Random Saturdays – Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise

FULL DISCLOSURE – Jack and I are blogging buddies.  He gave me an advanced review copy of his eBook, but did not pay me or beat me into the agreement to review the book.  He requested only that I read the book and give an honest opinion of it during the week of its release.  I agreed because I wanted to read the book before everyone else.  Suckers!

Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise will be released on Tuesday, October 20th.  This is the third book in a series written by my buddy, Jack Flacco.  I will say right now that this book made me cry.

Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise

Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise

From reading the previous books, I’m fond of Ranger and his rag tag group of kids.  I call them kids, but by the third book, even Jon, the youngest, has lost all traces of childhood.  I guess you have to grow up pretty quickly during the Zombie Apocalypse.  I wouldn’t know, having never been through one and intending to kill myself immediately upon hearing of at least five dead people who are eating living people.

In this book, Ranger and his crew hear about a place called Paradise where he and the kids might finally be able to live in a world without 24 x 7 adrenaline battles.  Could it be too good to be true?  Before they could figure that out, they’d have to get to Paradise, and travelling anywhere in the Zombie Apocalypse is a trying task.  They meet new people and run into old allies along the way.

As with the others, the book starts out in media res, so it’s hard to get a grip on what’s going on at first.  I assume that’s intended by the author to make the reader as disoriented as the characters must be.    When Ranger’s group stumbles upon another group, they seem to grow close quickly.  There’s a reason, but it was still a bit too quick for me.  It felt like that part of the movie where you see something happen quickly with one line as an explanation and you yell at the screen, “Oh, the book goes into it much more than that!”  Moving through the story, there are some flashbacks that explain a bit more of Ranger’s past than before, which was nice.  Although, I’m not sure that it moved the story forward much at this point.  When the group decides to set out for Paradise, the real action starts.  Jack excels at, “Woo!  That was close!  Oh crap, it’s not over yet?!?!” moments.  It’s quite a battle to get to Paradise, but when I saw how many pages were left before the group could get into Paradise, I knew that I wouldn’t be enjoying a peaceful ending any time soon.

If you like your endings tied up in a pretty package, then you will hate the end of this book.  Initially, I was mad, wondering if there were going to be more books even though this was supposed to be a trilogy.  Then, I let it settle in and came to accept the ending as fitting to the zombie genre in general.  Good zombie books and movies do not have pretty endings.  They always leave you with questions and they always leave you wanting more.  For Ranger Martin and his group of adolescent comrades, it would be unfitting to have the group live happily ever after.  Overall, I’m pleased with the series and this was a pretty exciting read.

I will admit that there are some misspellings and poor grammar sprinkled throughout the book.  Jack wrote and published the book himself, so it’s hard to get everything as sparkling clean as expensive publishing houses require.  Even then, a certain red-headed wizard in a very well-known book series was referred to by the name of the actor who played him in the movie, rather than the book character’s name.  I have read some other self-published works that were just too painful to slog through at all, no matter how much I wanted to like the book or how free the book was.  If’ you’re unsure, go ahead and read the first chapter on Jack’s site.  Then, buy the book.  It’s a relatively quick and easy read that will keep you engaged and excited.  I’m grateful that Jack gave me the opportunity to read and review the book in advance.  I’m still waiting to see how he tackles leprechauns and unicorns, though.

Pimp It Friday – Ranger Martin and The Alien Invasion

FULL DISCLOSURE – Jack and I are blogging buddies.  He gave me an advanced review copy of his eBook, but did not pay me or beat me into the agreement to review the book.  He requested only that I read the book and give an honest opinion of it during the week of its release.  I agreed because, hey, I wanted to read the book before everyone else.  Duh.

Since I am not currently the voracious reader that I once was, I have not gotten around to reading Jack Flacco‘s first book, Ranger Martin and The Zombie Apocalypse.  It’s on my Amazon Wishlist, but I’m slooooooowly working my way through a stack of books on my bookshelf right now and have not made it to any new Wishlist items yet.  Having read the sequel to Zombie Apocalypse, I now need to go back and read the first one.

