Tag Archives: Genres

The Romance Garden!

John Singer Sargent, In a Garden: Corfu, 1909

We’re getting a jump on the new month today with a stroll through our genre experts’ favorite reads of the month.  The holiday period is certainly a stressful one for many, so be sure to take some time to relax with a good book now and then.  The act of reading has been shown to lower blood pressure, ease stress, and makes you better at empathy, but romance novels have been shown to be specifically useful to our health by activating the part of our brains that feeds on interpersonal interactions.  Which isn’t terribly surprising when you think about it, but it is an excellent excuse to check out and read a good romance novel if I ever heard one.  Here are some of the titles we enjoyed this month!


BridgetThe Bride Who Got Lucky by Janna MacGregor

I owe Janna MacGregor a tremendous debt of gratitude for breaking my romantic reading slump, so I can only hope it might do the same for other readers.  Though this is the second book in her Cavensham heiresses series, it is very easily read on it’s own (though the first book, The Bad Luck Bride is also charming).

The son of a cold-hearted duke, and a confirmed introvert, Nicholas St. Mauer has none of the skills, the temperament, or the desire to be involved in society, or find a bride. But despite himself, he always keeps a watchful eye on Lady Emma Cavensham.  Her energy and determination make her the most unsuitable woman for Nick–but he can’t seem to keep away from her.  And a good thing, too, because Emma is on a dangerous mission to prove her deceased friend’s husband was responsible for her death before he lures another innocent woman into a brutal marriage.  But a single compromising moment upends all her well-laid plans–and makes her relationship with Nick a much more formal arrangement than either every imagined.

I loved the quirkiness of MacGregor’s characters. Neither Nick nor Emma fit into the moulds we’ve come to expect from historical romances, but they work so well together than it’s a treat to watch them.  I also adored the honesty between them about matters big and small.  There is something wonderfully refreshing about characters who trust each other enough to be with each other, and admit their insecurities and emotional confusion.  The main plot of this book was interesting, but I would have been happy to read another 100 pages of nothing but Emma and Nick talking together.  I cannot wait to read more of MacGregor’s work after this impressive novel!

Kelley: A Daring Arrangement by Joanna Shupe

There is much to love about A Daring Arrangement,  the first book in Joanna Shupe’s “The Four Hundred Series.” Set in New York City’s Gilded Age, the setting of Honora and Julius’ story immediately offers readers something unique in historical romance. The opulent lifestyle celebrated by wealthy Americans at that time is introduced to us through Julius Hatcher, one of the wealthiest investors in the city, who just so happens to have built himself a castle for a home, and lives a life so outrageously extravagant he throws himself a birthday party at one of New York’s finest restaurants where are guests attend the entirety of the event on horseback.

Enter Lady Honora Parker, just arrived in New York after being exiled from London by her powerful father who found her with her artist boyfriend. Knowing that only a scandal will convince her father to call her back to London and to the artist she loves, Honora convinces Julius to pose as her fiance, knowing her proper English father will be appalled. Honora is in love with another, and Julius has no intention of ever marrying, so neither is prepared for the feelings that develop between them.

What I love the most about this book is that when their feelings begin to change, Julius and Honora are honest with each other throughout the process. Things aren’t simple, but there are no secrets or intrigue, just two people who are perfectly matched and need to find their way to being together. To top it off the storytelling is excellent, making this book difficult to put down. A Daring Arrangement is easily the best romance I’ve read in quite awhile. I highly recommend that you check it out.

Until next month, dear readers, we wish you happy reading!

The Romance Garden

Girl in Green by Sara Hayden

The weather has turned at last, dear readers, and, rather suddenly, it is not longer garden time.  But that means it’s the perfect time to snuggle up with a good book!  Thankfully, here in our romance garden, there is always sunshine, and always plenty of books to help you through those lengthening winter evenings.  Here are just a few from our genre experts for this month!


