisamarie Lamb's macabre sense of humor, supported by her gripping prose.

For this reader, the memorable pieces in this brief (less than a hundred pages) collection are An Average of Forty-One A Year, a piece surrounding the experiences of two very different couples on the same flight, the amusing and unexpected Tyger, Tyger, the delicate pieces Soft Snowflakes, and Her House, and Travelling West, a surprising piece with twist-ending, a feat which often enough bores me, but left me chuckling in this case. Other pieces, such as Benson's Barn, start off well enough, but end up feeling a touch (unintentionally) silly. While the writing is competent, only a handful truly impressed me as being fully original and inspired. Lamb's noticeably British style is easy to read, and engaging, but the ideas feel too close to things I've read before.

Overall, this is a passable collection which shows more promise than actual greatness. Indeed, its glimmers of true invention perhaps highlight the weaknesses of other pieces. There are pieces here were they in an anthology or magazine I would definitely recommend with enthusiasm, but when placed side-by-side with lesser stories, the whole leaves me underwhelmed. However, these glimmers are enough for me to believe Lamb has a solid career ahead and I would certainly consider her work in the future.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review: Miserere: An Autumn Tale (Book 1 of the Katharoi) by Teresa Frohock

Woerld stands between Earth and Hell, an eternal battleground where Fallen Angels seek to overwhelm the Katharoi, warriors who wield the magic of Faith. As Miserere begins, we learn Catarina has entered into a covenant with the Fallen to slake her thirst for power. An entire city scrapes to her. But Catarina is not satisfied with a city—the Fallen push her onwards, and she will not be content until all bow before her, and it may be that all that stands between Woerld and destruction is Catarina's twin brother Lucian, Rachael, the woman he betrayed, and Lindsay, an Earth-born girl new to Woerld.

Miserere is the first installment in a Fantasy series of the darkest kind; there are no gentle tales of dwarves and elves to blunt the harsh reality of Woerld. Demons and forays into Hell are the rule: Teresa Frohock's characters risk not just death but an eternity in Hell and its tender mercies, as betrayers slip among the Katharoi's ranks and the Fallen seduce the corrupt to deeper abandon. The universe is rich and multi-layered, with motifs influenced by history and myth, but not ruled by them. Frohock bases Katharoi magic in faith, an inner light, and though the main characters are largely Christian, the Katharoi represent many religions. (One might hope the subsequent books in the series might explore the use of magic among religions other than Christianity more deeply than in Miserere—but I cannot fault Frohock for concentrating on her MCs' practice, as to do otherwise would bog down what is a lively plot.) Miserere does not read like a fumbling first book. Unlike the openings to so many Fantasy series, Frohock's confidence in her world-building and prose brings to mind writers who work from established canon—Woerld never feels like it leapt into existence where Miserere begins; her characters and Woerld's history have always existed, and this is simply where her readers are let in on the tale.

Miserere introduces us to a wide swath of well-developed characters, from twelve-year-old Lindsay to John Shea, Lucian's former mentor and leader of the Katharoi, forming a solid base to the series without littering the way with extraneous characters who come into play at a later date. Frohock chooses to focus on Lucian and Rachael, two slightly older (forty-ish) Katharoi, pulling the narrative away from the typical fantasy path. Rachael and Lucian are battle-worn and scarred, inside and out. Although they know their strengths, never do they fight with the overconfidence of newly-found power or take glory in the battle; they have failed against these foes before, and witnessed their own weaknesses all too often and well. They have known and paid dearly for love, and their battle is as much with the past as it is with Hell's minions. Lindsay, on the other hand, is a Katharos newly pulled from Earth—innocent, but fierce. It is Lindsay who is our purest hero, self-sacrificing and loyal, even when she is outmanned—unlike the elder Katharoi, her bravery comes without confidence in her skill and knowledge of her power, and her faith is born in her bond to Lucian and from her rejection of the Fallen, not a strict faith in God. She is balance to Catarina's foolhardy arrogance and lust for power, and as Catarina falls further, sacrificing her humanity for ever more magic, Lindsay must test her own depths of strength, and resolve. Actually, my one criticism lies in Catarina, Miserere's villainess, who at times borders on a stereotypical symbol of corruption, steeped in sexual debauchery and general evilness. However, she serves the plot, and her behavior is well-backed as the nature of her childhood and relationship with Lucian is revealed, so I am happy to waive my reservations.

For all its outward show of light versus dark, this story is a deeply personal one of regret and forgiveness, raising questions about the true meaning of loyalty, strength, and mercy. It also happens to be a highly entertaining page-turner and a compelling introduction to Woerld and Frohock's cast of characters, complete with a hopeful ending to balance the darkness of the universe. I recommend Miserere for readers with a taste for dark fantasy, but suggest you consider it even if it sounds outside your usual fare.

Now of course, we must experience that exquisite frustration as we wait for the author to finish writing the next in the series, Dolorosa: A Winter's Dream. Oh, how slowly the days pass...