PIKE by Benjamin Whitmer

I’m not a drink the Kool-Aid type of guy, but sometimes you can’t ignore the buzz that falls off the lips of friends and colleagues. This past holiday season one book made a very loud buzz and so I imbibed.

And it was good.

pike-whitmerBenjamin Whitmer‘s PIKE is a barn burner. Once you crack open the book you won’t stop until the bitter end. PIKE is a hard book, wrapped in shards of reality the casual reader may object. This book won’t find itself on any Cozy List anytime soon.

The book’s protagonist, if he can be called that, Pike, is an irredeemable man who spent a hard violent life on the wrong side of the law. Pike has regrets, as do we all, but they only manifest when he is presented with his grand daughter, Wendy, and told his daughter who he barely knew was dead.

The death of a bad man’s daughter is usually where the story turns to one of redemption, but this is Pike and Pike knows what side of the Angels he stands. No, Pike is fueled by needing to know the whys and wherefores. A vengeful path that will ride him headlong into the book’s antagonist, if he can be called that.

Pike isn’t the first character we are introduced to in the book, Derrick Kreiger, a bent Cincinnati cop, is unveiled as the catalyst that starts a race riot after he shoots an unarmed black kid. A violent start to a violent unpredictable book.

On this path, Pike is joined by Rory a bar room brawler from West Virginia with dreams boxing professionally. Addicted to painkillers and holding an easy lit fuse, Rory represents a younger Pike, one that  Pike doesn’t want to see become that man he is.

While Pike is the center note of the book, it becomes clear that this book isn’t about good versus bad, protagonist versus antagonist. PIKE is about the characters’ points of view and the paths those points of view take. Ultimately colliding the book’s cast violently together.

Is Pike redeemable by the end? Would you like some Kool-Aid?

Tyrus Books, Concord Free Press and the Gift of Reading

Gift giving is an important part of this time of year, the Christmas Season, or at least it should be. Yes, we all love receiving gifts replete with mysterious anxiety, orgasmic joy and potential disappointment. It’s a test of our mettle to see just how well we know each other.

Unfortunately for some, many in fact during our current dismal economy, gift giving isn’t as adventurous as we’d like it to be. Pockets aren’t as deep and the savings are pretty bare. So when the opportunity to give, and receive, is available it shouldn’t be squandered.

In my opinion, the best gift you can give someone is the gift of reading. This in and of itself isn’t just about giving books, but giving, passing on, the joy of reading. It can’t be a forced thing, though. Most of 1977 I was indentured to reading because my mother, an avid reader since 4 years old, thought I didn’t read enough. It didn’t take initially, but she did manage to pass the love of reading on.

Anyway, the gift of reading …

Had Tyrus Books not already been my favorite publisher of 2010, giving us books like Seth Harwood‘s YOUNG JUNIUS, Victor Gischler‘s THE DEPUTY and Reed Farrel Coleman‘s INNOCENT MONSTER, the initiative that Ben LeRoy offered pushed Tyrus Books right over the top.

This holiday season you can choose any book from the Tyrus library (if available) and Tyrus Books will send it to a recipient of your choice within the US and Canada. No strings attached. You can read it in full detail at Tyrus Books.

If you ask me, it’s really a great deal. Quality books from Tyrus library sent as a gift and all you’re out is a saw buck, if that.

Scott Phillips, no relation to myself, recently published RUT from Concord Free Press. I’ve been told this a smart, funny and sometimes horrifying book about a dystopian future. It’s gotten some great reviews and it’s on my list to buy.

But wait, you can’t buy RUT at the bookstore or from Amazon, or anywhere at all. You can’t buy RUT. It’s a free book.

Free you ask? Yes, F-R-E-E!

Concord Free Press publishes one title at a time for free. When they’re gone, they’re gone. A catch, you ask? Not really, but yes, Concord Free Press does ask something of you.

From their charity of a free book, they ask that you pass it on. Like that creepy kid from SIXTH SENSE who went on to smoke pot and wreck his care, but is now in college and doing OK. I’m sure he’ll return to acting soon enough.

So, yes, the free book isn’t exactly a free ride. They ask that you take the money, or more, that you would have spent on the book and donate it, pass it on, to a cause or charity of your choosing. When you’re done reading the book, pass that on too.

Give the gift of reading.

52Books: The Dragon Factory by Jonathan Maberry

Last year saw the debut of Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series with the outstanding techno-thriller Patient Zero. This was one of my favorite books of 2009 as Maberry introduced readers to a mash-up of fast action thriller, hard science hooks and global terrorism all culminating in Joe Ledger kicking some serious zombie terrorist butt.

