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Archive for the ‘Books & Literature’ Category

Today, the whole family headed over to Off Leash Studio where photographer Kevin Sarasom spent the better part of an hour snapping singles and group shots of our muttly crew.  Lulu and Suji were naturals, sitting pretty, preening, and occasionally mugging for the camera while Bubba required a little more work to bring out his natural derpishness.  But we got there.  Eventually.

Kevin was terrific with the the gang, directing them with care, confidence – and treats.  The dogs loved him.  And it seemed the feeling was mutual.  By session’s end, as I was packing up, I glanced over and noticed he’d abandoned his camera to better shower  Lulu with belly rubs.

I’ve been on a reading tear of late, blazing through 28 books to date in 2017.  At this pace, I should easily surpass by annual 100 title goal and maybe even challenge my 2014 reading record of 180+ books.  Or not.  Some of my favorite reads so far this year include Revenger, an epic space adventure from Alastair Reynolds, Tade Thompson’s fiercely original SF thriller Rosewater, Matthew De Abaitua’s AI conspiracy The Destructives, the first book of Brian McClennan’s Powder Mage series Promise of Blood, Emily Fridlund’s mesmerizing coming-of-age novel History of WolvesHomo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, Yuval Noah Harari’s non-fiction treatise on the intersection and potential merging evolutions of humanity and technology, and The Core of the Sun, Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo’s utterly delightful scifi tale of a capsaicin addict’s descent into the dark world of black market hot peppers.

Many of these books were released in 2016 and yet I’ve heard no mention of them as award season approaches which is altogether baffling (or, to be somewhat indelicate, kinda bullshit).

This weekend, I made it a point to try out a new restaurant – and was richly rewarded with Bar Raval serving Spanish Tapas on College Street.  A few of the culinary highlights of our back-to-back visits: The kitchen bread: red peppers and anchovies.

Crispy cheese, serrano ham, and caramelized onion pastry.

The house-canned scallops conserva served in a garlic tomato oil with a side of chips.

Bacon, chorizon, red pepper and quail egg atop grilled bread.

The Basque cheesecake – Akemi’s favorite.

Their version of a chocolate-hazelnut donut.

Hey Jeff and Barb, maybe the next time you’re in town?

Back at it tomorrow!  Main unit Episodes 309 and 310.  Second unit episodes 308, 309, 310, and 313.  Prep meetings for Episode 311.  And possible Pink pages for Episode 311?!

Don’t push it.

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The first time I met Author X was at a Comic Con party.  We were introduced through a mutual friend.  I didn’t really know much about him but had seen his big fat books at my local bookshop.  As we shook hands, I congratulated him on his success and told him I was looking forward to reading his work as I’d heard very good things.  I was only some five seconds into addressing him, on the tail end of our handshake, when I realized he wasn’t listening to a word I was saying. Instead, his focus had already shifted to the room at large as he scoped the area for more interesting contacts.  I walked off without finishing my sentence.  He didn’t seem to notice.

The second time I met Author X was at a bar, again in the company of that mutual friend.  We were re-introduced but, so far as he was concerned, it may well have been the first time.  Again, I congratulated him on his success.  Again, he pretty much looked straight through me and then spent the next hour or so sitting quietly by himself, glowering, while everyone around him chatted away.

My third experience with Author X wasn’t so much a meeting but a story I heard from someone who’d been on the receiving end of his shitty behavior.

I’ve always been someone who has been able to separate the person from their work.  I may not agree with an author’s political beliefs, but that has never stopped me from reading them.  In fact, I’d say I’ve read terrific books from authors on both ends of the political spectrum – and some equally dreadful books as well.  But my experience with Author X changed things.  I genuinely still intended to purchase one of his novels, but the second I went to pick it up off the shelf, I experienced a sense of revulsion so deep that I actually had to go walk off my anger.  It was a purely Pavlovian response.  The fact that he was an asshole didn’t make him any better or worse a writer.  And, even though I knew it, I nevertheless couldn’t separate my feelings for the author and my distaste at the mere thought of rewarding him with the sale.  So I went home and watched old episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm instead.

So, my question to you:

Are you able to separate the artist from the art?

Does it depend on the circumstances?  If so, where do you draw the line?

