Local book release: Daughter of Chaos by Jen McConnel

I’ve had the pleasure of publishing Durham author Jen McConnel‘s poem “Enchantment” way back in Issue #4 (hat tip as always to poetry editor Dan Campbell) and in watching her career grow and bloom in the years since and let me tell you, she’s currently on quite the upswing. Her September 2012 “New Adult” novel The Burning of Isobel Key was republished as The Secret of Isobel Key in December by Bloomsbury Spark (and produced in audio by Audible for Bloomsbury), and today she starts a new series with Daughter of Chaos (Red Magic, #1)  from Raleigh-based Month9Books [IndieBound | Kobo | Kindle]. Once again McConnel sets her sights on the young adult / new adult reader, this time with a contemporary Durham-set story of witches and choices:

“There comes a time in every witch’s life when she must choose her path. Darlena’s friends have already chosen, so why is it so hard for her to make up her mind? Now, Darlena is out of time. Under pressure from Hecate, the queen of all witches, Darlena makes a rash decision to choose Red magic, a path no witch in her right mind would dare take. As a Red witch, she will be responsible for chaos and mayhem, drawing her deep into darkness. Will the power of Red magic prove too much for Darlena, or will she learn to control it before it’s too late?”

One thing I like about the opening of this book is that there’s no time spent explaining, “hey, my name is Darlena, and I’m a witch, and we have alchemy classes” — we just see her grade on her recent alchemy test and since we can fill in so much by simple inference, McConnel lets us do that work without spelling it out for us. That’s something I appreciate in a book, particularly one written for teens.

So! Congratulations to McConnel on the publication of her latest book. You can join in on some of the fun via her virtual launch Facebook event and catch her at The Regulator Bookshop on Wednesday, April 30th. (Note: this had been scheduled for April 9th.)


Beautiful Curse, McConnel’s contemporary retelling of the myth of Psyche and Cupid, is due out in December from Swoon Romance.

Monday Musings: N.K. Jemisin in Statesville this weekend, and Lev Grossman and Junot Diaz kick of the NC Literary Festival next week!

Monday, March 24, 2014: Via regular contributors The Exploding Spaceship comes news that Statesville, NC’s Mitchell Community College will host award-winning author N.K. Jemisin this weekend (Friday March 28 and Saturday March 29) as part of the 2014 Doris Betts Spring Writers Festival. There are author readings, (free!) writing workshops, and more. If you’re in the Piedmont area, check it out!

Meanwhile, here in the Triangle we’re getting very ready and very excited about next week’s North Carolina Literary Festival, kicking off with featured readings by Lev Grossman (Thursday, April 3, 7:30 pm) and Junot Diaz (Friday, April 4, 7 pm) ahead of a weekend packed with panelists such as Peter Straub, Karen Joy Fowler, John Kessel, R.L. Stine, and many, many more, all free — though some events, like the Junot Diaz reading, require free pre-registration.

More? Here’s the latest handout flyer [handout-2014-03-20.pdf] of upcoming events, including the just-announced Flyleaf Books event with Ann VanderMeer, set for April 21. As always, check the latest newsletter for the most comprehensive listings of events and book releases!


News: Flyleaf Books to host Ann VanderMeer on Monday, April 21!

Fantastic news, everyone! On Monday, April 21, Chapel Hill’s Flyleaf Books hosts award-winning editor Ann VanderMeer for a discussion of her just-released anthology The Time Traveler’s Almanac. Published last year in the UK, this new definitive anthology of time travel stories gets a fantastic US release from Tor; read the preface at The Onion’s AV Club and Jason Sheehan’s review for NPR. And check out this cover:

The Time Traveler's Almanac

The Time Traveler’s Almanac is the largest and most definitive collection of time travel stories ever assembled. Gathered into one volume by intrepid chrononauts and world-renowned anthologists Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, this book compiles more than a century’s worth of literary travels into the past and the future that will serve to reacquaint readers with beloved classics of the time travel genre and introduce them to thrilling contemporary innovations. This marvelous volume includes nearly seventy journeys through time from authors such as Douglas Adams, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Ursula K. Le Guin, George R. R. Martin, Michael Moorcock, H. G. Wells, and Connie Willis, as well as helpful non-fiction articles original to this volume (such as Charles Yu’s “Top Ten Tips For Time Travelers”). In fact, this book is like a time machine of its very own, covering millions of years of Earth’s history from the age of the dinosaurs through to strange and fascinating futures, spanning the ages from the beginning of time to its very end. The Time Traveler’s Almanac is the ultimate anthology for the time traveler in your life.”

VanderMeer has been such a supportive (and frequent!) visitor to the Triangle area — this is her 3rd event here in the past several years, from reading “The Bear Gun” (from The Thackery T. Lambshead Cabinet of Curiosities) at Fullsteam Brewery a few years ago to last summer’s appearance at Quail Ridge Books for an event supporting The Weird: A Compendium of Strange and Dark Stories. Spread the word!

The Hardest Part: Mur Lafferty on Ghost Train to New Orleans

Durham author Mur Lafferty already had a handful and a half novels out in the world when, last year, she both had her “debut” novel published by Orbit, The Shambling Guide to New York City, and she won the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer at the Hugo Awards at the World Science Fiction Convention. Not a bad year, eh? Still, after all the books and the stories, she had to go back to the drawing board — again and again — to get a particular plot point right for book 2 in her Shambling Guides series, Ghost Train to New Orleans, out earlier this month.


By Mur Lafferty:

In Book 1 of The Shambling Guides, the love interest, monster hunter and plumber Arthur, gets bitten by a zombie. They find someone who can give him magic herbs to hold off the curse, so long as he takes the herb for the rest of his life. But heck, diabetics have to do something similar, only insulin isn’t magic, so it’s not a big deal, right? Read the rest of this entry »

The Exloding Spaceship Reviews Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi and The Eidolon by Libby McGugan


SF that didn’t peg the engineer’s baloney meter!

Just a quick note of explanation, both of these novels use alternate reality as a way to get around some glaring scientific issues with their universes (one deals with FTL and the other with the Large Hadron Collider). I like my hard science fiction, but these days you can’t really write some types of stories using hard science unless you make up some new science. The trick is to add new science into the story in a way which doesn’t trip the baloney meter of us real science and engineering types. As a bonus both of my favorite SF reads in recent months were by new female SF authors, this is such a rare occurence that I had to feature them in  a column here!

ascension cover

Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi (Masque, December 2013)

First of all, Your Humble Reviewers rarely buy books from authors and publishers we don’t know. This trade paperback had made its way to our local Barnes & Noble’s new SF section, it had a hot babe in a cool spacesuit on the cover and the blurb indicated that said hot babe was a techie. Okay, so it looked interesting but we had come to the store to buy something else, so we left without it. A couple of days later, having polished off the urban fantasies we had bought that day, I was wishing for that new space opera. Rarely do I find a new author who can do that genre correctly and not make me want to throw it across the room from the magitech used, but the cover and blurb of this one made me think this might be one of the good ones. Besides, as much as I dislike the way B&N decides what to stock, sometimes their system does work and a new gem will surface in the new section, which I would not have found on my own. I did something I haven’t done in years, I drove back to the store (its 25 miles away) just to get that book. Read the rest of this entry »

The Exploding Spaceship Reviews Some Recent Good Urban Fantasy Reads: The Cormorant, Black Arts and Ghost Train to New Orleans


The Cormorant by Chuck Wendig (Angry Robot, January 2014)

This urban fantasy/hard-boiled thriller stars Miriam Black, a woman with the paranormal talent of precisely predicting the date, time, and circumstances of anyone’s death. She does some illegal things to survive, usually conning or stealing from the unfortunate who wants to know about his or her demise.

Miriam and the people she encounters all get gleefully skewered, folded, spindled, stapled, and mutilated by Wendig; there is kidnapping, torture, and a paranormally-sensitive cormorant (yes, the bird.) in this story, as well as an appearance by Miriam’s mother, who is supposedly one of the reasons that Miriam left home. Miriam has one ally who genuinely likes her and helps her out, and since he manages to survive the story we may see him and his run-down Florida hotel again.

TheCormorant-144dpi cover

Miriam Black is a bad-girl heroine who has some serious issues because of all the morbid and gruesome imagery she has seen in her head. Her primary goal is survival, so she tends to follow the money, which always seems quite elusive. And when the con is on the other foot, Miriam does not react well at all, because people she likes are getting hurt, not just her.

Wendig has set his tale in a world of thrift-store shopping, seedy motels, fast food, public or stolen transportation, petty theft, and repeatedly experiencing messy and painful death; this is a far cry from the usual middle-class apartment, nice car, nice wardrobe and steady paychecks usually seen in urban fantasy. It’s action-packed, has a heroine who is best described as bat-shit crazy, and an engaging, twisty plot, but it isn’t for the faint of heart: Wendig pulls no punches, and some of the vile imagery he describes may have you reaching for the brain bleach more than once.

The Cormorant is Wendig’s third Miriam Black novel, and Your Humble Reviewers are sure that he will be gleefully torturing his protagonist in another volume. Wendig’s urban fantasy is much like his blog posts: well-written, profane, irreverent and hilarious, and never fails to keep you coming back for more.

Black Arts by Faith Hunter (Roc, January 2014) Read the rest of this entry »

Friday Quick Updates: Baen audio drama casting; H.G. Wells panel rescheduled; NC Lit Fest schedule; and upcoming events including Jenna Black and Kristen Simmons

Friday, March 14, 2014: Happy Friday everyone! There are some fun activities for teens and kids this weekend (a Divergent fan party on Saturday, Richard Peck’s The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail on Sunday), ahead of a three-author YA event at Flyleaf Books on Monday with Kristen Simmons, Mindee Arnett, and Durham’s Jenna Black, whose latest novel Resistance was just published Tuesday by Tor Teen, a follow-on to last year’s Replica.


Also this weekend (Saturday March 15 and Monday March 17), Wake Forest, NC-based sf publisher Baen is holding auditions for a radio play based on Eric Flint’s novella “Islands”, set in a Byzantine Roman Empire time period. Recording in early April, Baen is looking for various voice actors, with versatility and ability to double on parts appreciated. Payment will be $125 for principals and $20 for extras. Characters include: Male, 20s; Female, 20s; rich-voiced male; males 20-40; female 20-40; older man; older woman. Email auditions@baen.com for scheduling, or call (919) 421-4148. Recording will be in Wake Forest, north of Raleigh, and should require approximately a day and a half commitment from principals. Futher: “We encourage those interested to send voice samples and links to voiceover reels prior to audition. These can be sent to auditions@baen.com. If the file is very large, we can work via Dropbox transfer.”

The H.G. Wells panel at the Orange County Library that was originally scheduled for last month, but was then postponed due to one of the ice storms, has been rescheduled for Monday, April 7. “Join speculative authors James Maxey, Nathan Kotecki, and Clay Griffith, who will lead a group discussion on the pioneering contribution of HG Wells to speculative fiction, and his enduring influence on the genre. ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’ will be the primary focus, but the discussion is expected to encompass other Wells works, too!”

Meanwhile, the NC Literary Festival (April 3-6 at NC State) has posted its schedule of events, which includes featured evening readings with Lev Grossman (Thursday, April 3) and Junot Diaz (Friday, April 4) among fantastic programming all weekend long. Karen Joy Fowler and Therese Anne Fowler (Saturday 11:30 AM); Peter Straub and John Kessel (3:30 PM); Sunday’s 2 PM Literary Fantastic Panel with John Kessel, Nathan Ballingrud, Richard Butner, and Dale Bailey; a robust children’s programming track including Paperhand Puppet Intervention (Saturday 10 AM), R.L. Stine, John Claude Bemis, … it’s going to be a fantastic few days.



NEW-NEW: 15 (Saturday) 4:30 pm — Quail Ridge Books hosts a “Divergent” fan party to celebrate the film adaptation of the popular YA dystopian novel.

16 (Sunday) 3 pm — Quail Ridge Books hosts Richard Peck – ‘The Mouse with the Question Mark Tail’. (Kids.)

17 (Monday) 7 pm — Flyleaf Books hosts the “Three Nightmares You Can’t Resist” tour with authors Kristen Simmons, Mindee Arnett, and Jenna Black. More info:http://www.flyleafbooks.com/event/three-nightmares-you-can%E2%80%99t-resist-tour-featuring-kristen-simmons-mindee-arnett-jenna-black

NEW: 21-23 (Friday to Sunday) – Mad Monster Party Charlotte with William Shatner, Hulk Hogan, and more: http://madmonster.ticketleap.com/mmp14/

[As always check the latest newsletter for more event listings!]


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