I don’t know about the rest of the world, but here in Massachusetts the weather has finally embraced full-on summer, the kind with clear blue skies, warm nights, and the occasional thunder-storm to keep things exciting. It’s a great time to hit the beach or a park and catch up on some reading, so here are some suggestions to get you started.
My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris
Oh my god you guys, this book. It cannot be overstated how much I loved this book – I’m champing at the bit for the next volume, and will probably re-read this one in the meantime.
Karen Reyes is 10 years old, living in a Chicago apartment with her single mom and older brother, Deeze, in the 1960’s. A total misfit at school, Karen spends her days imagining that she is a werewolf and drawing the covers of the horror comics she loves. When her upstairs neighbor, Holocaust survivor Anka Silverberg, is murdered, Karen decides to figure out who killed her. As she takes on the case, however, she learns disturbing secrets about nearly everyone in her life – and has to confront a few demons of her own.
The story is told through Karen’s diary, which is a series of Bic-pen sketches in notebooks. Ferris’ drawings are highly detailed and hauntingly gorgeous, wringing a shocking amount of depth and emotion from what seems like a simple medium. That feat is even more impressive if you know Ferris’ back story: a commercial illustrator by trade, she became paralyzed from the waist down after contracting West Nile virus from a mosquito bite. She also lost the use of her drawing hand. Struggling to support herself and her daughter, she ended up going back to school for creative writing, and taught herself to draw all over again.
That tenacity and sheer will shines in her protagonist, too. Karen is tough and sad and brave and hopeless all at once. As her story unfolds, we learn that the monsters she faces aren’t the ones with the fangs and fur and claws; they’re the much scarier monsters made from hate and fear and racism. The story is only half-finished at 400 pages, and I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Recommended for: Anyone who’s ever felt like a monster.
Steer Clear: If you hate great storytelling, compelling art, and a compelling mystery, I guess.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti
Loo and her dad Samuel have lived on the road for as long as Loo can remember. They travel light – the only thing that reliably goes with them is Samuel’s shrine to Loo’s dead mother, Lily, and his guns. So when they settle down in Lily’s hometown, Olympus, Massachusetts when Loo is 12 years old, it comes as a bit of a shock. And that’s just the beginning of the surprises, as Loo grows up and learns more about her father’s mysterious past.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley is a reimagining of the Hercules myth – instead of twelve labors, there are twelve bullet scars on Samuel’s body, and a corresponding tale for each. The novel alternates between chapters about Loo and Samuel’s current life and the story of each of those bullets. Each tale gets the stories closer to intertwining, until all is revealed.
This book made me torn in the way that all of my favorite books do – I was dying to know what happened, the terrible secrets of Lily’s death and Samuel’s criminal past – but at the same time, I didn’t want it to end. Tinti is the co-founder of One Story, a magazine dedicated to the art of the short story, and those skills are showcased in the construction of this novel, her second – the entire narrative is cohesive and whole, but each chapter is its own mini-jewel of a story.
Recommended for: Mythology buffs, ne’er-do-wells, and fishermen.
Steer Clear: If you have a low tolerance for people getting shot.
An Augmented Fourth by Tony McMillen
Full disclosure: Tony is a personal friend, and so far, what I read was a draft of this novel. But the changes are close enough to cosmetic that I feel comfortable making the recommendation.
The year is 1980, and Codger Burton, bass player and lyricist for the heavy metal band Frivolous Black, is holed up in a Boston hotel trying to get clean. Unfortunately for Codger’s plans, he’s snowed in, most of the other guests have been evacuated, and the ones who are left aren’t entirely what they seem. Monsters have claimed the Hotel Alucinari, and they could be hiding inside anyone – including Codger himself.
An Augmented Fourth is a horror novel, sure, but it’s also a love letter to music, and McMillen’s devotion to his subject is clear. He’s even created songs from his fictional band, which you can check out here. The characters start out as nods to real people like Geezer Butler and Siouxsie Sioux, but as the novel progresses they take on real lives and significance of their own. At its heart, An Augmented Fourth, like McMillen’s previous novel Nefarious Twit and graphic novel Oblivion Suite, is all about the tension between art and fame, about how the latter can twist and warp the artist into something horrifying and unrecognizable. Like all good horror, it’s symbolic, but it’s also genuinely creepy. The big bad is suitably terrifying and otherworldly, and the finale was supremely satisfying.
Recommended for: Lovers of Lovecraft, Black Sabbath, and The Thing.
Steer Clear: Those afraid of the darkness within – or without.
Have you read any of these or plan to this summer? Tell me what you think in the comments!