The Dragon Factory throws Joe Ledger and Department of Military Sciences (DMS) back into fray again, and this time the trouble isn’t only external. In a coerced move the Vice President, President Pro Tem, sends the NSA after DMS to lock them down and gain access to their super computer MindReader.

This is externally motivated by a pair celebrity geneticist, the nearly perfect Jakoby Twins. Their goal is to mine genetic research from competing companies and labs to fill in gaps in their own research, developing designer creatures.

The attack on Joe Ledger and DMS and the attempted acquisition of information by the Jakoby Twins become confluent to the larger plot dealing with Cyrus Jakoby, father of the famed Jakoby Twins, who in bent on continuing the work of the Nazi scientist Josef Mengele and the purification of the human race.

Cloning, genetic manipulation, genocide, para-military hit squads and all the Joe Ledger you can handle culminate in the final confrontation at the Jakoby Twin’s The Dragon Factory.

The Dragon Factory is a solid follow up to Patient Zero, with great adrenaline pumped action and a reminder that Science is scary but no match for Joe Ledger and the Department of Military Science.

Fans of the book may have something to be excited about. ABC has put a fast track development on Department Zero based on Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger series. Read more about it over at Deadline.

Learn more about Jonathan Maberry and his work over at his Big, Scary Blog.

For the jumbled masses keeping track. I read The Dragon Factory the week of March 8, 2010 and started writing this review (at least a version of it) March 15, 2010.  As an aside, not taking away from the well written book, I wasn’t happy at the end. With a certain event.

52Books: Expiration Date by Duane Swierczynski

Mickey Wade is an out of work journalist, formerly of the alt-weekly Philadelphia City Press, who is forced by economic times to move into his grandfather’s, who he wants little to do with, apartment in Frankfort, his old childhood neighborhood and now a seedier and dilapidated part of town. Mickey, named after Jagger, not the Mouse, literally only has dollars to his name and no prospects of work. The only bright spot in his life is Meghan, whom he likes but thinks only hangs around him because he’s a charity case.

It can’t get any worse? Right?

If you’ve ever read anything by Philly crime writer Duane Swierczynski, bad isn’t bad enough, there’s always room for worse. And fortunately for the reader Mickey hasn’t hit the bottom yet.

Expiration Date, Swierczynski’s latest, is in my opinion the writer’s best work in a limited bibliography. Unlike his prior books, Expiration Date focuses less on the gritty front story of crime and hard knocks, and slips the reader into an intriguing story where down and out Mickey Wade has a chance to change the worst event in his life. The murder of his father.

The catalyst for Expiration Date is a bottle of old, seemingly safe, Tylenol that Mickey finds in a locked bathroom cabinet. Locked for good reason. When he takes a handful he is transported back to the year he’s born. There are caveats, dangers, and Mickey must figure them out or he could die in the present. Through the discovery we learn more about Mickey and the perils of playing with time. Can Mickey change the one life altering event of his life and come out alive in the end?

Expiration Date, like Swierczynski’s previous books, is a thrill ride, racing all the way to the end. Yet somehow it slows down just enough to enjoy the little things.

Since I’m 20 books into my 52 Books and only 10 or so books behind on reading, this review and future one’s aren’t going to fall in order. I read Expiration Date in the second week of April, my 15th book of the year.

To learn more about Duane Swierczynski, check out his Secret Dead Blog. I hear he write some mean comics too.

Did you miss Cinco de Junius?

For those who missed it, yesterday was Cinco de Junius. The day where all of Seth Harwood‘s family, friends and fans could become the few and the proud to pre-order a limited edition hardbound, cloth covered, signed and numbered edition of Young Junius from crime publisher Tyrus Books. The story that takes us back to the beginning for a young Junius Ponds in 1980s Boston, the Projects. It’s a hard fast hitting story that makes no apologies. If you’ve read Seth’s freshman release Jack Wakes Up, you’re going to want this.

Use the special code to get $3.00 off: DAMAGE or ZOMBIE

Buy It! – http://www.sethharwood.com/junius

And life goes on …

Hey there. Who are you? Who am I?

Things have been a little crazy at the Casa de Phillips. I tore up my house. Took a week off work and was intent on improving the homestead. By the end of my reprise from work, I managed to get every bit of my office strewn across my house. I somehow went from straightening up and organizing my office to “man I really need to get rid of this wallpaper and it shouldn’t take more than a day.” A day? I place a curse on wallpaperers across the world. A pox on your families and future generations. Not really. I’d hate to have that kind of mojo power … unless it was beneficial to the world, and mostly to me. Anyway, I digress.

