Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview #Booklaunch THE FACE OF A MONSTER: AMERICA’S FRANKENSTEIN by Patricia Earnest Suter. A book that will enthrall fans of Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and people interested in XIX century true crime.

Hi all:

I normally don’t share posts on Sundays but as this book launches today and I had run out of space on my usual days, I thought you might have a bit of time to catch up on some reading on a Sunday. Sorry if you don’t…

The Face of a Monster: America's Frankenstein by Patricia Earnest Suter
The Face of a Monster: America’s Frankenstein by Patricia Earnest Suter

The Face of a Monster: America’s Frankenstein by Patricia Earnest Suter

The year 2018 will herald the 200th anniversary of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. The timing seems right for the story of a real monster. German-born immigrant Anton Probst arrived in New York in 1863. Within two hours of his arrival, he enlisted in the Union Army. During the American Civil War, Probst bore witness to mankind’s brutality. Afterwards, he became an inmate at the disreputable Blockley Almshouse in Philadelphia.

Frankenstein was first conceived by Shelley in 1816. Her monster was an embodiment of abandonment and loneliness, feelings Shelley shared. In despair, the creature resorted to violence. Fifty years after Frankenstein’s conception, Anton Probst adopted characteristics of Shelley’s monstrous creation. He became Philadelphia’s first mass-murderer when he slaughtered members of the Christopher Dearing family.

After his death, Probst’s story continued. The creature that he had become left a deep impression on the people of Philadelphia and New York. Researchers used Anton Probst’s body to show the effects of galvanization, the same means by which Frankenstein’s monster stirred to life. Incredibly, similarities surface between Shelley and her circle, her monster, and events that transpired when the blood of innocents was shed an ocean away. One defining difference is present. Unlike Shelley’s creature, the story of America’s monster is very real.



Here is the Press Release with a bit more information.

The Face of a Monster: America’s Frankenstein 

Patricia Earnest Suter

Publishing 11th March 2018

Hardback: $14.99 E-book: $9.99 

2018 will mark the 200th anniversary of

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Now is the time for the story of a real monster… 

An original and imaginative blend of fiction and reality, The Face of a Monster tells the true story of Philadelphia’s first mass-murderer –Anton Probst—and the events which occurred fifty years after Frankenstein’s conception. This absorbing and well-documented account weaves Shelley’s famous novel with a similar tale of a very real monster. 

As Patricia Earnest Suter researched atrocities committed in Philadelphia by a European-born immigrant named Anton Probst, it became clear he embodied all that is monstrous. The story of Victor Frankenstein and his monster, a childhood favorite of Suter’s, easily came to mind.

Frankenstein, the classic gothic horror novel which has thrilled and engrossed readers for two centuries was first conceived by Shelley in 1816. Her monster personified abandonment and loneliness, feelings Shelley shared. In despair, the creature resorts to violence and the novel darkens into tragedy. Shelley’s masterpiece still maintains a strong grip on the imagination and has been the inspiration for numerous horror movies, television and stage adaptations. 

Fifty years later, Anton Probst adopted characteristics of Shelley’s monstrous creation. German-born immigrant Anton Probst arrived in New York in 1863. Within two hours of his arrival he enlisted in the Union Army. During the American Civil War, Probst bore witness to mankind’s brutality. He later became Philadelphia’s first mass-murderer when he slaughtered members of the Dearing family.

After his death, Probst’s story continued. The creature that he had become left a deep impression on the people of Philadelphia and New York. Researchers used Anton Probst’s body to show the effects of galvanization[1], the same means by which Frankenstein’s monster stirred to life. Incredibly, Probst’s circumstances parallel not only Frankenstein’s monster, but those of Mary Shelley. Relying on primary sources wherever possible, The Face of a Monster is brought to life through the words of Shelley and her inner circle, as well as contemporary accounts of Probst from Philadelphia’s journalists and attorneys.

