Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best Covers of 2013

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Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words Best Book Covers of 2013

What is a book without its cover? That’s a question that gets asked more frequently in this age of eBooks and ePublishing.  For myself and, I think, many others, book covers are still the marquee for an author’s story, the path to a book and the delights found inside. ScatteredThoughtsandRogueWords loves, loves book covers and the artists that work so hard to bring the author’s stories to life. Whether it is through photography or illustration or any combination thereof, 2013 had outstanding covers in every genre.  There are series whose covers are always marvelous, rich in design and emotion.  There were stand alone novels whose covers drew you into the story and beyond.  Here are some of the covers in 2013 that made me gasp, made me laugh and made me wish I had a copy of it for my wall:

Outstanding Contemporary Novel Covers:

Fire Horse by Mickie B. Ashling, Cover by Anne Cain
Illuminations by Rowen Speedwell, Cover by LC Chase
Lost and Found by Z.A. Maxfield, Cover by LC Chase
Still by Mary Calmes, cover by Reese Dante
The Sky is Dead by Sue Brown, Cover by Christine Griffin
Venetian Mask by Kim Fielding, Cover by Shobana Appavu

Fire Horse coverIllumination cover

LostAndFound_500x750

Still cover

 

 

 

 

The Sky Is Dead cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outstanding Historical Novel Covers:

On A Lee Shore by Elin Gregory, Cover by Mina Carter
Promises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane, Cover by John Kicksee

On A Lee Shore cover

Promises Made Under Fire

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outstanding Humorous Cover:

Shy by John Inman, Cover art by Paul Richmond.
Too Stupid Too Live by Anne Tenino, Cover by LC Chase
When Dachshunds Ruled The Serengeti by Michael Murphy, Cover by Paul Richmond

Shy coverWhen Wiener Dogs Rule coverToo Stupid To Live cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outstanding Fantasy Cover:

Faire Fugitive by Madeleine Ribbon, Cover by Fiona Jayde
Goblins by Melanie Tushmore, Cover by  Ria Chantler
Too Many Fairy Princes by Alex Beecroft, Cover by Lou Harper

Goblins, Book 1

Too Many Fairy Princes

Faire Fugitive

 

 

 

 

 

Outstanding Paranormal/Supernatural Covers:

Creature Feature by Mary Calmes, Poppy Dennison, Cover by Paul Richmond
Into This River I Drown by TJ Klune, Cover by Paul Richmond, Kyle Thompson
Josh of the Damned by Andrea Speed, Cover by LC Chase
Strange Angels by Andrea Speed, Cover by LC Chase

Creature Feature cover

Into This River I Drown

Josh of the Damned The Final Checkout

Strange Angels cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

Outstanding Horror Cover:

The Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men by Eric Arvin, Cover by Amy Morrison
The Beast Without by Christian Baines, Cover by David P. Reiter

Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men coverThe Beast Without cover

 

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Outstanding Science Fiction Cover:

Aria of the Eclipse by Vivien Dean, Cover by Trace Edward Zaber
Freedom by Jay Kirkpatrick, Cover by Anne Cain
Mindscape by  Tal Valante, Cover by LC Chase

Aria of the Eclipse cover

Freedom cover

Mindscape_500x750

 

 

 

 

 

YA Cover Series:

Vampirism and You by Missouri Dalton. Guidebook Series, Covers by LC Chase
Necromancy and You by Missouri Dalton

Vampirism and You cover

Necromancy and You cover

 

 

 

 

 

Consistently Outstanding Series Covers:

Leopard’s Spots by Bailey Bradford, Covers by Posh Gosh

Infected Series by Andrea Speed, Cover artist Anne Cain

TimothyNischal Leopards Spots 9

Infected Undertow coverInfected Shift cover

Review: Mindscape by Tal Valante

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Rating: 4 stars out of 5

Mindscape_500x750History of family service in the Spavy meant that Shane Cawley was just continuing in the family tradition when he joined the Interstellar Navy.  But for Mark Sayre joining the Interstellar Navy meant money for his mother and brother, for food and rent. Plus Mark had another goal, that of keeping his little brother out of the colony mines that sent their father to an early grave. When the two men met on the spaceship Cyclopes, Shane is an officer to Mark’s enlisted status but their affection grew despite Spavy regulations against it.  Mark completes Officer Candidate School  so that Shane and Mark are now free to move forward with their love. A love made deeper by the Resonance, a joining of two minds so rare that the odds were in the millions against it.

