Crossover Alternate Universe BFFs

By Brittney Reed-Saltz

People read books for different reasons. Some people are plot-driven, seeking out books with multitudinous twists and turns and non-stop action. Others read for information, and prefer nonfiction. Some are author-centric, and tend to stick to the same familiar names that have not let them down over the years.

But for some people, characters are the most important part of a text. These readers might forget exactly how a book ended, but their favorite characters’ first appearance will be emblazoned on their minds and hearts forever. These are the readers who like to imagine what it might be like to meet a character from a book. They’re the ones who identify wholeheartedly with Elizabeth Bennet or Hermione Granger or Holden Caulfield (or insert character here) and consider said kinship as good a way as any to explain their personalities.

I said “they” a lot in that paragraph, but of course I mean “we.” I’m definitely a character-driven reader, and each new book is an opportunity to meet new people who might change my life, regardless of the fact that they’re fictional.

And just like when you meet a new person and find yourself reminded of someone you already know–“Oh, you have to meet my friend So-and-So, I think you’d hit it off!”–I sometimes imagine making introductions between my favorite literary characters.

Here are some characters that I think would make great friends, despite living in different fictional worlds.

 

Henry DeTamble (The Time-Traveler’s Wife) and Tom Hazard (How to Stop Time)
Both Henry and Tom have problems with time: Henry has a condition that causes him to spontaneously time travel, while Tom’s causes him to age so slowly as to be nearly immortal. While these are two very different problems to have, I think that they would be able to sympathize with one another. They also share a love of music, though Tom might find Henry a bit quaint and naive… After all, he’s 439 years old.

Amy Dunne (Gone Girl) and Adele (Behind Her Eyes)
It’s hard to fully explain why Amy and Adele should hang out without revealing too much about either book and thereby spoiling the reading experience. But I will say that both of these women are highly intelligent, very crafty, and know what it’s like to keep a secret. I can imagine them meeting up for coffee and sharing the salacious details of their latest schemes, delighting in one another’s intricate deceptions. They would probably be frenemies, but I think they would have a good time.

Alice (The Hazel Wood) and Vivienne (The Cruel Prince)
This is another case of characters becoming friends through the shared weirdness of their existence. Alice grew up on the run from her the legacy of her grandmother, a reclusive author who penned a deeply strange collection of fairy tales. Vivi is a girl living in a fairy tale… Literally, in the Faerie realm, until she decides to try and return to the human world where she once lived. Both girls have been through more than their share of adventure and hardship. They could swap stories and give one another what survivors of trauma need: someone who will listen and believe.

Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) and Isabel Townsend (Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord)
Elizabeth chafes against the societal expectation that women will inevitably get married for money, and refuses to enter a loveless match. She’s shrewd and independent, both qualities that she shares with Isabel, who operates an estate independent of a male caretaker, a highly unusual endeavor for a woman during the early 19th Century. Isabel is a little bit farther ahead on the timeline than Elizabeth (Ten Ways… takes place in the 1820s, while the events of Pride and Prejudice occur somwhere between 1797-1815), but I still like to imagine these ladies meeting. It would be much better for Lydia to go live with the other women in Isabel’s home than to have to marry the heinous Mr. Wickham. (Seriously, is anyone else creeped out by the fact that she has to be stuck with that boor for life, rather than getting a second chance while he’s shunned from society on a desert island or something?)

Roland Deschain (The Dark Tower series) and the man (The Road)
Roland and the man (yes, that’s how McCarthy refers to him) both know what it’s like to live incredibly bleak lives while trying to survive and look out for the people they care about. Both are gruff and cautious by necessity, both have seen and done some stuff in the way of people living in post-apocalyptic worlds, and I see parallels between the man’s relationship with his son and Roland’s relationship with Jake Chambers. This also works well given the idea in The Dark Tower series that all worlds are real and connected. (“There are other worlds than these.”) Imagine an alternate version of The Road where Roland and his ka-tet encounter the man and the boy and band together with them! How differently things might have turned out…

Library Cookbooks: Savings to be Thankful For

by Kathleen Tyree

I am thankful for the vast and ever-changing collection of cookbooks in our library system.  Cooking has always been passion for me. Mom went through a nouveau cuisine phase when I was the only child left at home, and this had a huge impact on my understanding of food and dining.  But cookbooks are expensive! By checking out the new offerings at the library, I can decide if a book is worth purchasing for my personal collection.

