Treat Yo’ Shelf: Books We’re Reading This September
If you’re anything like us, then your BTR (Books To Read) stack is probably reaching dangerous heights. We’re nothing if not wicked enablers, so here’s what the staff of Dear Darkling has their bookmarks in this month. Here’s hoping you find your new favorite page-turner.
Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men
By Harold Schechter
“In the pantheon of serial killers, Belle Gunness stands alone. She was the rarest of female psychopaths, a woman who engaged in wholesale slaughter, partly out of greed but mostly for the sheer joy of it. Between 1902 and 1908, she lured a succession of unsuspecting victims to her Indiana “murder farm.” Some were hired hands. Others were well-to-do bachelors. All of them vanished without a trace. When their bodies were dug up, they hadn’t merely been poisoned, like victims of other female killers. They’d been butchered.
Hell’s Princess is a riveting account of one of the most sensational killing sprees in the annals of American crime: the shocking series of murders committed by the woman who came to be known as Lady Bluebeard. The only definitive book on this notorious case and the first to reveal previously unknown information about its subject, Harold Schechter’s gripping, suspenseful narrative has all the elements of a classic mystery—and all the gruesome twists of a nightmare.” (Amazon)
Step aside, H.H. Holmes. The latest offering from veteran true-crime author Harold Schechter tackles the bloody tale of Belle Gunness and her “murder farm” and we can confirm that it’s a riveting read from start to finish. We’ll offer you a fair warning, though; this case is anything but cut and dry.
Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires: The History of Corpse Medicine from the Renaissance to the Victorians
By Richard Sugg
“Mummies, Cannibals and Vampires charts in vivid detail the largely forgotten history of European corpse medicine, which saw kings, ladies, gentlemen, priests and scientists prescribe, swallow or wear human blood, flesh, bone, fat, brains and skin in an attempt to heal themselves of epilepsy, bruising, wounds, sores, plague, cancer, gout and depression. In this comprehensive and accessible text, Richard Sugg shows that, far from being a medieval therapy, corpse medicine was at its height during the social and scientific revolutions of early-modern Britain, surviving well into the eighteenth century and, amongst the poor, lingering stubbornly on into the time of Queen Victoria.” (Amazon)
Grandma always said that a spoonful of mummy powder will knock that hay fever right out of you! Or at least she did a couple of centuries ago. If you’re a fan of dark medical history, you’ll definitely enjoy this book on the fascinating history of corpse medicine.
The Happy Satanist: Finding Self-Empowerment
By Lilith Starr
“From Harvard to heroin and back to wellness: these essays chronicle Lilith Starr’s inspiring story of recovery and healing in the face of insurmountable odds. In the philosophy of Satanism, she finally found the inner strength needed to beat a lifetime of addiction and depression. Now she shares the secrets she learned on her Satanic journey back to well-being. Discover the positive, life-changing power of atheistic Satanism for yourself! Learn the truth behind the common misconceptions about Satanism, and how to tap into the deep reservoir of personal power we all have inside.” (Amazon)
Whether you’re looking for a bit of guidance or just curious about the philosophy of Satanism, this autobiographical book by Lilith Starr of The Satanic Temple in Seattle is an inspiring read.
By Scott Thomas
“At the end of a dark prairie road, nearly forgotten in the Kansas countryside, is the Finch House. For years it has remained empty, overgrown, abandoned. Soon the door will be opened for the first time in decades. But something is waiting, lurking in the shadows, anxious to meet its new guests…
When best-selling horror author Sam McGarver is invited to spend Halloween night in one of the country’s most infamous haunted houses, he reluctantly agrees. At least he won’t be alone; joining him are three other masters of the macabre, writers who have helped shape modern horror. But what begins as a simple publicity stunt will become a fight for survival. The entity they have awakened will follow them, torment them, threatening to make them a part of the bloody legacy of Kill Creek.” (Amazon)
Here’s a debut novel that’s extremely hard to put down. This loving send-up of classic horror tropes, with nods to Stephen King, Clive Barker, and RIchard Matheson, to name a few, is like a haunted shell game that will keep you guessing up until the very end.
