There are no tidy endings in Bizarre Romance, the new short fiction collection by Audrey Niffenegger, with illustrations by Eddie Campbell.
Niffenegger’s stories are, as advertised, bizarre. In one, a woman inherits a house from a kindly elderly woman, and demolishes the house when she discovers something disturbing in the basement No resolution, no lessons learned.
My personal favorite in the collection is “Digging Up the Cat,” a bittersweet story about loss. A character digs up her old dead cat because her parents are moving and her mother insists that “it would be too weird to leave a box full of dead cat in the garden.” She describes in loving detail the act of removing her most recently dead cat from the freezer and adding it to the old cat’s box. Continue reading
The newest book in the bestelling Orphan X series by Gregg Hurwitz offers page turning thrills- it’s a fun quick read for old and new fans alike.
Taken from an orphanage as a 12 year old Evan Smoak was raised and trained as an off-the-books government assassin: Orphan X. Evan eventually goes rogue, and reinvents himself as the Nowhere Man, using his skills to help the truly desperate.
All of this information is covered within the first few pages of Hellbent making this book very easy to pick up for any thriller fans looking for a new read.
Warcross by Marie Lu is a sci-fi thriller from an author that has already written two other trilogies- Lu is someone who’s had practice and it shows. Warcross will satisfy YA fans of any age. Protagonist Emika Chen is smart, capable, and well drawn out. The world she inhabits is immersive, bright, and is believable enough to seem like it could be the not too distant future.
- The title comes from the game that everyone in the book is playing- Warcross. Within the span of a few years, Warcross, a fully immersive virtual reality game, has become a worldwide phenomenon where almost everyone is at least a casual player. Readers with at least a passing interest in gamer culture (which is everyone, thank you apps) will be able to recognize how similar our world is to Lu’s. Lu mixes so much of her own vision of a future based around this game with very real tech/gamer culture. She creates a bustling and bright future Tokyo backdrop where for the majority of the novel takes place to take place in. Reading her seamless integration of imagined and kind of real tech is half the fun of Warcross.
There’s a whole economy based around Warcross, just like the one surrounding our real world’s popular games. There are pro leagues as well as illegal betting which is where our protagonist comes in. Continue reading
Characters find triumph in small moments in Vincent Chu’s new short fiction collection, Like a Champion. These quietly hopeful stories are a breath of fresh air.
Chu hands us a diversity of characters, all underdogs to varying degrees. For the most part, the stories follow a pattern: someone is having a rough day (or month, or year, or life), but then the universe sends them a small token of hope, or they find just enough courage to do something virtuous, and for one shining moment, they feel like a champion. Even protagonists who are downright unlikeable, like Hal in “Star of the World,” who thinks that the “Orientals” made up global warming to keep people buying Japanese, and sends his daughter a birthday card begging her to send him money and fix his computer, among other things, have redeemable moments.
Where Night Stops, a new novel by Douglas Light, is a gripping thriller written in deliciously literary prose. The protagonist ends up over his head in a money laundering scheme when a homeless man named Ray-Ray hands him a message in a bar of soap. That message leads him to the local library, which sets him off on a series of jobs that seem easy enough, and pay well. There’s just one problem: he has no idea what he’s doing, no idea why someone is paying him $300 to pick up checks from pre-arranged points and deposit them in library books. He calls these mysterious jobs “Kam Manning,” and inches in further and further, convincing himself that he’s not doing anything wrong.
The novel unravels slowly. It starts with our narrator in a bar with a woman who complains of being ugly. She sits next to our protagonist, trading a few lines of witty banter. She says that “My heart is a divided Vienna,” referencing Orson Welles’s The Third Man. Continue reading
Searching for Someday is like a lollipop. You unwrap it, excited. I shouldn’t be reading this, you think. It has no real sustenance. But then you do read it, and you think, ugh, this is too sweet. And the prose is horrible. Did I ever use to like these? But it goes down quick before you really have a chance to think about it.
As a bodice-ripper, this book sort of succeeds. I’m saying “sort of” because it was page-turning and somewhat engrossing, which is really the only thing one asks for in books like this. I finished it in about three days. But the cringe factor is very high. I’ll leave aside the ridiculous nature of the premise – Kate runs a matchmaking agency called Kinnections, where she uses a combination of her supernatural ability to detect compatibility and real world dating advice to create lasting connections for her clients. She is also cursed to find one true soul mate in life. No one else will do it for her. OK, that part is fine.
