Fortuna – It Favors the Bold, Also the Bad (But in a Good Way)

41gnfzpyv8l._sx331_bo1204203200_I know it’s not exactly the best way to get excited about a book, but I was immediately attracted to Fortuna, by Kristyn Merbeth, when the eighties synthwave cover was revealed. When Orbit threw in a blurb likening the work to that of Becky Chambers, I was done for. No need to complete the chokehold with a synopsis about a family of space smugglers, but it was there anyway. Fortuna is a great book with a rollicking character-focused story that succeeds in emotional depth but reaches a little too far when it comes to large-scale destruction.

Fortuna is a nice mix of action and character driven narrative. It follows the Kaiser family, a small group of smugglers raised and managed by Auriga Kaiser, the biological mother of the crew. The main characters are Corvus, the eldest brother, and Scorpia, the second oldest. Upon hearing that Corvus is returning to the Fortuna(the name of the ship) after finishing his third year of service within the Titan planetary military, Scorpia hatches her latest plan to make her mother proud so she can take the captain’s reigns and continue the Kaiser legacy. However, Scorpia is not as competent as her confidence suggests, and the system itself has other plans that muddy the Kaiser’s ability to maintain their smuggling business. Amidst the family drama, resources become tight and rumors of war circulate as the planets begin to become more isolationist.

I want to start off by highlighting Merbeth’s exceptional writing ability. The chapters alternate between Corvus and Scorpia, both sides written in a first-person perspective. I normally have issues with first person, because I generally do not like how things are described from that perspective, but Merbeth really knocked it out of the park here. Not only do the two characters feel distinct as people, but it comes through in how they describe the people around them, or the environments they are in. Scorpia comes off as a confident, whip-smart, smooth operator who acknowledges she might drink too much and often looks at people in a buddy-buddy way. Often her descriptions feel as if they are pulled out of hat. Corvus, on the other hand, is reserved, disciplined and all too aware of himself. He constantly feels distanced from those around him, regardless of how close they are. His distance is often self imposed, exemplified by the directness with which he speaks to himself and those around him. It was very distinct and kept me pulled along through the whole ride.

In a similar vein, the characters are fairly deep even though some are built on recognizable foundations. Fortuna shines because of its characters and their relationships with each other. The Kaiser family feels alive, and they have a deep history with each other. They have been through a lot and it shows. Corvus’ return feels monumental, even though it’s subdued and carries a lot of baggage. Merbeth does an excellent job of revealing the experiences and motivations of characters in such a way that their interactions feel natural and uncontrived. I think a lot of people might feel beaten over the head with Scorpia’s flaws, but I think Merbeth nailed it. Scorpia is inconsistent, juvenile, and brash but wants to do what is best for her family and will go to whatever length she feels is necessary to keep them safe and happy. Her alcoholism runs deep, and it takes her a while to deal with it, while the rest around her see it day in and day out. Her flaws, as deep and heartbreaking as they were, were made endearing by her better qualities. Merbeth straddled the line of unbearable and loveable with Scorpia, and it made the book more engaging.

While the intense character drama drove the narrative, I felt that the plot was a little inconsistent. I enjoyed the smuggling and the politics between the different worlds. I also enjoyed that the smugglers were the connections in some sense between the worlds as they all slowly began to close their borders. My biggest issue with the plot was its sense of scale. The amount of destruction that occurs alongside the family drama felt unreal and made some of the arguments the Kaisers had a little garish and cartoonish. Pair that with the fact that a lot of it happened off-screen (for reasons that are apparent within the story that I want to avoid spoilers) also diminished the attachment. Merbeth did a good job in terms of set up and in explaining why the different members of the family would be affected by the events in the way that they were, but the events just felt too big. The planets, while fairly fleshed out, did not have a sense of scale. With the family drama in the forefront, it was hard to appreciate the threat, and just how much of an effect it had, and how the Kaisers were involved. I enjoyed the story and plotting of events in general, but I felt that some of the consequences were too big for a small family of smugglers.

