Halloween Spooktacular!

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

My first ‘tacular, what a milestone. This year I’ve wrangled four creepy horror or horror-adjacent offerings, so that you can watch me suffer through them like a teenager opening a book bound by human skin. Something tells me I’m not going to emerge from reading random genre offerings unscathed. Knowing my luck I will be covered in scathes, a giant scatheball rolling across the landscape braying “behold my scathes, ye mighty, and despair.”

The first ghoul to darken our doorstep is The Nightmare: A Collection of Deliciously Dark and Twisted Tales by F. B. Hogan. The extremely short and episodic stories in this collection are light on action, and generally don’t waste any time building up an interesting setting, creating a rapid fire, hypnotic experience. What the stories do well is thoughtful, character-focused glimpses. There’s an old amnesia lady, a pioneer girl, a reaper who arrives early, an unfortunate incident with a shoelace, and of course lots and lots of ghosts. The common theme is untimely death, and the prose has a good amount of punch without being cring-inducingly purple. Honestly things were off to a surprisingly good start with this one.

“Tonight the darkness was no friend. I could feel its black tendrils curling about the bed, creating holes and openings for nightmares to creep through.”

Next we move on to romance. Sweet, tender romance. Psycho Hot by M. Rose is your standard queer romance with a twist. Instead of a sexy vampire, or sexy lumberjack, or sexy jerk with an alarming disregard for consent, our narrator is madly in lust with a psycho killer in an insane asylum. Kenneth, recent psychology grad, locks eyes with a serial killer named Darren. To be closer to this absurdly gorgeous killing machine, he applies for a job, and so now he’s the asylum’s shrink because they’re desperate? It doesn’t matter. Darren quickly figures out that Kenneth took the job because of their eye-loving action earlier in the day, setting up a story of quirky gay romance. This thing was baffling, but I guess it shouldn’t have been. So often the masculine lead in these stories is basically a sociopath presented as a dream boat; Psycho Hot peels off the last flakes of veneer and just puts him in an institution for the criminally insane. Psycho Hot is mostly a romance, but does hit some classic horror beats, especially the bimbo protagonist whose sense of self preservation is out to lunch. “Don’t do it! Don’t go in there!” I shouted to myself, more than a few times.

The Dread Queen and Other Dark Impressions by Geoff Emberlyn is another short story collection. We have stories about Torgo from Manos the Hands of Fate running a roadside tourist trap, a man or possibly bird who’s wife has turned out to be a real piece of work, a surgeon who has a special way of taking advantage of the zombie apocalypse, and many others. Compared to The Nightmare, The Dread Queen spends a lot more time on setting, with tongue-in-cheek, tropey plots and a spooky, slasher atmosphere. Some of these stories are acidicly humorous, which was a lot of fun. I think one of the reasons I like Halloween so much is that I can cackle all I want at people being fed into a wood chipper, and when normal people look at me like I’m about to wear their skin to a cocktail party I can say “No, you don’t understand, I just like Halloween.” And then they smile nervously, which I think means they bought it.

“It was a male’s foot, I recall. Not ideal, but one has to work with the parts they can find. Plus, it’s the only foot she has.”

Having just said all that, I’m actually quite a coward. My autobiography would be titled Risk Aversion: The Person. It’s not difficult to find something on Amazon’s new releases that makes me very uncomfortable. What I’m getting at is that our fourth entry in this spooky Halloween post is a little book called Taboo Scary Sex by Corin Tavzitro. From the title and the vampy vampires on the cover I thought this was a horror book, and ultimately I was right, but first I was wrong. It’s erotica. The first story is a diaper-based sex story featuring a sexually active twlve year old narrator. The plot revolves around legal battles over bullying and adoption, and of course lots of gay sex (some of which becomes incest after the adoption, but let’s not split hairs here) that I cannot begin to describe to you here. Now, I have no interest in kink shaming. But reading this story, even out of the corner of my eye, was difficult. And after the first couple of chapters the narrative moves on to other places and characters, but I was braced the whole time, waiting for someone to use the term “soggy baby boyfriend” again without warning. The entire book was like when those Paranomal Activity movies show nanny cam footage of a bedroom, and you’re just waiting for the jump scare. Ten out of ten for fright factor, would have pissed my pants but then I would have had to change (hey, maybe these guys are on to something…).

I’ve said before that there is no ceiling and no floor to self publishing. You can find diamonds in the rough, and also you can find a big ol’ pile of just rough. Most of the time, honestly, it’s Oops All Rough. This year did not disappoint. I found a few legitimately scary stories, and a few bone-chilling moments that probably weren’t intentional. If you’re looking for some scares this Halloween, consider playing new release roulette in the horror category.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you do too.

