Nicholas is a bookseller and writer of fantasy and science fiction. Though Nicholas' proclivity usually lies with those two genres, he does make it a point to often step outside of his comfort zone and read a little bit of everything. Some of his favorite stories involve rich and vibrant characters, as well as worlds that lie seemingly just below the surface of our own. When not reading or selling at the store, legend has it that he can be found hiding in a coffee shop, brooding over his latest story.
One of the reasons why I love Neil Gaiman’s stories is that he can take the seemingly boring, mundane aspects of our everyday world and turn them on their heads. In Neverwhere, we follow Richard Mayhew who after helping a strange young woman found dying on the sidewalk, soon finds himself magically expelled from his very own existence in the city of London to the subterranean world of “London Below.” Accompanied by Door, who has the strange ability to open a doorway to any place imaginable, and “the Marquis de Carabas,” a mysterious man whose name is just as ridiculous as himself, Richard must traverse the many twisting tunnels and hidden areas of London Below to find a way back to the life that left him behind. Populated with the likes of supernatural assassins, rat talkers, vampire-like beings called “Velvets,” and a guardian angel, Neverwhere is an imaginative journey through the unseen and discarded places and stories of London.
In the not so distant future, Wade Watts is one of many who prefer to escape the problems of everyday life by living in an online-video game called “The Oasis.” When a high-stakes contest arises that promises the winner complete control of this digital paradise and the company that runs it, countless users devote every waking moment to its pursuit. As Wade becomes the first person in years to advance in the contest, he soon finds out that there is more than money and notoriety on the line. Ready Player One reads like a love letter to 1980’s pop-culture, all wrapped in a “Willy Wonka-esque” contest. While it is largely an enjoyable nostalgia trip filled with enough movie, video game, and other pop-culture references to make your head explode, there are also elements of corporate intrigue and a teenage love. A must for fans of the 80’s and John Hughes love stories.
A follow-up to the novel Lock In, Head On was a book I simply couldn’t put down. The story reads like an Agatha Christie murder mystery, but with more corporate conspiracy and robots. Beyond the mystery and sci-fi, there are also elements of social commentary that had me questioning humanity’s shared beliefs on race and minority. While I enjoy the story’s alternative take on the near-future, I simply love the balance between the often-humorous banter of the main characters and the narrative’s action-packed moments. All this combined with the even pacing of the story, as the author avoids inundating the reader with too much information all at once, makes for a smooth and enjoyable read. If you’re a fan of crime dramas, sci-fi, and some humorous dialogue, you’ll love John Scalzi’s Head On as much as I did.
Half personal history of his life in writing, half instruction for fledgling writers, Stephen King’s On Writing is a fantastic glimpse into the mind of one of the most influential authors in modern times. King is very candid with his stories; childhood, early career, and even his struggles with substance abuse are all discussed in an open manner. The latter half of the book is just as inspiring as King pulls from his decades of writing experience and shares the various tools of the trade that he has collected along the way. It is as if we are taking a peek at the figurative man behind the curtain, seeing what ticks inside this creator of monsters and nightmares. Whether you are a fan of the “King” of horror or are a writer yourself, On Writing is an inspiring discussion and journey led by one of the most prolific writers to date.
Though this book is often seen as the reason a generation came to fear clowns, there is much more to be had from Stephen King’s It. At its core, the novel is a horror/thriller, but the inclusion of a coming of age story makes it a more well-rounded narrative. Themes such as children dealing with loss, loneliness, and fear coupled with the hopefulness of friendship introduces a lightheartedness that serves as both a reprieve from the horrors they face, as well as magnifier for the intense and emotional scares. However, this isn’t to say it’s appropriate for kids. Because of some adult themes and imagery, this is definitely recommended for a mature audience. Regardless, It is both a dark and emotional tale that will leave the reader thoroughly entertained, and perhaps a tad weary of clowns.
The first novel in the Imperial Radch Trilogy, as well as a winner of the Hugo and Nebula awards, “Ancillary Justice” is pure gold. The story follows main-character “Breq” in their journey of self-discovery and revenge that spans galaxies. Author Ann Leckie has managed to combine science-fiction, religion, sexuality, class, and questions of individualism into a page-turning adventure that unfolds like a space opera. The various worlds and people of the novel also come complete with their own unique cultures, each one rich with enough history and detail that it’s hard to believe that they are works of fiction. A narrative that leads the reader through the vastness of space just to discover what it truly means to be a person, Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice is a gem of the science-fiction genre.
