Category Archives: fantasy

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

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Do you remember the campy version of Batman from the 1960’s TV show?  That’s the way he was portrayed for several decades. But everything changed in 1986 thanks to Frank Miller’s Batman: the Dark Knight Returns. Miller’s depiction of the Dark Knight, along with Alan Moore’s Watchmen, ushered in a new, darker era for comic books.

The Dark Knight Rises is itself a very interesting read. Batman retired ten years ago. But crime has continued unabated in Gotham City. When an extremely violent gang appears, something within Bruce Wayne snaps and he can’t keep Batman hidden inside anymore. But Wayne is over fifty years old; fighting crime is much harder in his aging body.

Gotham City has also changed. Commissioner Gordon is retiring. His chosen replacement, the first woman Commissioner, feels the Dark Knight is a menace who must be hunted down. This is part of a larger debate within Gotham City, where various individuals weigh in on how they feel about the Dark Knight’s return. This part of the story feels very relevant to today, both in the way that it is presented (with talk show hosts bringing in various guests to debate) and in how divided in thought everyone is. And while The Dark Knight Returns has these modern aspects, it is also very much a product of its time, having been written during the Cold War; it expressly deals with people’s fears from the time (but with a superhero twist).

One warning though: the physical book is rather daunting thanks to the sheer amount of dialogue in it. The art is also not particularly appealing, making this graphic novel a bit harder to get through as well. But the story is very much worth it!

Groot by Jeff Loveness and Brian Kesinger

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Since the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie came out in 2014, comic fans everywhere fell in love with this previously little-known superhero team. Out of the whole group of loveable misfits, my favourite is probably Groot, the sentient alien tree. I think I’m not alone in this because Marvel Comics decided to give Groot his own solo adventure, written by Jeff Loveness and drawn by Brian Kesinger.

 

Even though he’s been to Earth many, many times, in Groot’s opinion he’s never really experienced Earth. So he talks his friend, Rocket Raccoon, into going on a road trip to Earth. The pair take the slow route, starting their adventure by hitchhiking through space (after their vehicle explodes). Along the way they encounter a bounty hunter named Eris who wants the enormous bounty on Groot. When Eris accidentally captures Rocket instead, she decides to use him as bait. But no one accounted for Groot taking his time. He comes to Ricket’s rescue in his typical slow way, having many adventures and meeting many new people on his journey to save his friend.

 

While Groot is a crazy and fun adventure (as befits a superhero story), it’s also a very touching tale about friendship. Groot always finds the best in everyone, no matter who they are and what they can do. He’s also filled with a rather childlike sense of wonder at seeing the beauty of space and the marvels of our own planet; his outlook will have you looking at the world around you with fresh eyes. Groot made me love this big-hearted tree more than I thought possible, and I’m sure you’ll feel the same if you give this graphic novel a chance

Interview with Michelle Krys

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author picture of Michelle KrysMichelle Krys is the author of Dead Girls Society, Hexed, and Charmed. When she’s not writing books for teens, she moonlights as a NICU nurse. She lives in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Canada, with her family. You can visit her online at michellekrys.com.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write your newest book, Dead Girls Society?

Michelle Krys: Ideas rarely come to me organically. I often have to go after them with a club, which is what happened in this case. I knew I wanted to write a book with the mystery and intrigue of Pretty Little Liars, but with a fun competition element à la Panic by Lauren Oliver, so I sat down and brainstormed ideas until I landed on something I liked. Not very romantic, but if I waited around for ideas to strike me I would probably write a book a decade.

Hope, your heroine with cystic fibrosis from Dead Girls Society, seems very different from Indigo, the cheerleader heroine of your first series.  Where did you get the ideas for these very different characters?

Indigo’s personality is one of the first things I knew about Hexed. I wanted to subvert the gothic witch stereotype, and having the protagonist be a popular, sarcastic cheerleader felt like the natural first step.

With Dead Girls Society, I really wanted to explore what it would be like to be a normal teenager in a lot of ways, experiencing all the normal teenager things, like love and angst and a desire to push boundaries and rebel, while also living with an incurable illness that really limits your experiences.

