Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Five Overlooked Horror Books

Fans of genre literature can be an opinionated lot, and why shouldn't they be? They know what they like, and they aren't willing to settle for mediocre examples of their favorite type of book. Horror fans are no different. Everyone has tackled Stephen King, of course, and most hardcore horror fans burn out on Anne Rice and Dean Koontz pretty quickly. Here are five seriously spooky books we've uncovered that should satisfy the pickiest horror buffs and maybe even win over a few brave newcomers to the genre.

5) Carrion Comfort, by Dan Simmons
Simmons is perhaps best known for his ability to brilliantly blend themes to create historical novels with chilling and utterly convincing supernatural twists (The Terror, his retelling of the story of the real-life mystery of a vanished Arctic expedition, could have made this list), but this early work is straightforward horror of the best quality. Intimate and disturbing, this tale of unscrupulous and violent psychics and the innocent pawns who get caught in their machinations is the kind of story that works the nerves remorselessly.

4) Fevre Dream, by George R.R. Martin
Like Dan Simmons, Martin is not primarily recognized for contributions to the horror genre, but that fact just highlights how murky genre classifications can become. This atmospheric novel seems to borrow equally from Dracula and the film Angel Heart- its pre-Civil War South setting is unsettling all on its own, but the story of a river-boat captain's Faustian bargain with a mysterious benefactor, and Martin's distinct feel for character, mark this as a forgotten classic.

3) The Strain, by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan
Del Toro, the fantastically imaginative writer and director behind such movies as Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone, seems just as able when it comes to crafting suspenseful, creative books. With the help of veteran thriller writer Hogan, del Toro manages to both return the vampire to its rightful place as terrifying horror trope while also providing a fresh view of the fanged beastie- namely, vampirism as a virulent, highly contagious plague. By setting the outbreak in Manhattan, the authors make this book, the first in a trilogy, hit just close enough to home to be utterly, convincingly creepy.

2) Neverland, by Douglas Clegg
The creepy-kid cliche is rampant in horror films today, but only as a cheap gag to freak out adults. It usually works, but we won't go into the reasons why that might be the case. Very few novelists can effectively convey the way the world of a child can be daunting and filled with unique fears, but Clegg certainly does so here. Reality and illusion become dubious in this story of two young cousins and the deep-woods god they dub Lucy. When Lucy starts demanding ever-greater sacrifices, things get even weirder. This shivery book reads a bit like Lord of the Flies gone way wrong- and that's saying something.

1) The Monstrumologist, by Rick Yancey
Ostensibly, this is a young adult book, but it serves as excellent proof that even those books aimed at younger readers can be great- and genuinely scary- for adults, too. Yancey's tale of the young apprentice to a self-titled monstrumologist- a scientist specializing in the things that go bump in the night- is, in its elaborate prose and turn-of-the-century New England setting, a terrific homage to pulp writers, especially Lovecraft. The style should appeal to older readers, but it's the compelling characters and gruesome monsters that make this a spooky and addictive read for the budding horror fan. A hidden gem.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Five Ideas for Graduation Gifts

It's graduation season, and whether your graduate is leaving high school or college, finding a fitting gift can be tricky. After all, this is a big occasion, not something you can just fake your way through like a birthday (come on, we've all been there). There's a balance to be struck for sure- you don't want to head into saccharine territory, and you certainly don't want to risk spooking your graduate by treating them like a complete adult. Here are five books that we think make great additions to the library of any enterprising young soul.

5) Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke
While Rilke addressed these ten letters to a student aspiring to become a writer, the content of these insightful missives is almost universally applicable. He writes about the struggles and triumphs of being young with a humane, utterly sympathetic tone, and for anyone working to find their place in the world, an understanding voice can be very welcome.

4) A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy, by William B. Irvine
Whether or not you studied philosophy in school, everyone in some sense seeks a guiding philosophy upon which to build a life. In the fog of the post-grad daze, this can be a baffling exercise, but you could do worse than to take a page from the Stoics, who sought to free themselves from negative emotion. Heartening in its deceptive simplicity, Stoicism, and this brisk little book introducing it, can be a great asset in redefining a focus.

3) Everything I Need to Know I Learned from a Children's Book, by Anita Silvey
Graduation can be all about looking forward, but to anyone experiencing the unique anxiety attached to it ("senioritis," as it's known among the afflicted), looking back can feel far less daunting. And there's nothing wrong with a little nostalgia- Silvey's expansive book compiling anecdotes from a vast array of personalities celebrating the lasting value and pleasure of children's literature is eloquent testimony to that.

