Halfway to Horror: Halloween Previews | The Reader’s Shelf, April 15, 2015

Ahh, April, the beginning of spring. Flowers budding, birds returning from their winter sojourn, and…time for monsters, hauntings, and havoc! Why not? Halloween is a mere six months away. Bring the holiday fun by promoting “Halfway to Halloween” with this collection of titles currently lurking in the stacks.

the keep42015rotandruin420152Readers looking for plenty of ambiance to set a horrific tone but without the gore can try Pulitzer Prize winner Jennifer Egan’s The Keep (Anchor. 2007. ISBN 9781400079742. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307386618). This gothic novel follows two estranged cousins who reunite to renovate an Eastern European castle. The combination of their strained relationship and the eerie edifice is atmospheric enough, but then Egan ups the ante with the addition of Ray, a convict in a prison writing program, who is the actual author of the cousins’ journey. The story-within-a-story frame presents an oppressive and anxiety-driven narrative that carries an intensifying sense of dread.

Although quiet and anxious terror can make an impact, there is something to be said for an all-out pulp fiction bloodfest, as long as it is accompanied by solid story­telling. In Castaways (Eraserhead. 2011. ISBN 9781936383931. pap. $11.95; ebk. ISBN 2940014008419), by Brian Keene, the contestants and crew of a Survivor-esque reality television show are caught in a fight for their lives as an indigenous tribe of murderous human monsters populates the island on which their games take place. Isolated even further by a violent storm, the characters are forced to switch from competing for prize money to battling for survival in Keene’s grisly and satirical page-turner.

While Keene is parodying current times, Sarah Pinborough has found inspiration for her disturbing stories hiding out in history. The first book of her “Dr. Thomas Bond” series, Mayhem (Jo Fletcher: Quercus. 2014. ISBN 9781623650865. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9781623658762. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781623650872), takes place during the same period as the activities of Jack the Ripper. Pinborough uses the dread of her setting to great advantage in telling an equally ghastly tale of another killer who stalked London, also leaving body parts of women strewn all over the city. This macabre, well-plotted, and gripping mystery offers an unsettling peek into the face of true evil.

Those who would rather look to the future than wallow in the past might turn to Jonathan Maberry’s critically acclaimed and compelling near-future, post–zombie apocalypse YA series beginning with Rot & Ruin (S. & S. Books for Young Readers. 2001. ISBN 9781442402324. $17.99; pap. ISBN 9781442402331. $11.99; ebk. ISBN 9781442402348). Benny lives in a safe zone where the law dictates that every person age 15 and a half must select an occupation in order to contribute to society. Nearing his deadline, Benny accompanies his brother, a bounty hunter, outside the safe zone to see what that job is like. The decision turns Benny’s entire life upside down—not just because he has to combat hordes of ­zombies, but because he is forced to confront his own preconceived notions about the only world he has ever known.

The best horror stories of the last ten years are those in Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s graphic novel series “Locke and Key,” which starts with Welcome to Lovecraft (IDW. 2008. ISBN 9781600102370. $24.99; pap. ISBN 9781600103841. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781600102370). The Locke children are typical 21st-century kids. Well, except that their father was murdered, their mother is finding solace in alcohol, and a wicked, supernatural being has been trying to destroy their family for generations. The Lockes live in a creepy, secluded historic home filled with hidden keys that do magical and dangerous things. The children collect the keys and learn how to harness their powers, leading to an epic showdown. The series combines a realistic and chilling plot with fantastic characters and art that is both beautiful and scary.

In Scott Smith’s The Ruins (Vintage. 2008. ISBN 9780307390271. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307266040), four American friends vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, meet a German tourist who enlists them in the search for his brother, who went missing on a trip to the Mayan ruins. Despite warnings from the locals, the five climb an ominous hill covered in flowering plants—a hill that ends up holding them captive. Forced into a mortal struggle with a monster, they soon regret their decision to enter the jungle. Smith’s petrifying, original, and gruesome story never lets up and is sure to make readers regard even the most common of houseplants with a touch of fear.

This column was contributed by Becky Spratford, a Readers’ Advisory and Teen Librarian at the Berwyn Public Library, IL. She is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Horror, 2d ed. (ALA Editions, 2012), and a proud member of the Horror Writers Association. For more horror suggestions from Spratford, visit raforallhorror.blogspot.com

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ’s online feature Wyatt’s World and is the author of The Readers’ Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers’ advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader’s Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net

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Neal Wyatt About Neal Wyatt

Neal Wyatt compiles LJ's online feature Wyatt's World and is the author of The Readers' Advisory Guide to Nonfiction (ALA Editions, 2007). She is a collection development and readers' advisory librarian from Virginia. Those interested in contributing to The Reader's Shelf should contact her directly at Readers_Shelf@comcast.net