I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

It’s almost Halloween, so it’s the perfect time to revisit our favorite creepy classics.  I Am Legend was written in 1954 and set in (what was then) the futuristic Los Angeles of the 1970’s.  It has twice been adapted to film, first in 1964 starring Vincent Price as The Last Man on Earth, and again in 1971 as The Omega Man starring Charlton Heston.  It will soon be released for a third time with Will Smith taking the starring roll of Robert Neville, the only man left living in a world full of vampires.  Much of the book revolves around his struggle to secure his home against the nightly visits of the vampires.  Every day he makes repairs to his plywood covered windows and doors, strings fresh garlands of garlic around the house, and spends the afternoon making wooden stakes.  Every night the vampires arrive, throwing rocks and calling for Neville to come outside and join them.  Every day, when the vampires are sleeping, Neville moves around, driving stakes into the hearts of his former friends and neighbors, becoming legend in the minds of the vampires. 

The book is rather short, almost a short story really, but the atmosphere of loneliness, isolation and despair is almost palpable, and the terror that arrives every night when the sun sets is gripping.  Get a copy of I Am Legend and a copy of The Haunting of Hill House and you are set for Halloween. 

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Sarah’s Key by Tatiana DeRosnay

There’s no denying that the subject of this book is disturbing and tragic.  In 1942, on the orders of the Germans, 4500 Parisian police rounded up almost 13,000 French Jews, almost one third of them children, and herded many of them into the Vel’ d’Hiv’, a stadium used for bicycle races.  After being held there for days in cramped conditions with no food or water, they were transferred to prison camps in the suburbs of Paris where parents and children were separated, then sent on to Auschwitz.  The Germans nicknamed the project “Operation Spring Wind.”

Sarah’s Key follows the story of Sarah,  her parents, and her four year old brother, Michel.  In a second (but related) storyline, we are in modern day Paris following Julia Jarmond, a journalist, as she researches the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup for a magazine article and discovers long-hidden family secrets that tie her to the tragedy.  The story is compelling as seen through the eyes of 10 year old Sarah, but when her voice disappears midway through the book, the story becomes bogged down with the emphasis on Julia, her marital problems and her feelings of guilt.  The neatly tied up (happily ever after?) ending was a bit disappointing as well.  For a much more compelling and detailed description of the horrors faced by the Jews during the Holocaust, try Elie Wiesel’s Night.

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Angelica by Arthur Phillips

In the beginning,  Angelica plods along with all the lethargy of Constance Barton’s husband, Joseph.  However, once I made it past Constance’s hand-wringing hysterics to meet the fascinating Anne Montague, the pacing picks up dramatically, and Angelica turns into a very satisfying horror tale in the tradition of The Haunting of Hill House.  The story opens in London during the 1880s and follows the tiny Barton family as they struggle with a sexual spectre that threatens their little daughter, Angelica, and the Barton’s marital harmony [the last is spoken with tongue planted firmly in cheek].  The family’s interaction with the spiritualist, Anne Montague, who has promised Angelica’s mother that she can help Constance remove the demon that threatens the child, is what hurls the story forward. 

The beauty of this novel is that is it broken into four parts with part one narrated by Constance, part two narrated by Anne, part three by Joseph, and part four by Angelica. Each of the characters give an entirely different voice and viewpoint of the same circumstances so that each time I thought I had the answer to Angelica’s demon, a new twist would present itself into the equation. Phillips’ prose is elegant without being too flowery while he spins a dark tale of Victorian sexual taboos and those deep seated horrors residing in own minds.

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Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

 Garden Spells would make a great “chick flick”.  If it were one, it would be a cross between Chocolat and Sleeping With the Enemy.  Bascom, North Carolina is home to an odd assortment of citizens, and none are more eccentric than the Waverleys.   Each Waverley has a special gift.  Claire caters the affairs in town with her magical dishes made with edible flowers and Evanelle always seems to know, even before they do, when someone will need a certain kitchen gadget or an extra quarter.  Strangest of all is the apple tree in the back yard of the Waverley house which bears very unusual apples.

When Claire’s sister Sydney returns home after a long absence, on the run from an abusive relationship, it shakes up Claire’s lonely but safe life.  Will Claire take a chance on love with the sexy artist next door?  Will Sydney find love in the safe haven of her hometown and discover her Waverley “gift”?  Will that apple tree ever stop butting into thier lives?  This is a quick and enjoyable read.  Recommended.   Read a review of Allen’s book, The Sugar Queen, here and her newest book, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, here.

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The Sound of Butterflies by Rachael King

I gave it a really good effort (at least I think I did) and got through three chapters before I gave up on this one.  Amateur naturalist Thomas Edgar leaves his young wife behind while he travels to the Amazon in search of his ‘papilio sophia’, an elusive butterfly.  When Thomas returns, shell-shocked and unable to speak, Sophie must try to discover what has happened in the Amazon to traumatize the young Edwardian gentleman.  I was vaguely interested in finding out what had happened to Thomas,  so I just skipped to the end for a little instant gratification.  Time to find something new for my nightstand.

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The Witch’s Trinity by Erika Mailman

What a fascinating and beautifully well-written first novel.  It’s Germany in the year 1507, a time when pagan beliefs had not yet totally given over to Christianity.  The hamlet of Tierkinddorf is experiencing a devastating famine, and all are nearly crazed with hunger and desperate to discover the “witch” who has caused the misery.   Suspicion soon falls on Gude, an an elderly and sometimes confused woman who lives with her son Jost, his wife Irmeltrud and their two children, Alke and Matern.  This is familiar territory, with hysteria spreading throughout the town (Arthur Miller’s The Crucible) and the arrival of the friar who carries with him a copy of Malleus Maleficarum, a guide to extracting confessions from accused witches.  Nonetheless, it is riveting and will remain with you long after you read the last page.  Highly recommended.

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