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A Series of Ordinary Adventures by Stevie Carroll

They are the people you pass on the street, sit next to on the bus. They are the heroes of personal triumphs, victims of personal tragedy. This is a book of little things- small casts, snippets of lives- but the way Carroll writes them makes them so very grand. The fantastic is woven so adeptly into the mundane that you don’t even know it is there until you meet the Minotaur at the center of the Labyrinth, shatter a luck curse, hatch a fairy egg, or deal with the Devil at midnight.

It is that atmosphere that drew me in and kept me reading. Carroll’s deft hand at lending magical and frightening things a rather nonchalant air makes each story stand out from regular literary fantasy fare. Stories range from heart warming to horrifying, but whatever atmosphere Carroll is weaving, his adept web of words caught my attention and held me until the end.

There were a few stories that particularly got me as I was reading, either causing a rash of goose flesh to march up and down my arms or prompting me to seek out my cat for some impromptu (and probably unwelcome on the feline end of things) cuddling.

‘Breaking the Silence’ is about a close coterie of school boys who owe their successes in life to the bully they only half remember and an incident in a dusty attic of the school house. It is an absolutely, believably, horrifying piece. ‘The Woman Who Hatched A Fairy’s Egg’ may be my favorite in the collection. It is a story about self and belonging and confidence and love. And an egg found on the front step is the catalyst for it all. Simply a beautiful story. I am genuinely just very fond of ‘Mr. Singh Confronts the Minotaur’. It was well- written, fun, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Shady deals with the Devil are a staple of myth/folklore-based writing, and it was wonderful to see it represented in Carroll’s collection in ‘Seven For the Devil’. As usual, the deal does not go as planned for the mortals in the mix, and the protagonist scrambles to set things right. What set this story apart from others with the same theme is the protagonist- a genuinely likable person who makes human decisions- and the friend he continues to seek out, who happens to be a rocker-turned-preacher.

Grab a copy. Curl up somewhere comfortable. Enjoy your trip through familiar places turned strange in wonderful ways.

Candlemark & Gleam is running a Kickstarter for the collection. It is a wonderful way to get a copy and support both the publisher and the author.

Matchbox Girls by Chrysoula Tzavelas

It starts out mundane enough- a call from the children of an acquaintance asking Marley to come over, that their uncle is missing and they were told to call her should anything happen.  The mundane ends there, shifting seamlessly into a world peopled with angels, demons, and their offspring- all of which seem to have an unhealthy interest in the kids Marley now finds herself in charge of, and determined to protect. A celestial war is unfolding, and the children are at the center of it all.

What caught me first about the book is the reality of Marley’s anxiety problem. As someone who has struggled with anxiety, the writing rang so very true, and made Marley not only a flawed and human character, but really someone I was rooting for on a very personal level. I cheered every triumph and winced in sympathy every time she stumbled. For someone with an anxiety disorder, it is sometimes an overwhelming feat to do something as basic as get behind the wheel and drive to work. To see Marley work through that and carry the book to its conclusion was magnificent.

I also became very attached to Marley’s friends, Penny and Branwyn. Their friendship is so tangible and true- it made me want to make some phone calls to friends I have accidentally neglected while life has been busy distracting me.

Tzavelas also has the benefit of having her fae and celestial beings act inhuman, something I adore in any books those forces appear in. On one hand there are the fae, the celestials, and the demons. On the other, the humans. Caught in the middle are the crossbreeds. The mistakes. The Nephilim. And it is in the dual nature, that sense of being caught between that twists through the Nephilim characters, where Tzavelas’ writing really shines. Here is an author who has a grasp on that anxious tension that results from being neither here nor there, and trying to figure out where and how you belong. Matchbox Girls is a book about twisting your own fate from the threads we are given at birth, and it is a splendid journey.

Pilgrim of the Sky by Natania Barron

Maddie’s boyfriend Alvin has vanished, an assumed suicide, and she has finally gotten herself together enough to start moving on. She agrees to take Alvin’s troubled brother Randy with her on one last trip to drop off some of Alvin’s books to an old colleague.