(Of course, by using my tablet in the kitchen I can go to Saveur or Food 52 and follow recipes online.  But that just isn’t “the same”.) I also shop at the Friends of Linebaugh Library book sales for cook books – great deals and adventure found there.

According to my records in Goodreads, I average 10 cookbooks every year (this doesn’t count the dozens I flip through when they are returned by other patrons).  Thanks to my library, that’s $300+ saved annually on just cookbooks!

Favorites from the RCLS shelves:

I always try at least one recipe, that’s why they are written after all.

Here are a few I enjoyed, so glad they’re at the library because I’d never buy:

I found this last one when walking through the 641s at Smyrna Public Library.  Not an item I would have thought to search for, didn’t know it existed!  My husband and I have been very pleased in learning the history of bread, pasta, potatoes, and more through historic texts and tapestries.  

Thank you, RCLS, for anticipating this foodie’s need to learn more about food!

Fall into Gothic Literature

by Brittney Reed

Crimson Peak, one of my favorite movies, is widely regarded as a failure. I think that this is largely due to mismanaged expectations on the part of audiences. They bought tickets expecting a $50 million horror movie, but what Guillermo del Toro had made was something far different: a Gothic romance.

giphy
Mia Wasikowska as Edith Cushing is the ultimate Gothic heroine.

Gothic and horror are related, but they’re not the same thing. I think of it as a matter of adrenaline. You’re not going to feel that kidney-spike survival instinct kick in when you’re reading or watching a Gothic. Rather, you’re in for creeping dread and  lingering wistfulness.

Both are things that Crimson Peak has to spare, along with all of the tropes that make a Gothic so darkly delicious: a determined heroine, a dark and brooding hero (who inhabits that role with ambiguity), a crumbling old mansion, plots leading to doom, disturbing family secrets, and, of course, ghosts (and, for my money, the most stylishly-designed ghosts in the history of cinema, but I adore del Toro and might be a smidge biased).

crimson peak 2
“Beware… of Crimson… Peeeaaak!”

I bring up Crimson Peak because I think it’s a perfect example of Gothic fiction in film, and because we’re heading into the perfect time to read Gothic literature. As the days shorten and the weather takes a turn for the dreary, some people seek escape in lighter reads or the warm bustle of Christmas books. I much prefer to lean into the current season and embrace the somber atmosphere of November.

Here are some Gothic novels, from classic fare to more recent explorations of the genre, available through RCLS.

Foundational Texts:
If you want to get down to the origins of Gothic literature, you’ll need to go all the way back to 1764, to Horace Walpole’s Castle of Otranto. It is considered to be the first Gothic novel.

From there, you can also explore The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe and The Monk by Matthew Lewis.

Two out of three Brontë sisters published Gothic classics during the Nineteenth Century: Charlotte wrote Jane Eyre, and Emily, Wuthering Heights. (Anne Brontë wrote less… intense love interests in her novels.)

If you want to read a send-up of the Gothic and the way it inflames readers’ imaginations, you’ll want to check out Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey.

Romantic Suspense:
Crimson Peak gets its inspiration from classic Gothic literature, but also from Gothic romances, which are distinct from other Gothic novels in their focus on a romantic plot. Often a plucky heroine finds herself in a spooky house with a creepy kid and a brooding guy who might or might not have committed a crime. She might be depicted on the paperback cover wandering through a corridor with a candlabrum, or else fleeing from the house wearing a gauzy nightgown, looking back over her shoulder in abject terror. (Neil Gaiman’s 2006 poem “The Hidden Chamber” incorporates this trope.)

Gothic romance following this formula, also called “romantic suspense,” had its heyday in the 1960s and ’70s, and it’s still what a lot of people think about when you talk about Gothic novels. When you look at books from this era, three authors come up again and again: Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt.