Who knew murder could be so chic? If you took Hannibal Lecter, gave him a sex change, dressed him up in this year’s Prada or Michael Kors, and set him loose on the snooty, stuck up, and disgustingly overprivileged of the fashion world, you’d have author Amina Akhtar’s main character, Anya St. Clair. Ms. Akhtar had worked in the fashion industry for nearly a decade before writing this book, which is why many of the references within feel entirely authentic. As for her main character, when she goes ignored by her supposed work BFF, Sarah, and is bullied into crash dieting by the head editor of the women’s fashion magazine they work for, the already psychotic Anya decides to take matters into her own well-manicured hands, in designer shoes no less. I ate up every page of this dark and witty look into the cutthroat fashion industry. It was so good, it must have been fattening.
In a not so distant future, the public execution of felons becomes the hottest and goriest show on air. Streaming live from the island of “Alcatraz 2.0,” the mysterious figure only known as “The Postman” soon has most of America obsessed with this twisted hybrid of justice and entertainment. Think Big Brother with more screaming and much more blood. It’s here that seventeen-year-old Dee Guerrera becomes the next convicted murderer offered up for this cruel game. The only problem is that she’s innocent. But, instead of lying down and dying, Dee is determined to fight for survival and discovering the real killer who purposely set her up. Gretchen McNeil’s #murdertrending borrows cues from the likes of The Running Man, The Hunger Games, and The Purge, adding dashes of pop culture references and humor, all wrapped up in a bow of teenage-girl power. Tune in as Dee, soon known as #CinderellaSurvivor, slays ridiculously-themed executioners and show ratings.
A fever dream that you can’t wake up from; that’s what it felt like when I read Vita Nostra. Originally a Russian novel published in 2007, Vita Nostra has since become an international bestseller, only just now seeing a definitive English translation more than a decade later. The young Alexandra has found herself gripped in a fantastical situation where she must heed the instructions of a stranger in dark sunglasses, lest her mother becomes a casualty to mysterious forces. These instructions lead Alexandra to a facility that masquerades as a university, where the lines of reality are further blended with those of the impossible. A constant ride of emotion, wonder, and difficult decisions, where Vita Nostra ultimately arrives at is a commentary on the briefness of life and the things that have gone unsaid.
A debut novel for author Gary Kemble, Strange Ink is a thrilling read of investigative journalism, political corruption, and murder from the horror genre. His use of tattoos as a means to imbue magic into skin is a clever idea in our modern-day, “inked” world. Also, it’s a rare opportunity that I’ll find a horror story set in the likes of Australia, so I relished in the unique cultural references and language that the author employed. Parts of the novel reminded me of a typical Stephen King story, while others reminded me of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium crime trilogy. An imaginative and engaging story for the author’s first published novel, Gary Kemble’s Strange Ink will undoubtedly find a way under your skin. You might never be able to look at tattoos the same way again.
Death comes, and it is swift. However, what if you found that death didn’t mean the end? What if life began again, picking up decades prior as a younger version of yourself? Like a skipping record whose needle travels back over the ridges of vinyl, Charlie Moment wakes up thirty-two years earlier, sixteen again. But eventually in his “Charlie Two” life, he discovers that he isn’t alone in this game of reincarnation. And these other players play for keeps. Rewrite is a gem of a novel that is best described as an experience. A companion to his bestseller Timescape, its story radiates with feelings of déjà vu and countless possibilities for the taking. In my opinion, it is a worthy addition to Gregory Benford’s book list, right next to his and Larry Niven’s Bowl of Heaven, and a must read for fans of the multiverse theory.
Best known for his novel Altered Carbon, now also a popular Netflix series, Richard K. Morgan returns with another fantastical look into the possible future in Thin Air. Think Blade Runner meets The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Still believing in the idea of “Manifest Destiny,” mankind has reached out into the stars. Here, even after centuries of being colonized by the people of Earth, Mars still proves to be a wild land where money talks, under-the-table deals are part of everyday life, and only the hard survive. Richard has turned the much dreamed of Red Planet into a wild-west frontier filled with technological wonder while still retaining a constant threat of danger. His gritty writing and sometimes crude-sounding narration mirrors the harsh landscape and reality that is life on Mars. Complete with investigative intrigue and thrilling action, Thin Air is a techno-western for today’s times.
