In Search Of and Others

Short stories are not my cup of tea but at the behest of a close friend I decided to check out Will Ludwigsen's short story collection IN SEARCH OF AND OTHERS. This friend assured me that Will was a talented author and suspected that I would appreciate his fiendish wit. And so once again I took a step outside my comfortable bubble of security and exclusion to try something different. It's becoming apparent that I should clear my mind of preconceived notions because IN SEARCH OF AND OTHERS struck a strong emotional cord.

"Reality leaks," he told us at the first meeting. "The consciousness that imagines us into existence doesn't always remember all the details. It gets distracted. It lets things slip. It can't keep up the illusion in all places and all times, and it's our job to find those places and times, to peel back the edges." (page 59, "We Were Wonder Scouts")

This collection includes fifteen short stories, offering glimpses into the mysteries of the universe. It's a powerful anthology that moved me in more ways than one. Ludwigsen asks a lot of deep questions and provides answers that are deep and weird and eerie and whimsical. I didn't skip over a single story (a first, even regarding collections I enjoy) and I didn't skim either. If anyone ever decides to revive The Twilight Zone I dearly hope that they contract Ludwigsen to pen the scripts. It's a position he may have been born to fulfill. Here are some of the highlights from IN SEARCH OF AND OTHERS...

"In Search Of" - Of course the flagship title of the collection would number amongst the best stories. It compresses a lifetime's worth of questions into a few pages worth of answers. It properly sets the tone for the stories to follow, suggesting that you can ask questions but there aren't always answers - and when there are answers they may be stranger than you could have ever expected.

"The Speed of Dreams" - A cute and clever 8th grade Science Fair experiment involving time dilation in dreams. As someone that endures more than his fair share of dreams I found this piece particularly thought provoking. I like the format (it's written as a paper draft of the experiment) and the ending was...unexpected.

"Whit Carlton's Trespasser" - I found myself chuckling my way through this story - until the end that is.

"We Were Wonder Scouts" - I feel like this would have also made a good headliner for the collection. It's a story that encapsulates the theme of yearning, and searching, for wonder.

"A Chamber to be Haunted" - A favorite of mine! I love the idea of a real estate agent that specializes in stigmatized property (i.e. death houses/kill houses/haunted houses). The agent explains the process of selling such a house and I could easily see Ludwigsen crafting a whole novel on this premise. Who would have thought real estate could be gripping?

"Prudenter to Dream" - Another story that could be worked into a full-length novel. This story is somewhat like Inception, but without all the Hollywood special effects and overly-complex plotting.

"The Ghost Factory" - This one hit a little too close to home, but that does not make it a bad story. In fact, it's a very good story for all the sadness that comes with reading it. If there is one piece from IN SEARCH OF AND OTHERS that is bound to stick with me it would be this.

"Universicule" - And here we have reached my favorite story of all. The most compelling mystery of this book is the mystery of a book. This too is a terribly sad examination of relationships and the pursuit of the wondrous. It is a perfect note to end on and it continues the enigma of Thuria, which is touched upon in several other tales.

IN SEARCH OF AND OTHERS is a moving collection. It made me nostalgic for a time when I believed in the Bermuda Triangle and other supernatural phenomena. It was a time right before the Internet became so commonplace and there was a bit less transparency in the world. Ludwigsen puts it far better than I ever could in the Foreword, but it tugs the intended heart strings. IN SEARCH OF left me with a mixed bag of emotion and a satisfying feeling that there are mysteries out there and it's up to us to "peel back the edges."

Recommended Age: 14+
Language: I really can't remember there being any.
Violence: Talk of violence, no direct violence.
Sex: Talk of sex, no direct sex.

Need some mystery in your life? Get it here.

Age of Voodoo

Happy New Year all! I hope you're having a good one so far. I humbly present you James Lovegrove's THE AGE OF VOODOO, the latest installment in the legendary godpunk series. This time around readers get to delve into the lesser known world of voodoo or vodou. And you know what they say, "Where there's voodoo there are sure to be voodoo zombies!" Somebody says that...right?

