Welcome to the Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy. Join us every Friday as we pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in the literary universe.  If you want to join us next week, check out next week’s predetermined them, choose a book, compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog

This week’s theme is:

‘‘‘I got no strings to hold me down” – a cover featuring a doll or puppet

Another difficult topic for me.  Unless my mind going blank on this one is the beginning of early onset dementia, then I really don’t think there are many fantasy books out there with covers featurning dolls or puppets.  Let me take a quick look on the web though.

Unfortunately, I’m right:  not many fantasy covers about dolls or puppets.  I did find a few science fiction novels though.  Guess I’ll use the one with an unusual kind of puppet: the human variety!

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Yeah, it is a tie.  I like all three of these covers for different reasons.  And in my present mood, I just do not want to only pick one.

So, do you agree with my picks?  Disagree?  Love them all?  Hate them all?  Let us know!

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Today, I’m excited to welcome Warren Hammond, author of such science fiction novels as KOPEX-KOPKOP Killer, and Tides of Maritinia, to Bookwraiths.  He has stopped by today to talk about his new project over at Hex Publishers: a multi-platform cyberpunk franchise titled Denver Moon, where he and his co-author Joshua Viola explore the dark underbelly of Mars.

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How did Denver Moon start? For me, it started over a beer with Josh Viola, the owner of Hex Publishers. He was telling me the basics of a new story idea, trying to tempt me into joining the project. “We can write it together,” he said.

I’ve heard such proposals before and haven’t ever taken them seriously. It’s surprisingly common for authors to be approached by people who have great story ideas. The proposal usually sounds like this. “I have this awesome idea, but I don’t know how to write, so how about you write the book, and then we’ll split the proceeds?”

Authors learn early on in their careers to politely refuse such proposals. Even if the idea is indeed awesome, we know something the other party hasn’t learned yet: ideas are cheap. I know that sounds glib, but as earnest and well-meaning as such proposals may be, the ideas they bring really aren’t worth much. Ideas aren’t stories. They’re just ideas.
The real work comes when you try to grow that initial seed of an idea into an actual story, a book featuring compelling characters, tight prose, and a page-turning plot that twists and turns and eventually arrives at a satisfying ending. That’s where 99% of a writer’s energy goes. So, yes, the initial idea may be important, but in the book world, it’s really just the conversation starter.

But when Josh brought me his premise for a detective story set on Mars, it wasn’t so easy to dismiss. First off, Josh is a good writer, so I knew the writing burden wouldn’t land solely on my shoulders. Second, Josh is his own publisher, so if written, this story came with a solid guarantee that the work would be published. Needless to say, such guarantees are rare. “Okay,” I said after taking a sip from my beer. “Tell me more.”

Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars Trailer

Most would call Josh’s company a small press or an independent publisher. Unless you count short fiction, I’d never done any work for an indie publisher, so I knew that if I decided to sign on, I’d be in for a new experience. Truth be told, to this point in my career, I’d always considered the option of working with an indie publisher to be tier two. Sure, I’d take one of my books to a small press, but only if I’d already struck out with the big-league publishers in New York.

The challenge for smaller presses has always been distribution. Thanks to online shopping and e-books, the game has changed quite a bit in their favor over the last couple decades, but for maximum reach, including brick-and-mortar bookstores, the odds are best with one of the big houses, which is exactly why I’ve always considered those publishers to be my first choice for novel-length projects.

That said, it’s a tough market to sell books no matter what publication path you choose. As nice as it might be to become rich and famous from my writing, the truth is it doesn’t happen for the vast majority of us even if we do land deals with the big publishing houses. The market is saturated with so many books (some say as many as one million get published in the United States every year), that even a great book will most likely get very little notice. In other words, if getting rich and famous was my only goal, I shouldn’t have become a writer.

Denver Moon: Metamorphosis Graphic Novel Trailer

So the question became, what might Josh’s Hex Publishers have to offer?

The answer was plenty. Josh wanted to start by writing a short story with the eventual goal of converting that story into a three-issue comic book series. He wanted to do a soundtrack. A series of novellas. PlayStation themes. Possibly a short story anthology. Josh wanted Denver Moon to be much more than a book. He wanted it to be a franchise.
This is where Hex Publishers has set itself apart. Josh has a broad skillset that includes marketing, graphic arts and video game design. He also has an eye for talent, and I’d already seen several works of art created by Aaron Lovett, so I was instantly excited to hear he would likely sign on to do the art for the Denver Moon comics.

The complete picture was a compelling one. Although the distribution channel with Hex Publishers was somewhat limited, the creative channels were wide open. What Josh was offering me was the chance to do a lot of things I’d never done before. A lot of things many authors never get to do.

Bottom line, it sounded like a hell of a lot of fun.

Two years later, we’ve accomplished many of the goals we discussed over that first beer. We also have a project or two yet to complete. After that, I don’t know what’s next…but I’m keeping an open mind.

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About Denver Moon

denver moonDenver Moon, P.I., works the dark underbelly of Mars City. While investigating a series of violent crimes linked to red fever—a Martian disorder that turns its victims into bloodthirsty killers—Denver discovers a cryptic message left by Tatsuo Moon, Mars City co-founder and Denver’s grandfather. The same grandfather who died two decades ago.

