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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

New Library Journal Horror Column by Me


The Road to Halloween | The Reader’s Shelf, April 15, 2016

Halloween may be six months away, but a crop of new horror titles are generating huge buzz and are just dying to be checked out now. From tales of monsters to ecological threats to humanity’s darkest souls, these selections will keep patrons primed for the fear-fest to come. 

The biggest release of the genre this spring is The Fireman by Joe Hill (Morrow. 2016. ISBN 9780062200631. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062200655). A deadly fungus is starting to infect humans, causing them spontaneously to combust and sparking the destruction of society as we know it. When pregnant nurse Harper falls ill, her husband attempts to kill her. Luckily, a mysterious hero is there to intervene and takes Harper to a camp where the sick have learned to control the problem. How long will this utopia last? With impressive action scenes, a well-developed cast of characters, and the hope of salvation resting on original MTV VJ Martha Quinn, this read is another menacing win from Hill.

Grady Hendrix has a penchant for 1980s references, as proven in his much-­anticipated follow-up to Horrorstör, My Best Friend’s Exorcism (Quirk. 2016. ISBN 9781594748622. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781594748639). Packaged to look like a school yearbook, the novel tells the chilling story of Abby and Gretchen as they stumble through high school. That is until one fateful night when, after experimenting with drugs, Gretchen disappears. She resurfaces claiming to be just fine, yet Abby can tell things are anything but. Is Gretchen possessed by the devil? Why is no one beyond Abby concerned? Told with Hendrix’s blend of sardonic humor and frightening dread, this is one scary tour down memory lane.

LaValle is the reigning king of ­literary horror and his new novella, The Ballad of Black Tom (Tor. 2016. ISBN 9780765387868. pap. $12.99; ebk. ISBN 9780765386618), is set in New York City during the height of the Jazz Age. Tommy is a dutiful son caring for his dying father and making money by hustling wherever and whenever he can. Dressed in his best clothes, he leaves his Harlem residence with an old book, intent on returning with a ­wallet full of cash. But Tommy’s trip is to the home of a sorceress and his book is the key to awakening a dark magic. He must now navigate the very real threat of racism and the supernatural evil out to destroy everything he holds dear.

In Security (Algonquin. 2016. ISBN 9781616205621. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616205973), the violent, bloody, sexy debut thriller by Gina Wohlsdorf, readers witness events as they unfold as seen through security cameras deployed throughout Manderley Resort. The footage is delivered to a bank of screens watched by a guard. The book quickly switches between the screens and the disturbing story lines taking place across the hotel—at times so fast that the page physically splits into different sections, occasionally requiring the book to be rotated to keep going. This stylistic choice adds tension and unease. With its twisty plot, great characters, and detached tone, ­Security is a tale that will maintain the interest of even the most jaded fan.

World Horror Grand Master Brian Keene brings fear to the ocean’s depths with a brand new story of a monster so petrifying that it makes Jaws look like a goldfish. In Pressure (Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. 2016. ISBN 9781250071347. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466882492), readers follow Carrie, a champion free diver, as she works alongside scientists to find out why the floor of the Indian Ocean is collapsing. This ecological disaster is complicated by the nefarious in two forms: murderous, corporate henchmen and a deadly alien that is intent on destroying us all. This frenetically paced, gory novel is filled with action and a protagonist to uphold. Pulp horror of the highest caliber.

While Keene has carried the banner for smart, fun, pulp horror for a while, a new author is rising to help shoulder the load. Last year, Jonathan Janz received accolades for The Nightmare Girl, but his latest offering, Children of the Dark (Sinister Grin. 2016. ISBN 9781944044145. pap. $17.59; ebk. ISBN 9781944044169), is even better. From the first line of the novel, Will, a 15-year-old from rural Indiana, makes it known that he has a story to tell—one about the summer when he watched 17 people die. With a serial killer possessing a surprising connection to Will, a recently awakened ancient evil, a boatload of blood, an intensely driven narrative, and fleshed-out characters, this original work exudes that classic horror feel. A perfect choice for those missing old-school Stephen King.

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This column was contributed by Becky Spratford, a Readers’ Advisor in Illinois specializing in serving patrons age 13 and up. She runs the critically acclaimed RA training blog RA for All. You can follow her on Twitter @RAforAll

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

15 Best Horror Books of Century: A List with Commentary and Changes by Becky

One of my favorite horror review sources is Matt Molgaards Horror Novel Reviews.