Then intergalactic war breaks out, the Cyclopes attacks and one of the couple is captured by the enemy.  In the aftermath of war, can love and their Resonance survive, when one of their minds is shattered?

Tal Valante’s Mindscape is an inventive jumble of romance and time periods, flashbacks and present day events, all set in outer space.  We enter the story as Shane walks down the hallways of the Rigsby Psychiatric Ward.  He is there to see Mark, a returned POW whose mind is shattered by torture endured while in captivity.  As Shane tries to reach Mark’s mind, the narrative moves back and forth between their past and their present.  This format is a little confusing to start off with, but in a strange way it works.  Tal Valante’s story is formed around the nightmare landscape of Mark’s mind and Shane’s attempts to reach him inside that mental framework.  It is full of shards of memory so a jumbled, somewhat confusing format works within this situation.  It takes a while to get used to it but once it starts to feel as real as the broken mind that Shane is trying to heal.

There are so many wonderful aspects to this story.  The “mindscape” that Valante creates for Mark is as haunted, and harrowing a place as one would expect from a prisoner of war.  That is the part that feels the most immediate and alive in the story.  I also found Shane’s emotions and the details from the Psychiatric Ward to be as painful and emotionally intrusive as the author intended them to be.  Shane’s many attempts to enter Mark’s mind and the anguish with which each failed attempt is met is believable and human.  I thought the twists of the plot as Shane moves through the obstacles raised by Mark are ingenious and some of the best elements in the story.

Did I think there were some less effective aspects here? A few, that with additional length could have been readily solved.  I thought the author’s universe building interesting but lacking in details that would have given it more substance.  The enemy was telepathic, that we find out.  But what else made them attack?  What did they look like? Where is the history behind the war?  That would have been a great layer to add.  Also a huge deal is made of the Resonance, that rare joining/meeting of minds.  I felt that again we needed to “feel” more of the Resonance between Shane and Mark in order for it to become as real as the men did.  And finally, I wish we had been given a few more scenes of Mark and Shane’s earlier relationship so the devastation that Shane feels upon losing Mark and the Resonance between them (and their long term love affair) felt as authentically deep  as they told us it was as it is central to the story.

I love science fiction and can absolutely recommend Mindscape by Tal Valante to lovers of romance as well as science fiction.  It is an inventive story by an author I was not familiar with.  This book has remedied that fact and now I look forward to investigating more works Tal Valante, whose creative mind brought this story forth.

This is how it starts…..

The first time Shane enters the Rigsby Psychiatric Ward, the noise and smells slam into him like a fist to the solar plexus. The air reeks of some lemony disinfectant. Somewhere, someone is screeching a song, and from nearby comes the hissing of a man whose burned hands are being tended by a nurse. It’s all Shane can do not to throw up. The thought of Mark, of all people, being locked in this place . . .

He’s grateful when the head nurse comes out to meet him, if only because it gives him something else to focus on. She insists on giving him the third degree.

“Shane Cawley,” he answers. “From New Wyoming, yes . . . His name is Mark Sayre. With a Y . . . I’m his partner.” His Resonance partner, he doesn’t add. “Not married, no . . . Yes, I know about his condition.” And finally, “Can I see him now ?”

She leads him down a hallway, past a woman who laughs at him like a hyena, and into a small room with two beds. One is occupied by a man who is lying on his back and burping repeatedly. On the other bed, looking dazed and oh so out of place, is Mark.