Twenty-year-old revelations force Denver on a quest for truth, but Tatsuo’s former friend, Cole Hennessy, leader of the Church of Mars, has other plans and will stop at nothing to keep Denver from disclosing Tatsuo’s secrets to the world.

Hellbent on reclaiming her grandfather’s legacy, Denver—along with her AI implant, Smith, companion android, Nigel, and shuttle pilot, Navya—set out on a quest to find the answers they hope will shed light on the church’s true agenda, the origin of red fever, and the mysteries surrounding Tatsuo’s tragic death.

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“Take the Mars of Total Recall, the cybertech of Ghost in the Shell, the noir of Blade Runner, the action of Cowboy Bebop, and accelerate them to twelve times Earth escape velocity, then you will find yourself with the pure awesome joy that is Denver Moon.”

—Matthew Kressel, multiple Nebula Award and World Fantasy Award finalist

“This is Mars done as well as Elton John did it, as well as John Carpenter did it, as well as Total Recall did it. Move over, Andy Weir. Step aside, John Carter. Denver Moon is swaggering into this red landscape…”

—Stephen Graham Jones, bestselling author of Mongrels and Mapping the Interior

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Denver Moon will be available in different formats.
The novella, Denver Moon: The Minds of Mars (paperback, hardcover and eBook) June 5, 2018
Comic editions (Floppy/softcover, and digital on comiXology) will be available on the following schedule:
– Issue 1: Murder on Mars – Available on comiXology Jan. 31 or in print June 5, 2018.
– Issue 2: Rafe’s Revenge – July 3, 2018
– Issue 3: Transformations – Fall 2018
Graphic novel, Metamorphosis, which contains the 3 comic book issues (Hardcover and digital on comiXology) – Winter 2018
Short story, Metamorphosis, which the stories are based on. (eBook.) – June 5, 2018
Soundtrack featuring Celldweller, Scandroid, and Blue Stahli with an original track by Scandroid.
PlayStation 4 dynamic theme – June 5, 2018.

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About the Author


Warren Hammond grew up in the Hudson River Valley of New York State. Upon obtaining his teaching degree from the University at Albany, he moved to Colorado, and settled in Denver where he can often be found typing away at one of the local coffee shops. He is known for his gritty, futuristic KOP series from TOR Books. By taking the best of classic detective noir, and reinventing it on a destitute colony world, Warren has created these uniquely dark tales of murder, corruption and redemption. KOP Killer won the 2012 Colorado Book Award for best mystery. Always eager to see new places, Warren has traveled extensively. Whether it’s wildlife viewing in exotic locales like Botswana and the Galapagos Islands, or trekking in the Himalayas, he’s always up for a new adventure.

Purchase the books at Amazon

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blade and boneBlade and Bone by Jon Sprunk

Genre: Fantasy — Sword and Sorcery

Series: The Book of the Black Earth #3

Publisher: Pyr (February 27, 2018)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 515 pages

My Rating: 4.5 stars

Blade and Bone is a violent, jarring, adrenaline rush of a story which generates near constant action and excitement. I’m almost ashamed to admit I had to take it with me to work and hide it under the edge of my desk, so I could keep reading. This sword and sorcery tale an exhilarating extravaganza that is totally engrossing.

Picking up the story of Horace and Alyra, Jirom and Emanon, about three to four months after the ending of Storm and Steel, it is immediately apparent that things in the Akeshian Empire have gone to hell. Our first view of the new world shown through the eyes of Lord Pumash of Nisus who witnesses first hand the horrors unleashed by the new Manalish of Erugash and Chiresh, as this conqueror completely destroys Nisus, turning its inhabitants into undead minions; Pumash himself becoming an unwilling servant of a being so powerful death itself is an instrument of his will.

Meanwhile, along the border of Akeshia, Jirom leads the remnants of the rebel forces, determined to find a way to help the people of the land throw off the yoke of their Akeshian overlords. Horace part of the growing band, though he himself feels pulled in another direction by dreams and a longing to undertake a far different task; only his feelings for Alyra keeping him tethered to the group. And though Jirom needs the magic Horace brings to the fighting, even he does not know if his friend’s heart is truly in tune with his own.

Suddenly, though, the guerrilla war of the rebels turns far more deadly, as the undead minions of the Manalish appear. These hordes unstoppable, causing the rebels to flee into the desert. Every moment thereafter one of deadly pursuit where even a moment rest, a second of hesitation, will allow the dead to swarm over them. Horace blaming himself, feeling that his use of magic has drawn their enemies to their hiding places, and so he leaves, trying to draw the pursuit away while following his premonitions of some place he must go to in order to save not just his friends but the entire world.

I have to say Jon Sprunk absolutely delivers with this third volume of The Book of the Black Earth. The author staying true to his greatest strength as a writer: the ability to write compelling, thrilling, and understandable action.  The magic, adventure, zombies, fights, emotions, diverse characters all delivered in a blistering pace which never lets you feel safe putting the book down. Blood and Bone truly a tour de force of sword and sorcery spectacle and fun.

