The Incredible Hulk: Stalker From The Stars Review

Back in wild and wonderful 70’s, the Marvel Universe was still in its formative years.
16 years after The Incredible Hulk made his 4 Color Debut, the rage filled Jade Giant stars in his very 1st prose novel.
But at only 179 pages long, does this story delve any deeper into the character and his history than the low page count would lead you to believe?

As per usual, consider this your official ***41 year old Spoiler Alert***

I knew from the Stan Lee introduction that I would love this book.
You have to understand, this was Stan at the height of his comic ambassador powers, before Blade, X-Men, and Spider-Man made Marvel a beloved household brand.
In these few paragraphs you can see why everybody loved him, his energy and charisma seeps through the ink and paper.
His death was still incredibly fresh in my mind as I started reading this book and it ended up making for a great tribute to The Man.

As for the actual prose content of the novel, it did not disappoint.
A guilt ridden Rick Jones (the often forgotten kid that Bruce Banner saves, leading to the birth of the Hulk) makes his way to an idyllic small American town in search of renown gamma scientist Rudolph Stern’s help.
Once he gets to Crater Falls, a sinister plot of mind control and ancient extraterrestrial evil unravels and brings The Hulk, General Thunderbolt Ross, and a long buried beast to a climactic battle with Earth ending ramifications.

If you listen to the pod you have heard us bitch and complain numerous times about the overcomplicated nature of modern comics and their stories.
Well, this is a perfect encapsulation of what we keep saying we want.
The story has depth, detail, and a sense of history without bloating into a tale that’s mired in frustratingly unnecessary nonsense.
The overall vibe of the book feels like the perfect parts of the comics of the day mixed with the simplicity of what is probably still the most well known version of Hulk, the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno show.

One of the problems with reviewing a book that has multiple authors like this is figuring out where to lay blame or praise.
Thankfully, I don’t have a single complaint.
Len Wein & Marv Wolfman are giants of comics (Len actually had a run on Hulk before co-writing this novel) and Ron Goulart (Joseph Silva) wasn’t a slouch.
I think Len brought the Hulk experience/knowledge and they all brought the writing skill and when it’s mixed this well you get a hell of an adventure.

To wrap up, I love the story of a lonely tortured man that the show did so well and is on display here.
I love the over the top feats of strength and heroics included that we never saw on screen until the movies.
This man, this monster, and this story are all so worth your time.
Reading this only makes me want more of those early Marvel novels, and the hunt is on, gang.
I really hope I can find them and tell you all about them soon.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

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The Shining Review

After years of watching and loving countless adaptations of his work (including the Stanley Kubrick version of this very book), this is my 1st dive into the prose of Stephen King.
I think it’s been made obvious by this point that if I’m reviewing a book I dug it, so no suspense there.
But, at this point, after hearing for decades that King is one of the greatest writers around, this is my chance to finally find out the answer to a question that has kept me from reading his work: Can he possibly live up to that mountain of hype?

Consider this your 42 year old ***SPOILER ALERT***

The first thing I was struck by while reading this is how different the movie is from this book.
Which is something I knew going in, but was still a bit shocked by.
It feels like somebody sat 2 writers down, gave them the same thin description, and had them craft their own versions of the same story.
The book is the story of a man on a sad & slow descent into sorrowful madness, while the movie is balls out batshit crazy almost from the start.
It’s strange and makes them feel like two entirely separate entities that have to be judged as such.
It feels a lot like Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince actually, with all of the backstory being savagely ripped out of the movie versions of both.
As far as The Shining goes, I only saw the movie once and I loved it.
I feel mostly the same about this book.

I say mostly for two reasons.
1. Would be because there are a few places in this book (specifically in the middle three hundred pages or so) that I feel dragged a bit because they got a bit too monologue-esque in the way he focuses on one character for such a long period before shifting to another character for a long period.
I feel these chapters would benefit from a bit of crosscutting between characters/storylines the way the chapters in the latter fifth of the book do.
In that last one hundred or so pages, I found it incredibly difficult to put this down, in fact I read the last seventy five or so pages in just about two hours while it took me three weeks to read the middle bits.

