Monday, December 26, 2022

Nerd Alert! Books to Buy With Your Gift Cards!


As tentatively promised, it's time for another dive into some of the genre (and adjacent) books that I've been enjoying in recent weeks. Clean those glasses and dive in!

In the Heart of the Sea by Nathanial Philbrick
Nonfiction is a bit of an uphill climb for me, but there's one particular history subject that I can always read about: exploration/nautical hell. Chalk it up to having a passionate fifth grade teacher, but give me a biography of James Cook that details his brutal dismemberment or the horrors of scurvy as it knocked out his crew's teeth and yes, I'm fully there. In the Heart of the Sea is sort of the historical prequel to Moby Dick, an intimidating classic that I've circled like Pee-Wee Herman around the snake tank, knowing I SHOULD read it for its place in literary history, but terrified at the amount of likely dull whaling details I'm going to encounter. In the Heart of the Sea is thankfully a brisker but deeply informative look at the same era and industry, told well by Nathaniel Philbrick as he sorts pieces together the various accounts of the infamous Essex's voyage in 1820. Phlbrick's voice is engagingly entertaining, keeping the history lesson moving with great narrative skill. I certainly didn't expect to encounter 19th century dildos in chapter 2, if that tells you something.

TV/Movie Pairing:

The fascination of In the Heart of the Sea is wonderfully reminiscent of another property based on a nautical failure of the same era. If you loved Dan Simmons' The Terror, this ticks many of the same boxes. And more importantly, if you haven't checked out the wonderful (and vastly underrated) AMC miniseries adaptation, amend that today. Jarred Harris and Ciaran Hinds lead the cast through brutally stark art direction. Yes, the CGI monster is the least effective part (same goes for the presumably non-CGI monster in the book) but the human aspects and nature's wonder are beautifully done. Just promise me you'll skip the completely unrelated second season of the series, which assembled a completely new creative team to tell an unrelated story...very badly.

We Believe the Children: A Moral Panic In the 1980s by Richard Beck
TWO nonfiction on ONE list? What is HAPPENING? Well, hopefully not whatever went wrong with the world in the 1980s, when the system began to prosecute/persecute random citizens for corrupting the youth of America with witchcraft. The Satanic Panic is a dark chapter in this country's history, but not nearly enough is known about why and how it came to destroy so many lives. Author Richard Beck does a thorough dive into a few of the more prominent cases and effectively grounds the action so we the reader can better understand how 1988 California could so easily mimic 1692 Salem. It's all too familiar. 

TV/Movie Pairing

I'm still waiting for the world to find this Philip Schaeffer's Witch-Hunt, a made-for-pennies oddity that manages to develop a fascinating little story on dialog alone. Witch-Hunt is very much about how being part of the Satanic Panic might fester in someone decades later, and while you have to power through its early low budget strained rhythm, once you give in, there's a lot there. 

When No One Is Watching by Alyssa Cole
The horrors of gentrification take on a literal form in this contemporary tale of a Brooklyn neighborhood. The narrative is effectively split between Sydney, our hometown heroine ready to defend her territory from the invading wealthy whites, and Theo, a nice enough guy discovering his part in the problem. It's a fast-paced mystery with a solid payoff.

TV/Movie Pairing

I found When No One Is Watching by the tagline "the literary Get Out," and that really does fit. If you enjoyed one, you'll likely feel the same way about the other.

God Shot by Chelsea Bieker
Don't you kind of hate yourself for being so damn fascinated by cults? The details are always so strangely enthralling that you end up sucked into a story that almost always involves victimization, often of the marginalized or young. Chelsea Bieker's God Shot doesn't necessarily give us a story we haven't seen before, but she solidly places it from the point of view that we should most be listening to in these scenarios: a teenage girl who is thoroughly enamored by her faith's charismatic sham of a leader, but slowly discovers entirely for herself that there's something very wrong. It doesn't necessarily fall into the horror categorization, but it's deeply affecting in pulling you into a very dark place.

TV/Movie Pairing:

There are plenty of films and documentaries about cult victims, but one the best remains Sean Durkin's Martha Marcy May Marlene. Like God Shot, it steadies itself in the perspective of a young woman taken in by the promises of an appealing man quickly proven to be horrible abuser. Now don't ever make me write out and remember the order of names in that title again.

Blood Autumn by Kathryn Ptacek
Is there anything more wonderful than discovering a used bookstore that has both cats AND a huge stretch of horror paperbacks? I stumbled upon such a gem on a recent vacation (the Book Corner in Niagara Falls, New York) and left with a literal boxful of random treasures, including this sexy vampire romp. I'd never heard of the author or title, but for $1, that juicy cover art couldn't be denied. And what a find! August Hamilton (amongst her many names) is a gorgeously drawn villain, a deeply carnal succubus who tears through men every which way. It's hard not to root for her.

TV/Movie Pairing

August makes you thirsty for the kind of glamourous lady vampire that sashayed through castles in the Hammer years. I confess that's a bit of a blind spot for me so at the lack of recommending the wrong one, I'll say you can never go wrong with Catherine Deneuve's otherworldly performance in The Hunger. If you're looking for something newer and woefully underrated, the divine Gemma Arterton shines in Neil Jordan's underappreciated Byzantium. 

Anything here strike your fancy? I'm always on the hunt for more reading, so if you've found adjacent picks to some of these, share them in the comments! And as always...


  1. Hi there and Happy Holidays!
    I love your blog and humor have been a big follower for years now. This might be my first comment though...? I love that you have included your reading choices here! It seems we have similar taste in bad movies and thriller novels. Im going to recommend an oldie but goodie that is never spoken about enough so it remains a cult gem that Im always pushing on people. ha. I have read and re-read it and still find it fascinating...It's a compact little thriller called, BLOOD SECRETS by Craig Jones. At 229 pgs. it is a quick and absorbing read that John Irving called,"Scary,Dark and Sympathetic-and Never Disappointing!" . I love the cover on the Ballantine paperback too from 1978 . Those 70s iconic thrillers were the best in my opinion! Im sure you can pick up a copy online somewhere cheap...although I have noticed it getting a bit harder to find recently. I will reveal nothing of the plot, but suffice to say that it would make a great Lifetime TV movie! haha. As I said before as many times as I have read it it always intrigues with many twists that I cant seem to recall later, which is what makes it a great re-read.

  2. Oooooh thank you! I've never heard of it but I'm adding it to the list! Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing!