I like to read, and I read a lot. So hopefully I’ll have enough subject material to share. I don’t have any great themes ready yet, but I’m reminded of how Bill Gates and Paul Allen got their big break. They had launched Microsoft, but I believe they were a bit unready when IBM came calling and asked the young software company to provide the operating system for their Personal Computer. Microsoft had acquired an operating system called QDOS for Quick and Dirty Operating System, and that ended up being MS-DOS (the PC’s operating system) and the rest is history. So this will start out as a QD blog, and hopefully move forward from that.
Many folks have heard of or seen True Blood, an HBO series that ran seven seasons and garnered both an Emmy and a Golden Globe. Not me, never saw an episode. But the creator of the books behind the series, Charlaine Harris, spoke at a conference I went to last year, so I decided to read some of her titles. Although she’s written SIX series including the one “True Blood” was based on, I picked her most recent series on which to cut my teeth (no vampire pun intended).
Characters: a friendly witch, a “good” vampire, a female assassin for hire, an internet psychic who is also the real deal, and other perhaps even more strange residents of an extremely small rural town.
Setting: Midnight, Texas – a middle of nowhere, “wide spot in the road,” “sneeze and you’ll miss it” town. By the end of the trilogy it will become as much of a character as the macabre inhabitants.
Audience: mystery readers, supernatural aficionados, and/or folks who grew up or spent time in miniscule rural communities.
Essentially, the residents of Midnight do what they can to keep their town and themselves “off the map” despite forces almost, but not quite, beyond their control.
I’d recommend all three books of the trilogy, as there really was not a drop off in quality in my opinion. It wraps up fairly neatly, with the multitude of mysteries and questions raised in book one almost all answered by the conclusion of the third and final title.
Check out the first book (in print, Large Print, or in eBook format) from FRL and let me know what you think!
I’ve done over 50 blog posts in my career here at Fontana Regional Library. 50! Seems like a lot. The reason I bring this up is because this post that you are reading right now is my last. I am leaving the library and we are moving across the country (2,674 miles to be exact). And by we I mean me, my wife Christina, who co-wrote the early blogs, and Bellatrix.
So then, what shall we talk about? I thought of a few things, like talking about my favorite books once again, or reminiscing about previous posts. I discarded those ideas, because they don’t take us anywhere. Been there, done that.
Next I thought about the identity of the blog, and specifically my posts. What have I been trying to achieve? What was the point? The answer is obvious. Glaringly, blindingly obvious. The answer is books. Sure, I ventured off the beaten trail a few times (and note how I am avoiding referencing previous posts. They are there. You can find them yourself if you want), but the main focus was always books. It is always gratifying when someone likes or shares or comments on a post, but when someone says they read one of the books I suggested? That is sublime.
I already said I wasn’t going to prattle on about books I already prattled on about, and a couple of posts back I talked about the miscellaneous titles I hadn’t gotten around to talking about yet. So what am I going to talk about? Nothing. Okay, that is a gross oversimplification. If you think you are getting out of this without me slipping in some of my favorites, you are crazy. What I really mean is that I am going to let others do the talking.
I asked a few of my co-workers if they wanted to suggest a title or two, or three, or four in one case *coughEmilycough*. The idea is that while I may not be around to give you reading recommendations, there are lots of other people who are. Remember, these are their words, not mine.
I picked this up while thinking ahead about an upcoming League of Women Voters book and movie display, since one of the characters is a former suffragette, and I thought it might complement the Carey Mulligan/Helena Bonham Carter movie we’ll be showing.
This quiet little book just ended, and burst my heart wide open! Books that make me cry are highly recommended.
Emily at Hudson recommends Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – and not just because they share the same name! Station Eleven is well-written, easy-to-read, and considers the importance of Art as an essential part of survival in a post-apocalyptic (so to speak) world.
This spectacular work covers a single day at the WTO protests in Seattle and forces readers to empathize with characters they would not normally identify with – which is arguably an essential function of great literature.
I have a lot of favorite movies and books, but there aren’t many that have actually affected me in such a way that I remember the first time I experienced them. In fact, I can only think of two.
For both times, I was in high school. The first memory was when I was fourteen, and was out walking with my friend. Neither of us had a car or even a license, so we ended up walking to the movie theater (we had missed a bus to something and therefore had all day to kill). After buying a ticket for a PG movie, we snuck into Pulp Fiction (don’t do this at home, kids!).
My friend and I sat in a mostly empty theater, stunned by the violence, unforgettable characters, and sharp dialogue. We laughed when others gasped and left the theater grinning from ear to ear. I remember thinking, “when I create something, I want to have an impact like that”. It’s still one of my favorite movies.
The second memory involves my favorite all time comic, George Carlin. I was in a bookstore with two friends (one was the Pulp Fiction fellow sneaker), and we spotted Brain Droppings. Curious, I picked it up and began reading it out loud. Soon we were all hysterical, and I made a beeline for the checkout counter. I ended up reading most of it to my friends during lunch but had to stop because we were laughing so hard our stomachs began hurting. I still have the book, and it still makes me laugh.
It was quite startling to listen to Bowie’s final CD and realize that as much credit as he was given we may still have underappreciated him. An astounding piece of work.
Okay, that last one was me. I want to thank everyone for contributing, and hope some of you readers read some of their reading recommendations. I know I will.
Speaking of thanks, there are a few personal ones I want to pass out. I would beg your indulgence, but this is still my blog, so I can do what I want. First, my wife Christina, without whom none of this would have happened. Sounds cliche, I know, but I wouldn’t have started blogging at all if she hadn’t done it with me. Plus she has had to listen to me bounce ideas off of her ever since. Thank you, and I love you. And a shout out to our cats, Bellatrix, Scrambles the Death Dealer, and Siouxsie, who if nothing else provided plenty of pictures for the blog.
Thanks to Don, the first blog admin I had. He provided lots of support and help as I started writing, not to mention spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out how I could use spoilers in a post.
Thanks to all the other Shelf Life in the Mountains blog contributors, especially the current ones, Amy and Stephen. Besides her excellent writing, Amy is also the “looks” of the organization. By which I mean she created the new logo, and she creates the images for each new post that we use on the library website. Thanks Amy! And Stephen…well Stephen just keeps going like clockwork. I feel like that in 50 years from now he will still be educating and entertaining us with new posts.
Finally, thanks most of all to the readers. Whether you are a long time aficionado or first time peruser, I want to thank each and every one of you for taking a few minutes (or a bunch of minutes when it comes to some of my posts) to take a look. None of this happens without your support. We have had readers from near and far, and I hope all of you got something worthwhile out of it. Thank you all.
Just one more thing. I promise! It is easy enough to find bestseller lists and classics and such. One thing I always liked was being able to point people towards good books they may not have found otherwise. So I conclude with a list of some of my favorites, many of which I think not enough people are aware of. No Commentary, just a list and a final bit of wisdom: keep reading!
Ah, that rare moment when it happens. You start reading a book, and at some point (usually early on) you realize that it isn’t a book at all, but a BOOK. A revelation. A work of art. This doesn’t happen often, and many times it is by chance. It is wonderful to be surprised in such a way. This happened to me not long ago, and that book kicks off our third annual Random Book Day blog.
I could start by saying that Here is a graphic novel, but that is so limiting. Graphic novels (and I blogged about them before) simply tells us the format of this book. It has pictures. It is illustrated. A much better descriptor of Here is “literary force of nature”.
Here tells the story of a particular room, or more accurately a particular place. Each page is like a snapshot of the room at a different period in time, from the distant past to the far future, but mostly focusing on the last 100 years or so. We can see what was happening there throughout the years, and see the people who were there. Birth, death, happiness and sorrow. Ultimately the story is not as much about the room but about the life that happens there, and believe me life suffuses this book start to finish. Maguire both wrote and illustrated it, and I think he deserves a medal.
I finished reading it while on my lunch break, and it is a good thing I did so because otherwise I would have been late coming back. There was no way I was not going to stop reading it. It wasn’t just my favorite book of the year, it was the best book I read this year.
Speaking of rooms, my next book is called, umm, Room. It is told from the perspective of Jack, a five year old, which that alone would be interesting, but Jack’s life is not typical. He has spent his entire life, all five years, in the same room. His mother was kidnapped and imprisoned in the room by the only other real life person Jack has ever seen, Old Nick. Jack does not realize this man is his father via the rape of his mother.
