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2011 Bram Stoker award-winners announced!

Yesterday at this year’s World Horror Convention in Salt Lake City, Utah, the winners of the 2011 Bram Stoker Awards were announced. This is the 25th year these awards for quality horror writing have been given, and some new categories were added.

The winners are:

Superior Achievement in a FIRST NOVEL Isis Unbound by Allyson Bird (Dark Regions Press)

Superior Achievement in a YOUNG ADULT NOVEL (tie) The Screaming Season by Nancy Holder (Razorbill) Dust and Decay by Jonathan Maberry (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers)

Superior Achievement in a GRAPHIC NOVEL Neonomicon by Alan Moore (Avatar Press)

Superior Achievement in LONG FICTION “The Ballad of Ballard and Sandrine” by Peter Straub (Conjunctions: 56)

Superior Achievement in SHORT FICTION “Herman Wouk Is Still Alive” by Stephen King (The Atlantic Magazine, May 2011)

Superior Achievement in a SCREENPLAY American Horror Story, episode #12: “Afterbirth” by Jessica Sharzer (20th Century Fox Television)

Superior Achievement in a FICTION COLLECTION The Corn Maiden and Other Nightmares by Joyce Carol Oates (Mysterious Press)

Superior Achievement in an ANTHOLOGY Demons: Encounters with the Devil and his Minions, Fallen Angels and the Possessed edited by John Skipp (Black Dog and Leventhal)

Superior Achievement in NON-FICTION Stephen King: A Literary Companion by Rocky Wood (McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers)

Superior Achievement in a POETRY COLLECTION How to Recognize a Demon Has Become Your Friend by Linda Addison (Necon Ebooks)

Superior Achievement in a NOVEL Flesh Eaters by Joe McKinney (Pinnacle Books)

Vampire Novel of the Century Award

HWA, in conjunction with the Bram Stoker Family Estate and the Rosenbach Museum & Library, also presented the special one-time only Vampire Novel of the Century Award to:

Richard Matheson for his modern classic I Am Legend

Lifetime Achievement and Specialty Press Awards

In addition, HWA presented its annual Lifetime Achievement Awards and its Specialty Press Awards. Rick Hautala and Joe R. Lansdale were both on hand to accept their Lifetime Achievement Awards.

The Specialty Press Awards went to Derrick Hussey of Hippocampus Press and Roy Robbins of Bad Moon Books.

Silver Hammer and President’s Richard Laymon Service Awards

The Silver Hammer Award, for outstanding service to HWA, was voted by the organization’s board of trustees to Guy Anthony DeMarco.

The President’s Richard Laymon Service Award was given to HWA co-founder Karen Lansdale.

Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews, Comics/Graphic Novels, Reviews

The New AVATAR: THE LAST AIRBENDER Comic is a Must-Read for Fans of the Show!

I had the pleasure of reviewing the first volume of the new Avatar comic, titled Avatar: The Last Airbender – The promise, Part 1. Not being a huge comic reader (though I do enjoy them from time to time), I was curious to see how well it captured Aang, Katara, and the whole familiar beloved gang from the television series. Written by award-winning Gene Yuen Lang, who closely collaborated with show creators Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino, I can say with absolute certainty that any fan of the television series will absolutely LOVE this comic.

The story actually picks up where the show ends. The first few pages are a recap of the disappearance of the Avatar, Aang’s progression, and Aang beating Fire Lord Ozai to set the world free of his evil clutches. New Fire Lord Zuko is determined not to become his father, and so is working with the Earth kingdom to help re-locate all of the Fire colonies that are within its borders.  Sokka aptly names it The Harmony Restoration Movement, and Aang offers to head up the relocating. Things seem to be going well… until Zuko is attacked in the middle of the night by the daughter of a mayor of one of these colonies. She wants him to understand how he’s ruining the lives of the colonists, and when Zuko takes her home to confront her father for her behavior, he’s convinced (through some pretty rough emotional taunting) to stay and see what the colonies are really like in the hopes that his mind will change.

There is also a pretty deep scene towards the beginning where Zuko begs Aang to end his life if he ever becomes his father. Aang reluctantly agrees, but that decision hangs over his head the entire comic.

I didn’t want this comic to end! I haven’t enjoyed reading something like this in a really long while. I forgot how much I fell in love with these characters when I watched the series last year, and re-entering their world made me want to watch the show all over again, just to be able to experience the joy I felt once more.

The wonderful thing about this comic is it is the continuation of the story fans know and love. We see Aang and Katara are together, which makes my heart happy, and they have taken to calling each other Sweetie, funnily enough (and much to Sokka’s chagrin).  And how can we forget Toph! Wonderful, feisty, spunky Toph. She’s her usual charming self, and adds a lovely balance to the serious nature of some of the scenes.

There are also some pretty cool elemental fight scenes that go on for a few pages, and they are drawn so well that I can practically hear the fire burning and see the water swishing by. The artist Gurihiru nailed it, capturing all of the nuances of the characters’ different personalities and the elements of this lovely world.

This first volume hit shelves this past Wednesday, January 25th 2012. Part two is set to release in May, which feels like forever. What can I do to pass the time? Oh yeah, re-watch the series, that’s right!

 

Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews, Comics/Graphic Novels, Reviews

Holiday Recommendations 2011: Comics

Have a comic book fan in the family? The comics gurus here at Lytherus have put together a fantastic list of new comic books (and a book about comics!), along with a few oldies but goodies, that will make a great addition to any library.

 

DC Comics: The New 52

Released Dec. 13, 2011

Author/Illustrator: Various

In the mood for some last minute shopping? (Don’t have a choice because you procrastinated?) DC Comics: The New 52 is a 1,216 page compilation includes every #1 issue that will not be released until December 13.  This book is a perfect way for new comic fans as well as those who have been out of the game for a while to easily get an idea for the  flavor of each of the new series. The catch is that the list price for this item is $150.00 but don’t worry both Amazon and Barnes and Noble are selling this book for $89.99 (still ouch, but much more reasonable). Pre-ordering is an option for those who don’t want to cut it close.

 

Absolute Sandman Vol. 5

Released Nov. 8, 2011

Author/ Illustrator: Neil Gaiman and Various

Absolute Sandman Vol. 5 is a little different from the first 4 (though we’d highly recommend those too) – The first four volumes collect the series in chronological order. Vol 5 brings together a good amount of side material that doesn’t fit easily into the regular chronology. It is broken into three sections. The first section “Endless Nights” is a gather of stories about The Endless who are “a family of magical and mythical beings who exist and interact in the real world”. Secondly is “Sandman: Midnight Theatre” showcasing Golden Age superhero Wesley Dodds (The Sandman) as he goes on a mission to un cover fascists in London. Lastly is “Sandman: The Dream Hunters,” which is the tale of a monk who falls in love with a kitsune and is subsequently endangered by dream eaters who want to kill him. The kitsune and the monk must learn how to save one another.

This is another expensive buy at about $73.64 on Amazon, but anything coming out of the Sandman line or, really, from Neil Gaiman is a pretty safe bet.

 

The Walking Dead: Compendium One

Released May 2009

Author: Robert Kirkman

Illustrator: Charlie Adlard, Cliff Rathburn, Tony Moore

We’re cheating here. This is a repeat suggestion from last year – but here’s the thing, The Walking Dead on AMC just keeps getting more and more popular! How can we NOT keep pushing the comic series, which is even better. The Walking Dead Compendium is great because it assembles the first 8 volumes worth of collections (which you also have the option of buying individually) into a giant, 1088 page book. This is the equivalent of the first 48 issues. The nice thing about an older book like this is that you can get a crazy amount of comics for a decent price –you can find this on Amazon between $30.00 – $35.00.

TV show aside, this is a great series and a New York Times Best Seller. Follow Rick Grimes from the moment he wakes up in the hospital to find himself in a post-apocalyptic world filled with the un-dead to about the point where the survivors find Hershel’s farm.

