Greg’s Top Reads of 2018

The Elements of Spellcrafting : 21 Keys to Successful Sorcery
by Jason Miller

A great read for any practitioner or follower of any path. Gives some very practical tips for spellwork and working with spirits.

The Chaos Protocols:Magical Techniques for Navigating the New Economic Reality
by Gordon White

A practical guide that is based in chaos magic but has some great tips for all. Looking about how one can use your individual spiritual/occult practice to deal with the practical concerns of life.

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The Invisibles
by Grant Morrison

Though this comic has been out for decades, it was only this year that I got to it. An absorbing graphic novel that explores themes of oppression, control, and the various prices of bucking the status quo.

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The Ballad of Black Tom
by Victor D. LaValle

A great example of not only building on top of but expanding the source material. This book starts with the framework of Lovecraft and addresses historical and contemporary issues.

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Sheila Hicks : Lifelines
edited by Michel Gauthier

A wonderful visual retrospective of the artist’s work, this volume explores every stage of the artist’s career. Hick’s is a master of color and form and her work is carefully reproduced here.

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by Alan Moore

Again another graphic novel that had been on my radar but I hadn’t gotten to. Promethea is a story that not only explores mythology and the the last 100 years of occultism but seem to reflect many of the author’s own beliefs.

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The Power
by Naomi Alderman

Alderman’s work explores the dynamics of power and gender and how old patterns can reemerge when the world is made new again.

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The Merry Spinster: Tales of Everyday Horror
by Daniel Mallory Ortberg

A collection of stories about stories, archetypes, and culturally created gender. These tales are filled with horror or uncanniness as Ortberg picks apart the very idea of a fairy tale and our own “norms”.

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Chilling Adventures of Sabrina. Book one, The Crucible
by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Read the graphic novel that the Netflix show is based on. There are many differences from the show and this source material and it guaranteed to help tide fans over as they wait for season two.

Clive Barker’s next testament. Volume On
by Clive Barker

A truly terrifying look at what it would be like if our creator came back. An engrossing story, but Barker definitely maintains his horror aesthetic throughout.

Greg’s Top 10 for 2017

First off is a book I previously reviewed, Books of Blood: Volumes One to Three. As the title describes this is a three books of short stories in one not so compact volume. This had to make my list for the sheer variety it offered fans of horror. Much like Barker’s films there is a balance of psychological and visceral horror. Recommended for the horror fan who needs an introduction to Barker’s writing.
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I know I am cheating a bit with these picks but these two volumes are distinct enough in their tone and their personal achievement to deserve their own spot on this list. A retelling/reworking of the Hercules myth, David Rubin’s graphic novel The Hero breaks new ground in the telling of this millennial old story. An odd combination of ancient and contemporary motifs (there are ancient Greek news casts) Hero keeps the reader on their toes. Book One focuses on the labors and the development of Hercules as hero. Book Two takes a darker tone and starts asking what happens when the campaign is won and yet life, and its tragedies, continue on. A humanizing take on a hero who’s story is told again and again.
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Possibly a very bold claim, but for me, this collection was the work that got me interested in poetry again. I am a working visual artist who has had a desire to investigate poetry but just didn’t seem to be my medium or speak my own creative language. Smith’s work shares many of the research veins that I am interested in and gave me a gateway to the work and the art form of poetry. A Finalist for the National Book Award, these poems are both challenging and enjoyable.
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What can I say, I am sucker for short story collections that explore magical realism. Russell gives us everything from lemon sucking vampires to a silk factory who raw material comes from silkworm/human hybrids. More so than any of the other short story collections on this list Vampires offers the readers stories are truly a mixed bag of setting and tone. I haven’t had a chance to read Russell’s novel Swamplandia! but from how much I enjoyed this work its on my reading list.
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If you are familiar with Sedaris’ work you know that you are in for more of the same awkward, funny, cringe-worthy, and relatable stories. Told in his signature style, Sedaris focuses on the minor (and so minor) faux pas, social foibles, and daily disasters that everyone else will forget about but will mar you for life. Like all his work, I recommend reading before large family gatherings, for perspective.
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If I had to give Gaiman’s work a subtitle it would have to be “Translated for Clarity and Entertainment.” Master storyteller, Gaiman makes traditional Norse and Northern European mythology digestible for a wider audience. If you ever attempted to read traditional translations of Norse sagas you know that they can be a bit dense and at times confusing. This is a great introduction to the Norse religion and for fans of Neil Gaiman’s wider body of work.
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Maybe too dry (pun intended) for some, I found The Drunken Botanist an informative and intriguing romp into the history of alcohol and the cultures that made them. I enjoyed this book as an audio book while on a long drive to a conference and think it may be its best in that scenario. Filled with moments of “huh didn’t know that” and the science to back it up, Stewart’s work is great material for parties or possible future games of trivia.
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A subversive and unconventional take on the idea of a romantic comedy. We follow Oaf Jadwiga (former professional wrestler, owner of a cat sanctuary and maker of stuffed animals) as he tried to catch the eye of black metal front-man Eiffel. Now what would be romantic comedy without a few mishaps? Oaf has to deal rival bands, exes (his and Eiffel’s), and cats with emotional problems. With moments of tenderness, gross out humor, and an in your face attitude this book was always surprising.
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If you enjoyed the Alan Moore’s Watchmen’s take on the world of cape crusaders there is a good chance you will enjoy Black Hammer : Secret Origins. Lemire’s take on a super hero team takes a decidedly dark psychological tone. Abraham Slam, Golden Gail, Colonel Weird, Madame Dragonfly, and Barbalien are the a superhero team who have been trapped in a reality that they cannot escape. Rather than Superman’s Phantom Zone, their prison takes the form of a small rural town. This first volume gives us a look into the hero’s previous lives, the baggage they hold, and how they cope in a world where they have little to do but reflect.

