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Review – Part 2: Ugly Little Things – Collected Horrors by Todd Keisling (Crystal Lake Publishing)

Hey everyone, I’m back with part 2 of my ‘Ugly Little Things‘ review. 🙂

If you missed part 1, here’s the link – in part 2 I’ll be looking at the final three stories in the collection. And the one that kicks off the final trilogy is a doozy!

When Karen Met Her Mountain is brutal, the kind of tale which hits you over and over again without letting up. In it you’ll meet Karen and her husband, road-tripping and trying to find their way back to each other after a tragic loss. In it, you’ll meet Karen’s therapist and a group of strange, violent, mask-wearing cultists. And in it, you’ll witness Karen’s descent (or is it an ascent) into madness. Not for the faint of heart, but brilliantly written.

In The Harbinger, a journalist in need of redemption and a career-saving story travels to a town famous for pigs and dolls. How those two (pigs and dolls) are connected, and what Felix Proust discovers as he digs deeper into the town of Dalton and it’s mysterious celebrity (the doll-maker), make this a truly memorable, creepy tale, which works on all the senses, too. Dolls have long had a unique creep-factor; Todd adds the that creep-factor while doing something unique, yet, terrible (in the terror-sense of the word) with dolls.

My favourite of the lot. I became of fan of Robert Chamber’s ‘The King in Yellow‘ without knowing it, thanks to the first incredible season of True Detective. Fast-forward a couple of years and I’ve been reading ‘The King in Yellow‘ for a while now; I’m honestly obsessed with it. I’ll explain that when I post my review, but suffice it to say that I haven’t read anything resembling ‘The King in Yellow‘. It’s utterly unique.

Which makes what Todd did with ‘The Final Reconciliation‘ that much more incredible. Todd takes a metal band (The Yellow Kings), an evocative yet utterly unsettling track list, a self-proclaimed gypsy, and the creation of a new album, and marries them with what reads like the true-life account of this band’s rise and fall. The tale is full of weird imagery and lyrical brilliance, and positively sings with the strange, unsettling aspects of what makes ‘The King in Yellow‘ so strange – yet Todd pulls it off in a way that adds to the mythos Chambers created, putting everything that makes that strange book stand out in a modern context, yet also not explaining anything. You’ll have to read it to understand what I mean. What’s terrible about this tale (terrible, yet utterly creepy) is that now, more than ever, I want to delve deeper into ‘The King in Yellow‘, and even though I probably won’t survive it, I need to hear The Final Reconciliation in all it’s mind-breaking brilliance.

This is, for damned sure, one of those must-have collections. 10/10

To order your copies, click the Amazon link; you can also add it to your Goodreads shelf, and check out the trailer.

And don’t forget to check out Todd’s website for more info, and Crystal Lake Publishing’s website for more excellent books.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

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Posted by on September 25, 2017 in Crystal Lake Publishing, Reviews

 

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Launch Day Review: Satic by M.D. Thalmann

One of the craziest, coolest rides I’ve ever been on.

You’ve got God as a character (while also fulfilling one other interesting role), geneticists and the cutting edge (and way past it), SF that doesn’t boil your mind while still being interesting, and characters that are both naive and compelling, powerful and tragically weak.

You’ll step into a world massively changed by a world-wide catastrophe involving nanotech, robots, androids, one weird baboon, and creepy board members. You’ll meet face-wearing barbarians, too.

How does it all fit together? Not telling – that you’ll have to read for yourself. But it does all fit together – and many, many times you’ll be cursing the author, because often what was in your mouth (or even in your nose) will be forcefully expelled by sudden laughter.

This is a fast-paced, fun and ultimately awesome SF ride – I haven’t read anything quite like it before, and I’m looking forward to every book we’ll get from this author. Highly recommended!

10/10

Order at Amazon now!

Check out more about M. D. Thalmann and his work over at his website, and have a browse through his Amazon page.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Reviews

 

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Launch Day Review – Part 1: Ugly Little Things – Collected Horrors by Todd Keisling (Crystal Lake Publishing)

(Illustrations by the excellent Luke Spooner)

(Cover design by the amazing Ben Baldwin)

Part 1? There’ll be a part 2? Yep, because I’m halfway with the collection, and since it’s launching today, I’d like to review what I’ve read so far and add my voice to those who’be been lauding this collection, since it really does deserve to be lauded. 🙂

Every good collection begins with a suitable foreword, and in this case the tradition not only continues but does so wonderfully – I have yet to read Mercedes M, Yardley‘s work (I know, right? I’ve got so much to catch up on!), but she does a great job of intro-ing the collection because she doesn’t give anything away and made me excited to read it. She evokes the emotions the tales made her feel and, like a good bookseller, convinced me to begin reading. 🙂

The first tale, A Man in Your Garden, is an absolute corker – trust me, you’ll go through this thinking that it’s nothing special, nothing notable -but like all good word-wizards, that’s exactly what Todd wants you to think- and then the end hits you like a sucker-punch in pitch darkness. Excellent stuff!

 

The next tale, Show Me Where the Waters Fill Your Grave, is one of those quietly building horrors… It lulls you into thinking that the main character is am idiot for making the choices he does, even though you can understand why he’s making those choices, and I was left wondering at the end of the tale what his final choice would be: give in, or fight? It’ll probably leave you with the same questions.

 

Radio Free Nowhere works well as cautionary tale and plays with the city-folk-in-the-country trope – I kind of new where it was heading, but I still enjoyed the trip, as Todd manages to evoke that road-trip/desert-crossing/driving-into-the-unknown feeling amazingly well with his tight descriptions and fully-realized characters. Even the petrol-station attendant is given layers, instead of being the caricature most movies make that kind of character into.

 

The Otherland Express is one of the real stand-out tales, both a parable for our time and the kind of Horror tale starring a character we can understand and sympathize with – as Stephen King likes to do, this tale also reveals the hidden, uniquely strange things which might be hiding out there and humanizes them, forcing the reader to think about what they would do, if they were ever placed in a similar situation.

 

Saving Granny from the Devil is a wonderful tale and showcases Todd’s character-creation talents – we follow the life and decisions of the main character from when he’s a little boy until he’s an adult, charting the events in his life and the decisions he’s seemingly forced to make. Todd also gives us a new, almost perfect look at ‘the Devil’, one which upends some conventional ideas and revels in creating a new, interesting take on the ultimate bad guy. Really good stuff!

 

The Darkness Between Dead Stars is superb cosmic Horror – the kind of Horror which leaves you with more questions than answers; the story is tight and small, is written from an interesting angle (instead of the expected POV), and features some truly creepy visuals. It’s visceral and memorable and I’m pretty sure you’ll agree.

 

Human Resources is perfect. Just perfect. Corporate Culture meets Cultist Insanity. Love it!

 

House of Nettle and Thorn plays with what I believe to be one of the ultimate formative tropes teenagers in the US have to deal with – Sorority Houses. Being a South African, and not having had to deal with anything similar in high school, it still surprises me that these places exist. 🙂 I’m very glad that Todd didn’t go the way many other writers have, concerning Sorority’s, i.e. not crafting a tale in which members of different SH’s go up against each other. This is something cool and twisted and dark, explicit in places and disturbing in others, but damned good. There’s also an incredible quote-worthy passage in the tale, regarding what some men are meant to do with their lives, which made me laugh out loud it was so nail-on-the-head, but I’ll leave you to discover that passage for yourself. 🙂

 

So, that’s eight stories reviewed in part one, with three more coming in part two. So far Todd has been hitting home runs – going places where dark thoughts tumble, where strange things travel our roads, where irresistable horrors ensnare… So, should you buy this collection? For damned sure. Click on this link and do so.

And see you next week for part two of my Ugly Little Things review. 🙂

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on September 15, 2017 in Crystal Lake Publishing, Reviews

 

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Review: Behold! Oddities, Curiosities and Undefinable Wonders – Edited by Doug Murano

Hey everyone, hope you’re all well. 🙂

I got the chance to read this impending anthology, which will be published by Crystal Lake Publishing, and jumped at it. I’m glad I did – this is a truly memorable publication, and a stand-out addition to the annals of Horror.

First shout-out has to go to Josh Malerman for an incredible foreword – it’s not often that a foreword truly captures the essence of what the reader is going to be reading, but Josh did an incredible job; so much so that you’ll probably find yourself re-reading the foreword, as I did. And if you’ve yet to read Josh’s work, the foreword alone will make sure you do; the man has an enticing, evocative and lyrically rhythmic turn of phrase which seems perfectly suited to Horror. (and yes, I too have yet to read Josh’s work)

The anthology is divided into three sections – Oddities, Curiosities, and Undefinable Wonders, and Lisa Morton’s LaRue’s Dime Museum opens the anthology – an inspired choice by editor Doug Murano, as this tale hints at practically every strange and terrifyingly wondrous thing you’ll read. Let me be clear: the feel of it, how it blends reality, fear, and longing, as well as the imagery and atmosphere of it, will prepare you (to a certain degree) for the rest of the tales. It’s also a tale which defies end-guessing, and which will probably make you look twice at that strange-looking person across the street… Here’s an exceptional illustration from the mad-skills-afflicted Luke Spooner, to give you a taste of what you’ll be reading:

The next tale, Brian Kirk‘s Wildflower, Cactus, Rose is absolutely chilling in how it looks at society’s sick need to ‘look better’, as well as how ‘normal’ and ‘accepted’ abuse becomes. It’s a difficult story to read, and should be – we have to talk about the things that make us uncomfortable and that have no easy answers, and this tale doesn’t flinch from showing the uglier sides of human nature… Yet there’s a strange kind of beauty there, too.

Hal Bodner‘s The Baker of Millepoix is filled with the kind of imagery you’d expect from a charming foreign-language movie; the writing is flowing, lyrical, easy – as if your eyes are following the happy gurgling of a stream with birds tweeting in the background and a slight breeze puffing your hair. Yet when the horror arrives, it seems almost sweet and -dare I say it again- charming. You, the reader, will have witnessed something society says you must not allow to happen, must not take part in, yet… You’ll have found it a bit wonderful.

Next you’ll read Jacqueline Ess: Her Will and Testament – not saying who the author is (either let yourself be surprised or spoil it for yourself). This tale is about the discovery of talents, the exercising of power, the black-hole-pull of love and lust, the physicality of intention, how guilt is able to ravage and inflame, and how, strangely enough, there’s a sick, twisted and yet breathtaking beauty in the experiences of pain and horror. The tale also ends with one of the most unsettling, yet fitting, scenes I’ve ever read.

What also makes Behold such a memorable anthology are the poems which split the book’s sections – Stephanie M. Wytovich isn’t one of those ‘read and have no clue what you’ve just read’ poets; her work won’t leave you feeling as if you missed classes at some high-brow literary school. It’s as if Stephanie has woven scenes or micro-stories using the ideas of Horror, the foundational elements and emotions. Her work is unsettling and addictive. An Exhibition of Mother and Monster is, to me, a scathing indictment of humanity’s need to make a spectacle of that which freaks us out. The poem points at us and says, ‘You giggle and cringe and thank your genes that you haven’t come out different, yet you don’t see the beauty and tragedy in what you’re paying to see and selfie.’

The next tale, John Langan‘s Madame Painte: For Sale is a quirky tale – it almost serves as a warning to bargain- or antique-hunters to be very careful of what they find, yet it could also be a warning to folks against believing the stories which accompany the pieces you’re interested in; it works both ways.

The next tale, Chalice, by another author I won’t name (for the same reasons as Jacqueline Ess) is one of those quaint, leaves-you-with-a-good-feeling tales – it’s sublimely written and marries the strange and out of place beautifully with the solitary life of a small-town retiree.

Fully Boarded by Ramsey Campbell is a story every traveller will love. 😉 Or maybe you’ll never travel again. Or maybe you’ll never go anywhere just to find fault with a place… Who knows? 😉

In Amelia’s Wake by Erinn L Kemper is, to me, a brooding, lovely and yet dark meditation on loss and progress, and about how grief can become a wall which not even more loss can break through. There’s a dark magic to this tale.

In A Ware That Will Not Keep, from John F.D. Taff, we hear the confession of an old man to his grandson, and we’re taken back to World War 2 and the atrocities committed against the Jews by the Nazis. It’s a tale which explores the nature and repercussions of revenge, and is probably also the first time I’ve ever felt true sorrow for a mass-murderer. Here’s a hint of what you can expect, again from the excellent Luke Spooner:

 

Then comes Ed Pruitt’s Smoker by Patrick Freivald – this tale ranks among my favourites because of the nature of the tale. It takes a seemingly innocuous subject -bees and bee-keepers- and gives it a terrifyingly wonderful twist; you simply have to read this one to understand what I mean.

We’re then treated to another poem by Stephanie Wytovich, As a Guest at the Telekinetic Tea Party, and this time she focuses on the utter uselessness, faux frivolity and inherent judgements made by women who hold tea parties. Or does she? You decide.

Hazelnuts and Yummy Mummies by Lucy A. Snyder will have you laughing out loud and perhaps wiping away tears, too – Conventions may be one of those events an author aspires to, but be careful of the cookies, okay? 😉

Brian Hodge‘s The Shiny Fruit of Our Tomorrows launches the reader into the anthology’s final section – Undefinable Wonders. Brian’s tale is one of the most beautiful, and heart-breaking, tales in the anthology. It reveals a world very. very few of us have ever (willingly or otherwise) entered, people by real people, the likes of which you have probably met without knowing it. You know how sometimes truth and need, when combined, can be heart-breaking? That’s what this tale represents. Wonderful, lingering stuff.

The Wakeful by Kristi DeMeester is sublime, slow-building horror… Don’t read it while sitting out in your garden; you’ve been warned.

Christopher Coake‘s Knitter beings to my mind the awesome work Stephen King did in Insomnia – that marriage of the seemingly innocuous with the truly strange; it’s a glimpse into a world which will be very real to you while you read the tale.

Sarah Read‘s Through Gravel is, to me, an exploration of how claustrophobic religion can become – Sarah shows us a world in which darkness is sacrosanct, and change is anathema; it’s when the light begins to filter in that things change…

The collection ends with Hiraeth by Richard Thomas – a beautiful tale which resounds with aching need, sorrow, and a growing love amidst slow and beautiful magic. A reminder that the world has more to offer than we can possibly see, or know from experience. Here’s another one of Luke Spooner’s incredible illustrations – perfectly suited to the tale:

Behold is one of those memorable collections – you haven’t encountered anything like these stories in fiction before. Beauty and darkness and terror and love swirl together to create a book I’ll be thinking about for a long time. You simply have to read this-experience this-absorb this. Major kudos to Doug Murano for excellent editing and to Crystal Lake Publishing for giving readers this anthology. Absolutely incredible stuff, and well deserving of a resounding 10 out of 10.

Pre-order the Kindle version for just $2.99, and join the two ThunderClap campaigns to spread the word about this incredible anthology, and check out the many other top-notch titles Crystal Lake has released. You can also add the book on Goodreads. 🙂

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
 

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Book Review: Article Three

I was extremely lucky to be gifted an English version of this originally Swedish dystopian YA novel from the author herself for unbiased review. I spent my Christmas holiday reading this book and enjoyed it immensely!

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Trust will get you killed – and trust will keep you alive

In a world where the System governs everything, Ava’s a rebel – one who can control other people’s thoughts with her mind. As part of a resistance movement preparing for war, this is a useful skill.

Levi stopped believing in the struggle for freedom when it snatched his parents from him. Now he’s just trying to live a quiet life and control the voices that threaten his sanity.

One night Levi’s sister is arrested. To free her, he has to break old promises and get involved with people he swore he’d never associate with. Ava’s ordered to help him and, together, they leave on a rescue mission. She says he has to trust the rebels. But should they?

