He appears out of nowhere. He finds you when you are alone. Or you might be waiting in line at the grocery store, or watching your kids playing soccer. You won't know why he decided to talk to you of all people, but what he whispers in your ear causes your world to crumble and falter. You are left doubting all those around you and trying to pick up the shards of your broken life. He disappears.
He approached Adam Price in a parking lot and told him that his wife Corinne's miscarriage was a hoax. She was never pregnant in the first place, she just said that to get Adam back after they separated. Worse, the stranger told Adam to get a DNA test on his two sons because he was probably neither’s father.
Why I picked it up: Harlen Coben is one of my favorite authors.
Why I finished it: I wanted Adam to find Corinne or just to get closure on why she ran away after he confronted her. Was she unfaithful?
A New Jersey native, Coben usually writes about mobsters and the mafia. The Stranger is part of an organized crime group that spends its time collecting secrets. It doesn't matter if it's a secret so small a person has forgotten about it or if it's a secret so large it constantly eats away at someone’s conscience. The Stranger feels all secrets should be exposed -- they are lies, and if you lie, you must be punished.
Readalikes: McMafia by Misha Glenny, a nonfiction account of how the mafia came to be and gained power worldwide. Mob Nemesis by Joe Griffin tells how the FBI is bringing down organized crime, and explains how the mafia really operates compared to Hollywood's glamorized and comedic portrayals in The Sopranos and Analyze This.
Evelyn’s work in a phosphorous factory making matches in late 1800's London disfigured her jawline -- chemicals ate away her skin. Now she wears a scarf over her face whenever she is in public. Orphaned, penniless, and desperate, she goes to London Hospital and asks for work as a nurse. Instead she is given a shot at being a nursemaid to Joseph Merrick, known as the Elephant Man. Because she can understand how he feels about his appearance, they begin to bond, and she becomes fond of him. She cares for him so much that she sits with him at night when he claims ghosts are visiting him. (They are.) As Merrick’s health begins to decline, Evelyn feels she must help him get better by putting the distressed ghosts to rest, which means exploring London to find what they need. This is quite dangerous under ordinary circumstances, but even more so because the ghosts visiting her and Merrick are victims of Jack the Ripper.
Why I Picked It Up: Kirby's Icefall remains a favorite of mine with its whodunit/saboteur plot set in a frozen Viking camp. Also I have read books about Jack the Ripper, and the idea of mixing the Ripper murders with the Elephant Man and ghosts was a great premise.
Why I Finished It: There was suspense with the appearance of the ghosts, as well as serious danger when Evelyn ventured into London at night to put things right for them. The descriptions of London’s seedier side had me reading faster and faster as the tension built.
Readalikes: Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix, in which a proper young lady disguises herself as a man to retrieve a missing jewel. Both books take place in a dangerous, sooty England full of unexplainable magic.
This slender anthology contains eighteen contemporary Halloween-themed horror stories and one poem. They range from traditional tales like P.S. Gifford's “Johnny Jackson's School Dare,” which features a schoolboy dare to lure a bully into an old graveyard, to David Winnick's “The Cross I Bear,” whose protagonist is a girl who believes the trick-or-treaters who besiege her house every Halloween are minions of Satan. R.B. Payne’s “Ankou, King of the Dead” is told from the second person point of view of a Breton peasant in 1562 preparing for the souls of his deceased family members to return on Halloween. The oldest story in the collection is Nancy Holder's “Dead Devil in the Freezer,” which first appeared in an alternate form in 2001.
Why I picked it up: I was in my favorite local genre fiction bookstore Mysterious Galaxy looking for some holiday reading. The holiday was Hanukkah, but when I saw the glowing pumpkin on the cover of this book I couldn't resist.
Why I finished it: One of the pleasures of themed anthologies is the different points of view in rapid succession. Highlights include Eric Miller's “The Patch,” in which Billy, returning a pumpkin taken from his neighbor’s patch, discovers how the man grows screaming, bleeding pumpkins. (It reminded me of Ray Bradbury's stories.) Maria Alexander's “Harvest of Flames” features a Los Angeles art dealer and dog owner recruited by a cute Lord of the Dead to hunt down evil in her town every Halloween. (The two have creative differences over the composition of a pack of hell hounds.) The most disturbing stories involve human sacrifice: “The Deal” by Janet Joyce Holden, ”The Hairy Ones” by Terry M. West, and “By the Book” by Kate Jonez. In contrast, Hal Bodner's humorous “Donuts” features a home invasion where the only fiends are fiends for chocolate.
The contributors, in order of appearance, are Lisa Morton, Michael Paul Gonzalez, Hal Bodner, Terry M. West, Janet Joyce Holden, John Palisano, David Winnick, Kate Jonez, R.B. Payne, Steven W. Booth, Maria Alexander, Eric Miller, E.S. Magill, Tim Chizmar, Robin Wyatt Dunn, P.S. Gifford, Xach Fromson, and Nancy Holder.
Readalikes: From the Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury is a collection of stories set around the supernatural Elliot family and the house they haunt.
This is a collection of seventeen dark short stories about dolls, puppets, mannequins, and anything with a human likeness.
Why I picked it up: I'm drawn toward creepy things, especially movies and books with dolls. I also love short stories so it feels like this book was created just for me. The book design is also spectacular, with a half porcelain doll head in the dirt on the cover.
Why I finished it: I was fully prepared to read a bunch of stories with a Chucky-esque feel. I would have been ok with that. Instead, I was treated to much more as the editor makes it very clear that the stories were selected to avoid the tired clichés of dolls and puppets on murderous rampages. There are stories about frozen human forms, dolls as kidnapping and murder victims, and even one that explores Georgian eye miniatures. I'd heard about saving locks of hair of loved ones, but small paintings of eyes was new to me.
There are stories from authors I've read: Carrie Vaughn and Joyce Carol Oates. The other contributors are: Tim Lebbon, Stephen Gallagher, Gemma Files, Pat Cadigan, Seanan McGuire, Stephen Graham Jones, Miranda Siemienowicz, Mary Robinette Kowal, Richard Bowes, Genevieve Valentine, Richard Kadrey, Lucy Sussex, Veronica Schanoes, John Langan, and Jeffrey Ford.
It’s perfect for: My friend Ian who once stayed with my parents after a surgery. My sister was in cosmetology school and had one of those practice heads propped up in the window. Poor Ian woke up in the middle of the night in a medicated haze to the mannequin head staring at him. No screaming was involved, but he didn't sleep the rest of the night. We laughed about that mannequin head for years after that.
The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D.) gathers information on and protects the U.S. from supernatural threats. These stories are from its early years.
Professer Bruttenholm travels to Berlin to find data about the Nazis' obsession with the occult -- and possibly about his adopted son, Hellboy. In an abandoned asylum, they find evidence of Hitler’s doomsday weapon: hundreds of mental patients who were altered with vampire blood and then frozen. They are starting to thaw.
The fledgling B.P.R.D. sends four American combat veterans to France to investigate a vampire who's been butchering prisoners. One of the men, Anders, is abducted and taken to a meeting of ancient vampires.
Anders is different, damaged by his experience in 1947. When the B.P.R.D. investigates a flying dragon and other mutated, freakish creatures near a military base, he seems to have a death wish.
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1952
Hellboy accompanies B.P.R.D. agents on his first mission. In a small village in Brazil, thirty-three people have been reported murdered by a supernatural creature. An old Portuguese fort that has been the site of terrible torture and killings is rumored to be haunted. But the investigation goes in a strange direction when they find some “insane Frankenstein crap.”
B.P.R.D.: 1946-1948 contains material originally published as B.P.R.D: 1946 #1-#5, 1947 #1-#5, 1948 #1-#5, and a few short pieces published elsewhere by Dark Horse. Each series was previously published as an individual book, too.
Hellboy and the B.P.R.D.: 1952 contains material originally published in a series of the same name, issues #1-#5.
