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:
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.
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!
A Cosmic Horror and Fantasy Collection by Lucy A. Snyder
4/5 Star Review
September has passed, but I am still wrapping up reviews from the month-long anniversary celebration for The Ladies of Horror Fiction. This lovely team celebrated their first full year of spotlighting the amazing ladies of horror! There was a read-a-thon taking place for the entire month of September and it featured five different reading challenges – check out this link for the details!
I read Garden of Eldritch Delights for Challenge #2 – Read a Book by a LGBTQ+Author. This was my fourth “official” pick for the read-a-thon.
This was my first read of Lucy A. Snyder and she is most definitely an author who will be making rounds in my ever-growing TBR. With Garden, Snyder weaves a wonderful collection combining cosmic horror, science fiction, vampires, witches, and straight out fantasy. Somehow, it all works very well together. Snyder has a talent for telling tight, complete stories with a small amount of words – a talent not all writers have.
Garden of Eldritch Delights starts out strong with That Which Does Not Kill You – about the real-life pains of a broken heart and Sunset on Mott Island – an end-of-the-world tale about a doctor with revelations and a woman caring for her dying mother in a dying world. It continues with some of my other favorites: The Gentleman Caller – about an unexpected sex worker, her familial gift, and how the grass isn’t always greener; Executive Functions – a story that I will always look back fondly on every time I have to deal with an asshole in the workplace; and A Noble Endeavor; about a young slave girl who changes the world.
While some stories were a little weaker than others, there is not a bad, or even a just okay, story in the whole collection. Every single one is worth a read. I love that Snyder can write strong, empowered female characters without making them feel like a trope. These women all have unique personalities, strengths, weaknesses – they are real, they are every woman. Do yourself a favor and check this one out.
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!
This year has been full of new-to-me authors discovered through Twitter and BookTube. Sour Candy by Kealan Patrick Burke is another one of those finds. Many of his books are spoken of highly, including Sour Candy, but I chose this one solely based on its cover – it’s gorgeous!
One of the first things that I love to do when I buy a new book is to read the first sentence – it often will determine where the book ends up on my TBR pile. Sour Candy made it to the top of the heap: “Four months to the day he first encountered the boy at Walmart, the last of Phil Pendleton’s teeth fell out.” Tell me that doesn’t drag you right in?!
I don’t really want to say too much about the plot, as this is only a novella, but the story is essentially this: Phil Pendleton is a childless divorcé whose life is forever changed after accepting a piece of sour candy from a child at Walmart.
I went in expecting this to be solely creepy kid horror, but was absolutely delighted to discover the strong cosmic horror elements contained within. Although, don’t get me wrong – there is definitely enough of the creepy kid element to go around! Burke manages to craft a complete, spooky story with a well-developed plot and characters in only 75 pages – quite a feat! This is the type of novella that keeps bringing me back to the medium. Highly recommended!!
Continuing on with Women in Horror Month, I read the phenomenal short story collection Things We Lost in the Fire. Mariana Enriquez is a novelist and journalist from Argentina and this is her first work to be published in English. I truly hope that there will be more of her work to come.
Short stories are my favorite medium for horror, but it is rare to find a single collection where every story is fantastic – Things We Lost in the Fire is an exception to this. There are twelve stories in this book and Every. Single. Story. is impactful, some are brutal, and all are poignant.
The author seamlessly blends horror, culture, politics, and the socio-economic climate of Argentina into these perfectly executed tales of ghosts, sadness, loss, and monsters. Each story has its own particular flavor and the collection is home to everything from magical realism to cosmic horror.
Trying to pick favorites out of this collection is near impossible, but some that have stuck with me are The Dirty Kid, about Saints, sacrifices, and missing children; Adela’s House, what happens when you face your fears and explore the haunted house; The Neighbor’s Courtyard, why you should always question a rental that seems to good to be true; Under the Black Water, about awakening an ancient evil that’s been asleep for a long time; and the title story, Things We Lost in the Fire, a sort of feminist call-to-arms. I realize that is nearly half of the stories – but this is book is just that good!
I purchased this collection after reading so many positive reviews and am so glad that I did! It has to the potential to speak to so many different audiences – don’t let this one pass by. Highly recommended!
For those of you who don’t know, Ms. SanGiovanni has a cosmic horror podcast, Cosmic Shenanigans, on the Project Entertainment Network. For those of you like me, maybe you didn’t know about this genre – or referred to it as Lovecraftian horror. I was beyond thrilled to discover this podcast and give an actual name to this sub-genre of horror that I really enjoy. I guess I was living with my head in the sand. It was because of this podcast and listening to Ms. SanGiovanni co-host The Horror Show with Brian Keene that I decided to give one of her books a try. I love short story collections, so I thought it would be a good place to start.
Night Moves, is a beautiful collection of cosmic horror, ghost stories, and tales that are simply, other. The common thread throughout the book are the deeply human connections found in each one – fear, loss, love, and sadness. This is so important in a book where the horror can be, at times, so far beyond human comprehension that you need that connection to tether you to the fear the character is experiencing.
Like almost every anthology, some stories are stronger than others, and for me, Night Moves was no exception. The shorts that stood out for me in this collection were: The Hundred-Years’ Sleep, about loving a princess and saving the world; The Anathema Cell, about a container that does not belong in our realm; Shadow Puppets, a tale of heartbreak and closet monsters; and The Mime, about a creepy, creepy, creepy mime.
I will definitely be seeking out Mary SanGiovanni’s full-length novels to add to my TBR mountain – she is a must-read for fans of this tasty little sub-genre.