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Monday, January 29, 2018

What I’m Reading: Savage Woods, Plus Bonus News You Can Use


TodayI have a review of a book that came out last Fall that is a NOT TO MISS option for fans of supernatural thrillers with a strong female protagonists- otherwise known as dozens of your regular patrons.

The book is Savage Woods by Mary SanGiovanni and before I get to the review, I wanted to share a few things about SanGiovanni that are relevant to you the average public library worker- some of which provide you with CE opportunities [both in person and virtual].
  1. She publishes with Kensington Books, a smaller publisher with a huge library foothold. You may only know them for their romance and thrillers, but click here to see their [growing] horror line. SanGiovanni is under contract for a few more novels with them, including a series-- which we know in library land is music to many of our patrons ears.
  2. SanGiovanni has been writing Lovercraftian, cosmic horror since the early 2000s. She has won awards and critical acclaim, she’s even been called “The Queen of Cosmic Horror.” She was doing this well before the current Lovecraftian revolution and had to deal with the sexism in the subgenre way before those who Lovecraft disparaged in his own life started outright challenging him, his fans, and his work. [For more on that trend click here for my booktalk on the topic.]
  3. Speaking of her place in the cosmic horror world, SanGiovanni just launched a new podcast where she talks about cosmic horror, what it is, why it is appealing to readers, and its history. It is called Cosmic Shenanigans. This is a must listen for all library workers because cosmic horror is exploding right now and most of us don’t understand it fully. In the first episode SanGiovanni talks about the characteristics of the subgenre. She said something during that 30 minute episode that really stuck with me. Paraphrasing her-- cosmic horror’s appeal is that there is something out there in the universe that is so huge and evil that we are simply its playthings. We are so insignificant and that is terrifying. I never thought of the subgenre's appeal that way, but it completely opens me up to suggesting it to a wider range of readers now.
  4. SanGiovanni and Thunderstorm Books recently announced here [36 minute mark] that she will have an imprint of special edition horror titles called “Tempest.” The Tempest imprint will be limited edition novellas by female horror authors that SanGiovanni hand picks. Now I know that libraries do not buy limited edition titles, but many of Thunderstorm’s limited edition original books get picked up by other publishers in paperback and go one to be quite popular [click here for a recent example]. Authors that SanGiovanni identifies, will become names we are going to need to know going forward. She promises to gather women and diverse ones at that. I can’t wait.
  5. Speaking of women in horror, Mary has a famous and eloquent essay about what it means to be a woman in horror. She has given me permission to post it before. Here is the link.
  6. For all of the reasons above and because SanGiovanni has “been there done that" in horror publishing, I asked her to moderate a panel a StokerCon 2018 featuring new authors that I wanted library workers to know about. I picked the authors, but SanGiovanni graciously and eagerly agreed to moderate. She will be able to share her wisdom with these new authors [3 out of 4 are women because women writing horror is one of the biggest trends in the genre right now] and she is well equipped to know what questions to ask these young writers.

So thats why you all need to know about Mary SanGiovanni and what you can learn from her knowledge. Below is a librarian focused review of Savage Woods. Feel free to borrow it to booktalk the title to potential readers. Call your Kensington rep to make sure you get all of her books too.

The Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey is a known haunted place. Sightings of ghosts, beasts, and creatures have been documented by visitors for generations. But put this deeply haunted wood in the hands of Bram Stoker nominated horror author and NJ native Mary SanGiovanni’s hands and the fear reaches out from between the trees and grabs hold of the reader. Savage Woods [Kensington 2017] opens in a Lovecraftian style, with the unveiling of the ancient spirits that rule a particular 600 acre section of these woods known as Nilhollow. This area of the Pine Barrens is avoided by locals who know better, but when Julia is run off the road by her abusive ex and escapes into the woods, the police are forced to enter, against their better judgement, to try to find her. What follows is a terrifying and gripping thriller, a race through the woods, where the good guys are forced to battle evils both human and supernatural. There is plenty of fast paced action, edge of your seat suspense, and awesome bloody death and dismemberment scenes, but there is also a surprising beauty in the language used to describe the forest. The trees become a character here, in fact, the wood itself maybe the most compelling, complex, and intriguing character in the novel. Readers will root for Julia to find safety, they will hang on the twists and turns of the plot, but this story will stay with them after it is all over because of the trees. Readers seeking out bloody tales of ancient evil where the woods come into play will be happy you pointed them in SanGiovanni’s direction as will current fans of titles like Children of the Dark by Jonathan Janz or The Devil Crept In by Ania Alhborn.

Further Appeal: SanGiovanni is the reigning queen of cosmic horror. Her deep affection for and skill for crafting tales in the tradition of this type of horror, as is most associated with Lovecraft, is clear here. That is a huge appeal of the book. It is cosmic horror but from a female pov. Not only will cosmic horror fans like it, but I think you can introduce female readers to this subgenre with this novel. They would like cosmic horror if they knew more about it than the “bro” culture who have been running it for decades have allowed to be put out there. Authors like SanGiovanni, LaValle and the others I mention in this booktalk, are a great place to start.

Also, horror set in the woods, where the woods themselves bring the fear is a huge appeal factor. There are a number of books where this trope is used. Even in books where the woods are not the focus, the woods are creepy. Send horror fans who feel the fear in the trees to this book ASAP.

The female driven, suspense with supernatural horror, strong characters, and a decent amount of gore aspects will be very popular appeal match areas here.

Three Words That Describe This Book: suspense, cosmic horror, fast paced

Readalikes: I mention two recent titles above, but horror set in the woods, is a huge appeal factor which you can match for more readlaikes.

Also, don’t underestimate the appeal here for people who want a strong female protagonist with an intensely suspenseful thriller storyline, but are sick and tired of the “girl” books. They need the suspense, blood, and action up about 4 notches but without sacrificing the strong characters and solid writing. Obviously they have to be okay with the cosmic horror frame, but fans of intense female led thrillers like those by Lisa Jackson, Sarah Pinborough, and Nicci French should give SanGiovanni a try.

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