An Oddball Double Dip: A Smallgoods Saviour and a Shambling Detectives…

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Welcome, fellow oddballs, to this double-dip of silliness.  Today I have adult fiction and YA fiction for you and they are linked by their commitment to the advancement of character groups too often overlooked in literature – specifically, undead detectives and homeless delicatessen workers.  Load up your bizarre (and slightly gross) savoury snack of choice and let’s jump right in.

Slimy Underbelly by Kevin J Anderson follows zombie detective Dan Chambeaux (“Shamble” to his friends) on a few cases with a definite supernatural twist.  Dan lives in the Unnatural Quarter, home to all manner of supernatural and/or formerly living residents whose existence came to be after an accident with a Necronomicon.  Now undead, not-human and ordinary folk rub along together in this interesting part of the city.  When a worsening stench overtakes the detective’s offices and a pre-pubescent supervillain presents with a case of wrongful eviction from his underground lab, Dan is forced to descend into the sewers to get to the bottom of the problem.  There he bumps into Ah’Chulhu, a tentacular-faced real estate mogul who is playing hardball with his tenants and the whole Unnatural Quarter property market.  As the plot (and the stench) thickens, Dan discovers that he must unearth Ah’Chulhu’s real motive before the entire Unnatural Quarter sinks below the level of social acceptability.  Throw in an Ogre opera singer who has lost his voice, a gang of violent garden gnomes on a spree of armed robberies, and an election campaign that could literally cause the earth to move, and you just know that things are about to get interesting.

18184424Dip into it for…

…a fun and silly detective romp that bursts with characters who reside slightly left of centre.  This book really worked for me as light refreshment during a heavy review period and I was most appreciative of the brain-break.  The highlight of the book for me was most definitely the array of oddbod characters, from Dan himself, to the beleaguered Ogre Stentor, who spends most of the book shouting (in a stage-whisper), “Help! Someone’s stolen my voice! If found, please call the police!”, to the Aussie-accented Ah’Chulhu, who reads very like a slimy-faced Steve Irwin, to a helpful barbershop quartet of toad demons.  Really, the book has everything.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after serious noir or detective work that doesn’t involve werewolf prostitutes.  There. I said it.

Seriously though, if you aren’t up for a gobful of silliness and disbelief-suspension, you should probably be moving right along.

Overall Dip Factor

This is the perfect book for when you don’t want to have to work too hard and you’re looking for something that is original and fun and will give you a hearty chuckle or two (or more).  I did feel that the plot dragged in a few places (mostly for me it was during the sections involving the weather wizards and their constant bickering.  Although admittedly, one of the weather wizards becomes an important character later in the story and therefore redeemed this plotline a little).  Being a country-monster of Ah’Chulhu, I was slightly affronted that an Australian was cast in such an evil light, but he has his soft side as well, so I ended up forgiving Anderson for that one.  Overall though there are plenty of intertwining plotlines and original characters here to keep even the most cynical, cranky reader from getting too snarky.  Slimy Underbelly is a great pick for when you’re sunning your skin/tentacles/fur/scales/rippling bubonic flesh on a beach (or similar) and you just want to relax and escape into a world that is slightly more bizarre than your own.

**I feel I have to point out that I did pick up one little flaw in Ah’Chulhu’s authentic Australian-ness.  At one point, while dismissing the zombie detective, Ah’Chulhu uses the word G’day. Typically Australian one might think, except this term is only ever used by native speakers in greeting, never in parting.**

Now onto some oddness for the young adult market….

Welfy Q. Deederhoth: Meat Purveyor, World Saviour by Eric Laster is a humorous sci-fi romp set partly in a delicatessen and partly in an alien world in the midst of an invasion (by a second alien species).  The book opens with Welfy, hungry teenaged lad of no fixed address, attempting to find work in exchange for something to eat.  Morton, owner of Grammercy Deli, takes pity on Welfy and gives him a job, thus beginning Welfy’s exposure to the aliens among us (well, kind of).  On descending to the deli basement, Welfy is transported into an alien world, in which he is immediately mistaken for “The One (with a dirty apron)”, a prophesied hero sent to save the Brundeedles from the oppressive and violent Ceparid race.  Along with the alarming discovery that he can now pull weapons from his deli apron pocket, Welfy meets a whole host of Brundeedles, including Princess Nnnnn and her little brother Raoul, and her husband, the jealous Prince Ffff as he fights alongside them to save the Brundeedles from assured destruction.  But hang on – how is it possible for a deli basement to hide a portal into another point in space?  Welfy is going to need all the help he can get from both sides of the galactic divide  (as well as an apron pocket full of weapons-grade salami) in order to save the Brundeedles and figure out his true destiny.

