Author Archive

Halloween: Our favorite horror books

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Halloween: Our favorite horror books

Horror novels are good any time of the year, but the best time for them is right around Halloween. With the weather getting cooler and the nights getting longer, there’s nothing like curling up in a dark room with a cup of hot chocolate and a great horror story and scaring the hell out of yourself.

It’s also interesting how much of horror has a sci-fi or fantasy element to it. The exceptions are true-crime books or novels about gritty, urban violence, and those are great, but Kathryn and Elizabeth really prefer the ones with some kind of otherworldly element. So they’ve whittled down their list of favorites and each picked three books they think you’d like, if you’re looking to sleep with the lights on tonight.

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Review: Afterlife with Archie

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Review: Afterlife with Archie

The elements of the story are all familiar: a tragic accident, a grieving loved one, a forbidden magic spell to bring the dead back to life. What starts out with the best intentions ends with an entire town under attack by a hoard of zombies. The difference here is that this isn’t Stephen King or another Night of the Living Dead clone, it’s Archie and the gang, with Sabrina the Teenage Witch breaking the rules to raise Jughead’s beloved pup Hot Dog from the grave. Afterlife with Archie has been running for a few months now, but a reprint run started on October 22 and I stumbled across the graphic novel for the first time a week before Halloween. How could I not pick this up?

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Review: The Shadow Over Innsmouth

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Review: The Shadow Over Innsmouth

It was the end, for whatever remains to me of life on the surface of this earth, of every vestige of mental peace and confidence in the integrity of nature and of the human mind.

There are quite a few different flavors of horror. Some horror stories focus on one particular monster, or a haunting, or some kind of disaster. I’ve never been much for the hack-and-slash type (although strangely enough that one scene from Cabin in the Woods made me happy), and most psychological thrillers only work for me if there’s a supernatural element as well. By far my favorite type of horror is the one that’s hardest to pull off: it has to be clever and creepy. For the most part you never see the monster, since the one you imagine is scarier than the one you see. There’ll be this looming terror of the unknown, of waiting in the darkness hoping you won’t be found by something that you’ll probably never understand. Characters in these stories don’t know if they’ve gone completely out of their minds and made up everything that happened, or if whatever happened has made them go completely out of their minds. Basically I’ll accept any horror recommendation if you use the magic words: Inspired By Lovecraft.

H.P. Lovecraft is famous for creating the Cthulhu Mythos; the concept of a race of godlike beings who are imprisoned/asleep somewhere in the depths of the sea, or in outer space, or just there, in a dimension separated from ours by a thin wall that’s getting thinner all the time. Just seeing The Elder Gods causes people to go insane, and any worship ceremonies for them are filled with odd phrases that try to capture how unknowable they are. (If you watch any  Doctor Who, the phrases that the Ood chant in the episode The Impossible Planet are pure Lovecraft: “He is the heart that beats in the darkness. He is the blood that will never cease. And now he will rise.”)

But Lovecraft wrote stories about other races too, ones a little younger than the Elder Gods, but a whole lot closer.  Lovecraft’s novella The Shadow over Innsmouth tells the story of an entire town taken over, and rotting from within, by a race that’s close enough to be family. 

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Review: Dracula

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Review: Dracula

Hollywood has released yet another vampire movie, this one named after Bram Stoker’s book from 1897. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the only thing the movie has in common with the source material is a) the main character is a vampire and b) the movie’s title is Dracula. What is a surprise to me is how a book can spawn so many movie adaptations and books and TV shows, while at same time has never been made into a movie that’s completely faithful to the original (the film from 1992 comes closer than any of them, but it still messed with the story in some pretty important ways). Whether you’re a fan of Dracula or Lestat or Damon Salvatore or even Edward Cullen, it’s worth it to read Stoker’s novel to see for yourself the book which had so much of an impact that it’s still inspiring people more than a hundred years later.

