When you read this year's column below, you will notice that the first two are not quite horror, the third straddles the line between dark fantasy and horror, four and five are 100% horror, and six is one of the best debut books I have read in any genre. Here is the direct link to the column, and I have attached it below.
You can find more in depth reviews of Haven and In the Valley of the Sun, with readalike options using the links I have provided or in my Horror Review Index.
Finally, you can see all of my Library Journal columns archived on this page here on the blog, at any time.
BY OCTOBER 17, 2017ON
As we creep closer to Halloween, celebrate with some fresh and frightening tales. Stretching across a range of genres and styles and presenting different levels of terror, these debuts will satisfy a variety of readers looking for a scare.
A harrowing apocalyptic thriller presented through chillingly realistic sf, The End of the World Running Club(Sourcebooks Landmark. Sept. 2017. ISBN 9781492656029. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492656036) by Adrian J. Walker became an international best seller. Edgar Hill is never going to win father of the year; when asteroids begin falling, he is busy nursing a hangover. Still, he loves his family and after being separated from them in the chaos, he joins a group of survivors and does the only thing he can: he runs. He runs in an attempt to reunite with his loved ones; in the hopes of surviving; to flee from all his many mistakes; and to live to see an uncertain future. This tale of action and dread set in a devastated landscape showcases the endurance of the human spirit.
Emil Ferris uses the imagery of horror movies and magazines from the 1960s to set an unsettling tone in her historical mystery My Favorite Thing Is Monsters (Fantagraphics. Feb. 2017. ISBN 9781606999592. pap. $39.99). Ten-year-old Karen Reyes has a tough life—her mother is dying of breast cancer—in a diverse, working-class Chicago neighborhood. With a rich imagination, superior artistic skills, and a questing mind, Karen is on the case when her neighbor, a Holocaust survivor, is murdered. Underpinning it all is Karen’s realization of her own blossoming homosexuality. Ferris weaves an astounding story through text and image in a moving and original graphic novel.
Emily B. Cataneo’s first collection, Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories (JournalStone. May 2017. ISBN 9781945373619. pap. $15.95), is brimming with ghosts, haunted books, alternate dimensions, and dark fantasy in an assemblage of lyrical pieces best classified as weird fiction. The complex female characters, creepy settings, and magic-filled story lines draw in readers much like the award-winning works of Karen Russell, Jeff VanderMeer, and Kelly Link. Cataneo provides all the chills and anxiety of horror in every turn of the page without the gore many fear they will encounter when first trying the genre.
Violent and haunting, Abode (Bloodshot. Jul. 2017. ISBN 9780998067971. pap. $14.99) by Morgan Sylvia is a good old-fashioned novel of monsters wreaking havoc. It unfolds in a locale many horror fans know well: an old house in the middle of the woods. As one can expect, bad things start to happen when a new family moves in, but the story gets fresh power in the way the frights are revealed. The opening chapter sets the scene perfectly with an urgent email from someone mysterious, addressing “you” about the harrowing events that have already come, even if “you” cannot fully remember them. The unique frame and voice create an extra found footage layer of fear and suspense. Librarians will need to go a bit out of the way to order this indie title, but it is entirely worth it.
Tom Deady won this year’s Bram Stoker Award for Best First Novel for Haven (Greymore. Jan. 2017. ISBN 9780990632726. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781587675973). It follows a man recently released from jail as he returns to the New England town where he was accused of a killing spree 17 years earlier. The strange murders suddenly begin again, but the evidence clearly points to something evil lurking in the forest caves and lakes around town. To learn the truth, a ragtag group of unlikely but sympathetic heroes band together. Shifting narration, breathless action sequences, and unearthed puzzles ratchet up the dread and tell a story reminiscent of the genre’s classics by Stephen King and Peter Straub.
Everyone has a secret, and no one is completely innocent in Andy Davidson’s In the Valley of the Sun (Skyhorse. Jun. 2017. ISBN 9781510721104. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781510721111). Desperately trying to escape his past, Travis Stillwell suffers an encounter with a pale-skinned girl who leaves him bloodied and weak, unable to tolerate the light of day, and tormented by an overpowering hunger. Widowed motel owner Annabelle Gaskin stumbles upon Travis and offers him a job in exchange for board, and the two lonely souls strike up an awkward friendship, along with her young son. But monsters, both real and imagined, can’t be hidden forever. This evocatively dark yet oddly beautiful debut will have wide audience appeal. The plot and characters play with the mind, and the pacing reflects the story’s harsh landscape—a slow, riveting burn.