Slade House by David Mitchell
Readers who have enjoyed David Mitchell’s earlier novels, The Bone Clocks or Cloud Atlas, or who are looking for a haunted house story will be entertained by Slade House. Otherwise, you may be just as confused as young teen Nathan, college student Sally, or policeman Gordon when they open the tiny iron door in Slade Alley and enter the garden of Slade House. The door only appears every nine years on the last Saturday of October. Of course, things are not what they seem, more like Alice in Wonderland than Brigadoon, and eventually they encounter evil twins Jonah and Norah. Not nearly as substantial as his other books, Slade House is humorous and scary, but not very satisfying.
Welcome to Night Vale by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
What is Night Vale? First it was a popular podcast set in a surreal town in the desert. Now it’s a book, audiobook, and ebook that fans of the podcast, along with the reader looking for something a little different, can enjoy. I’ve only listened to the first two podcasts, and it took me a little while to feel welcome in Night Vale. But once you visit there, it’s really hard to leave. Night Vale is a cross between Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon tales and The Twilight Zone. Strange lights appear in the sky, helicopters and secret police are here to protect us, a sentient haze works at the movie theater, and angels named Erika don’t exist. There is an opening for an intern at the local radio station, but it’s not a job with a good future. Customers at the Moonlight All-Nite Diner may pick fruit off the tree who is also a waitress, or eat invisible pie. Single parent Diane works in an office where her boss Catherine denies that a man named Evan ever worked there and seems oblivious to the tarantula on her desk. Diane’s son Josh, a teenager, is a shapeshifter. This is a problem while he’s learning to drive. 19-year-old Jackie runs an unusual pawn shop. She’s been 19 for decades but can’t remember her childhood. Now Jackie can’t get rid of a piece of paper that simply says King City. Diane and Jackie finally work together to learn more about King City and to confront Troy, Josh’s father. Along the way, they brave trips to the library (all the librarians are tentacled monsters) and to City Hall. I enjoyed my visit, and plan to listen to more of the ongoing podcasts.
Night Film by Marisha Pessl
From the title, this sounds like a dark book, and it is. A combination of horror and mystery, the novel is centered around the activities of Stanilas Cordova, a genius movie director, who produced a limited and very notorious group of films made in the seventies and eighties that were so malevolent and disturbing that they were banned from being viewed in theaters and thus could only be seen through special viewings set up by his cult of followers, called Cordovites. These viewings took place in hidden underground venues. The movies were produced on Cordova’s secluded and highly secure residence, surrounded by an twenty foot high impenetrable concrete barrier. All the actors are hired not so much for their talent as their ability to keep a secret. Cordova has not given an interview or been seen in thirty years. There are rumors that these movies Cordova has been making are “snuff” films” but there is no evidence.
The plot begins with the suicide of Stanilas’s daughter, Ashley Cordova, a gorgeous, brilliant child and a piano prodigy. Scott McGrath, a veteran journalist, suspects that Ashley’s death is not a suicide, and with two young people who knew Ashley intimately, sets out to discover the “Truth”. As they probe deeper into the Oeuvre of the secretive director, the trail leads through depraved night clubs, secluded apartment buildings and ultimately to The Peak, the mystery shrouded Adirondack estate of Cordova, which has been long been abandoned.
The book is full of page turning excitement, and not a few dark gruesome scenes. However the end of the book resembles Captain Willard’s search for the enigmatic Colonel Kurtz in the movie “Apocalypse Now”. Can the true horror of people ever be known. As Colonel Kurtz says at the end of the movie, “The Horror, the Horror”.
Storm Front by Jim Butcher
I was inspired to read Jim Butcher’s first book, entitled “Storm Front” in his Dresden Files Series, after a friend excitedly introduced me to the main character, Harry Dresden–wizard extraordinaire! I am now a fan and am sure to read more in this series. Thrillers with car chase scenes just don’t grab me the way a giant scorpion (“an orthopod version of Frankenstein’s monster”) chasing a wizard does. I read this book on audio and the narrator James Marsters sounds as smooth as Butcher’s portrayal of Dresden. While this book didn’t center too much on the Chicago landscape, the series overall does. I think I’ll enjoy that aspect of the other novels that I’ll eventually get to. Some of the most pivotal points in the story take place outside of the city at a lakefront home where Harry Dresden confronts dark magic in an effort to solve two converging mysteries. The first case is of a missing person and the second is of a baffling killing spree, in which the murderer left a distinct signature mark. Lieutenant Murphy of the Chicago PD Special Investigation Unit suspects that only Dresden, her trusted wizard friend and private investigative colleague, can offer insight to this grisly case.
Other suggested audio reads of dark fantasy that has lighthearted, witty humor mixed in are Neil Gaiman’s “Anansi Boys,” read by Lenny Henry who is superb at speaking with multiple dialects. Jim Dale’s reading of the J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” audiobook series is also intense and versatile.
The Cabinet of Curiosities by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Natural history fans that are willing to suspend their beliefs and delve into the supernatural world, mixed with some horror, may really enjoy this fast paced and entertaining thriller. FBI Special Agent Aloysius X. L. Pendergast, a rather dark, yet nonthreatening and serene character, persuades archaeologist Dr. Nora Kelly to suspend her work at the American Museum of Natural History in order to help him investigate the mysterious serial killings from 130 years ago that have just come to light. Pendergast, Kelly, and William Smithback (Kelly’s boyfriend, a journalist for the New York Times) become obsessed with solving this historical case once they become certain that recent, similarly gruesome serial killings are related. As the plot thickens and the investigation goes beyond their wildest expectations, their own lives are threatened by what appears to be a mad scientist who is hell-bent on concocting an elixir for the greater good of mankind even if it means torturing innocent, human beings. At the beginning of the book, I skeptically focused on the stereotypical attributes that the characters were assigned—yet the fast pace and natural history theme kept me engaged. Almost seamlessly, the characters were later developed into complex beings that I didn’t want to leave behind when I set my book down for the day. Although the story involves the supernatural, the twists and turns that take place as new evidence is introduced during the investigation make perfect sense and chances are you will not be disappointed in the story’s end. Terms that best describe this book are: page-turner; character driven; and conclusive. Readers of this fantasy, investigative series may also enjoy the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher, or if the fictional interplay between different centuries and the archaeological aspect intrigues you, give Timeline by Michael Crichton a try.
Discover more on the authors’ website.
Raising Stony Mayhall, by Daryl Gregory
I don’t usually read books about zombies, but this is not your typical zombie story. Are you ready for the zombie apocalypse? Me, neither. In fact, I think the existence of zombies is impossible. Oddly, so does Stony Mayhall, Daryl Gregory’s living dead protagonist. In 1968, Wanda Mayhall is driving her three girls home through an Iowa snowstorm when she sees a body by the side of the road. Wanda finds the frozen body of a young woman, with a cold baby in her arms. Then the baby opens his eyes, and Wanda takes him home, where she and the girls keep Stony’s existence secret from everybody but their Korean neighbors. After young Kwang comes to visit, Stony grows in size to match him, and they grow up together. While frustrated because he’s stuck at home, Stony loves his family. After a tragedy, Stony is separated from his family and taken to a safe house with other living dead (LDs), and even to a secret LD convention, which ends badly. LDs have different political views, and are really dangerous for only a few days after they are bitten and become LD. They can eat and drink, but don’t need to, and smoke a lot. Some even fall in love.
Stony studies the origins and science of LDs and meets a wealthy entrepreneur on a desert island who wants to send LDs into space. Stony longs for contact with his human family, and tries to prevent a faction of LDs from starting the Big Bite, or zombie apocalypse. A funny, sweet, and frightening story of self-discovery, family love, and zombies.
Immobility by Brian Evenson
Josef Horkai is a new breed of human. He has super human strength and is able to miraculously heal from any sustained injury. Nature, or rather human folly has singled him out in a new and perilous world. The Planet (Earth) has sustained a catastrophic annihilation event. Most ordinary humans didn’t survive and the ones that did live in a post-apocalyptic world. Survivors hole up in small buildings that endure in a ravaged landscape. Because he is able to live in a world where ordinary humans die of exposure in minutes, he is a valuable commodity to the competing factions that fight over what little that is left. I won’t tell you what these factions are or their purpose, but the book A Canticle for Leibowitz by William M. Miller comes to mind. Another novel also comes to mind: The Road by Cormac McCarthy, which I have not read but I did see the movie. Josef strives to prevail in a world that he has little knowledge of since he has been cryogenically frozen for the past thirty years and sent on a mission that he understands little about.
This is a grim, ultra dark thriller that hooks you from the first page. It is a fast read, but a real nightmare to think about. Other books by Brian Evenson are Windeye, Fugue State, and The Open Curtain.