I’ve been waiting for this book since I read the first book in Stephenson’s Byzantium series back in 2018. And was it ever worth the wait. After setting the stage in The Porta Aurea, with the rise of the Emperor Isaac, Stephenson has events play out in dramatic fashion. It may seem odd to describe a historical fiction book as a political thriller, but at times that’s almost what this feels like. It’s that fast-paced and exciting.

Once again, the book is told from the perspective of Anna Dalassena, wife of John Comnenus, Emperor Isaac’s brother. The initial optimism they feel at Isaac donning the purple subsides quickly as they realize the extent of the mess he’s inherited. Misfortune follows misfortune, and soon Isaac is unable to serve, presenting John with an opportunity to reign.

This is a key episode in the book that I want to focus on, because John is presented with an opportunity to take power and turns it down. Anna resents this more than a little, not least because John’s refusal allows the contemptible Constantine Ducas to be installed as Emperor, with the help of the scheming bureaucrat Michael Psellus.

On the one hand, it’s hard to argue with John’s honest assessment that he would not be a very good emperor. He’s a decent, hard-working, well-meaning guy, but not ambitious or particularly suited to thinking on a grand scale. You’ve got to applaud him for knowing his own limits, and for not being easily goaded into taking power, which has well-known corrupting tendencies.

On the other hand, though… Anna makes the valid point that while John probably wouldn’t be a great emperor, it’s hard to imagine he could be worse than Constantine Ducas, a longtime enemy of Anna’s family as well as a generally horrible person. Given that John’s refusal to take his brother’s place results in Ducas taking the throne, there is a strong argument to be made that a sense of duty should have compelled John to take power, if only to prevent it from falling into the hands of someone even less suited to it.

Much has been written about the nobility of refusing power, and no doubt there is something to that; but there is also a sense in which taking power can be a sacrifice, which must be made to prevent worse abuses. After all, someone has to rule the Byzantine Empire. Is it better if it’s ruled by a stolid if unimaginative soldier, father, and husband, or a ruthless, abusive maniac? Something to ponder.

In any case, Ducas rules for a time, but eventually he dies and is replaced with his son, the Emperor Michael, who is only a teenager and in no way ready to assume the duties of Emperor. Thanks to Anna’s clever gamesmanship and political maneuvering, an extremely capable soldier named Romanus Diogenes rules as “co-emperor” and leads many successful campaigns against the Turks, who are continually harassing the edges of the Empire.

Romanus Diogenes is a brave and honest man who is, unfortunately, a bit too naive about the realities of politics. Once again, Psellus and another Ducas, (John, Constantine’s brother) conspire against him to reassert their power.

The whole book is a gripping tale of political intrigue, shifting alliances, backstabbing and maneuvering for power.  I’d call it Machiavellian, except Machiavelli wouldn’t be born for a few centuries yet, so that seems inappropriate. But I think that gives you a good idea of what I mean.

Through it all, Anna is a likable and interesting narrator. She, and other women, may not often have held direct power during this period, but they had all sorts of ways of influencing events behind the scenes.

I’m really impressed by how vivid Stephenson makes everything feel. Too often, when I read historical fiction, I feel like I’m just watching cardboard cutouts go through prearranged motions to arrive at a foregone conclusion.  Not with this book. It all felt immediate and real.

And one more word about that sneaky character Michael Psellus. He’s such an archetypal figure; the amoral administrator who somehow survives every regime change, largely because he knows where all the bodies are buried. He makes me think of Talleyrand, or, for fans of Brit-coms, Sir Humphrey Appleby. There’s no doubt he’s a snake, and yet I have a grudging sort of admiration for his persistence and resilience.

Psellus, by the way, was a real person and in fact wrote a book, from which comes much of our knowledge about the Byzantine empire during this period. I have not read his whole book. (Stephenson has, though, and she has written about Psellus on her blog, which you should read after you read her book.) But I have read the parts of it which correspond to the events in Imperial Passions.

Naturally, Psellus paints a very different picture of events than that described above. But then, he would, wouldn’t he?

Which telling should we trust, Stephenson’s or Psellus’s? Ah, well, my friends; that’s the fun of history, isn’t it? There are names and dates that we can all study and memorize, but beyond that, it’s really all about interpretation to weave a compelling story out of all these dry facts.

One thing I can say with certainty is that Stephenson has woven a masterful tale in her latest book, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction.

[Audio version of this review available below.]

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Happy New Year’s Eve! Once again, I decided to devote the last Friday of the year to a recap of all the book reviews I wrote in the past twelve months.

In January I reviewed Cliff Hays’s Aamrgan, a mind-bending work of philosophy. Then for vintage science-fiction month, I took on another book heavy on philosophy, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. Then came a work by one of my favorite newly-discovered authors, C. Litka’s A Summer in Amber. The month finished up with J. Guenther’s dystopian A True Map of the City.

February I decided to go heavy on romance for Valentine’s Day, starting with Jill Weatherholt’s charming Second Chance Romance. Next up was Penelope’s Pleasure by Deborah Villegas. Taking a break from love stories, I also reviewed Doggerel, Sue Vincent’s collection of canine poetry, and Geoffrey Cooper’s medical thriller Bad Medicine. Then it was more romance with E.M Foner’s sci-fi rom-com Date Night on Union Station. After that came the first in Tammie Painter’s fantasy-comedy Cassie Black series, The Undead Mr. Tenpenny. I wrapped up the month with Geoff Lawson’s Boer war romance Forgiven and Peter Martuneac’s zombie dystopia His Name Was Zach.

March had to be Mars month, and I started it off with Litka’s wonderful Martian novella Keiree, followed by Ian Miller’s hard sci-fi novel of a Martian colony, Red Gold. Then came Jackie Hunter’s Lost in the Red Hills of Mars and Jodi Bowersox’s madcap comedy Mars Madness.

April started off with a venture farther from Earth with Jeremy L Jones’s sci-fi adventure Ruins of Empire: Saturnius Mons and then I turned my attention to H.R.R. Gorman’s magnificent, fantastical dystopian techno-thriller American Chimera. I followed that up with Vesa Turpeinen’s modern Western Bounty Hunter Stex and then the second installment in the Cassie Black trilogy, The Uncanny Raven Winston. I finished up with Sid Stark’s academic mystery Campus Confidential and for Walpurgis night reviewed my favorite Lovecraft story, The Haunter of the Dark.

Lovecraftianism continued into May with R. Walter Dutton’s Book of the Elder Wisdom, and then it was on to Richard Pastore’s comedic retelling of Greek myth, Perseus Kills His Grandfather. After that, I finished up the Cassie Black series with The Untangled Cassie Black and then made a return to sci-fi with Henry Vogel’s Fortune’s Fool.

June began with Lindy Moone’s The Harbinger of Gloom Street and Bill Fitts’s cozy campus mystery He Needed Killing. After that, it was time for another Litka book, Beneath the Lanterns, a romantic fantasy adventure, and Abby: Alone, the short prequel to the His Name Was Zach series.

July began with Alex Cross’s fantasy short story The Teddy Bear’s War and then one of my most eagerly anticipated reads of the year, Mark Paxson’s literary YA novel, The Dime. After that, the sci-fi spaceship adventure Fire Ant by Jonathan Brazee and The Fall of Alla Xul by Andrew Rakich finished up the month.

For August, I went back into Tom Williams’s Napoleonic spy adventure with Burke and the Bedouin. Next came a pair of literary fiction works: Zoe Keithley’s collection of poignant short stories 3/Chicago and Kevin Brennan’s Occasional SoulmatesI rounded out August with a return to Peter Martuneac’s zombie dystopia with Her Name Was Abby.

September was time another Litka book, the short sci-fi tale A Night on Isvalar. Then I reviewed Elizabeth Gauffreau’s literary historical novel Telling Sonny, Zachary Shatzer’s hilarious comedy The Goose Finder and finished off with the mystical and mysterious space opera The Dream God by Brendan M.P. Heard.

October is my favorite month, being Halloween month, and accordingly I reviewed various horror books. First up was Tom Williams’s tale of battling magicians, Dark Magic, followed by Seth Tucker’s homage to Victorian horror, Richard Rex and the Succubus of Whitechapel and M.D. Parker’s blend of military sci-fi and horror URP-113. I took a brief break to review Victor Godinez’s new techno-thriller The Doormen before returning to horror with Roberta Eaton Cheadle’s tale of a vengeful spirit, A Ghost and His Gold. I was delighted to cap the month off with Carrie Rubin’s latest Ben Oris book, The Bone Elixir, a perfect modern day Gothic story, complete with a haunted hotel and a demonic conspiracy.

November is not my favorite month, being not Halloween month, but it was eased by the light comedy of the fun-for-all-ages mystery McGorgol and Hockney at the Guano Island Hotel by Audrey Noah. I finished the “His Name Was Zach” series with Their Names Were Many, and then Geoffrey Cooper’s latest thriller, Ill Intent. That was followed up by another hilarious novella from Zachary Shatzer, The Story of John Warbly and the Crabcakes, America’s Favorite Band. I finished up with the epic fantasy by Rob J. Hayes, Never Die.

For December, I took the always dangerous step of reading a Star Wars book. It’s dangerous because nothing causes me to carry on at length quite like Star Wars. But I enjoyed Karen Traviss’s Republic Commando: Hard Contact. That was followed by the excellent ghost story The Last Photograph of John Buckley by T.J. Brown and the hilarious parody of romance novels, 9 Lovers for Emily Spankhammer, co-authored by Brown and Kaleesha Williams. Then I read Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel Casino Royale and for Christmas reviewed the light-hearted holiday fantasy The Witch of the North Pole by Snow Eden.

And that, my friends, brings us to the present moment. You know, I got the idea for this whole review-a-week thing back in late 2019, and thought I’d give it a try in 2020. I frankly never expected I would do it for this long or have this much fun. It’s proven to be a great way not only to discover new books, but also to meet other writers and readers. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by the blog this year. All the best wishes to you for the new year.

Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to my fellow authors at Writers Supporting Writers, Mark, Audrey, Chuck, Lucinda, and Richard, with whom it has been my privilege to have many excellent discussions about writing this past year. Here’s to many more in 2022!

To my shame, I’ve let my list of indie book reviews get hopelessly out of date. The reason for this is it has to be manually updated every time I have a new book review. This isn’t the most time-consuming thing in the world, but I try to post a new review almost every week, and the time it takes to update adds up. (One might argue that I am just lazy, and perhaps this is true. But I prefer to think of it this way: the less time I have to spend updating the site is more time I can spend reading books.)

But, I think I may now have a solution. The solution is Query Loops, and it should, if it works properly, allow me to automate updating the page, so every time I post new review, it will immediately be added to the list in the appropriate genre without me having to do anything.

So, here is a revamped version of the indie book review page that uses Query Loops. Note that the link at the top of the blog still takes you to the old page. I want to give people a chance to check this out and give feedback before I put a link on the front page.

Now, I’ll admit, this is still not perfect. In particular, because the Query Loop block only displays the “Featured Image” for each post, the cover images are different sizes. Yes, this is annoying, and if I get the time, I’ll try to go back and replace the images with ones that are the same size. But probably not at WordPress’s suggested size of 1200 x 675, which in my opinion is huge.

Still, on balance, this is way nicer than having to manually update. So, please check it out, and let me know what you think, or if you see any problems/issues etc.

[Since I’m talking about vampire fiction this month, it seemed right to include this review, which I originally published in 2019, of a weird western film that claimed to pit one of the most famous outlaws of the American west against the legendary vampire.–BG, 10/16/2021]

Go ahead, say that title out loud. (Okay, maybe not if you’re in a public place.) “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula.” The words seem intrinsically strange together, and become even more bizarre when you know that William Bonney, the famous outlaw known as “Billy the Kid,” was shot to death by Sheriff Pat Garrett in 1881, 16 years before Bram Stoker published his Gothic novel of vampire horror, Dracula. 

Now it’s true, Stoker’s vampire was based on Vlad III Dracula, who lived in the 1400s and thus—if he had been an immortal vampire, which most reliable historians seem to feel he wasn’t—might have found his way into a showdown with the famous outlaw.

But as the film begins, it quickly becomes clear that these details do not matter after all, because Billy the Kid isn’t really Billy the Kid—the film apparently is set in some sort of alternate history in which Mr. Bonney abandoned his outlaw ways, did not run afoul of Sheriff Garrett, and instead became foreman at a ranch, where he is engaged to marry the young daughter of the ranch owner.

Careful students of the craft of storytelling may here ask the question, “Why did the writer choose to tell a story about Billy the Kid in which Billy the Kid does not act like Billy the Kid, but somebody else altogether different?” Careful students of the craft of storytelling are advised to take a stiff drink before going any further, because it is also worth noting that the vampire is not once referred to as Dracula throughout the entire film. 

So, it’s Billy the Kid vs. Dracula, except Billy the Kid isn’t Billy the Kid, and Dracula isn’t Dracula. All quite clear? Smashing! We proceed.

The film begins with the vampire, (played by John Carradine who portrayed Dracula well in the surprisingly decent film House of Dracula) descending upon a family of German immigrants traveling by wagon in the American west. He bites the young daughter of the group, but is warded off at the sight of a crucifix.

Later, the nameless vampire comes upon a stagecoach, carrying wealthy travelers towards their ranch, where, he learns, their beautiful niece Elizabeth resides. He is much taken with a picture of young Elizabeth shown to him by the travelers. When the coach stops for an evening, the vampire attacks a young Native American woman camped nearby, sparking the rage of the rest of the tribe. They assume it to be the work of the stage coach’s occupants and retaliate by killing them—allowing the vampire to assume the identity of the ranch owner and Elizabeth’s uncle, Mr. Underhill.

Meanwhile, William Bonney and young Elizabeth are playfully shooting tin cans and flirting with each other, much to the annoyance of the previous foreman, who watches jealously from afar. Apparently, being foreman also entails being Elizabeth’s lover, since apparently Billy took both positions from him at the same time.

Realizing that Elizabeth’s uncle Mr. Underhill is due to arrive in town soon, Billy rides off to meet him at the saloon. He arrives just after the vampire, posing as Underhill, has come to the saloon and taken a room. Moments later, the immigrant family arrives, still shaken by the earlier vampire attack, and are horrified when their daughter recognizes “Underhill” as the vampire who attacked her. However, he is somehow able to convince them that he is not a vampire, and, as a gesture of goodwill, allows them to take his room for the evening while he follows Billy to the Underhill ranch.

But of course, this is all a diabolical trick, and the vampire returns that night to finish the job on the poor immigrants’ daughter. Meanwhile, Billy and Elizabeth ponder the idea that there is something odd about her uncle, although what it is they can’t quite put their fingers on…

Dracula

What could it be?

So, after much riding back and forth, Billy getting into a brawl with the ex-foreman, and the old immigrant woman’s attempt to keep the vampire away failing, Elizabeth is carried off into a makeshift lair the vampire has created in an abandoned mine. Billy rides there furiously, ignoring the town doctor’s advice that to defeat the vampire, he must drive a stake through his heart. Instead, in typical outlaw fashion, he tries to gun him down with his revolver. But the bullets have no effect. 

Okay, look: I know it’s absurd to complain about logic in a film called Billy the Kid vs. Dracula. But I can’t help myself. Bullets are just fast-moving, miniature stakes, right? So why shouldn’t they work on the vampire? Now, you might say, “Well, they didn’t hit his heart, so it didn’t work.” I could buy that… except that then Billy throws his gun at the vampire and hits him in the face and knocks him down!

Seriously, what is this? If being hit with bullets didn’t hurt him, why should being hit with a much slower-moving hunk of metal? I know, you all are thinking I’m being Comic Book Guy at this point, but I have a reason for talking about this, and it’s not because I’m one of those people who is going to go off and start a petition demanding that Billy the Kid vs. Dracula  be remade with proper consultation of a period firearms expert and a close-quarters combat specialist.

The reason is because it’s an important lesson for anyone who writes fiction: there are bound to be illogical things in any work of fiction. That’s a given. If there weren’t, it wouldn’t be fiction. But the important thing is that the logic must be internally consistent. We get to make up our own rules for our fictional worlds, but they must never conflict with each other. 

All right now, where was I? Oh, yes! So, Billy then stabs the vampire through the heart with the doctor’s stake, and releases Elizabeth from the spell the creature placed on her. He then carries her out of the mine, in the words of Wikipedia, “presumably to live happily ever after.” I love that use of “presumably.” Like, we think they’re going to live happily ever after, but who knows? It could be they’ll realize that they’re just two very different people who happened to get involved in this weird vampire business, gradually grow apart, and eventually come to the point where they argue over petty things like who should do the dishes before finally realizing that they need to go their separate ways.

So we’re 1,097 words into this review and you’re wondering, “Berthold, why are you even writing about this random lousy 55-year-old movie?” 

The reason is very simple: I’m fascinated by the Weird Western genre. I like westerns for the desolate desert landscapes and their frequent use of themes of loneliness and revenge, and of course, weird supernatural horror was my first love in fiction, and the combination of the two will always interest me. And so while I’ve made a huge amount of fun of the film, it’s nonetheless, in its own odd way, significant as one of the first Weird Western films. 

I mentioned the title at the beginning because I honestly think that a competent storyteller could make something interesting out of that. Make Billy the Kid be honest-to-God Billy the freakin’ Kid, the ruthless outlaw who boldly escaped from a New Mexico Jail, and have him encounter a vampire while on the run from the law, somewhere in the gorgeous New Mexico landscape. A skilled writer could spin all kinds of compelling yarns about death, murder and revenge out of that.

But, instead we got a move that shows a vampire strutting around in daylight! For shame!

That’s okay, though. They say that once you invite the vampire in, your fate is as good as sealed. And since early Weird Westerns invited the vampires west, it’s paved the way for all sorts of interesting stories to follow.

[Audio version of this post below.]

This was the first Burke book I heard of, but as it’s the second in the series, I had to read the first installment, Burke in the Land of Silver. I loved it, and eagerly anticipated reading this one.

A bit of background: Burke is like a Napoleonic-era James Bond. (I actually think he’s more like Patrick McGoohan’s “Danger Man,” but hardly anyone remembers that series.) A spy for the British who monitors and sabotages the activities of Britain’s main geopolitical enemy, France.

Unlike Land of Silver, which was based on the true story of the real James Burke, Burke and the Bedouin is a fictionalized account, though most of the major events, such as Napoleon’s army clashing with the Bedouin and the Mamelukes, and the climactic Battle of the Nile, are real, and it is no doubt true that Britain would have had men like Burke present in Egypt.

The book is a bit faster-paced than the first one, and it seemed like there were fewer characters. That’s not a negative, though; just a difference in style. This felt more like an old-fashioned desert adventure story, compared with the political intrigue and machinations of the previous entry. Fortunately, I love a good desert adventure, so that’s all to the good.

And like the previous book, there are definitely times when you have to question just who you should be rooting for. Burke is a very likable protagonist, with a clear sense of personal honor and bravery, so he seems like a straight-up hero… but then you get a scene of him torturing a young French surveyor for information, or spreading sensational lies about the French among the Bedouin. Of course, he’s not doing this randomly–he’s a soldier, in a war. Ugly stuff happens, and people just have to deal with it.

The book does a great job of conveying the sheer brutality of the era. It’s easy to romanticize the Napoleonic wars, especially if you learn it as the history of dashing, larger-than-life figures like Nelson, Wellington, and of course, the Corsican himself. The everyday reality of it was much nastier, and this book captures that well.

If you enjoyed the first one, this book is a worthy sequel. And while it is true this would work as a standalone book, I would strongly recommend reading them in order. Fans of historical fiction, spy thrillers, and adventure books alike should all check out the Burke series.

This book begins with a clever hook: the protagonist, Cassie Black, is shocked when the corpses at the funeral home where she works start coming back to life. She quickly learns the reason for this sudden re-animation is that they have “unfinished business.” At first, she’s able to help put them to rest, but when the eponymous Mr. Tenpenny returns to life, putting him at peace proves to be a daunting task that sucks Cassie into a whole parallel world of magic and mystery.

The book is very much in the tradition of fantasy novels like Alice in WonderlandHarry Potter, etc. (There are a few references to the latter throughout.) It’s the classic setup of a seemingly ordinary person who finds themselves in another society where they are of immense importance. From there it’s Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Quest, through and through, but Cassie narrates her adventures with a smart-aleck, macabre sense of humor. The book is suffused with dark humor, of the sort at which Painter excels. 

Cassie can be a little difficult; I won’t lie. There are times when her anti-social personality and paranoia make her tough to relate to. Although, as is explained in her backstory, she’s had a hard life, shuffled among various foster families that treated her quite badly, so it makes sense she would be this way. And eventually, her instincts do point her in the right direction. (Sort of.)

I actually enjoyed the “real” world of everyday Portland most of all; it felt very vivid and interesting. I especially liked the officious government inspector who is investigating the funeral home where Cassie works, suspecting, (quite correctly) that something is amiss.

That reminds me: this is book one in a series, and it ends on a cliffhanger. So, there are a lot of threads that remain to be tied up in future volumes, and I look forward to seeing where it all goes. It’s a fun read for anyone who enjoys fast-paced, somewhat snarky, somewhat twisted fantasy adventures.

[This review is based on an ARC. The Undead Mr. Tenpenny releases today, February 23, 2021.]

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all! I started this year with the goal of posting a book review every Friday, and as this is the last Friday of the year, I’m going to recap them all. Since many of these are available as e-books that can be instantly delivered, you might find a truly last-minute gift on here! The covers are in the slideshow above.

In January I reviewed Joy Spicer’s coming-of-age fantasy novel The Cursed Gift, a story full of adventure and magic. Next was part two of Lorinda J. Taylor’s epic science-fiction series The Man Who Found Birds Among The Stars, Wounded Eagle. More sci-fi followed with The Secha by Dawn Trowell Jones and The First Protectors by Victor Godinez. (For Vintage Sci-Fi Month, I also reviewed Asimov’s classic Caves of Steel.) The month finished up with Kevin Brennan’s Eternity Began Tomorrow, a novel which presented an alternate vision of 2020 that ended up being less bizarre and more logical than the real one.

February kicked off with Shady Acres, a collection of short stories by Mark Paxson. For Valentine’s Day, I reviewed Isabella Norse’s medieval fantasy romance Assassin’s Heart, and followed that up with A.C. Flory’s science-fiction novel Vokhtah and volume two of Nicky Drayden’s Delightfully Twisted Tales.

In March I first went with more sci-fi with G.J. Scobie’s Small Print and then delved into a mad world of disturbing, madcap weirdness with the hilarious, unsettling and profoundly unusual Hyperlink from Hell by Lindy Moone. To try and reacquaint myself with sanity, I next reviewed Jackson Banks’ humorous non-fiction I Put Pants on for This? and then more sci-fi with L.E. Henderson’s Binary Boy.

April started off with C.S. Boyack’s weird western adventure Panama and Jason Abbott’s short story Harvest. (For those keeping score, Harvest was a non-Friday review, allowing me to maintain an average of one review per Friday.) Because I’d been leaning heavily on sci-fi and fantasy, I varied things with a review of Jennifer Kelland Perry’s literary drama, Calmer Girls. After that, a trip to the world of mythology with Tammie Painter’s short story Testing the Waters and a humorous mystery novel, Sweet and Sour by T.L. Dyer.

For May 1st–a date with some spiritual significance in folklore–I reviewed Joy Spicer’s Moon Goddess, a book that teems with references to mythology and mysticism. After that, Laurie Boris’ dramedy The Joke’s on Me, and Geoffrey Cooper’s latest Brad and Karen medical thriller Forever. Then–because I can never stay away from sci-fi too long–Henry Vogel’s sword and planet adventure Scout’s Honor and the science-fiction/fantasy conspiracy YA thriller, The Adventures of Sarah Ann Lewis and the Memory Thieves by Joshua C. Carroll.

June saw me review Abbie Evans’ glorious swashbuckling comic fantasy The Gossamer Globe, a truly clever book which is still free on Kindle! Next was the compelling philosophical short story IHU by Cliff Hays and then more Henry Vogel with The Fugitive Heir, before concluding the month with Tammie Painter’s macabre and darkly comic A Feast for Sight.

