Thursday, January 29, 2015

Author Interview: Donald Schlaich

How about we start out by having you introduce yourself? Tell us a bit about who you are.
My name is Donald Schlaich, and I'm a graphics arts professional and aspiring author. I've finished and self-published my first novel, Reckless Magus, and am working on the edits for the sequel, Dragon Magus.

I'm a geek who's been a fan of fantasy my entire life, and who underwent a kind of revelation when I discovered Terry Pratchett in Highschool. I'm also an avid biker, who sometimes regrets living in a city that gets ten feet of snow a year.

Where did the impetus to write come from? 
I've woven stories in my head for as long as I can remember, and when I was young, I can probably say I might have lost at least one job to living partially in daydreams as I went about my work. The stories have been a part of who I am for so long, and once I actually started putting them on paper, I found it hard to stop.

Explain who Abe Spellchaser is and how he came to be.
Abraxas "Abe" Spellchaser is an apprentice Magician, someone who has the potential to understand and use every type of magic. He's been trained by his father since he was ten years old in the use of his magic, including walking between worlds. He's confident in his knowledge, but he's mostly book-taught in his magic, and he's been stranded without any of his notes in a place where magic doesn't work according to rules he had written down. In place of his notes, he's left with his inquisitive nature and a tendency to get himself into trouble.

Abraxas Spellchaser is also a character I played several years ago in a Dungeons and Dragons game. I lived inside his head for a couple of years as I played him, and the first real long-form writing I did was recording the story of the game we were playing at the time.

How did you go about creating the universe in Reckless Magus?
I started with the characters of Abraxas and Simon, two characters who I already had a strong handle on, along with the history of Abe's father Nerick. There are bits of this universe that have been growing in my head for almost fifteen years, and once I had the two characters who the first story would center on, the rest of the world started to come together.

Magic features very heavily in the novel. Explain how the magic in your books works.
There are many different disciplines of magic, of which the first book only highlights a few. Not everyone has the talent to use every type of magic, and those who focus on a given type of magic often are referred to by their primary discipline.
* Mental magic, the ability to speak mind-to-mind, edit another person's memories, or even restructure their whole thinking process. Those who are skilled in this type of magic are typically referred to as Espers.
* Spirit magic is the one I've had some of the most fun figuring out and expanding upon. It's specialists are called shamans, and they specialize in the ability to reach across the boundary between waking and sleep to reach the creatures that live in the Dream Lands, a place made of spiritual energy, and making deals with them. In the universe of the Spellchaser Chronicles, this is probably the most common discipline, since even a minor talent in this area is required to be able to dream.
* Energy manipulation, the creation of light and energy, and the binding of that to an object, and it's specialists are called Illuminators.
* Travel magic, the ability to open doors and bend space to get from here to there. This discipline is the one Abe probably had the most practice with, and the one he most regrets not being able to use throughout the first book.
* Magicians are those who have the ability to use each discipline of magic, though their talents may vary in terms of strength and how much they've practiced with any given discipline.

There are several more disciplines, but I feel like going too much farther is probably a spoiler for future books.

Who is your favorite character? Who is your least favorite character?
I think my favorite character in the first book is Ari, a thief who Abe partners with. Ari is a person who goes through life with a laugh, never taking anything too seriously, and it's fun just watching him go to work in a scene.

I'm not sure if I have a least favorite character; I think to best write people you have to at least like them enough to understand what's going on in their head. I have characters I love to hate, like Jacob, an Esper who works against Abe and Simon because of his own worries and feelings of inadequacy.

If Abe's adventures were made into a movie, who would you like to see cast in which roles?
I would love to see the Spellchaser Chronicles made into a movie, though I've never taken time to go out and character board what I'd like everyone to look at. Maybe Luke Youngblood, but that may just be reaching out for a solid actor from a show I'm watching right now (Galavant's Sid).

What's next for Abe and his companions?
Abe's next adventure is in the editing phase, and there's an element of traditional sword and sorcery to his life: where he goes, trouble either follows or was already getting ready to throw it's coming out party when he arrives.

What are some things you'd like to write that aren't in the Spellchaser universe?
I've got a couple of other fantasy stories that I'm going to spend some time on once I'm done with Dragon Magus. After I finish those, I'm not sure what comes next. I may spend a bit of time world building, and see what my beta readers enjoy me fleshing out.

Why did you decide to publish your book the way you did and what has your experience been? Would you recommend it to other authors?
I self-published Reckless Magus, and some of the reason is that I figured I had the kind of skills I needed to do that from my day job. I wasn't completely right, but it's been a wonderful learning experience.

I also wanted to self-publish because there's a way in which I like the independence offered by self-publishing. I wasn't paid any small advance that my book had to earn back before I saw the long-term profits, but instead it's been a slow trickle of sales, and the size of that trickle is somewhat my fault. I got caught up in the other parts of my life and haven't been pushing Abe's story as much as I should have. 

What advice do you have for new writers?
Write. Keep going and just write. It's a muscle that you build the more that you do it, so exercise that muscle. And let your first draft suck. It's a common bit of advice you hear, but that's because it's true. Write when you're writing the story, and leave the editing for after you're done.


Wednesday, January 28, 2015

[REVIEW REQUEST] Wandering Home: A Review of Jeffrey Lockwood's Anomie

Title: Anomie
Author: Jeffrey Lockwood
Edition: Harvard Square Editions (eGalley, 2014)
Pages: 149
How I Came By This Book: The author sent me a copy of this novel for me to read and review.

About the Author: Jeffrey Lockwood hails from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, but has lived internationally for many years. Presently he writes in Inner Mongolia. Anomie is his first novel. (from Harvard Square Editions) Please visit this page to pre-order the novel, which comes out on June 6, 2015.

Synopsis: Anomie is a uniquely crafted story about Michael, a middle-aged professor and writer. After a series of tragic events, he seeks closure through myriad experiences, in order to bring balance to his world. Eventually, he finds himself in China.

Review: When I was an undergrad, I went through a LOT of uncertainty about what I wanted to do. In the four years leading up to my B.A., I changed my major and minor 10 times! I applied to college as an English major, switched to Sociology before even getting there in the fall, added a French major, changed from Sociology to Anthropology, dropped my French major, added a History major, added a Multicultural Studies minor, dropped my Multicultural Studies minor, made History my primary major and Anthropology my secondary major, and, finally, dropped my Anthropology major down to a minor. Thankfully I stayed within the same sort of fields--humanities and social sciences--so that I didn't have trouble graduating on time. When Mr. Lockwood approached me about reviewing his novel, Anomie, my mind was drawn back in time to my first semester of college, when I took Intro to Sociology and first learned what the term anomie meant.

Anomie is a state of being in which a person finds him/herself in a situation that is jarringly unfamiliar and uncomfortable--often to the point of depression, anxiety, even, suicide. The most illustrative examples of anomie that I can think of are Antonia's father in Willa Cather's My Antonia (who, spoiler alert, commits suicide after not being able to transition from a well-known and successful tailor/violinist in their native country to the nobody-ness of being an immigrant in the midwestern United States) and stories of homeless individuals who are suddenly given gobs of money (think in the hundreds of thousands of dollars range) by people who think that shoving cash at someone helps without stopping to give that person time to ease into a well-to-do lifestyle. There are, of course, countless other examples that don't have a single thing to do with money or station in life. In general, anomie is often a crushing state to find yourself in.

Which is where Michael comes in. After a tragic event leaves him reeling and broken inside, Michael's life starts to careen out of control and he finds himself longing for a fresh start. After a chance encounter with a former student of his, he decides that he's going to go teach English in China. What follows is a personal journey--physical, mental, emotional--that will eventually lead Michael to where he truly belongs. 

Anomie is a book that draws you in from the first page. The author chooses to start the reader off in the middle of events and work semi-backwards to figure out what led Michael to China in the first place before moving into the present and the future. It's a genius way to begin a book in which the main character is trying to find his way toward understanding who he is and what he wants out of life. The reader is taken on his journey with him, given information in bits and pieces until the whole picture becomes clear. 

I didn't find Michael to be an incredibly sympathetic character--in fact, he was kind of a jerk. But I don't think that that's necessarily a bad thing. Michael is a work-in-progress, a man lost without his wife and trying to put his life back together in a foreign country. He's not a perfect person by any means, but he grows as the story continues to its conclusion. Along the way, he meets several possible surrogates for his wife, Helene--Geri, Li Qin, and the unforgettable Avery--none of whom actually fit the bill because of the perfected picture he has of her. It is only when Michael lets go of what his mother, Maud, wanted him to be and becomes what his father, Frenchie, knew him to be, that he finds real happiness.

The writing style Lockwood uses is unique. With dialogue kept to only what's actually needed to move the story along, he instead depends upon Michael's thoughts and feelings to build the narrative--even though the book is written in third-person. The book is divided into two parts, one being his life in China and the events that led to it, the other being his life after China. I felt as if the first part of the book was much stronger than the second. It seemed that, oddly enough, Michael's story was more put together during the chaos of trying to find himself than in the light of eventually getting his act together. The whole second part just felt rushed. Other than that, however, I really enjoyed this book. And, despite being rushed, where Michael's life ends up is perfect and unexpected. While a bit of a bittersweet story overall, the reader can truly see that Michael's life is going to start going much better for him.

The women in Anomie are a bit flat, even Avery, who I really liked. Even most of the male secondary characters aren't very flushed out, although Loch and Serge are likable. As this is Lockwood's first novel, I didn't expect perfection. And with how beautifully he writes and how raw his stories are, I'm really looking forward to what else he might produce in the future. 

I'm giving Anomie 3.5 Gabriels, but could definitely see Lockwood's future novels earning 4 or, even, 5.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Would Love to Read with a Book Club (If I Had a Book Club)

I really need to find a book club at some point, but I haven't gotten around to it for some reason. There are tons of them in my area, so that isn't the problem. I think I'm just kind of picky and worry that I'll hate the books or the people. If I did have a book club, however, I'd want it to be a new and different type--reading horror or something instead of bestsellers. In fact, I think that's what I'll do. In the few years since I last blogged, I've become something of a horror fan and would love to have a group of people to discuss spooky reads with.

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic:

Top Ten Six Books I Would Love to Read with My (Non-existent) Horror Book Club

1)  We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson: I LOVED The Haunting of Hill House and have heard that this one is even better.

2) John Dies at the End by David Wong: I started reading this a while back and was really enjoying it, but life intervened. Having other people to read it with would be fun because it would be interesting to see everyone's reactions to the zany horror of this novel.

3, 4, & 5) The Passage, The Twelve, and The City of Mirrors by Justin Cronin: I've already read The Passage and City of Mirrors isn't going to be out until October of this year, but I think that reading the whole trilogy in one bite with a group of people would be awesome.

6) Eyes to See by Joseph Nassise: I bought this book in December of 2012 when I was still working at that seasonal bargain bookstore and I still haven't read it.

Okay, so there's only six. I really need to look and find more horror titles to put on a to-read list.


Monday, January 26, 2015

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Every Monday, Sheila at Book Journey hosts It's Monday! What Are You Reading? Book bloggers are encouraged to share their past, current, and future reads, as well as what's been going on at their blog in the past week.

This past week on Gabriel Reads has been pretty busy, on the blog as well as in real life. I missed two posts last week (sorry to Jeffrey Lockwood--I'm reading your book, I just haven't finished it yet), but otherwise it was a very productive seven days.

What I Read Last Week:
-Rain Dragon by Jon Raymond

What I'm Currently Reading:
-Anomie by Jeffrey Lockwood

What I'm Reading Next:
-Witchcraft Couture by Katarina West
-Goodhouse by Peyton Marshall

The Week In Review:
Last week started as every week will start: It's Monday! What Are You Reading? On Tuesday, I posted a list of ten of my goals for the year via Top Ten Tuesday. I missed Wednesday, but on Thursday I recommended a ton of books that I think you should all read. Friday was a review of Jon Raymond's Rain Dragon. Finally, on Saturday I posted my interview with Katherine McIntyre.

What to Look for This Week:
This week will see me introducing two new features to Gabriel Reads: the Gabriel Seal of Approval and the Blog of the Week. I'll also be doing a Top Ten Tuesday post, a review of Anomie, an interview with my author husband, and a review of Witchcraft Couture. There's an open day or two this week, so I'm currently working out what to do for those posts.

Have a great week everyone!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

Interview with Katherine McIntyre

On Sunday I posted a review of Katherine McIntyre's awesome novel, Snatched. Katherine was nice enough to agree to an interview as well, which I'm posting today. I really enjoyed reading her answers and I hope that you will, too! Visit her website for more information about the things you read about here.

Where did the idea for Snatched come from? What inspired the shifters?