welfyDip into it for…

…a wholly original take on the “undiscovered hero” plotline for the upper-middle grade, lower-YA audience.  This reminded me of nothing so much as Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smek Day, not only because of the sci-fi themes, but also because both books feature a fun balance of humour and action with a healthy side order of silliness.  Books like this work, in my opinion, because although they contain situations and/or characters that defy logic and disbelief suspension, the characters within the story take the story seriously, and because of this it’s much easier to get sucked in to the plot.

Laster has also managed to create a pretty complex protagonist in Welfy.  He’s a homeless kid with an uncertain family history and a more recent track record in foster care.  He’s also a mature and humble sort of guy, prepared to work to get ahead.  I appreciated also the poignant moments amongst the alien chaos.  The author has really done a good job here providing insight into why life on the street might be preferable for some young people than staying in the foster care system.

Don’t dip if…

…you expect your sci-fi to be heavy or serious, or you find characters with unpronounceable names irritating.  There is a fair bit of “Brundeedle language” spoken in certain sections here and I can imagine that some people might find it a bit annoying to read bits of…well, unreadable text.  You’ve been warned.

Overall Dip Factor

This is going to appeal to sci-fi fans of all ages and those who are prepared to take a chance on a story out of left field.  Vegetarians need not apply.  The cover actually gives a pretty good overall impression of the contents and atmosphere of the story, and I would love to see this story in graphic novel form in the future.

To add to the whole “this book is a bit different to your average” theme, Laster has thoughtfully provided an appendix  which outlines how to translate Brundeedle language into English.  And for those stout-hearted code-breakers among us, he’s also included a news article written in Brundeedle language in order for you to practice.  Finally, the book includes a little teaser of a story called “The Case Files of Erasmus Twiddle”, so you can’t complain that Laster hasn’t given you some bang for your buck.

Give it a go if you want to pull something different out of the hat apron.

Until next time,

Bruce

* I received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley*

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Adult Fiction Read-it-if Review: The Secret Dead…

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Welcome to you, friend of the fantastical creatures lurking in your midst.  Today I have an indie offering for fans of urban fantasy and murder mystery (which, I am sure, is most of you).  The Secret Dead by S.W. Fairbrother is an enticing addition to the urban fantasy genre in the vein (I thought) of Ben Aaronovitch’s series featuring DC Peter Grant.

The Secret Dead follows Vivia Brisk, a hag – or death witch – who is employed by the Lipscombe Trust, an agency that assists non-human entities to rub along happily in a human society that has already implemented strict laws to deal with the ever-present threat of a zombifiying virus.  When she’s not dealing with trolls requiring rent assistance or shape-shifters being unfairly discriminated against in the workplace, Viv looks after her sister Sigrid, whose soul is trapped in the Underworld, even as her body requires round-the-clock care.  When office philanderer and all-round sleaze Malcolm Brannick unexpectedly zombifies at home and is spirited away by his winged son, Viv is drawn into a decades-old mystery that quickly turns dangerously sinister.  As the macabre discoveries mount up in her investigation, Viv is called upon to enter the Underworld (in effect, die) to gain answers for the police.  With questions piling up around her, Viv has to use all her contacts in non-human society to unravel this mystery before it becomes personal – and she gets stuck in the Underworld for good.

the secret dead

Read it if:

*you suspect that if a government agency ever examined your family situation in any kind of detail, you would have a lot of explaining to do…particularly about the body of your dead mother being reverentially concealed in the attic by your immortal step-father

* you believe that zombies were people too…and therefore should be treated with dignity and respect, even as they attempt to gnaw at your flesh

* you would be secretly happy if the office sleaze-bag suddenly turned into a zombie

* you believe that police work is always made better by a few trips into the Underworld

I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the mystery that Fairbrother has created here.  The story seems to unfold in layers, as Viv discovers new information about people she thought she knew well.  Then there’s Viv’s personal struggles with earning enough money to keep herself, her (immortal) step-father and her disabled sister in housing and food.  And underlying this is a very tightly written world that believably incorporates humans, a whole range of non-humans and part-humans, as well as undead humans.

