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.
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.
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 toScary 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.
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.
An anthology of deviant sex and extreme horror edited by Ken MacGregor
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 Piggyby 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.
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.
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!
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!
UPDATE – Full Brutal won the Splatterpunk Award for Best Novel!
It’s Saturday, August 17th 2019 which means it’s KillerCon time in Austin, Texas. It also means that the 2nd Annual Splatterpunk Awards will be taking place tonight, honoring the best splatterpunk and extreme horror works of 2018. What better time to highlight one of the top up-and-coming novelists of our new generation of horror?
Full Brutal has been nominated for a Splatterpunk Award in the Best Novel categoy. Published in June 2018 from Grindhouse Press, Full Brutal tells the story of Kim White, all-American cheerleader and all-around It girl. She is pretty, she is popular, she is wealthy with a barely-present father – she is truly living the high school dream. At least that is what everyone thinks. In reality, Kim has had enough – she is sick to death of it all. After a conversation with her friend, Amy, she reluctantly decides to lose her virginity. Amy tells her it is a life-changing event, that she will gain a whole new perspective on life… And boy, does she ever! Kim quickly decides that a high school boy will never do and aims to seduce her sex education teacher, Mr. Blakley. What starts off as a little bit “Heathers” with a heaping side of “The Crush,” Full Brutal descends into an insane tale of lust, cannibalism, bullying, rape, and necrophilia.
Full Brutal was a 5/5 Star read for me. It is an absolute nonstop whirlwind of chaos and brutality. I couldn’t put it down and I couldn’t look away because I had to know what Kim was going to do next. If you are looking for an all-out gore fest – this is the book for you!
What happens when you take a former jock hoping to reclaim some of his faded stardom; a former cheerleader attempting to relive her glory days; a former bad boy looking to shirk his old reputation; a good girl – still a good girl – trying to assuage her guilt; and a former gym coach hoping to get his due from a school that has, in his mind, slighted him for decades? You get “The Breakfast Club” – blended with a substantial dose of supernatural revenge.
I feel like any more of a description would start to give away the plot – so I will stop there. The Detained was a 4/5 Star read filled with a solid cast of characters and a healthy measure of violence. The tale evolves quickly, without feeling rushed, and organically weaves enough backstory in to bring the reader up to speed and without pulling away from the main plot. In this era of commonplace school violence and bullying, it is a very timely read.
The last novel that I am going to feature in this post is Body Art, published in December 2016 by Blood Bound Books. I happen to have a signed copy of this book, and as the inscription says, “… now grab some lube and a barf bag, It’s time to film!” You may want to go ahead and lay down some plastic sheeting and don a poncho as well for this one. With Body Art, Triana has successfully written one of the most depraved novels that I have read to date. I mean this in the most complimentary way, of course! I am proud to say that it takes a lot to get under my skin and there were a few scenes in this book that got there.
Kandi Hart is an aging porn star who doesn’t want to disappear into the annals of AVN history. Rutger Malone is a director who wants to make artistic films again. Harold is a mortician who takes a special sort of pride in his work. Toby is a high school football star who’s looking for love in the wild and crazy Jessica, who just wants Toby to treat her like a porn star and take her to Nashville with him when he leaves for school. All of these characters are brought together by a sequence of events coated in a supernatural dust that ups the ante at every turn.
If you like extreme horror, and I am talking really extreme, horrifically gore-filled, then Body Art is definitely for you. Whatever depraved sexual act that you can imagine, I guarantee that Triana tops it in his novel. If you have a strong will and a strong stomach – I can’t recommend this book enough! 5/5 Star read!
For those fans of Body Art, or extreme horror in general, I would be remiss in my duties if I did not mention Body Art: The Coloring Book published in March 2019 by Blood Bound Books.
The 35 coloring pages were drawn by horror pulp artist, CorlenScope and inspired by scenes from the novel.
If you have ever wanted to take adult coloring books to a new level – now is your chance!
It is worth mentioning that I will feature Kristopher Triana on another upcoming spotlight post. If extreme horror is not your cup of tea, Triana writes tamer fare. His short story collection, Growing Dark, is a brilliant collection of modern horror. His novel, The Ruin Season, is a Southern noir akin to the works of Daniel Woodrell. His most recent, Shepherd of the Black Sheep, I have yet to read but you can bet a review will come once I have!
As I begin to dip my toes into the horror community on Twitter and BookTube, I have been seeing one name pop up over and over again in conversations about horror comics: Junji Ito. Uzumaki is the title that tends to pop up the most frequently, but as I was strolling through my local library, I happened upon these two titles and decided to check them out.
Gyo is a 2-volume series about a virus developed during WWII that was intended to become weaponized. Tadashi and Kaori are taking a little getaway in Okinawa when fish with crab-like legs begin walking out of the ocean after a mysterious object shoots into the water. I don’t want to give too much away, but Gyo is, in truth, far funnier than it is scary. The body horror and the violence is so over-the-top that it becomes ridiculous, and if you are a horror veteran, you will find yourself laughing much more often than you will be getting any chills.
Overall, Gyo was a 4/5 Star Read for me – not because it was scary, but because it was so excessive and exaggerated. I had a fun time reading both volumes and was entertained for a few hours – that’s really what this is about in the end, right?
Shiver, on the other hand, is a large collection of short stories, almost all of which are quite creepy. Junji Ito provides commentary, story development notes, and sketches for every piece in this collection. It was amazing to me to read how an abstract thought, a portion of a childhood memory, or a dream could produce these tales. While there are different horror elements present in this collection, body horror is the most prevalent.
Standout stories for me were Honored Ancestors, about a girl with amnesia and a boy whose family tree never truly dies; Hanging Blimp; about a phenomenon that seems to start with a pop idol committing suicide; Marionette Mansion; about a family of performers and their marionettes; and Shiver; the only story to truly creep me out because of my trypophobia – I simply cannot handle small holes.
5/5 Star Review for this anthology – Shiver was an enjoyable and sometimes a truly terrifying read.
I know body horror, and even comics, are not for everyone – but if these don’t get under your skin – I highly recommend you check out Juni Ito . I will be reading everything that I can get my hands on!
My final read for February, and for Women in Horror Month, was the darkly humorous and enjoyable My Sister, The Serial Killer.
Oyinkan Braithwaite is an author from Nigeria and this is her first novel published in the United States. She is yet another international author that I hope to read more from in the future.
My Sister, The Serial Killer follows older sister, Korede, and her younger sister, Ayoola. Korede is a respected nurse in a local hospital and her sister designs clothing and has a habit of killing her boyfriends in “self-defense.” Korede always gets the call and helps Ayoola clean up. Korede begins to question her loyalty to her sister when Ayoola starts to date the handsome, young doctor that Korede is secretly in love with. What’s a girl to do when your serial killer sister is moving in on the man you love?
Korede and Ayoola both share different naivetes when it comes to men and social graces. Ayoola understands what men want – even seemingly good-hearted men and tries to make Korede understand. Korede tries to make Ayoola understand that it’s poor form to SnapChat days after your boyfriend has gone missing.
Braithwaite’s use of political and culture satire is masterful and makes this novel work in a way that makes you sympathetic to these otherwise unlikable characters.
Highly recommend this quick read to horror and thriller fans – especially for those who enjoyed the early Dexter books.