Wake me up, because September is beginning. September segues into Fall, as well as everyone’s favorite spooky season month. If you’re looking to summon the chilled winds and spiced flavors of autumn ambiance, look no further. Three books on September’s Book Corner fall into the paranormal or thriller categories. In addition, a magic-infused YA fantasy novel entertains a bona fide mystery, writhing with twists. Last on the list, deep-dive into the history of a sneaky comic book character who always electrifies stories from her stints in the shadows. Enjoy the seasonal change September brings with my top five reading recommendations this month.
Six Crimson Cranes by Elizabeth Lim
Genre: YA Fantasy
Page Count: 464
(CW: Mild Violence, Distressing Familial Relations)
Retellings are popular in YA literature, spinning gold from the already shimmering threads of stories penned by other writers. Elizabeth Lim approaches the YA retelling genre in the fantasy vein. Six Crimson Cranes draws from a lesser-known literary fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen entitled “The Wild Swans.” Like Anderson’s tale, Six Crimson Cranes follows the story of a princess fated to undo a curse cast upon her brothers. Shiori, sole princess of Kiata’s land, discovers magic, a dragon, and a terrible secret about her once-adoring stepmother. After Shiori’s six brothers are turned into cranes and Shiori is sentenced to muteness, she embarks on a mission to reverse her brother’s curse and overcome a looming evil.
Fairytales capture our imaginations as children. Stories of stolen children and villains conquered as a consequence of their own fatal flaws delighted our minds as we sat snuggled up under knitted blankets on winter nights, our eyes shining with awe. It’s no wonder readers are drawn to fairytale retellings as adults. We crave the unsettled magic still rattling in our bones from youth, and retellings bring this nostalgia to the surface in grand displays of light. Lim’s prose and story beats in Six Crimson Cranes casts its own enchanting spell on readers. Uncover the fantastical mysteries awaiting your inner child inside the effervescent pacing of this book.
Rebel Robin by A.R. Carpetta
Genre: YA LGBTQ+ Fiction / Paranormal / Media Tie-In
Page Count: 311
(CW: Mild Mentions of Violence, Homophobia, Sexism)
Stranger Things fans are some of the most patient people in the world besides the Barry or Venture Brothers audiences. Ever since the pandemic, filming the highly anticipated fourth season of the show has taken longer than anyone expected. If you’ve already dissected that Season 4 trailer until your eyes burned looking for clues, divert your attention over to this Stranger Things media tie-in novel.
Rebel Robin by A.R. Carpetta offers a backstory about Robin Buckley from the third season of the show. Incorporating story seeds proffered from Season 3, Rebel Robin takes us back in time to Robin’s high school years with Steve Harrington, her crush Tammy, and run-ins with familiar faces in Hawkins. Robin struggles with her feelings about her “hippie” parents and her friends in this novel. She’s a band kid who doesn’t fit in and decides she wants to flee to Europe during the summer. Life in Hawkins doesn’t feel like a life at all to Robin, so traveling far away is the only way to have real life experiences, right?
Rebel Robin is the highest rated Stranger Things tie-in books on Goodreads for a good reason. Carpetta’s writing nails Robin’s voice, intertwining 80’s culture with Stranger Things lore immaculately. The novel also explores Robin’s sexuality as she comes to terms with confused feelings and self-deprecation because of her outsider status. Canon Stranger Things paranormal events lurk in the background, coinciding with Robin’s personal narrative cleverly. Experience memories about the uncomfortable frights of high school side by side with a fan-favorite breakout character in this novel while you wait endlessly for Season 4.
The Book of Accidents by Chuck Wendig
Genre: Adult Horror / Suspense / Paranormal Thriller
Page Count: 521
(CW: Terror, Violence, Sex, Gore, Homophobia, Slurs)
If you’ve never read a Stephen King novel (like me) because his writing style doesn’t personally appeal to you, I’d recommend The Book of Accidents instead. A teeth-chattering, paranormal horror story, author Chuck Wendig triumphs in horrifying readers with this 500-page novel. The Book of Accidents evokes an unsettling atmosphere in the first chapter, never releasing the tension until the book’s denouement. Nathan, Maddie, and their off-kilter son Oliver move to Nathan’s old childhood home in the shadowy woods after Nathan’s abusive father passes away. Soon after, all three encounter the supernatural. A former serial killer and town legends cloud the Graves’ perception of reality and folklore. Ghostly apparitions, demons from the past, and untrustworthy strangers cross paths with the Graves family, irrevocably altering their fate.
There are certain books you don’t read at night; The Book of Accidents is one of them. I’ve kept the synopsis vague because horror books like Wendig’s novel are ones best appreciated going in with as little information as possible. Because of the length, the novel suffers from a few slow spots. Regardless, Wendig’s short chapters and chilling prose command your attention. Can’t wait for spooky season already? Scare yourself by reading The Book of Accidents.
The Turnout by Megan Abbott
Genre: Adult Thriller / Psychological Fiction / Mystery / Suspense
Page Count: 351
(CW: Sex, Abuse, Rape, Implied Sex With Minors, Violence, Gore, Eroticism)
From the outside, the dance world appears glamorous. Picturesque dancers don pointe shoes over cracked feet and glistening costumes on stage, performing shocking feats with their bodies, necks elongated like swans. Ballet is one of the most rigorous forms of dance. Every movement, every hand placement, every breath relies on calculated precision in their execution. Megan Abbott’s The Turnout reveals ballet’s sinister side in a slow-burn, gothic-style drama. As opposed to singularly focusing on the children dancing, competing against one another for the coveted role of Clara in The Nutcracker, Abbott’s protagonists are the dance teachers. Sisters Dara and Marie Durant own and teach at their deceased mother’s crumbling ballet studio. When a space heater ignites a fire, Dara and her husband Charlie hire a seedy contractor to restore the former glory of Studio B. Old family conflicts and the contractor’s presence create fissures in Dara’s immaculately crafted existence. But amid boiling controversy, The Nutcracker showcase must go on.
The Turnout is dark, eroticism charging the narrative with descriptions that will make you squirm. Disturbing power dynamics and sexuality swirl around the story like a never ending pirouette. As a general warning, The Turnout depicts uncomfortable scenes and descriptions of sex, rape, and even child molestation. I was a ballet dancer for only a few years as a child. Fictionalized stories about dance like Abbott’s function as both a warning and a showcase of what real dancers endure on quests for perfection.
The Many Lives of Catwoman: The Felonious History of a Feline Fatale by Tim Hanley
Genre: Comics & Graphic Novels Literary Criticism
Page Count: 304
(CW: Sex, Sexism, Misogyny)
Originally donning a literal cat head and titled simply, “The Cat,” the illustrious Catwoman made her comic debut in Batman (1940) #1. Catwoman was a pioneer, a female character appearing as one of the original Batman villains who could actually escape the Dark Knight while also exhibiting morally grey character traits. Tim Hanley’s The Many Lives of Catwoman charts Selina Kyle’s history in both comic and media canon.
Hanley examines many iterations of Catwoman, showing how she exists outside of the typical cultural framework expected in villains, heroes, and as a female. Eartha Kitt and Michelle Pfeiffer’s on screen Catwoman portrayals broke barriers and perpetuated interest in the character. Unfortunately, Catwoman’s character was also susceptible to harmful, derogatory sexualization by male comic creators. Thankfully, she is gradually clawing her way out of to this day with Ram V and his artist redefining the feline fatale in the current Catwoman (2019- ) comic run. Hanley explores The Cat in-depth in his well-researched book to inform both well-versed and unfamiliar readers entertainingly.
Prepare yourself for horror and spine-tingling mystery novels when I return from another month of reading in October. Stranger things are on the horizon. I will emerge from the (hopefully) settled smoke here in NorCal next month, with five more reading recommendations.