Okay, you can tell already that this is an intense story. I had reservations about reading something that would be such a downer, but it came well recommended. As in I asked my wife for something to read and she literally stuck this in my hand. While it is intense, everything being filtered through the innocence of Jack (who thinks the entire world is contained within the room) softens the blows a bit. And, mild spoiler alert here, when they escape Jack is thrust into a world of wonder that also terrifies him.
The emotional impact of the book can be rough at times but it is well worth the effort. Many others would second this. And now there is a movie of the book, starring the talented Brie Larson, that is on my must watch list.
And now for something completely different. McCrumb mostly writes contemporary historical fiction set in the Appalachian Mountains. This is not one of those books. It is a murder mystery set at a science fiction convention. A prickly author is killed, and the convention attendees are left to both keep the show going and try to discover who the killer is.
Bimbos (the title is the name of a book one of the protagonists had written) serves as a perfectly fine mystery, but also realistically captures the feel of both the setting and the people who inhabit it. There are a lot of stereotypes involved, but McCrumb never makes them seem cliche. Plus, just like me, you can learn about filk music (that is not a typo).
This book may seem at first to be lowbrow, especially considering the pulp style cover, but it rises well above the masses. In fact, it won an Edgar Award. A good choice to do some genre breaking. it is also fun to see the differences in technology, such as a lead character talking about this new thing called email they are using at the university he teaches at.
Hobbs debut novel is quite impressive. Jack is a career criminal, a ghostman, a man who can hide in plain sight and disappear without a trace after a job is finished. Jack is very good at his job, but a mistake he made years ago comes back to haunt him, and to pay off his debt he is off to clean up a botched New Jersey casino heist. Of course the job is not as straightforward as it sounds, and Jack has to use all of his skills to come out alive.
Hobbs does a great job of keeping the suspense high, and of giving an inside view of how a man like Jack operates. I was honestly surprised that a new writer could craft a book is such a masterful way. Fans of Lee Child and Robert Stark are doing themselves a grave disservice by not reading this. Granted, the follow up Vanishing Games certainly falls short of the high mark set by Ghostman, but I am still looking forward to what else Hobbs produces.
In Red by Magdalena Tulli, translated from the Polish by Bill Johnston
I mentioned I was going to read this not long ago, and indeed I did read it. And it was good enough to add to this list. Set in a small town in Poland in the early 20th century, In Red is a mixture of gritty realism and fancy surrealism. I found myself reminded of The Grand Budapest Hotel in some ways, and also of Salvador Plascencia’s wonderful book The People of Paper. Bouncing from character to character, one scene will be a straight telling of standard doings in the town and the next will feature something like a girl whose heart had stopped refusing to die and going about her regular routine of reading French romance novels, or a bullet that was fired years ago striking someone after completing its circumnavigation of the globe.
I started to grow disheartened as the end of the book, as it all seemed to be heading towards an incredibly sad ending, but Tulli reminds us that these are all just stories, and that stories are told in many different ways. This book is told in a very entertaining way, and my hat is off to both Tulli and Johnston, who translated it so well. Also, I don’t typically wear hats.
I feel a bit bad for this book, because Cline’s first one, Ready Player One, was not only a really fun read but had such a distinctive voice to it that it makes it hard for Armada to get out from under its shadow. Nevertheless, Armada is a fine read, a rollicking sci fi adventure that does some clever lampshading.
Zack is a pretty standard high school kid. Having lost his father at a young age he has some anger issues to deal with, which gives his character depth that many teens depicted in fiction do not. He of course spends a lot of time playing video games, and one day while sitting in class he looks out the window and sees a spaceship directly out of Armada, his favorite game. It turns out that the game all along was intended as a training simulator for an inevitable alien invasion. Zack, being one of the best players in the game, is recruited along with many others to combat the alien threat.
The book stays focused on Zack, but because of his skills and his background he is exposed to the highest levels of the military and we get to follow both his story and the big picture of the invasion. Armada is filled with sci fi and 80s references, but not to a distracting degree, and not to a level that you feel like you are missing out if you don’t get all of them. I also really liked how Cline pokes some good natured fun at the genre. Zack realizes quickly that this invasion has massive plot holes in it, much like so many books and movies do, and he starts asking questions and doubting the official narrative. A fun read, and one that has a bit more depth than is first evident.
Well, enough of the fun and whimsical reads. Swan Song is horror, and lives up to the genre. It tells the story of survivors of a nuclear war who find themselves on the opposite sides of a conflict between good and evil. Sounds a bit like Stephen King’s The Stand you might be thinking, and you would be right to a degree, although Swan Song is certainly not a derivative work.
One thing that happens is that many of the characters start being afflicted by growths that cover much of their bodies, especially their faces. In this way even some of the good guys have the outward appearance of monsters for much of the story. On one side is the girl Swan, who has the power to bring life back to sticken plants, and her ex-wrestler protector Josh. On the other side is former survivalist Colonel Macklin, and his protegee, a teen by the name of Roland who shows us that real monstrosity comes from within.
Swan Song is a long book, and set in the 1980s it is a bit dated now. Plus you really have to wait for the payoff at the end. But that payoff is certainly worth it. In fact it was the co-winner of the first Bram Stoker Award, along with King’s Misery, so that should give you an idea of the quality of this book.
So in full disclosure I will say that I work with someone who is related to the author. That being said, I wouldn’t talk about this book if it wasn’t any good. The title is pretty self explanatory. Waring Wax is the proprietor of a small independent video store in a small college town in North Carolina. Wax muddles drunkenly through life without much concern until threatened by the arrival of a shiny new Blockbuster across the street.
See what Hawkins did there? This is a new book, published in early 2015, and we all know that there are no more Blockbuster stores anymore (sort of). Hawkins presents a standard enough story that has a lot of non standard elements. Wax has to overcome his personal issues, and his employees who chip in to help have to overcome theirs. Throw in a director of a movie being filmed in town who believes himself haunted by the ghost of Alfred Hitchcock and you end up with quite the tale.
Hawkins has said he was influenced by the BBC bookstore comedy Black Books, but I think there is some A Confederacy of Dunces in their too, and there is nothing wrong with that. Plus it has a really cool cover.
This was my favorite book of the year up until the point I read Here. I wouldn’t have said it was the best book I had read, but I sure did enjoy it. Like Ghostman above it is a debut novel, and it was recommended to me by the same person who recommended Ghostman. Hmm, there is another book on my list he told me about. I think I ought to read that one too.
The Rook is the story of a woman who awakens in a muddy park surrounded with bodies and with her memory largely gone. She finds a letter in her pocket addressed to her that starts explaining things. Her name is Myfanwy (sounds like Tiffany) Thomas, and she works for a secret British organization that is basically a supernatural MI6. She herself is a high ranking member of the unit, a Rook. The memory loss was the result of an attack by a rival, and anticipating it she had written the letter in the pocket, and many others as well, so her future self might have a chance to survive. And to track down her assailant, an enemy who poses a threat not just to her but to the Britain itself.
On the surface one might think this was a version of James Bond crossed with Lara Croft, but it isn’t really. Myfanwy is not so much the action type, and in fact previously was loathe to use her powers. Her new self, however, isn’t as timid, much to the chagrin of her enemies and rivals.
I liked the various powers characters had. Many felt fresh in a genre where it seems like we have seen it all before. The book does have a conclusive ending, but is well suited for a sequel(s). Something I am eagerly awaiting.
Well, that wraps up Random Book Day 2015. I hope you’ll find your own random, or not so random, reads this year that will make you want to share them with the world.
My wife and I enjoy watching Jeopardy, and one night recently the current phenom contestant correctly answered a question relating to the Russian novel Fathers and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev. Coincidentally I came across that book the next day here at the library. When I mentioned this to my wife she asked what it was about. I told her “nihilism” and she is now reading it. In solidarity I grabbed for myself a Polish novel called In Red, by Magdalena Tulli Since I haven’t finished it yet I can’t tell you much about it, but I can tell you about some other foreign books I have read (and haven’t previously blogged about).
