The Grim Reader chats with S.T. Cartledge about ‘The Orphanarium’ and Bizarro fiction

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S.T. Cartledge is a writer of poetry and Bizarro/weird fiction currently sweating in Western Australia (it’s summer over here, and it is damn hot). His book ‘House Hunter’ was one of the NBAS (New Bizarro Author Series) books in 2012. Soon Mr Cartledge will have a new book published through Eraserhead Press called ‘The Orphanarium’. Check out the cover art below, it’s a doozy!!

Anyway, I thought it high time I caught up with the man to have a chat about writing, his forthcoming book and to ask him what are his top 5 Bizarro books and just what the hell is Bizarro fiction?

TGR: I live on the Gold Coast, it’s damn hot here at present but you guys in WA really cop some serious heat. So, how are you handling the summer?!

STC: Ducted refrigerated air-conditioning. I don’t know how I survived without it. My partner’s parents have a pool, so there’s that too.

TGR: Tell us a little about your journey to writing. Where did it begin? Were you a big reader when you were younger and who were you reading as you grew up?

STC: I’ve always been a reader. I remember reading Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights Trilogy at a young age. I read a bunch of children’s fantasy and science fiction, as well as a bunch of John Marsden books (the Tomorrow Series in particular), and when I didn’t know what to read I usually borrowed a John Grisham novel from my parents. I started writing as a hobby when I was about 17 and starting to read a bit of H.P. Lovecraft. I went through a phase where my writing attempted to echo the authors I was reading at the time, Lovecraft, Chuck Palahniuk, Bret Easton Ellis. Basically, what I thought was cool and edgy, I tried to be those authors. When I discovered Bizarro, all rules went out the window and I just started writing whatever I felt like.

TGR: Is there much of a writing scene over in WA? If there is, are you actively involved with it?

STC: When it comes to fiction, it’s hard to say. I haven’t found a thriving scene, but I haven’t actively looked for one. There are a few book launches that come up on my radar, but nothing that really rips me out of the house. I’ve kind of found my home in Perth’s poetry scene. There’s a strange mix of content and styles with many overtones of distance and isolation. There are a lot of good local poets doing some pretty great stuff, and I’ve been lucky to be involved in a bunch of it.

TGR: There are people out there who have no idea what Bizarro fiction is, how would you describe it to a newbie?

STC: It’s a genre which defies conventions. It captures your imagination in ways that are far less common in other speculative genres like sci-fi or fantasy. It embraces the surreal and the absurd. It takes your wildest dreams and runs with it. There are no limits.

TGR: What was your first exposure to the genre and how do you think it has changed over the years?

STC: My first exposure was a short story called Candy Coated, by Carlton Mellick III. It’s probably still up online at Vice. From there I picked up Satan Burger by Mellick, and Lost in Cat Brain Land by Cameron Pierce. Bizarro has expanded so much in the time I’ve been reading/writing it. I think the writers themselves have grown and evolved a lot. They’re either pushing themselves further as writers, going for more complex narratives, or their writing has matured on to more complex themes and topics.

TGR: Outside of reading and writing, what else inspires you? Are you a movie fan and if so what are your favourite movies?

STC: I’m an anime fan, so I find myself drawing inspiration from works like Neon Genesis Evangelion, Kill la Kill, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, and directors like Hayao Miyazaki, Satoshi Kon, Mamoru Hosoda, and Shinichiro Watanabe. Some of my favourite anime films are Ponyo, Paprika, and Wolf Children. Some of my favourite live action films are Inglourious Basterds, Watchmen, the Big Lebowski, and Mad Max: Fury Road.

TGR: Tell us about ‘House Hunter’, your first publication through Eraserhead as part of the NBAS series. How did that one come together and where did the idea come from?

STC: I pitched a whole bunch of ideas to Kevin Shamel and he asked me to write House Hunter based on my pitch. I wanted to make something completely mundane into something completely wild and fantastical. I took a similar approach with Day of the Milkman. Right now I’m in a surreal sci-fi/fantasy phase, but I’ll probably go back to reinventing mundane things again in the near future. I wrote House Hunter in a couple of weeks and then spent ages trying to get through the editing stage. It was while I was working on my honours thesis, so the timing was really hectic.

