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Castle of Deception [Jul. 1st, 2015|02:07 pm]
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Castle of DeceptionCastle of Deception by Ed Fitch

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I read this novel when I was a teenager. At the time, its softcore eroticism, mostly of the woman-on-woman variety, thrilled me, although if I were to read it again now I suspect there would be more eye-rolling than heavy breathing. Still, it was the first fantasy novel I read that featured adult sexual situations, and so it stayed with me. I was tickled to discover it on Goodreads just now. It’s long out of print, but despite the fact that I’m convinced it was probably poorly written dreck, I kind of want someone to bring it back into print so I can own it again!

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Max Turner Talks About NEW ORDER [Jun. 30th, 2015|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Max Turner, whose latest novel in the Night Runner series is New Order. Here’s the publisher’s description:

How can a guy who can’t find two matching socks be qualified to lead anyone?

An ancient prophecy declared that Zack Thomson, orphaned son of a great vampire hunter, would come back from the dead and either lead humanity into the light—or destroy it. Now the End of Days for vampires is here, the old order is eroding, and from the ashes of that ruin a new world will arise. Will Zack become the great leader the new order so desperately needs? And which of his friends, allies and enemies will survive to learn the answer?

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Max Turner:

Every writer has to be a sadist. We have to make our heroes suffer. It’s the only way to show what they’re made of. As a consequence, whether you read horror or not, you should at times, in any story, find your hackles rising in anticipation of something awful. Depending on your genre of choice, the nature of that awfulness will vary, but it must be present in some proportion for a story to move you. When writing my first novel, Night Runner, a YA coming of age story with elements of fantasy and horror, I was mindful not to go over the top when constructing my hackle-raising scenes. Now that the narrator, Zack, has suffered through two novels and grown up a bit (and my audience along with him), I thought I could take some chances in book three, New Order, and write a few scenes that were darker and more frightening than any I’d tried before.

This was a challenge. I do not live a terrifying life. My kids are well behaved. My wife is nice to me, even when I don’t deserve it, and I work in a high school, which hasn’t been scary to me since they got rid of the strap. I only experience horror in movies, print and in dreams.

I have nightmares. Dreams of apocalypse. They are not pleasant. Still — in terms of producing sheer terror, none rival a dream I had often, starting when I was a young teenager and continuing into my mid twenties.

It only happened in my parent’s home. I would experience a ‘false awakening.’ (I believed myself to be awake, but was still asleep and dreaming). From my bed, everything would look normal, my maps and Star Wars posters hanging where they should be, my desk, books and collectables all shelved and in order. But something was wrong. A sense of unease would settle in. I would try to sit up, then discover that I couldn’t move. No amount of concentration would change this. I couldn’t even close my eyes. At the same time, I’d become aware that something was approaching the door to my room. I can only describe this as an evil presence, a malicious entity whose intent was to take full advantage of my inexplicable paralysis. The slow tension and my growing sense of helplessness created a fear so visceral it easily eclipsed any terror I’ve experienced in real life (for which I am extremely grateful). Then I would wake for real, and relief would tingle through every muscle fibre in my body.

The evil presence never revealed itself. Still — it got the better of me every time.

I wanted to mimic that distressing combination of realism, powerlessness and fear in a scene involving Zack. This required a few changes, most notably how to properly represent the evil presence. Something so vague had the power to terrify me in a dream, but in print, a more concrete villain was needed.

I drew upon images of Cenobites, Giger’s aliens, cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers (yes, I suffered the indignity that was C.H.U.D.), John Carpenter’s Thing, the aliens of the Mos Eisley Cantina, and even the late, great Vincent Price. The result was Pestilence, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a pale, self-mutilating, spidery-limbed vampire with a corpulent face and body, covered head to toe in leaking pustules. Not the kind of guy you want to bring home to your parents. (The Addams Family being the pleasant exception).

In my scariest scene, Zachary’s dream is invaded by Pestilence who takes control of the dreamscape, renders Zack immobile (I can relate), then tortures and drowns him. Not a pleasant experience, but Zack has to suffer… Then he gets to show us what he’s made of.