In general this is a great place for public libraries to look for a wide range of horror options suitable for most public library collections. Molgaard curates a nice sampling of horror from the obvious best selling choices to the best of the small presses and everything in between.

Often the main stream review sources are not enough for your to develop a robust enough horror collection to meet demand, and provide enough varied choice for your patrons.

Earlier this week, Molgaard posted his list of the 15 Best Horror Novels of this Century-- so far.

Take a look because this is a list of books every public library should own. Overall I like the list for a few reasons, but I also have a few complaints-- specifically from the public library collection development point of view.

First the pros:

  1. If I am being honest, I like this list because it validates the books which I have pushed in my book and on my blog.  For example, in my book I talk about Joe Hill and Jonathan Maberry as being the "New Kings of Horror." I wrote that back in 2010 (published in 2012) and both have only produced increasingly better stories and gotten more popular in the meantime. Morgaard includes books by both authors on his list.
  2. This list also includes the book I have proclaimed as my absolute favorite 21st Century horror novel in print, online, in newspapers, on public radio, and on podcasts-- The Ruins by Scott Smith.
  3. I appreciate how this list looks at the range and types of horror novels that have appeared this century and tires to represent it. For example, comic horror rose to popularity during this time, and Morgaard clearly picked the best book of the bunch-- John Dies at the End by David Wong. That is a great book!
  4. House of Leaves!!!!!
Now the cons. And again, I want to stress that my problems with this list have to do with the fact that my readers-- library workers-- need to create as diverse as a collection as possible, representing the best of all types of horror in terms of gore level and writing style, but also from a wide range of authors:
  1. There are no minority authors on the list and when I think best books of the 21st Century, two titles come immediately to mind: Zone One by Colson Whitehead or The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle [both by African American writers]. Those are among my personal favorites.
  2. There are no female horror authors on the list, and as I just wrote in my new "Trends in Horror" article for NoveList-- women horror writers are on the rise. But even going back to the beginning of this century, Sarah Langan and Sarah Pinborough each wrote some of the best horror novels of the 21st Century. The Missing by Langan is a classic and Breeding Ground by Pinborough is among my favorites of her older works, but her newer stuff is also some of the best horror written by anyone right now.
  3. Two other books I loved during the first years of this century which I did not see on the list are Sharp Teeth by Toby Barlow  and The Caretaker of Lorne Field by Dave Zeltersman.
Okay Becky, so it is easy to complain about the lists of others but what would you take out?  Well, again my audience for the list would be different than Morgaard's so I would remove Odd Thomas because, well, no one in our world needs a reminder to purchase Dean Koontz and I would also take out 1 Dan Simmons and 1 Stephen King-- they don't need 2 on the list. We get it, they are very good at horror and can write a wide range of scary stories, but put 1 title by each on the list and then mention a runner-up in the annotation.

That leaves me three spots:
  1. I would put in the Victor LaValle, and then I would sneak the Colson Whitehead into the annotation for House of Leaves [as a note like "another good literary horror read is..."]
  2. I would have to go with The Missing by Langan but since she is not writing as much anymore, I would also mention Pinborough in the annotation.
  3. Instead of Kootz, I would pick Sharp Teeth over The Caretaker at Lorne Field only because of the former's amazing style-- told in verse-- and the fact that it is a very urban horror novel, a setting that is becoming more popular.

Take a look through the list for yourself. Many of the books also have reviews here on RA for All: Horror and/or are annotated in my book.

And thanks to Morgaard for making this list, sparking a conversation AND for hosting and editing  Horror Novel Reviews.

And in more horror collection development news, look for my Halfway to Horror annual take over of The Readers' Shelf column in the April 15th issue of Library Journal. When it goes up on the website, I will post it on the blog.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Review: Children of the Dark

Today I have an exciting review to share with you.  This is a book every public library needs to buy. I am not kidding here. If you have readers who enjoy classic Stephen King-- which is ALL of you-- buy this book. Here is the draft of my star review which appears in the 3/15/16 issue of Booklist

Children of the Dark.
Janz, Jonathan (author).
Mar. 2016. 398p. Sinister Grin, paperback, $16  (9781944044145)
REVIEW. First published March 15, 2016 (Booklist).
In the first lines of this chilling novel Will lets us know that he has a terrifying story to tell, “The week I saw seventeen people die didn’t begin with blood, monsters, or a sadistic serial killer. It all began with a baseball game.” And so, we readers wait, the tension builds relentlessly throughout the book, and all of those terrible things do eventually come to pass in perfect horror fashion. But first we are settled into Will’s life in small town Indiana. A local baseball star, he is also poor, with a drug addicted, single mom, and a six year old sister whom he adores. Soon this unlikely hero will lead the entire community into a battle for their lives. The strong narrative voice, a recently awoken ancient evil, and a terrifying serial killer with surprisingly strong ties to Will combine forces to deliver a story with an old school horror feel that is in no way derivative. Heart-pounding action, well developed characters (both good and evil), and just the right amount of gore drive this fast paced story to its unsettling conclusion. This is the perfect book for those who love classic Stephen King. Think Stand by Me meets Something Wicked This Way Comes with a generous helping of the pulp sensibility of Brian Keene and you have Janz, a horror storyteller on the rise.
I read a lot of horror books, and when it comes to newer voices, I always go in with a skeptical eye, meaning I was predisposed to not being impressed here. That fact makes how much I was blown away by this novel even more impressive. Janz has been receiving praise in the horror community for about a year, but now is the time for the wider world to start reading him.

Three Words That Describe This Book: strong narrative voice, well developed characters, awesome tension

Readalikes: As I said above, classic Stephen King and the Bradbury coming of age, small midwest town, horror classic Something Wicked This Way Comes are great options. But there is a bit of the more modern pulp mastery of a writer like Brian Keene here too.

Other books Children of the Dark reminded me of (with links to reviews) are:
All three of these critically acclaimed horror novels have strong a narrative voice, a coming of age theme, and wonder characterization, just like Janz’s novel.

This book came out yesterday. GO ORDER IT NOW.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Final Ballot for Stoker Awards and Stoker Con Information

Below you can find the official press release for the 2015 Bram Stoker Awards final ballot.  Please use this list for your library’s collection development.  For Becky’s popular tips on how to use awards lists as a RA Tool, click here.

And if you are interested in attending Stoker Con, here is the schedule [just released yesterday].
 
Horror Writers Association Reveals Final Ballot for Bram Stoker Awards®
Los Angeles, CA — The Horror Writers Association (HWA), the premier organization of writers and publishers of horror and dark fantasy, today announced the nominees for the 2015 Bram Stoker Awards®.
 
The nominees are:
Superior Achievement in a Novel Clive Barker – The Scarlet Gospels (St. Martin’s Press) Michaelbrent Collings – The Deep (self-published) JG Faherty – The Cure (Samhain Publishing) Patrick Freivald – Black Tide (JournalStone Publishing)
Paul Tremblay – A Head Full of Ghosts (William Morrow)

Superior Achievement in a First Novel
Courtney Alameda – Shutter (Feiwel & Friends)
Nicole Cushing – Mr. Suicide (Word Horde)
Brian Kirk – We Are Monsters (Samhain Publishing)
John McIlveen – Hannahwhere (Crossroad Press)
John Claude Smith – Riding the Centipede (Omnium Gatherum)
 
Superior Achievement in a Young Adult Novel
Jennifer Brozek – Never Let Me Sleep (Permuted Press)
Michaelbrent Collings – The Ridealong (self-published)
John Dixon – Devil’s Pocket (Simon & Schuster)
Tonya Hurley – Hallowed (Simon & Schuster)
Maureen Johnson – The Shadow Cabinet (Penguin)
Ian Welke – End Times at Ridgemont High (Omnium Gatherum)
 
Superior Achievement in a Graphic Novel
Cullen Bunn – Harrow County, Vol. 1: Countless Haints (Dark Horse Comics)
Victor Gischler – Hellbound (Dark Horse Books)
Robert Kirkman – Outcast, Vol. 1: A Darkness Surrounds Him (Image Comics)
Scott Snyder – Wytches, Vol. 1 (Image Comics)
Sam Weller, Mort Castle, Chris Ryall, & Carlos Guzman (editors) – Shadow Show: Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury (IDW Publishing)

Superior Achievement in Long Fiction
Gary A. Braunbeck – Paper Cuts (Seize the Night) (Gallery Books)
Lisa Mannetti – The Box Jumper (Smart Rhino Publications)
Norman Partridge – Special Collections (The Library of the Dead) (Written Backwards)
Mercedes M. Yardley – Little Dead Red (Grimm Mistresses) (Ragnarok Publications)
Scott Edelman – Becoming Invisible, Becoming Seen (Dark Discoveries #30)
 
Superior Achievement in Short Fiction
Kate Jonez – All the Day You’ll Have Good Luck (Black Static #47)
Gene O’Neill – The Algernon Effect (White Noise Press)
John Palisano – Happy Joe’s Rest Stop (18 Wheels of Horror) (Big Time Books)
Damien Angelica Walters – Sing Me Your Scars
(Sing Me Your Scars) (Apex Publications)
Alyssa Wong – Hungry Daughters of Starving Mothers (Nightmare Magazine #37)
 
Superior Achievement in a Screenplay
Guillermo del Toro & Matthew Robbins – Crimson Peak (Legendary Pictures)
John Logan – Penny Dreadful: And Hell Itself My Only Foe (Showtime)
John Logan – Penny Dreadful: Nightcomers (Showtime)
David Robert Mitchell – It Follows (Northern Lights Films)
Taika Waititi & Jemaine Clement – What We Do in the Shadows (Unison Films)
 
Superior Achievement in an Anthology
Michael Bailey – The Library of the Dead (Written Backwards)
Ellen Datlow – The Doll Collection: Seventeen Brand-New Tales of Dolls (Tor Books)
Christopher Golden – Seize the Night (Gallery Books)
Nancy Kilpatrick and Caro Soles – nEvermore! (Edge Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing) Jonathan Maberry – The X-Files: Trust No One (IDW Publishing)
Joseph Nassise and Del Howison – Midian Unmade (Tor Books)
 
Superior Achievement in a Fiction Collection
Gary A. Braunbeck – Halfway Down the Stairs (JournalStone Publishing)
Nicole Cushing – The Mirrors (Cycatrix Press)
Taylor Grant – The Dark at the End of the Tunnel (Cemetery Dance Publications)
Gene O’Neill – The Hitchhiking Effect (Dark Renaissance Books)
Lucy A. Snyder – While the Black Stars Burn (Raw Dog Screaming Press)


Superior Achievement in Non-Fiction
Justin Everett and Jeffrey H. Shanks (ed.) – The Unique Legacy of Weird Tales: The Evolution of Modern Fantasy and Horror (Rowman & Littlefield Publishers)
Stephen Jones – The Art of Horror (Applause Theatre &Cinema Books
Michael Knost – Author’s Guide to Marketing with Teeth (Seventh Star Press)
Joe Mynhardt &a Emma Audsley (editors) – Horror 201: The Silver Scream (Crystal Lake Publishing)
Danel Olson – Studies in the Horror Film: Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (Centipede Press)
 
Superior Achievement in a Poetry Collection
Bruce Boston – Resonance Dark and Light (Eldritch Press)
Alessandro Manzetti – Eden Underground (Crystal Lake Publishing)
Ann Schwader – Dark Energies (P’rea Press)
Marge Simon – Naughty Ladies (Eldritch Press)
Stephanie M. Wytovich – An Exorcism of Angels (Raw Dog Screaming Press)

The presentation of the Bram Stoker Awards® will occur during the inaugural StokerCon in Las Vegas, Nevada on the evening of Saturday, May 14, 2016. Tickets to the banquet and the convention are on sale to the public at www.stokercon2016.com. The awards presentation will also be live-streamed online.
 
“The nominees for this year’s Bram Stoker Awards® have produced work that is certain to leave a mark on the horror and dark fantasy genre for years to come,” said Lisa Morton, HWA President and multiple Bram Stoker Award winner. “Once again, our members and awards juries have selected outstanding standard bearers for the genre.”


Active and Lifetime members of the organization are eligible to vote for the winners in all categories.

Named in honor of the author of the seminal horror novel "Dracula," the Bram Stoker Awards® are presented annually for superior writing in eleven categories including traditional fiction of various lengths, poetry, screenplays and non-fiction. Previous winners include Stephen King, J.K. Rowling, George R. R. Martin, Joyce Carol Oates and Neil Gaiman. The HWA also presents a Lifetime Achievement Award to living individuals who have made a substantial and enduring contribution to the genre. This year’s Lifetime Achievement recipients will be announced March 1, 2016.

About the Horror Writers Association
The Horror Writers Association is a nonprofit organization of writers and publishing professionals around the world, dedicated to promoting dark literature and the interests of those who write it. The HWA formed in 1985 with the help of many of the fields greats, including Dean Koontz, Robert McCammon, and Joe Lansdale. The HWA is home to the prestigious Bram Stoker Award® and the annual StokerCon horror convention.


For more on the Horror Writers Associations, please visit www.horror.org.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Review: Broken Hours

The Broken Hours: A Novel of H.P. Lovecraft
Baker, Jacqueline
Apr. 2016. 320p. Sky horse/Talos, hardcover, $24.99 9781940456553)
Review. First Published March 3, 2016 (Booklist Online).


Here is the draft of the review I turned in to Booklist:
The year is 1836 and Arthor Crandle, desperate for a job and needing space from his troubled homelife, accepts a temporary position in Providence working as the assistant for a reclusive and mysterious author. But all is not as it seems in this “novel of H.P. Lovecraft,” and Crandle is quickly thrust into a world where nightmares, ghosts, and giant tentacles are now a part of his everyday life. This novel is a homage to Lovecraft, his work, and his legacy, but told with only a hint of the terror found within the master’s own stories. Rather Baker’s intent is to authentically recreate the eerie atmosphere that surrounded Lovecraft, before wrapping the reader up in a compelling, Hitchcock-esque plot that keeps everyone on edge, constantly questioning the real versus the imagined, up to the final shocking pages. Lovecraft fans will delight in seeing the author’s biography unfold on the page, but, those with no previous attachment to the horror master will easily be drawn into this satisfying, Gothic tale on its own merit. Suggest to fans of last year’s historical, horror hit The Quick or backlist darling The Thirteenth Tale.
Three Words That Describe This Book: eerie, Gothic, biographical

Readalikes: Besides the two titles mentioned in the review-- to which I have added the links to my blog reviews that contain MANY more readalike options-- I would also suggest:

Some may want to read Lovecraft after reading this novel. To those people I would suggest trying his stories from Weird Tales, the ones which are referred to throughout Broken Hours.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Review: The Fireman

The Fireman.
Hill, Joe (author)
May 2016. 608p. Morror, hardcover, $28.99
REVIEW. First published March, 1, 2016 (Booklist)

Today I am so excited that I can finally post the review I wrote for the forthcoming Joe Hill novel. I read the book back over the holidays and turned the review in promptly, but in order to best feature this FANTASTIC novel, the review was held until now. Here it is...
Joe Hill, is back with his original take on the apocalypse. Harper is a school nurse who fancies herself an American Mary Poppins, but when a deadly fungus starts infecting humanity, causing people to spontaneously combust, life as we know it ends and a fight to survive begins. Harper, now sick and pregnant, is just trying to make it until she can deliver, but when her husband tries to kill her, Harper is saved by the unlikely and mysterious superhero of this new age-- The Fireman-- who brings her to a community where the sick have learned to live symbiotically with the fungus. But is it really the safe haven it appears to be? Like NOS4A2, this is a long book, but with a curiously ominous tone set from the very first line, a brisk pace throughout, and dozens of detailed action scenes, readers will be hard pressed to stop turning the pages; add in the well developed cast of characters [both good and evil], fun pop culture references, and a satisfying but open ended conclusion, and this is a story that will infect you. Channelling Michael Crichton, Hill presents a strong scientific explanation for most of the dread, but also includes a healthy dose of the fantastic, arming the heroes with a dangerous power much like he did in Horns. Take the ideas, characters, and tone of Station Eleven and add a large helping of the action, villains, and unrelenting menace from Doctor Sleep and you have The Fireman, an excellent example of the very best that genre fiction has to offer all readers today.
Also, while I couldn't fit it into the review, if you have a fondness for the early days of MTV and/or Martha Quinn, this book is for you.

Put this book on hold now!!!! No seriously, stop reading my review and go place your hold. I'll wait.

Three Words That Describe This Book: unrelenting menace, nuanced characters, fun
--Note: yes I said "fun" and "unrelenting menace" are both key words to describe this book. There is a balance between terror and playfulness here that most horror authors cannot pull off without dropping the ball on one or the other. Putting together, those "two" words [I know it is 3 but work with me here] summarizes much of why someone would or would not enjoy this book.

Readadlikes: In the review I provided links to a few options. Please note that many of those links are to reviews by me which also contain more readalikes. You can have fun clicking your way down the suggestion wormhole.

The Fireman also reminded me of Zone One by Colson Whitehead and Flashback by Dan Simmons. All three are some of the most original and interesting post-apocalyptic novels novels I have read. All three are firmly "genre" in that the fear and terror sit center stage and they also have fantastic endings. Fantastic in the horror sense, by the way, which means the current conflict is satisfactorily resolved but the overall anxiety is still left open.