 

Star Wars: Darth Vader and the Lost Command

Released Nov. 22, 2011

Author/Illustrator: Haden Blackman, Rick Leonardi, Dan Green, Wes Dzioba

Taking place shortly after Anakin Skywalker transformed into the Sith Lord, about 19 years before Episode IV, this great graphic novel showcases the between period of psychological transition from one to the other. Vader is haunted by the memory of Padme and the life the two of them could have built together. He feels ultimately responsible for her death. Though these feelings plague him, he has no time for such a sentimental way of being; he has been given a mission by the Emperor to find the missing ship of Grand Moff Tarkin’s son, Admiral Garoche Tarkin which is somewhere in the Ghost Nebula of the Atoan System. Turmoil quickly ensues upon their arrival as they realize that civil unrest awaits them in this overlooked corner of the Republic. See the full Lytherus review here, where you will also find a preview of the book.This new 120 page hardcover collection goes for about $17.00 on Amazon.

 

A Christmas Carol: The Graphic Novel

        Released 2008

Author: Sean Michael Wilson (Adapter) Charles Dickens (Author)

Illustrator (Mike Collins)

Love the tale, don’t like the length of the original book? Sometimes things are just more interesting with pictures. This beautifully constructed graphic novel is a well-written representation of the classic Dickens story that we all know so well. The cold-hearted Ebenezer Scrooge is visited by three spirits on Christmas eve as they attempt to show him the love of mankind existing all around him and ultimately save his soul.  This 134 page book also includes interesting support material with educational information detailing the life and work of Charles Dickens and a description of life in Victorian England. (So in other words this is a great way to entertainingly trick kids into learning something.) Because this graphic novel is older and of an educational nature, you will be able to find it online for about $10.00.

 

Marvel Firsts: The 1960s

Released October 26, 2011

Authors: Stan Lee, Gary Friedrich, Jack Kirby Roy Thomas, Gardner Fox

Illustrator: Gene Colan

This is the first of a set of two books and the only one to be released before the Christmas deadline. “Compiled in one titanic tome: the famous first issues of dozens of your favorite super heroes and super-hero teams…” including the Hulk, Dr. Strange, Nick Fury, Iron Man, Thor, Spider-Man, Daredevil, the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Defenders.  You will get about 488 pages of “firsts”, equaling 26 issues, for about $20.00. The up side to this is that you get to physically hold, in one organized compilation, the first issues of so many fan-favorite characters. The down side is that if you are a Marvel digital comics subscriber then you can read these anyway because most of their old stuff is included in your yearly digital rate. Still – if you can’t have the originals, this is the next best (physical copy) thing. Expect the second book, featuring the firsts of the 1970s to be released in March of 2012.

 

Stan Lee & Jack Kirby: The Wonder Years

Released Nov. 30, 2011

Author: Mark Alexander

Who couldn’t love a book about comic books! (On second thought, don’t answer that…) We do! Stan Lee & Jack Kirby: The Wonder years was created to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Fantastic Four #1. Stan Lee and Jack Kirby are renowned for their creativity which kicked off a decade of comics that we are still feeling the effects of today. “Calling on his years of research, plus new interviews conducted just for this book [with Stan Lee, Flo Steinberg, Mark Evanier, Joe Sinnott, and others], regular Jack Kirby Collector magazine contributor Mark Alexander traces both Lee and Kirby’s history at Marvel comics, and the remarkable series of events and career choices that led them to converge in 1961 to conceive the Fantastic Four.” (book synopsis) Learn about the first decade  of the FF, details concerning Lee and Kirby’s working relationship as well as their fateful parting of ways in 1970. The book also includes of some of the classic Kirby artwork.

This book won’t break your bank at $20.00. This particular recommendation is for the die hards in the audience who don’t just want to read the comics, they want to read about the comics.

 

Flashpoint

Released Nov 1st, 2011

Author: Geoff Johns

Illustrator: Andy Kubert

The event that turns the entire DC Universe upside down and leads directly into the New 52, Flashpoint, is THE comic event of the year. With great writing from Geoff Johns and stunning art from Andy Kubert, the hardcover graphic novel collecting all five issues is the perfect gift for your favorite comic book fan.

Barry Allen(better known as The Flash) wakes up one day to find that the entire world has been changed. His mother, who has been dead for years, is alive and well, and his fellow superheroes, including Batman, have undergone changes too. On top of that, Aquaman and Wonder Woman prepare to wage war against each other. The Flash, with the help of Batman, Cyborg, and the other superheroes, must find a way to stop the war and set things right before it is too late.

Not only is this a fun read with superb storytelling, it also basically starts the entire DC Universe all over again. A comic with such an impact on its universe and its characters should not be missed by anyone who claims to like comic books. Find the Lytherus review here!

 

Batman: Noel

Released November 8th, 2011

Author/Illustrator: Lee Bermejo

One of this year’s best graphic novels, Batman Noel puts a fun, original spin on the classic A Christmas Carol story by Charles Dickens. Written and drawn by the talented Lee Bermejo, this original graphic novel will get you in the holiday spirit while satisfying your desire for a good Batman story at the same time.

In this story, Batman is put in the role of Scrooge, unfriendly, detached from other people, and cruel at times. Superman and Catwoman function as two of the spirits who come to Scrooge and attempt to make him change, while the Joker kind of functions as the third spirit.

Well-written, original, and deeply satisfying, Batman Noel stands apart from the countless other graphic novels being released this month and just might make a Batman fan out of anyone who reads it. Click here for the Lytherus review!

 

War of the Green Lanterns

Released Nov. 22nd, 2o11

Author/Illustrator: Various

Another winner from DC Comics, War of the Green Lanterns stands as one of the best Green Lantern stories to date, and features some of the best work we’ve seen from writer Geoff Johns.

A new foe threatens the universe, and Hal Jordan, along with his fellow Green Lanterns, must stop him before it’s too late. But sacrifices must be made, and the consequences of Hal Jordan’s choices are shocking.

Those who lost hope in the Green Lantern series after seeing the movie can rejoice. Not only does this story arc offer plenty of thrills and breathtaking action,  it also changes Green Lantern comics forever. Those wanting to know more after the shocking cliffhanger will have to read The New 52 Green Lantern series. This  graphic novel  is definitely worth your money.

 

 Ultimate Comics: Death of Spiderman

Released Nov. 2nd, 2011

Author: Brian Michael Bendis

Illustrator: Mark Bagley

In this collection from thepopular Ultimate Spiderman series, one of Marvel’s most beloved superheroes meets his end. It is an event that has been heavily marketed and highly anticipated, but now that it has hit store shelves, does it live up to the hype? The answer is yes, it more than lives up to the hype.

In this stunning collection, we witness Peter Parker fight off a group of his greatest enemies, collectively known as the Sinister Six, with the help of his friends Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake.  He prepares to fight his most powerful foe and the leader of the Sinister Six, the Green Goblin. This amazing graphic novel showcases the last stand of Spiderman, and it truly is a spectacular book. It all boils down to Spidey taking on one of his oldest foes in one final, glorious fight.

Anyone who wants to see one of the most historic showdowns in comic book history will love this incredible collection.

 

Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews, Comics/Graphic Novels, Reviews

“A Game of Thrones” Is Now in Comic Form, and it is a Lovely Addition to Martin’s World

The first thought in my head when I heard about the new A Game of Thrones comic was,”Way to milk a series already!”  The books are ridiculously successful, the HBO television show was a hit, and now, jumping on the popularity wagon, a comic has come out. However, having read it and thought about it a bit, my tune has changed. I think this comic is a great way for people who are curious about the series, but are intimidated by the size and depth of the books, to explore the wonderful world that Martin has created.

Since I read and reviewed the book not that long ago, I am not going to re-hash out the basics of the story, but rather jump right into the comic. Issue #1 starts at the beginning of the story in the novel, with the little prelude that happens on the other side of the wall. The comic then continues through all the different beginning chapters of the book, switching between the Lannisters and the Targaryens and setting up the scenes for future events. Since it is just the first issue, we are only barely getting into the story, but it is enough to captivate a reader. Within the few pages of the comic we meet a scary frozen north monster, See Eddard Stark cut off a head and take home some wolf puppies for his kids, and discuss the king’s impending visit with his wife at the heart tree. The comic then continues into Daenerys and Viserys discussing her upcoming marriage to the dothraki warrior Khal Drogo. There is some nice back story here, about their past. The issue ends with Daenerys meeting her future husband.