Game Over by Elliot Torres

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published debut books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Sometimes you feel like reading about middle aged women bonding in a lake cabin over their mutual love of crochet. Sometimes you want dude-dick energy pulsing through the story so hard your Kindle feels sticky. This is one of those stories. Game Over by Elliot Torres is an Evil Boss novel about an aspiring Zoolander who works for the king of video games.

Joaquin Otero is working two jobs in Hollywood to try and make ends meet while he waits for his big break. We first learn what kind of person Joaquin is at his day job processing books at the public library. I don’t blame him for thinking that being a page is like having someone sous vide your brain. You’d never guess it from my expert social skills and not-at-all vitamin D deficient skin, but the proprietrix of this very blog was once a page, and it’s kind of like getting paid minimum wage to sing the alphabet song to yourself until you die or turn into a Batman villain. “Who reads anymore” soliloquizes our intrepid himbo. Who indeed. What’s less relatable is the way he describes his boss as a flamboyantly gay man who is “wearing stilettos in his mind,” and gets a “hard-on” for processing books. A recurring theme in Game Over is that characters will get bafflingly mean introductions or physical descriptions.

Joaquin’s night job is having sex with a bar owner named Will, who is closeted and married with kids. We get a very classy paragraph-long sex scene where Will treats Joaquin like a gym sock, before our boy returns home to his boyfriend Vaughn. Only Vaughn isn’t there. Instead, he left a breakup note, even though he was dating a philandering, misanthropic nobody. Way to shoot yourself in the foot, Vaughn! This blow sends Joaquin into a watching Dirty Dancing and throwing Kleenex boxes at the TV state of mind (I mean not literally, but you know what I mean). Luckily for our hero, the plot swoops in to save the day.

“The glass shattered just like my heart.”

After two years of getting respected and ripped in prison, enormous throbbing badass Mike Chambers is ready to return to his enormous throbbing media conglomerate. The king is royally back on his throne to rule the throne kingdom. His violent video games have made him infamous among angry parents and other squares, but made him a god among gamers. The only sleeves he knows are made of ink. Also, and I’m speculating a bit here, but I’m pretty sure he could arm wrestle a bear. Joaquin has sent out so many job applications that apparently he applied for a stock room job at Mike’s company Imperial, and just when he is at his lowest he gets a call from the big boss’s personal assistant Brenda, saying he needs to start immediately.

Like all fat people in this book, Brenda is always eating. But, and I know you were about to ask, her butt is as flat as an ironing board. Those Dunkaroos and Hot Pockets are going straight to her massive belly. We get an aside about her trainwreck of a life and booze-battered body (even though she is Latina, and so “should have aged well”). Is this a thing? Because this is the second book I’ve reviewed on this blog where a gay male narrator desperately needed to tell me how disgusted he was by a fat woman’s body. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. Anyway, the office is full of nerds “hypnotized” by their computer screens, a black secretary with multiple “baby daddies,” and skinny girls who only work there because of the “lack of competition.” OK, yeah, it’s not just me. Joaquin doesn’t fit in with this crowd. He’s more gym and Botox, less vidya and love handles. He quickly finds out that the boss is a nightmare, but nobody seems very nice. There is a security guard (played in your mind by your choice of Kate McKinnon or Horatio Sans) who is comically hostile to Joaquin, taking time out of his day to taunt him through security intercoms.

“I quickly noticed, in the video game industry, the larger your waistline, hair loss, premature wrinkles, dark circles under your eyes and double chins, the more you were a team player and were rewarded immensely. I, however, was not going to fall victim to that epidemic.”

OK, enough foreplay; we all know where this is going. Joaquin somehow catches the eye and approval of Mike-randa Priestly, and to the envy of everyone else, gets to fill in as Mike’s personal assistant while Brenda is on maternity leave. Oh, did I not mention she is making a whole human with her body when I told you how disgustingly fat she is? Must have slipped my mind. I’ve skipped over some of the subtle clues about just how bad Mike is as a boss, like the fact that employees can’t use the gym at the same time as him, or the grueling procedures his cleaning lady has to follow. But there is one detail that made me laugh every time, and that is the glass breaking. This guy, Mike Chambers, cannot be around glass. Almost every scene he’s in, he breaks something. He probably karate chops his tumbler after a stiff whiskey. And half the time the thing he’s breaking is the glass walls and doors of his own office. He keeps breaking glass and then someone keeps replacing the glass. Why? Take this man’s glass away from him. He can’t have glass anymore. Not stained, not tempered, not even Ira. He’s cut off. After working his glass-replacing temp job for a few months Joaquin discovers that Brenda is not coming back, and he will have to become Mike’s permanent baby sitter. Mike calls her a bitch and breaks the phone, which I assume is his normal way of ending a conversation. Will Man Hathaway survive the boss from hell? Will he give up his dreams of becoming an actor for a six figure income? How fat are women? You’ll have to read the rest of the book to find out!

