THE SANTA HEIST and other Christmas stories

TITLE: THE SANTA HEIST and other Christmas stories
BY: JOHN L. FRENCH & PATRICK THOMAS
PUBLISHED BY: BOLD VENTURE PRESS
ISBN: 9781689023665
REVIEW COPY SENT BY AUTHOR
REVIEW BY IDA VEGA-LANDOW

Christmas came early this year for me and other fans of urban fantasy, especially those who like John L. French and Patrick Thomas. “The Santa Heist and other Christmas stories” is a collection of stories about Christmas, written in the irreverent, smart-alecky style of our boy Patrick, and his colleague John L. French, whose stories have a more serious tone and are much darker. His past as a crime scene supervisor shows in the way he depicts the dark side of humanity without flinching. Both of them collaborated on the cover story, “The Santa Heist”, about a gang of henchmen who decide to sleigh-jack Santa so the poor kids in Harbor City can have a happy Christmas for once, without having to settle for the cheap, knockoff toys. The rest of the stories run the gamut from sad to glad.

In French’s “All I Want for Christmas”, an abusive husband and father gets his just deserts after his young son’s letter to Santa is delivered to Satan by mistake, because of an innocent spelling error by the child. Bianca Jones, French’s badass detective who took on the Devil and won, meets him once again as a confidential informant in “A Gift Freely Given”, as he lets her know about a plot to steal certain religious relics from the local museum, particularly one that may have been in the stable the night Jesus was born. Speaking of that night, a French story that moved me to tears, “The Inner Light”, is about the angel who guarded Mary through her pregnancy and single-backhandedly defeated the five demons sent to destroy the Christ child on that blessed night. You wouldn’t think a sweet, black angel with ash gray wings was a match for five powerful demons, but the inner light of her faith was enough to help her route them all, though it left her badly wounded.

Thomas’s stories provide a more light-hearted contrast, with the exception of one that sent shivers down my spine at the conclusion; “Out of Bethlehem”, which tells us what happened to the babies left in Bethlehem after the Holy Family escaped to Egypt. Every Christian knows about the slaughter of the innocents, when King Herod sent his soldiers to Bethlehem to kill every baby boy under the age of two, to rid himself of the newborn King of the Jews. One baby boy escapes the slaughter thanks to an angel of the Lord who rescues the mother from the Roman soldiers pursuing her. He tells the mother that her son has “a great destiny to complete”, but when I found out who her son was, I wondered whether this was the Angel of Death. Two of Patrick’s Christmas stories from his Murphy’s Lore series are reprinted here, “Pining Away” starring Agent Karver and his partner Mandy Cobb from the Department of Mystic Affairs, where they take on a dryad who murdered a suburban family after they unknowingly chopped down her tree to decorate it for Christmas, and “Hell’s Covenant”, with the gang from Bulfinche’s Pub fighting to protect Toni, their waitress, from the demon she unknowingly made a bargain with for shelter, in exchange for her unborn baby.

These two gentlemen alternate between serious and humorous stories, even the serious ones frequently containing a note of humor, like Patrick’s puns and French’s reference to Rocky and Bullwinkle in “Joy to the World”, where the angel who saved Baby Jesus makes an encore appearance. I enjoyed every story, even the ones that made me sad, because Christmas is about joy and sorrow and life and death, something people frequently forget in their greed for gifts and their desire to one-up everyone else in the giving and receiving of gifts. So if you’re looking for a good read for Christmas, get a copy of “The Santa Heist” for yourself or for someone you love who loves Christmas. It’s dedicated to “all those who honor Christmas in their hearts and who try to keep it all the year”, a quote from Dicken’s “A Christmas Carol”, which is represented here by “Saving Marley”, a story by John French. Merry Christmas to all and to all a good read!

Book Review: The Mug Life

TITLE: THE MUG LIFE
BY: PATRICK THOMAS
PUBLISHED BY: PADWOLF PUBLISHING INC.
ISBN: 978-1-890096-84-7
REVIEW COPY PURCHASED BY REVIEWER
REVIEW BY IDA VEGA-LANDOW

It’s been a while since I wrote a review of any of Patrick Thomas’ works. The closest I came was my review for “Release The Virgins” on June 10th, an anthology by Michael Ventrella to which Patrick contributed a short story, “The Running of The Drones”. That was done with his usual flair. Now here comes another volume in the Murphy’s Lore After Hours series, in which we learn of the misadventures of Murphy’s motley crew of gods and monsters, along with pixies, demons, immortals and just plain folks along for the ride.