Fair warning though, this one was tough to get through in places. Even on the second re-read I found myself getting bogged down by the flowery prose. The characters are all just so earnest; going on and on for a page and a half at a time about how desperately grateful they are to have such stalwart friends to stand by them through these trials, and the whole time I’m wishing they would just shut up and move on. In order to really appreciate what Stoker created here, it’s helpful to keep in mind that this is not a collection of old black-and-white movie cliches and overly-dramatic stereotypes; this is where all the cliches and stereotypes come from. The vampire myth was around before Bram Stoker, but he was the one who defined it for modern audiences. Dracula is what started it all.

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Review: Let The Right One In

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Review: Let The Right One In

Oskar hurriedly said: “Maybe you already have a guy at your school.”

“No, I don’t…but Oskar, I can’t. I’m not a girl.”

Oskar snorted. “What do you mean? You’re a guy?”

“No, no.”

“Then what are you?”

“Nothing.”

Oskar doesn’t have much going for him: lonely, unsure of himself, incontinent – especially when he’s under stress, which is all the time now that he’s in middle school and being bullied on a daily basis. He collects newspaper clippings about famous murders, fantasizes about killing his tormentors and being able to do something instead of giving up again and again. So he’s oddly pleased when a ritual murder happens in his small town of Blackeburg.  A young boy is strung up and drained of blood, right around the time a beautiful girl his own age moves into the apartment next door. Eli, who’s never seen a Rubik’s cube but solves it after one day. Eli, who looks emaciated and grey-haired one day, healthy the next, who sits outside in the snow-covered playground with no coat and never feels cold. Eli, who only comes out after dark.

I’d seen the movie (the Swedish-language version) based on John Ajvide Lindqvist’s novel years before I read the book. And while I enjoyed the movie very much, I was a little wary about how much the story might have been changed in the transition from book to movie. What I got was something rare: an excellent book, with an adaptation that stays true to the spirit of the original story (in some places the dialog is almost word-for-word), but at the same time there are enough changes to make reading the book and watching the movie two completely different experiences.

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Review: The Third Claw of God

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Review: The Third Claw of God

Still, there was no denying that his headquarters world, Xana, set an entirely new record for the shortest interval between my arrival at a place I’d never been and the very first attempt on my life there.

We’re talking about minutes. Minutes.

Things have started to improve for Andrea Cort at last. She’s been given a promotion (arranged by the ancient software intelligences, the AIsource, whom Andrea is secretly working for) and has more freedom than she’s known since being drafted to the Diplomatic Corps. She also has a devoted new lover/bodyguard, the beautiful cylinked pair Oscin and Skye (former lovers who’d undergone a procedure to merge their personalities together to become one person in two bodies, and yes, they do have sex). Unfortunately she’s still the notorious survivor of an unexplained massacre, and she still has a price on her head. After landing at Xana she fights off a very clumsy, very amateur assassination attempt by attackers wielding an impossibly rare weapon, The Claw of God, which kills by dissolving the victim internally, and which was invented by an obscure sect of an alien race 15000 years ago.

Andrea’s still trying to figure that one out when she and her companion(s) board a luxurious space elevator, owned by her host Hans Bettelhine, the patriarch of the Bettelhine Munitions Corporation. Over the next several hours the space elevators failsafes, well, fail. The elevator carriage is stuck high above the planet’s surface, another visitor is murdered with a second Claw of God, and every member of the boarding party is a suspect. As the Dip Corps Prosecutor-at-Large, Andrea now has to wade through a tangled mess of family history and political intrigue while surrounded by members of a corporation that manufactures weapons capable of blowing up entire planets. And even though there have been at least two attempts on her life since accepting an invitation that still hasn’t been explained, there’s a very good chance that none of this has anything to do with her at all.

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Review: The Immortal Circus – Act One

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Review: The Immortal Circus – Act One

“Can’t they make their own damn show?” I say.