Ranger Martin and the Zombie Apocalypse

As a fan of Jack’s blog, I was curious about his literary style and how it would carry over to fiction.  Turns out, his blogging style is quite different from his fictional writing style, which is a good thing.  Having not read the first book, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on at the start of this one.  The action was so quick, that I got into the moment, though.  After a few chapters, I kind of picked up the vibe of the characters and assumed some history between some of them.  I think the story could have used a page or two summarizing the history between the characters the way many series do, but there was enough action that I didn’t really worry about knowing the characters very well until I already got to know them.

Reading the story actually reminded me of a [do not click on the following link if you do not like spoilers] post that Jack had awhile back.  I’m not sure if the post provided the idea for this book or if this was Jack’s sneaky way of feeling out his readers’ thoughts on his writing subject beforehand.  Either way, Ranger Martin and The Alien Invasion is an exciting read.  The story picks up where Zombie Apocalypse left off – right in the middle of a zombie mob attacking Ranger Martin.  Ranger, Randy, Matty, Jon, and others continue to battle zombie filth while uncovering an alien invasion that is set to wipe out mankind, or rather, have us wipe out ourselves.

It’s hard to tell who to root for and who the real enemies are in the story.  As soon as you pick a side, that side either dies or does something that you  find morally questionable.  When you decide that you don’t like a character, that character shows a hint of a redeemable quality that makes you wonder from where the character’s motives really stem.  Then again, life isn’t black and white.  So, I can’t imagine that zombie apocalypses and alien invasions would make things any easier.  In general, you do get a sense of good vs bad, but I like that the characters aren’t completely flat.  Part of that is due to the age of the main characters.  Imagine figuring out who you are and what your place in the world is when the world is coming to an end.  The forces they are up against are much older, wiser, and more powerful than them in multiple ways.  I really don’t know how I would handle  dealing with some snotty teenager if aliens were taking over the world.

It’s less than 300 pages and the pace of the book makes it a relatively quick read.  This is an excellent book for long flights and long weekends.  The action is steady, the story is fun, and there are some surprising twists to keep readers eager for more.  I look forward to seeing how Jack tackles other subjects like unicorns and leprechauns!

Pimping Saturdays – Music Edition: Old 97’s “Big Brown Eyes”

I grew up in a very musical household and have a deep love and appreciation for music.  If I could pick my dream career, I’d travel the world playing piano and singing.  I can’t sing or play piano, though, so I have to settle for listening to Sara Bareilles.  If I had to choose between being blind or deaf (not a choice I ever want to make), I would choose to be blind.  I don’t know if I could ever deal with the depression that would come with realizing that I would never listen to music again.  Never hear the opening to “Daytripper” again?  I can’t even imagine how terrible that’d be.  Even though I already love music, certain things get me extra pumped up about it (i.e. concerts).  Since the Maroon 5 concert last week, I’ve been listening to Neon Trees on Spotify, which led me to subscribe to my friend, Sarah’s, Justin Timberlake playlist, which gave me withdrawls for The Lumineers album that I’ve listened to at least once a day since I bought it last month.  I listened to The Lumineers at work this week, which made me think about R.E.M. for some reason.  So I listened to them, which made me think about the Old 97’s, so I listened to them next.

I remember listening to the Old 97’s on The Adventure Club in the 90s. When I met Olga, she had tape recordings of Old 97’s CDs/tapes from her brother.  She even let me copy them from her.  That’s a true friend, folks!  I’m trying to get rid of my DVDs and CDs now (finally got rid of the last of my cassette tapes last year), but I haven’t been able to part with my Old 97’s CDs yet.  I have the songs on my computer, iPod, iPhone, and cloud drives, but I still can’t part with the  physical discs.  At this point, I should say that my favorite type of song is what I call a Happy Broken Heart song.  These are sad songs with upbeat tempos.  One of my favorite Old 97’s Happy Broken Heart songs is “Big Brown Eyes”.  Fans of the Old 97’s know this as a classic tune that was actually recorded on two different albums.  To me, the biggest difference between the two are the lines, “I’ve got issues, yeah / Like I miss you, yeah”.  I think Rhett Miller sounds more desperate on Wreck Your Life than he does on Too Far To Care, and I like the desperate version better.  [Insert joke here]  On that note, please enjoy this Happy Broken Heart song!

