Audrey Niffenegger is mostly known for her bestselling and film adapted novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, but if you know her other work, the gothic novel Her Fearful Symmetry or her dark graphic novels such as Raven Girl, you won’t be surprised to learn she’s had a lifelong fascination with the otherworldly. Ghostly collects her favorite ghost stories, from the classic to the obscure, with illustrations and introductions to each. It’s like receiving a thoughtful mixtape from a friend who wants to unsettle you.
There are perennial classics here such as M.R. James’ “The Mezzotint,” in which a collector is troubled by something in the background of a photo that appears to be moving. There are also modern masterpieces like Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat,” in which a babysitter teaches two girls how to play Dead, which is different from being dead and has its own rules. And there are also very funny pieces like Amy Giacalone’s “Tiny Ghosts,” in which a woman is taking a bath and reading her favorite book when a tiny door opens next to her faucet and a little ghost comes out.
Ghost stories traditionally focus more on mood and atmosphere rather than the jump scares and viscera that are obligatory in other horror genres, and so there’s almost no blood dropped in any of these tales (apart from Poe’s “The Black Cat,” which is terribly gory and ironically the only story here likely to be read in elementary schools.) This means that theoretically you could read some of these stories to the little ones by campfire or by flashlight. Just don’t be surprised if they don’t thank you for it!
For edgier scares, check out the new teen horror anthology Slasher Girls and Monster Boys or for safer horror, the children’s classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
Nikesh Shukla’s second novel Meatspace is what happens when the fractals of a man’s loneliness are traced through social media and reassembled into a spectre of depression. Tweets, status updates and blog posts are the 2015 equivalent of wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, and the characters in Meatspace are all very expressive. Cut through the gristly irony and melodrama, and the remaining sinew shows readers how Shukla’s cast of aimless authors are feeling at any given moment of their days — except when they’re on the Tube.
Kitab Balasubramanyam was fired from his job in London for writing a novel in a secret Google doc instead of earning his pay. Now he’s holed up in a bachelor pad with his brother Aziz and a fridge full of chutney that his ex-girlfriend Rach left behind. Every minute of every day he’s online, randomly liking his relatives’ status updates and photos on Facebook or deleting and rephrasing a tweet to sound more authorial as he checks the nonexistent sales figures of his now-published book. Living off his mother’s life insurance policy is only going to get him so far, so he’s trying to make the author thing work out by doing readings at local pubs, which is going as fantastically as it sounds.
Dawdling in the bar bathroom after his latest stint at the mic, Kitab Balasubramanyam meets another guy who is also floating through life: Kitab Balasubramanyam. A second Indian guy at the same exact London pub book reading with the same exact name. Weirdness ensues.
Every chapter starts with a glimpse at Kitab’s browser history and is permeated with hashtags and blog posts and stored tweet drafts, all of which jigsaw together to illustrate how not-okay he is. Meatspace is brimming with pop culture references so relevant it’s like Nikesh Shukla has found a way to make ninja edits to the print copies, as if it wasn’t already impressive enough.
Gotham Academy’s Olive Silverlock doesn’t pretend to be a slice of life protagonist. She’s a high school student at a gloomy Halloween-Castle-esque school in the heart of Gotham, dealing with hauntings, crocodiles in the pipework, mysterious and unwelcome cult meetings in the friendly campus mausoleum and, of course, semi-regular visits from Bruce Wayne himself. Authors Becky Cloonan and Brenden Fletcher follow the creed of “start your story as late as possible” — although this is only volume one, Olive’s life is already in chaos as she deals with the outcome of her mysterious summer. Everyone seems to be whispering about what happened to her, and what it was that could be causing her to act so distant, even frightening. What connection does Olive’s new demeanor have to her mother, recently committed to Arkham Asylum? Will it strain her relationship with her boyfriend Kyle to the breaking point, or alienate his sister, chipper genius Maps? Don’t look for answers just yet, because the story’s just getting started.