So I’ve had my home in practical ruins for a month. Not much getting done. I did manage to get the house in order, it’s just my office that is in ruins now, though the walls are paperless and Avalanche Blue. Some touch up left and then I can get the room together again. Let’s pray that happens this weekend.

Because of this ruin, I’ve not been motivated to do much work on the computer in the evenings. I work a little on the mess and then veg. Such is life.

It’s getting better though. I think.

I have been reading. Quite a lot of crime/noir fiction. Several Charlie Huston and Duane Swierczynski (man, I always have to hunt for the ‘c’ when typing his last name). This has had some influence on me. I’m going to shift priorities on projects and push Dimes For Dying featuring former Detective Charlie Novak to the top. Maybe revisiting Terminal later this year.

I’m going to publish Dimes For Dying free on my website after a couple three drafts, serialized over the course of about 20 weeks. Total length should be 60-70k words in length, broken down into fast paced segments posted three times a week. I may podcast it a week delayed, but really I’ll have to see how things roll. I really want to be in the business of writing and podcasting in my limited scope of experience is laborsome. So I have to give props to those who do serial podcasting.

Outside of Dimes For Dying, I will be writing several short stories in the same vein in the coming months and with luck they’ll appear in online zines and print publications. If not, it will be good practice.

I do have about 7 book reviews to write for 52Books, as it’s my only proof I’m actually staying on task. Those will pop up once the dust has settled at the home office.

Right now I’m reading I Am Not A Serial Killer by Dan Wells. A quirky story about a 15 year old sociopath who fears he might become a serial killer.

52Books: Symptoms of a Broken Heart by Cory Cramer

I received an email a couple weeks ago from writer Cory Cramer asking if I’d be interested in reviewing his novella Symptoms of a Broken Heart. He asked nicely, so how could I say no?

Cory gave me a brief overview, but I really didn’t know what to expect when I got it in the mail a few days later. It was a thin book, a mere 45 pages of story. Definitely skirting the line between short story and novella, though to tell you the truth I’m not sure what those criteria are. Despite being a short read, I set it to the side as I was reading SLEEPLESS at the time.

I found myself a few mornings later picking it up and flipping through the short book. I had a half an hour before taking off to work, so I began Symptoms of a Broken Heart.

Because Symptoms is so short, I can’t really give you much more than the overview that Cory gave me.

The story is about two sisters, Lisa and Susan, who attend a Werewolf Party down in Louisiana. Lisa is the wild child, buxom and beautiful, and Susan is lankier and conservative. Susan is getting married and wants to have one last hoorah before finishing college and settling down into married life. The next morning, however, Susan is mysteriously dead.

Symptoms is all about the twist ending which Cramer starts seeding on the very first page. The twist is one of two things I can really appreciate in Symptoms. The second is the handling of the lycanthropy via dermal transmogrification or totem tattoos that is revealed during the Werewolf Party. I hadn’t seen that before, at least in the way depicted by Cramer.

It was a good read with a satisfying twist.

I will warn that those a little shy of overt sexual acts might be turned off by two key scenes in Symptoms. While utilizing sex as a plot device isn’t really part of my bag of tricks the use of it in Cory Cramer’s story is essential not only in building the character of Lisa but to play out the final twist.

Learn more about Cory Cramer at his website: http://www.corycramer.com

I just finished Jonathan Maberry’s The Dragon Factory, the follow up to Patient Zero. Review will be coming soon.

In the midst of reading Warren Ellis’ Crooked Little Vein.

Look for an audio review of Joe Hill’s Horns later this week on James Melzer’s Unleashed Podcast.

52Books: Horns by Joe Hill

One of the most anticipated books for my 52Books reading list is Joe Hill’s Horns. I had previously read his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts, and his debut novel Heart-Shaped Box. It was that novel that made me a fan, regardless of his pedigree, of the writer, Joe Hill.

Over two years passed and no word on what the next book would be, if there would be a next book. Maybe I wasn’t looking in the right circles, but in mid-2009 I saw a tweet of his next book and with little else than a title I was excited for a new book.

Almost three years later, Joe Hill’s Horns is in my hands and I’m nervous to read the book. So I crack the spine, hoping Hill’s words are as good as I remember.

Ignatius “Ig” Perrish wakes up with a helluva hang-over. His head is hurting something bad, only he soon discovers that it wasn’t from binging the night before. Ig has grown horns pushing painfully outward stretching the skin of his receding scalp.

