Top 5 (Actually 6) Reads of 2020

2020…. What a year! It was definitely a year like no other, that’s for sure. While there were many, many, many negatives, there were also a few positives.

I am celebrating my second year running Tattered Covers & Broken Spines. My little blog has slowly grown with followers and I am so grateful to each and every one of you who follow and support me!

Despite everything, I still managed to read 60 books last year. Unfortunately, I am very behind in writing reviews for all of them. One of my 2021 goals is to catch up on reviews so that I can share and promote all of these wonderful books with you!

Let’s move on to my Top 5, er… Top 6, shall we? I went back and forth on this and decided to go with 6 picks since my favorite read of the year wasn’t exactly horror. Without further ado, here we go!

My #1 read for 2020 was Betty by Tiffany McDaniel.

Betty is not exactly horror, but it does contain some horrific elements that will make it appealing to horror readers and fans of Cormac McCarthy, Daniel Woodrell, Stuart O’Nan, and the like. Truly, this is not a book to miss. It’s a hard read and may be triggering to some readers, but at the same time it is beautiful and empowering. I can’t recommend this book highly enough.

My Top 5 horror reads for 2020 were:

A Cosmology of Monsters by Shaun Hamill

Ring Shout by P. Djèlí Clark – I still need to write a review for this title, but it is an amazing blend of cosmic horror, dark fantasy, and historical fiction. The Ku Klux Klan is thriving in Georgia as it is led by monsters – both human and inhuman. Standing in their way are three powerful women – Maryse, Sadie, and Chef. This novella is timely, powerful, and an absolute must-read.

Crossroads by Laurel Hightower

Gone to See the River Man by Kristopher Triana

John McNee’sDoom Cabaret by John McNee

Links to my reviews have been embedded in the titles and links to purchase these books through my my affiliate shop on bookshop.org have been embedded in the cover art.

What were some of your favorite reads of 2020?

Junji Ito: Master of Horror Manga, Part II

Uzumaki & Venus in the Blind Spot

It’s unbelievable that it was a year and a half ago that I first read manga by Junji Ito. Seriously, it feels like it was six months ago – what can I say? 2020 has been a really weird year. I started my journey with Gyo and Shiver (click here for my reviews), and I am continuing down this twisted rabbit hole with Uzumaki and Venus in the Blind Spot.

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

Uzumaki is a 3-volume series that has been published in a nice 3-in-1 bind-up by Viz Media. It is probably considered the title most synonymous with Junji Ito, at least in the U.S. I was a little hesitant diving in because of all the hype surrounding this book. Everyone loves it. My expectations were extraordinarily high and you know what? I get it. I get why everyone loves this book!

Uzumaki was a 5/5 Star Read for me. It was rife with with body horror and a healthy dose of cosmic horror as well. Kurouzu-cho is a small town on the coast of Japan and it is cursed by the shape of the spiral. The story of the town is mostly viewed through the eyes of teenager, Kirie Goshima, and her boyfriend, Shuichi Saito. When we first meet our main characters, Shuichi is trying to convince Kirie to run away with him because he is beginning to understand that something is not quite right with their hometown. Kirie, of course, refuses and thus begins our descent into the spiral. Highly recommended reading!!

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

I also read Venus in the Blindspot which was another 5/5 Star Read. This book is a collection of short stories, including a republished version of The Enigma of Amigara Fault with some beautifully colored pages. While all of the stories included in this collection were excellent, the below stood out for me the most:

The Human Chair* – Yoshiko Togawa, wife of a politician and an accomplished writer receives a manuscript in the mail. It is a story about a furniture maker who builds a special chair in which he can hide himself inside to fulfill his perversions. In the story, the chair makes it into the home of a politician and the man inside finds himself falling in love with the politician’s wife. The author states this is fiction – but Yoshiko starts to become afraid of her favorite writing chair. Is it truly fiction? Or something more?

An Unearthly Love* – Kyoko has married into the Kadono family. She has heard rumors that her husband-to-be is moody and does not like women. Kyoko is surprised to find him a gentle, loving, and caring man. All is going well until Kyoko discovers that he sneaks away during the night and up into the attic in their storage building to meet his unusual lover.

Keepsake – Young Lord Toyoji is surprised to find that his dead wife has given birth to their child in her coffin. He has recently been remarried to his former mistress, who has just given birth to a child as well. Secrets are revealed as the Toyoji’s two sons grow up.

