Can a person con their way out of a "lawyer-tight" contract that promises his or her soul to the Devil upon death? K. J. Parker, a two-time winner of the World Fantasy Award, will elegantly feed you this delicious information in his science fiction and fantasy novella The Devil You Know.
“...Why exactly do you want to sell your soul to us?” This is a question that a demon case officer, who is in the soul buying business, asks his new client, Saloninus, the world’s greatest philosopher, liar, cheat and trickster. Time flew by rather quickly for Saloninus, a 77-year-old man who believes he wasted his talent on scheming others. Unhappy with the fact that he has no self-respecting achievements, he decides to sign a contract to sell his soul to the Devil in order to acquire 20 more years of life on Earth and a youthful transformation to age 25 for the opportunity to make a mark on history. Once Saloninus signs the contract, the demon case officer becomes his servant, who uses his own supernatural abilities to grant Saloninus outlandish requests. When the demon questions Saloninus about what he plans to do with his additional years on Earth, the philosopher behaves suspiciously. This behavior gives the demon a reason to believe that the old trickster is up to his old tricks again and that his target is… the Devil. Saloninus is supposed to be the cleverest man on Earth. Will Saloninus successfully swindle the Devil? The demon case officer is supposed to be the best in the business. Will he halt Saloninus’ plan? To swindle or not to swindle, that is the question.
Readers who relish stories that involve the supernatural, mortality and good and evil, will find K. J. Parker’s novella The Devil You Know delightful and possibly frightful. Add this entertaining treat to your summer reading list — if you dare.
Evie Boyd is that lady — the one who was a member of the hippie cult that committed those horrific murders. Acquired as part of a three book deal for a rumored two million dollars, Emma Cline’s hotly anticipated debut, The Girls, focuses on a 14-year-old drawn into a charismatic cult. It’s no secret that the fictional leader of the group, Russell, is a stand-in for the notorious Charles Manson.
The novel begins as current day Evie looks back on that transformative summer of 1969. Cline shines at illuminating the dark, sullen corners of the adolescent experience and, in her hands, readers have no doubt as to why plain, ordinary Evie eagerly follows the enigmatic young women she first spies at the park. She wants to be noticed, to belong, to be rescued from boredom.
The girls from the park are titillating in their openness. Evie is invited to the solstice celebration at their dilapidated ranch in the hills, a party with a banquet culled from a back alley dumpster and plenty of drugs and drink. Suzanne lends her a flowing dress, reeking of rodent droppings, from a community clothing rack. And when Russell finally appears, beaming and barefoot in filthy jeans and buckskin, Evie struggles to see to see the brilliance they all assure is behind the intensity of his stare. Later that night, she’s presented to him as an offering. Russell specializes in sad girls like Evie, willing to do anything for attention.
Soon she’s a part of the group, stealing from her mother’s purse to make offerings, frequently staying the night and hanging out with the famous musician who is sure to help make Russell a household name. She flits between home and the ranch, and all the while her distracted mother thinks she’s at a girlfriend’s house. The sadder and wiser adult Evie’s observations about her younger self make the reader ache. Lucky for Evie, she never gets pulled all the way in, and when Russell’s demands become increasingly dangerous, she’s left out. The Girls is as much a coming of age story as it is a sordid, cautionary tale and a study in cult psychology. Cline’s descriptive writing propels the story, and many of her observations beg to be read aloud. As a high concept literary page turner, The Girls delivers.
One of mainstream comics’ greatest talents, Darwyn Cooke, passed away in May. His work was characterized by a nostalgia for superhero comics of the Silver Age, but with a sense of social justice and outrage that was often overlooked.
He got his foot in the door drawing storyboards for Batman: The Animated Series, still one of the most enduring interpretations of the character, and went on to do various critically acclaimed runs on Catwoman and Batman, the controversial Before Watchmen miniseries and his graphic adaptations of Richard Stark’s Parker novels.
