I’m a longtime fan of Smart Pop Books and their brilliant and highly enjoyable series of essay anthologies focusing on popular culture subjects like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Hunger Games, Dexter, and many, many more. With their latest release, Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World, by literature professor Anne Jamison, Smart Pop has another absolute winner and continues to be the go-to publisher for the introspective geek.

H.G. Wells’ tale of the demented genius, Dr. Moreau, has inspired many creators to expand on the story of the man who yearned to create new forms of life. Megan Shepherd’s debut novel, The Madman’s Daughter, pushes further by not simply analyzing Moreau’s psyche but translating it through the eyes of a descendent. Sixteen-year-old Juliet Moreau can barely remember her father; he fled London six years earlier upon charges of illegal vivisection, destroying her mother and, ultimately, leading to Juliet’s sinking into abject poverty. The young woman fears that her father’s purported madness runs through her veins, so when she finds evidence he may still be alive, she grasps at the flimsy straws. Her father isn’t the only person from Juliet’s past that is still alive, though, and her journey to find her father on a mysterious, hidden island reveals things about all of them no one wanted to explore.

Everyone has a past, but twenty-six-year-old Rachel Thomas is sure that if she stops running, hers will catch up and destroy all of her dreams and her chance at freedom. For three years she has bounced from town to town, refusing to make personal ties or allow anyone beyond her friend, Danielle, close, because putting down roots is just not in the cards. Then, bookstore owner Mark Jacobson breaks through Rachel’s carefully constructed walls and shows her how pure and sweet love can be; however, the young woman’s past is hot on her heels and will destroy them both: one for daring to run away; the other for daring to love a prized “possession.”

Swords of Good Men by Snorri Kristjansson is the first book in a series (The Valhalla Saga) that seems crafted specifically for fans of History Channel’s Vikings who want something more, set in the fascinating world of Nordic warriors and their fierce pantheon of gods. Set in 996AD, Swords introduces readers to the conflict between the Christian King Olav and the pagan believers that inhabited most of Norway during the time period. The conflict appears to be loosely based on the real attempts of King Olaf I of Norway, who used violence and coercion to force his religion on his subjects and to spread Christianity throughout Scandinavia. I suspect that the full Valhalla Saga will cover his entire four-year quest to convert the region.

Renee Winters has always been a normal girl, except for her odd ability to find dead things wherever she goes.  She hangs out with her friends, has started dating the most popular guy at her California high school, and is excited to finally turn sixteen and get to drive; however, on her sixteenth birthday she finds her parents’ dead bodies in the redwood forest near her hometown, surrounded by coins and with gauze stuffed into their mouths.  The police claim the cause of death is simultaneous heart attacks, but Renee believes that something unexplained occurred.  Before she gets a chance to investigate, her estranged grandfather whisks her away to the gothic, mysterious Gottfried Academy in Attica Falls, Maine, where a similar death took place on campus the previous year.  Renee is sure there’s a link between her parents’ and the former Gottfried student’s deaths, but the Academy thrives on buried secrets and punishes those who try to uncover them. Eerily beautiful fellow student Dante Berlin also distracts the sixteen year old who finds herself drawn to him in a way she can’t explain.  The answers to all of Renee’s questions are hidden in the past, and they could change everything she thought she knew about herself and her family.

In the world of Potara, the ancient Greek and Egyptian societies lived on, evolving and developing new technologies based around the energies of the universe. Some special individuals are even able to wield these energies with the power of their minds alone. They are The Gifted. A child of prophecy is promised to accomplish great things for Potara. Fortunately, he was found, a young boy named Leoros from another world, the planet Earth. Unfortunately, after being trained, he followed a powerful enemy back to Earth and was trapped there upon defeating him.

There’s a lot going on in the Crimsonstreak novels by Matt Adams. From jailbreaks to totalitarian governments to alien invasions to an exploration of infinite possible universes, the books—much like their titular protagonist, a superhero and legendary “fastest man on earth”—tend to move at breakneck speed. Sometimes, this is to the books’ benefit. Other times, less so.

Forever, In Pieces by Kurt Fawver is a bittersweet collection of eighteen short stories that probe and investigate the nature of human existence. The collection from Villipede Publications is billed as speculative horror, but, for me, the majority of the tales felt less horrific or creepy than philosophical examinations on aspects of being. I realize this sounds like an intro to philosophy survey course description, but Fawver’s introduction to the book indicates that he also anticipates readers finishing his work thinking about complex ideas and their own mortality rather than being shocked or horrified by the monsters within it. Each story stands on its own, but they flowed easily, one into the next, as I read.  Like the concept of eternity, the eighteen tales form a circle, and I actually felt a little cheated when the book ended without looping back to the beginning to start the cycle again.

A Cold Season, written by Alison Littlewood, is a spine-tingling horror novel revolving around Cass, a woman who is trying to start a new life for her and her son Ben after the death of her husband on the front lines in Afghanistan. She settles on the idyllic town of Darnshaw, needing only an Internet connection in order to run her website design business. Soon after moving to Darnshaw though, she slowly realizes there’s more to the town than meets the eye. Almost immediately after moving in, Cass finds most of the locals to be none too pleasant, and Ben starts acting out, becoming extremely hostile towards her, lashing out at her verbally and physically. Soon, Cass is locked in a battle with evil for her son’s life.

Duke is a hardworking, blue-collar guy who just hasn’t had much luck in his life . . . or does a good job of blowing what luck comes his way. He lost several body parts to a tour of duty in Afghanistan, spent time in jail for assaulting his ex-wife’s current boyfriend, struggles with gambling debts, student loans, and a mortgage payment on said ex-wife’s home, barely is allowed visitation with his six-year-old daughter, attends 12-step meetings for substance abuse and anger issues, and works as muscle for one of Houston’s resident villains. Things get interesting, though, when he fails in obtaining an artifact for his employer and gets sent on a quest to retrieve it, which uncovers a strange tale that turns the superhero genre upside down.

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