Cover art by LC Chase.  What a superb cover.  One of the best of 2013.

Book Details:

book, 94 pages
Published December 23rd 2013 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN13 9781626490918
edition language English

Review: Strength of the Wolf (The Tameness of the Wolf #2) by Kendall McKenna

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Rating: 5 stars out of 5

StrengthoftheWolf4After the events in Afghanistan, Captain Tim Madison,  Lt. Lucas Young, Dominant and True Alpha Sergeant Noah Hammond find themselves back in the States as part of a new military unit designed to better utilize and integrate the wolf shifters into the military to the benefit of both species.  Its a huge job and they have plenty of preconceived notions, misinformation and outdated combat structures to get rid of.  All receive promotions with Tim Madison promoted to major.  He is also made the head of the new unit which is composed of both human and shifter soldiers. The first order of business? To the bottom of the huge amount of shifter casualties in combat.

Jeremy Wagner is a civilian wolf shifter.  He’s smart, young and just beginning his career as an architect intern.  Jeremy is also a Lone Wolf, having been Cast Out by the True Alpha of the North Coast pack.  To that True Alpha, Jeremy represents a threat to his leadership asJeremy is just beginning his Transition to True Alpha.  Now Jeremy is alone, hormonal and trying to deal with all the physical and emotional changes of his transition and it’s not going well.

A confrontation in a parking lots brings Tim Madison together with Jeremy Wagner with explosive results.  Despite Tim’s concerns about the swiftness of their feelings and age difference, Tim and Jeremy soon form an intimate bond.  But outside elements gather to pull them apart.  Tim’s dysfunctional brother has reappeared in his life,  casualties are mounting for the werewolves in combat and Jeremy must still deal with his transition to True Alpha.  Will their bond and the strength of the wolf be strong enough to withstand the obstacles in their path?

Each new book from Kendall McKenna just reinforces my enthusiasm and love for The Tameness of the Wolf universe and the wolf shifters (and humans) she has created for it.  Strength of the Wolf follows shortly after the events of Strength of the Pack and the kidnapping of Lt. Lucas Young.  That military action highlighted the errors in which the wolfshifters were being used and the need for more investigation and regulating where the shifters and the military were concerned.  After an intense Prologue, McKenna switches focus away from combat and brings us into an exploration of werewolf natural history, one of the aspects I wished had been enlarged in Strength of the Pack..  How did they operate? What was the hierarchy?  In Strength of the Wolf, McKenna starts to answer some of those questions.  I have to admit that I love how McKenna intertwines shapeshifter history with that of human history and lore.  It works beautifully and also manages to introduce an element of humor to the proceedings.

Kendall McKenna’s characters are as strong, deep, and intense, all of which is necessary considering their occupations and difference in physiology.  I love her soldiers, her Marines both human and werewolf.  They are all resoundingly authentic and compelling.  Now we get to see the civilian side of the wolf.  Jeremy is a architectural intern.  He is young, brash, smart, and alone.  His is a more subtle characterization if you can say that about a wolf shifter, especially one becoming a True Alpha.  His is a character in transition in more ways than one.  Jeremy is twenty five.  He is, as an intern, learning about himself as a architect as well as his new  status as True Alpha.  Jeremy has always been a mid level pack member and is not prepared when he starts to change mentally, emotionally, and physically.  He is in all respects, a late bloomer and that’s a problem.  I really love this character.  He is powerful and he is also very vulnerable, he is insecure and having problems handling his transition without help.   Then into his life strides Tim Madison, Lucas Young and Noah Hammond.  Talk about a life changing moment.  That scene in the parking lot is a great example of why everything about this series and book works.  It’s intense, its perspective is both intimate and broad in scope, it’s humorous and potentially terrifying.  It’s amazing.   And the more we learn about Jeremy’s journey to True Alpha, the more we learn about werewolf society, pack rules and regulations.