I found the zombie theme a fresh new touch to the more traditional urban fantasy elements and I was surprised that it actually worked really well and gave the story an interesting twist.  My favourite thing about the zombie threat in this particular book is that it was given a historical basis – the zombifying virus is one that has been present in the population for generations and therefore societies have developed to manage outbreaks and those that are carriers of it.  Because Fairbrother has integrated the zompocalypse theme in a historical way, it doesn’t have that over-used vibe that can come across in other novels.

If you enjoy the sort of crime investigation/magicality mash-up in Ben Aaronovitch’s novels, this might be a good choice for you.  The mystery element is pretty complex, involving lots of different characters and backstories, and the world building is solid and believable.  I’m not sure whether Fairbrother plans to turn this into a series, but it was pleasantly satisfying to see an ending that wrapped up the events of the book, but left the characters with some options.  There’s also plenty of lighter moments sprinkled amongst the death and unsightliness, so really, this book should appeal to a wide group of readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

*I received a digital copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review*

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Guest Post of Awesomosity: Rosie Best, Author of Skulk…

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skulkAhoy me hearties! You’ve made a canny choice jumping aboard the good ship Bookshelf today, because as a result you get to read a post by Rosie Best, author of Skulk – foxy, new-release, young adult, urban fantasy novel that I reviewed very recently indeed….in case you missed it, you can find that review here.

So who is this Rosie Best character? Here’s the lowdown, thanks to her publisher, Strange Chemistry

Rosie Best lives in London and loves all things nerdy. She is an editor at Working Partners Ltd, working on a huge variety of projects from first chapter books about unicorns to dark YA journeys through the land of the dead.

She’s also written for Working Partners on a freelance basis, on series published by Usborne and Hot Key Books.

The opening of Skulk won a place in the 2012 Undiscovered Voices anthology. When not writing or indulging a passion for video games, she sings with the Crouch End Festival Chorus.

And guess what else? She likes Ben Aaronovitch and Neil Gaiman too…clearly she has impeccable taste in authors, just like we shelf-dwellers.

For today’s post, Rosie is sharing a bit about why London is the perfect location for Meg’s adventures in Skulk….

Skulking Around London rosie best

Maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner, but I bloody love London town. I consider myself deeply privileged to have done most of my growing up here, and when I realised I was going to write an urban fantasy there was no question at all in my mind where it was going to be set.

Skulk is the story of Meg Banks, a girl from an upper class London family who’s out graffitiing her posh girl’s school in the middle of the night when she witnesses the death of a fox who shapeshifts into a man. She inherits his ability to shift, and soon gets caught up in a conflict between the shapeshifters and someone who’ll do anything for power.

‘Write what you know’ is advice that can seem reductive and annoying, but I ended up following it when I was writing Skulk, almost by mistake. Even though I was actually writing a story about shapeshifters and magic, I ended up naturally filling Skulk with things that fit, that I knew could be believably found somewhere within the M25. Urban foxes, the ravens in the Tower, spiders and rats, and yes, butterflies. Pigeons and fog (even though the last great London fog happened in the 1960s). Hyde Park and Waterloo Bridge, the Tower of London and the top of the Shard.

Sometimes I worried that putting in so many of the famous locations would make the book feel like a tourist’s version of London. There’s a subtle but very important difference between using the royal family and the red double decker busses and a nice cup of tea because they’re realities of life in London, and using them to suggest some kind of strangely glossy paradise full of polite white men in bowler hats.

That’s not London – the real city is staggeringly diverse, both in terms of the landscape and the people. I hope that a little bit of grit rubs off on the bright, shiny places from the less glamorous corners of this fabulous city that also made it into the book – the traveller park under the Westway flyover, Willesden Junction tube station, the dodgy part of Hammersmith.

I’ve been wondering whether Skulk could be set somewhere else, and I think it could – I can imagine the New York version, the Delhi version, the Sydney version (that one would have the biggest spiders). I think those would be cool books, but I know I couldn’t write them.

There are a couple of books I have to acknowledge as huge influences on the way I think and write about London:

Neverwhere, by Neil Gaiman – for my generation this is the book (and originally the TV series) that got half of us into urban fantasy in the first place. Richard Mayhew helps a homeless girl and discovers a whole secret world just under the surface of London life. Tube station names like Earl’s Court and Blackfriars become wonderfully literal, and all sorts of real locations feature in weird, fantasy-tinged ways.

Rivers of London, by Ben Aaronovitch – much more recent, but no less brilliant. This is the story of Peter Grant, a Metropolitan Police Officer who sees a ghost at a murder scene and finds out that magic is real and people are committing crimes with it. It’s an urban fantasy police procedural, and because the main character is an architecture nerd it comes with a healthy (and surprisingly compelling) helping of London history.

Harry Potter – this is a bit of a strange choice, because almost all of it is set in Wizarding Scotland. But JK Rowling also writes about the muggle world with an insightful truthfulness that’s just as brilliant as the wild fantastical world of Hogwarts. Plus, I love that JK created a London landmark of her very own that stuck so fiercely in people’s minds that it now really exists – at least, there’s a sign for Platform 9 3/4 and half a trolley sticking out of a wall in King’s Cross station.

If you want to read more from Rosie (and let’s face it, why wouldn’t you?), you can check out her blog at http://skulkingwriter.blogspot.com.au/    In the meantime, you should probably go and immediately get your hands on a copy of Skulk. I have made that bit easy for you – just click on the cover image at the top of the page to be taken to the Book Depository, where you can spend your hard-earned (or ill-gotten) cash*

As this post is part of a blog tour, you can multiply your Skulky pleasure exponentially by visiting other foxy bloggers over the course of the next month – just go to http://skulkingwriter.blogspot.co.uk/p/skulk-blog-tour.html and follow the trail!

Until next time,

Bruce

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SKULK ARC Review: Read it if…..

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Pleasant afternoon to you, thrill seekers! Today’s Read-it-if is just a little bit special – it’s my first ever ARC (that’s Advance Reading Copy for the uninitiated…but of course, you already knew that…) review.  Many thanks to  Strange Chemistry for the opportunity to get my paws on this one pre-release!

Skulk is a new urban fantasy tale by Rosie Best, to be released on the 1st of October in e-version, and print version in the US and Canada, and on the 3rd of October for the UK and the rest of us Outlanders.

In Skulk we are introduced to Meg Banks, an ordinary lass who suddenly becomes extraordinary during a standard, run-of-the-mill, after-hours excursion to deface her school grounds with social-commentary-oriented graffiti.  Meg is interrupted during this mission by the entrance of an injured fox, who promptly morphs into a human male before dying in front of her.  Later, Meg discovers that she has somehow inherited the ability to shape-shift into fox form and at this point, things begin to go seriously pear-shaped for all concerned. But mostly for Meg.

Cue a crazy, sadistic sorceress, a merciless army of pigeons, a menagerie of urban shape-shifters and a creeping, flesh-eating fog!

skulk

Read it if:

* you have long harboured a sneaking suspicion that the particularly hirsute gentleman who sits opposite you on your daily commute may actually be a gorilla in human form

* you have a strong aversion to foggy weather – both for its natural potential to reduce visibility for motorists, and its supernatural potential to explode the heads of the unwary

* you are attracted to pretty, glittering objects….like egg-sized gemstones that have the power to alter your perception and/or assist in your plans for world domination

* you believe the words “pigeon” and “sky-vermin” are roughly interchangeable

Skulk is the perfect choice for your entry-level explorer of urban fantasy.  It has a nice spread of fantasy elements and the history behind the fantasy is explained in enough detail to keep the reader immersed in the story, but without so much complexity that one requires a wall-mounted genealogical tapestry to follow how the situation came to be.  In case you’re wondering about appropriate reader age, I would definitely keep this one in the “older teens” section, due to graphic violence, mentions of drug use and parental abuse.  Having said that though, Skulk is also a great option for adult readers who want a slightly lighter read in the style of Ben Aaronovitch or Mike Shevdon.

