Just when I thought I couldn’t get any more dazzled by Zachary Shatzer powers of comedic storytelling, he goes and writes a cozy zombie apocalypse story.

Shatzer’s recent book The Beach Wizard cemented his place on my Mount Rushmore of comic novelists. It’s a fantastic mixture of absurd comedy and stoic philosophy. I’ve read it twice since it debuted in August. Everyone should read it.

But, anyway; about this book. It’s the third book in Shatzer’s series of cozy mystery parodies, starring amateur sleuth Roberta Smith, her cat Mr. Bigfluff, and their idyllic (aside from the surprisingly frequent murders) town of Quaintville.

You have to read the first two books in the series to get the most out of this one, but as they’re all extremely short, this shouldn’t be a problem. You can read the whole series in about an hour.

Now, I’ll admit to the possibility that this particular brand of parody might not be for everybody. You have to be familiar with the cozy mystery genre to get why it’s funny. I suppose if you’ve never heard of cozy mysteries before, you’ll find it a bit baffling. But then again, who hasn’t heard of cozy mysteries?

Additionally, an Indie-Skeptic may argue that the books are (a) very short or (b) contain typos. I have seen these arguments made many times by readers who hesitate or outright refuse to spend money on indie books.  Sometimes at the same time, which doesn’t even make sense. It’s like the old joke about the restaurant where the food is terrible and the portions are too small.

The argument that a book is too short doesn’t hold up. You’re not paying for the words, you’re paying for the effect they produce.

As for the typos, I’ve pretty much reached a point as a reader where I hardly notice them, unless they actively impede my understanding. Yes, of course, in an ideal world, there would be no typos, and all spelling and grammar would be perfectly uniform. But we’re not in an ideal world, and this is far from the main reason why.

One of my hobbies is reading old books, especially those from my favorite historical period, the American Revolution. One thing I quickly noticed was that spelling was very much an inexact science in those days. George Washington himself struggled mightily with orthography.

The snobs of the world who sneer at typos in indie books would no doubt say, if transported back to Colonial America, “This man’s letters be full of errors most grievous against our Common Tongue. Hark ye, sirs and ladies, never could he lead a ∫ucce∫sful revolution against the Crown of England!”

Or words to that effect. But old George seemed to do all right for his country, and Zachary Shatzer has done all right for the art of writing comic fiction. Like I said at the outset, folks: Mount Rushmore.

Shatzer’s books never fail to make me laugh out loud, and this one is great for getting in the Halloween spirit. (Not that I need help with that, but…) I highly recommend it.

Hey, how many of you know about the Stoic emperor, Marcus Aurelius?

Well, I know one of my readers is actually a practicing Stoic, and thus is familiar with the “last good emperor’s” philosophy. Another writer friend mentioned him in a story. And I’m aware of at least one other fan of ancient Roman history among my readers. As for me, I only began studying Stoicism relatively recently, and I find it very interesting. Not that I can claim to be Stoic, or even a reasonably accomplished student of Stoicism. No, indeed; I am probably the worst Stoic in the world. This comic describes me to a “T”. But, you know, as Martyn Green’s singing instructor told him: “With you? We start on exercises, and hope!”

I hear the cry go up, “Berthold, we’ve come here for a book review! What are you going on about?” Well, it so happens that Zachary Shatzer’s latest novel includes many Stoic themes.

Of course, on a superficial level, this is another of Shatzer’s comic tales, this time set in a laid-back beach town, where the titular Beach Wizard comes into conflict with a formidable Sea Wizard, putting the entire lifestyle of the beachgoing population at risk.

I’ve compared Shatzer to Wodehouse before. It’s not a comparison I make lightly, but I’ll do it again. As with Wodehouse, you can’t be unhappy while reading one of his books. If you enjoyed any of his previous humorous novels, you’re going to like this one, too. It combines all the elements we’ve come to expect from him: a varied and entertaining cast of characters, recurring jokes that gradually become sub-plots in their own right, and a story-within-the-story that forms an engaging narrative.