Our man John Murphy tells us two tales in this assortment of stories about the mug life (whether he’s referring to the mugs he fills at Bulfinche’s Pub or the mugs who work and drink there is anyone’s guess). The first one is about an angry man who shows up at Bulfinche’s with his two kids and a gun, determined to repay his ex-wife for taking his kids, the house and half his pension. Murphy manages to defuse the situation with the help of his co-workers and the Mayan death goddess Ixtab, who specializes in suicide, and was there to counsel another customer suffering from terminal cancer. The second story takes place on one of Murphy’s rare days off, when he goes to a mall and runs into Jason Cervantes the cross-dressing cop and Bubba Sue the gremlin, who are now dating. The three of them end up at a lingerie shop, where they have to defuse another bad situation between an angry young woman with a bomb strapped to her chest and one on her ex-boyfriend’s. Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for the guy; he screwed her over badly and even got her deported to Mexico to end their relationship, and she doesn’t even speak Spanish. Two prime examples of love’s labors lost.
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Release The Virgins

Title: Release The Virgins
By: Michael A. Ventrella, editor
Published by: Fantastic Books
Isbn: 1-5151-2384-0/978-1-5154-2384-3
Review copy sent by Publisher
Review by Ida Vega-Landow

This is the second best book I’ve ever read that was written on a dare. The first was “Frankenstein” by 18-year-old Mary Shelley, after she and her future husband, the poet Percy Shelley, spent a wet summer at the Villa Diodati in Switzerland with their friend Lord Byron, where it wouldn’t stop raining. They spent most of their time reading ghost stories in front of the fireplace during all those dark and stormy nights, which inspired Byron to suggest that they all write a ghost story of their own. Poor Mary spent many sleepless nights wracking her brain to come up with a scary story, until she had a nightmare about “a scientist who created life and was horrified by what he had made; her dream later evolved into the novel’s story.”[Wikipedia, “Frankenstein”]. I think we all agree that Mary Shelley won that competition.
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Book Review: FIERCE: The History of Leopard Print

TITLE: FIERCE: The History of Leopard Print
BY: Jo Weldon
PUBLISHED BY: Harper Design, An Imprint of HarperCollinsPubishers
ISBN: 978-0-06-269295-5
Review copy provided by author

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

This book is dedicated to “the BIG Cats, the people they INSPIRE, and the people who work to preserve their lives and HABITATS.” But it’s intended for all you wild things out there who love to wear leopard print. It’s a historic study of the vivid, spotted fur of a beautiful beast whose strength and independent nature inspired women, who are usually the downtrodden, powerless members of society, to be strong and fearless too.

Being a livelong lover of leopard print myself, I have worn it in every way possible. My favorite loafers and sneakers are leopard print; so is a well-worn pair of high heels, along with one of my mock turtleneck tops, a short-sleeved blouse and a pair of stretch pants. Of course I have a leopard print nightgown, and a sleepshirt, as well as pajamas. I also have a leopard print bra, for which I have yet to find matching undies. I laugh to scorn the conventional notion that women over fifty shouldn’t wear leopard print. I’ve worn it more often since I turned fifty. I use it as an accessory, to set off my favorite clothes. I don’t think I’d have the nerve to wear head to toe leopard print, though certain celebrities, from Peg Bundy of “Married With Children” to Pat Benatar, who regularly performed in a leotard or catsuit, are not shy about doing so.
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Book Reveiw: “Indigo”, a mosaic novel

Indigo, a mosaic novel
By Charlaine Harris, Christopher Golden, Jonathan Maberry, Kelley Armstrong, Kat Richardson, Seanan McGuire, Tim Lebbon, Cherie Priest, James A. Moore, and Mark Morris.
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Publication Date: June 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-07678-6
Book supplied by publisher

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

This is the second book I’ve read that was written by a committee. The first one was “Naked Came The Stranger”, back in 1969, written by Penelope Ashe, which was a pseudonym for a group of twenty-four journalists led by Newsday columnist Mike McGrady. He wanted to write a book that was both deliberately terrible and contained a lot of sex, to illustrate the point that popular American literary culture had become mindlessly vulgar. McGrady was convinced that any book could succeed if enough sex was thrown in. He was right; the book became a bestseller. After the hoax was revealed, it sold even more copies. This proves that you can never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public, according to H.L. Mencken, renowned author and cynic.
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Book review: Joe Steele by Harry Turtledove

I’d like to publish the following guest review by my favorite collaborator, Pet Leopard, as a warning of things to come after the nomination of Donald Trump on January 20th. God help America.