He’s best remembered for his masterwork DC: The New Frontier, which swallowed the entire DC universe in one gulp and spit it back out as a post-World War II story that didn’t shy away from the darker truths of that era. It reinvigorated the “good old days” by depicting heroes who had a harder time reconciling their ideals with the country that they fought for. He even took on the unenviable task of retelling Will Eisner’s The Spirit, and carried the torch from the master dazzlingly. Never afraid of pushing his work in new directions, his last book The Twilight Children with Gilbert Hernandez of Love & Rockets fame is a magical realist story in the tradition of Gabriel García Márquez.
The superhero genre offers an optimistic escape at the best of times but, Darwyn Cooke was a creator who never looked away from the world, instead showing us how to appreciate it with a rageful optimism. He will be remembered.
A split-second decision; a hand raised to brush away an annoyance, a little boy deciding to race his mother home, and tragedy strikes in I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh. A terrible accident that takes the life of a child is compounded by the driver’s escape from the scene. After months of grinding investigation, false leads and frustrating witness statements, the driver is never found. Despite instructions from his superiors, Inspector Ray Stevens refuses to relegate the investigation to the cold case files. Compulsively committed, Stevens continues a covert inquiry.
Consumed by grief and regret, Jenna abandons her successful career as an artist and the life she knows and seeks seclusion in a seaside town in Wales. The harshly scenic surroundings inspire her to fresh artistic expression. Gradually, the nightmares wane and Jenna begins to heal. Just as she hesitantly reaches out and makes friends, her past life reappears with unpredictable and horrifying consequences.
Mackintosh leads the reader down these parallel paths until they converge with unexpectedly shocking results. Beautifully written, this deeply emotional subject matter is handled with skill and grace. Elegantly plotted, deeply imagined characters and unpredictable revelations combine to create an enthralling story. With the twists of The Girl on the Train and the emotional resonance of The Husband’s Secret, this compulsive read will haunt you long after you close the cover.
In the world of the Six Princes, each nation is ruled by a House that is adept in a particular kind of magic. For Lily of House Shadow, descended from necromancers and dark wizards, this magic — Shadow Magic — is forbidden to her, because she’s a girl. Her brother, the heir to the throne of Gehenna, the land of the undead, could learn magic, but she couldn’t.
When her family is assassinated, she becomes queen, a role she never was expected to fill. She’s also now the only one who can fulfill the marriage arrangement between House Shadow and House Solar, rulers of the Lumina, the land of light, who were previously House Shadow’s mortal enemy. Per the agreement, she will have to leave everything she loves and knows and move to her obnoxious fiancé’s homeland if she hopes to maintain the shaky peace between their Houses.
In another nation, the peasant boy Thorn is trying to find his father when he’s captured and sold as a slave to House Shadow’s executioner Tyburn. He faces a life far from everything he knows, trapped in service to the rulers of a world of shadow and darkness, where rumor says vampires roam freely and the dead are House Shadow’s army. He’s not exactly thrilled at the thought of becoming some monster’s lunch.
Meeting at Castle Gloom, these two unlikely allies will have to rely on each other to keep Lily in Gehenna, keep Thorn out of trouble, uncover a plot to overthrow House Shadow and stop a murderous necromancer from raising an army of zombies. Their allies include a captured prince from another nation and a giant bat, but their enemies may be a lot closer than they know.
The first in a series, Joshua Khan’s debut children’s book is full of macabre fantasy, daring adventure and a dash of political intrigue. Shadow Magic is an action-packed mystery with plenty of surprises. The illustrations are delightful, the characters are complex and the cliffhangers will keep readers guessing until the end. Any fan of the Percy Jackson or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series should check out Shadow Magic. Readers also won’t have to wait long for the second book; it’s already slated to be published next year.
Have you ever wanted to be in your favorite book? Make sure the bad guys lose? Maybe change the entire course of the story? Of course you have; you’re reading this blog. In Michael R. Underwood’s Genrenauts: The Shootout Solution, Leah Tang can be your stand-in. Leah is a stand-up comedian trying to make a name for herself in Baltimore and enduring all the frustrating nonsense that being an Asian female comic in a dive bar can provide: drunken hecklers, rude come-ons, people who completely misunderstand a really good joke. But Leah presses on, despite the bar owner’s lack of support for anyone other than drunken louts. By the end of her set, she has attracted attention of both the wanted and unwanted kinds.