Lex Dove was a specialist, an assassin, a ghost. He is living out his hard earned retirement on a beautiful island in the Caribbean. Retirement is short lived. A call comes, a request from his old employer. Just like that he is back in the game, chosen as a local guide for a very special group of special forces soldiers. Lex is a professional but no amount of experience could prepare him for what he will face beneath the surface of Anger Reef.

Do you know why I get so excited about a new Pantheon novel? You can always expect a few things when Lovegrove sets to it. You can expect interesting characters. You can expect thorough research. You can expect big ideas. And you can expect explosive action. You can expect the unexpected. Each Pantheon novel is a contemporary myth of man against god(s). Despite this underlying theme Lovegrove never tells the same story twice. THE AGE OF VOODOO, like previous entries to the series, is a standalone adventure that plays on legend. The diversity of the Pantheon series is its greatest strength.

With THE AGE OF VOODOO Lovegrove exposes some of the fundamentals of voodoo (duh). In a lot of ways that makes this the riskiest novel in the series to date. The previous novels all dealt with better known deities and religions. One of the best things though, about reading one of these, is learning about exotic belief systems. Granted this is fiction, but I always get the sense that Lovegrove has done his research. The subject of THE AGE OF VOODOO is the distant and unknowable creator god Bondye, and the subservient spirits called loa. The most popular loa outside of voodoo is Baron Samedi, the devilish rogue featured on the cover and my next Halloween costume. It's not all that complicated but I'll leave the rest for readers to parcel out.

Lex Dove is a British ex-operative. He has a talent for violence but no real desire to act on it any longer. Or so he says. He hangs around his friends bar, playing bouncer. The memories of his victims plague him. The fact that their deaths protected the civilized world are little remedy. Surprisingly enough, the main protagonist isn't the headlining performance this go around. Instead, that honor goes to the voodoo practitioner, Albertine, and the Navy SEALs of Team Thirteen. Albertine plays guide into the occult world of voodoo, explaining the ins and outs in digestible chunks. I rather appreciate that she doesn't fit the stereotypical voodoo mambo. She is, in fact, a respectable woman with a decent IT job that happens to have access to hidden knowledge.

Then there is Team Thirteen, the "janitors of the uncanny." The SEALs put the special in special forces. These are the boys the government calls when things go bump in the night. They deal with the supernatural - with extreme prejudice. Vampires are real. As are werewolves and ghosts and other nasty baddies besides. This is the "Stephen-King-meets-James-Bond world of Team Thirteen." The Team doesn't get loads of development, though Lieutenant Buckler is a one tough mo-fo and Tartaglione is good for a chuckle or five. Still, they are definitely interesting and I'd like to see how one member comes to terms with their new...capabilities after the novel.

The plot is noticeably weaker than previous Pantheon novels. Setting the pins takes half the novel and knocking them down seems to breeze by. Once on the island the pace ratchets up considerably, leaving less time for exposition. The deity aspect of THE AGE OF VOODOO also feels lighter. There are some really cool things brought up but it's not as intricate with the lore. I suppose the best way to describe it is "understated." There are some really great moments, specifically the hilarious Chapter 9: A Reasoned, Gentlemanly Exchange of Views. I respect that Lovegrove utilizes zombies without dawdling on them. Plus these are voodoo zombies, zuvembies, they retain primitive cognition. They aren't set on consuming flesh, they are capable of basic survival responses. They are meat robots at the command of their maker. This makes them much better foes than the traditional American zombie.

All in all, THE AGE OF VOODOO isn't the strongest of Lovegrove's Pantheon novels. It lacks the characterization of AGE OF AZTEC and the explosive action of AGE OF ZEUS. Nonetheless, it is an entertaining novel dealing with lesser known subject matter. As always, Lovegrove remains the king of godpunk.

Recommended Age: 15+
Language: Frequent.
Violence: You betcha!
Sex: Nothing explicit.

Get the series!

Earth Thirst

Vampires? Vampires! Grab the stakes and garlic, this sub-genre isn't dead yet. Don't mind me, I kid. Vampires are never going away and Mark Teppo's EARTH THIRST rejuvenates a tired concept. Teppo's vampires are of the crunchy granola, tree hugging variety. Don't confuse the Arcadians for hippies though, the stewards of the Earth come heavily armed.

