Crossroads

A novella of grief and demons by Laurel Hightower

5/5 Star Review

“The first time Chris buried a part of herself by her son’s roadside cross, it was an accident.”

Crossroads asks the question, How far would you go to bring back someone you love? Chris is a mother still grieving the untimely death of her twenty-two year old son two years prior. He was killed in a car crash and the place she feels closest to him is not his grave, but his roadside cross placed near the spot where he died.

As this is a novella, I hesitate to say anything more about the story. I went into the book mostly blind and I think it is the way that it should be experienced. At its heart, Crossroads is a ghost story tackling demons that are both real and imagined. It is an exploration of a mother’s love and loss. It is heart-breaking.

Not since Westlake Soul has a book left me so utterly and completely gutted. I am not a mother and cannot imagine what the loss of a child must feel like. I am, however, a human who has experienced the loss of loved ones and friends and know the ache that grief leaves in your gut – that feeling of emptiness and wanting to do anything to fill it with the light of the one who is gone. It’s not the same, but if you’ve experienced a loss, you will be able to relate and understand the horror imbued in this story.

This novella will break you, but that’s okay. It’s absolutely worth it in order to experience this tale. Hightower’s writing is poignant and powerful. She is an extraordinary talent and I can’t wait to read more from her!

Crossroads will release from Off Limits Press on August 10, 2020. Click here to pre-order the paperback directly from Off Limits or click the cover image above to pre-order the ebook version from Amazon.

It’s worth a mention that Crossroads is the title launching the debut of Off Limits Press. Off Limits is a female-owned independent publisher focused on horror fiction. Support women in horror by pre-ordering this title straight from their site!

Worst Laid Plans

An anthology of vacation horror edited by Samantha Kolesnik

5/5 Star Review

I think we can all agree that 2020 has been a dumpster fire of epic proportions. It’s almost the middle of summer and instead of traveling and lounging at the beach, we are staying close to home and masking up whenever venturing out is necessary. Does it stink? Absolutely! Want to feel a little better about it? Read this book.

Worst Laid Plans is a collection of 14 tales of vacations gone horribly awry. While not every story is specifically a summer trip – all of them have a distinct summery vibe. This anthology runs the gamut from aliens to monsters; from body horror to the supernatural; from grief to human nature at its worst. There is something in this collection for nearly everyone. It’s also worth a mention that Sadie Hartmann, Mother Horror herself, wrote a fantastic forward for this anthology!

If you have read my reviews before, multi-author anthologies are rarely a complete win for me. This was absolutely not the case with Worst Laid Plans. While there were a few tales missed the mark for me, there wasn’t one in here that I would rate less than 3 stars. My top picks were just so fantastic that I still feel good about giving this collection a full 5 star rating. Without further ado – let me share my top 5 from this collection:

Unkindly Girls by Hailey Piper – This was my absolute favorite story from this collection. Morgan is a teenage girl on vacation with her over-protective father. Every summer they go on vacation to a different beach, never the same one twice. This year is different because Morgan has found out a truth about her father. Without giving anything away, there is a scene in which Morgan is swimming in the ocean with two girls she’s just met and the imagery of it absolutely blew me away.

Taylor Family Vacation ’93 by Jeremy Herbert – Daniel Taylor, CPA, has taken his wife and young son on an Orlando vacation to visit the theme parks. Every morning he wakes up to see that his camcorder has recorded seconds of extra footage – a little more each time and it appears that someone is watching them with their own camera. As a side note, I’m a central Florida girl and Herbert completely nailed the Kissimmee and Orlando area, right down to the tourist traps and old motels.

In the Water by Mark Wheaton – Two American girls, Candice and Jenn are currently vacationing at a resort in Thailand. A major storm moves in and the resort goes into lock-down. Not wanting to disappoint their guests, the hotel opens the bar and turns the downstairs area into a hurricane party. It is here that Jenn and Candice meet up with a brother and sister they met in Goa and the night takes a turn for the worse. I really enjoyed the format of this story – some was told in real time from the girls’perspectives and some was told from the detectives investigating the aftermath.

Peelings by Kenzie Jennings – Beth, her twin daughters, and her abusive husband, Marc, take a family vacation to the Disney parks in Orlando. Beth is unhappy, she gets a terrible sunburn on the first day and Marc berates her for not being careful. Her daughters take the cues from their father and are horrible to Beth as well. As her burn begins to peel, she finds parts of herself transforming and discovers that Disney truly is the happiest place on earth.

The Penanggalan by Scott Cole – An unnamed protagonist and his partner, Maddie, change their vacation plans last minute when Maddie finds unbelievably cheap airline tickets to Panang. During the plane ride, our main character finds a little booklet in the seat pocket in front of him called, “A Field Guide to Supernatural Entities in Southeast Asia.” He becomes inexplicably drawn to a vampiric creature called a Penanggalan. This tale had some serious Junji Ito vibes and I was there for it!

It was so hard to narrow these stories down to select the top 5. I have two honorable mentions that I would also like to mention here: The Cucuy of Cancun by V. Castro and Deep in the Heart by Waylon Jordan. Castro brings a new twist on El Cucuy while Jordan tells a coming-of-age tale replete with cave monsters.

It’s been some time since I have stumbled onto a multi-author anthology collection that left me so thrilled. I honestly can’t recommend this one enough and it is so perfect for summer! Definitely one to check out.

I received a copy of this title for review consideration.

Burnt Fur

An anthology of deviant sex and extreme horror edited by Ken MacGregor

3.5/5 Stars

I believe this is my first review that starts off with a warning! Here we go – This anthology is not for everyone. It contains graphic scenes of anthropomorphic animals having graphic sex, bestiality, and scenes of extreme horror. This is not to say that every story contains these elements, but the bulk of them do. If you think this will bother you, this is not an anthology you want to pick up.

If you are still with me after that warning, let’s continue on with the book. Burnt Fur is an anthology built around the theme of anthropomorphic animals and horror. There are furries, were-animals, talking animals, human-animal hybrids, and everything in between. While not every story contains sexual antics, a lot of them do.

Like most multi-author anthologies, Burnt Fur has some really great stories and some really just okay stories. There were even one or two where I honestly have no idea what was going on. The standout stories for me were:

The Moon in Her Eyes by Sarah Hans – The opening story of the anthology about an old wolf who rescues a young pup

The Hamford Pigs by N. Rose – A young man follows in his father’s footsteps as he becomes a police officer and joins the secret fraternity of the Hamford Pigs.

The Others by C.M. Saunders – You’re on your first date with a beautiful woman that you met on an online dating site. How do you respond when she tells you she can see animals that no one else can see?

Ware the Deep by Stephanie Park – A werewolf unexpectedly meets his match in a strange young woman that he stumbles across at a bar.

The Victims by James L. Steele – A marked wolf gives birth to a litter of pups – one of which shares her same mark. She tell the story of what this means for her newborn pup and the horror that they bear so that others may live in peace.

Honorable mentions to Oh Piggy, My Piggy by Mike Scott and 6 Dicks by Rachel Lee Weist. I found both of these stories to be disturbing and laugh-out-loud funny.

Bottom line – if the subject matter doesn’t put you off, there are enough enjoyable stories in this collection to make it worth a read.

As an aside, I received a digital copy of this title in exchange for an honest review.

Walk the Darkness Down

A horrific western novella of cosmic proportions by John Boden

4/5 Star Review

I have to start this review with a confession: I received a copy of this book for review from the author last fall and it slipped through the cracks. I’m embarrassed by the amount of time that it took me to get to this wonderful little book. Do yourself a favor when you pick this one up – Don’t let it sit on your TBR pile. Read it immediately and read it slowly. Savor it.

This was my first read from John Boden and I was impressed. Boden commands the English language and manipulates it into gorgeous metaphors that paint the landscape of this novella. As you read, you want to meditate on the images that are being drawn in your mind. The world of this tale is just so rich and so brutal that it demands your complete attention.

Levi is a man who is no longer a man. He has been warped by the ancient evil that has invaded his mind. Jones is a man on a quest to find himself, as well at the man who killed his mother. Keaton is a man on the run from crimes he did not commit. Jubal is a boy whose parents are dead and has been left to care for his twin sisters. Walk the Darkness Down is the story of how these four come together and their ultimate showdown.

One tidbit about this novella that I will share with you is to pay attention to the names of the people and the towns, hell – even the horse. If you are familiar with folks in the horror community, you will see a lot of cameos and mentions throughout. They are fun little Easter eggs to find. It takes nothing away from the story if you don’t notice them, so don’t let this deter you from picking up this book.

If a violent and gory western imbued with cosmic horror sounds like your cup of tea – I highly recommend this read!

If you follow the horror community on Bookstagram or Twitter, you may have noticed a surge in the horror western sub-genre. If you don’t and are looking for more new books in this vein, check out Death’s Head Press. They have just started releasing titles for their Splatter Western line: The Magpie Coffin by Wile E. Young and Hunger on the Chisholm Trail by by M. Ennenbach.

John McNee’s Doom Cabaret

A transgressive horror anthology by John McNee

5/5 Star Review

Do you remember the first time that your read Clive Barker or Poppy Z. Brite? Or the first time you discovered books published under the old Dell Abyss imprint or the splatterpunks of the 1990s? That feeling – that excitement – of knowing that horror can be both brutal and beautiful? That’s where I am with John McNee’s Doom Cabaret.

Like Brite and Barker, McNee has perfected the art of presenting taboo acts of extreme horror, violence, and gore as art. He makes the grotesque palatable by painting it with smooth curves and soft edges – acceptable in its brutality.

Doom Cabaret is comprised of eight short stories – all of which are worth mentioning: Bebbel – A story of dark magic and a carnival sideshow; Dead Deanna – About a girl who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer; Man Holding Razor Blade – Sometimes art takes on a life of its own; Slaughterhouse Sweetheart – Some men can never stop playing with their food; Skunk Jr. – A story about a couple who finally get a baby of their own; Repulsive Glamour – A cautionary reminder not to anger the gods; The Lullaby Man – A girl confronts her childhood nightmares; and the title story, Midnight at the Doom Cabaret – A sinister nightly show whose main act is always different and always chosen by the patrons.

If I have struck a chord reminiscing about 90s horror, or if you are looking for a darkly beautiful slice of the macabre, John McNee’s Doom Cabaret is available on April 24th 2020 and I highly recommend that you pre-order it now! I have placed a link to the ebook on the title image above.

This was my first time reading McNee and I can guarantee that it won’t be the last. It’s been awhile since I have been so very excited about a new author! My next dive into his works will be his novel, Prince of Nightmares, published by Blood Bound Books in 2016.

Please note that I did receive this title as a review copy in exchange for an honest review. 

Top 5 Reads of 2019

2019 was an exciting year in reading for me: I started this blog as a way to communicate my thoughts and feelings on great reads, to promote horror, and to connect with more readers and authors. Overall, I would say the year was a successful one as far as those goals went – even though the last few months got away from me due to life issues. I didn’t set much of a posting timeline going in, but I was able to read and post regularly up to October. Moving into 2020, I’m going to try to post at least twice monthly – hopefully more! Look for a “What to Expect in 2020” post coming your way very soon!

Throughout 2019, I was able to read 74 books. Most were 4 and 5 star reads so narrowing it down to five was really difficult! Nevertheless, here they are – in no particular order. My top 5 reads of 2019:

Bunny by Mona Awad

13 Views of the Suicide Woods by Bracken MacLeod

Cry Your Way Home by Damien Angelica Walters

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

Westlake Soul by Rio Youers

Links to my reviews have been embedded in the titles if you would like to read them. 13 Views and Westlake Soul are currently out-of-print, but look for them in your local library on on the secondary market – they are absolutely worth tracking down.

