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Wednesday, September 30, 2020

What I'm Reading: 31 Days of Horror Eve Edition

Today is the last  day of September which means starting tomorrow over on the horror blog, 31 Days of Horror begins. I have quite a bit of exciting content planned throughout the month of October but to get you ready, here are 3 horror reviews that are appearing in the October 1, 2020 issue of Booklist to get you ready. 

First up a star for a library favorite series. And let me tell you, I do not often give a star for a third book in a series, but this one deserves it.

Red Hands

by Christopher Golden

Ben Walker Series


A car crashes into a small town parade, a sick man emerges, killing everyone he touches, instantly. As Maeve Sinclair rushes the man, he passes the deadly touch on to her, the magnitude of which she only learns by accidentally killing her mother and brother before escaping into the mountains. With this intense opening, imbued with a sense of dread that relentlessly ratchets upward throughout, Ben Walker, weird science expert/ US Government commando, is called back from the involuntary retirement he earned in The Pandora Room to tasked with neutralizing the situation by both capturing Maeve, alive, with warring operatives on his heels. While this is clearly a pivot in the series as Walker is on American soil, working with a different team, and instead of battling a recently unearthed ancient contagion, he is fighting one the government resurrected on purpose, the way the story unfolds is reminiscent of previous outings. The neck whipping action and shifting point of view allows the reader to easily gain a wide angle perspective on the complicated, terrifying situation, invoking maximum terror on every page. Golden also leaves room for his diverse cast of characters to develop and inhabit the story fully, adding in an uncomfortable realization that this fictional story is not too far from reality. For fans of horror-thriller series like those by Jonathan Maberry and Mira Grant.

Further Appeal: This is a pivot for the series, but a pivot that makes it better. Ararat and Pandora Room were both excellent but the format-- Walker goes overseas to stop an ancient evil from being literally dug  up, before it is unleashed upon the world-- would have gotten old a third  time around. This time, the ancient evil has been in US hands and is mistakenly unleashed. This shift added energy and immediacy to an already terrifying, fast paced story. It kept  it fresh and surprising.

Walker’s evolution as a character and a man, commando, father, and human, has also been a side plot of the series. He is a complicated man with a good heart who doesn't always make the right personal choices. He continues to grow and be developed in interesting ways by Golden. This is very important in any series. If the protagonist gets stagnant, the series can die. Not here.

This is why I gave this book a star ultimately-- it invokes maximum terror on every page. Golden wrings it out of his prose but it also seems effortless. That effortless ability was amazing to watch unfold on the page. And the diverse cast of characters is standard for this series but Golden goes a step further and fleshes out all of the characters without sacrificing plot. For example, the baby sister and older scientist could have both been sidekicks or after thoughts, but they are so important to the plot and the emotion of the story. Golden gives their development the attention they deserve.

Three Words That Describe This Book: fast paced, terrifyingly realistic, intriguing frame

Readalikes: I mentioned 2 of the best horror-thriller series writers above, but tile in particular is a great choice for people who enjoyed The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson and Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay, click on titles to see my reviews of those titles with even more readalike options.

Halloween Season: Stories

By Lucy Snyder

Oct. 2020. 166p. Raw Dog Screaming, $14.95  (9781947879218)
First published September 1, 2020 (Booklist).

Snyder, a master at crafting visceral and unsettling stories that deeply probe Lovecraftian horror and dark fantasy, is back with a Halloween themed collection of 13 stories and two poems, perfectly packaged for library patrons.The volume opens with the visceral poem “Beggar’s Night,” which instantly creates an immersive sense of dread, setting the precise unnerving tone for what is to follow- character driven tales, intense emotions, with the threat of violence lurking behind every corner. Three stories in particular illustrate the range of stories and feelings readers can expect to experience. “Cosmic Cola,” a Lovecraftian homage; a cinematic tale of an annual corporate Halloween Eve party that is not as festive for the guests as it is for the hosts. “The Porcupine Boy,” the story of a young man running a medical advocate company, manages to walk the line between horrifying and oddly sweet without missing a beat. “In the Family” is an intense monologue that sucks the reader in, builds sympathy, and then yanks it away with one evil twist, a twist for which there is no escape. With a stunning cover sure to lure in readers during the haunting season, Snyder’s collection is the perfect compliment for fans of the book and now HBO series, Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff, as well as a solid suggestion for readers of her cosmic horror peers such as John Langan and Caitlin Kiernan.

