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Friday, January 19, 2018

What I’m Reading: Three New Booklist Reviews

The final reviews I wrote for Booklist in 2017 were quite varied and two of the three were excellent. This is also a reminder that I publish my draft reviews, so the review you see in the magazine will vary from this post. My posts usually have more words and I add extra RA content to help you help readers better.

Let’s start with a 2 volume reference set which surprised me with how well done it was, and apparently, I am not alone because earlier this week it was on the preliminary ballot for the Stoker Awards. Phew! I always feel better when I love something and others do too. Weirdly, I am not as worried that when I dislike something that others will like it.

Horror Literature through History: An Encyclopedia of the Stories That Speak to Our Deepest Fears. 2v.  Cardin, Matt (editor). Oct. 2017. 967p. ABC-CLIO, hardcover, $189  (9781440842016); e-book (9781440842023). 809.3. First published January 1, 2018 (Booklist).
Horror literature is not only reaching heights of popularity not seen since the 1980s when King, Koontz, and Rice reigned atop the bestseller lists, but it is also beginning to be taken more seriously by academics. Those two audiences, the fan and the scholar, collide in this well organized and fun two volume reference set. Cardin, a critically acclaimed editor of paranormal themed reference works, has looked at horror literature with the broadest lense possible, considering not just its history but also, its influence on new media, other genres, and more, organizing it all into three distinct and meticulously researched sections. Part One, “Horror Through History” consists of eight essays chronologically addressing the history of horror. Part Two, “Themes, Topics, and Genres,” is made up of 23 essays discussing larger issues and academic topics about the genre and how both the literature and the study of it has evolved over time. Part Three is a traditional encyclopedia of almost 400 entries about authors, topics, and seminal works, listed alphabetically. Scattered throughout are interviews and sidebars from experts. Common Core Standards were also considered when Cardin constructed this book, seen most notably in his inclusion of excerpts from works of horror so that students can read them critically after encountering the corresponding entry. Extremely informative in its content, easy to use, engaging in its writing style, Cardin’s comprehensive and inclusive reference work not only solidly makes the case for horror’s endurance and importance in our lives, as humans, throughout history but also presents it in a package that is a pleasure to read. 
Further Appeal: With the increased interest in horror literature as a topic academic study, this set makes a great addition to most public libraries. It is easy to use and affordable. The common core additions will make it valuable to students.

Fans will also enjoy reading about their favorite authors as this set includes up to date information about currently popular authors.

I should note, I have turned down reviewing horror reference books in the past for Booklist because I didn’t think they were worth it for libraries to buy. Since this one was useful both to fans and students, and is a very good deal for what you get, I was excited to review it for all of your consideration.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Informative, Engaging, Fun

Now another star review, this time for a well known author and library crowd pleaser, but even I was surprised at how good this one was.

The Listener.

McCammon, Robert (author).Feb. 2018. 380p. Cemetery Dance, hardcover, $25  (9781587676130)
REVIEW.  First published January 1, 2018 (Booklist).

Life in America in 1934 is not easy. Everyone has to do what they can to get by, but some make better choices than others. John and Ginger are a couple of cons who come together in rural Texas to hatch a dangerous and evil get-rich-quick scheme; they are going to kidnap the children of a rich, New Orleans businessman. Meanwhile, Curtis is a black, redcap at Union Station in New Orleans with a special gift; he is “listener,” one who can communicate telepathically with other “listeners” near him, but this skill has left him living as an outsider in his already marginalized community of the Treme. To be black, poor, and special in Depression era New Orleans is no gift, but circumstances conspire to bring Curtis and his unique powers to the aid of the endangered children. McCammon, already an established master of historical thrillers and supernatural horror combines the two in a compelling and suspenseful tale of race, class, and family. The intricate and satisfying crime plot is enhanced by superior character development, an authentic and richly detailed historical setting, a tense dread that begins in the opening scene and continues to intensify throughout, especially after the storylines merge, and an omniscient narration that lets the reader know exactly how bad things really are. This is a violent and gritty tale. There is no sugar coating the real life difficulties explored in this supernatural thriller, and while happy endings are for fairy tales, redemption is always a possibility. The Listener will be popular with fans of occult thrillers like those by Dean Koontz or F. Paul Wilson, but also consider suggesting to readers who enjoy the thought provoking, speculative fiction of Victor LaValle.
Further Appeal: This one is a great genre blend- historical fiction and horror. It is equally as good at both. Although I am not surprised by this since McCammon has been blending the two seamless for many years. Most recently, I reviewed [and enjoyed] Last Train from Perdition [I Travel By Night, Book Two] which is a great vampire story and a wonderful western.