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TGR: How have you improved as a writer since your first published story?

STC: I’ve got a lot more practice under my belt. I’ve got a lot more feedback on what works for people and what doesn’t. I’ve learned to focus on my strengths while keeping my weaknesses in mind. I’m never going to please everyone, but I’ve learned to be happy with my output, dedicated to my work, and open to criticism. Time and effort are the biggest factors to my improvement.

TGR: Your new book, coming soon from Eraserhead Press is called ‘The Orphanarium’, what can readers expect from it?

STC: It’s a story about a giant concrete city that’s completely enclosed. The creatures within (the orphans) know nothing about what lives outside. The creatures outside (elementals) take the form of all sorts of supreme powerful beings who manipulate the world around them in various ways. The story follows the orphan twins Daff and Dil, alongside their android friend Cyberia and their cyborg dog Killy. Together they find themselves thrust into battles which are far bigger than themselves. There is so much packed into the story, it’s difficult to boil it down to a linear hero’s journey or a simple sequence of events. This thing is huge.

TGR: The cover art is what drew me to the book. You must be stoked with it? Did you have any input into the creative process for the cover or did you leave it in the hands of the publisher?

STC: I discussed it with Rose O’Keefe, who edited the book. She was really passionate about the story and she came to me with an idea that she wanted to run with (a Howl’s Moving Castle type thing) and an artist she had in mind (Hauke Vagt). We discussed details, moods, colour schemes, and then she organised everything else with Hauke. I think it worked out so well because Rose had immersed herself in the story to the point that she understood what I had put into it and how the cover should not only represent the story itself, but also how it represents me as an author. Hauke did an amazing job translating that into art.

TGR: What did you find the most challenging aspect of writing ‘The Orphanarium’?

STC: The scope of it. The story began as a poem which turned into a 10,000 word short story, which then turned into a 43,000-ish word saga. It was a massive effort keeping the story flowing from chapter to chapter (it took me a little over 2 years to write). I wrote it in present tense with a simultaneous first-person/second-person narrator where “I” (Daff) tells the story of the Orphanarium to “you” (Dil), two characters who are active participants in the story. I also had these cactus spines in the story where they stab themselves in order to remember things that happened in the past, future, or present. I had a lot of unconventional techniques occurring simultaneously, and it was crazy challenging keeping them in line and making sure everything tied up well at the end. I was still tying up plot holes in the final proofreading stages, which was 2-3 years after I finished the first draft.

TGR: What do you think is the most important ingredient when writing a story? Is it character? Plot? Or something else?

STC: I’d say plot. Definitely. Plot and style. Books with interesting characters where nothing interesting happens just bore the hell out of me. I liked Bret Easton Ellis’ “Less Than Zero” considering its aimless plot, yet the sequel “Imperial Bedrooms” couldn’t keep me interested. I couldn’t have cared less for “the Great Gatsby” either. I like things to be fast paced or strangely compelling. That’s why I can like Blake Butler and J. A. Tyler where their works don’t exactly have a solid concept of character or plot. I guess that’s why some people read my stories and find that the characters aren’t as well fleshed out as they’d like or the plot was too fast. For me it’s about engaging with something unique. A story that cuts right to the chase or gives you an experience that you struggle to put into words.

TGR: If ‘The Orphanarium’ was picked up by Hollywood, who would star in the movie version?

STC: People often tell me that my books would work well as movies. I like painting visuals. The Orphanarium probably wouldn’t translate as easy. I haven’t specified ages for the characters, but I think Millie Bobby Brown from Stranger Things would make a pretty great Cyberia. Maybe Daniel Radcliffe and Elijah Wood to play the twins Daff and Dil? I’d probably be gunning for Christopher Nolan to direct.

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TGR: Bizarro, as a genre has been talked about a lot recently, for various reasons which we won’t go into here. How welcome did you feel when you first entered the community and has much changed since then?

STC: I’ve always felt welcome in Bizarro. Some of my first online Bizarro friends were guys like Mellick, Cameron Pierce, and Jordan Krall, authors I was reading at the time when I was just figuring out who was who. At BizarroCon I first met the Bizarro authors/friends/artists in person and they were very welcoming. I’d think if/when I go back, the reception I get from them would be the same, if not stronger than before. I try to conduct myself well in spite of whatever personal dramas come up, and I think it’s important to not let that sort of thing divide you.