The first thing I noticed, even before the images, is the fact that the narrator voice is quoted verbatim from the book, mentioning all the main thoughts that aren’t spoken sections. These narrative transitions bring Martin’s voice to the comic and keep the feel of his writing.

At first the transition between the different character stories was confusing, as there was no stop or block in the pages to show that I was moving on to another set of characters. But upon closer inspection, I noticed that the narration boxes changed colors, depending on what section I was reading. Now that I know, that will help me a lot for future issues. Perhaps this is a common comic thing, but since I’m a newbie comic reader, as far as that goes, I thought I’d mention it for those of you out there curious about the story who aren’t as familiar with comics.

The art by Tommy Patterson and the colors by Ivan Nunes were such a wonderful addition to the tale I am so familiar with. I think I might even like the comic a bit better than the actual book, for a quick catch-me-up, since it is so vividly illustrated. The shadowed faces and intense expressions added so much to the words, and I found myself once again getting swept up in the story that I loved. And the color tones added way more than I expected, the cold segments being an icy iron grey, Ned’s parts a rich hunter green and brown, and Daenerys’s parts beautiful warm tans.

The comic came to an end much too quickly for my taste (this is why I’m only now starting to get into comics, as I’m way too impatient to wait for the next issue!), but I enjoyed the set up for future story lines, and I’ll be looking forward to reading the next issue.

Book News, Books, Comic/Graphic Novel News, Comics/Graphic Novels, News

Read the First Chapter of the New Book by “Fables” Author Bill Willingham!

Bill willingham is famously known as the writer of the excellent graphic novel series Fables. But his most recent adventure is as a writer of books. Down the Mysterly River, which came out on September 13th, 2011, is that project, and we have the first chapter here for you to read.

What’s it about? Here’s a summary:

Down the Mysterly River is the children’s book debut of Bill Willingham, the creator of the #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel series Fables. Complete with illustrations by Fables artist Mark Buckingham, it is a spirited, highly original tale of adventure, suspense, and everlasting friendship.

Max “the Wolf” is a top notch Boy Scout, an expert at orienteering and a master of being prepared. So it is a little odd that he suddenly finds himself, with no recollection of his immediate past, lost in an unfamiliar wood. Even odder still, he encounters a badger named Banderbrock, a black bear named Walden, and McTavish the Monster (who might also be an old barn cat)—all of whom talk—and who are as clueless as Max.

Before long, Max and his friends are on the run from a relentless group of hunters and their deadly hounds. Armed with powerful blue swords and known as the Blue Cutters, these hunters capture and change the very essence of their prey. For what purpose, Max can’t guess. But unless he can solve the mystery of the strange forested world he’s landed in, Max may find himself and his friends changed beyond recognition, lost in a lost world…

Lytherus will also be bringing you a review of this book in the near future, so stay tuned!

****

Chapter One

Wolves and Badgers and Thrilling Boy Detective Stories

Max the Wolf was a wolf in exactly the same way that foothills are made up of real feet and a tiger shark is part tiger, which is to say, not at all. Max was in fact a boy, between twelve or thirteen years old, and entirely human. He was dressed in a Boy Scout uniform. His loose cotton shirt and shorts were a light greenish-tan in color, as were the knee-high stockings that rose out of the weathered brown leather hiking boots he wore. Many brightly colored cloth badges, of every odd shape and size, were sewn onto the front of his shirt. More badges were sewn onto the breasts and back of the dusty red jacket he wore zippered halfway up over his shirt. A blue and white triangle of cloth was draped around his neck, its tightly rolled end points connected in front by a neckerchief slide, deftly hand-carved into the shape of a gray wolf’s head, its fierce jaws open to reveal white fangs.

Max had blue eyes and fair skin, lightl dusted with freckles. He had a wild mop of brown hair that he frequently had to brush out of his eyes. Usually his hair was restrained by his cap, but he seemed to have lost his cap recently, though he couldn’t exactly recall where.

Now that Max thought about it, not only could he not remember how he’d lost his cap, he couldn’t recall where he was or how he’d arrived there. This was troubling for many reasons. In all the years he’d been a member of Troop 496, Chief Seattle Council, in the countless hikes and camping trips he’d enjoyed, and the many adventures he’d had, Max the Wolf had never once been lost. He was a wizard with map and compass and had earned his Orienteering merit badge while still a Tenderfoot Scout. And he’d never suffered a loss of memory, nor even the briefest moment of blackout.

And yet here he found himself walking down the slope of a hill, in the midst of a great forest of mixed broadleaf and evergreen, or so at least it appeared from his limited vantage place. As he walked he passed in and out of the shade of the leafy canopy high overhead. To any observer, and there was at least one, the infrequent pockets of undiluted golden sunlight made Max seem to suddenly shine brightly, like a character in a painting, before he stepped once more into the subdued, heavily filtered light of deep green shadow. The enclosed world was alive with the usual sounds of a forest. Birds sang and bugs chattered to each other from their many hidden enclaves. Many foresty scents drifted on the cool, soft breeze.

“Well, Max, it seems you’ve landed yourself in another adventure,” the boy said out loud, even though there didn’t appear to be anyone on hand to talk to.

“At the beginning of the mystery,” he continued, “the best way to isolate what you don’t know is to first take stock of everything you do know.” This was one of Max’s five most important rules of detection. Reciting it helped him to order his thoughts and prepare his mind for the coming investigation. “First, I am in the middle of a forest I don’t recognize, though it is so much like the familiar forests of the Pacific Northwest, I’ll assume I’m still in that general area, until evidence suggests otherwise. Second, I don’t know how I got here.” He ticked each point off on his fingers as he mentioned it.

“Judging by what I can see of the sky,” he said, counting a third finger, “it’s about mid-day and not likely to rain any time soon, so I’m in no immediate danger of exposure. I can’t hear traffic sounds, so I must be at least a few miles from any well-traveled road.”

Now that he was back in a detecting frame of mind, the uneasiness brought about by his initial confusion began to fade. Max was seldom if ever fearful, not even during the Mystery of the Gruesome Grizzly, but he’d never suffered a loss of his mental faculties before. No matter what, he’d always been able to trust his ability to reason, until now. Talking out loud in such an odd situation comforted him just enough to help keep the unfamiliar traces of panic at bay.

“I must have been involved in some Scouting activity,” he continued as he strolled downhill, “because I’m in uniform. If our Troop was on a camping trip I’d have a backpack, or at least a canteen for a day hike. But I could’ve lost those along with my hat.”

As soon as he thought of his possibly missing backpack, Max checked his pockets for his Lost Kit, which an experienced Scout always carried apart from his backpack, just in case he ever became separated from the rest of his gear in the wild. He found his Lost Kit in his left front pants pocket, exactly where it was supposed to be. Inside a small watertight cylinder were a dozen strike-anywhere matches, a candle, a roll of fishing line with two hooks, a few bandages in sterile wrappings, and a needle and thread. A length of heavier twine was wrapped around the outside of the plastic cylinder, since it didn’t need to be protected from the elements.

Along with his Boy Scout Knife, which he discovered safely in his right front pants pocket, he had the minimum basic tools necessary for a resourceful Scout to survive in all but the most extreme sort of wilderness. Since he was in the habit of carrying his knife and Lost Kit during all Scouting activities, even those which took place in the middle of civilization, their presence in his pockets shed no light on the unresolved question of whether or not he was on a day hike or overnight camping trip prior to his memory loss.

The bandages in his Lost Kit reminded him that most cases of memory loss were caused by injury, or some other serious trauma. So, mentally criticizing himself for not thinking of it sooner, he stopped walking long enough to give himself as thorough a physical examination as his situation allowed. It didn’t take long. His head seemed free of lumps, cuts or tender spots. He suffered no headache or dizziness. Moving down his body, he discovered no broken bones, or serious cuts. In fact he couldn’t even find superficial cuts, scrapes, or the kind of minor scratches and insect bites anyone picks up after spending a reasonable amount of time in the woods. “So the evidence suggests,” he said, “wherever I am, I haven’t been here long.
“If I was on a hike and became separated from my Troop, there’s a pretty good chance some of them might be nearby, looking for me.” Standing still and quiet in the great woods, he listened for human sounds. Any search party would be blowing on loud whistles or actively calling out his name, not only to find him, but also to aid themselves in not becoming separated from each other. Losing additional members of the search party was always the greatest danger in any rescue operation. He decided to put off calling out himself. For now, he reasoned, it was more important to listen.