What were your top reads of 2019?

Paperbacks from Hell

The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix with Will Errickson

5/5 Star Review

What is there to possibly say about this glorious book that hasn’t already been said? I read this book last fall and keep going back to it over and over again. To those few of you who may be unfamiliar, Paperbacks from Hell is an ode to the bygone days of horror, broken down by the popular tropes of the ’70s and ’80s: Satanism, Creepy Kids, Killer Animals (of all kinds), and Science gone horribly, horribly wrong – just to name a few. This is an over-sized paperback book that is absolutely brimming with the tremendous cover art that graced these books back in the day. Let’s be honest – most of the time, the covers were far, far better than the actual books.

I am a child of the early ’80s, so much of what I discovered here was brand new to me. That being said, there were still some fun moments of nostalgia to be had when I saw V.C. Andrews creep up in the opening of the Gothic and Romance chapter; old favorites R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike leaping from the section entitled, Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?; and unfortunately, the downfall, the Death Rattle, and the discussion of the Dell Abyss line – Poppy Z. Brite got me through high school, dear readers.

Like the many others who came before me, I finished Paperbacks from Hell and knew that I had to own these new-to-me books and seek out titles that I used to own 25 years ago. It’s been an expensive year, friends.

Paperbacks from Hell has made old fans nostalgic and new fans hungry for the horror that came before. Along with the thriving independent publishing scene, this resurgence has helped to bring horror back into the light and birth a whole new generation of fans.

I can’t recommend this book enough – whether you’re a fan of the genre, or the artwork, or just want to know more about pulp classics – this book is the bee’s knees.

Need more? I also recommend checking out the sites below:

Grady Hendrix – Check out the author’s page and subscribe to his free newsletter. It’s like receiving free mini-sequels to Paperbacks right in your own mailbox! Don’t forget to check out Book Reviews of the Damned and read Grady’s take on some of the trashiest, craziest books he can find!

Too Much Horror Fiction – Check out co-author Will Errickson’s review blog. This site is an absolute treasure chest of mainstream and obscure horror. You can get lost on here for days!

Valancourt Books – A small, independent press that specializes in the rediscovery of rare, neglected, and out-of-print titles. These excellent folks have teamed up with Hendrix and Errickson to resurrect some of the titles featured in Paperbacks from Hell and they have been reprinted with new introductions by either Grady or Will. Valancourt has done their best to retain the original cover art where possible and have already released the first wave of five titles. The second wave is just launching – be sure to check it out!

The Graveyard Apartment

A Japanese horror novel written by Mariko Koike and translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm

3/5 Star Review

It’s September and I am still reveling in the month-long anniversary celebration for The Ladies of Horror Fiction. This lovely team is celebrating their first full year of spotlighting the amazing ladies of horror! If you would like to join in the festivities, there is a read-a-thon taking place for the entire month and it features five different reading challenges – check out this link for more details!

I read The Graveyard Apartment for Challenge #5 – Read a Translated Book OR A Book Set in Another Country. This is my second “official” pick for the read-a-thon and happened to fit the bill on both accounts.

The Graveyard Apartment tells the story of Teppei, Misao, and their young daughter, Tamao. The couple has bought their first apartment – it’s an absolute bargain for the location and close to school and the train. However, there is a downside. The apartment building overlooks an old Buddhist graveyard and crematorium. Strange occurrences begin on the first day in their new home and continue to ramp up all the way to the very end.

One thing this book does very well is creating a certain atmosphere. The entire book has a very claustrophobic feel to it which adds to the spookiness. It feels dark, dreary, and cold – even when it is a beautiful summer day.

