Halfway to Halloween | The Reader’s Shelf

While spring breaks forth and gardening books take center stage, keep in mind that Halloween is coming. For collections that need some weeding and reseeding, here are titles worth adding. They range from a second look at a classic to voices fresh and familiar.

Many of today’s best horror writers ply their trade through short stories. Bram Stoker Award–winning author and editor Eric J. Guignard helps readers find these gems with a new series. The first installment is ­Exploring Dark Short Fiction: A Primer to Steve Rasnic Tem (Dark Moon. 2017. ISBN 9780998827520. pap. $13.95; ebk. ISBN 9780998827537), a fascinating study for fans seeking new reads and for librarians developing wide-ranging collections. The endeavor also includes expert commentary, critical essays, and original artwork. Volumes focused on Kaaron Warren, Nisi Shawl, and Jeffrey Ford are forthcoming.

Best-selling author Grady Hendrix contemplates the position of classic horror in the critically acclaimed Paperbacks from Hell: The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction (Quirk. 2017. ISBN 9781594749810. pap. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781594749827). With chapters that address such beloved concepts as vampires, demonic possession, and creepy kids, the heavily illustrated book is packed with image after image of zany, pulp-y book covers from the era. Hendrix offers thoughtful and compelling discussions of these novels and articulates their enduring appeal. Biographies of authors (some still famous and some lost to the decades) are also provided. While serving as a fine resource for readers—especially those searching for the books of their youth or wanting to pick up ones they missed—this guide is also a joy ­owing to Hendrix’s ­infectious enthusiasm.

Stephen Kozeniewski’s skillful sf and horror blend The Hematophages (Sinister Grin. 2017. ISBN 9781944044558. pap. $15.99) chronicles the world of Paige Ambroziak. An academic who has never left her space outpost, Paige joins a team sent to find a lost ship that has been adrift for hundreds of years. Discovering more than that, the crew stumble upon the deadly hematophages, beings that feast upon the insides of their victims and have acquired an acute taste for human brains. Immediate and acerbic first-person narration mixes with terrifying scenes, strong science, and excellent worldbuilding, which all enhance the fast pace of this gross and great read.

A rising star of the weird fiction subgenre, Nadia Bulkin intrigues with her debut story compilation, She Said Destroy (Word Horde. 2017. ISBN 9781939905338. pap. $16.99; ebk. ISBN 9781939905345). It features tales in which supernatural frights and real-world dread collide with power-hungry dictators, haunted hotels, cursed children, murderous monsters, bullies, “the final girl” trope, and much more. The author’s international upbringing and studies play out on the page; her stories weigh differing perspectives, give powerful voice to the forgotten, and find horror in experiences both extraordinary and mundane. In her hands, terror comes from the underlying truth that these stories are firmly rooted in the circumstances of our current society. Already the winner of Shirley Jackson and World Fantasy awards, Bulkin is an author not to be missed.

Savage Woods (Lyrical Underground. 2017. ISBN 9781601837516. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781601837509) by Mary ­SanGiovanni takes place in the forest of the eerie and haunted Pine Barrens of New Jersey. The landscape offers little sanctuary, but when Julia Russo’s raging ex forces her off the road, she must flee into the trees—an action that sends the police in after her. A master of cosmic horror, SanGiovanni evokes a Lovecraftian sensibility in this action-filled story in which ancient spirits rule the woods where Julia must now survive. Scary, suspenseful, smart, and gory, the novel is also beautifully set and described, with the forest becoming something of a second character.

The haunted mythology behind the deep, dark woods is a well-mined idea, but author Christopher Golden takes the fear even deeper—and into an icy cave—with Ararat (St. Martin’s. 2017. ISBN 9781250117052. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250117069), a story rooted in the Old Testament. Suspecting that they have at last found the remains of Noah’s Ark, a team of researchers climb to the top of a frosty mountain to extract its possible religious and historical treasures. They instead provoke a creature that has been waiting for centuries for new prey to arrive. The highly effective thrills of the narrative fuse with rapid plotting, plenty of tension, and high stakes. The result is a novel that will hook readers cold.

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

This column was contributed by Becky Spratford, a Readers’ Advisor in Illinois. 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. Learn more about her at raforall.blogspot.com

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