What’s So Scary? Horror books- of course!

We did it! We talked about dark, scary things that go *bump* in the night and we survived! Don’t forget, horror books are written to frighten the reader and are distinguished by supernatural or occult elements, often featuring the power of the natural world gone awry. So, are you ready for a scary read?

Megan: Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt and translated from the original Dutch by Nancy Forest-Flier, is the story of a picturesque Hudson Valley town that lives under the curse of a 17th century witch. With her mouth and eyes sewn shut she wanders the streets and enters homes and buildings. The residents, all cursed to remain in Black Spring, have protected the town from the outside world, keeping their secret and themselves safe. When a group of frustrated teenagers rebel against the long-standing virtual quarantine, they set in motion a dangerous and deadly series of events. The juxtaposition of the tragic story of a 350 year old witch with the modern day is fascinating. This is a compelling and truly creep read sure to satisfy any horror lover.

Lauren: Dawn is the first book in Octavia Butler’s Xenogenesis Series. Planet Earth has been ravaged by atomic civil war and Lilith is one of the survivors. She has survived because she is in the care of an alien species, the Oankali. However, whether she has been rescued or captured remains debatable. When the Oankali wake Lilith from suspended animation aboard their spaceship she is tasked with learning their language and culture and preparing to assimilate the other humans as they are awakened, before they can make their return to Earth. But it is the mission of the Oankali to genetically merge with the civilizations they discover. Though they initially prevented the total extinction of the human race it becomes clear that Lilith’s children and the generations that come after them will be less than human.

Gina: Knowing of some of the many adaptations of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, I thought it would be a horror. I did not expect for this novella to be as calm as it was. The book begins by following the lawyer Mr. Utterson investigation of an encounter between a young girl and a man known as Mr. Hyde. Through this investigation, Mr. Utterson becomes aware that Mr. Hyde is the beneficiary of a friend and client named Dr. Jekyll. After a confrontation, Mr. Hyde assures Mr. Utterson that everything is alright and in order. Time passes, and another incident happens- evidence points towards Mr. Hyde, but he is nowhere to be found. Instead, Dr. Jekyll appears with a note showing that he has ended any relations with Mr. Hyde. The narration changes to follow Dr. Hastie Lanyon, a collogue of Dr. Jekyll; upon being a witness to the strange transformation of Dr. Jekyll into Mr. Hyde, he dies of shock. Before his death he writes to Mr. Utterson explaining what he witnessed. Mr. Utterson receives the letter and with concern from Dr. Jekyll’s butler, rushes to the doctor’s home to find the body of Dr. Hyde died from an apparent suicide. Mr. Utterson discovers a note written by Dr. Jekyll; explaining his experimentations and hypothesis of the duel personalities. Dr. Jekyll writes that what began as a simple experiment, easily controlled, became something he could not handle and feared for what more damage could happen and so he decided to end his life, to stop Mr. Hyde.

Sara: I read Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn. This book was a combination of mystery/thriller/horror. Camille Preaker is a Chicago journalist who has recently been hospitalized for self harm-carving various words onto her whole body. She has been suffering for years since the unexplained death of her younger sister Marian, her mother’s favorite child. She reluctantly goes to her tiny hometown to cover the murder of one young girl and the disappearance of another. Camille is reunited with her estranged, unloving mother and her half-sister Amma. As secrets of Camille’s past are revealed, she becomes close to her half sister and learns that her mother is capable of unspeakable things. This book is a page turner, but also deeply disturbing. The twist at the ending makes the journey worthwhile.

Carol: In Come Closer by Sara Gran, Amanda and her husband move into their new trendy loft and all is perfection—until Amanda begins to hear noises in the home and have strange dreams. Amanda’s life begins to spiral out of control. Is the loft haunted; is Amanda losing her mind; or is there something more sinister at work? Read this “scariest book of 2004” and find out!

