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Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Review: Fade to Black

[This review is based on an ARC sent to me by the publisher.]

Fade to Black is the new book by supernatural thriller writer Jeffrey Wilson. Here is the publisher's summary:
Jack is a young man caught between two terrifying worlds. In one, he is Marine Sergeant Casey Stillmam, locked in combat in the streets of Fallujah, Iraq. He is lying next to his dead and dying friends, bleeding in the street – until he wakes up at home, in bed with his wife.
In this other world, Jack is a high school science teacher, husband, and devoted father to his little girl. But the nightmares of war continue to haunt him, and to Jack/Casey they feel in many ways more real than his life at home with his family.
When news of killed Marines in Fallujah surface, Jack realizes he knows far more about these men then he should. But, when the dead Marines begin visiting him while he is awake—he realizes he is in serious trouble.
Faced with the possibility of losing his mind, or far worse, the nightmares being real, Jack knows he must somehow find a way to bridge the two realities and fight his way back from the nightmares to save his wife and little girl.
This novel starts with a bang, literally.  Wilson, a vet himself, throws the reader right into a battle.  In fact, there are realistic battle scenes spread throughout the book.

But this is more than just a book about Marine buddies fighting and dying for each other, it is also a thought provoking contemplation of the afterlife. As a result, there is a great psychological aspect to this book. The overall atmosphere Wilson creates is sinister; not outright horror bur definitely scary.

As the point of view switches back and forth between Jack and Casey, the reader is asked to fall into this spiral of untrustworthy perceptions and try to figure out, along with the characters, what is real and what is not.

As the truth rises to the top, the book has a satisfying twist.  I agree with most customer reviews that this twist is not necessarily a huge surprise, but after reading the book, I am not sure it is supposed to be a shock.  I think, the reader, like the dual protagonists, are all coming to terms with the differences between what appears to be and what truly is.  The haze of war is thick and Wilson, a vet himself, appreciates that.  But even though the twist is not a shock, you read on to see how the characters will react to it and how the story will resolve.

As I mentioned up above, this is also a heartfelt book. Not an adjective you normally see on a superntural thriller, but it is apt. Wilson writes about families and their bonds very well.  He also understands how violence and trauma can bring unrelated people to a bond as close as family.  He captured this to a point in The Donors, but it is even more succcessful in Fade to Black.

I enjoyed this one much more than The Donors because it was just as creepy, but more thought provoking, and heartfelt. While The Donors was more dark fantasy, Fade to Black is a terrifying supernatural thriller with a heavy psychological suspense pacing and feel. I am adding it to the BPL's collection because I feel like it is good for a wide audience.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Supernatural Military Thriller , Psychological, Afterlife

Readalikes: Someone on Goodreads mentioned A Brief History of the Dead as a readalike.  I agree it makes a good readalike.  It is one of my all time favorites. Here's an annotation I wrote for it before the blog:
The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier  
A deadly virus is quickly killing off everyone on Earth, and Laura Byrd, a researcher in Antarctica is apparently the last person left alive. This apocalyptic story alternates between Laura’s struggle for survival and an alternate universe called “the city,” populated by the dead who still are remembered by those living on Earth. This compelling and original tale is chilling and thought provoking.
Many people read ghost books for the afterlife issues and while this book is not a traditional ghost story, it has many of the same aspects: hazy, sinister line between life and death, haunting tone, unresolved life and death issues. I have listed other ghost stories that have a similar appeal here.

The entire feel of the story reminded me of an old episode of the Twilight Zone but just set in Iraq now.

Fade to Black  also made me think of the supernatural PTSD story "The New Veterans" by Karen Russell  in her story collection, Vampires in the Lemon Grove.

Some will like the war scenes, battles, and comradierie among soldiers. For them I would point them to this list of the most popular books tagged "military" on Goodreads. It includes fiction and nonfiction.

The Jonathan Maberry military supernatural thriller Joe Ledger series is another choice for people who want more thriller and less psychological suspense.  I reviewed the first book in the series, Patient Zero, here.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Shirley Jackson Awards Announced

The 2012 Shirley Jackson awards were announced on Sunday.  Click here for details or see below.  For the record, these are my favorite genre awards because, they are not based on a genre rather the genre defying creepiness of the late, great Jackson herself.

In fact, if I had to give them all a genre, I would go with psychological suspense.

Kudos to the nominees and winners. If you like creepy and dark books the Jackson awards nominees should be on your to-read list.

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2012 Shirley Jackson Awards Winners
Boston, MA (July 2013) — In recognition of the legacy of Shirley Jackson’s writing, and with permission of the author’s estate, The Shirley Jackson Awards, Inc. has been established for outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic.
The Shirley Jackson Awards are voted upon by a jury of professional writers, editors, critics, and academics, with input from a Board of Advisors. The awards are given for the best work published in the preceding calendar year in the following categories: Novel, Novella, Novelette, Short Story, Single-Author Collection, and Edited Anthology.

The 2012 Shirley Jackson Awards were presented on Sunday, July 14th at Readercon 24, Conference on Imaginative Literature, in Burlington, Massachusetts, hosted by Readercon 24 Guest of Honor, Maureen McHugh.

The winners for the 2012 Shirley Jackson Awards are:

NOVEL
Winner: Edge, Koji Suzuki (Vertical, Inc.)
Finalists:
  • The Drowning Girl, CaitlĂ­n R. Kiernan (ROC)
  • The Devil in Silver, Victor LaValle (Spiegel & Grau)
  • Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn (Crown Publishers)
  • Immobility, Brian Evenson (Tor)
NOVELLA
Winner: “Sky,” Kaaron Warren (Through Splintered Walls, Twelfth Planet Press)
Finalists:
  • 28 Teeth of Rage, Ennis Drake (Omnium Gatherum Media)
  • Delphine Dodd, S.P. Miskowski (Omnium Gatherum Media)
  • I’m Not Sam, Jack Ketchum and Lucky McKee (Sinister Grin Press/ Cemetery Dance Publications)
  • The Indifference Engine, Project Itoh (Haikasoru/VIZ Media LLC)
NOVELETTE
Winner: “Reeling for the Empire,” Karen Russell (Tin House, Winter 2012)
Finalists:
  • “The Crying Child,” Bruce McAllister (originally “The Bleeding Child,” Cemetery Dance #68)
  • “The House on Ashley Avenue,” Ian Rogers (Every House is Haunted, ChiZine Publications)
  • “Wild Acre,” Nathan Ballingrud (Visions Fading Fast, Pendragon Press)
  • “The Wish Head,” Jeffrey Ford (Crackpot Palace, William Morrow)
SHORT FICTION
Winner: “A Natural History of Autumn,” Jeffrey Ford (Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, July/August 2012)
Finalists:
  • “Bajazzle,” Margo Lanagan (Cracklescape, Twelfth Planet Press)
  • “How We Escaped Our Certain Fate,” Dan Chaon (21st Century Dead, St. Martin’s)
  • “Little America,” Dan Chaon (Shadow Show: All New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, William Morrow)
  • “The Magician’s Apprentice,” Tamsyn Muir (Weird Tales #359)
  • “Two Houses,” Kelly Link (Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, William Morrow)
SINGLE-AUTHOR COLLECTION
Winner: Crackpot Palace, Jeffrey Ford (William Morrow)
Finalists:
  • Errantry, Elizabeth Hand (Small Beer Press)
  • The Pottawatomie Giant and Other Stories, Andy Duncan (PS Publishing)
  • Remember Why You Fear Me, Robert Shearman (ChiZine Publications)
  • The Woman Who Married a Cloud, Jonathan Carroll (Subterranean Press)
  • Windeye, Brian Evenson (Coffee House Press)
EDITED ANTHOLOGY
Winner: Exotic Gothic 4: Postscripts #28/29, edited by Danel Olson (PS Publishing)
Finalists:
  • 21st Century Dead, edited by Christopher Golden (St. Martin’s)
  • Black Wings II, edited by S. T. Joshi (PS Publishing)
  • Night Shadows, edited by Greg Herren and J. M. Redmann (Bold Strokes Books)
  • Shadow Show: All-New Stories in Celebration of Ray Bradbury, edited by Sam Weller and Mort Castle (William Morrow)
Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) wrote such classic novels as The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, as well as one of the most famous short stories in the English language, “The Lottery.” Her work continues to be a major influence on writers of every kind of fiction, from the most traditional genre offerings to the most innovative literary work.
Congratulations to all the winners.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Resource Worth Your Time: Matt Molgaard's Horror Novel Reviews

Horror Novel Reviews:
Matt Molgaard has been a contributing writer for some of the world’s largest horror (and film in general) publications, including Fangoria, Horror Asylum, Relativity Media and (currently) Best-Horror-Movies. Horror Novel Reviews is a platform designed with the goal of sharing thoughts and analysis on some of today’s finest horror fiction with you, the reader and fan.
Click here to see the bios of all the contributors.

I was reminded of this resource by Robert Dunbar who passed on their article on the Top Ten Modern Gothic novels.

I also wanted to point out their staff picks of their favorite horror books.  Everyone is always asking me what my favorite horror novels are, but I am reluctant to share this information because since what people find appealing about horror is tied directly to what makes them feel scared, therefore what I like in a horror story, might not work for someone else.

However, readers love lists of favorites by those in the know. So here are even more opinions-- the Horror Novel Reviews' staff picks of their favorite tales of terror.

The entire site is worth a look, but while you are there, you can see that I am not the only one who was underwhelmed by Red Moon. Click here for my review, here for theirs.