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The Hike

posted by: August 23, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The HikeFor suburbanite Ben, what starts out as a dull business trip to the Poconos rapidly becomes a horrifying ordeal of epic proportions when he decides to go for The Hike through the local woods. Pursued by a menagerie of monsters through locations found nowhere on Earth, Ben struggles to survive. As he stumbles from one nightmare into the next, he longs for a way to escape the path and return to his family. But to leave the path is to die, and Ben will have to find his way if he ever wants to make it home again.

 

The Hike is a bloody mash-up of genres, as if author Drew Magary threw The Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland and the top 10 B horror movies of all time into a blender to see what would happen. The book is a wild ride from start to finish; once the action starts, it never really lets up. Some of the images are gory, yes, and some of the monsters are really grotesque, but Magary never lets Ben’s experiences on the path descend into the literary equivalent of torture porn. There is a purpose to what Ben is enduring and a destination he has to reach, and the quest-like feel of the narration keeps the plot from being bogged down by too much horror. The violence and heartbreak Ben endures is balanced by Ben’s deadpan humor and determination to see this journey through to the end. The inclusion of some seriously fun characters, including a talking crab, is an added bonus, and there are plenty of surprise twists awaiting Ben and the reader.

 

These twists make The Hike the engaging and fun read that it is, culminating in a shocking revelation right up to the last page. The Hike is a quick read, with enough bizarre world-building and action to make it perfect for any fan of shows like The Twilight Zone, video games like Limbo or podcasts like Welcome to Night Vale.


 
 

The Devil You Know

posted by: June 29, 2016 - 7:00am

The Devil You KnowCan 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.


 
 

Genrenauts

posted by: June 22, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Shootout SolutionHave 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!


 
 

Every Heart a Doorway

posted by: June 2, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Every Heart a DoorwayIf you were like me as a kid and read a lot of fantasy, you probably had no trouble believing that magic mirrors, wardrobes and tollbooths were everyday objects. That Narnia or Wonderland were one right-wrong turn away at any given moment. But the part of those stories I could never understand was the part where the kids go home at the end. If you really found a door to a world where magic was real why would you ever leave? Seanan McGuire’s Every Heart a Doorway asks a darker question: What would you do to get back?

 

Eleanor West’s Home for Wayward Children is a school for children coping with realness. Children who returned from magical worlds and desperately want to go back again. But their reasons for wanting to go back are more compelling than just wanting to fight dragons or whatever. These worlds offered them acceptance that they couldn’t find at home, a safe place to express their gender, sexuality, their personality. Plus dragons. Who wouldn’t want to go back?

 

But now someone’s threatening the safety of everyone on campus. Someone who would do anything to return to their world, and everyone’s a suspect.

 

With this book, McGuire has crafted not just one world but multiple worlds of compelling characters and situations, all nested inside one slim novella. Fans of the novel and TV series The Magicians will appreciate this clever deconstruction and homage to the fantasy genre.

 


 
 

The Girl with Ghost Eyes

posted by: April 14, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Girl with Ghost EyesImmigrating to a new country is hard enough, but when your (sometimes metaphorical, sometimes literal) ghosts travel with you, you need someone who will protect and ward your community from those with malevolent intentions. In The Girl with Ghost Eyes, author M. H. Boroson mixes fantasy, martial arts and Chinese culture to create a thought-provoking tale with a resilient heroine.

 

Xian Li-lin is a priestess and exorcist of the Maoshan tradition of Daoism living in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1898. After a fellow exorcist attacks her, Li-lin plots to confront her enemy in order to restore honor to herself and to her father, the only family she has left after the death of her husband. She cannot afford to lose any more face since she is already considered something of an outcast due to her widowhood status, and she’s cursed with yin eyes —  the ability to see the spirit world. In her quest, she has to navigate not only the power struggles of the rival tongs of male-dominated Chinatown, but also the avenues of the spirit world, home to demons and monsters of all shapes. Unbeknownst to Li-lin and her allies, there is a horrifying plot to unleash a monstrous abomination that exists only to destroy everything in its path. Li-lin will have to challenge both the world of spirits and of men if she is to stop the monster.

 

The Girl with Ghost Eyes is refreshing because not one character is a stereotype or a caricature. Boroson treats the culture and history from which he draws his fictional Chinatown with respect and honesty, keeping the depictions of Chinese and Chinese immigrants’ culture and Maoshan tradition as close to reality as possible. Li-lin is a fantastic reluctant hero struggling through an almost impossible task simply because no one else will. She’s not the only person who can succeed in stopping the plotters, but she is the only person who keeps trying to do so.

 

This book reads like a detective noir crossed with the best kung fu movies, with lots of action and characters that are well-rounded, conflicted and complex. Li-lin will resonate with fans of Garth Nix’s Sabriel. This is also the first book in her series, promising lots of future ghost adventures to come.

 


 
 

The Last Days of Magic

posted by: March 30, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for The Last Days of MagicA war is raging over magic’s presence in the world. Exorcists and priests are pursuing witches and demons, purging them from the world until there is only one place left where the connection to magic remains strong — Ireland. In Mark Tompkins’s debut novel The Last Days of Magic, human and fairy politics collide as the war over magic comes to Ireland’s shores, and it's not always obvious who can be trusted — on either side.

 

Tompkins’s worldbuilding is detailed and well-researched, blending mythology, mysticism and historical fact together to craft a historical fantasy retelling of the 1390s. His cast includes people straight out of history, from Richard II to Saints Patrick and Brigid, and out of mythology, such as the Morrigna and the Sidhe. And Tompkins threads these together with facts and speculations from Vatican history, including the Dead Sea Scrolls and witch trials.

 

You might think that having all of these elements in play would lead to a convoluted or overworked plot, but Tompkins balances the historical and the fantastical to create characters that are flawed and intriguing and a plot filled with political intrigue. It leaves the reader wondering where historical fact actually ends and the myths begin. Fans of Morgan Llywelyn or Juliet Marillier might want to check this book out.

 


 
 

The Curse of Jacob Tracy

posted by: March 16, 2016 - 8:00am

Cover art for The Curse of Jacob TracyImagine urban fantasy. Now, remove the skyscrapers and the taxicabs and the cell phones. Replace them with clapboard buildings, dirt tracks and 10-gallon hats. Add a generous pinch of scary stuff. You might come up with a terrible episode of Gunsmoke — or you might get some idea of Holly Messinger’s first novel The Curse of Jacob Tracy.

 

Jacob Tracy is a novel, but its chapters are grouped into sections that read like short stories that are knit together by an overall plot arc, much like the setup of a TV series. Trace, himself, is a fascinating individual and an extraordinarily engaging and original character. He is a former seminary student and former Confederate soldier. His best friend/traveling companion, Boz, is an illiterate former slave. Though an odder couple is hard to imagine, both have each other’s best interests at heart as they travel the American western frontier, working as trail guides for city folk who are trying new adventures on for size.

 

Why Trace and Boz refuse to settle down for long is teased out over the several episodes in this book (hint: Trace sees dead people), but their loyalty to each other is never in question…until Trace meets Miss Fairweather, a recluse, who tricks him into performing a “simple task” during the lull season in trail guiding in order to earn much-needed room and board money. Taking Boz with him, because you never leave a friend behind, Trace is forced to start facing the demons of his past when he crashes into the middle of a long-running battle between the forces of the sane and the forces of the mad. The question is: When his visions start to overwhelm him, and he begins to realize Miss Fairweather might have set him up, who can he trust?

 

Come for the ghosts and not-so-urban legends. Stay for the pragmatic, yin and yang, stronger-than-family friendship of Boz and Trace.

 

This is Messinger’s first novel, but fans of the Harry Dresden novels or fans of online zine Beneath Ceaseless Skies (wherein Messinger has published short stories) will certainly approve of this story.


 
 

The Wheel of Time Companion

posted by: February 2, 2016 - 7:30am

Cover art for The Wheel of Time CompanionRobert Jordan spent more than two decades of his life writing his Wheel of Time series. What started as a proposed three-book series ended up a 14 book epic, and The Wheel of Time Companion is an absolute must for any fan of the series. Fourteen volumes involves a lot of world-building. So many characters! So many plot threads dangling all over the place! Who killed Asmodean? Why is Aran’gar such a nut? Readers need to know.

 

Jordan’s wife Harriet McDougal and longtime editors Romanczuk and Simons assembled this detailed compendium and dedicated it to “all the readers who love the Wheel of Time.” Readers certainly do love the Wheel of Time, and this book reflects the love that the Wheel’s curators feel for the readers, too.

 

For anyone who has ever wondered about the difference between Sea Folk and Seanchan, or how the male power level differs from the female powers, or how in the world the rank system in Cairhien works (and what is the Great Game, anyway?), pick up this book. Every named character, every named location, every creature Jordan ever mentioned, every permutation in name of every Forsaken is included. It even has a dictionary and grammar guide for the Old Tongue. Because, really: What was Mat Cauthon saying half the time?

 

Fans of Jordan’s Wheel of Time series, fans of Brandon Sanderson’s book Elantris and his Mistborn series, and any fans of complex world-building need to read this book. It is, in essence, a manual on how to create a rich fantasy world that will keep on attracting readers for decades.


 
 

All the Birds in the Sky

posted by: January 29, 2016 - 7:30am

Cover art for All the Birds in the SkyCharlie Jane Anders’ All the Birds in the Sky is one of the most intriguing new novels of the year, partially because it defies definition. It’s fantasy, speculative, sci-fi, humor, coming-of-age and awkward epic romance, with the hipster references of a not-so-distant future. Think of it as magical realism for the digital age.

 

Patricia and Laurence are the quintessential outcasts at school, left out and bullied to varying degrees. Both suffer from clueless, inane parents who fail to recognize and appreciate what their children are capable of — and Patricia is burdened with a sociopathic older sister to boot.

 

Laurence is a super-tech geek, possessing a brilliant mind capable of easily cobbling together a wristwatch-sized, two-second time machine, which jumps the wearer two seconds in time. He has built a becoming-sentient supercomputer, which he keeps in his bedroom closet. Patricia happens to be a witch, whose powers first manifest as an ability to speak with birds and one particular tree. She’ll later hone these skills at a school for magic, where she finds she doesn’t fit in either — it’s no Hogwarts. Laurence’s parents pack him up and out to a military school, where the bullying intensifies. And while these outcasts don’t immediately embrace friendship (they are really very different), it seems inevitable. The two circle in and out of each other’s social orbits, and their coincidental meetups intensify once Patricia buys a Caddy, a guitar pick-shaped social media super tablet that enhances the user’s life in inexplicable ways.

 

The story gains momentum when the Earth is suddenly wracked with erupting superstorms. Is Patricia’s band of avenging-angel witches the key to saving the world, or will Laurence’s hacker-inventor cohort succeed in opening a wormhole to a new, better planet? Anders’ clever pre-apocalyptic novel never loses sight of the running themes of being understood, of being valued for who you are and the difficulty of making meaningful connections when you’re out on the fringe.

 


 
 

A Wild Swan

posted by: January 22, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for A Wild SwanA Wild Swan is Michael Cunningham’s new collection of reimagined fairy tales, and though they may look familiar at first glance, Cunningham offers a completely new angle. He examines the flat characters who have been doing the same things for centuries, and gives them motives, neuroses and secrets.

 

In the chapter “Beasts,” Cunningham offers up a very different interpretation of Beauty and the Beast. In this version, Beauty is not some impossibly selfless ingénue. It is her vanity, her sense that she is too good for her village, and in fact her family, that leads her to the beast’s castle. She believes that anything that happens to her there can be no worse than the tedium of her daily chores and the dull assortment of village men she is expected to choose a husband from. When she finds that the beast means to ignore her, she becomes bored with life at the enchanted castle. Released, she goes back to her village only to find that everyone believes she has actually been away to hide some sort of disgrace, and she is treated like a social pariah.  This is truly what makes her decide she can love the beast. Once transformed, we discover the beast hadn’t been the unfortunate victim of a horrible curse by an unreasonable old shrew either.

 

Cunningham peels back the layers behind each character to offer up a completely different kind of tale for modern readers. He delves a little deeper, beyond the happily ever after and into the hasty marriages, the toll a wish granted can take and the occasional need for a curse.

 

Like the originals by Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm, there is an enchanting combination of hope and horror in each tale. The stories take place in a hybrid of folktale villages and the modern world. The characters face old-world problems with modern sensibilities to delightful effect.

 

The prologue, aptly titled “Dis. Enchant,” reminds readers that at least a part of fairy tales’ timeless appeal is the cruel justice in them. They are often about terrible things happening to those who have been too lavishly blessed with beauty or good luck. In that sense, there is a certain kind of balance restored when these characters are cursed with wings and whatnot. This collection is wickedly fun and will appeal to fans of fairy tales or simply well told short stories.

 

The illustrations by Yuko Shimizu are a perfect accompaniment, both lovely and haunting.


 
 

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