The character of Tim Madison is, naturally, given more depth and scope than his role in Strength of the Pack.  I liked Tim in that novel but came to love him here.  Older, responsible, and still he yearns for the type of bond he sees in Lucas and Noah, a permanence and deep love that includes respect and understanding.  Tim’s past and his military career have taught him caution, to be wary of unplanned,  quick moves.  So it is absolutely understandable that when faced with Jeremy’s (and his own) desires, that Tim would want to slow things down.  So very human, but that doesn’t always work with your mate is a shapeshifter.  Again, McKenna gives each man his strong persona and then shows us exactly how and why they work so well in combination.  It’s realistic and incredibly sexy!  I mean incendiary sexy!  Those scenes between Tim and Jeremy are the hottest things since…well, since Noah and Lucas!

Of course,  Dominant Lucas Young and his mate, Noah Hammond, the True Alpha of the U.S. Armed Forces Pack are back in force.  This couple always manages to bring an startling sexual and emotional component to each scene they are in.   They remain as charismatic and white hot as you would expect.  But even with all those qualities, their presence doesn’t take away anything from the story of Tim and Jeremy.  They enhance it, not dilute it.  McKenna balances her couples and the needs of the narrative beautifully so neither couple is diminished by the other.  It may be  Tim and Jeremy’s story but the author has a wider plan that she is moving towards and many other elements in play.  And this will include some of the new characters she introduces in Strength of the Wolf.  At least I am hoping to see certain Marines show up again as well as Tim’s brother.

A  review of any of Kendall McKenna’s novels would be incomplete without mentioning the superb military elements so much a part of her narratives.  Because of Kendall McKenna, I now know what a sit-rep is, also a “oscar mike”, CASEVAC, and LPC’s, that’s leather personnel carriers, also known as boots for those of you as ignorant as I was of military speak!  Because of Kendall McKenna and her vivid realistic descriptions, I can almost feel the heat of the desert baking into their skin, and the dessert sand that invades every crevasse of clothes and body no matter the preventative measures taken to keep it out.  The drudgery, the danger, the boredom and the unmitigated horror of a ambush, its all here, done with a gritty realism that will make you wince,cringe and cry out for those involved.  Reading through a Kendall McKenna story is both a pleasure and a revelation.  I feel grounded in its authenticity (especially where the military and combat is concerned) but revel in the new facts and aspects of situation and characters that I had not thought of.    What a joy.

Kendall McKenna’s Strength of the Wolf and The Tameness of the Wolf series are on Scattered Thoughts Best Lists of 2013.  Consider both books highly recommended.  So grab up your LPCs and run to get your copy of Strength of the Wolf.  If you are new to the series, go directly back to the beginning and Strength of the Pack first.  If you loved that book, trust me you will be running back to reread it after finishing Strength of the Wolf.  This is a series you will never get enough of, trust me on this one.

Cover art by Jared Rackler is amazing.  I love it.

Books in The Tameness of the Wolf series in the order they were written and should be read:

Strength of the Pack (The Tameness of the Wolf #1)
Strength of the Wolf (The Tameness of the Wolf #2)

Book Details:

ebook, 365 pages
Published September 6th 2013 by MLR Press
original title Strength of the Wolf
ISBN13 MLR1020130136
edition language English
series The Tameness of the Wolf
Buy links:

Review: The Sky Is Dead by Sue Brown

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Rating: 5 stars

The Sky Is Dead coverDanny is 18, gay and homeless after his parents kicked him out of the house for being gay at the age of 16.  Danny is surviving but only barely. Two years of street living and he knows that its better if he’s invisible to all those around him, it makes it easier to hide and get through the day.  But when Danny sees a young boy being threatened, he rushes to the boy’s aid, saving him and making enemies in the process.  The boy Danny saves, Harry, is determined to make life better for his homeless savior and starts bringing him clothes and food when he can.  A tenuous bond forms between the well off school boy Harry and the wary, thin homeless Danny.  After a time, Harry persuades Danny to come home with him to meet his mom and the bonds between them strengthens and becomes something that Danny is afraid to put a name to.

But several traumatic events occur that sees Danny in the hospital, his life changed again.  And when he is ready to get out, Danny decides that he will make major changes in his life.  So with help, Danny regains his health, and decides to become David, a new name for a new life.  But the old Danny still exists inside, mistrustful, wary of the future.  When a new love presents itself, can David overcome his past and move into a future with a man called Jack or will his true identity and his old memories keep him from ever finding happiness again.

The Sky Is Dead an absolute wonder of a story.  I was given a copy to read and what a marvelous little surprise that turned out to be. I was also unfamiliar with the author, another thing this happy event remedied.  I started in reading and soon forgot everything else around me as I was pulled in deeper and deeper into Danny’s life and story.  I read it all the way through, stopping only to get my box of tissues.  And by the end, I knew I had just read a remarkable story and found a new author to love.

Sue Brown’s descriptions and characterizations bring the reader swiftly and intimately into the world of the homeless.  It is not merely Danny we see struggling to survive on the streets, but several other homeless people who meet up at the local shelter for food and medical treatment.  We are brought into a life where neglect of the body and soul are common place, hopelessness and sickness go hand in hand, and the potential for abuse and death lurks at every street corner and city park.  Bushes become beds and hiding places and the slightest cough becomes a harbinger of mortality.

Into this desolate existence, the author thrusts Danny, a young man ill prepared for such a life.  Betrayed by his boyfriend, a simple kiss removes Danny from his sheltered life.  One moment he has a family, a home and school, the next he is on the street with nothing to  his name.  We feel his shock, the tenuity of life he now lives and the despair and anger he feels.  Brown makes it all feel so very real that the reader will find themselves angry and despairing along with Danny every step of the way.   The author has a gift in bringing this awful existence to life that you can’t help but be moved, not only by Danny but for all his real life counterparts in cities all over the world.   The shelter, a beacon for those in need, is filled with beautifully realized characters, from Billy and Lil, a homeless pair with mental impairments to Ben, a former homeless man who now works at the shelter.  Its all there, every authentic detail, the shabbiness, the squalor and filth of the homeless themselves, even the horrifed “looks” of people passing by Danny on the street.  Brown uses all of these elements as building blocks to create a realistic, and immensely sad foundation on which she lays out Danny’s life history.

I really don’t want to go into details here because I might give away too much of this incredible story.  I will say that Brown’s narrative is told in a concise, and compelling manner.  It flows easily between two time periods in a way that never seems jarring or artificial.  I do love the dialog Brown has created for each of her characters.  It fits them and their circumstances exactly.  Here is Danny talking about the shelter:

They ask for a donation at the shelter for their hot meals, although they don’t make a fuss if you can’t pay up. I’ve learned not to be proud, but I help if I can, and sometimes, I don’t want the shelter’s food. I don’t think of myself as a hooker. Shit, I could make more money if I stayed in South London, but I live in a small town not far from Guildford. I don’t fancy standing outside Sainsbury’s, selling my arse every night to commuters and family men. I do enough to get me a hot meal and no more.

They’re pleased enough to see me at the drop-in center, which is really just a small room in the shelter. Ben, one of the volunteers, looks up from his paperwork and greets me with a cheery good morning as I walk in. I recognize most of the faces now. Old Johnny is already there, in his usual spot. He grunts at me as I walk past. I’ll go and talk to him later, after I’ve had my breakfast. Lil and Billy grin at me from the window seat. In the two years I’ve been coming to the shelter, I’ve never seen them apart. Lil’s about thirty, I guess, with Billy a few years younger. They’re inseparable, despite the fact both of them have learning difficulties. Billy told me the authorities don’t approve of their relationship, and each new social worker at the shelter tries to split them up. The last one ended up in Accident & Emergency. Billy took exception to the social worker trying to manhandle Lil and punched the man in the face. The assault earned Billy a few nights in the cells, and Lil went into a decline. It was the intervention of Greg, the manager of the shelter, that got them back together. I think they’re the lucky ones, in an odd way. They’d get more help if they were alone, but they love each other and provide comfort and support to each other in the best and worst of times. They don’t have to face the bloodsucking loneliness of being on your own twenty-four hours a day.