In the end, I had a blast with Fortuna. It was a good ride with a lot of heart, and heavy family drama that felt well built within a well-realized world. The characters were likeable in the long run and felt distinct despite their rough beginnings. The book had its inconsistencies, but like its characters, the better qualities shone all the brighter because of it. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in the series. If you are looking for a small-scale drama among the stars with heavy consequences, then Fortuna by Kristyn Merbeth is for you.

Rating: Fortuna – 8.0/10
-Alex

Ormeshadow – A Little Slice Of Life

712zdrcfehlPriya Sharma’s Ormeshadow overflows with dark family secrets, generations of lore, and tragedy. Sharma has a knack for pitting characters against one another with beautifully selected words. Ormeshadow reads like a wood-carving: Sharma removes all the excess material and presents a pristine, sharp product that feels at once succinct and sprawling.

Gideon Belman’s life completely changes when his father, John, ushers the family to Ormeshadow farm on the heels of his failure as a scholar in Bath. The land rests near the Orme–a sleeping dragon, as legend puts it, upon whose back the land has grown. John regales young Gideon with tales of the dragon and his family’s inextricable ties to it. John’s wife, Clare, tolerates the stories. Ormeshadow is tended by John’s brother Thomas, a rugged farmhand supported by his wife Maud, his boys Peter and Samuel, and his daughter Charity. The reunion dredges up years of resentment and hatred, and Gideon is thrust against his wishes into a life that seems intent on dragging him into madness and cruelty.

A true novella, Ormeshadow reads at a brisk pace, following Gideon’s life after the move and skipping years of time. Sharma’s chapters are snapshots in time, and the blanks she leaves can be easily filled in by imaginative readers. It’s almost like a series of vignettes, each serving a simple purpose: to tell us how Gideon has coped with the innumerable tragedies that befall him in Ormeshadow. The short length serves to better the book by quickly leading the reader to new, darker territory with every turn of the page.

The plot itself could be described as predictable (and probably has been described that way by some). However, when a predictable plot point was finally revealed, I felt spurred on by it, rather than hindered. Sharma’s characters are so believable that I became ravenous for more detail. To experience the characters dealing with their struggles is the heart of the story. Moments of realization and heartbreak abound, but they’re overshadowed by the subtler character moments that follow. Peppered throughout the book are the stories of the Orme and how it came to be. These stories lend mystical context to the modern-day goings-on in the tale, and they’re the cherry on top of the Sharma’s prosaic cake.

All that said, if you read Ormeshadow for any reason, let it be the prose. Sharma writes with a lyricism and brevity reminiscent of McCarthy’s The Road. She says what must be said, and she does it with remarkable verbal grace. Simple, accessible, and beautiful descriptions lie on every page, and it’s a wonder to behold.

Stories of the Orme and legends of the Belman family give Ormeshadow a distinct mystical bent, as I mentioned above. These, presumably, are the reason for the novella’s “Dark Fantasy” genre-billing. I bring this up because, unless you sensationally interpret the story’s final moments, Ormeshadow is more of a dark realism story. It’s replete with family drama, plenty of lore, and a dash of mystery, but the fantasy elements are minimal. This doesn’t detract from the book’s quality at all. Instead, it’s a fair warning to readers seeking a grim fantasy tale. This novella may not satisfy that particular craving, but it is worth your time.

Priya Sharma’s novella bursts with character and flawless prose. She weaves a tale of family intrigue, dark pasts, and overcoming adversity. For such a quick read, Ormeshadow packs a hell of a punch.

Rating: Ormeshadow – 8.0/10
-Cole

Nevernight – Getting My Masters In Murderology

28779776Magic school lovers rejoice, we have another book review to feed your ever consuming hunger. Today’s entry is Nevernight, by Jay Kristoff, and is a new take on the assassin school variant of magical learning establishments. An intense deadly curriculum, mysterious and lovable teachers with interesting lessons, and a school so dripping with lore and coolness that it leaps into your imagination with detail – the setting of this book is everything you want in a magical school story. But, do the characters and plot hold up? Read on and see in our review of the first book in The Nevernight Chronicle.

