47 Echo / Sharcano (books 22 and 23)

47 Echo / Shawn Kupfer

Synopsis – After a war-tainted society fails a man and his family, the man finds himself thrust into the penal military combat. But this man has some mad military skills, and proves to be a MacGyver A-Team hero. When the law catches up with his innocence and finally gives him a break, will he desert his wartime teammates?

Reaction – I usually don’t select war novels, but I’m glad I selected this futuristic military thriller. Though it was full of military jargon, military numbers, and military acronyms, the writing was rhythmic and propelled me forward with surprising ease. It had a balance of cold, hard specs and humanizing psych, and the main characters were sympathetic. Read this if you’re into jagged survivalist military grit tempered with a core of human kindness.

Recommendation – This book renewed my will to live.

Get it here – http://www.amazon.com/47-Echo-Shawn-Kupfer-ebook/dp/B00BZPIGP0/

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Sharcano / Jose Prendes

Synopsis – What do you get when you cross the scariest water-borne killer with the scariest fire-borne killer? Sharks. Volcanoes. Molten lava sharks spewing out of volcanoes. A hellish Sharcanocalypse! Can science and religion come together to save the world from the fiery end-of-days flying lava sharks and a plague spawned straight from Hades? Will the “cure” be worse than the epidemic?

Reaction – I grew up reading the tabloids Weekly World News, National Enquirer, Globe, Star, and watching B movies, so this long and twisted tale of Sharcanocalyptic terror was right up my alley! I even made popcorn. Every other paragraph had my eyes bugging out with Did I just read that?!  This story was an absolute joy to read, and Prendes obviously had a wicked fun time writing it. I’ll be coming back to this gaudy, bawdy gem of a book again and again.

Recommendation – This book renewed my will to live.

Get it here – http://www.amazon.com/Sharcano-Sharkpocalypse-1-Jose-Prendes-ebook/dp/B00I0K9UE4/

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Mount Gold Goatboy: The Legend of Winky Rivers (a short story)

Photo by Jo Naylor.

The sun started to slip behind Mount Gold, and Jan dismounted his horse, his eyes brimming with tears of awe and longing. As the last few rays splayed over the summit, the crest of the mountain glowed a brilliant gold. Jan draped his arm around his horse’s neck, and he squinted at the fiery crescent. “That there is what I’m after, girl,” he whispered in the animal’s ear. “It may be just the sun playing tricks, but it may be gold after all. So rest up tonight, ’cause tomorrow I’m gonna be the first man brave enough to reach the-”

A movement at the base of the mountain caught Jan’s eyes, and he quickly focused his attention on an out-of-place shadow about twenty feet away. As the last of the sun’s rays blinked out, the shadow grew larger and darker, solidifying into the shape of a goat. The side of the goat swung open, as if on a hinge, and a man dressed in a black bodysuit rolled out and fell to the ground. He untucked his limbs, stretched, and stood on wobbly legs.

Jan gasped. “What in tarnation-”

The man in black politely waved. “I’m a goatboy,” he called out. “In a steel goat I ride.”

Jan and his horse slowly walked toward the man. “What in tarnation is that contraption?” He pointed at the goat.

“It’s new-fangled machinery. This here goat can instantaneously take me anywhen I wanna go.”

“Anywhen? What’s that supposed to-” Jan stopped talking when he stood face-to-face with the man in black. “Say, you look like that fella in the wanted poster I saw in town.” Jan hovered his hand above the handle of his holstered six-shooter.

“I likely am that fella,” the man nodded. “But don’t get too excited, not just yet. Whatever reward they have posted for my head, I can double it.”

“How do I know that?” Jan said, his trigger finger twitching.

The man gestured to his mechanical goat. “As you can see, I’m a man of means. I’m here to liberate a fortune in gold with the help of my goat. Back home, there’s a gold shortage. I figured I’d procure an investment here, so I can cash in. For the future. So to speak.” The man grinned. “But I need a partner to navigate me up the side of this here mountain. I tend to close my eyes when I get more than a couple hundred feet up. I’m acrophobic.”

“Acro-what?”

