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What to Read After You've Watched Stranger Things

Stranger Things has launched its second season and many viewers have already hunkered down to binge watch. Alas, after a legendary binging comes the withdrawal. What do you mean we have to wait a whole year? We demand more now! Check out one of these five books for your next fix of something strange.

Jump Cut

An Ellie Foreman Mystery

Book Cover
Libby Fischer Hellmann
Poisoned Pen Press
Softcover $15.95 (286pp)
978-1-4642-0519-4
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

A film producer finds herself embroiled in international conspiracies, in this mystery with Snowdenesque twists.

With Jump Cut, Libby Fischer Hellmann unreels her fifth Ellie Foreman thriller, in which a Chicago video producer finds herself caught up in a deadly international conspiracy.

Ellie and her film company have a good reputation. Even so, it is a surprise when the multibillion-dollar Chicago-based corporation and major defense contractor, Delcroft, asks her to film a candy-coated, feel-good profile. It’s smooth sailing until Charlotte Hollander, Delcroft’s vice president of engineering, goes ballistic when she sees Ellie’s first edit, calling it “a pastiche of amateur photography.”

Ellie is shocked and confused. Then her intuition suggests Hollander’s attack was spurred by the casual background video appearance of Gregory Parks, a mysterious “consultant” she and Hollander both met at a trade show. She traces Parks. He asks to meet her at a Loop CTA station, but as she approaches the meeting, she witnesses his apparent murder. But Parks has left a clue: a zip drive concealed in a cigarette pack.

With that, Ellie descends into a labyrinth of conspiracies and cover-ups involving government alphabet agencies, rogue Blackwater-type private security operators, Uyghur separatists from China’s Tamir Basin, and an ambitious Chinese general named Gao.

Short chapters rocket the fast-paced plot through references to drones, encrypted computer codes, and Hollander’s scientific breakthrough—DADES, Delcroft’s Air Defense Energy System. Ellie races around with zip drive in hand, stopping at Chi-town landmarks like the Baha’i Temple and Northfield’s famous Happ Inn, along with other restaurants, bars, and hot spots.

The supporting cast adds depth, including Ellie’s stalwart retired military boyfriend, Luke. Hellmann catches perfectly the nuances of an autumn romance. Other notable secondary characters are the Porsche Spyder-driving FBI agent Nick Lejeune, and Jake, Ellie’s ninety-something-year-old father, “a wizened Ben Kingsley” always up for “kreplach soup, corned beef on rye, and coffee” at his favorite deli.

With Hellmann tossing in IEDs, murder by car crash, kidnapping, and spooky allusions to the “Deep State,” the nightmare confederation of bureaucrats, moneyed interests, and military-industrial-complex honchos controlling the US government, Jump Cut is an easy-to-read mystery inspired by the paranoia-causing NSA-Snowden headlines.

GARY PRESLEY (February 29, 2016)

Elemental

Book Cover
Emily White
Spencer Hill Press
Softcover $9.95 (200pp)
978-1-937053-04-8
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Blending aspects of science fiction, fantasy, and romance, debut author Emily White’s Elemental is an incredibly intriguing, if occasionally stunted, start to a series.

The novel’s strength mainly comes from its richly creative premise and potential. Ella has just escaped the spaceship that has kept her a prisoner since she was a small child. On the run and in tremendous danger, she quickly realizes she is much more than any escaped prisoner. Ella has the ability—and sometimes a burning hunger—to control the elements. As Ella learns more about her own history, she begins to understand the enormity of her powers. Marked as the prophesied Destructor, Ella’s destiny puts her at war with an evil god, one she must summon all her strength and courage to try to defeat.

White brings in a lot of elements into this book. Interplanetary and political tensions, a race of fairy-like humans, and intense, sometimes violent action scenes come together in a unique framework. There are also themes of faith and a romantic connection to explore. With so much going on so quickly, the book sometimes feels overwhelming. Considering how many interesting ideas White’s included, the story line and world is a shade underdeveloped, with major questions unanswered. However, the sometimes chaotic feeling actually reflects Ella’s view of the world, and with a second book releasing next year, White’s intention may be to continue fleshing out her strong base.

Ella’s character is sometimes inconsistent. She wavers between helplessness and intense strength. While this makes some sense, given that she’s been locked away for most of her life, it can be frustrating to see her make strides and then collapse into hysterics. Her internal thought process and dialogue is also at odds with her background as an almost life-long prisoner. She occasionally changes her mind and motivations a bit too quickly to full understand, but despite her flaws it is ultimately rewarding to see her finally believe in herself and fully take control of her powers in order to succeed.

Elemental will most likely suit thirteen-to sixteen-year-old lovers of fantasy and science fiction, especially those looking for something different. Readers should understand this is a mixture of a fantasy story in a science-fiction world, without a heavy emphasis on either genre.

Offering a genuine change from the stereotypical paranormal fantasies, Elemental shows tremendous effort and creativity. Readers will seek out the sequel to find out the rest of Ella’s story.

ALICIA SONDHI (August 10, 2012)

Department Zero

Book Cover
Paul Crilley
Pyr
Softcover $17.00 (301pp)
978-1-63388-201-0
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

When Cthulu calls, Department Zero listens. Paul Crilley’s zingy, hilarious new book takes a cheeky swipe at H. P. Lovecraft, Los Angeles, single fatherhood, and pretty much everything else. Peppered with pulpy slang and enough one-liners to choke a film-noir detective, Department Zero is a fun change of pace from an often-too-serious fantasy list.

Who doesn’t love a self-conscious, foul-mouthed, down-on-his-luck antihero? Harry Priest has failed at absolutely everything he’s tried, and he knows it. A full-time crime scene and corpse clean-up specialist, he still can’t stomach the smell of rotting flesh. His marriage has failed. And when he’s recruited to top-secret Department Zero, a supernatural crime-fighting team, he’s not totally sure he can handle the swarms of demonic spiders.

Or the feats of derring-do. He’s no Steve McQueen, but Harry has nothing to risk—except his custody arrangement. Whether Harry believes the parallel world he’s stepped into or not, he’s playing for keeps. Spear of Destiny? Cult of Azathoth? Whatever, Harry thinks. He just wants to get home to he can say goodnight to his daughter.

Crilley keeps things light and punchy, and to Harry’s horror, the monsters keep on coming. Harry takes on every obstacle in the known world—and apparently every one in the unknown world too. Crilley throws in some excellent references to Douglas Adams and at least one conspiracy theory, just to keep the pages turning. He’s a wonderful, natural writer, also the author of The Osiris Curse and The Lazarus Game.

Part video game, part graphic novel, Department Zero is juicy, hairy, squishy, satisfying fun.

CLAIRE RUDY FOSTER (March 2, 2017)

Memortality

Book Cover
Stephen H. Provost
Pace Press
Softcover $14.95 (260pp)
978-1-61035-289-5
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

Lost loved ones live on in our memories—at least, that’s what people say. For salty, sarcastic Minerva Rus, memory has the power to resurrect the people she’s lost. Part psychedelic journey, part conspiracy theory, Memortality is an unforgiving fantasy about unfulfilled desire and overcoming unimaginable obstacles.

After a tragic traffic accident that costs Minerva the use of her lower body and her best friend, Raven, Minerva learns that she can summon the dead through her memory. Her power gives her access to a world she didn’t know existed, but it also makes her a target for people who want to misuse her gift. Minerva, who uses a wheelchair, considers her first enemy to be her own unreliable body. However, as she learns to trust herself, she loses her self-hatred.

It’s refreshing to find a disabled main character who isn’t limited by her wheelchair, although Memortality does follow ableist tropes. When she’s reunited with her dead best friend, Raven, Minerva stops thinking of herself as “broken” and begins to see herself as powerful and desirable. Together, the friends face off against a government agent who pursues them through the labyrinth of Minerva’s imagination.

Punchy and fast paced, Memortality reads like a graphic novel. Its short chapters are exciting, well plotted, and compelling. Provost, a reporter, is a no-nonsense writer who delivers on the action without ruminating too much on character motivation or description. His style makes the trippy landscapes and mind-bending plot points more believable and adds a thrilling edge to the novel.

As Minerva regains her confidence, she finds out what she’s truly capable of. As she learns to use her incredible powers, she explores the depths of her mind in this vivid crossover fantasy.

CLAIRE RUDY FOSTER (March 2, 2017)

Right of Capture

Book Cover
Isadora Deese
Pelekinesis
Softcover $22.95 (460pp)
978-1-938349-47-8
Buy: IndieBound, Amazon

At its heart, Right of Capture explores the various ways that human weaknesses can be exploited.

Genetic evolution, corporate interests, and politics collide in Isadora Deese’s Right of Capture. Focusing on two remarkable siblings, this page-turning science-fiction thriller highlights issues impacting today’s society, such as capitalist control of scientific breakthroughs and the price of advancement.

Brother-and-sister duo Roan and Judge Gorey were born with mysterious abilities; Roan can summon lethal monsters that take the shape of anything with DNA that they touch, and Judge can create portals into another dimension. A powerful corporation promises their parents that it can remove these dangerous powers, but their true intentions veer into the sinister. Roan eventually escapes captivity to reunite with her family, but her actions initiate a catastrophic string of events that threaten the world.

A breakneck pace makes Right of Capture a compelling read. The siblings, their allies, and even their enemies hardly get a moment’s respite on the journey to a thrilling, if devastating, conclusion. The action-packed narrative compensates for the ambiguous explanations regarding the source of the siblings’ powers. The mystery of whether Roan and Judge are the next stage of evolution or the result of an experiment form the novel’s core, and the conundrum’s answer may ultimately prove unsatisfying.

Likewise, deep exploration of the individual characters’ psyches is not a priority in Right of Capture. Instead, the story focuses on the effects caused by personal interests and how small incidents can add up to world-changing events. The lack of deep characterization doesn’t serve as a pitfall, however. The intricate weaving of multiple subplots and deft handling of a large cast of characters is quite masterful. The twists and turns, combined with surprising motivations and contradictions, keep the characterization from seeming slight.

At its heart, Right of Capture explores the various ways that human weaknesses can be exploited. But when the people involved wield dangerous powers, the shape of that abuse can have terrible repercussions. The ominous conclusion closes the chapter on Roan’s immediate conflict with the corporation but sets the stage for further confrontations to come—certain to be the welcome subject of much-anticipated future installments.

VERNIEDA VERGARA (November 9, 2016)

Hannah Hohman

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