He could hear all manner of birdsong, but failed to recognize any. Identifying individual birdcalls was never his strong point; not like his Patrol mate Danny Underbrink, who could tell a hundred different birds by their song alone. Max did better with plants. Unfortunately the many varieties of tree and shrub he could immediately identify were common to all western forests.

After a few minutes of more thorough investigation, he found some mushrooms nestled in the shady roots of a large spruce tree. He recognized them as a type called Bulbous Cort, that were common to the mountainous forests of the Pacific Northwest, though not entirely exclusive to them. It was enough though to add support to his original theory that he wasn’t far from the woodlands regularly explored by his Troop.

As bad off as he was, at least it was unlikely he’d been spirited away to some remote corner of the world. In the adventure he called the Mystery of the Cautious Kidnappers, he and Taffy Clark had been taken as far as Canada’s remote Northern Territories before he could effect their escape.

Because the Bulbous Cort mushroom ripened only between September and October, Max was able to deduce what time of year it was, which suddenly struck him as the strangest aspect of the mystery so far. No matter how much he’d forgotten of recent events, he should still be able to remember the month, or at least the general time of year.

“You can’t blank out entire seasons, can you?” Try as he may, he couldn’t even pin down what his last specific memory was. Though he could recall just about every detail of each one of his adventures, and even fit them in the right chronological order, there seemed to be a big blank between the end of his last adventure and the moment he realized he was walking through these woods.

At this point the panicky feeling threatened to well up inside him again, and it was only by a great effort of will he was able to force it back into submission. It was time, he thought, to quit worrying and go back to solving specific problems. “Figure out enough of the small details, and the big mystery will solve itself.” That was another of his famous first five rules of detection.

Even though the sun was still high in the sky, promising that there were still several hours of reliable daylight left, Max decided to make some plans, in case it turned out he truly was on his own, and he’d be spending the night in the woods. He turned slowly in place, in two complete circles, looking up and down, from the forest floor to the branches high above him. He could detect no break in the trees and underbrush that might indicate a possible clearing, where he could expect to find a less obstructed view of his location. The next best thing was to head back up the hill he’d been walking down, until he found a clearing or reached the hilltop, where he could climb one of the taller trees to see what he could see.

The disadvantage of going uphill, beyond the obvious fact that it was harder than walking downhill, was that he’d tend to be walking away from most sources of fresh water. He’d need to find some water before he settled down for the night, but he had some time before that became the first priority. He’d listen while he hiked. On hillsides any water would tend to be in motion, and moving water made noise.

Having decided on his immediate objective, Max removed his jacket and, draping it over one shoulder, set out at a brisk pace up the steep slope of the hillside. Before he had gone very far, while passing through a particularly dense area of underbrush between two black cottonwood trees, he was surprised by a gruff voice from under a leafy bush.

“I don’t think either of us would like it if you stepped on me,” the voice said.

Startled, Max stepped back a couple of paces, until he was well clear of the bushes. In almost no time at all a squat and furry form came out from under the very same brush, waddling a bit from side to side as it walked on four short legs. The stout creature was nearly twenty inches from nose to tail, and, except for its elongated snout, it was almost as wide as it was long. In a mostly white face, two dark stripes of fur ran from its black nose, one across each eye, to taper off just beyond the back of its head. An additional dark patch of fur colored each cheek. In a very striking pattern, the dark and white lines flowed back along its coat, gradually shading into a uniform gray along the way, turning brownish just before the bristly fur entirely ran out of creature to cover. Max recognized it instantly as a very large example of the species taxidea taxus, or in plain language, a badger.

Max looked back and forth between the badger and the bush it had just emerged from, hoping to get a look at who’d spoken, all the while wondering what odd sort of fellow would share space under a bush with a badger.

“You might want to be a touch more careful to look where you’re going,” the badger said, provoking a yawlp of astonishment from Max. It was the same gruff voice he’d just heard. There was no one else in the bush.

“You talked!” Max said. He backed another full step down the hill, careful not to take his eyes off of the impossible creature.

“Well, why shouldn’t I?” the badger said. “You were already talking so much, it seemed impolite not to join the conversation.” The creature shuffled forward a little bit as he talked. As he did, Max stepped back each time, keeping a uniform distance between them.

“But badgers can’t talk!” Max said.

“Of course we can. We talk all the time. Back in my old sett it was everything I could do to get my wife and cubs to shut up long enough to hear myself think. Of course, this is the first time one of you fire callers ever answered back. For all of your endless jabbering, this is the only time one of you said anything I can understand.”

This time as he talked, the badger didn’t shuffle forward on his stubby legs, perhaps because in doing so he would have backed the poor fire caller right into a tangle of devil’s club behind him. Their multitudes of two-inch needles were bad enough on a badger’s thick coat. Against a fire caller’s soft unfurred hide they’d be torture. Instead the creature huffed and snorted and rocked from side to side as he talked, all the while clawing absent-mindedly at the dirt in front of him. It seemed to Max a very badgerly thing to do.

Suddenly all evidence of surprise and fear at such an unusual encounter vanished from Max’s face, to be replaced by a wide grin that burped out several solitary chuckles, before they connected into a more proper and delighted stream of laughter that lasted for some moments. Max didn’t back up any more. In fact he boldly knelt down in the spongy carpet of dead leaves and pine needles to get a better look at his new companion.

“Do badgers amuse you, fella, or are you just some sort of kook?”

“Neither,” Max said, once he was able to get control of his laughter. “I’m simply relieved to have finally solved this particular mystery. I should have suspected it before. The clues were all there. Not knowing what time of year it is should have been a dead giveaway. But the sensations of my environment were so detailed and consistent with reality, the obvious answer never occurred to me, until now. I’m in the middle of a very enjoyable dream. I’m going to regret waking up from this one.”

“I hate to interrupt your good mood,” the badger said, “and Brock knows I’ve had some crazy dreams of my own, but I don’t think this is one of them.”

“Of course you wouldn’t think so,” Max replied, “because you aren’t the one dreaming. You’re just a character in mine.”

“Nope,” the badger said. “I doubt that very much. Though you and I have both landed in a strange place, I don’t think it’s the land of dreams. I know the smell of that country like I know the scent of my own beloved missus in the dark of our den, and this ain’t it. This land smells all wrong. Not in a bad way, precisely, but foreign like.”

“Where are we then?” Max said, his broad smile fading only a little.

“I think we’re in the afterlife, young fire caller,” the badger said in a voice gone quiet and sober. “My best guess is that you and me are stone cold dead.”

 

[via i09.com]

Comic/Graphic Novel News, Comics/Graphic Novels, News

Check Out the Graphic Novel by Anne Rice!

Anne Rice is working with IDW to create a comic mini-series adapted from her historical horror novel  Servant of the Bones. 

What’s it about? Here’s what Amazon had to say:

Anne Rice, among the most iconic creators in horror, brings one of her richest stories to IDW in this six-part tale of murder, demonic revenge, and the redemptive power of faith. When a beautiful young woman is brutally slain in the streets of New York City, the demon Azriel sets out to discover who killed her, only to find a far more sinister plot that could end the world. Once a human in ancient Babylon, Azriel is a spirit of rage and terror that gradually rediscovers his humanity through holy vengeance and spiritual love.

Rice worked with writer Mariah Huehner and illustrator Ray Dillon. The excerpt below is only the first few pages, but it’s pretty cool.

Servant of the Bones #1 hit stores on August 23rd, 2011.

****

 

 

[via i09.com]

 

Books, Comics/Graphic Novels, Movies, TV

Author Insight – Guest Blog: Nick James Discusses Coming of Age in Science Fiction

This summer, I’ve been going around telling everyone who’ll listen how much I loved the movieSuper 8. Often during the discussion (or diatribe, as the case may be), I’ll say something like “this movie was made for me!” or “this was totally a Nick James movie!” (Yes, I will refer to myself in third person if I get particularly excited about something). And it’s true, it was a Nick James movie. It was the best movie in awhile that successfully merged my two favorite genres: science fiction and coming-of-age.

Science fiction is at its richest when it explores the lives of the people that it’s affecting. As a consumer of sci-fi, I’m not particularly interested in futuristic worlds, new technology or even aliens unless the human story is present. And as a young adult author, it’s the adolescent human story that always seems to fascinate me the most. When a person, especially someone in their formative years, is faced with the unknown (as often happens in sci-fi), it’s a tremendously provocative opportunity to explore basic human truths. And with teens and preteens, those truths are laid bare.

It’s this melding of sci-fi/adventure and coming-of-age that was my roadmap from the very start of my writing and continues to inspire me. With that being said, here are a few of my favorite examples of this awesome combination in a variety of media. It’s worth noting that compiling this list wasn’t particularly easy. Teen–I’m thinking from around age 13-17–sci-fi is hard to come by. I’d love to hear suggestions that aren’t on my list!

Books:

Feed (M.T. Anderson) – Sci-fi is definitely the backdrop for an intensely emotional (and often hilarious) coming-of-age story.

Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)  – Not necessarily the most relatable coming-of-age story, but this book, in a lot of ways, popularized the genre.

Film:

Super 8 – Like Feed, I would argue that this was actually more of a coming-of-age movie with a sci-fi backdrop. An excellent one, of course!

AI: Artificial Intelligence – A major theme in this genre is innocence lost, and although this featured a younger protagonist, I was blown away with the human element of this film.

Akira – A dark coming-of-age (coming-of-death?) undercurrent runs throughout this post-apocalyptic tale. Anime tends to really excell at this sort of thing.

TV:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Not straight up sci-fi, per se, but I can’t think of another series that used what could have been a fantasy cliché to explore so many rich facets of teenage life.

Misfits – Slightly older, but this excellent UK series mixes young adult angst with sci-fi elements perfectly.

Comics:

Runaways – I’m a huge Brian K. Vaughn fan, and his initial stint on this series totally reinvigorated my love for comics a few years back.

Generation X – Before Runaways, there was this X-Men spin-off (and it’s cheesier TV movie adaptation). It’s one of the first “teen comics” I remember as a kid.

****

Nick James is the author of Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars. What’s it about? Check out the Lytherus review. Want more? Click here for Nick James’s exclusive Lytherus interview. You can follow him at www.nickjamesbooks.com

Comic/Graphic Novel Reviews, Comics/Graphic Novels, Reviews

Need A True Blood Fix? Drink Up Some Fantastic Character Histories in the Graphic Novel

Is the new season of True Blood not enough of a fix for you? Then check out the Graphic Novel! True Blood Volume One: All Together Now, published by IDW, is a must-read for any avid True Blood fan. I had the pleasure of devouring this book a few days ago, and I must say that it complements the show (and Charlaine Harris’s books) wonderfully.

On a hot, stormy night in Bon Temps, Merlotte’s is filled with the usual clientele and employees: Sookie, Sam, Lafayette, Tara, Jason (with a trashy date, of course!), and eventually Eric and Bill. In addition to a few additional redneck customers, there is one individual who isn’t expected. His name is Ted, and he’s an Imp Shaloomp, a spirit worshipped by the local native Americans that feeds on the evil, guilt-ridden thoughts of those around it. Ted has a bone to pick with someone, but until the truth of that grudge is revealed he’s going to get thoroughly stuffed on everyone’s worst memories.

This book was fantastic addition to the True Blood world. Alan Ball, the creator of the show, plotted out the novel. He wanted to add on to the True Blood experience by providing some great back story into the people and creatures we love, which is delivered really well. The reader gets to journey into the heads of each of the main characters and gain a little more insight into their past, which only adds to us understanding why they are the way that they are.

I was worried that the feel of the book wouldn’t fit with the story as I know it, but luckily I was proven wrong. Using the story plotted by Alan Ball, writers David Tischman and Mariah Huehner nailed it. The writers managed to capture the voices of each character to a T, and it made it just like watching a featurette to one of the television series. Jason had his sweet southern ignorance, Tara her foul mouth, and they even rip on Sookie pronouncing Bill’s name “Beeel”, which made me chuckle out loud. I was also impressed with the art, which was drawn by David Messina. Though not as accurate as photographs (which is to be expected), the artist managed to capture the gestures and expressions of the main characters, from Eric’s brooding stares to Sookie’s exasperated shout-matches with any number of people who piss her off.

I was a bit thrown with the accelerated nature in which the reader was thrust into the story, when in both the novels and the television show there is a little more time for build up. But having said that, it didn’t jar me that much, and once I realized what was happening it wasn’t anything different than seeing Mary Anne’s clawed hands appear or watching Sam turn into a dog.

I would highly recommend this as a companion to the show. I know what it’s like to be an avid fan of something, and everything that goes along with that, including getting everything you possibly can on the characters you love so much. This book feeds that need in the best way possible. Getting insight into the characters, reading stories we’ve never heard before, only adds to the characters’ appeal.

This is the first in a series of Graphic Novels by IDW, and I know that the upcoming ones will hold me over in the long winter months between new seasons on HBO. Season 4 is just beginning; you can check out this Graphic Novel to get yourself re-acquainted with these characters after the hiatus. You won’t be disappointed!

Book one hit shelves on February 15th, 2011.

Comic/Graphic Novel Interviews, Comics/Graphic Novels, Interviews

Lytherus Exclusive Interview with Mike Bocianowski, Author and Illustrator of YETS

A few weeks ago we brought you a graphic novel review of a lovely comic called Yets. I was lucky enough to connect with the author and illustrator of these adorable creatures, Mike Bocianowski, and he was happy to give us a brief interview for the site. Enjoy!

Lytherus: Where did you get the idea for the Yets comics?

The Yets came about after I was invited to sail on a local ship, the Niagara, with a group of artists.  We were asked to create an artwork that described our experience so I incorporated the Niagara with some of my favorite motifs like dragons, mythology, whimsy, Chihuahuas, etc.   The first chapter of Yets is what I produced from that experience.

L:  How long have you been drawing these adorable creatures?

That first Chapter was published in November of 2002.

L:  Tell us about some of your favorite projects that involve the Yets

I like a lot of what I do.  I like the graphic novels, the edition prints, the sculptures.  Each item fulfills a different creative need, so after I am tired of working on a graphic novel I can work on a painting, or paint a figurine.

L: What is your favorite thing about being an illustrator?

I like when a piece can make me laugh as I produce it, whether it is a specific expression or the overall gag.  Usually when that happens the customers seem to laugh more and understand my art.  That inspires me to do more, and I believe there is something magical in that.

L:  How long did you work on the Yets before you became well-known?

Gosh, I don’t consider myself to be well known… I’ve been working with the Yets since September of 2002.

L:  Do you read comics yourself? Is it for the story or the art? what are some of your favorites?

I try to read a lot of comics. I stay away from mainstream DC & Marvel.  I like the art of independent publishers however they are produced on irregular schedules so I don’t get involved with the story.  I like stories that I can eat like a Thanksgiving meal,  ones that are long and complete, like Tezuka’s works.  I like Walt Kelly, Osamu Tezuka, Harvey Eisnenburg, Hayao Miyazaki, Goscinny & Uderzo, Pierre Alary.  The books imported from Europe and Asia show the potential of what the medium could be.

L: Any new projects you’re working on?

I’m constantly working on something, I try to do  an annual Yets! graphic novel  (I just finished writing the three stories for the fourth book  and suddenly I was given an idea for a better story so I’ll take one of the first three and move to a fifth book!)  in between that I paint, and I still have a children’s picture book that I’d like to see published and produce some fairytail stories.  This goes without saying that an animated version is always lurking around too.

 

Thanks Mike! If you’re interested in seeing more of Mike’s work, or in purchasing a print, make sure you check out his website.

 

Book News, Books, Comic/Graphic Novel News, Comics/Graphic Novels, News

Excerpts From Time Travel YA Book “Ruby Red” and Gamer GN “Level Up”

I was extremely excited to come across these excerpts. Ruby Red I almost purchased in the store, but at the last minute put it back and decided to go with my original choice (not for lack of interest; I had a coupon and book one was more money). But I was curious about it, and it makes me really happy to share this excerpt with you. Ruby Red was written by Kerstin Gier and was released on May 10th, 2011

Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Gwyneth Shepherd’s sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!

Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon–the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.

The excerpt is below, under Level Up.

Also, recently I discovered a cool-looking Graphic Novel that looked like the old Nintendo Game Boys, so imagine my delight when this morning I came across the first 11 pages of Level Up.

Here’s the summary from Amazon:

Smackdown!

Video Games vs. Medical School!

Which will win the battle for our hero’s attention in Gene Luen Yang’s new graphic novel?

Dennis Ouyang lives in the shadow of his parents’ high expectations. They want him to go to med school and become a doctor. Dennis just wants to play video games—and he might actually be good enough to do it professionally.

But four adorable, bossy, and occasionally terrifying angels arrive just in time to lead Dennis back onto the straight and narrow: the path to gastroenterology. It’s all part of the plan, they tell him. But is it? This powerful piece of magical realism brings into sharp relief the conflict many teens face between pursuing their dreams and living their parents’.

Partnered with the deceptively simple, cute art of newcomer Thien Pham, Gene Yang has returned to the subject he revolutionized with American Born Chinese. Whimsical and serious by turns, Level Up is a new look at the tale that Yang has made his own: coming of age as an Asian American.

It’s easiest for me to link to the excerpt, so click here to check it out. Level Up is set to hit stores on June 7th, 2011.

****

I FIRST FELT IT in the school canteen on Monday morning. For a moment it was like being on a roller coaster when you’re racing down from the very top. It lasted only two seconds, but that was long enough for me to dump a plateful of mashed potatoes and gravy all over my school uniform. I managed to catch the plate just in time, as my knife and fork clattered to the floor.

“This stuff tastes like it’s been scraped off the floor anyway,” said my friend Lesley while I mopped up the damage as well as I could. Of course everyone was looking at me. “You can have mine too, if you fancy spreading some more on your blouse.”

“No thanks.” As it happens, the blouse of the St. Lennox High School uniform was pretty much the color of mashed potatoes anyway, but you still couldn’t miss seeing the remaining globs of my lunch. I buttoned up my dark blue blazer over it.

“There goes Gwenny, playing with her food again!” said Cynthia Dale. “Don’t you sit next to me, you mucky pup.”

“As if I’d ever sit next to you of my own free will, Cyn.” It’s a fact, I’m afraid, that I did quite often have little accidents with school lunches. Only last week my pudding had hopped out of its dish and landed a few feet away, right in a Year Seven boy’s spaghetti carbonara. The week before that I’d knocked my cranberry juice over, and everyone at our table was splashed. They looked as if they had measles. And I really couldn’t count the number of times the stupid tie that’s part of our school uniform had been drenched in sauce, juice, or milk.

Only I’d never felt dizzy at the same time before.

But I was probably just imagining it. There’d been too much talk at home recently about dizzy feelings.

Not mine, though: my cousin Charlotte’s dizzy spells. Charlotte, beautiful and immaculate as ever, was sitting right there next to Cynthia, gracefully scooping mashed potatoes into her delicate mouth.

The entire family was on tenterhooks, waiting for Charlotte to have a dizzy fit. On most days, my grandmother, Lady Arista, asked Charlotte how she was feeling every ten minutes. My aunt Glenda, Charlotte’s mother, filled the ten-minute gap by asking the same thing in between Lady Arista’s interrogations.

And whenever Charlotte said that she didn’t feel dizzy, Lady Arista’s lips tightened and Aunt Glenda sighed. Or sometimes the other way around.

The rest of us—my mum, my sister Caroline, my brother Nick, and Great-aunt Maddy—rolled our eyes. Of course it was exciting to have someone with a time-travel gene in the family, but as the days went by, the excitement kind of wore off. Sometimes we felt that all the fuss being made over Charlotte was just too much.

Charlotte herself usually hid her feelings behind a mysterious Mona Lisa smile. In her place, I wouldn’t have known whether to be excited or worried if dizzy feelings failed to show up. Well, to be honest, I’d probably have been pleased. I was more the timid sort. I liked peace and quiet.

“Something will happen sooner or later,” Lady Arista said every day. “And we must be ready.”

Sure enough, something did happen after lunch, in Mr. Whitman’s history class. I’d left the canteen feeling hungry. I’d found a black hair in my dessert—apple crumble with custard—and I couldn’t be sure if it was one of my own hairs or a lunch lady’s. Anyway, I didn’t fancy the crumble after that.

Mr. Whitman gave us back the history test we’d taken last week. “You obviously prepared well for it. Especially Charlotte. An A-plus for you, Charlotte.”

Charlotte stroked a strand of her glossy red hair back from her face and said, “Oh, my!” as if the result came as a surprise to her. Even though she always had top marks in everything.

But Lesley and I were pleased with our own grades this time, too. We each had an A-minus, although our “preparation” had consisted of eating crisps and ice cream while we watched Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth and then Elizabeth: The Golden Age on DVD. We did pay attention in history class, though, which I’m afraid couldn’t be said for all our other courses.

Mr. Whitman’s classes were so intriguing that you couldn’t help listening. Mr. Whitman himself was also very interesting. Most of the girls were secretly—or not so secretly—in love with him. So was our geography teacher, Mrs. Counter. She went bright red whenever Mr. Whitman passed her. And he was terribly good-looking. All the girls thought so, except Lesley. She thought Mr. Whitman looked like a cartoon squirrel.

“Whenever he looks at me with those big brown eyes, I feel like giving him a nut,” she said. She even started calling the squirrels running around in the park Mr. Whitmans. The silly thing is that somehow it was infectious, and now, whenever a squirrel scuttled past me, I always said, “Oh, look at that cute, fat little Mr. Whitman!”

I’m sure it was the squirrel business that made Lesley and me the only girls in the class who weren’t crazy about Mr. Whitman. I kept trying to fall in love with him (if only because the boys in our class were all somehow totally childish), but it was no good. The squirrel comparison had lodged itself in my mind and wouldn’t go away. I mean, how can you feel romantic about a squirrel?

Cynthia had started the rumor that when he was studying, Mr. Whitman had worked as a male model on the side. By way of evidence, she’d cut an ad out of a glossy magazine, with a picture showing a man not unlike Mr. Whitman lathering himself with shower gel.

Apart from Cynthia, however, no one thought Mr. Whitman was the man in the shower-gel ad. The model had a dimple in his chin, and Mr. Whitman didn’t.

The boys in our class didn’t think Mr. Whitman was so great. Gordon Gelderman, in particular, couldn’t stand him. Because before Mr. Whitman came to teach in our school, all the girls in our class were in love with Gordon. Including me, I have to admit, but I was only eleven at the time and Gordon was still quite cute. Now, at sixteen, he was just stupid. And his voice had been in a permanent state of breaking for the last two years. Unfortunately, the mixture of squealing and growling still didn’t keep him from spewing nonsense all the time.

He got very upset about getting an F on the history test. “That’s discrimination, Mr. Whitman. I deserve a B at least. You can’t give me bad marks just because I’m a boy.”

Mr. Whitman took Gordon’s test back from him, turned a page, and read out, “Elizabeth I was so ugly that she couldn’t get a husband. So everyone called her the Ugly Virgin.”

The class giggled.

“Well? I’m right, aren’t I?” Gordon defended himself. “I mean, look at her pop-eyes and her thin lips and that weird hairstyle.”

We’d gone to study the pictures of the Tudors in the National Portrait Gallery, and in those paintings, sure enough, Queen Elizabeth I didn’t look much like Cate Blanchett. But first, maybe people in those days thought thin lips and big noses were the last word in chic, and second, her clothes were really wonderful. Third, no, Elizabeth I didn’t have a husband, but she had a lot of affairs, among them one with Sir … oh, what was his name? Anyway, Clive Owen played him in the second film with Cate Blanchett.

