Book Reviews

The Last Werewolf book jacket

“For one second of clarity, I felt it all. The speed and bulk of him, the scourging claws, the meat stink of his breath, the ice of the bite and a single glimpse of the beautiful eyes - then he sprang away into the darkness and I lay winded, one arm in the rushing stream, my shirt gathering the weight of my own blood."

HeartSick by Chelsea Cain

There’s something about October that draws readers to the scary books. Which are the scary books? That’s up to the reader because horror is anything that takes the reader out of his or her comfort zone.

Cat illustration from Tom Sawyer by Thomas Hart Benton

Oh Tom and Huck, the scourges of childhood befall you with astonishing regularity. Whether it’s Injun Joe, dark caves, or an endless parade of preachers, teachers, and other interfering adults, the children of St. Petersburg can handle it all. But there’s something even more sinister lurking in these pages.


Zombie cats to be specific.

“What?” You may say, “There are no zombie cats in Tom Sawyer!” But this is where I will say, “You are mistaken, my friend.” And let me tell you why. 

Mark Twain was a writer who knew his craft. He was incredibly forward thinking. He knew that while the zombie phenomenon was to be an important development in the literature of the future, his audience in the 1880s had no interest in reading about zombies.

So, in order to work the undead into his novel of 19th century rural life in Missouri, he initiates a cover up. He disguises the plague. He puts a veneer of civility over the whole ugly mess. He uses euphemisms.

Alert readers will notice that there’s a plethora of dead cats in Tom Sawyer. Expired felines appear on virtually every other page. This could be explained away as just the characters’ boyhood fascination with dead animals. But the real explanation is zombies.

Tom Sawyer cover

If readers were doubting that Tom Sawyer was the quintessential boy’s book, the final three chapters will dispel any doubt. Twain folds in every fantasy any boy has ever entertained in the conclusion to his first solo effort to write a novel.

Why, looky here:

Chapter XXXII

Right after being praised for his ingenuity and bravery while lost in the cavern, Tom is told that no other child will ever get lost in the cave. Judge Thatcher has had the entrance blocked with a boiled iron door.

Tom gets to play knight to the rescue again as he breathlessly informs the Judge that Injun Joe is still in the cave. Once the Judge, Tom, and several men arrive to pry the iron door open, they are met with a gruesome sight. Injun Joe lies dead at the entrance to the cave. Since he died alone, our narrator speculates, in typical hyperbolic boy-language that Injun Joe had hacked away at the iron door with his Bowie knife “in order to be doing something.” The lack of candle stubs and the remains of bat claws must mean that Injun Joe had done the best he could to keep from starving, but in the end, it wasn’t good enough. It was a grisly death worthy of an active imagination.

Kepler's Witch book cover

In a book about a 17th century astronomer the reader expects to learn something of the stars and planets along with the standard biographical details. Religious wars and witchcraft, both prevalent at that period, might show up as well.

Kepler’s Witch by James Connor examines the life of German astronomer Johannes Kepler. Born in the late 16th century, Kepler first noticed the wonders of the heavens when his mother showed him the comet of 1577 at the age of six.

Because of his inquisitive nature, his family saw that he received a good education. Religion became another early influence for the young astronomer as his family embraced the growing Lutheranism of the German states. Astronomy became a vehicle to try to work out the mind of God.

While mathematics and the heavens held an interest, Kepler pursued his studies intending to enter the ministry. He also became skilled in astrology by writing horoscopes, which he continued throughout his life. He took his first professional position as a teacher of mathematics in Graz, Austria.