I’m pleased to report that Zachary Shatzer has done it again. The prolific master of zany comic stories has delivered what might just be his best book yet. This one is set in London and tells the story of the titular Percival Pettletwixt and his friends, as they seek to solve the mystery of his lost monocle.

Finding the missing eyepiece involves a hot air balloon battle, plenty of magic spells, a talking miniature ox, interdimensional travel, a man made entirely of cheese, and a series of books entitled Butler Detective, another addition to Shatzer’s growing library of books-within-books that I desperately want to read.

Why I say that this is Shatzer’s best book is that, in addition to delivering nonstop laugh-out-loud jokes, it also has developing character arcs, multiple plot threads that tie together nicely, and even a bit of a message to it, about the importance of friendship and valuing substantive qualities over merely superficial ones.

But mostly, what makes this book great is its humor. Maybe it was the London setting, or the cast that includes a great many well-meaning but somewhat daft aristocrats, but I found myself comparing it to works by P.G. Wodehouse. It’s that good.

Now, I want to say something more about this tale’s place in the modern literary world, but I’m concerned that doing so may, ah, “ruffle some feathers,” so I must choose my words carefully.

When I was a lad, there was a popular series of books involving magic and set in Britain. The first few books were entertaining and enjoyable; at least to a nine year-old, which is how old I was at the time. They were witty and fanciful adventure stories.

But, as time went on, it began taking itself too seriously, and grew from being a humble series of children’s books into that dreaded modern Megatherion of the entertainment landscape: the franchise. Somewhere down the line, its innocent charm disappeared, and it turned instead into an all-consuming phenomenon, spawning countless imitations, until at last it seemed as if every other story was about magic and set in Britain, and a reader wanted to throw up their hands in despair, crying, “No, no! Give me anything but a story about magical adventures in Britain!”

What does all this have to do with Percival Pettletwixt? Only this: that Shatzer’s delightful little comedy manages to be a story about magical adventures in Britain without being the least bit boring or tiresome. It’s fresh, fun, and an absolute joy to read. My only complaint is a handful of typos, and even that somehow only added to the book’s earnest sense of whimsicality, wholly free of self-seriousness or pretension. In short, it’s a jolly good show, old sport!

[Audio version of this post available below.]

This is actually the 2nd book in Shatzer’s “Cozy Murders” series. The 1st book is the only one of his I haven’t reviewed yet, because it’s a Christmas-themed tale, and I’m saving it for December. But, you can read them out of order.

I like cozy stories. I even like Hallmark-esque Christmas-themed cozy stories. That said, there are certainly things about the genre that do invite parody. And that’s what Shatzer does here, using his comedic pen to lampoon the cloying earnestness sometimes found in such stories.

What do I mean by that? Well, here’s an example:

“Hi, Mrs. Smith,” he said. “I just wanted to thank you for giving me that anti-drug pamphlet. It really made me think. I had no idea drugs could be so dangerous. I’m never going to take them again.”

“I’m glad to hear that, Jimmy,” I said.

“I showed the pamphlet to my friend, Tyler,” he went on. “Tyler told me he was thinking about taking drugs, but then after I gave him the pamphlet and he learned about all the bad things that can happen when you take drugs, he decided not to.” 

Shatzer is parodying the typically unsubtle and occasionally preachy style that sometimes accompanies coziness. The whole book (which is only about a ten minute read) is written in this silly, fairy-tale-for-grown-ups tone. Maybe not everyone will find it funny, but personally, I think it’s a hoot.

As the title suggests, the plot of this book centers around extraterrestrial visitors to the protagonist’s aggressively-charming town of Quaintville. With one exception, the aliens are just as friendly as the human residents of Quaintville. In fact, one of them is strikingly simpatico with our narrator.

Is it kind of a goofy concept? Yeah, it is. It probably wouldn’t work as a full length novel or even novella. But as a short story, it made me laugh. The best thing I can compare it to are MAD magazine spoofs of yore, that would take their inherent silliness and run with it. In fact, I can almost picture the story illustrated by Mort Drucker. It’s that kind of light-hearted fun.

[Audio version of this review available below.]

Zachary Shatzer’s books never fail to make me laugh out loud. They’re absurd, over-the-top, fast-paced and hilarious, and Sorcerers Wanted is no exception.

The best way to describe it is, imagine a spoof of Harry Potter and all the Potter clones that followed it, but done with the sensibility of the movie Airplane!, only in book form. I won’t summarize the plot, because it’s too zany, and anyway, you don’t read a book like this for the plot. There’s an evil sorcerer called Pobius who has conquered Arizona, an even eviler and much cooler sorcerer named Doomsboro who has conquered Chicago, and a school to train young sorcerers to fight back against them.