The wanted kind: He was the only one who got her jokes. Why not go along for the ride? Being a smart person, Leah texts her friend to let her know she is heading down I-97 with a strange man who had promised her a job.
At the Genrenauts Foundation building, however, Leah begins to rethink her life choices. What’s with 19th century period attire? Why is a woman being wheeled down the hall in a gurney? What’s with the thing that looks suspiciously like a spaceship? Leah almost walks away. When they step off the spaceship into the wild, wild West, she wishes she had run when she had the chance. How can she help save the so-called real world if she cannot figure out the tropes and devices of even one Genre World?
If you like the TV show Leverage or the books of Jasper Fforde, Genrenauts is absolutely the series for you. Exploring genre tropes while saving the world has never been more fun. And be sure to check out the second in the series, Genrenauts: The Absconded Ambassador!
Five eccentric geniuses, the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit, are gathered and given free rein to improve the world as they see fit. Years after the five initiate their mysterious means to “make the 21st century more interesting,” they begin to see the bizarre and occasionally horrifying repercussions of their inexplicable experiment. Injection by Warren Ellis is a truly unique experience; it dips its toes in science fiction, horror, action and even a little bit of traditional folklore, and meanders nonlinearly through different characters’ stories, leaving it up to the reader to decrypt the tale of “the Injection.”
Long after the Cultural Cross-Contamination Unit have parted ways, they each begin coming into contact with the twisted fruit of their earlier labor. What began as a seemingly innocent computer program eventually leads to a number of horrifying scenes, including a computer speaking through a mutilated human host and an ancient legend about monstrous pixies being made real by a malicious artificial intelligence. These surreal scenes and the more grounded everyday lives of the characters, including a surprising number of sandwiches illustrated and mentioned throughout the course of the book, are rendered masterfully by artist Declan Shalvey and colorist Jordie Bellaire, whose styles mesh wonderfully to highlight the rapidly shifting tone of the book.
Fans of Warren Ellis will recognize his signature combination of science and magic at work here. The two are closely linked in this story, and Ellis takes his time exploring the similarities as he slowly unravels the truth behind the mysterious “injection.” Something like a particularly dreamlike episode of the X-Files, Injection is a wild ride that explores the ways that people interact with technology and the shocking ways that technology could start to react. If you enjoy Injection, try Moon Knight: From the Dead by the same creative team.
Jane Eyre is not the most charming of classic literary heroines. Readers who love her are die-hard fans, and readers who don’t are baffled that she has fans at all. Lindsay Faye’s new book Jane Steele breathes fresh life into this complex classic character. While Faye’s heroine loves Bronte’s classic novel, and even faces some similar experiences as the original Jane, her response to these circumstances makes her a heroine modern readers will swoon for, regardless of how they feel about her namesake. While Faye may borrow a few plot points from Bronte, this is not a retelling of Jane Eyre.
Jane Steele is orphaned and left in the care of an aunt who seems to despise her. Jane is sent to a horrendous boarding school where girls are starved and humiliated. While Eyre accepted these trials as part of her lot, Steele takes matters into her own hands. She begins her story by telling us, “Of all my many murders, committed for love and for better reasons, the first was the most important." This Jane is a kind of vigilante, righting the wrongs of society.
After abruptly leaving Lowan Bridge School, then surviving and even thriving on some of London’s less savory streets, she finds a governess position at a large estate owned by Mr. Charles Thornfield. At Highgate House, she finds an intriguing cast of characters. Thornfield, recently returned to England after years serving in the Punjab, seems to be harboring secrets. His entire household, including his charming young ward, are all Sikhs, and in this exotic and strange new household Jane feels more at home than she ever has before.
This newfound happiness is jeopardized when she finds herself falling in love with her employer, even as she tries to hide her own unsavory past. And, can she say for certain she will never murder again?
This homicidal heroine, and her confessional style narrative will captivate readers. Fans should also check out The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell, Tracy Chevalier’s Reader, I Married Him: Stories Inspired by Jane Eyre and Nelly Dean: A Return to Wuthering Heights by Alison Case.