The days of summer are dwindling down, and all of the blockbuster movies we were waiting to see have long been released. What’s a cinephile to do when there’s not much left worth seeing in the month of August? Here are three entertaining novels that fall into typical movie genres to help you get through the rest of summer.
Looking for an edgy intergenerational dramedy? Pick up Mat Johnson’s Loving Day. Warren Duffy has returned to the Philadelphia ghetto to claim the dilapidated roofless “mansion” left to him by his recently deceased Irish American father, his black mother having died years before. Warren’s life can’t possibly get any worse, or so he thinks. He’s a not very good, not very successful comic book artist. He identifies as a black man although he’s so light complexioned he consciously overcompensates in an attempt to fit in. His marriage is over and the comic book shop his wife bankrolled for him has gone belly-up. He owes her some serious money and his only hopes of making some quick cash is drawing for hire at a comic book convention. Imagine Warren’s surprise when one of the convention attendees turns out to be the teenage daughter he never knew he had. Tal is more than surprised to learn about her racial identity, having been raised by her Jewish grandfather. She chalks up her hair and features to imagined Israeli roots. Johnson’s down-and-out protagonist retains his ironic sense of humor as he is forced to man up and become a father while exploring his own racial identity and helping his daughter to do the same. Potential love interests for both father and daughter make things interesting, especially since they stem from a special charter school at The Mélange Center, dedicated to helping biracial persons “find the sacred balance” between their black and white perspectives. Broadly comic and insightful as it comments on race issues today, Loving Day explores the dynamics of relationships of all kinds.
If suspenseful thrillers are your thing, look no further Michael Koryta’s latest. Last Words follows Florida investigator Mark Novak, a man whose wife and colleague at their pro bono legal firm is killed under mysterious circumstances. A year and a half later, a distracted and still distraught Novak is sent by his boss to a snow-covered Indiana small town to look into the unsolved murder of a 17-year-old girl, Sarah Martin. Although the case has been cold for nearly 10 years, it’s still very much on the minds of the residents of Garrison. It seems the main suspect, the eccentric outcast Ridley Barnes, wrote the firm to specifically request Novak’s services. Barnes raison d’etre is the continued exploration of the supercave beneath the town, a cave he believes is almost a living being. Barnes was the one who emerged from that cave with Sara Martin’s body after a search team failed to locate her. But Novak soon finds out that the caver isn’t the only potential suspect, and that the citizens of Garrison are not very happy to see the case revisited. Novak makes a crucial mistake heading into the case — he fails to do any research before he arrives, a decision he regrets almost immediately. Tightly plotted with interesting, well-developed characters and plenty of suspenseful action, both in the past and present, Last Words would make an excellent screen adaptation. Koryta has chosen an interesting backdrop for the potential crime, and he uses the cave and the exploration of its dark, cold, claustrophobic, labyrinthine network to suspenseful potential.
For the thrill of a satisfying psychological horror film, it’s hard to top Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts. As the book begins, 20-something Merry is returning to her family’s former Massachusetts home (now fallen to ruin and up for sale) to meet with a bestselling author. Merry has a fascinating story to tell, one that continues to permeate all aspects of her life. Fifteen years earlier, the Barretts were struggling. Their father had been out of work for some time, and they were in danger of losing their house. Teen Marjorie had begun acting strangely. The stories she has always told 8-year-old Merry have taken on a sinister tone, and she delights in upsetting her. Strange things start to happen. Is it mental illness or something supernatural? While their stressed mother takes Marjorie to a therapist, their father opts for visits with a Catholic priest with ties to the media. Soon, the cash-strapped Barretts foolishly agree to allow their situation to become a reality television show, The Possession, as a way to pay the mortgage. Tremblay builds suspense and tension by telling the story through present day Merry, 8-year-old Merry and a snarky horror blogger named Karen who is deconstructing The Possession 15 years later. A Head Full of Ghosts is funny, clever and thoroughly chilling. Tremblay brings in plot elements from many famous horror movies, even as he pays homage to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s famous short story of madness “The Yellow Wallpaper” and Shirley Jackson’s classic gothic chiller We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Could Marjorie have been faking the whole thing, or was she possessed a la The Exorcist?
Bestselling author Kristin Cast teamed up with her mother P.C. Cast to bring you the wildly popular teen series House of Night. Kristin Cast ventures out on her own for Amber Smoke, the first book in her new The Escaped series, written for the new adult audience.
Tartarus is more than just an area in the underworld where souls go to be judged after death, it’s also the place that Alek calls home. As the son of the Furies, Alek was born with the mission to save both the mortal realm and his own. In order to accomplish this arduous task, he will need to find and enlist the help of the Oracle.
As an average young adult waffling between majors, Eva has no idea that she is anything more than an indecisive college student, let alone an Oracle. She spends her time around the house with her mother, going to classes or hanging out with her best friend, Bridget. Her days are pretty carefree, but only because she’s oblivious to the fact that girls are going missing and turning up dead. With Tartarus on the brink and Alek on a mission, Eva’s world is about to be turned upside down.
Amber Smoke is a quick, light read with a clever combination of Greek mythology and contemporary settings. The carefully crafted alternating narrative is engaging, and the cliffhanger will leave you hankering for more.
Krassi Zourkova’s debut novel Wildalone will leave readers eagerly awaiting her next literary venture. A novel filled with Greek mythology, Bulgarian legends and romance, Wildalone is a stunning debut. Thea Slavin, a Bulgarian student, has just begun her freshman year at Princeton University. She immediately wows the Princeton community with her piano skills, giving a Chopin concert shortly after she arrives at school. As Thea is thrust into the spotlight, she must balance her musical ambitions with her school work, campus job, social life, mysterious family history and enigmatic love interest.
Before Thea begins her education at Princeton, she finds out that she had a much older sister, Elza, who attended Princeton years before and mysteriously died there. This doesn’t stop Thea from attending the illustrious school. Rather, she decides to investigate her sister’s death in between classes, concerts and dates. Meanwhile, she becomes enraptured with Rhys, an older, captivating man who reveals little about himself, keeping Thea in the dark throughout much of the book. Zourkova weaves in stories from Greek mythology and Bulgarian legends, and as the reader reaches the climax of the novel, the story ties in with the legends seamlessly.
Wildalone is a bewitching story that leaves readers enraptured with Thea, as well as the more minor characters. Fans of Deborah Harkness’s All Souls Trilogy series will enjoy this new novel and debut author. Reader beware, Wildalone ends on a cliffhanger!
Nature preservationist and Sierra Club founder John Muir is considered the father of the United States National Parks system, thanks to his influence over President Teddy Roosevelt. Muir’s philosophy permeates author Garth Stein’s newest novel, A Sudden Light, which pits the Riddell family members against each other alongside the backdrop of a fortune built of trees.
The year is 1990. Thirteen-year-old Trevor Riddell’s parents are bankrupt, their marriage crumbling under the strain. In a last ditch effort to lure back his wife, Trevor’s dad Jones hauls Trevor to the Pacific Northwest where demoralized Jones hopes to reunite with his estranged sister and their father while tapping into his family’s enormous wealth. Trevor finds himself on the Riddell’s vast estate populated with old growth woods, living in a decaying timber mansion and becoming acquainted with his disconcertingly sexy aunt and a grandfather succumbing to dementia. Grandpa Samuel hears his dead wife dancing in the ballroom at night; Jones and Aunt Serena’s conversations have a disturbing subtext which leaves Trevor unsettled. As Trevor begins to explore the manor, he uncovers (with a little help from a long dead uncle) evidence of a tragic family history which reaches back to his great-great grandfather, Elijah, a lumber baron, businessman and eventual philanthropist.
Stein is the author of the bestselling book The Art of Racing in the Rain, in which the story is told from the perspective of a dog. In A Sudden Light, trees and the notion of preserving undeveloped land are mute characters whose looming presence shape the Riddells’ fate over generations. Stein has surely written another book club favorite with this modern gothic coming-of-age story.
Everything changed for Harry Dresden, Chicago's only professional wizard, when he sold his services to Mab, Queen of the Fairies, to save his daughter. He's been not quite dead, trapped in Fairy politics and sent on a wide variety of suicide missions. That was the easy part. Nicodemus, Knight of the Blackened Denarius and one of the cruelest enemies Dresden has ever faced is back in town, planning a major heist. And Harry's stuck working for him.
By turns Skin Game by Jim Butcher is a ripping heist novel, a hilariously goofy urban fantasy, with enough touching moments to give real weight. Butcher has won the ability to write gripping, fun and magical crime novels, and he's fought for that ability in this very series. It's not recommended to start with Skin Game if you're going to read the Dresden Files series because too much of the book is dependent on things that have come before. I don't recommend beginning at the first book either, because Butcher didn't really find his footing until the third. Start with the third book, Grave Peril, because the Dresden Files are a journey. Characters grow, wrestle with themselves, face up to things they don't want to deal with. There's a whole lot Dresden doesn't want to deal with, from dragging his friends into danger to stronger and stronger deals with dangerous and inhuman powers. Life has a tendency to get a whole lot bigger than the people living in the Dresdenverse.
If this were a movie, it would be a summer tent pole, a certified blockbuster. It has huge, explosive action, romance, comedy, true love, and cute animals. There are double and triple crosses and rivalries that zoom along. It would be better than anything you're going to see in the theater this year. But it gets even better if you haven't read the rest of the Dresden Files, because now you have an entire book series that's better than anything you're going to see in the theater, and it's still building up to even bigger things.
Hesteyri: A beautiful location by the ocean, a popular summer tourist destination, an entrepreneurs golden opportunity. When friends decide to purchase and renovate a house to start a bed and breakfast, they find their dream quickly transforms into a nightmare. I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a spectacularly terrifying ghost story, and the most frightening and suspenseful novel I have read in recent memory. Readers meet the three friends as they are traveling on a small boat to the island, the location of their renovation project. It is a dreary and blustery winter’s afternoon and the seas are rough, indicative of a threatening storm. After disembarking at the uninhabited village, the captain encourages them to call if they need to leave before the predetermined departure a week later. He seems to struggle with divulging something menacing, but elects to hold his tongue. The author’s brilliant foreshadowing paints an atmosphere very different from the bright hopes and expectations of the main characters. Their house creaks and moans, there is a putrid stench which emanates periodically from the kitchen, wet footprints appear overnight, objects move on their own… and the disturbances are only beginning.
I Remember You is actually two tales which are told in alternating chapters. The second story line involves a doctor on the mainland who has recently relocated to the area. Having suffered the unbearable loss of his young son who disappeared three years before, he and his wife have just divorced and he is attempting to move on with his life. As the only professional in the town with any psychiatric experience, the police have called him to a preschool which has been extensively vandalized. Every item in the room is broken, every piece of artwork shredded and the word “dirty” has been written repeatedly on the wall. Even more bizarre is that it perfectly mimics a crime at an elementary school 60 years ago. The investigation reveals multiple classmates from the earlier crime have died under suspicious circumstances.
Discovering the truth behind these mysteries is a thrilling and terrifying adventure. Readers will appreciate the break in the ghostly hauntings when the storyline switches to the mainland. But only for so long, as it becomes evident there are sinister otherworldly events taking place there as well. If you are looking for a great ghost story, check out the Scandinavian thriller I Remember You.
Two long-running manga series come to a close this month, but not without captivating final volumes. In Dance in the Vampire Bund, a seinen manga by Nozomu Tamaki, vampires have been secretly living among humans until one day a vampires-only island (the “Bund”) is created off the coast of Japan. Humans and vampires fear what they do not understand about each other, but this separation creates a fragile peace. As the series unfolds, the princess and head of the vampires, Mina, has been kidnapped by a faction of extremists and replaced with an imposter. Her friends, werewolf Akira and once-human Yuki, must free Mina and together retake the Bund from the radicals. Shades of romance and impressive supernatural powers fuel this fourteen-volume series to its climactic conclusion.
A very different shojo series, We Were There, by Yuki Obata, is a contemporary romance in which several older teens age into their twenties as the series progresses. After Yano’s girlfriend dies in a tragic accident, he begins to date Nanami. However, Yano cannot stop thinking about his late love and heads off to help his unstable mother. In the interim, Nanami begins to date Yano’s best friend, and various love triangles and connections among close-knit characters perpetuate through the sixteen volumes in this series. In a fitting close, a reunion at the graveside of their long-gone friend ties loose ends and promises the potential of a happy ending.
Some novels seem designed for escape, others for amusement, and yet others to satisfy an intellectual craving. Karen Engelmann’s The Stockholm Octavo fits into none of these particular niches yet embodies the characteristics of them all by simply engulfing the reader. With each passing scene, Engelmann sweeps the reader further into to a richly-detailed hybrid of 18th century Swedish politics and mysticism.
Emil Larsson has fared well for himself in this world. A rising sekretaire, skillful gamer and thoroughly contented bachelor, Larsson is a man immersed in the pleasures and glory of Stockholm’s Golden Age. However, destiny is about to deal Emil an altogether new hand. One night, shortly after learning he must give up bachelorhood to maintain his prestigious government post, Emil is approached by Mrs. Sparrow, the proprietress of his favorite gaming house. A known seer, Mrs. Sparrow tells him she has had a startling vision of his future and invites him to undergo the cartomancy ritual known as the Octavo.
The Octavo is a rare and delicate reading – granted to few and successfully wielded by yet fewer. Revolving around a singular life-changing occurrence and the eight people who will bring the event to pass, the Octavo is no mere game. It is a chance meeting of known destiny and free will. And as Emil is about to discover, he is not the only player.
The Stockholm Octavo will appeal to a wide range of readers. A wholly original and dazzling blend of historical events, personal fortune, political intrigue and mysticism awaits readers who dare to follow Emil on his perilous journey.
A couple and their infant daughter move from the hustle and bustle of London to a remote cottage in North Yorkshire. Soon after, the husband Adam disappears, leaving the baby in her carriage on the front doorstep. So begins Sara Foster’s debut novel, Beneath the Shadows. A haunting, psychological tale, the reader is transported to a beautiful but desolate English village, complete with secretive townspeople and a history of ghosts and unexplained occurrences.
When the wife, Grace, returns to the village the next year, she begins talking to the locals and discovers more about her husband’s boyhood. She also learns about more unsettling issues, including hauntings, characters from local folklore and even strange details about the cottage her husband inherited from his grandparents. Her city friends and family are encouraging her to sell the cottage and run, but Grace cannot yet bring herself to do that. Even as an unknown person or people are sending her increasingly sinister warnings to leave, she needs to know the fate of Adam and if he really did abandon his family.
This book has all the elements for a good autumn read: the moors, cold weather, snowstorms threatening to cut off the village, hints of the paranormal and the ever-present danger of harm coming to a mother and daughter trying to rebuild their lives. Fans of the Bronte sisters, Daphne du Maurier or Jennifer McMahon will be intrigued by this story which slowly unravels to lay bare a town’s and a family’s history and secrets.
Shadow of Night, the second book in Deborah Harkness’s All Souls trilogy, was released this summer to the delight of her fans. It continues the story of historian/witch Diana and geneticist/vampire Matthew who met and fell in love in A Discovery of Witches. They go back in time to Elizabethan London to continue their search for the alchemical manuscript Ashmole 782. Upon their arrival, they meet Matthew’s friends from the School of Night, all well-known historical figures like Sir Walter Raleigh and Christopher Marlowe. Their spellbinding journey takes readers to England, France, and Prague. Diana continues her magical education while facing the dangers of being a witch in that time period, and much more is revealed about Matthew’s past and his family.
This series has enchanted readers with its blend of magic, history, and romance. Shadow of Night picks up right where the series-starter A Discovery of Witches left off, so readers new to the series will need to start with the first book. The series is flavored by rich historical detail. The author’s passion for history comes as no surprise, though. Harkness is a professor of history at University of Southern California in Los Angeles. Some of the lingering questions from the first book of the series are answered in Shadow of Night, but many more are left to be explained in the final book of the series.
Harkness’s knowledge of wine is evident in her novels, especially A Discovery of Witches. Many readers may not realize that in her spare time, she shares her love of wine on her award-winning blog Good Wine Under $20.