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Posts Tagged ‘paranormal’

lexiconWord power! It’s way more than Reader’s Digest vocabulary quizzes. Words are weapons controlled by poets in Max Barry’s genre-melding, mind-bending novel Lexicon (Penguin, digital galley), the most fun I’ve had all summer.
The thrills begin in the first chapter when Australian Wil Parke is kidnapped in the Portland, Ore., airport, undergoes a quick personality test, survives a shoot-out and is whisked away in a van. The action switches to San Francisco where teen grifter Emily Griff is recruited to attend an exclusive academy outside Washington, D.C., where students study neuro-linguistics and the powers of persuasion. The most adept graduates take the names of poets, becoming agents for a secret society that uses words to control the minds of the unwitting populace. The enigmatic Yeats runs the organization; Eliot and Bronte are among the top agents, but Woolf has gone rogue. How is Wil Parke involved? It all has to do with a mysterious toxic event in Broken Hill, Australia, which killed thousands and wiped Wil’s memory clean. Emily’s connected, too, as is the discovery of an all-powerful “bareword.” Remember the Tower of Babel?
Barry’s smart, witty writing, well-defined characters and strong sense of place make his near-future world conspiracy of mind-hacking bizarre yet plausible. (Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean the bastards aren’t out to get you.) As Emily learns, words like “bewitched,” “fascinating” and “spellbound” were once literal magic. In Lexicon, they still are. Amazing!
homecomingThe fun continues in Carsten Stroud’s paranormal thriller The Homecoming (Knopf, digital galley), the sequel to last summer’s Niceville, in which a Southern town was beset by trigger-happy thieves, mysterious disappearances and Something Evil from beyond the grave. Detective Nick Kavanaugh returns to try and save the day from the treacherous thieves, possessed orphan Rainey Teague and the Something Evil, now appearing as a black miasma emanating from the Crater.
The story, which isn’t as far out nor as frenzied as the previous one, picks up two weeks after events in the first book with two mysterious plane crashes. Six months later, the mystery and mayhem intensify to include a shoot-out in a mall outdoors store and ghosts from a plantation past. The antique mirror, hidden by Nick’s wife Kate, exhibits its weird through-the-looking-glass characteristics, and strange “bone baskets” found in the Tulip River hint at more nastiness at work in Niceville. Happily, a fast pace and snappy dialogue encourage readers not to think too much and just go with the flow. Hang on, though, whitewater ahead and a third book.
starwars“In time so long ago begins our play/ In star-crossed galaxy far, far away.” If literary snark’s your thing, don’t missWilliam Shakespeare’s Star Wars (Quirk Books, digital galley), a five-act mash-up, “Verily: A New Hope,” in iambic pentameter by the clever Ian Doescher. He borrows from familiar Shakespeare passages — C-3P0 taking off from Richard III: “Now is the summer of our happiness/ Made winter by this sudden fierce attack;” Luke Skywalker doing Hamlet: “Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew you not;” Princess Leia singing a “hey, nonny, nonny” variation from Much Ado as Alderaan explodes.
Yes, it’s silly, especially when R2D2 beeps in and Jabba speaks jibber-jabber, but the Chorus has an Elizabethan field day: “Mos Eisley now is left behind at last/ While newer scenes come into view apace/ As Han’s Millenn’um Falcon flies far fast/ The action of our play moves back to space!”
May the forsooth be with you.

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I’ve made up my mind. I’m going to be Rory Deveaux for Halloween. I already have the basic looks — dark hair, fair skin, round face. Clothes are no problem — jeans, T-shirt, vintage black velvet jacket — because they are my clothes.  Red lipstick? Check. Southern accent? Got it. Just need to pick up a few props — iPod, old cell phone, Mardi Gras beads. Voila! I’m 17 again (quick, dim those lights), an American schoolgirl in London, soon-to-be fledgling ghostbuster.