2. Being closely related to 1, chapter length.
Nothing slows me down like bloated chapters.
Once it starts hitting seventeen pages or there abouts, my focus starts to drift and it takes far more effort to concentrate on what I’m reading.
Thankfully, that last seventy five pages had quick and snappy chapters as well.
From what long time King fans have told me, that’s something I’ll have to get used to if I continue reading his work.
And make no mistake, I plan to read more of his work eventually.

To answer the question I posed at the beginning of this review: Yes, he can!
Which is honestly shocking, because few things can live up to that much hype.
I mean, for fuck sake, the cover has a pull quote from the LA TIMES calling him a master storyteller.
But he damn well earns the moniker.
The slow burn to madness in Jack Torrance is gutwrenchingly inevitable, but still amazing to watch unfold.
Danny growing in both age and ability over the course of the story is also smooth as silk, deftly handling what could easily come off hamfisted.
His bond with fellow Shiner, Dick Hallorann, also comes through the page with ease.

The bottom line is this was more than worth the wait.
I’ve said many time that I’m more into the journey than the destination, and I’m happy to report Stephen King sure knows how to spin a hell of a journey.
Given the detail he wove into this, it almost seems like his work should strictly be adapted into TV miniseries rather than movies.
The dozens of little seeds that are planted along the way and grow into wonderfully paid off moments make it all come together, to quote the LA TIMES, Masterfully.
I may need some time to catch my breath before I tackle another tome from King, but I’m definitely looking forward to the trek.
Who wouldn’t want to know how little Danny turned out?

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.: Services Rendered Review

Back to the offices of Chambeaux & Deyer we go for more fun & spooky cases in this collection of 9 new stories.
The whole gang is along for the ride too!
Dan Chambeaux: Detective extraordinaire & Zombie.
Robin Deyer: Precedent-setting lawyer for all unnaturals & all around sweetheart.
Sheyenne “Spooky”: Receptionist & Dan’s ghost girlfriend.
Officer Toby “McGoo” McGoohan: Beat Cop & Dan’s BFF, emphasis on the 2nd F.
Let’s see what kind of trouble is about to go down in the UQ, shall we?

For the 20th time, this your official ***SPOILER ALERT***

Let’s get this out of the way right here at the top, just so we’re all clear.
This a Dan Shamble book so we really don’t need to pretend that I may not like it.
There is a 95% chance that I was going to love it and I damn well did.
With that all out in the open I have to say the worst part of this book is that it ended so quickly, and it’s getting sadder and sadder when the adventures in the Unnatural Quarter come to an end.
I just can’t get enough of this oddball family, their interactions, and this entire universe.
Flat out, I fuckin’ love this world and these characters.
It’s creeping dangerously close to Scooby & Star Wars levels of love.

Before we get too deep, go read my review of High Midnight, the 4th story in this collection.
I go a bit more in-depth on that than I may on some of the others.
Anywho, let’s get started on the other stories in here.

There are 2 entries in this collection that I was 100% fascinated by, 1st and foremost would be Paperwork.
This is the shortest of the 9, at about 8 pages long, and it’s basically a short way to get you introduced to this universe & this collection.
An Unnatural divorce sees the spurned husband, a poltergeist, tearing up the office and slinging case files all over the place.
The main cast comes together to reminiscence about the cases as they straighten up.
It feels like pure sitcom clip show set up fun, only without recycling old content.

I hesitate to call the following an issue, because I don’t really feel it’s a complaint as much as it is a hope/suggestion.
But having gotten used to how @TheKJA has done the intros to each story with his Selected Stories series, I would’ve loved to see this one story be multi-part intros to each of the following stories to give us a little bit more fun and help us learn more about these characters.
It really would have brought home the sitcom feel.
It works as is though, and we do learn about these characters and their personalities through the other 8 stories.

The other story that I was fascinated by would be Wishful Thinking.
As KJA said when I interviewed him in Series 5, Ep 2 of TNB Book Club, keen observers will realize that this is the Shamble half of the Kolchak crossover comic that he wrote (hear both Fitz and I review the comic in Episode 43).
The second he told me that I started wondering “now how the hell is that gonna work?”, and to answer that question…pretty damn well!
Obviously while reading this, I could see the changes clear as day, but even more interesting than that is seeing the switch from a visual story to pure prose.
I love comics, but the theater of the mind that simple words on a page can prompt can not be beat.
That alone makes this the better version of this story for me.
Not to mention the singular focus on Dan and this world gives it a less disjointed feel.

I only want to mention 2 other stories in this review, and part of me wanted to rip out 1 of them and make it a special review of its own as it’s seasonally appropriate.
Cold Dead Turkey gives us a story that must be an anthropologist’s wet dream!
Set at Christmas (you know, to take advantage of the extra magic), an Aztec Mummy and an Egyptian Mummy are at odds over a sacrifical turkey being specifically raised to fulfill a centuries long wish.
This one perfectly encapsulates why I love this series.
It is unabashedly and unapologetically ridiculous.
This is what I’m talking about when I say that this series feels like a mix of The Munsters & The Rockford Files.
It’s the perfect balance of humor, monsters, & detective footwork.
It’s up there with Role Model, Hair Raising, & Death Warmed Over as one of my favorite stories in the franchise.

Another one up there would be Game Night.
There’s really no mystery here at all, this is one of those stories that helps us learn a bit more about who these characters are.
This is pure horror, a new spin on this world.
After a rough day in the office for both Dan & Robin, Spooky decides they all need a break, invites McGoo over, and organizes a family game night.
McGoo, hot off of a case of his own, and due to some confusion, rushes over before heading back to UQPD Headquarters to catalogue a vial of evidence.
Contained in the vial is a wish substance a genie tried bribing him with.
They start playing a Zombie Outbreak board game and due to a mishap and some poor wording, the entire crew gets transported into the world of the game.
Seeing the entire gang thrown into a dire situation and how they handle it throws this up there with the stories I mentioned above!

Normally, in a collection this short, I would break down every story and give you reasons why I love each, but I think I’d rather leave some of them for you to discover.
Kevin J. Anderson’s love for this series is clear, the sly world building skills are razor sharp.
A few characters from previous books and stories come back for small cameos that go a long way.
And on a more personal note, as a fan of KJA, I absolutely loved the throwaway mention of the librarian who looks like she “suffers from chronic hemorrhoids”.
If you don’t get that reference, watch this and join the cool kids club.

I want you all to check this out, half because I’m greedy and great sales means I’ll get more.
And half because I genuinely think if you like me, my YouTube channel, Fitz, the Pod, and our collective sense of humor, you will love this series.
It’s so damn good and deserves your attention gang.

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Special thanks to @ACFerrell1976 for her editorial assistance.

TNB Book Club 5.02: Role Model

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Welcome back to The Nerd Blitz Book Club! In this 2nd & final installment of a 2 part series, we are celebrating the recently released Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. short story collection, Services Rendered, by reading and discussing the final 3 chapters of the short story Role Model written by Kevin J. Anderson.

We dissect the detail that only a true fan of all things nerd could understand and nail, monsters and their rules are debated, jokes are made, and fun is had, gang.

So grab a copy of this story, available in the Working Stiff short story collection, and join us in the Unnatural Quarter for this fun read.

Also, right near the top, we were lucky enough to get an interview with the man himself, so enjoy Doom’s near hour long chat with Kevin J. Anderson!

URL: TNB Book Club 5.02: Role Model
Direct Download: tnbbc005002.mp3

Monsterland: Reanimated Review

Threads were left dangling at the end of the first novel, storylines are sure to be followed up on in this second novel, and there are also more monsters in play this time!
But can Michael Okon take what was a pretty damn good opening salvo and turn it into a series that’s worth coming back to again and again?
Can he up the game any more than he did last time?

As is my way, consider this your ***Spoiler Alert***

After an opening where Konrad’s head is rescued by his assistant, Igor, after a pack of wolves ripped it off at the end of the last book, we jump ahead 3 weeks to find a nearly depressed Wyatt Baldwin trying to understand his place in regular life after killing monsters and saving friends.
The government we knew is gone.
All contact with the world outside of Copper Valley is basically cut off.
Carter, Wyatt’s step pappy, is trying to get the town back in order and on its feet.
All while a sinister plot is about to unfold around them.