Mary Stewart also wrote Arthurian fantasy novels, but she is perhaps best known for her romantic suspense, including Nine Coaches Waiting  and The Ivy Tree.

Phyllis A. Whitney published dozens of Gothics, among them The Winter People and Thunder Heights.

Victoria Holt is known for The Mistress of MellynBride of Pendorric, and On the Night of the Seventh Moon, among others.

Gothic in the 20th Century:
Romance isn’t the only game in Gothic fiction, and the 20th Century also featured less pulpy examples of the genre.

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is an essential Gothic novel, exploring the classic “I wonder how my new husband’s ex-wife really died?” plot. She also wrote Jamaica Inn and My Cousin Rachel, which was adapted for film in 2017.

Shirley Jackson’s work is getting increased attention for the Netflix adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, but the original is far, far different… and regarded by many, including Stephen King, as the best horror novel of all time. You should also read We Have Always Lived in the Castle or, to explore her short fiction, the collection Dark Tales.

Susan Hill’s 1983 slim novel The Woman in Black reads like a much older book, and is a good example of slow-burn terror. If it sounds familiar and you don’t know why, it might be from the 2012 adaptation starring Daniel Radcliffe.

If you would like to get lost in a lush trilogy, try the Gormenghast series by Mervyn Peake, starting with 1949’s Titus Groan.

Of course, a supremely fun and easy way to get a dose of Gothic goodness or to acquaint yourself with the hallmarks of the genre is Edward Gorey. His signature pen-and-ink illustrations accompany odd and macabre tales that are immersed in Gothic aesthetics. Beyond his own writing, he also had a prolific career as an illustrator of other people’s books. He had a penchant for lending his pen to creepy stories, so you can often take his byline as illustrator as an endorsement. (An example being the Louis Barnavelt series, starting with The House with a Clock in Its Walls.)

Contemporary Gothic:
Luckily, since the turn of the 21st Century, the Gothic lives on as contemporary authors find new ways to work within this old genre.

Sarah Waters writes historical fiction featuring lesbian characters and richly detailed settings. To read her work is to be immersed in the time period in a sort of Dickensian fashion. Fingersmith is set in Waters’s signature Victorian London, while The Little Stranger takes place postwar in a Georgian mansion.

Sarah Perry knows the Gothic genre well; she a PhD in Creative Writing and the Gothic from the University of London. She brings this knowledge to bear in Melmoth, in which a strange letter found in a library leads to encounters between a translator and a shadowy figure who moves throughout history.

If you’re only familiar with Audrey Niffenegger through The Time Traveler’s Wife, you should know that her other writing tends to be just as good but much darker and weirder. Her Fearful Symmetry, a ghost story set near London’s famous Highgate Cemetery, is a perfect example.

Though the popularity of Gothic romantic suspense has waned, the genre still attracts authors who no longer feel the need to adhere quite as strictly to the original plot conventions. One such author is Simone St. James, whose novels (among them The Haunting of Maddy Clare, An Inquiry Into Love and Death, and Silence for the Dead), feature historical settings, creepy hospitals, psychics, and ghost hunting.

Kate Morton’s The Distant Hours plays with the time-honored trope of a mysterious letter summoning the heroine to an old castle, where eccentric sisters share history related to her mother. The Forgotten Garden, meanwhile, is set in Cornwall and Australia and preoccupies itself with family secrets and the search for one’s true identity.

Carlos Ruiz Zafón’s Cemetery of Forgotten Books trilogy (The Shadow of the Wind, The Angel’s Game, and The Prisoner of Heaven) begins with one reader’s quest to discover why books by an author he loves are being systematically destroyed. Perhaps the blurb describes it best: “an epic story of murder, magic, madness and doomed love.”

