Review in Brief – Secondhand Souls – Christopher Moore

Secondhand Souls (Grim Reaper, #2)

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Dirty Job is one of my favorite books I’ve read in recent memory, meaning the bar for Secondhand Souls was impossibly high for the jump. The story picks up right where A Dirty Job left off, and is at its most interesting in the first half. While the book focuses on the same characters, it ends up feeling like some of them lose their depth in favor of leaning more heavily into tropes. It’s unfortunate, because I love Charlie Asher so much, but he feels a little short-changed in the sequel. Fortunately, the new characters introduced for the sequels are standouts, with the villain, Lemon being one of my favorites.

The story is fun and intriguing, but ultimately feels handicapped by its conclusion. The book wraps up at a blinding pace with a bit of an anti-climactic showdown and ends up feeling a bit hollow. I would have liked to see a bit more depth in the last third of the book, but overall, the story was still enjoyable.

For fans of A Dirty Job, I’d definitely recommend picking it up. If nothing else, it gives more time with the characters we’ve come to love and has Moore’s trademark humor.

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Home for the Holidays (4)

Hello friend! If you enjoy my writing, consider checking out my new audio drama, A Man of the Mountain. The first four episodes are available free on Anchor.Fm and most streaming platforms, and the full production is now up for purchase on Audible for $13! If you can’t buy it, no big deal, the best way to support me is to share pieces you like. Every share, like, demonic circle, helps, and I really appreciate it.

Happy holidays!

Links to Catch up: Chapter 1/Chapter 2/Chapter 3

4 – To Hunt a Wendigo

James kept watch with the shotgun while Nick washed his face off with cold water from the sink. Despite his desperate attempts, even a modicum of sobriety eluded him. The room spun gently on its axis and Nick hung his head in his hands trying to process what exactly was happening. James had shown him the page with the Wendigo several times, but none of it was making any sense. “Come on, buddy, come back to me.” Nick slapped himself, hard.

     “Who are you talking to?”

     “My brain.” Nick tried to focus. He remembered the creature from the car again and the radio going all static. “Ha!” he exclaimed. “I was right!”

     “Yes, now quiet down and get a weapon of some type. We need to find the other one before it causes more damage.”

     “I had a weapon.” Nick pointed to the harpoon lodged in the ceiling, then, fishing around in his waistband, grabbed one of the many knives he had concealed. “I’ve got a few of them, because I knew I was right!”

     James rolled his eyes. “We need to find the other one.”

     “Find the other one?” asked Nick. “We need to get the fuck out of here. These are psychic beings, very dangerous, and more importantly, no one is paying us to take them out.”

     “Really? You’re going to bring up pay at a time like this?”

     “Don’t tell me your on about holiday charity? Is there a better time to bring up pay? If we start killing beasties for free, we’re going to be full of good will on an otherwise empty stomach.” Nick felt his guts slosh at the mention and decided to leave them out of future invectives.

     “That’s my family, Nick.”

“They were your family, James. I’m sorry.” Even as he said it, he knew he had been too harsh.

     A tear welled in James’s eye, but he blinked it back. “You’re an asshole, you know that?” He moved out of the bathroom, swinging the shotgun’s tactical light back and forth.

     “Believe me, I know.” Being an asshole was a basic requirement in his trade. Nick stepped forward and picked up the spent harpoon gun on the ground. Carefully, he tucked it under one arm, then pried the harpoon out of the ceiling, sending more plaster to the floor.

     “How is that thing still in working order?”

     “Old faithful,” Nick patted the gun, “will be around long after you’re dead.” He jammed the harpoon back in the barrel. It clicked into place and there was the sound of hissing gas as pressure built up in the firing chamber.  “This will finish what your pea shooter started.”

     James scoffed. “Wendigos hate fire, you ass. This is going to do—”

     A roar from outside cut them off.

     “You ready for this?” asked Nick.

     “Not really.”