There are a few things I like in particular about foreign books. They often have a certain feel to them, a difference in perspective than what we are used to. This is similar to what you see in many foreign films. An example of this is in the great movie Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon. Near the end Michelle Yeoh’s character (and I am quite the Michelle Yeoh fan) rides off to the village in search of the antidote for the poisoned Chow Yun-fat. Sitting there in the theater my first thought was that of course she would succeed in obtaining it. That is how movies work. But then I remembered that I wasn’t watching a Hollywood blockbuster, and that the ending was actually in doubt, which made the film’s conclusion that much more riveting.
I also enjoy the settings in these books. Not only are the cultures different, but so is the food and the money and other things. You can learn a lot of new things from them. But that isn’t the real reason I am talking about them. The real reason is that they are good books. Next time you are in the mood to read something different, consider giving one of these a try.
엄마를 부탁해 (Please Look After Mom) by Kyung-sook Shin, translated from the Korean by Chi-Young Kim. This award winning book, which has sold over two million copies worldwide, tells the story of a Korean family searching for their mother who disappeared on a Seoul subway platform. Switching between the viewpoints of the adult children and of the mother’s (via flashbacks) it is a story of coming to terms with loss, and recognizing things you should have appreciated better. An insightful and moving book.
オール・ユー・ニード・イズ・キル (All You Need Is Kill) by Hiroshi Sakurazaka, translated from the Japanese by Alexander O. Smith. I saw the Hollywood blockbuster movie version first, titled Edge of Tomorrow and starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. The movie exceeded my expectations, so I decided to read the book. Both versions tell the same basic story, with the lead character being Japanese in the book and American in the movie. This is a tale of war, with an invasion of time-shifting aliens threatening the Earth, and our hero being of the unexpected type. Time travel stories are tricky, but this book handles it well, and is exciting and balanced. Not too surprisingly, the movie has a different ending, although I found both satisfying enough. There is also a graphic novel version.
Damage by Jacqueline Harte . Hey, the United Kingdom is a foreign country to me, so that counts, and Harte was Irish. Told through the narration of the unnamed lead character, this is a sordid tale. A well respected doctor goes into politics, and seems to be living the life, with a lovely wife and two beautiful and successful grown children. When his son starts seeing a mysterious older woman, he himself enters into an affair with her, and to no one’s surprise disaster ensues. Harte lets us know right away that this is not a happy ending story, and we are left to follow along helplessly, awaiting the fate that is coming. Both the different political system and viewpoints in Britain and the age of the book (published in 1991) give this novel that foreign feeling.
みずうみ (The Lake) by Banana Yoshimoto, translated from the Japanese by Michael Emmerich. Yoshimoto’s Kitchen is an all time favorite of mine, and while The Lake may not quite be its equal it is still a good read. On one level this is a story of loss, as protagonist Chihiro deals with the death of her mother. On another level it is very eerie, as Chihiro becomes involved with a man who years ago was involved with a strange cult. As usual Yoshimoto brings her characters vividly to life, making even the mundane aspects of their lives pop off the page, which makes the supernatural underpinnings that much spookier.
Människohamn (Harbor) by John Ajvide Lindqvist, translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy. This one has similarities to The Lake, with personal tragedies, a solid realistic setting, and a background of paranormal, but is also completely different. Lindqvist tells a chilling tale (get it? Chilling? Set in Sweden?) that starts when Anders and Cecilia take their six year old daughter across the ice to visit a lighthouse, only to have the girl vanish seemingly into thin air. Later Anders, now divorced and a drinker, returns to the area to look for clues. He finds many a creepy mystery in the town. Something odd has been happening here for years, something dark and perhaps not of this world. Harbor mixes the ordinary, including many flashbacks to an 80s childhood (hope you like The Smiths) with hints of the paranormal, making for quite the interesting tale.
The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia. Technically this is not a foreign novel. It was written in English by an American author. But it still fits in very nicely with the other books on this list. Plascencia was born in Mexico before moving to the US as a boy, and that Latino culture fills much of this book. It also has that “different” feel, as this is a work of experimental fiction. The plot revolves around Federico de la Fe and his war against the planet Saturn. The novel plot (pun again intended) is accentuated by the physical form of the book, with text laid out in different ways, some areas blacked out, and one character’s name literally cut out of the book. Kudos to my wife for finding this brilliant book and making me read it.
Please share with me what foreign novels you recommend, and if you need more here are ones I’ve blogged about before:
After I posted my last blog about book-to-movie adaptations I was, unsurprisingly, asked what I thought about the Gone Girl film. I hadn’t talked about Gone Girl in that post since I have mentioned Gillian Flynn’s work more than once lately. The answer to the question was that I thought it was not only a good film but a good adaptation of the book as well. Which it should have been considering who the screenwriter was. With Gone Girl we have the trifecta: great book, great movie, great soundtrack.
One of the things we do here at the library is a service called “Reader’s Advisory”. In a nutshell this is when someone comes in and asks for a book similar to the one they just read, or for an author that writes like their favorite does, and we find them something new to read. This can be pretty easy or a real challenge, depending on how unique the original book or author is. A great example is To Kill A Mockingbird, which has no true equivalent. Over the years I have had many people ask for something like it, and I can only shake my head sadly and point them towards works that pale in comparison.
Which brings us back to the point. If you did like Gone Girl there are some other books that I think you will like. My wife refers to them as “dark fiction”, which seems as good a name as any other. They all have a similar feel, and they have some recurring themes as well. The protagonists tend to be damaged in some way, whether it be through memory loss, or psychological trauma, or addictions, or just making bad decisions. They are all flawed. Also, we see “regular” people doing bad things, particularly murder. We aren’t dealing with mastermind serial killers or super hacker terrorists. The characters, both good and bad, are grounded in reality. Plus the ladies are just as likely to be the bad guy as the men are. These books can be classified as some mix of (murder) mysteries or thrillers, but the focus is on the people and not the crimes.
Rachel, the lead character in Hawkins debut novel, has issues. Shattered by her divorce, she drinks herself into blackouts during which bad things happen. The train that she takes into London stops each day at the same place, where she can look upon a couple enjoying their back deck. A couple that lives only a few doors down from her old house, where her ex-husband still lives with his new wife and baby. Rachel invents stories about this couple to occupy herself. One morning she sees the wife kissing a different man, and the next day the wife goes missing.
Told through the perspectives of Rachel, Megan (the missing woman), and Anna (Rachel’s ex’s new wife), Hawkins does a nice job of building suspense through flashbacks and foreshadowing. As the end approaches you as the reader are left trying to determine which of these women, or the men in their lives, is the villain of the story.
Another debut novel, this time set near Dublin, Ireland. In 1984 three 12 year olds went out to play in the woods near the Knocknaree housing estate. Only one, Adam, is found, his shoes full of blood and his memory of what happened gone. Twenty some years later in the same area another 12 year old is struck down, although this time her body is found. Murder Squad detectives Rob and Cassie are assigned to the case. Is there a connection to the previous incident?
Yes there is. Rob is in actuality Adam, now sporting an English accent thanks to boarding school, and with no one except his partner knowing the truth. He remains on the case, hoping that his past might help to find a killer, and help him discover what happened all those years ago. Many secrets are uncovered, but not the ones that are needed. The stress of the case and Rob’s erratic memory lead him to making poor decisions, ones that come with real consequences.
Rob says right at the beginning that he is a liar, and that and the tease of supernatural events helps turn this from a standard police procedural into something more. I also liked how the police were competent in the story. Too often police, FBI, or whomever are shown as bumbling idiots. Do be warned that French uses a lot of words. Her style takes a bit of getting used to.
Okay, I promise this is coincidental! The Silent Wife is yet another debut novel. Jodi is a middle aged woman, happy in her carefully structured life, and is a successful psychologist. She knows that her husband Todd cheats on her, but it is okay as long as he follows her protocols and the illusion is maintained. But the illusion is just, hmm, an illusion. Jodi is not as secure as she thinks, evidenced by her secret petty acts of revenge on Todd, things like taking the key to his office building off of his keychain while he sleeps. And when Todd goes too far with his latest infidelity lines are crossed, and the dissolution of their marriage will not be pretty. Or safe.
The Silent Wife is told alternately through both Jodi’s and Todd’s perspectives. You get to see the rationalizing they engage in. And you get to see how bright, smart, and (in her case, at least) educated people can make bad choices that take them to dark places.
A young woman, daughter of a famous but reclusive cult film director, commits suicide. Or did she? Scott, a reporter who lost his job (and his marriage) due to his investigations of the director, isn’t so sure. Assisted by a wannabee and boisterous actress and a “friend” with plenty of secrets, Scott makes an effort to uncover the truth, both about the suicide and about the family.
Some stories start out complicated and as the end nears they narrow down. Night Film goes the other way, getting more convoluted, and more intriguing, as it progresses. Pessl also incorporates multimedia elements into the book, allowing the reader to deeply immerse themselves into the story. This one is as much Stephen King as it is Gillian Flynn.
Originally I had planned to write just about the four books above, but as I got on with it I decided to add in this one as well, and not just because it was another debut novel (although Larsson had co-authored several non-fiction books previously). This was a big time best seller, and many of you may have already read it, but thinking about it I felt it fit the theme too well to leave out.
Mikael is a magazine publisher who is convicted for libel against a rich and powerful industrialist. After serving his sentence he is offered a chance at redemption, after a fashion. A retired businessman hires him to investigate the disappearance of his grandniece, an event that occurred decades ago. Part of the payment will be damaging information against the man Mikael had libeled. As he starts uncovering family secrets he enlists the help of a computer technician, a gifted and very mentally damaged young woman named Lisbeth, the inked girl of the books title. Together they discover that some dark deeds are never forgotten, and that some people will go to lethal lengths to try and keep them buried.
The book is set in Sweden, which is neat. This is story that shows that not only can people you think are normal turn out to be abnormal and evil, but also that people can overcome the horrors inflicted upon them and become the hero. Or heroine. Sort of. Oh, and I am clearly not the only one who likens this to Gone Girl, as David Fincher directed both movies (and Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross did both soundtracks).
Five books that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and are likely to keep you up past your bedtime turning the pages. You can also try these Young Adult books that are in the same vein, although not quite as dark and with tamer content.
And finally the magazine Dark Scribe used to give out the Black Quill award to dark fiction. You can check out their lists of winners and nominees for some more good reading options, but bear in mind their definition includes some true horror titles.
All of these titles can found in the library catalog here:
It is that time of the year, pumpkins (and pumpkin drinks), leaves, and of course, Halloween. So I thought I would whip up a concoction of spine tingling reads, a variety of chills for whatever your horror mood is. On this list you’ll find classics and new books, vampires and ghosts (but no zombies; I just did them), books for the young and the old, famous authors (and their children) and not so well known ones, bloody scares and psychological ones, and plenty more. Put on your pointy hat, get your skeletons out of the closet, and read ahead if you dare. Just make sure to leave the light on.
H.P. Lovecraft is one of the masters of horror. This book reads to me much like Lovecraft. The protagonist (only referred to as “the biologist”) is part of a government sponsored expedition into mysterious Area X. It is the 12th such group to enter, following in the footsteps of 11 failed ones. They quickly find that things are more mysterious than they could have ever guessed, as reality itself seems to change, and our heroine slowly reveals her own secrets.
Documentary filmmaker Kyle Freeman is hired to do a movie about a notorious 1970s cult known as the Temple of the Last Days. As he retraces their troubled past he starts seeing unsettling and impossible things on his recordings. And he soon finds that escaping this evil is much harder than just turning off his camera.
If you want to see how the son of a master writes, try:
For those, like me, who have trouble figuring out what those clever personalized license plates are supposed to mean, NOS4A2 equals Nosferatu. And indeed, the villain in this excellent book, Charles Talent Manx, has some similarities to the Nosferatu of film fame. Joe Hill, by the way, is the son of Stephen and Tabitha King. His writing certainly lives up to the lofty standards set by his parents.
Manx travels around in his Rolls-Royce Wraith abducting children. One these kids, Victoria McQueen, escapes his clutches, although at a heavy price. Years later Manx is on the prowl again, and Vic once again finds herself caught up in his diabolical machinations, fighting against an enemy that is much more than just a man.
First off let me point out that this volume collects issues #9-16 of The Sandman comic book. Preludes and Nocturnes, the preceding volume, is a great read, has plenty of scary moments, and lays the background, but I put The Doll’s House on this list because it is, to me, more of a horror read. You can read more of what I have to say about The Sandman and graphic novels in general here.
We have in here trappings of a ghost story, with strange inhabitants of a boarding house; we have mystical figures with Dream and his siblings; we have a convention of serial killers; and we have The Corinthian, a nightmare come to life. Just hope that he doesn’t take off his sunglasses.
The Haunting of Hill House was published in 1959, and has been made into two feature films (the 1963version is scary; the 1999 one…not so much, although it does have Liam Neeson not killing everything in sight and Owen Wilson getting decapitated). But the story is not dated.
In the book a paranormal investigator invites several guests to stay with him in an old creepy mansion. Right on cue supernatural shenanigans start occurring. Or do they? They mostly center around Eleanor, and Jackson does a wondrous job of raising the sense of terror without us ever really getting a good look, if you will, of any ghosts. It becomes difficult to tell what is real and what is in the minds of the characters. Spoiler alert: you are still left wondering at the end.
If you want to read a lesser known work by one of the greats, try:
You could write books about the books Mr. King has written. Plenty of book lists have The Stand or The Shining or It on them. I decided to talk about one of his other books. A family driving cross-country is pulled over by the police in the little town of Desperation, Nevada. They soon learn that the policeman isn’t just homicidal, but the vessel for a much greater evil. They have only a short time to desperately escape Desperation.
King does what he does so well in this one, foreshadowing bad things to come. But what really elevates Desperation is the companion novel The Regulators, written under his Richard Bachman pseudonym. The Regulators is a mirror of Desperation, set in Ohio, with many of the same characters but in different roles, such as the children in one book being the parents in the other. You can read either one first.
There was a TV movie made of Desperation, but I haven’t seen it. Let me know if it is any good.
If you want to know if the book is scarier than the movie, try:
The Exorcist is widely regarded as one of the scariest movies ever made. How scary is the book? First off it was the basis for the movie (duh), and secondly it is based on an actual exorcism performed in 1949. Make no mistake, this is a work of fiction, but Blatty did his research and presents a chillingly realistic tale.
Blatty also wrote the screenplay for the movie, and for other movies as well.
Full disclaimer here: American Psycho is one messed up book. It is certainly the most extreme title on this list. You will need a strong stomach to finish it. The depictions of violence against women (and men) in this book are severe. But that is not what this book is all about.
Patrick Bateman is an investment banker in the late 80s, living the life of women and drugs and money. He is also an insane killer. He shows as much pleasure in shiny new business cards as he does in dismembering people. As the story progresses more and more bizarre things occur, such as Bateman arguing with a dry cleaner about their inability to get blood stains off his suits, and interludes that are in depth reviews of the works of Whitney Houston and Phil Collins. In the end you can’t be sure how much of what Bateman tells us is real and how much is in his mind. Either option is terrifying.
This book is quite controversial. A neat bit of trivia is that Gloria Steinem, who was very opposed to the release of the book, is the stepmother of Christian Bale, who plays Bateman in the well done film version.
Set in southern Appalachia, the tiny town of Winshake is home to moonshiners, loggers, and trailer parks. It is also the new home of something…else. Something that crashed into the mountains and that now needs to feed. Tamara Leon, a local teacher, finds herself caught up in the fight to discover, and defeat, the invader.
The Harvest is filled with fully fleshed out characters, bringing a level of realism that makes this book that much more scarier, especially for mountain folk.
Innocence was described to me as “Rosemary’s Baby, with vampires”. Sold! Fourteen year old Beckett has a hard enough time in life. Her mother dies in an accident, she is sent to a new school, etc etc a lot of teen drama. But then the strange starts. Girls at school follow through on their suicide pacts and kill themselves. She has nightmares, devastating nightmares beyond the norm. And is that frozen blood in the freezer?
Innocence melds teen angst, pop culture, and critique of teen entitlement marvelously.
If you want to read a post-apocalyptic scare, try:
Okay, so The Road doesn’t have any ghosts, or zombies, or vampires, or aliens, or clowns. It has a man and his son, walking on a road. Big deal, right? Well the road is pretty dirty… There has been some type of cataclysm, perhaps nuclear. Most life is gone, and the oncoming winter promises to be lethal. The pair are heading south as quickly as they can, avoiding the predators that lurk about, men and women who will do anything to survive, namely by eating people.
This is a sparse harrowing tale of a world nearing its end. A great example of a different way to give readers chills.