Although contemporary Gothics often aren’t labeled explicitly as such, once you know the conventions, you find that they’re lurking on almost every bookshelf. As you can see, there’s plenty to choose from, and even more when you open up the criteria to include Gothics that blend more strongly with other genres, such as fantasy, or if you decide to explore Southern Gothic. But that’s a subject for another day…

In the meantime, steep a cup of your favorite tea and settle in for a dreary autumn of suitably atmospheric reading.

crimson peak 4
Until next time…

 

 

I Forgot, What Was That Word, Again?

by Marlene Kupsch

You know when you walk in a room and you stand there for a second and laugh cause you have no idea why you went in there? You’re talking to someone and you can’t think of that word, yeah you know, the one you say when you want to sound smart?  It eventually comes back, right? What if it didn’t? What if that happened to you with every single thing in your daily life? What if it repeatedly happened and your doctor told you that it will only get worse and he can’t stop it?

I have the joy of meeting and spending time with some pretty great people through volunteering with a local hospice. Most of the patients I meet are older and have a variety of health issues. One very common health issue is Dementia/Alzheimer’s. It is not an easy disease to understand, and I feel grateful that most times the patients do not know what is happening to them and they do not suffer. One special lady, who has the symptoms of Dementia/ Alzheimer’s loves to do crafty things. I came across these styrofoam shapes that you push colored tissue paper into with a little plastic stick. She loved it and was very pleased upon completion. Although she no longer remembers where she has left her rainbow, and that we made it together, she does remember how to use the plastic stick. She smiles every time I pull the stick out of my bag for another project! Repetition for our brains, very important!

I am pretty biased and believe that nurses are smarter than doctors (two of my aunts are great nurses), but to help better understand from the doctor’s perspective there is Alzheimer’s Disease: The Complete Introduction by Dr. Judes Poirier and Dr. Serge Gauthier. This one has color photos and diagrams to help you better understand what happens to the brain and body as you go through all of the different stages. For a more hands on approach, I recommend Alzheimer’s Activities That Stimulate the Mind. I have found that books like these that are written by nurses are always on point and make you feel the love and time that was put into it. I will be putting these activities to good use. Emilia C. Bazan-Salazar, R.N., B.S.N., I, Thank you!              

Children have a hard time understanding that just because they can’t see it happening, that our brains change. Also, as parents we want to protect our children from all the scary things that life throws at them.  Faraway Grandpa written by Roberta Karim tells the story of Kathleen and the special bond she shares with her grandpa. Every summer she visits him and he always does the same things to make her smile. One summer, Grandpa forgets to do his shenanigans and even comes to live with Kathleen. She then figures out that when she sings their special song that the “clouds” will lift from Grandpa for just a few minutes and that’s where she can always find him. I am not a fan of telling children lies or sugar coating many things. The last thing you could want is your child realizing you lied to them. I believe that you should answer any and all questions that they have, but don’t give more details than necessary. Besides,  they get bored fairly quickly!

Finding Nemo and of course Finding Dory! No other explanation needed!  

Even adult children can sometimes have a hard time with this and need the comfort of each other to get through!  The film Savages is about a dysfunctional family that must come together to help Dad (Philip Bosco) when he starts showing signs of dementia. Son (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and daughter (Laura Linney) place Dad in a nursing home and then care for him through his remaining time, while struggling with their own personal lives.  

The family and caretakers are the ones who experience most of the emotional effects of Dementia/Alzheimer’s. It’s a difficult situation to be in when someone starts forgetting who you are and what is happening to them. It hurts, and it hurts a lot! I often think that because memory loss runs in my family, that I should make sure that my nearest and dearest understand my wishes, if this were to happen to us. It’s not typical table talk, but it is definitely an important conversation to have. All too often I come across a family who, when asked a question of this nature, sound the crickets, all look at each other, and wait for someone to answer. That’s not going to help when you can no longer make your own decisions and your family is arguing over what you would want. Let them know! Today!

The Day We Met by Rowan Coleman will give you a glimpse of what it might be like to start losing your memory. The main character, Claire, is suffering from Dementia/ Alzheimer’s. When she is lost, so are you. When she doesn’t understand, neither do you. It made me think about being in her place and what I would want my family to know if this started happening to us.  

