LJ Best Books 2016

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Oh, the Horror! | The Reader’s Shelf, October 1, 2016

The desire for literary chills and thrills continues to grow in popularity, and an influx of fresh and frightening voices are ready to answer the call. Below are just some of the debuts that horror fans can look to this ­Halloween season.

rosesandrot2-jpg10316There are few universally frightening thehatching-jpg10316creatures, except, perhaps, for spiders. Ezekiel Boone preys off of arachnophobia in The Hatching (Atria. Jul. 2016. ISBN 9781501125041. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501125065), the first of a planned trilogy. Forget postapocalyptic, this is the apocalypse told as it happens with an ancient species of human-eating spiders as the world’s vector of destruction. It might sound hokey, but this is an original and terrifying tale told with plenty of action and a precision not seen in the vast majority of this subgenre. After readers turn the final page, they will be torn between running from every spider they see and eagerly awaiting the second series ­installment.

Boone’s creepy creatures emerged from the jungles of South America and that is just where a desperate actor heads to star in a secretive film in Kea Wilson’s ambitious We Eat Our Own (Scribner. Sept. 2016. ISBN 9781501128318. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501128332). This time, the threat comes from a director intent on getting the best shot for his realistic horror movie, no matter the cost. Based upon, and written as a deconstruction of the filming of the barbaric movie Cannibal Holocaust, Wilson’s novel uses multiple points of view from the cast and crew and a manipulated time line to crank up the terror past the point of no return. This is a gory and disorienting, yet thought-provoking and intriguing look at the cruelties of violence.

The pursuit of authentic art can involve less outright terror but still be unsettling and dangerous. Kat Howard proves the point in Roses and Rot (Saga: S. & S. May 2016. ISBN 9781481451161. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481451185), in which artistic prosperity has very real and dangerous consequences. Two estranged sisters, who have overcome abusive childhoods, are invited to a prestigious artists’ colony. Those who have attended before have found fame and fortune, but once the sisters arrive, they quickly realize that the retreat’s owners are connected to the fae and that achievement for one sister means directly contributing to the demise of the other. Is the cost too steep? The scary answer is, it may not be. This is a dark fantasy for fans of Neil Gaiman or Emma Bull’s classic War for the Oaks.

While Howard looks at the lives of fictional sisters, there is another real-life pair of siblings making their mark on the genre. Known as the “Sisters of Slaughter,” Michelle Garza and Melissa Lason are twins who have enjoyed notoriety from writing short stories. Mayan Blue (Sinister Grin. May 2016. ISBN 9781944044213. pap. $14.95) is their debut novel about a group of college students who go in search of their missing professor. It turns out that in his quest to learn more about the ancient Mayan Lord of Death, the teacher has opened a portal into the dangerous realm of ­Xibalba—and gone through. This fast-paced adventure seamlessly mixes Mayan mythology with a bloody, exciting race for survival.

The popular trend of adding sf elements to horror goes well beyond jumping through portals as is evident in G.A. Minton’s ­Trisomy XXI (World Castle. Jun. 2016. ISBN 9781629894447. pap. $13.99). Sixteen-year-old Joshua was born with the genetic mutation Trisomy XXI, or as it is more commonly called, Down syndrome. After a serious accident leaves him in a coma, Joshua is given an injection that not only wakes him up but imbues him with supernatural powers that are linked to weird deaths occurring all over town. Then an alien monster lands on Earth looking for Joshua and destroying everything in its path in the process. ­Minton offers up a compelling, frightening, and surprisingly touching genre blend that both horror and sf readers will enjoy.

Recently arriving aliens are one thing, but the residents of Black Springs, NY, have been up against a witch that has stalked their community since the 1600s in Hex (Tor. Apr. 2016. ISBN 9780765378804. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466864580). Over the years, the town leaders have sewn shut the witch’s eyes and mouth to lessen her abilities and worked with the government to seal off the town as much as possible. A tentative peace is established until a group of teenagers, armed with the bravado of youth and new technology, try to break the curse. Unfortunately, they have no idea what they’re facing. Finally out in English translation, Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt’s tightly plotted and frightening tale will speak to teens and adults who love the Blair Witch films.

This column was contributed by Becky Spratford, a Readers’ Advisory Specialist from Illinois. Get more horror recommendations from her at RA for All: Horror (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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