     “Yeah, me neither.” Nick pushed the harpoon gun against his shoulder and ran out the open door. The wind whipped through his clothes immediately, bringing a bitter chill and the closest thing he could find to a hangover cure. Snow continued to fall in heavy flakes, making even the neighboring houses seem like ghostly lights floating in a white fog.

     “Why hasn’t anyone called the police?” asked James.

     “My guess is they can’t even hear what’s happening right now.” There were a myriad of reasons Nick hated fighting psychic beings, but altered reality was near the top. He swung the harpoon gun around, looking in the snow for any sign of either creature, but found nothing.

     Two red lights near the top of the house shone brighter than the rest and caught Nick’s attention. Despite the snowflakes between them, the red light did not waver and in fact seemed perfectly clear. “James, there,” Nick whispered and motioned slightly with his gun. “On the roof, and I don’t think it’s Rudolf.”

     James looked up just in time to see the creature shake off a fine coat of snow. The wounds from his initial shot were still there, but if they had impeded the creature at all, it didn’t show it. Lightning flashed through the snowstorm and briefly illuminated its horrifying silhouette. Grisly fur ran down its shoulders, ending abruptly at its mid-section where bones that might have been ribs stuck out at odd angles. The red glow came from deep within empty sockets, just beneath its deadly horns. As the lightning died away, the creature let out another deafening roar.

     The light attached to the end of James’s shotgun and all the lights in the neighborhood flickered.

     “No need to shout,” called Nick. He pointed his harpoon gun to the left of the creature, and without much thought, pulled the trigger. Wind caught the projectile almost immediately, curving the harpoon through the air. There was a moment where he thought he had calculated the trajectory perfectly, but it took a further bend and buried itself in a shingle. Nick cursed. “Sorry James, really thought I had that one figured out.” He went over the mental math he had done, realized there was none, and wished he had more harpoons on him.

     The creature made a sound like barking laughter.

     Nick staggered back. “Shit, I really thought that would work.”

     James pointed his shotgun at the creature. “Don’t worry, Nick, this will finish what your pea shooter started. Come and get a taste, you bargain-bin, zombie, reindeer-looking, fuck.”

     The wendigo’s rotten face split into a grin as it took a step forward, preparing to leap. Unfortunately for it, the tile Nick had hit split right down the middle, and the roof construction in the suburbs was shoddy at best. One-by-one, the other tiles shifted slightly. With the weight of the snow and the creature walking atop them, it didn’t take much. There was a shatter as one of the tiles fell to the driveway. For a second, it looked like that would be it, but then the dam burst, and the whole roof began to move.

     The wendigo growled, but slipped, falling flat on its back. It slid down the side of the roof with the rest of the tiles. On the way, it caught the blinking lights that had been so painstakingly affixed. Falling fast, it was unable to free itself and the strands tangled with its massive form. It cried out in surprise and frustration, but at the same moment, went over the edge of the roof. Some of the light strands broke, exposing ancient wires that had no business being in service, but others held, wrapping around its neck.

     “That was clever,” breathed Nick, watching the creature struggle with the lights. As it tried to escape, arcs of electricity shot across its body in lazy sputters. Wherever the light touched, small fires sprang up and the creature’s skin split. They quickly spread until the wendigo was engulfed in a holiday conflagration. The smell of roasting meat wafted on the wind. The wendigo struggled against its bonds, screaming, but could do nothing.

     Both Nick and James stared up at the house in disbelief. “That worked?” asked James.

     The wendigo gave a final kick and fell still, smoldering.

     Next-door, a portly man stepped onto his porch, illuminated as a silhouette from the warm light within. “Hot damn, Bill! I’m not sure what you’re cooking, but we better get some of the leftovers tomorrow.” He chuckled heartily and shut the door.

     “The fucking suburbs.” Nick wiped sweat from his brow and tried not to vomit.