Gotham Academy, Vol. 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy is teen experience expressed honestly and beautifully. With grounded yet fantastical writing and Karl Kerschl’s absorbing artwork, each page brings you fully into a wonderfully gothic and magical universe comparable to Narnia and Hogwarts. Kerschl’s environments especially should be commended, since he elevates each page to the style of classical painting with his detail, lighting and diverse color palettes.
I managed to catch up with one of the Small Press Expo’s special guests, British illustrator and cartoonist Gemma Correll, while she was in town for the convention. Gemma has recently released Pig and Pug, a picture book about an unlikely friendship, and The Worrier’s Guide to Life, a comic strip collection that strikes a humorous balance between The New Yorker cartoons and cat memes.
Between The Covers: Is there anyone at SPX you’re excited to meet?
Gemma Correll: I know Kate Beaton’s here. That’s quite exciting. But I’ll probably be too scared to say anything. I thought comics people were meant to be really introverted, but it seems like everyone is really outgoing.
BTC: That’s one of the reasons I like your work so much, because you’ve pretty much nailed what I feel like as an introvert. When you make comics about any social anxieties or issues you’re working through, do you think it’s therapeutic in any way?
GC: Yeah, it is very therapeutic. That’s why I started doing that kind of comic in the first place. I’ve always done diary comics and if I’m anxious about something I tend to draw to get through it. I draw on planes a lot because I get really anxious on planes. But I feel like I look really aloof because I’m drawing. I’m not trying to be rude.
BTC: How many sketchbooks have you filled to date?
GC: If we count from when I left college, about 30 — some are bigger than others though.
BTC: You’re just finding other ways of interacting. Pig and Pug, that’s a story about two friends who don’t like each other at first but, in spite of themselves, they start to become friends. Would it be wrong to classify them as “frenemies”?
GC: Yeah, I think that’s probably the right word.
BTC: Was that a theme you felt tied to, or were you more drawn to the animal aspect of Pig and Pug?
GC: It’s kind of a bit of both. The first thing was that it’s a pug. If it’s a pug I have to do it, it’s like a law.
BTC: Have you gotten tired of pugs yet?
GC: I never get tired of doing pugs. I just worry about other people getting tired of me doing pugs all the time. The story is for really young kids and it’s very simple and very funny. I do like the undertones of them being frenemies but really loving each other. It’s one of those things when people are similar in temperament and they clash. I went and visited the author [Lynne Berry] in Nashville. She doesn’t have a pug, she has Boston Terriers but Boston Terrier isn't alliterative. But she does have a pig. And the pig was really sweet and really, really grumpy. She would kind of snort at you unless you fed her.
BTC: That sounds like my dog.
GC: Yeah, that’s what my pugs are like as well — grumpy unless you’ve got treats for them.
BTC: What do you think it takes to be a pug aficionado? I don’t think there’s really a term for people who really love pugs, is there?
GC: No. There should be. I was going to say pugaphile, but that sounds pretty weird. Not pugaphile. [laughs] Yeah, pugs are kind of cat-like in certain ways, so I can see the similarity with a cat-lady because they’re lap dogs and pug people get obsessive with pug stuff. You’ll have everything with pugs on it. I’ve got a ridiculous amount of stuff with pugs on them.
BTC: And you’ve contributed to that with your pug merchandise.
GC: I know, it’s my own fault. It seems to be a certain kind of person who loves pugs, generally. Maybe more odd people? Which is fine, I’m one of them.
BTC: You’ve been really prolific recently. As well as Pig and Pug, you have the line of “Doodling…” activity books, How to Be a Girl and The Worriers Guide to Life. What do you think is the most effective habit that you’ve developed to produce so much work?
GC: Drinking coffee. I don’t know. I’ve always just drawn so much that it just kind of comes naturally. If I’m not drawing, I feel a bit lost. I find it hard to say no to things and I’m always working on my own work anyway.
