A Review of Witch Bane by Tim Marquitz

I received this book from Tim Marquitz for a balanced review. I told him it could be close to a year before I got to review it. That was a year ago, almost to the day.

 

At least I’m timely.

 Witchbane

This dark fantasy story, Witch Bane, takes place in the troubled realm of Mynistiria.  Beginning in a scramble, Red Guard soldiers disembark from an airborne transport, a hover ship that is being powered by harnessed griffons. Watching nearby from behind trees, young Sebastian and mature Darius witness Red Guard stormtroopers mercilessly attack a caravan of refugees. Women or children, this onslaught persists.

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Me and Bobby McGee by Chad Coenson

 “Fine, fine,” I said, “We appreciate your business of course and stand by our product and such. But let me cut right to the chase here, boys. You know that we are a respectable underground corporation doing the world a grand service by recycling unwanted human life, giving it a purposeful existence, while at the same time curing the laziness of another more important person,” I paused and looked in all four of their eyes simultaneously to make sure our value proposition resonated clearly in their minds.

Chad Coenson, Me and Bobby McGee

–from page 196, at the very bottom.

 

The above paragraph is the key to this book. I couldn’t have picked a more spoiling excerpt from Me and Bobby McGee—yet I promise—I’ve given you nothing. Not only is Me and Bobby McGee an original satire worthy of several nods, it is also the silver winner of the 2011 Independent Publisher’s Award, and received  honorable mentions for general fiction at the 2011-2012 Los Angeles Book Festival.

 

I’d heard Chad Coenson’s prose and writing were similar to Kurt Vonnegut and Jack Kerouac. Perhaps there is some of that, but I saw clearer influences of Johnathan Swift and Hunter S. Thompson. I mean the early Thompson, before his writing got so angry.

 

Me and Bobby McGee is the story of Keesey Cypher, ex-assassin for the CIA, now washed up and burned out. Despite Keesey being a likeable character, by Mr. Coenson’s narration, I would call Keesey an anti-hero more than a protagonist. He’s a drunken poker player whose blackout antics manage to get him in big trouble with some local hustlers in New Orleans. Little does Keesey know, this mess will lead him into the strangest sort of love interest, an unlimited mountain of wealth, and a (relatively) greater purpose in life than fall out drunken poker.

 

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The title, Me and Bobby McGee, is a little misleading. Being one who greatly appreciates classic rock, I recognized the Janis Joplin association. Coenson’s book inspired me to look deeper into Janis’s tragic life before reading—and then learned this book has nothing to do with Janis Joplin.  Turns out Bobby McGee is an important character. Hot-bodied and packing iron, Bobby’s mission is to escort Keesey across the country to ensure his debt is paid—one way or the other. She is not only Cypher’s ‘babysitter,’ but now his new infatuation and next love interest. As a character, Bobby is both complex and dysfunctional, and Keesey is quite smitten. There were several places in this tale where I had to set down the book just to laugh, overcome with dark humor and deep cynicism.

 

Those of you who follow my reviews know I don’t believe there is such a thing as a perfect book. If Jesus wrote a book, it might have been perfect. Luckily, he didn’t, I’m sure everything else would seem stale in comparison.

 

Me and Bobby McGee is exceptionally good for a debut release, and I look forward to reading whatever else Coenson writes. My only criticism is there were a few places where Keesey gets a little longwinded. I encountered one (only one) character whose voice I couldn’t quite find and/or had difficulty believing. It was a farmer who spoke far too elegantly for the salt of the Earth. Maybe the farmer was educated, but given the setting and Chad’s otherwise flawless characters, I found this one character to being a chink in an otherwise well created story.

 

There is also a giant hole in the last couple chapters, but I’d guess that is probably intended for a future sequel.

 

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Final words–

Me and Bobby McGee is great storytelling and a fun ride. The book has an original voice and potent writing. The peaks and valleys within this tale are delivered sharp and pointed. The tension was masterfully achieved in several scenes, especially the US/Mexico border scenes. Clever, dark humor filled this volume and I will gladly read Coenson’s next book.