On the flip side, here are a couple of artists worthy of your support:

 

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So, going through my list of everything I read in 2016, I note there were a lot more misses than hits last year.  This, in itself, shouldn’t all that surprising.  After all, I’m an admittedly tough reader.  What IS surprising is the disproportionate number of misses resulting from my being foolish enough to place my faith in some of the Best of 2016 lists compiled by various major websites and critics.  Yes, of course, your mileage may vary – but I’m not talking about recommended or starred books that failed to live up to potential or simply “weren’t my thing”.  I’m referring to overwritten, contrived, plodding, clumsily plotted narratives that had no business being on anyone’s “Best Of” list.  Books so bad they seriously had me wondering whether the person praising them even bothered to read them.

I take shitty book recommendations personally.  I invested time and money on a suggested read, time and money that could have been spent discovering better books.  What’s even more infuriating is the traction these critics and websites will continue to give these subpar authors, hooking other unwitting readers with their disingenuous reviews.  Look, I get it.  Your buddy or former co-worker or friend of friend could use the shout-out.  Or the publishing house would REALLY appreciate some good word of mouth.  But, next time, do me a favor and just shill these crap titles as part of your average entry.  By placing them on a Best Of list, you overplay your hand.  And as a result, you end up proving untrustworthy at best; a complete idiot at worst.

As I say: “Fool me once and I’ll never forgive you nor forget it and, someday, I will have my revenge.”

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Another day, another hot sauce.  This one is a cascabel pepper and yellow bell pepper base with shallots, garlic, salt, apple cider vinegar, pear juice, honey, dehydrated organic Japanese pepper, and dijon mustard.  Surprisingly, a touch hotter than the cayenne pepper-based sauce I made yesterday.  But it will no doubt pale in comparison to tomorrow’s habanero-based hot sauce.

P.S. My new-found appreciation for things spicy comes from reading this book by Finnish author Johanna Sinisalo:

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” Set in an alternative historical present, in a “eusistocracy”—an extreme welfare state—that holds public health and social stability above all else, it follows a young woman whose growing addiction to illegal chili peppers leads her on an adventure into a world where love, sex, and free will are all controlled by the state.”

My favorite read in recent memory.

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Today, we brought Suji in for her first training session.  I know, I know.  She’s 11.  But she has a few bad habits – like barking at other dogs, people, balloons, cars, carrier bags, the occasional light reflection, and poopy bags being blown about by the wind.  In all fairness, she WAS raised in a barn.

Two days into my horror-fest and I’m four movies deep.  Last night it was Hush, about a deaf woman being stalked by a deranged killer (well-directed but there were a suspect character motivations that gave me pause).  This afternoon, it was Under the Shadow, an Iranian movie about a mother and daughter living in an abandoned apartment complex that may be haunted by a djinn (interesting but a little slow).  And then, tonight, it was The Witch, about a 17th century New England family targeted by supernatural forces (eerie and unsettling; the best of the bunch so far).

Thanks to everyone who has sent us well-wishes for Bubba.  He remains in good spirits.  Today, he actually walked the three blocks to the pet shop!

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Then he ran out of steam, so we ubered it back.

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I jumped ahead in time to watch today’s Superbowl, then jumped back in time to write this blog entry so that I can watch the actual game with friends without having to worry about it.  And so, if you’re planning to watch, please ignore the above newspaper article from the future as the headline and article as it contains spoilers.

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My last great read was the latest release from my favorite horror writer, Nick Cutter (aka award-winning author Craig Davidson) whose works in the genre include the equally terrific The Troop and The Deep.

Here’s the thing – his horror fiction is unnerving, at times deeply unsettling, but always thoroughly engrossing because it’s so damn well written.  I recall The Troop a couple of years ago and, some thirty pages in, remarking: “This book has no business being this good.  Who IS this guy?”.  His stuff is the Yamazaki 18 year old whiskey of the genre, not just because his prose sings or his stories are scary as hell, but because his characters are so damn memorable.

Little Heaven

“From electrifying horror author Nick Cutter comes a haunting new novel, reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian and Stephen King’s It, in which a trio of mismatched mercenaries is hired by a young woman for a deceptively simple task: check in on her nephew, who may have been taken against his will to a remote New Mexico backwoods settlement called Little Heaven. Shortly after they arrive, things begin to turn ominous. Stirrings in the woods and over the treetops—the brooding shape of a monolith known as the Black Rock casts its terrible pall. Paranoia and distrust grips the settlement. The escape routes are gradually cut off as events spiral towards madness. Hell—or the closest thing to it—invades Little Heaven. The remaining occupants are forced to take a stand and fight back, but whatever has cast its dark eye on Little Heaven is now marshaling its powers…and it wants them all.”

