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The Girls

posted by: June 28, 2016 - 9:00am

Cover art for The GirlsEvie 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.

 


 
 

In Appreciation of Darwyn Cooke: 1962-2016

posted by: June 28, 2016 - 7:00am

DC: The New FrontierThe Twilight ChildrenOne 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.


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I Let You Go

posted by: June 27, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for I Let You GoA 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.


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Shadow Magic

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

Cover art for Shadow MagicIn 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.


 
 

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!


 
 

Injection

posted by: June 21, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for InjectionFive 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 Steele

posted by: June 20, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Jane SteeleJane 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.

 


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The View from the Cheap Seats

posted by: June 17, 2016 - 6:00am

Cover art for View from the Cheap SeatsWhile author Neil Gaiman might be best known as a fantasy novelist, he’s better described as a kind of writer-of-all-trades. His acclaimed Sandman series was one of the first graphic novels to make the New York Times best-seller list and he has published numerous children’s works to critical accolades. He’s a master of the short story. But his latest published work, The View from the Cheap Seats, is a collection of the prolific, versatile writer’s nonfiction pieces.

 

Gaiman is an unabashedly public figure who remains accessible to his many fans through his online journal and presence on social media. And while his built-in audience will be clamoring for this volume, it has much to recommend for those who have never read his nonfiction. The View features five dozen articles, speeches, introductions and essays on topics that are interesting and in some way important to the author.

 

He admits on his online journal: “It's a relief that it's published: I don't think I've ever been as nervous about a book coming out as I have been about this one. You can hide behind fiction. You can't hide behind things that are about what you think and believe.”
These thoughtful, insightful pieces are gathered under 10 categorized chapters, including “Some People I Have Known,” “On Comics and the People Who Make Them,” and of course, “Some Things I Believe.” Included here is his acceptance speech from the 2009 Newbery Awards, where he won the highest prize in children’s literature for The Graveyard Book, his Sunday New York Times piece “On Stephen King,” his introduction to the reissue of the final book in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series and the in-memoriam essay he wrote describing Lou Reed’s songs as the soundtrack to his life.

 

The View would make an excellent gift book, as it’s the kind of collection you can pick up whether you have 10 minutes to devote to reading or a whole hour. You can always count on him to entertain, but here he manages to be thought provoking and incisive as well. Gaiman is the erudite friend you’d want at your dinner party, always ready to start the conversation.

 

As a librarian, I must admit that my favorite piece in the collection is a lecture entitled “Why Our Future Depends on Libraries, Reading and Daydreaming.” You’d be hard-pressed to find a better advocate for public libraries than Neil Gaiman. This essay alone will inspire you to visit the library to find out for yourself just what keeps us relevant.


 
 

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