Can I also mention how much I love the cover art? How good is it? Well done to all concerned for proving it is possible to have a young adult novel featuring a teen female lead character, without resorting to the tired and over-used “long-haired girl with vacant expression” option for the cover.  Plus, that fox symbol would look fantastic on a t-shirt!

If I’ve whetted your appetite for all things foxy, stay tuned, because Rosie Best will be guest posting here at the shelf on Monday – that’s September 2nd for the calendar buffs among you.  And you can check out my Goodreads review here!

Until next time,

Bruce
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Reminders and Teasers: A Smorgasboard of Bookish *Stuff*…

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Good afternoon shelf-buddies!  I bring to you today a veritable picnic basket overflowing with tempting and exciting reading-related delicacies! Hopefully by the end of this post you will find yourself filled to elegant sufficiency, slightly drowsy from the richness of your bookish repast and with any luck, not covered with crumbs or being stalked by the inevitable trail of ravenous ants.

First up, REMINDERS:

kid-lit-blog-hop-button-sep-2012-e1349976901756

Kid Lit Blog Hop #22

In case you missed my last post (and related fancy hat), I am currently tickled pink to be co-hosting the Kid Lit Blog Hop, home of all things child and literacy related. Click the button to join in the fun!

Fiction in 50 Challenge: August

fiction in 50It’s on again! For those who love to write but can never get past the first few sentences of your epic novel, this is the challenge for you! Create a piece of fiction in 50 words or less, and post it on your page in the last week of August.

This month’s prompt is: FAMOUS LAST WORDS

Click on the button for more info, and for upcoming prompts!

Second up, a TEASER!

I’m a little ashamed to admit that we shelf-dwellers have all been having a little trouble with skulkreigning in overblown egos in the last week or two.  The reason behind our sudden inflatedness of head is that we were recently approved to review our first ever ARC – for SKULK, by Rosie Best and published by Strange Chemistry!

Check out that cover – doesn’t it just suck you in? Skulk introduces us to Meg, an ordinary young lass who witnesses the death of a fox…who shapeshifts into a man.  Meg then discovers that she has inherited this power….and things go downhill for her from there!  Skulk is a great example of young adult urban fantasy, but I won’t say too much here because…..

…..In preparation for Skulk’s release on the 1st  (US/Canada/ebook) and the 3rd (UK) of September, I will be reviewing Skulk next week and then on the 2nd of September, the shelf will be honoured with a post from the author herself – Rosie Best!!

And finally, a bit of RETAIL THERAPY!

winterowls fox toy

In order that you are fully prepared when you rush out and order your copy of Skulk, I also have a little bit of foxy goodness from my crafty mate WinterOwls.

This darling little fox friend is available at her etsy shop here:

http://www.etsy.com/au/listing/155720293/handmade-fox-toy-fox-plush-upcycled-fox

It would make a great cuddle buddy to accompany the scarier bits of Skulk!

So there you have it – plenty to ponder over a lazy weekend.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

Read it if: The Ministry of Pandemonium….

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ImageI have decided to take a leaf out of Mad Martha’s book and post today about another favourite lining the shelf: Chris Westwood’s Ministry of Pandemonium and its sequel, The Great and Dangerous.  Not wanting Martha to have all the fun, I too have proved that I can arrange an attractive photo of myself for your viewing pleasure with the tomes to which I will be referring.

So! The first of this series, The Ministry of Pandemonium was one which came to the shelf after my fleshling owner decided to take a punt on an interestingly titled tome at a large chain book store which has since gone out of business.  It was a punt which has returned plentiful gains in the satisfaction department for me, as I devoured the tale, pillaged the second book for its engaging content and am now eagerly awaiting the third book in the series.