Pimp It Mondays – Changing

I’ve already changed up the Progress Reports, and after experimenting with other post formats on here, I’ve decided to get rid of Pimp It Mondays too.  If you’re anything like me, you come across things on the web and in your daily life that you want to share with other people.  Well, that’s the point of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs, anyway.  Specifically, I’m referring to the stuff that I pimp on Mondays being pimped on a more regular basis.  So instead of just writing a post once a week about one cool thing that I want to share with people, I will be offering up links, videos, blog posts, etc. throughout the week.  The posts will probably be a bit shorter, but I think they might  be a bit more relevant too.  If someone that I’ve already pimped does something really cool (i.e. publishes another book), then I won’t feel obligated to wait to talk about it because I’ve got other stuff lined up already or because I just talked about this person a week ago. I can pop in a link on my blog lickety split and get on with the rest of my eating a bucket of M&Ms day.

Also, since anything I post to this blog automatically hits my Twitter and Facebook pages, it helps me be both more lazy and more productive at the same time.  Brilliant, no?

Pimp It Mondays – Vee Hoffman

A few months ago, I found out that one of my very first internet friends published a book last year.  She has since published the second book in that series.  So this Monday, I’m pimping the literary works of Vee Hoffman to you.

Book 1 in the Acclamation series

I met Vee during my first foray into the online email list world, and she later introduced me to the online group that we refer to as RQ — short for Random Questions.  Although I still talk to most of the RoQers (and try to vacation with at least one of them at least once a year), I haven’t talked to Vee in a few years.  In fact, Vee is a newer incarnation of her online persona, and I keep having to correct my typing so that I don’t refer to her as Veronica or Shadow.  Vee is probably a better fitting name for her though since she’s all growed up now and isn’t the goofy early 20s kid that I once knew.

That’s not to say that she isn’t still hilarious, but she’s no longer just dreaming of one day being a published author — she is one now.  Vee is someone who immerses herself in her fictional characters’ minds and the worlds in which they live.  For this reason, she doesn’t write short stories, but instead offers readers a rich world filled with seemingly personal interactions with her characters.  You feel like these characters are real, like the events are real, and you experience everything as if it were happening to you.  The book reviewers seem to agree with me and eagerly share their enthusiasm for the books’ story and characters.  These books are available in Kindle editions, and if you start now, you’ll have time to read the first two books before the next in the series is released.

Pimp It Mondays – Teresa’s Books

Since I’ve been pimping so many books lately, I thought I’d pimp Teresa’s books.  I’ve mentioned her blog on here before, but not her non-blog work.  Below is a list of her work that you can purchase.

1) On the Ground Floor – This is a chapbook containing a handful of short stories.  I own this one and have gifted it to a few friends.  This was my first introduction to Teresa’s fiction-writing and is definitely worth reading.

It might not be your dad or your birthday, but this is good, so don’t throw it on the ground.

2) Crossed Genres Issue #24 (Characters of Color Issue) – 2010 – This issue contains Teresa’s short horror story, “December”, which features a Latina protagonist. It was her first professionally published fiction.  The issue is no longer in print, but you can read the story on the Crossed Genres website.  Though reading the story is free, I encourage you to donate to the site since it’s a completely independent publishing group.

That fish needs to be thrown on the ground.

3) Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them (Mad Norwegian Press, 2011) – I have this one as well.  It’s a must have for any Joss Whedon fan.  I was never able to get into Buffy because I have never really liked Sarah Michelle Gellar, but this book made me think that maybe I should try watching the show again.  Teresa’s essay is entitled “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse”.

Whedonistas! Our knitted hats are so fun!

4) Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who (Mad Norwegian Press, 2012) – This one has “All of Gallfrey’s a Stage: The Doctor in Adolescence”.  I don’t own this book, so I can’t vouch for it personally, but it’s Dr. Who, Mad Norwegian Press, and Teresa;  I can’t imagine that I’d dislike the book.

