Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, or The New Prometheus is a pop culture cornerstone and, together with the media it has spawned, still informs conversations about medical ethics and morality. Roseanne Montillo's The Lady and Her Monsters dramatically recounts these debates in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, along with the turmoil of Mary Shelley's own life. Her mother, pioneering feminist Mary Godwin, died just after her birth. Shelley was raised by her emotionally distant father, reformer and novelist William Godwin, and a somewhat jealous stepmother. It's little wonder that as a teen she set her eye on married poet and activist Percy Bysshe Shelley, whom she may have seduced on her mother's grave, and with whom she eloped (twice). The goings-on of Mary Shelley and her associates were so well-known that during a period of residence in Switzerland, she and her friends could spot the telescopes of their neighbors pointed at them.
Paired with this narrative of passionate love affairs, famous poets, and infamous scandals is an equally eye-opening study of anatomical and electrical science of the time. It begins with Luigi Galvani's 1786 experiment using the electrical actions of a local thunderstorm on frogs suspended from metal hooks, and just gets stranger. Overreaching researchers dissected executed criminals for a public audience. Con artists operated brothels under the guise of electrical medical treatment centers. Resurrection Men profited from the high demand for anatomical subjects in medical schools, culminating with murders in Edinburgh and the criminal activities of the London Supply Company.
Why I picked it up: The local library branch near my work had a display of Frankenstein related books out for Halloween. I picked this one because, while I vaguely know Mary Shelley's story, my knowledge was mostly from the forward to the 1835 revision of her best-known novel. I thought a book-length version would be an interesting read.
Why I finished it: It's not for the squeamish, but this engaging, sometimes shockingly frank and gory combination of literary biography and history of science captivated me while filling in gaps in my knowledge.
Readalikes: If you'd like a guide to the literature that inspired and was influenced by Frankenstein, then The Handbook to Gothic Literature, edited by Marie Mulvey-Roberts contains a vast amount of information about uncanny fiction. Finally, if you've only seen the movies, it's time to read the original Frankenstein.
A reimagining of Jane Eyre as a gutsy, heroic serial killer, from the author whose work The New York Times described as “riveting” and Gillian Flynn declared “spectacular.” This satirical romance about identity, guilt, goodness, and the nature of lies is a brilliant and deeply absorbing reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s classic character.
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Malorie and her two young children are alone in a house they cannot leave without being blindfolded. Any glimpse of whatever is lurking outside will drive them to madness and murder, as it has done to so many people before. There may be a safe settlement twenty miles downriver. They’ll have to make the journey blind, relying only on the trained ears of the children to alert them to danger, unable to see the things stalking them, which they can feel growing ever closer.
Why I picked it up: I am not a big horror reader, but Bird Box sounded like it would be a bit of a science fiction crossover. Was the mysterious force driving people crazy an alien? A disease?
Why I finished it: It was less a full-blown horror title and more a post-apocalyptic thriller; since that is my favorite genre, I was captivated. Malerman's book has a similar tone to many zombie thrillers, but with its own very unique qualities. I loved how realistically he portrays Malorie. She's an ordinary woman, but her determination to survive has made her rock hard. This worries her, especially when it comes to the children. She is terrified that she's given them safety but not happiness or a real childhood. On top of that, she is mourning the loss of her family and friends. This sets up a delicious tension, as Malerman slowly builds towards the final reveal of what took place that left Malorie and the children alone. Combined with the tension of the unseen journey down a dangerous river, this made for a story that demanded to be read in a single sitting.
Readalikes: Girl, Stolen by April Henry has a realistic setting but shares the theme of not being able to see the danger around you. Henry's protagonist, sixteen-year-old Cheyenne Wilder, is accidentally kidnapped when a teenager, Griffin, steals her stepmother's car and doesn't realize she's asleep in the back. Griffin might be talked into letting her go, but when his father finds out that she is the daughter of a very rich man, he decides to profit off his son's mistake. Cheyenne must escape, with or without Griffin's help, despite the fact that she is sick with pneumonia and blind. Cheyenne's struggles to navigate the unknown wilderness surrounding Griffin's home mirror Malorie's journey down the river, as do her fear and determination.
An undeniably addictive Listening Library staff pick that’s perfect for Halloween, THESE SHALLOW GRAVES by Printz Honor winner Jennifer Donnelly is tailor- made for a riveting audiobook experience. After all, who wouldn’t love to dim the lights and listen to a suspenseful mystery unfold, secret by secret? According to author Jennifer Donnelly herself, narrator Kim Bubbs delivers an “awesome reading” as aspiring young writer Jo Montfort, who is about to graduate from finishing school and be married off to a wealthy bachelor—which is the last thing she wants. But wild aspirations aside, Jo’s life seems perfect until tragedy strikes. It turns out life is dirtier than Jo could ever have imagined, and this time the truth is the dirtiest part of all. Booklist calls THESE SHALLOW GRAVES “fast-paced and thrilling” (starred review) and BookPage declares it a Top Pick for Teens. Click to read why this is a must-listen for fall, hear a clip, and check out the impressive nail art it inspired! Plus, learn why this hauntingly good historical fiction title is also a great classroom tie-in.