Here we have New Orleans in the 1930s, richly rendered. There is also a compelling race and class issues frame. The characters are well developed, the suspense is palpable, and the dark fantasy/horror elements enhance all parts of the storytelling. Seriously, every appeal mentioned in this paragraph is improved by the speculative elements. That’s not only a sign at how well constructed the book it, but it is also a signifier that this is a genre blended book that will appeal widely.

Three Words That Describe This Book: intricate plot, class/race issues, character-centered

Readalikes: McCammon is a writer that many people who say I don’t read horror, but...” like, much like the three readalike authors I recommended above. People who enjoy Stephen King will also like McCammon.

But I also think that some more literary titles with strong historical and speculative elements will also be great readalikes here such as Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, Delicious Foods by James Hannaham, and Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.


Frankenstein: How a Monster Became an Icon; The Science and Enduring Allure of Mary Shelley’s Creation.

Perkowitz, Sidney (editor) and Eddy Von Mueller (editor).
 Jan. 2018. 256p. Pegasus, hardcover, $28.95  (9781681776293). 823.7. 
REVIEW.  First published December 15, 2017 (Booklist).

2018 marks the Bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, a book that has never been out of print, but even more remarkably, its central themes, issues, and concerns are still as relevant today as they were when it was first conceived. How and why Shelley’s creation has transcended its place as merely a story and wound its way into the very fabric of our lives is the central question co-editors Sidney Perkowitz, a physicist, and Eddie von Mueller, a film expert, have posed to a variety of scholars, organizing their responses into three sections, “The Roots and Themes of Frankenstein,” “The Monster, the Media, and the Marketplace,” and “The Challenges of Frankenstein: Science and Ethics,” and presented them in a single volume aimed at all Frankenstein fans-- from casual to cosplay. Readers will encounter essays from as wide a range of angles as traditional literary criticism, to discussions of Frankenstein based toys and their effect on childhood development, to an essay by scientists about their government funded work on the molecular basis of life. The overall effect is a multi-faceted read that is thought provoking and spreads the influence of the original text into corners that most readers have never thought to go. And, with an extensive bibliography, it can also be a guide to those who want to delve deeper. For maximum impact, consider pairing it with 2017’s excellent The New Annotated Frankenstein, edited by Leslie S. Klinger.
Further Appeal: This book was fine. It provides an interesting range of angles to look at why the idea and image of “Frankenstein” the monster has endured for so long. It should be added to library collections because of that breadth. My problem with it is only that it is very short, so that you are introduced to an idea and then you move on to another. But, paired with other books about the topic and in this year of the 200th Anniversary of this seminal work’s publication, I think many readers will find something interesting here.

Three Words That Describe This Book: original, thought provoking, essays

Readalikes: I mention Klinger’s excellent new annotated edition of the original Shelly novel above. I gave it a star review.

There are many books about Frankenstein out there to choose from, but the newest titles [like this one] look at the STEM implications of the novel as well as the fact that it was written by a teenage girl. You could spend hours searching GoodReads for titles if you wanted.

But, one of the best new novels to take on Frankenstein as inspiration is Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmed Saadawi [comes out on 1/23/18]. Daniel Kraus gave it a star review in Booklist and it is garnering a ton of praise. I cannot wait to read it myself.  

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