“She was known as the Virgin Queen,” Mr. Whitman told Gordon, “because…” He paused and looked anxiously at Charlotte. “Are you feeling all right, Charlotte? Do you have a headache?”

Everyone looked at Charlotte, who had her head in her hands. “I feel … I just feel dizzy,” she said, looking at me. “Everything’s going round and round.”

I took a deep breath. So here we go, I thought. Lady Arista and Aunt Glenda would be over the moon.

“Wow, cool,” whispered Lesley. “Is she going to turn all transparent now?” Although Lady Arista had repeatedly told us that under no circumstances were we ever to tell any outsider what was special about our family, I’d decided to ignore the ban when it came to Lesley. After all, she was my very best friend, and best friends don’t have secrets from each other.

Since I’d known Charlotte (which in fact was all my life), she’d always seemed somewhat helpless. But I knew what to do. Goodness knows Aunt Glenda had told me often enough.

“I’ll take Charlotte home,” I told Mr. Whitman, as I stood up. “If that’s okay.”

Mr. Whitman’s gaze was fixed on Charlotte. “I think that’s a good idea, Gwyneth,” he said. “I hope you feel better soon, Charlotte.”

“Thanks,” said Charlotte. On the way to the door, she swayed slightly. “Coming, Gwenny?”

I grabbed her arm. For the first time I felt quite important to Charlotte. It was a nice feeling to be needed for a change.

“Don’t forget to phone and tell me all about it,” Lesley whispered as we passed her.

Feeling slightly better outside the classroom, Charlotte wanted to fetch some things from her locker, but I held her firmly by the sleeve. “Not now, Charlotte! We have to get home as fast as possible. Lady Arista says—”

“It’s gone again,” said Charlotte.

“So? It could come back any moment.” Charlotte let me steer her the other way. “Where did I put that chalk?” As we walked on, I searched my jacket pocket. “Oh, good, here it is. And my mobile. Shall I call home? Are you scared? Silly question, sorry. I’m so excited.”

“It’s okay. No, I’m not scared.”

I glanced sideways at her to check whether she was telling the truth. She had that snooty little Mona Lisa smile on her face. You could never tell what she was hiding behind it.

“Well, shall I call home?”

“What use would that be?” Charlotte replied.

“I just figured—”

“You can leave the thinking to me, don’t worry,” said Charlotte.

We went down the stone steps to the place where James always sat. He rose to his feet when he saw us, but I just smiled at him. The trouble with James was that no one else could see or hear him—only me.

James was a ghost. Which is why I avoided talking to him when other people were around, except for Lesley. She’d never doubted James’s existence for a second. Lesley believed everything I said, and that was one of the reasons she was my best friend. She was only sorry she couldn’t see and hear James herself.

But I was glad of it, because when James first set eyes on Lesley, he said, “Good heavens above, the poor child has more freckles than there are stars in the sky! If she doesn’t start using a good bleaching lotion at once, she’ll never catch herself a husband!”

Whereas the first thing Lesley said when I introduced them to each other was “Ask him if he ever buried treasure anywhere.”

Unfortunately James was not the treasure-burying type, and he was rather insulted that Lesley thought he might be. He was easily insulted.

“Is he transparent?” Lesley had asked at that first meeting. “Or kind of black and white?”

James looked just like anyone I’d ever met. Except for his clothes, of course.

“Can you walk through him?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never tried.”

“Then try now,” Lesley suggested.

James was not about to let me try that.

“What does she mean, a ghost? The Honorable James Augustus Peregrine Pympoole-Bothame, heir to the fourteenth Earl of Hardsdale, is taking no insults from young girls!”

Like so many ghosts, he refused to accept that he wasn’t alive anymore. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember dying. James and I had met five years ago, on my first day at St. Lennox High School, but to James it seemed only a few days ago that he was sitting in his club playing cards with friends and talking about horses, beauty spots, and wigs. (He wore both a beauty spot and a wig, but they looked better on him than you might think.) He completely ignored the fact that I’d grown several inches since we first met, had acquired breasts, and braces on my teeth, and had shed the braces again. He dismisssed the fact that his father’s grand town house had become a school with running water, electric light, and central heating. The only thing he did seem to notice from time to time was the ever-decreasing length of our school uniform skirts. Obviously girls’ legs and ankles hadn’t often been on show in his time.

“It’s not very civil of a lady to walk past a highborn gentleman without a word, Miss Gwyneth,” he called after me now. He was deeply offended that I’d brushed past him.

“Sorry. We’re in a hurry,” I said.

“If I can help you in any way, I am, of course, entirely at your service,” James said, adjusting the lace on his cuffs.

“I don’t think so, but thanks anyway. We just have to get home, fast.” As if James could possibly have helped in any way! He couldn’t even open a door. “Charlotte isn’t feeling well,” I explained.

“I’m very sorry to hear it,” said James, who had a soft spot for Charlotte. Unlike “that ill-mannered girl with the freckles,” as he called Lesley, he thought my cousin was “delightful, a vision of beguiling charm.” Now he offered more of his flowery flattery. “Pray give her my best wishes. And tell her she looks as enchanting as ever. A little pale, but as captivating as a fairy.”

“I’ll tell her,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“If you don’t stop talking to your imaginary friend,” snapped Charlotte, “you’ll end up in the nuthouse.”

Okay, then I wouldn’t tell her. She was conceited enough as it was.

“James isn’t imaginary, just invisible. There’s a great difference.”

“If you say so,” replied Charlotte. She and Aunt Glenda thought I just made up James and the other ghosts for attention. Now I was sorry I’d ever told Charlotte about them. As a small child, though, I couldn’t manage to keep my mouth shut about gargoyles coming to life—scrambling down the fronts of buildings before my very eyes and twisting their Gothic faces for me to see. The gargoyles were funny, but there were also some dark, grim-looking ghosts, and I was afraid of those. It took me a couple of years to realize that ghosts can’t hurt you. All they can really do to people is scare them.

Not James, of course. He was not frightening in the least.

“Lesley thinks it may be a good thing that James died young. With a name like Pympoole-Bothame, how would he ever have found a wife?” I said, after making sure James was out of hearing distance. “I mean, who’d marry a man with a name that sounds like Pimple-Bottom?”

Charlotte rolled her eyes.

“He’s not bad-looking,” I went on. “And he’s filthy rich too—if he’s telling the truth about his family. It’s just his habit of raising a perfumed lace hanky to his nose that doesn’t exactly make me swoon.”

“What a shame there’s no one but you to admire him,” said Charlotte.

I thought so myself.

“And how stupid of you to talk about how weird you are outside the family,” added Charlotte.

That was another of Charlotte’s typical digs. It was meant to hurt me, and as a matter of fact, it did.

“I’m not weird!”

“Of course you are!”

“You’re a fine one to talk, gene carrier!”

“Well, I don’t go blabbing on about it all over the place,” said Charlotte. “You’re like Great-aunt Mad Maddy. She even tells the postman about her visions.”

“You’re a jerk.”

“And you’re naive.”

Still quarreling, we walked through the front hall, past the janitor’s glazed cubicle, and out into the school yard. The wind was picking up, and the ominous sky held the promise of rain. I wished we had grabbed our coats from our lockers.

“Sorry I said that about you being like Great-aunt Maddy,” said Charlotte, suddenly sounding remorseful. “I’m excited, but I am a bit nervous as well.”

I was surprised. Charlotte never apologized.

“I know,” I replied almost too quickly. I wanted her to know that I appreciated her apology. But in reality, I couldn’t have been further from understanding how she felt. I’d have been scared out of my wits. In her shoes, I’d have been about as excited as if I were going to the dentist. “Anyway, I like Great-aunt Maddy,” I added. That was true. Great-aunt Maddy might be a bit talkative and inclined to say everything four times over, but I liked that a lot better than the mysterious way the others carried on. And Great-aunt Maddy was always very generous when it came to handing out sherbet lemons.

But of course Charlotte didn’t like sweets.

We crossed the road and hurried on along the pavement.

“Don’t keep glancing at me sideways like that,” said Charlotte. “You’ll notice if I disappear, don’t worry. Then you’ll have to make your silly chalk mark on the pavement and hurry on home. But it’s not going to happen. Not today.”