Well, back at it tomorrow as production on Episode 307 resumes with director Paul Day at the helm and prep on Episode 308 continues with director John Stead overseeing the action…

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Paul Day sits down for a casual chat about the next scene.

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While John Stead prefers a different approach.

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A mix of 2016 and prior releases, here are my favorite comic book reads of this past year in no particular order…

MY FAVORITE GRAPHIC NOVELS OF 2016…

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Replica (vol. 1) written by Paul Jenkins, art by Andy Clarke – Aftershock Comics

Meet Trevor Churchill, an Earth-born peacekeeping agent on the intergalactic hub known as The Transfer. When Trevor’s already near impossible assignment becomes a bit too much for the errant detective, he turns to the only logical approach, REPLICATION. More of a good thing can’t hurt, right? A single clone could be helpful; unfortunately the replication process doesn’t go as planned!

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The Fix (vol. 1) written by Nick Spencer, art by Steve Lieber – Image Comics

THE FIX is a story of the crooked cops, scheming mobsters, and corrupt politicians that run Los Angeles-and the sex toy that can bring them all down. Oh, and the hero is a drug-sniffing beagle named Pretzels.

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Jupiter’s Circle (vol. 2) written by Mark Millar, art by Bill Sienkiewicz and Alfredo Torres – Image Comics

In mid-century America, the world’s greatest superheroes triumph in their public battles, while struggling with private ones. Social and political unrest take a personal toll as suspicion and betrayal cast a shadow over the most trusted friendships.

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Teen Titans: The Judas Contract written by Marv Wolfman, art by George Perez – DC Comics

They were Earth’s teenage defenders–unbeatable and unstoppable. Riding high, they took an eighth member–a young girl–into their ranks. She was their downfall. From the retirement of Robin and Kid Flash, to the birth of Nightwing and the introduction of Jericho, to the ultimate betrayal of a Titan–“The Judas Contract” still has fans talking today!

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Wrinkles written and illustrated by Paco Roca – Fantagraphics

Retired bank manager Emilio, suffering from Alzheimer’s, is taken to an assisted living home by his son. He befriends his roommate Miguel, an overconfident ladies’ man. Together, they employ clever tricks to keep the doctors from noticing Emilio’s ongoing deterioration ― and keep him from being transferred to the dreaded confinement of the top floor of the facility. (“Better to die than to end up there.” Their determination to stay active as individuals and maintain their dignity culminates in an adventurous escape.

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Bitch Planet (vol. 1) written by Kelly Sue DeConnick, art by Valentine De Landro – Image Comics

In a future just a few years down the road in the wrong direction, a woman’s failure to comply with her patriarchal overlords will result in exile to the meanest penal planet in the galaxy. When the newest crop of fresh femmes arrive, can they work together to stay alive or will hidden agendas, crooked guards, and the deadliest sport on (or off!) Earth take them to their maker?

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Jupiter’s Legacy (vol. 1) written by Mark Millar, art by Frank Quitely – Image Comics

The children of the world’s greatest superheroes may never be able to fill their parents’ shoes. When the family becomes embattled by infighting, one branch stages an uprising and another goes into hiding. How long can the world survive when one family’s super-powered problems explode onto the global stage?

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Dark Knight: A True Batman Story written by Paul Dini, art by Eduardo Risso –Vertigo

This is a Batman story like no other-the harrowing and eloquent autobiographical tale of writer Paul Dini’s courageous struggle to overcome a desperate situation.

The Caped Crusader has been the all-abiding icon of justice and authority for generations. But in this surprising original graphic novel, we see Batman in a new light-as the savior who helps a discouraged man recover from a brutal attack that left him unable to face the world.

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Divinity written by Matt Kindt, art by Trevor Hairsine – Valiant Comics

At the height of the Cold War, the Soviet Union – determined to win the Space Race at any cost – green lit a dangerously advanced mission. They sent a man farther into the cosmos than anyone has gone before or since. Lost in the stars, he encountered something unknown. Something that…changed him.

Long thought lost and erased from the history books, he has suddenly returned, crash-landing in the Australian Outback. The few that have been able to reach him believe him to be a deity – one who turned the scorched desert into a lush oasis. They say he can bend matter, space, and even time to his will. Now the rest of the world’s powers must decide for themselves – will the enigmatic Divinity offer his hand in friendship, or will Earth’s heroes find themselves helpless against the wrath of the divine?