Why I picked them up: As a birthday present to myself last month, I read every published volume of B.P.R.D. in order.
Why I finished them: All the books feature appearances by Varvara, one of the creepiest characters in the B.P.R.D. books. After WWII she was the Head of the USSR’s Arcane Studies and Esoteric Teachings Department. She looks like a pre-teen girl, complete with blond curls and a frilly dress, but it’s clear she’s much more than that -- she speaks with authority about all things supernatural, she comes and goes wherever and whenever she wants, and occasionally her eyes glow. In the present-day B.P.R.D. books, she’s imprisoned by a strong enchantment, waiting for her chance to escape, so it was great to have some insight into who she is and what she can do.
And then there are the parts of Hellboy’s backstory, from him as an older boy stealing cigarettes from his lifelong friend, B.P.R.D. agent Archie Muraro, to the visions of the apocalypse he is destined to bring about. These books are a great jumping-on point to the universe of Mignola’s stories.
Readalikes: I’ve really been enjoying the TV and comics adaptations of Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan’s The Strain, in which parasites transform people into vampires. They remind me of these books because they’re dark, apocalyptic, and even have a few laughs. There are few graphic novels about teams that work as well as the B.P.R.D. books do. If you prefer crime stories, try Gotham Central, about the regular cops in Batman’s city. If you prefer superhero teams, Nextwave: Agents of H.A.T.E. is one of the most original, well-written and well-drawn takes ever.
When Skye visits her dad and her new stepmother, she is reluctant to accept her new mom and calls her the "step-monster." Because of their acrimonious relationship, the step-monster wants to send Skye off to camp, any camp.
Skye arrives at Camp Midnight without knowing anyone, but meets a nice girl, Mia, and they decide to bunk together. At Camp Midnight, campers can only be themselves at night when they shed their human disguises and revert to their true, monstrous forms. Skye is uncomfortable showing anyone her real form because she isn’t a monster. (Mia has her reasons, too.) The two fall afoul of the popular monsters. As they compete in various competitions, Skye begins to realize that she needs to show everyone that she is just a human, and to be herself.
Why I picked it up: To be honest, I looked at the author's name and misread it as Steven Seagal. That would have made for an interesting (if not good) read. When I read closer, I noticed that Seagle was one of the creators of Big Hero Six, which sealed the deal for me as my family loves that movie.
Why I finished it: It has all the hallmarks of a traditional summer camp story: bunk battles, cabin cleanup, rigged competitions with other cabins, bonfires, etc. It manages to be sweet despite (and because of) the basilisks, werewolves, and vampires, who all act as normal kids would. Skye and Mia have a great relationship predicated on being the outsiders at camp. Skye has a crush on a hot boy, and I found it humorous that a skinny-dipping scene, which could have been quite inappropriate given how young the protagonists are, was age appropriate because the boy changed into his no-clothes-necessary werewolf form as he disrobed in front of Skye.
It’s perfect for: Jules, a fifth grader in my neighborhood whose parents are going through a divorce. Skye is only at camp because her parents are passing her around, and she bonds with Mia over their divorced parents. Yet the book ends on an upbeat note, with Skye finding a way to tolerate her stepmother and learning to appreciate the positives of having a split family.
Graphic novel follow-up to the illustrated Baltimore, or the Steadfast Tin Soldier & the Vampire by Mignola and Golden.
Lord Baltimore (bald, grim, a war veteran, an amputee, an aristocrat) continues to seek revenge by hunting the vampire Haigus and the undead on the French coast in 1916.
Contains Baltimore: The Plague Ships #1 - 5.
Why I picked it up: Baltimore doesn’t mess around. He’s not your average vampire fighter -- he carries a harpoon instead of a stake.
Why I finished it: The shadowy, stylized violence is extraordinary. I loved it when a few vampires tried to get away in a Zeppelin (but didn’t make it).
I'd give it to: My friend Abby, who used to host parties to watch Lost. She’d love the story of Baltimore shipwrecked on a cursed island, and she’d appreciate that it has a logical and coherent ending.