TGR: How do you approach the promotional aspect of being a writer?

STC: I think it’s something I will always need to work at, but I feel like it gets easier with time. So long as I’m constantly writing and publishing, I’ll have news that people will want to hear about, rather than jumping on board with whatever opinions are hotly debated at the time. I’d like to think my writing does all the talking, and I just try to nudge it on up without being too self-absorbed. I try to support my friends in the indie publishing scene where I can as well.

TGR: Mystery author asks you to collaborate on a writing project. Who is it and why?

STC: First person that jumps to mind would be Carlton Mellick III, and some form of bizarro-anime novel. I don’t see either of us as particularly collaborative writers though, so it would more likely be someone like Michael Allen Rose, Michael Sean LeSueur, or Karl Fischer.

TGR: What are your top 5 Bizarro books and why?

STC:

Cthulhu Comes to the Vampire Kingdom, by Cameron Pierce

This book had me emotionally hooked on the first page. Pierce’s writing here is beautiful and surreal, filled with fantasy and wonder.

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Quicksand House, by Carlton Mellick III

This is the book I recommend to new readers. Mellick blurs the line between knowledge and reality in his worlds, and Quicksand House leads you on in ways that are devastating. It will break your heart.

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A Town Called Suckhole, by David W. Barbee

This is textbook bizarro. It’s got character. It’s raw, it’s ugly, it’s weird as hell.

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Motherfucking Sharks, by Brian Allen Carr

This book should be so absurd it’s stupid. It’s magical how a book called “Motherfucking Sharks” can be this brilliant. It’s the stuff that myths are made of.

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Basal Ganglia, by Matthew Revert

This book is just stunning. Beautiful and tragic, surreal, spellbinding. It’s so easy to get lost in the beauty of it all.

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TGR: What is your favourite flavour of Tim Tam?

STC: I used to eat the double choc and peanut butter ones a lot, but I don’t eat Tim Tams any more for dietary reasons.

TGR: What is your favourite book and why?

STC: I’d probably have to go with “In Watermelon Sugar” by Richard Brautigan because it is packed with beautiful, poetic language, while delivering a vivid and imaginative story with wonderful characters and settings.

TGR: Before you go, tell the readers about where they can find you.

STC: I’m up on Amazon and most of my stuff is available in print and on kindle. My stuff is on a bunch of other online websites too. I’m on facebook (with a personal account and an author page) and twitter (@STCartledge). I’ve got a blog at themanifold.wordpress.com

I’m also publishing poetry through Hawkline Press (on facebook/twitter/wordpress).

‘The Orphanarium’ is available from here. Go get it!

 

New video from post punk band ‘WEAK 13’

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“WEAK13 release new music video for “Obey The Slave”

British underground post punk band WEAK13 have released a new music video for their song “Obey The Slave” from their 2016 album They Live. The music video was filmed in a real English magistrates court and revolves around a theme of law and order. The song raises questions about authority and activism with thought provoking lyrics and proudly shouts “Don’t start a revolution. Have a revelation and share. Wake up”. Check out the video below.

The band is currently preparing to record their second as yet untitled studio album with producer John Stewart at FrEQ in Coventry, England. Speaking to the website, frontman and guitarist Nick J Townsend revealed “We were so impressed with the engineering by Stewart on the They Live album; it’s important news that we’ll be able to work with him again and we know already that he’ll do the new material the justice it deserves”. The They Live album contains the song “Obey The Slave” and is only available from weak13official.com

WEAK13 – OBEY THE SLAVE

Check out more from WEAK 13 here!

Words & Music with Paul Michael Anderson

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Today on Words & Music It’s the turn of Paul Michael Anderson. Paul blew me away last year with his debut collection of dark fiction published through Dark Regions Press called ‘Bones Are Made To Be Broken’. You can read my review here. then you would be wise in picking up a copy for yourself from here. It is a feast of fantastic fiction encompassing many different themes and I am sure you will dig it. Short story collections are really my thing, I love them, and this one is a doozy.