Dead Girls Society takes place in New Orleans, while Hexed is in LA. What’s the appeal of using big American cities for your novel settings?

I mentioned that one of my goals with Hexed was to subvert the gothic witch stereotype. Besides making the protagonist a popular cheerleader, I thought it would be fun to use a setting that most readers wouldn’t normally associate with witchcraft. Sunny L.A. seemed like a great fit for that. As for Dead Girls Society, I got the idea for the setting while roaming the French Quarter in New Orleans while attending a writing festival. I just fell in love with the rich, vibrant culture of the city.  

You wrote your first book while on maternity leave.  Was it difficult fitting in writing during that time?

Not at all! My son slept 12 hours through the night and took 3-4 hour naps during the day. His incredible sleeping habits are actually what prompted me to try my hand at writing. I found myself with all this free time, and I figured there would be no better opportunity to write that book I’d always been thinking about.

Wow, that’s incredibly lucky! Did your writing routine change once your maternity leave was over?

Definitely. Fitting in time to write became much more of a challenge. After coming home from an exhausting 12-hour shift and then putting my baby to sleep, all I wanted to do was collapse on the couch. This meant that all my writing was restricted to nap times on my days off, which were few and far between as I was working full-time then. One thing I will say is that, though challenging, the rigid schedule did force me to be very focused and driven. Now that I’m part-time at work and enjoy long stretches of days off between shifts, I find myself procrastinating a lot.

Why do you like writing YA books?

I could say something very noble about using artwork to provide teens with the tools to tackle a time of great upheaval (and that would also be true), but mostly? It’s fun, and it’s what I like to read.

That’s totally fair. I read in an interview with you in the Walleye that your first book was rejected.  Have you ever reused or reworked elements of that book into something new?

I’ve brought it out from time to time, but it’s very much a first novel. No redeeming features whatsoever. The book was great for a learning experience, and that’s it. It’s pretty humiliating to look at!

That’s too bad. But at least it led you to better stories! What are you working on now?

I have a few different projects on the go. A middle grade set in the east coast of Canada, a YA psychological thriller, and an adult contemporary romance. I like to dabble on a few different projects before I decide which one I want to spend my time on.

Good luck with whichever one you choose to develop! So what book or author inspired you to write?

The Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer. Say what you will about the problematic elements of the book, but the series completely swept me away. I can’t remember another time I connected with a book as deeply. It perfectly captured the thrill and innocence of falling in love for the first time. When Edward brushed Bella’s arm, I felt the drop in my own stomach.

It’s amazing how different books can speak to us so strongly! Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

The first book that comes to mind is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, which is a graphic novel about a boy whose mother is dying of cancer. It’s utterly brilliant and heartbreaking and beautiful, all the more so when you discover that the original concept was created by the author Siobban Daud, who died of cancer before she had a chance to write the book.  

That sounds amazing; I’ll have to check it out. Finally, what are you currently reading?

I just finished a wonderful YA novel about a female gladiator in the Roman Empire, called The Valiant by Lesley Livingstone, and now I’m reading Wintersong by S. Jae-Jones, which is a Labyrinth retelling by way of The Sound of Music. So far it’s dark and gritty and romantic and exactly up my alley.

book cover of Dead Girls Society

Interview with Peadar O’Guilin

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Picture of Peadar O’GuilinPeadar O’Guilin grew up in beautiful Donegal in the far northwest of Ireland.  These days, he lives in Dublin where he toils day and night for a giant corporation.  You can find him on Twitter by following @TheCallYA.

Shauna Kosoris: What inspired you to write The Call?

Peadar O’Guilin: I have always believed that one idea is never enough to make a good novel — you need at least two. Everything grows from the interaction of these concepts. The first piece of inspiration I had for The Call was an image of somebody disappearing in a crowded room. I imagined their clothing falling to the floor and I wondered what had happened to them. I knew it had to be something bad, I just didn’t know what. I guess a lifetime of reading mythology and folklore finally broke through to the surface because I used the Irish mythology I’d grown up with to supply the answer. Our version of fairy tales are weird and beautiful and quite unlike the ones that are more common in the rest of the western world. Nobody could fail to be inspired by them, in my opinion.