I’ve always loved dystopian and survivalist stories, but the idea for Snatched wasn’t straightforward. Part of the concept came from a setting I’d played around with—of folks going back to herbalism in the future. Of course, I was attracted to that since I’ve worked with herbs for a long time, and have a veritable storehouse in the side room of my house. But the shifters were inspired by genetic mutations caused by long-term effects of bad medications. I love the post-apocalyptic settings that are mankind’s folly, and this was one of them, stemming from man’s reliance on modern medicine.

I was really intrigued by the religion of the tunnelers. Can you explain how that works and where it came from? Was it something that had happened before the Rift or because of it?

The religion was something that rose post-Rift. A lot of conventional religions fell after that time, and as part of a society that had returned to more primitive forms of medicine and practice, an earth-based religion flourished with concepts closer to Wicca and other Pagan religions. It draws a little bit of shamanism with totem gods, but also encompasses a Great Spirit, which is sort of like the Wicca Goddess. Since practitioners of Pagan religions tend to gravitate towards herbalism and have a greater knowledge of their use, aspects of those religions took root the strongest, and in a lot of situations, healers and priestesses are one in the same.

There’s a bit of a love square going on in the book amongst Kara, Hunter, Dinah, and Jared, but it takes a back seat to the rest of the action. What made you decide to focus on Kara’s struggle rather than on her love life, unlike other books featuring characters on the cusp of adulthood?

I think all writers have a subconscious agenda—some way that their strong moral beliefs leak into their writing, whether they intend to or not. One thing that drives me nuts in a lot of books is how immediate issues will take a backseat to some love drama. While I like me a good romance, and enjoy writing them from time to time, there’s a time and a place. In so many stories, women are defined by men. She can’t live without him, or she can’t save herself—but that’s never the heroine I wanted as a kid. My favorites were Princess Cimorene from Patricia Wrede’s books, or Alanna, from Tamora Pierce’s Lioness Quartet. I’ve always loved the ladies that show just how complex and tough women can be.  

Tweak is such a great character and she has a unique voice and personality. Was she inspired by someone?

Ha, Tweak was my husband’s favorite character. So, she just kind of clicked for me from the start, but if I could relate her to anyone from anything, she’s got a similar bluntness to Anya from Buffy. She speaks a bit more broken English and is way twitchier, but she’s not used to politeness, or tunneler customs, and tends to just blurt things out.

Who is your favorite character in Snatched? Who is your least favorite character?

My favorite character was Tweak. While I love Kara and empathize with her big sister sense of responsibility a ton, I had so much fun writing scenes with Tweak. My least favorite character at first was Dinah, because in the early drafts, she really didn’t have much personality. That changed though, and the way she handled her hardships really helped me admire her. Out of the main cast, I think my least favorite is Jared—he’s a little too vanilla for me, even though I still love his loyalty.  

What did you find most difficult about writing this novel?

The ending. I actually originally wrote a whole different ending to it which I scrapped. I changed it around the middle section, took it in the Europa’s Nest direction and went from there. The original ending was weird, and sort of repetitive. They broke into places to save people twice in a row and realized that wouldn’t work. Actually, the first version of this didn’t have Tweak!! It had some other characters that didn’t hold a candle to her.

Have we seen the last of Kara Orris or does she have other adventures waiting for her?

I think we have seen the last of Kara Orris, but not of characters like her. One of the most important things to me in fiction is making sure women have realistic, dimensional characters to relate to as well as guys. I get a little tired of the helpless woman and domineering man clichés!

As a follow-up to that question, whether or not a sequel is in the cards, I’m curious as to what happens to the characters. Without spoiling the ending, of course, what can you tell us about the future of Kara and her friends?

I think Snatched will stay a one shot, but I did play around with what would happen to them. There are a LOT of complexities to the shifters that I never went into, one of which is how they reproduce—they’re pretty chilling antagonists. Kara and her friends are a plucky lot though. Chances are, they’ll survive and keep fighting for a better future!

Do you have any strange writing habits or rituals?

I do the normal thing when I sit down and write—put on a soundtrack, which I actually customize based on each story. However, I do think I’m a little weird with assigning zodiac signs to each of the characters. I’m obsessed with astrology though and it actually helps me expand on the characters and how they’d react in certain situations. So, for example, Kara is a Sagittarius—she’s able to detach, she’s pretty blunt, but I think she’d have a Capricorn moon or something, because she’s kind of unyielding.

You’ve called yourself a modern day Renaissance-woman and you have the list of hobbies and interests to back that up. How did you get involved in things like soapmaking and beer brewing? And would you talk a bit about Solstice Brews?

So, I have this problem of always wanting to learn something new. With cooking, I enjoy making things from scratch, and I got curious about beauty care from scratch which is what led to the soapmaking. My studies in herbalism kind of bled into the beer brewing thing, because I love a good beer, and while some places like Dogfish Head utilize herbs creatively in beer, there were so many combinations I wanted to try. Which is what finally led to Solstice Brews, my tea blending business! I absolutely love coming up with new blends of tea—it’s an addiction. Most recently, I’m excited to say I came up with a branch of Novel-Teas which are blends I based off of each of my books. The Snatched one is an Oolong with blueberry and lemongrass.  

You have several projects in the works, including an audio book version of your novel, Poisoned Apple. What are you currently working on right now and what can you tell the readers about Stolen Petals, which is coming out April 24? (I’ll include links to your blog posts about these things if you’re okay with that.)

So, right now I’m back in the realm of dystopian sci-fi, but this time with pirates. I’m just a wee bit obsessed with pirates, and I absolutely can’t wait to finish the edits on my manuscript for Red Skies Take Warning—it has all the snarky banter, huge adventures, and of course, epic speeches a girl could dream of!

As for novellas on the horizon, get ready to binge on romance! I’ve got Stolen Petals coming out with Breathless Press, a steampunk romance about two rival bounty hunters—lots of sass.

And Soul Solution was recently picked up by Decadent Publishing, an urban fantasy about a soul collector who meets the perfect woman, yet they can’t be together, because his touch kills.

Finally, any advice to potential writers (or soapmakers) who may read this post?

It’s been said a million times before, but don’t give up. Those first stories may be terrible, and may never see the light of day (my first three or four manuscripts were), but with each one, you learn. If you’re open to learning, the possibilities are endless for you, but that takes time to build. People go into this business with an ego, and I get it—it’s terrifying to put your work out there, especially after the long hours you put into it. However, that ego is only going to inhibit you in the long run and keep you from becoming better. When I get a couple beta readers telling me that something isn’t working, you bet I look at it and see what the problem is. Writers are people, and people are imperfect. The hurt of criticism, or a mean review, whatever—it can be overcome. If you never try and instead give up, you risk losing something greater, because being able to share your worlds and your experiences with other people through story is worth every ounce of the struggle.  


A big thank you to Katherine McIntyre for being awesome. :D


Friday, January 23, 2015

Seeking Yourself, Searching for Signs: A Review of Jon Raymond's Rain Dragon

Title: Rain Dragon
Author: Jon Raymond
Edition: Bloomsbury (Paperback, 2012)
Pages: 260
How I Came By This Book: The title caught my eye while I was browsing the shelves at my local library.

About the Author: Jon Raymond is the author of the novel The Half-Life, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2004, and the short-story collection Livability, winner of the 2009 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction. He is the writer of several films, including Wendy and Lucy and Meek's Cutoff, and co-writer of the Emmy-nominated screenplay for the HBO miniseries Mildred Pierce. Raymond's writing has appeared in Bookforum, Artforum, Tin House, the Village Voice, and other publications. He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his family.

Synopsis: Damon and his girlfriend, Amy, have had enough of Los Angeles. Dreaming of a simpler life, they leave the city to find work on an organic farm. But they've scarcely arrived when their vague hopes start to come unraveled: What are they really doing there? Who are their friends? Are they truly testing themselves, or are they just chasing an impossible fantasy?

By degrees, the realize that their dreams are not the same. For Damon, a career in brand development unfolds almost effortlessly, while for Amy, the menial labor of the farm leads to a satisfying but difficult new path. As the rift deepens, they are forced to evaluate fundamental questions of identity and fate, ambition and betrayal, work and love.

This novel is a fresh, searching story about how we construct a sense of destiny in our own lives--the strange signs we cling to for guidance and the major events we often understand only in retrospect. 

Review: I'm going to make a confession: I'm one of those people who is constantly trying to figure out who they are. What do I want to do with my life? What do I value? Why don't I spend more time volunteering? Why the hell can't I just go vegan and stay vegan? These are all questions that I grapple with all the time, much to the annoyance of my poor, wonderful husband, who just wishes that I would stop worrying and start living my life. But as an anxious woman who is unsatisfied with her lack of career, I find that defining myself is difficult. Which is why I think this novel really resonated with me.