BTC: You’ve had some interesting side projects recently, including a mural — is that right?
GC: I painted a mural of my characters. It was a local project in Norwich to brighten up an underpass. I didn’t really have the time to do it, but I really wanted to do it.
BTC: Your work actually covers a pretty wide range of interests. Is it just natural because you have that many interests or do you think about your audience?
GC: Yeah, it comes out of having so many interests and, quite often, I worry that I do too much different stuff. I can’t help myself. I love pugs and I love drawing them but I don’t want to only draw pugs.
BTC: But there are some running themes in your work, including gags about millennials. You’re still young enough to be a millennial, what is your take on the way they’re portrayed in media?
GC: Well, it’s pretty negative, isn’t it? Every generation above thinks the next generation is ridiculous, so I like making fun of that. I am a millennial and I do drink coffee every day and have tattoos. But I don’t think people see how millennials are affected by finance and housing issues.
BTC: You recently helped to get Eat More Comics kickstarted, how was that process?
GC: It was really, really good. Although The Nib doesn’t exist on Medium.com anymore, it was such a good online anthology. I feel like it all deserves to be remembered. Some of the things on there were really hard-hitting and clever. A lot of those comics have disappeared into the void of the Internet.
BTC: I guess it’s exemplifying a weird stage in Internet publishing. You have to preserve content in some way, if it’s not going to be online. That’s why print’s not dead.
GC: No, it’s not. I don’t think you could ever get what you get from a book on the Internet.
BTC: So is there anything you’re working on right now?
GC: I am working on a feminist coloring book. It’s not connected to the “Doodling…” books, it’s more in depth. I’m having a lot of fun with it. The publisher is Seal Press in New York and they publish a lot of social, political and feminist books.
BTC: Did that evolve out of your working with How to Be a Girl or was it something you were already planning?
GC: It came out of my Four Eyes comics. I’ve done a few which are not explicitly feminist comics but have the theme of body image and things like that. I think they saw it online and thought they could do something with it. So I worked with them to come up with something that is partly educational and partly fun.
BTC: That’s always an extremely difficult challenge, to find a good balance between those two. But there is such a great outpouring of work in the feminist bent making it into pop culture. Which is exciting.
GC: There’s a lot of books like Caitlin Moran’s books and humor books about feminism but there isn’t a coloring book yet.
BTC: But now there will be! What are you currently reading?
GC: At the moment I am reading Girls Will Be Girls. It’s a feminist book by and about Emer O’Toole, an Irish writer. It’s a humorous book about various concerns — there’s a whole chapter on body hair. It’s part memoir, part essays.
BTC: What drove your research for the feminist coloring book?
GC: It is such a wide theme. I wanted to put a lot of basic stuff in because some of the people who are reading it will be more knowledgeable than others. Also, because it’s an American publisher I’ve been reading up about American feminism, like the Seneca Falls conference. The Emer O’Toole book I was reading anyway. That’s just good for seeing how you can write about feminism in a funny way.
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The world of Akame ga KILL! is like a frenetic mash-up of The Hunger Games and Attack on Titan. The premiere volume of the 2010 manga series made its U.S. debut in March, pitting vivacious and foolhardy swordsman Tatsumi against the Capital, an affluent city rife with corruption and depravity.
Surrounded on all sides by roving gangs of assassins, rebel armies and nomadic tribes of ferals, the Capital is many impoverished settlers’ only hope — or option — for survival. Tatsumi embarks for the Capital from his village with his friends Sayo and Ieyasu, dreaming of becoming a renowned mercenary. The three are separated during an ambush; Tatsumi assumes his friends will journey to the Capital to regroup, so he does the same, utilizing his superior skills in battle to aid fellow travelers along the way.
