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Monday, October 5, 2015

31 Days of Horror: Day 5-- Becky’s Haunting Halloween Debuts

Twice each year I have the honor of taking over my friend and colleague, Neal Wyatt’s popular Reader’s Shelf column in Library Journal.  [I do a Halloween column in October and a Halfway to Halloween one in April.]

This year, Library Journal asked me to find six horror debuts that will make great additions to most public library collections. You can see the full column below today, and then for the rest of this week look for four of these fabulously frightening authors to tell you about their favorite horror books and why they love the genre.

Haunting Halloween Debuts | The Reader’s Shelf, October 1, 2015

Looking for some new voices in horror to suggest to patrons this Halloween? Here are six satisfyingly scary recent debuts that showcase the vibrant state of today’s horror.

While they may be new to the book format, Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor have spent the last few years weaving spooky stories for a popular podcast set in the small desert town of Night Vale, where super­natural occurrences are the norm. In Welcome to Night Vale(Harper Perennial. 2015. ISBN 9780062351425. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062351449), they expand upon this mythical world, keeping listeners of their eponymous show engaged while welcoming new print readers to the fold. Their creepy mystery, which follows two of the town’s residents as they search for the elusive King City, is something akin to The Twilight Zone meets Prairie Home Companion.
The remote plain of Amy Lukavics’s gruesome YA title Daughters unto Devils (Harlequin Teen. 2015. ISBN 9780373211586. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781460390955) is harboring pure evil. When 16-year-old Amanda and her family move into their newly bought cabin, they find not only that the dwelling has been abandoned by the previous owners, but it is also covered in blood. Something is clearly wrong with the land and the few people who live there. Amanda is forced to stop running from her past and start confronting the madness and murder that currently surround her. Or are they coming from within? Amanda is living Laura Ingalls Wilder’s worst nightmare, and adult and teen horror enthusiasts alike will love every minute of this well-crafted and terrifying debut.

Monsters, both external and internal, are a staple in the horror genre. Brian Kirk plays off of this disturbing proposition perfectly in We Are Monsters (Samhain. 2015. ISBN 9781619229808. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781619225916). Imagine a cure for schizophrenia that will allow thousands of mentally ill killers to be released from jail, devoid of their murderous impulses. In Kirk’s world, this medicine removes the corrupt voices inside patients’ heads only to deposit them into regular society, transforming what began as an imaginary threat into a very real danger. Written with switching points of view and breathless pacing, this deft novel may prompt readers to postpone their next trip to the doctor.

Hypothetical monsters may be frightening, but what about a story based on a real-life serial killer? In Weight of Chains (Sinister Grin. 2015. ISBN 9781944044008. pap. $17.50), Lesley Conner looks for inspiration to Gilles de Rais, a 15th-century French baron who killed many of his serfs’ children. With perspectives that alternate among many of the key players—the Baron, a wizard hired to raise a demon, and, most memorable, a young girl with the intelligence and pluck to save her village—this swift tale doesn’t sacrifice historical detail even as it works in plenty of dread and gore. The last 50 pages in particular pack a wallop and include a magnificent final scene that will leave readers with chills running down their spines.

Horrific fiction based on the past is one thing, but sometimes the truth can be quite unsettling on its own as David Jaher illustrates in The Witch of Lime Street: Séance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World (Crown. 2015. ISBN 9780307451064. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780307451088). This nonfiction account details the most famous spiritualist of the 1920s, a woman known simply as Margery whose power to speak with the dead was so well known that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle publicly defended her legitimacy. Meanwhile, Harry Houdini was determined to debunk the con of all psychics and soon trained his sights on outwitting Margery. Jaher’s experience as a screenwriter and astrologer come through in this shocking and enlightening history.

Sometimes readers just want a thrilling, epic dark fantasy to put them in the Halloween mood. In The ­Library at Mount Char (Crown. 2015. ISBN 9780553418606. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780553418613), Scott Hawkins creates a godlike figure known as Father, who abducts a group of children and raises them in his Library outside the bounds of time and space, brutally teaching them astounding lessons. Carolyn was made the Librarian of Languages, and, after years of study, she can speak them all. Now in their 30s, the children have mastered their subjects but find that Father is missing. In his absence, his rival Gods begin a battle for power, with the fate of the universe at stake. Carolyn takes control with the help of an ex-con and a war hero. What are her intentions? Find out in this intricate, compelling, and menacing narrative reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods..
This column was contributed by Becky Spratford, a Readers’ Advisor in Illinois. She is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror (2d ed. ALA Editions, 2012) and a proud member of the Horror Writers Association. Learn more about her at

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