Max Turner: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

New Order: Amazon / Barnes and Noble / Book Depository / Books-A-Million / Kobo

Max Turner is an author of urban fantasy, and a science and phys-ed teacher. He lives in Ottawa with his wife and three kids. He is a lover of games, history, art, music, sports and all things creative. His first book, Night Runner, was a Red Maple Honour Book and was shortlisted for a Sunburst Award. The sequel, End of Days, was shortlisted for an Ottawa Book Award. The third book in the series, New Order, hit store shelves in 2015.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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My Readercon 26 Schedule [Jun. 28th, 2015|06:29 pm]
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Readercon is just a couple of weeks away! If you’re wondering where to find me, here’s my schedule (barring any last-minute alterations):

Friday July 11

11:00 AM    F    Mystery and Speculative Crossovers. Meriah Crawford, Chris Gerwel, Greer Gilman, Nicholas Kaufmann, Adam Lipkin (leader). There are many books that draw from both the speculative fiction and mystery toolboxes, in both macro ways (China Miéville’s The City & the City and Peter F. Hamilton’s Great North Road are catalyzed by hard-boiled murder investigations) and micro ways (urban fantasy was initially defined by its relationship to noir, now often more evident in tone than in plot). Where is this crossover most satisfying? How do magic and advanced technology open up new avenues of investigation or methods of befuddling the detectives? How have trends, tropes, and developments in each genre influenced crossover works?

1:30 PM    EM    Reading: Nicholas Kaufmann. Nicholas Kaufmann. Nicholas Kaufmann reads an excerpt from a new story.

6:00 PM    CL    Kaffeeklatsch. Elizabeth Bear, Nicholas Kaufmann.

Saturday July 12

2:00 PM    EM    ChiZine. David Baillie, Elaine Chen, Gemma Files, Nicholas Kaufmann, Yves Meynard, Paul Tremblay. ChiZine Group Reading

As you can see, Friday is going to be a very busy day for me! I look forward to getting to know my fellow panelists on the “Mystery and Speculative Crossovers,” most of whom I don’t know, and talking with them about one of my favorite subgenres. (Or is it a genre in itself? I don’t even know!) It should be a fun and informative time.

For my reading, I’m going to be reading from a brand new, not even sold yet story! I’m excited to have two readings this year, one solo and one with the ChiZine Publications gang. I have it on good authority that fellow CZP authors Karen Heuler and Chandler Klang Smith will also be at Readercon, so I’m hoping we can squeeze them in, too.

Kaffeeklatschen are always a risk. I did one last year and had a modest turnout, for which I was grateful because modest is better than none at all. I also didn’t share the room with anyone. I don’t think I have to worry about anything this year, though, because I’m sharing the room with Elizabeth Bear, who is an absolute powerhouse of an author (and a swell person, to boot). So if my kaffeeklatsch is measly or a bust this year, we can just join Elizabeth’s!

So that’s my schedule, folks. If I don’t see you at any of the above events, I’m sure I’ll cross paths with you in the lobby or the bookshop. Feel free to say hello, and I’ll do the same!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Pretty Monsters [Jun. 26th, 2015|09:54 am]
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Pretty Monsters: StoriesPretty Monsters: Stories by Kelly Link

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Another winning collection from Kelly Link, as full of wit, charm, and sophisticated storytelling as her others. The stories skew a bit younger here, but Link’s trademark surrealism and underlying darkness are still present, which means adults will enjoy the collection as much as young adults. Shaun Tan’s illustrations add a nice touch. Choosing a favorite story in a Link collection is always hard, but the title story, “Pretty Monsters,” really blew me away. It’s a tour de force. The similarly named “Monster” and “The Wizards of Perfil” both stuck with me as well. Now that I’ve read and loved all four of Link’s collections, I find myself impatiently awaiting a fifth.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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R.I.P. Patrick Macnee [Jun. 25th, 2015|06:07 pm]
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Patrick Macnee has died at the age of 93. Damn, this one hit me hard. Maybe even harder than Christopher Lee, who passed away a couple of weeks ago. You see, The Avengers, the British TV show that starred Macnee as the dapper secret agent John Steed, was a huge part of my childhood. So much so that I now proudly own the 16-disc DVD collection The Avengers: The Complete Emma Peel Megaset. (Diana Rigg’s Mrs. Peel, seen above with Macnee’s Steed, was my favorite of his three female partners during the original run of the series. Between The Avengers, Doctor Who, and The Tomorrow People, I learned a lot about rotating casts in British TV shows!)