Rain Dragon is the story of a young couple, Damon and Amy, who are seeking a better, more satisfying way of life. Told from Damon's perspective, the book follows their arrival at an organic farm called Rain Dragon, and their attempts at finding their niche there. In the meantime, the trouble they've been having with their relationship--which they had been hoping to leave behind in L.A.--follows them to Oregon. Damon finds himself trying to win back Amy while simultaneously trying to give her the space that she needs. Along the way, the couple learns things about themselves and each other that they never expected.

Raymond's novel is sparse and selective--in a good way. The reader only sees the important things that are happening; there's no wasting time on unnecessary descriptions or side plots. Time moves along quickly, following the seasons for a whole year. The narrative will jump a few days or weeks and there is no need for the author to fill in the blanks. If the reader needs to know something, he or she is told and only when the information is relevant. In this way, it is as if we are watching the highlight reel of a man's life, the way that we often look at our own lives and memories. I'm sure that this is on purpose--in a book about looking for signs and searching for answers, it would make sense that only the noteworthy things would stand out. Thinking about how I am when I'm trying to wrangle with something that's happened, I pick and choose what I think is significant, just as Damon does. It's why both he and the reader are blindsided in the end. We don't see it coming because we're interpreting the events of the book the way we think things should be, rather than how they are.

The characters in Rain Dragon are also crafted in such a way as to mimic the selectivity of a person's mind. Amy is the most important person in Damon's life, so only she--and, later on, his boss, Peter--is fully explored. The other people who work at Rain Dragon--Jaeha, Linda, Michael, Emilio--are all on the periphery. Damon is more focused on himself and his relationship with Amy, so everyone else is relegated to the background. By the time the novel ends, the reader realizes that what he or she has just read isn't really a novel, but, instead, an exploration of the way that a person's wants and desires can cloud the way the see the world. 

Beautifully descriptive and bitingly honest, Raymond is a skilled writer who has the distinction of having penned the most brilliant passage I've read in a very long time:
"It's all faking it, anyway," [Peter] said, standing before us for one of his frequent pep talks. "If you think anyone out there's not imitating their dad, their friends, their president, their movie stars, you're fucking fooling yourselves. You're making yourself feel like shit for no reason. Look inside. You know your ideas and tastes and opinions all come from somewhere else. You know you pick up something here, you steal something there. Just accept it. You have no Self. God knows, I don't. I'm just a bunch of crap I found. I'm pieces of everyone I've ever met stuck together. But what I have is this: I don't give a fuck. I embrace it. I steal from everyone and I pretend it's mine and I sure as hell don't care if anyone steals from me...."
Ultimately, I was surprised by how much this book sucked me in. It's a simple narrative, with a message that runs much deeper, and I got to a point where I hated to put it down for any reason. I'm giving Rain Dragon 4 out of 5 Gabriels.

My interview with Katherine McIntyre will be up at 8 a.m. tomorrow.


Thursday, January 22, 2015

In Which I Recommend Some Books that I'm Having Trouble Reviewing

My interview with my husband is being postponed due to him having a busy week at work. I'm going to post it next Thursday instead.

I read several amazing books in the past year, one of which I was supposed to post a review for yesterday. But as I tried to write said review, I found that I was having difficulty figuring out what to say simply because it had been a while since I'd read it. I LOVED the book, but I couldn't adequately express why without a reread. I didn't want to just write a mundane review that could be about any book: I wanted to do the book justice.

So, given that I don't have time for a reread right now, I'm going to recommend the books instead of reviewing them. I'll provide a synopsis, as well as a link to Amazon. In no particular order, here are some amazing books you should all check out.

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

Synopsis: Nora Fischer's dissertation is stalled and her boyfriend is about to marry another woman. During a miserable weekend at a friend's wedding, Nora gets lost and somehow walks through a portal into a different world, with only her copy of Pride and Prejudice in her back pocket. There, she meets glamorous, charming Ilissa, who introduces here to a new world of decadence and riches. Nora herself feels different: more attractive; more popular. Soon, her romance with the gorgeous, masterful Raclin is heating up. It's almost too good to be true.