Our protagonist is Mia Corvere, and the narrative is very focused on her. Mia is the daughter of a noble who led a failed revolution against the powers of Godsgrave, and she is on a quest for vengeance. When her father’s coup went south, it ended with his head on a pike and his family thrown into prison to rot. Mia, just a young girl at the time, narrowly escapes this fate and ends up on the street trying to survive. After surreptitiously being pseudo-adopted by an ex-Blade (assassin) of The Red Church (assassin school), Mia begins by training for the application process to The Church. Her goal is to attend The Red Church in order to learn the requisite skills to avenge her family by murdering the people she holds responsible for their fall. So, in short, it’s a good ol’ fashioned vengeance quest.

I was trying to slow roll my praise for this book as long as possible, which turns out to be two paragraphs – but I can not keep up the charade any longer. Pretty much everything about it is excellent. The plot and pacing of the book are fantastic. It is divided into roughly three sections – applying to The Red Church, studying at The Red Church, and life after The Red Church. Each section has is own style and themes, all of which are both distinct and tie nicely into one another. The pacing is also lightning fast, without ever feeling like we are rushing through any section. As the book is about learning subterfuge, there are also a few twists that are delicious. The narrative has this nice balance between powerful worldbuilding/lore, a coming-of-age story, a murder mystery, and an action-adventure. The book is also genuinely funny and uses a nice mix of humor that should appeal to every kind of reader. If you end up reading it after this, make sure to read the footnotes as they are often laugh-out-loud funny. Finally, Mia is an unreliable narrator, with chunks of her memory and story clearly hidden from page one. Over the course of the book, this vault of secrets is slowly unlocked and disseminated in a very well-measured pace.

Speaking of Mia, the characters are phenomenal but uneven. There are about 15 supporting characters, and Mia herself. A few of them are fairly forgettable or inconsistent, but the majority of them are fantastic. The teachers have personalities that are both distinct and magnetic. Mia’s classmates are from all sorts of walks of life that give the cast a diverse set of personalities and flavors to work with while simultaneously having very powerful chemistry. Many of the characters are complex and make interesting and meaningful choices that fit their identities. Additionally, Mia herself is a very interesting character. She has a nice balance of both likable and unlikable qualities that evolve with clear and satisfying growth over the course of the book. The protagonist on the last page is almost unrecognizable from the start of the book, and yet the change felt completely organic. Much of this change is created through Mia’s exploration of the world around her, and what a world it is.

The worldbuilding is both the strongest part of the book and the only place I had notable criticisms. To start off, I should mention that the book is called “Nevernight” because the world has three suns that only collectively set once or twice a year. It’s a cool element that is delightfully worked into the lore and culture of the world that I greatly enjoyed. The world as a whole feels rich, complex, and imaginative – but the real joy is in Mia’s hometown, the city of Godsgrave, and The Red Church. Godsgrave is a giant metropolis built into the bones of a decaying titan. It has a fairly stereotypical fantasy world layout with the usual market, slums, and noble districts – but its morbid origins, distinct culture, and iconic landmarks lend it a lot of flare. Also, I saved the best for last, The Red Church is a school that rivals Hogwarts in its rich lore, entrancing facilities, and cohesive identity. Much smaller than the aforementioned wizard school, The Red Church uses its smaller space to enormous effect. The mannerisms and locations in the school are fun, engrossing, and terrifying all at the same time. I won’t reveal any specifics, but the entire place is awesome.

That being said, some of the worldbuilding felt surprisingly sloppy compared to the extremely buttoned-up nature of the rest of the book. The book pays special attention to logistics, which can add a layer of creative depth that makes the world feel more real. However, it also has some elements that logistically do not make sense – at all. Examples of this include: a travel system that is a lynchpin to the entire existence of the Church but is completely unreliable, blanket enchantments and spells that seem to work in very specific ways for plot purposes, and overly complex tasks and traditions that are meant to feel quirky but just feel archaic. None of them did much to slow the hype-train I was riding, but they did noticeably leap off the page to me.

Nevernight is a bomb of a book and earns top marks in almost every category I use to evaluate books. It’s dripping with lore, has a masterful plot, and contains characters you will find yourself deeply invested in. It’s one of the best magical schools I have visited, which catapults it easily into the “highly recommended” territory. On top of all of this, Nevernight does such a good job setting up the next books in the series that I ordered it the moment I turned the last page. This is a very good book and you should pick it up at your earliest convenience.

Rating: Nevernight – 9.5/10
-Andrew

The Shadow Saint: Out Of The Shadows, Into The Limelight

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Okay, let’s do a checklist here of things I like that The Shadow Saint has in it, yeah? Krakens attacking ships: check. Skeletons with dry senses of humor: check. Horrifying surreal imagery: big ol’ check. Ghouls: still a check there too. I could keep going for a while but I think you all get the idea, The Shadow Saint ticks a lot of the boxes of things that I like in a book, and I really, really liked it. Sorry for the review spoiler, but get over it, or don’t, whatever.

The Shadow Saint, by Gareth Hanrahan, is the second book in The Black Iron Legacy series. Given that it is the second book, you probably shouldn’t be reading a review or a synopsis of it if you haven’t read the first book, The Gutter Prayer, but I’m not your dad so you can do whatever you want, man. You can find our review of Prayer here if you are wondering if it’s for you. That said, spoilers lie ahead for the first book and you should venture forth at your own peril. 

Our story picks up soon after the close of the first novel, with our previous protagonists mostly either dead or fundamentally changed by their experiences. The appearance of the New City, due to the Gutter Miracle from book one, and the fall of the alchemical stranglehold of the guild and their Tallowmen, have thrown Guerdon into chaos. For those familiar with the city, it’s pretty much business as usual. Unfortunately, that is about to change when the Godswar finally comes to Guerdon. 

One of my minor complaints in my review of the previous book (still here), was that the rest of the world felt a little underdeveloped compared to all of the information and history we received about Guerdon and its place in the world. We knew that there was a death empire called Haith, but little else about it. We knew that Ishmere was perpetrating a “godswar” that was causing a massive influx of refugees, but outside of a couple of chapters and descriptions of the various horrors, we never got a chance to experience them. In The Shadow Saint, all of that changes. It almost felt as if Hanrahan heard the (very mild) criticism, and decided that if we wanted to know about the rest of the world, then we’d best buckle up for book two. Saint packs so much worldbuilding and information into its runtime, without feeling bloated at any point, that I am frankly amazed. I have a much better understanding of the world and how it functions after this book, and it all felt surprisingly important to the overall plot. Ishmere is the one small exception to this because while we did get more of a glimpse into individual Ishmerians and their choices and beliefs, the actual society still feels a little blank. 

On the other hand, we have the empire of Haith. Normally I would briefly go over all of the various factions in my paragraph about worldbuilding, but I am so enthralled with and enraptured by the idea of Haith that I just need to gush about it for a little bit. Haith is an “eternal empire” run by necromancers (necromancers are so hot right now). Instead of worshipping gods, their power instead comes from the creation of magical artifacts they refer to as phylacteries. These phylacteries are held by the head of an individual noble house and contain the souls and accumulated knowledge and experience of all those who have held the artifact before. Think Avatar the Last Airbender, with each phylactery granting the holder knowledge of thousands of their greatest ancestors rather than the previous avatars. The moments that we see this in the book are incredibly cool and I loved the descriptions of how the character going through this moment experienced it personally. As I mentioned before, only the previous wielder of the phylactery can transfer their soul into it and become Enshrined, the highest class in Haith. Beneath the Enshrined, we have the Vigilant; individuals whose souls are bound to their bodies after death and become magical living skeletons forever working toward the betterment of the Empire of Haith. Needless to say, the concept of legions of skeleton warriors led by necromantic superhumans against a nation of mad warring gods is pretty far up my alley, and I absolutely loved it.

I also loved Hanrahan’s improvement in terms of the plot. I mentioned in my last review that while The Gutter Prayer was a fun ride, I felt the plot could be directionless and meandering at times before it finally found its stride. The Shadow Saint felt like it noticeably addressed this issue with a much more cohesive and streamlined plot. I’m not sure how much of it was my preexisting knowledge of the city of Guerdon and the characters that live there, and how much of it was Hanrahan smoothing out the hiccups from the previous installment, but the pacing and engineering of the plot is spot on in The Shadow Saint. However, I did feel that the actual climax happened rather quickly – but I think that was more a result of the sheer amount of things happening than any mechanical failing on Hanrahan’s part.