July began with a bang–specifically, Meteor Strike, the first book in Pat Prescott’s re-released Fan Plan series. As a bonus, I did a Wednesday review of another Henry Vogel book, Hart for Adventure, before proceeding on to the delightful cozy mystery The Cruise Ship Lost My Daughter by Morgan Mayer. Since I tend to favor fiction over non-fiction when it comes to what I review, I again varied things by reviewing the non-fiction Close to Perfect, which is a transcription of a conversation among three indie authors: Kevin Brennan, Dan DeLong and Karen Choi. (Sadly no longer available.) I then reviewed John Brunner’s 1974 novel Total Eclipse, which is not an indie book but is still very interesting. The month closed with the fast-paced horror adventure Hannah the Huntress by Saul Bishop.

For August, I realized I had been giving short shrift to the romance genre, and attempted to atone by reviewing Sha Renée’s Forbidden Kisses. That was followed by the long-awaited second book in the wonderful Carrie Rubin’s Ben Oris series, The Bone Hunger, a pulse-pounding medical thriller. A weird western, Terror Beneath Cactus Flats by Seth Tucker was next, followed by Lydia Schoch’s Tumble. I closed the month out with a review of the ancient Chinese epic, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, volume one.

September began with yet more sci-fi in E.A. Wicklund’s The Huralon Incident, and then Joy Spicer’s fairytale re-telling The Spellbound Spindle. Since summer officially ends in September, I had to review Em Leonard’s collection of weird stories set in amusement parks, Summer’s Over before returning to check in on Lorinda Taylor’s Capt. Nikalishin in part three of the series, Bird of Prey.

October is, of course, my favorite month, and I’d done enough reviews that I could pause and kick-off the month with some recommendations for the Halloween season. The rest of the month, I dedicated to Halloween-themed books, beginning with Alex Vorkov’s excellent sci-fi horror adventure All the Colors of The Deadfollowed by Mae Clair’s evocative mystery set in the Mothman-haunted river town of Point Pleasant A Thousand Yesteryears. Jason H. Abbott’s Angel: A Short Story of the Un-Dead was next, and I was delighted to be able to cap my favorite month with a review of Audrey Driscoll’s sublime collection of weird fiction Tales from the Annexe, a true must-read for any fan of horror.

November began with a return to Abbie Evans’ Gossamer series with The Gossamer Power. For Friday the 13th I reviewed Hank Bruce’s book of western stories with ironic twists, Cowboy Karma. For Thanksgiving I reviewed George Plimpton’s classic football book Paper Lion and finished the month off with D. Wallace Peach’s fantasy novel Liars and Thieves.

For December, I took an imaginary trip to 19th century South America with Tom Williams’ Napoleonic spy novel Burke in the Land of Silver, followed by Noah Goats’ collection of speculative short stories An Assortment of Rejected Futures and finally Frank Herbert’s classic sci-fi novel Dune, which I reviewed on the day when the upcoming film adaptation was originally scheduled to debut.

I can’t tell you how much fun I’ve had reading all these books, and even more reading your comments on my reviews. I’ve even been lucky enough to hear from some readers who checked them out on my recommendation. It always makes me happy to hear that someone enjoyed a book they learned about through this site.

Most of these are indie books, which I find are the most fun to review, because they are different, and because fewer people have heard of them. And after all, how can I reasonably expect anyone to try my books, if I’m not willing to try indie books myself?

Looking back over this list, I realized that I do tend to lean towards sci-fi more than I had really been aware. I’ll try to be more balanced in the future. 

Although… January is Vintage Sci-Fi Month… so no promises. 🙂

But for now–Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and here’s to a Happy New Year!

Oh, and one more thing: my long short story 1NG4 is free on Kindle today. I came up with the idea for it on Christmas two years ago, so it seemed like a good way to celebrate. 

Ten years ago today, when I was still on Blogger, I welcomed Pat Prescott as a follower. We’ve followed each other ever since, and had many interesting discussions about art, history, literature and politics, and he’s given me invaluable advice on my writing. He also taught me about the Peterloo massacre, the origin of the word “geek,” and introduced me to the wonderful film The Fifth Element.

Pat’s contribution to this blog, in the form of his many comments over the years, is incalculable. Check out his own blog, and his books. (Vander’s Magic Carpet is my personal favorite.)

Here’s to many more, Pat!