Then the elegant veneer shatters. Nora's new fantasy world turns darker, a fairy tale gone incredibly wrong. Making it here will take skills Nora never learned in graduate school. Her only real ally--and a reluctant one at that--is the magician Aruendiel, a grim, reclusive figure with a biting tongue and a shrouded past. And it will take her becoming Arundiel's student--and learning real magic herself--to survive. When a passage home finally opens, Nora must weigh her "real life" against the dangerous power of love and magic.

With an appealing protagonist, cinematic storytelling, and a rich vein of wry humor, Emily Croy Barker's debut offers an intelligent escape into a richly imagined world. The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic is proof that magic not only exists, but--like love--can sweep you off your feet when you least expect it.

The Silent History by Eli Horowitz, Kevin Moffet, and Matthew Derby

Synopsis: A generation of children forced to live without words.

It begins as a statistical oddity: a spike in children born with acute speech delays. Physically normal in every way, these children never speak and do not respond to speech; they don't learn to read, don't learn to write. As the number of cases grows to an epidemic level, theories spread. Maybe it's related to a popular antidepressant; maybe it's environmental. Or maybe these children have special skills all their own.

The Silent History unfolds in a series of brief testimonials from parents, teachers, friends, doctors, cult leaders, profiteers, and impostors (everyone except, of course, the children themselves), documenting the growth of the so-called silent community into an elusive, enigmatic force in itself—alluring to some, threatening to others. Both a bold storytelling experiment and a propulsive reading experience, Eli Horowitz,  Matthew Derby, and Kevin Moffett's The Silent History is at once thrilling, timely, and timeless.

The Resurrection of Mary Mabel McTavish by Allan Stratton

Synopsis: Faith healers, movie moguls, and social-climbing fraudsters collide in Depression-era Los Angeles
It’s the Great Depression and Mary Mabel McTavish is suicidal. A drudge at the Bentwhistle Academy for Young Ladies (aka Wealthy Juvenile Delinquents), she is at London General Hospital when little Timmy Beeford is carried into emergency and pronounced dead. He was electrocuted at an evangelical road show when the metal cross on top of the revival tent was struck by lightning. Believing she’s guided by her late mother, Mary Mabel lays on hands. Timmy promptly returns to life.

William Randolph Hearst gets wind of the story and soon the Miracle Maid is rocketing from the Canadian backwoods to ’30s Hollywood. Jack Warner, J. Edgar Hoover, and the Rockettes round out a cast of Ponzi promoters, Bolshevik hoboes, and double-dealing social climbers in a fast-paced tale that satirizes the religious right, media manipulation, celebrity, and greed.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex by Mary Roach

Synopsis: The study of sexual physiology - what happens, and why, and how to make it happen better - has been a paying career or a diverting sideline for scientists as far-ranging as Leonardo da Vinci and James Watson. The research has taken place behind the closed doors of laboratories, brothels, MRI centers, pig farms, sex-toy R&D labs, and Alfred Kinsey's attic.

Mary Roach, "the funniest science writer in the country" (Burkhard Bilger of 'The New Yorker'), devoted the past two years to stepping behind those doors. Can a person think herself to orgasm? Can a dead man get an erection? Is vaginal orgasm a myth? Why doesn't Viagra help women or, for that matter, pandas? 

In 'Bonk', Roach shows us how and why sexual arousal and orgasm, two of the most complex, delightful, and amazing scientific phenomena on earth, can be so hard to achieve and what science is doing to slowly make the bedroom a more satisfying place. 

Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen

Synopsis: "Every child knows how the story ends. The wicked pirate captain is flung overboard, caught in the jaws of the monster crocodile who drags him down to a watery grave. But it was not yet my time to die. It's my fate to be trapped here forever, in a nightmare of childhood fancy, with that infernal, eternal boy."

Meet Captain James Benjamin Hook, a witty, educated Restoration-era privateer cursed to play villain to a pack of malicious little boys in a pointless war that never ends. But everything changes when Stella Parrish, a forbidden grown woman, dreams her way to the Neverland in defiance of Pan’s rules. From the glamour of the Fairy Revels, to the secret ceremonies of the First Tribes, to the mysterious underwater temple beneath the Mermaid Lagoon, the magical forces of the Neverland open up for Stella as they never have for Hook. And in the pirate captain himself, she begins to see someone far more complex than the storybook villain. 

