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Friday, July 8, 2016

What I’m Reading: I am Providence, Bite, and Natural History of Hell

I have three reviews in the July 2016 issue of Booklist. I like all of these titles for a wide audience, but the first two listed here are EXCELLENT and should be read by more than just genre fans. As per usual, I have reposted my draft reviews with links to the magazines page. All three received a STAR review in the magazine. You may need to log in to read the reviews. They also appear on NoveList. I also give extra comments and readalikes here on the blog. Enjoy.

I Am Providence by Nick Mamatas
Aug. 2016. 256p. Night Shade, paperback, $15.99  (9781597808354)
First published July, 2016 (Booklist).
The Summer Tentacular is the biggest annual convention for fans of legendary horror author H.P. Lovecraft and Colleen is a newly published Lovecraftian who is not sure what to expect during her first trip to Providence. When her roommate, the maligned author of the horror mash-up Catcher in R’lyeh, Panossian, is brutally murdered and the skin of his face removed, Colleen goes into Nancy Drew mode, spiraling deeper into the bizarre world of geeks, self important writers, manuscripts bound in skin, occult rituals, and Cthulhu to try to catch the killer. With the viewpoint alternating between Colleen, as she spirals deeper into her own personal Lovecraftian nightmare, and Panossian himself, dead in a drawer in the town morgue, this is both a compelling, satisfying mystery and a dark, macabre tale. Is Panossian there to help us solve his murder or is he simply the narrator of a Lovecraftian tale, his final story, with Colleen as his protagonist? This is a smart, wry, and fun novel, filled with biting, hilarious satire. Mamatas uses his story to take an honest look at Lovecraft, his troubling legacy of racism and sexism, how it comes into play during this current revival in his popularity, but you can also feel Mamatas’ true affection for the author and the larger community of misfit horror authors shining through in tribute. A great choice for readers who enjoyed Matt Ruff’s thoughtful exploration of the author and his legacy in Lovecraft Country, those who liked the dark humor, mystery, and speculative elements in Ben H. Winters’ The Last Policeman trilogy, and anyone who has ever been part of a fandom.

Further Comments: It’s a mystery but it’s at a horror convention and one of the narrators is dead-- he’s the murder victim, but is not a zombie. He’s dead in morgue but sentient enough to speak to us-- the reader. Also the entire book reads like a Lovecraft tale with the other protagonist caught up in the nightmare.  Such a smart and fun book.  But what is its genre? Ultimately I think I would put it in horror because it ends up open on Colleen’s fate (but the mystery is solved for readers) and it is very chilling, but the mystery is solid and would be enjoyed by those readers too.

This is a book that you need to add to your collections and hand-sell A TON!!! It will be a crowd pleaser.

Three Words That Describe This Book: wry, fandom, genre mashup

Readalikes: Beyond what I mentioned in the review itself, people may be interested in more Lovecraft and or Lovecraft inspired tales. I did a book talk on these titles recently and will post that recording when it becomes available. But for now, here are a few titles you can start suggesting:

Bite by K.S. Merbeth
Aug. 2016. 304p. Orbit, paperback, $9.99 (9780316308700)
REVIEW.  First published July, 2016 (Booklist).
Merbeth’s action driven debut introduces us to Kid a, skinny, teenage girl who has known no world other than this post-nuclear apocalyptic one. Barely surviving alone after the death of her father, knowing she should not trust strangers offering a ride, but too tired and hungry to care, Kid gets in the car with two ominous figures-- the large, dreadlocked Wolf and the bright blue haired Dolly. And so begins a fast paced ride through a barren world where food and water are scarce, “Raiders” and “Sharks” rule the trade routes, and cannibalism is a real survival option. Kid’s first person narration grabs the reader immediately and we hang on her every word as she falls in with Wolf and his gang. The first battle scene comes immediately and is closely followed by another, and then another, strung together and constantly escalating. But in between the fighting there is equally as compelling character development. Wolf’s crew, villains all, but lovable and principled ones, come to be known and loved by Kid- and us. She watches and learns from each, and as a result, comes through the story stronger, both because she now has a “family” and has finally taken control of her own survival. Filled with dark humor, wit, and a realistic post-nuclear setting, Bite plays off the idea of who are the “good guys” in such a harsh world. Think Carl Hiaasen thriller set in a Mad Max world and you have an idea of what to expect.
YA: Yes this story contains some violence (and cannibalism), but Kid’s transformation from young victim of the post nuclear bomb apocalypse to active player in her own survival will greatly appeal to older teens.
Further Comments: When I first got this book for review in the mail, I looked it over, read the publicity material, and thought, “this is going to be dumb.” BOY WAS I WRONG. This book was great. It had tons of action, but also was extremely thought provoking. Give this immediately to everyone who loved Mad Max last year and is looking for something to recapture that magic.

Here are a few other notes I made while reading Bite which I could not fit into the review:
  • Loved the constant jokes about her being mistaken for a boy. It added some comic relief
  • The setting is perfectly described.  
  • Narration and characters- WONDERFUL
  • These characters grow as people, but still not good guys. You cant be a good guy and survive in this world. Just bad enough to survive. But they protect each other to the death.
Three Words That DescribeThis Book: action! [not a typo, it needs the !], great characters, thought provoking

Readlaikes: Because this book is so unique, I had many readalikes in mind, but I chose to keep in succinct in the magazine to make it easier for you to booktalk it. Here are more:
  • This is clearly going to be a series. The book read like Mira Grant’s phenomenal zombie thriller Newsflesh series. No zombies here, but they are similar in every other way.
  • Last year I reviewed Builders by Daniel Polansky. I was reminded of it while reading Bite. Click through and I think you will see why.
  • The Water Knife by Paolo Bacigalupi. These books are similar in many ways-- female protagonists, the need for water. But also different in others. Bite is more like an action movie with a caper sensibility, while The Water Knife is more of a post-apocalyptic thriller.

July 2016. 279p. Small Beer, paperback, $16  (9781618731180); e-book (9781618731197)
REVIEW.  First published July, 2016 (Booklist).
In this collection of 13 stories, most previously published, Ford showcases his award-winning talent for crafting creepy tales that bend the world as we know it in an unexpected way. While the stories here are not linked, they all do share a common theme of the wickedness lurking just beneath the surface of everyday life. And, while each uses different degrees of the supernatural influence to get there, all employ a dark and uneasy atmosphere, quirky, loner characters, and thought provoking endings, some even coming rather abruptly, but all forcing you to fit what you just read into your own worldview, with delightfully unsettling results. For example, in “Blameless,” we join the newly fashionable trend of staging a public exorcism party for your teen. This macabre and satirical story succinctly skewers both adult over- reactions to teenage behavior and lavish coming of age parties. Stories like “Terror,” which imagines the “true” ghost story behind an Emily Dickinson poem and “Rocketship to Hell,” which plays homage to the Science Fiction masterpieces of the pulp era, honor their historical source material while still having something to say about our present.  But it is in “Blood Drive,” where every senior in high school is required to carry a gun to school and far right, politicians are in control, where the chills hit very close to home. This collection is a good choice for fans of short stories by Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, or Kevin Brockmeier.
Further Comments: "Blood Drive” is, for better or worse, a timely choice to give to people right now. Overall, this collection will surprise many people who think they do not like short stories. They are like little novels.

Three Words That Describe This Book: wickedness, unsettling, timely

Readalikes: Like the authors I mentioned in the review, any authors who writes dark fantasy novels and short stories would be a great readalike option. Ones I did not mention but who also fit are Stephen Millhauser, Keith Donohue, Elizabeth McCracken, and Karen Russell.

I also think people who like Adam Johnson should also give this collection a try.

Phew, that’s a lot of reviews. Plenty of books to enjoy.

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