Back in the early to mid-1980s, MSG — the Madison Square Garden network on then-fledgling cable TV in New York City — showed reruns of The Avengers late on weeknights. I don’t really remember why it was on MSG. Maybe back then they only had enough sports programming to fill the daytime hours and at night they went to syndication. Whatever the reason, I watched The Avengers religiously, all the way from Diana Rigg’s first episode to the final episodes with Linda Thorson’s Tara King, whom I never liked as much as Mrs. Peel. And then the cycle would start over again, and I’d keep watching until all the episodes became indelibly etched in my mind. To this day, I count The Avengers among my all-time favorite television shows. On occasion, I’ll pop in one of those 16 DVDs, watch an episode, and be that young boy again staying up way past his bedtime to catch Steed and Mrs. Peel’s adventures. I still get a thrill whenever I hear Macnee say, as he did at the start of most episodes, “Mrs. Peel, we’re needed.”

Macnee wasn’t only in The Avengers, of course. He was a welcome presence in many a film and TV show. I love him as George Waggner in The Howling, the kind-hearted, tragic leader of the werewolf colony. He played Sir Godfrey Tibbett in A View to a Kill, arguably one of the worst James Bond movies, but it was awesome to see him in it because Roger Moore’s portrayal of Bond was clearly deeply influenced by Macnee’s John Steed. Macnee did voiceover work and had an onscreen role in the original Battlestar Galactica. And of course he was Sir Denis Eton-Hogg in This is Spinal Tap.

But man, John Steed was where it was at. He was effortlessly calm and collected, never lost his cool, had an inimitable style, and best of all, got to hang out with Mrs. Peel. I wanted to be him when I grew up — three-piece suit, (steel-lined) bowler hat, (sword-hiding) umbrella and all. Part of me still wants to be him, although I don’t think I’d look as good as he did in that getup.

Rest in peace, Patrick Macnee, but I’m sorry to see you go. I know I speak for legions of fans when I say you’re still needed.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Scott A. Lerner Talks About THE FRATERNITY OF THE SOUL EATER [Jun. 23rd, 2015|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Scott A. Lerner, whose latest novel is The Fraternity of the Soul Eater. Here’s the publisher’s description:

It’s been a while since Samuel Roberts was called upon to save mankind, and he’s getting restless. His girlfriend Susan thinks he’s a danger junkie, and he’s worried he has a hero complex. He’s back to his usual small-town lawyerly duties in Champaign-Urbana, handling divorces and helping people beat DUI raps. But then a young fraternity pledge calls. During an initiation ceremony he witnessed the live sacrifice of a young woman, but he had so much alcohol in his system that no one believes him. Except Sam. Lately Egyptian lore has been creeping into his life, his dreams, and his movie preferences, and he’s pretty sure he knows why. Evil is knocking on his door again.

Is the call welcome? Why can’t Sam be satisfied with his comfortable legal practice and gorgeous redheaded girlfriend? Maybe it’s because he knows that, as inadequate as he may feel to the task, he and his friend Bob may be humanity’s only hope against ancient supernatural forces combined with modern genetic engineering. Come hell or high water. Or in this case, the underworld or subterranean pyramids.

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater is the third book in the Samuel Roberts thriller series, which began with Cocaine Zombies and continued with Ruler of Demons.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Scott A. Lerner:

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater takes place on the campus of a major research university in the Midwest. It involves a campus fraternity who murders and then provides the souls of innocent co-eds as a sacrifice to an ancient Egyptian deity. The Soul Eater, also known as Ammit, was a nightmarish beast from Egyptian mythology. The creature had a body that was part lion, hippopotamus and crocodile — all scary creatures of their own right. Ammit would devour the undeserving souls whose hearts weighed more than a feather.