Maddox doesn't have a great life. A Lord of the Underworld, he houses a demon inside of him, the High Lord of Violence. Because of his role in releasing this demon and others from Pandora's Box, at midnight every night his friend Reyes, keeper of Pain, must murder him in a grisly fashion. Then his other friend Lucien, keeper of Death, has to take him away to hell. When the sun rises, so does Maddox, and the three of them prepare to do it all over again.
But they're all immortal warriors, created by Zeus to fight his battles for him before they fell out of favor, so they've learned to accept their punishment and live quiet lives in their fortress. The last thing Maddox needs is complications, but that’s what he gets. A battle in the heavens leaves Zeus imprisoned as his rival, Cronus, gets ready to consolidate his rule. Hunters go on the offensive to save the world from demons by killing Maddox and his friends. And there’s also a strange woman hanging around the fortress who refuses to leave his side as midnight rapidly approaches.
Why I picked it up: Technically, this is not the book I picked up. The third book in the Lords of the Underworld series was sitting on the repair shelf at my library, so I opened it up to the middle to see if it was any good. In that one Reyes, keeper of the Lord of Pain, was trying to have sex with his girlfriend without getting either of them killed. I figured any series willing to put its heroes in such ridiculous situations deserved a shot.
Why I finished it: I not only finished it, I’m in the middle of the eighth installment now. Showalter inserts teasers for upcoming books in each story, so even after it was clear that Ashlyn would end up being Maddox's salvation (this is a romance, after all), I needed to keep reading to see how Death could find a woman to love even though he must eventually carry her soul to its final destination. And I haven’t even mentioned Torin, the keeper of Disease, who can't touch anybody.
Readalikes: Christine Feehan's Carpathian series, beginning with Dark Prince. They have a similar premise: supernatural heroes too powerful and dark to believe in love. Feehan's books are more somber, but it's fun to jump between them, reading about the Lords of the Underworld when you need a laugh and the Carpathians when you want to wallow.
Acclaimed author Elizabeth Brundage combines noir and the gothic in a novel about two families entwined in their own unhappiness with, at the center, a gruesome and unsolved murder. At once a classic "who-dun-it" that morphs into a "why-and-how-dun-it," All Things Cease to Appear is also a rich and complex portrait of a psychopath and a marriage, and an astute study of the various taints that can scar very different families, and even an entire community.
Giveaway! Click to Request an eGalley.
A medical experiment goes wrong and a virus escapes a lab. Soon hordes of infected people are attacking anything that moves, biting and swarming over all the world, killing billions and spreading the virus. They are referred to as the Fearless because they are not afraid of anything.
Luckily, most of Cass's family is still alive. Their neighbor was a doomsday prepper of sorts, and together they were able to escape to a small island he had been readying. There they fend off infrequent attacks by the Fearless. Then visitors from the mainland turn Cass’s world upside down by kidnapping her little brother.
Why I finished it: This is a classic zombie apocalypse-type book with secluded survivors and a villain who plans to take over the world. One twist: the "bad guys" aren't really bad, they are just misguided, and that makes them creepier than usual. (Instead of trying to destroy the Fearless, they intend to lobotomize them and make them a race of servants/slaves.) Plus, there’s a great twist at the end that rocks Cass's world (and deftly sets up the sequel).
It's perfect for: Anna, who loves dystopian fiction. Anna will love that Cass, who starts as a shy girl and becomes a kick-butt heroine willing to go to the ends of the earth to find her brother, defiant even as the virus is injected into her neck.
The world survived the zombie apocalypse, but how and at what cost? With zones still infested and governments still trying to recover, what record of the war will we save for the future? The narrator has traveled all over the world talking to soldiers who fought on the front lines, leaders who gave controversial orders, and ordinary people who managed to stay alive. Told in the form of interviews, here is a record of the years of the plague and the people who survived them.
Why I picked it up: I had been wanting to read it because I love apocalyptic stories, but hadn't found the time. When the unabridged audiobook was released, and I saw that the nerdtastic line-up of performers included many Star Trek alums, I couldn't wait any longer.
Why I finished it: Listening to it was like hearing an NPR documentary. Brooks himself is the interviewer who records the experiences of people affected by the zombie war. He has a voice so similar to that of many NPR reporters that I caught myself thinking, "I'd like more information on what happened there. I think I'll go do some research on it," only to remember that this was all fictional.
The character who stuck with me the most was Todd Wainio, a U.S. Army soldier (performed by Mark Hamill) who just did his best to survive the war, even though he and his commanders weren’t sure how to fight an enemy that couldn’t become intimidated or tired.