“-phobic. Irrationally afraid of heights. As many times as I’ve transported myself to this mountain, I’ve yet to actually reach the summit. That’s why I- er- my goat keeps havin’ to jump claims.”

“Yer a claim jumper?”

“No better animal than a goat fer jumpin’. Claim-jumpin’, that is. An’ that’s why I’m wanted, dead or alive.”

Jan relaxed his trigger finger. “So you’ve heard of the legend of Mount Gold.”

The man nodded. “Well, ‘cause the name – Mount Gold. Makes it kinda obvious.”

“Yep. Folks say she’s capped in pure gold.” Jan gazed up the side of the dark mountain and sighed. “But don’t worry ‘bout me. The sheriff is crooked. He’d never make good on that reward anyway.” Jan extended his hand. “Name’s ‘Jan Rains.’ Pleased to meet ya.”

The man shook Jan’s hand. “Ya say yer name’s ‘John Wayne’?”

“Nah, I didn’t say that.” Jan cocked his head.

“Sorry. I’m a bit hard of hearin’. Nearly got trampled by a herd of wild goats as a young’un. ‘Bout blew out my ear drums.” The man laughed. “What kind of a name is ‘John Wayne,’ anyways?” Sounds like some high-falutin’ Hollywood name.”

Jan raised his brow. “Hollywood?”

“Nevermind. I’m getting’ a little ahead of myself. Anyway, people call me ‘Winky Rivers.’ ”

“Now that’s a cowboy’s name if I ever did hear one.”

“Cowboy? Try ‘goatboy.’ There’s no way a cow’s gonna make it up the side of Mount Gold. It’s dang near a sheer cliff.”

“Cow? Try ‘horse.’ No way I’d be caught ridin’ a cow.” Jan patted the shoulder of his stallion.

Winky shrugged. “Same difference.”

“Say, how ‘bout we team up an’ get us some gold? Bein’ as yer an outlaw, I figure you can use my help.”

“I thought you’d never ask. We’ll start fresh in the mornin.’ Me an’ you an’ this here goat.”

They built a campfire, laid out some blankets, and retired for the night.

—–

After a breakfast of coffee and crackers, Winky showed Jan how to maneuver the goat’s ears to steer, accelerate, and brake.

Jan tapped the side of the goat. “So you’ll be ridin’ inside this contraption?” he asked.

“Ridin’ inside is for… quicker trips, so to speak.” Winky smiled. “It gets kinda stuffy in there. There’s room enough fer both of us in the saddle, an’ she’s sure-footed.”

Jan shrugged and they mounted the mechanical goat. “We’ll follow Chaos Creek upstream until we git to the summit.”

“Good idea,” Winky said, his hands gripping the sides of the saddle.” Gotta keep ourselves hydrated. And clean.”

“Yer right,” Jan replied, chuckling.” Nothin’ worse than dried up, dust-covered goatboys.”

Winky fastened his saddle belt and closed his eyes. After a few minutes, Jan saw that the trail up the side of the mountain had faded out, and they continued making their way up the sheer cliff face. The goat precariously jumped from jutting rock to jutting rock.

Half-way up, they came to a plateau and dismounted. Chaos Creek was now a miniature waterfall flowing into a shallow pond bordering the cliff face. After a thirst-slaking drink and refreshing dip, they mounted the goat and continued up the side of the mountain.

Nearing sunset, the goat finally jumped onto the gleaming summit of Mount Gold. “Open yer eyes if you can stand it, Winky – we made it!” Jan whooped and hollered. “An’ it looks like real gold, no foolin’!”

Winky peeked through his fingers and slid off the goat. He kept his eyes on the glinting gold ground. Jan jumped off the goat and fell to his knees, kissing the golden summit.

“Just one question – how we gonna divvy up this here gold?” Jan said, rising to his feet. “I figure I’ve done most of the work, steering the goat all the way up here.

“If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t even be up here, you doltish cowboy!”

Jan frowned and kicked a gold pebble off the side of the plateau. “I’m no cowboy, not anymore. I’m a goatboy, Winky. You taught me. I thought you’d do right by me after all we’ve been through.”