Harper Curtis was nothing much until he found that key. The key that opened up a house that lets him time travel! But there is a cost. Harper is now compelled to track down the shining girls and to murder them. Kirby Mazrachi was the one who got away. And now she is hunting him.
The Shining Girls is as much thriller as horror novel, a surreal genre-bending mystery, and a book that will have readers hunting down Beukes’ other works.
If you want to read a book with a serial killer, try:
There are plenty of other books that probably fit the serial killer spot on this list better (The Silence of the Lambs, anybody?), but Flynn’s debut novel is too good to leave off. With the movie of Flynn’s wonderful bestseller Gone Girl out here’s hoping this one gets some more attention.
Camille Preaker is a newspaper journalist in Chicago who is sent to the tiny southern town of Wind Gap to report on the killings of two girls. Straightforward enough. Of course Camille is sent because she is from Wind Gap. Her mother owns much of the town. Her half sister is at turns loving and manipulative. Camille focuses on herself so much, dealing with her family, drinking heavily, resisting cutting more words into herself, that the horrors lying under the surface creep up unnoticed.
On the surface this seems like a teen book. It isn’t. 12 year old Oskar is bullied at school and comes from a broken home. When Eli moves in next door, things start to change. Because Eli is a vampire. She helps Oskar deal with the bullies and other issues, and they become close. But being a vampire isn’t easy, and not everyone gets a happy ending.
This Swedish novel competently tackles many issues, such as bullying, alcoholism, and paedophilia, in addition to being a cracking good vampire story. There have been two film versions, a Swedish one and an American one (titled Let Me In, and set in New Mexico), and both are worth a watch.
If you want to read a book with children behaving badly, try:
Lord of the Flies? Really? In a horror blog? Long before we had children killing each other for sport in The Hunger Games, we had Lord of the Flies. And this book is scary. Many of us read it in school and perhaps our young minds didn’t fully appreciate it. These kids turn savage. It is shocking how quickly the little society they are forced to form turns bad.
I read it twice in school, in 8th and 12th grade. My 12th grade teacher was incensed that 8th graders were given this book to read. Pretty sure Stephen King read this in school as well. Where do you think Castle Rock comes from?
What things make children feel safe? I would say two of the biggest things are home and mother. Coraline turns this on its head.
Coraline’s parents move with her out to the country, renting a flat in an old house filled with eccentric neighbors. While exploring Coraline finds her way into a mirror world, where her “other mother” dotes on her and everything seems wonderful. The fact that her other mother and other father have buttons for eyes is the first clue that things are not so wonderful after all.
Another entry on the list without monsters lurking in the shadows. In the not too distant future the United States government had been overthrown and a theocracy has taken its place. With sterility common due to rampant pollution and disease, high ranking members of the ruling Sons of Jacob utilize the services of Handmaidens, who are essentially concubines. Offred, the heroine of our story, is one of these Handmaidens.
Offred, a college student before the revolution, gives us an inside view of this new society, and we see that many talk the talk of their religion but do not walk the walk. Scary in its plausibility, and in the fear of the loss of freedoms. Similar in tone is When She Woke, by Hillary Jordan, that is more contemporary and focuses closely on reproductive rights.
We are all familiar with the tales of those big box stores coming to town and forcing the small local shops out of business. But what if that big store wanted more than just profits? What if the Store wanted everything, including our lives and souls?
Little, an accomplished horror writer, takes a strained premise and turns it into a smart and scary read. The good writers make us believe in the unbelievable, and that is the case here.
If you want a book that comes highly recommended, try:
While researching this blog I looked at lots of lists of best horror books, and The Ruins was one that showed up on an awful lot of them. I haven’t read it yet, but I am taking the recommendations of fellow horror fans and putting it on my list of books to read.
I also haven’t seen the movie, but I understand that they changed the ending.
Seems to me that if you can’t find a good read in that list for those dark and stormy nights then maybe horror is not for you. Let me know what you think of this list, and share your own recommendations for scary reads.
A list of the titles mentioned in this blog can be found here:
Zombies! They just won’t go away, both in the stories featuring them and in popular culture. Now we could engage in a long discussion as to why zombies strike a chord with us, how they reach a primal part of our psyche, how an unrelenting, implacable, remorseless enemy that cannot be reasoned with is so terrifying, and so on. But instead I am just going to give you a top 15 countdown of good zombie reads.
Whether you like your zombies slow or fast, created by government scientists or plants or space viruses, mindless or intelligent or what have you, there should be something you find…palatable…in this list.
#15 Death Troopers, by Joe Schreiber
What better way to kick off our zombie list than with Star Wars. I’ll let that sink in for a moment. Set about a year prior to Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, it tells the tale of poor souls trapped on an Imperial prison barge that is overrun with zombies. The chief medical officer leads the survivors on a desperate mission for escape with the help of a certain scoundrel and his furry companion, a pair well known to all Star Wars fans.
The prequel to Death Troopers, Red Harvest, is set 3500+(!) years earlier. It feels a little more zombieish to me, but the Star Wars setting in that one will be less familiar to most readers.
This is an anthology of zombie stories featuring some top echelon authors, including Stephen King, George R. R. Martin, and Neil Gaiman. As with many anthologies the stories vary in quality and style, but most are well worth the read. The opener, “This Year’s Class Picture”, by Dan Simmons, is perhaps the best.
The second volume I haven’t gotten to read yet, but seeing how it features stories from several authors that appear on this very list I will surely get to it soon.
An interesting thing about zombies is that they are more varied in books and movies than we realize. In this particular case people are driven into a zombie-like madness from using their (no real spoiler here considering the title) cell phones. Those who avoid being afflicted have to fight for survival versus more than one type of threat in a world rapidly disintegrating.
This may not be King’s best work, but is still a good read. And it is notably shorter than many of his other books, so it is a pretty quick read as well.
#12 Devil’s Wake, by Steven Barnes and Tananarive Due
Barnes and Due, both accomplished writers on their own (and also married to each other) collaborate on this solid zombie tale. A group of teens must use all their wits to cross zombie filled territory to reach the promise of a safe haven.
While the zombies at first seem to be pretty standard, virus-infected biting killers, they turn out to be something more. To find out exactly what the zombies are you’ll need to read all the books in the series.
When the zombie outbreak occurs Allison Hewitt finds herself trapped in a bookstore. Not the worst place to start the end of days, I suppose. Allison and her fellow survivors make a good go of living in the shop, but must soon venture out into the world, facing not only zombies but the evil that lurks in humans as well.
If you like Allison’s story you can followup with Sadie Walker is Stranded, Roux’s second zombie book.
A small town sheriff, still recovering from her tour in Iraq, finds herself right in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. She has to fight to protect her people (from both zombie and human predators), she has to protect herself, and she has to find her kid sister, who is out there somewhere. Personally I felt that after a pretty good opening this book lost its way in the middle, but the ending makes it worth the read.
In fact the clever and chilling ending has me eager to read the sequel.
#9 Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austin
Where do we start with this one? How about with the fact that besides zombies we also get ninjas? Grahame-Smith (who also brought us Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) took Austin’s book and added segments to it, which is where the zombies come in. Turning the Bennet’s into proficient zombie killers, while keeping the original plot intact, is quite an amazing feat. The concept is original, and the writing is sharp.
There is both a prequel and a sequel, written by Steve Hockensmith, but I haven’t read them yet.
#8 Zombies vs. Unicorns, edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalestier
The second anthology on my list, and one quite different from the first. In this one Black’s Team Zombie stories alternate with Larbalestier’s Team Unicorn ones. They write an intro for each story, and in the end the reader decides whether zombies or unicorns are better. Choose a side!
The book features stories from some of the best Young Adult writers in the business, including Scott Westerfeld, Meg Cabot, and Garth Nix. Some top notch writing here, stories that made me want to read more. And I must say that I think Team Zombie scores a decisive victory here.
What a great title! Teen Mary lives in a secluded village in the forest, fenced on all sides to keep the zombies out. Of course things are not all as they seem, and Mary’s curiosity and questioning leads to danger.
One of the things I liked here is that the story is set a couple of hundred years after the zombie apocalypse. It gives the story a very different perspective. The two sequels take us out of the forest and into “civilization”. A related story appears in Zombies vs. Unicorns
Told by the point of view of Andy the zombie, Breathers shows the zombie side of things. Still self aware, Andy falls in love with a zombie girl, and fights against his urges to eat the living, which his parents (who are letting him stay in the basement) appreciate.