Ig soon discovers that the horns aren’t the only change. People are compelled to tell him their darkest desires, asking permission to follow through with the impulses. Also if  he touches a person he becomes privy to their worst deeds. This discovery starts the book off on a dark comedy rift, as we discover the animosity the town has for the bedeviled Ig.

A year ago, Ig was the primary suspect in the rape and murder of his girlfriend, Merrin Williams, but when evidence was lost the case against him was dropped. Most everyone believes Ig was guilty, that his famous trumpeter father or TV personalty brother, Terry Perrish, had paid off the right people. Now with horns, silenced thoughts, even from his parents, come to light. When his brother, Terry, makes a damning confession, the story takes a darker turn.

Ig wants to get revenge and retribution, desires redemption, but most of all wants to get back what he lost, and every way he approaches it he damned if does and damned if he don’t.

Horns is many things through out the book and Joe Hill seamlessly navigates you through every aspect from comedy, horror and mystery. At it’s core though, Horns is a love story carried out through loss, memories, sadness and hatred.

Joe Hill takes us a lot of places in a short span, jumping between the present and the past, between perspectives Ig and other casts, between the gray areas of good and evil. As it says on the cover, … the devil is in the details …

I intended to post this last week, but well it didn’t happen. Look for an audio review of Horns later this week in James Melzer’s podcast, Unleashed.

Still a bit behind the 52 mark, but I’m reading as much as I can. Current racing to the end of Jonathan Maberry’s The Dragon Factory and will soon be diving into Warren Ellis’ Crooked Little Vein.

Learn more about Joe Hill at his website: http://www.joehillfiction.com

52Books: Sleepless by Charlie Huston

Read this book. Get a copy of Charlie Huston’s Sleepless and just read it.

I don’t have a long history with Charlie Huston. Before six month ago, I didn’t even know he was a writer. Had I still been an avid $200 a month comic junkie, I’m sure I would have come across the name well before now. But those days are gone.

How I discovered him isn’t important. I just know what I like. I like Charlie Huston. The man’s name even has a swagger that elicits thoughts of his preferred genre, Crime. Almost as if he’s a man in the know.

Read this book.

Sleepless is set in the now, a world so much like our own, I fear Huston might have a thumb on our future. Alter the timelines and choices made ever so slightly, I can believe the present as depicted in Sleepless, as lived by rookie LAPD officer Parker Haas.

In Parker’s world, one in ten are dying from prion based disease called Sleepless (SLP). Similar to Fatal Familial Insomnia (FFI), SLP prevents the infected from restorative REM sleep and the disease is 100% fatal. No cure exists, but there is a limited and government regulated drug called Dreamer that alleviates the symptoms reducing the suffering as SLP progresses to it’s final conclusion.

Parker, aside from being a rookie cop, is also a young husband and father, who’s wife suffers with SLP and suspects his daughter might as well. It is Parker’s job to work undercover as a drug dealer and ferret out a potential Dreamer black market. Because Parker is dedicated to the ideals of his job, when he finds a tangible link to what appears to be a gang slaying and is told to back down, proceeds with diligence regardless of the consequences.

Read the book.

Sleepless is told from multiple POV using Parker’s perspective told in first (a journal) and third person, as well as that of an aging hitman, Jasper, who becomes intertwined with Parker’s story.

This stand out novel by Charlie Huston is an engaging police procedural within a terrifying plausible science-fiction wrapper.

If you haven’t already made plans, go get the book and read it.

I’ve fallen behind my book a week target, so sometime this month I’ll double up a week with my 52 Reviews.

Currently reading Horns by Joe Hill. After that will either be Jonathan Maberry’s Dragon Factory or another Charlie Huston, The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death.

Learn more about Charlie Huston at his website: http://www.pulpnoir.com

52Books: 7th Son: Descent by J.C. Hutchins

I bought 7th Son: Descent by J.C. Hutchins in early November and since then we’ve been playing a little shell game. Much like Good Omens, which I bought in ’91 or ’92, I managed to set it down and misplace it, only to find it again and start the cycle over.

Thankfully this little game of cat and mouse with Descent won’t be played out for nearly a couple decades. I managed to anchor on and keep the book at my side until I finished this last week. (I really should find Good Omens again)

Like Good Omens part of the precarious cycle is born out of a familiarity with Descent. Not because I’ve read the first 50 pages nearly a hundred times, but because I’ve heard it all before, at least the beginning of the 7th Son saga.

7th Son: Descent began life, at least to the public eye, as a podcast serialized and performed by the author, J.C. Hutchins. And I’ve heard the first words oh so many times over and over.

“The President of the United States is dead. He was murdered in the morning sunlight by a four year old boy.”

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