Steve: Mrs. God by Peter Straub is a creepy, slow moving tale with a letdown of an ending. Professor Standish heads to England for a fellowship at the spooky Esswood House, owned by the aristocratic Seneschal family and home to their renowned library of literature. Odd characters and happenings abound, like servants that vanish or really don’t exist, doors that lock by themselves and whispering mystery voices. Is it Standish’s drinking, madness, or a dark secret of the Seneschals? Unfortunately the end is a train wreck which doesn’t really come to a conclusion, too bad as the first 75% was quite good.

Emma: The book In the Shadow of Blackbirds by Cat Winters takes place during the height of the 1918 Spanish Influenza pandemic. Sixteen-year old Mary Shelley Black is sent to San Diego to live with her aunt. Despite the ever present fear of the flu and war, Mary Shelley is eager to reunite with her childhood friend, Stephen. When she learns that Stephen’s brother has made a name for himself among the Spiritualists by claiming to photograph the spirits of the dead, she is determined to prove him a fraud. Her plans are derailed when she is visited by an unsettled spirit. A must-read for fans of historical fiction, the paranormal, and spooky ghost stories.

Dori: Dori: In Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s I Remember You: A Ghost Story, an Icelandic couple buy an abandoned vacation house in an isolated village in hopes of turning it into a vacation rental. They go there in the off season to work on the house and quickly encounter disturbing sights: moving crosses, mysterious footprints and odd smells. Meanwhile, psychologist Freyr, who’s 6-year-old son has gone missing, is asked to help with an investigation into an incident of crude defacement in a preschool. This snowballs into further inquiries into mysterious suicides which involve strangers that are obsessed with the disappearance of his son. This is an eerie, disturbing ghost story that builds to a surprising and tragic conclusion.

Stacey: Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things is the kind of story that will have you looking over your shoulder, avoiding dark hallways, and jumping at unexpected noises -for days and days …and then… many more days! A group of women, without any discernable connection, have been kidnapped and taken to a desolate bunkhouse in the middle of the remote, Australian Outback. With no way to know who’s responsible for their brutal imprisonment or why they’ve been selected, these women begin to form a social order to match their dark world. Just as disturbing as what readers learn about these conditions is the lack of explanation or information. This is a really smart, psychological horror story!

Next time? We’re going to lighten the mood with -Holiday Stories! This is another one that you can read pretty much anything you’d like as long as a Winter holiday (Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve) is prominently featured in the story.


So Horror(able) -I *did* leave the the lights on!

Are you getting into the spooky spirit of Halloween? Did you find an unnerving book written to frighten the reader? And did it have supernatural or occult elements that would spotlight the power of the natural world gone awry? Then you read a book from the horror section -just like we did! Maybe you’re even looking for some more suggestions…? How about one of these:

Emma: Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen is a hilarious book with a little something for everyone. Mr. Gabriel is the new librarian at Cynthia’s high school. He is also a demon who has charmed her best friend, Annie, and is sucking the life spirit from the other students. Cynthia has an unusual immunity (she’s a super roach) to his charms. While Cynthia juggles school and the set design for the school’s production of Sweeney Todd, she also has to save her best friend.

Dori: A mix of horror, thriller and fantasy, Stephen Lloyd Jones’ The String Diaries, opens with Hannah frantically driving to one of her safe houses, her young daughter asleep in the back seat, her husband bleeding profusely by her side. She is escaping Jakab, a beast of a man who is one of Hungary’s hozzu eletek, a race of people who can shapeshift, disguising themselves to infiltrate into the lives of humans. Jakab is consumed with finding Hannah, as he was her ancestors before her, because of an incident that occurred when he was a young man. Hannah has been schooled in surviving Jakab through a set of diaries that have been handed down from her family. She, however, wants more than to survive; she wants to put an end to Jakab once and for all. Violent, creepy, page-turning and spooky, I’m looking forward to reading the sequel, Written in the Blood.

Maureen: The Dead Girls of Hysteria Hall by Katie Alender starts out with the typical teenage angst of best friends, boyfriends, and fights with parents. What is not typical, however, is inheriting a former female mental asylum that looks like a castle from your great-great aunt and dying the first night there with your parents on a planned remodel and flip. So begins the tale of Delia Piven, who along with her parents, go on a visit to her inherited property. What Delia doesn’t know is that the Piven Institute for the Care and Correction of Troubled Females has a lot of secrets. After her death, Delia becomes a ghost who is determined to escape Piven and return to her family. Will she make it out? Who is this mysterious male ghost, Theo, who she befriends on the Piven grounds? Will the other ghost girls in the house help her or try to harm her? Why does time speed up and slow down for Delia during various events and why does the house seem to have a particular hold on Delia? A hauntingly good story, especially for teens who like scary but not gory.

Lauren: In Sophie Jaff’s Love is Red the story is told from two points of view: the novel’s central character, Katherine Emerson, and the Sickle Man, a serial killer stalking women in New York City. Katherine is a young woman torn between two lovers. David is smart, kind, and charismatic in stark contrast to Sael who is brooding and serious—but towards whom Katherine has an undeniable attraction. While Katherine is preoccupied with the fate of her love life, the Sickle Man is obsessing over her. Jaff does a spectacular job at keeping the reader guessing at every turn. Love is Red is the first book in a planned trilogy.

Carol: The Night Sister by Jennifer McMahon is a combination of a secret-filled mystery, a ghostly supernatural horror tale, and a multi-layered emotional family tragedy. Weaving its tale from the 1960s, to the 1980s and 2013, this creepy and mysterious read tracks the dark events that take place in an old run-down motel and the demise of the seemingly-cursed family who own it. A slow-paced read, this novel reveals just enough in each chapter to keep you reading until its final pages.

Beth: In Donna Andrews’ Lord of the Wings, the town of Caerphilly, VA is transformed into Spooky City, USA. As the head of security, Meg Langslow takes it upon herself to save Halloween as things go from frightfully fun, to downright scary. This was a spooky mystery with passionate and eccentric characters. This is a great read for someone looking to get into the Halloween spirit without the lingering haunts of traditional horror.

Megan: The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson is a 1959 classic horror story. Considered one of the best ghost stories of the 20th century, The Haunting of Hill House is the story of Dr. Montague, an investigator of the supernatural, and his mission to prove the existence of ghosts. To this end, he invites a number of people to accompany him to a famously haunted house for his experiment. In the end only four respond to his invitation. They intend to spend the summer at Hill House, but disturbing things begin to happen immediately. The danger escalates to a final terrifying conclusion. Chilling terror, unreliable characters, and a house with as much personality as the people make this a spine-tingling, emotional read!

Stacey: I went all in with NOS4A2 by Joe Hill -and now I’m pretty confident I will never be accepting a ride in a vintage Rolls-Royce… The son of Stephen and Tabitha King, Joe Hill does a fabulous job of upholding the family tradition of creating a menacing atmosphere in even the most ordinary moments. But it’s the intricately plotted, bloody and brutal struggle between good (Victoria ‘Vic’ McQueen) and evil (Charlie Manx) that will make this story a classic of the genre.

We’re keeping the excitement going by reading a suspense or a thriller! If you want to read along with us you can choose either: 1. a suspenseful book that emphasizes the danger faced by a protagonist or 2. a thrilling book uses a specific world such as the courtroom, medical laboratory, or government agency, with an emphasis on the defeat of the villain and his conspirators.


Oh, the Twisted Tales of Horror!

What a scary thing it would be if we had to fight for survival in a world where the supernatural, or the unnatural, that resembled the landscapes found in the horror category. Of course these books are meant to get a strong reaction from the reader, so I’d say the books we shared at our discussion were pretty darn successful. But of course you can also judge for yourself after you see what people had to say about what they choose to read:

Carol: The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon is adult ghost story that opens in 1908 in Vermont. Sara Harrison Shea is racked with grief — her young daughter Gertie has died. Sara cannot bear to live without her, and so she turns to magic taught to her by the tribal woman who helped raise her, in order to bring Gertie back from the dead. Meanwhile, in a present day storyline, 19-year-old Ruthie now lives in Sara’s old farmhouse with her younger sister and their mother. When Alice goes missing, Ruthie searches for clues, and discovers Sara’s long hidden diary along the way. As Ruthie reads the diary, she gets sucked deeper into the mystery of Sara’s fate, and realizes that she’s not first person who’s desperately looking for someone that they’ve lost. What do these missing people have to do with the young girl who supposedly died a century? This creepy ghost story is suspenseful and you’ll want to read it until it’s climactic end. Reader beware: you might need to leave a night-light after you are done with this one.

Emma: Classic horror novel, The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin is the story of Joanna and Walter Eberhart and their two children. The family moves to suburban Stepford, Connecticut from New York City. Joanna soon discovers that the women of Stepford are too perfect, too beautiful, and too submissive. The husbands of Stepford spend a lot of free time at the local men’s association while their wives are content at home cleaning and cooking, ignoring their previous occupations and interests. Joanna is afraid she will become just like them. A fable of male bonding or female bondage.

Steve: Misery, by Stephen King, is a terrifying psychological horror novel with one of the worst villains ever created. Author Paul Sheldon is in a car accident in Colorado and found by retired nurse Annie Wilkes, who happens to be his “number one fan.” She keeps Paul hostage in her home and makes him write a new novel featuring her favorite character, a character from his best-selling Misery series that he had previously killed off. Annie has a long history of violence and mental instability, and her treatment of Paul is terrifying. The book includes some incredibly gory descriptions, not for the faint of heart.

