What can I say about Shatzer’s works that I haven’t said already? Well, at a minimum, he’s prolific. This is the fifth book of his that I’ve reviewed this year, and it contains all the elements I’ve come to enjoy in his work: zany magical mishaps, oddball characters, and usually at least one book-within-a-book.

Actually, The Cowboy Sorcerer itself started out as a book-within-a-book. The title is referenced in Shatzer’s Sorcerers Wanted. In my review of that volume, I desperately wished that it was a real book, and now ta-da! It is. Sometimes wishes do come true. Noah Goats said that books lead on to books, and that certainly is the case with Shatzer’s rapidly-expanding oeuvre.

The Cowboy Sorcerer is in some ways an echo of some of Shatzer’s other great characters. There’s more than a little of Ebbius from The Beach Wizard in the stoic sorcerer who arrives in the town of Destiny’s Crack, searching for a vampire. The way Shatzer riffs on these concepts in different ways throughout his books is one of the pleasures of reading his work. He’s like Wodehouse in that respect; similar situations and characters recur, but we never get tired of reading about them, because of the light and entertaining way he tells the story.

If you’ve already been reading Shatzer, then you probably already picked this book up the second you saw it existed, and don’t need any further convincing. But if you are new to his books, then this is as good an introduction as any.

Zachary Shatzer recommended this book to me. He called it the funniest book he’s ever read. Well, when the author of some of the most gut-bustingly laugh-out-loud funny books around says something like that, you pay attention, no? So naturally, I had to get myself a copy.

It lived up to Shatzer’s billing. Indeed, the style of humor is much the same as his, though maybe a bit darker and raunchier, skewing more towards a hard PG-13. Still the dominant feeling is one of utter absurdity. Begin with the title: “the stench of Honolulu”. Since when does Honolulu have a stench? Well, in this book, Honolulu is depicted as a horrible place, decrepit and filthy.

Of course, the narrator is far from reliable. A strange, cowardly, narcissistic and paranoid individual, he is forced to accompany his “friend”–using the term loosely–on a quest to find a golden monkey statue said to be in the Hawaiian islands.

The book continues in this vein, with each escapade more bizarre than the last, including recurring violent yet inexplicably non-lethal encounters with a scientist who our narrator decides is evil. This is one of many running gags that just get funnier as the story goes on.

I could go on and on describing all the madcap episodes that form the bizarre journey, but honestly, you’re better off just reading the book. The hardest thing about reviewing a comedy, I find, is that it’s really impossible to explain why something is funny. You either get it or you don’t. Some people won’t get this, either, and that’s okay. But those who do get it are in for a zany and weird and hilarious ride. I’m very grateful to Mr. Shatzer for the recommendation.

This is a mystery about a detective tracking down a clown who is scheduled to perform at a local boy’s birthday party. The clown, who is also the boy’s uncle, has suddenly vanished with no explanation, and the boy hires Detective McKeever to find him.

Of course, Detective McKeever is only 8 years old, so this makes it hard for her to conduct an investigation. But she’s resourceful and plucky and, like any kid, doesn’t know any better. So, naturally, she finds herself involved in all sorts of comic misadventures, from infiltrating clown meetings to spying on cheating air hockey players. It’s full of all the zaniness we’ve come to expect from Shatzer’s books.

What really makes the story work is McKeever’s seriousness and her annoyance at the refusal of adults to ever take her seriously, which as often as not she turns to her advantage. It’s a fun story that captures how the world seems to a kid.

Remember McGorgol and Hockney at the Guano Island Hotel? That book was a fun take-off on mystery tropes with bird detectives. There’s something similar going on here, with kids acting out the roles of a noir mystery. Having incongruous characters enacting a familiar set of tropes is a good recipe for comedy, and Shatzer, master of humor that he is, uses it well.

Devoted Shatzer fans, of which I am one, and hopefully I’ve managed to persuade a few more, will no doubt enjoy this latest addition to his body of work.

Come with me, and together we shall flee from this humdrum world of endless reboots and sequels, of the same petty outrages and tired memes of a worn-out culture. Let us escape instead into the pages of Mr. Shatzer’s new collection of stories.

Here we will find a mysterious man, in equal parts whimsical and sinister; much as if Willy Wonka formed a partnership with Cooger & Dark. Here also we find the misadventures of a man called Crumley, and of Melville’s Scrivener, reimagined as a tough cop working the mean streets.

Here, now, we see the mad onion dip thief who recounts his strange proclivity in excruciating detail, and here a spy, obsessed with hot dogs, and here a cyberpunk dystopian tale of a boy and his squirrel.