“It had been two years since Mike Chapman was arrested after a large amount of Cocaine and an unregistered gun was found in his Porsche when he was caught speeding on his way to Las Vegas. He could have gotten five years, but due to his connections and white privilege, he was able to get the sentencing down to two.”

While I didn’t always find Joaquin relatable or likable, this book wasn’t written for me. The story follows the beats of an Evil Boss contemporary perfectly, so if that’s your cup of tea, Game Over could be your next favorite guilty pleasure. The only caveat is, it’s currently ten dollars on Kindle. I would wait for that price to come down, but if you find it during a promotion, it’s worth a look. Especially if you think video games are for nerds.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, and now you do too.

HVAC Troubleshooting handbook Questions Answer: HVAC Troubleshooting Chiller Cooling Tower Ahu Fcu heat load calculation Hvac design by Mohammad Imran

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

This was a surprise on my daily grind of scrolling past Book 49 of the Problematic Sexy Werepires series and a bunch of murder mysteries with covers by Lisa Frank. At first I wasn’t sure I was in the right place, but sure enough, I was looking at products on Amazon listed as “fiction and literature.” This book is literature, and we’re all just going to have to live with that. Is it a heart-pounding thriller? A scintillating romance? An epic adventure? Why, it’s none of these things, and less! HVAC Troubleshooting handbook Questions Answer: HVAC Troubleshooting Chiller Cooling Tower Ahu Fcu heat load calculation Hvac design by Mohammad Imran is a story about how HVAC units work, how their malfunctions can be diagnosed and repaired, and (spoiler alert!) how to evaluate potential new hires to your HVAC business.

My father was an engineer (I mean, he still is, but he was one also), so I feel like I understand the mindset. A good engineer is the sort of person who will own a car, buy a second car, and then when you ask them how many cars they own they will go to the garage to count them. No shortcuts or assumptions, because everything has to work right, without excuses. And they need to be diligent in this way because engineers have one of the most important jobs in the world. Whether they are structural engineers, traffic engineers, or today’s heroes HVAC engineers, their chief role is simple: to save us from architects. Architecture is a centuries-old prank in which people who pay a lot of money to look homeless build model railway villages in real life, and watch us try to drag our tired, brittle bodies through buildings that feel like they were designed by Cenobites. Despite paying them a lot of money for their services, we’ve never been able to convince architects to make things that anyone actually wants, and so it is especially important that, if we have to live in a cement cube cantilevered over a highway, we can at least keep the interior cool and dry.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our story begins with a prologue, in which Willis Haviland Carrier invents the electrical air conditioning unit in 1902, and the modern home setup by 1933. Carrier’s idea was to combine mechanical cooling methods with an electrically powered compressor. By the way, architects don’t call ideas “ideas.” They call them “discoveries.” So you don’t have an idea for a new type of balcony; you discovered a new type of balcony. God, they’re obnoxious.

I learned a lot of technical jargon, and even a little bit of what it means. A ton of refrigeration is the rate of heat transfer needed to make a ton of ice in a day. I learned that oil analysis is a thing. Tribologists can study the oil coming out of a machine for contaminants, wear debris, and other signs of invisible malfunction deep within the machine. I learned about load calculations, and there is even a helpful paragraph that explains what a hammer is.

The principles of an AC unit are simple, but the device itself has many parts. The compressor pushes the fluid at high pressure, causing the fluid to radiate some of its heat. Then the fluid’s pressure is reduced, causing it to evaporate and draw heat energy from the air. It’s like the fluid is a rag and you’re continually soaking up the heat in your house and wringing it out into the world, where hopefully a bunch of extra heat isn’t going to kill us all. Fingers crossed on that one. Then the plot thickens when you consider the effects of water evaporating and condensing. The condensation caused by the cooling process allows AC units to regulate humidity as well. A parade of different HVAC machines and setups flickers past my eyes at this point, and I will admit after two readings I still cannot tell you exactly what I read about dual enthalpy air handling units or split air cooling towers. But this book is about troubleshooting, so let’s shoot some trouble! What can go wrong with my HVAC system, and what do I do about it?