“Doesn’t matter. Watch this.” Winky led the goat to an outcropping and pulled the goat’s tail.

The goat’s eyes shot brilliant red laser beams from its rectangular pupils, slicing a dozen neat gold bars from the summit. Winky moseyed up to the bars, grabbed one, and held it up. The last of the sun’s rays illuminated the bar in a warm golden glow.

“How in tarnation did yer goat do that?” Jan took a staggering step toward the stack of gold bars.

“Like I told ya yesterday, it’s new-fangled machinery. This here goat can carve standard-issue gold bars from a gold boulder, an’ inscribe my name on each one of ‘em. I aim to carve up this entire mountain top.” He ran his finger over the inscribed bar. “Well, gotta cash in. Good luck gettin’ down the mountain. After I load my gold, I’ll be on my way.” He twisted his goat’s horn, and the side panel swung open. He put the gold bar into the goat.

“You can’t take all the gold, Winky! If you do, I’ll tell this story to my children, and they’ll tell it to their children, and on down the line until a whole army of my future kin hunt you down! I know yer one of them time travelers.”

Winky giggled. “Or I could just blast ya with my goat eye lasers. I think I’ll do that.” He grabbed his goat’s ear and swung the head around to face Jan. Before he could aim, Jan dived at the stack of gold bars, grabbed one, and ran for the edge of the summit. He leapt off, still clutching the bar, screaming all the way down.

—–

“Say, is this here Mount Winky Rivers?” the man in black said.

The goatboy nodded. “Sure is.”

“I heard there’s gold bars on top of the summit. Used to belong to an outlaw named ‘Winky Rivers.’ ”

“So you’ve heard of the legend of Winky Rivers.” The goatboy dismounted his goat.

“Yep. That’s why I’m here.” The man patted the side of his own goat.

The goatboy extended his hand. “Name’s ‘Jan Rains, the Third.’ ”

“Yeah, I reckon,” the man said, sliding on a pair of farsighted glasses.

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Thanks to Tony Southcotte of Human Echoes Podcast for this short story challenge!

Old Man / Kiss Me Like You Love Me (books 20 and 21)

Old Man / Christopher Gronlund

Synopsis – A fickle and psychologically unstable teen first rejects, then embraces his dying grandfather’s cross-generational bonding offer. When the old man dies, the young man grows up fast. Really fast. Too bad he still has to go to high school with those gosh darn whippersnappers.

Reaction – This is a feel-good (except for the death part) book with an odd undercurrent of neurosis. The main character is a bit of a mystery, but I decided to attribute that to the flightiness of teenagers. He comes across as naïve, yet confident – a charming combination. Read this book if you’re in the mood for a warm and fuzzy family story.

Recommendation – This book renewed my will to live.

Get it here – http://www.amazon.com/Old-Man-Christopher-Gronlund-ebook/dp/B00GRLF3BW/

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Kiss Me Like You Love Me / Wednesday Lee Friday

Synopsis – Sometimes a nice guy just can’t get a break. A crappy job, a nagging mother, a divorce, and your ex’s kids hate you. And to top it all off, those girls you pick up for dates won’t even put out unless you drug them and tie them up. Sometimes they make you knock them around a little. If only they weren’t so fragile, and weren’t so full of evil… You’ll show them, you’ll be even nicer. Because nice guys eventually get what they deserve, right?

Reaction – This story is told, chapter by chapter, from the perspectives of a serial rapist / killer and the people in his life. The characters are well-rounded and believable. The main character, albeit a monster, shows just the slightest hint of concern for his actions to keep him intriguing. Several plot twists keep the suspense high. This novel is a superbly well-crafted web of horror.

Recommendation – This book renewed my will to live.

Get it here – http://www.amazon.com/Kiss-Me-Like-You-Love-ebook/dp/B00BVOPXNS/

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The Mulch Pile / Prodigal Son (books 18 and 19)

The Mulch Pile / Albert Berg

Synopsis – An older brother. A younger brother. A finger. A mulch pile. A neglectful, abusive father and a passive, broken mother. Put them all together and you have… an older brother who is finally pushed across the threshold into insanity.

Reaction – A delightful tale mixing literary, horror, fantasy, and YA genres, told in the voice of an introspective teen. I was particularly enamored of this story because, although I didn’t live in a trailer park as a child, I live in one now. And I have my very own huge composting mulch pile in my backyard, bordering “the wood” forest. Just like in the book. And I have my every own garden shovel. Just like in the book. The wire fence – just like in the book – is coming down this year. I’m not the least bit hesitant to put “unusual” items in my mulch pile. I wonder if I’ll get much lightning in my neighborhood this spring.

Recommendation – This book renewed my will to live.

Get it here – http://www.amazon.com/Mulch-Pile-Albert-Berg-ebook/dp/B005MHBTU6/

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Prodigal Son / Christine Sutton

Synopsis – A young boy is abandoned by his misogynistic, violent daddy, leaving him to be alternately neglected and tortured by his alcoholic mommy. So of course he grows up to be just like daddy. All grown up, he goes on a quest to find his dear old dad so he can join him in his life of misogyny. Kidnapping, beating, raping, and killing women – real father-son bonding stuff. Different strokes for different folks.

Reaction – This book was pure torture porn, in my opinion. In the interest of not just posting reviews of what I consider average- to high-quality books, I read this brief book to the end so I could post my review. This story could’ve benefited from some scrap or hint of humanity in the characters. But I found no trace of redemption. Every single person seemed to be a caricature. The main caricatures came across as demons from Hell. Read this book if you’re into excruciatingly detailed descriptions of marathon rape sessions. If not, skip it.

Recommendation – I guess some people would find this book worthwhile in some universe somewhere.

Get it here – http://www.amazon.com/Prodigal-Son-Christine-Sutton-ebook/dp/B00AYV3CSM/

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Flatland / The Raw Shark Texts (books 16 and 17)

Flatland / Edwin A. Abbott

Synopsis – After a relatively lengthy primer on 2-dimensional entities living in 2 dimensions, a 2-dimensional entity is visited by a 3-dimensional entity and is temporarily pulled into a 3-dimensional existence. But does the mind-blowing knowledge translate back into 2 dimensions?

Reaction – The first half of this brief book covered the geometrical and social specifics of Flatlanders and their Flatland – sans plot. I found that focusing on the technical descriptions was challenging. It was like reading an other-worldly geometry and social etiquette manual in one. But the second half of the book picked up with an actual plot, complete with suspense and drama. I’m glad I powered through and finished this gem. Get through the background tedium, (as I’m pretty sure the author intended) and you’ll be rewarded with an inspirational tale of mind-expansive possibilities.

Recommendation – This book renewed my will to live.

Get it here – http://www.amazon.com/Flatland-Romance-Dimensions-Illustrated-E-Reader-ebook/dp/B004AM5AZO/

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The Raw Shark Texts / Steven Hall

Synopsis – After a violent psychosomatic trauma, a man discovers he’s been stripped of his personal memories and identity. Weirder still, he starts to receive rambling letters in the mail from his former self. Weirdest yet, he is befriended by a runaway who says she can help him escape the conceptual shark which has popped into existence and is trying to eat him. All they have to do is journey through unspace texts and find a mad word scientist. Yep, you read that right.

Reaction – The first part of this book was promising. Who is this man without a personal identity? Why and how is his former identity sending letters to him? Why is this mystery man not moving ocean and earth to rediscover his past? The middle part of this book morphs into what seems to be a YA fantasy, complete with long, drawn-out flirt scenes, irritating kissy games, and bizarre, unexplained non-logic, even for a fantasy novel. The last part of this book is a copy of homage to last part of the novel “Jaws.” From start to finish, a lot of filler dialogue, and rambling, mincing non-action. The man’s incredibly docile pet cat is featured throughout the book, but I’m not sure why. Though I found this book a bit lengthy for its storyline, and lacking in a number of explanations, overall, it was worth the read. Wade through the chum and you’ll find a few clever literary surprises.

Recommendation –You’re taking your chances with this hit and miss book.

Get it here – http://www.amazon.com/Raw-Shark-Texts-Steven-Hall-ebook/dp/B001KU65BW/

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