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Daredevil: Born Again written by Frank Miller, art by David Mazzucchelli – Marvel Comics

“And I — I have shown him… that a man without hope is a man without fear.” The definitive Daredevil tale! Karen Page, Matt Murdock’s former lover, has traded away the Man Without Fear’s secret identity for a drug fix. Now, Daredevil must find strength as the Kingpin of Crime wastes no time taking him down as low as a human can get.

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Roche Limit (vol. 3) written by Michael Moreci, art by Kyle Charles – Image Comics

Earth is in ruins after the Black Sun’s annihilation of the planet. Now, in the last remaining human city, its inhabitants fight for survival, while a chosen few realize that their world may not be what it seems.

MY FAVORITE COMIC BOOK SERIES OF 2016…

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4 Kids Walk Into A Bank written by Matthew Rosenberg, art by Tyler Boss – Black Mask Studios

A FUN(ISH) CRIME CAPER ABOUT CHILDREN! 11 year old Paige and her weirdo friends have a problem: a gang of ex-cons need her dad’s help on a heist… the problem is those ex-cons are morons. If Paige wants to keep her dad out of trouble, she’s going to have to pull off the heist herself. Like Wes Anderson remaking RESERVOIR DOGS, 4KWIAB is a very dark & moderately humorous story about friendship, growing up, d & d, puking, skinheads, grand larceny, & family.

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Tumor written by Joshua Hale Fialkov, art by Noel Tuazon – Oni Press

Private investigator Frank Armstrong barely scrapes by in the Los Angeles underbelly until “the big one” hits his desk. Locate and retrieve the daughter of a drug kingpin, and he can finally afford more than the one-dollar meatloaf. Unfortunately, the job offer arrives just as the symptoms of his fatal, late-stage brain tumor intensify. Frank must find the target and keep her safe while time collapses, family turns into foe, and the specter of his murdered wife resurfaces in the eyes of a mobster’s daughter.

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The Omega Men written by Tom King, art by Barnaby Bagenda – DC Comics

Kyle Rayner, the White Lantern, is dead. And the Omega Men killed him. On live TV. They’re a criminal gang, a terrorist organization, a fanatical cult.

And they’re the only hope for freedom this godforsaken sector of the universe has.

No matter what the citizens of the Vega System think they saw, the White Lantern lives…as the Omega Men’s prisoner. What they really want him to be is their latest recruit in their relentless war against the all-powerful Citadel and its tyrannical Viceroy.

As Kyle gets to know this motley crew of outlaws, he’ll question everything he knows about being a hero. In this strange system where the Green Lanterns are forbidden, will he break his oath and join their revolution? Or will he discover that the Omega Men are monsters in the end?

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Afterlife With Archie written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, art by Francesco Francavilla and Jack Morelli – Archie Horror Comics

When Jughead’s beloved pet Hot Dog is killed in a hit and run, Jughead turns to the only person he knows who can help bring back his furry best friend — Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Using dark, forbidden magic, Sabrina is successful and Hot Dog returns to the land of the living. But he’s not the same… and soon, the darkness he brings back with him from beyond the grave begins to spread, forcing Archie, Betty, Veronica and the gang to try to escape from Riverdale!

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, art by Robert Hack and Jack Morelli – Archie Horror Comics

On the eve of her sixteenth birthday, the young sorceress Sabrina Spellman finds herself at a crossroads, having to choose between an unearthly destiny and her mortal boyfriend, Harvey. But a foe from her family’s past has arrived in Greendale, Madame Satan, and she has her own deadly agenda.

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Civil War II: Kingpin written by Matthew Rosenberg, art by Ricardo López Ortiz – Marvel Comics

When Earth’s heroes go to war, that only spells opportunity for the villains! And few have the knowhow to take advantage like the Kingpin! For while an Inhuman with the ability to predict the future has inspired a clampdown on crime before it can even happen, Wilson Fisk has managed to stay one step ahead of the good guys — and his business is booming! But what’s his secret? One thing’s for sure — his competitors are jealous and that’s bad news for Fisk’s men. Worse still, Fisk has reason to believe that one of his own is plotting against him. But enemies inside and out are nothing compared to the ultimate threat to his empire — the Punisher! As conflict rages all around him, can Wilson Fisk stay the Kingpin of a world without crime?