Other the aforementioned amazing Sprunk action scenes, what really stood out to me about this narrative was the actual growth of the characters. No, there were not pages of deep contemplation or emotional angst. Instead, the author gave brief flashes of insight into these people. A scene here. A comment there. An emotional choice made. Horace, Alyra, Jirom, and Pumash slowly, meticulously molded into complete people with fears, hopes, desires, sorrows, and needs. Their true personal feelings shining through as they make rapid decisions, take action, and struggle to accomplish goals and live their life in a time of horror and sudden death.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t give a little love to the magic in this narrative. You could say it goes hand-in-hand with my praise for the overall action, but the use of magic is a little different than the concept for it, and while Sprunk doesn’t recreate a Sanderson magic system, his zoana comes to full fruition here, maturing into a compelling though mysterious force, which is quite an exciting spectacle to read about.

The only criticism I’d level against the book are a few head-scratching decisions by our main characters, especially Horace and Jirom, and a few too many lucky coincidences. Honestly, everyone makes dumb decision at times, but our two comrades do it a few too many times in my opinion. As for the lucky breaks, let’s just say they do add up by the end of the book.

To sum up, I have to state yet again Blood and Bone is a damn fine fantasy tale filled with terrifying events, a bit of gore, loads of action (both sword and sorcery), and characters which really hit their stride. And the ending . . . well, I’ll just say I can’t wait to see what Sprunk has in store for the next book.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. I’d like to thank them for allowing me to receive this review copy and inform everyone that the review you have read is my opinion alone.

Purchase the book at Amazon

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Waiting on Wednesday is a meme I’ve participated in for years which lets readers share their excitement for books coming out soon, and this week the novel I’m eagerly awaiting is . . .

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the traitor godThe Traitor God by Cameron Johnston

Genre: Fantasy

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Angry Robot (June 5, 2018)

Author Information: Website | Twitter

Length: 400 pages

A city threatened by unimaginable horrors must trust their most hated outcast, or lose everything, in this crushing epic fantasy debut.

After ten years on the run, dodging daemons and debt, reviled magician Edrin Walker returns home to avenge the brutal murder of his friend. Lynas had uncovered a terrible secret, something that threatened to devour the entire city. He tried to warn the Arcanum, the sorcerers who rule the city. He failed. Lynas was skinned alive and Walker felt every cut. Now nothing will stop him from finding the murderer. Magi, mortals, daemons, and even the gods – Walker will burn them all if he has to. After all, it wouldn’t be the first time he’s killed a god…

Purchase the book at Amazon

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wolf of sigmarWolf of Sigmar by C.L. Werner

Genre: Fantasy – Warhammer

Series: Warhammer | The Black Plague #3

Publisher: Games Workshop (February 11, 2014)

Author Information: Website

Length: 416 pages

My Rating: 4 stars

Wolf of Sigmar is a thrilling, adrenaline-filled tale certain to satisfy the appetite of all Warhammer fantasy aficionados, as well as to excite readers who just appreciate damn good sword and sorcery.  This conclusion to The Black Plague trilogy truly among the very best Warhammer fantasy books I’ve read up to this point; C.L. Werner quickly rising into my handful of must read authors.

The black plague has brought the Empire low.  The vile skaven scurrying to take control over the scattered survivors.  The Empire’s remaining great cities have barred their gates, hoping and praying to their patron gods that the verminous forces of the ratmen will pass them by.  Only Graf Malldred of Middenheim has raised his armies, setting out not to defend but to attack; this youth’s soul a burning cauldron of hatred for the skaven; his only desire to sweep them from the Empire forever.  The crusade he undertakes drawing everyone — great, small and even legendary — to his side; the path he leads mankind onto a foreboding one, certain to be filled with grief, horror, treachery, sorrow, and, perhaps, hope.

While Malldred marches, the vile Kressig, hound of deceased Emperor Boris Goldgather, remains in the capital city of Altdorf, still posing as the Protector of the Empire.  His thoughts endlessly drawn to the whispers of this Wolf of Sigmar, and though his power is waning, Kressig still weaves his tangled web of lies, schemes, and blackmail.  The growing conflict between himself and the revitalized Church of Sigmar certain to lead down another path of darkness, despair, and tragedy before ever Graf Malldred appears.

For all  this activity by the Empire’s heroes and villains, the key to the survival of humankind might not even reside in their hands at all.  The perpetual struggles for power among the verminous hordes of the skaven holding out the best hope for the ratmen’s destruction.  The waning power of the Greyseers causing __- to devise a desperate plan to destroy their hated rivals, using captured humans to turn Pestilens’ greatest triumph into the means of their destruction.  For the Greyseer knows that if the plague were to begin killing the skaven, then nothing would keep the ratmen from turning on their own and tearing Pestilen apart limb from limb.

When all three books in a trilogy are great (like we have here) it is always difficult for me to choose my favorite of the trio.  But, without a doubt, I feel fine ranking Wolf of Sigmar as tops in The Black Plague series. C.L. Werner writing a mythical tale of war and hope, love and loss, triumph and treachery in classic Warhammer style.  His ability to maintain the relentless action, pacing, and tension of this tale amazing, as he still found time to add in more than a few emotional moments, tie up every plot, complete every character arc, and add to the Warhammer lore yet still leave mystery remaining as to where the Empire, the Skaven, and the survivors go from here.  This story truly a fitting and nearly flawless conclusion to this epic tale.