While billed as a rom-zom-com, the story stays true to the zombie genre and has its fair share of dark parts.
Appropriately, the heroine of Feed, Georgia Mason, is a blogger. Society is for the most part holding together and keeping the zombies at bay. The chronicles of Mason and her news team catch the attention of senator embarking on a presidential campaign, and they are drawn into a world of political intrigue. Plus zombies.
The first installment of the Newsflesh trilogy, Feed has all the elements of a socio-political thriller as well as satisfying zombie action. And while Grant may not have quite the same knack of predicting future technology that such luminaries as Heinlein, Bradbury, and Gibson did, she does give us an idea of how our current social media habits may evolve in the very near future.
In 2003 Image Comics published The Walking Dead #1, and black and white comic book written by Robert Kirkman and illustrated by Tony Moore (Charlie Adland took over the art after issue #6). It kind of became a big thing.
The Walking Dead tells the story of a group of survivors facing one crisis after another. Food, supplies, and shelter are a constant concern, as are bad people and of course the zombies. The comic (which is still an ongoing series, with over 130 issues so far) spawned a hit tv series, and Kirkman has written Walking Dead novels as well.
One warning about this series: it is unrelentingly grim. No real comic relief, just one tragedy after another.
A Southern Gothic zombie novel? Yes, please! While the protagonist here is 15 year old Temple, this is not a Young Adult book nor a light read. All that Temple knows is zombies, having been born after the outbreak. She travels through the south, interacting with both the good and the bad survivors, trying to find her place in the world.
It is these interactions that make up the backbone of this terrific book. The zombies are always there, but the people are what we focus on. And Temple finds that there are consequences to her actions.
I don’t think anyone expected Pulitzer-nominated Whitehead to write a zombie book, but he did. And it is good. In the aftermath of the zombie plague “Mark Spitz” is working on a clean up crew in New York City, eliminating remaining zombies and disposing of bodies. As he works he ruminates on the past, giving us flashbacks of what happened at the beginning, how he survived, and how he came to be called “Mark Spitz”. And of course the zombie plague isn’t as over as we think.
Zone One is as much literary fiction as it is a zombie book, and is not a casual read. Definitely not for everyone. But for those of us it does work for, it works very well.
#1 World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, by Max Brooks
Well, no one should be surprised at this. It is, to me, the acme of zombie fiction. Brooks (son of Mel Brooks) first wrote the Zombie Survival Guide, a book that described zombies and the ways to defeat them in great detail. This led to WWZ.
World War Z is told in vignettes, as related to an unnamed United Nations agent some 20 years after the war. The vignettes, presented as interviews, fill in the details of the zombie war, from the start of the outbreak, to humanity being pushed to the brink, to the ruthless and startling tactics used to fight back, and finally on to triumph and the clean up.
Some of these stories are better than others, of course, but the scope of the book is breathtaking. From the Kansas woman, now in an asylum, who as a toddler was a lone survivor and can still recall the events in harrowing detail, to the military disaster at Yonkers, to the decisions of the worlds leaders, World War Z leaves no part of the war untouched.
And so that is my Top 15 zombies reads countdown. But it is just my countdown, and is subject to change (Warm Bodies, by Isaac Marion, is sitting on my shelf at home waiting. Let’s hope it makes the cut). For fun I took a look at how these books are rated by Goodreads users:
#15) Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
#14) Zone One
#12) The Forest of Hands and Teeth
#11) Death Troopers
#10) Devil’s Wake
#9) Zombies vs. Unicorns
#8) Allison Hewitt is Trapped
#6) The Living Dead
#5) Rise Again
#3) The Reapers are the Angels
#2) World War Z
#1) The Walking Dead
Hmm. Some pretty close, and some not. Please share your thoughts on my list, and let me know what other zombie titles need to go on my reading list. Also, do you think we should have a zombie movie list as well?
The problem with researching real life mysteries is that there are just so many of them. Too many for one blog post, so here is a second installment, with even more conundrums from the annals of history. Enjoy!
Christina: When it comes to unsolved mysteries, DB Cooper is the king. To this day, no one is really sure of what really happened to Cooper, but there’s been no shortage of people who claimed to be the missing hijacker (or to have known where he stashed the stolen loot).
Cooper’s story isn’t that old. In late November in 1971, he hijacked a 727, demanded a ransom and threatened to blow up the plane, and parachuted before he could be captured. The story stands out for a number of reasons; Cooper’s real identity was never revealed, he was described as “friendly” and “calm” by those he held hostage, none of the hostages were killed or even injured, and no one knows if he survived.
What sounds like something out of a James Bond movie actually happened, and details of the hijacking are laid out here. His legacy is one of mystery, with occasional clues. In 1980, an eight year old boy was digging around the Columbia River and found deteriorating bills that the FBI confirmed was part of Cooper’s ransom.
Another question that looms over the case is that the rest of Cooper’s money was never spent. The FBI recorded the serial numbers of all of the ransom bills, but since the hijacking, none of the money was ever circulated. Not one bill. Which leads to speculation: If Cooper didn’t survive the fall, where is his body? And where is the missing cash?
This is one of those mysteries that might never be solved, and therefore Cooper has become an almost mythical creature, reaching anti-hero status and the subject of obsessive speculation.
Chris: Here is a truly enduring mystery. Earhart was a very accomplished flyer back when airplanes were still pretty new. Her feats would have been notable even for a man! Ah, different times those were. She was the first woman to solo a transatlantic flight. She was awarded the U.S. Distinguished Flying Cross, an honor limited now to military personnel.
In 1936 she started planning a flight around the world. While others had already done this, her route would have been the longest, at 29,000 miles. After a first attempt was foiled by mechanical issues, she took off from Miami with navigator Fred Noonan. They had covered 22,000 miles, over South America, Africa, India, and southeast Asia, and had only the cross the Pacific to complete the historic trip, when tragedy struck.
Or something happened. On their approach to tiny Howland Island, the plane disappeared. No definitive trace was found of the plane or the occupants. The prevailing theory is that they ran short of fuel and crashed into the ocean. As we know from the recent Malaysian 517 incident the ocean is a big place. We can understand how the wreckage might never be found.
But we don’t know for sure that is what happened. There are plenty of other theories, like that they landed on another island and lived on for some years, or were captured and executed by the Japanese, or that Amelia never crashed at all, but finished the flight, changed her name, and moved to New Jersey.
In the end we can only wonder and surmise what really befell a pioneer of both aviation and women’s rights. Well, we can only wonder, but others do more than that. To this day there are expeditions to that area of the Pacific looking to solve the mystery.
Christina: History is full of tragic stories, but ones of neglected or abused children are especially heartbreaking. The story of the Princes in the Tower is a notable example.
Edward IV of England died an unexpected death in 1483, leaving two sons (Edward V and Richard of Shrewsbury, Duke of York) and a brother (Richard, Duke of Gloucester, later Richard the III). Before the eldest son, Edward V, could return home from a trip, the royal party was intercepted by his uncle and two of his protectors were beheaded. Richard later claimed both boys were illegitimate, and therefore unsuitable for the throne, and sent them to the Tower of London. After about a month, the boys disappeared.
The general assumption is that both princes were murdered, with their uncle (and the subsequent king) Richard III as the prime suspect. Some popular theories have the king’s allies as the culprits, with no shortage of possible assassins. To be fair, there is no proof that the princes were in fact murdered, but it is true that no one had seen the royal boys since.
Like most other tales of disappearance, there were people claiming to be one of the princes in the Tower long after it was generally accepted that the princes had died. Ultimately, public fervor against the king after the treatment and death of his nephews lead to the Rebellion of 1483, and Richard the III’s eventual death in battle.
In 1674, two small skeletons were discovered when construction was being done on the Tower of London, and though they were unable to do forensic testing at the time, they were generally accepted as the remains of the princes and were buried in Westminster Abbey. Both the royal family and Westminster Abbey spokespeople have refused DNA testing on the remains, believing that “the mortal remains of two small children…shall not be disturbed”.
The tale of the princes in the Tower has captivated many artists and writers, and there is no shortage of references to the doomed royal brothers in paintings, fiction, and nonfiction books.
