Ten Wonderfully Horror(ific) and Sci-fi(tastic) Summer Audiobook Reads

I love a good scary audiobook during the summer; there’s nothing better than the juxtaposition of being terrified by while listening to vampires slowly sucking the life force from their neighbors whilst gazing at Lake Michigan on a baking hot day in the sand.  Or maybe walking through Loyola’s Lakeshore Campus, watching the influx of baby bunnies and as the suspense grows, baby bunnies transform into lifeless, soulless beings hellbent on eating your brains.

What makes each of these qualify is a.) being a good piece of fiction, and b.) an amazing narrator. The perfectly chosen narrator enhances the experience of the novel by enabling you to slip into an almost dreamlike state where you’re completely immersed in the story.*

A Vision of Fire (The Earthend Saga, #1) by Gillian Anderson and Jeff Rovin (2014)

Yes, that Gillian Anderson, and she reads it, too!  Given her magnificent acting chops, it’s no surprise that her narration skills are top-notch.  A Vision of Fire is the first in the trilogy about the compelling and multilayered protagonist, psychologist Caitlin O’Hara and the sudden onset of possession-like symptoms in a number of teens from across the globe.  There’s a part in the book that was so scary that when I pressed stop and turned off the lights, I laid there unable to sleep, completely terrified.  The series weaves together present, ancient history, other dimensions and lots of suspense, especially during the final book in the series.  And again, Gillian Anderson.

The Amityville Horror by Jay Anson (1977)

Cataloged as non-fiction in your local library (yes, this is cataloged as a true story), The Amityville Horror documents an actual demonic case study (take it or leave it) detailing first-hand interviews with haunted husband and wife George and Kathleen Lutz in their newly acquired Long Island home.  The listen is so captivating because it taps into every human’s universal fear-what exactly is lurking in the basement, in the dark.  And I’m not talking about the horror of finding your dad’s old Penthouse magazines “hidden” in some old box in plain view.

The Hatching (The Hatching, #1) by Ezekiel Boone (2016)

I mean come on, ancient spiders from Peru that swarm and devour a person whole within mere seconds?  How can you not?!  The Hatching is fun, silly, scary, creepy, gross, a complete arachnophobe’s delight and best of all, it’s a solid story that seamlessly draws you into the character’s lives and makes you want to read more.  Luckily for us, #2 of The Hatching Series, Skitter, was published in 2017 and George Newbern’s buttery voice floats us through each title with not too much pomp but just enough inflection to really settle you into the world of killer spiders and female presidents.  Oh yeah, there’s  a female president.  It must be sci-fi.

The Passage (The Passage Trilogy, #1) by Justin Cronin (2010)

The Passage is the epitome of nail-biting suspense.   This present-day tale quickly turns post-apocalyptic with the unchecked bombardment of vampires and military deceit.  Cronin successfully rips your heart out by the end as he delves so completely into the souls of the protagonists.  It’s a lengthier audiobook but every word is necessary to capture and carry on this thoroughly intense journey in a world that could be your own.

Universal Harvester by John Darnielle (2017)

Oh, the soothing and clipped flatness of John Darnielle’s voice is music to my Midwestern ears. Darnielle is a stellar narrator, adding the emphasis that he first heard in his head while writing the novel.  He’s also one of the few narrators that doesn’t add inflection for varying characters and somehow it works just perfectly.  In a nutshell, Universal Harvester begins with one of our main characters working in a video store during the 1990s and hesitatingly investigates the strange occurrence of several videos being returned containing suspicious, somewhat macabre imagery.  One immediately recalls the film The Ring, though as the parts of the story progress we become entangled in series of interlacing stories that wait until the conclusion to disentangle.  Darnielle crates a slow, spreading suspense that at times shocks but is never gratuitous or banal. 

