Freaky Friday: Zombies

We’ve noticed that the zombie fiction genre is largely populated by authors who are men, so for this month’s Freaky Friday, we wanted to recommend some lady authored books for lovers of the undead. From post-apocalyptic zombie fare to steampunk+zombies to vampires vs. zombies, we think this selection is a fresh take on what the zombie genre can look like. So if you’re looking for a little zombie action this weekend, this list is for you!

Susan Dennard’9859436s Something Strange and Deadly trilogy is set in an alternate version of the 1870s where zombies are common enough that the Philadelphia train station has a Dead alarm. Usually it’s only the odd corpse going walkabout, but occasionally, as is the case now, they will be raised and controlled by a necromancer. And they have Eleanor Fitt’s brother. With nowhere else to turn, she goes to the enigmatic Spirit-Hunters for assistance. Eleanor spends much of the first book caught between mundane Philadelphia life and her search for her brother. Although the city knows the Dead are rising and the Spirit-Hunters have been called in for aid, it is otherwise much like 1876 Philadelphia in the real world, and young ladies do not go off cavorting with strangers and chasing after necromancers. Over the course of the trilogy, Eleanor becomes less concerned with such appearances and more concerned with the Spirit-Hunters and the Dead. It is, in this way, a quintessentially YA novel; the core of Eleanor’s character development is in learning whom she is and refusing to submit to pointless, harmful expectations. It may be within the context of developing the skills to fight the undead in 19th-century society, but it is nevertheless an experience many of us recognise and are familiar with. With action, romance, supernatural armies and steampunk technology, there’s something for everyone in this series.

– Recommended by Nicola (this post originally appeared on our sister site, Spellbinding Books)

Blood of Eden15803761, Julie Kagawa. The premise of Julie Kagawa’s Blood of Eden series is so outlandish, I wondered if it could work, but it’s truly so much fun. When a viral infection creates ravaging hordes of zombies, vampires take over the world, locking humans in walled cities to feed on. Crazy, right? Somehow it works, largely because Kagawa’s protagonist Allison Sekemoto is so stubborn and emotionally complex. Her terrible choice between life as a vampire or succumbing to the infection that will turn her into a “rabid” takes her on a rollicking emotional journey, as well as a kickass adventure. Kagawa’s worldbuilding is strangely believable for a novel that throws two traditionally distinct genres together, resulting in a scary-fun mashup that fans of vampires and zombies alike will enjoy.

The Forest of Hand3432478s and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan. Some have compared The Forest of Hands and Teeth to the film The Village, and I see the root of that comparison — it’s got a similar aesthetic, I suppose. Given the zombies in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, the similarities end pretty quickly. The protagonist, Mary, lives in a fenced village surrounded by “The Unconsecrated” (zombies). The village is ruled by The Sisterhood, a group of nuns committed to protecting the villagers from the zombie invasion. The Sisterhood has its secrets though, and as Mary uncovers them, her personal safety is at risk. When the fence is breached all bets are off and the adventure begins. The Forest of Hands and Teeth is a fast-paced read and is a standalone novel, but there are also a set of short stories that flesh out the world both before and after the timeline in the novel takes place. Ryan’s book plays with typical zombie-narrative tropes, but the end result is something a bit different in its eeriness. The quiet moments are somehow as frightening as the terrifying escape from the breached village. Though the book is technically dystopian (set in landscapes spanning the US and Canada), this is a fresh take on what a zombie-ridden dystopia might look like.

– Recommended by Allison

7094569Feed by Mira Grant. Set after the zombie apocalypse when humans have figured out how to live with the undead, brother-sister blog writers are picked to follow the campaign of a presidential candidate. This book is full of politics, gore, betrayal and fast-paced action scenes. My library coworkers and I went crazy over this series a few years ago and it was difficult not to tell spoilers as we moved through the books. We highly recommend them to our students as well for their poli sci reading assignment. You’ll quickly become attached to the blog team and this book will leave you dying for more.

– Recommended by Abby

Thanks so much for following along! Next month’s Freaky Friday will cover non-fiction genres sure to scare, from cults to natural disasters, we’re gonna get real with you about the scary stuff. Have a fantastic weekend!

– Coven Book Club

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Family Secrets: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

89724I taught We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson to college freshmen for a few semesters. It’s a great book to talk to young people about, because Mary Katherine (Merricat) Blackwood is 18 and entirely relatable in her strangeness. I also like to have students explore books with unreliable narrators and a good dose of weird. We Have Always Lived in the Castle provides all that and more.

At the start of the novel, Merricat, her older sister Constance and their Uncle Julian live together in Blackwood House, far from the nearest village. Even if they were not living in a remote location, they would live in isolation because of the scandal at the heart of the novel, the weight Merricat carries with her constantly: the death of her parents, her aunt and younger brother. Six years before the start of the story, someone put arsenic in the family’s sugar before dinner, which resulted in the aforementioned deaths. Since the event, the villagers have shunned the survivors, believing Constance has gotten away with murder.

Constance never goes farther from the house than the garden and Uncle Julian is confined to a wheelchair, so Merricat conducts all their “life” business. This is usually an unpleasant affair as the inhabitants of their small town taunt her, come to the point of refusing to serve her and almost no one visits unless they mean to gawk at the place where four people were mercilessly murdered.  And yet, the Blackwood’s home life is mostly idyllic, from Merricat’s perspective. She hopes desperately nothing will change.

Those familiar with Shirley Jackson’s work will recognize the gothic tone of the novel and will not be surprised to find that Merricat takes an unconventional approach to caring for her family. As we move further into the novel, we learn she believes acts such as burying objects, or nailing a book to a tree will serve as protections and as a kind of early warning system for approaching danger. And of course, danger does come and the Blackwood’s secrets are revealed.

Merricat’s voice is easy to identify with. We feel the burn of the townspeople who shun her, her fierce protective love of her sister, and the weight of her familial obligations. Though I have loved the novel at many stages of my life, I think young people especially enjoy uncovering the Blackwood family’s secreets. I have many pleasant memories of students eager to discuss what “crazy” things Merricat does over the course of the week we discuss the book. They marvel over Jackson’s beautiful prose and they identify with Merricat’s sense of otherness and not belonging in a way that is very specific to where they’re at developmentally, away from home for the first time.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is short and fast paced. As Merricat becomes more unstable, and the reader discovers they cannot trust her, Jackson’s signature brand of creepiness takes over. The book isn’t exactly scary and I wouldn’t classify it as horror, but there’s a darkness to it that sticks with readers long after the shocking ending. In this way, it reminds me a great deal of our Coven Read for March, White is for Witching, which explores the same kind of attachment to place and family as We Have Always Lived in the Castle.

As much as the novel is about uncovering the Blackwoods’ secrets, it is about the ways that families become attached to houses and space. It’s about the relationships between siblings and how otherness can seep into the closest familial ties. It’s about what happens when we lose our grip on reality, when life gets just a little too out of control. The genius of Merricat’s macabre likability is that Jackson shows us how that little shadow inside us could grow, fester and bubble out of control.

Allison Carr Waechter has a ghost in her house and they’re getting along just fine, thank you. She believes in the ties that bind families to their homes and land and would do anything for her sisters, whether they came to her by birth or by experience. You can see if she’s unraveling at a Merricat-pace on her website or Twitter. Join her next week on Friday for a discussion of White is for Witching, by Helen Oyeyemi. 


New Literary Horror: The Walls Around Us, Bones & All, Bone Gap

For my February finale, I’d planned to follow up on my last post with a look at my favorite series of fairy tale retellings: Marissa Meyer’s The Lunar Chronicles. But I just couldn’t wait any longer to recommend three March releases in a different genre—literary horror. Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap, Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us, and Camille DeAngelis’ Bones & All show how eloquent and imaginative prose can amplify horrific events and our most primal fears.

Like a classic horror movie, Bone Gap is set in a stereotypical Midwestern town, with cornfields that haunt the main protagonist, Finn. They talk to him and grow at an alarming rate, among spooky scarecrows and crows that threaten to pluck out his eyes and peck him to death. Like a chorus in a Greek play, the people of Bone Gap introduce Finn as a freak, calling him Spaceman, Sidetrack, and Moonface because he is distracted and avoids eye contact. Finn’s strange behavior is more understandable when he becomes a main narrator and the horror story develops. Two months ago, he was the only witness to the disappearance of Roza, his brother’s girlfriend. While the people of Bone Gap stop looking for her because they think she fled, Finn believes she was kidnapped and he must find her, but he can’t recall what her abductor looks like.

Roza’s narrative reveals that a man with eyes like ice has taken her because she is a beautiful woman who will love him. Her abduction seems mythical (think Persephone) and Bone Gap uses magical realism to emphasize its sinister nature. But while the captured woman is often powerless and voiceless in myths, Roza has agency and willpower. Bone Gap emphasizes the victimization of women that is typical of horror and empowers “the damsel in distress.”

Also told through alternate voices, The Walls Around Us is a creepy supernatural tale, combining prison drama and dance rivalry — “Orange is the New Black meets Black Swan” as some reviewers have called it. There’s Amber, imprisoned in a girls’ juvenile detention center, and Violet, a dancer haunted by her best friend Orianna’s imprisonment and death in that detention center. The book opens with Amber experiencing a phenomenal event: suddenly the prisoners are set free from their cells. But she is a ghost reliving what happened years ago, and they didn’t really escape.

In her first narrative, Violet is onstage during her last performance before achieving her dream of attending Julliard. But she feels broken: on stage, she loves people and they love her, but offstage she is haunted by dark memories and secrets. During intermission she visits the site where a crime took place three years earlier, leading to Orianna’s arrest. Enthralling prose and magical realism unite the stories of Amber, Violet, and Orianna, and explore complex issues of lies and truth, disadvantage and privilege, wrongdoing and justice, guilt and innocence, betrayal and friendship, vengeance and forgiveness.

Bones & All wrestles with similar issues, and it is not your typical horror story, nor is Maren Yearly your typical villain. Like most teenagers (and humans, for that matter) she wants to belong and feel normal, be loved and love herself; but a dark secret keeps her ashamed and alienated. In the opening scene, we learn that Maren devours people, starting with her babysitter when she was just a few years old. She tries to distance herself from everyone emotionally and physically, but if they do get close it’s not like she can’t not eat them. Then she and her mother have to move again…and again. While living with her secret is difficult, as long as she has her mom everything turns out okay; but she wakes up on her 16th birthday to discover her mom has abandoned her, leaving behind her birth certificate with her unknown father’s name. Hoping to find answers to her cannibalism, Maren’s search for her father turns into a much greater adventure.

From its poignant beginning to its unconventional ending, Bones & All will mess with you (in a good way). Horrifying and entertaining, loathsome and loving, cruel and forgiving, confining and adventurous, bizarre and normal: this novel will challenge your emotional footing, moral compass, and plot expectations. Normally heroism is about gaining justice by defeating “the monster”, but in this original and spectacular novel heroism is about Maren accepting and being loved for “the monster” she is. DeAngelis’ choice to narrate her novel from an antihero’s perspective, portraying Maren sympathetically and with integrity while she confronts the shame and loneliness of her crimes, challenges us to ponder many philosophical questions about what it means to be good versus evil, a villain rather than a hero, and guilty rather than innocent. When is killing someone or something considered a crime rather than a natural instinct or as necessary for survival? Maren will take your eyes and your heart, but I hope you enjoy being devoured by this deliciously dark novel as much as I did.

Alyssa Raymond loves to read, review and collect books–thanks to her many years as a bookseller. She can’t wait to share with you her favorite new and upcoming releases and thanks Edelweiss, NetGalley, the Boulder Book Store, and publishers for providing her with advance reading copies in exchange for her honest reviews.