     “I’m starting to agree with you.” James was about to lower his shotgun when an anguished roar came from inside the house.

     “One down.” Nick spat in the snow. “There’s more harpoons in the trunk.”

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Enjoy what you’ve read so far? Please share it with your friends or anyone else that might enjoy it. Also consider checking out my published works for purchase here: https://www.amazon.com/Ashton-Macaulay/e/B07C1J3V8P

Home for the Holidays (3)

We’re getting very close to Christmas now, and what’s better to spread holiday cheer than a story about Wendigos and a sweet, old couple in the suburbs? Enter Chapter 3 of my newest Nick Ventner tale, Home for the Holidays. If you need to catch up, here’s a link to Chapter 1/Chapter 2!

Excuse the makeshift cover art!

If you’re an artist and are feeling this story, please send halp for this cover!

3 – A Few More Cups

Nick was drunker than he had been in a long time. One of his least favorite parts of lacking income was the inability to get good and truly tossed without a fair share of guilt. Sharing booze with ‘family’, he had no such obligation. From the moment Bill had handed him his first cup, Nick had taken on a singular goal: Forget any misgivings, and possibly the rest of the evening.  

     Luckily for him, it turned out Bill and Marie could really throw them back. What started as a quick game of cards with several convoluted drinking rules he couldn’t remember, quickly turned into a straight drinking contest. The alcohol turned on him before he even noticed, and the room took on the pulsating, spinning blur quality that only existed on the other side of the line.  

     As he sat back in a plush armchair, there wasn’t much else in the world he cared about beyond himself. His fingertips were numb, but there was a fresh cup of something brain-smashing between them. Was there anything else that mattered? An instinct, more than anything, tilted his head to look at James. The kid was curled up under an electric blanket, brooding. His eyes flicked watchfully between the three of them, and Nick felt he was missing something important.   

     When he couldn’t figure it out, Marie took notice and prodded. “What’s going on, James? Don’t want to join in all the festivities?”

     James worked his hands, trying to keep the cold out of them. “Sorry, I think I just had a bad burger or something on the road.”

     Nick looked at him quizzically. Years ago, he had implemented a simple rule: No stopping for apprentices. They hadn’t stopped for burgers anymore than they had traveled through a magical candy-cane village. Nick sipped his drink. Candy canes! That’s what this is made of.

     “Where’s the bathroom again?” asked James. His face looked gaunt in the dim light of the living room.

     Be it imaginary burgers or moodiness, something was wrong with the kid, even Nick could see it. A flash bulb went off in the corner of his mind showing a mess of fur in the snow, but it was gone too quickly to grasp fully. Suspicion crept back into Nick’s booze-addled brain. He couldn’t figure out why, but it was getting stronger every second.   

     “Just down the hall on the first floor. Can’t miss it.” Bill pointed in the direction Nick had been exploring earlier.

     “Thanks, hopefully it’s just indigestion.” James slunk off in the direction of the bathroom looking more melancholy than food sick.  

     “He’s a good kid, you know?” Nick’s words were thick, dripping from his mouth like a decadent sauce. “Always does—” Nick faltered, “mostly does what he’s told. One of the better apprentices I’ve ever had.” James was many things, but he wasn’t a liar. Nick knew there was something to the burger comment, but in his current state of half awareness, he was having more than a little trouble connecting the dots.

     Bill’s eyes narrowed. “Do they have apprentices in accounting now?”

     Nick hiccupped, only half realizing his mistake. “Oh yes, accounting, loads of numbers. Have to get them all figured out somehow, don’t we?” The room was starting to spin. Why was the room starting to spin? Nick’s stomach turned and he felt the horrible rush of bile come bubbling up into his throat. “Oh god, will you excuse me.” Nick took off running for the bathroom. “For the love of god, James, I hope you—” his sentence was cut off by vomit spewing forth from him like a vengeful internal volcano.