The Earth is dying. Mankind poisons the soil and pollutes the air. The Arcadians, vampire stewards, are fighting a losing battle against hyper-industrialization. Silas is a soldier, he follows orders - even when those orders lead him onto the open seas with a group of protestors trying to save the whales. Things quickly go awry and Silas finds himself cut off from support and running for his immortal life. Now he will have to get to the bottom of a mystery that could destroy everything he loves.

Teppo's greatest feat with EARTH THIRST is his creation of eco-friendly vampires. I'm no fan of bloodsuckers and I'm no environmentalist (though I see the benefit of recycling) so it comes as a surprise that I like EARTH THIRST. The Arcadians have two methods of survival, 1) returning to the pure soil of Mother Earth, and 2) consuming blood. These vampires are more natural than supernatural. Smog and defoliant are anathema to the Arcadians, not crucifixes and garlic. In the context of the novel this is all entirely rational. It makes more sense than any other fictional explanation for vampires that I've ever read. It's fitting. It's refreshing.

Silas is the teeth and claws of Arcardia. He is a soldier of the Grove, but EARTH THIRST thrusts him into the role of detective. He is accustomed to taking orders, not piecing out puzzles and it shows. He is a direct, take action sort of guy and he realizes that if he is going to save Mother he will have to work outside his comfort zone and rely on Mere, an investigative journalist. Like most good thrillers, our protagonist lacks external support. He is "rootless," left to die a slow death by succumbing to man-made toxins.

 I found Mere to be less compelling than Silas. Her skills as an investigative journalist come into play occasionally but she frequently felt like a mandatory romantic interest and a liability. These two characters soak up all the development, the villains and ancillary cast fall flat. Phoebe, another Arcadian, seems cool but she doesn't get the attention she likely deserves. The villains are typical enough and their henchmen serve as little more than cannon fodder.

Clues fall into place steadily, and plot development is interspersed with heavy action. The action is fast and furious. Silas has had 3,000 years to hone his craft and Arcadians can soak up loads of punishment before dying. The pacing is relentless, carrying Silas and Mere across exotic locales in search of pieces to the puzzle. Silas suffers from amnesia, a trope that would generally throw me into a fit of rage. Here the amnesia serves as a facet of the story rather than impeding progress.

EARTH THIRST is a different breed of Urban Fantasy, much like the Arcadians are a different breed of vampire. In truth it is closer to an eco-thriller, detective novel. It's not perfect but it is a refreshing take on a well worn concept and I suspect that there are more Arcadian novels to come.

Age Recommendation: 16+
Language: Present but not over-the-top.
Sex: Physical encounters, nothing too graphic.
Violence: There's a decapitation with a manhole cover so...yeah.

Want it? Buy it here.

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Do you know where these are from? “Follow the yellow brick road”, “There’s no place like home” or even “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore Toto.” How about we try another one? If I were to talk to you about going down the rabbit hole would you know what I meant? What if I asked you about the Mad Hatter? You would wouldn’t you?

Why am I bringing these up at the beginning of this review? It’s simple. The story of the Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland have permeated our culture. There have been dozens of retellings of them in movies and cartoons and comic books. I can’t count how many different versions I’ve seen of Dorothy, the Scarecrow, the Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion marching merrily off to Oz. Heck there’s another movie about Oz coming out in just a few months. The reason I bring this up is that I think what Catherynne Valente is doing with her Fairyland books--of which THE GIRL WHO FELL BENEATH FAIRYLAND AND LED THE REVELS THERE is the second--are something special, something amazing, something that hopefully someday will permeate our culture to the extent that Oz and Wonderland have. We should be able to talk to anyone about a Wyverary named A through L. There should be version after version of September (our protagonist) available to look at and see as she goes through her merry (and sometimes not) adventures. These books are the modern fairytales that we should all share and have in common.

I have made no secret in the past of my love of Valente’s work. I’ve been reviewing it here on Elitist for a few years and even before that I would tell everyone I knew about her brilliant work The Orphan’s Tales (still my favorite of hers). And while I still prefer the Orphan’s Tales to her Fairyland books, I do think these are her most accessible books out there and they are so filled with magic and joy that to not read them is to deprive yourself of something wonderful. Why would you do that to yourself? I digress, let me tell you about the books.