I do fear many mythological characters, not just Egyptian Gods. In this book confronting ancient evil is not the scariest part. The scariest part is the total disregard for humanity demonstrated by this group, who are modifying human DNA by combining it with animal DNA with no regard for suffering or the law of unintended consequences.

In some ways, my story could be from the pages of The New York Times. Scientists are working to modify human DNA. How can we as a society turn our back on the possibility of curing genetic disease? How can we resist the opportunity to make our children smarter, stronger or more attractive? Once we cross that line, where do we stop?

There is one particular scene in my book that is particularly disturbing. The main character views an evil experiment on video. A young woman is impregnated with a less than human fetus and the creature claws its way out of her uterus. The juxtaposition of the sterile environment with an abomination that is born, only to die soon after, is ghastly. That this is not the first or the last time this nightmare is replayed makes it far worse.

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater is a book of fiction. Even if it might cause you to sleep with the lights on, it remains fantasy. Yet, the ideas within its pages are possible. People are willing to sacrifice one another for power and greed. It does not take great imagination to figure out that if something can be done, even something horrifying, it likely will be done.

Sam, the protagonist, must face his own demons. Can he kill in order to save the life of the woman he loves? Does he remain on the side of the angels even after he has blood on his hands? Do the ends justify the means?

There is potential for evil in all of us. I can’t think of anything scarier.

Scott A. Lerner: Website / Facebook / Twitter

The Fraternity of the Soul Eater: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / IndieBound / Smashwords

Author and attorney Scott A. Lerner resides in Champaign, Illinois. He obtained his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and went on to obtain his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign. He is currently a sole practitioner in Champaign, Illinois. The majority of his law practice focuses on the fields of criminal law and family law. Lerner’s first novel and the first Samuel Roberts thriller, Cocaine Zombies, won a bronze medal in the mystery/cozy/noir category of the 2013 Independent Publisher (IPPY) Awards. The second book in the series is Ruler of Demons. The Fraternity of the Soul Eater is book 3. Book 4, The Wiccan Witch of the Midwest, will be released on Halloween, 2015.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Happy Father’s Day [Jun. 21st, 2015|08:59 am]
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Happy Father’s Day to all you awesome dads out there!

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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R.I.P. Christopher Lee [Jun. 11th, 2015|03:11 pm]
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Sir Christopher Lee passed away last weekend at the age of 93.

Oof. This one hits me really hard. I feel as though Christopher Lee has been a part of my life forever. I started watching British horror movies when I was quite young, thanks to weekend TV syndication, and Lee was in so many of them (along with his frequent on-screen collaborator Peter Cushing). He played the monster in 1957’s The Curse of Frankenstein, and the reanimated Kharis in 1959’s The Mummy. He was Sir Henry in The Hound of the Baskervilles (with Cushing as Holmes — a role Lee himself would get to play not long after in 1962’s Sherlock Holmes and the Deadly Necklace), and Professor Karl Meister in The Gorgon. He was Lord Summerisle in 1973’s unforgettable The Wicker Man, a role he often pointed to as his favorite, and the ghostly Kurt Meliff in Mario Bava’s trippy, S&M-tinged 1963 horror movie The Whip and the Body, which I first saw on Commander USA’s Groovie Movies under its hilariously imprecise US release title: What! — exclamation point included. He was the master assassin Scaramanga in the 1974 James Bond film The Man With the Golden Gun, playing opposite Roger Moore and, incredibly, Hervé Villechaize from Fantasy Island. He guest-starred twice on one of my favorite TV shows, The Avengers, most memorably as Professor Frank N. Stone in the remarkably creepy and sfnal 1967 episode “Never, Never Say Die,” in which Stone is killed over and over again throughout the episode until it’s finally revealed that it isn’t Stone himself who keeps breaking out of the morgue but a cyborg replica he created. I loved Lee’s every movie and TV appearance so much that my heart leapt with joy when I saw his unexpected cameo as the burgomaster in 1999’s Sleepy Hollow. Younger audiences know him as Count Dooku (that name!) in the Star Wars prequels and Saruman in The Lord of the Rings, of course, but to me, even after appearing in so many great films, he’ll always be indelibly linked to a single role. Count Dracula.