I’d like to wrap up with a note on the prose and descriptions. Hanrahan has a gift for describing the miraculous and horrifying in a way that makes it easy to imagine and hard to forget. In a book that is about warring gods and saints, miraculous massacres of undead bone soldiers, and a living city that was created by magic everything still manages to feel real and weighty. I could envision every stilling of the waters by the Kraken, and the descriptions of the Smoke Painter drawing glowing sigils in the sky that turned those that looked at them mad clicked with the part of me that loves cosmic horror and the rabbit hole of the SCP Foundation wiki. I need more of this world in my life, and I hope that Hanrahan decides to continue this world’s story whether it revolves around Guerdon and the characters from this series or not. I had a ton of fun reading this book. The Shadow Saint is a stellar sophomore effort and I can only hope that Hanrahan continues his skyward trajectory from here. I will be on the lookout for more news on the world of The Black Iron Legacy, and I desperately hope that I get the opportunity to return to this world sometime in the future. As it stands, we already have two fantastic books and I cannot recommend highly enough that you bump this series to be next in line on your reading schedule. 

Rating: The Shadow Saint – 9.0/10

-Will

 

Scary Stories for Young Foxes: The Name Is A Trap It’s Actually Scary

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Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to judge a book by its cover. I occasionally see cover art so striking that I want to buy the book just for display, regardless of whether the content is all that good. Christian McKay Heidicker’s novel Scary Stories for Young Foxes is one such book. With expressive and stunning cover art and the promise of similarly styled illustrations for some of the stories, I knew I’d pick this book up just for how pretty it was, and I hoped that I’d end up enjoying the story as well. Luckily for me, Heidicker absolutely knocked it out of the park, and I will feel absolutely no shame placing this front and center on my bookshelf. 

Scary Stories for Young Foxes is a collection of eight short stories that are thoroughly interconnected and serve to tell a single overarching tale. Told through the window dressing of a group of fox kits sneaking out to hear scary stories from a nearby older fox, the novel strikes an interesting balance between outright horror and old-time fairy story morality tales. Each of the so-called scary stories is meant to teach the kits an important lesson while still having a distinct “stories around a campfire” spookiness to them. I thought that the individual stories were all very good as self-contained narratives while clearly building toward an overarching tale, and though the “twist” was incredibly clear from almost the beginning of the book, I did enjoy the slow reveal that went on over the runtime.

I was very interested to find out exactly where on the horror spectrum this book would land, what with the title including “for Young Foxes” and all. Particularly with the whole storybook illustration style and the campfire story window dressing, I was ready for this book to be mildly scary but mostly cute. Boy howdy, I was not prepared for what I got. Scary Stories doesn’t pull punches at all, and the first story absolutely wrecked me. The final three paragraphs are pretty much burned into my brain. Heidicker’s ability to scare through describing sounds is absolutely fantastic and really plays into the overall aesthetic of the book. You can imagine a good storyteller making the klikklikklak sound as the flames from the fire jump around them, and even on the page these descriptions just drip with suspense and terror. Not every story really spooked me, but most of them did, and there are a couple that were absolutely terrifying and would feel at home in any horror collection out there.

While slightly less stellar than the spooks, the characters were still very solid. We follow two foxes named Mia and Uly as they are separated from their dens as kits. Over the course of the novel we are shown them growing into adult foxes and experiencing a variety of frights in the process. All of the characters, main and side, felt well distinguished and unique enough to easily discern them from one another. Clocking in at 272 pages and containing eight distinct stories told by a third party to the events, this isn’t the book for you if you’re looking for in-depth character profiles, but I didn’t think the remainder of the book suffered for it.