*The Human Chair and An Unearthly Love were both illustrated by Junji Ito, but were based on original stories by Edogawa Ranpo (1894-1965). Ranpo was a pen name for Taro Hirai who took it from American author, Edgar Allen Poe. He is recognized as playing a major role in the development of the mystery story in Japan. I had not heard of this author prior to reading these adaptations and I am looking forward to searching for what I can find translated to English. If you have read Edogawa Ranpo and have a recommendation, please let me know!

Don’t Turn Out the Lights


A Tribute to Alvin Schwartz’s Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark edited by Jonathan Maberry

2.5/5 Star Review

I can’t tell you how much it kills me, absolutely kills me, to rate this book as just “ok.” Everything about it should have been 5 stars – A great author as editor? Check. Tribute to Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Check. A fantastic stable of writers? Check. And yet… This anthology really missed the mark for me.

Admittedly, Schwartz’s trilogy of Scary Stories is my gold standard. I was one of those kids who always started a new hold for them at the library as soon as I returned them. They were my doorway in to horror and it’s hard to hold a candle to them. I have gone back and read them many times as an adult and they still hold up.

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

I read Don’t Turn Out the Lights with that in mind. I tried not to compare the two books too closely because it’s not a fair expectation. I read this anthology for what it is, a tribute and a new generation of writers telling their scary stories.

My issues mostly lay with the unevenness of the collection. The book is marketed as YA horror and some of the stories are, but some are written to a very young middle-grade market. Like its predecessor, the stories in Lights can be read to yourself or aloud to others, but so many are missing that – Boo! ending. You know the one I’m talk about – the one that makes you look behind you, over your shoulder to see what’s waiting in the darkness. Many of these tales just… end. They leave you feeling incomplete and wondering what the heck happened. I feel one of the greatest faults lies with adult horror authors not knowing how to write to a YA audience. It is my opinion that they feel they need to write down to teens and they don’t give them the credit they deserve as readers. One of the most glaring examples of this was in The Cries of the Cat by Josh Malerman. I adore Malerman and the premise he had was a creepy one, but it felt so watered down that it lost its way.

Having said all that, there are some standout stories in this collection:

The Neighbor by Amy Lukavics – Dennis makes a new, unwanted friend with the little boy he sees across the street.

Tag, You’re It by N.R. Lambert – Nick keeps getting tagged in photos by someone who seems to be physically getting closer and closer.

Lint Trap by Jonathan Auxier – Jasper’s family moves into a new house and he starts talking to the children who live in the dryer in the basement.

Brain Spiders by Luis Alberto Urrea & Rosario Urrea – What happens when the kids in class start bullying the new girl from another country?

Mud by Linda D. Addison – Maurice fights his mother about taking baths and she sends him off to his grandmother’s house for an unforgettable sleepover.

The Tall Ones by Madeleine Roux – Estrella tries to convince the new boy in town that the town’s customs and traditions must be honored or else something may happen to him and his family.

I think there are enough stories in here that make checking out this collection worthwhile. It would be a good pick for a library check-out for sure.

If you’re an adult trying to recapture a little bit of that Scary Stories magic, I actually recommend picking up Corpse Cold by John Brhel & Joe Sullivan and illustrated by Chad Wehrle. I reviewed it here last year. To date, it is the next best thing to them that I have read.

Thanks to NetGalley and HarperCollins for making this digital ARC available for me to review. Don’t Turn Out the Lights releases on September 1st 2020.

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.

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

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.

A Cosmology of Monsters

A generational novel of cosmic horror by Shaun Hamill

5/5 Star Review

I am not normally lured in by cover blurbs, but this one – this is the one that got me to pick up the book:

“If John Irving ever wrote a horror novel, it would be something like this. I loved it.” —Stephen King

If there is one element of story I think of when I think of both Stephen King and John Irving, it would have to be character narrative. Both authors have an incredible talent for creating characters that are people you know, or have known. They are friends, lovers, acquaintances, family members. As it would turn out, A Cosmology of Monsters completely lives up to the comparison.

Click on the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

In my opinion, Monsters is, at its heart, a generational family drama with elements of cosmic horror and weird fiction woven throughout the narrative. I came for the characters and stayed for the horror. You should know that going in. If you are taking the plunge and are expecting a straight horror story, you may be disappointed. This is a slow-burn. If you enjoyed King’s Revival or Duma Key – this would be a book you would absolutely love. It’s a novel that takes its time, but as it unfurls it is so very, very good!

Noah Turner is our narrator and the book is broken up into four parts – The story of Noah’s parents and the story of Noah’s childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. We follow the family’s highs and lows as they revolve around the designs of a great haunted house that grows from a front yard set-up to a full-size attraction called, The Wandering Dark. The family experiences loss and heartbreak and as the reader, we are there for every moment. Throughout, there are glimpses of the weird, the abnormal, and every taste leaves you wanting to know more. I hesitate to say anything else as this is a book I think you should walk into blind.

A Cosmology of Monsters is the number one contender for the best novel that I have read so far in 2020. It’s going to take to take a real doozy to unseat this one, but even then, I don’t think anything could drop if from my Top 5. If you like weird fiction or quiet, literary horror – you are doing yourself a disservice if you let this one go by without a read.

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. 

Gone to See the River Man

A genre-blending novel by Kristopher Triana

5/5 Star Review

I will say it again, once more for the readers in the back: If you are a fan of the horror genre and haven’t yet read Triana, you are seriously missing out! With his latest release, Gone to See the River Man, Kris carves out an expertly crafted blend of extreme, cosmic, and folk horror.

Lori is a lady who has never been lucky in love. Her relationships never seem to flourish, or even come to fruition, due to familial challenges and trauma. As the novel opens, Lori is writing to an inmate named Edmund Cox, a notorious serial killer. She can’t explain exactly why, but she feels a kinship with him – a sameness – and wants him to divulge his secrets only to her. After a face-to-face visit with Edmund, Lori decides to take him up on a quest he asks her to undertake. The task is simple: Find his family’s cabin along the river, retrieve a key, and deliver it to the River Man – Edmund even draws a map. Lori, along with her handicapped sister, Abby, embarks on this seemingly simple journey that will finally prove her devotion to Edmund. Lori quickly realizes this may not be a simple journey after all and the sisters find far more than they ever could have bargained for.

I don’t believe the location of this novel is ever specified, but it has a distinctly Appalachian feel. When you veer off the beaten paths in this region, you will find it’s a completely different way of life and rich with its own folklore. Every bit of the River Man story sounds like it could have happened anywhere in the area. I hesitate to say any more because I don’t want to spoil this book for anyone, but the blending of folk lore and cosmic horror in this story is just phenomenal. Triana’s use of colors as descriptions near the end of the sisters’ journey is Just. So. Good. A highly recommended read!

Please note that I did receive this title as a review copy in exchange for an honest review. I have also done a spotlight post on some of Triana’s other titles here.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House

A novella of cosmic horror by Mira Grant

4/5 Star Review

Have you ever wondered what an episode of Scooby Doo would look like if it was written by H.P. Lovecraft? Minus all of the racism and bigotry, of course? Well, look no further because that’s exactly what Mira Grant has done with this tightly written novella.

Our protagonist, Harlowe Upton-Jones, was raised by her paternal grandparents and foster family after her mother and father were murdered by a mysterious cult. During her formulative teen years, Harlowe, her foster brother, Kevin, and their two best friends, Addison and Andy, started solving mysteries in town and became rather well-known around the Chicago area. The problem? Teenagers don’t stay teenagers forever and the real world has real costs, like liability insurance, and there is not a lot of money in mystery solving. While the rest of the group is ready to move on from their former fame, Harlowe is still trying to keep the band together and proposes one last case: The Mystery of Spendrift House. A seemingly unsolvable mystery with a big payout.

In the Shadow of Spindrift House is a fun mix of cosmic horror, haunted house shenanigans, mystery, and unrequited love. It’s a big story for a small book. Grant makes it work, but I would be a liar if I said I didn’t want more of this tale – it would have made an excellent full-length novel.

One of my favorite things about Spindrift House is the atmosphere that surrounds it. Grant writes it as if it were another character in the story. The house is a living, breathing being and the foggy, wet New England air is the cloak that it wraps itself in. It’s just perfect!

In the Shadow of Spindrift House was published as a deluxe edition hardcover from Subterranean Press as well as an affordable ebook edition.

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.

Click the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

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!