Inside of this essay, Paul talks about how big of an influence music is on his writing. We have a very similar taste in music so I really enjoyed this piece and I’m sure that you will too. He name drops bands like ‘Ghost’ – one of my current favourites and also mentions the much maligned UK grunge rockers, ‘Bush’, and their album ‘Razorblade Suitcase’. ‘Bush’ is a band I used to listen to a hell of a lot when I was younger and I still love this album. Anyway, without spoiling any more I will hand you over to Mr Anderson. Thanks to Paul for once again making a great contribution to my blog. Enjoy.

“And the Beat Goes on…”

By Paul Michael Anderson

 

When I was 14, I became aware of a special species of human.  They looked like a regular humans.  They liked human things, spoke with human speech.

But…they didn’t like music.  Like, at all.  If music was around, they didn’t sneer or squash their hands to their ears to block out the awful, awful sounds, but conversations with these creatures about music went nowhere and conversations about music were pretty much the only things I had in common with most kids in school at the time.

The year before, when I was thirteen (we’re talking about 1997 when all this went down), I got into music in a big, bad way–particularly punk, metal, and the death-throes of alternative rock (yay for Bush’s Razorblade Suitcase!).  It’d always surrounded me–the radio, long car rides with my parents and their cassette tapes, early-’90s MTV–but it wasn’t until puberty that I really discovered it.  Most guys discover sex when they hit puberty; I discovered that and the Sex Pistols.

So, to come across people who just weren’t into music bugged the fuck out of me.  I can tell you where I was to the minute with certain songs.  From the time I was 14 until I was 22, I was a complete music snob and could dissect why your taste in music was terrible right down to the progression of chord changes.  I think I learned how to play guitar when I was 15 just so I could be that much more insufferable when it came to music.  Most guys learned guitar to be impressive at parties and get laid; I learned guitar so I could tell you how much your G7 sucked.  Y’know–priorities.

The marriage between writing and music for me, then, was to be expected.  I can’t write in front of a television or while holding conversations with people.  I need music, always and forever, even back when I was a college journalist turning in sarcastic columns for the campus paper.  Music is a cocoon for me, a barrier between me and the regular world when I’m working.  If the words are good and the scenes are flowing, it’s like dreaming, where I come up for mental air and realize four or five tracks of whatever album have passed.  I know I heard the songs, but they were like echoes down the hallway while I was working.

I think that’s neat.

But, of course, it goes further.  To date, I’ve written and published three stories directly related to this song or that song: “Passive”, “Crawling Back to You”, and “The Universe Is Dying”.  Each song had something that sparked something in my head–with “Passive”, which came from an A Perfect Circle song of the same name, it was the way the song built to its screamed climax; with “Crawling Back to You”, which came via Tom Petty, it was the lyrics and the way Tom Petty sang them.  “The Universe Is Dying”, a story about a man who has to face his past in order to really by alive (like, literally), I took the name of the song “Jimmy” by Tool for my main character and the lyrics and theme for my general idea, but also imported the mood of “Happy Anniversary” by Motion City Soundtrack, and my own personal connection to the topic with “A Long December” by Counting Crows.

While writing the novella Bones Are Made to be Broken, I heard the song “Everything That Hurts” by Justin Courtney Pierre, the lead singer of Motion City Soundtrack.  I was writing a horror story about a single mother suffering a nervous breakdown and here came this song about struggling with mental health and seeking help.  When I began the second draft, I put the chorus of that song at the top of the page, like an epigraph, to keep me focused while I worked.  This was what I was talking about with the story–struggling to keep it together and feeling like you’re failing and not knowing what to do to help yourself (or for someone else to help you).

As my collection marched through production, I contacted Pierre about using the chorus as the actual epigraph to the story (not the book) and it was so.  Bones would’ve happened without the song, but it wouldn’t be the same monster, y’know?  “Everything That Hurts” brought the story, and the book, home.  To me, that song made the book what it is.

(Sidenote: not a commercial, but you really should hear the song.  You can stream it, or buy it for a dollar, over at justincourtneypierre.bandcamp.com.  You’re welcome.)

I can’t imagine people not having some form of music that touches them–even if it’s just a single fucking song.  I’m not the snob I once was–my wife might disagree with that, but she also likes “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness–but to be complete devoid of loving some progression, or lyric, or chorus is beyond comprehension to me.  Not to be too fucking cliché about it, but music is the rhythm of life.  If absolutely nothing else, it marks off time in four-minute chunks (unless you like prog-rock, I guess).

For me, music is a part of my career now.  Right now, I’m noodling an idea inspired by Modest Mouse’s “Little Motel”.

While writing this, I listened to Ghost’s Meliora album.  Y’know, as you do.

Check out Paul’s Amazon page here.

Visit his blog here.

Dark review: Dark Moon Digest #26

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The latest edition of Dark Moon Digest is amazing. It’s amazing for a couple of reasons. The first of these being that it is an emotional issue for the PMMP crew. Read the intro and the first story and you will see why. The second reason is the fiction. Dark Moon Digest is a quarterly magazine that doesn’t publish average stories. Issue #26 is certainly no exception and this particular issue features a gem of a story by T. Fox Dunham. It’s a totally weird, creepy creature story about a man who searches for his missing wife. He finds her in the most unusual place where she has become something totally new. I enjoyed this story so much, I read the thing twice. Yep, it’s that good. Elsewhere, Betty Rocksteady continues to impress with her short story work and again she delivers with a strange tale about a woman bitten by a bug. The creep-factor continues with a contribution from George Cotronis and I was also impressed with stories by Melanie Smith and newcomer Sam Rebelein whose tale had a little bit of Edward Lee in it I thought!

Elsewhere, Jay Wilburn returns with a non-fiction piece about ghost stories and how you can make them stand out. An interesting piece with some valuable tips for writers. Some typical Boothlike movie reviews provide some laughs, although Max thought Super 8 was a great movie so I take his opinions on movies with a pinch of salt.

Brian Justus closes the fiction out in some style with his tale of a couple slowly drifting apart after Connie is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. This isn’t the only problem. Strange animal deaths and pale creatures lurk in the woods. And just what is Connie writing about in her journal? A creepy folk horror tale to finish things off. Splendid.

A little look back on 2016 for PMMP closes things out and this is one of the reasons I love this press. Their passion for books is infectious and they bust a gut to get their books into readers hands. They publish books by authors I admire and love to read. People like John C. Foster, Jessica McHugh and Kristopher Triana (yay! I spelt his name correct). You won’t find these books for sale at the airport newsagents shortly before you board a plane. You have to go seek them out, but when you do you will be sure glad that you did.

5/5 stars

Get your Dark Moon Digest fix here. Or support PMMP on Patreon for as little as $1.00 per month and you get DMD free! Go here.

 

 

Book review: Suan Ming – Seb Doubinsky

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I guess you could classify Suan Ming as science fiction if you wish to give it a label. This is my first time reading Mr Doubinsky’s work and already I am a fan. I get the feeling that Suan Ming is perhaps a piece of a much larger puzzle, perhaps loosely linked to some of his other works, though I could also be wrong. Anyway, I really liked reading this, a lot!

The plot follows  John DiMeglio. John is a remote viewer working for the military. He is recalled to take part in a special mission. A mission where he is asked to project himself into a secret base in order to examine what is going on there. John’s life away from the military is never far away from his thoughts, though there is something that is not quite right there. The story tells of the balance John has between living in the real world and existing inside the ether (an alternate reality) though it is sometimes tricky to tell which reality John really exists in…It also examines the use of drones in warfare and addresses the possibility of psychic warfare being the key to the future of how battles are fought.

The chapters in ‘Suan Ming’ are short, sharp and snappy. I love it. Not a word is wasted as the story steadily unfolds itself making you question everything about what John does and everybody he is in contact with. Doubinsky keeps his cards close to his chest until the end, which is superb, really well executed and yet sad at the same time. We then get to realize the effects that DiMeglio’s repeated journeys are having on his fragile mind.

I have a love/hate relationship with science fiction, especially when it’s in the shorter form, like a novella or a short story. Writers can often come across as smug in the way they throw terminology at you and simply expect you to know what it all means. Doubinsky doesn’t do that. This story is very clean in that Doubinsky uses an economy of words but is still successful in enveloping you fully within the tale. ‘Suan Ming’ is an example of how modern sci-fi can be a riveting storytelling experience. A thought-provoking look at a possible future, In my opinion it is a book that should be experienced by all.

5/5 stars

Pick up a copy of ‘Suan Ming’ from here.