Obviously, if you’ve been enjoying the series so far, there is little chance you will not love this final installment. These characters, their struggles, and their passions are so real and heartbreaking that it is nearly impossible not to be drawn into this narrative.   And like all great conclusions, the final pages and scenes of Wolf of Sigmar are bittersweet, filled with satisfaction and sorrow, as you look back on all the things which have led your favorite characters to this final bow upon the stage.  Highly recommended for Warhammer fans and lovers of sword and sorcery.

Purchase the book at Amazon

Posted in 4 Stars, Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Warhammer | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments



Welcome to Top Ten Tuesday! This is a weekly feature hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, where a new top ten list hits the web every week!

This week we have a great topic to explore …


Honestly, most books surprise me in some way or another: plot twists, character deaths, or whatnot, but I’m sure this topic is really not about those sort of surprises.  The way I’m going to interpret and answer this question is by picking out the novels which surprised me by how much I either enjoyed them or hated them.  And for a change I’m going to focus on the books I enjoyed!

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blighted empire10. Blighted Empire 

Now, to be fair, I generally enjoy Warhammer novels.  Call them a guilty pleasure if you will.  So when I picked up Blighted Empire after enjoying its predecessor I sort of thought I’d liked it, but what was surprising is that C.L. Werner was able to deliver yet another outstanding sword and sorcery story while slowly evolving the tale away from its core concept of the Black Plague.

Purchase Blighted Empire at Amazon

the unremembered9. The Unremembered: Author’s Edition

When I picked this book up, my expectations were very low.  Reviews for the original edition of the book were quite negative; some would call them scathing.  I wanted to see for myself though.  Have to admit being quite surprised when I ended up enjoying this story quite a bit.  Yes, it had issues, flaws, weaknesses, and similarities to other fantasy works, but it was still a surprisingly solid book.

Purchase The Unremembered: Author’s Definitive Edition at Amazon

the-city-of-ice8. The City of Ice

The first installment of this series, The Iron Ship, aimed high with some grand ideas, compelling plots, a huge world, and a cast of characters who were all family members.  Even with all that, I had some major issues with certain elements of the narrative.  Book two, though, was as close to perfect as possible, correcting the problems, adding even more details to those compelling plots, upping the action, and setting the stage for a great book three.

Purchase The City of Ice at Amazon 

theblastedlands7. The Blasted Lands

This is a book two of a series, and, again, while I enjoyed the initial volume of the series, book one, Seven Forges, didn’t hit it out of the park for me.  All that changed in The Blasted Lands though when James A. Moore fulfilled all the great promise of this saga by unleashing a continent spanning war upon the world as seen through the eyes of numerous point of view characters.  Should I have been surprised by this turn of events?  Not sure, but I was.

Purchase The Blasted Lands at Amazon 

THE GRIM COMPANY6. The Grim Company

When I picked up this book, I had a feeling we were going to hit it off.  What surprised me though was how much I enjoyed Luke Scull’s Joe Abercrombie inspired grimdark.  Mixing violence, brutality, and darkness with more than a bit of gallows humor, this novel instantly became one of my favorite grims out there, and book two was even better!

Purchase The Grim Company at Amazon 

blade and bone5. Blade and Bone

Book one of this series was a good introduction to the characters, exotic land, and set a wonderful stage for the epic sword and sorcery story to grow.  Book two had its highlights, but overall, it failed to live up to its predecessor in many ways.  At least, in my eyes.  This third installment of the series though . . . wow, just wow.  A wonderful surprise were Jon Sprunk stuck with what he does best (action, action, action) and delivered a near perfect sword and sorcery tale.

Purchase Blade and Bone at Amazon

SCOURGE OF THE BETRAYER4. Scourge of the Betrayer

Tedious.  Boring.  Nothing happens.  Too detailed.  My reading friends whispered these and many more negative criticisms of Jeff Salyards’s novel in my ear when I asked them about Scourge of the Betrayer.  I decided to read it anyway.  So glad I did because (surprise, surprise) the book instantly became one of my favorites; the realism and pacing of the story exactly what I long for.

Purchase Scourge of the Betrayer at Amazon

traitors-blade-13. Traitor’s Blade   

When I requested this book on Netgalley several years ago, I had no idea exactly what Sebastien de Castell had in store for me.  Certainly, I had a premonition that the tale of three friends fighting against overwhelming odds in Three Musketeer-esque style might connect with me, yet imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon one of my favorite fantasy series ever.

Purchase Traitor’s Blade at Amazon  

farlander 12. Farlander

This series seems to be brought up quite a lot by me.  Normal, I guess, since it was a recent discovery of the last year, one I grew very fond of as I read through three books.  Sad thing is the novel sat on my tbr shelf for years after I found it at my local used bookstore.  It still surprises me beyond belief that a book I had so little interest in reading turned into a favorite.

Purchase Farlander at Amazon 

when the heavens fall1.  When the Heavens Fall

There are a few “surprising” things about this book which landed it atop this week’s list.  One, I was surprised by how much I grew to appreciate this initial story from Marc Turner’s Chronicle of the Exile series as I kept reading each book; the author building on even the most smallest details to create a complex world.  And, two, it shocks, surprises, and horrifies me that more people have not discovered this book/series and grown to love it.

Purchase When the Heavens Fall at Amazon

Well, that is my list this week.  Agree?  Disagree?  Have some thoughts on my picks?  Let us all know!

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final blog tour banner - dayfall

Today, Bookwraiths is happy to take part in the blog tour for another interesting science fiction novel from Tor Books!

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dayfallDayfall by Michael David Ares

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Stand Alone

Publisher: Tor Books (March 13, 2018)

Author Information: Website

Length: 288 pages

In the near future, patches of the northern hemisphere have been shrouded in years of darkness from a nuclear winter, and the water level has risen in the North Atlantic. The island of Manhattan has lost its outer edges to flooding and is now ringed by a large seawall.

The darkness and isolation have allowed crime and sin to thrive in the never-ending shadows of the once great city, and when the sun finally begins to reappear, everything gets worse. A serial killer cuts a bloody swath across the city during the initial periods of daylight, and a violent panic sweeps through crowds on the streets. The Manhattan police, riddled with corruption and apathy, are at a loss.

That’s when the Mayor recruits Jon Phillips, a small-town Pennsylvania cop who had just single-handedly stopped a high-profile serial killer in his own area, and flies him into the insanity of this new New York City. The young detective is partnered with a shady older cop and begins to investigate the crimes amidst the vagaries of a twenty-four hour nightlife he has never experienced before. Soon realizing that he was chosen for reasons other than what he was told, Jon is left with no one to trust and forced to go on the run in the dark streets, and below them in the maze of the underground. Against all odds he still hopes that he can save his own life, the woman of his dreams, and maybe even the whole city before the arrival of the mysterious and dreaded event that has come to be known as…. DAYFALL.

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Excerpted from Daylight. ©2018 Tor Books. All rights reserved. May not be copied or shared in any format except with the written permission of the author.  

Chapter One

Laurel Hill Cemetery was a hell of torture and death for the victims of the serial killer, but it was like heaven for him. He couldn’t have imagined a better place to practice his dark art.

Founded in 1836 on eighty acres of steep hills and plateaus on the western edge of Philadelphia, overlooking the Schuylkill River, the massive old graveyard was filled with a menagerie of some of the world’s most impressive architecture of death. There were hundreds of large elaborate crypts, some standing alone, some built in a line next to others, and several dozen gathered together into a section called Millionaire’s Row that looked like a small town growing in the middle of the grounds. The thousands of other residents of the cemetery didn’t have their own buildings to rest in, but their graves were marked with an awe-inspiring array of symbolic Victorian sculptures: obelisks, columns, towers topped by angels and other mythical creatures, arches, draped urns, and small-scale Gothic cathedrals. The stone sarcophagi were adorned with lions, winged faces, broken urns, cherubim, anchors, ivy, and ornate books too large for any human to hold.

The light from the full moon, in the early hours before dawn, created an odd grayscale twilight in the cemetery when it hit the stone and the snow. Neither was completely white anymore, the stone because of its age and the snow because of the atmospheric anomalies that were affecting the whole East Coast. But there was nothing gray about the van that pulled down the access path in the northwest corner of the grounds, stopping between a long row of crypts overlooking the river and the steep hill descending to it. The van was jet black on the outside and hell black on the inside, accommodating an evil man and his foul work.

He was known to the police and the terrified citizens of Philadelphia as the Full Moon Kidnapper—or Full Moon Killer, for those who were less hopeful—because in each of the last six months women had disappeared from the streets on this night, their bodies never to be found. But the man’s name was Carl Roonan, and he was actually an employee of the cemetery, a member of the maintenance staff. He had applied for the job initially because of an unhealthy preoccupation with death—which he’d hid during the hiring process, of course—and that obsession had only grown during the year he had worked there. So had the plans that began to form in his sick mind when his boss introduced him to the wall of old brass crypt keys in a room behind the cemetery office, and the logbook that recorded the names of the tombs’ owners and the last time they had been used for family burials. He was able to tell which ones would never be used again, especially in the northwest corner, which was over a hill from the office and was the most quiet and private part of the cemetery. With the river below and only a wooded mountain on the other side of it, no one could see what he was doing, especially at the early hour of the morning when he got to work.

On this particular gray morning, even though he was already confident that he was alone, Roonan looked around carefully when he exited the van to make sure there were no witnesses—except for the already dead, and the woman who would be soon. He opened the back door and lifted her out, sensing the body bag move slightly and hearing a drugged moan from inside it.

He became fully aroused, now that he was feeling safe and anticipating what he would do to the woman, and carried her to the crypt he had chosen for her final resting place.

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Damn, he’s big, Detective Jon Phillips thought to himself as he watched from his hiding place about fifty yards away, up on the crest of the hill. Jon realized that Roonan might be too big for him to take by himself, but he couldn’t call for backup even if he wanted to. He had left his cell and radio at home, for several reasons: he didn’t want his superiors to have any possible way of tracking him down and putting a stop to this un-condoned investigation, and he worried that the killer might be sophisticated enough to be using some kind of an electronics detector. He also had to admit that he wanted to take this scumbag down all by himself, because of his competitive nature and the fact that no one on the force had taken his theories seriously. Even his partner had been unwilling to join him on this out-of-jurisdiction stakeout, saying “I’m not getting fired or freezing my balls off for one of your fucking hunches.” Which was probably good in the end, because this would have been harder with two people.

Jon had walked into the cemetery a day earlier during a time when there were other visitors, and lay down at this spot to test his hunch by seeing if the Full Moon Goon happened to bring his victims here.

His investigation had started with the disappearance of a woman from his rural hometown who had been partying in the city, and some rather thin clues had led him to this cemetery employee and a macabre notion of what he might be doing with the bodies. Jon wanted to check it out during the full moon night, but knew that the perp might have a way to make sure no one entered the cemetery in the hours prior, so to be safe he had to find a good hiding spot and stay there as long as needed. And this spot was ideal for several reasons: One was that it was a square family plot set apart from the other graves by a wrought iron fence that sat on a low brick wall, so no one would be walking through it and no one on the outside could see Jon when he lay prone next to the interior of the brick wall. But when he poked his head over it, he could see the entire northwest section of the cemetery, because the plot was on the top of the hill above it. He could also see two terraced rows of crypts almost as high as him to the right, in case Roonan might use one of them, and he could see a long row of crypts to the left that were built into the bottom of the hillside, next to where the black van was now parked.

Jon had guessed this particular part of the huge cemetery because the hill and river made it very private, and the guess had paid off. The only problem with his plan was that it was very cold lying in the snow, and Roonan hadn’t come during the middle of the night as he’d suspected but in the early morning, when his shift started. So Jon was already suffering symptoms of hypothermia by the time he pushed himself up and out of his hiding place to head down the hill. His body shivered, his heart and lungs raced, and the hand that gripped his gun was numb enough that he dropped it once during his descent. He also felt light-headed by the time he reached the van and pulled the keys out of the ignition, throwing them into the snow far away from the vehicle. Then he turned to gaze at the long row of crypts nearby, and was no longer entirely sure which one he had seen Roonan enter. But when he trusted his first instinct and pulled on one of the big iron doors, it was indeed unlocked and swung open. It took so much effort for Jon to move it, in his weakened state, that he briefly questioned whether or not he should enter and confront the big psycho. It also didn’t help that opening the door made a lot of noise, so Roonan probably knew he was coming.

Jon started down the steps with his gun and small flashlight extended. But when he reached the burial chamber at the bottom of the stairs, all he could see was the bound victim lying on her back in the middle of the cement floor. Half her clothes had been cut off, several small wounds had been inflicted on her exposed skin, and beside her lay a set of sinister-looking knives. As Jon knelt down beside the woman to check her pulse, he pointed the weak beam from the little flashlight toward the walls on every side of him, wishing he had brought a bigger one because he couldn’t see into some of the crevices and alcoves of the chamber.

Finally he swung the light back to the steps he had come down, and wondered if Roonan could have snuck out that way or some other. The woman still had a pulse, however, which meant he had to be concerned with her, so he put the flashlight in his mouth and the gun in its holster, and started to untie her feet.

As he did this the killer leapt toward him from one of the dark recesses, slamming into him and slashing at him with a knife. The flashlight flew out of Jon’s mouth as he sprawled onto the floor in the darkness and felt the skin on the lower back of his neck being sliced open, and then a similar sensation on his upper right arm after another thrust of Roonan’s blade. But before he could be cut again, Jon somehow liberated his gun and fired two shots into the darkness in front of him. He could see in the momentary light from the muzzle flash that he probably hadn’t hit anything except the walls of the crypt, but the roar of the weapon was so deafening in the enclosed space that afterward he could hear the killer scramble to find the steps and then run up them to get away. By the time Jon managed to grab the flashlight, Roonan was gone.

Jon stuck the flashlight into the limp hand of the victim, forced himself to his feet, and rode a surge of adrenaline up the steps and out of the tomb. Roonan had obviously discovered the keys were missing from the van, judging by its open door, and now was running up the hill behind the crypts—because the one on the other side, which led down to the river, was much too steep to navigate. He was also probably thinking that he could lose his pursuer in the maze of tight city streets on the other side of the cemetery. And he was right about that, because Jon was highly unfamiliar with Philadelphia, having been to the city only a few times in his life.

Jon yelled, “Stop!” but didn’t wait long to begin firing at the man. And it didn’t take long to realize how bad his aim was going to be. In addition to the numbness from the cold night, the recoil of the gun caused sharp pain from the wounds in his neck and arm. He looked back at the van and briefly thought about trying to find the keys for it in the snow, but remembered that the driving paths in the cemetery were very circuitous, and the man would probably be out of it and into the city before Jon could catch him in a vehicle. So he switched the gun to his left hand and took off after Roonan on foot.

The big man disappeared briefly over the crest of the hill when Jon was about halfway up, but fortunately there was a wide plateau at the top, and when Jon reached it he could see Roonan again. He was halfway across an especially ornate and crowded section of graves containing many obelisks and large markers. Fearing that his quarry would disappear again soon on the downward slope on the other side of the plateau, Jon stopped momentarily and fired several shots with his left hand. He gave up after just a few attempts, because he could immediately tell the difference from the way he would normally be shooting, and vowed that if he got out of this alive he would spend a hundred hours at the range working on his left-handed aim. He also cursed himself for ignoring the standard spiels of his captain, who repeatedly advised him and the other detectives to “prepare for anything” in such ways.

The other reason Jon only fired a few shots was that, just as he did, Roonan bounded through a cluster of large sarcophagi and was then hard to see on the other side of it. Jon forced himself forward, noticing that the shivering and racing of his internal organs had returned with a vengeance since the recent surge of adrenaline had worn off.

By the time he reached the group of tall graves that Roonan had passed through, the big man had crested the hill on the other side and was almost to the much larger cluster of crypts and tombs they called Millionaire’s Row. Knowing that he definitely wouldn’t be able to see the killer once he disappeared inside that small town of cement and marble, and that Roonan would be able to exit it in several directions, Jon braced his left arm on a sarcophagus next to him—not able to use his wounded right one for support—and fired a few more shots. They sailed closer to the target than they had when he’d been freestanding, but they failed to connect again, except with a wall or two in the collection of big cubic tombs that the man now disappeared into.

Jon dropped his head, sucked in a big breath of the freezing air, and leaned back on the cement structure next to him. As time slowed for a few surreal seconds, he noticed that he was resting between two sarcophagi that both seemed to be telling him that he was about to end up in a cemetery like this. One was topped by a stone casket whose lid was partially open, allowing a small cherub to escape, and the other one had an angel that was missing half of its right arm. This caused Jon to also notice that the right arm of his own coat—and his entire back—were now wet with blood, and there was a small trail of it that marked the path he had taken to get here.

He pushed himself off the cement coffin, leaving a big smudge of red on it, and headed toward Millionaire’s Row.

He faced a choice when he reached the little City of the Dead—he could dart as quickly as possible through the dozen or more structures and hope to see which direction Roonan had fled out of the other side, or he could move slowly through them in case the big man was catching his breath somewhere inside of them. He chose the latter, mostly because he was tired himself by now, but also because he could always find a phone and call for a dragnet of the nearby parts of the city if the perp got out of the cemetery.

Jon also thought he might have heard some heavy breathing from within the crypts, but that could simply have been the wind whistling through them.

He moved slowly through the narrow openings between the ten- to fifteen-foot whitish buildings, holding the gun in front of him with his shaking left hand, trying unsuccessfully to clench the empty fist of his other one in case he needed it.

He was musing on the ironic prospect of dying in a cemetery when Roonan threw himself out from behind a crypt and smashed Jon into the side of an adjacent one. The impact on the front of his weakened body and the back of his wounded arm caused the gun to fly out of his hand, and the killer began stabbing at his left side with the knife. Jon was thankful now that his left arm was the one working, because he managed to block the first two blows with his left forearm against the man’s right, keeping the blade from penetrating too far into his coat or skin. He then thrust his right knee—one weapon he still possessed—into the man’s groin, causing him to buckle slightly. But when he did, Roonan thrashed wildly toward him again and slashed across the underside of his chin with the knife, slicing open the skin there.

An involuntary scream escaped and Jon’s head jerked back against the stone wall behind him, but he also instinctively rolled away from his opponent. He staggered away from Roonan into a small open area between the crypts to get some space, but there were a few short gravestones on the ground and he stumbled over one of them. As he fell he twisted himself around so he could still see his attacker, and landed on his back in the snow between the graves. The big killer, having recovered quickly and now angrier than ever, launched himself toward Jon in another attempt to pin him, this time on the ground. But he rolled to one side, and Roonan hit only the bloody snow he had left below him.

Jon couldn’t get far from him, however, because his roll was stopped by a gravestone, which he hit with his back and slopped with more of his blood. But fortunately he saw the other man making a critical mistake by pulling himself up on his knees to stand up, the process of which would leave him unstable for a few crucial seconds. So Jon fired his wounded body off the gravestone and barreled into the big man, driving him hard for a few feet before they hit the ground again and slammed into another marker in the little plot.

Jon chopped hard at Roonan’s wrist with a clenched fist and freed the blade from his hand, then grabbed it himself and rolled off his body to the side, staining the snow with more blood but using the newfound adrenaline enough to stand up with the knife ready in his hand.

The killer stood up, too, shaking his head from the concussion of hitting the stone, but with enough presence of mind to see Jon’s gun lying in the snow about ten feet to his left. He looked back at Jon and the knife, quickly contemplating, and Jon muttered, “No, no” through lips that were even more numb now with the loss of blood from below his chin. But Roonan chose his fate and dove for the gun, barely reaching it before Jon’s own dive toward him resulted in a knife thrust into the big man’s throat. This was the only way to be sure that Roonan couldn’t use the gun on him, and though he didn’t take pleasure in the near decapitation, Jon did think it was well deserved.

He pushed himself away from the spreading pool of blood around the killer’s body, noticing the various other spots of dark red staining the off-white of the snow and cement, and leaned his ever-more-dampening back against the nearest gravestone. He felt a mixture of satisfaction at his success in the investigation, and dread that he probably wouldn’t live to celebrate it.

Unable to move anymore, with no cell phone or radio, and the cemetery not opening for hours yet, his only hope of survival would be if the victim back in the crypt woke up in time to go for help, and if the Philly police happened to come to the scene and follow the blood trail before he died. But he couldn’t even remember if he had untied the woman’s legs well enough for her to get free, and he didn’t think he had. Someone would eventually find her and she would probably survive the ordeal, but it was very unlikely that he would.

Still, this is a good way to go, was his last conscious thought.


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Another week begins.  I quickly slip into my business suit and head back into the office to save a few innocent people. But while I try to fool myself into being excited about the promise of a new year and the continuation of the regular grind, deep down, I’m not, so I’m going to escape dreary reality by finishing up a book I started last week and finding time to dive in to a new book I received for review.