Author Ernest Cline has followed up his much-loved Ready Player One with another celebration of video game history called Armada. Young Zack Lightman (Cline has a penchant for naming his main characters as if they were from a comic book) has never met his father. In an effort to get to know the man, Zack has adopted his father’s love for nostalgic video games and pores over an old notebook filled with his father’s crazy conspiracy theories. What Zack soon finds out is that his father was closer to the truth than anyone thought. Armada moves away from the dystopian future of Ready Player One and is steeped in conspiracy theories, alien invasions, and tons of action. Strap yourselves in for a trip filled with video games, paranoia, and interstellar conflict.
I have always enjoyed how writer and author Neil Gaiman could take an either well-known or obscure mythology and weave them into a new tale that drips with his trademark storytelling style, as evident by his magnum opus American Gods. With Norse Mythology, however, Mr. Gaiman has done his utmost to preserve these timeless stories of Asgardians, Aesirs, giants, and even the origins of humanity while still managing to imbue his iconic voice. He has also managed to make the stories fresh and entertaining for today’s readers, arranging them in a manner that resembles an actual novel. If I were to ever have children and grandchildren, I could see myself reading these stories to them like Peter Falk and Fred Savage in the movie Princess Bride. Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is in many ways familiar as it is new and inviting.
I was taken aback when I first started Black Leopard, Red Wolf. What first began as a testimonial story similar to the likes of Edgar Allen Poe’s A Cask of Amontillado soon turned into a fantastical journey through grand landscapes and wild terrains of ancient Africa. Marlon James has woven together a collection of stories that is somewhat reminiscent of One Thousand and One Nights, albeit much more violent and sexual in nature, where most of the tales are connected to by the novel’s narrator, the wild and world-hardened “Tracker.” What completely took me by surprise was Marlon’s choice to make the subject of sexuality and identity deeply ingrained in this story’s foundation, managing to use the subject to both enhance the narrative and to engage the reader. Black Leopard, Red Wolf is indeed one of those stories that after reading the last line will leave the reader lost in thought for some time to come.
When reading a story co-written by multiple authors, one may enjoy a final product that neither of the writers could achieve on their own. With Good Omens, the master storyteller Neil Gaiman and the beloved creator of the Discworld series Terry Pratchett have not only created just that, but also something inherently magical. I especially love the large cast of over-the-top characters, such as the bookish angel Aziraphale and the earth-loving demon Crowley. A heaping portion of whimsy, a pinch of action, and a general covering of heartwarming innocence makes this book a must read. Never before have I read a story that made “doomsday” sound like such a good time. And now that there will soon be a Good Omens miniseries produced by the BBC, I’m hoping it will bring renewed attention to such a fun and heartwarming tale.
One day, when Neil Gaiman and his then young son found themselves in a graveyard, the author couldn’t help but notice how at home his child appeared to be, happily riding his tricycle through the gravestones. That’s where the idea for The Graveyard Book, a response to Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, came to be. Or at least that’s how the story goes. Regardless of its origins, this book is charming, albeit a tad morbid, just like Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. It was enjoyable to follow the orphaned boy named Nobody Owens grow and adapt in a graveyard surrounded by ghosts, a werewolf, and a very protective vampire mentor. In classic Neil Gaiman fashion, the bad guys, the “Jack of All Trades,” are over the top and delightfully detestable. Though marketed for a younger audience, I find this tale lovely and poignant for people, ghosts, and monsters of all ages.
Sequel to Hugo Awards Finalist Trail of Lightning, Rebecca Roanhorse’s Storm of Locusts is yet another fine tale of action and fantasy, packed with Native American representation and pro-feminist themes. Roanhorse has introduced a bevy of strong female characters, both human and human-like, who show they have what it takes to survive in this new world forever reshaped by flood waters and supernatural characters. I particularly enjoyed seeing the character of Maggie, or “Godslayer” as she’s sometimes called, evolve throughout the story. Her strong front gives away with the admittance that she’s not a super-woman; that even she must sometimes depend on others. A gentler side is also explored as she finds in her care a young girl dealing with her own set of clan powers. Overall, this second installment to The Sixth World series is a great example of equal representation that we’re fortunate to experience in our world today.
Some of my favorite stories are the ones that grab you by the hand and gently, yet resolutely lead you through our familiar, shared world until both you and the story come upon the fragile and ever-flexible boundaries of reality and fantasy. Typically, if I’m in the mood for such a tale, I turn to anything Neil Gaiman or Brom. This time, Seanan McGuire’s Middlegame ticked all the boxes for me: believable world, fully-developed characters with their own thoughts and motivations, fantastical and gripping imagery, moments of terror offset by humor, and more. Her references to other famous works and authors were also a delight, akin to Easter Eggs in video games. Oftentimes brutal, gut wrenching, and gory, Middlegamewas at the same time touching, heartfelt, and inspiring. Overall, a coming of age tale for the likes of teens, adults, and wannabe gods.
Rich with wondrous imageries, fascinating cultural etiquettes, and polished dialogue just as arresting as it is hilarious, A Memory Called Empire is a fresh and welcoming addition to the bulging shelves of science fiction. Curated with numerous fictitious excerpts from the likes of ship manuals, ancient literature texts, and garbled ship transmissions, the world within the story is vividly alive. Arkady Martine has not only produced a space opera the likes of an Ann Leckie or James S.A. Corey, but also a social discussion on how things, places, and people are remembered; whether in word or something much more personal. There is also a strong commentary on world politics and borders set on an interstellar scale. A Memory Called Empireis truly one of the few books I will reread again and again, not only for personal pleasure, but also as a reminder of great storytelling done right.
Enjoyable. Simply enjoyable. Kill the Farm Boy is a giant pun on the classic fantasy story, but instead of just poking fun at themes of damsels in distress, cursed kingdoms, and evil wizards, this story also turns them on their heads. The writing reminds me very much of a Terry Pratchett novel; rich with dry, British humor and oftentimes head-smacking moments of ridiculousness. The pacing moves very well too, keeping the reader’s attention while still advancing the plot. Above all, the unlikely cast of characters is what makes this story stand out. From the seven-foot barbarian of a girl who wants nothing more than to live in peace with her flower garden, to the talking goat named “Gustave” who fantasizes about old-leather boots, there is a lot to love. Kill the Farm Boy is a delightful and silly romp through the fantasy tropes of new and old.
Imagine if The Lord of the Rings movies were produced by the fellas of Monty Python; that is how I saw No Country for Old Gnomes play out in my head. The writing talents of Delilah Dawson and Kevin Hearne have joined once again and produced another hilarious gem of a fantasy novel. No trope is deemed too sacred to not be made fun of by this author-pair. Every page was a delight, filled with cheeky humor and countless references to other well-known fantasy stories. For those who’ve been left reeling after finishing a seriously thrilling fantasy series, this novel is also a perfect palate cleanser for the brain. After reading No Country for Old Gnomes and its predecessor Kill the Farm Boy, I can’t wait to see what the third and final book in the Pell series will have in store.
A princess, freshly awoken from a long sleep, finds herself alone and much hairier than before; a misogynistic centaur looking for a way to rid himself of the magic that conjures tea and cupcakes when he’s stressed; a pirate-parrot captain who sails upon “The Puffy Peach.” Wickedly irreverent, The Princess Beard stays true to the first two book in the Tales of Pell series, keeping the fantasy tropes rolling and the laughs flying. But this time, it takes to the high seas! Who doesn’t love pirates!? Kevin Hearne and Delilah Dawson have done it again, crafting a fantastically hilarious world, complete with a bevy of colorful and inclusive characters that I feel need more exposure in the genre. Though the books aren’t really connected beyond the kingdom it takes place in, readers of the first title, Kill the Farm Boy, will enjoy a nice surprise that makes everything almost feel like it came full circle.
The first thought that occurs when looking upon Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers is, “This is a beefy book.” After recovering from the shock and cracking the spine, the next string of thoughts should be about how easy of a read it is while still involving some heavy themes. The suspense of Stephen King’s The Stand, the science fiction of Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot, and the paranoia of today’s misinformed-American masses culminate into this tome of Mr. Wendig’s. Though I knew when entering the story that it was pure fiction, it was still hard at times to not think, “This really could be happening now, right-right now, in my lifetime.” There’s only so much I can say before I accidentally spoil this book, but what I can definitely say is that this is an ambitious book and one of Mr. Wendig’s best.
