Monday, March 25, 2019

Justin Joschko's Top 10 Paranormal Books

My Top 10 Paranormal Books

I’m a bit of a jack-of-all-trades reader, in that I don’t have a favorite genre or one that I primarily read. However, when I became a teenager and transitioned from a casual reader to an avid reader, my first and greatest go-to author was Stephen King. If you made a pie chart of every book I read in high school, King’s slice would be about half the pie. So suffice it to say, I’ve got a soft spot for horror and paranormal fiction.

Below are my top 10 works of paranormal fiction (in no particular order), along with a brief reason why. But first, a couple caveats: my definition of paranormal overlaps with, but is not synonymous with, horror. I suppose technically any work of fantasy is “paranormal” in a sense, but to fit my definition, it’s got to be spooky, though not necessarily “horrific.” Also, I’ve limited myself to 2 King books to avoid oversaturation. I could populate a list twice as long with his work alone.

1. The Haunting of Hill House – Shirley Jackson: The ultimate haunted house story. Jackson intuitively grasped that stories of haunted places are less about ghosts than about the people who seek them out in the first place. Her characters are rich and darkly comic without succumbing to parody, her prose is without parallel. 

2. At the Mountains of Madness – H.P. Lovecraft: I had a hard time choosing one Lovecraft story, since the Cthulu mythos is really one extended and self-reinforcing body of work, but At the Mountains of Madness is as good a choice as any. William Dyer is a quintessential Lovecraftian protagonist, a scientist describing increasingly improbable and horrific discoveries with breathless erudition. However, Lovecraft’s work is driven by ideas, not characters, and there are a lot of them here, as he provides perhaps the richest depiction of his universe’s strange and frightful history.

3. Salem’s Lot – Stephen King: My vote for greatest vampire story ever written (fight me, Stoker fans!). King is the master of creating a rich and inviting small town with a rotten underbelly, and watching the townsfolk succumb to Barlow’s assault is terrifying. Bonus points for introducing Father Callahan, who would go on to great things in the Dark Tower (see below).

4. Monkey Beach – Eden Robinson: The story of Lisamarie Hill, a girl with strange powers that go largely unrealized for much of the book. The truly paranormal aspects don’t emerge until the final chapters, but the build on everything that came before in a very satisfying way. 

5. The Castle of Otranto – Horace Walpole: I love this book in no small part because it’s so ridiculous. In the opening pages, a major character is crushed to death by a giant helmet. A giant helmet! It only gets more bonkers form there. Widely credited with inventing the genre of gothic fiction. 

6. Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay: The most powerful parts of a novel are sometimes the parts that aren’t written, and Picnic at Hanging Rock is a great example of that. It’s never clear what happens to those girls or their teacher, and no explanation could top the sense of quiet foreboding the story generates in the explanation’s absence. 

7. The Kraken Wakes – John Wyndham: Wyndham wrote other books that hew closer to horror—The Midwich Cuckoos is probably the best example—but it was the Kraken Wakes that I found the most frightening. The sense of mounting hopelessness is palpable as the invading aliens thwart humanity’s every attempt to stop them. The ending is a bit Deus Ex Machina, but I think we as readers have become a bit too hard on that approach, which works in certain instances. This is one of them. 

8. House of Leaves - Mark Z. Danielewski: Generally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of experimental fiction. Too often it feels like a lot of window-dressing trying to distract from the fact that underneath it all, there’s not a lot of story there. But I also admire an author with the courage of their convictions, and boy, does Danielewski have that. House of Leaves has stories within stories, narrators upon narrators, and layers that grow and blend and double back on themselves, as geometrically complex—and impossible—as the eponymous house itself. 

9. World War Z – Max Brooks: I’m a fan of Studs Terkel and Svetlana Alexievich, and frankly I’m surprised no one capitalized on the strengths of their oral history format in genre fiction before Brooks came along (or maybe they did and I just didn’t notice). It’s a clever conceit, and one that infuses a scenario as fundamentally silly as a zombie apocalypse with a certain verisimilitude.  

10. The Dark Tower – Stephen King: The apotheosis of King novels, this 7 volume work (or 8, if you count The Wind through the Keyhole) isn’t simply a fantasy epic to rival Lord of the Rings. It also links together disparate threads of King’s other work, creating a grand metatextual tapestry that few other authors could manage. We all quibble with the ending, but honestly I’m not sure how any writer could’ve brought something so massive and powerful to a graceful stop. 

Iron Circle
Yellow Locust
Book Two

Justin Joschko

Genre: Science Fiction Dystopian

Publisher: Month9Books

Date of Publication: March 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948671-35-4

Number of pages: 305
Word Count: 367

Cover Artist: Danielle Doolittle

Book Description:

The path west is long, but despite Selena’s progress, New Canaan is never far enough behind her. It was there that her parents were killed, forcing her and her little brother Simon to flee the tyrannical state. Now, New Canaan wants control over  every last inch of America-That-Was. Only the Republic of California can stand against it—but not without the data stick in Selena’s pocket, rumored to contain vital information about New Canaan’s deadly new weapon.

As winter closes in, Selena races south in search of an open passage to the coast. She must pass through Nuevo Juarez, where a ruthless leader named Thorin has seized power. Selena runs afoul of Thorin’s men and is separated from her brother, captured, and auctioned off at the city’s thriving slave market.

Her only way out is through the Iron Circle, a fighting ring where the city’s most fearsome warriors pit their skills against one another. As the populace and Thorin watch Selena rise through the ranks, Selena earns a reputation she doesn’t want and the attention of man with the power to destroy her and what’s left of America-That-Was.


Selena grabbed her opponent’s left wrist. His skin was hot and clammy, its greasy expanse flecked with patches of flaky, dry crust. Suppressing her revulsion, Selena brought the man’s arm up behind his back and, with modest but steady pressure, eased him to his knees. The man obeyed without struggling. Whatever spirit his disease hadn’t eaten away had been beaten out of him by Thorin’s strongmen. He was defeated before he’d even entered the Iron Circle. The least Selena could do was signal this defeat gently.
She laid him on the ground and pressed his shoulders into the dirt. He seemed to get the message, for when she released him, he stood slowly, nodded at her in uncomprehending thanks, and scuttled out of the circle. She imagined he wouldn’t get far and would likely face his punishment in some other form. There was nothing she could do about that, but at least she wouldn’t be the one providing it. In recognition of this resolve, she stepped back and raised her arms to the crowd, beckoning their ire.
The crowd obliged, hurling incomprehensible epithets and pounding their fists on the railings. Selena ignored them, summoning her inborne Seraphim’s hauteur. She set her eyes instead on the clutch of fighters awaiting their own bouts, scanning for an ideal target. There was no shortage of options, but Selena was choosey. It would have to be someone who appeared unbeatable, and he would have to be among Los Hermanos.
One presented itself almost immediately. The Hermano who’d gestured obscenely at her before the fight was now tapping his friend on the chest with the back of his hand, signaling his derision at the spectacle before him. She scoped the topography of his muscles, sized up his potential speed and power, noted points of weakness: long hair and beard for easy grabbing, an offset knuckle that would weaken his left jab, a peculiar slope to his jaw hinting at an old break. He commanded respect from his peers, which meant he was good—but also meant he was cocky. Selena was good, too, and no one here had seen her fight.

About the Author:

Justin Joschko is an author from Niagara Falls, Ontario. His writing has appeared in newspapers and literary journals across Canada. Yellow Locust is his first novel. He currently lives in Ottawa with his wife and two children.

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