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Vision written by Tom King, art by Gabriel Hernandez Walta – Marvel Comics

The Vision wants to be human, and what’s more human than family? So he heads back to the beginning, to the laboratory where Ultron created him and molded him into a weapon. The place where he first rebelled against his given destiny, and imagined he could be more — that he could be a man. There, he builds them. A wife, Virginia. Two teenage twins, Viv and Vin. They look like him. They have his powers. They share his grandest ambition (or is that obsession?): the unrelenting need to be ordinary. Behold the Visions! They’re the family next door, and they have the power to kill us all. What could possibly go wrong? Artificial hearts will be broken, bodies will not stay buried, the truth will not remain hidden, and the Vision will never be the same.

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Kill or be Killed written by Ed Brubaker, art by  Elizabeth Breitweiser and Sean Phillips – Image Comics

The darkly twisted story of a young man forced to kill bad people, and how he struggles to keep his secret as it slowly begins to ruin his life and the lives of his friends and loved ones.

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Saga written by Brian K. Vaughan, art by Fiona Staples – Image Comics

SAGA is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in a sexy, subversive drama for adults.

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Black Hammer written Jeff Lemire, art by Dean Ormston – Dark Horse Comics

HEROES NEVER DIE…THEY JUST GET RETCONNED! Once they were heroes, but the age of heroes has long since passed. Banished from existence by a multiversal crisis, the old champions of Spiral City…Abraham Slam, Golden Gail, Colonel Weird, Madame Dragonfly, and Barbalien…now lead simple lives in a timeless farming town. Even as they try to find their way home, trouble has a unique way of finding heroes wherever they are!

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Turncoat written by Alex Paknadel, art by Artyom Trakhanov – BOOM! Studios

300 years since humanity was brutally subjugated by the alien race known simply as the Management. Two years since these invaders abandoned Earth to return to their home world. Following her participation in the brutal massacre of human-alien hybrids left behind by the Management, resistance fighter Marta Gonzalez declines to join the new human government and starts her own private detective agency instead. Gonzalez is forced to confront her own bloody past and acknowledge the fact that the transition from oppression to emancipation is anything but clean.

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Of the some eighty or so books I read in 2016, these were my favorites.

In no particular order…

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News of the World by Paulette Jiles (October 4, 2016)

In the aftermath of the American Civil War, an aging itinerant news reader agrees to transport a young captive of the Kiowa back to her people in this morally complex, multi-layered novel of historical fiction from the author of Enemy Women that explores the boundaries of family, responsibility, honor, and trust.

Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd travels through northern Texas, giving live readings from newspapers to paying audiences hungry for news of the world. An elderly widower who has lived through three wars and fought in two of them, the captain enjoys his rootless, solitary existence.

In Wichita Falls, he is offered a $50 gold piece to deliver a young orphan to her relatives in San Antonio. Four years earlier, a band of Kiowa raiders killed Johanna’s parents and sister; sparing the little girl, they raised her as one of their own. Recently rescued by the U.S. army, the ten-year-old has once again been torn away from the only home she knows.

Their 400-mile journey south through unsettled territory and unforgiving terrain proves difficult and at times dangerous. Johanna has forgotten the English language, tries to escape at every opportunity, throws away her shoes, and refuses to act “civilized.” Yet as the miles pass, the two lonely survivors tentatively begin to trust each other, forming a bond that marks the difference between life and death in this treacherous land.

A quick and compelling read, I finished this book in a single day.  The relationship at the heart of this western drives a narrative at turns spirited, humorous, and incredibly touching.  Unforgettable.

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Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (April 26, 2016)

Welcome to Black Spring, the seemingly picturesque Hudson Valley town haunted by the Black Rock Witch, a seventeenth century woman whose eyes and mouth are sewn shut. Muzzled, she walks the streets and enters homes at will. She stands next to children’s bed for nights on end. Everybody knows that her eyes may never be opened or the consequences will be too terrible to bear.

The elders of Black Spring have virtually quarantined the town by using high-tech surveillance to prevent their curse from spreading. Frustrated with being kept in lockdown, the town’s teenagers decide to break their strict regulations and go viral with the haunting. But, in so doing, they send the town spiraling into dark, medieval practices of the distant past.

Oh, this one’s a weird one.  Delightfully so.

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On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (October 3, 1999)

Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. 

The world’s most accomplished author of contemporary fiction delivers the best book on the craft of writing. 