The Ministry of Pandemonium deals with young Ben Harvester, a talented artist with a hard working single mum, who is surprised to discover that death, much like life, is shrouded in bureaucracy.  Ben also finds out he has certain talents that the Ministry of Pandemonium could put to good use, and agrees to work with the ministry under the tutelage of the enigmatic Mister October.  Thus begins a sometimes harrowing journey as Ben helps to get the deceased on their way to wherever it is they’re going, while attempting to uncover some family secrets on the way.

ministry of pandemonium

Read it if:

* you’ve ever suspected that the time immediately following your death may well be spent filling out life-relinquishment forms in triplicate

* you find cemeteries atmospheric, peaceful and relaxing as opposed to overgrown, creepy and downright depressing

* you’ve ever found it tricky to fit in with your peers

* your difficulties in fitting in are related to your ability to see people who have shuffled off their mortal coils and really should be doing whatever it is the dead do, rather than disrupting your ability to fit in with your peers

great and dangerous

I found these books refreshing and perhaps more importantly, re-readable, as they seem to hit a deeper level than one ordinarily sees for books for this age group (say, 12 to 16 years).  They deal with death openly and the characters are sensitively drawn, without any gimmicky stereotyping or character-flaws-for-the-sake-of-it that often crop up in tales for middle readers and young adults.  Ben is an ordinary boy with ordinary problems, placed in an extraordinary circumstance.

As an extra piece of trickery, the two books reviewed here have been released under different titles, with different cover art, in the US.  The Ministry of Pandemonium has been titled Graveyard Shift (rather underwhelmingly, I thought), with the following cover art:

graveyard shift

I personally think that the original art (and title!) more accurately reflect the tone of the book – from the US cover art, one might be expecting a no-holds-barred, boys-own, rollicking adventure from cover to cover, and that’s just not what you get with this book. While there is adventure and action there’s intellect and emotion too, which I find much more satisfying, particularly in a book for young fleshlings.

Right. I’ve blabbed on too much. The self-portrait phenomenon must have gone to my head.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

Ode to a…Publisher?: Mad Martha breaks ranks…

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Afternoon my sweeties! Today I have decided to do something a little bit different with my ode.  You may be able to guess what it is if you cast your eyeballs even briefly over the title of this post.  Yes, that’s right – instead of a single author, I am going to laud a whole publishing house! Bruce has already mentioned our love for Angry Robot Books in a previous post but I must reiterate that AR is fast becoming our go-to publisher when we are looking for something just a bit different.

Angry Robot

To give you an idea of what I mean when I say different, it’s something just a little bit quirky.  A tad odd.  Both funny ha-ha and funny peculiar.  They have superheroes with demon sidekicks.  Seven foot tall skeleton kings.  Houses with whole worlds hidden inside. And of course the usual, run-of-the-mill complement of robots, zombies, armies of people in various states of death and undeath, people with animal familiars and various telepathic abilities, and so on and so forth.  Our absolute favourite of their authors (and one of the first we discovered!) is Mike Shevdon, creator of the Courts of the Feyre series…..do go and buy it, won’t you?  We also like Lee Battersby, he of the Corpse-Rat King, and we have dallied with Chris F Holm, Matthew Hughes and Guy Adams to name a few…their works are pictured below:

sixty one nailscorpse rat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

dead harvestdamned busters

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

world house

 

And so, to the ode.  See if you can spot the intended pun in the fifth line!

 

For Zombies and Monsters and Weirdies, oh my!,

on Angry Robot I always rely. 

For the kooky, the freakish or old-fashioned gore,

this publishing house really comes to the fore!

Want bold savage tomes and a wild, novel quest?

Then grab ye a bookmark and raid AR’s chest!

I’m not sure why I went all pirate in the last line, but such is the effect of Angry Robot.  It makes one step outside the box…usually into another larger box filled with flesh eating caterpillars or some other such freakishness.  So if the sound of an aggressive larval Lepidoptera squishing under your boot is music to your ears (…..shame on you…you should take a good long hard look at yourself Mr…or Ms….) then this is the publisher for you!

Until next time,

Mad Martha