 

I found deep satisfaction while reading this book. I’d recommend this book to any reader with an ounce of wit and plenty of bad humor. Anyone who appreciates satire and values cynicism will revel in this story. If you loved the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, this could be your next greatest thing.

Review of Queen, written by Lincoln Crisler

A little background, I’d read Lincoln’s short story, Queen’s Blood in Manifesto UF earlier in the year. Enjoying the story, I soon after had an opportunity to tell Lincoln. He in turn asked if I’d be willing to read his short story collection, Queen. Queen’s Blood is in this collection, but it is not the reason for this book’s title. The last story in this collection is a novella titled Queen. These are my thoughts.

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This is going to come off as negative, but bear with me, it’ll make sense in the end. The first story, titled D.T.F., was a little clunky and I had difficulty finding its voice. Once I found Lincoln’s voice, the story rolled easier. The characters were interesting, but I felt the story ended a little abruptly. However, with knowing this anthology told a chronological build beginning with Lincoln’s first professional publication, I found this approach both daring and uniquely interesting. Designing a collection of short stories starting with the earliest story first is a bold move because by doing so the collection begins on its weakest note. Most collections would merge the early (and generally weaker) stories somewhere into the middle.

Progressively, I enjoyed each story more than the first, but the themes in the first few stories felt a little common to other stories I’ve read. That is not completely true, I got to witness the development of Lincoln’s strong natural ability with writing speech dialects. I also saw his willingness to try common themes, yet add a new blend or twist, even if the first couple stories didn’t fully satisfy my reading needs. (Exception, Flaying Around in the Sun was a good vampire story putting a cool spin on vampire relationships within their family, and a unique punishment for insubordination.)

The first story that ‘wowed’ me was a flash-fiction piece called Three Blind Dice, a story about a bad gamble with a heavy price. The first story I loved in this collection was The Columbus Ghost Caper, a well-rounded story about the ghost of a bank robber obsessed with posthumously robbing the vaults he haunted. He had big plans for the rat bastards who’d set him up. Common to the preceding stories, this tale was rich with dialect, but the characterization, plotting, and pace had all merged impeccably. All the elements of a professional writer showed themselves in this very cool tale. Although this was a unique gem in this anthology, there are still several great stories to follow.

In a three way tie with The Columbus Ghost Caper, I’d add Seymour’s Descent and Kettletop’s Revisionary Plot for my favorites. I hadn’t expected to find a sci-fi edge in this collection, but here it is. Seymour’s Descent is a story about an advanced research robot forced to find a loophole in its programming to complete a disastrous mission—a loophole that had grim consequences. Kettletop’s Revisionary Plot was a clever time-travel tale with a scientist and his trusty Warbot coming back in time to save the world from a zombie outbreak. There is a lot of going on in Kettletop’s Revisionary Plot for a story less than 5,000-words.

Although not my favorite story in the collection, a true victory is Queen. Queen is a novella about a woman over 40 and watching her body succumb to the punishment of time, and seeking an acceptable aversion to aging. Queen was Lincoln’s most mature story in this collection. Even though the story kept its POV centered on protagonist Rita, I could sense more happening outside her scope. The subtlety of the writing made this story worthy of being a proud centerpiece.

 

Lincoln is a (Master?) Sergeant in the U.S. Army, deployed where fashionable masks are in.

Lincoln is a (Master?) Sergeant in the U.S. Army, often deployed where fashionable masks are ‘in.’

 

All in all, I would recommend Queen to anyone who enjoys short stories with a touch of horror. Few of the stories (save two) were overtly gruesome, but all the tales explored darker themes of the human condition.

More so, I would highly recommend this book to any aspiring writers. Not only were the stories enjoyable, but Queen showed a beautiful scale of the evolution writers make along this grueling journey from being “a talented writer,” to achieving the role of professional author. I’ve never before seen such proof of the over-stated expression ‘just keep on writing’ like Lincoln Crisler has bravely exhibited for all of us to read, learn from, and compare.

I deeply appreciated seeing proof of this lesson from Mr. Crisler.