And that is where she is pulled through an antique and into the body of Matilda, an opium addicted seamstress who is married to Randall, who looks frighteningly similar to Randy.  Randall who tells her Alvin is alive, and professes to know how to find him.

Thus starts Maddie’s terrifying and beautiful experience in a strange new world where Mary is the deity on high and America has a queen, one of eight worlds all existing in harmony with each other, hosting a series of reflected individuals with supernatural abilities known as twains. Matilda is Maddie’s twain, as Randall is to Randy. She will search for Alvin and try to make sense with his disappearance and learn more of his motives than anyone had expected. In all of the personal politics of the very powerful and very long lived Maddie has to find her place and help keep the balance between the worlds intact.

Pilgrim of the Sky is a trip through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole for a new audience of readers. It is a ethereal mirage of splintered gods, improbable magic, and the threads of humanity that weave us all together. Above all it is a story about love, in each of its aspects and all of its possibilities.

Pilgrim of the Sky will be released by Candlemark & Gleam. There is also a Kickstarter for the book running for the next few days!

(re)Visions Alice

I am a fan of covers when it comes to music. I enjoy mash ups- one artist being inspired by another, taking bits and pieces here to tell another story, to expand upon the original idea. It allows everything involved to grow and become so much more. I have similar tastes when it comes to writing. I love shared worlds as well as retellings. And I really, really, enjoy re-imaginings of Alice in Wonderland. This makes me both the target audience for (re)Visions Alice, as well as one of its more difficult customers.

The collection starts with a visit by Lewis Carroll himself, setting the mood, reminding us all of that first time we ran across a White Rabbit, a Queen of Hearts, and a horrifyingly beautiful world of talking animals and relentless riddles. From there, it is like picking up pieces of a puzzle and trying to decipher the hidden bit of Wonderland that lingers and languishes throughout each of the contained stories.

They are not all obvious- (re)Visions is refreshingly devoid of bland recitations of a familiar plot. We have a runaway who finds out he is more than he ever imagined and is fumbling his way through a city caught in the terrifying grip of Jack the Ripper. We have a shadow of Wonderland that is cast in film noir. The Queen of Hearts is given a history and a fearsome opponent. We have a mouse that would rather be a man. Through it all there are glimpses of the Wonderland we all remember, and that recognition brings to the reader a sort of fascination that keeps them reading, looking for more of the pieces they can remember being played.

It is a wonderful collection- each story sings out strongly and stands well on its own. They are all memorable and mesmerizing. As I finished the final page, I found myself grasping for more- not of any of the stories I had read as they all stood their ground quite well- but I wanted the collection itself to continue. It will appeal to avid fans of Wonderland, as well as those who merely remember it fondly from childhood stories or movies.

(re)Visions Alice will be available in October 2011 from Candlemark & Gleam. Keep your eyes on this one- you will not want to miss it!

Erekos by A.M. Tuomala

I can happily say I have never read a book quite like this. It unfolds as each page is turned, pulling you further in with every new paragraph. You aren’t introduced to people and places, you are immersed in them.

This is a fantasy for those who like their books with a more literary feel. This is not the classic epic story style, and part of the book’s elegance comes from this deviation. What first appears as meandering between people and places weaves together a  fascinating, horrifying world peopled with flawed, wonderful individuals. Gods walk amidst mortals, swamp witches raise the dead, and a war is pulling at the seams of civilization.

Achane has always taken care of her sister, and even after her sister’s death, is determined to make things right. She raises her sister from the dead, but the results were not as anticipated. And her actions catch the eye of a worn king who thinks he may have discovered the way to turn the tide of war in his favor…

This is an author who has a definite way with weaving lush, beautiful pictures with deceptively unhurried prose. I am looking forward to reading more in the future! If you are looking for something  wonderfully different to read, give Erekos a try.