Audio for Every Occasion

I’m not sure why, but when it comes to reading vs. listening tastes, I’ve got a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde thing going on. When I look for a good audiobook I always end up choosing one that I probably wouldn’t give a second thought to if I was actually going to read it. It could be the activities I’m doing while listening require more distraction than my usual reading tastes provide. Or maybe I have a repressed desire for space opera, contemporary social issues, and 80s nostalgia that comes bubbling up to the surface when I select an audiobook. In any case, here are a few recent favorites paired with the activity that I’ve found matches them perfectly.

Activity: Yard work, yard work and more yard work
Preferred audio genre: Science fiction adventures

I love science fiction, but I normally watch it rather than read it. That all changes when it comes to selecting audiobook titles for working in the yard.

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Illuminae by Amie Kaufman
This one has a grand plot involving dueling space ships, teen romance, weaponized infectious disease and a rogue AI to boot. The story is ingeniously told through a series of found documents that lends itself well to audio format. A large voice cast brings the characters to life with the female lead Kady and the disturbed but sympathetic AI, AIDAN, being standouts. This is definitely a YA novel, with lots of adolescent angst, but it maintains a great sense of humor and will definitely make the weed pulling pass by quickly.

Alien: Out of the Shadows
Sadly, this one is not available via the library, being an ‘Audible Original Drama’, but I couldn’t resist mentioning it. It is based on a book by Tim LeBron but this version is a radio drama with a full audio cast, including Rutger Hauer no less.  Admittedly this is fan boy stuff, continuing the story of Ellen Ripley after her encounter with the Alien in the first film, but it was really fun and a great listen. So fire up the flame thrower, pay heed to the motion tracker and whatever you do, do not place your face directly over a large leathery egg as it slowly opens.

Activity: Exercise
Preferred audio genre: Social injustice

I usually avoid reading about contemporary political issues like the plague, but I’ve found that the outrage produced by a well-crafted audio book can not only make the time fly by while I exercise, but probably gets my heart pumping faster as my rage increases.

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Ghettoside by Jill Leovy
Ostensibly this work is about the murder of eighteen year old Bryant Tennelle in South Los Angeles and the subsequent police investigation. The author does definitely follow the case, which provides a good narrative structure and drama, but in fact this book is a searing indictment of society’s long indifference to urban enclaves where crimes against primarily African American men are criminally neglected and rarely result in a conviction. The audiobook is expertly narrated by Rebecca Lowman who makes every word count.

Missoula by Jon Krakauer
This work is an impassioned, rage-inducing examination of a disturbingly large number of rapes at the University of Montana in Missoula from 2010 to 2012 and the police’s and university’s response to them. Krakauer meticulously documents the events and creates a great deal of suspense as you follow the individual cases. This is top quality non-fiction that draws you in and keeps your attention even when you want to look away. The narration is expertly done by Mozhan Marno who brings the often disturbing material to life.

Activity: Long car trips
Preferred Audio Genre: 80s entertainment nostalgia

It is probably because my traveling companion is ‘of a certain age’ like me, but memoirs of entertainment figures from the 80s are always a big hit on our long distance road trips.

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As You Wish by Cary Elwes
If you have even the smallest desire to learn more about the creation of the film The Princess Bride, this is the audiobook for you. Written and narrated by Cary Elwes, you get a blow by blow account of the creation, filming and reception of this iconic film. Elwes also enlists an all-star cast, including Robin Wright, Wallace Shawn, Billy Crystal and Mandy Patinkin, who narrate their own accounts of filming. It really is a fun listen, if for no other reason than finding out the origins of all the catch phrases that the movie produced. Inconceivable!

So That Happened by Jon Cryer
Cryer has had some notable hits, including Pretty in Pink and Two and Half Men, but the fun of this audiobook is in how he details some of his less successful projects (Superman IV anyone?). He narrates the audiobook and has great sense of humor about himself and the nature of his work. Best of all, he isn’t afraid to ‘go negative’ at times. Do you want to know what it is actually like to work with both Molly Ringwald and Charlie Sheen? Of course you do.