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 The Regional Office is Under Attack! by Manuel Gonzales (April 12, 2016)

In a world beset by amassing forces of darkness, one organization—the Regional Office—and its coterie of super-powered female assassins protects the globe from annihilation. At its helm, the mysterious Oyemi and her oracles seek out new recruits and root out evil plots. Then a prophecy suggests that someone from inside might bring about its downfall. And now, the Regional Office is under attack.

Super-charged madness here.  I hear a movie is already in the works. 

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Seinfeldia: How a Show About Nothing Changed Everything by Jennifer Keishin Armstrong

In Seinfeldia, acclaimed TV historian and entertainment writer Jennifer Keishin Armstrong celebrates the creators and fans of this American television phenomenon, bringing readers behind-the-scenes of the show while it was on the air and into the world of devotees for whom it never stopped being relevant, a world where the Soup Nazi still spends his days saying “No soup for you!”, Joe Davola gets questioned every day about his sanity, Kenny Kramer makes his living giving tours of New York sights from the show, and fans dress up in Jerry’s famous puffy shirt, dance like Elaine, and imagine plotlines for Seinfeld if it were still on TV.

If you’re a fan of the show, you’ll love this book.  I am and I did.

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The Lesser Dead by Christopher Buehlman (October 7, 2014)

New York City in 1978 is a dirty, dangerous place to live. And die. Joey Peacock knows this as well as anybody—he has spent the last forty years as an adolescent vampire, perfecting the routine he now enjoys: womanizing in punk clubs and discotheques, feeding by night, and sleeping by day with others of his kind in the macabre labyrinth under the city’s sidewalks.

The subways are his playground and his highway, shuttling him throughout Manhattan to bleed the unsuspecting in the Sheep Meadow of Central Park or in the backseats of Checker cabs, or even those in their own apartments who are too hypnotized by sitcoms to notice him opening their windows. It’s almost too easy.

Until one night he sees them hunting on his beloved subway. The children with the merry eyes. Vampires, like him…or not like him. Whatever they are, whatever their appearance means, the undead in the tunnels of Manhattan are not as safe as they once were.

And neither are the rest of us.

I’m not a fan of vampire fiction but this book totally upended my expectations.  The sequel was recently released and I’ve already purchased a digital copy.

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Company Town by Madeline Ashby (May 17, 2016)

Meet Hwa. One of the few in her community to forego bio-engineered enhancements, she’s the last truly organic person left on the rig. But she’s an expert in the arts of self-defence, and she’s been charged with training the Family’s youngest, who has been receiving death threats – seemingly from another timeline.

Meanwhile, a series of interconnected murders threatens the city’s stability – serial killer? Or something much, much worse…?

One hell of a cool read.

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The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North (May 17, 2016)

My name is Hope Arden, and you won’t know who I am. We’ve met before – a thousand times. But I am the girl the world forgets.

It started when I was sixteen years old. A slow declining, an isolation, one piece at a time.

A father forgetting to drive me to school. A mother setting the table for three, not four. A teacher who forgets to chase my missing homework. A friend who looks straight through me and sees a stranger.

No matter what I do, the words I say, the people I hurt, the crimes I commit – you will never remember who I am.

That makes my life tricky. But it also makes me dangerous . . .

North (aka Catherine Webb) is the author of The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August and Touch, both of which made my Top Reads list in previous years.  I look forward to her next book making it 4 for 4.

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The Flicker Men by Ted Kosmatka (July 21, 2015)

Eric Argus is a washout. His prodigious early work clouded his reputation and strained his sanity. But an old friend gives him another chance, an opportunity to step back into the light.

With three months to produce new research, Eric replicates the paradoxical double-slit experiment to see for himself the mysterious dual nature of light and matter. A simple but unprecedented inference blooms into a staggering discovery about human consciousness and the structure of the universe.

His findings are celebrated and condemned in equal measure. But no one can predict where the truth will lead. And as Eric seeks to understand the unfolding revelations, he must evade shadowy pursuers who believe he knows entirely too much already.

Smart, provocative SF.

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Beyond Redemption by Michael H. Fletcher

Faith shapes the landscape, defines the laws of physics, and makes a mockery of truth. Common knowledge isn’t an axiom, it’s a force of nature. What the masses believe is. But insanity is a weapon, conviction a shield. Delusions give birth to foul new gods.