“Joe Steele” by Harry Turtledove
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication Date: 12/01/2015
ISBN-13: 9780451472199
Book supplied by Reviewer

Guest Review by Pet Leopard

Well, according to a popular old saying: “The more things change, the more they stay the same. Harry Turtledove’s thought provoking masterpiece, “Joe Steele”, is a testament to the truth of that line of reasoning.

As a child of the early 1960’s, I have lived through both Kennedy assassinations, the Vietnam War, the Cold War, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Gulf War, the attacks on the World Trade Center, and a horrible decade-long period of warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq. Although Mr. Turtledove references an alternate history that’s set well before the earliest of those events had taken place, there are many parallels that resonate very closely.
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Book review: “Do You Want to Know a Secret? The Autobiography of Billy J. Kramer

DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET? THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF BILLY J. KRAMER
BY: BILLY J. KRAMER with Alyn Shipton
PUBLISHED BY: Equinox Publishing 2016
ISBN: 978 1 78179 361 9
Review copy sent by publisher

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

The British Invasion didn’t just bring The Beatles to our shore. It also brought a great many young British bands eager to follow in their footsteps. Some went on to become big stars, like The Rolling Stones and The Who. Some were one hit wonders who just came and went. But one enduring presence was a lad who befriended the Fab Four when they were all just aspiring young musicians in Liverpool. His name was, and is, Billy J. Kramer.
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Book review: My Kid Brother’s Band a/k/a The Beatles!

My Kid Brother’s Band, aka The Beatles!
By Louise Harrison
Published by Acclaim Press, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-938905-52-0
Review copy sent by publisher

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

I first saw Louise Harrison at this year’s Fest for Beatles Fans in Rye, N.Y. She spoke about her brother George with so much love and affection that I decided I had to read her book to learn more about the man we Beatles fans call The Quiet Beatle, but she called her little brother. I was half expecting a puff piece making George look more angelic than was humanly possible, like another Harrison bio I read (see my earlier review, “Here Comes the Sun: The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison” by Joshua M. Greene). Instead, I found an honest, in-depth history of the author’s life during World War II as well as before and after her little brother became famous.
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Book review: Here Comes the Sun. The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison

Here Comes the Sun. The Spiritual and Musical Journey of George Harrison
By Joshua M. Greene
Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2006
ISBN-13:9780470127803
Review copy provided by publisher

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

Let me say right from the beginning: I loved this book! Despite the obvious proselytizing on behalf of the Hindu religion—what used to be known as Krishna Consciousness here in the States—Joshua M. Greene, writer and producer for PBS and the Disney Channel (he also wrote “Justice at Dachau” and “Witness: Voices from the Holocaust”, which was made into a PBS-TV documentary), has written a tender, loving account of the life of George Harrison, before and after the Beatles, and how his faith in Krishna helped him to overcome all the emotional and financial setbacks in his life, ultimately allowing him to die with grace after losing his battle with brain cancer.
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Book review: Ruth’s Journey

“Ruth’s Journey: The Authorized Novel of Mammy from Margaret Mitchell’s ‘Gone with the Wind’”
By Donald McCaig
Published By: Atria Books, A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
ISBN: 978-1-4516-4353-4
Review copy provided by publisher

Review by Ida Vega-Landow

From the man who gave us “Rhett Butler’s People”, a version of “Gone With The Wind” written from Rhett Butler’s point of view, the creative mind of Donald McCaig has given us a plausible backstory for the faithful Mammy, Scarlet O’Hara’s beloved black nurse, who raised her and her two sisters. She was also mammy to Scarlett’s mother Ellen Robillard and her two sisters. But she wasn’t always the big, black slave woman in charge of a white woman’s babies.
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