Instead of building a house in the shape of the number seven and expecting you to be grateful for it, HVAC engineers have to actually identify mistakes and fix problems. Vibrating machine? Loose compressor belt. Bad air quality? Filter not fitted and sealed properly. But then there’s a twist. While the title promises us advice on how to fix an air conditioning unit, it offers more help in getting other people to do it for us. The last third or so of the book is interview questions you can ask prospective hires to gauge how prepared they are for the cut-throat world of HVAC installation and repair. Just for fun, let’s see how many of you would cut the HVAC mustard.

A customer job is taking longer than it should and you have another appointment coming up. What do you do?

What variable is described using the term CFM?

Your client doesn’t want to work all day in a Brutalist nightmare with no natural light. Do you build it anyway (hint: you are a genius who can do no wrong)?

What is a 2-way valve and a 3-way valve? Where would we use them and why?

Overall, HVAC Troubleshooting handbook Questions Answer has most of the things I was expecting from a good debut novel. I was a bit disappointed that nobody mentions the Room Temperature Room where John Goodman works, but maybe that’s coming in the sequel. There is setup and payoff, twists and turns, and plenty of lessons on the nature of mankind. Seriously, make sure your filter is properly fitted and sealed, when will we learn? At ten dollars it’s a steep price for a story so niche, but someone out there is going to get a lot out of this. Check it out if you’re looking for something different.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you do too.

Forbidden Choices: Choose Your Fantasy by Samantha Jensen

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

I learned that life is all about choices when my electricity went out and I needed to decide whether to eat my frozen quattro cheese pizza or Costco pepperoni bake before they went bad. I also learned that day that sometimes the choices you make all lead to the same place. Forbidden Choices: Choose Your Fantasy by Samantha Jensen is a CYOA high fantasy erotic novel where your only option is to get ploughed. Today’s review is going to work a little differently, because Samantha isn’t the only lady around here who knows how to work a gimmick. Since a good CYOA gives you enough information to weave the story you want, and maybe foretell some twists and turns, I will instead be doing the opposite. My review is in four parts, and you’ll just have to accept that you’re along for the ride.

Let’s get this over with.

Is it possible to get a refund for the time I’ve spent on your blog?

Roman/Greek Fire by Cora Kathleen

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

As the Bard said, “love laughs at locksmiths.” I suppose that’s true even when the locksmiths are welding iron chains onto teenage war trophies. Roman/Greek Fire by Cora Kathleen is a YA romance set in the days of the Roman Republic.

Callista, Calli to her friends, has just turned eighteen, and man are her parents a drag! It’s 146 BC in the city of Corinth, and Calli is training to be a priestess like her mother, who serves Demeter. Naturally, Calli has a special gift for this sort of thing. She can see visions of the future. But all is not well. Calli doesn’t want to serve Demeter, Mom! She wants to serve Persephone, because of course she does. What teen girl doesn’t enjoy a dubiously consensual love story involving the underworld, depression, and dating a guy to spite your parents? Also, the pall of being sent to military scho- I mean, Delphi because of her gift for clairvoyance looms over her relationship with her mother. Also also, she may be too horny to be a priestess, and for once I can relate.

Nohope McFriendzone takes her to Make Out Point, where her awkward attempts to let him down easy are overheard by a pair of clandestine Roman soldiers, Camillus and Sirius. This same Sirius handsomely manages to confront her in the temple garden to flex on her about the glory of Rome. While he’s talking about boy stuff, she notices that she would probably prefer this guy over NM any day. Sirius happens to sexily be in the area because the Romans are conquering Greece and the army is preparing to lay siege to Corinth. Calli’s visions confirm the destruction of her city at the hands of the enemy waiting outside, but she treats this with the same urgency as a dream where your significant other cheats on you with a woman who is a combination of your cousin and your old boss.

I should pause here to introduce our dramatis personae properly. Calli, astute readers will remember, is a teenager who has already found her cool subculture, and the unique talent that makes her a special member of that subculture, so apparently she has completed an entire YA novel off camera. Sirius, meanwhile, is a Roman soldier meandering his way through No Man’s Land, waxing about how weary he is of army life. You see, he has been in the army for twenty years and is ready to retire and see the end of blood and war. You had to be seventeen to join the Roman army, so that makes him, at a minimum, more than twice Callista’s age. But she’s so mature for her age, not like the other girls, so it’s fine. It’s fine, right? I’m sure it’s fine.