2) A Journal, by anyone
Let's face it, most people when they exit school are not hugely interested in writing anything more than they've had to. But at the risk of sounding preachy, keeping a journal of any sort can serve to get all the doubts, hopes, and miscellaneous thoughts out of an overly cluttered head. And you can't put a price on mental space.

1) Oh, the Places You'll Go!, by Dr. Seuss
Okay, okay, we admit it- just about everyone already gets this for graduation. A lot of us probably have multiple copies. But there's a reason that this book has become such a stand-by, and upon a rereading it, the book's ability to speak to the experience of the post-grad- or anyone striking off in a brave new direction- is uncanny and charming. Like Rilke, Seuss doesn't soften the blow- sometimes, things are rough- but keep your head and things work out. Good advice for all of us.

Monday, May 3, 2010

"Every human interaction was a psychological experiment..."

I opened this novel (Castle, by J. Robert Lennon) fully expecting it to occupy my reading schedule for at least a few days. I finished it in one sitting.

This is a classical psychological horror story with an unsettling, convincing modern twist. Told in straightforward, unadorned prose which disarms against the plot's twisty progression, this is, in part, the story of one man's uneasy confrontation with his past. Eric Loesch- brusque, unsentimental, and not particularly likable- returns to his withering hometown in upstate New York to purchase a heavily forested tract of land. He sets about renovating the property's farmhouse with an obsessed, steely determination. The clinical, almost dispassionate Loesch makes a grimly compelling narrator, and his disciplined manner makes the disquieting events that transpire all the more eerie. In the center of his woods, all but inaccessible to the outside world and completely obscured, Loesch discovers a ruined castle which does not appear to belong to him. Who it does belong to, and what purpose it serves, remains dubious.

As the novel unfolds, Loesch is forced to peel back the layers on his murky past, yet as the story becomes increasingly urgent, each new development widens the scope until it's almost impossible not to feel implicated. The book picks up, toward the end, genuinely unsettling political overtones, but it never once feels like a parable or a morality play. Lennon's subtle, insidious portrayal of one man's tragic confidence in authority is never belabored. The slow but fevered way in which truths are revealed builds to a nearly hallucinogenic conclusion, and the sense of malaise which creeps under the reader's skin lodges there for a good long while. A deft, unnerving work, and a great possibility for an adventurous book club.


Pre-Order Stieg Larsson's Latest

The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the concluding volume in Stieg Larsson's best-selling Millennium Trilogy, hits shelves on the 25th, and we'd love it if you snagged your copy from us! We'll be offering a 25% discount to anyone who reserves the book before its release later this month.

If you haven't already checked out this blockbuster series, it's really deserving of a look. Published posthumously by Swedish journalist Larsson, the trilogy is the thriller genre at its best, intelligent, taut, and populated by unforgettable characters. Both The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire are available now in paperback.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

We're Back!

In spite of whatever Luddite misgivings we may secretly (or not so secretly) harbor here at the Maine Coast Book Shop, we've lately been trying to maximize our internet exposure. It seemed like a good idea to revive our long-dormant blog.

Like most participants in the publishing world, the book store has faced some major upheavals over the past couple of years, and it's probably safe to say that we're currently at something of a crossroads, both as an individual and independent business and as a component of a larger industry. The arrival and rise in popularity of digital editions of books has of course been a factor in this atmosphere of change, but of more immediate concern to us as an independent bookstore is the presence of chain stores, who for diplomatic reasons shall remain nameless. (You know who they are.) The aggressive pricing and seemingly ubiquitous and insidious nature of these big-box stores have created an uncertain and sometimes discouraging environment in which small, independent stores are forced to compete. Publishers are forced to sell books at huge discounts, meaning that their profit margins drop across the board, and authors in turn are offered less profitable contracts. It's a difficult situation for everyone.

Handling the changes in store for the industry for us so far has been a matter of reinforcing what makes us unique. We're still working on making some changes to the store and strengthening those aspects of it that we feel are exemplary, and for the time being, negotiating our place in the grand scheme of things will be an ongoing endeavor. However, we have plenty of reasons to be optimistic, among them an extraordinarily loyal and appreciative customer base, for which we are eternally grateful. (You know who you are, too.)

That's the short version of our recent history. Keep an eye on this spot for all manner of miscellany- news about upcoming events, sales, notes about what we're reading, what our local book clubs are up to, and the occasional random observation.