The Royal Art of Poison: Filthy Palaces, Fatal Cosmetics, Deadly Medicine, and Murder Most Foul
By Eleanor Herman
“The story of poison is the story of power. For centuries, royal families have feared the gut-roiling, vomit-inducing agony of a little something added to their food or wine by an enemy. To avoid poison, they depended on tasters, unicorn horns, and antidotes tested on condemned prisoners. Servants licked the royal family’s spoons, tried on their underpants and tested their chamber pots.
Ironically, royals terrified of poison were unknowingly poisoning themselves daily with their cosmetics, medications, and filthy living conditions. Women wore makeup made with mercury and lead. Men rubbed turds on their bald spots. Physicians prescribed mercury enemas, arsenic skin cream, drinks of lead filings, and potions of human fat and skull, fresh from the executioner. The most gorgeous palaces were little better than filthy latrines. Gazing at gorgeous portraits of centuries past, we don’t see what lies beneath the royal robes and the stench of unwashed bodies; the lice feasting on private parts; and worms nesting in the intestines.” (Amazon)
Get out the Purell. We absolutely loved this gruesome peek behind the lice-riddled curtain of history that explores both poison and general filthiness in the glamorous royal courts of yesteryear. We do NOT recommend that you read this book while eating.
Dead Girls: Essays on Surviving an American Obsession
By Alice Bolin
“In this poignant collection, Alice Bolin examines iconic American works from the essays of Joan Didion and James Baldwin to Twin Peaks, Britney Spears, and Serial, illuminating the widespread obsession with women who are abused, killed, and disenfranchised, and whose bodies (dead and alive) are used as props to bolster men’s stories. Smart and accessible, thoughtful and heartfelt, Bolin investigates the implications of our cultural fixations, and her own role as a consumer and creator.
Bolin chronicles her life in Los Angeles, dissects the Noir, revisits her own coming of age, and analyzes stories of witches and werewolves, both appreciating and challenging the narratives we construct and absorb every day. Dead Girls begins by exploring the trope of dead women in fiction, and ends by interrogating the more complex dilemma of living women – both the persistent injustices they suffer and the oppression that white women help perpetrate.” (Amazon)
In her thoughtful and insightful collection of essays, Bolin explores the “dead girl” trope that’s so prominent in our culture, from fictional books, movies and TV shows to true-crime.
Strange Victoriana: Tales of the Curious, the Weird and the Uncanny from Our Victorian Ancestors
By Jan Bondeson
“This book makes use of a privately held archive of the old periodical Illustrated Police News to describe strange, macabre and uncanny episodes from the Victorian era. Dog-Faced Men are exhibited on stage, the doctors congregate around the bed of the Sleeping Frenchman of Soho, Miss Vint demonstrates her Reincarnated Cats, and scantily dressed Female Somnambulists tumble from the roofs. From the spectral world, we have the Haunted Murder House near Chard, the Ghost of Berkeley Square, the Jumping Spectre of Peckham and the Fighting Ghost of Tondu. The White Gorilla takes a swig from its tankard of beer, eagles come swooping from the sky to carry off little children, heroic Newfoundland dogs plunge into the waves to rescue drowning mariners, and the Rat-Killing Monkey of Manchester goes on a rampage in the rat-pit, swinging a hammer. How is it that Britain’s most straitened and sober era produced these most fantastical myths and case studies?” (Amazon)
Are you looking for more harrowing tales of HAWK-ABDUCTION! in your life? How about ghosts running afoul of the local constabulary? Polar bear rampages? This book pulls items from a Victorian tabloid (complete with the accompanying elaborate illustrations of aforementioned rogue polar bears) and explores the truth behind some of these wonderfully strange news items, as well as their cultural implications.
The Graveyard Apartment
By Mariko Koike (Trans. Deborah Bolivar Boehm)
“This tale of a young married couple who harbor a dark secret is packed with dread and terror, as they and their daughter move into a brand new apartment building built next to a graveyard. As strange and terrifying occurrences begin to pile up, people in the building start to move out one by one, until the young family is left alone with someone… or something… lurking in the basement. The psychological horror builds moment after moment, scene after scene, culminating with a conclusion that will make you think twice before ever going into a basement again.” (Amazon)
This eerie Japanese page turner originally came out in the 1980s but was only recently translated into English. If you’re considering moving into a mostly-vacant apartment building, this book might just sway you to look anywhere else.
The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London
By Judith Flanders
“The nineteenth century was a time of unprecedented change, and nowhere was this more apparent than London, which, in only a few decades, grew from a compact Regency town into the largest city the world had ever seen. Technology-railways, street-lighting, and sewers-transformed both the city and the experience of city-living.
From the moment Charles Dickens, the century’s best-loved novelist and London’s greatest observer, arrived in the city in 1822, he obsessively walked its streets, recording its pleasures, curiosities and cruelties. Now, with him, Judith Flanders leads us through the markets, transport systems, rivers, slums, alleys, cemeteries, gin palaces, chop-houses and entertainment emporia of Dickens’ London, to reveal the Victorian capital in all its variety, vibrancy, and squalor. From the colorful cries of street-sellers to the uncomfortable reality of travel by omnibus, to the many uses for the body parts of dead horses and the unimaginably grueling working days of hawker children, no detail is too small, or too strange.” (Amazon)
We’re going heavy on the history this time! (September is back to school month, after all!) This book will guide you through the streets of Charles Dickens’ London. Definitely a must-read for lovers of Victorian history, culture, and literature.
The Witcher Boxed Set: Blood of Elves, The Time of Contempt, Baptism of Fire
By Andrezj Sapkowski
“For over a century, humans, dwarves, gnomes, and elves have lived together in relative peace. But times have changed, the uneasy peace is over, and now the races are fighting once again. The only good elf, it seems, is a dead elf.
Geralt of Rivia, the cunning assassin known as The Witcher, has been waiting for the birth of a prophesied child. This child has the power to change the world – for good, or for evil.
As the threat of war hangs over the land and the child is hunted for her extraordinary powers, it will become Geralt’s responsibility to protect them all – and the Witcher never accepts defeat.” (Amazon)
If you’re a fan of the PC games, you’ll definitely want to check this one out. One of our staff writers, who is currently devouring the entire series, has high praises for its “political intrigue,” “snappy dialogue,” and “super good characters [she has] gotten very attached to,” all of which are hallmarks of a fun dark fantasy saga.
Bats of the Republic
By Zachary Thomas Dodson
“In 1843, fragile naturalist Zadock Thomas must leave his beloved in Chicago to deliver a secret letter to an infamous general on the front lines of the war over Texas. The fate of the volatile republic, along with Zadock’s future, depends on his mission. When a cloud of bats leads him off the trail, he happens upon something impossible…
Three hundred years later, the world has collapsed and the remnants of humanity cling to a strange society of paranoia. Zeke Thomas has inherited a sealed envelope from his grandfather, an esteemed senator. When that letter goes missing, Zeke engages a fomenting rebellion that could free him—if it doesn’t destroy his relationship, his family legacy, and the entire republic first.
As their stories overlap and history itself begins to unravel, a war in time erupts between a lost civilization, a forgotten future, and the chaos of the wild. Bats of the Republic is a masterful novel of adventure and science fiction, of elliptical history and dystopian struggle, and, at its riveting core, of love.” (Amazon)
In terms of plot, this unusual book is sort of a steampunk 1984 with witches and bats. Physically, though, the book (which is certainly not lying about the “illuminated” part) is also a work of visual art, with beautiful illustrations and coded messages and, of course, plenty of bats. It’s a novel as well as a unique experience.
Featured image via Trinity College Dublin