This is a story of life imitating art. Over the course of researching and writing The Face of a Monster: America’s Frankenstein Suter discovered that monsters exist and that her childhood belief was right: they almost always adopt human form.


Author Patricia Earnest Suter

About the author: 

Pat Earnest Suter lives in Delaware with her family. She operates Earnest Archives and Library, a clearinghouse of Pennsylvania German documents. She is a graduate of the University of New Mexico and is the author of The Hanging of Susanna Cox: The True Story of Pennsylvania’s Most Notorious Infanticide and the Legend that has Kept It Alive, The Forgotten Nephew: D. E. Lick and Old Stumpstown and Peter Montelius: Printer and Teacher, Teacher and Printer.

For more information visit:;

[1] Originally in the 19th century, the term “galvanizing” was used to describe the administration of electric shocks

My review:

I was provided an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

Most of us have wondered more than once about the nature of fiction and the, sometimes, thin line separating reality from fiction. Although we assume that, on most occasions, fiction imitates reality, sometimes fiction can inspire reality (for better or for worse) and sometimes reality seems to imitate fiction (even if it is just a matter of perception). And although Slavoj Žižek and postmodernism might come to mind, none of those matters are new.

Suter’s non-fiction book combines three topics that are worthy of entire books (and some have been written about at length): Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Mary’s own life, and Anton Probst’s life and the murders he committed. Each chapter of the book alternates between the chronological (up to a point) stories of Shelley and Probst, and comparisons of the developments and events in the “life” (fictional, but nonetheless important) of Frankenstein’s creature. The author uses quotes and close- text-analysis of Frankenstein, and also interprets the text based on the biography of Shelley, to explain how the creature ended up becoming a monster. Although the novel is an early example of science-fiction/horror, many of the subjects it touched belong in literature at large. Nature versus nurture (is the creature bad because of the parts used to make him, or because nobody shows him care and affection?), science versus morality and religion (can knowledge be its own justification, or should there be something of a higher order limiting experiments), prejudice, mob mentality, revenge, loneliness and isolation…

Shelley’s life, marked by tragedy from the very beginning (her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, died when Mary was only eleven days old) was dominated by men who never returned her affection and who were happy to blame her for any disasters that happened. She was part of a fascinating group, but, being a woman, she was never acknowledged and did not truly belong in the same circle, and it seems an example of poetic justice that her book has survived, and even overtaken in fame, the works of those men that seemed so important at the time (Lord Byron, Percy B. Shelley…).

I was familiar with Frankenstein and with the life of Mary Shelley and her mother (although I am not an expert) but had not heard about Probst. The author has done extensive research on the subject and provides detailed information about the life of the murderer, and, perhaps more interesting still, his trial and what happened after. That part of the book is invaluable to anybody interested in the development of crime detection in late XIX century America (his crimes took place in Philadelphia, although he was born in Germany), the nature of trials at the time, the history of the prison service, executions, the role of the press and the nature of true crime publications, and also in the state of medical science in that era and the popular experiments and demonstrations that abounded (anatomical dissections, phrenology, galvanism were all the rage, and using the bodies of those who had been punished with the death penalty for experiments was quite common). Human curiosity has always been spurred by the macabre, and then, as much as now, the spectacle of a being that seemed to have gone beyond the bounds of normal behaviour enthralled the public. People stole mementos from the scene of the crime, queued to see the bodies of the victims, and later to see parts of the murderer that were being exhibited. Some things seem to change little.

Each part of the book is well researched and well written (some of the events are mentioned more than once to elaborate a point but justifiably so) and its overall argument is a compelling one, although perhaps not one that will attract all readers. There are indeed parallels and curious similarities in the cases, although for some this might be due to the skill of the writer and might not be evident to somebody looking at Probst’s case in isolation. Even then, this does not diminish from the expertise of the author or from the engrossing topics she has chosen. This is a book that makes its readers think about fame, literature, creativity, family, imaginary and true monsters, crime, victims, and the way we talk and write about crime and criminals. Then and now.

I’d recommend this book to readers interested in Frankenstein and Mary Shelley’s work and life, also to people interested in true crime, in particular, XIX century crime in the US. As a writer, I thought this book would be of great interest to writers researching crime enforcement and serial killers in XIX century America, emigration, and also the social history of the time. And if we feel complacent when we read about the behaviour of the experts and the common people when confronted with Probst and his murders, remember to look around you and you’ll see things haven’t changed that much.

The author also provides extensive notes at the end of the book, where she cites all her sources.

In case you want to check, I dedicated a post to Mary Shelley and her mother, here.

Thanks to the publisher, to the author, and to all of you for reading, and remember to like, share, comment, click, and REVIEW!

Book review Book reviews

#Bookreview BEHOLD THE DREAMERS: A NOVEL by Imbolo Mbue. Beautifully written story of a lost in translation version of the American Dream

Hi all:

This is the last review for this week, but plenty more to come. And although the material says the novel is long-listed for the Pen/Faulkner Award, it is now officially one of the finalists (read an article in the Washington Post about it here). So, remember, you heard it here first!


Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Behold the Dreamers: A Novel by Imbolo Mbue

Longlisted for a PEN Open Book Award • A compulsively readable debut novel about marriage, immigration, class, race, and the trapdoors in the American Dream—the unforgettable story of a young Cameroonian couple making a new life in New York just as the Great Recession upends the economy

The New York Times • The Washington Post • Kirkus • NPR • San Francisco Chronicle • The Guardian • St. Louis Dispatch

Jende Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant living in Harlem, has come to the United States to provide a better life for himself, his wife, Neni, and their six-year-old son. In the fall of 2007, Jende can hardly believe his luck when he lands a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a senior executive at Lehman Brothers. Clark demands punctuality, discretion, and loyalty—and Jende is eager to please. Clark’s wife, Cindy, even offers Neni temporary work at the Edwardses’ summer home in the Hamptons. With these opportunities, Jende and Neni can at last gain a foothold in America and imagine a brighter future.

However, the world of great power and privilege conceals troubling secrets, and soon Jende and Neni notice cracks in their employers’ façades.

When the financial world is rocked by the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the Jongas are desperate to keep Jende’s job—even as their marriage threatens to fall apart. As all four lives are dramatically upended, Jende and Neni are forced to make an impossible choice.

Praise for Behold the Dreamers

“A debut novel by a young woman from Cameroon that illuminates the immigrant experience in America with the tenderhearted wisdom so lacking in our political discourse . . . Mbue is a bright and captivating storyteller.”The Washington Post

“Mbue writes with great confidence and warmth. . . . A capacious, big-hearted novel.”The New York Times Book Review

“Behold the Dreamers’ heart . . . belongs to the struggles and small triumphs of the Jongas, which Mbue traces in clean, quick-moving paragraphs.”Entertainment Weekly

“Mbue’s writing is warm and captivating.”People (book of the week)

“[Mbue’s] book isn’t the first work of fiction to grapple with the global financial crisis of 2007–2008, but it’s surely one of the best. . . . It’s a novel that depicts a country both blessed and doomed, on top of the world, but always at risk of losing its balance. It is, in other words, quintessentially American.”—NPR

“Imbolo Mbue’s masterful debut about an immigrant family struggling to obtain the elusive American Dream in Harlem will have you feeling for each character from the moment you crack it open.”In Style

“This story is one that needs to be told.”Bust 

Behold the Dreamers challenges us all to consider what it takes to make us genuinely content, and how long is too long to live with our dreams deferred.”O: The Oprah Magazine

“[A] beautiful, empathetic novel.”The Boston Globe

“A witty, compassionate, swiftly paced novel that takes on race, immigration, family and the dangers of capitalist excess.”St. Louis Post-Dispatch

“Mbue [is] a deft, often lyrical observer. . . . [Her] meticulous storytelling announces a writer in command of her gifts.”—Minneapolis Star Tribune


About the author:

Author Imbolo Mbue
Author Imbolo Mbue

Imbolo Mbue is a native of Limbe, Cameroon. She holds a B.S. from Rutgers University and an M.A. from Columbia University. A resident of the United States for over a decade, she lives in New York City.



Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

My review:

Thanks to NetGalley and to Harper Collings UK, 4th State for offering me an ARC copy of this book that I voluntarily review.

This novel, written by an author hailing from Cameroon, like her characters, tells us the story of the Jongas, a family of emigrants trying to make a go of life in the USA, more specifically in New York. Jende strikes it lucky at the beginning and gets a job as a chauffeur for Clark Edwards, a big executive for Lehman Brothers. That seems to open many opportunities for Jende and his family, paving the way for all their dreams to come true. Unfortunately, the undoing of Lehman, some personal issues in the Edwards family and the pressure of their unclear immigration status (Jende arrived with a 3 months’ busy that he’s overstayed, his wife has a student visa but they might not have enough money to finance her studies to become a pharmacist and their son would have to go back if the father does) change all that.

The story, written in the third person alternating the points of view of Jende and his wife, Neni, is full of details of the subjective experience of the characters, from the worries about their immigration status, the variety of connections with people from home (from parties, to disinterested advice, emotional support…), their feelings about New York (their favourite places, the cultural shock of confronting new rules, prices, weather, standards and extremes of poverty and richness), their initial shock and later better understanding of the Edwards lifestyle, the educational opportunities and the effect of the stress of their situation on their personal lives.

Both characters are credible, engaging and easy to empathise with, even when we might not agree with their actions and/or decisions. They also have dreams and wishes for their future and their family. To begin with, they both think the USA will change their lives and open up avenues they’d never be able to pursue back home. Jende couldn’t even marry Neni back home and his wife had to live with her parents and had no chance to study. Everything seems possible in the USA, but slowly it becomes clear that things aren’t as straightforward as they thought at first, that being white and rich in America doesn’t equal happiness, and that not everyone is prepared to give them a chance.

There are funny moments and also very sad ones (especially when the couple disagrees and their relationship becomes difficult) and one can’t help but become invested in the story and the future of the couple and their children, who become ersatz members of our family. If at times the Jongas appear as victims of circumstances and a system that they don’t understand, at others they take things into their own hands, and, whatever we might think about what they do, they act. The book is beautifully written and offers an insight into lives that might be different to ours but we can easily share in.

On a personal note, I was a bit disappointed by the ending, not so much by what happens but by how it comes about, and I wasn’t so sure the reactions of the main characters towards the end of the book were totally consistent with the personality they’d shown so far, although it might be possible to see it as a result of the extreme pressures they experience. What that would suggest of the likelihood that their Cameroonian dream will end up becoming a reality is the crux of the matter but something left to the imagination of the readers. The scene towards the end of the book between Clark Edwards and Jende Jonga where they share their future plans (both of them moving on to a future more in keeping with family values and less with work), makes us think of how differently the women of the book see things compared to their men. Gender relations are one of the most interesting and troubling aspects of the novel.

A solid book with great characters that deals with important issues (domestic violence, family relations, cultural differences, immigration, asylum seeking, race relations, the Lehman Brothers and the economic crisis following its fall, the American Dream…), is a joy to read and it will make you consider many of those topics from a different point of view.

Thanks so much to NetGalley, the publishers and the author for this book (anecdotally, I was reading it in Paris when I was visiting my friend Iman, and I kept telling her the story when we went running and she found it very interesting too) and thanks to you all for reading. Please, like, share, comment and CLICK!

Classic Guest authors and new books

#Guestclassic author. Edgar Allan Poe. Horror, detectives, gothic and poetry

Hi all:

I’m today revisiting another of my old classic author posts. This is one of the oldest, and considering I’ve shared reviews of horror novels quite recently, it’s only appropriate.

1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a...
1848 Daguerreotype of Edgar Allan Poe at 39, a year before his death (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s Friday and again I decided to bring you one of my favourite classic authors. If you remember when I wrote the post on Oscar Wilde I told you that one of my friends was very keen on Edgar Allan Poe when we were at school. Margarita. As a consequence I read plenty of Poe at the time, and really enjoyed it. He had a penchant for mystery and horror stories (master of Gothic style), according to some he was the inventor of the detective story, and his poems remain popular to this day. I can say that stories like his ‘The Tell-tale Heart’ will always remain with me.


He was born 19th January 1809 in Boston, Massachusetts. He was the son of actors but never knew his parents (father left and mother died when he was only 3). He was separated from his siblings and adopted by the Allan family (tobacco merchants) from Richmond, Virginia. It seems he never got on with John, his adoptive father.

He went to the University of Virginia but did not get enough money and turned to gambling ending up in debt.

He started publishing in 1827 (Tamerlane and Other Poems) and at same time went to West Point. Although he excelled at his studies he was not interested in the duties and was asked to leave. In 1829 he published a second collection of Poems (Al Aaraaf, Tamberlane, and Minor Poems),

He focused on his writing and moved, living in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia and Richmond. From 1831 to 1835 he stayed in Baltimore with his aunt Maria Clemm and her daughter Virginia, whom he ended up marrying in 1836 (when she was 13 or 14).

Back in Richmond he started working for a magazine: Southern Literary Messenger and became well know as a fierce critic. Due to difficulties he only worked there for two years and he only briefly worked for two other magazines. During this period he published The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym.

In late 1830s he published Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque (includingThe Fall of the House of Usher’, ‘Ligeia’ and ‘William Wilson’). The Murders in the Rue Morgue in 1841 has been described as the first story of a new genre, the detective novel. He won a literary award for The Gold Bug.

His fame reached its peak with his publication of the poem The Raven in 1845. Many consider it one of his best works.

He also wrote a series of essays, poems and The Cask of Amontillado.

His wife Virginia died in 1847 and it seems he never fully recovered. His health was poor and he had financial difficulties. His death is surrounded by mystery, and it’s still unclear what he died of on October 7th 1849 in Baltimore.

He suffered from bad press following his death and another writer, Rufus Griswold (fame has not treated him kindly, but what goes around…) spread rumours about Poe being mentally unwell, an alcoholic and womaniser.  Despite of all that, his stories are still as shocking, if not more, than at the time of their publication.

Link to free e-books: 

The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Volume 1 (this is under review currently)

The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Volume 2

The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Volume 3

The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Volume 4

The Works of Edgar Allan Poe Volume 5

Edgar Allan Poe’s Complete Poetical Works

The Raven

There are also free versions in French and Spanish (and I’m sure in other languages).


The Edgar Allan Poe Society of Baltimore:


Link to a page with many of his short stories:

The Literature network site:

Edgard Allan Poe’s museum in Virginia:

If you enjoy movies I leave you with the IMDB page on Poe. There’ve been many film versions of his stories, and he’s even recently appeared as a character in his own right (I haven’t watched the movie though…). I love Roger Corman’s versions of some of his stories (actually I love Roger Corman, great filmmaker, distributor of some of the best filmmakers, great eye for talent and has discovered so many great people, from actors: Jack Nicholson, Sandra Bullock, Robert De Niro, to filmmakers: Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Joe Dante, James Cameron, Peter Bognadovich…And if you’re a filmmaker his 1990 biography “How I Made A Hundred Movies in Hollywood And Never Lost A Dime” is highly recommended).

I leave you with this quote because it feels so…up-to-date still:

“We should bear in mind that, in general, it is the object of our newspapers rather to create a sensation – to make a point – than to further the cause of truth.”

English: Signature of writer Edgar Allan Poe.

And of course, thanks for reading, and if you enjoyed it share and of course, CLICK!

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