Check out more great books from Villipede Publications

 

 

 

Book review: Cartoons in the Suicide Forest – Leza Cantoral

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Leza Cantoral’s debut collection of bizarre, erotic, weird fiction is as charming as it is filthy. Cantoral weaves together fairy tales and Disney stories, transforming them into sex-filled fantasies dripping with bodily fluids. Her writing both excites and feels fresh, virgin almost. It’s playful without being too sugar-coated and I really enjoyed this little foray into her twisted mind.

‘Cartoons in the Suicide Forest’ features a number of stories that vary in length. From flash pieces to more in-depth tales. I found the longer stories to be the more immersive and enjoyable (in a kinky sort of way). That isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the shorter ones, too. The shorter stories are a little like the foreplay whereas the longer pieces are deeper examinations of sexuality, drugs and popular culture. One of the standouts for me personally was the final piece called Planet Mermaid. It’s a retelling of Disney’s The Little Mermaid, complete with wicked sea witch, Mermen, Land Walkers and a young mermaids quest to fit in. Of course, in the original Disney version, Ariel becomes mute when she is given legs and has to woo the handsome prince. Cantoral’s version is very similar, but instead she sprinkles a little smut and the bizarre onto this cautionary tale. Elsewhere, ‘Beast’ is a short narrative take on ‘Beauty and the Beast’ – it’s short and sweet and I liked it a lot. The opening tale is the title story. A dreamy read that sets the tone for what is to follow. It features everything that is good about her writing and her ideas.

There is a lot to like and admire from the writing of Leza Cantoral. She seems to have a very casual narrative voice, which is easy to read, flows very smoothly and pushes all of the right buttons. When writing erotic stories, it’s easy for writers to come across as insincere, as if they are simply including these sexual elements just to get a reaction. Cantoral doesn’t do this. Her stories are often X-rated but don’t feel forced. They are quirky and original. A real find.

‘Cartoons in the Suicide Forest’ is a great collection. I can imagine Leza writing an excellent coming-of-age novel further down the track as it seems from this collection that she has a wealth of life experience and the writing prowess to go with it. For now, we should simply embrace the weird, highly sexed world that Leza Cantoral has created. To infinity and beyond…

4/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.

Book review: Battering the Stem – Bob Freville

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‘Battering the Stem’ is a hard-boiled novella the likes of which I haven’t read in some time. Though perhaps not my usual read, I do enjoy dark, crime fiction as a change from my usual diet of horror. Bob Freville is a new author to me but one that I will be keen on reading more from in the future.

A little word of warning: I was quite taken back by the narrative style initially. It’s very in-your-face and can seem quite confronting but it’s entirely necessary I believe for the type of gritty, violent story that unfolds. If you ever watched ‘ The Wire’ and enjoyed it then I strongly recommend reading this as Freville’s street dialect is reminiscent of the show. Freville introduces us to a cast of characters working in a soul food diner in Brooklyn and the bloody turn of events that follow. The diner holds many secrets which reveal themselves quickly as the story unfolds though it is the characters that drive this story. Each of these characters comes to life in very few pages. Edgerin is one of the central characters; a bit of a street bum, a beggar if you like that harasses the workers in the diner, but Edgerin is also an opportunist as you will see when the story unfolds. The other characters are also authentic, brilliantly portrayed not only due to their actions but in the way they converse with each other. Freville’s dialogue is snappy, precise and realistic, often amusing, making the story so much more believable. I will admit that I had to read some of the conversations twice as the street-talk took me a bit of getting used to, but in all honesty it’s one of the things that makes this novella stand out from other crime books, and let’s be honest, It’s a competitive market out there so your game has got to be tight.

After the cast is revealed the pacing is electric and It’s during the final third of the book when things really come to life. The ending is superb. I really didn’t see it coming at all and to be honest it left me with a real big grin on my face, so well-played Mr Freville, well-played.

‘Battering the Stem’ isn’t going to be a New York Times Bestseller. It’s too gritty, too dark and transgressive for most readers of high-street crime fiction and the dialogue makes you work, but for those out there that enjoy dark stories, dripping with grime, bacon fat and violence, this is the book for you. It is also at times very funny and I highly recommend it to readers looking for something different.

4.5/5 stars

Pick up a copy from here.