Anyway, to the surprise of no one the Roman army continues to be attacking them and the city of Corinth is conquered, sacked, and burned to the ground. This did happen, by the way, making it the one shining moment of historical research in the story. Calli’s father, two of her brothers, and even poor lil’ Nopey are killed in front of her, and she and her mother are sold into slavery. Don’t worry, ladies, it’s visible on Sirius’ face that he does not enjoy doing any of this, so you can still totally fix him. Calli also reminds us that he is still hot. Witnessing the death of most of the people she has ever loved, Calli “cries for what seemed like an hour,” which sounds about right to me. We get some hate-flirting between Sirius, who plans to buy her for himself, and Calli, who resents captivity and the monster who killed her family, even if he does have a jaw line that could cut a ripe tomato. He insists that she behave, or he will be forced to hurt her to keep up appearances. That seems like a perfectly normal foundation for a romance. It’s definitely fine. It’s fine.

“Deserves you right, Monster!”

Calli is transported to the house of Sirius’ family, where she is assigned to serve his younger sister Marcy. The two young women bond, especially after Marcy starts shipping her older brother and his newly purchased human, and conspires to make sure they are together as much as possible. Sometimes you just need to push your middle aged brother to get laid with the help that can’t leave. One of Calli’s visions shows her and Sirius in a tender, naked embrace (presumably doing some Roman/Graeco-Roman/Greek wrestling), and she begins to hatch a plan to escape the villa before it is too late. Will she be able to get away from Sirius? Or will he continue to be really hot and also literally own her? I can’t wait to see the wacky, slave-based contrived misunderstanding that they are required by law to overcome in the third act!

“Who knows what he would do to her. And only the gods knew what she would let him do to her.”

This is one of those historical novels the kids are always going on about, but for the life of me I cannot understand why it needs to be, when the author doesn’t seem to have much interest in making it feel like an ancient, exotic place or time. Anthropologists have a term, “Flintstoning,” for ascribing to past peoples modern values, habits, thoughts, etc. It may not be immediately obvious why the Flintstones need a small animal to live under their sink, except that garbage disposals are a thing to be found in American middle class mid-century detached homes. This book does so much Flintstoning I half expected people to power their chariots with their own feet. At one point someone in Sirius’ family talks about meeting someone in the lobby of the house. The “lobby” of a Roman house is called an atrium. That fact has such cultural staying power that we have the same word with the same meaning two thousand years later. This is literally the easiest thing to get right about a Roman house and our author still whiffed it. I’m surprised they don’t have a game of corn hole in the courtyard and a white Pictish fence out front. Of course, I don’t care about architectural accuracy. I find it more distracting when things like family dynamics or class barriers play out exactly as they would if this were an episode of Riverdale, because those details are actually important to the story. The fact that everyone behaves like it’s 2005 makes the slavery aspect way more distracting than it would be if there were some reason to place the story in ancient Rome. Aside from our society’s burning desire for Dawson’s Aqueduct to finally be greenlit, I’m not sure what necessitated this choice of setting.

For better or worse, depending on your mood, the story and writing style cleave very closely to genre expectations. Our love interest is a soldier, and soldiers aren’t allowed to fall in love. But even though he’s a monster who pillages the innocent, he is deep down in his emotional core really, really good looking. In fact the author uses the phrase “beautiful monster” so many times I wondered if she was trying to write a different kind of YA romance. By far the most distracting aspect of the writing style is the fact that the dialogue will switch speakers within the same paragraph. I can’t tell you how many times I misread some pithy rejoinder some character made against herself. But while it is amateurish in places, ticking off all the boxes of a bog standard romance is enough to make a book pretty fun, and certainly you won’t be disappointed if you’re looking for some bawdy fun to flip through on a lazy day. It’s seven dollars on Kindle, which is a little high considering the book is doing roughly the same thing as thousands of others at half that price. But I doubt many other YA romances have such a baffling use of setting, so maybe it’s worth a gander.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you do too.

Humanity Lost by Meghan Douglass

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

It’s been a long time, weeks probably, since I had this much fun reading about cannibalism. Oh, don’t look at me like that. It’s an early twist, and I won’t spoil the insane bits at the end. Humanity Lost by Meghan Douglass is a sci-fi horror novella about a desperate crew on an ill-fated mission to save the Earth.

“As he walked past the Captain who was busy slaying any small flames with a fire extinguisher, he said ‘We’ll be eating tonight sir, and it comes pre-roasted.'”

The future of the human race depends on the cargo vessel Not-stromo recovering fuel from another solar system to power generation ships that will take the human population far from the dying Earth. The ship is on its way back, full to the bulkheads with precious cargo, when our story begins. It’s never clear what exactly this “fuel” is, since its exact nature is unimportant and Douglass’ plot is trimmed to the bone as it is, so I’m just going to assume there’s some planet out there made of human hair soaked in Everclear. I also wondered when I started this book how a single fuel run is supposed to power so many massive generation ships, but that just goes to show how unprepared I was back then.

