In Jeffrey Ford’s new collection A Natural History of Hell, there is such a variety of creepiness and at such different comfort levels that I feel I should offer a travel guide to whoever reads this book. Something like:
Here lie straight creeps.
Here’s one night’s lost sleep.
If you read this story you’ll only be able to eat bananas, rice and applesauce for a week.
But for those with an appetite and a broad palate for horror, there’s not likely to be a better book this year.
Many of these stories take place sometime in a Nathaniel Hawthorne-esque past, or other liminal areas where bizarre traditions overtake common sense. The opening story “The Blameless” sets the table, with a couple receiving an invitation to a neighborhood girl’s exorcism. Surprisingly, the couple finds their neighbors celebrating the supposed banishing of a demon with the small-portioned enthusiasm of a bat mitzvah.
Elsewhere, Ford ably glides between genre lines. Some of his stories don’t seem like horror at all until he drops the floor out from under you. For instance, in “The Angel Seems,” an angel comes to a small village offering protection. For a while, the story resembles Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,” and then it turns and you realize it’s been re-written by Clive Barker.
There are also ghost stories, fantasies with dark wizards and even a story about gun control if monsters aren’t scary enough for you. Ford’s use of imagery and violence is implemented masterfully and tastefully throughout, creating an experience that is less like a horror movie than a nightmare weighted with meaning. Have fun!
Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson… a love story? Really? You may change your mind after reading Donald Bogle’s compelling bio Elizabeth and Michael: The Queen of Hollywood and the King of Pop — A Love Story. Using interviews and diaries from close friends, employees and family members, he delivers an honest, realistic portrait of these two entertainment icons.
To understand Taylor and Jackson’s 20 plus year relationship, Bogle begins by recounting their early years as child stars and breadwinners for their families. Both had mothers with strong religious convictions. Both knew how to be a “star.” Taylor was groomed by MGM studios while Jackson was taught by Motown founder Berry Gordy. But most importantly, both missed out on being a kid, which deeply affected their adult lives and relationships.
How Jackson courted Taylor to win her friendship is hilarious. He invited her to his concert, but the seats were not up to her standards, so she left. Eventually, they did meet and formed an unbreakable bond. With no fear of being exposed, they shared confidences freely — something rarely done with those outside their families. Such was Jackson’s devotion that he showered Taylor with expensive jewelry. The joke was that if he wanted her to attend an event, he presented a diamond and she would show. So he did — more than once! Tales of each other’s extravagance will amaze you — who gives someone an elephant? Elizabeth Taylor does, that’s who! But you will be most impressed with Taylor’s loyalty and devotion to Jackson. Never once did she waver in her support for Jackson, publicly denouncing the molestation accusations levelled against him as ridiculous.
Bogle’s bio is informative and entertaining, allowing us to go behind the curtain of these two Hollywood icons. Resisting the urge to be tawdry, he gives Taylor and Jackson the respect they deserve. Fans of Taylor, Jackson and Hollywood stories must put this book on their want-to-read list. Finally, was their relationship a love story? Check out a copy today and decide for yourself!
In the summer of 2008, a Somali sprinter finished last in her heat in Beijing. Almost four years later in the spring of 2012, she drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Italy. Her name was Samia Yusuf Omar.
Giuseppe Catozzella lends his voice to Samia's story, going back to a young 8-year-old girl who longs to be an athlete in Don't Tell Me You're Afraid. Catozzella focuses on the friendship between Samia and her coach, who also happens to be a child and a Darod, named Ali. In order to train, the children go out under the cover of darkness to practice in a bullet ridden stadium. To reach the stadium, Samia and Ali must evade Al-Shabaab's twitchy child soldiers enslaved by a drug named khat. Their efforts pay off, and eventually Samia achieves a national victory. Meanwhile, the city of Mogadishu crumbles and her coach is forced out of town due to his Darod ancestry. Upon her return from Beijing, Samia is faced with the reality that without a proper diet and training she may never become the athlete she was born to become. Then Al-Shabaab strikes. Catozzella deftly conveys the energy and longing that propelled Samia to Beijing and indignity and anguish she endured on the journey.
Reinhard Kleist introduces us to Samia, as she fails in her quest to be one of the greatest sprinters on earth in Beijing, with his stunning illustrations in An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar. Kleist conveys the deep disillusionment on Samia’s face as she realizes she must leave Somali not only to achieve her Olympic Dream but for her own safety. Fans of Kleist’s work will also enjoy his earlier graphic novel The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft.
Readers suffering from Olympic withdrawal can explore the lives of past Olympians by checking out Today We Die a Little!: The Inimitable Emil Zátopek by Richard Askwith or Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schapp.
The Girl on the Train is in theatres now, and audiences are rediscovering the magic of Paula Hawkins’ novel. For those seeking a similar blend of mystery and suspense, our bloggers recommend these titles.