Best scarves in fandom.

5) Outside In (ATB Publishing, 2012) – More Dr. Who!  Teresa’s essay, “The Interconnectedness of Tibetan and Gallifreyan Cultures. Sort of.” is about the Classic Who story, “Planet of the Spiders.” 

Wooo wooo wooooooo wooo woo woo wooo wooooo…It’s just not as effective typed out for some reason.

6) For anyone who reads Spanish, Teresa recently landed a gig with Al Dia.  Here’s a link to her Shakira article (in English) that wasn’t included in the first link for some reason.

This is the face of the hand whose writing you will read.

7) For those who like to time travel, Teresa is also working on an eight-page comic for the anthology, MONSTROUS, edited by Mariah McCourt.  Mariah McCourt also edited HEROIC, so you know MONSTROUS will be good.  Please follow the MONSTROUS Project blog and check out the final product when it’s available.

Pimp It Mondays – Toward a Legal and Social Foundation for Gay Rights

So, remember last week when I talked about my friend, Gabriel, who wrote a book?  Well, his husband, Kenneth, wrote a book too.  It’s called Toward a Legal and Social Foundation for Gay Rights.

You can judge this book by its cover.  It's about what it says its about and the picture matches.  Yay truth!

You can judge this book by its cover. It’s about what it says it’s about and the picture matches. Yay truth!

When Gabriel and I reconnected a few years back, he introduced me to Kenneth.  I was glad that Gabriel ended up with such a nice guy.  Kenneth is one of those people who is way smarter about most everything in the world than I am, but isn’t pretentious about it at all.  So when he starts talking about Smart People Stuff, I nod and agree because I honestly do agree, but have nothing to add because he already said everything I was thinking and then some.  He’s an active member of the Elmwood Neighborhood Association in Dallas, TX, works with the local chapter of the SPCA, and is just a generally upstanding pillar of the community.  To rejuvenate his spirit from all of his Save The World activities, he watches horror movies with Gabriel and posts pics of their cats on Facebook and Twitter.  So download the free book, read it, and send the link to everyone that you know.  Then go do something nice for your neighborhood and reward yourself by watching  The NeverEnding Story.

Pimp It Mondays – Ask a Gay Guy

In my last post, I mentioned my friend, Gabriel.  It just so happens that he has a website called Ask a Gay Guy and a book to go along with it.  The general premise is that you can email questions about gay culture and get honest answers.  There’s also a link on the site in case you wanna vent about anything and your friends are all tired of listening to you.  There’s no guarantee that Gabriel will read your entire rant and respond to it in a meaningful manner, but he might make fun of you in a delightfully hilarious way on his Facebook page.

Buy this book!  It's only $.99 and part of the proceeds go to charity, so even if you don't want to read it, you might burn in hell if you don't buy it.

Buy this book! It’s only $.99 and part of the proceeds go to charity.  So even if you don’t want to read it, you might burn in hell if you don’t buy it.

I met Gabriel in high school.  We both spoke Sarcasm and hated ourselves as much as we loved each other.  When I first met him, he was a comic book nerd with nerd glasses and a protective flannel shirt that was the 90s version of a safety blanket.  My safety blanket took the form of either Doc Martens or Converse, depending on the mood of my feet.  By the end of the school year, he began working on revamping his image, which made me sad because I loved my little comic book nerd teddy bear friend.  I tell ya though, the ladies really loved the revamping.  Sadly for them, Gabriel preferred the romantic company of menfolk.  Gabriel continued to get cooler and better looking and I continued to not do either of those things.  We lost touch at some point, but he found me on Facebook a couple of years back.  We’re both too lazy to drive very far when we’re not going to work, but I might be living a bit closer to him once my lease is up, so I hope to start hanging out in person with him more often.  Let me also say that Gabriel, his husband (Kenneth), Amanda, Jane, and I can rock a Whatburger like it’s 1999.