Where the book starts to fall apart is when Slade enters the picture. A no-nonsense, super hot divorce lawyer, he becomes Kate’s client as a way of keeping tabs on his sister, who’s recently signed up for Kinnections. No. No no no no. Kate and her friends frequently cite Slade’s “protectiveness about his family” as a plus, but really? His behavior toward his sister is controlling, obsessive, unhealthy. Continue reading
In Dead Spider, the 17th installment in Victoria Houston’s Loon Lake mystery series, Charles Pfeiffer, the wealthiest man in town is murdered. It’s up to police chief Lewellyn Ferris and her deputy coroner Paul Osborne to find his killer. Dead Spider is a standalone story, and Houston briefly tells you anything you need to know about the characters in the first few pages so you don’t need to read any of the other books in the series before picking this one up.
A fast moving story, Dead Spider is a good beach read. It’s a light, airy page turner with a well-crafted mystery. The book relies on some mystery tropes (the murdered man has a bitchy daughter-in-law and a gold-digging wife, for example), but colored with Houston’s charming cast of small town characters, and the active fly fishing economy, it feels fresh. Loon Lake is based on the small Wisconsin town where Houston grew up, and you can tell she has a deep love for the area. Continue reading
This debut novel by Julie Dao is the first book in the Rise of the Empress series. The series explores the imagined youth of Snow White’s Evil Queen in an East Asian-inspired fantasy setting. Xifeng, the protagonist, is a strong, complex young woman struggling to choose between a path of light and dark. She knows the right thing to do, but a voice inside of her urges her on towards evil.
There’s a lot to praise about this novel: Xifeng, our heroine, is strong and powerful, but at the same time she is not immune to the culture and mores of her time. She has to be careful to seem humble and ladylike as she forges her way towards becoming the next Empress of Feng Lu. At the same time, she is more spirited than the women in classic fairy tales. She propels herself by her own choices, not quietly accepting what the world throws at her. Another divergence from the norms: following her destiny for greatness means leaving behind Wei, Xifeng’s handsome boyfriend who longs to marry her and live a quiet life together. We are told that Wei is meant to play some role in Xifeng’s fate, but it’s clear that Xifeng’s journey will be more about realizing her destiny than finding her one true love. Continue reading
In Royal City volume 1: Next of Kin, a new graphic novel by Jeff Lemire, a family grapples with the ghost of their dead son. Tommy died in 1993, but he left an indelible presence on the Pikes.
Royal City starts when Patrick Pike comes home to visit his father, who’s just had a stroke. It slowly becomes clear that each character is seeing a different version of Tommy’s ghost. Patrick grapples with guilt about using his dead brother as the inspiration for so much of his writing. Patrick’s mother sees him as the priest he could have grown up to be. His sister sees him as the child she desperately wants to have. In this volume, Lemire doesn’t cover much ground in plot. He’s laying the latticework for future volumes, developing a rich family history and taking his time to set up the mystery of what happened to Tommy in 1993. Lemire is known for his literary, quietly plotted graphic novels, such as the award-winning Essex County. Continue reading
The Gypsies of New Rochelle is a charming new novel by Ivan Jenson. It follows the Aldridges, an eccentric family, as they attempt to launch the music career of their talented daughter Nora and make it big in New York.
Set in 1980, Gypsies shows us a grittier version of New York City than exists today. The Aldridges call themselves gypsies because they move around so often, rootless and always looking for the next adventure. Shawn, the youngest child of the family, narrates the book. Family is at the heart of Gypsies. The book trafficks mostly in the day-to-day life of the Aldridges, a small caravan of well-drawn out characters. Jenson revels in the small dramas of the Aldridges: pranks played, petty squabbles between siblings, and their dealings with Carey Casey, the exasperated producer who has to answer their questions.
Jenson captures a unique large family dynamic, something which is hard to do well. Shawn’s family is full of odd, vibrant characters, each with their own shtick: his overbearing parents, who pressure sister Nora to become a concert violinist. A cousin, Pito, is brainwashed by hippies in Manhattan and must be rescued. Shawn is catapulted to momentary fame when his brother Jarrett, builds a flying contraption and dares Shawn to get on. Each character has their own arc, all weaving together beautifully to create a blended picture of family life. Continue reading