Linda: Like The Girl on the Train, Siracusa by Delia Ephron combines high-stakes suspense with a jaundiced look at relationships. Two married couples travel to an ancient city in Sicily in hopes of reviving their marriages — or finishing them off for good. One couple brings along their preteen daughter to add a truly unpredictable element to the unfolding disaster. As in The Girl on the Train, an assortment of secretive, self-absorbed narrators gradually unfolds this tale of a Mediterranean vacation gone horribly awry.
Lori: In Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon, former superstar London reporter Alex Dale is on the fast track to liver failure — her inability to ban the bottle is making a shambles of her personal and professional lives. Alex stumbles into investigating the unsolved crime of a girl who, 15 years ago, was brutally assaulted and has been living in a nursing home in a coma ever since. Can Alex bring a vicious rapist to justice while battling her own addiction?
Christine: Who would you trust if your memory vanished every time you went to sleep? Your husband? Your doctor? Your journal? A fast-paced thriller, Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson will engross you to the very last word. As Christine Lucas attempts to figure out the truth about her accident, her son, her marriage, you will be overwhelmed as you feel her frustration and fear as she tries to figure out who wants to harm her. But is she correct? Be prepared to feverishly read this story, stopping only when you have read the last word!
In Daniel Sweren-Becker’s The Ones, genetically engineering humans has become a reality. The “Ones” are 1 percent of the population chosen through a lottery system, before birth, for genetic engineering to be perfect in looks and health, among other things. And not everyone is okay with that. Through the point of view of Cody and her boyfriend James, who are Ones now in their teens, we witness the increasing unrest between the Ones and the “Equality Movement,” a group that doesn’t exactly agree with the advantages that the Ones have over the rest of humanity. When a Supreme Court decision passes ruling that genetically engineering humans is in fact illegal, the Ones receive even more hateful attention. A list that reveals the names of every One, a mysterious group called “The Weathermen,” and a school take-over gone wrong leads to a terrible discovery and a plan that could do more harm than good.
Cody and James’ struggle with crossing difficult lines, what’s right and wrong and ultimately the truth will test their relationships with each other, their families and even with the rest of the world. Themes like human equality, activism and scientific curiosity are largely present throughout the book. These parallels to society today make the characters and story easy to relate to.
This quick and exciting read will leave you wanting more, so keep an eye out for the next book in The Ones series. Those of you who enjoy teen novels with dystopian society or science fiction themes, will easily find that you can’t put The Ones down.
We return to the world of the Shadowhunters in Cassandra Clare’s Lady Midnight, the first installment of The Dark Artifices trilogy, a sequel to The Mortal Instruments series.
Five years after the Dark War that ravaged the Shadowhunter population, Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorn have grown into brave young warriors. For Emma, dealing with demons, vampires and werewolves is much more appealing than dealing in matters of the heart. She lives for revenge, determined to find out who really murdered her parents five years ago. Jules, on the other hand, has his hands full raising his younger siblings and doing whatever he has to do to keep his family together.
When faerie bodies bearing the same ritualistic marks as Emma’s parents start turning up all over Los Angeles, the young Shadowhunters take up the illicit task of investigating the murders. The stakes are raised even higher when Mark, the eldest Blackthorn, kidnapped by faeries during the Dark War, is returned to his family under the condition that the murderer be brought to the land of Faerie. If the Shadowhunters don’t find the killer, and quick, they risk losing Mark forever.
Full of fun banter, wild adventure and forbidden romance, Lady Midnight will have you on the edge of your seat throughout and leave you itching for book two. If you loved The Mortal Instruments and The Infernal Devices series, you can’t miss out on this thrilling next chapter.
Nick Mamatas manages the rare feat of making the reader feel utter disgust and laugh hysterically without having to turn a page in I Am Providence. Mamatas alternates between two narrators, an unsuccessful curmudgeon author and his platonic green-haired vegan roommate at a hotel in Providence, Rhode Island — one of whom tells their tale from the beyond after they are murdered and their face is removed. This particular disfigurement happens after it is revealed that the victim had been hired to act as a go-between in the sale of a book bound in human skin.
If you are curious as to why unsuccessful authors, book dealers, green-haired vegans, a face-removing murderer and a variety of other characters are all staying in a Rhode Island hotel, the obvious answer is notorious racist and occasional horror author H.P. Lovecraft. The Summer Tentacle is an annual con of sorts for fans of the Rhode Island native and his short story "The Call of Cthulhu." To keep things interesting, wine and social anxiety fuel this crowd, best summed up when Mamatas quipped; “The crowd drank with an intensity that only comes with the combination of free alcohol, unsuccessful writers and high stress.”
To those out there that have never heard of Cthulhu or find Lovecraft’s work to not your taste, don’t fret about not being able to enjoy Mamatas’ tale of murderous social commentary.