So I still don’t know why there is such a big difference between what I choose to read and what I choose to listen to. Perhaps it’s just best to accept my dual nature. It worked for Dr. Jekyll right?

Eating History

If you want to live, you gotta eat. A pretty basic truth and one we tend to take for granted. While gourmands argue about what wine to pair with what fish and health gurus debate the merits of protein vs carbs, a lot of the interesting questions about food go unanswered: Why do we eat what we eat? Why do certain peoples and regions eat different things? What the heck is a ‘square meal’ and where did it come from? Luckily, if you want to find answers to these questions and more, the Everett Public Library is the place to be. There are actually a large number of works on the history of food and eating that are fascinating and help you appreciate this seemingly basic human need. Read on for a few choice examples.

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A History of Food in 100 Recipes by William Sitwell
Taking a pleasingly micro approach to the history of food, Sitwell lays out a fascinating chronology, based on actual recipes, that demonstrates the evolution of food preparation and our eating habits. Everything from Ancient Egyptian bread (1958-1913 BCE), Dried Fish (800 AD), Soufflé (1816) and Rice Krispies Treats (1941) are covered. Far from just a collection of eccentric dishes, however, this work is full of interesting insights into why and what we eat.

Consider the Fork: a History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson
Instead of focusing on the food itself, this work tracks the history of cooking through the technologies used to create the dishes we eat. While we tend to take for granted many seemingly simple kitchen implements (like the knife, the rice cooker and the egg timer) Wilson describes the surprisingly complicated and significant histories behind them.

Sweet Invention: a History of Dessert by Michael Krondl
Whether you believe dessert is the last part of a meal or a meal in itself, this book will prove entertaining and informative reading. Part history and part travelogue, Krondl travels the globe talking with confectioners and examining the dessert traditions of different cultures and countries and how they evolved over time.

British Food: An Extraordinary Thousand Years of History by Colin Spencer
One of the most vilified cuisines deserves an extraordinary and entertaining history; Spencer does not disappoint in this engaging work. The ups, yes there were ups, and downs of Britain’s food reputation are lovingly cataloged. Interestingly, the author charts the most recent downturn to the Victorian period when raw food was frowned upon and every foodstuff imaginable was boiled.

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Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal by Abigail Carroll
More than a history of breakfast, lunch, and dinner in America, Carroll traces the evolution of eating habits in the United States from the colonial era to the present day. As with much U.S. history, the one constant appears to be change itself. The biggest change turns out to be the industrial revolution and its regularization of the workday, leaving dinner as the only time available for a proper sit down meal with the family.

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking: A Memoir of Love and Longing by Anya Von Bremzen
A fascinating memoir and history told through classic Soviet dishes. The author was raised in a communal apartment with 18 other people and one kitchen before immigrating to the United States with her mother in the 1970s. Now the author of several international cookbooks, this is the tale of her upbringing and the food so closely associated with it.

Rice, Noodle, Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan’s Food Culture by Matt Goulding
Part travel guide and part food history, this book explores the deep and complicated food culture of Japan. Goulding travels throughout the country visiting the many different restaurants (including ramen, tempura, soba and sushi shops) exploring the food and history of each. The author is also not shy about giving recommendations of which restaurants to go to and which to avoid.

Dining with the Famous and Infamous by Fiona Ross
Taking food history to a personal level, Ross sets out to discover the eating habits of many interesting contemporary and historical figures. From George Orwell to Marilyn Monroe, the individual eating habits of the great and no so great are explored. This collection of food voyeurism is a guilty pleasure but impossible to ignore.

I hope you have enjoyed this small sampling of the many great works available on food, dinning and their history here at the library. Reading might actually burn calories so no need to worry about overindulgence.

Short Story Debuts

There is nothing like that crisp new fiction smell. A debut author finally getting their words into print is always exciting. Sure there is always the possibility that the new author’s style and tone might not translate into great reading for you, but taking a chance is half the fun.  A great way to minimize the risk of getting a dud is to check out debut short story collections. Short stories are (surprise, surprise) brief so it takes less time to find out if one is not to your taste. Also, there is no harm in simply skipping one story in a collection if it isn’t working for you. If you are up to the challenge, here are three debut short story collections that are definitely worth your limited reading time.

Dog Run Moon by Callan Wink

dogrunmoonAll of the tales in this great collection have a strong sense of place, the American West (Montana and Wyoming for the most part), and a quirky sense of humor. Most of the hardscrabble characters have seen better days, but they continue to play the cards life has dealt them in determined and unique ways. Standout stories include: “One More Last Stand” which follows a Little Bighorn reenactor, playing Custer of course, whose marriage is slowly falling apart. “Exotics” the story of a teacher in Montana who takes a summer job working at a cattle ranch in Texas to get away from it all. The best of the bunch “Dog Run Moon” opens with an early morning chase scene involving a nude construction worker, the dog he ‘liberated’, and the vengeful owner on his ATV.

inheriteddisordersInherited Disorders: Stories, Parables & Problems by Adam Ehrlich Sachs

The stories in this collection all share the same topic: the ‘special relationship’ between fathers and sons. Normally I would avoid this type of collection like the plague, worrying that the stories would be schmaltzy and filled with Hallmark card-worthy resolutions, but this book breaks the mold. The stories are all pleasingly short, from a few pages to a paragraph, and are basically hilarious parables. The tone is hard to describe so why not just enjoy this fine example:

Dead Language
Linguists last year were overjoyed to discover two living speakers, a father and son, of a Finnic language long believed to be extinct. The father lived in North Karelia, the son in South Karelia. Both agreed to be flown to Helsinki to have a conversation observed and recorded by a consortium of eighty linguists in the hope of preserving the language. But the conversation was so stilted, so perfunctory, so silence-ridden and self-conscious that afterward the eighty linguists declared the language, for all intents and purposes, extinct. This is said to be the first time a language has ever been declared extinct while there are still people alive who speak it.

If nothing else, you now have the perfect gift for Father’s day.

The Brink by Austin Bunn

thebrinkThe stories in this collection vary widely in topic, setting, and character with the author clearly not afraid to take a chance and experiment. The good news is that the stories do not feel like creative writing exercises. Instead Bunn is a master at capturing a moment in time, no matter how fantastic, and conveying the feeling of it convincingly. And oh what moments in time they are. “How to Win an Unwinnable War” follows a teenager who enthusiastically volunteers to take a summer course on thermonuclear war to get away from being at home and watching his parents’ marriage fall apart. “Griefer” tells the tale of an online role-playing game as is it is about to be shut down, through the eyes of a devotee who can’t seem to let go. “Ledge” finds the crew of a 15th century Spanish galleon discovering the actual end of the earth, and the disturbing fact of what lies over that edge.

So there you have it. Three brand spankin’ new short story collections. Now get out there and read.

A Constant Need

I think I may have discovered another universal constant. Along with gravity and the speed of light there is the constant need for my family unit (consisting of my wife, me and a very grumpy dog) to be watching a science fiction television series of some kind. If we don’t get a weekly dose of a show with at least some type of science fiction hook, we tend to get listless and feel that something is missing in our lives (O.K. the dog probably doesn’t care, but we anthropomorphize big time). Luckily the library has a great selection of DVDs that allow us to feed our addiction. Here are four recent(ish) series that just might be of interest if you suffer from the same malady or just like interesting television that actually has a narrative.

The Expanse

theexpanseBased on a series of novels by James Corey, The Expanse is set in a future where humanity has colonized the solar system but is still plagued by the all too familiar problems of corporate greed, governments on the verge of war and religious fanaticism. The Expanse is a true space opera, in the best sense of the term, with multiple story lines and characters that all converge in the end. The three main plotlines involve a police detective tracking down a lead in the asteroid belt, a ship’s officer and crew trying to find out who destroyed their vessel and a Machiavellian United Nations executive trying to make sure that Earth’s interests come first. The mystery at the center of it all is slowly revealed and appropriately ominous and menacing. The show’s great strength is in how it presents a fully realized future universe that is fun to get lost in.