This is the blurb from amazon:

September has longed to return to Fairyland after her first adventure there. And when she finally does, she learns that its inhabitants have been losing their shadows—and their magic—to the world of Fairyland Below. This underworld has a new ruler: Halloween, the Hollow Queen, who is September’s shadow. And Halloween does not want to give Fairyland’s shadows back.

But that doesn’t really do it justice. There are numerous characters that come in and out of the story. There are smaller sub plots that September has to deal with. I feel really awkward really, because I can’t do it justice here.

September as a character is fun to watch and read about. When she goes to fairyland she revels in the fact that she is in a fantastical world. Fairyland is amazing and she loves it and longs to return again and again. There are problems for sure, but it never gets in the way of the magic. The voice of the books is also a delight. The narrator frequently pulls back the curtain to talk to you, the reader, to either warn you of something ahead or lament a decision September has made. It feels like you are reading the book with a friend or rather that a friend is telling you this story. The magic in these books is second to none. It is bright and fantastical and weird and wonderful.

I could go on and on, but I’ll let you discover them for yourself. Or better yet, go find someone to read these with and share it.

If you haven't already, go pick up the first book THE GIRL WHO CIRCUMNAVIGATED FAIRYLAND IN A SHIP OF HER OWN MAKING. You can read EBR's review of it here. These books are simply a delight to read, and are some of the best modern fairytales you can find.

Age Recommendation: As soon as you think they are ready
Language: Nothing I can recall
Sex: Nope
Violence: Nothing harsh, some mild peril

Here are you links to grab these novels:


Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25

Michael Vey is not your average teenager. Ever since he was a kid, he could produce an electric shock. Kind of like a walking Taser. Only with hormones and acne.

His mom is paranoid about what would happen if people found out about his abilities. She gave up a good job at a California law firm to move them both to Idaho in order to keep him safe from anyone who might notice. But in high school Michael is noticed for other reasons: he's kinda scrawny, his best friend is the brainiac nerd at school, and he has Tourettes (the kind with tics when he's nervous, not the swearing kind). So of course the poor kid is bullied.

And this is where the story opens. The bullies have pushed Michael beyond his limit and he shocks them. The only problem is there's a witness: Taylor the cheerleader. After witnessing Michael using his talent, to his amazement she takes a sudden interest in him. When Ostin does some creative research about what happened when Michael was born, they suddenly discover that other, scarier people have an interest in him, as well.

Richard Paul Evans' writing is fairly straightforward and moves at a steady clip. MICHAEL VEY is definitely a departure from Evan's more sentimental stories (i.e., THE CHRISTMAS BOX), but like his other work the plot is predictable. The dialogue is frequently tedious (how many times do you have to include "Hello" and "Goodbye" and "How's it going?") and Evans tends toward the sappy/corny.

The villains--even the principal, who has some pretty odd dialogue--are stock characters without much meat to them beyond being an evil for Michael to overcome. Even the secondary child characters had more depth than the bad guys did. Michael himself is likable enough as the PoV character, with his goofy friend Ostin a convenient side-kick, and the beautiful Taylor as the potential romantic interest. Pretty standard fare.

Where the book redeems itself are the themes of friendship and doing what's right even when it's hard. The squeaky-clean style and the moral problems MICHAEL VEY addresses is what will appeal to parents; the kids will like seeing Michael save the day, not to mention the idea of kids with superpowers. My teenage daughter liked it and is eager to read the second, but I'm not a fan of Evans' writing style.

Recommended Age: 10+ (some scary scenes may bother more sensitive children)
Language: None
Violence: Kidnapping, torture, and even an on-scene murder (without detail)
Sex: None, it's mostly teenage crushes without being crass

Find the start of this new series here:


The Wolf's Hour

This review is going to be a bit different. Why? Because it isn't a review of the actual, physical book. You see, I drive a lot. More than is healthy, even. On average, I spend nearly two hours per day in a car. That's ten whole hours a week being dedicated to something other than reading awesome books...

...unless I use......wait for it.......AUDIOBOOKS!!!!!!!!

