Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish with the aim of sharing Top Ten lists of our favorites – mostly book related.
This week’s topic: ten scary books, favorite horror novels, non-scary books to get you in the Halloween/fall mood, bookish halloween costumes, scariest covers), scary books on my TBR, etc.
With Halloween rapidly approaching, this meme was too intriguing to ignore, and I believe no one would better represent the genre than the true master, the king – in fact and in name – of horror: Stephen King.
The multi-faceted declinations of horror in his novels have fed our nightmares for the past few decades – and let’s face it, we love being scared this way! So here is my personal top ten of his books:
10 Christine – A car with a personality, and a malicious one to boot. It’s enough to make you seriously think about public transport for the rest of your life. This story starts with a young man’s obsession with one such car, and progresses from there to its chilling evolution.
9 Firestarter – Mental powers are scary enough, especially when they can be so disruptive: here Mr. King showed us what could happen to a young girl capable of lighting fires with her mind, once her world has been destroyed and she’s on the run from those who would use her ruthlessly.
8 Carrie – Everyone indulged in some innocent pranks during their times school, and I’d like to think no one was ever as cruel as the other kids were to Carrie. But if they did, they should read this book and think – long and hard – about retribution…
7 The Dead Zone – What if one went into a coma as a consequence of a terrible accident, and woke up able to see other people’s past and future? And what if they could see – truly see – the evil that lurks into their minds? It’s just as frightening a possibility as it is intriguing…
6 Pet Sematary – Losing one’s beloved pet must be a harrowing experience, or so I’ve been told by people who had this happen to them. But would having them back really be a good thing? Especially if the same “miracle” that brought them back can be applied to people…
5 Mysery – Nothing supernatural in this story, but it’s more than enough to terrify you: imagine being at the mercy of someone who claims to be your staunchest admirer and wants something from you, or worse, feels you owe them something. Sometimes a real-world setting can hold more horror than a fantastic one.
4 The Shining – The idea of haunted houses (or hotels as is the case here) can give you shivers, but when they are located on an isolated mountain, during winters, and the ghosts that dwell there can take possession of an already disturbed mind, you have a recipe for unspeakable horror. One of Stephen King’s most haunting stories.
3 It – This is one of King’s books I found more disturbing, and I mean this in a very positive way: a group of people reunites after a long time to battle once again the monster who preyed on kids luring them into the depths of the city’s sewers. After reading this story, I’ve never looked at a storm drain in the sam way…
2 Salem’s Lot – my very first vampire book, the one that set my standards for the genre. A small town is being slowly overtaken by the undead, and only a writer, returning home after a long absence, can convince his fellow citizens to fight the monsters. The scene that burned itself in my mind is the one of the young boy, transformed into a vampire, who knocks on a friend’s window at night begging to be let in.
1 The Stand – I consider this King’s masterpiece: on the wake of a global pandemic that has decimated the world’s population, an ancient evil tries to establish its rule over the survivors while the “forces of good”, gathering around the mysterious Mother Abigail, prepare for the battle against the darkness. As involving as this battle is, I find the first part more involving: the slow, deliberate pace of the end of the world as we know it remains, in my opinion, the best description of an apocalypse in the making I’ve read until now.
I became aware of this series when reading the review for the third volume over at THE BIBLIOSANCTUM, and was immediately intrigued: titles like this one, or One Good Dragon Deserves Another and No Good Dragon Goes Unpunished are an implicit promise of humor mixed with the usual elements of the genre, and some light fun is always welcome between heavier reads. Moreover, if dragons are fascinating creatures, dragons who can take human form at will can be even more so.
Julius Heartstriker is an unusual dragon: unlike his brethren, he doesn’t enjoy typical draconic pastimes as domination, manipulation and the hoarding of riches, and prefers to keep himself apart from his large family, holing up in his room playing online games. Tired of this state of affairs, his mother Bethesda decides to put him in a “swim or sink” situation and after sealing Julius in human form, she kicks him out of the house with only the clothes on his back, and drops him in Detroit, where he will have to show some dragon-like initiative and strength: failure to do so will result in his death – probably at the hands, or rather jaws, of Mommy dearest. The city is, however, forbidden to dragons after the release of magic effected by Algonquin, the Lady of the Lake, and it’s a dangerous place for anyone, either on the upper levels where the more affluent live, or in the ruins of the old town, where the dispossessed and the shadier characters dwell.
To prove himself to his mother and the rest of the family, Julius will have to fulfill what looks like a simple task: retrieve the fugitive member of another dragon family and bring her back into the fold. The assignment proves however far less easy than predicted, due to some convoluted dragon politics and the added trouble brought on by Marci Novalli, a human mage with whom Julian strikes a business deal and who quickly becomes his partner and ally.
Nice Dragons Finish Last is a fast, entertaining story that manages to mix successfully the typical elements of Urban Fantasy with a good dose of tongue-in-cheek humor that seems to enjoy poking some fun at the genre’s main tropes: this is particularly evident in the character of Marci who is a very skilled mage, quite versed in her craft but at the same time possessed of a MacGyver-like approach to magic that will more often than not bring a smile on your face rather than an awed expression. Yet, at the very same time, there is an earnestness in her, coupled with the tragic circumstances that brought her to the DFZ (Detroit Free Zone), that makes you also take her very seriously, just as Julius does, understanding – after a relatively short acquaintance – that he can rely on her to carry them both forward through the dangers they face.
