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Friday, June 15, 2018

What I’m Reading: We Sold Our Souls and Cross Her Heart

The June issue of Booklist features two of my reviews of two high profile, high demand, forthcoming titles. As usual, I am posting my draft reviews here on the blog with bonus appeal and readalikes for you to more easily booktalk these titles to patrons and make readalike suggestion.

Let’s start with my star review!

We Sold Our Souls.

Hendrix, Grady (author).
Sept. 2018. 336p. Quirk, hardcover, $24.99  (9781683690122); Quirk, e-book (9781683690214)First published June 1, 2018 (Booklist).
With his third novel, best-selling author Hendrix brings his quirky sense of humor and pop culture references, but this time, he positions the fear front and center, in a terrifying tale that energetically flips the well worn, Faustian bargain trope on its head. Twenty years ago, Kris was the lead guitarist and creative force behind Dürt Würk, a heavy metal band about to break into the big time, but after a night no one can fully remember, the band tragically split, leaving the music behind, except for one member, Terry, who went on to become the biggest rockstar of his generation. Now washed up and empty inside at 47, Kris is barely holding it together, night managing a motel in working class Pennsylvania, until the morning a horrific murder makes her question the nefarious power behind Terry’s success, a dark power that may have come at the cost of Kris’ own soul. Inspired to take control of her life once again, Kris goes on a road trip from hell, one that reconnects her with old bandmates and puts her on a collision course with Terry, in Las Vegas, for Hellfire ‘19, an epic music festival of demonic proportions. No one is emerging from the desert unscathed, but no matter how high a mountain of horror she is up against, as long as Kris has her guitar, she might have just enough left in the tank to save us all. This is a fast paced, yet thought provoking ride, firmly rooted in the tradition of pulp horror from the end of the last century, but with fear and social criticism spawned from today, anchored by the terrifying implication that we are a society willing to sell our souls on of the cheap. Yes, this is Hendrix’s darkest novel yet, but it will leave readers begging for an encore.
Further Appeal: The frames of midlife regret, classic metal bands, huge music festivals, conspiracy theorists, and the social commentary about commercialism will appeal to many.

Selling your soul to the devil is one of the oldest stories in the Western storytelling tradition, but in Hendrix’s hands it get a refreshing twist, someone else is selling all of our souls, and we are fine with how cheap the price is.

This story is throughly entrenched in a 21st century sensibility but it also has the pulp feel of the classic paperbacks Hendrix combed through for his award winning Paperbacks From Hell. It’s not an homage, but you see the influence, in a good way. The climax also has a Lovecraftian feel, which like the pulps of the 1970s and 80s is also a huge horror trend right now.

One of the things Hendrix learned while doing his research for the nonfiction book was how much women drove those classic pulp novels. He talks about this at length in the book and his stage version of the book too. We Sold Our Souls is female driven. Kris is the focus. Kris is the strong one. Kris will save us all, even though we don’t necessarily want to be saved.

The fear here comes in ways traditional, the demons coming to get their payment and existential, midlife crisis, but one that isn’t your fault, but also in unexpected ways. Here’s an example, much like Joe Hill managed to make Christmas the scariest holiday ever, Hendrix turns the UPS van and it’s drivers into a terrifying army. Seriously, every time I see a UPS truck now, my heart races for a moment until I remind myself that it was novel-- a made up story-- that is making me feel real fear. That is success in horror terms. It is one of the main reasons why this book got a star. To make a reader, even a seasoned horror reader like myself, feel real fear when seeing a mundane object....that is AMAZING.

Finally, like all of Hendrix's novels, their is an underlying humor to everything here. I think you can see that from the idea of making UPS drivers terrifying. It is satire and black humor. It is wink and nod humor [the rehab place in the novel is  great example]. I could go on, but just make sure you read this one.

Three Words That Describe This Book: pulp, satire, terrifyingly realistic

Readalikes: This is hard because no one writes like Hendrix. Yes the old pulps, but this is way more sophisticated.  Parts of this books reminded me of parts of all 3 of Paul Tremblay’s novels, but only parts of each, not 1 totally.

The satire and epic scope of the story, with a great road trip storyline also reminded me of American Gods by Neil Gaiman, but We Sold Our Souls is not nearly as literary or detailed. It’s like the cliff notes version of that classic-- but in a good way. It’s fast paced and thought provoking.

There is a huge influx of music framed horror right now. It might be an emerging trend; for example, Black Mad Wheel by Josh Malerman and Corpsepaint by David Peak are two good recent examples.

Cross Her Heart.

Pinborough, Sarah (author).
Sept. 2018. 352p. Morrow, hardcover, $26.99  (9780062856791); e-book, $12.99  (9780062856814)First published June 1, 2018 (Booklist).
Pinborough [Behind Her Eyes] is back, aggressively taking on the deluge of domestic suspense titles, throwing down the gauntlet, and challenging all comers with her latest tension driven page turner. Opening with a prologue that announces in no uncertain terms that bad things are on the horizon, the story then pulls back to Lisa, a 40 yr old, slightly overprotective single mom of teenage daughter, Ava. She lives a quiet life in the suburbs, has a successful career and a supportive best friend, Marilyn. But, it quickly becomes apparent to that all three women are each hiding something from the others and the reader, especially Lisa. Someone is toying with Lisa, threatening to bring her horrifying past back from the dead and thrusting it into the spotlight, but who, and why? Narrated by Lisa, Ava, Marilyn and an extremely evil and obsessive antagonist, the anxiety builds relentlessly, clues and red herrings are revealed in excruciatingly small snippets, as both Lisa and the reader look over their shoulders waiting for the twist to come. But when it does arrive, no one will be ready. One of the most satisfying aspects here is that unlike most of the “girl” books being published today, Cross Her Heart is truly, honestly and unapologetically feminist, from top to bottom, a novel driven by the strong relationships between women, for better or worse. This will be an easy sell for fans of all domestic suspense but you should especially target fans of Liane Moriarty and Megan Abbott.
Further Appeal: Okay first things first, Behind Her Eyes had a supernatural twist at the end. This one does not. This is a scary and tense read, but it is grounded 100% in reality. It is the perfect example of how psychological suspense can be as scary as horror as long as you don’t need a speculative element to enjoy the story.

Don’t let the title fool you. This is like no “girl” book you have ever read-- in a good way. Women are the only actors here. There are a few men in the story, but they are window dressing. Women are good, women are bad, women are smart, women make dumb choices, etc... It is truly feminist because it shows the good and bad of women, their relationships, and their actions. No one is only a bad guy or a good guy here. No one is only a hero or only a victim. The shades of grey make this a more enjoyable story. Reading a domestic suspense story that doesn’t “talk down” to the reader, that assumes we are intelligent and can handle nuance, while still presenting a fast paced, suspense story was refreshing.

The time line here is fluid. We have chapters of “Then” and “Now,” but we aren’t exactly sure where we are in time. Don’t worry though, you are never confused. It all flows very well and keeps you moving, feeling uneasy, but still wanting to see where Pinborough will take you next. I couldn’t put this one down.

Three Words That Describe This Book: claustrophobic, anxiety, female relationships

Readalikes: The most nuanced and literary of the “girl” books of all domestic suspense is where you take these readers. So the examples above, as well as Gillian Flynn and Ruth Ware to start. Also Shirley Jackson. Shirley Jackson, 100% Shirley Jackson! We Have Always Lived in the Castle, go read that now if you haven’t. Cross Her Heart owes much to this classic.

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