Humans

humansFor fans of stories dealing with artificial intelligence, the setup for this series will sound familiar. In the near future synths, my favorite name for androids, are an integral part of human society. They do most of the jobs, from gardening to telemarketing, and are designed to be essentially mindless labor. One inventor, however, has created a small family of synths that are sentient and self-aware. When the inventor dies, under mysterious circumstances of course, these ‘human’ synths are forced to split up and go underground to try to survive. What follows, over eight episodes, is a fascinating examination of some of the classic questions arising out of the development of artificial intelligence: What does it mean to be conscious? What happens when humans create a sentient being? Are these creations simple machines or are they individuals? If they are individuals, will they continue to serve us or simply rebel?  Oh and, of course, there are sexbots.

Ascension

ascensionAt first this mini-series seems a bit like Mad Men in space. In 1963, a secret program was set up to send a set of colonists to the nearest star to preserve humanity. Fifty-one years later their descendants are halfway through the journey. The early 1960s culture aboard the ship, complete with beach parties and three martini lunches, is suddenly disturbed by the murder of a young woman. Since this is the first murder of the trip no one is sure quite how to handle it. An investigation is launched and the viewer begins to find out that the society on board is far from ideal with all sorts of nefarious power struggles and a rigid caste system. There is a major plot twist early on that sends the story in a very different direction, but if you roll with it, it makes the story even more compelling.

Wayward Pines

waywardpinesThis is another show based on a series of novels, this time by Blake Crouch, and is produced by M. Night Shyamalan so you know things are going to get a little weird. While investigating the disappearance of two of his fellow U.S. Secret Service agents, Ethan Burke gets into a car accident and wakes up in the seemingly idyllic town of Wayward Pines, Idaho. As the series progresses he is introduced to the, shall we say, quirky residents and quickly finds out that something is really amiss. First of all, it is impossible to leave the place. Also, there is strict set of rules that everyone must follow and repeated violations result in a ‘reckoning’ which isn’t pretty. While the setup is definitely more Twin Peaks than Star Trek, as the series progress you definitely get to more familiar Science Fiction territory. Admittedly, you do have to suspend your disbelief big time to enjoy this one, but as they said on MST3K: ‘It’s just a show, I should really just relax.’

The Means of Production

Growing up, there was always one person on the block who made their own home brew. Usually it was something really appetizing like ‘wine’ made from cherries/dandelions/elderberries that you would be forced to taste, without making a gagging noise, when you visited their house. Nowadays, the creation of fermented beverages at home is no longer the purview of the neighborhood eccentric. In fact, the corporations are getting a run for their money with the masses producing a surprising number of formerly commercial products at home. Good evidence for this is the many books here at the library that will guide you through the process. Here is a just a sampling of the titles on offer.

Beer, Beer, Beer and Mead
The beer world has been decentralizing for years now with the advent of microbrewers and craft beers. Why not take it a step further and do some home brewing to create a truly unique and original elixir? While there is definitely a learning curve, brewing isn’t rocket science, so there is no reason not to give it a try.

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We have several manuals for home brewing beer here at the library, but a good place to start is with Mastering Homebrew: The Complete Guide to Brewing Delicious Beer by Randy Mosher. Mosher lays out the basics of brewing at home, complete with colorful graphics and illustrations to help you through the process. Once you get the basics down, you will want to try out different recipes to get the perfect glass of suds. Craft Beer for the Homebrewer: Recipes from America’s Top Brewmasters by Michael Agnew and Make Some Beer: Small-Batch Recipes from Brooklyn to Bamburg by Erica Shea are both chock full of recipes to help you experiment. If you find the idea of brewing at home too time consuming, take a gander at Speed Brewing: Techniques and Recipes for Fast Fermenting Beers, Ciders, Meads and More by Mary Izett. Finally, if you want to get in touch with your inner Viking, sans the pillaging of monasteries one hopes, take a look at Make Mead Like a Viking by Jereme Zimmerman to learn all about this fermented honey-based brew.

In Vino Veritas
While wine and winemaking tends to have a lofty reputation, don’t let that scare you away from trying to make your own. Long before wine experts were declaring their favorite chardonnay ‘busy but never precocious’ the Roman plebs were quaffing the stuff by the amphora while cheering on their favorite charioteer. Why not throw caution to the wind and give it a try?

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While there is, of course, Home Winemaking for Dummies, you might want to start with First Steps in Winemaking: A Complete Month-by-Month Guide to Winemaking in Your Home by Cyrill Berry for a yearlong approach to winemaking. Once the basics are down, move on to The Home Winemaker’s Companion by Gene Spazani and Ed Halloran with more than 100 recipes for different types of wine and easy to understand diagrams. If you don’t have access to grapes or other fruits, Winemaking with Concentrates by Peter Duncan is for you. Using concentrates allows for the creation of small batches and a wide variety of types of wine. If you want to move on from winemaking as a hobby and take it to the next level, both the Winemaker’s Answer Book by Alison Crowe and From Vines to Wines: The Complete Guide to Growing Grapes and Making Your Own Wine by Jeff Cox will give you sage advice about selecting land, vines and equipment to get your wine vineyard up and running.

Teetotaler
While for many the whole point of brewing and fermenting at home is to produce beverages with alcohol, there are actually a surprising number of items that you can produce at home that are alcohol free. Cheese, yogurt, sauerkraut, vinegar, and kimchi, to name but a few, are all products of fermentation and can be made at home. As always, the library has your back. Take a look at these books to get you started.

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Fermentation for Beginners and The Art of Fermentation by Sandor Katz are two great books to get you on the road to home fermentation with detailed instructions and easy to understand concepts. Once you have gotten the basics down, definitely check out Mastering Fermentation by Mary Karlin to hone your skills with more than 70 recipes including sourdough, vinegar and mustards. It is easy to think of vinegar as simply wine ‘gone bad’ but that is far from case as you will find out in the book The Artisanal Vinegar Maker’s Handbook.  Learn the ins and outs of vinegar fermentation, distillation, and infusion from the Austrian distillers Helge Schickl and Bettina Malle. Kombucha, a type of fermented tea, is gaining popularity but there is no need to buy it at the store. Instead check out The Big Book of Kombucha by Hannah Crum and Kombucha Revolution by Stephen Lee to learn how to make your own at home.

The means of production are now in your hands. Go forth and ferment!

The Curious Mind of Mary Roach

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Thank goodness for the curious mind of Mary Roach. Without it we would never have found out the hilarious peculiarities of applying the scientific method. I know the terms ‘hilarious’ and ‘scientific method’ are rarely used in the same sentence, but read one of Roach’s wonderful books and you will understand that in her world they actually fit quite well together. Also things can get a bit, well, gross and embarrassing. Throwing caution to the wind, she isn’t afraid to find out exactly what happens when you blend science and odd topics such as death, the afterlife, sex, space exploration and the digestive tract.

In preparation for her visit to the Everett Performing Arts Center on Saturday April 9th, which is part of the library’s 2016 Ways to Read series of programs, here is a brief rundown of her major works to date. For your convenience, I’ve listed them in the highly subjective order of least embarrassing/disturbing to most.
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Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife
Many leave the idea of the possibility of life after death to religion, philosophy or psychics. Our author doggedly, and sincerely, interviews those who look for a measurable way of answering this age-old question. As you might guess, the results are a bit odd but never boring. Attempts to weigh the soul, analyze ectoplasm and record the sounds of ghosts are but a few of the activities examined. A particular favorite is the ‘Asking Questions Study’ at the University of Arizona where mediums were told to ask practical questions of the departed such as “How is the Weather?” and “Do you engage in sexual behavior?”

Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void
Ah space. To boldly go where no one has gone before. But when nature calls, where, and more importantly how, do you actually ‘go’ in zero gravity? Forgoing the grand mission statements of NASA, Roach explores the very real problems of isolation and confinement for long periods of time, space hygiene, the perils of space sickness and how not to throw up in your helmet, and, of course, the difficulties of sex in zero gravity. The final frontier has never seemed less heroic, or more hilarious.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal
Once you realize the alimentary canal is just a fancy way of saying digestive tract, it might dawn on you that this book could get a tad gross. And while it does require a strong stomach (har, har) this work is well worth any unpleasantness that might arise. From the mouth to the, ahem, other end, our intrepid author doesn’t flinch from exploring the humor and surreal nature of scientific endeavors to find out just what happens when you eat a sandwich. Favorite chapter title: I’m all stopped up: Elvis Presley’s megacolon, and other ruminations on death by constipation.

Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex
Brace yourself for penis cameras, coital imaging, prescription strength vibrators, mental orgasms, impotent pandas and orgasmic pigs when you crack the covers of this great book. You actually start to feel sorry for the scientists who study in the field, since the work they do is important but hard not to giggle at. Roach, and especially her husband, are really troopers in this one: volunteering to perform their conjugal duties at the Diagnostic Testing Unit of London’s Heart Hospital in the name of science. Talk about grace under pressure.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers
The gruesome, but impossible to look away from, topic for this book is what happens to our bodies after death. Surprisingly a lot it turns out. If you are just trying to dispose of a body, you will learn about a number of ways to do so with sky burial being a personal favorite. This book also introduces you to many of the ‘jobs’ cadavers have: subjects for instructional surgery, realistic crash test dummies, ballistic trauma recipients, and simply rotting in a field to measure states of decay for forensic scientists. The classic macabre Roach humor is on display here, making this one of her most hilarious and memorable works.

Reading Lists of the Disturbed

Here is a shocking statement from someone who works in a library: reading lists are fun to keep. In addition to helping you remember exactly what you have read over time, they also produce a great sense of accomplishment. You can sit back in your chair, preferably an electric reclining one, and contemplate the many things you have read. If you have a tendency toward over analyzing what you have read, however, there can be a problem. While perusing my reading list, I recently noticed that the last three titles on my list were rather disturbing. How disturbing you ask? Let’s take a look.

The Wilds by Julia Elliott

While Julia Elliott’s collection of sthewildshort stories do not share an interconnected plot, they do share a distinctly creepy tone and feel. Most are set in a world just slightly in the future where an element of today is distorted and heightened for a disturbing effect. The story ‘Regeneration at Mukti’ is set in a new age clinic in the jungles of South America where the wealthy literally shed their skin to try to look younger. In ‘The Love Machine’ a synthetic artificial intelligence is flooded with hormones with disastrous results. ‘Organisms’ describes the T. hermeticus epidemic which zombifies adolescents and is spread through social media and video games. ‘Feral’ is set in a world where domestic dogs have reverted to the wild, roaming in large packs and threatening their former human masters. All the stories reflect Elliot’s masterful use of language and her ability to evoke a distinctive setting and feeling of growing unease.

Find Me by Laura Van den Berg

findmeIn this novel, Joy finds herself in an isolated hospital on the Kansas plains during the middle of winter. While her life before was mundane, working the graveyard shift at a convenience store and stealing cough syrup to numb the pain, she now finds herself in a unique position: one of the few people immune to a new sickness that begins with memory loss and ends in death. She and her fellow residents are subject to odd treatments and strange rules that make her question the medical staff and their motivations. When order breaks down, Joy finds the chance to escape and finds out for herself exactly what is going on in the wider world. While the dystopian setting might seem a bit too familiar, this novel is more about Joy and her relationships with her fellow patients, her long-lost mother, and her past. Van den Berg has a way of creating memorable, quirky, and disturbing characters, which are in great abundance as Joy makes her way through a damaged world.

All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld

allthebirdssingingJake Whyte lives in a small cottage on a rainy island off the British coast. Her only companions are a flock of sheep and her dog, simply named Dog. There are a few locals down at the pub and an odd man in a rumpled suit that shows up at her house one day, but for the most part she keeps herself to herself. The only problem is that someone or something is killing her sheep one by one in the night. As she tries to find out who or what the culprit is, traumatic and harrowing memories of her former life in Australia come flooding back. The past and present begin to merge. The line between what is real and what isn’t becomes harder to determine as she gets closer to finding out what exactly is killing her sheep in the night. Wyld is a master of vivid storytelling and doesn’t waste a word in her descriptions and dialog. She creates a truly a gripping story, but not one for the faint of heart.

So, if I’ve been reading disturbing books, does that mean I’m disturbed? Perhaps. But you can rest assured that these three books are well worth your limited reading time, whatever your psychological state.