Even before I became a fan of the horror genre (thanks in large part to my three years judging the Reading List Award), I always loved a good ghost story. Creepy and scary – without usually being gory or bloody – they remain a favorite horror monster. And while there are tons of excellent ghosts in horror proper, you can find them in a lot of other genres as well. Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order:
The Restorer by Amanda Stevens
For me, this is a perfect combination of urban fantasy, romance and spooky horror. Start with the heroine’s profession and nickname: she restores old cemeteries and is known as the Graveyard Queen. Now this would, on the surface, be a pretty stupid career for our heroine Amelia Gray, who is from a family especially susceptible to ghosts. He father taught her to never acknowledge a ghost, or it could torment you forever. But she loves her job, drawn to the beauty of the old graveyards of the South. When she meets Detective John Devlin over a dead body (of the fresh kind) in a cemetery she is restoring in Charleston, she knows she should keep her distance from the man, who is haunted by the ghost of his dead wife. But they end up working together as more people are killed in Charleston. The sequels never captured the magic of this one, unfortunately. Very gothic, and very good. (more…)
As you may have noticed from the past few days, I love a good heist/caper. They have the excitement of a mystery but flipped around from a whole new perspective. Let’s face it, solving crimes is slow, painstaking work with long hours, low pay, and lots of paperwork. Committing crimes — now that sounds like a lot more fun. Capers and heist stories show up in just about every genre, bringing adventure and excitement with them. Fantasy and Science Fiction both have a long history of thief heroes. Hell, Bilbo Baggins is a thief! From some long-term series with criminal anti-heroes to books where characters unexpectedly cross the line to the dark side, to mercenaries who aren’t too picky about the jobs they take – there’s a lot to choose from when you look at capers and heists in speculative fiction.
How much do I love criminal heroes? The scruffy lawbreakers, the talented thieves, the charming con men and women? They make a great change from traditional mystery law enforcement heroes. The plots of capers and heists, like the mystery novel, involve a crime. But instead of trying to solve the crime, in the heist plot (and often the caper as well) the reader is rooting for the criminal to get away with their nefarious schemes. They can blend mystery and suspense, or mystery and humor, and I love it when they blend in a romance on top of all the hijinks. While I think the heist plot works even better in the movies (see yesterday’s post!) due to medium’s ability to convey visually the tension and intricate scenarios that would take a lot more time to paint with words, there are quite a few authors who write heist stories that are almost as gripping as anything put on film. Here are some of the best crime novels where criminals take the spotlight: (more…)
Although I love traditional mysteries with their law abiding, law enforcing heroes and heroines, I admit to having a soft spot for the crime stories that flip the hero paradigm around and put the law breakers into the spotlight. Still under the umbrella of crime fiction, these stories focus on the successful achievement of a criminal undertaking rather than preventing a crime or catching the criminal. Charming rogues, loveable rulebreakers, and morally ambiguous anti-heroes are my catnip. In both capers and heists, much of the appeal is related to characters. You have to like these characters (or at least be interested by them) in order to follow them to the dark side. It helps that the characters in a caper or heist is often funny and smarter than everyone around them. The other big appeal is plot, of course, as they tend to be intricately planned schemes that reward careful attention and showcase the clever ingenuity of the lawbreakers. Two overlapping stories that explore stories that flirt with (or fully embrace) the criminal side of the mystery line are capers and heist stories. (more…)
I am sure there are many readers who would swear on a stack on bibles that they don’t read horror, but who might read certain horror that sneaks onto the bestseller lists or gets literary love. I thought, in honor of Halloween and All Hallow’s Read (you know– the super-fantastic tradition that Neil Gaiman invented where everyone gives someone a scary book for Halloween?), I would highlight some books that are fantastic horror novels that for one reason or another are read far beyond the normal genre audience for horror. Sometimes these are books by well-respected literary novelists who are dabbling in a darker hue; sometimes they are subtle horror novels that skirts the edges of the genre. They might be as scary as anything Stephen King ever penned, but they sit on our “literature” shelves rather than in the horror ghetto. These scary books have gotten a lot of critical love and might be just the thing to give someone who doesn’t think they read horror. (more…)
As a break from all the books, I thought I would round-up some of the new TV shows this fall that combine genres. In my book The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Blends, I have a whole chapter on blends in other formats, including lots of great examples of blends on TV. As a readers’ advisory librarian, asking what TV shows a person likes is a great icebreaker for working with readers not used to articulating what kinds of books they like to read. Folks who like genre blending in their TV might also like it in books, movies, comics, etc. But increasingly, librarians need to be comfortable helping people not only find books to read, but should also be prepared to help patrons find TV and movies they might like in our DVD collections. It might not be cool in the book world to admit you like TV, but I am unabashedly fond of a lot of shows on TV these day. TV can be a great medium for genre blending, as the episodic nature of the format gives creators lots of opportunities to play with different storytelling styles. So I watch a lot of TV, in between all the book reading, and these are my picks for new shows that are doing interesting things with genre.
TITLE: The Troupe
AUTHOR: Robert Jackson Bennett
PUBLISHER: Orbit, 2011
THE BOOK: In an undefined turn-of-the-last-century time when vaudeville was still going strong, we meet young George Carole, a piano player at a small Vaudeville theatre in the middle of America somewhere/nowhere. Sixteen-year-old George is working at Otterman’s theatre for only one reason: he hopes his father will play there someday so he can finally meet the man. But when he does finally track down his father’s vaudevillian troupe, nothing goes as planned. His father, Hieronymus Silenus, is involved in something bigger and scarier than a simple entertainment and when George see the Silenus troupe play, his life is changed forever. Between the creepy puppet act, the tantalising dancing of the beautiful Colette, and the mesmerizing song that ends the act, George is fascinated. But it is his encounter after the show with a spooky gray man who sucks all the light out of the world around him that decides George to sign on with the Troupe. Because Silenus is somehow using his show to battle back all the evil of the world. Or is he? (more…)
While the rest of the country is enjoying crisp fall days, colorful foliage, and excellent sleeping weather, Southern California had Santa Ana winds blowing through over the weekend. If you’ve never heard of the Santa Ana winds, they are supposed to drive people a little crazy. Raymond Chandler has a typically awesome quote:
“There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana’s that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. “
(click to embiggen!)
Urban Fantasy and Paranormal Romance. There seems to be lots of people who love one but not the other. In most classification schemes and in my book (The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Genre Blends), urban fantasy is technically a subgenre of fantasy, and paranormal romance is a subgenre of romance (just as the names imply!), but the reading reality has always seemed more fluid to me. I read a lot of series that fall under one or another of those subgenre headings, and I’ve never been particularly fussy about what label gets printed on the spine. When I was in charge of ordering paperbacks for a library, I was forced to care about this issue, as I would be the one that would decide whether a book went on the “ROMANCE” spinner or the “SF/FANTASY” spinner. And believe it or not I found it surprisingly difficult at times. Sometimes I would violently disagree with the way the publisher had chosen to market a series. Maybe it was a book that had a cover and a subject heading that screamed romance and I thought it would appeal as much (or more) to fantasy fans. Maybe the book was all moody urban fantasy on the outside but all steamy romance between the covers. It was then that I started to think about these books all living on more of a spectrum: all books that shared a real-world, present day fantasy landscape and almost always included a crime/puzzle/mystery plot line. The difference was simply in the amount of romance.