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman (1996)

Neverwhere is wonderful.  Period.  I listened to the audio seven years ago and I still think about it constantly as Gaiman’s otherworld descriptions mixed with his spot on pauses and inflections create a near-perfect audiobook (near-perfect because I never wanted it to stop).  Taking place in London, the lead character, milquetoast protagonist Richard Mayhew is propelled into a Guillermo del Toro-esque Troll Market type of other yet parallel world.  Neverwhere is such a perfect example of how the science fiction genre encompasses such an incredibly large pool of subgenres, in this case the creation of a curious, colorful and enthralling alternate reality that fills the reader with complete wonder.  When you finish Neverwhere, American Gods is your next read (prepared to be blown away, of course, on audio).

Tommyknockers by Stephen King (1987)

There’s nothing more blissful than operating through your usual day, whether riding the bus or walking down the block and being so immersed in a complete state of otherworldliness.  That’s what you get when you listen to the Tommyknockers.   In typical King style, he creates and painstakingly fleshes out every fiber of his characters’ beings: their habits, their looks, their communities, every little crumb you’d want (and sometimes not want) to know about the people in his books.  The benefit to this method is that you become intimately involved with the story though the downside is that when strange beings begin to take over the souls of the townspeople, you ache for their well-being.  This is a book that conjures such intense feelings within you that they often surface without warning years later.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (2014)

Easily my favorite book of 2014, Station Eleven is completely original and one of the most lyrical books I’ve ever read.  It’s beautifully written, the story is solid and by the end you realize that you can trust Mandel as an author.  She’s got you.  Though she inserts familiar themes to the post-apocalyptic genre: humanity killing viruses, rebuilding society, cults, good vs. evil, et al, she manages to keep it all very low-key, your interest is constantly peaked but she never raises your blood pressure to dangerous levels.  By doing this, she commands the respect of her audience by never pulling cheap shots by evoking strong emotions not accomplished by the writing, but by triggering themes, which is often done in many science fiction and horror novels and films. Other motifs include memory, family, love, childhood, and a traveling band of Shakespearean actors, because like cockroaches, Shakespeare will live forever.

Infected (Infected Series, #1) by Scott Sigler (2008)

To quote season three of Twin Peaks, these audiobooks are the most, “wonderfulhorrible…of my life.”  Easily a readalike to the Hatching Series, Sigler constructs a world of psycho, mindless killers that contract their ill fate.  Another virus/disease themed novel, except what it does to humans is hilariously gross and shocking.  I’d recommend Infected as a chaser to a serious non-fiction title, or some Russian literature!  The “horrible” part of this equation is that Sigler narrates the titles.  Normally the author is preferable for the aforementioned reasons except here he LOVES to speak in other voices for various characters and oftentimes sounds absurd, may it be a bad Chinese accent or one that’s overly feminized.  Oddly enough the voices fall into their own groove given that the content is often sometimes manic and unbelievable in and of itself.  Sigler is also aware that his reading can be comically awful and both he and his audience eventually accept this.

99 Coffins (Vampire Tales Series, sometimes known as Laura Caxton Series, #2) by David Wellington (2007)

99 Coffins is the second in the Vampire Tales Series and though you don’t necessarily need to read them in order, I highly recommend the entire series, especially on audio if possible due to great veteran narrator Bernadette Dunne.  This installment follows state trooper Laura Caxton as she hunts a resurrected platoon of Civil War soldiers turned vampires.  Like several of the aforementioned novels, this series is enjoyable and light (we’re not reading Toni Morrison, here) but manages to have more guts and solid storytelling than most New York Times best-selling fiction.  It takes itself seriously enough to know that the writer cares about the characters, and respects your time as a reader while keeping it fun.  The only unfortunate piece of the puzzle here are that the book covers are misleading and aggressive, suggesting an audience consisting of a more hardcore cult horror ilk that may be likely to turn away a reader with a penchant towards historical fiction and strong female lead.  Ignore the covers, stay for the stories.

*Let’s all note that this list is mostly a white dudes club, and that white dudes are ruling the horror audiobook game currently.  Nonetheless, they chill the blood and disrupt he dreams all the same.

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Exploring Feminisms’ Top 10 Books of 2013

It may seem unusual that not every book on Exploring Feminisms’ top 10 list of 2013 was published in 2013, but some are just so timelessly fantastic that they deserve to be kept on our socially conscious radar.

1. Rubyfruit JungleRubyfruit Jungle
Rita Mae Brown (1973)

2013 is Rubyfruit Jungle’s 30 year publishing anniversary and because it’s just so damn good, it makes #1.  While reading Rubyfruit Jungle, I couldn’t help but think of the 19th century novel The Awakening by Kate Chopin: down to earth, subversive-by-nature female lead characters who challenge social norms in times where women received the short end of the stick (even more than now, one could argue).  RJ details the life of Molly Bolt as a child in the south through young adulthood as she moves to New York, and we follow her journey as a blossoming lesbian.  She is a rough and tumble character, and the book is filled with hilarious and brutally honest thoughts on womanhood, the life of a wife, and lesbian stereotypes.  Completely entertaining and thought-provoking.

2. The Dude and the Zen MasterDudeandtheZenMaster
Jeff Bridges and Bernie Glassman (2013)

The true testament to any great piece of art is its permeability and stickiness-does it get it and stay in?  Having read The Dude and the Zen Master in June of 2013 and even in the swirling catalog of my own brain, I still often think back to the novel-long conversation between actor Jeff Bridges and Jewish Zen Master, Bernie Glassman, where they discuss the art of living a more meaningful life. There are times when I feel Sartre’s timeless words, “hell is other people,” were written just to describe my plight in life, and it is especially during those times that I can easily manifest the Dude’s Zen teachings.  The manner in which the authors communicate coping mechanisms has saturated so thoroughly that I often find myself imagining my many enemies in clown noses, leaving the often imagined assaults on my character disarmed.

3. No Kidding: Women Writers on Bypassing ParenthoodNo Kidding
ed. Henriette Mantel (2013)

It takes a lot of gumption for a woman to make the conscious choice to not have children, especially in a world where childless women continue to be looked upon with suspicion.  The writers in this collection consist of a group of women with diverse life experiences, all of which have shaped their views on “bypassing” biological motherhood.  They share their varied stories as to why they chose, or life chose for them, not to have children.   Because of the plethora of viewpoints, the reader really gets the full gamut of opinions, thereby neither damning nor exalting child rearing.  This book wouldn’t be called food for thought, but rather feast  for the heart.  No Kidding is filled with comedy, tragedy, wit and even some schadenfreude to keep you on your toes.

4. If It’s Not One Thing, It’s Your MotherIf It's Not One Thing
Julia Sweeney (2013)

Being a parent only to two cats and not an actual human baby, there was some hesitation to pick up this book.  Reading a lecture about how wonderful parenting is and those adorable trials and tribulations of raising a child and how those without children couldn’t possibly even begin to understand…it just didn’t seem appealing.

Luckily, this book isn’t about any of that.  What this book is about is insight and the threads that connect us all by inevitable shared life experiences. We all have families who actually annoy us; we date, we break up; we knit actual and proverbial sweaters as proof of our love; we face stereotypes, either our own or others; we eat cupcakes or candy bars and then feel eater’s remorse, thus perpetuating the cycle of how no one will ever love us because we are fat and ugly, et al.  Sweeney, by describing what is probably a sprinkling of her major life moments, has an amazing gift to pull out the teensiest emotion or observation and tease it out into something that we can all recognize as being personal in our own lives.  I often found myself stopping and thinking, “That’s how I feel!  How come I’ve never thought about that?”  Plus, the appeal of this book could be attractive to many audiences.  Have a kid?  Bam!  This book is for you.  Have a mother?  Bam!  This book is for you.  Are you a sentient being?  Bam!  This book is for you.

5. GulpGulp
Mary Roach (2013)

Gulp is about the digestive system, from start (mouth) to finish (guts, and then you can guess).  Why would you want to read about the digestive system, you may ask?  Because she goes in deep: smelling and tasting what we cringe to even read about and relates it back with humor and tact.  In essence, she skins herself for us, the reader, by diving into the world of cat food sampling, Elvis’ mega colon and a thoroughly gripping description of the nose/tongue connection. Roach chooses a topic, researches it, and pulls out the most interesting parts; in essence, she does the dirty work for us, while keeping the gross-out factor completely classy.

6. Jacob’s FollyRebeccaMiller
Rebecca Miller (2013)

The premise of Rebecca Miller’s third book is truly original: a Hasidic Jew, born in the 1700s, is reincarnated as a fly in current day America who has the power to control the minds of humans.  The story see-saws between his current day observations in the U.S. as a winged insect and his life as an 18th century Parisian.  Miller, who has in the past done a magnificent job of writing and directing from varied female perspectives, takes a stab at writing from the male perspective.  Her observations from the masculine gender’s point of view are entertaining, tawdry, and scintillating, thereby ever-changing your feelings towards the narrator.  While reading, I was sometimes appalled by the hyper-sexualized inner-workings of the main character, and as many of my male friends have informed me, her insight in the male psyche is not so far off, which is both engaging and gross.

In all, JF is a fun book with an amusing storyline that paints some interesting portraits of Hasidic communities, 18th century Europe, and of what many men are usually thinking.  Excuse me as I reach for a full body condom.

7. It’s Not Really About the Hair: The Honest Truth About Life, Love and the Business of BeautyTabatha Coffey
Tabatha Coffey (2011)

I really don’t like to accept advice from those who haven’t been through some shit in life, and Tabatha Coffey, she’s been through some shit. She grew up in Australian strip clubs worked by transgender dancers, her father left her and her mother in the most heinous manner, she was an overweight child who endured the torture that only other children can deal out, and like many of our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, had to endure a little piece of hell while coming out to her family.  Given all of this, she’s surfaced on the other end as a successful business woman who has a firm grasp on what she wants and who she is.  Much like Julia Sweeney’s book, Coffey has taken a fine tooth comb to her life and has given us a guide on how to empower ourselves so that we can live a more authentic life.

8. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger StoryWoman Rebel
Peter Bagge (2013)

With my formal Women’s and Gender Studies lessons years behind, I find it necessary to take additional strides to keep feminist fundamentals close at hand, especially if my work or home environment may be somewhat lacking from time to time.  Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story is an amusing graphic novel that highlights the more monumental and even titillating details of the life of the Planned Parenthood founder.  Thanks to writer and illustrator Peter Bagge, Sanger is presented to us as a real person, though in graphic novel form, by illustrating (pun intended) such enumerations as her famous sexual escapades, to her more unflattering personality prejudices.  In turn, we are reminded that extraordinary people who accomplish extraordinary feats often embody a sliver of the ordinary, sometimes making our own extraordinary feats seem tangible after all.

9. The Last Girlfriend on Earththe-last-girlfriend-on-earth-by-simon-rich
Simon Rich (2013)

It’s so rare that one comes across a book that can only be described as truly original, and after reading a plethora of books over the past year, The Last Girlfriend on Earth remains steadfast as one of the most original books that I’ve read.  It’s short stories are sweet, simple, surprising, and don’t take themselves too seriously, which is especially refreshing in a world where many authors neglect to relate any sort of elasticity and fun.  I mean really, what other books have you read lately that make you sympathize with a sad condom?

10. Ocean at the End of the Lane
Neil Gaiman (2013)

Ocean at the End of the LaneNeil Gaiman is a man who communicates his respect for women through his stories, and in this case, by dreaming up a cosmically strong lineage of three women (grandmother, mother and daughter) whose bond with each other spans time and space.  The three woman, along with a little English boy, fight an evil witch-woman in a small English town.  This book is beautifully written, a quick read and a great primer for any Gaiman novices.

The Last Five Books

Grace: A Memoir (2012) by Grace Coddington

Like most people, I didn’t know of Coddington’s existence until I saw the documentary, The September Issue.  I was left loving her in the film for her spunk, plus her creativity seemed to just ooze out of the screen.

Thankfully, she published a memoir not to long after the filming and it was filled with the same whimsy and joy that can be seen onscreen.  The book itself is one that I would recommend reading in print as opposed to eBook.  The cover is bright orange and is not a usual book shape (more of a square), and it’s filled with great drawings by Grace herself.   And the icing on the cake, the contents leave you wishing that one day your life will have been as full, insightful and as successful both in career and friendships as hers.

Grace

Odd and the Frost Giants (2009) by Neil Gaiman

As per the usual recommendation, when possible, listen to Neil Gaiman’s books as opposed to reading them.  More often than not, Gaiman narrates them himself and adds the perfect amount of pause and inflection in every story.  Much like Chelsea Handler’s self-read autobiographies, Gaiman, having been the writer, truly expresses his wishes for how the stories should be communicated to the audience.

This was just a cute story to listen to while I was baking one afternoon, but it’s worth mentioning for the aforementioned reasons.  If you’ve never read Gaiman, I’d  recommend starting with his adult novel, American Gods.

OddandtheFrostGiants

Rest in Pieces: the Curious Fates of Famous Corpses (2013) by Bess Lovejoy

The title pretty much sums it up.  Leaders, actors, great thinkers, et al, in death all share unusual treatment to their deceased corpses, including but certainly not limited to having their penises cut off and preserved for posterity, floating in life-size fish tanks like wax figures for public viewing, and being shot out of a cannon into the desert.

Of all the figures described, only two women’s corpses are described as meeting macabre after-life endings.  Does this world consider the woman’s body too sacred in comparison to a man’s to desecrate?  Is the documentation missing from history?  Do women not deserve to be fought over and stolen from their graves?  I demand after-life grave robbing equality now!

But I digress…Lovejoy’s book is fun to read and is even safe for the faint of heart.  Her writing style is accessible and interesting, even if you aren’t aware of the life of said corpse.  Plus, there’s a great bibliography at the end for further reading, if that sort of thing does it for you.

RestinPieces

The Faithful Executioner: Life and Death, Honor and Shame in the Turbulent Sixteenth Century (2013) by Joel F. Harrington

Much like Roseanne Montillo’s book, Lady and Her Monsters highlighting the cultural events surrounding the writing of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Harrington’s book paints a larger picture of the world surrounding the life of one special person in our collective history—the life and career of a death dealer, a.k.a the executioner.

The inspiration for the text is the actual diary of German executioner Frantz Schmidt (1555 – 1634) and Harrington’s book offers the reader a glimpse into 16th century Europe and all that your run of the mill executioner had to deal with in his daily life.  If you’ve already begun to glaze over with boredom, fear not!  Harrington offers up enough gruesome facts to keep you interested throughout most of the book, such as the various torture devices, what is done with the body postmortem and the shockingly high mortality rate for mothers and their babies.  Though sometimes I found myself skipping passages that were more detail/date focused, I appreciate that the text would appeal to the more serious history buff.

FaithfulExecutioner

Drinking and Tweeting (And Other Brandi Blunders) (2013) by Brandi Glanville

You gotta love a gal who has no filter, even when she’s sober and today, the girl that I’m speaking of is “Real Housewife of Beverly Hills,” Brandi Glanville.  You wanted the dirt about her divorce from cheater b-list actor Eddie Cibrian and his home-wrecking washed up country singer new wife, Leann Rimes, well you got it.

Glanville’s book is written as if you are sitting down having a heart-to-heart over cocktails and ruminating over past heartache.  It’s a fun, quick read that is a great pause from a more heavy book, or even crazy co-workers.  Glanville’s humor and wit, though related through the narrative of a broken marriage, makes you laugh and sympathize amidst the pain that any reader can relate to.

DrinkingandTweeting