     “Oh god, I’m sorry about that, I’ll clean it up!” Nick fell to his knees, holding his head between his hands. A great pain had come barreling back from the corner of consciousness he tried to banish. “Oh god, don’t get sober on me now,” slurred Nick, trying to convince his own brain.

     James stepped out of the bathroom. “I wouldn’t worry about the floor.” His tone was dead and flat.

     “No, come on now, I won’t be a rude house guest.”

     “Too late for that.”

     “Why are you being so pissy, my boy, aren’t we having a good time.”

     “For someone with so many rules, you don’t seem to pay much attention to them.” James pulled a shotgun from behind his back and pumped it, loading a shell.

     “What the fuck?” Nick backed away reflexively and tried to pull the harpoon gun from his jacket. A switch snagged and the weapon extended, pushing through his coat pocket and sending a harpoon flying into the ceiling. Plaster rained down, mixing with Nick’s vomit on the floor and forming a grey-brown slurry. “Oh god, I’ll pay for that too, but in fairness, you did pull a gun on me.”

“I’m not pulling it on you, idiot.”

Nick shook his head. “Wait, then who’s it for? Is Bill a hunter?”

     “Bill and Marie have been sober for over a decade.” James held up Nick’s tome. “You dog-eared the page. Turns out, much like you, wendigos like their liquor.”

     “Wendi-what?” A roar cut through the house and all at once, the lights went out.

     “You just had to make a scene, didn’t you?” James turned on a flashlight attached to the end of the shotgun. “And to think, you didn’t want me to spring for the extra tactical gear.

     “Hey, who’s the apprentice and who’s the?” A clawed hand caught Nick from behind and threw him in the air. He collided with the ceiling, missing the embedded harpoon by inches. The concealed rifle tore the rest of the way through his jacket and clattered down the hallway. Nick landed in a squelching pile of his own sick and the smell almost made him vomit again.  

     Thunder roared through the entryway as James fired the shotgun. Pellets of bright white fire spread out in a cone, briefly illuminating Bill whose eyes glowed red in the darkened house. The pellets ripped through his skin, starting little fires wherever they touched, and spraying brown-black liquid onto the floor.  

     Nick rolled to his side and watched as Bill batted at the fire, his skin tearing where it had touched. From somewhere beneath the human formerly known as Bill, a larger creature began to emerge. His bones creaked, growing and pushing against the taught cover of skin. Fur sprouted in ugly patches, tearing and rending his human form. A horrible crunching filled the room as two bloody elk horns extended from the man’s skull.

     “Ahhhhh!” Screamed Nick. “James, it’s a Krampus!”

     “It’s not a Krampus, dumbass.” James fired another blast from the shotgun. The creature screamed and turned away. With a single, hulking blow, it ran through the front door, sending the weak, wooden rectangle flying off and into the snow storm. Before James could get another shot off, it was out of range and lumbering through the storm.

     “It’s not?” Nick asked, watching the door resentfully. “I’ve always wanted to fight a Krampus.”

     James held up the tome again. “Wendigo, remember?” He shook the book like someone would shake keys for a small toddler.

     Nick vomited again. “Oh, right, right, of course, the wendigo.” He wiped his mouth. “Well, either way, that leaves us with a pretty significant problem.”

     “What’s that?”

     “Well, you’ve pissed one of them off, but where’s his dear partner?”

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Enjoy what you’ve read so far? Please share it with your friends or anyone else that might enjoy it. Also consider checking out my published works for purchase here: https://www.amazon.com/Ashton-Macaulay/e/B07C1J3V8P

Link to Next Chapter!

Book Review in Brief – IT – Stephen King

It

It by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Going in to this novel, I had no idea what to expect. I’ve seen the trailers for the movies, but never actually watched them. As a huge fan of Stephen King, I can say this is one of his best. IT stands as a unique horror novel that thrives by focusing on the lives of people in a small town. Mich like Salem’s lot, the horror lives in the character’s reactions and emotion moreso than the thing itself.

