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Thursday, August 8, 2019

What I'm Reading: Booklist's Spotlight on SF/F/H Issue

This month I have 3 reviews in the annual spotlight on Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror issue of Booklist.

The first is STAR review of a high demand title that you probably already have on order, but let me tell you, it more than delivers.

The second is a STAR review of a lesser known title but one you MUST ORDER. This is going to be a huge hit with a wide audience.

The third is a review of a book that was 20 years in the making and will have a lot of buzz for the author alone.

As always, these posts are of my draft reviews which are longer than the publisher review, and I also include more specific appeal info and extra readalikes. All of this is to make your job easier.

Full Throttle

Hill, Joe (author).
Oct. 2019. 496p. Morrow, $27.99 (9780062200679); e-book (9780062200686)
First published August, 2019 (Booklist).

Hill arguably having supplanted his father as this century’s great American horror writer, returns to short stories, where his terrifying genius most brightly shines, in this new collection containing 13 stories, 11 of which have been scattered across various collections over the years, including one that was only released on LP.* Opening the collection with a heartfelt introduction writing candidly about his adoration for his father and his love of his craft, Hill then presents tales that incorporate tropes from psychological suspense, science fiction, dark fantasy, and of course straight up horror. Every piece is driven at its core by anxiety and unease, from the very first sentence or stylistic choices**, and feature Hill’s trademark of well developed characters, character who draw the reader in and feel absolutely real, without sacrificing the pacing or wasting a word. But in this collection it is also the sense of place that dazzles. Whether we are in a sinister version of Narnia in “Fauna”, on a pier at the shore in “Dark Carousel,” going down an Italian staircase in “The Devil on the Staircase,” or stuck on a plane as WWIII breaks out in “You Are Released,” Hill creates the sense that the reader is right there, alongside the characters, experiencing it all. He lulls you into enjoying the story, even though you know the most terrifying bits are coming, just around the corner of the next page. Yet you keep reading, even as the terror becomes so palpable that you have to close the book and walk away for a few moments. Hill rounds this superb collection out with insightful story notes and a surprise 14th story hiding in the “About the Author” section, but the tale that will be the biggest hit with library workers and patrons is the beautiful and elegiac “Late Returns,” featuring a grieving bookmobile driver who sometimes delivers books to ghosts. This is a collection of single serve, immerse horror at its very best similar to collections by Paul Tremblay, Stephen Graham Jones, Samanta Schweblin and anthologies edited by Ellen Datlow.
High Demand Note: “In the Tall Grass” co-written with King is the basis of an upcoming Netflix feature film, “By the Silver Waters of Lake Champlain” will be made into an episode of Shudder TVs new “Creepshow” series, and the rights to “Faun” were just won by Netflix ina  three studio bidding war.
*Dark Carousel was released on audio-- LP limited edition-- ONLY before this.
**Two stories are not straight prose. The staircase one, the text is written in paragraphs that mimic steps going down, while another one is told in Tweets. I needed to figure out a way to mention that without giving up so many words.
Further Appeal: There is a lot of appeal in the review; statements you can use to book talk this collection ASAP. However, what I want to make clear to everyone is that I was very hard on this collection. I know you will buy Joe Hill no matter what, but even with my high level of judgment this collection over delivered.

I cannot stress enough how brilliantly unsettling the stories are. The fact that you know they will make you squirm and bring the dread and unease from the get go, and yet, they still come through is nothing short of masterful.

I think this is a great "Start With" option for new fans of horror or Hill in general because of the range of stories, and not just the range in horror, which is there, but in the range of speculative genres presented. There is a straight up suspense story, multiple dark fantasies, and a few darker SF. But all have the well developed characters, sense of unease, and prose that keeps you turning the pages for the way the words themselves come together as much as to see what will happen next.

And if nothing else, everyone read "Late Returns." It is sweet and unsettling at the same time. And it is about a bookmobile driver and the power of the right book suggestion to the right person at the right time. Seriously, he wrote this for us!

Three Words That Describe This Book: genre blending, fully realized characters, intense unease

Readalikes: I gave many in the review, but they are all on the horror side. A few other writers who blend the speculative genres but still keep the unease at the forefront and are excellent at the short story format who I would also suggest trying are C. Robert Cargill, Karen Russell, and Jeffrey Ford.


Thomas, Scott (author).
Sept. 2019. 446p. Inkshares, paper, $17.99  (9781947848368)
First published August, 2019 (Booklist).
Thomas burst on the scene in 2017 with his debut, Kill Creek, receiving praise from Joyce Carol Oates and the RUSA CODES Reading List Horror honor. Now back with his second novel, Thomas has taken a completely different route toward filling the page with fear and unease, and the result is an even better reading experience. Kris has brought her 8 year old daughter, Sadie, back to the Kansas vacation town where she spent a few summers as a kid, including the summer her mother died of cancer, hoping to help Sadie heal after the tragic death of her father. But this is no idyllic vacation town. Even the lake at its center has an eerie provenance. And in the years since Kris last visited, the demon she left in her wake of sadness and anger has clung to the town, placed roots in the house, and is not too patiently waiting for her to return. Kris, dealing with her own traumas, is an unreliable narrator, yet it is through her eyes, almost exclusively, that readers are introduced to this well built world, adding yet another layer of dread. The terror builds slowly, as otherworldly monsters and real life tragedies are investigated. The deeper Kris dives into the mysteries of the town and her life, the more the unease burrows its way into her, and the reader, with a grip that refuses to let go. Every detail matters in this character centered, psychological suspense story of mothers, daughters, and the lies and secrets we all harbor deep within. This is a title that fans of best sellers Sarah Pinborough and Jennifer McMahon will love. Violet also stands as proof that Thomas is a horror novelist who will be camping out on your shelves for years to come.  
Further Appeal: Kill Creek  was a more in your face novel, Violet is more nuanced, with a slowly building dread. I like both, but Violet is more impressive, and will bring Thomas legions of new fans.

This is that cross over horror/psychological suspense book librarian patrons love. Give this to psychological suspense fans who don't mind a bit of supernatural explanations. They will love it.

Kris is a fantastic character who is so deliciously unreliable and yet, we completely sympathize with her. Thomas has built this character so well that we watch and understand her spiral, but we also fall into her reasoning.

The story itself is so utterly original, especially the way the town-- every detail of it-- enhances the story.

It is not a short book, but everything in there is necessary. And it moves at a good clip. You are turning the pages with dread and excitement. I love how small details come back to play a big part in the story. Thomas also unveils' the truth Kris is hiding from us, and herself, in a satisfying way.

And the ending scenes on the "mermaid house" roof are just screaming to be filmed.

This is a book you probably didn't know about before today, but that you have to order and promote this Fall.

Three Words That Describe This Book: awesome world building, steadily building terror, character centered
Readalikes: This is a perfect read alike for Jennifer McMahon's hugely popular horror/psychological suspense hybrids. Also if you could combine Sarah Pinborough's two most recent and best selling psychological suspense titles [Cross Her Heart and Behind Her Eyes] into one novel, that would be the feel of Violet.

Other readalikes- classic Stephen King, especially those set in Castle Rock and Derry, for sure. Also those who want to delve further into parent-child relationships with a horror lens, try The Changeling by Victor LaValle.

This also reminded me of Haven by Tom Deady [review by me here]. It's a lesser known title, but it had much of the same feel and a great lake town setting, family relationships, and a sinister monster from the past returning. Haven won the Stoker Award for Best First Novel and Thomas was a finalists for that award the next year with Kill Creek.

Imaginary Friend.

Chbosky, Stephen (author).
Oct. 2019. 720p. Grand Central, $30 (9781538731338); e-book, $15.99 (9781538731345)
First published August, 2019 (Booklist).
Twenty years after the publication of the beloved teen classic Perks of Being a Wallflower, Chbosky finally releases his sophomore novel , but this one is more reminiscent of the epic novels of Stephen King, like The Talisman, than the YA fare fans might be expecting. Kate, a widow, and her 7 year old son Christopher are fleeing her abusive boyfriend, seemingly finding a soft landing in a small Western PA town. However, it quickly becomes apparent that they have been drawn here on purpose, by forces both loving and malevolent, to stop a portal to hell from opening up, and Christopher’s connection to an imaginary friend who led him out of the woods, after being missing for six days soon after their arrival, holds the key to the terrors that begin to plague the entire town. With multiple points of view, that probe into the thoughts and nightmares of characters from all over town, and strong world building, this is an immersive read that walks the line between dark fantasy and horror. While the highly precocious 7 year old hero is a bit unrealistic, the novel reads like an entire season of Stranger Things, and this book will find fans far beyond readers simply excited by a new title from its author. While this one will sell itself you should also suggest to readers who enjoyed Hex by Thomas Olde Heuvelt, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Paul Tremblay or anything by Amy Lukavics. 
YA Statement: Because Perks of Being a Wallflower is still read and beloved by today’s teens, there will be much interest in this adult novel. Reminiscent of Stepehen King’s best coming of age, epic in scope, horror novels, and Stranger Things, all of which are already very popular with a YA audience, and strong child and teen characters, Imaginary Friend is a great choice for teens looking for a big, scary book that they can also relate to.
Further Appeal: I know this book will be popular, but as a horror fan, I was not impressed. I left all of the appeal info you need in the review above. This book will pretty much sell itself though.

Three Words That Describe This Book: precocious hero, multiple points of view, immersive

Readalikes: All of the book I mentioned above plus Children of the Dark by Jonathan Janz do what Chbosky is trying to do here, but better. However, people will want to read this book because of the author. If they want to try something similar, but shorter and better as horror, suggest my readalike options. But I suspect, most of the readers will simply be Chbosky fans hungry to finally have another book.

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