Chris: Take a look at this picture, and tell me how the pattern was created:
There are two opposing viewpoints as to how this was done. As you can see, they are very opposing:
Crop circles came to prominence in the 1970s, notably in England. Speculation as to who, or what, was creating them carried on into the 90s, when some gentleman revealed that they had made many crop circles using nothing more than boards and rope. No flying saucers required.
Indeed, it seems that hoaxters are behind the majority of crop circles. Many different people have explained how they create them. This also explains why so many circles are in unfenced, easily accessible fields close to roads. In some cases weather can create weird patterns in the field, and in Tasmania wallabies made some, after eating poppies and running about in crazed circles. Some of the largest and most elaborate circles were created as advertising.
Atlantis is sort of an underwater Shangri-La, a mystical palace that was doomed to sink under the ocean (like that guy from Titanic). Mention the mystical place at a party and you’ll find at least one person who will proclaim that “Atlantis is real, man, it’s real!”
Well, it’s not. And it never was.
Sadly, an awesome story like Atlantis’s is a mythical tale, full of fiction and embellishments. Plato made up Atlantis, having it act as his own example of a perfect place that ended up being destroyed because the gods were angry (But when WEREN’T the gods angry? Seriously.). Plato’s utopia caught the imagination of Francis Bacon and Thomas More, who expanded on the idea until someone eventually decided that Atlantis was in fact a real place. This thought is often credited to Plato’s student Crantor, who claimed to have seen references to Atlantis written in hieroglyphics on a column in Egypt.
The rumors of Atlantis snowballed with various people in history describing the riches and splendors of Atlantis, as well as the priceless artifacts from the doomed continent. Even recently, a series of lines spotted on Google Earth was deemed to be remnants of Atlantis.
But the public was dismayed to learn that those lines were, in fact, created by sonar boats. Conspiracy theorists hold out on this, however, and insist that the government is in fact hiding evidence of the lost continent to the public. (…Why? Oh wait, aliens!)
Search for Atlantis now, and you’ll find tons of resorts and themed places, not an ancient underwater city. Bummer.
Chris: This was perhaps the first scary book I ever read. The tale of a family moving into a new house only to move out a month later after being terrorized by demons was spine tingling enough without that fact that it was true. Or was it?
I remember that when I first read it oh so many years ago, thinking that it was true since the cover said so, that it got over the top at the end. My suspicions were raised. Now years later with a more skeptical eye and the Internet to aid in research, they seem confirmed.
What we do know is that there was a mass killing in the house before the Lutz family moved in, that they did move out 28 days later, and that members of the family stick to the story to this day. We also know that with all the legal wranglings and lawsuits involved with the book and movies (11 films to date) that there are a lot of versions of what happened out there.
So I find it informative to look at some of the corroborating evidence. The damage to the house mentioned in the book was not evident to the next tenants. The tracks in the snow are problematical since there was no snow reported in Amityville during that time. In the book the police are called to the house, but there are no actual police reports backing this up. Oh, and that photo taken by the paranormal investigators of the “ghost boy”? Not a boy at all, but a camera man kneeling down.
In the end my advice to you if you are reading the book or watching one of the movies is not to worry about whether it is true or not, or if I think it is true, but to just enjoy a nice scary story.
Oh man. Area 51 can be a touchy, “don’t get me started” subject for some people, but it’s a treasure trove of secrecy. The U.S. government has had a field day denying evidence of Area 51, even denying its existence until last year.
Most conspiracy theories are convinced that Area 51 is a housing place for alien artifacts, most notably the UFO that crashed in Roswell, New Mexico in 1947. The fact that the site is off-limits to even military air traffic seems extreme, and the ominous, threatening signs plastered around Area 51 only add to its mysterious presence.
The most plausible theory is that Area 51 is in fact a hub for military aircraft, with the government encouraging the extraterrestrial rumors so that anyone who spotted top-secret aircraft sounded unreliable. Hey, the military’s allowed to have fun too.
Chris: Is Nessie the most famous cryptid of all? It has to be either Nessie or Bigfoot, right? Besides popularity another thing they share is a wealth of sightings and anecdotes and a dearth of actual evidence.
Loch Ness certainly seems a good place for a sea monster to hide. The Scottish lake is 22 miles long and hundreds of feet deep, plenty of space for Nessie to hide. This adds to the seeming plausibility, until you start getting into the sciency stuff such as breeding populations.
Stories of a strange creature in the loch date back centuries, but it was a sighting in 1933 the spurred the current interest. Since then many people have reported seeing something, and many have taken photos and videos of, well, something. We know that many of these are hoaxes, which makes figuring out which might have some legitimacy even harder. Besides actual hoaxes there are many natural things that can be misidentified as Nessie, such as flocks of birds, logs, and the wakes of boats.
It certainly would be wonderful if Nessie was real. And maybe he is. Napoleon Dynamite thought so. But a lot of people have spent a lot of time, money, and expertise looking with no success to date, so I am not holding my breath.
Stonehenge, besides being a hilarious scene from This is Spinal Tap, is a collection of prehistoric stones that were arranged in a circle. The arrangement of the circle was no easy task, with the stones being dragged from 250 miles away from the site. Plus, there were almost 100 of them, each weighing about 4 tons. Experts aren’t even sure how the site was constructed (*cough* *cough* ALIENS!)
People still have ceremoniesat Stonehenge, and even weddings. There are some pretty cool-looking modern Druid ceremonies performed as well, complete with awesome costumes.
Chris: This has always been one of my favorite mysteries. Buried pirate treasure? Booby trapped tunnels? A curse? What’s not to love?
Oak Island is just off the coast of Nova Scotia. It is a privately owned island about 140 acres in size. It was in 1795 that the treasure hunting began, with the discovery of what appeared to be a filled in pit. Over the years many expeditions have tried excavating the pit. The main problem is flooding. Inevitably after digging down so far the sea intrudes and progress is halted.
Different diggers have reported that at various intervals they find a layer of material other than dirt, including flagstones, logs, and coconut fiber. Hmm, no coconuts grow in Canada! This all gave credence to the idea of buried treasure. There was even a stone found that said two million pounds were below. Of course that stone disappeared and there is no proof that it is anything other than a fanciful story.
Six men have died on Oak Island hunting for treasure, giving rise to tales of the treasure being cursed. Some people will tell you that the pit is nothing more than a sinkhole, which are common in the area. The layers of logs and such are simply debris that washed into it. But I think you’ll find that the crew that is digging there now would disagree.
I remember being in middle school and watching a video on Tut’s Tomb. Most of the videos we had to watch were torturously boring and badly made, but this one captured EVERYONE’S attention. Let’s face it, mummies are cool, and curses? Even cooler.
After class everyone was convinced that King Tut had a curse placed on those who might disturb his final resting place. I’ll admit, for a long time, I was one of them. Then, you know, I grew up, started reading more, and yeah, I don’t think the tomb of King Tut was cursed. If you’re not convinced, here’s a great site listing the epic rumors with the more mundane facts.
Speculation has been made that the more likely culprit in the tomb was germs, but the conclusion seems to be that it’s unlikely at best.
Pharaoh curses have been the stepping stone for plenty of horror movies and mysteries, but there doesn’t seem to be much fact behind them. Still, knowing that there are in fact pharaoh tombs with curses inscribed on them is rather harrowing. An example from the tomb of the ancient Egyptian ruler Khentika Ikhekhi:
“As for all men who shall enter this my tomb… impure… there will be judgment… an end shall be made for him… I shall seize his neck like a bird… I shall cast the fear of myself into him”
Okay, that’s scary. And seriously cool. If you’re looking for inspiration for writing song lyrics for a metal death band, look no further than pharaoh curses.
Chris – Our random books odyssey begins in Italy, with Alessandro Baricco’s Silk (translated from the Italian by Guido Waldman). A short book, it tells the story of a Frenchman who deals in silkworms. After a crop of worms are blighted by disease, he hazards a journey as a smuggler to Japan to seek out new ones. Of course he finds more than he bargained for. Silk is both whimsical (in the writing style) and deeply profound (in the ending), and is one of my all time favorites.
Once, Now, Then series – Morris Gleitzman
Christina – For all those that hate to get invested in a series because you don’t have the time, this is one for you. The books are short, about 200 pages each or less, and the story is so captivating that you’ll find it hard to put them down. Since the subject matter is the holocaust, they’re not for the faint of heart, but they’re beautifully written and well worth the heartache. I pretty much never cry over a book, but all three of these made me tear up.
