I write a Horror Debuts column every October 1st issue and a Halfway to Halloween one every April 15th issue. You can see all of these archived lists filled with books you can confidently order and circulate at your libraries right now by visiting my Original Horror Lists page on here on the blog. I have columns going back to 2012 linked there.
You can click here and read the column on LJ's website. Please note, you can read it for free you just need to signup for an account.
Or, you an read my draft version, which is slightly different, below. This version is longer as I also use it as a script during my Booktalking programs between now and March [when I turn in the next column].
The titles included range from horror-esque to outright terror-fests. There really is something here for every reader. Enjoy...if you dare.
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Halloween is almost upon us. That means it is time for my annual wrap up of horror debuts worth making some room for on your shelves.
Horror is not always gorey or filled with jump scares; sometimes the unease sneaks up on you throughout an entire novel, until you reach the final page and only then realize how terrifying a reading experience you just had. In THE HONEY FARM by Harriet Alida Lye, Sylvia, an aspiring poet from an oppressive evangelical family and Ibrahim, a talented painter who needs more room for his art, meet at an isolated bee farm, run by the enigmatic Cynthia, who is trying to keep her operation running through a crippling drought by offering artists an all inclusive retreat in exchange for free labor. Told mostly through Sylvia’s skewed eyes, we see her mature and fall in love, but she also describes escalating, unsettling occurrences reminiscent of biblical plagues. The unease and anxiety build relentlessly as artists leave and Cynthia’s hold on those who remain strengthens. Is she a caring motherly figure or Sylvia’s worst nightmare? It may be up to you to decide.
Mother-daughter relationships are always complicated; in fact, the inherent horror of this bond is a common theme throughout the history storytelling. Into this well mined trope bursts the disturbingly original BABY TEETH by Zoje Stage. There is no sugar coating how seven year old Hanna feels about Mommy. She doesn’t just dislike her, Hanna wants to kill her, and does everything she can to make Suzette’s already difficult life harder. Intimately narrated in alternating chapters by mother and daughter, this is a shocking, no holds barred look into how much terror underlies the concept of unconditional love. Incident after incident build on top of each other throughout the narrative, constantly escalating the anxiety, unease, and disgust past the point of discomfort and into the realm of absolute horror. There are no supernatural monsters here, and yet, that fact makes this brutal story even more nightmarish.
Family ties also frame the first novel by well known and award winning audiobook narrator Chris Sorensen, THE NIGHTMARE ROOM. Audiobook narrator Peter and his wife need to escape their own personal tragedy, so they head back to Peter’s hometown, to care for his ailing father and move into an old farmhouse that Peter didn’t even know his father owned. When Peter heads to the basement to set up his studio, he awakens a malevolent force within the home. What follows is a perfectly paced, well plotted and compelling haunted house tale filled with oppressive atmosphere, sympathetic and detailed characters, and only a touch of gore. Readers will compulsively turn the pages watching Peter confront demons both supernatural and real in order to save his family. This is a perfect suggestion for fans of haunted house stories, and there is a sequel already in the works.
Another promising haunted house debut is THE MOORE HOUSE by horror reviewer and NECON organizer Tony Tremblay, but this one is more violent and intense than Sorensen’s and comes with a side of seriously flawed protagonists and a healthy portion of terrifying demons. After something gruesome happens in a New Hampshire home a priest and three excommunicated nuns are asked to come and cleanse the building, but it is only after they give it the all clear that the demons truly begin to unleash their wrath and power. Tremblay deftly works his realistic characters, a well framed, super creepy New England setting, and a terrifyingly compelling backstory to keep readers up all night, unwilling to stop turning the pages, both to find out what happens and because they are too frightened to turn out the lights.
From haunted houses to an entire town haunted by a terrifying event in its past, we now move to THE RUST MAIDENS by Bram Stoker Award winning short story writer, Gwendolyn Kiste. It’s 1980 and Cleveland is a town in serious decline. The plants and mills are all closing and jobs are disappearing. The setting is bleak and uneasy on its own accord, but then, in one neighborhood, young girls start transforming into grotesque creatures, right before everyone’s eyes. Their transformation becomes a tourist stop with people flocking to see "The Rust Maidens," but why are they changing and what horror does this portend. Told through the eyes of Phoebe in two timelines, 1980 and the present, as she tries to understand the mystery and come to terms with her own part in the frightening events, this is a tale dripping with dread and atmosphere, told with an unsettlingly beauty, and portraying a realism that contradicts its obviously supernatural plot.
Haunted houses and towns are one thing, but full on supernatural, apocalyptic events that sweep the entire world are not only terrifying, they are also extremely popular with library patrons, even those who don’t normally see themselves as “horror” readers. In A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE VAMPIRE UPRISING, lawyer, and now first time author, Raymond A. Villareal lays out a tale that is reminiscent of WORLD WAR Z in its frame and storytelling style, except with vampires replacing the zombies. Told from multiple points of view and using a variety of primary documents including first person recollections, transcripts, and official reports, readers watch as the CDC identifies a strange blood virus and watches as it infects the world. But not everyone thinks the vampire virus is a curse, in fact, many see it as an advantage and thousands beg to be “re-created.” As these “gloamings,” as they prefer to call themselves, gain in numbers, the political and social stakes are raised for everyone. This is a fast paced, supernatural thriller that will not only entertain readers, but will also get them pondering the current state of world politics.
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 raforall.blogspot.com