This adventure in Copper Valley proves, if nothing else, that Okon loves to subvert expectations.
This book is a lot like Kevin Smith’s Red State or The Last Jedi, just when you think it’s about to turn left or right all three just say fuck it and kick it in reverse.
The girl with my favorite arc from the last book, Jade?
Long gone is the kickass girl that was splitting heads, now she is almost childlike in her innocence and clinging to Wyatt.
She is replaced by a possibly shape shifting new girl named Lily in the badass department.
Though Jade does end up serving a purpose, Lily is a better and far more capable character from the moment she’s introduced.
Wyatt, our main character, seems to struggle with where he wants to be.
He can’t quite settle on being a cog in the machine of the group or its leader.

His friend Melvin, who offered himself up to be turned into a werewolf in the previous book, may well be my favorite character this time out the gate.
Last time he felt a little too weak and nerdy, but now he has grown to be a take charge leader of his hybrid Wolf/Coyote pack.
But he also leads to my sole major complaint.
Once The Blob like Glob shows up, Melvin’s pack sacrifices themselves to the gelatinous beast to save him.
Later in the book, which amounts to mere hours later, he rather nonchalantly has moved on and nipped a few other critters and started a new pack.
He really seemed to have a great bond with the 1st group, so moving on so quickly felt a little too cold.
Though there is a member of the new faction that makes it slightly more palatable.

The new monsters in this installment are great!
And, unsurprisingly so, that’s exactly the strength of this series, the creatures.
1st we have the alien fuel-like substance, that the kids call The Glob in honor of the aforementioned Blob, that sucks life out of humans to convert into energy.
The Glob is woven into the origins of 2 of the other new beasts, making for a great sense of comic bookery and continuity.
It also has a weakness that is set up in the 1st book in a deceptively nonchalant way that could almost blast by you if you don’t read these back to back, cause it’s easy to retroactively spot and appreciate it.

Next we have mummies, which I thought were pretty cleverly “brought back to life”.
The zombies that were snuffed out on opening night are wrapped in Glob soaked bandages which brings them back to life and makes them more mindless than before.
Vincent Konrad is revived through Glob as a Frankenstein’s Monster-esque behemoth, though with more intelligence off the bat than the inspiration, bent on world domination.
Lastly we have ghosts making the scene and helping our heroes to purge the scum of Konrad from their sacred site.

To start wrapping up, I have to say Okon balances all of these continuing threads and sets up so many potential future storylines with surprising ease.
It’s hard to put into words and not make it sound like a supreme clusterfuck trainwreck, you really need to witness the execution to understand and appreciate the plates this dude is spinning.
The relationship between Wyatt and Carter is the best arc this go around.
They sort of head back to square one after the quantum leap forward at the end of book one.
At the end of this book, there is no going back again and that’s a good thing.
And Wyatt walking off into the darkness at the end sets up so many potential futures, I can’t wait to see where it goes.

The truth is, while not my favorite book series, I’m fully on board with this saga.
He definitely upped the game and went full tilt post-apocalypse, which is the logical step and bonus points because he pulled it off.
There are slight changes I would have made, I would definitely slow down the pace and spread these stories over a couple days instead of doing the 1 story in 1 day format.
But it does work as is.
Even as all of the heaviness settles in, it still has a tension breaking lightness that makes it accessible.
I repeat what I said last time: “half of me wants to say run out and grab this now, but the other half of me wants to tell you to hold off until book 3 comes out.
I think you’ll devour these 1st 2 fast and immediately be hungry for more.”
Now I have to start the long wait for book 3.
Damn you, Okon!

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Special thanks to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help.

Monsterland Review

From time to time this book has popped up on Twitter in the last year or so since WordFire Press published it, and I have to admit that every time it pissed me off just a little bit.
This is such a great concept that it made me constantly wonder angrily why it took this long for somebody to think of this, hell why didn’t I think of it!?
The idea, at its most simple, is Jurassic Park meets the Universal Monsters, with a touch of political allegory.
But concept and execution are 2 vastly different things.
Can it live up to the genius concept?