Because I know Gabriel, and because I know he’s gay, I feel like he’s fully qualified to run a website and publish a book about The Gays.  The only things he’s more qualified to write about are funny insults and Aquaman.  Check out his site to read about gay and pop culture.  Email him if you have any questions.  Buy the book if you want more.  Make sure to follow him on Facebook and Twitter to stay up to date with the latest posts on Ask a Gay Guy.

Pimp It Mondays – Debediah

Behold! Da Debediah!

Behold! Da Debediah!

Here and there, I’ve mentioned Debediah, so I think it’s time that I give a bit of history on him.  Debediah is a character that my friends and I developed on blustery fall evening over Thanksgiving leftovers and an uproariously hilarious game of Scattergories.  You know how it is, you’re all under the pressure of a timer, all words have to start with D, and you’re just trying to write something down.  It makes sense at the time, kinda, but as everyone takes turns saying his or her answers, you start to realize that your Timer Reasoning might not be the best.  For “biblical names”, most of us put names like Daniel and David, but Teresa wrote, “Debediah.”  She didn’t have to feel bad though, because for “things that you plug in”, Lauren wrote, “Dude”.  It was such a funny answer that we gave her full credit.  I might have put some very inappropriate answers down for many of the prompts, but I was honestly surprised that nobody else had those answers.  At any rate, through much laughter, happy tears, and cajoling, Teresa and I began to act like Debediah for the rest of the night…and the rest of the trip.

Debediah is an old Southern gentlemen.  We don’t have his specific history, but we have enough to make him funny.  He’s like a more interesting Colonel Sanders.  I like to think that he never owned a plantation because he was not so much a rich, landowning racist as he was a stylish bon vivant.  He may or may not have any money at all really, and may have just travelled the world through a combination of luck and kindness from strangers.  What we do know is that something timey wimey happened and he ended up in the present day.  Technology confuses him, but he doesn’t care enough one way or another to really be crotchety about it.  He may or may not like women because he’s a Southern Gentlemen (kinda like how Americans have a hard time figuring out if a man from England is gay or just British), but he does find modern female attire both appalling and tantalizing.  He also likes to dance, his signature dance being especially impressive.

Debediah has his own Facebook page, Google+ page, and a Twitter account.  Cathy drew his profile pic and I did the first comic for him.  Our next step was to record a Google hangout, but it’s been difficult getting everyone to schedule a time to be online together.  I was waiting to do the hangout before I did another comic, but I’m thinking now that I should just do a bi-weekly comic and we can tape our Google hangouts whenever they happen.

(Aside:  I just realized that I wrote “tape” as a verb rather than “record”, which is something that people did before the year 2000.  I was going to fix that, but since I’m talking about Debediah, I figured “tape” would be impressive to him.)

Pimp it Mondays – Arizona Sunshine Girls

Arizona Sunshine Girls is my friend, Sarah’s, effort to turn her love of crochet into a source of income. Sarah is extremely talented and makes beautiful, handcrafted products.

Sarah makes stuff that you should buy.

Sarah makes stuff that you should buy.

She goes through phases of making something specific like a bracelet, but then experiments with different colors, textures, and decorative touches on the same basic pattern.  Because I know Sarah personally, I can say that she gets very excited about her projects and will often tell us things like, “I’m really loving these bracelets right now,” or “I can’t get enough of this color!”  As a knitter, I admire her gusto and excitement over her work.  I get excited about starting a knitting project, but if it takes more than about two hours to do, I get distracted by other shiny things, like TV and sleep.  I have started way more projects than I have finished, and could never run a craft store like Sarah.

I also admire Sarah because she has been dealing with some very serious health issues for many years now.  It’s a bit difficult for me to write this post, actually, because it hurts to think about the fact that this store isn’t just for extra income so that Sarah can buy cute shoes, but rather because her life depends on it.  Sarah has scleroderma and pulmonary fibrosis, both of which prevent her from working.  She receives social security, which she had to fight hard to get, but that isn’t enough to cover the outrageous costs of her treatments.

Please visit Arizona Sunshine Girls on Facebook, Twitter, and Blogspot, and check out the Etsy store.  You can rest assured that anything you buy was handmade with love and attention and that the money spent will be used for a good cause.