I do not know how it feels to be on the spousal end of this disease, and I hope that I never have to. Since I have been watching  films and reading books on the subject, I at least have a glimpse of what it might be like. Away From Her, a Canadian film, starring Julie Christie and Gordon Pinsent is based on Alice Munro’s short story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain.” The film  won seven Genie Awards. Seven! The story is about a husband and wife who have lived over 40 years together. She has started to show signs of Alzheimer’s and moves into a facility that can care for her around the clock. Upon moving in, they cannot see each other for 30 days. In those 30 days, she forms a close bond with another resident and forgets who her husband is. You go through this with him, you feel lost and betrayed, and in the end, you also feel all the love he has!     

I believe that this is one of the worst diseases ever.  It’s a hunter that has no rules or regulations. There is no cure, and it slowly attacks and eats your brain. You cannot run and hide, it comes from within you! We must fight it head on! 

Help me raise awareness! The state of Tennessee participates in the Walk to End Alzheimer’s. Held annually in more than 600 communities nationwide, Walk to End Alzheimer’s is the world’s largest event to raise awareness and funds for Alzheimer’s care, support and research. Hopefully, by the time you have read this,  I have completed my 2 mile walk in Nashville and donated a few bucks to a worthy cause that affects my family and I. There are local walks in your area in the month of November. Put on your sneakers and get going!!

31 Books About Witches

by Britney Reed-Saltz

For centuries the witch has been a powerful archetype. Feared or revered, emulated or persecuted, her position in society has evolved throughout history, but one thing has remained certain: her presence.

What better time than now, as Halloween approaches, to sit for a spell and read tales of witchcraft? Whether you prefer fantasy, romance, horror, mystery, or nonfiction, this list will point you to the grimoire you seek.

Garden Spells  Sarah Addison Allen (magical realism, series)witches 1

The Rules of Magic by Alice Hoffman (magical realism, series)

The Bone Witch by Rin Chupeco (fantasy, series)

Equal Rites by Terry Pratchett (humorous fantasy, series)

The Good House by Tananarive Due (horror)

Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt (horror)

witches 2The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston (historical fantasy, series)

Bell, Book, and Murder by Rosemary Edghill (mystery, series)

The Witch of Painted Sorrows by M. J. Rose (historical fiction)

Toil and Trouble: 15 Tales of Women and Witchcraft edited by Tess Sharpe and Jessica Spotswood (YA short stories)

The Goblin Wood by Hilari Bell (YA fantasy)

Truthwitch by Susan Dennard (fantasy, series)witches 3

The Witches of New York by Ami McKay (historical fiction)

A Secret History of Witches by Louisa Morgan (historical fiction)

I, Tituba, Black Witch of Salem by Maryse Condé (historical fiction)

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe (fiction)

Circe by Madeline Miller (historical fiction)

witches 5The Witching Hour by Anne Rice (historical fiction, series)

A Great and Terrible Beauty by Libba Bray (YA historical fiction, series)

Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor (YA Afrofuturism/fantasy, series)

Sister Light, Sister Dark by Jane Yolen (YA fantasy, series)

The Graces by Laure Eve (YA paranormal fantasy, series)

Book of Shadows by Cate Tiernan (YA paranormal fantasy, series)witches 6

The Wicked Deep by Shea Earnshaw (YA paranormal fantasy, series)

Dance Upon the Air by Nora Roberts (romance, series)

Secondhand Spirits by Juliet Blackwell (cozy mystery, series)

The King of Bones and Ashes by J. D. Horn (urban fantasy, series)

witches 9Dead Witch Walking by Kim Harrison (urban fantasy, series)

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness (urban fantasy, series)

Drawing Down the Moon by Margot Adler (nonfiction)

Witches of America by Alex Mar (nonfiction)

 

 

 

 

 

The Authors Who Made Me Love Horror

By Brittney Reed-Saltz

So, I love horror. But what made me this way?

Despite what people who don’t like horror novels might assume, it wasn’t a traumatic childhood event, or at least, not exactly. I did begin reading horror at a young age, and each title I picked up drew me farther down the road to becoming the reader I am today.