Dori: Chris Bohjalian’s Night Strangers begins with a harrowing plane crash: Pilot Chip Linton loses 39 passengers as he tries to land his failing plane in Lake Champlain. After the accident, he, his wife Emily, and twin girls try to start over in a remote town in New Hampshire. They buy an old Victorian and begin to fix it up, but soon Chip discovers a door in the basement, held shut with 39 bolts and soon after, the ghosts of a little girl and her father killed in the crash begin to visit him. Meanwhile, Emily and the girls meet a local group of herbalists, all named after flowers and plants and oddly obsessed with the twins. As so often happens in these kinds of stories, you want to tell them to run…and fast, but the Lintons stay on and are drawn much too deeply into the horrible secrets of the town. Suspenseful, engaging, and altogether creepy, this Gothic horror is the perfect Halloween read.

Megan: Evil Librarian by Michelle Knudsen. There is a new librarian at Cyn’s high school and he is hot! He is also a demon who has enthralled her best friend, Annie and is sucking the life essence from the students. Cyn has an unusual immunity to his charms so while she juggles school and the set design for the school’s production of Sweeney Todd, she also now has to save her best friend. This devilishly hilarious book has a little something for everyone-horror, humor, romance, as well as musical theater! And while a soul-sucking demon is not necessarily an improvement, I find this librarian to be a refreshing change of pace from the stereotypical shushing old lady librarian!

Lauren: If at times campy and cliché, Hell House by Richard Matheson is a classic horror story. At the invitation of an eccentric millionaire with terminal cancer, four people go to spend a week alone at the abandoned Belasco House in Maine. “Hell House” is believed to be haunted by the beings who were subjected to the depravity and perverseness of its original owner, Emeric Belasco, who delighted in torturing his guests and driving them towards debauchery. Dr. Barrett (along with his wife Edith) is seeking to explain the house’s strange phenomena from his viewpoint as a physicist. Also invited are two spiritual mediums, Florence Tanner and Benjamin Fischer. Fischer was the only survivor of the last attempt to investigate the house some thirty years prior. As the four set to work on solving the mystery of Hell House, Hell House sets to work on destroying them.

Ann: The Fate of Mercy Alban by Wendy Webb is a modern day haunted house story set on the shores of Lake Superior. When her mother dies, Grace Alban returns home to Alban House after a twenty year absence. Almost from the beginning, Grace and her young daughter Amity encounter strange happenings at the house. In addition, secrets from the past are unearthed that rattle Grace. Are the halls and passageways of the family home haunted due to some long ago family curse? A spine-tingling gothic novel.

Stacey: Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith is an unique mix of humor, ethical issues, and super creepy ( horrible!) events. In Ealing, Iowa, Austin is a sixteen-year-old whose best friend Robby and girlfriend Shann all hangout together, during and after school. Fixated on some of the average teen boy stuff: skateboarding, sex, smoking and drinking, Austin finds himself woefully unprepared to fight against the Unstoppable Soldiers, dedicated killers who also happen to be six foot tall praying mantis created from a man-made plague mold, accidentally released. This book almost defies any attempt at an accurate description- it’s so packed with all kinds of crazy details- but any reader who enjoys Libba Bray, Michael Grant, or Lish McBride will devour this book -almost as quickly as an Unstoppable Soldier!

Our next genre will be narrative nonfiction, or real and true stories that are written as if they were fictional. This category is wide open as it can be on any topic from any year, it just needs to be an easy-to-read nonfiction book. Ta-dah! So we’ll see you back here with your narrative nonfiction title in tow, very soon!

— Stacey

Happy Horror-ween!

What timing! That our discussion of books that fit into the Horror Genre fell into October is nothing but coincidence! (That is, if you believe in coincidences -which don’t seem to happen much in this particular genre…) The broad definition of horror could be that these stories are meant to frighten the reader through strange and unnatural occurrences, which may or may not be attributed to the supernatural world. Some of these books are more violent than others, but there are also plenty of stories that are even more frightening because it’s about perception and how your own mind might be turned against you. -Did you just get a shiver down your spine? Me too!- Mostly, I’d say everyone found a book they found satisfying, and few nightmares were reported, so there is a strong chance you too can find something in the following list that you just might enjoy!

Julie: Johnny Dixon is a reoccurring character in a John Bellairs series that has 13 year old Johnny and his friends, Professor Childermass and schoolmate Fergie, getting into supernatural trouble. In The Revenge of the Wizard’s Ghost, Johnny lies near death as a long dead enemy of the Childermass family has taken possession of him in hopes of wreaking revenge on the Professor. It’s up to his friends to save him from sure death! While Bellairs is considered to be for children/young adults, anyone looking for a creepy story with a nostalgic feel can enjoy.