Go – Chip Kidd
Christina – Graphic design is all around us, and renowned book cover artist Chip Kidd shows us the history of design and why it’s so important. He ends his fun lesson with ten projects encouraging the reader to bring out his/her inner artist (design your own logo, redesign something popular or famous, etc.). Even for those who don’t know much about art or advertising, it’s an eye-opening read, and the graphics are so cool that you’ll be wanting to show them to everyone around you.
The Paladin – C. J. Cherryh
Chris – Often fantasy novels are labeled as being either High Fantasy or Low Fantasy. High Fantasy generally books or series that are epic in scope or are suffused with a lot of fantastical elements, while Low Fantasy ones tend to be more “realistic” and light on the magic. The Paladin, by C. J. Cherryh, is about as Low Fantasy as you can get. The setting is similar to a feudal China or Japan. There is no magic to be seen. There are no dragons or other mythical beasts to battle. In fact, there is nothing really at all to make this book a “fantasy” novel. Nothing that is except for the feel of it.
Lord Saukendar is an aging swordmaster exiled from the capital after a coup. He has been living for years on a mountain with just his horse for company. One day a peasant teen comes to his mountain demanding his help. Saukendar is quite shocked to find that this teen who wants to learn the art of the sword so badly is actually a girl, and more shocked as the girl relentlessly brings him back to life and to the world he left, leading ultimately to a quest to right all the wrongs done to him, and to the people he once served.
Lies, Knives, and Girls in Red Dresses – Ron Koertge
Christina – People have been messing around with fairy tales since they’ve existed. Numerous adaptations, inspirations, etc. So why read these poems offering a different look at well known fairy tales and fables?
Well, for one thing, the illustrations are subdued and intense, and the poems offer another glimpse at the well-known characters and stories, adding sympathy to established villains and questionable motives to so-called heroes and heroines.
If you’re still unsure if you should read this, take a look at the last poem, in which The Wolf finally is able to speak his mind:
Let’s get a few things straight. Only a few of us like to
dress up like grandma and trick little girls. Those who
do belong to what we call the Scarlet Underground.
It’s not their fault, so they’re tolerated if not embraced.
The rest of us are wolves through and through. We enjoy
the chase, the kill, a nap in the sun on a full stomach.
Our enemy is man with his arrogance and greed.
The woodsman in particular. Destroyer of trees.
Clearer of land. Owner of fire.
While he drops and burns and builds, we terrorize his
wife, surrounding her as she goes for water. We howl
outside his windows half of the night, and if that doesn’t
drive him away we take him out, leaving just a few
bones so the message is clear:
This is our forest. Perfect before you came.
Perfect again when all your kind is dead.
The Martian Chronicles – Ray Bradbury
Chris – Luke nicely memorialized the great Ray Bradbury before in this blog. My first introduction to Bradbury was The Martian Chronicles, quite a few moons ago. A collection of stories dealing with the colonization of Mars by humanity, it explores and touches on many themes, such as racism, dystopia, nostalgia, nuclear war, exploration, obsession, censorship, and more. As a boy having a Captain Wilder in some of the stories was thrilling. As an adult being able to understand the nuances is satisfying. A special treat awaits fans of Poe in the story “Usher II”. The Martian Chronicles is a true classic by any standard.
Evil Eye – Joyce Carol Oates
Christina – Keeping on with the creepy vibe, we have one of the masters of the unsettling story, Joyce Carol Oates. In Evil Eye, Oates offers up four novellas of “love gone wrong”, but it’s not all romantic love. There’s revenge, murder, obsession, and insanity, all done to perfection, and enough to leave you feeling like someone just walked over your grave.
All the World’s a Grave – John Reed and William Shakespeare
Christina – Speaking of graves (sorry), sometimes writers get creative with public domain works. In John Reed’s case, he created an entirely new Shakespearean play by mixing up characters and dialogue. He sums it up better than I ever could:
Hamlet goes to war for Juliet, the daughter of King Lear. Having captured his bride – by unnecessary bloodshed – Prince Hamlet returns home to find that his mother has murdered his father and married Macbeth. Hamlet, wounded and reeling, is sought out by the ghost of his murdered father, and commanded to seek revenge. Iago, opportunistic, further inflames the enraged prince, persuading him that Juliet is having an affair with Romeo; the prince goes mad with jealousy.
Need I say more? All I can add is that I highly recommend this to any fan of Shakespeare.
A Bridge Too Far – Cornelius Ryan
Chris – A Bridge Too Far is one of the most aptly named books you will find. It is the true account of Operation Market Garden: the Allies plan to seize a series of bridges in Holland in World War II in an attempt to bring a quick end to the war. The title kind of acts as a spoiler for the ending. More Allied soldiers were killed in action during Market Garden then fell on D-Day. Ryan’s meticulously researched book is gripping and readable. If only all nonfiction books were written as well as this…
The book was made into a movieof the same name in 1977, directed by Richard Attenborough, and is regarded as one of the more historically accurate war movies out there. The bad news is that it is very long, just about three hours. The good news is the mind boggling cast, including: James Caan, Michael Caine, Sean Connery, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Laurence Olivier, Robert Redford, and more. On a side note, it was adapted for the screen by William Goldman, who wrote The Princess Bride, which faithful readers of this blog will know is a favorite of ours.
No review can give justice to this brilliant book. Do yourself a favor and read it ASAP. In the meantime, tide yourself over with these awesome quotes:
C-3PO: A droid hath sadness, and hopes, and fears,
And each of these emotions I have felt
Since Master Luke appear’d and made me his.
(After Han shoots Greedo)
Han: [To inkeeper:] Pray, goodly Sir, forgive me for the mess.
[Aside:] And whether I shot first, I’ll ne’er confess!
The Passion – Jeanette Winterson
Chris – Jeanette Winterson began writing sermons at the age of six. As she grew older she moved away from evangelism (far away, but that is a different story) and matured into an award winning author. One of those awards was for The Passion, a wonderful and mysterious book that is hard to define. The basic story follows a soldier in Napoleon’s army who becomes enraptured with a mystifying and enigmatic Venetian woman who is looking for her heart. Literally. A mix of history, magical realism, and modernism makes this a unique and captivating read.
And if none of these random titles works for you, consider trying the blindfold method. Or ask your friendly neighborhood library staff for more suggestions.
A few years ago GEICO, famous for their funny commercials, embarked a series that labeled getting insurance from their company was “So easy a caveman could do it.” While America was laughing, scientists were trying to figure out what happened to the real cave men, the Neandertals (Homo neanderthalensis), and determine if are they close cousins to us (homo sapiens)? Did Neanderthals become extinct on their own, or did some of them inter-bred with humans and pro-create? Some scientists claim to have found NeanderthJuan Lal DNA in the Human Genome.
As is so often true in the world of science, research and theory sparks debate. The research over the fate of the the Neandertals is no different. As far I can determine, there are two contentious theories about the Neandertals: how they became extinct and whether or not they breeded with homo sapiens. Furthermore, are they distinct species or an ancestor of the homo sapiens?
Would you recognize a Neanderthal man or woman if they were walking down the street towards you, dressed in modern clothes? Based the skeletons found and identified as a Neanderthals, they were shorter than modern humans, more muscular, and stronger. With our diverse society nowadays, I doubt they would have much of a problem of blending in.
Much the research done about the origins of humans is related to DNA. Most of us are familiar with DNA if we crime shows on tv. David Reich, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School, postulates Homo Sapien ancestors evolved in East Africa, then spread out through other continents where they lived together with other hominins, including Neanderthals, who disappeared about 30,000 years ago. It was first thought homo sapiens, or modern humans if you like, were much more adaptable than their new neighbors and took over Neanderthal territory and sources of food, causing the Neanderthal to become extinct. But Reich and his colleagues, after they found Neanderthal DNA in the human genome, contend the species inter-bred to some extent .*
Two years ago, “Nova” produced a three part series entitled “Becoming Human.” The web site for these programs is full of good information for viewers to follow up on what they saw on the videos.
*Carl Zimmer, “Interbreeding with Neanderthals,” Discover, March, 2013 (Vol. 32, no. 2), pp. 38-44. Accessed on Academic Search Complete, 10/05/13.
Listed below are resources available at your local library on this subject: