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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

What I’m Reading: Four [!] Booklist Reviews From August Horror Spotlight Issue


I have four reviews in this current horror packed issue of Booklist including one edited by Stephen King! I will begin with the only one I gave a star; however, I want to say all four are excellent and perfect for all public library horror collections. It’s just that I could only give 1 a star and as you will see in my review, it contains a little something extra that pushed this one over the edge.

As usual, I am giving you my draft reviews which are different from the ones that appear in the magazine, plus I add extra readalikes, appeal terms, and general comments that will help you to better figure out to whom you could suggest these titles. Although, some, like the King edited collection or the official Dracula prequel, sell themselves.


The People’s Republic of Everything.

 

Mamatas, Nick (author).

 

Aug. 2018. 336p. Tachyon, paper, $15.95 (9781616963002); e-book (9781616963019)
First published August, 2018 (Booklist).

Mamatas [I Am Providence] has been writing critically acclaimed, politically charged, sardonic science fiction, dark fantasy and horror for years, but his voluminous output of short stories has been spread across the publishing landscape from small genre mags to literary reviews and everything in between. Now readers can discover 13 previously published stories, 1 brand new tale, and the author’s preferred text of his short novel, “Under My Roof,” a brilliant but overlooked tale based on Aristophanes’s Archanians, in which a Long Island family builds a nuclear bomb in their garden so that they can use it as leverage to secede from the US, all in one book. From the first story of the collection, “Walking with a Ghost,” an unsettling, yet intriguing tale about the creation of a Lovecraft AI that has achieved singularity and is not happy with being resurrected, readers get a sense of Mamatas’ expertise at both embracing and skewering the speculative genres to which he has dedicated his life. Each tale is entertaining on its surface, but they all also hold a deeper meaning that can be pondered for those who want to dig deeper. However, it is with the inclusion of Mamatas’ author notes appended for each story, revealing the history behind and business of speculative fiction as well as offering a peek into his own life and personal evolution, where this collection makes its mark. Taken together those notes create what reads like a 16th bonus story, one that both centers and elevates the book. This collection will be an easy sell to readers who enjoy genre-blending authors of thought provoking and topical tales such as Jeffrey Ford, China Mieville and Jeff VanderMeer.

Further Appeal: I bolded the text above which explains why this collection got the star. Seriously every book in this post was great. It was a pleasure to read them all, but Mamatas’ author notes were fascinating, compelling, and just plain fun to read. They taught me about him as a writer and a person, but also the publishing industry and what it takes to be a working author these days.

This collection is a genre blend as a whole, but even within stories, the genres can blend. I loved that. Not a single story takes you where you think you will go because no one writes like Mamatas. He is brilliant and original but he also knows how to tell a good compelling story filled with dark humor regardless of genre. He respects the genre tropes but also, refuses to let them define him or his work. It is refreshing.

I know I mentioned the first story in the review. Not only did I love it, I think it sets the stage perfectly for the unsettling, thought provoking stories that will follow. Seriously, after reading the entire collection, it was the perfect choice to kick things off.

Also, I had never read the seminal “Under My Roof” before this collection, and WOW, I missed a good one. If you have fans of dystopian fiction without or without a speculative element, give them this novella immediately.

Three Words That Describe This Book: thought-provoking, genre blend, unsettling

Readlikes: I mentioned three very good ones in the review, and linked them to other posts on my blog where these authors were mentioned. Those links will lead you to even more authors and titles. Specifically, I would also like to mention Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado as an excellent readalike suggestion.

Mamatas’ is also works at Haikasoru a publisher of works in translation. From their homepage:
Space Opera. Dark Fantasy. Hard Science.
With a small, elite list of award-winners, classics, and new work by the hottest young writers, Haikasoru is the first imprint dedicated to bringing Japanese science fiction to America and beyond. Featuring the action of anime and the thoughtfulness of the best speculative fiction, Haikasoru aims to truly be the “high castle” of science fiction and fantasy.
I reviewed and loved one of their titles A Small Charred Face by Kazuki Sakuraba and really enjoyed it. Like Mamatas’ work, this novel is an original and thought provoking genre blend that you might also want to check out.

The Siren and the Specter.

Janz, Jonathan (author).
Sept. 2018. 288p. Flame Tree, paper, $14.95  (9781787580053)First published August, 2018 (Booklist).
David Caine author, professor and famous paranormal skeptic is invited to spend a month in the most haunted house in America. Built in the 1700s the Alexander House has a gruesome history, one that has persisted over the centuries and now David has been asked to pass his expert judgment on the years of ghostly sightings and ghastly occurrences, except this job brings him dangerously close to the source of his own personal haunting, the death of his college sweetheart. As the reader can tell from the unsettling opening lines, this is no ordinary haunted house tale. Janz uses the tropes readers think they know- haunted house, lost love, cursed town, regrets- and takes them in an original and terrifying direction. The tension builds unrelentingly, the fear and repulsion are relayed through all five senses, as the fear begins to come at the reader from three different angles, enveloping readers in the terrifying world Janz has created, threatening to never let go. Quickly emerging as one of the most talented horror authors of his generation, Janz’s [Children of the Dark] newest novel will be eagerly scooped up by fans of all haunted house stories and is a great choice for those who enjoyed of The Handyman by Little, The Damned by Pyper or Hex by Heuvelt.
Further Appeal:  I really like Janz as a horror author-- a lot. The way he writes draws you in. His main characters are flawed but you still want to root for them, plus they change and grow. He is liberal with the sex and violence but not more so than others and none of it is gratuitous; there is just enough to show repulsion-- not just fear or unsettling feelings of anxiety, but repulsion.  In the review I mention that he really takes advantage of all five of our senses and I cannot stress that enough. He articulates the fear in touch, sight, smell, hearing and taste very well. He is truly becoming a master at this. Many horror writers rely on the suggestions of the horror unfolding. Not Janz. He shows it on the page, but very eloquently. I don’t want you to think this is a gore-fest. It is not in anyway. This is a sophisticated and intricate horror story that is well executed in both the technique in the writing and how it plays out for the reader.

The novel has two main story lines [which the title perfectly hints at] and it is layered with twists that bring the plots together.

The themes-- haunted house, cursed land, famous skeptic, lost love and redemption are also all easy ways to booktalk and hand-sell this novel. Specifically I was extremely drawn to the detailed history that underlies the genre, a history that goes back to the early days of our country. I found it interesting and believable.

Three Words That Describe This Book: haunted house, repulsion, unrelenting tension

Readalikes: If you take the three readalikes I mentioned and combined them into 1 book, that would be this novel. I would also suggest the work of Nick Cutter or The Binding by Nicholas Wolff Finally, this novel is part of the launch of Flame Tree Press. To learn more about them and their upcoming titles, click here to read my interview with managing editor, Don D’Auria.

Dracul.

 

Stoker, Dacre (author) and J. D. Barker (author).

 
Oct. 2018. 512p. Putnam, $27 (9780735219342)
First published August, 2018 (Booklist)

What if there was more truth to Dracula than any of us ever imagined? In this official Stoker family sanctioned prequel to the classic that set the standard for all vampire stories since, Stoker’s great- grandnephew, Dacre Stoker, pairs years of research into family history with the skills of bestselling thriller writer J.D. Barker to tell the story behind the famous novel, from the point of view of Bram Stoker himself. Tense form the opening scene as readers encounter a young Stoker doing battle with an evil force, high in an abandoned tower, throughout the course of one terrible night, the story then moves back in time to Stoker’s childhood, the illness which almost killed him at age seven, and the odd, ethereal, and menacing nanny that saved him. The novel moves forward methodically, in a manner very similar to the source material, told with journal entries from Stoker, his brother, and sister as they piece together the truth behind Dracula, a truth Stoker always said grounded his novel, a truth the publisher refused to include in the final edits. Dracul would have been a good read even if it stopped at only shedding light on the original, its characters, and its author, but the novel rises above because of those recurring scenes in the tower, scenes that add just the right touch of the very best of the 21st Century’s suspense techniques, increasing the pace and ratcheting up the fear, leaving readers breathless, wondering what is coming next, and sending them back to the original immediately. While this is book with a huge built in audience, do not forget to also suggest to those who like menacing, supernatural novels about 19th Century writers like Drood by Dan Simmons or Victorian-esque vampire tales like The Quick by Lauren Owen.

Further Appeal: This draft review contains most of the appeal of this novel that I wanted to point out, but I wanted to talk a bit more about the obviously easy appeal factors here-- wo Words: Dracula prequel. Duh. Thats a huge appeal. But is it enough? 


As I mentioned here, I have heard Dacre Stoker speak about the research he has done into Brams life and publishing and I knew he had found out a lot of new information, but when this book came my way for review, I was nervous. I like Dacre and JD so much as people. What if the book was terrible?

I am so happy to report that it was even better than it needed to be to draw readers in. I couldn’t put it down. This will not only satisfy Dracula fans, but I would bet that it will create new fans of the classic on its own. Between the excellent inclusion of an author’s note with tons of info, and the ending that leads directly into the beginning of the original, even I was running straight to Dracula to re-read a few sections after finishing Dracul.

Read this book for yourself, even if you aren’t a Dracula fan and of course, order a copy or two. Also check your Dracula copies, you may need to refresh those too. This book and the next one really sell themselves. Just make sure you let readers know about it.


Three Words That Describe This Book: epistolary, methodically paced, menacing


Readalikes: You don’t need my help here. I gave you a few about that also link to even more, but any classic horror, Gothic horror, vampire stories, etc... 


Flight or Fright: 17 Turbulent Tales.

 

King, Stephen (editor) and Bev Vincent (editor).

 
Sept. 2018. 336p. Cemetery Dance, $27.95  (9781587676796)
First published August, 2018 (Booklist).

Even for people who aren’t afraid of flying, modern, commercial air travel is not the most pleasant experience. But that is exactly what makes it the perfect frame for a anthology of horror stories, especially one co-edited by the most famous horror author in the world, King, who also has a lifelong fear of flying. As he notes in the introduction, “...you are entering what is basically a tube filled with oxygen and sitting atop tons of highly flammable jet fuel.” The terror often writes itself, a point that King and Vincent prove with this expertly compiled collection of tales that entertain and scare. Containing brand new, high demand stories by King and Joe Hill, readers will also find 15 reprinted surprises, tales of horror in the air from famous authors like Arthur Conan Doyle, Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and Dan Simmons as well as a classic 1899 story by often forgotten horror legend Ambrose Bierce. Some will want enhance the terror by reading this volume on their next plane ride, while others will make sure to have their feet firmly planted on the ground before diving in, but either way, Flight or Fright delivers on its promised theme and will make your next plane ride a little more exciting. Pair this with other expertly edited and compiled themed, horror anthologies by Ellen Datlow and John Joseph Adams.

Further Appeal: New stories by Stephen King and Joe Hill, the almost universal fear of flying trope, classic stories....this book really does sell itself. And sells it very well as the first printing is already sold out and it hasn’t shipped yet.

But seriously, this is a great intro to horror collection. The mixture of classic authors with new masters and a common trope that is scary but not necessarily gory or based on a supernatural monster, will lure in readers, many of whom might not consider themselves horror readers.

Three Words That Describe This Book: themed anthology, classic, frightening

Readalikes: Besides what appears in the review, here is my updated lis of Stephen King readalikes, all the times I have mentioned Joe Hill, and you can click here for the anthology's table of contents to see all of the authors included as readers might want to try more by them.

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