“The bloodsucking loneliness of being on your own twenty-four hours a day.”  What a perfect line and description of Danny’s day.  We feel every second of it’s loneliness, it scary and degrading aspects too.  And when things start to look up for Danny, we are as terrified as he is to accept that it is real and might last more than a day.

This is a raw, emotional story and Sue Brown tells it pragmatically, and realistically, making its impact all the more profound.  Every day we read or hear more stories about GLBT youth in danger, from vicious physical and verbal attacks to the ever more soul killing banal rejections of community and  finally that of their family.  More shelters are operating in every city and still there is not enough to house those in need.  Sue Brown’s story brings the plight of those “throwaway” children to life in the form of Danny.  It’s a tale that needs to be told.  The Sky Is Dead is one more powerful cry for help.  I cannot begin to recommend this book and its author enough.    Read it, gift it, and spread the word.

Book cover: art by Christine Griffin presents us with one of the more powerful covers I can remember.  It’s perfect in subject matter and emotion.  One of the best of the year.

Book Details:

ebook, 232 pages
Published April 17th 2013 by Dreamspinner Press
ISBN13
9781623806088
edition language
English
Links and Shelters for LGBTQ youth:
New York City, NY: Ali Forney Center 
Washington, DC, Prince Georges County, MD:  Promise Place

Review: Josh of the Damned, Triple Feature #2, The Final Checkout by Andrea Speed

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Rating 4.25 stars for the book

Rating: 4.5 stars for the Josh of the Damned series

Josh of the Damned The Final CheckoutJosh Caplan, night clerk of the Quik-Mart was sure he was going to be fired after he (and his friends) stopped the Quik-Mart Corporate offices from opening a store in the hell dimension world called Dev.  But when he showed up for work, everything thing seemed normal or as normal as it can be when the convenience store you work in is next to a hell portal that  opens each night to let all sorts of amazing and hellish creatures come through to visit the store.  From werewolves in the parking lot, zombies needing a meat burrito to a lovesick Yeti, Josh Caplan has seen it all come and go on a regular basis.  Of course, Josh also has a handsome, cool vampire boyfriend named Colin and a less than competent necromancer, Mr. Kwon, as a boss.
But once a CEO, especially a jerk of a CEO like Clark Ryan IV, has an idea in his head, you just know that trouble is coming and it does.  In the last of the Josh of the Damned series, Josh, Colin, Mr Kwon and Bobo the Yeti must face a triple feature of threats to the Quik-Mart as well as all humanity and win.  Among those our intrepid group faces is a giant slug, Medusa’s sisters and of course the worst of all, corporate America.  But as Josh has said before “Dude, I’ve said it like a dozen times! Think of me as the minimum wage Gandalf —you shall not pass.”  And how can you not believe him?

I love, love this series.  I mean, it has it all. Josh Caplan, a night clerk so intrepid by nature, that he moves through life with an acceptance and ease that is almost shocking if it wasn’t’ so delightful. And he has plenty to keep him company from his stoner roommate, Doug, vampire boyfriend, Colin, Necromancer boss, Mr. Kwon, superboss, Medusa, lovesick compatriot Bobo, Gary the Tooth Fairy, and so many more.  Each more fantastic, sarcastic, and outrageous than the next.  In The Final Checkout,  Andrea Speed gives us the final 3 chapters in the Josh saga which of course revolves around the Quik-Mart Corporation’s plan to open a branch in the hellworld, Dev.