Readalikes: Another recent end of the world favorite of mine is Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson, which is also told through interviews. I enjoyed Wilson's take on a robot uprising because of its fast pace and Wilson’s refusal to make all robots evil. Ex-Heroes by Peter Clines surprised me because I wasn't sure that a story about superheroes trying to survive a zombie apocalypse would be anything other than terribly cheesy. It had a lot of heart, plus all the action, drama, and gore required in a good zombie novel.
Okiku, the ghost of a murdered Japanese woman, tells the reader right off, "I am where dead children go." As she avenges the death of a little girl and releases her spirit, she notices a new boy in town, Tarq. He is covered in strange tattoos that he keeps hidden, and they seem to hide something monstrous. As she follows him around, she learns he can see her, and that his protective cousin, Callie, can sense her. When he and his father visit his mother in a mental institution and she attempts to kill him, his tattoos release a terrifying demon that kills his mother and threatens everyone.
Why I picked it up: I heard Diane talk up this book, and while I'm not a huge horror fan, I do enjoy a good ghost story.
Why I finished it: Okiku's narration moves from mundane events to acts of brutal vengeance in a single breath, and the tension is palpable. I have a little familiarity with Japanese folk tales and ghost stories, and while the original tale was new to me, its modern setting sold me completely. I loved how the two ghosts, Okiku and the black-clothed demon imprisoned in Tarq's tattoos, battled each other slowly at first, and then in a final, epic confrontation.
It's perfect for: Lexie because she loves stories that blend ancient and modern. She’d love verifying the authenticity of all the little details, from the cleansing ceremony at the remote Japanese shrine to the placement of the Ichimatsu dolls that house unsettled spirits.
If you'd like to read how a young man, eager to please his superiors, could become a murderer and a grave robber, this is your graphic novel. The team that adapted this Robert Louis Stevenson classic makes plain the serious need for dead bodies to be used for study and practice by students undergoing medical training. Fettes, a poor student, and his less naive companion, Wolfe, cross the line from doing favors for their professor (accepting and paying for a corpse delivery) to complicity in murder with the suppliers of bodies in the space of just a few panels. Wolfe is so crafty that when he later kills a personal enemy he disposes of the body by “selling” it to the school, so that his classmates will cut it into unidentifiable pieces. And he gets paid for it.
Why I picked it up: The cover illustration of two young grave robbers, from the point of view of the grave’s occupant, enticed me.
Why I finished it: Illustrator Rod Espinosa's art, with its somber colors, perfectly matched the tone of the story. A little bit of business mid-story, where Wolfe demands payment in cash for someone he's killed so that the bookkeeping will come out right, gave me renewed respect for Stevenson's skills as a storyteller.
Readalikes: If you'd like to read about the real serial killing gang that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson, and the doctor who paid them, try The Anatomy Murders: Being the True and Spectacular History of Edinburgh's Notorious Burke and Hare and of the Man of Science Who Abetted Them in the Commission of Their Most Heinous Crimes by Lisa Rosner. If you'd like to know why we still care about that doctor’s story find The Doctor Dissected: A Cultural Autopsy of the Burke and Hare Murders by Caroline McCracken-Flesher.
Grunhilda comes from a long line of very wicked witches. She is gifted, and has closely studied a centuries-old book of potions which is the family treasure. Despite her dedication to her craft, the market for magic has collapsed due to the public's lack of belief. To make ends meet she takes a job at the Salem Witch Museum, only to be fired for not being scary enough. She scours the want ads but find nothing under “witch," “hag," or “crone.” Then her dog spots "Lunch Lady...Good cooks need not apply.”
Why I picked it up: I had heard some buzz around this as being one of the best kids' graphic novels published this year.
Why I finished it: The Lunch Witch is so much more my speed than other illustrated chapter books and graphic novels for kids. It is a bit dark and nasty. Angry at being let go, Grunhilda turns her former boss into a turd (and then accidentally gets him on her shoe). At school, rumors about her putting things like pencil shavings and floor sweepings into the food are actually true. When a little girl asks Grunhilda for help, she flat out refuses until blackmailed. Best of all, she eventually saves the day by tying up the school principal in a swamp so he can be attacked by swarms of mosquitoes. There were so many horrid, funny, and unexpected twists that I couldn't put it down for a second!
Readalikes: I loved this book’s design. In contrast to the usual bright white pages, this looks as though it was printed on greasy paper lunch bags. From cover to cover, every page has a unique and nauseating stain all its own, with periodic smears of sauces, the aforementioned pencil shavings, and some alarmingly realistic mealworms. At one point a large piece of the page is missing because it was hit with a lighting bolt and burnt away. And in one of my favorite moments, Grunhilda stomps on a ketchup packet...spraying ketchup out of the frame she inhabits, across the fold of the book to take down a boy on the next page. The only other artist I have seen do comparable work in comics is Dave McKean. Fans of The Lunch Witch should definitely check out The Wolves in the Walls and the kids' edition of MirrorMask, both of which were created in collaboration with Neil Gaiman.