I completely agree!  So why does the Call last exactly 3 minutes and 4 seconds?

I wanted it to last three minutes so that any witnesses would be on the edge of their seats and counting down all the way, terrified of what might come back. The extra four seconds are there for no reason other than the fact that life isn’t very neat.

That’s fair.  How did Nessa, a girl with weak legs, become the heroine in a story where the teens have to run for their lives?

I always pick heroes for my stories that everybody else expects to fail. They put her in a box, they dismiss and pity her. But Nessa is not the type to lie down and I love her for that.

You said you “picked” Nessa. Were there other characters you were debating about making the protagonist?

No, there were no other characters before Nessa came into existence. All of the others materialised in response to her. I “picked” her, in the sense that I knew I would need somebody that others would consider useless. My main characters are often thought of by others as a “waste of resources” and a “waste of time”. But, like all of us, they have enormous value that society is in danger of squandering.

All of the teens had such different adventures in the Grey Lands.  How did you decide on what each of them would go through?

I never do a lot of planning in my novels. I want to be every bit as surprised as the readers by what happens. When I sat down to begin each “Call”, I didn’t always know if that character would live or die, or what would happen to them. This is why I wrote it in the present tense. I wanted to feel the unpredictability of the story that I was creating. And you’re right — I knew I had to be very careful to make all of the stories wildly different from each other. To do anything else would have quickly bored the readers.

So which character’s Call surprised you the most?

There were quite a few that surprised me. I didn’t know Cahal would turn out to have an inner decency. I didn’t know Chuckwu would do what he did. And I really didn’t expect what happened to Emma. I could say more, but… spoilers!

Emma’s Call was probably the most surprising one for me as a reader as well.  Outside of the whole idea of being Called by the Sidhe, I found the Sidhe’s world to be quite fascinating.  Where did you get the idea for the Grey Lands?

The Sídhe needed to live somewhere awful so that their desire for vengeance would be bottomless. So, I designed a world that would be the opposite in every way from the home they lost: The Many-Coloured Land. I took away the colour they loved so much. I left them no animals, so that they had to create their own out of pure hatred.

The Grey Lands and the Bone World of your previous trilogy are both very brutal settings.  Why do these types of worlds appeal to you as a writer?

It’s all about increasing the stakes. The greater the threat, the more heroic the characters have to be to overcome them and the more we, the readers, fear for their safety and root for their success. At least, that’s how I feel.

So what are you working on now?

I’m working on a sequel to The Call. I have no name for it yet and don’t plan on writing more than two books in this series. I have plenty of other stories in my mental queue for when that’s done.

How exciting – I can’t wait to read that sequel! Let’s finish up with a few quick questions about reading. What book or author inspired you to write?

I’ve been writing stories my whole life — at least since the age of five! So, I can’t remember what book first got me started. But the one that made me passionate about world-building, has to be The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Reading that the first time was like having a bomb go off in my brain with lights flashing and trumpets blaring. It changed everything for me.

Is there a book or author that you think everyone should read?

I think the book everybody should read is the one that will do to them what The Lord of the Rings did to me. However, that book is different for every reader. Please, read whatever you love and feel no guilt about it. Sure, you need to study whatever books your school demands too, but in your own time, you should be free in every sense of the word.

And what are you currently reading?

Kid Got Shot by Simon Mason. It’s a YA mystery with fantastic characters. I loved his previous novel, Running Girl.

cover art of The Call

The Call by Peadar O’Guilin

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cover art of The CallThis tense, fast paced thriller asks the question, what would happen if the gods and goddess of mythology returned to the modern world with their hearts full of vengeance?  O’Guilin has taken modern Ireland and cut if off from the rest of the world, due to the magic of the Sidhe.  These were the mythical fairy folk of the Emerald Isle and of Scotland, physically beautiful but cruel and capricious. The Sidhe were tricked by the ancient Irish into a hellish netherworld and now are seeking their revenge by abducting their adolescents into the Greylands to be mutilated or killed.

Twenty five years have passed since the horror began when without warning young people began disappearing suddenly for a little over three minutes of our time but a full day in the alternative world, during which they are hunted by the Sidhe. Their chances are surviving are slim at best and should they return alive, the survivors are forever altered both physically and mentally. The young are now sent away to school to be taught and toughened for when their “call” comes.

The story focuses on Nessa who is not expected to survive due to a childhood bout of polio which has damaged her legs, but not destroyed her strength or will to live. She and the other residents of the Boyle school are simply ordinary teenagers forced to fight for their lives and many of the characters the reader comes to care about meet tragic fates.

The author O’Guilin mixes moments of humour with moments of anguish, loyalty with betrayal, desire with scorn, each with a deft hand.  Despite the overall darkness as the country slips into subsistence living when the doom of the Sidhe takes hold, there is a sense of hope and defiance in spite of the odds.

Midnight Riot (Rivers of London series) by Ben Aaronovitch

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At first glance Midnight Riot is a murder mystery or perhaps a police procedural, however by page five Nicholas Wallpenny (ghost) is introduced and shortly thereafter the police are seeking traces of magic.  Our protagonist, probationary Constable Peter Grant, is unusual in the realm of supernatural mysteries; he’s working within the policing establishment.  While many police departments in the genre may employ wizards, witches, and the like as consultants, in this first of the Rivers of London series a lone Detective Chief Inspector leads a specialist unit all his own.  That is until he meets Constable Grant and sees in him the potential for an apprentice.midnightriot

So why with so much to choose from in this genre should you give your time to this book (and series)?  For starters, Peter Grant is a thoroughly likeable while imperfect character.  Easily distracted he does not fit the criteria to become a detective as he desires, but his interest in everything around him is exactly what draws the attention of Detective Chief Inspector Nightingale.  Peter’s colleague Leslie May sums it up best saying that Peter doesn’t “see the world the way a copper needs to see the world – it’s like [he’s] seeing stuff that isn’t there.”  It turns out that noticing the stuff that isn’t there is exactly what is needed in supernatural policing.  Nightingale is fascinating in his own right and we are slowly given insight into his character over the course of the series.  These two very different men each bring different skills to the table (only of the two really understands technology) to solve cases the Metropolitan Police couldn’t dream of solving on their own.

If you’re looking for an entertaining read over the holiday season with a good dose of humour I cannot recommend this highly enough.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

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uprootedMany fairy tales involve the woods, often warning young children to stay away because bad things like monsters dwell there. But what if the woods itself was the actual monster?  That’s what Naomi Novik explores in Uprooted. Sure, there are a few traditional monsters ready to drag you kicking and screaming into her malevolent Woods. But it’s not just the monsters that you need to worry about – the very trees are out to get you!

 

Luckily for the people of the Valley, there’s a powerful wizard who keeps the Woods at bay. All he demands in return is one girl from the Valley to serve him unquestioning for ten years. When the time comes for him to choose another girl, everyone knows he’s going to choose Agnieszka’s best friend, Kasia. Kasia is the bravest, most beautiful girl in the Valley. But when the time comes, it isn’t Kasia who the wizard chooses. Agnieszka gets whisked away to the wizard’s tower without even a moment to say goodbye to her family. Agnieszka knows she isn’t brave like Kasia is; how will she deal with ten years serving the wizard?

 

One of the best things about Uprooted is that the book constantly changes. The summary I just gave you is basically what’s on the back of the book. But Uprooted is so much more than the simple fairy tale it starts out as – you’ll never know what to expect next (especially from Agnieszka, who manages to quite literally break all the rules)! And you don’t have to just take my word for how great Uprooted is: it’s won multiple awards in 2016 including the Nebula Award for Best Novel and the Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel.
Shauna Kosoris is a member of the Thunder Bay Public Library staff.