When I try to come up with reasons why I have taken this series to heart, the more obvious ones are front and center.   Andrea Speed’s humor which is evident in every aspect of the series, from the names (Kevin the Vampire Slayer to Harvey Mangoat to Gary the Tooth Fairy, just hysterical) to the small details such as Colin giving Josh a tablet because Medusa needs to talk to him and Josh assumes its an iHell (Dev’s answer to the iPad) because, well who wouldn’t?  It’s topical, sarcastic, funny as, well, funny as hell and yet, still contains a lot of heart, no, let’s make that emotion because well it just might contain a real organ or two as well.

Andrea Speed’s world building is perfection too.  Not too many details to bog down the story, just enough to make Dev feel authentic and hellish when Josh, Doug and Colin enter that dimension.  I also like that creatures that appear almost cartoonish in the Quik-Mart become more viably demonic on Dev, their home world, a lovely touch.

The truth of it is that it wouldn’t matter how funny the names or how humorous the situations, without characters whose vulnerability and endearing personality traits make them easy to connect with , then this series would seem a little hollow.  But not to worry, Andrea Speed brings the same detail she uses in her world building to constructing her characters.  All of her creatures, human and otherwise, are beautifully layered beings, with just those odd quirks that make them notable both inside and out of the genre.  You don’t have to tell me that Bobo is much more than he/she/it? seems, I just know it.  And Mr. Kwon, the not quite so capable necromancer who is afraid to tell his family just how bad his skills are?  Priceless.  Medusa and her sisters take sibling rivalry to the next level, while still making it oh so identifiable.

What can I say?  The plots are hysterical, the dialog giggle inducing and the characters (except for the corporate bunch) totally adorable. Please don’t pass The Final Checkout and this series up.

The three stories here are

1. Clerk of the Living Dead.  Zombies attack the Quik-Mart and Josh and Mr. Kwon must deal with this unusual occurrence along with the entrance of Kevin the clueless Vampire Slayer.  I think that this is my favorite of the three.  Josh and Mr. Kwon’s reaction to Kevin had me in giggles plus high props for the Buffy reference.  Josh gets a new bracelet or cuff as he would prefer we call it.  We find out more about the evil plot the Corporation has in store for everyone while Josh and Colin try to take their relationship up to the next level.

2. Plaything of the Gods.  Medusa needs Josh and Colin’s help in dealing with her sisters on Dev.  For the first time, we get to know Doug, Josh’s stoner roommate who delivers pizza.  I loved Doug and his assistance in things brought that “out of body” touch to the proceedings, nothing like a stoner’s viewpoint on Hell and its inhabitants to keep things “unreal, man”.  We also learn more about Josh’s new role as a Guardian, oh and there’s a giant slug that’s blocking the way to the Quik-Mart that has to be removed too.

3. Josh vs. Destiny.  The final showdown between corporate plans for domination and Hell.  Well, you figure it had to happen sometime, why not with Josh as our hero?  The CEO and its evil assistant Harvey Mangoat, (yes, really) vs. Josh, Mr. Kwon and his crew.  Timing is still everything and it starts when Josh and Colin are trying to have a romantic weekend, their first.  The course of true love or lust never runs smooth, and Hell is here to prove it.  Bobo is back (my favorite) to help in the final checkout.  Loose ends are tied up and Josh gets a fabulous apartment to have sex in.

I am going to miss these guys (and things).  I hope Andrea Speed can be convinced to give us a look in every now and again to see how everyone is doing.

The Josh of the Damned books should be read in the order they were written in order for the characters and plots to make sense.  Here they are in order they should be read:

Pretty Monsters (Josh of the Damned, #1)

Peek-a-Boo (Josh of the Damned, #2)

Josh of the Damned Triple Feature #1 (Josh of the Damned, #3)

Night of the Dust Bunnies (Josh of the Damned, #3.5)

Josh of the Damned Triple Feature #2: The Final Checkout (Josh of the Damned #4)

Cover art by LC Chase is shear perfection.  I want a poster of it, really I do.

