Sunday, January 19, 2014

How to Find Horror Books at the Book Sale

Horror has become a funny genre, I've noticed, in the Panhandle. Some people are adamantly for it, some people are adamantly against it, and most don't know it's there. It's hard being a horror reader smack dab in the middle of the USA Bible Belt, but it exists. You just have to know what you are looking for, so if you are a horror reader like me and want something other than the big three : Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Anne Rice, then follow the leads I use when I go to book sales to sniff up some scary titles....

Please note, I know some horror fans like novels about serial killers. I am not one of them. I like monsters and ghosts. So, if you like monsters and ghosts, this is good for you. If you like serial killers, I'm going to suggest looking in the 'true crimes' section of your library for new titles. Dewey number is 364.

Ok... so it's less leads and more memorizing a few things, but it isn't painful, I promise.

1 . KNOW the authors

It's as simple as that. Do a Google search on horror authors and commit the names to memory even if you hadn't read one of their books before. Because if you can find one author, then you can look in the endnotes (located in the front AND back) for more horror authors. That's how they advertise them. Here's a short list of authors I scan for every time I hit up a booksale ....

Brian Keene    (splatterpunk)
Bentley Little
Robert McCammon
Chelsea Yarbro
Edward Lee    (splatterpunk)
Richard Laymon      (splatterpunk)
Tim Curran
John Saul
Sarah Pinborough

... there are a lot more, but those will definitely get you going in the right direction. 

The ones I've labelled with 'splatterpunk' - most of their work is in the splatterpunk genre. If you aren't familiar with what that is, it is extreme horror. It makes Stephen King's books look sweet and cuddly. So if King's stuff is scary enough, then splatterpunk is not where you want to go, and I would read passages from those authors before you buy. I personally enjoy a few, but I know it isn't for everyone. They can still lead you to authors who are not considered splatterpunk. Bizarro fiction is also a genre that isn't always for the weak of stomach. Not all bizarro fiction is gross though. If you notice either of those being used to describe a book, and you aren't sure if it is your thing, read a passage or look around for reviews. See which authors are endorsing it. Or, just take a chance ;)
2 . Use authors to find publishing companies; use publishing companies to find more authors.

Once upon a time, there was Leisure Horror which was a branch publishing company that brought out all scary books all the time. Unfortunately, they shut down the operation around 2008. Their main company 'Leisure Books' still puts out lots of work, but you won't see 'leisure horror' on any spines now. They publish
the Tim Curran and Brian Keene material (two authors I really recommend, by the way). TOR is a trusted name in science-fiction if space horror or dark fantasy is your thing.

 Once you find an author's work that you really like, look at their personal webpage or online and find out who publishes their material. If it is a smaller publishing company (not like B&T or Penguin), they will likely publish books that are similar to that author. Spend a few minutes clicking around and familiarizing yourself with the page. You'll be surprised sometimes by what you find.

3. Look for horror stereotypes

It is a horrible thing to say, but it is SO TRUE. Horror books are colored/designed in a way that makes them obvious. Look for dark colored spines - black is the most popular; also, dark blues and reds are popular. Look for titles - the publishers want their audience to find them, so the authors who are less well-known will give them horror related titles (i.e. "The Summoning" , "Dark Depths of the Soul" , "House on Black Street" , "The Midnight Hour" , "Attack of the Sewer Creatures"  --- you are welcome to use these random titles, by the way. If you write one, send me a copy!) The covers will depict typically scary scenes- for example, stormy weather, abandoned houses, claw marks, blood stains, and standard horror monsters. Or thematically 'scary' objects- for example, barbed wire, candles, torn photographs, broken glass. If you find a scary cover, quickly flip it around and read the back. It'll only take a few seconds. A lot of thrillers will also use scary imagery. More info on this in the FAQ below.

4. Flip to a couple random pages and search for keywords 

Ok, so you've found a book by a new author that looks scary and the summary is scary, but you still aren't sure if you found a true horror title or not. You don't want to end up with a forensics-laden thriller again. What do you do? - Simple. Open the book up to the first couple pages. Sometimes there is a juicy little spooky segment as part of the endnotes for you to read! If there isn't one of these, then flip open to a random page of the book and look for keywords .... words associated with gore (blood, entrails, disembowel, decapitate, strangle).... words associated with fear (chills, shivers, breathing fast, rapid heartbeat) .... words associated with monsters (hairy, drool, malevolent, colossal, unholy).... read a passage to get a feel for the book. This is also a handy tip for any book in general, especially if you plan to spend hard-earned money on it! Nothing's worse than paying for a book only to find that it totally stinks.


Why can't I just look on the spine? - the publishing companies mark books with 'romance' and 'thriller' etc. So shouldn't the horror ones be marked too? I don't need to know this stuff...
Uh huh. If you'll take a look at a lot of the popular horror you're reading, they don't mark them as 'horror' they are marked either as 'fiction' or 'thriller' (the former being even more vague than the later). For some reason 'horror' has become kind of a negative word, so older publications will have 'horror' but newer publications will only mark 'fiction' or 'thriller'.Some companies are getting to the point where 'horror' and 'thriller' are synonymous, because 'horror' only appeals to a small group of people and 'thriller' will attract a wider audience (those into mysteries, and true crime, and law, etc). So the rule of thumb is.... Horror are thrillers, but not all thrillers are horror.

What if I don't have a computer at home to find authors and publishers?If you're on a public computer seeing this, and aren't really comfortable searching for horror there, then definitely go to your public library and ask a librarian to help you locate horror titles and authors. They are trained to find titles and authors and subjects in a timely fashion! 

I tried using these tips, and still couldn't find anything!
I'm sorry about that. Remember, they are only tips. They aren't foolproof. If you still have trouble finding horror authors, go to your public library and ask a librarian.

Hey Swick.... V.C. Andrews....
I respect that some people like V.C. Andrews; I am not one of them, and I don't think her books should really belong in the 'horror' genre. That is my personal opinion.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

5 Books I Read in 2013 That Really Surprised Me

I have too precious time to waste on terrible books. I can be a really tough critic. I generally know what I'm getting into before I read a book, and I feel really bad when I say that I do judge books by their covers. But you know, some just fit the mold! The books below are books that I read this year where my first impressions of the book were completely wrong and I was surprised by what I found in them.


Most Surprising Fiction Read .....  And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

Earlier in 2013, I was bitching about how none of my friends really like to read the same things that I do, and my one friend Elyse,who is an avid reader, half of what she reads are romance novels. She resented that comment, and we did the calculations. Only a third of her reading material met the 'romance' genre, so I had to admit I was wrong. As punishment, I let her pick 10 books that I would read from her collection no ifs ands or buts about it. While she did pick a few romances to tease me, Elyse also picked this book because it was one of her favorites. And it was a huge and pleasant surprise to me. 

If you are unfamiliar, this is the classic whodunnit by Agatha Christie, a renowned modern mystery writer, about ten 'strangers' being invited out to an island for a holiday by an acquaintance they all know, and one by one each of those strangers start turning up dead. The killing theme is the nursery rhyme 'Ten Little Indians" (which this book is also known as) .... I would say that this novel is the epitome of the mystery and suspense genre. It is by far the most well-written. Just enough given on the characters for you to care about them, just enough detail where you can try to solve the mystery yourself, just enough twists and turns to keep you guessing, and then a shocker ending that not only do you not see coming but it makes perfect sense.

Since Elyse recommended this to me, I have recommended it in turn to many other people. I also might add that this is two years in a row that books Elyse has recommended to me have made it on my yearly 'Most Surprising' - we've been friends a long time, yes, but it just goes to show you you can never learn everything about a person no matter how hard you may try.


2013 was not a huge nonfiction year for me, and those who follow my Goodreads page will remember how late in the year it was that I read this title. Now, before you go mocking me saying that it is the only nonfiction read I really remember about this year - well, it's true- it is the only one really. But I'm not selecting it because I remember it clearly. I am selecting it because it has had the largest effect on me. It is just coincidental that I read it late in the year.

This book is written by a human cardiologist and recounts first a tale of where she is called in to a public zoo to try to perform heart surgery on a monkey (a tamarind, to be exact) .... at first, she's really puzzled as to why, but later one of her interns says something that changes her views forever - "Gee, these heart cells look a lot like human heart cells." - and therein lies the subject of the book "Human health and medicine is not all that different from animal health and medicine." For animal-lovers such as myself, this is not surprising, but a lot of the population are not aware that animal health and human health used to be practiced together- that there was a great division in the 1800s.... that physicians scorn veterinarians, and that veterinarians study both human and animal health, keep up with physicians' magazines, and still perform work on animals while making jokes like "What do you call a doctor that operates only on one species? -A physician." ... and why is that when animals suffer the same sort of ailments that humans do? This book have several outstanding essays that present great evidence that animals do indeed suffer from the same ailments that humans do, from cancers to mental illness and more, and proposes that physicians and veterinarians study together more often that the two disciplines can really learn a lot from each other. 


Most Surprising Youth Read ..... A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park

On my way to Albuquerque to visit my ex Felicia after her surgery, I picked up this little gem (in audiobook format) for no reason other than it was relatively short so I could finish it there and back, and that it is a Newbery award winner. I had been transferred to the youth desk a few months prior and I wanted to become more familiar with items in the youth collection. What better way than to read the books that have won awards that most will know about?

This book takes place in feudal Korea, and tells the story of an orphan boy named Tree-Ear who longs to become a potter... but because pottery is a trade passed from father to son and Tree-Ear has no father- this dream is near impossible for him to achieve. With a little determination and good fortune, Tree-Ear will eventually get his chance to become a potter's apprentice. Pottery is a revered artisan's craft in Korea and has been for centuries, so Linda Sue Park, I imagine, had to do a lot of homework to make the book historically accurate. If it is one thing I am a stickler about, it is that my historical fiction must be historically accurate, or in the case of speculative fiction, must have been historically possible. I had no idea what this book was about going into it, so you can imagine my surprise when I listened intently to this charming Oriental tale. I have recommended it to others since, and though it has been months since I heard it, I remember it with great detail. I guess you can say that this really stuck with me. 


Most Surprising Comic/Manga Read ...... Batman: Long Halloween

I've always been a Marvel Comics girl growing up. After I was introduced to manga (Thanks Dark Horse for the adaptation of  'Ah!Megami-sama!'), I quickly became interested in the X-Men series of comics, then Runaways, and now virtually every Marvel character there is. DC Comics has appealed to me (in particular, Batman) but I was a little intimidated by it because I wasn't sure where to begin. It's not as easy to jump into a DC Comic as it is a Marvel comic. I was glad they started the 'The New 52' campaign; that made starting characters a little easier for non-DC readers. One of my coworkers, Kevin, suggested that I start with Batman. Multiple movies have been made of Batman, all giving a clear depiction of his origin, and once you know that, you can basically leap in anywhere you like. I was a little hesitant, but decided to give it a try. When I told him I had actual written a college essay about the 2008 film The Dark Knight, Kevin said that this was the Batman comic I needed to start with then. This is the comic that the producers of 'The Dark Knight' adapted their screenplay from. I thought I knew what was going to happen in the comic already, and prepared myself not to be terribly impressed.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Long Halloween and its sequel Dark Victory are FAR superior to the movie which came from them. The Dark Knight is a cookie-cutter plot in comparison. I was pretty impressed with the movie to begin with. While the movie focuses primarily on Harvey Dent's slow descent into madness, The Long Halloween is filled with a beautiful Mafia subplot about the corruption within the corrupt families that rule the underworld of Gotham- how Harvey Dent got involved in trying to eradicate them, and how that involvement cost him his immortal soul. Yes, the Joker still makes his appearance and plays his place, but it is really more on a political and legal scale in the comic... and a mysterious new killer known as 'Holiday' who targets civilians, politicians, and villains alike. No one in Gotham in safe. Seriously, who can you trust?



Most Surprising Completely Terrible Read .....  The Shade of the Moon by Susan Beth Pfeffer

This is the final book in the 'Last Survivors' series by Susan Beth Pfeffer that started with 'Life As We Knew It' which was a great piece of juvenile speculative dystopian fiction about the havoc that the world would be in if forces in space caused the moon to come closer towards the Earth. The answer? Catastrophic tidal waves and earthquakes... flooding... and climate change. Devastation. The first book takes place in the Northeast USA and talks much about a family there trying to survive the chaos. The second book takes place in the New York City and centers around a different family. The third book unites those families, and then they head into Central USA. The fourth book shouldn't have been written.

Hypothetically, the last book takes place about... eight years after the events of the first book happen. By eight years, society has fallen apart and rebuilt itself... to look like every goddamn dystopian novel out there, and suddenly soccer has become an important cultural and political game. Cultural? I get that part. That's cool, but when the society depicted in the book is more focused on grooming better soccer players than teaching them about new agriculture and science and history. I couldn't take it seriously anymore. Plus, the main character, who was sweet and reasonable in the first three books, suddenly becomes a chauvinist brainless pig who is more interested in finding a woman who will tolerate his bullshit and make him sandwiches while he plays soccer for the government. It was completely unbearable.

Seriously, just stop after book three.