As October approached this year, I told myself I would get myself pumped up for Halloween by watching scary movies and shows, playing scary video games, and reading scary books. Here we are at the end of the month, and I’ve done exactly one of those things. Fortunately, it’s the thing most relevant to this space. I present to you the third annual Shelf Life Fun Size Halloween Book Reviews:
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith and Jane Austen (mostly Jane Austen)
I liked Pride and Prejudice probably more than most fifteen-year-old boys when I originally read it in high school. Something about the way those stubborn kids Darcy and Elizabeth put aside their petty issues to find a crazy little thing called love really did it for me. I’ve been aware of the zombie-infused spin off by Grahame-Smith for a while and have always thought it sounded like a cool idea. After having read the book, I maintain that the idea is cool in concept, but it’s disappointing in execution. This book should’ve been called Pride and Prejudice (With Special Guest Appearances by Zombies), because the title as it’s actually constructed leads you to believe that zombies are essential to the plot, but brothers and sisters, that just ain’t true. The zombies lift right out of this book, probably because they were plopped in pretty clumsily by Grahame-Smith, who kept about 70% of Jane Austen’s original text and slightly altered or added zombie bits here and there. The result is a story that unfolds very similarly to Pride and Prejudice with some corpses shambling rather harmlessly in the background. Sure, there are a few scenes of zombie slaying action, but they’re few and far between. Some of the zombie-related tweaks to the story are amusing, like one character slowly morphing into a brain muncher right before the eyes of her unwitting husband, while others are kinda weird, like the Bennet sisters and others inexplicably being ninjas. I’m sure there are readers who find this book awesome due to the mere presence of the undead, and others who will find the kooky horror spin on their favorite classic delightful, but it left me feeling annoyed more than anything else. My thinking is, if you’re going to introduce zombies into Pride and Prejudice, go all out with it. Rather than sprinkle zombie spices on the original, which resulted in a different-but-not-different-enough flavor, Grahame-Smith should’ve dropped entirely new severed chunks into the stew to give us something truly novel to gnaw on. Maybe the movie will be better.
Rating: 2 out of 5 scrumptious brains
Red Dragon by Thomas Harris
As a fan of both the book and movie The Silence of the Lambs, I was eager to read Red Dragon, which introduces readers to Villain Pantheon member Hannibal Lecter for the first time. Sadly, Hannibal isn’t the main focus of the book; just as in Lambs, he is called upon to help the FBI understand and track down a different serial killer. More Hannibal would’ve obviously been…delicious, but the little…taste we’re given of him is fairly satisfying.* The story primarily follows FBI-agent-turned-retiree-turned-FBI-guy again Will Graham and the demented killer, known to the public as the “Tooth Fairy” and later the “Dragon,” he’s tasked with stopping. There are plenty of murderer manhunt stories out there, but this one is especially good thanks to the strength of its characters. Graham, our tortured hero, is fascinating to read about because he has the gift and curse of being highly empathetic, which allows him to get into the thoughts and emotions of the criminals he desperately needs to understand if he has any hope of catching them. The back story we’re given about the Dragon coupled with his brush with a woman that leads to an almost normal relationship really humanizes him and manages to make readers feel a little sorry for him. Then, of course, there’s Hannibal, who’s so intelligent, cunning, and seemingly sane that he’s more terrifying, and therefore more awesome, than your garden-variety villain. The book is also strong in the suspense department and offers plenty of page turning appeal.
Rating: 85 out of 100 fava beans
Coraline by Neil Gaiman
My last selection was fantasy writer extraordinaire and vocal library advocate Neil Gaiman’s children’s book Coraline. According to the blurb from the New York Times Book Review on the cover, it’s “one of the most frightening books ever written.” I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s definitely creepy. It tells the tale of Coraline (not Caroline!), a young girl who enjoys exploring but is less than thrilled with gray blouses, dinners that aren’t frozen pizza, and somewhat distracted parents. She finds a locked door in her house, which of course piques her curiosity. On the other side is a house just like hers, with alternate, more loving versions of her mother and father (with the teensy difference that they have *shudders* buttons where their eyes should be), and at first, things seem OK. We soon find out that things are definitely not OK, and Coraline must put her exploration skills to the test in a soul-hunting, parent-saving quest to thwart evil. This book doesn’t mess around; the plot advances quickly as we’re hit with a string of exciting incidents and strange happenings. Some of the best moments are quite scary and Resident Evil-esque. There’s also a snarky talking cat, which is always a crowd pleaser. Gaiman does a fine job of creating a wonderfully weird world and crafting a tightly told story perfect for the Halloween season.
Rating: 40 out of 50 black cats
*These cannibal puns doin’ anything for ya?