First of all, I tend to have a hate and hate-some-more relationship with translations, especially translations from languages I’m somewhat familiar with. While my Swedish definitely isn’t good enough to allow me to read this novel in its original form, I feel I know just enough of the language to be thoroughly irritated when I sense it going wrong. This book, however, was translated very well! There are a few instances of incorrect word use or slightly clunky syntax, but it was never enough to annoy me. And this book gets huge bonus points for being a self-published translation as well! I have read some truly atrocious Big House translations! Okay, but let’s get to the story…

This is a YA dystopian and starts off feeling comfortingly familiar with several identifiable tropes that have made this sub-genre of sci-fi so immensely popular. What made it so different and refreshing is that Lund presents us with a trio of main characters made up of strong, independent young women, and a physically weak, not particularly good-looking guy who freely admits that he isn’t all that smart either. Levi is the antithesis of every brave, buff, and (supposedly) intelligent hero of YA fiction. Forget Roar or Four or Gale – Levi is none of those things and yet, it’s his faults and ineptitude that make him so endearing, not only to the readers but to the women in his team.

Another refreshing aspect to this story was the Scandinavian setting. Without giving too much away, I can say that this book starts off somewhere in what might be the remnants of Germany and takes the trio on a several thousand-kilometre journey north through Denmark, past some well-known sites, to a snowy Sweden where they even get to interact with Sami reindeer herders! Being a resident of the north myself, it was pretty awesome getting to read a YA dystopian novel set in this part of the world.

And finally, the touch of near-supernatural that comes into the story in the form of ‘faculties’ some people possess – that is, explicable talents such as a form of mind reading – makes this a little different again from the way dystopian books usually play out, and another layer to already well-developed characters.

For a first book in a trilogy, the pacing is great and the resolution was satisfying while leaving plenty more story to be told in the sequels. But herein also lies my only gripe. While I know this is a series and Lund is very much going for a slow-burn approach to revealing the characters and their motivations, I did feel like I wanted to get to know the trio all much better as individuals. There are brief moments of flashbacks explaining their behaviour or thoughts but I wanted so much more! I also have to note that the ‘accent’ with which the one character speaks is really distracting and I wish it hadn’t been written into all their dialogue. So two gripes then – both fairly minor things.

Overall, this book is a refreshing take on the dystopian genre, a great first installment in a promising trilogy, and definitely a book I’d recommend to readers who are looking for something fresh in their YA sci-fi.

4/5 ink splats from me!

4 inksplats

~Suzanne~

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2017 in Reviews

 

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Review: Rime by Tim Lebbon

Hey everyone, Dave here. 🙂 Hope you’ve all been well!

I’m back with a new review, this time a with a look at Tim Lebbon’s ‘Rime’. I said on FB, while I was reading it, that the tale reminded me of why I’m a fan of Science Fiction, and I’m sticking with that.

rime1

Adrift in space, a gigantic freighter, Cradle, carrying seventeen million souls makes its slow journey across the universe.

They are in search of a new home, a ‘Goldilocks’ planet to sustain human life after the decimation and downfall of planet Earth.

One man, a control room tech, is part of a generation destined to live their lives protecting those of the sleeping millions onboard Cradle.

But soon, everything is about to change…

When Cradle encounters five unknown entities flying just beyond its radars, the ship’s AI calls for caution. Comms go down across the gargantuan ship, cutting the tech from the millions of other souls under his watch.

Those in cryosleep don’t realise the danger they are in. Their lives are in the balance.

And the alien ships are fast approaching…

Now this lonely technician must make his decision: will he stand his ground, and risk the lives of millions?

Or is it time to admit that humanity has strayed too far into the unknown?

Mankind’s fate is in his hands. Soon, the consequences of his actions and the message he bears will be felt for generations to come…

‘Rime’ is a SF retelling of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner’, and while I must confess that I haven’t read that Classic, I’m confident in saying that ‘Rime’ can stand alone and proud among the future Classics of Science Fiction, and also among all that has come before. For such a short tale (around an hour and half’s reading, I’d estimate), this story has wonderful depth.