Say what you will about Bela Lugosi’s iconic performance as the vampire, but Christopher Lee was my Dracula. He portrayed a handsome and romantic Count, although not in that modern, urban fantasy sense of playing the role of boyfriend or lover. His hypnotic seductions of women led to savage bites on the neck, not make-out sessions. And yet there was still something undeniably sexy to it. There were a whopping nine films in his Dracula series, with Lee appearing in all of them but two (The Brides of Dracula, which is a shame, and  The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires, which he was wise to skip). My favorite is probably 1966’s Dracula: Prince of Darkness, but really I like all of them until 1972’s Dracula AD 1972. Once Dracula time-travels to the present, the series jumps the shark in a major way. After all, the Gothic sets and atmosphere of the first six films in the series went a long way toward making them as iconic as they are. Nobody did old stone castles, horse-drawn carriages, and twisted, leafless trees like Hammer!

One of the remarkable things about Christopher Lee is that he never stopped working. His IMDB page says he played 281 roles, and it appears he was working steadily right up until the end of his life. (And that’s not even counting his two heavy metal albums!) But to me, despite that impressive list of roles, Christopher Lee will always be Dracula. Rest in peace, Count. You gave us all so much.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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The Scariest Part: Kevin Lucia Talks About THROUGH A MIRROR, DARKLY [Jun. 9th, 2015|07:00 am]
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This week on The Scariest Part, my guest is Kevin Lucia, whose latest book is the story collection Through a Mirror, Darkly. Here’s the publisher’s description:

Arcane Delights. Clifton Heights’ premier rare and used bookstore. In it, new owner Kevin Ellison has inherited far more than a family legacy, for inside are tales that will amaze, astound, thrill…and terrify.

An ancient evil thirsty for lost souls. A very different kind of taxi service with destinations not on any known map. Three coins that grant the bearer’s fondest wishes, and a father whose crippling grief gives birth to something dark and hungry.

Every town harbors secrets; Kevin Ellison is about to discover those that lurk in the shadows of Clifton Heights.

And now, let’s hear what the scariest part was for Kevin Lucia:

The scariest part of Through A Mirror, Darkly, actually came several years prior, when I first wrote my new collection’s concluding novella “And I Watered It, With Tears” for Lamplight Magazine. The reason for this is very simple: it was the first time I’d dared write about something very personal, a frightening incident involving my son and I.

Until then I had written a lot of “surface stories.” Maybe they’d been inspired by things I’d seen and heard in life, so they had some originality to them, but up until that point I hadn’t tapped into anything as personal as I did with that novella. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say I hadn’t successfully tapped into anything personal.

I had tried, certainly. See, when he was two years old, my son was diagnosed as severely autistic. At that moment, everything in our lives changed forever. He’s since been downgraded to moderately/mildly autistic and the future looks much brighter than it did six years ago. Even so, our lives will never be the same. Our perspectives have required a shift of global proportions. We’ve had to change our way of life, have had to alter our approach to even the smallest family ventures.

And I tried to convey this in fiction. I wrote a short novel for my MA Thesis about a father grieving the death of his autistic son. I tried to write stories about parents dealing with autism. Every one of them fell flat, largely because — I suspect — I was too close to the subject. They read less like works of fiction and more like case studies. So, when I realized “And I Watered It, With Tears” was veering toward this territory, I felt very unsure. Could I mine this personal experience and turn it into compelling fiction?