Andrea Speed also provides a soundtrack for The Final Checkout.  It’s amazing.  Listen to it here.

And finally, if this is your first introduction to the madness that is the Josh of the Damned series, read (courtesy of Andrea Speed) the opening pages of The Final Checkout:

Clerk of the Living Dead

There was an odd sort of comfort in just not worrying that you were about to die. Well, sort of.

Josh went home in the morning, certain he’d get a phone call about not bothering to come in for work tonight, that his last check would be mailed to him, but he was so unconcerned about it all that he just brushed his teeth and went to bed. So this was the end of his short career at the Quik-Mart—so what? There were plenty more low-income, no-hope jobs in the sea. Besides, he couldn’t have let those company guys through the portal, or reality would have imploded and everyone would have been killed. He’d picked the lesser of two evils.

When he woke up to find Doug on the couch, smoking a bowl and watching American Dad, his roommate told him there’d been no calls for him. Weird. Did it really take that long to get a message back to the home office? Or were they up to something? Since the portal didn’t open until nightfall, the home office was limited in what they could do during the day. He was sure this was some mix-up, but he got dressed and headed to the bus stop anyway.

Cindy, the early evening clerk, was finishing her shift when he showed up, and the Quik-Mart looked the same as always. She had no message for him, so he started working as normal, wondering if they were going to fire him mid-shift. Or maybe they’d be coming back with more guys this time? Not that it would help them. Bobo could probably crush the entire army, and with Colin helping, he could do it in half the time.

Colin showed up with the first lizard customer of the evening, although they weren’t together (well, as far as he could tell). Colin had a weird look on his face, one Josh figured was either worry or an upset stomach. Did vampires get indigestion?

Colin came up to the counter and pulled something out from his coat. It looked kind of like an iPad, only it was way thinner, black, and when Colin gave it to him, Josh discovered it was lighter than most paperbacks. Whoa, was there an Apple iHell now? “This some new kind of tablet?”

Colin shrugged and shook his head, sending a mixed message. “Medusa wanted to talk to you.” His expression was grave.

“So, what? This a new way to knock me out?” As Josh inspected the tablet for some hidden Taser nodes, the screen popped to life, and even though it was riddled with interference lines, he could see the brass figure of Medusa sitting behind her desk, wearing those same glasses as before, her hair rippling around her like it was caught in its own private windstorm, her lips so red it made her mouth look bloody. Her suit today looked to be an almost violent blue.

“Colin told me what an excellent job you did yesterday,” she said, her voice coming out staticky, but clear enough that the lizard in the chip aisle jumped and almost dropped his bag of Ruffles. So they all knew what she sounded like, huh? Maybe she broadcasted end-of-year messages, like the Queen or Lady Gaga.

“Um, oh. Well, he deserves credit, too. Him and Bobo. The Quik-Mart guys would have ignored me if they hadn’t been there.”

She smiled, but it seemed predatory. Her lipstick probably wasn’t helping. “Everybody received their due credit. As it is, Josh, I could use an agent who can work in your dimension regardless of whether the vortex is open or not. I’d say you passed the first test with flying colors.”

“Um, huh?” He kind of knew what she was saying, but he couldn’t quite believe it. Was this whole thing—from Medusa tasking him to stop the home office, to the stupid parking lot battle—a test?

“How would you like to work for me?”

Josh looked at Colin, but he stared back blankly, his expression giving nothing away. “Umm . . . do I have a choice?”

Her grin grew wide enough that it nearly threatened to split her face in half, and her snakes quivered like they were waving goodbye. Or laughing at him. “What do you think?”

Oh shit. Not until this moment had the job of burger flipper ever seemed so damn good.

Book Details:

ebook
Published April 29th 2013 by Riptide Publishing
ISBN139781626490062
edition languageEnglish
urlhttp://riptidepublishing.com/
series: Josh of the Damned