With Stella’s knowledge of folk and fairy tales, she might be Hook’s last chance for redemption and release if they can break his curse before Pan and his warrior boys hunt her down and drag Hook back to their neverending game. Alias Hook by Lisa Jensen is a beautifully and romantically written adult fairy tale.

December Park by Ronald Malfi

Synopsis: In the quiet suburb of Harting Farms, the weekly crime blotter usually consists of graffiti or the occasional bout of mailbox baseball. But in the fall of 1993, children begin vanishing and one is found dead. Newspapers call him the Piper because he has come to take the children away. But there are darker names for him, too . . .

Vowing to stop the Piper’s reign of terror, five boys take up the search. Their teenage pledge turns into a journey of self-discovery . . . and a journey into the darkness of their own hometown. On the twilit streets of Harting Farms, everyone is a suspect. And any of the boys might be the Piper’s next victim.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Synopsis: On the faded Island Books sign hanging over the porch of the Victorian cottage is the motto "No Man Is an Island; Every Book Is a World." A. J. Fikry, the irascible owner, is about to discover just what that truly means.

A. J. Fikry's life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died, his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history, and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island-from Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who's always felt kindly toward Fikry; from Ismay, his sister-in-law who is hell-bent on saving him from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who keeps on taking the ferry over to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.'s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, A.J. can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It's a small package, but large in weight. It's that unexpected arrival that gives A. J. Fikry the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn't take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J.; or for that determined sales rep, Amelia, to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light; or for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.'s world; or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn't see coming. As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

The Intern's Handbook: A Thriller by Shane Kuhn

Synopsis: Interns are invisible. That’s the mantra behind HR, Inc., an elite "placement agency" that doubles as a network of assassins-for-hire, taking down high-profile executives who wouldn't be able to remember an intern’s name if their lives depended on it.

At the ripe old age of twenty-five, John Lago is already New York City’s most successful hit man. He’s also an intern at a prestigious Manhattan law firm, clocking eighty hours a week getting coffee, answering phones, and doing all the grunt work no one else wants to do. But he isn't trying to claw his way to the top of the corporate food chain. He was hired to assassinate one of the firm’s heavily guarded partners. His internship is the perfect cover, enabling him to gather intel and gain access in order to pull off a clean, untraceable hit.

The Intern’s Handbook is John Lago's unofficial survival guide for new recruits at HR, Inc. (Rule #4: "Learn how to make the perfect cup of coffee: you make an exec the best coffee he’s ever had, and he will make sure you’re at his desk every morning for a repeat performance. That’s repetitive exposure, which begets access and trust. 44% of my kills came from my superior coffee-making abilities.")

Part confessional, part how-to, the handbook chronicles John’s final assignment, a twisted thrill ride in which he is pitted against the toughest—and sexiest—adversary he’s ever faced: Alice, an FBI agent assigned to take down the same law partner he’s been assigned to kill.

The White Magic Five and Dime by Steve Hockensmith

Synopsis: Much to Alanis McLachlan's surprise, her estranged con-woman mother has left her an inheritance: The White Magic Five & Dime, a shop in tiny Berdache, Arizona. Reluctantly traveling to Berdache to claim her new property, Alanis decides to stay and pick up her mother's tarot business in an attempt to find out how she died.

With help from a hunky cop and her mother's live-in teenage apprentice, Alanis begins faking her way through tarot readings in order to win the confidence of her mother's clients. But the more she uses the tarot deck, the more Alanis begins to find real meaning in the cards ... and the secrets surrounding her mother's demise.

Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Synopsis: At twenty-two, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family scattered and her own marriage was soon destroyed. Four years later, with nothing more to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life. With no experience or training, driven only by blind will, she would hike more than a thousand miles of the Pacific Crest Trail from the Mojave Desert through California and Oregon to Washington State — and she would do it alone.

Told with suspense and style, sparkling with warmth and humor, 
Wildpowerfully captures the terrors and pleasures of one young woman forging ahead against all odds on a journey that maddened, strengthened, and ultimately healed her.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

Synopsis: This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is. I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative--like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it--but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly. So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book:

Stories about things that happened to me
Stories about things that happened to other people because of me
Eight billion dollars*
Stories about dogs
The secret to eternal happiness*

*These are lies. Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness!


So, there you have it. Now go read these books. Now.