After a chapter or two, I was ready to complain about how I would have preferred eight totally unconnected stories and how the fact that they were all related to each other would diminish the scariness and impact of the plot. As I read, though, I realized that wasn’t really the type of horror story I was in for. While I enjoy extremely dark stories and generally have found the “no one made it out okay” type of tale to be my favorite, I really enjoyed having Mia and Uly’s story slowly unravel for me. I thought the pacing was fantastic and felt that the breaks for the illustration and quick pauses where the storyteller talks directly to the listening kits were timed perfectly to add suspense. In addition to heightening the mood, I thought that the notes each of the stories ended on, upbeat or dark, were very well planned out and thoughtfully used to impact how I felt while I was reading it. It all added up to a sense of supreme intent and careful construction.

I think that Scary Stories for Young Foxes is great. I had a blast reading it and would recommend it to readers of nearly any age. Not leaning on “adult” themes of horror while remaining dark, scary, and impactful is a difficult trick to manage, and Heidicker pulls it off with aplomb. I would highly recommend giving this book a try, and while I am a devout Kindler would recommend even more reading it in paper to enjoy the fantastic illustrations that are included. 

 

Rating: Scary Stories for Young Foxes – 8.5/10

Cold Storage: More Like Lukewarm but Still Comfortable

I’ve had no small amount of difficulty deciding how to rate this book. Cold Storage, by David Koepp, is a horror novel that essentially takes Richard Preston’s nonfiction book, The Hot Zone, and jazzes it up with sentient mushrooms instead of Ebola. 

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It’s a choice that should have fallen firmly within my wheelhouse but, spoiler alert, my reaction at the end was fairly tepid. To me, this type of scary situation is served better through a sense of realism, where it can remain firmly grounded and can subtly suspend the reader’s disbelief. While I enjoyed the moments that felt over the top, I definitely felt like this was more of a Michael Bay take on the “scary disease outbreak” genre. This may resonate with some, but for me, it feels as if it misses the point of good horror as it doesn’t remind the reader that scary stuff happens all the time and more importantly, that scary stuff can happen to them.

Beginning with a brief first look into the story 32 years before the events of the meat of the book, Cold Storage introduces us to one of our main characters, Roberto Diaz, in what appears to be a very trying time in his life. Tempted to cheat on his wife with a colleague and on his way to Australia with her and his partner, he is given a first-hand look at what Koepp has named Cordyceps Novus, the “villain” of the book. A mind-controlling fungus familiar to anyone who has watched the docuseries Planet Earth or played the video game The Last of Us, Cordyceps is a parasitic mushroom that infects the brain of (currently) insects and turns them into zombie suicide bombers. After the mission to Australia Cordyceps Novus is contained and put into, you guessed it, cold storage in the United States. Fast forward 32 years and, you guessed it again, Cordyceps Novus has somehow managed to breach its containment and start infecting stuff. Cue a mostly grounded and fun adventure with a few absolutely eyebrow-raising moments.

These moments are experienced by the aforementioned Roberto Diaz and a pair of civilians, Teacake and Naomi Williams. I found the parts with Teacake and Naomi to be the most fun parts of the book. From their perspectives, we are given an exciting and fun story that starts as a fun mystery and quickly moves to abject horror. After finally meeting while at work on the night shift at the storage facility, they hear a beeping and, since they’re characters in a horror book, decide they need to check it out. This leads to a really fun story of hijinks and “don’t do that!” moments reminiscent of watching a horror movie in a theater. Diaz’s story, on the other hand, didn’t really ever click for me. I liked the idea of a run-down and retired superagent having to be reactivated for the return of his biggest boogeyman, and I thought there was a lot of potential there. Unfortunately, this part of the story made it very difficult to suspend my disbelief. I was willing to go along with a lot of stuff, I’m reading a book about a horrifying mushroom zombie parasite outbreak, but there were things so ridiculous and absolutely impossible that I actually put the book down for a minute. It was strange to read something that seemed so far outside the bounds of the realism that the rest of the book seemed to strive for, and it really left a sour taste in my mouth.

Swinging back into the positives, I really enjoyed the descriptions of Cordyceps Novus and the thought patterns that the infected were going through. The way the parasite evolved through the book and Koepp’s reasoning for it struck me as very realistic while still being alien enough to frighten. I felt that the pseudo-scientific reasoning for the paths the fungus took while mutating was really interesting and served to build a really interesting villain out of what is a replicating colony of spores at the end of the day. I really wish that the book had either been longer or that this had been at least a duology, as I don’t think that Cordyceps Novus really had enough runtime to shine as a true threat and exciting villain. What we got was good, but I wanted more.

