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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.