Rory doesn’t know about the ghost stuff at the beginning of Maureen Johnson’s nifty new paranormal thriller, The Name of the Star, the first volume  in the Shades of London trilogy. As she tells it, she’s just feeling like a fish out of water at the posh boarding school Wexford in London’s East End. But she likes her roommate Jazza, and one of the prefects, Jerome, has a great grin and floppy curls. Now, if she can just survive field hockey and English food. Also Jack the Ripper.

Yes, Jack’s back, or rather a serial killer bent on duplicating the famous Victorian murders in the Spitalfields area near Rory’s school. Despite the omnipresent closed-circuit TV cameras, the industrious efforts of the police, and intense media scrutiny, the Ripper has yet to be spotted. Then Rory sees a drab bald man outside the school as she and Jazza are sneaking back in the girls’ dorm on the night of another murder. Jazza doesn’t see him, probably because she’s scooted in the window, which leaves Rory the only witness. Soon she’s working with a super-secret security force of young officers with a specific skill set. Stephen, Callum and Boo are charged with keeping Rory away from the Ripper even as they go after the killer. They want him dead or alive. He may be both.

Johnson’s clever plot is grisly and goofy in equal measure, with plenty of grins to balance the gore. The climax in a closed, or “dead” station, of the Underground near London Bridge is followed by a stunning finale at the school that sets up a sequel. I see dead people in Rory’s future.

Open Book: I borrowed a digital copy of Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star (Putnam) from the Orange County Library System’s online catalog. Once I checked it out online, Overdrive delivered the book in Adobe Digital to my laptop in S.C. , and then I sideloaded  it to my Nook. What a cool trick!

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Are your memories of high school heavenly, or are they hellish? Perhaps a bit of both, which is why high school often feels like limbo, the necessary way station before whatever happens next.

The students in Dead Rules, Randy Russell’s killer YA debut, can relate. Their lives interrupted by sudden death, these teens find themselves at a ghostly school wearing the clothes and wounds of their passing. Poor Jana Webster. She has on bowling shoes! For an aspiring actress bent on a Broadway career with boyfriend Michael Hayes, this is totally humilating. Sure it could be worse — she could have arrived with a lawn dart sticking out of her head, or missing a major limb. Jana’s pretty lucky with just a bloody bump on the back of her skull and a tube of lip gloss in her pocket.

But Jana doesn’t feel lucky. Michael isn’t with her. How can she go on without the love of her life? Webster and Hayes for all eternity!  Michael must die, even if she has to kill him herself.

She can’t do it alone though. Dead School, like other high schools, has classes and cliques and rules. As a Riser almost assured of salvation, Jana has lost connection with the “Planet.” Only with the help of a more warm-blooded Slider,  a student who retains an earthly connection because of past misdeeds, can she hope to communicate with Michael. Mars Dreamcote, for instance, is a Slider who frequently risks expulsion by going off campus as a ghost of his former self and already has broken the rules by explaining some of them to Jana. That he also knows more about Jana’s life and death than she realizes still awaits her discovery. First, though, they need to attend Jana’s funeral.

Wickedly clever. Or cleverly wicked. Either way, Russell’s tale is also funny, thoughtful and poignant, with a fully realized world of quirky, recognizable teens. I’m totally crushing on Mars, the blue-eyed “bad boy” secretly seeking redemption. Expertly plotted, the story builds to a final, brilliant sentence. But don’t skip ahead or you might miss the impact. This once you’ll want to follow the rules start to finish.

Open Book: I bought the e-book version of Dead Rules (HarperTeen), and my longtime friend Randy Russell has not bribed me to say nice things. I’m just sorry I haven’t gotten around to saying them sooner.

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The new normal is the paranormal in much of today’s fiction, both literary and commercial. Here a ghost, there a zombie, everywhere a vampire or a werewolf. But several recent novels enchant with the magic of storytelling even as they trip the light fantastic.

Alice Hoffman, of course, is one of the leading practitioners of American magical realism, known as much for her luminous writing as her tales tinged with whimsy. My favorites include Seventh Heaven, Practical Magic,  The River King and Blackbird House. The latter is comprised of  stories linked by a Cape Cod house built during Colonial times by a fisherman who drowned at sea. A blackbird with wings of white reappears to succeeding generations as they experience fable-like encounters and transformations.