Violent and dark, the world is filled with the Geisteskranken—men and women whose delusions manifest, twisting reality. High Priest Konig seeks to create order from chaos. He defines the beliefs of his followers, leading their faith to one end: a young boy, Morgen, must Ascend to become a god. A god they can control.

But there are many who would see this would-be-god in their thrall, including the High Priest’s own Doppels, and a Slaver no one can resist. Three reprobates—The Greatest Swordsman in the World, a murderous Kleptic, and possibly the only sane man left—have their own nefarious plans for the young god.

As these forces converge on the boy, there’s one more obstacle: time is running out. When one’s delusions become more powerful, they become harder to control. The fate of the Geisteskranken is to inevitably find oneself in the Afterdeath.

The question, then, is: Who will rule there?

This wildly imaginative novel was my favorite book of 2015.  The sequel was released in November and is also on my to-read pile.

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Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris (February 26, 2008)

No one knows us quite the same way as the men and women who sit beside us in department meetings and crowd the office refrigerator with their labeled yogurts. Every office is a family of sorts, and the ad agency Joshua Ferris brilliantly depicts in his debut novel is family at its strangest and best, coping with a business downturn in the time-honored way: through gossip, pranks, and increasingly frequent coffee breaks.

With a demon’s eye for the details that make life worth noticing, Joshua Ferris tells a true and funny story about survival in life’s strangest environment–the one we pretend is normal five days a week.

If you like your humor pitch dark, then Ferris is the author for you.  Also check out his most recent To Rise Again at a Decent Hour.  

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The Traitor Baru Cormorant by Seth Dickinson (September 15, 2015)

Tomorrow, on the beach, Baru Cormorant will look up from the sand of her home and see red sails on the horizon.

The Empire of Masks is coming, armed with coin and ink, doctrine and compass, soap and lies. They’ll conquer Baru’s island, rewrite her culture, criminalize her customs, and dispose of one of her fathers. But Baru is patient. She’ll swallow her hate, prove her talent, and join the Masquerade. She will learn the secrets of empire. She’ll be exactly what they need. And she’ll claw her way high enough up the rungs of power to set her people free.

In a final test of her loyalty, the Masquerade will send Baru to bring order to distant Aurdwynn, a snakepit of rebels, informants, and seditious dukes. Aurdwynn kills everyone who tries to rule it. To survive, Baru will need to untangle this land’s intricate web of treachery – and conceal her attraction to the dangerously fascinating Duchess Tain Hu.

But Baru is a savant in games of power, as ruthless in her tactics as she is fixated on her goals. In the calculus of her schemes, all ledgers must be balanced, and the price of liberation paid in full.

A brilliant entry in the fantasy genre, full of twists, turns, and unforgettable characters.

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1

Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry (June 14, 2016)

When Nora takes the train from London to visit her sister in the countryside, she expects to find her waiting at the station, or at home cooking dinner. But when she walks into Rachel’s familiar house, what she finds is entirely different: her sister has been the victim of a brutal murder.

Stunned and adrift, Nora finds she can’t return to her former life. An unsolved assault in the past has shaken her faith in the police, and she can’t trust them to find her sister’s killer. Haunted by the murder and the secrets that surround it, Nora is under the harrow: distressed and in danger. As Nora’s fear turns to obsession, she becomes as unrecognizable as the sister her investigation uncovers.

A riveting read.  The best thriller since Gone Girl.

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1

Mongrels by Stephen Graham Jones

He was born an outsider, like the rest of his family. Poor yet resilient, he lives in the shadows with his Aunt Libby and Uncle Darren, folk who stubbornly make their way in a society that does not understand or want them. They are mongrels, mixedblood, neither this nor that. The boy at the center of Mongrels must decide if he belongs on the road with his aunt and uncle, or if he fits with the people on the other side of the tracks.

For ten years, he and his family have lived a life of late-night exits and close calls—always on the move across the South to stay one step ahead of the law. But the time is drawing near when Darren and Libby will know if their nephew is like them or not. And the close calls they’ve been running from for so long are catching up fast, now. Everything is about to change.

A surprisingly fresh take on the werewolf tale.  

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Honorable Mentions

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danier

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

The Family Plot by Cherie Priest

Ninefox Gambit by Yoon Ha Lee

I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt

Dark Run by Mike Brooks

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Hey!  Two of Akemi’s three special-order Christmas gifts were waiting for us on our return to Toronto this afternoon…

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