Further Appeal: I think I captured the range of what to expect, but I also want to say that the range of gore, terror, and violence is also all over the map here- from subtle to escalating to intense to in your face.

I also wanted to share my note I took when reading the story Cosmic Cola: "This is awesome, cosmic horror goodness!" I want a sequel to this one.

This is a must purchase collection that can be read all year long, but should definitely be popular every October. And the cover is perfect for displays. It is by Lynne Hansen who I invited to participate the horror blog-a-thon.

Three Words That Describe This Book: immersive, Lovecraftian, uncomfortable 

Readalikes: I have three above, but really any critically acclaimed, horror story collection by a single author are a good choice here. I do think Karen Russell and Lauren Beukes have excellent horror adjacent collections that will also work.

And last  but definitely not least...

The Children of Red Peak 
by Craig DiLouie
Nov. 2020. 400p. Redhook, paper, $16.99  (9780316428132); e-book, $9.99 (9780316428118)First published October 1, 2020 (Booklist).

Bram Stoker Award nominated DiLouie [Suffer the Children] returns with a heart wrenching, thought provoking and terrifying tale about the meaning of life. In 2005, members of a religious cult committed suicide on top of Red Peak. Five children were the only survivors. But when the authorities rescued them, there were no bodies to be found...anywhere! Now as the 15th anniversary of this mysterious event approaches, one survivor commits suicide, forcing the others, and their unhealed, psychological wounds, back together. Told from the alternating perspectives of 3 survivors, both in the present and with flashbacks to their days living in “The Family” as children, a stylistic choice that provides the necessary background details, even illustrating the same events from different perspectives, all without sacrificing a compelling and steadily increasing pace that builds relentlessly until each is forced to confront their trauma in a climax that is both beautiful and terrifying. Utilizing true crime tropes and introducing historical, supernatural intrigue surrounding the mountain itself, DiLouie creates more than a typical “cult” thriller. This is an emotionally devastating, yet ultimately hopeful horror story about trauma, the healing power of love, family, and friendship, and the unexplainable forces, with unknownable motives, that surround us all. A great choice for fans of The Only Good Indians by Jones, Disappearance at Devil’s Rock by Tremblay or The Hunger by Katsu.

YA Statement: Teens will be fascinated by the story of a religious cult through the eyes of it’s tween and teen members. The overall themes of friendship, family, and overcoming adversity will also resonate with them.

Further Appeal: I feel like the marketing materials are not fair to this book, it is so much more complex and satisfying than a story of cult consequences. It is a book that is about faith more than anything else. And the ending was beautiful and terrifying, at the same time. Also about the ending, it is an open ending in the best kind of way. Open because the 4 survivors each make a different choice for different reasons, and each are correct for them, while not telling us if the supernatural force is good or evil. Furthermore, I don't think it matters, the book is still horror even if the force on the mountain is good.

I loved the way the story is structured, with the different povs and how they overlapped both in the present and the past. The growth of the characters is enhanced because we see them through their own eyes and the eyes of the others, both now and in the past. But also, the way DiLouie clusters chapters together with the same pov for a few chapters, then just when you are fully sucked in there is a cliff hanger for that character, but the thread is picked up with another pov. It keeps you reading, it adds detail, and keeps it all interesting because the characters are all so different. And then it all compresses as we race to the top of the mountain and the story’s conclusion.

Finally, the introduction of the cursed history of the place helped to enhance the dread and terror. I mean, we know that everyone but these survivors died, so the tone is clearly full of dread, but somehow, this "it happened multiple times before and since" true crime added element was a good addition.

Three Words That Describe This Book: Beautiful, Terrifying, Religious Cults


Readalikes: I listed only horror readalikes but this book has wide cross over appeal. For example, A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash or Joyce Carol Oates as well as true crime about cults.

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