As always, this is your ***Official Spoiler Warning***

Wyatt Baldwin and his monster obsessed friends are in their senior year.
But an obsession with monsters in this universe doesn’t mean you never miss an episode of Walking Dead or Supernatural, it means if you go to the seedier parts of town you could possibly run across a starving vampire or find a rotting corpse searching for a fleshy meal.
A pandemic broke out 2 years ago and now a billionaire, Dr. Vincent Konrad, has swooped in to try to save the world from the blight of these assorted beasts with 7 Monsterland theme parks on 6 continents.
Wyatt is in awe of Dr. Konrad and his philanthropic ways, but his newly christened step-dad isn’t impressed.

The worst thing I can say about this novel is that it moves a little too fast.
The vast majority of it takes place in the single night that the park opens, which makes sense, but it speeds along too quickly.
I would’ve loved to have lived in this world for a longer period.
Yes, Okon has said this is the 1st of a series (book 2 is out, he’s in the process of writing 3 & 4), but I wanted this introductory installment to last longer.
Like I’ve said time and again about Shamble, I really want to know more about this world.
The teases of future expansions to the park add to that wondering.
Now, if “this bastard left me wanting more” is the worst thing I can say, is that really a bad thing?

There is a fun sense of unease once they get into the park and you see the 3 different Monsters in their “natural habitat”.
Seeing the layout, the background, and the bullshit Konrad is spinning about the park is incredibly interesting, especially once it all starts unraveling.
And that’s key, when all hell breaks loose, it really hits its stride.

There are a couple moments that feel predictable early on, but he pulls a swerve in the end and doesn’t follow what feels like the obvious path and the book benefits from that.
For instance, early on a few too many mentions of Wyatt’s allegedly dead biological father telegraph that something is coming on that front.
He’s described as being a rather distant and cold lawyer that died and left his money to some “hole-in-the-wall charity”, so my guess was that he would be one of the masterminds behind the park.
Yeah, that isn’t the case…not by a long shot.
It was such a surprise and leads to a pretty impactful development with Wyatt’s stepdad that’s sure to come back around in the next book.

Like any good coming of age story, Wyatt has his eye on a seemingly unattainable girl, it follows the path of the 1st Sam Raimi Spider-Man in that respect.
This nerdy kid, who has more friends than Peter Parker, pines for the girlfriend of the school football star, Jade.
I really think her arc is probably my favorite.
In the earlier chapters, Jade comes off as that super cute girl next door.
But by the end of the book a history of darkness is revealed and she gets to have one of the most kick ass moments in the story.
I hope the sequel picks that thread up and runs with it.

Bottom line, it does live up to its concept and takes it interesting places, executing and elevating.
It’s shorter than you’d hope, but I wonder if that’s purposefully done to make you want to dive into the sequel even faster.
For a book I keep calling short and fast, I’ve barely scratched the surface on the many storylines, but I’ll leave those for you to discover.
Half of me wants to say run out and grab this now, but the other half of me wants to tell you to hold off until book 3 comes out.
I think you’ll devour these 1st 2 fast and immediately be hungry for more.

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Special thanks to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help.

Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories: Horror And Dark Fantasy Review

This collection is intensely curious.
I, and I’m gonna guess many others, never pegged Kevin J. Anderson for a dude with a dark side.
I listen to his Pod (Creative Futurism), I have heard his Building My 1st Lightsaber/Popcorn Theory Of Success talk (which I highly recommend all creative types watch here), and I’ve seen and heard countless interviews with the man and he really comes off easy going and unflappable.
But this book feels like he’s purposely out to break your preconceived notions of him, his personality, and his style and I loved nearly every word of it.

As is usually the case round here, consider this your official ***Spoiler Alert***, gang.

1st and foremost, just to get this out of the way, the best story in this book is Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I.: Role Model.
I was hoping he would include a Shamble story in one of these Fantasy volumes, I would have been supremely disappointed had he left out this character.
I talked a bit about this story in my review of Working Stiff, so I won’t go over it again.
But I have 2 things I have to say in regard to this entry.
1. We are going to go over this story with a fine tooth comb next month in Series 5 of The Nerd Blitz Book Club, so keep your eyes peeled for that.
And 2. The little intro revealed something I didn’t know, I love this Shamble story almost as much as KJA himself and, though it should be obvious, his love for this story is apparent in the extremely short intro.
At least until Services Rendered comes out, this is the best of the Shamble short stories, I really can’t recommend it enough.

