Great Reads

Torres, Justin. We the Animals

Written in a series of short stories and vignettes, We the Animals is not what you would expect from a coming-of-age story. It delves deeply into the lives of a family continually balancing on the edge. Set in an unknown town in upstate New York, the unnamed seven year-old narrator and his two older brothers, Joel and Manny, experience a freedom foreign to most children their age, roaming the streets day and night while their mother works the graveyard shift and their father disappears for days at a time. What the boys fail to see is the dark reality of their situation; that their freedom is really neglect, their mother’s deep love for her children is also a form of her desperation, and their parent’s relationship, while passionate, is also volatile and dangerous.

Through glimpses we see the boys experience seemingly traumatic events: learning to swim by being abandoned in deep water, watching their father dig a grave in the backyard for no one in particular, packing up and leaving with their mother only to return after not knowing where to go, and understanding them as nothing extraordinary, as every-day life. As the boys grow they come to learn what it means to be an adult. While the narrator’s older brothers fall into their family’s vicious cycle of failure, aggression and indifference, he is desperate to separate himself from them, but at what price?

Even though the novel is slim, it packs an emotional punch. If you’re a fan of poetry, you will appreciate how Torres structures his novel and delicately navigates the story with a sensitivity that will stay with you long after you have finished it.


Just a Thought -- Zombie Fiction

Everywhere you look these days, zombies are rearing their decaying heads. From films like "Zombieland" to novels likePride and Prejudice and Zombies" to the website of the Centers for Disease Control, it seems that the zombie is our new favorite monster. But the ranks of the mindlessly hungry undead have not only invaded classic literature, they have also been joined by new brethren who think between nibbling on brains and are able to tell their own stories in their own words. The zombie fiction genre is expanding as new authors sink their teeth into the subject. For a few new and different takes on the shambling undead, try some of these titles!


Ajvide Linqvist, John.  Handling the Undead

Becker, Robin.  Brains: a zombie memoir

Brown, Ryan.  Play Dead

Browne, S.G.  Breathers: a zombie's lament

Goldsher, Alan.  Paul is undead : the British zombie invasion

Kenemore, Scott.  Zombie, Ohio: a tale of the undead

Moore, J. P. Toothless

Rowland, Diana.  My Life as a White Trash Zombie

Turner, Joan Frances.  Dust

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Rowland, Diana. My Life as a White Trash Zombie

Angel Crawford, a high-school dropout on probation for possession of a stolen car, is going nowhere with her life. Stuck in a dead-end relationship with a dead-beat boyfriend, taking care of and hiding from her alcoholic father by turns, drinking to excess and taking illegal drugs, she is a mess. A white trash mess.  So she’s not too terribly surprised when she wakes up in the hospital one day and is told she was found by the side of the road, naked, having overdosed on drugs after leaving the bar with a man other than her boyfriend. What DOES surprise Angel is that there’s not a scratch on her when she clearly remembers being flung through the windshield after a terrible car accident. A mysterious benefactor has left her a cooler full of some kind of coffee drink with strict instructions to drink one every day and has arranged a job at the local morgue for Angel. Uncertain as to what’s going on, Angel nevertheless follows instructions and shows up for the job as a morgue van driver and autopsy assistant. It isn’t long before she realizes that she has a strange, insatiable craving for brains…a craving she resists as long as possible. But when she gives in, she realizes that she’s stronger, better, and more alive after eating them. When a horribly decaying man ambushes her van one evening looking for brains, it’s a short mental  hop from there to the fact that Angel herself is now one of the living dead.  Now she must figure out how to “live” in her current state, who her mysterious benefactor might be, and, more alarmingly, who is out there killing other zombies before falling victim herself.


Funny, intriguing, and surprisingly touching, My Life as a White Trash Zombie is hopefully only the first installment in the undead adventures of Angel Crawford.

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Just a Thought -- Monster Mash

It all started with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Suddenly zombies, werewolves, vampires, and beasts of all descriptions were invading our classic literature! These mash-ups, as they’re termed, take many forms. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies simply wove zombies into Jane Austen’s original text, with hilarious and oddly seamless results. Other mash-ups include a higher percentage of newly-created text.  Still others, for a twist on the genre, take a real historical figure and add creatures to his or her real history.  Whichever type, the books are fascinating in their way, often funny, and always engaging.


Brown, Eric. War of the Worlds, Plus Blood, Guts, and Zombies

Erwin, Sherri. Jane Slayre

Grahame-Smith, Seth.  Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Grand, Porter. Little Women and Werewolves

Gray, Sarah. Wuthering Bites

Jensen, Van.  Pinocchio, Vampire Slayer

Moorat, A.E.  Queen Victorian: Demon Hunter

Nazarian, Vera. Mansfield Park and Mummies

Weston, Lucy. The Secret History of Elizabeth Tudor, Vampire Slayer

Winters, Ben. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters

Winters, Ben. Android Karenina

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Sem-Sandberg, Steve. The Emperor of Lies

In 1940, the second largest Jewish ghetto in Poland was established in the town of Lodz. Placed in control of this ghetto by the Nazi regime was a figure still controversial and compelling today, Mordechai Rumkowski.  A failed businessman, a bullying insurance agent, Rumkowski was by all accounts brash, egomaniacal, and deeply insecure. But he could also be oddly generous and loving, fancying himself a savior to the weak and the innocent. After his wife’s death in 1936, he established a Kinderkolonie, an orphanage for Jewish children. He encouraged the orphans to look on him as a father figure, going so far as to sprinkle candy in their midst on his visits, ensuring they would always run up to and after him. 

And, just as he tried to protect the orphans under his care, he attempted to protect the Jewish inhabitants of the Lodz ghetto. He knew, or believed he knew, that if he could only demonstrate to the Nazis the usefulness of the Jews, they would be spared the camps. And so he turned the entire ghetto into a massive industrial complex, forcing the inhabitants to work long hours under brutal conditions, producing furniture and clothing for German citizens and camoflage, foorwear, jackets, and buckles for the Wehrmacht. 

And so the central question in Sem-Sandberg’s novel is this: Was Rumkowski a collaborator or a liberator? A sinner, or a saint? A good man who made a difficult choice, or an evil man exploiting his position for personal gain? 

The novel opens 2 years into the life of the ghetto, when Rumkowski is forced to annouce that 20,000 inhabitants will be deported from th ghetto, sent to the camps. It goes backwards and forwards in time from there, exploring both Rumkowski’s past and personal life as well as the lives and daily torments of the inhabitants of the ghetto. While Rumkowski is the central figure, the author’s scope is much wider, utilizing an immersive richness of detail and a large, almost Dickensian cast to illuminate this place and this time in a three-dimensional fashion seldom attempted in fiction. Sem-Sandberg’s use of archival materials in reconstructing ghetto life lends his novel historical accuracy and a certain legitimacy, while the fiction format allows the reader to empathize and understand the plight of those within ghetto walls in a way non-fiction seldom does. A challenging, difficult, and ultimately illuminating work.