(As for what set off that initial spark of interest that made me pick up my first scary book, who knows for sure? I’m tempted to blame a mixture of genetics, great trick-or-treating experiences, and exposure to Tim Burton.)

In honor of that journey, here are the authors who had the biggest influence on my discovery of my favorite genre. I also identify what made me love their work, so if you’re struggling to understand a burgeoning young monster kid in your life, maybe this will help.

Alvin Schwartzauthors who 1
Where would I be without Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Not reading horror, that’s for sure. As a child, I didn’t realize that these were urban legends and folklore, and to be honest, I didn’t really care where the stories came from. They were terrifying and timeless, and accompanied by absolutely perfect illustrations by Stephen Gammell, and they scared me out of my wits. This series left an indelible mark on me, and looking at them even now gives me a warm and fuzzy feeling. I even have a pair of earrings featuring two iconic images from the series.

R. L. Stineauthors who 2
I grew up in the ’90s, a time when R. L. Stine was everywhere. I adored the Goosebumps series and lived for the times when my mom would take me to the bookstore that used to be in the Stones River Mall. I would sit on the floor and make the agonizing decision of which book I would pick to take home. When I aged out of Goosebumps, Fear Street was there waiting for me. Meant for teens, I read them when I was much younger, and I loved the covers as much as the stories. It seems silly and quaint now, but the Fear Street novel Goodnight Kiss is actually the only book I have ever stopped reading because it was too scary for me. I loved R. L. Stine because his books really scared me, featuring monsters and ghosts that felt actually dangerous, and adrenaline-fueled situations. But he also has a sense of humor, using lawn gnomes and ventriloquist dummies as villains. The mixture of laughs and thrills is still greatly appealing to me, as in movies like What We Do in the Shadows and books like My Best Friend’s Exorcism. And of course, I’m excited that he has continued the Fear Street series with You May Now Kill the Bride.

Edgar Allan Poeauthors who 3
I discovered Poe around fifth grade, thanks to “The Raven.” I already knew that I liked poetry thanks to Shel Silverstein, but I had not yet realized that you could write scary poetry, so Poe was a revelation. I also loved his short stories, especially “The Black Cat,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” and “The Masque of the Red Death.” I don’t know if I even realized that I was reading classics; I just loved the dark twists and hypnotic language. A couple of years later I would go on to portray the Red Death in a school production of “The Masque of the Red Death,” which I greatly enjoyed because I got to wear a black cloak and be utterly dramatic.

Anne Riceauthors who 4
Anne Rice is one of the adult authors that I read at a young age. I discovered her through the film adaptation of Interview with the Vampire, which I rented from the local video store obsessively. Years later, I started reading the Vampire Chronicles books. My teachers were scandalized. I was in love with Rice’s flowery writing, dripping in angst and innuendo, and with her unforgettable characters. Lestat de Lioncourt is still my favorite fictional vampire. I mean, who wouldn’t admire the bravado and panache of a vampire who decides to break vampiric law and reveal his identity in the grandest possible way: Becoming a rock star?

Stephen Kingauthors who 5
My teachers also weren’t exactly thrilled about my budding love of Stephen King, either. I remember needing to obtain a special permission letter from my mom allowing me to order On Writing from the Scholastic book catalog (remember those?). In middle school I also read my way through Misery, Carrie, and other King classics. I even attempted IT, but stopped because at the time I thought that it was too adult and boring. (That’s the great thing about precocious kids: We test boundaries, but we also know how to set them for ourselves.) King is a consummate storyteller, and I loved his tangents and backstories that he wove into a colorful tapestry of story. He appealed to me as a kid because I saw him as the real deal, a writer who knew his stuff. When I realized that I wanted to become a writer, too, he was the writer I aspired to be.

Christopher Pikeauthors who 6
I discovered Christopher Pike in junior high, and I responded really well to his more sophisticated but still accessible level of horror. One of my most vivid reading memories centers around silent reading time in eighth grade, on a late Spring day. The door was open to let in warm breezes, I was wearing my beloved Ramones T-shirt, and I was totally lost in Whisper of Death. Around that same time, I read all of the Last Vampire series, which is now available in omnibus editions under the title Thirst. They’re sort of like a light version of Anne Rice, featuring an ancient immortal and weird Christopher Pike touches. I’m remembering them as being sort of like Queen of the Damned for kids.