Bridget: London’s Perfect Scoundrel by Suzanne Enoch

I’ve been in a bit disillusioned by the romance genre of late, so I went back to an oldie by goodie for this month.  This was one of the first romance novels, and still remains a favorite of mine.  Though it’s the second in Enoch’s Lessons in Love series, new readers won’t have any trouble getting into this story.

the Marquis of St. Aubyn’s may be referred to as “Saint”, but all of London society knows that him as a dangerous–if alluring scoundrel.  Evelyn Ruddick would normally have nothing to do with him, but St. Aubyn is the head of the board of trustees for the Heart of Hope Orphanage, and she will do anything to get them the help and support that they need, even if it means forming a partnership with this rakehell.  But when their working relationship takes a turn for the scandalous, Evie and Saint are both forced to reconsider who they really are, what they really want…and how many rules they are willing to break to make their hearts happy.

First and foremost, I loved the chemistry between these protagonists.  Saint may be selfish and spoiled, but he is also quite smart, and therefore has the capacity to recognize and respect Evelyn’s intelligence and determination.  He may enjoy making her blush, but he’s not cruel, and he’s honest, which is my favorite part of a hero.  For her part, Evie is no simpering miss–she is strong and determined and doesn’t back down.  The result is a book full of snappy, witty banter that doesn’t do much to hide the growing respect and devotion these two characters feel for each other, both in spite of, and because of, their differences.  It was a treat to see how well this story has aged, and I hope it can bring a smile to other readers, as well!

Note: The cover image on the Boston Public Library’s site is incorrect for this listing. The book is indeed by Suzanne Enoch.  And is very good!

August Macke “Blue Girl Reading”, 1912


Kelley: The Scot Beds His Wife by Kerrigan Byrne

When an American gunslinger finds herself pitted against a notorious Scottish earl, things are bound to get interesting, and that’s just what happens in Kerrigan Byrne’s latest Victorian Rebels book, The Scot Beds His Wife.

Samantha (“Sam”) Masters, former member of an American family of train robbers, comes to the Highlands posing as a Scottish heiress in order to hide from dangerous associations from her past in the American West. Upon arrival she immediately meets Gavin St. James, Earl of Thorne, her new neighbor, and the person intent on purchasing her property which has been unoccupied for years. When Gavin finds Sam unwilling to sell, the two quickly become adversaries, but the arguments and banter that ensue lead them to a reluctant respect and powerful physical attraction to one another. When Sam finds herself in danger, she and Gavin marry for mutual convenience, her for protection and him for the ownership of the land he believes to be hers, but what they don’t expect is to fall in love. Gavin’s devotion to his family and tenderness with his wife are not at all what Sam expected, and as for Sam, Gavin is deeply affected by her unique blend of strength and vulnerability.

This is one of my favorite types of romance, one with well-developed characters all around, including many secondary characters who would be welcome additions to upcoming books in the series. It’s also both fiery and fun, never taking itself too seriously, but still managing to pack in plenty of danger and passion to make for a good story. For those who, like me, didn’t love The Highwayman, the first book in this series, I encourage you to give Kerrigan Byrne a second chance. The Scot Beds His Wife was a fun read, and I look forward to exploring some of the Victorian Rebels books that I missed between this one and the first.

Until next month, beloved patrons!

Happy All Hallows Read!

We wish you the very best for this years official All Hallows Read, beloved patrons and readers!  May you sample all the candy you desire, may you be filled with treats and free of tricks.  And, for those who would like a little spooky reading for your All Hallows Read, we are happy to present you with a classic and shiver-inducing story: “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs.

Portrait of W.W. Jacobs by Elliot & Fry, via Wikipedia


Jacobs was born in Wapping, London in 1863, the son of a wharf manager.  He was well-educated, and eventually began work as a clerk in a post office savings bank.  The work afforded him both a living and time to write, and by 1885, he had his first short story published.  He married Agnes Eleanor Williams, a noted suffrage activist, in 1900.  Though Jacobs is remembered as a writer of horror stories (“The Monkey’s Paw” being the story for which he is most well-remembered), his career was mostly as a writer of humorous stories, predominately about mariners and sea-faring.  He was successful enough that he retired from the post office in 1899.

There are aspects of this story that are certainly dated, not the least of which is the “magical thing that comes from a faraway part of the Empire to destroy British people” trope.  It’s a theme that pops up everywhere in Sherlock Holmes stories, it was the basis for Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, it’s the main premise of Dracula…safe to say, it’s a well-worn theme that helped create the idea of the “other”–a figure that was frightening and dangerous and needed to be controlled.  And we should recognize that.  On the other hand, this story is still read, and still shared, because it is wonderfully constructed, finely wrought, and genuinely unsettling.  It is a perfect embodiment of the old maxim “be careful what you wish for”, but without feeling pedantic or rehashed.   Jacobs’ talents as a humorous shine through in places, as well, helping him create characters who are sympathetic and real, even down to their inability to play a good game of chess.  And it’s that connection to these people, and this ability to relate to them, even when they make the most dire of mistakes, that makes this story such an effective–and affecting–one.

So, we hope you enjoy “The Monkey’s Paw”, and that your All Hallows’ Read, or Halloween, or Tuesday evening, is one that brings you great joy.  And maybe a few shivers.  Just click on the title below to access!

The Monkey’s Paw, W.W. Jacobs

All Hallows Read: The Haunted House, Part 3

This week, we’ve been talking about the haunted house in literature, and detailing the kinds of haunted houses that one can find in traditional horror novels/ghost stories/All-Hallows Read selections.

Via The Business Journals

But as I was working on these posts, it occurred to me how many other kinds of haunted sites have been cropping up in fiction, especially lately.  According to many scholars of genre, the horror novel is entering a new phase, that isn’t wholly defined as yet.  Some of its core themes, however, deal with 1) our growing unease with the unknown, especially amidst the information explosion brought about by the internet, 2) a kind of existentialist despair–being faced with the realities and future threats of global climate change, nuclear armageddon, and other issues over which we have comparatively little control has introduced the fear that perhaps doom is inevitable.  That perhaps we can’t vanquish all the monsters with technology and fortitude.  Whether these genre tropes will grow and mature into a new era of horror has yet to be seen.  But what we do know is that we’ve already been treated to a host of horror novels that up-end conventions, while still providing the fears, dreads, and very human journeys that make horror novels so pleasurable to read.

Via Youtube

One of the noticeable themes that these books overturn is the notion of the haunted house.  In an age where fewer people are buying houses, it makes sense that the living situations reflected in horror novels needs to change, too.  You can’t really be scared of something if you have no frame of reference.  But while some of these books looks at a haunted apartment building, others keep pushing the line, giving us haunted superstores and haunted ships.  They enrich our thinking about the spaces we inhabit and the memories they carry inside them.  They challenge us to remember, even as we are told to look forward to the future, to not be held back by the past.  They also allow us to explore the dark secrets and troubling pasts that our characters carry with them, and how our own personal darkness can affect our perception of the world and each other.  No longer are our characters hapless victims of the spirit world–they are the dry charge themselves that make the spaces ugly and scary by bringing their very real-world ugliness and scariness into it.

So what are some of these new haunted spaces?  Take a look below and see what you think!

Horrorstör: Grady Hendrix is a really interesting author, who plays with conventions while still delivering interesting and engaging stories.  He’s also written a book that is laid out like a high school year book, which is perfect for those with 1980’s nostalgia.  But this book is very much of the moment, set in a generic Ikea, known as the Orsk furniture superstore.  Strange things have been going on in this Cleveland store, but when three employees volunteer to work an overnight shift to investigate, but what they discover is more horrifying than they could have imagined.  This book is a model of good design (thanks to designer Andie Reid, illustrator Michael Rogalski, and cover photographer Christine Ferrara).  It is laid out like a glossy catalog, complete with showroom shots and maps of Orsk’s labyrinthine layout, providing a delightful contrast between the ironic and the horrific.

The Graveyard ApartmentThis Japanese horror novel, originally published in 1986,  takes us into an enormous apartment building that was constructed next to a graveyard. The young couple and their daughter who move into this household are dealing with their own inner darkness and wrestling with secrets they are fighting to keep hidden.  The longer they stay in their new place, though, the stranger and stranger things seem to get.  People around them move out one by one, until this small family is left alone in the building.  Alone, except for whatever is living in the basement. Mariko Koike is a master of the psychological novel, and this book doesn’t always show, and resists answering all the questions it asks.  Instead, it leaves it up to the reader to slide their own fears and doubts to the reading experience, and playing on our inherent fears of the dark and the unknown to create a genuinely chilling reading experience.

The Apartment: Another haunted apartment, this one set in the glamor of Paris.  This young family and their daughter (is there a trend here?) move from Cape Town after surviving a violent break-in that left them traumatized.  At first, the house-swap plan they find sounds perfect.  But upon moving to their European haven, they quickly realize that nothing is as advertised.  This is a story where the ‘haunting’ is a way to get to the heart of these characters, breaking down their defenses and facades and forcing them to confront each other’s worst (and sometimes best) qualities.  This is very much a story about people bringing out the worst, not only in each other, but in the space they inhabit, and that interaction makes it feel very modern, indeed.


Happy reading, beloved patrons.  And Happy All-Hallows Read!


All Hallows Read: The Haunted House, Part 2

Yesterday,  we started talking about haunted houses, about the kind of moods they create in us, and the different kinds of haunted houses that are to be found in literature.  Our exploration started with the irregular, or the illogical houses–the kind that seem to grow or change…the kind that seem to be reacting to their occupants throughout the course of the story.

The second kind of house is the rational one.  These houses conform to all the laws of physics, and look the same on the inside and the outside, regardless of where you are standing.  What marks these houses is the evil that lives within them.

From Dracula, by Bram Stoker

These kinds of houses are alive, just as the irregular ones are.  But, rather than playing with their occupants, they just outright hate them.  These houses are malevolent, and they tend to attract malevolent people, actions, or events to them–Stephen King called it a “dry charge for evil”.  Even if you know these houses inside and out, even if you know where all the doors and windows might be, this kind of house is still a source of terror.  Indeed, it’s precisely the fact that you do know the house so well that they are scary.

Because there are always questions–why someone did what they did in that house.  What drove them to madness.  When they will reappear….and will you be able to bear it?

From the cover of Hell House by Richard Matheson

It’s tricky to get these kind of houses right.  They often rely on terror, rather than horror, meaning that they act on characters, rather than act themselves–people living in them get nightmares, like in Hell House, or they hallucinate (or do they?!), as happens in Hill House.  Other times, characters have evil visited upon them, as happens in the Marsden House, or the house on Neibolt Street.

There aren’t many technicolor effects in these houses–no growing hallways or moving rooms.  Instead, these houses rely on the threat implicit in a slammed door…or a creaking floor board….the kind of things that under normal circumstances wouldn’t be at all scary.  But in these circumstances, in this place, with this history, it is absolutely terrifying.

Want to experience some of these houses for yourself?  Why not take a visit to some of the most ghastly houses in literature for this year’s All Hallows Read?

ItStephen King is not only a prolific author, and a favorite here at the Free For All–he’s also crafts some of the best haunted houses around.  If you saw this summer’s blockbuster hit It, you’ll know a bit about the house on Niebolt Street, but, as per usual, the book does it better.  The house at 29 Niebolt Street is Pennywise’s liar, and the entire building reeks of his malevolence, but nevertheless, the Losers, the young children brave enough to face down this evil clown, forge their way in.  27 years later, they return to Derry, Maine, to face the evil again.  Stephen King does a brilliant job discussing issues of trauma and memory, nostalgia and horror in this epic story, making it one you won’t want to put down, and will be eager to read again and again.

The Haunting of Hill HouseShirley Jackson’s haunted house is a bit of a puzzler.  We’re not told specifically what is wrong  with the house.  But we are told that it’s not sane.  But how much of what happens in the course of this story is a result of the house’s inherent insanity, and how much is due to the instability of Eleanor Vance, the main character of this novel, and one of a small group of people invited to stay inside Hill House and witness its strangeness?  We aren’t given any answers–at sometimes, the narrative itself seems to defy logic.  But it’s that instability and inscrutability that makes this story so affecting.

Hell House: If you want to meet the embodiment of Cold War, mid-century despair, look no further than Richard Matheson.  His writing is stunning, but it’s also brutal, unsettling, and challenging on a number of levels.  In this story, a group of paranormal researchers take a visit to a house that is known to have killed inhabitants before–in fact, they are taking a survivor of the house, who escaped as a child, back, to see what it will do to him as an adult.  The Belasco House seeps inside the mind of those who live there, making them confront the very worst of their own natures.  As a result, there is a lot that is off-putting about this story, but there is also a lot of insight into the human mind and the limits of each character, making it a really interesting addition to this list.

Happy reading, beloved patrons….and don’t mind that noise on the stairs…..

All Hallows Read: The Haunted House, Part 1

Literature is full of memorable dwelllings: From Dracula’s Castle to Manderley in Rebeccafrom Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre to the Little House on the Prairie.  But there are no houses quite like the haunted house.

Bran Castle, Romania (aka: Dracula’s Castle, via CNN)

This time of year, there are any number of ‘haunted houses’, populated by generally well-intentioned and costumed actors whose job it is to leap out in front of you screaming bloody blue murder.  The psychological enjoyment of these houses comes from the adrenaline high that you receive by activating your ‘fight-or-flight’ response every time a new person throws themselves in front of you in the strobe-lit dark.  At least that’s what I’m told.

According to Psychology Today, there are reasons for feeling creeped out by a house that have nothing to do with other people leaping out in front of you and yelling very loudly.  In a fascinating article about the “feel” of a haunted house, they note,

Evolutionary psychologists have proposed the existence of agent detection mechanisms — or processes that have evolved to protect us from harm at the hands of predators and enemies.

If you’re walking through the woods alone at night and hear the sound of something rustling in the bushes, you’ll respond with a heightened level of arousal and attention. You’ll behave as if there is a willful “agent” present who is about to do you harm.

via Shutterstock

Moreover, these places usually lack what environmental psychologists refer to as legibility, or the ease with which a place can be recognized, organized into a pattern and recalled.  Indeed, it can lead us into thinking that a house may be consciously trying to trap us.  To keep us there forever.  To consume us whole.

Generally speaking, there are two kids of haunted houses that you can encounter in books: the horribly rational, and the cripplingly unknowable.  Both carry their own kind of fears, as well as their own kind of appeal.  Depending on what actually makes the hair on your arms stand up, you might be drawn to one kind or the other in your reading.  Rest assured, however, that the Library is well-equipped to help you navigate both these sorts of houses in your All-Hallows Reading (and any other time of the year, as well!)

Via Rebloggy

The first, and perhaps the more well-known sort of haunted house (or, perhaps the correct term is the animate house) is the irrational one.  These houses may look ‘normal’ on the outside (depending on your architectural definition of ‘normal’), but once a hapless guest crosses the threshold, they abandon all pretenses and become absolutely irrational.  They lose all legibility.

These houses generally trap their occupants inside, foiling all their attempts to escape.  Rooms grow out of nowhere, corridors grow uncommonly long or short, and doors appear where no doors ever opened.  There is a temporal element to these houses, too…often, they sit on a rift in space-time (like Slade House), or they straddle multiple times (like the house in You Should Have Left or the hotel in Travelers Rest) .  Sometimes, they are a conscious character in the book; in The House of Leaves, the house seems to growl as it reshapes…it is both the labyrinth and the monster that guards it.  All of these houses challenge our understanding of space and of time, making anything, and everything, seem chillingly possible.

Readers eager to explore these houses should definitely check out the following:

Slade HouseDavid Mitchell’s contribution to the horror genre is a weird book…The entrance to Slade House appears (and disappears) along a brick wall in a narrow London alleyway every nine years to admit a guest chosen by the brother and sister who dwell within–a loner, someone who probably won’t be remembered…This book features five such episodes in the ghastly house’s history, and, once you understand how Slade House works, there is very little surprise about what will happen in each tale.  That being said, it’s genuinely terrifying each and every time.  I have never been bored and scared out of my wits at the same time by the same book.  So for that reason alone, Slade House is a book I won’t soon forget.

Travelers Rest: Rather than a house, the entity at the center of Keith Lee Morris’ book is a hotel, the titular Travelers Rest, located in the nearly-abandoned mining town of Good Night, Idaho.  The story starts when a family, Tonio and Julia and their son Dewey, who are taking Tonio’s alcoholic brother home, are forced off the road in a blizzard, and into the Travelers Rest.  Each member of the family experiences a different, labyrinth-like hell in this hotel, and in this town, and in time, making it a surprisingly complex book.  This is one of the most deep-thinking on this list of haunted domiciles, but, for that, it’s also one of the most interesting.

You Should Have Left: Though it’s only 111 pages, German author Daniel Kehlmann’s contribution to the haunted house genre is packed from the very first pages with subtle hints and warnings about the insanity of the mountaintop home he has rented for a family vacation.  Told in journal form, this book chronicles a single week in this odd house…to tell you more would be to give away the best aspects of this story, but I guarantee that you’ll be flipping back and forth as you read in order to confirm if your own grasp on reality is slipping…or if you did just read that….



Tune in tomorrow for our look at some other kinds of haunted houses…

Announcing the winners of the 2017 Hugo Awards!

Last night, the winners of the 2017 Hugo Awards were announced at Worldcon 75, in Helsinki, Finland.  We talked a good deal about the Hugo Awards a few months ago, covering the really troubling “Puppies” and their attempt to hijack the awards (which are voted on at the Con itself), as well as the need to celebrate diverse books of all kinds, genres, and forms.

So it’s a delight to present this list of award winners, which highlights the diversity of the science fiction genre, and, hopefully, will provide you with plenty of ideas for your To Be Read pile!

In total, 2464 valid nominating ballots (2458 electronic and 6 paper) were received and counted from the members of the 2016, 2017 and 2018 World Science Fiction Conventions, and 3319 members of the 2017 Worldcon cast vote on the final ballot.

And the (literary) awards go to:*

Best Novel: The Obelisk Gate, by N. K. Jemisin (her second win in a row!)

Best Novella: Every Heart a Doorway, by Seanan McGuire

Best Novelette: “The Tomato Thief”, by Ursula Vernon (Apex Magazine, January 2016)

Best Short Story: “Seasons of Glass and Iron”, by Amal El-Mohtar (The Starlit Wood: New Fairy Tales)

Best Related Work: Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000-2016, by Ursula K. Le Guin

Best Graphic Story: Monstress, Volume 1: Awakening, written by Marjorie Liu, illustrated by Sana Takeda

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: Arrival, screenplay by Eric Heisserer based on a short story by Ted Chiang, directed by Denis Villeneuve 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: The Expanse: “Leviathan Wakes”, written by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, directed by Terry McDonough

Best Editor, Short Form: Ellen Datlow

Best Editor, Long Form: Liz Gorinsky (editor with Tor Books and Tor.com)

A big, Free-For-All Congratulations to all the winners!


*A number of Hugos are awarded for materials that the Library does not stock, such as fan fiction, fanzines, and visual arts.  We nevertheless support and celebrate their achievements, and you can read the whole list of winners here.