But this one has a little bit of something else, too, besides all the fun. The Beach Wizard is not just a stock character who uses magic as a deus ex machina anytime the plot demands it. No, he is a well-rounded character, complete with wisdom befitting his age. Think Gandalf, if Gandalf had found his way into a Frankie & Annette picture.

Actually, the whole beach town reminds me of Tolkien’s Shire, with its simple, easy-going, goodhearted folk who live their lives in quiet tranquility. And the Sea Wizard is no Saruman, of course, but he brings about the closest thing to a scouring that the chilled-out beach bums have ever experienced.

Not that the Sea Wizard is truly a villain, you understand. Shatzer is like Chuck Litka in that he is capable of writing a conflict without resorting to characters who are simply evil. Everything the characters do is understandable and reasonable, given who they are and what they know.

Which brings me back to the Beach Wizard and his philosophy. At one point, the Beach Wizard gives a beautiful speech that I partially excerpt below:

“It is a difficult thing to understand someone who lives a very different life from your own. Many people choose not to make even an attempt at understanding, and simply dismiss such differences as being “Weird” or “Stupid” or what have you. But I don’t wish to criticize…

Lack of understanding is, well, understandable, but working through one’s ignorance and casting away petty feelings and resentment is of the utmost importance. At least, I believe it is so.”

And what I like best of all is that, even for all his experience and wisdom, the Beach Wizard is fallible. He makes mistakes. He comes up short of his own standards. But he recognizes when he fails, and resolves to do better. And he does. Any Stoic, including the good emperor himself, will tell you that nobody’s perfect; all you can do is keep trying to be better.

The Beach Wizard is a wonderful story that everyone should read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

This is the first installment in the “Dirk Moorcock” series. That is correct; the hero of the book is named “Dirk Moorcock.”

In a way, I could end the review right now, and you would know everything you need to know about this book. I mean, what kind of book do you think would have a hero named “Dirk Moorcock?” I suspect whatever book you imagine, you won’t be far from the mark. If you need another clue, look at the cover. I know, I know; we’re not supposed to judge by those, but in this case you would be fairly safe in doing so.

But it would be an abdication of my responsibilities as a reviewer to let it go at that. So let me go on a bit. In terms of plot, this is a standard sci-fi adventure. The hero (whose name, let me remind you, is Dirk Moorcock) goes to a remote world to fight space pirates. Things proceed as you’d expect from there. The bare bones of the story are not that different from, say, a Henry Vogel book.

Except, it’s way, way more risqué. Commander Moorcock is like a spacefaring James Bond only more so, with the campy dialogue and the double-entendres dialed up to 11. And if you think the naughtiness stops at wordplay, you would be quite wrong. There are some very, er, lovingly described intimate scenes.

Remember 9 Lovers for Emily Spankhammer? This has the same sensibility, only in space and with more laser battles and parodies of Star Wars. It made me think of Buck Rogers, as well as some other, similar-sounding words.

It’s also funny as hell. This book is not to be taken seriously, and it reminds you of that at every turn. Even attempting to take it seriously could result in injury. This is a goofy, silly, sexy, and deliberately cheesy adventure story, that makes no pretense of being anything else.

If you want thought-provoking sci-fi on the order of Asimov or Clarke, look elsewhere. But if you want something that’s irresistibly amusing and you don’t mind a heavy dose of bawdy sex comedy with your sci-fi adventure (or vice-versa), if you want something that calls to mind the carefree, unashamed ribaldry of pulp; then this is the book for you.

In my home state of Ohio, we’re a little more than halfway through lawn-mowing season. From March through November, the grass typically needs at least one, sometimes two or three mows per week. Fortunately, I enjoy mowing the lawn, but then again, I have a riding lawnmower, unlike the protagonist of this Chuck Litka short story.

You probably know Chuck Litka’s fantasy and sci-fi adventure stories, many of which I’ve reviewed on this blog. This book is different: it’s a slice of life story, it’s targeted at a younger audience, and it’s very short.

The core of the story concerns a young boy named Roy Williams and his long-held desire to be old enough to mow his family’s lawn. But when he finally gets his chance, his own avant-garde philosophy of lawn care comes into conflict with hidebound traditions of the old guard. (i.e. his father.)

Interestingly, although my own views on lawn mowing align more with Roy’s dad, reading this book actually made me think about cutting the lawn in a different way, and even inspired me to try out some different patterns.

As with all of Litka’s books, it’s well-written, with plenty of wit and good-natured humor. While it’s a departure in many ways from most of his books, young Roy is still a classic Litka character: a likable person who, though no real fault of his own, comes into conflict with the authorities.

The book is available for free on Smashwords, so you should go check it out. If you’re a lawn-care enthusiast, it might give you some ideas! If you’re not, it might make you see things from a different perspective. The grass isn’t always greener on the other side, but it’s still worth seeing what it looks like.

The tagline for this book says it all: “Finally, a paranormal romance for people who hate paranormal romance.”

The simple way to describe this book is to say it’s a parody of Twilight. It’s got a vampire and a werewolf and the awkward girl who loves them, set at a high school in the Pacific Northwest.

Except it’s way more than that. There’s no doubt the book does get in a few good digs at the paranormal YA romance genre, but it’s also a very sweet story in its own right. Indeed, it’s such an authentic representation of what a high school populated by supernatural creatures would be like that it beats Twilight at its own game.

The book is very funny, but there are also elements of creepiness and even of melancholy that find their way into the story. This is a parody that becomes more than a parody, and takes on a life of its own, complete with interesting characters and a memorable setting.

No exaggeration: I felt more of a connection with The Usual Werewolves‘ Serena and her supernatural crushes than I ever did with Bella, Edward, or the rest of that crowd.

And Bertocci’s writing is something to behold. Again and again, what started out as a seemingly run-of-the-mill sentence would make a sharp turn in an unexpected direction, morphing into something surprising and funny. The author clearly knows how to turn a good phrase.

The best example of all is the descriptions of the music the werewolves listen to while cruising around late at night. There are numerous examples, but the best one comes near the end:

“A distinctive lick of piano sauntered into the air like it was far too cool for school, and they cheered as if God Himself had greeted them.”

I won’t say what song this is. But it’s by one of my favorite musicians, and with that hint, and especially in connection with the subject matter of this book, I bet you can guess what song it is.

If you’ve figured it out, or if you’ve just read the book and know the answer, listen to the opening of the song in question. Now, tell me that isn’t a perfect description? I’ve heard that song hundreds of times over the decades, but I could never have put it so perfectly.

The Usual Werewolves is an entertaining and surprisingly heartfelt take on the high school experience, told with a good-natured wit. I certainly can understand if, at the height of the Twilight craze, you swore that you would never read the “supernatural high school romance” genre. But if you made such a vow, it’s worth breaking for this book.

Sometimes you need a book you can just kick back and read without having to tax your imagination too much. After reading some heavy science fiction books, I needed a break. And this book was just the ticket.

The protagonist, Susan Hunter, is infuriated to learn the man she has been dating is married. Wanting to get away from it all and clear her head, she and her friend Darby take a vacation to Florida. At first, it’s a relaxing escape, but then Susan begins to suspect they are being stalked by a mysterious character with a striking resemblance to a young Marlon Brando. But who is he, and why is he after them?

This all probably sounds more intense than the book really is. While there are some dark elements, such as a murder, the overall vibe is really much lighter, as the cover suggests. The attractions of a Florida vacation are as much a part of the story as the crimes that come with any mystery story. This is a book you read to relax, not to get so caught up in the suspense and terror of it all that you start jumping at loud noises.

And let’s face it, sometimes we all could use a little opportunity to read a story that’s not too intense or too heavy on world-building or too saturated with omnipresent grimdark. I love post-apocalyptic stories, for example, but sometimes even I get apocalypse fatigue. At such times, I just want to read about a likable, somewhat quirky lady who gets caught up in a series of weird incidents, and needs to work with some of her friends to sort things out, often in the campiest way possible.

This book is a vacation in written form. And it’s free, so it’s a convenient way to take some time off, especially with today’s travel costs! Why not go ahead and treat yourself?

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.]