The 2nd best story is the 27th of 29, The Sum Of His Parts.
It’s a Frankenstein story that KJA developed for the 2005 Dean Koontz novel Frankenstein: Prodigal Son as background and went unused.
It’s the story of how Victor Frankenstein acquired the various body parts to create his monster and it is delightfully chilling.
This one plays like the best anthology movies, a little bit Pulp Fiction and a heaping helping of Trick R Treat.
Seeing certain events from multiple perspectives and how they impact characters is a stroke of genius that I don’t have the confidence many other writers could pull off.
Reading this I couldn’t help but wonder why this hasn’t been turned into a movie itself, it is a great twist on the classic story.

But showing his love for the old Universal icons, Frankenstein’s isn’t the only classic monster on display here, there a few Vampire/Dracula stories in here that really pop as well.
Rude Awakening, The Fate Worse Than Death, & Much At Stake all handle that specific monster in inventive and fresh ways.
Two deal with the monsters being awakened from their slumber, but diverging down vastly different paths and one features a doped up Bela Lugosi and Vlad The Impaler having a meeting through time to discuss the power of fear and reputation.

As I said above, this volume of short stories seems to be about bucking your expectations, and it does.
One of the earliest examples of this trend is the story, written with musician Janis Ian, Dark Carbuncle.
I have to say, on behalf of Thornton Velbiss, KJA is a real torturous bastard!
Velbiss is a swear-slinging rockstar (my kinda guy!) who died, but a particularly dedicated group of his fans aren’t ready to let go just yet.
They resurrect him in the hope of getting him to play his classic song for many years to come.
Exasperated due to his hatred of the hit, he drops to his knees and bellows for mercy from the almighty…and ends up possibly playing the tune for all eternity.
It’s the M. Night-esque middle finger twist I’m coming to love from Anderson.
Keeping with the musical theme, he includes 2 stories written with legendary RUSH drummer, and his long time friend, Neil Peart that are fun and make you want to find the other stories they wrote together.

Tucker’s Grove (the fictional Wisconsin small town I was first introduced to when I read Selected Stories: Fantasy) is really the star of this book.
I’m damn skippy between these 2 Fantasy volumes he has republished nearly, if not, all 13 of the stories from the 2011 short story collection focused on the town.
The depth of thought that he put into the history of this little hamlet over the years is admirable.
It’s his “Derry, Maine” or “Arkham, Massachusetts”, and you can tell he has the small town experience to draw on and make it feel legitimate.

I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of explaining this grouping of prose, but I know I’m running long.
I’ll start wrapping up by saying that this book features horror of all stripes, it feels like it covers more bases than the previous two Selected Stories collections combined.
You get classic monsters, modern slasher, humor, and psychological horror.
There is murder, abduction, betrayal, revenge, thievery, and magic curses in abundance, not to mention all of the sex, drugs, & rock ‘n roll that comes along with all of that.

Despite my love of the Dan Shamble, Zombie P.I. series, I almost feel ashamed for still viewing KJA as the guy that just writes epic Science Fiction novels.
Stories range from back in 1984 up to flash fiction written during his MFA courses in 2018, giving a sense of how prolific and various he has always been.
And that has been my main take away from this Selected Stories series.
I have never hated a single thing I’ve read of his, but I, and a lot of people, had this dude pigeon-holed.
Age Rings (which he told me on Twitter he wrote in 15 minutes) alone should shatter all of that.
He can shift gears and write any genre with the best of them and he fuckin’ knows it.
Welcome to the dark side, sir, I hope you visit more often.

Kevin J. Anderson’s Selected Stories: Horror And Dark Fantasy is available October 15th in Paperback, E-Format, and Hardcover.
Pre-order it on Amazon or wherever you buy books.

Special thanks to @acferrell1976 for her editorial help on these reviews.

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