Kelly Strom | Ease your way into frightening reads

Kelly Strom | Ease your way into frightening reads

There is only so much that people can tolerate. Are you frightened of the children's "Goosebumps" books, or can you make it up to Edgar Allan Poe? Is Ray Bradbury enough for you, or do you crave the horrors of Dathan Auerbach and Ramsey Campbell? We all have our limits of discomfort. This week, instead of jumping into the horror books of the season, I've decided to offer you a short gradation of fright.

Let's start out on the tamer side. For those of you who like a suspense thriller, but without any supernatural elements or gore, then I've got the book for you. Part chick lit, part suspense, "The Other Woman" by Sandie Jones is your go-to this season. Interestingly, this is a debut novel for Jones, and she won the race right out of the gate.

Emily never thought she'd meet the perfect man. She was tired of meeting drunken blokes in the pubs and was satisfied hanging out with her two best friends every weekend. Then she met Adam. He seems ideal in every way — except one. There's another woman who shares a deep bond with Adam, and she's his mom. Now, before you start giggling at the absurdity of this, know that Mom, Pammie, is awful.

There is no way that Pammie is going to allow her beloved son to marry Emily, and she sets up sneaky and manipulative ways to cut Emily down at every turn. And Pammie invariably gets what she wants. Adam just doesn't see what's going on, as Pammie's under-the-radar threats and intimidation turn to smiles and social niceties when Adam is around. When she's alone with Emily, Pammie sabotages her every move with cunning wit.

At the end of her rope, Emily does a little research and detective work in order to prove Pammie's crazy manipulations.

There is only room for one of these women in Adam's life. Just when you think you have it worked out, the ending whips your head around and forces you to take a closer look at the situation. Filled with frustration as well as tension, this is an easy book to enjoy — and makes you a little suspicious of the mothers-in-law out there.

If you enjoy sarcasm, wit, quirky characters and an underlying sense of malevolence, then "The Bus On Thursday" by Shirley Barrett is the book for you. Taking a step up in fright from the previous title but keeping some of the Bridget Jones' chick lit aspects, this book is a quick read, but will keep you thinking about it long after you've put it down.

Eleanor is in her early 30s and recently broke up with her boyfriend after discovering that he didn't want children. Soon thereafter, she is scratching her armpit at work, discovers a lump and is thrown into the world of breast cancer.

As if that's not bad enough, she loses her job due to all of the necessary treatments, has a mastectomy and joins a support group for which she is ill-fitted. After several outrageous remarks get her a less than welcome reception, the group leader suggests that she start writing a journal or private blog. For the most part, this book is that journal.

In recovery, Eleanor decides that a change of scenery is wise. She accepts a teaching job in a one-room schoolhouse in tiny Talbingo. Although set in the current day, Talbingo has a small classroom of a handful of kids because it is set in the very rural Snowy Mountains of Australia.

At first, the location seems ideal. The kids are great, but the school does not have internet access, seems really archaic in social norms, and the small cottage she has been given to live in has a large number of locks on each door.

It seems that the teacher she has replaced, Miss Barker, has disappeared. The kids are distraught, as apparently the angelic Miss Barker was perfect in every way. Yes, a bit like Mary Poppins. Eleanor finds this incredibly intimidating, and her disbelief is even more pronounced after meeting some of the crazy townspeople.

What is going on in Talbingo? Glenda, the school secretary, is unstable and judgmental, the kids don't seem to know the basic skills of modern-day life and their parents don't seem to care.

The local friar loves a good exorcism and tells Eleanor that she has cancer because she has allowed outside demons to enter her body. And I'm not talking symbolically. He's insisting that she actually has demons.

On top of all of that, she meets the uncannily bewitching brother of a student, who seduces her almost immediately after her arrival.

The short chapters make for a quick and binge-worthy read, and as crazy as Eleanor is, the reader sympathizes with her predicaments. Her observations on cancer culture, social mores and feminism can be hilarious. But then there's the underlying malevolence. What is really going on here, and is it all just in Eleanor's mind?

The last title today takes evil just a step further with "The Only Child" by Andrew Pyper. I listened to this one on audiobook, and I will tell you — it was super creepy. The book is categorized as a mystery, not specifically horror, but... .

Dr. Lily Dominick is a forensic psychiatrist at a mental institution that specializes in observing the mental states of the worst, most terrifying and dangerous psychotics. As the story begins, she has been asked to interview an unnamed man, "Client 46874-A," who was brought in after spontaneously ripping the ears off of a stranger along a city street — with his bare hands. After telling her that he is 200 years old and was the inspiration behind the literary monsters of Dracula, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Frankenstein, she knows he is mentally unstable.

But then he claims to have known her mother. Lily has a childhood memory of her mother being ripped apart by some sort of creature, after which Lily was taken away on the back of a white horse. The police said it was a bear attack, but Lily isn't so sure. This man may have the answers to Lily's history. After a break-in at her apartment, and the escape of the psychotic from the mental facility, Lily finds a note filled with clues about his existence and her parentage. She abruptly leaves town and travels to Europe to find some answers.

The book is very interesting, interwoven with tales of the great literary monsters. If you want the fright factor stepped up a notch, check out an audiobook version and devote some time to listening in a quiet space.

Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, ebooks, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.

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