Billy Martin (who published under the name Poppy Z. Brite)authors who 7
By the time high school rolled around, I was an established horror fan, and so I’ll end this list with the author who expanded my horizons and catapulted me firmly and irrevocably into the realm of adult fears. I found the books like Lost Souls, Drawing Blood, Wormwood, and Exquisite Corpse by researching books with goth characters when I was about fourteen. I wanted to read about people who were like me… Or at least, like older and more exciting versions of me, who spent their weekends doing things much more dangerous than writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan fiction. Martin’s books are like if an Anne Rice novel and a Cure album had a baby. I adored their glamorous atmosphere, their characters, and the fact that they were set in the South.

 

3 Dark Fantasy Short Story Collections by Women

By Brittney Reed-Saltz

For a long time I thought that I disliked short stories. Maybe this was the result of only encountering the form in school, where stories were assigned as examples of form or technique, read quickly and squeezed of all their juice and left, at the end of a class discussion, wrung out dry. I spent so much time reading short stories in school that I didn’t seek them out for leisure reading, preferring novels.

But as an adult, I rediscovered the short form and how downright enjoyable stories can be. True, they’re not the full-blown escape of a novel, but they are portals, little interludes into other worlds, and they can do things that novels can’t. Their brevity affords them the freedom to be more poetic and occasionally less logical. They can experiment and confound and beguile. They’re great fun.

Here are three collections of short stories that I love, all of which were written by women. All of them are, more or less, dark fantasy, though each author’s interpretation of the genre reflects different influences, and provides something for very different readers.

her body and other parties

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado
Recently I wrote about book hangovers, and this is the specific book that inspired that post. Machado’s work blends magical realism, horror, and absurdism to comment on the everyday horrors of existing as a woman: sexual assault, body image issues, sexism. To say that Machado is unafraid to tread into weird territory or to leave readers with lingering questions is an understatement. On occasion I would finish a story and wonder what I had just read, but if you’re okay with open-ended resolutions that will make you keep thinking about the stories after you finish them, you’ll be at home with this collection.
Favorite stories: 
– “Inventory,” which charts an apocalyptic pandemic through a list of the narrator’s lovers.
– “The Husband Stitch,” a feminist retelling of “The Green Ribbon” that name-drops a litany of beloved urban legends.

the poison eaters

The Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black
Holly Black is one of my most beloved authors. She always delivers a mixture of beauty and darkness that I find irresistible, and she’s among the best writers working within the framework of faerie folklore today. Some of the stories in this collection are more memorable than others, but all of them are enjoyable, and this would be a good introduction to Black’s writing if you’ve never read her before.
Favorite stories:
– “The Night Market,” an atmospheric faerie story that recalls shades of Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.”
– “The Coat of Stars,” which features a tender and affecting love alongside lush descriptions of fabrics that made me want to dust off my neglected sewing machine.
– “Going Ironside,” which fits into Black’s Modern Faerie Tales series, one of my favorite urban fantasy trilogies.

the bloody chamber

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter
If you want fairy tales in the Brothers Grimm sense, this book is a must-read. Carter captures the darkness of the original stories that Walt Disney edited out in favor of singing birds and helpful mice, and she adds her own shades of darkness. Female characters in fairy tales often exist in more shadow than might initially be made apparent by the unadorned, matter-of-fact language in which they’re usually written, and Carter delves into those shadows with eagerness and intelligence. Her writing is lyrical, bawdy, and sharp, perfectly tuned to her subject matter, timeless while maintaining an underlying modernity of attitude.
Favorite stories:
– “The Erlking,” a folkloric story about a woman drawn to a wildman in a forest despite the dangers he poses.
– “The Lady of the House of Love,” the profoundly Gothic tale of a vampire Countess living in a moldering Romanian castle on the eve of World War I.