Little, Brown Books for Young Readers: Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer

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Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite: The Science of Monsters

Matt Kaplan shines the light of modern science on all things mythological and monstrous in Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite, using everything from anthropology to zoology in the quest to uncover the origin of monsters. He moves beyond the simplistic idea that ancient people just wanted to tell stories--instead, he searches archeological and fossil records for the physical origins of those stories. Some of his conclusions are far-fetched, such as the theory that ancient people "discovered" the chimera (a goat, lion and snake hybrid) in a comically complex tar pit accident. Other explanations, however, are both fascinating and seemingly plausible: Charybdis, an enormous living whirlpool from the Odyssey, can be traced to tidal forces in the Strait of Messina that existed in Homer's time.

Kaplan especially excels as he moves from ancient mythology to more modern inventions. World exploration has killed the European-style dragon, for example, but fear of contagious disease lives on through the infectious undead. Readers seeking the facts behind spooky fiction will find Medusa's Gaze and Vampire's Bite entertaining and informative. --Tobias Mutter, freelance reviewer