This school is where our protagonist (who is unnamed, but sometimes referred to as “Mitchell” or “Doofus”) begins his journey. He’s not what you’d call a real success in life, having failed at pretty much everything he’s ever tried, but he tries to remain upbeat.

There are just too many funny lines to even count in this one. Like this, describing Doomsboro’s use of a TV game show to capture the public’s imagination:

It’s hard for most people to choose defiance against evil when they have to give up televised drama as part of the deal.

Or this, on his use of propaganda:

These papers now cranked out nothing but propaganda about Doomsboro. How strong he was, how handsome he was, how tyranny and malevolence were actually cool and benevolence was only for old fogies who can’t keep up with the times.

“Coolness” is a major theme in the book, and in fact the use of the intangible concept of being cool is used by all sides in this complex magic war. Which is critical for our protagonist, who is about as uncool as it gets.

And like an earlier Shatzer book, there’s a fictional text mentioned in this one that I desperately wish actually existed: The Cowboy Sorcerer, by Jenkins Crabston, a novel that combines Crabston’s “experience as a sorcerer and his love of movies set in the old west.”

This book so, so needs to be real.

As for Sorcerers Wanted, it’s a wonderful comic romp that had me guffawing uncontrollably. Highly recommended for when you want to just kick back and read something light.

[Audio version of this post available below.]

The great comic novelist and book lover Noah Goats once told me, “Books lead on to books, and sometimes in strange ways. They all seem to be connected somehow.” This is a good example. After reading T.J. Brown’s excellent ghost story The Last Photograph of John Buckley, I looked to see what else he had written. And the first thing that grabbed my eye was the image you see at the right.

Well, I mean, how could I resist?

As the cover suggests, this is a raunchy, bawdy comedy. Emily Spankhammer is a young, widowed Southern Belle who runs a beaver farm. And in case you are wondering if that leads to many, many Are You Being Served?-style double-entendres, why, yes, yes it does. It is that kind of book, and I’m not ashamed to say it made me laugh.

In her quest to find love, Emily is aided by her spirit guide, a wisecracking pink unicorn named Sparkle. Despite his appearance, Sparkle is, shall we say, anything but pure or nice. As he explains to Emily, he has been forced by the Ancient Greek Gods into the role of spirit guide after his decadent hedonism indirectly led to the destruction of Atlantis.

I’m not doing it justice. Let me quote Sparkle verbatim:

“This is the realm of gods and monsters, you silly woman. They don’t have moral codes in that place. If you’d spent more time watching sword-and-sandal movies, you’d know that. This is the domain of passion, of jealousy, of revenge, blood feuds, and raging hormones.”

Sparkle and Emily’s relationship is a turbulent one. Actually, all her relationships are turbulent, whether it’s with a mechanic whose home is filled with fake owls, a circus ringmaster, or a Scottish Highlander. Are you getting a sense now of what a wild story this is?

The long and short of it is, it’s a hilarious, madcap adventure. It reminded me a little of Richard Pastore’s The Devil and the Wolf and a little of Lindy Moone’s Hyperlink From HellIt’s not a coincidence that the best comparisons I can think of are indie books. This is what makes reading indie books so rewarding: these are the kind of unusual stories that publishers are too risk-averse to take a chance on, but are an absolute delight to read.

Now, I’ll admit that some readers might not see the appeal in it. If you don’t like raunchy humor, then it isn’t for you. But if you’re in the mood for a zany, somewhat off-color, fast-paced take-off of romance novels, you should give this one a try.

[Audio version of this post available below.]

Earlier this year, I reviewed Zachary Shatzer’s The Goose Finder, and said it was one of the funniest books I’d ever read. So when I saw he released a new short story, I eagerly pounced on it.

And yes, if you liked The Goose Finder, you’ll like this too. As with the earlier book, I laughed out loud multiple times reading it. It has the same zany, absurd, laugh-a-minute style as it recounts the history of John Warbly, Chad Crackleman, Portman Humberson, and, of course, Old Man Cornwell, as they combine their musical talents and embark on a wild and tumultuous journey.

Once again, it’s really impossible for me to describe the book, so let me offer a few quotes. Here’s the description of Old Man Cornwell:

“He seldom spoke, and when he did it was usually in a confusing and cryptic way, often utilizing spiritual symbolism and references to ancient mythology. Sometimes he would imply that he was older than time itself, but when asked to further explain his meaning, he would simply chuckle and change the subject to the price of gasoline.”

Or this, when the band has its first hit:

“Despite insisting he wouldn’t let success change him, John instantly let success change him in numerous ways.”

Later, when the band breaks up, Portman takes up a new profession:

…writing political thriller novels, including but not limited to The President’s Secret Code, Senator/Spy, and The Shadow Government That Covertly Rules the Country and is Run By the Ghost of Warren G. Harding.”

I don’t mind telling you, I really, really want that last book to be real. Maybe Shatzer will consider writing it next.

Maybe none of this makes you chuckle, but if it does, I highly recommend checking this book out. It’s a short read, but given that there’s a laugh on every page, it’s well worth it.

[Audio version of this post will be available as soon as possible.]

This is a classic mystery, in the vein of Agatha Christie. We have a brilliant detective, Professor Edwin McGorgol, and his not-so-brilliant, but good-hearted sidekick, George Hockney. There’s a hotel full of suspects, snobbish rich types, a femme fatale, and an escalating series of crimes that put the pressure on them to solve it before it’s too late.

Oh… and did I mention they’re all birds? Well, they are. McGorgol is a sandpiper and Hockney is a seagull. All the characters are different types of fowl that suit their personalities perfectly. Also, the book is illustrated, which only adds to the charm.

And I have to say, while this is obviously designed for kids, the mystery was still well done. I’ve read mystery novels for adults where the solution was more obvious than it is in this one. I had my suspicions, but I was still eager to see how it would all play out.

But the best part of all is the afterword, where we get the story behind the story, of how it all came to be. That story really made me smile.

This is a short book, but it packs lots of lighthearted humor into a small space. It’s a fun read for all ages. I highly recommend it.

[Audio version of this review available below]

There is of course a powerful recency bias that is well-documented, but offhand, this may be the funniest book I’ve ever read. It’s certainly up there. Even when reading a really funny book, I rarely laugh out loud. I laughed out loud multiple times per chapter reading this.

I could try to give you a plot summary, but it just wouldn’t do justice to this madcap epic. Basically, there’s a mysterious virus that gives geese human-like intelligence and the ability to talk. This results in tensions between the world’s human and geese populations, culminating in two wars.

If this sounds insane; well, yeah, it is. But it’s a comedy! And that’s just the setup. The titular goose finder is a man named Harlan. Harlan is a gruff, hard, Clint Eastwood type of character, seeking to avenge the death of his brother in the Goose Wars by finding and killing every goose he can. He’s hired by a toaster tycoon to find (but not kill) one specific goose.

It just gets wilder from there. There’s a mad scientist building a time machine, a desert sorcerer, an old sea captain, a ruthless goose general, a couple of infatuated hackers… the list goes on. It’s totally crazy, and I loved every word of it. Each chapter had me laughing harder than the last.

I think humor is probably the hardest genre to recommend, because it is so dependent on personal taste. With a romance book, for example, everyone has a fairly similar general idea of what a romance should be like, and so even if it’s not to their taste, they still can tell what it was supposed to be. But with humor, you either think it’s funny or you don’t. If you don’t, then you’re just going to be like, “What the hell did I just read?”

But it’s a chance worth taking. Not everyone is going to get it, but the people who do get it are going to love it. This book was recommended to me by Noah Goats himself, a master of comic novels, and I’m so glad he told me about it. It’s an absolute hoot.

I try not to quote too much from the books I review, but for this one, I’m going to give you a few of my favorite lines. If you laugh at them, it probably means you need to read this.

“Some of the toughest bastards in the world had marched into City Hall to renew a fishing license only to come out deeply changed, haunted by the feeling that something had been taken from them.”

Here is one of the two besotted hackers, describing how they started dating:

“We met at an anarchy convention, which turned out to be a disaster. Horribly organized.”

Then there is one of the scientist’s speeches, which I actually found moving as well as funny:

“Why do things die? That’s just idiotic… it’s okay when bad things die, like spiders and naked mole rats, but not things like cats, dogs, or people. Especially people. People shouldn’t die, and it’s stupid that they do. It really creams my corn, I don’t mind telling you.”

Maybe none of that makes you even begin to think about the possibility of chuckling inwardly. If so, you should probably skip this. But if it makes you laugh, like me, then you should pick it up.

Underneath all the humor, there is actually a bit of a message about understanding and empathizing with those who are different. It’s not heavy-handed at all, but just a nice touch that makes the whole story feel essentially good-hearted.

A final note: there is some mild violence in the book that might be upsetting to some readers. It’s nothing graphic or explicit. It’s the literary equivalent of the violence in movies like Airplane! or Monty Python and the Holy Grail in terms of realism.