‘Rime’ centres on a technician aboard what we would know as an ark-ship, called Cradle. Cradle has been travelling away from Earth for centuries with a cargo of millions of humans in cryo-stasis; the generations of various technicians living on Cradle have the envious job of making sure that the vast ship runs properly. Something happens, at once wonderful and terrible, which none of the technicians, nor the ship’s governing Artificial Intelligence (also named Cradle), could have predicted – contact with intelligent aliens, and the technician is drawn into the centre of events which will affect not only Cradle but humanity as a whole.

Now, remembering that Cradle is an Ark-type ship, or Colony Ship, Tim does an excellent job of conveying not only the ship’s size but also how all the myriad technicians fit into the running of it. The technicians also have their own culture, dependent on their specific jobs on the ship and who they come into contact with. Some technicians have no religious beliefs, few manage to explore Cradle in its entirety, and social circles are small.

There’s a sense of almost desperate isolation in the characters we meet which deepens as Tim tells the tale from two points in time – pre-Contact and post-Contact – I was kept wondering about what had happened aboard Cradle and just where the technician had ended up, what had happened to so psychologically affect him, and the fate of Cradle and its passengers, both in cryo-stasis and tending the great ship. Tim steadily unfurls the tale, like a solar sail being released by its parent craft, early on already, and by the time the ‘sail’ is fully extended and begins to catch the solar wind, the book is impossible to put down.

For those seeking action and battles, this might not be the kind of book you’re expecting. Though it is proudly and wonderfully grounded in the core of what good SF should be -that sense of wonder and mystery, of exploration and consequence- it is a tale that also explores what it means to be human, to react emotionally, to grieve, and to be at once at part of something massive yet also supremely isolated.

‘Rime’ is damned well crafted, beautifully and painfully told, and a welcome addition to Science Fiction – won’t be surprised at all if this becomes a future SF Classic.

10/10

rime1

 

You can order your copies (ebooks) of Rime at Amazon US and Amazon UK, and check out this post by Tim for more information about the tale. Rime was published by Venture Press.

Until next time,

Be EPIC!

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2016 in Reviews

 

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Book Review: African Monsters

As part of my goal this year to read more African authors, I was delighted to accept an offer from the editor to review this anthology, especially when it features a story by our very own Dave!

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Speculative fiction, art and graphic stories from African authors, based on African folklore, myths and legends about monsters. African Monsters is the second in a coffee table book series with dark fiction and art about monsters from around the world.

 

I always find it really tricky to give a star rating to an anthology of stories by different authors. Some stories I absolutely adored and thought were excellent, others I didn’t really care for. One of the highlights for me in this anthology was the short story by Nnedi Okorafur. Having only read Lagoon by Okorafur, I was looking forward to reading something else by the author and her story ‘On the Road’ definitely didn’t disappoint.

Dave-Brendon de Burgh’s story was another high point in the anthology – a story which gave a twisted, were-beastie spin to what felt like an excerpt from a Harry Dresden novel. This story in particular felt like it had the potential to spawn an entire novel and if it did *hint hint Dave* I would totally be reading that!

‘A Whisper in the Reeds’ by Nerine Dorman was another favourite for me featuring beautiful writing and delicate relationships between well-developed characters. Whenever I feel cheated by the length of the story and yearn for more, I know it was a good short story and that is exactly how I felt with these words by Dorman!

I also need to mention the art and illustrations scattered throughout. As you can see by the cover, the artwork in this book is spectacular and I particularly enjoyed the graphic stories included in this anthology. It’s the first time I’ve encountered ‘wordless’ stories in an anthology this way, adding yet another unique aspect to what is already a fabulously diverse read.

While I didn’t love every story in this collection, I can still strongly recommend this anthology if you’re looking to diversify your reading, particularly if you’d like to sample a selection of scary tales by African authors. This anthology scores 4/5 ink splats from me.

4 inksplats

~Suzanne~

 
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Posted by on July 6, 2016 in Reviews

 
 
M.D. Thalmann / Satire and Sci-fi

M.D. Thalmann, a novelist and freelance journalist specializing in satire and science fiction, lives in Phoenix, AZ with his wife, children, and ornery cats, reads too much and sleeps too little.

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