“How can you know? And don’t you wonder where you’ll end up? I mean, when you’ll end up?”

“Yes, of course I do,” said Charlotte.

“Let’s hope it’s not in the middle of the Great Fire of 1664.”

“The Great Fire of London was in 1666,” said Charlotte. “That’s easy to remember. And at the time this part of the city wasn’t built up yet, so there’d have been hardly anything to burn here.”

Did I say that Charlotte was also known as Spoilsport and Miss Know-it-all?

But I wasn’t dropping the subject. It may have been mean of me, but I wanted to wipe the silly smile off her face, if only for a couple of seconds. “These school uniforms would probably burn like tinder,” I said casually.

“I’d know what to do” was all Charlotte said, still smiling.

I hated myself for admiring how cool she was right now. To me, the idea of suddenly landing in the past was totally terrifying.

The past would have been awful, no matter what period you landed in. There was always some horrible thing lurking there—war, smallpox, the plague. If you said the wrong thing, you could be burnt as a witch. Plus, everyone had fleas, and you had to use chamber pots, which were tipped out of upstairs windows in the morning—even if someone was walking along the street below.

But Charlotte had been carefully prepared to find her way around in the past from the time she should have been rocking dolls in her elegant arms. She’d never had time to play or make friends, go shopping, go to the cinema, or date boys. Instead she’d been taught dancing, fencing, and riding, foreign languages, and history. And since last year she’d been going out every Wednesday afternoon with Lady Arista and Aunt Glenda, and they didn’t come home until late in the evening. They called it an introduction to the mysteries. But no one—especially not Charlotte—would say what kind of mysteries.

Her first sentence when she learnt to talk had probably been “It’s a secret.” Closely followed by “That’s none of your business.”

Lesley always said our family must have more secrets than MI5 and MI6 put together. She was probably right.

Normally we took the bus home from school. The number 8 stopped in Berkeley Square, and it wasn’t far from there to our house. Today we went the four stops on foot, as Aunt Glenda had told us we should when Charlotte had a dizzy spell. I kept my bit of chalk at the ready the whole time, but Charlotte never disappeared.

As we went up the steps to our front door, I was somewhat disappointed, because this was where my part in the ordeal came to an end. Now my grandmother would take over, and I would once again be exiled from the world of mysteries.

I tugged at Charlotte’s sleeve. “Look! The man in black is there again.”

“So?” Charlotte didn’t even look around. The man was standing in the entrance of number 18, opposite. As usual, he wore a black trench coat and a hat pulled right down over his face. I’d taken him for a ghost until I realized that Nick, Caroline, and Lesley could see him too.

He’d been keeping watch on our house almost around the clock for months. Or maybe there were several men who looked exactly the same taking turns. We argued about whether the man was a burglar casing the joint, a private detective, or a wicked magician. That last one was my sister’s theory, and she firmly believed in it. Caroline was nine and loved stories about wicked magicians and good fairies. My brother, Nick, was twelve and thought stories about magicians and fairies were silly, so he figured the man must be a burglar. Lesley and I backed the private detective.

If we tried to cross the road for a closer look at the man, he would either disappear into the building behind him or slip into a black Bentley, which was always parked by the curb, and drive away.

“It’s a magic car,” Caroline claimed. “It turns into a raven when no one’s looking. And the magician turns into a tiny little man and rides through the air on the raven’s back.”

Nick had made a note of the Bentley’s license plate, just in case. “Although they’re sure to paint the car after the burglary and fit a new license plate,” he said.

The grown-ups acted as if they saw nothing suspicious about being watched day and night by a man wearing a hat and dressed entirely in black.

Nor did Charlotte. “What’s biting you lot about the poor man? He’s just standing there to smoke a cigarette, that’s all.”

“Oh, really?” I was more likely to believe the story about the enchanted raven.

It had started raining. We reached home not a moment too soon.

“Do you at least feel dizzy again?” I asked as we waited for the door to be opened. We didn’t have our own front-door keys.

“Just leave me alone,” said Charlotte. “It will happen when the time comes.”

Mr. Bernard opened the door for us. Lesley said Mr. Bernard was our butler and the ultimate proof that we were almost as rich as the Queen or Madonna. But I didn’t know exactly who or what Mr. Bernard really was. To Mum, he was “Grandmother’s lackey,” but Lady Arista called him “an old family friend.” To Caroline and Nick and me, he was simply Lady Arista’s rather weird manservant.

At the sight of us, his eyebrows shot up.

“Hello, Mr. Bernard,” I said. “Nasty weather.”

“Very nasty.” With his hooked nose and brown eyes behind his round, gold-rimmed glasses, Mr. Bernard always reminded me of an owl. “You really ought to wear your coats when you leave the house on a day like this.”

“Er … yes, we ought to,” I said.

“Where’s Lady Arista?” asked Charlotte. She was never particularly polite to Mr. Bernard. Perhaps because, unlike the rest of us, she hadn’t felt any awe of him when she was a child. Although, and this really was awe-inspiring, he seemed able to materialize out of nowhere right behind you in any part of the house, moving as quietly as a cat. Nothing got past Mr. Bernard, and he always seemed to be on the alert for something.

Mr. Bernard had been with us since before I was born, and Mum said he had been there when she was still a little girl. That made Mr. Bernard almost as old as Lady Arista, even if he didn’t look it. He had his own rooms on the second floor, with a separate corridor in which we children were forbidden even to set foot.

My brother, Nick, said Mr. Bernard had built-in trapdoors and elaborate alarm systems up there, so that he could watch out for unwelcome visitors, but Nick couldn’t prove it. None of us had ever dared to venture into the out-of-bounds area.

“Mr. Bernard needs his privacy,” Lady Arista often said.

“How right,” said Mum. “I think we could all of us do with some of that.” But she said it so quietly that Lady Arista didn’t hear her.

“Your grandmother is in the music room,” Mr. Bernard informed Charlotte.

“Thank you.” Charlotte left us in the hall and went upstairs. The music room was on the first floor, and no one knew why it was called that. There wasn’t even a piano in it.

The music room was Lady Arista’s and Great-aunt Maddy’s favorite place. It smelled of faded violet perfume and the stale smoke of Lady Arista’s cigarillos. The stuffy room wasn’t aired nearly often enough, and staying in it for too long made you feel drowsy.

Mr. Bernard closed the front door. I took one more quick look past him at the other side of the street. The man with the hat was still there. Was I wrong, or was he just raising his hand almost as if he were waving to someone? Mr. Bernard, maybe, or even me?

The door closed, and I couldn’t follow that train of thought any longer because my stomach suddenly flipped again, as if I were on a roller coaster. Everything blurred before my eyes. My knees gave way, and I had to lean against the wall to keep from falling down.

But as quickly as it had come on, the feeling was gone.

My heart was thumping like crazy. There must be something wrong with me. Without being on an actual carnival ride, you couldn’t possibly feel dizzy this often without something being terribly wrong.

Unless … oh, nonsense! I was probably just growing too fast. Or I had … I had a brain tumor? Or maybe, I thought, brushing that nasty notion aside, it was only that I was hungry.

Yes, that must be it. I hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast. My lunch had landed on my blouse. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Only then did I notice Mr. Bernard’s owlish eyes looking attentively at me.

“Whoops,” he said, a little too late.

I felt myself blushing. “I’ll … I’ll go and do my homework,” I muttered.

Mr. Bernard just nodded casually. But as I climbed the stairs, I could feel his eyes on my back.

 

Back from Durham, where I visited Lord Montrose’s younger daughter, Grace Shepherd, whose daughter was unexpectedly born the day before yesterday. We are all delighted to record the birth of

Gwyneth Sophie Elizabeth Shepherd

5 lbs 8 oz., 20 in.

Mother and child both doing well.

Heartfelt congratulations to our Grand Master on the birth of his fifth grandchild.

FROM THE ANNALS OF THE GUARDIANS

10 OCTOBER 1994

REPORT: THOMAS GEORGE, INNER CIRCLE

 

Text copyright © 2011 by Kerstin Gier