That feeling of wanting more plays into a theory of mine about this book. I think this was a screenplay that was a difficult sell to production companies after the zombie genre collapse, and Koepp decided to flesh it out to a full-length novel. The over the top action scenes and buddy/romance story between Naomi and Teacake, the superagent gearing up scenes, and the final climax all seem more like they were written for the big screen than as a novel. I don’t think this is a bad thing, and what we got was a fun and exciting ride for the runtime, but I couldn’t shake that sneaking suspicion and when I looked recently at the back of the book there is a blurb specifically touting Koepp as a screenwriter and not an author, which I found somewhat edifying to this theory. I hope that Koepp continues writing for the page, though, as this was a fun time.

Cold Storage was not a masterpiece. However, it was a very fun, easy, and quick read that I immediately recommended to my friend in the car when I put it down. It reads like a novelization of an action-horror movie, and as such is a really great popcorn book to turn the critical parts of your brain off and have a good time with. If you’re looking for retired government agents, some pretty legit body horror, and a zombie deer riding elevators then look no further than Cold Storage.

Rating: Cold Storage – 6.5/10

A Dream About Lightning Bugs: A Life of Music and Cheap Lessons – This is the Longest Review Title Ever

Memoirs don’t typically fall within The Quill To Live’s purview. But Ben Folds, in a move reflective of his genre-bending career as a musician, has broken the mold and crafted a decidedly whimsical and punk autobiography that hooked me, a near-exclusive SFF reader, from start to finish. Ben Folds fans will likely flock to the artist’s book, which shines with the same exuberance and flair that he so often pours into his music.

Ben Folds, in A Dream About Lightning Bugs, weaves tales that cover an impressive range of emotions and topics, reflecting his songwriting. Sadness, anger, hardship, and moments of success color the book, boosted by Folds’ signature voice. That voice, stripped from its usual sonic medium, hops off the page and makes Fold’s unique brand of celebrity feel accessible to readers, even without his expertly crafted melodies setting the stage for the prose. Like his album “Rockin’ the Suburbs,” A Dream About Lightning Bugs makes its creator intensely relatable, even as he tells stories of performing on stage for thousands. 

The book succeeds because it is unabashedly Ben Folds. I usually steer clear of memoirs for fear of ghostwriters diluting the subject’s personality. A Dream About Lightning Bugs, though deftly edited and polished, bears no signs of outside influence. It reads like a Ben Folds song sounds, and his tales mirror the music he produced during the time in which those stories took place. 

A welcome wave of relief rushed over me when I discovered that Ben Folds’ life is actually interesting. Too often authors, in their autobiographies, try to make something out of nothing. Folds has a way of packaging the seemingly mundane in evergreen life lessons. When he explores his later work, he calls back to the earlier struggles that influenced it. This is all to say that Folds knows the story he wants to tell, the message he wants to share, and he does it well by carefully choosing the right anecdotes to grace the page. 

Certain moments stand out to me personally because I’ve always imagined Ben Folds a certain way through the lens of his music. Folds is Dad-like, unafraid of controversy, and willing to be himself without hesitation. Moments in the book showcase that he is that person (and much more) while also highlighting the moments that shaped his confidence as a musician and a person. He’s honest about his shortcomings. He accepts responsibility for his wrongdoings, including events that led to his multiple marriages and subsequent divorces. He describes throwing his shitty drum set into a lake as a rage-addled end to his time in college. He considers the good and the bad equally, and his memoir feels utterly balanced and satisfying as a result. This isn’t the story of a man justifying the things he’s done wrong. It’s the story of Folds coming to terms with his hardships, self-inflicted or otherwise, and understanding their role in his eventual (and continuing) success. 

After finishing A Dream About Lightning Bugs, I felt a new appreciation for Ben Folds. Reading his story in his own words lent me a new perspective on his music, which I’ve listened to voraciously for years. On the heels of this memoir, I’m more excited than ever to see what he does next. 

Rating: A Dream About Lightning Bugs – 8/10