There are several issues that I have with the book, and I feel that they may have simply been “lost in translation.” Without dropping any spoilers, the main issue that I have is the reason for the haunting. The book alludes to a few possibilities, but they don’t necessary correlate with the end of the book. There were many statements and descriptions where the translation seemed almost too literal and it made for some awkward dialog and narration. Lastly, my interpretation of the story may have also been incorrect due to cultural differences and societal norms.

I enjoyed the book, but I definitely didn’t “get” it. The Graveyard Apartment has a bit of a slow build, but once it ramped up, I couldn’t put it down. I would recommend it if you are a fan of Japanese horror – a lot of the common ghost story tropes are there, but the average horror reader could give this one a pass. Have you read it? What are your thoughts?

Cry Your Way Home

A hauntingly beautiful collection by Damien Angelica Walters

5/5 Star Review

It’s September and I am still reveling in the month-long anniversary celebration for The Ladies of Horror Fiction. This lovely team is celebrating their first full year of spotlighting the amazing ladies of horror! If you would like to join in the festivities, there is a read-a-thon taking place for the entire month and it features five different reading challenges – check out this link for more details!

I read Cry Your Way Home for Challenge #1 – Read a Book by an Indie Author. This is my first “official” pick for the read-a-thon and what a way to kick it off! Damien Angelica Walters has some serious writing chops – this lovely lady can crawl under your skin, break your heart, cause you to look over your shoulder, and make you rethink your favorite childhood stories all in the breadth of less than a hundred pages. This book weighs in at 223, so you know you are in for a whirlwind of emotion and horror.

While I enjoy many different sub-genres of horror, my bread-and-butter, the horror that truly resonates with me, is the horror that is born out of emotion. It is the horror that comes from loving someone so deeply and watching them unravel, as in In the Spaces Where You Once Lived; the regret in knowing that you could have made a difference for someone, as in The Floating Girls: A Documentary; and handling the abiding grief of losing a child, as in Falling Under, Through the Dark and Umbilicus.

That being said, the stories collected in Cry Your Way Home are not all riddled with grief and heartache – far from it! This book is a well-blended mix of cosmic horror, fairy tale retellings, magical realism, and science fiction – all spun in a literary style with a dash of some seriously empowering female characters.

Cry Your Way Home is a gorgeous and mature collection of stories. I do not say this about many collections, but there is not one story in this book I didn’t enjoy. They would all be 4 and 5 star ratings if I had to go through each individually. Since finishing this, I have gone on to order the other books Ms. Walters currently has out – Paper Tigers and Sing Me Your Scars. The Dead Girls Club will be released on December 10th of this year. I highly recommend you all give this lady a read!

Bunny

A novel of splendidly weird fiction by Mona Awad

5/5 Star Review

I have seen a lot of rave reviews for Bunny and the description sounded interesting, so I decided to give it a read — and I am so glad that I did! That being said, there is so much to unpack in this book that I honestly am not even sure where to start.

Samantha Heather Mackey is an outsider at Warren University, an exclusive New England school where she is working on her MFA in the Narrative Arts department. The book begins with the start of her final year, her last semester of Workshop, which she attends with four nearly interchangeable girls who all call each other Bunny. They are rarely apart; they eat miniature food and sweet treats; they praise each other’s work; they move and speak as one; they are a hive mind. Samantha is equally disgusted by them and jealous of their closeness. One day, she receives an invitation from the Bunnies – an invitation that leads her on the path to joining them in a very experimental off-campus Workshop, a way of expressing themselves beyond the written narrative.

At its heart, it’s a Mean Girls story – it’s a Heathers story, delivered allegorically, metaphorically, and at times, quite literally. Somehow Awad seamlessly blends these devices into an extremely relatable story. It’s hard to define the genre for this title any more specifically than weird fiction. Awad has masterfully blended the genres as perfectly as she has the literary devices.

I honestly think this is a book that you need to go into a little blind. To reveal much more of the plot would be to rob you of the full experience of this novel – and experience it you should! This is absolutely not a book to miss! Highly recommended!