Naturally, on a mission of critical importance you send the B-team: scrappy, wise-cracking misanthropes like in that hit film, Prometheus. I know I promised not to spoil too much, but I will let you in on one last secret. Not everyone on this crew gets their bonus. In most group settings we follow the staid and sturdy Cpt. Captain. Then there is Cassidy, who has sexy-messy hair, “mysterious, alluring eyes,” genius-level intelligence, and is historically young for her achievements, and… this was the first shocker of the book—the Mary Sue is not the main perspective character. There’s Jax, the ship’s engineer played in your mind’s eye by your choice of either Michelle Roderiguez or Colby Smolders. For some reason they also thought to send dweeb Maddon and smart-ass Simmons, who between them have a life expectancy measured in Planck lengths. Then there’s Ramirez, the perfectly ordinary doctor, with access to all the crew’s plump, succulent bodies. Totally normal. Nothing to see here.

“Jax was so young and pretty. Cassidy was sure she would taste the sweetest of all of them.”

And then, oh no! Things that were supposed to go right go wrong instead! For starters, their suspended animation pods malfunction and they don’t have enough food to make it back to Earth alive. I wonder what’s going to happen next? The danger in Humanity Lost plays out like a panto, with characters willfully ignoring their own imminent doom while the reader shouts “behind you!” None of this creeping horror faff, just straight to the good stuff. And by good stuff I mean cartoon violence and mayhem. The twists get increasingly insane, to the point that I started giggling. I choose to believe that tells you something about the book and not my own mind, shut up.

Eventually the story almost settles into a routine, like that episode of The Simpsons Treehouse of Horror where the faculty and staff of Springfield Elementary start to enjoy eating the children. It’s as fun and tongue-in-cheek as an 80s zombie movie, and nearly half as tasteful. At only around a hundred pages, the novella whams and bams its way through the plot so fast it made an audible whoosing sound every time I tapped the edge of the page. I’ve seen at least one person suggest that Humanity Lost should be the first draft of an expanded full-length novel, where the action could get the proper pacing it needs. Meghan, listen to me. I know you’re reading this; put down the meth and listen for a second. Don’t you change a thing. Never stop not stopping, Meghan, you hear me? You beautiful unicorn with a chainsaw on its forehead, don’t you ever change.

Of course, it’s not perfect. No one drinks from a skull, and I did not notice a single bottle of Chianti. More seriously, the prose is pretty slap-dash. We’re often told that something is very spooky, rather than shown it. And the language can be repetitive, including multiple title drops. If you played a drinking game where you took a shot of human hair soaked in Everclear every time the author reminds us that the characters have “lost their humanity,” you would probably be asked to leave Applebee’s. Using the same method to describe something over and over is a common problem when you’re writing in a hurry. Personally, I often use Thesaurus.com when I can’t think of a word. To date it has not revealed the word I want a single time, but having something to do with my hands helps me think.

I’ve spoiled more of this one than I like to, but it’s only because I need to share what happened to me. This was a short but wild ride, and I can’t recommend it enough. Buy Humanity Lost by Meghan Douglass. It’s literally a dollar. Just buy it and come join me on this side of the rest of your life.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you do too.

Two Old Joes: bending time and space to bring two kindred souls together by L K Ramey

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Have you ever put down your avocado toast long enough to thank an old person for punching Hitler? If not, then you need to read this book and get your head right. Two Old Joes: bending time and space to bring two kindred souls together by L K Ramey is the novelization of a weekly podcast featuring a pair of World War Two veterans.

The story begins when Dick and Roger meet in the dusty back country of Utah. Promising a showdown with the “Nazis and Nips,” the Army Air Corp has instead sent them to a training camp in the middle of nowhere. The two of them become swell buddies in no time, smoking their doctor-recommended cigarettes and perpetrating extremely elaborate and time-consuming pranks on one another. It turns out they have a lot in common, right down to having bossy older sisters. Good practice for dealing with drill sergeants, amirite, fellahs?

Then the narrative shifts to the present day, when Dick moves into an assisted living facility after the death of his wife, and learns that Roger is living in the same building. They are so excited during their first encounter that they fall asleep and have to be woken for dinner. They complain about the usual indignities of getting older, mainly the fact that they can’t walk around armed anymore, or kill people with their cars. They wax nostalgic about baseball and food that didn’t taste like Satan’s dandruff. They buy Old Glory Insurance. Then one day Dick suggests that other people, ones who don’t have nearly so much life experience as their combined 180 years, should listen to what they have to say. And so it begins.

