Welcome to Shelf Care, where I review three books related by a theme. These aren’t necessarily the latest releases, but are hopefully books you can’t believe you missed.

This column’s theme: B is for B-Movie; books where the plot isn’t enough for a Pulitzer, but more than enough to to keep a movie in theaters all summer. One could easily classify these books as “beach reads”, yet each of these brings just a little something extra to the mix, such that you could totally see it being adapted in to a cost-conscious movie. So with that in mind, grab some popcorn and stick around until the credits roll on the following features.

So if you like

Zombies
Science fiction
Horror movies of the 80’s

You might like

Dead Moon, by Peter Clines

Where the movie adaptation will be compared to:

Everything John Carpenter ever made.

Overview

Using the moon as a graveyard wasn’t a problem…until they all start coming back.

Sample passage

“They’re everywhere.” Anna’s voice had a brittle, crackling edge. “I think they’re all around the base.”

“How?” muttered Jake. He tipped his helmet forward to look down at the crowd below. “How did they get here so fast?”

“We’ll figure it out later,” Waghid said. “Let’s finish loading the buggies and get going to Luna City. Plenty of time to talk on the way.”

Jake watched the horde of corpses. He could see Daniel in the crowd. The preacher looked up at him with frozen eyes. “Boss,” said Jake. “We have to go now.”

“We’re almost ready,” said Waghid. “Do you think you can sit tight for another twenty minutes or so?”

“No,” said Jake. “Now. Right now.”

“What’s up?”

“These things,” he said, “whatever they are … they’re not stupid. They didn’t rip open anyone’s spacesuits. They just opened the seals.”

Waghid made a quick sputtering noise. “What?”

“You heard me. Right now there’s fifty or sixty around each docking hallway. I think if they get a sense of people going back and forth to the buggies, they might figure out what’s going on and uncouple them.”

Takeaway

This book felt like a love letter to 80’s horror movies, and it’s so well done in that vein that I’d argue it’s the best horror movie John Carpenter never made. There elements here that reminded me of a bunch of movies, but put together in a way that it definitely feels more like an homage than anything derivative (consider the tone of Stranger Things, without the 80’s references and coming of age elements, and you’ll get the picture). Plotwise, it’s very straightforward. The moon has been used as a graveyard for decades, clients start re-animating and it’s a scramble for survival, made trickier by the unforgiving conditions outside, and in typical Clines fashion, once you think know what’s going to happen and it’s only a question of when, there’s a twist halfway through the book that makes the protagonists realize there’s a lot more to worry about.

Or if you like

Assassins working for an agency.
How-to guides.
Over-the-top action, like David Wong’s Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits

You might like

The Intern’s Handbook: A Thriller, by Shane Kuhn

Where the movie adaptation will be compared to:

Grosse Point Blank (1997)
Wanted (2008)
Mayhem (2017)

Overview

Assassin John Lago reveals how he always goes undercover as an intern to stalk his targets, and recounts the story of his last assignment in this helpful how-to guide.

Sample passage

Despite the fact that absolutely no one ever had my back, I’m rapidly approaching the ripe old age of twenty-five, a milestone that very few of you will ever cross. While most young professionals are just getting their careers started at twenty-five, that is the mandatory retirement age at HR, Inc. According to Bob, it is the cutoff point at which people begin to question anyone who would be willing to work for free. And I quote: “Even if people believe you are still an intern at twenty-five, you will call attention to yourself as a loser who is way behind in his or her career path. And calling attention to yourself is a death sentence.”

The whole philosophy behind HR, Inc., is that an intern is the perfect cover for an assassin. Again, quoting Bob:

“Interns are invisible. You can tell an executive your name a hundred times and that executive will never remember it because they have no respect for someone at the bottom of the barrel, working for free. The rapport they have with their private urinal far exceeds the rapport they will ever have with you. The irony is that all you really have to be is an excellent employee with a strong work ethic and they will heap important duties on you with total abandon. The duties that their lazy, entitled admins and junior execs wouldn’t do without guns to their heads are actually critical day-to-day tasks that keep a business running. They also open the doors to proprietary data, personal information, and secure executive areas. The more of these duties you voluntarily accept, the more you will get, simultaneously acquiring the keys to the kingdom: TRUST AND ACCESS. Ultimately, your target will trust you with his life and that is when you will take it.”

Takeaway
If you’re looking for a very real world accurate Tom Clancy espionage novel…well, this ain’t it. If your tastes lean more towards over the top, satirical B movie action films…then you’ll want to bring The Intern’s Handbook to the beach with you. Now, if it took itself more seriously, it would fall more under the genre of Men’s Adventure Fiction, but manages to strike a lighter tone as the protagonist manages to go from one complication to another without suffering the consequences of physical damage that would leave normal humans in the hospital for a week. Along the way, pop culture references are dropped, smartass remarks are made, improbable plot twists occur, and some wry commentary on corporate culture is worked in. I was having mixed feelings about this book (see plot twists, above) until I realized that the action movie vibe was exactly what Kuhn was aiming for (which in retrospect is not surprising, given that he is as screenwriter, and this subject matter is entirely in his wheelhouse), and then it was just a matter of making some popcorn and reading until the credits rolled. If that appeals to you, there’s also a second book featuring John Lago to check out as well.

Or if you like

80’s masked slasher horror movies
Flawed protagonists
Hendrix’s earlier book, We Sold Our Souls
Finding out who the killer really is.
Sequels

You might like

The Final Girl Support Group, by Grady Hendrix

Where the movie adaptation will be compared to:

Scream (1996) and its sequels.
Every move where that one woman survives until the end.

Overview

Hendrix channels 80’s horror movie pop culture in to a story of lone female survivors of masked killers forming a support group and discovering that, of course, someone is still coming for them all, because there is always a sequel.

Sample passage

“There’s a whole world out there,” I say. “Everyone wants a piece of these psychos. They call it murderabilia. Dirt from the graves of their victims. The prom dress Colleen van Deusen was wearing when the Knight in White Satin chopped off her head. That sold for eight thousand dollars.”

“How do people get away with it?” he asks.

“Her parents are the ones who sold the prom dress,” I say. “Sometimes you need the money more than you need to live with yourself.”

“Have you ever done that?” he asks.

It’s a fair question, but I’m angry. He’s stuck his finger in a wound. I count to five to calm down.

“No,” I lie.

“You like this stuff,” he says. It’s a statement, not a question, and there’s judgment in his voice, just like his mom.

“Tell me how I chose this,” I say. “Tell me how I picked this life. I was minding my own business and a monster came through my door. Not because I ignored the Keep Out signs and snuck into the old asylum, not because I built my house on top of an Indian burial mound. I didn’t ‘ask for it,’ this was done to me.”

“Yeah,” he says, loudly. “But you keep dwelling on it. I mean, Mom says this happened, like, a hundred years ago. You could move on.”

My back is killing me. The way I’m sitting crushes my left kidney, which hasn’t been in great shape ever since Ricky Walker stopped by. I fight the urge to haul myself up into the passenger seat.

“You’re right,” I say. “None of us have to be defined by the worst thing that ever happened to her. Unfortunately, those things have a bad habit of coming back and trying to kill us again. After a while, you start to realize that your life isn’t the thing that happens between the monsters, your life is the monsters.”

Takeaway

The set up here is a world where the events of movies like Friday the 13th, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Scream actually happened, with movies being made about the survivors. Now, those survivors (some of whom are coping with the trauma of their experiences better than others) are discovering that someone is still trying to get them. The premise pulls heavily from Hendrix’s knowledge of 80’s horror movies and features characters that are very much aware of them. While I found some of the twists a bit convoluted, those were very much in the spirit of the movies being referenced. If you like Hendrix’s stuff, or are a fan of masked killer horror movies, you’ll definitely want to check this one out.

So, what other books should be on this list? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and stay tuned for my next column.

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