Hoffman’s most recent book, The Red Garden (Crown), is similar in form and style as its stories tell the history of  the small Massachustts town of Blackwell. All stem from town founder Hallie Brady’s determination to keep herself and her fellow settlers from starvation by forging a kinship with the wilderness, especially its black bears. A river full of eels, a mysterious garden, tomatoes that grant wishes, a woman with hair so long she can step on it. Hoffman’s lyrical fables are full of fate and magic and metaphor. And how wonderful that  Johnny Appleseed himself visits Blackwell once upon a time.

“Wonderful” is a good word, too, to describe Jo Walton’s new novel, Among Others (Tor). It’s a coming-of-age, sense-of-wonder tale told through the journal entries of Welsh teen Mori, a stranger in the strange land of a British boarding school. She and her twin sister used to escape from their witch of a mother by playing in the magical outdoors and talking to the fairies. But now Mori, still limping from a terrible accident, keeps to herself, seeking refuge in science fiction and fantasy books. 

“There are some awful things in the world, it’s true, but there are also some great books. When I grow up I would like to write something that someone could read sitting on a bench on a day that isn’t all that warm and they could sit reading it and totally forget where they were or what time it was so that they were more inside the book than inside their own head. I’d like to write like Delany or Heinlein or Le Guin.”

Mori’s world expands, thanks to to inter-library loan, a SF reading group, and the rebellious drop-out Win, “rarer than a unicorn, a beautiful boy in a red-checked shirt who read and thought and talked about books.” But before she can begin the next chapter of her life, Mori must reckon with the spells of the past. 

Among Others reminded me of how many hours I spent as a teen lost in the other worlds of Delany, Heinlein and Le Guin. My to re-read list gets ever longer. I’ve also added Sheri Holman’s The Dress Lodger, although her new novel, Witches on the Road Tonight (Grove/Atlantic) is altogether different, mixing Appalachian mountain myth with the poignant story of a conflicted man’s life. It begins: “Of all the props I saved, only the coffin remains.”

Eddie Alley was once a TV weatherman who gained small-town fame as Captain Casket, host of a late-night horror show. His love of monster movies dates back to his Depression-era boyhood in rural Virginia, where a WPA writer named Tucker Hayes shows Eddie a flickering Frankenstein with a hand-held projector. Eddie is as captivated by this visitor as Tucker is taken with Eddie’s mother Cora, who gathers ginseng (“sang”) and has a reputation as a witch.

Holman shuttles between present-day New York, where aging Eddie leaves a phone message about sang to his TV anchor daughter Wallis; to Panther Gap, where Tucker, a reluctant World War II draftee, stays longer than planned; to the late 1970s, when Wallis is 12 and her father brings home the orphaned Jasper. Holman also artfully shifts perspectives as mystery and magic meet.  The overall arc is a bit uneven because the events at Panther Gap overshadow Wallis’ suburban childhood.

Deborah Harkness’ debut, A Discovery of Witches, is pop paranormal, crowded with witches, vampires and daemons living among us poor unaware humans. Impossibly smart and attractive, Diana Bishop comes from a long line of famous witches, but she prefers to do her historical research without magic. But then she opens a medieval manuscript in Oxford’s Bodleian Library and finds the palimpsest thrumming with magic. Suddenly, many of the undead are on the trail of the book and its secrets, including the impossibly handsome and brilliant vampire geneticist Matthew Clairmont. 

Once you buy into the premise, the tale proves to be a well-written escapist romp with just enough romance and real history to make its 500-plus pages mostly worth reading. (I admit to skimming through the yoga sessions). Be forewarned: The ending isn’t really the end. This is the first book in the All Souls trilogy.

Open Book: I bought hardcover copies of The Red Garden and A Discovery of Witches and e-book versions of Among Others and Witches on the Road tonight. This is the thing with e-book pricing; sometimes the dead-tree format costs less or pretty much the same with discounts. As many books as I buy, I’d still rather save money than space.

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