The one thing I had in my favor, I think, was using a personal event — a near tragic accident, quite frankly — as inspiration for part of the story, instead of writing a story about autism. And, also working in my favor, the story — about six people mysteriously trapped in a building during a rainstorm — wasn’t about this incident. Instead, as I wrote the novella, I began to realize how this event could be used…

And that terrified me.

For a variety of reasons. First, I’d tried to use personal events in fiction before, with dubious results. Like the stories about autism, they’d come off stilted, and, ironically, unrealistic. And, even as I tinkered and found that if I nudged a few details, I could make the event fit the story, the question still remained: should I write about this personal event?

After all — without spoiling the story — this was an incident in which I’d shown an incredible lack of judgement. I put myself and my autistic son at risk, because I didn’t calculate the risks involved. I wanted to be (subconsciously) the father of a “normal” kid, for a moment not taking my son’s autism into account. And the result was near disaster. Even to this day, when I remember the incident, I get short of breath thinking of all the ways that day could’ve turned into the worst day of our lives. And there I was, planning on taking that memory and twisting it to its worst possible conclusion.

As I worked on “And I Watered It,” this scene loomed. During all the drafts, when I reached the point for this scene, I skipped over it, leaving a placeholder instead of actually writing it. In fact, I left this scene as the very last thing to write; perhaps sensing how emotionally draining it was going to be. And as I began writing the scene, my pace — which had chugged along well until that point — slowed to a crawl. A very real worry wormed its way into my thoughts; that I wouldn’t be able to write this scene, after all.

I somehow managed my way through the first draft, and subsequent drafts. By the time I fought my way through that scene (my worst nightmare as a parent, brought to life) for the last time, I felt exhausted. And I would love to offer the cliché sentiment that writing this scene brought a sense of closure, robbing this memory of its terror. I would love to say that. But I can’t.

Because it would be a lie.

But I saw how powerful a story I’d created by channeling something so personal. There’s a desperate rawness to this novella’s conclusion that I don’t think would be there, had I wimped out and opted for a “safer” end, emotionally.

This has changed the way I think about writing horror. I’m not necessarily looking to turn every traumatic life event into a story, but I’ve felt how much emotional power can be harnessed channeling personal matters, and am less afraid of doing so, in the future.

Not unafraid, mind you. Because if I’m not afraid…what are the chances you will be?

Kevin Lucia: Website / Facebook / Twitter

Through a Mirror, Darkly: Amazon / Barnes & Noble / Books-A-Million

Kevin Lucia is the Review Editor for Cemetery Dance Magazine. His short fiction has appeared in several anthologies. He’s currently finishing his Creative Writing Masters Degree at Binghamton University, he teaches high school English and lives in Castle Creek, New York with his wife and children. He is the author of Hiram Grange & The Chosen One, Book Four of The Hiram Grange Chronicles. His first collection of Clifton Heights Tales, Things Slip Through, was published November 2013, followed by his novella duet, Devourer of Souls, in June 2014. He’s currently working on his first novel.

Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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Get in Trouble [Jun. 7th, 2015|09:26 am]
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Get in TroubleGet in Trouble by Kelly Link

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t think Kelly Link could become any better of a writer than she already was, but then I read GET IN TROUBLE, her fourth and most recent collection of stories. There’s a maturity to them that feels not just fresh but earned, as if it is born from the author’s own evolving experiences and emotions. There’s still whimsy and mind-blowing surrealism to be found here — thankfully so, as those are some of my favorite aspects of Link’s fiction — but they feel less offhand, less spontaneous than they have in the past. And I mean that in a good way. These are tight, well written stories filled with indelible characters who inhabit vibrant environments and find themselves in fascinating, potent situations. As with Link’s previous collections, choosing a favorite from among the stories here is a daunting task. They’re all exceptional, and whatever I decide is likely to change within the hour. That said, I think “Two Houses” and “The New Boyfriend” might be tied for the top spot, with “Secret Identity” coming a close second. Ah, but then there’s also “I Can See Right Through You”… It really is tough to choose. Regardless, this collection, like Link’s previous ones, is a gem whose every facet is worth savoring.

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Originally published at Nicholas Kaufmann. You can comment here or there.

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