Looking for a darker story, but not into over-the-top horror? Try Stephen Collins' subtly menacing graphic novel, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.
A too-perfect suburbia ("Here") and its creepily-regimented group of inhabitants attempt to live their lives free of the threat of the unknown, unseen and untidy world known as "There."
Dave—a quiet fellow with a boring office job— is happy with his routine . . . until he experiences something very strange. An ominous, rapidly-growing beard suddenly sprouts from his face: an untidy, evil beard from There.
Panic quickly spreads, and the government decides that the only way to remove the threat of untidiness and anarchy is to get rid of Dave completely.
Check out an excerpt below:
Any of you readers interested in checking out this Tim Burton-esque tale for Halloween?
From supernatural serial killers to gruesome, chilling murders, these 2014 mysteries have just a dash of horror—perfect for getting thriller fans into the Halloween spirit.
"If ever a book were tailor-made for a David Fincher movie adaptation (Se7en, Zodiac, etc.), it’s Lauren Beukes’ latest dark, genre-bending mystery. On a cool November night in Detroit, Detective Gabriella Versado comes across the strangest crime scene of her career: a dead 11-year-old boy whose lower half has been replaced by that of a deer. Their bodies have been fused together into a macabre human-animal hybrid straight out of “True Detective” or NBC’s “Hannibal,” and Versado believes the killer will strike again."
"In his first novel, The String Diaries, British author Stephen Lloyd Jones has created both an innovative storyline and a new creature to fear. . . . The String Diaries is a phenomenal read, offering readers a refreshing villain and a thrilling narrative laced with the Gothic: a woman being chased by a tyrannical male of supernatural ability in uninhabited places. Jones dazzles in his ability to make his characters' raw nerves so palpable, the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end."
"The Butcher opens with a bombshell revelation, and more and more hits soon follow. Seattle police chief Edward Shank made his reputation when he shot and killed the notorious serial killer known as the “Beacon Hill Butcher.” Shank, now retired, gives his big house to grandson Matt, who finds a box on the property that leads him to suspect his grandfather was involved in the crimes. . . . Author Jennifer Hillier (Creep, Freak) balances a grisly story with a tasty subplot involving Matt’s meteoric rise from restaurateur to celebrity chef, a burst of star power he can’t afford to tarnish with the revelation that . . . well, you'll have to read for yourself."
"Mo Hayder set the hook in me with The Devil of Nanking and then reeled me in with Hanging Hill; now she is back with the home invasion novel to end all home invasion novels, Wolf. . . . Hayder neatly splits genres with this series, borrowing in equal measure from suspense and horror, not unlike John Connolly’s Charlie Parker novels or T. Jefferson Parker’s Charlie Hood books. Wolf is exceptionally original in premise and nightmarish in its rendering."
"Five hundred years ago, a young Norwegian monk took a walk on the dark side, feeding an unholy obsession with death, culminating in his creation of “The Book of John,” a text bound in human skin. This sort of thing is an aberration that appears only sporadically over the centuries. So imagine the shockwave in present-day Trondheim, Norway, when the curator of the museum holding the Book of John is brutally murdered, her skin flayed from her body. Double-down on the shock effect when the cops find that the curator of the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Virginia has met much the same fate."
"Mayhem is a disturbingly engrossing Victorian horror with a standout, menacing villain. Never have I known a smile to be so sinister and rancid, but Pinborough’s prose proves the gesture to be something terrifyingly palpable. This genre-defying novel is a ravenous read and will have you as insatiable as the malicious mischief-maker that awaits you in its pages."
Lin Enger's second novel, The High Divide, follows a family's struggle to stay united as their way of life on the Western plains falls apart. Our reviewer writes: "Enger’s gripping story is a marvelous blend of strong characters and a brilliant depiction of a land and time now lost." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Enger has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three favorites.
Reviews of Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Good Squad focused on the novel’s postmodern qualities and its rock music milieu, and I thought, ‘Nope, this one’s not for me.’ But one day in an airport bookstore, I found myself carrying it to the register. I must have been telling myself, ‘Well, it won a Pulitzer after all.’ And then I read it! Wow. These characters, unbelievably hip and groovy though they are—rock stars, music moguls, writers—are rendered with exquisite insight and love. And the novel’s structure is both inventive and accessible, each chapter offering a seductive new beginning. The best novels conduct a tour into exotic new territory and make the reader happy to be along for the ride, and Goon Squad is a trip I’m glad I didn’t miss.
An old college friend recently told me, apologetically, that he’d just read The Grapes of Wrath for the first time. Not to be outdone, I told him I’d never read it. Then I went home and found a copy on my shelves and started in. Yes, it’s long and descriptively dense, and yes, it can be overtly sentimental. But it’s also brilliantly exhaustive in its depiction of 1930s economic forces and unabashed in its humanity. There is nothing sterile, careful or self-consciously arch about this story of one family’s journey west during the desperate dust-bowl migrations. Steinbeck is ruthlessly clear-eyed—yet at the same time he wears his heart on his sleeve. I understand now why this novel has been a staple in English classes for decades, but I’m glad I waited. This is a book for adults.
One of my favorite novellas of all time is Jim Harrison’s Legends of the Fall, a big wide story of the American West that he managed to tell in less than 100 pages. But I’m not writing about that one here. I’m writing about the novella I’m reading right now by Denis Johnson called Train Dreams. It’s subject is the West, of course, and its focus is the outsized, tall-tale life of a man named Robert Grainier, who works on railroad crews and lumber gangs and who suffers more setbacks than any man should. Like Harrison, Johnson is able to render in just a few pages an epic American vision. The vastness of the mountain west and the yearnings it evoked in those who were drawn there are made palpable—almost painfully so—by Johnson’s unadorned, eloquent language.
Thanks, Lin! Readers, have you read any of his picks?
(Author photo by Hope Larson)
Australian author Richard Flanagan is the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize for his novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North. The Man Booker Prize is awarded to the author of the year's best novel written in the English language, as determined by an esteemed panel of judges. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Flanagan's sixth novel, centers on Dorrigo Evans, an Australian POW captured by the Japanese during World War II. As he struggles to survive horrendous conditions, he is haunted by the love he left behind. See who Flanagan was up against for the prize here.
As a renowned food critic and editor-in-chief at Food and Wine magazine, Dana Cowin can definitely tell you what tastes good. But she had a dirty secret: She had no culinary skills of her own. Thankfully, a few of her chef friends stepped in to help, and her new cookbook, Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen, is an ultra-accessible guide to becoming a more than passable home cook.
The three most important men in my life have one very unexpected connection: crepes. My father, whom I adored, passed away more than twenty years ago. He was a businessman, an art collector, an architecture buff—one thing he was not was a cook. But on Sunday mornings, he’d sometimes make crepes for us, an act of love. (My mother tells me he fell for crepes on their honeymoon in Nassau, where they ate them almost every day.) It was a very special family ritual.
Fast-forward to today: My husband rarely cooks, but on Sunday mornings, he’ll sometimes make crepes, because our son is a picky eater and it’s one of the only things he likes for breakfast. Three generations of love united by batter swirled in a pan.
When Barclay isn’t around or in the mood to make crepes, I’ll step in. Unfortunately, mine don’t live up to the legacy of my father’s. They are often pocked with flour and a little too thick. So I asked Joanne Chang, of Flour Bakery in Boston, to show me how to avoid these mistakes, and she revealed the secret to making the most miraculously smooth batter ever: Mix the warm milk, melted butter and the rest of the ingredients in the blender.
Total Time: 30 minutes
Makes 18 crepes
1. Stir together the chocolate, cinnamon and brown sugar in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. Put the butter, milk, eggs and sugar in a blender and blend until just smooth. Add the flour and salt and blend until the batter is completely smooth.
3. Heat an 8-inch crepe pan or nonstick skillet over medium heat and brush it lightly with melted butter. Pour in ¼ cup batter and, holding the pan by the handle, swirl the pan so that the batter coats the bottom evenly. Cook the crepe until the bottom is just lightly browned, about a minute. Loosen the edges with a spatula, carefully flip the crepe and cook until lightly browned on the other side, about 1 more minute. Transfer the crepe to a platter and roll it up like a loose cigar. Continue cooking and rolling crepes until you’ve used up all of the batter, brushing the pan with more butter as necessary.
4. Scatter the chocolate mixture over the crepes and serve warm.
The batter can be refrigerated for up to 2 days. Stir well before cooking the crepes.
Chef Tips from Joanne Chang
ON SUGAR AND EGGS
Once you’ve poured sugar onto eggs, whisk them together immediately. If you leave sugar on top of eggs without whisking them, the sugar will basically cook the egg yolks and cause them to create lumps.
ON PREVENTING CREPES FROM STICKING
A nonstick pan is good here! Even so, add butter to the pan every third or fourth crepe.
ON MAKING THIN CREPES
Add the batter while holding your pan up on an angle, ladling in just a bit of batter and immediately swirling your pan.
ON CREATING EVEN CREPES
Your pan shouldn’t be too hot, or the batter will start cooking instantly when it hits the pan and not spread evenly.
From Mastering My Mistakes in the Kitchen by Dana Cowin. Copyright 2014 Dana Cowin. Excerpted by permission of Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Read our review of this book.
In celebration of National Reading Group Month, we're offering up Part II of our themed reading group suggestions! (See Part I here.) With so many fabulous books out there, picking one for your reading group can be daunting. Focusing on a category will make selecting your next reading group hit easier!
From cozies to thrillers, these books will leave you speculating with your reading group over whodunit.
Murder at the Brightwell by Ashley Weaver
When an unsavory fiancé is found dead at an English seaside resort, the high-class guests are all suspects. Weaver brings heavy doses of charm and wit to this high-stakes mystery.
The girls at St. Kilda's boarding school can keep a secret, and that's a problem for Detective Moran, who believes some of the students may be involved in the death of a teenage boy.
I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy
When the unpleasant Oliver turns up dead, all signs point to the bitter wife as the killer. Well, make that three bitter wives. Detectives soon discover that Oliver was the deceitful husband of three women. Did this act of betrayal drive one of the wives—or all three—to murder?
Dead Heading by Catherine Aird
A greenhouse full of dead orchids sets the scene for this murder mystery in the English countryside. But when an orchid connoisseur goes missing, it appears that botanical exotics aren't the only thing on the hit list.
Change your perspective with books by international—and internationally acclaimed—authors.
A family's strange and tragic history is explored in this vibrant, magical novel set in the Virgin Islands. As three generations of a family navigate a changing world, tragedies and turmoil continually reveal what matters most.
The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed
The devastating Somali Civil War is viewed through the eyes of three women in this powerful novel. Mohamed and her family emigrated from Somalia in 1986, just one year before the outbreak of war.
In war-torn Chechnya, a man finds an orphan, Havaa, hiding in the woods. In an attempt to save her, he brings her to a run-down hospital and its solitary, over-burdened doctor. It's an act that will change all of their lives.
When a famous novelist is found dead, an astute detective has the strange feeling that the killer might be the writer's seemingly innocent best friend. Be warned: You might view your fellow reading group members in a different light after reading this novel!
If your reading group is like mine, it tends towards fiction. But why limit yourself to novels when some of the most absorbing, powerful books are shelved in the nonfiction section?
The Woman Who Would Be King by Kara Cooney
She may not be as famous as Cleopatra, but Hatshepsut was just as impressive—if not more so. The longest ruling female pharaoh, little is known about Hatshepsut, but Cooney effectively reconstructs a likely portrait of the fascinating pharaoh's life.
In this poignant memoir, inaugural poet Richard Blanco reflects upon his childhood in Miami's Cuban community and his journey toward understanding his identity as a gay Cuban-American.
The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills
Mills gives us a glimpse into the world of Harper Lee, the reclusive author of To Kill a Mockingbird. Mills was Lee's neighbor for two years, and they struck up an unlikely friendship.
Sometimes, Civil War history can be a bit dry. But Abbot's accessible four-fold biography is an entertaining and immensely informative book about a little-known aspect of the Civil War: female spies.
These novels with a spiritual slant turn the focus toward faith.
When a sinister cloud settles over Mattingly, Virginia, the denizens of the small town must decide if they want to forge ahead together or hold on to past grudges.
A football star's charmed life goes awry when he is incarcerated for a crime he didn't commit. After his release, he struggles to reconnect with his estranged wife and the suspicious residents of his hometown.
A Cry from Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks
This suspenseful novel follows a forensic artist as she uncovers a 100-year-old mystery with present-day repercussions.
Snow on the Tulips by Liz Tolsma
When a wounded World War II resistance fighter is brought to the home of Cornelia, a young war widow, she knows that taking him in means risking her life. But her faith drives her to help the young man, and the results of doing so are unexpected.
See any books you'll be suggesting for your next reading group meeting?
If you have ever attended the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, you know that many of the authors' sessions take place in the Legislative Plaza, in very formal hearing rooms with fluorescent lighting. As best-selling author Lauren Oliver said as she sat at the front of the room, it looks a bit like the author is going to be handing out prison sentences.
Halfway through Oliver's session last weekend, she accidentally knocked the State of Tennessee seal off the table, announced, "This is so me!" and held it up for fans to snap a picture. I can think of no better moment to illustrate Oliver's relationship with her readership.
After her session, Oliver sat with me and talked about her first novel for adults, Rooms. While she's clearly fascinated by haunted houses, her book is more concerned with the haunted relationships between generations. Check out the Q&A here.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Bret Anthony Johnston, Creative Writing Director at Harvard and author of Remember Me Like This, during the Southern Festival of Books. He was also a contestant in Nashville's first ever Literary Death Match, which was described by the velvet-jacketed host as a “highbrow, lowbrow literary clusterf__k.” It was indeed. During our interview, I asked Johnston about his involvement and wondered if he was afraid of sudden death.
So what is the Literary Death Match, and how did you get roped in?
Well, they’ve asked me to do it a number of times, because this thing is all around the country. But we had never been able to make the schedule work. But the Southern Festival of Books asked me to do it, and they’ve been incredibly good to me, so I'm doing it. I’m debating whether or not I should open with a really dirty Willie Nelson joke. (Editor's note: He did.) I wanted to show up in one of those Olympic wrestling outfits, like a onesie with shorts. But in my very lazy research, it didn’t seem like I could get it. But if you want to wrestle one up, I’ll totally wear it. (Editor's note: Sadly, I didn’t.) So my strategy is a half-assed costume, then I’m going to read something that’s about three minutes long that I didn’t write but relates to me, and then I’m going to read a three minute short story, because you just get seven minutes. And that’s the best I can do.
Johnston did exactly that, taking the stage at Third Man Records in a Lucha Libre mask and warming up the crowd with hilarious (well, hilarious in light of his success) rejection letters he's received throughout his career. (Letter: "The dead donkey was a bit much." Johnston's reply: "What dead donkey?") He then read his short story "Boy," inspired by Jamaica Kincaid's "Girl."
Johnston was competing against Pulitzer-Prize finalist Adrian Matejka, who performed a poem with musical accompaniment; Patricia Lockwood, whose short piece is so dirty we can't even tell you the title; and Abraham Smith, whose mesmerizing performance entranced the audience. It all came down to a sudden death match of "fictionary," in which audience members with questionable artistic ability drew book titles for the authors to guess. Smith was declared the champion, but not without the help of Johnston, who flexed his preternatural fictionary skills. Luckily, no authors were seriously injured during the Death Match, and afterwards, being in Nashville, we line-danced off into the sunset.
Read the interview with Bret Anthony Johnston here.
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven
Marilynne Robinson, Lila
Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman
Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
Phil Klay, Redeployment
Roz Chast, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
Edward O. Wilson, The Meaning of Human Existence
Anand Gopal, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War through Afghan Eyes
Evan Osnos, Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China
John Lahr, Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh
Maureen N. McLane, This Blue
Louise Glück, Faithful and Virtuous Night
Fanny Howe, Second Childhood
Fred Moten, The Feel Trio
Claudia Rankine, Citizen: An American Lyric
Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming
John Corey Whaley, Noggin
Deborah Wiles, Revolution
Eliot Schrefer, Threatened