“Come on,” Kingston says. “Faeries are proud. The Summer King would never stoop to imitating his enemy.”

“Besides,” Mel says, “The name Cirque du Soleil was already taken.”

I’m a sucker for cinematic scenes in books. I love it when an author’s description makes me wonder just how cool something would look if it were made into a movie. The first book in the A.R. Kahler’s Cirque des Immortels series has plenty of just that sort of scene. You’ve got a circus run by Queen Mab herself, filled with shape-shifting carneys, magicians with tattoos that change position when you’re not looking, and circus trailers that open into rooms in a completely different part of the country, if they’re part of this world at all. A battle late in the book pitches two armies of otherworldly creatures against each other (naiads, dryads, satyrs, centaurs, elves, and whatever shadow-thing it is that lives under the trailers), and the whole conflict is centered around the possession of a secret demon and the lucrative trade in dreams. The book starts with a gruesome murder and ends with more secrets and lies, and I can only hope that the next two books in the series develop the characters better because the main character just hasn’t won me over at all.

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Review: The Paper Magician

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Review: The Paper Magician

Continuing the theme of Back to School, this week’s review is for Charlie N. Holmberg’s debut novel The Paper Magician. The new twist on magic-users caught my attention (every magician specializes in one man-made material: metal, glass, paper, plastic, etc.,) so I picked it up after only a brief look at the description: top-in-her-magic-class Ceony is heartbroken when she graduates and is assigned to be the apprentice of a paper magician, forever crushing all her dreams of working with metal. I’ll admit I thought this was going to be mostly a book about leaving childhood behind, learning to appreciate books and the beauty of origami, making new friends, and eventually finding out that the real magic was inside her all along. Standard coming-of-age young-adult stuff. 

Ha, no. Ceony does learn a lot about origami and other techniques used by Folders (paper magicians); she also faces scenes of massacres, betrayal, mistakes with horrific consequences, and for a good part of the book she has to wade ankle-deep through blood while trying to escape a magician who works with a material very very far removed from paper. This is a wonderfully dark little book. Clever, definitely, but also disturbingly violent.

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Review: Dragonsong and Dragonsinger

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Review: Dragonsong and Dragonsinger

Warning, great big spoilers.

Even though I graduated *ahem,mumble,cough* years ago, I still get a flood of memories around back-to-school season. Many are positive, some less so. By far the best memories involve Anne McCaffrey’s Harper Hall trilogy; my sixth-grade English teacher read the first two books out loud to our class over the course of most of the school year.

First printed in the 1970’s, Dragonsong and Dragonsinger tells the story of Menolly, a lonely teenager living a repressed life in a fishing village that doesn’t have any patience for girls who want to be musicians.  Friendless and miserable, she runs away and purely by accident becomes the owner of nine fire-lizards: miniature telepathic dragons who are loyal to her and her alone. Imagine being a somewhat awkward middle-schooler and getting to hear a story like that. If you’ve ever wondered why my twitter and Deviantart names both have the word “dragon” in them, this would be the reason why.

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Review: Doctor Who – Tales of Trenzalore

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Review: Doctor Who – Tales of Trenzalore

‘We didn’t want to disturb you, Doctor. You’re an important man.’

The Doctor rolled his eyes. ‘Important? I’m not important. I’m the least important man in this town.’ He waived his stick at the assembled townsfolk. ‘It’s you lot who are important…”

To celebrate the return of Doctor Who, I’m going to review a second collection of Doctor Who short stories in a row. Love Doctor Who, love short stories. Both together? Can’t resist.

It’s hard to picture, since we only get to see a brief montage of it in one episode, but the Doctor was stranded on Trenzalor, on purpose, for nine hundred years. Nine centuries protecting the town of Christmas against attacks by pretty much every enemy the Doctor had ever faced. You can have a lot of adventures in nine hundred years; Tales of Trenzalore tells four of them.

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