When he arrives, Tatsumi is awestruck by the sights and smells of the city. Amidst the aristocracy, he finds a tavern and encounters Leone, a cat-like vixen who cons him out of all his earnings from the journey’s battles. Now desperate, Tatsumi sheepishly accepts an offer of lodging from a wealthy family in exchange for his service as a guard at their estate.
As quickly as Tatsumi settles into his new routine as a sentry, a team of brutal assassins assaults the estate and murders the entire family in cold blood. Tatsumi protects the family’s youngest daughter from a skilled female ninja, but she cajoles the girl into revealing her family’s terrible secret. The assassins are impressed by Tatsumi’s unwavering demeanor and “kidnap” him after the ordeal to offer him a choice: join their ranks and become a killer by trade or die.
Akame ga KILL! Vol. 1 is filled with characters who hide their lunacies behind perfect façades absolutely begging to be sliced in twain, and there is no shortage of bloodshed in the first volume. Manga and anime fans who revel in seeing justice gracefully dispensed with a katana will surely dig this.
There’s a new sheriff in town. The town just happens to be a rundown mining hub on a fringe planet populated by all manner of ill-tempered aliens, and the sheriff just happens to be Clara Bronson, a single mother looking for a fresh start. Copperhead: Vol. 1 is a genre-bending classic in the making, and the recent release of its first collected volume makes this the perfect time to jump onboard.
As if Sherriff Bronson didn’t have enough on her plate helping her son adjust to their new home and earning the respect of her grumpy deputy, Budroxifinicus, things get particularly tough for her when she gets called to investigate the brutal massacre of a local family on her very first day on the job. The investigation that follows leads Sherriff Bronson from neighborly squabbles to the seedy criminal underbelly of the local mining industry. Look no further for a tense mystery that’ll keep you guessing to the very end.
Writer Jay Faerber and artist Scott Godlewski have crafted a truly unique world here. The dusty mining town at the heart of the story is populated by a colorful cast of humans and aliens alike. Crooked industry tycoons, artificial humanoid soldiers leftover from a war long concluded and the wild creatures lurking in the wastes just outside of town are just a few of the fascinating inhabitants that come into play. Colorist Ron Riley ties the package together with a unique mix of vibrant colors and gritty textures that grant a distinct Old West style to the science fiction world. The final result of this fantastic collaboration is a world that fits in somewhere between Fargo and Blade Runner. The quirky cast, unforgettable setting and intricate plot make for a truly exceptional take on the classic murder mystery that’s sure to entertain.
Sending people backward or forward through time has been done so many times that authors Adam Mansbach and Alan Zweibel decided on a fresh take with time traveling mail in Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My...!
Franklin Isaac Saturday, preferably known as "Ike," is stuck in the social bubble known as middle school. Although his school life isn't super terrible — he's kissed two girls and he's usually picked somewhere in the middle for sports teams — it could definitely be better. Popularity seems to be the only thing the other students care about, and Ike feels that he is always grasping for it. His troubles also include his stepdad, his crush on Claire Wanzandae with her cherry blossom-and-gasoline-scented hair and that his first name is "Franklin" because his dad thought Benjamin Franklin was cool.
So when Ike's history teacher assigns the class an extra credit letter-writing assignment, he chooses to write to his namesake about all of his grievances. As a joke to make Claire laugh, Ike actually mails his letter. Imagine his disbelief when he receives a reply from Ben Franklin a few days later.
While initially skeptical, once Ike believes the correspondence is real, he seeks advice from Ben about his life and, in return and unasked, he feeds the Founding Father tidbits about America's history and present. It's one thing for Ike to share his problems with Ben and quite another thing when Ike shares evidence with him that could affect the course of American history.
Don't be fooled! Benjamin Franklin: Huge Pain in My...! is a teen book in middle grade packaging which is in line with Mansbach's previous books (New York Times bestsellers Go the F**k to Sleep and You Have to F**king Eat). That said, Mansbach and Zweibel created a funny story centered around the idea of mail that can travel through time. Judging from the climatic ending, there may be a sequel in the future.
Fans of Andy Gavin's Untimed, another teen time-traveling novel featuring Ben Franklin and disguised as middle grade fiction, will enjoy this book as well.
It’s December 1941, and a slumbering country awakes to the realities of war in Susan Elia MacNeal’s Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante. Maggie Hope returns to America as part of Winston Churchill’s entourage. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the United States and Great Britain cement their ties and discuss strategy at the White House. During this delicate stage in their relationship, political enemies of the Roosevelts’ and their New Deal will do anything to harass the President — even if it undermines the war effort.
Mrs. Roosevelt, always passionate about domestic affairs, becomes involved in the scheduled execution of a 15-year-old sharecropper who shot a Virginia landowner. The President is now focused on winning the war and preventing the descent of a new Dark Age. In order to do this, he must have the support of the entire country, including the Jim Crow South. Virginia’s governor sees a way to disgrace the Roosevelt administration and simultaneously reduce the public pressure to reprieve the young inmate. His henchman sees a way to get into the governor’s good graces and ride his coattails into the White House. Maggie Hope must find a way to protect Eleanor Roosevelt from scandal, support the President’s strong leadership position and thus save Britain from Nazi rule.
Once again, Susan Elia MacNeal provides a strong sense of place and captures the uncertainty of that turbulent time. It is a fascinating portal into the society of the 1940s; the marginalized role of women, the powerlessness of the minority, the awful power vested in the politicians we trust. Fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd and James Benn will appreciate the strong characters and the exploration of subjects we often forget. While we tend to think of World War II as the time everyone came together for a common cause, the reality was far from this idealized picture.
They say "Don't judge a book by its cover," but if you glance at the front cover of Stephen Kings' novel Finders Keepers then you can assume one thing, and that is: There will be blood. Oh, and there will be crime, violence and gore.
Finders Keepers goes back and forth between the past and present to follow the lives of two main characters — Morris Bellamy and Pete Saubers, born decades apart. Morris and Pete eventually meet face to face because they have a great deal in common. For instance, they are both obsessed with the same person, who happens to be dead.
The story kicks off in 1979 and introduces us to Morris Bellamy, a 23-year-old criminal obsessed with a famous American author named John Rothstein and his Jimmy Gold trilogy. Morris and his partners in crime pay Rothstein an unwelcome visit. They rob the author of his bank envelopes stuffed with cash, his Moleskine notebooks filled with unpublished writings...and his life. Paranoia sets in. Morris thinks the cop will track him down. This causes him to hide the stolen goods in a trunk and bury it in the woods behind his house. Although Morris robbed and killed Rothstein, he ends up receiving life in prison for committing a different crime.
Decades later, a teenager named Pete Saubers, who now lives in Morris’ house, discovers Morris’ trunk and takes the cash and notebooks. He behaves like a secret Santa by mailing the cash to his parents, who had fallen on hard times and were on the verge of a divorce. When Pete reads what’s inside the Moleskine notebooks, he becomes a devoted fan of John Rothstein and his Jimmy Gold novels. John Rothstein changes him.
Morris, now nearly 60 years old, gets parole. He only has one thing on his mind, the Moleskine notebooks. After spending 35 years in prison, Morris believes his trunk is still safely buried behind his former home. When Morris finds out that Pete is the new owner of the Moleskine notebooks, it infuriates him. There is a standoff between the old Morris and the young Pete. They both want the Moleskine notebooks. There will be blood, lots of it.
Finders Keepers is a keeper. I definitely recommend this book. The story gets better and better after each turn of the page. If you like this novel, you will certainly like Mr. Mercedes also by Stephen King. While not required, I highly recommend Mr. Mercedes since it provides backstory for important events and characters mentioned in Finders Keepers. To find out more about Stephen King and his upcoming projects visit stephenking.com.