A mysterious disorder called FMS (False Memory Syndrome) is slowly spreading, people finding themselves suddenly flooded with memories that never happened; memories as small as skipping dinner, to as large as having lived completely different lives. During a suicide investigation, New York detective Barry Sutton finds himself falling down a rabbit hole he can’t escape, leading him to something so large that it can remake, or destroy, the entire world. Blake Crouch’s Recursion is a jumping narrative of voices and time, twisting through timescapes like a laboratory rat in a maze. I applaud the utter creativity that went into the story’s premise. A must read.
When Emily Hsu, a young, forgotten druggy, goes missing, what soon unravels is an exploration of the human soul and the ways we try to connect to something bigger than ourselves. Patrick Coleman’s The Churchgoer is a modern-day noir mystery, sans the seasoned and grizzly detective. Instead, we’re treated to Mark Haines, an ex-pastor turned crass security guard who has turned his back on family, meaningful connections, and God. Though he no longer saves souls, he finds himself compelled to save the mysterious Emily who he feels some kinship for. Oftentimes, I felt like yelling at Mark for his innate ability for screwing-up his life, but I couldn’t help but feel some common ground with him; that this middle-aged man somehow embodies the weary, over-stimulated, and fed-up parts in all of us. Best yet, the story’s setting of San Diego was a delightful treat. A stimulating read through and through.
The introduction and subsequent rise of ebooks have sparked fierce discussions that they are killing what we recognize as the “traditional” book. But based off recent sales numbers for the last few years, paper-based books are again on the rise. What then could possibly be threatening what we know as the book? Book historian Leah Price has brought together not only a quick and comprehensive study in people’s reading habits, but also explores the deep history of the book format; be it done on papyrus, scroll, or the codex that people universally recognize. I learned so many factoids of books that as a book lover I feel utterly enriched. For any voracious reader and book fan, this is a simple must.
A veritable modern-day Hansel and Gretel with an escape room in lieu of a candy house, Megan Goldin’s The Escape Room is a well-crafted, heart-thumping thrill ride of mystery, suspense, and scares. The novel chronicles Vincent, Sam, Sylvie, and Jules, four New York financiers, as they’re lured into a sleek, modern elevator converted into an escape room, each one of them believing they’re participating in a compulsory team building exercise. It doesn’t take too long for the four to realize that this isn’t a game, but instead an act of revenge. Switching back and forth from the claustrophobic horrors of the elevator, to a first-person recanting by a mysterious fifth person, The Escape Room reads like something between The Wolf of Wall Street and Gone Girl.
Young Gideon will do anything to get away from the Ninth House’s dust and grimed-filled halls. Since she was a baby, she has only known the deep pit that is the kingdom, filled with crumbling tombs, decrepit nuns, temperamental necromancers, reanimated skeletons, and, suffice it to say, death. When offered her only real chance to truly leave the Ninth House and its heartless young ruler, Harrowhark Nonagesimus, bone witch extraordinaire, Gideon can hardly refuse. The girl’s task takes her far away to the illustrious and legendary First House, home of the King Undying, and closer to death than she has ever been before. A terrific marriage between science fiction and fantasy, Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth is filled with gothic imagery and satisfying, high-adrenaline action. Think Dante Alighieri’s Inferno on steroids. Truly, this book is an imaginative, albeit macabre, wonder whose writing keeps the reader constantly in awe.
Rob Hart’s not-so-distant future of The Warehouse is a cautionary tale of capitalism at its extreme; a corporate entity becoming the “big brother” that the literary classic 1984 warned us about. In the face of economic and civil unrest, compounded with the world news reporting overpopulation and resource shortages overseas, the corporate monopoly known as Cloud, an even grander version of (and I’m certain inspired by) Amazon, becomes the largest company in the world. Paxton, an ex-executive who is forced to work for Cloud after they put his company out of business, and Zinnia, a corporate spy hired to infiltrate Cloud, show how all too easy it is to hand over one’s personal freedoms for promises of safety and convenience. The Warehouse is a chilling, sobering, and altogether thought provoking tale of greed and survival in uncertain times.