Do these things sound strange to you? I bet they do. They should. Our world is a strange one best filtered, as it is by Shatzer, through the lens of humor. The humor of the absurd, the bizarre, and the ridiculous.

The best books, I heard someone say once, are like windows into the universe that exists within the author’s brain. Every brain holds a universe, but alas, we can only really experience the one that exists in our own. In that sense, we might as well already be in the pods as depicted in The Matrix. But art gives us a glimpse at what goes on in other brains, and the patterns that run through Shatzer’s work echo other books of his. There’s a little of the Beach Wizard in Cal, the man who runs a mysterious diner, and a little of Percival Pettletwixt in Cornelius Mysterious.

How Shatzer manages to be so effortlessly, and unselfconsciously, funny is something I still can’t quite understand. For instance, in one story, passing reference is made to fires started by a character called “Howard Arson, a local moron.”

This is hilarious. I laughed out loud. Why is this so funny? I do not know. If I knew, perhaps I’d be as funny as Shatzer. But I’m not.

Yes, all told, I recommend this book to anyone and everyone who enjoys a good funny story. It’s wild and zany and goofy and bizarre, and I enjoyed each and every story, and when I had finished, I could only wish there were more.

This book is about a young woman named Emily Tinker, who is hired to teach English Literature at Merlinfirth Academy. Merlinfirth is a boarding school, isolated, with odd traditions and customs, inclusion four different houses into which students are sorted (Gryllenbar, Rowlingstone, Hathaloath and Syliname), and a number of peculiar students, none more so than Ariana Tolliver, who is always getting involved in weird and dangerous adventures.

On one level, this book shares a theme with several of Bertocci’s other books: it’s about a young woman who feels adrift. She’s been working in retail and service jobs, never getting a chance to put her knowledge of the Western Canon to use. Until now, when she begins teaching with earnest zeal, only to discover the students at Merlinfirth are more interested in practicing magic than in learning the finer points of literary symbolism.

On another level, it’s also a commentary on the state of modern education. Merlinfirth is facing pressures to modernize as much as any school, and its older staff feel the threat to their traditions. Also there’s some deal with a dark wizard who threatens the school. But you probably expected that much.

There is another layer, of course, which is that it’s a parody. I think it’s pretty obvious what it’s parodying from what I’ve said already. Probably it’s best if you’ve read some of that popular series to get all the references, spoofs, satires, and other such elements. For good or for ill, I think most people have done this.

Here’s the thing, though: this is more than a takeoff of a popular cultural phenomenon. Because now we get to the final and most important aspect of the story: it’s about Miss Tinker’s love of language, and her efforts to help her students discover the value that words and literature have.

Bertocci’s style, and this book especially, is highly reminiscent of Wilde. I think it’s pretty much how old Oscar would take on modern books: with wit, playful use of language, and some keen insights into human nature.

If you follow me on the rapidly-collapsing but still oddly fascinating behavioral experiment once known as Twitter, you may know that I have a proclivity to complain that modern entertainment is being drowned in endless sequels, prequels and reboots.

Here’s what I may not have made clear: I don’t hate derivative works. One author taking the works of another and building upon them is an old tradition, and one that has produced some fantastic stories. Every author is influenced by others. Why, Wilde himself was known to borrow from others: The Importance of Being Earnest was heavily inspired by W.S. Gilbert’s play Engaged, so much so that the Victorians probably would have called it a reboot, if they’d had the concept of rebooting.

The healthy way to capitalize on a fashion is to tell a story with the same trappings as whatever is popular, but add innovations that make it stand out as your own. The unhealthy way is to keep doing the same damn thing again and again with only trivial variations.

Bertocci has done the former. He has used the common form of the YA wizarding adventure to tell his own tale of the value of language and stories.

The Beach Wizard was one of my favorite new books of 2022. It’s a brilliant comic novel with some real heart and even some philosophical weight to it. It’s a great book. An instant classic, in my opinion.

So when I saw Shatzer had written a sequel, I was filled with a mix of excitement and trepidation. Could he match what he achieved with the original? It seemed a tall task, but of course I had to find out.

The story begins with the Beach Wizard suffering from a personal crisis brought on by a long spell of rain at Benford Beach. Finally, in attempt to restore sunshine to the party town, he uses Wettington’s Trident, a powerful magical artifact discovered at the end of the first book. But the effort goes awry, and he accidentally unleashes chaos upon the town, from turning one of the streets into tomato soup, to revivifying a long-dead pirate, to, most disastrously, creating an ever-growing hole in the ground that threatens to consume the entire city.

Needing help to rectify his mistake, the Beach Wizard enlists the aid of the Benford Beach Surfing Club to help him find another magic set who can set things right. But the wizard in neighboring Beansville is not of a mind to help, given his dictatorial ambitions and arrogant personality.

The book is full of crazy and off-the-wall misadventures and comical happenings, and when it ultimately arrives at its expected conclusion, it proves to be a very satisfying trip. If you enjoyed the first one, you’ll like this one, too.

I could just leave it at that. If I were a normal person, I suppose I would just leave it at that. But zis is Ruined Chapel! Ve don’t “normal” here!

What we need to ask, of course, is “Does The Beach Wizard’s Big Mistake have themes?” Let’s start by examining the Beach Wizard’s rival, Piddleman. Piddleman is introduced as a man who, years before the events of this book, once briefly ruled Toledo, Ohio, as a dictator before he was arrested by the Council of Magic.

However, since his days as a unitary executive, Piddleman has refined his approach to power. As he says:

“I came to see the error of my ways. Democracy is the way to go… To simply seize control is akin to cheating. What I am doing now is different. It is the people of Beansville who have given me the chance to impose my elegant vision on them by electing a mayor who is willing to act as my puppet.”

This is pure Machiavellianism, but not at all unusual in the world of politics. Indeed, it is arguably the most common fate of a democracy to vote to install some powerful person as ruler. As John Adams said, “There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide.”

Yet, as the Beach Wizard reflects, he is not so much better than the conniving Piddleman. For he himself chose to wield the powerful trident, and in his quest for power, became corrupted. Or at least really screwed up his beloved beach town.

And here is where we find the theme of The Beach Wizard’s Big Mistake. It is the same as the theme of The Lord of the Rings: namely, the malignant effect of power on the human soul. Wettington’s Trident might as well be The One Ring for all the power and danger it holds.

And as the Beach Wizard says to the consummately easygoing mayor of Benford Beach, John Smacks:

“The reason you’re so popular as Mayor, despite your lack of enthusiasm for many of the duties of your office, is because you have no desire to wield power over anyone.” 

This is why, no matter what calamities befall him, Mayor Smacks always seems to maintain an even keel. We can’t help but be reminded of Tom Bombadil, who, as Wikipedia tells us Tolkien scholars claim, “is entirely free of the desire to dominate, and hence cannot be dominated.”

The Beach Wizard’s mistake is the desire for power, and the beach can only be saved when he surrenders his wish to control it.

Of course, I’m making all this sound way heavier than it actually is. I can’t help it; I got hooked on political theory when I was in college, and like any recovering addict, even the vaguest scent of the stuff is liable to make me relapse. In fact, like any truly good book, the themes are only there for those who want to find them. If you just want to enjoy a good comedic story about a bunch of wacky characters, then you can, and pay my wannabe Discourses on Livy-style reading no never-mind.

Any way you slice it, The Beach Wizard’s Big Mistake is a funny novel and a worthy sequel to The Beach Wizard.

This is a steampunk adventure-comedy about a group of geniuses, The Hogalum Society. When their founder and namesake, Dr. Yngve Hogalum, dies suddenly, one of the society’s members, Phineas Magnetron, takes it upon himself to make a daring, perhaps even mad, effort to restore Dr. Hogalum to life.

The book is written in a verbose, overly-ornate style that is a deliberate parody of Victorian prose. It takes place in 1877, albeit an alternate 1877 with many counterfactual technologies.

A few times, the author succeeded a little too well at mimicking the wordy style of the day, to the extent that I sort of wishes he’d get to the point more quickly. I got used to this eventually, and by the end found the narrator’s sesquipedalian tendencies rather entertaining.

The book is a quick 30 minute read that serves as an intro to the world of the Hogalums. I happened to stumble across it while searching for retrofuturistic books, and while it’s really an alternate history as opposed to actually retrofuturistic, I nevertheless enjoyed it very much.

Even more than the book itself, I liked the afterword where the author explains all the historical references and deliberate anachronisms. Things that sounded like impossibilities as I read them (a 20-chamber revolver???) turned out to be based in fact. I always learn something from these “stories behind the story.”

All in all, this is a very entertaining story for anyone who likes humorous steampunk adventures.

I reviewed the first book in this series last year, and this one is more of the same. Well, except the first one was sci-fi, and this is a classic 1930s pulp adventure. If the first one was Star Trek as a sex comedy, this is Indiana Jones as a sex comedy. Last time I said that the protagonist’s name, which is once again Dirk Moorcock, told you everything you needed to know. Well, I’ll add that this book has a spy named “Mata Hottie,” in case there’s any lingering confusion.

This time, around Dirk is hired by a beautiful Russian countess to guide her to, as you may have surmised, a lost continent discovered by her father. Naturally, an assortment of evil villains and monsters stand in their way, as does Dirk’s overactive sex drive.

I think the sex scenes in this book were somewhat more explicit than in the last one, which may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your own personal preferences. They are easy enough to skim past if you don’t want to hear all the details. Though, if that’s the case, you may not want to bother with reading this in the first place. Still, if you liked the first book, you’re sure to enjoy this one as well.

I have to say, this is a great example of how you do a sequel. In general, my opinion is that it’s really difficult to keep telling good stories with the same characters again and again. Eventually, a writer starts reusing ideas, or making the characters behave in odd ways. I like this way of handling it, as a spiritual sequel (if the word “spiritual” can be used in regard to this bawdy tale) in a new setting. It allows the author freedom to keep what works from previous tales without being too closely bound by events of previous books. Hollywood should take note.

There’s simply nothing like a Zachary Shatzer book to make you laugh. This one is no exception. The sequel to Sorcerers Wanted gets going early with a hilarious recap of the events of the first book, and never lets up from there.

I can’t summarize the plot; it’s simply too wild. You have a demonic talking hamster, inter-dimensional travel, an evil overlord who turns everything into candy, and a sweet Canadian hockey mom who practices occult magic on the side. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

It is wacky and zany and bizarre and hilarious. I’m sure it won’t be to everyone’s taste, but if you couldn’t already tell from my reviews of all his other books, Shatzer’s style is very much to mine. I laugh out loud reading his books, which is something I almost never do, even when I am genuinely amused by a piece of writing.

Go pick this book up. If you struggle to envision the scenes in a way that strikes you as funny, try the following experiment: imagine how the book would play as a movie performed by Monty Python. As the Pythons were no strangers to playing multiple roles, you can assign them to as many characters as you like.

It’s just an idea. If you’re like me, you won’t need any additional mental tricks to enjoy this book. It will be a non-stop laugh-fest from start to finish.

I don’t know what else I can say, folks. If my reviews of all Shatzer’s other books haven’t convinced you to try them, I don’t see how this one can.

So I won’t review it as I normally would. Instead, I’ll try some different approaches…


Review by an Academic Literary Critic

A Cozy Christmas Murder (Z. Shazter, 2021) satirizes 21st-century capitalism in its portrayal of the independent bookstore operator Roberta Smith and her cat, Mr. Bigfluff, who together represent Messianic figures who protect the town of Quaintville from the avaricious motivations of a criminal who symbolizes the profiteering of the wealthiest classes, while at the same time indulging in a pastiche of various pre-post-modernist textual norms. Smith’s friends, Jeannie and Sheriff James, symbolize conflicting modes of sexuality in a petit-bourgeois milieu…

Review by someone who has only read one very specific type of book

I couldn’t follow this story at all. The characters were not wizards, but seemed to all be non-magical people. I kept waiting for something about a prophecy to explain the plot, but there was nothing. Also, the family bloodlines and lineages were left unexplained, so I couldn’t easily categorize the characters.

Review by someone who is too easily offended

The protagonist of this book is a woman. Are they trying to say that men can’t solve mysteries? Do they want our young boys to grow up believing themselves to be incapable of logic and reasoning? Also, why do they only mention Christmas? Are they suggesting that all the other holidays should be illegal? If so, that is offensive and wrong. 

Review by That Guy; you know the one…


To be clear, I love the book itself. The characters are funny and engaging, and the whole thing is a delightful send-up of cozy mysteries. However, I’m only giving it one star because Amazon delivered it three minutes late to my houseboat in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane.

Review by someone whose keyboard only has the letter “h”


Review by someone who is overly nostalgic

They don’t write books like this anymore. I say that because this book was written in the past, which is not the present, and therefore by definition is not being written now. You couldn’t write a book like this today. People would say it had already been written, and in a way, they’d be correct. Because we can only move through Time in one direction. Still, if you want to pretend that it isn’t now but the past, then you should read this book in your near future!


Yuck, what was in that eggnog?

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this silliness. Definitely give Shatzer’s books a try if you haven’t already. Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and to all a good night!