The Changeling by Victor LaValle

A father loses his wife and infant child and goes to near-mythological lengths to findchangeling them.

Apollo Nagwa is the son of a Ugandan woman and an American father.  His dad left them when Apollo was quite young; memories of his father reverberate in repeated nightmares throughout Apollo’s childhood.  His only connection with his dad are his nightmares and a nondescript box with mementos and a favorite Maurice Sendak book.

Being of a bookish sort, Apollo parlays his knowledge into a used and rare book business.  Most of his stock he buys from estate sales and such, and the occasional rare book is just that – a rare tidbit that keeps his business barely running.

It’s during his browsing of a book sale at a library branch that he meets the love of his life.  Emma is a small woman of determination, a librarian who steals Apollo’s heart.  They marry, she gets pregnant, and they have a most unnatural natural birthing on a broken down subway car.  Brian, named for Apollo’s long-gone father, is their new addition.

Sounds like the beginnings of young family bliss?  Think again – things quickly become crazy.

Emma has a period of postpartum depression.  She then loses interest in the baby almost entirely.  By contrast, Apollo is the doting daddy – he takes their child everywhere, and posts an insane amount of baby pictures to Facebook.

In an unspeakable act of violence, Emma tears apart what’s left of their idyllic existence, and she and the baby are gone.  After hospitalization and imprisonment, Apollo goes on his own hero’s journey through the five boroughs to find his wife and child, helped by his friend Patrice, a war veteran turned computer geek, and egged on by a nerdy stranger interested in a crazy-good book find of Apollo’s.

The Changeling uses themes from myths and fairy tales, along with modern takes on technology and race, to spin its intriguing yarn of betrayal, love, and hard knocks.  The book is a rambling read, well-written and with plenty of unnerving jolts – it kept my interest up, even when reading it on an iPhone.

There be witches and monsters in the Big Apple.

The library has The Changeling in book form and eBook.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss

name of the windKote is an innkeeper in a rural village where mostly nothing happens and news of the world comes from bigger places.  He has his regulars, a loyal assistant named Bast, and the quiet respect of the townspeople, even though he is relatively new to the area.

Kote also has a past that he’d rather keep hidden, which he does, up until unearthly things begin happening, and a stranger known as the Chronicler arrives, wanting to know more of Kote’s background.

Kote is actually Kvothe, a figure of legend.  Born within a troupe of wandering performers called the Edema Ruh, Kvothe proves to be a quick study of song and stage practice that his parents teach him – actually, he’s a quick study of practically anything, be it languages or more esoteric arts.

When Abenthy, a self-professed arcanist, begins to travel with Kvothe’s troupe, the young boy makes fast friends with him, and learns far more than he’d have dreamed from Abenthy.  Abenthy also raises Kvothe’s awareness of the University, and the possibilities of the knowledge he could acquire from studying there.

Abenthy eventually settles down and leaves the troupe, and tragedy hits, in the form of demonic beings known as the Chandrian, who kill all of the troupe except Kvothe.  In a daze of mourning, he makes it to the insanely big city of Tarbean, where he lives by his wits, until by luck and sheer chutzpah, Kvothe makes it to the University and begins his work in earnest.

Now, if only he could stay out of trouble…

A gradual hero of sorts, Kvothe becomes a master of public perception, while he scandalizes the masters of the University, makes enemies (and sometimes some powerful ones), secures a coveted musician’s rating in the nearby town, and gets the girl (or not).

The Name of the Wind is a sprawling yarn of a vaguely medieval world where magic of a sort is real and legends grow more fanciful  with each telling.  You probably won’t finish it quickly (the book clocks in at 660-some pages) but be prepared for quite a journey.  There’s some slogs in places here, but for the most part, I felt The Name of the Wind to be worth my while.

The Wise Man’s Fear is book two, if you want more.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


The Vine That Ate The South by J. D. Wilkes

vine that ate the southThere is a mythical part of western Kentucky knotted by rivers where the supernatural reigns supreme.  Angels and monsters lurk here, time forgets itself, and stories tell of a vicious vine of kudzu that has eaten an older couple in their own house.

Our nameless hero, a man-child in his thirties, is a shy and shamed member of his small town.  Fatherless at an early age, he has existed into adulthood without much of a mark in the world.

His friend Carver Canute is a societal outsider like himself, but stranger and crazier, with an Elvis pompadour and bad teeth.  Together, our fabulous duo travel on an epic bicycle ride to find the legendary vine and do battle with the supernatural critters that populate the Deadening, the forest of mystery in which they journey.  Along the way, they encounter torrential rain, rideable dust devils, gun-toting property owners, snakes, and a haunted Masonic temple.   What they intended as a day lark becomes an odyssey of horrors.

Suspend all belief when reading The Vine That Ate The South.  Instead, just dig in and enjoy this hillbilly hero’s journey to the dark side.  The humor is earthy and profane, the imagery that of old-time religion and the natural world, all slammed together into a ghastly, funny conglomeration.  Oh, and the pictures are interesting too.

To see what the author is about, check out J. D. Wilkes’ website here.  He appears to be about as crazy as his book.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

It is to be expected that a graveyard comes alive with ghosts at night-time.  One wouldlincoln in the bardo imagine they congregate and converse in a social manner, and perhaps gossip about new arrivals.

This book expands on this idea, the setting being Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown in the year 1862.  It is the aftermath of  Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie’s death at the age of eleven.  Obviously, his parents were devastated.  The rumor was that President Lincoln would visit the crypt his son was interred in and actually remove the body from the coffin to mourn over.

The night time residents of Oak Hill take note of their human nocturnal visitor, as well as talk to the ghost of his son, who is bewildered as to why he can’t interact with his father.  And as Willie lingers here, in this purgatorial state or “bardo“, his soul is increasingly in peril, as the ectoplasmic denizens of Oak Hill experience in graphic detail, when they try to help Willie along the next leg of his journey – and find theirs as well.

A cast of dozens tell the tale here in Lincoln in the Bardo, a sad yet playful view of the afterlife.  The book alternates between events of the “real” world (White House parties, the Civil War, Willie’s sickness) and the drama of the spirit world, populated by dandies, preachers, slaves, miscreants, and others.  The narrative is fanciful and occasionally confusing, but let your mind go…well, back to the 1860s, put things in context, and the subject matter will make more sense.

(William Hicks, Information Services)



Summerlong by Peter S. Beagle

Abe and Joanna have had an arrangement for over twenty years.  He lives with his books summerlongand homebrewed beer on Gardner Island in Washington State, and she lives in a condominium in Seattle.  Togetherness is only a ferry ride away.  They are reasonably content growing old with each other; their main challenge is Joanna’s grown daughter Lily, luckless in love and still growing up.

Disruption of their routine comes in the form of Lioness Lazos, a mysterious young woman who waits tables at their favorite restaurant.  Both Abe and Joanna (and Lily, for a different reason) are immediately taken with Lioness.  Initially homeless, Lioness gladly accepts the offer of Abe’s garage as a residence, and the once moldering building transforms into a real home of sorts.

The island changes as well.  An unheard of stretch of warm weather segues into a lengthy spring and summer.

Other people are beguiled by Lioness, including the neighbor’s children.  Abe and Joanna discover hidden desires of their own.  Lily, at first in love with Lioness, finds a strange and sweet bond with her.  But there are uncanny things that people start noticing, and powers lying beyond the island eventually catch up to Lioness and her idealized corner of the world.

Summerlong brings together classical myth and old love to create a quiet, satisfying fantasy.  In the meeting between the otherworldly and the mundane, all are changed, sometimes unexpectedly.

This one, surprisingly, is my first go at a Peter Beagle book.  He’s been writing novels and short stories, sometimes sporadically, since The Last Unicorn way, way back (OK – 1968).

(William Hicks, Information Services)


The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

Vellitt Boe is a professor at a women’s college in the fictional city of Ulthar.  The suddendream-quest disappearance of one of the school’s prize students throws the college’s future in doubt.  The dean wants Vellitt to find the young lady, and Vellitt, a wanderer in younger days, is game for the journey.

The man who wiled the student away is what they call a waking-world man – someone from a universe that is essentially ours.  Ulthar, by contrast, lies in a world of seething skies and a handful of stars by comparison to ours.  This world is overseen by a clutch of unpredictable gods and inhabited by a host of weird creatures.  Indeed, most people stick to what is known and traveled.

Vellitt, in contrast to others, has traveled much of their known world and some of its unknown parts, so she is perhaps the best choice for the trek, although Vellitt is now in her mid-fifties and considered old in their society.  She is, however, a person of extreme resolve, and as Vellitt makes her way through the dangerous backcountry, she feels again her youthful ambitions.

She is not alone.  A small black cat from Ulthar has chosen to make the journey with her, and as time passes, proves its worth, particularly when Vellitt meets a former lover.  He is a waking-world man himself, now king in a distant country, who may know the answer to her student’s whereabouts.  Even after their meeting, Vellitt will still endure a horrific trek through an underworld peopled by beings that are carnivorous – and that would be an understatement.

The world of this book is based on a universe H.P. Lovecraft created for a series he wrote called the Dream Cycle.  Think of The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe as a feminist re-imagining of Lovecraft’s universe.

I enjoyed this book.  It’s a quick read, definitely for fantasy fans and people who enjoy a heroine’s journey.  The ending was unexpected and a little abrupt, and I could say, a little bit out of place with the rest of the book, but that might have been the author’s intent.

(William Hicks, Information Services)


The Hike by Drew Magary

Ben is supposed to meet his vendor during a business trip at some odd mountain top hotel.the-hike  As Ben arrives first, he’s game to explore the terrain surrounding the inn.  And indeed, there is a defined path that seems tailor-made for a woodsy stroll.

Ben’s hiking bliss does not last.  And in the next few days (years) of his life, it will seem that Ben’s every nightmare and bad memory manifest themselves into things more horrific to be imagined.  He tangles with homicidal dog-faced men, a man-hungry giant (literally), and all other sorts of creatures that seem determined to steal his very being.  Ben also meets help along the way, including a vaguely familiar older woman who gives Ben some valuable seeds, and a talking crab who adds some comic relief along the way.

Ben learns, and often the hard way, that remaining on the path is crucial to his survival, and return to his real life.  It’s tough to adhere to a path that cuts through ocean and terrain alike, but Ben manages, even though he bungles along through most of his travail.

The Hike is a modern-day fairy tale, a hero’s journey of sorts, a Bildungsroman of a grown man who badly needs to let go of the horrors of childhood. The book is by turns horrific and whimsical.  Ben is a believable Everyman, an average Joe that you will cheer on even when he’s being an idiot.

I started this one after plowing through a shorter book that I didn’t like.  The Hike was a much, much better choice.

Pair this one with John Connolly’s The Book of Lost Things, another good book brimming with fantastical, scary, and humorous elements.

(William Hicks, Information Services)