However, because this is a comedy, I feel an obligation to say something. Again, this is another thing that makes recommending a comedy tricky. One person’s hilarious joke may evoke uncomfortable memories for someone else. Unlike with, say, horror, where you can reasonably anticipate reading things that are horrific, I hate the idea of recommending a comedy to someone and having them instead find something about it upsetting, however benign it may appear to me. Particularly because it can be especially disturbing when something you take seriously is treated humorously.

This is a roundabout way of saying, if violence against geese, or gunfights, or grenades, are upsetting to you, this book might not be for you. If you want to know more about these details of the book, please feel free to email or DM me on Twitter. I’m happy to discuss.

[Audio version of this post available below.]

Recently, during a chat with the Writers Supporting Writers group, I was talking about Lindy Moone’s novel Hyperlink From Hell. I asserted that as far as I knew, that was the only published work by this author.

Well, clearly I don’t know very much. I thought I remembered looking for other works after reading Hyperlink. And yet, when I looked up Moone’s works recently, I saw this short story, published in 2014. I could have sworn it wasn’t there before, but perhaps I am mad, quite mad. (But at least I don’t sing choruses in public, yet.) Anyway, if you haven’t already pegged me as having all the reliability of an average Lovecraft protagonist, maybe you should start now.

But one point on which I want to be crystal clear is that this story is excellent.  It’s a short story, very short; but the setting is so evocative it instantly captured me. The mysterious town of Fogland, full of odd things and odd people, and one raven with a “screech impediment.” This is the second book I’ve read this year involving a mysterious raven who brings warnings to unsuspecting characters. It’s a trope that always works.

In addition to the bird, we have a newlywed French couple moving to their new home in Fogland, a shady realtor, and an impertinent little girl. How does it all fit together? Well, I’m not telling. Besides, you wouldn’t believe me. I’ve already led you astray once regarding the very existence of books by Lindy Moone.  Why don’t you instead go pick it up and read it yourself? It will only a take a few minutes, and fans of short fiction and weird stories with twist endings (think The Twilight Zone) are sure to like it. Besides, the cover is simply gorgeous!

This is the third and final book in the Cassie Black series. If you’ll recall my review of Book Two, I didn’t want to go into too much detail for fear of spoiling Book One. And so now, I face the same problem doubled, because to describe the setting of this book risks spoiling the first two.

Hmm, what to do? Well, I think I’ll start by talking about an element of these books that I neglected previously: the food. To power her magical abilities, Cassie needs lots of sweets, and eats a steady diet of delicious foods throughout the series. I love Painter’s descriptions of her meals. In fact, the one that sounded best of all to me was a description of a salad in this book. Reading this series is sure to whet your appetite.

As for the rest of it? Well, Cassie is snarky as ever, and her sarcastic voice stays with her even into her final confrontation with the arch-villain. The supporting characters are once again enjoyable, and I was especially pleased with how the character arc of the ghostly Tower Warder Nigel turned out.

All told, this is a fun series for readers who enjoy fantasy adventures that don’t take themselves too seriously. Painter’s magical world is entertaining and populated with plenty of amusing characters. The Untangled Cassie Black is a fitting way to wrap it up.

This is a re-telling of the Ancient Greek myth of Perseus, son of the God Zeus, and his quest to slay Medusa. It’s told in a light, witty style, which readers of Pastore’s first novel, The Devil and the Wolfwill certainly enjoy.

Along the way, Perseus meets with various other of the Ancient Greek gods, including Hermes and Athena, and more than a few monsters. And as befits a hero’s journey, he grows from an unsure, often impulsive boy into a brave and wise hero.

I knew next to nothing about the myth of Perseus when I read this book. After finishing it, I looked it up, and in fact, Pastore has hewed fairly closely to the myth. He explains in his afterword that, while many modern re-tellings change things up, i.e. making the confrontations with the monsters more “Hollywood,” (my word, not his) he wanted to be faithful to the source material.

But while he does a fine job at following the ancient story’s plot, there’s still no question it’s a Pastore book, through and through. Fans of The Devil and the Wolf will hear the echoes of Meph and JR in Perseus’s banter with the gods, and the ending, while true to the original myth, has a poetic irony to it that is perfectly in keeping with the overall tone of the book. If you don’t already know the myth of Perseus, then please don’t look it up before reading this. My ignorance of it made the ending that much better.

But even if you are an expert on Greek mythology, you should still read this. Pastore’s treatment of the story is witty and humorous. It fits perfectly with the overall sensibility of the myth.