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weredeerI Was a Teenage Weredeer by C.T. Phipps and    Michael Suttkus

Genre: Urban Fantasy – Paranormal

Series:  Bright Falls Mysteries #1

Publisher: Mystique Press (September 21, 2017)

Author Information:  Website | Twitter

Length: 256 pages

Jane Doe is a weredeer, the least-threatening shapechanger species in the world. Blessed with the ability to turn furry at will and psychically read objects, Jane has done her best to live a normal life working as a waitress at the Deerlightful Diner. She has big dreams of escaping life in the supernatural-filled town of Bright Falls, Michigan, and her eighteenth birthday promises the beginning of her teenage dreams coming true.

Unfortunately, her birthday is ruined by the sudden murder of her best friend’s sister in an apparent occult killing. Oh, and her brother is the primary suspect. Allying with an eccentric FBI agent, the local crime lord, and a snarky werecrow, Jane has her work cut out for her in turning her big day around.

Thankfully, she’s game.

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If Tomorrow ComesIf Tomorrow Comes by Nancy Kress 

Genre: Science Fiction

Series: Yesterday’s Kin Trilogy #2

Publisher:  Tor Books (July 11, 2017)

Author Information: Facebook | Twitter  

Length: 336 pages

Ten years after the Aliens left Earth, humanity has succeeded in building a ship, Friendship, in which to follow them home to Kindred. Aboard are a crew of scientists, diplomats, and a squad of Rangers to protect them. But when the Friendship arrives, they find nothing they expected. No interplanetary culture, no industrial base–and no cure for the spore disease.

A timeslip in the apparently instantaneous travel between worlds has occurred and far more than ten years have passed.

Once again scientists find themselves in a race against time to save humanity and their kind from a deadly virus while a clock of a different sort runs down on a military solution no less deadly to all. Amid devastation and plague come stories of heroism and sacrifice and of genetic destiny and free choice, with its implicit promise of conscious change.

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Welcome to the Friday Face-Off, a weekly meme created by Books by Proxy. Join us every Friday as we pit cover against cover, and publisher against publisher, to find the best artwork in the literary universe.  If you want to join us next week, check out next week’s predetermined them, choose a book, compare two or more different covers available for that book, then name your favorite. A list of future weeks’ themes are available at Lynn’s Book Blog.

This week’s theme is:

‘‘…but Icarus flew too close” – a cover featuring the Sun

Difficult topic for me personally.  After some thought and some deep digging in my reading list, I finally stumbled on a speculative book with a great cover featuring the sun!

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Agree?  Disagree?  Love them all?  Hate them all?  Let us know!

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Today, the guys in the Goodreads Top 5 Wednesday group have an interesting topic, one which is straight forward and to the point: “Favorite Books Outside Your Comfort Zone — These are books that you enjoyed that aren’t something you typically read. For example, nonfiction if you usually read fiction, contemporary if you usually read fantasy, etc. etc. They do not all have to be from the same genre, just an assortment of books outside your usual genre of choice.

lorax5. The Lorax

I never was much of a Dr. Seuss fan when I was growing up.  Sure, I loved the Grinch cartoon every Christmas, but other than that Dr. Seuss never really registered with me.  Once I had children though, I discovered the good doctor, spending years reading all these stories to my sons, and my favorite of the bunch, the one I grew the most fond of, was The Lorax.

Purchase The Lorax at Amazon.

eaters of the dead4. Eaters of the Dead

Back in my twenties, I went through a period where I loved any story written by Michael Crichton.  It seems like I read everyone of them available at the time.  The Andromeda StrainJurassic ParkCongoRising SunSphere.  The list went on and on.  Decades later, the one story which has remained a favorite is the one I never would have chosen at the time:  Eaters of the Dead.  I’m sure the fact I love the movie adaption, The 13th Warrior, has something to do with that.

Purchase Eaters of the Dead at Amazon.

romulus buckle 13. Romulus Buckle

Steampunk isn’t a genre I’m very well read in.  Sure, I’ve picked up a handful of books in the last few years, but my handful of experiences do not qualify me as an expert.  What I do know is that my favorite steampunk book/series of the present is penned by Richard Ellis Preston, Jr., whose swashbuckling tales of the Pneumatic Zeppelin have thrilled me beyond belief.

Purchase Romulus Buckle & the City of the Founders at Amazon.

THE LIGHTNING THIEF2. The Lightning Thief

This is another book/series I was introduced to by reading bedtime stories to my children.  Percy Jackson is also one of the few Young Adult stories that I not only could tolerate but also enjoyed following along behind.  Rick Riordan mixing humor and teen angst with Greek mythology was damn brilliant.

Purchase The Lightning Thief at Amazon.

the_stand_uncut-21.  The Stand

The Stand by Stephen King’s was the first horror-esque book I ever recall reading.  I’m not ashamed to admit that the whole idea of a flu pandemic scared the hell out of me for days after I finished.  Not sure it would have the same impact on me if I read about it now, but it still remains among the handful of my favorite non-fantasy/science fiction books I’ve read.

Purchase The Stand at Amazon.

Those are a few of my favorite books outside the fantasy/science fiction genre.  What are yours?

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