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Friday, September 29, 2017

What I'm Reading: Booklist Reviews Edition

I have three reviews in the current issue of Booklist, including one of the long list titles for this year's National Book Award which I reviewed before it got that designation, and [spoiler alert], I loved it! Let's do that one first.....

But first, disclaimer: As always, these reviews are my draft reviews and any other notes on appeal which I want to elaborate on. As a result, there is more information here on the blog than in Booklist , but the full citation to the published review is included.

Her Body and Other Parties.
Machado, Carmen Maria (author).
Oct. 2017. 264p. Graywolf, paperback, $16 (9781555977887)
First published October 1, 2017 (Booklist).

Women, and more specifically their bodies, and the violence done to them, both by themselves and others, is at the center of Machado’s inventive, sensual, and eerie debut horror collection. These are stories that use situations in equal turns familiar and yet completely strange to provide a narrative about what it is like to inhabit the female body. We see, for example, a woman listing an inventory of her sexual encounters as humanity is being destroyed by a plague, a shop clerk who realizes that the dresses she is selling absorb the women who wear them, and a woman dealing with a surprise side effect after her gastric bypass surgery. In the most ambitious of the lot, “Especially Heinous,” all 12 seasons of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit are reimaged as a single, coherent tale, told with a paragraph to match each episode title. The result is a compelling story that shines a light on the horror of the television series while also creating its own unique standalone plot that is satisfyingly creepy and surreal. But no matter the specifics, the writing is always lyrical, the narration refreshingly direct, and the sex, abundant, and while the supernatural elements are not overt- there are no evil demons, vampires, or ghosts hiding in the corners waiting to jump out and scare you here-- every single one of these stories is terrifying. These are weird tales that present a slightly askew version of the world as we know it, and which after reading force us all, no matter our gender, to reconsider our current life choices and relationships. Readers who like the works of authors as varied as Roxanne Gay, Jeff Vandermeer and Karen Russell will find much to enjoy here.

Further Appeal: I didn’t really know how to mention this without making it seemed forced in the review, but there is a strong LGBTQ frame here, but like me not wanting to force it into the review, what I love about the gay issues here is that they are brought up naturally. The characters' sexual preferences are not classifiable or even static-- they just are what they are because that’s how the character feels. I really liked that part of the book.

I have to laugh, because this collection was categorized as horror when it was given to me for review in August-- and it is, or at least very dark fantasy-- but now that it is long listed for a major award, it has magically transformed into “Literary.” *sigh* Not Machado’s fault.

These stories are raw, frank, violent, and “weird,” but they are also beautiful and thought provoking. Despite the dark and serious subject matter, these are stories you want to read, and reread.

And seriously, even if you have never watched L&O: SVU, that novella is awesome! The story within the actual storylines of the show is one of the best things I have read in a while.

Three Words That Describe This Book: inventive, frank, thought-provoking

Readalikes: I think the three authors listed at the end of the review present a range of what you can expect from this collection. But please don’t forget the great work Jeff Vandermeer and his wife Ann have done promoting and publishing “Weird Fiction” throughout their careers.

Mary Rose.
Girard, Geoffrey (author).
Oct. 2017. 272p. Adaptive, paperback, $12.99 (9781945293368); e-book (9781945293450)
First published October 1, 2017 (Booklist).

One of Alfred Hitchcock’s biggest regrets is that he never had the chance to adapt J.M. Barrie’s ghost story, “Mary Rose,” into a dark thriller. But thankfully, Girard took up the cause bringing this forgotten story to the attention of a 21st Century audience. Simon, a Philadelphia lawyer and Mary Rose, a talented graphic designer are in love; however, a trip back to Mary Rose’s parent’s home in England, so Simon can ask for her hand in marriage, leads to a startling revelation. 20 years previously, while on holiday on a remote island in Scotland, Mary Rose disappeared into thin air...for 33 days! She reappeared unharmed with no memory of the event, but the experience has haunted her since. Simon, determined to figure out what really happened, returns with Mary Rose to the island, only to find it has a dark, magical hold on his fiance. In chapters that urgently alternate between Simon and Mary Rose’s points of view, this is a claustrophobic and terrifying tale, populated with horrors both real and imaginary, that starts with intense dread and continuously ratchets up from there, building to an intense climax with multiple, satisfying twists, and a chilling but beautiful ending. With its perfect blend of  the currently popular, domestic psychological suspense frame with a compelling, supernatural horror plot, Mary Rose is a ghost story for the ages and should be suggested to a wide range of readers, starting with those who love Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes, David Mitchell’s Slade House or even classic Straub.

Appeal: I have to say, I had no idea what to expect here and this book surprised me with how good it was. It is going to be enjoyed by a wide audience because of it’s similarity to the popular domestic suspense craze, but with the clearly supernatural frame, it is easy to book talk and make it stand out.

Also, the tie in to literary history is cool. That will hook other readers. Fans of J.M. Barrie or Hitchcock will want to read this. 

It was a good old fashioned, suspenseful ghost story. It was eerie and creepy with great characters and a compelling pace. Seriously, hand this out freely to lots of readers. 

Three Words That Describe This Book: shifting point of view, creepy, satisfying plot twists

Readalikes: Besides what is suggested above I would also suggest backlist Hall of Famers- The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson and the cult favorite House of Leaves by Daniel  

More recently, this book reminded me of The Darkling by R.B. Chesterton, another domestic psychological suspense with supernatural elements- although that one came out before we had this domestic suspense inundation.

Haunted Nights.

Datlow, Ellen (editor) and Lisa Morton (editor).
Oct. 2017. 368p. Anchor, paperback, $16.95 (9781101973837); e-book (9781101973844)First published October 1, 2017 (Booklist).

Internationally renowned Halloween expert, Lisa Morton has teamed up with award-winning editor, Ellen Datlow to solicit 16 brand new stories from members of the Horror Writers Association including New York Times best selling authors like Jonathan Maberry, Seanan McGuire, and Kelley Armstrong and critically acclaimed speculative fiction all-stars like John Langan, Stephen Graham Jones, and Jeffrey Ford. Their assignment, to honor the traditions of Halloween and celebrate the renaissance in the popularity of its literature by crafting a story to showcase why the holiday is the perfect fodder for a terrifying tale. And they have definitely succeeded as the entire collection from start to finish is solid and refreshing, featuring great stories that don’t resort to overused tropes, but more importantly, it is an example of the full breadth of what readers can expect from horror today-- from surreal to creepy to full blown, visceral terror. Of particular note is the not to miss story about a Halloween party gone terribly wrong by up-and-comer S.P. Miskowski, “We’re Never Inviting Amber Again.” Whether you use this book to assist you in your collection development or to suggest to patrons as the perfect holiday companion, Haunted Nights is a sure bet way to celebrate Halloween and its millenia-old history this year and for many more to come.

Appeal: I didn't give this one a star because honestly, it doesn't need it. You will and should buy this collection because it will be checked out often. Big name authors, acclaimed editors, and Halloween-- that’s all you need to know.

Put this on displays every October, yes, but also hand it out other times of year when you want a book to give people who want to give horror a try. This will showcase the range of the genre today and readers can pick and choose what they want.

This is a no-brainer add to every public library. It will be read and enjoyed by many.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Halloween, best-selling authors, genre overview

Readalikes: Besides other books by the authors included in the volume and books edited by Morton or Datlow, readers might want other Halloween themed reads. A few of my favorites in that category are:

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