Throughout the book, King manages dual timelines without confusing the reader, and developed a memorable set of characters that are instantly recognizable. My only complaint is the length. While the first two thirds feel like every page is necessary, some of the later chapters end up feeling like they could have used more brevity. All the same, the fact that King manages to keep the book engaging for a thousand pages is mind blowing in its own right.

Overall, if you can commit to the length, it’s worth your time. Also worth noting, the audio version can make it difficult to discern when the book switches timelines, but is very well read.

4/5 Stars

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How to Finish NaNoWriMo

Happy Halloween, everyone, and to all the writers shitting bricks about tomorrow, happy NaNo Eve! While Halloween is sure to be delightful, tomorrow kicks off NaNoWriMo, the month where millions of writers will attempt to complete a 50,000 word novel in less than a month. Every year, I come up to November 1st dreading it, but every November 30th so far, I’ve out the other side with a brand new, word-vomited manuscript that I can go back and edit later.

This year marks my 12th year participating in NaNoWriMo, and while many of those projects never saw the light of day, one of them ended up being my first published book, Whiteout. Now, there are still 10 other mostly-dead manuscripts sitting around, but 1/11 ain’t bad, and some of those others might yet make it out. All that to say, I might not be a hot shit writer, but I do know how to finish a book and finish it quick. If you’ve ever struggled to complete NaNoWriMo, here are a few tips that get me through every year.

My NaNo Credentials: https://nanowrimo.org/participants/mac_ashton

1. Embrace the word vomit

I’ve said it a million times, but somehow it doesn’t seem to always get through. There are going to be days this November where you feel like you’re writing beautiful prose and every word is perfect, but the vast majority of them will feel like slinging shit at an empty screen. That’s ok. Even when the words are clumsy, you’re still writing, and every word is experience. Write words and fix it in post!

2. Don’t be afraid to deviate

Outlines are great, they help keep you on track through the month and make sure you know where you’re going. I’ve done novels with and without them, and it’s really a toss-up as to which came out better. But, either way, don’t be afraid to deviate from your vision. If you’re getting bored with what’s happening, have the characters go do something else. Sometimes these little asides can become the best part of your book (looking at the cannibal cult in Whiteout).

3. Set aside time

You’re not going to complete NaNo if you don’t set aside time to do it. This might sound silly and obvious, but making the effort to schedule writing time is important. I get up earlier than usual in November and get a lot of my writing done before I’ve even gone into work. Tell your loved ones what you’re doing, and ask them to encourage you along the way. It helps when there’s others yelling at you to go write 🙂

4. When your stuck, use the egg timer

If you don’t have an egg timer (because it’s 2019), use your phone. I learned this tip from the great Stephen King in one of his interviews. If you’re stuck, set a timer for 20-30 minutes, turn everything else off and write. I don’t care if it’s: “and then the characters went here so the plot could move along” (I’ve done that more than once), but write. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, because whatever you write in NaNo is a draft. You can go back and fix it later. By the end of the 20-30 minutes, I often find I’m through whatever plot block was vexing me and itching to keep going.

5. Have fun, remember, it’s just a draft

Tying into my previous point, you’re never going to produce a perfect, finished novel on the first try, especially if its through NaNoWriMo. A month is far too little time to produce something publish-ready, and that’s ok. The most important thing is that you got the words on the page, you gained experience, and hopefully, had some fun. Look, I won’t lie, NaNoWriMo can be stressful, but at the end of the day, I feel satisfied knowing I put in a month of good work and have something to show for it. Even if last year’s book was an ill-advised sci-fi romp through post-apocalyptic Seattle (yeesh), I still wrote it.

That’s all!

I wish you the best this year with NaNo, feel free to connect with me on the site, Twitter, wherever. Always happy to offer words of encouragement or to talk through plot quagmires. See you all on the other side, you beautiful novelists, you. Here’s to this being us in 30 days: