Summer Scares 2019 Resources

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Becky’s Favorite Horror Reads of 2017

Although I already unveiled my top ten horror books published in 2017 during #LibFaves17 [more on that here], I wanted to compile the list, with links and bonus commentary here on the blog so that you can access it more easily.

Easy access reminds me that I also have an archive of all of my original lists always available in the right gutter of the blog with this link. It includes year end reports on the best horror going back to 2005! Please don’t forget to use it to help patrons. It is a great place to start as you look for titles that might work for your horror patrons.

And now what you have been waiting for..... Becky’s Favorite Horror Reads from 2017...

10. Little Heaven by Nick Cutter: I read this one in 2016 for review in Booklist but it is a 2017 release. This is thoughtful, even philosophical, pulp horror at its best with a compelling dual narratvie. Click here for my full review.

9.  Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman: I didn’t get around to reviewing this one officially, but on Goodreads I made these notes:
Three words: claustrophobic, aural, steadily building dread
Sound over sight again. 
Alternating time frame merging together like Bird Box. Heightens anxiety and makes dread build mercilessly.
Again, a dual narrative just like #10, an interesting fact I did not notice until now. This is really a sf-horror hybrid where a sound has been weaponized in the African desert. A rock band is sent there to look into it. In the other storyline, one of the members of the rock band, the only one to make it out of Africa alive, is being treated at a mysterious medical facility in Iowa. This book was ominous, terrifying, original, claustrophobic, compelling, and weird [in a good way].

8. Mapping the Interior by Stephen Graham Jones: Again, I never got around to writing a full review, but I have to say that I think Stephen Graham Jones is my favorite horror novelist these days.  Everything he writes is amazing. In this case, Mapping the Interior is a novella that features a Native American teen, coming of age storyline with a menacing horror frame. The protagonist’s dead father appears to have come back to the broken family he left behind, but is he back to help or hurt? Well it’s a horror novel so you can imagine the answer I am sure. The supernatural horror in the novella serves to amplify the true life horrors. And add to it all Jones’ spectaular command of language. His writing is beautiful as it describes horrific things-- always, in everything he writes. It’s quite a treat to behold. You will reread lines. Fast-paced, character driven, and menacing.

7. Kill Creek by Scott Thomas -- An original and terrifying haunted house story which also explores the genre of horror itself. Menancing, thought provoking, and cinematic. Click here for my full review on GoodReads

6. Grip of It by Jac Jemc was the creepiest and most intense haunted house story I have read in years. I had to literally step outside my house to take a breath while reading this one; I couldn’t bear to be in any house it was so terrifying. Again, I didn’t write a full review but I did make these notes on my Goodreads shelf:
Disorienting, so anxious. 
Short chapters with POV switching back and forth. Both intense first person.
Husband wife unraveling.
The first person narration is so close and intense and switches so quickly and frequently that often you forget who is talking to you, the reader. Also the restraint here is amazing. This is a tightly woven, brisk story, that is terrifying without any gore. Also talk about unreliable narrators. Both are so unreliable, I am still not sure what actually happened. Wow!

5. Hematophages by Stephen Kozeniewski-- Aliens meets The Rising meets The Ruins with a touch of Office Space.  You can read my full review here. But in the meantime, just order it. Trust me here.

4. Strange Weather by Joe Hill is a collection of 4 short novels. I gave it a star review in Booklist. You can read my review here. That review includes a quote that HarperCollins is using in their advertising for this bestselling book: "Hill is not only maturing as a writer of relevantly chilling tales, but he is also emerging as a distinct voice for our complicated times."

3. Female horror collections! Yes this is cheating, but seriously, I was blown away by the number of amazing female written horror story collections I read this year. The best by far was Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado which I gave this star review to in Booklist BEFORE it was nominated for the National Book Award. But I also greatly enjoyed Speaking to Skull Kings and Other Stories by Emily Cantaneo and two books which I reviewed for the January 2018 issue of Indie Picks-- Cry Your Way Home by Damien Angelica Walters and and Everything That’s Underneath by Kristi DeMeester. [I will add the link to those reviews when they are available- added 1/17/18]

The point I am trying to make by saying my #3 read of the year is “female horror collections" is that male horror writers better watch out-- the women are coming and they are very good at using the violence and harassment done to them as inspiration for some of the best horror I have read all year.

And finally, my favorite two horror books of the year. They really could be 1 and 1a, but I made myself rank them...

2. Paperbacks from Hell: A History of Horror Fiction from the ‘70s and ‘80s by Grady Hendrix. I “raved” this nonfiction title at ALA this past June. You can click here for a full review. This book is entertaining and informative. Even the author bios in the back are fun to read. I dare anyone who loves books and reading-- especially a good old fashioned mass market paperback from any genre-- to not enjoy this book.

1. In the Valley of the Sun by Andy Davidson. I am on record saying this novel is one of the best debut novels I have ever read, in any genre. Click here to read my starred Booklist review with all of the details. I would just be repeating myself with anything I wrote here in this post.

Finally here is my list of "Honorable Mentions” which barely missed the cut with links to reviews:

These last three “Honorable Mentions” missed the cut for this horror list because they were great but not only horror. Each was a genre blend. I didn’t think it was fair to take a horror best spot from these genre blends, but all three are excellent choices for your patrons. Links are to my detailed reviews.
And that’s a wrap of 2017, both my reads and on this blog in general. Stay tuned for more Horror in 2018 and beyond.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Horror Reviews Index Update

I have added three new reviews from the December 2017 issue of Indie Picks Magazine to the index.

Click here to pull up only these reviews.

The Corpse and the Girl from Miami by John Urbancik
Spells and Oregano: Book II in The Secret Spice Cafe Trilogy

The Handyman

Meet John Urbancik-- Indie Picks Cover Story

As the horror columnist for Indie Picks Magazine, I not only get to review 3-4 independently published horror books a month, I also get to advocate for authors that your patrons would love if only you knew about them enough to add them to your collections.

As soon as the magazine launched, I started talking to Rebecca Vnuk, our editor in chief, about the first author I wanted to showcase, John Urbancik. She agreed and assigned me the cover story article for our second issue!

Below is the draft version of my interview with John and the sidebar we created with some of his key titles and popular readalikes for them. 

Urbancik could be a huge hit with your patrons, especially those who enjoy Neil Gaiman and China Mieville. In this issue I also reviewed Urbancik's current release, The Corpse and the Girl from Miami [posted on the general blog here].

Below is the draft version of my article. I hope it inspires you to order a few of his titles for your patrons. They will thank you.



John Urbancik writes lyrical, dark and creepy tales featuring fantasy and horror that are part Neil Gaiman, part China Mieville, with a dash of Salman Rushdie. These are beautiful tales, expertly crafted that would be hugely popular with a wide range of readers, if only more people knew about him. 

Urbancik began writing at a young age, creating one-page comic scripts in fifth and sixth grade, but his first published story came in 1999, “A Portrait in Graphite,” and since then, he has had so many stories, novels, and poems published that even he cannot keep track of them all.

He spent his youth in New York City and Long Island, leaving for upstate to attend college (where he studied video and audio production), but he eventually settled in Florida where he has lived most of his adult life, until a recent relocation to Virginia, although he did have the opportunity to live briefly on the other side of the world, Sydney, Australia. He happened to bring with him a very nice camera, practiced the craft while there, and got quite good at it. And so, Urbancik the writer, added photographer to his professional and artistic arsenal.

At first glance, Urbancik notes that his life does not seem colorful. As he likes to say, “No time in jail or in the armed forces, and no game show victories. However, I feel lucky to have been able to see and do all I have.” Among his several mottos for life: “Go everywhere, do everything.” And, “It’s all fun and games until someone gets eaten alive by a tiger shark.”

This world view is easily seen in Urbancik’s writing as his work is hard to classify into our current genre constructs. When I asked him if he set out to blend genres he talked about the amalgamation of genres as part of the natural progression of all literature, “...and it’s always been present. In the 70s and 80s, we had a lot of horror that was meant to terrify, but you also started to get things like Aliens, which is a science fiction horror, and The Princess Bride, which is as much romance as it is fantasy. I tend to blend genres because I don’t generally think of a specific genre when I write. I’ll include elements of crime noir, fantasy, horror, science fiction, romance, whatever’s appropriate for the story. My latest novel, The Corpse and the Girl from Miami, begins like a crime noir, then swings into full-tilt horror before shifting to over the top magic and mythology. Most stories don’t belong to a specific genre until the marketers get their hands on them.”

Urbancik writes like a reader. He sees a story and he does not let the limits of established tropes reign him in. He simply tells it how it needs to be told. I wondered if his work as a photographer, being a multi-media artist, shaped this unique vision at all.  “I don’t know that the photography influences the writing so much as the writing and photography have their source, in me, in the same place. I see cinematically, so I tend to write that way. In my first novel, Sins of Blood and Stone (2002), I have a scene where a demon crashes into a cathedral through a stained glass, rose window. Of course, even before I wrote the scene I was seeing it on a big screen in brilliant technicolor.”

After years of holding down a “day job,” Urbancik has recently taken the leap to being a full time writer. “ I’m older now than I’ve ever been, and I’m only ever going to get older. I reached a place where I needed to give up on the endless succession of no-future jobs – I’ve been laid off more times than I can count as companies restructure and consolidate – and pursue the thing I’ve always wanted to do. My heart, my soul are in my stories, and the day jobs only barely paid me enough to survive. They never made me happy. If I’m going to make a living writing, I need to spend all of my energy and resources in pursuit of that.” But Urbancik notes, “I didn’t actually make the shift until my partner finished… her Ph.D…[now together we can] buy me the time to focus on what I want – and love – to do.” 

One of those things that Urbancik loves to do is to take on large scale creative projects. His most recent one is InkStains where he challenges himself to write a story a day, everyday, with only one day off a month, by hand, with a nice pen and some paper. Some days John writes for only five or ten minutes and other days, much longer. As he explains, “In the past, I’ve done short-term challenges, like writing seven stories in seven days. And I’d done it with photography, too – my first year-long project was self-portraits. Then in 2012, I had a heart attack. I faced Death, and I came back, and realized I was letting myself down. I started the InkStains project after that as a means of making sure I was writing. The goal has never been quantity, but to continue to improve, to explore and experiment, and to get the creative wheels inside my head not just turning, but spinning like mad. And I believe I’ve done that. I’ve never been filled with more inspiration or more ideas. And I think I’ve improved immensely, as a writer and artist, from doing what are essentially practice stories. I freely admit that some of these stories don’t work, some are not interesting, some fail as stories even if they’re successful as explorations. But I also believe some of these stories are wonderful.”

After the first year of InkStains stories, Urbancik knew he wanted to share what he wrote with others, both readers and fellow writers, but he wasn’t quite sure how. “I started typing them, and editing (not for content so much as for grammar and spelling, and to clean up all the little errors I made by hand), and decided the best format was to self-publish monthly installments. ...That was a lot of work, but it gave me a chance to play with things like layout and design that I hadn’t had much experience with. I’m slowly getting the second set of InkStains published now, as I write the third set (I wrote in 2013, 2015, and 2017). The real question now is, will I do a fourth series in 2019?”

But even this multi-year project that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of words [the first year alone was close to 250,000] has not been enough satisfy his seemingly insatiable creative drive, so Urbancik recently found another outlet for both the stories he has created and the lessons he learned along the way-- Inkstains, the weekly podcast.
“I have friends who do interview shows and such, and I didn’t feel I could contribute to that. But I talked with Project Entertainment Network and pitched a show of me giving readings – from the InkStains stories – and also talking about writing, photography, art, and creativity. I want to be an encouraging voice for everyone who feels they have an artistic spark they’ve never been able to fully explore. I want to give people permission to experiment and make mistakes and learn from them. I want to help artists achieve success, however they’re defining their own successes, and the InkStains podcast seemed like the perfect tool to accomplish that.”
You can listen to Urbancik’s weekly musings on writing and even hear him read some of his stories on his InkStains Podcast [], and you can find all of his books, including the monthly InkStains installments on Amazon.

For more information and to follow Urbancik’s artistic adventures visit his website,, or catch him on Facebook [], Twitter or Instagram [@JohnUrbancik].

Pull out box for inside the article:
Here are a few recent titles by Urbancik, with a quick synopsis and readalike suggestions to help you pick a place for you or your patrons to get started:
The Corpse and the Girl from Miami [2017, reviewed in this issue] begins when a man wakes atop a fresh grave during a thunderstorm without any memory. The only clue he’s got is an address on the license in his wallet. When he gets there, they’ve been waiting for him. For fans of Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim series who also like Seanan McGuire.

Stale Reality [2016] is a love letter to Sydney, Australia, where Urbancik had been lived ten years earlier. The premise is simple: what if all of reality shifted to accommodate somebody else, and you, who never existed in this version of reality, was left behind? Kevin, finds himself in a world where he’d never met his wife and their infant son was never born, and he wants to reclaim it. This is Urbancik’s darkest novel and is a perfect suggestion for fans of Dark Matter by Blake Crouch.

Tales of the Fantastic and the Phantasmagoric [2012]  is a collection of novellas and vignettes which serve as an excellent introduction to Urbacik’s work. The title is cribbed from Edgar Allan Poe’s Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque. The stories are a combination of fantasy, dark fantasy, and horror and will be enjoyed by fans of Neil Gaiman.

City of Glass [forthcoming] began as an InkStains story. A man is building a city of glass in the desert to show declare his love, but she’s unimpressed. She says it’s fragile. It can’t last. And it won’t. The city will exist for only 100 days, but 100,000 people move into the city and make it their home. Those who enjoyed China Mieville’s The City and The City will love this work about identity and secrets.