New Fiction: Black Mad Box – Josh Malerman

Detroit-based indie rocker Malerman became an artistic double-threat with his well-received suspense debut, Bird Box. To me that book recalled the chilly, restrained horror of Shirley Jackson. USA Today thought it was “Hitchcockian. . . A notably strong study of modern psychological terror.” Either way, not bad company for debut author.

With this second book, it’s clear that Malerman is both a genre fan and that he’s not out to write the same book twice. This one starts in post WWII Detroit and follows a band called the Danes, who are all WWII vets. The Army approaches the Danes to track down the source of a mysterious and deadly sound in the desert half a world away. Suspense, conspiracies, supernatural horror—and even romance—ensue. Fans of Stephen King and 1950’s adventure pulp will love it.

In a genre not known for restraint, his uncluttered prose evokes awe and terror, and resonates with the chilling strangeness encountered in the fiction of 20th-century writers Robert Aickman and Shirley Jackson. Readers of weird, atmospheric fiction with a conspiratorial bent will enjoy Malerman’s latest offering.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“[C]ompletely unpredictable and utterly bizarre in all the best ways. Fans of off-the-wall fiction will enjoy this, and horror fans would do well to pick it up for some truly terrifying moments.”
Booklist

“Malerman’s striking originality can’t be denied. Dark, brooding, and slightly unhinged, Malerman’s unusually compelling second novel is certifiably unlike any you’ll read this year.”
Kirkus

Black Mad Wheel (9780062259684) by Josh Malerman. $26.99 hardcover. 5/23/17 on sale

 

 

Book of the Week: The Fireman – Joe Hill

Horror writer Joe Hill is no stranger to the bestseller lists but with this fast-paced, cheeky dystopian epic I think we can expect him to arrive early and stay awhile. Hill’s fans are a devoted bunch and the Indies have always been among the biggest supporters of his next-wave commercial horror. But his admirers also include fellow writers like Michael Koryta who says he is “[q]uite simply the best horror writer of our generation.”

The Washington Post has already run a brief early review which notes that “Hill’s witty sense of fun permeates the novel’s larger themes of prejudice and redemption, making the book’s 700-plus pages a surprisingly quick read.”

Morrow has done a great teaser trailer that offers a visual summary of the broad strokes of the plot.

Like many a horror epic before it (Stephen King’s The Stand comes to mind), The Fireman pits a small group of individuals against a dark force—in this case a virus threatening to wipe out humanity. This particular virus causes people to spontaneously combust but the bigger threat might be human beings themselves–the fearful communities that seek to save themselves by shunning outsiders and the unknown. That Hill does this with such narrative wit is one of his distinctive talents. And in this election year, it was not hard for this reader to also see an allegory about the risks of reactionary isolationism in a dangerous world.

The Fireman received three starred reviews from the major advance periodicals and I’ll let those reviews offer more plot details. At on sale reviews are scheduled in New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, New York, Time, the Wall Street Journal and the LA Review of Books.

“In Hill’s superb supernatural thriller, the world is falling apart in a maelstrom of flame and fury. A spore dubbed Dragonscale infects people, draws patterns on their skin, and eventually makes them spontaneously combust—and it’s rapidly spreading….Hill has followed 2013’s NOS4A2 with a tremendous, heartrending epic of bravery and love set in a fully realized and terrifying apocalyptic world, where hope lies in the simplest of gestures and the fullest of hearts.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Like his father, Stephen King, Hill has a talent for depicting fascinating characters caught in terrible situations….With a full cast of characters and multiple story lines to keep the reader hooked, Hill’s enthralling fourth thriller hits another home run.”
Library Journal (starred review)

[R]eaders will be hard-pressed to stop turning the pages. Add in the well-developed cast of characters (both good and evil), fun pop-culture references, and a satisfying but open ended conclusion, and the story becomes infectious…an excellent example of the very best that genre fiction has to offer readers today.”
Booklist (starred review)

 “Joe Hill can truly do no wrong. His newest novel nods to his father’s epic, The Stand, but approaches the fallout of a worldwide epidemic from a thoroughly modern viewpoint. As a nurse, Harper Grayson is in a position to help when a contagion that causes spontaneous combustion sweeps the world, dividing people into the infected, and the fearful non-infected. Without a clear understanding of how the illness is spread and wildfires beginning to decimate swaths of civilization, populations panic and extermination crews begin to wipe out carriers. Having become infected herself with the ‘dragonscale’ a pregnant Harper is forced to flee her uninfected husband Jakob. With the help of the mysterious Fireman, Harper makes it to a hidden band of dragonscale survivors who have learned to tap into the illness to prevent combustion. But with the danger from healthy marauders and the increasingly cult-like feel of her new community, Harper is far from feeling secure for the future of her child. I couldn’t put The Fireman down!”
— Whitney Spotts, Schuler Books and Music, East Lansing, MI

5/11/16 Update: The NYT weighs in

“[The Fireman] reaffirms [Hill’s] gifts for riveting attention and pushing genre conventions to new extremes. This may be the first horror novel to turn its heroine’s singing (“A Spoonful of Sugar”) and quoting Mary Poppins (“spit spot”) into new ways to make the skin crawl… The Fireman is big. It creates an alluringly weird world. It has a highly developed code of honor, not to mention an ever-surprising lineup of surreal tricks its characters can pull. And it thrives on fear, but has hope at heart.”

The Fireman (9780062200631) by Joe Hill. $28.99 hardcover. 5/17/16 one day laydown.

New Fiction: Lovecraft Country – Matt Ruff

Oh, Matt Ruff! Booksellers who have hand sold his work know that potential customers go one of two ways: Those who politely say, “That’s different” and pick up something else—and those who say “Whaaaaat??!!” and become fans for life. Count me in the second category.

To get a sense of the kind of weird we’re dealing with here, consider some of his previous books:

  • Set This House in Order — A coming of age story from inside the head of a young man with multiple personality disorder who is living with over one hundred different people inside him.
  • Bad Monkeys — A paranoid psychological thriller about a world of deadly secret societies surrounding our everyday lives that reads like Nancy Drew on LSD.
  • The Mirage — An alternate history conspiracy novel that tells the story of a 9/11 where North American Christian fundamentalists hijack four Arabian jetliners and fly into the Tigris & Euphrates World Trade Towers. (Uh huh.)

This new novel will likewise expand your mind and set your sense of perspective on end. It takes place in 1950’s Jim Crow America and involves a travel guide published for African Americans that helped them find food and lodging in an often inhospitable U.S. This is a dark fantasy so at the heart of this novel are true Lovecraftian horrors—but it’s no accident that they are stirred in with the real-life terrors of life in the 1950’s for our African American heroes.

This timely rumination on racism in America refracts an African-American family’s brush….Ruff has an impressive grasp of classic horror themes, but the most unsettling aspects of his novel are the everyday experiences of bigotry that intensify the Turners’ encounters with the supernatural. Readers will appreciate the irony of how the Turners’ conditioning in enduring racial bias empowers them to master more macabre challenges.”
— Publishers Weekly

“Genuinely spooky… But the real horror is the reality of life for African-Americans in the Jim Crow era… sparks the imagination while also igniting the reader’s empathy.”
— Library Journal

“Another ‘only Matt Ruff could do this’ production. Lovecraft Country takes the unlikeliest of premises and spins it into a funny, fast, exciting and affecting read.”
— Neal Stephenson

“A brilliantly conceived story brilliantly executed. In Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff renders a very high-concept, imaginary world with such vividness that you can’t help but feel it’s disturbingly real.”
— Christopher Moore

“Matt Ruff is one of our most imaginative living writers, and Lovecraft Country is simply amazing. It’s the story of two African-American families in the Jim Crow era, dealing with terrors both supernatural and man-made. Ruff is a master at creating clever, sympathetic underdog characters who triumph – mostly – over their enemies, and his sharp wit and brilliant world-building make his books delightful to read while leaving you with plenty of food for thought.”
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, MI

 

Publicity: A Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay

Just out last week with on sale review coverage really shaping up; keep an eye on this one. Here’s the latest:

“[T]book is not your typical tale of the supernatural. Instead, it smartly, viscerally exposes the way mass media, the Internet, and pop culture have transformed our experience of that primal human impulse, horror….

“In essence, A Head Full of Ghosts is a book about a book about a TV show about a real-life event whose facts have never been fully established, with running meta-commentary by a blog that bears its own secret agenda. On top of that, it’s told by an eyewitness whose reliability is just as problematic. And the blog entries themselves? They’re virtuoso pieces of pop-culture critique that simultaneously exemplify and spoof the entire idea of pop-culture critique. Tremblay not only keeps this tangle straight, he renders it progressively gripping and suspenseful — and his ultimate, bloodcurdling revelation is as sickeningly satisfying as it is masterful.”
Jason Heller, NPR

“Like Flynn, Paul Tremblay delivers a twisty, jolting funride born from a definite, coherent point of view. Ghosts has something resonant to say about our current culture….Embrace or ignore the ‘horror’ designation, just don’t let it keep you away. A Head Full of Ghosts is so, so smart and about the most fun read I’ve come across in a while…probably since I read Gone Girl.”
Blog post from The Booksellers at Laurelwood, Memphis, TN

A Head Full of Ghosts (9780062363237) by Paul Tremblay. $25.99 hardcover. 6/2/15 on sale.

Book of the Week: A Head Full of Ghosts – Paul Tremblay

As much as I love discovering a great book to take out to booksellers, I love it even more when they discover a book and bring it to me.

That’s the case with A Head Full of Ghosts. I paid attention when Joe Hill and Neil Gaiman’s editor called this book “The Shining meets The Yellow Wallpaper.” But I hadn’t read it before the galleys went out in the ABA White Box. Booksellers quickly picked up this stylish exercise in literary horror and started writing me almost immediately.

First in was a favorite and trusted correspondent, Karen Tallant at The Booksellers of Laurelwood in Memphis:

“As you know, I’m a fan of horror, and a terribly picky snob about what I see as an important and ill-treated arm of fiction….[ A Head Full of Ghosts] is a brilliant presentation of a psychic and psychological breakdown of the first order; something reminiscent of both William Peter Blatty and Shirley Jackson….

Is Marjorie schizophrenic or is she possessed? Dad, who falls back on his religious upbringing in the face of long-term unemployment and fear over what’s happening to his oldest child, calls in a local priest.  The priest, seemingly playing his own agenda, calls in a production company and the family ends up on a reality show called The Possession.

“And that’s the existential cherry-on-top: modern media and communications make this completely different from anything Blatty has given us.  There is no patriarchal hero coming in to rescue Marjorie. There is the damning indictment on a society too full of voyeurism and knowledge without wisdom. And there’s the persistent uncertainty of Marjorie’s true condition. Any way you choose to look at it, this child is imperiled by evil. I lost a full night’s sleep pondering the existential questions an information society imposes upon us all.”

And from Bill Carl now at Willow Books in Action, MA–a bookseller who is also an author:

[This] is the kind of scary novel that has more on its mind than just the scares. When a family believes their eldest daughter is possessed, they allow a reality TV show to document and air a program detailing their trauma. But is Marjorie actually possessed? Could she be seeking out attention or actually developing schizophrenia? As seen through the eyes of her eight-year-old sister, the answers aren’t always easy . . . even when the sister is an adult, looking back on her experience of watching her older sister fall apart and trying to make sense of what happened through the tropes of horror films and gothic literature. This meta aspect of the novel will appeal to many (as we have seen The Exorcist and we all understand its trappings), but Tremblay offers us even more. We see a family torn apart by forces beyond their control . . . whether they be supernatural or not. Can any family survive such an onslaught? The incredibly fast-paced and extremely creepy (without ever resorting to cheap gore) novel will appeal to many different readers, but especially those who love The Yellow Wallpaper or House of Leaves. It’s a spooky story, but with a tragic, heart-felt difference. What a book!”

A Head Full of Ghosts was soooooo good I had to keep going and it was completely worth it. I loved the blurry line between possession and mental illness. I loved the broken father, broken home theme that pulls on you throughout. That in itself is scarier than any of the Exorcism-style-spooks. This was such an interesting look at so many issues thrust right into the public eye and how impossible it is to deal with that. I want to say it was delightful, but I’m going to have to admit it was disturbing in the best way. Fantastic.”
— Brittany Jackson, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Lexington, KY

No surprise that this is an Indie Next pick. It also caught the eye of reviewers. PW gave it the rare starred and boxed review; other advance review outlets also raved.

[Is] Marjorie really channeling a creature of supernatural evil, or is she just good at Internet research, which keeps her one step ahead of her gullible parents and doctors? …Tremblay paints a believable portrait of a family in extremis emotionally as it attempts to cope with the unthinkable, but at the same time he slyly suggests that in a culture where the wall between reality and acting has eroded, even the make-believe might seem credible. Whether psychological or supernatural, this is a work of deviously subtle horror.”
Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)

“When a teenager exhibits early signs of schizophrenia, her parents turn not to traditional psychiatry but to a Catholic priest determined to drive out demons and a sleazy reality TV show eager to get the whole fiasco on tape….[Y]et, instead of capturing the “truth,” an even more elaborate fiction began to play out, with deadly consequences. As the adult Merry’s memories clash with the televised version of events leading up to the climactic final episode of The Possession—it’s not spoiling too much to say that everything that could go wrong does—readers will begin to question if anyone in the house is truly sane. Tremblay expertly ratchets up the suspense until the tension is almost at its breaking point.”
Kirkus Reviews

A Head Full of Ghosts (9780062363237) by Paul Tremblay. $25.99 hardcover. 6/2/15 on sale.

 

Book of the Week: Positive – David Wellington

One of the pleasures of a having job where you’re tasked with reading pretty much everything that crosses your desk is that you develop an eclectic appreciation of good writing. And while I might lean towards the literary in my personal tastes, it’s always a blast to see a genre writer operating at top form.

That’s by way of saying this is one fantastic zombie road novel.

Wellington has been doing good genre work for a while. Vampires, werewolves, zombies and genetically modified super killers are all part of his tool kit. In this new take on the zombie apocalypse, infection involves a potentially years-long incubation period. So what’s left of society lives in walled enclaves and the bitten are tattooed “positive” then moved to internment camps. When our teen hero Finn is infected and misses his ride to the government camp, he’s abandoned outside the walls of the city in a landscape where the human outcasts are at least as dangerous as the zombies.

And thus we get the set up for an inventive, action-packed, coming-of-age road story. Neither as ponderous as The Passage nor as dark as The Strain, fans of the genre will welcome this inventive, original take on a classic genre story. Hopefully, two starred advance reviews prefigure some serious review attention at on sale; this guy’s ready for his break out.

“Like The Walking Dead, the book uses the zombie apocalypse as a backdrop for a gripping story about the shattering of human society—the real villains here aren’t the zombies but rather the road pirates, looters, religious cultists, and other groups that have sprung up in the 20 years since the ‘crisis.’ Wellington’s most ambitious book is also his best, written with a maturity and compassion indicative of a writer who’s found the story he was made to tell. Zombie groupies will eat this one up, but it should also be recommended to readers of all epic-scale fantasy.”
Booklist (starred review)

If John Wyndham had written a zombie novel, it might very well have resembled Wellington’s clever apocalyptic thriller….Finn’s personal growth is plausible as he grapples with the ethics of survival, and the story displays an imagination familiar to fans of Wellington’s Chimera.”
Publishers Weekly

“Born after the epidemic that created the zombie outbreak, 19-year-old Finn grew up in the walled city of New York, listening to his parents’ stories of life before the apocalypse. Despite every precaution, the zombie infection can incubate for years and sometimes people still turn. One day Finn’s mother does just that. Finn is then declared a “positive,” tattooed and exiled from New York. He is forced to make his way in the lawless places beyond the city’s walls, facing looters, government forces trying to round up positives, and the ruthless members of a growing death cult…. Finn’s journey has an epic scale that seems destined for movie screens.”
Library Journal (starred review)

Positive (9780062315373) by David Wellington. $26.99 hardcover. 4/21/15 on sale.

 

Series of the Week: The Strain Trilogy

This bookseller favorite, bestselling horror trilogy is about to a get a whole new life on FX this summer. The TV series debuts July 13th and looks scary as hell! We expect it to jumpstart book sales and are issuing a special mass market tie-in series. Check out the trailer below and be sure you’ve got the new mass markets FOS.

 

Catch all the teaser trailers on FX.

The Strain Trilogy by Guillermo Del Toro and Chuck Hogan. $9.99 each mass market. 6/3/14 on sale.