Megan: In the Shadow of the Blackbirds by Cat Winter is a chilling debut novel set in 1918, during the height of the Spanish Influenza epidemic. Sixteen-year old Mary Shelley Black is sent to San Diego to live with her aunt after her father is arrested as a traitor. Despite the ever present fear of the flu and war, Mary Shelley is eager to reunite with her childhood friend, Stephen. When she learns that Stephen’s brother has made a name for himself among Spiritualist by claiming to photograph the spirits of the dead, she sets out to prove him a fraud. Her plans are derailed when she herself is visited by an unsettled spirit. Illustrated with haunting photographs of the era, this is a must-read ghost story!

Emma: The Picture of Dorian Gray was the only novel written by Oscar Wilde. Dorian’s portrait is painted by Basil Hallward as a gift to 20-year-old Dorian. It is such a beautiful painting, Dorian wants the portrait to age and not him, and he gets his wish. As Dorian and Lord Henry Wotton become close friends, Dorian’s life becomes more corrupt and the portrait changes. Suicides, murder, and accidental shootings occur, and the portrait becomes more grotesque. Dorian is determined to change his corrupt ways and decides to destroy the portrait, but he himself is destroyed. The novel received harsh criticism when it was first published in 1891 but today is considered a great classic work.

Maureen: Night Shift by Stephen King is the first collection of short stories ever published by the author. The book was published in 1978 and covers a wide variety of typical King creepiness, from a deadly new flu virus strain to a serial killer to deranged trucks demanding humans do their bidding to a college student stalker. Most of the stories in the book were later made into motion pictures (most notably “Children of the Corn”) or adapted for television, even though several of them are less than 20 pages long. One of the best and most interesting things about this book was the foreword, which King wrote himself, and which provides a good deal of insight into his reasons for writing in the horror genre. He describes writers as filters and his theory of writing surrounds the different types of material (which he calls “sludge”) that make it through different peoples’ filters. For him, it is the stuff of fear. As bits and pieces catch in his particular filter, over time he pieces them together into a horror story. One of the best stories I read in this collection was called The Man Who Loved Flowers. In typical King fashion, he takes a simple, everyday action like a man buying a woman flowers, and turns it into a twisted, psychotic, demented tale of murder in broad daylight. A very interesting read and a peek into one of the greatest horror writers of all time at the beginning of his career.

Steve: The Ruins, by Scott Smith, is a creepy horror story that starts with a great premise. Six college age vacationers in Cancun set out to look for the brother of one of them, who has disappeared while off exploring some Mayan ruins with a girl he has met. On their way to the ruins, the tourists find a covered trail and soon notice Mayan villagers following them. When they step over what seems to be an imaginary line in a clearing, the Mayans pull out guns and arrows, keeping the vacationers trapped with-in the perimeter. Stranded on a hill above the clearing, on their own for survival, the group soon discover the horror that they must fight. If you are ok with the events not being explained at the end, this is a good enough read, but I would have liked more of a conclusion.

Ann: In The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz the main character is Amy Redwing who rescues dogs. When she rescues Nickie, a golden retriever from an abusive home, she immediately senses a connection. Her own dogs, Fred and Ethel also sense that Nickie is special and defer to her as the Alpha dog. Amy and her boyfriend Brian both have baggage from the past, and when evil comes back to haunt them, the dog Nickie is right there with them. The horror in this thriller is the horror that one person inflicts on another. There are lots of twists and turns in this story with supernatural elements. Ultimately this is Dean Koontz’s book to honor his own beloved golden retriever Trixie.

Dori: In The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle, Pepper is admitted to an underfunded, urban psychiatric hospital in New York City after accosting a couple of policemen. Quick to anger, but not mentally ill, he’s brought there for convenience, but is then drugged and forgotten. As he gets to know his fellow inmates, he learns about a monster who is kept at the end of one of the hallways behind a steel door, but escapes at night to terrorize, and sometimes kill, the patients. Banding together, the patients form a plan for eliminating the monster and escaping the hell of their hospitalization. Black comedy mixes with social commentary in a book where the monster may not be what he seems.

Stacey: For readers interested in finding something classic *and* unnerving, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by H.P. Lovecraft,in graphic novel format, should be just right. Charles Dexter Ward began looking into his family’s past to unearth the truth of local gossip. It was said that one of Ward’s ancestors remained youthful beyond when it would have been reasonably possible, it was rumored this man was a necromancer. The more Charles discovers about this ancestor, the more he seems to lose touch with reality. Finally committed to a hospital for his own safety, there is a good chance that Charles might be in as much danger from outside sources as he is from the workings of his own mind. The gifted illustrator of this graphic novel took a dark, mysterious story and boosted it into something even better.

See? Not so “horror”-able! Next time? Well, we’ll be looking for you cowpokes around the campfire! That’s my hint that we’re reading… Westerns! If you want to read along, you should hunt down a story that takes place in the western North America. There should be a clearly defined conflict and resolution, with heroes that might be flawed but get the job done! Enjoy!

What to Do While I Wait For The Winds of Winter

Winter is coming…but book six in A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R. R. Martin is not. At least not any time soon. I know I am not alone out here, wondering what to do with myself while I wait. On the one hand it’s actually a relief to not have most of my time and brain cells being monopolized by a complicated epic fantasy. On the other hand, I got used to lugging an enormous book around with me at all times. I kind of want that feeling back. So I took another look at my Goodreads “to read” shelf and found some titles that should keep me busy while I impatiently wait for G. Martin to get busy and give me a new book.

1. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. This may be the perfect choice for me. Historical fiction+time travel+some steamy romance=Win! Another thing that it has going for it is the fact that there are already seven books published. It looks like an eighth book will be published in 2013. There will be no hand-wringing or teeth gnashing as I anxiously anticipate the publication of a new title. There really is something to be said for starting a series once it is complete (or almost complete).

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2. The Map of Time by Félix J. Palma. Ok, it looks like I have an overwhelming desire to get lost in a time travel series. Who knew? This one has the bonus element of Steampunk, which is trè chic. Look at those gorgeous covers! I am sold.

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3. Odd Thomas by Dean Koontz. This supernatural thriller series comes recommended by a coworker. Quirky characters, suspense, and horror. Works for me. There are currently five books in the series and book six is due out in 2013.

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These are my top three contenders for my next epic series. Of course, if I was practical I would hold off on starting a new series until I finished or got caught up on my current series. *Cough* Stephanie Plum *Cough* I am not sure I will ever catch up with this woman!

I am also open to recommendations! What do you think I should read while I am waiting on The Winds of Winter?

Happy Reading!


It Was a Dark and Stormy Night…

It’s a gloomy Saturday here at the library, which got me thinking about spooky stories, which made me think “It was a dark and stormy night…”, which led me to research the origins of the famous first line. The phrase was the opening line of the popular book Paul Clifford, published in 1830 by Edward Bulwer-LyttonThough not as well-known as his famous pal Charles Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton is also responsible for the much-quoted adage “the pen is mightier than then sword.”

Now that my brief but educational detour is over let me get back to the matter at hand-scary stories. Tis the season for spooky and if you are motivated enough to leave the cozy comfort of home to visit us at the library you might want to stock up on some pre-Halloween reading supplies. We have everything from the classic tales of horror by H.P. Lovecraft to modern-day classics by Stephen King. We have zombies, vampires, werewolves, and good old-fashioned ghost stories. Just let us now how you want the bejeezus scared out of you and we’ll do the rest!


Eeek! It’s Horrible!

This one was a slightly controversial genre for us. There was actually some debate on whether everyone was willing to read a horror book. Obviously, we choose to bite the proverbial bullet and picked something we were hoping to enjoy. I was more on the side of horror sounds horrible and how will I possibly find something I can stand to read? Then I really thought about what this particular genre is defined by and most commonly there are: supernatural or occult elements, a strong emotional response from the reader, and the natural world has often gone awry. I read those books. Actually, I read a lot of those books! Then it became a matter of narrowing my choices to one from my list of many —who knew?— horror reads. Even more interestingly, while we were discussing our titles, it was surprising to find most of us enjoyed what we read. Hmm, maybe horror isn’t so horrible?

So, here are the books we read and again, they written up by the person who read the book. Are you ready?

Stacey: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare. It’s the first book in the Mortal Cup Trilogy and it was fabulous! Clary Fray discovers she’s a Shadowhunter by birth after her mother disappears from their New York City apartment. Jace, another Shadowhunter, finds Clary before her true nature has been fully revealed. Together they work to find her Mom, Jocelyn, and the Mortal Cup that Jocelyn has hidden away for the safety of Downworlders and Humans alike. This book has multiple layers of myth, magic, and supernatural beings who co-exist in an uneasy and complicated truce. There are more shades of gray than good vs. evil, and the action, the characters, and the suspenseful drama of who is on whose side made this a fun book to read.

Emma: The Painted Bird by Jerzy Kosinski. Originally published in 1965, this is the story of an unnamed little boy in Poland during WWII. He is sent by his parents into hiding living with a foster mother who soon dies. He spends the next years wandering the countryside being horribly mistreated by locals because he looks different. He is Jewish. The little boy is a survivor. He ends up in an orphanage after the war and is eventually reunited with his parents. Unable to adjust to living with his family after the war, he is sent away to the mountains for his well-being.

Carol: Lost Boy, Lost Girl by Peter Straub. The story is told from the viewpoint, journals, and email exchanges of Tim Underhill, a writer who travels from his home in New York City to his hometown of Millhaven, IL to offer support when his sister-in-law commits suicide. Tim’s brother Philip is a pretty crummy guy who is hard to like, but his son Mark, Timothy’s nephew, is described as a beautiful fifteen-year-old on the cusp of adulthood who charms all who encounter him. Mark disappears a week after his mother’s funeral and Tim returns to assist in the search. It is believed by most in the community that Mark is the latest victim of a serial killer that is stalking the city’s youth. Tim, believes otherwise, and uncovers Mark’s recent obsession with an abandoned house and the mysterious man who had been quietly stalking Mark in the days preceding his disappearance. In his investigation, Timothy learns what Mark has figured out–there is an evil connection between the house and his own heritage, and his obsession with the house is awakening dangers from the past. This spooky book won the 2003  Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel of the Year. It kept me up at night with visions of a mysterious undead young girl and the combination of a frightening haunted house, a serial killer on the loose, and the undercurrent of evil that permeates the novel until it’s very last page.

Evelyn: Worst Nightmares by Shane Briant. After accepting a big cash advance, award-winning novelist Dermont Nolan has hit a dry spell. Desperate for an idea, he passes off a homeless man’s bizarre manuscript called My Worst Nightmare–My Delicious Memoirs as his own work of fiction. Now Dermont may be facing his own worst nightmare as the killings in his book turn out to be real, with him as the prime suspect. A very creepy, psychological blend of thriller and horror that will keep you turning the pages. Even when you think that you know who is behind Dermont’s problems, there are several more twists and turns.

Rosemary: Watchers by Dean Koontz. This is considered one of the author’s very best stories.  Einstein, a beautiful and loving golden retriever, escapes from a top-secret government lab.  There is something else that has escaped from the same lab, an unspeakable force of evil that is relentless in its pursuit of Einstein and the young couple who befriended him.  Scary and suspenseful!

Chris: Duma Key by Stephen King. Trying to start over on a remote island in the Florida Keys, Edgar Freemantle takes up painting and creates artwork with the power to destroy life. Filled with suspense and the supernatural, Stephen King’s Duma Key will entertain and frighten you until the last painting goes up in smoke.

Megan:Clay by David Almond. Davie and Geordie are typical teens growing up in England during the 1960’s. When they aren’t serving as altar boys at church they are exploring the local woods and avoiding the neighborhood bully. Things change when Stephen Rose moves to town and the priest asks the boys to befriend the strange newcomer. As Davie gets to know Stephen he learns that Stephen is more than just a talented sculptor. He has the ability to bring his creations to life. Davie learns he can do this as well. Together the two boys create a life sized clay man and bring him to life. By the time Davie realizes that Stephen’s intentions for their man are sinister it may be too late to stop him.

Ann: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill. Aging rock star, Judas Coyne buys a ghost at an online auction, but he buys nothing but trouble. The ghost, who is a stepfather of a former girlfriend, is bent on destroying Coyne, and has the otherworldly powers to do so. An old-fashioned ghost/horror story in the vein of Stephen King. (Joe Hill is Stephen Kings’ son)

Dori: Something Wicked this Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. This is the story of two best friends on the cusp of turning 14 in late October. Will, cautious and innocent, and Jim, wild and adventurous, are both thrilled when they see handbills advertising a carnival coming to town. The carnival, however, is not seeking to entertain; it sets up in the dead of night, hoping to lure town residents who suffer from fear, desire, jealousy, or regret. Its centerpiece is a carousel that makes you younger or older with every revolution. After angering the carnival’s proprietor, Mr. Black, the boys go into hiding and are helped by Will’s father, who discovers that only acceptance and joy will counter the evil carnival. Bradbury’s prose reinforces the creepy, nightmarish atmosphere of the book.

Next time, we’re discussing Science Fiction. This genre is based on the scientific and physical world as we know it, but with a twist that allows for exploration of new ideas, political agenda, and societal changes. Hard scifi is more about the technological aspects of this new world and soft scifi is more about the mental or emotional aspects. They can run the full range of hopeful stories to doom and gloom. Sounds like plenty to choose from, no?


Classic horror

jane-austen-zombiesSo has everyone heard about the new publishing trend of turning a classic book into a horror novel? Quirk Books has published Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is mostly Jane Austen’s story with zombies thrown in by author, Seth Grahame-Smith. Can you imagine Elizabeth fighting zombies while beguiling Mr. Darcy? I’ll be interested to know what a true Austen fan thinks of it.(Stacey?)   

I think I’m going to try my hand at it. I mean if half of it is written before I even start then, well, I’m halfway there.  So I think I’ll start with “Oliver Twist-ed”…or maybe the “Screwtape Letters and the Thumb Screw.” I can already hear publishers knocking at my door!