“When I think back, it doesn’t seem like we really asked for that much, and we didn’t expect anything to be given to us.”

Roger and Dick trade stories about the mid-century economic utopia that gave them a good start in civilian life, with GI bill educations and houses that cost less than a tuna-and-marshmallow jello salad. This raises the question of how the young people of today, despite benefiting from society’s uncritical worship of youth, manage to be such pitiable failures. The conclusion they reach is that they feel sorry for the children of the twenty first century, not over something like debt or capital accumulation, but because kids today never play outside, a condition they characterize as being “grounded for life.” I love it.

Just as in a fantasy novel that takes place in a historical era full of Problematics, we must be reminded that Dick and Roger are morally upstanding individuals by the standards of the typical modern reader. Life long Republicans now in their dotage, they have both come to have more empathy for the unfortunate, because they were smart and kind people all along. Dick is broken up about those bad people who pollute for profit, and racism, just in general. Roger gets in a few jabs about police officers shooting “unarmed Blacks,” although the masks starts to slip a little when they remark that the “tables have turned.” Now it’s the cops who are afraid, you see, and they are acting out of fear. This rant is punctuated with discussions of age-related incontinence, like L K Ramey is trying to do my job for me.

“They’re discontented with their life, so they spend more time plopped in front of the tube, Wishin’ and Hopin’, instead of digging in and movin’ on.”

I honestly wish there was a public employee whose sole responsibility was to grab every Boomer and pre-Boomer individually by the shoulders, look them deeeeep in the eyes, and say “If you wanted to fix the world, all you needed to do was stop breaking it.” That would be tax dollars well spent. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

I’ve been complaining a lot about Dick and Roger’s attitudes toward baggy pants and that hippity hop music, but that alone certainly isn’t going to put me off a character if they are well written. Your girl is a sucker for a smarmy antihero, or a lovable curmugeon. But Dick and Roger speak in that stilted “as you know” voice that hack sci-fi authors use when they need the space engineer to explain basic science to another space engineer so the audience will understand what’s happening. The two do have slightly different personalities, with Roger’s gruff ex-cop persona, and Dick’s recurring Catholic guilt. But they sound so alike when they bloviate on the evils of social media that I often lost track of who was speaking.

The book is constantly teasing that some sort of plot is going to happen. About once per chapter I anticipated some twist that would lead to a crisis that would bring us home to the conclusion of the story. I would read some snippet of tension between the main characters and the director of the old folks’ home, and imagine that Roger and Dick must evade the evil “warden” and effect a daring escape. Dick gets a mysterious letter from his son and the pair must go on a road trip. Roger and Dick start a true crime podcast with their younger neighbor about a young man who was murdered in the building during a fire alarm. The two men learn that their bond goes much deeper than either of them anticipated, especially now that they are both single. Roger dies, and Dick must learn to go on without him. Something. Anything. It’s the literary equivalent of listening to your uncle tell a rambling story at a family dinner and thinking “Aha! He really took his time with that description of chipped beef on toast. Surely this will be the point of the story.”

It probably sounds like I hated this book, but I didn’t. If you’ve learned one thing about me by now, it’s that writing talent and judgmentalness are inversely correlated, but if you know a second thing about me it’s that I am a raving, frothing masochist. Like a biology student enraptured by the squirming ecosystem living inside a McDonald’s chicken nugget, I spent most of my time while reading this book muttering to myself “Ugh, these guys are just awful! More, please.” For less than four dollars on Kindle, you too can get your blood pressure up where it should be by listening to a couple of old guys pat each other on the back. What else are you going to do with your time, play outside?

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you do too.

Spear: Profile of a Predator by Sinserious Brunea

Hot Off the Presses scours the internet for newly published books from unknown authors, and saves everyone else the trouble of actually reading books to find out if they’re good or not. New posts every Tuesday and Thursday. This is meant for entertainment purposes only, not serious consumer advice. And there will be spoilers.

Sometimes you can’t let society drag you down with its pleasantries and decency. Sometimes you just want to lay your darkest desires naked before the world. Spear: Profile of a Predator is a thriller from one-man sales team for Amazon’s “look inside” feature Sinserious Brunea, in which Black Patrick Bateman fulfills the power fantasies of teenage psychopaths.

Whenever I read a book for which I am clearly not the target demographic, it would be fair for you to ask “Madeline, if a pair of Lululemon leggings and a Vera Bradley diaper bag had a baby named Conner, that baby would be less white than you,” to which I would reply “I’m sorry, was that a question?” It’s true I am often culturally out of my depth when I run my net across Amazon’s new releases. But so far it’s had little impact on my ability to enjoy a book. I don’t know who wrote the one where a man falls in love with a giant talking spider, but whoever or whatever she is, I don’t think I would have understood that story any more if she and I were twins. So I’m going into this the same way I would approach a book where an old British man lists his favorite boats, or a weeaboo walks us through his erotic entrepreneurial fantasies.

The plot of Spear: Profile of a Predator is not trying to be a complete story arc, but functions like a slice of life drama. The story jumps from one vignette to another, each time giving us a little more information about our unnamed protagonist, which ultimately proves to be the same information we got last time. Black Patrick Bateman is an elite assassin known as a predator, the result of the MK-Ultra experiments and a shadowy academy known as The Compound. Killing a predator allows a mere hunter become a predator of their own, so predators must constantly look over their shoulders. The story begins when BPB easily fends off a hunter. His “calculations are so precise it’s baffling,” which I guess is referring to the fact that he punches her in the vulva, which she enjoys. It’s hard to tell exactly, since some of the fight scenes are a little difficult to follow.

“My right elbow hits him first in the forehead for poking me in mine, knocking him out, but I grab his shirt pre-fall with my right hand and hit him 3 more times in the forehead to even the score… The 1st left elbow wakes him back up, and 2nd knocks him back out and the 3rd wakes him up again.”

From there it’s a dizzying series of events, and to proeprly describe it I might have to stretch each sentence until it’s a quivering mess. BPB roundhouse kicks people at a gas station filling up his nice car before boarding a plane full of Asian flight attendants without underwear that takes him to another mark in a strip club. There is a Fast and Furious car chase that ends in BPB’s vorpal dick going snicker-snack in some lady we’ll never see again before he kills a bunch of people with a barrel roll. There is more gleeful and highly detailed violence in Houston and Colorado involving hookers, custom weapons and cars, cocktails that Leon Phelps would drink if he ran out of Couvoisier, and designer clothes. A lady who gives amazing blowjobs wins some Grammies while our hero kills a man using Kill Bill pressure points. In Atlanta, which is made of rich people and airplanes, he looks at a woman “through $8200 Cartier shades” from the door of his house that is oops all aquariums. The Compound taught him self actualization, manifesting the imagination, and how to unlock his full spiritual, physical, and mental potential, unlike regular schools that teach the pledge of allegiance. He can’t believe that Bryce prefers Van Patten’s card to his. He applies his chess genius to taunting his brother-in-law about boinking the man’s sister. He does 1000 pushups. He beats up a cowboy. He knocks up a woman who gets murdered in Paris, Italy. Bear skin rug. Scuba escape. Nickel plating.

Eventually the whole thing becomes a blur or blood, wish-fulfillment descriptions of expensive consumer goods, sex with women who are introduced with their measurements, and the humiliation and emasculation of any man who is not BPB. The clothing items all get price tags, which quickly lose all meaning, like children arguing about what is the highest number. The car specifications were lost on me, but I’m guessing that the cars are very good at going fast a bunch. It’s the same handful of facts about BPB’s life over and over, which suggests we’re supposed to be getting something out of reading all the details of how much his boots cost and what part of the face he shot someone in. But for all the detail we get, the prose is still more tell than show. We’re constantly told that he is awesome or his fish tank is “way more magical than you have ever seen,” with occasional gems of description like “I’ll leave it to your imagination” or “If you don’t believe me, Google it.” This is disappointing, because the whole book reads like the first-person version of what Chad gets up to in incel fanfic, and those dweebs can’t wait to give all the sordid details. I feel like I’m waiting for the scene where it’s all in his mind, or the camera pans out to show him talking to a prison psychiatrist or something.

This is the regularly scheduled part of our program where we ask ourselves if this is all a joke, a deliberate satire about violent power fantasies, like an X-rated Brock Samson from the Venture Brothers. The vicarious thrill of over-the-top violence is muffled by the noise of the author licking his lips every time there is a description of murder/cars. I tried to find some indication that this is all a joke, but what I realized is that anything I would interpret as a nodding wink to the audience that this is all too ridiculous to be taken seriously, is just every line of the book. It’s Schrodinger’s Parody, in a simultaneous state of taking the piss out of itself and being dead serious. That alone could make it worth the ride, assuming you’re not a delicate petunia like me who winces every time someone in a movie tests the sharpness of a sword with their thumb. But I have to warn you about the price. Ten dollars for an ebook is simply too much. If you ever find Spear: Profile of a Predator on a steep discount, snatch it up to get your fill of wanton murder and Ducatti descriptions.

I sat through another one of Madeline’s dumb reviews, so now you do too.