Labeling Julius as a wimp would be quite appropriate, even by less exacting human standards: if on one hand I could understand his unwillingness, as a smaller-bodied dragon, to engage in the more physical activities of his large family, on the other I found his choice of becoming a couch potato did little to endear him to me, at least in the beginning. If Bethesda and her daughter Chelsie, the family’s executioner, appear quite ruthless and bloody minded, to the point that her treatment of Julian sounds altogether cruel, it becomes quickly clear that being an active part of a dragon family does not necessarily entail bloodshed and mayhem, and that one might find his or her own niche in some equally profitable activity that does not necessarily require physical violence, but rather shrewdness and business acumen. Yet Julius has chosen to hide himself in his room, preferring to avoid and be avoided, in what looks like a flight from responsibility – any kind of responsibility. So, after a while, one feels that maybe he did need to be shaken up and away from his complacent isolation, and Bethesda’s actions appear almost justified. Almost…
It will be only through his association with Marci and his growing fondness for the beleaguered human mage, that Julian will find his spine and the courage to stand up for what he believes in, and to finally tap his… inner dragon, but it will be a long and difficult journey, one that will take the two of them – at times helped by a couple of Julian’s more lenient brothers – through cat-infested, haunted mansions, Detroit’s sewer system plagued by scores of huge lampreys, and other less-than-savory places.
I have to admit that after a while I could not avoid the comparison with another Urban Fantasy series, one I enjoyed very much: M.L. Brennan’s Generation V, nor could I shake the impression that I might have enjoyed this one much more if I had not read the other prior to discovering this. In both cases we have a matriarch running a supernatural family, whose youngest child is reluctant to assume the role and duties that come with the territory. Here, like in Generation V, there are older brothers ready to help the younger sibling along – at least up to a point – and an older sister who is the family’s henchwoman and who can inspire abject terror at the merest mention of her name. And again, partnering up with someone from the outside (be it the mage Marci or the shape-shifting Suzume), makes all the difference for the main character who can finally overcome some of his liabilities and start to come into his own.
The tone is however quite different here, the balance between humor and drama leaning more toward the former, the dragons’ dynamics and peculiarities lending a unique flavor to a story that is both entertaining and intriguing, and lays the basis for promising future developments. As the beginning of a new series, Nice Dragons Finish Last is quite successful in introducing its readers to a peculiar world, giving just enough hints to pique their curiosity and make them want more. I, for one, will certainly want to know what’s in store for newly-awakened Julius and his journey toward becoming a full-fledged Heartstriker dragon.
This GoodReads group proposes a weekly meme whose aim is to give a list of Top Five… anything, as long as they are book related. This week’s theme is:
Those books that have nothing to do with the story, or the cover model doesn’t look anything like the actual main character, or it’s a really cheesy cover for a great read!
To say the truth, none of the covers of the books I’ve read in the past few years were really misleading: when I went to check on my GoodReads library, I could not find any that would fit this week’s theme. So I decided to do a little search for the covers of pulp magazines from a few decades back and there I found exactly what I was looking for.
In those times, garish covers were the accepted norm: monsters from outer space, outlandish aliens and extra-terrestrial landscapes, spaceships of every size and shape – you name it, they had it.
There was one common factor though: the women depicted on those covers were all scantily clad, exotic-looking and either terrorized victims of some evil-doer or being rescued by the muscled hero. And probably had nothing to do with the stories listed in the magazine. Here are the Top Five that came out of my search:
In the first one, we see the lady on the cover being pursued by some bad guy and/or alien (he’s bald, and back then most aliens were bald…): they must be hovering in space, and both of their heads are enclosed by a bubble helmet, but while the man is wearing a space suit, the woman sports something close to a bathing suit, with a very, very deep neckline. In vacuum…
In the second cover, our designated victim is stalked by a spidery-looking alien and looking suitably frightened – but no fear! The hero is just around the corner, ready to save her! And once again, the man is in full EVA suit, while the woman wears a golden bikini. With matching shoes. After all, you can’t give up on fashion, even in the direst of circumstances!
Third cover – more of the same, with a slight variation: the woman is unconscious, probably terrified by the big-toothed, long-nailed (and bald!!) monster in the background. Thankfully the hero is carrying her away to safety. As if we could ever doubt it!
With cover nr. 4 there is a change: in this case the lady is armed and deadly – in the picture she seems to have just stunned or killed the “big bad alien” (he’s green AND bald, to offer some variety, no doubt). The woman’s weapon is still smoking (do energy weapons smoke at all?) and she looks quite resolute – yes, in her space bathing suit, complete with bubble helmet and spiked epaulettes. Oh, and gloves…
And finally, at nr. 5, another ass-kicking lady, swinging an axe against a many-tentacled monster, while the guy in the background seems to have some trouble defending himself. The woman is wearing a full-body suit this time, but it seems painted on her, and the conical cups for the breasts look decidedly uncomfortable!
What’s worse, is that there are still some genres where covers with scantily clad people appear in absurd poses: that’s the reason why writers like John Scalzi and Jim C. Hines decided, some time ago, to poke some fun at those covers, while supporting a charitable foundation. As a “bonus” for this week’s theme, here are both the original cover and the… portrayal by Scalzi (on the right) and Hines (on the left), but you can find more by following the links in this IO9 article. Have fun!