I actually get a lot of my catch-up reading done this way. I use almost exclusively, and I highly recommend them for all your audiobook needs. They are full of awesome. For the purpose of this review, however, I used GraphicAudio on the recommendation of a friend. I'd long wanted to read Robert McCammon's THE WOLF'S HOUR, but never had the time. didn't have it at the time, so I was pretty bummed out.  I found  out that GraphicAudio has a production the the novel, however, and got a copy of it as soon as I could.

Regular audiobooks are an interesting beast. The reader can make or break a novel, and many things just sound bad when read aloud regardless of the narrator. GraphicAudio's productions aren't normal audiobooks. They do a full cast, and have tons of sound effects. I was worried that I would miss out on a bunch of the narrative details, and that the voices would be horrible.

All those worries went away ten minutes into the production. It was complete immersion in the best way. The voice-work was terrific, and the narration was detailed. The sound effects gave a whole new dimension to the experience without detracting from the story. And of course, THE WOLF'S HOUR was an amazing novel.

McCammon's classic story follows Michael Gallatin, a Russian emigrant and current British spy. And he's a werewolf. The novel takes place in the time leading up to WWII's D-Day with Gallatin attempting to find a way to prevent a German plot to derail the Allied invasion. Mixed within this tale is how Gallatin became a werewolf.

What first struck me about this story was how old-school it felt. THE WOLF'S HOUR is an adventure story. A spy story. It has a bit of that old James Bond flavor to it with a sprinkling of Robert Ludlum thrown in. And of course it wouldn't be a Robert McCammon novel without a generous helping of Horror thrown in. The main character is a werewolf after all. The novel is full of heroic deeds from the supernatural Gallatin, but also from some very human individuals. The contrast between these normal characters (of whom there are many) and Gallatin is really what made the novel work for me. Additionally, seeing how Gallatin became the dashing spy was immensely entertaining for the most part.

Remember, this isn't a normal review of a novel. While listening, I had that nagging thought in my mind: what was I missing due to the "production"? There is a narrator, and many times it felt like I was just listening to a man reading from a physical copy of McCammon's work. A very good friend of mine (the guy who got me on this whole McCammon kick in the first place) gave me a paperback of THE WOLF'S HOUR for the sake of comparison. It turns out the GraphicAudio production leaves out very little. The descriptions and dialog tags are translated into sound effects and tone of voice where possible. So in a way, these books remain unabridged. It's pretty awesome.

There are, in essence, two things I have to critique here. The first of which is the audiobook, and the performances. It was, for the most part, amazing. That said, when everything is vocally acted out, it can lead to some awkward listening. There is a fair amount of sex in THE WOLF'S HOUR. Yeah. It's one thing to just read a scene, it's a completely different thing to hear it. There is only so many gasps and groans that a dude can listen to before feeling a little dirty. This could very well turn off quite a few potential buyers and listeners. Additionally, there are moments where the sound effects get in the way of the voices. Sound effects are neat, and add a fantastic layer of enjoyment to a story, but they should NEVER get in the way of the voice work and the story being told. Fortunately those occurrences were few and far between.

The second thing to critique is the novel itself. What this novel made me realize is how few good werewolf novels we have out there. Larry Correia is one of the better authors for this type of material. But other than that, what really is there? McCammon's novel isn't perfect. The pacing gets dragged to a complete stop the first couple times we get flashbacks to Gallatin's youth, and how he became a werewolf. By the end of the novel, it picks up and is completely enjoyable...but those first few flashbacks are rough. My only other problem is the believability of the Nazi scheme to thwart D-Day. Not the actual scheme itself, but the scale of it. It was far too small, and their assumption on how the Allied forces would react was a stretch. It was a minor thing, but I felt I should bring it up.

Overall, however, THE WOLF'S HOUR was fantastic. It is alternatively gut-wrenchingly horrific, and full-throttle fun. I could read endless stories of Michael Gallatin and never get bored. Subterranean Press released a collection of Gallatin short stories, THE HUNTER FROM THE WOODS, and I have the GraphicAudio production of it as well. I can't wait to "read" it.

Recommended Age: 18+
Profanity: Less than I would have imagined, but still there.
Violence: McCammon just lets loose in this novel. It is crazy violent. And freaking awesome.
Sex: Quite a few detailed scenes that seemed even more explicit when having to listen to them.

Here are your links to purchase this novel and the collection of short stories: