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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

End of the Road

Essays from The Farewell (But Not Really) Tour by Brian Keene

5/5 Star Review

When my pre-ordered copy arrived in the mail, I was only going to crack it open – just to take a peek. That peek lasted the rest of the night and into the next day. In less than 24 hours, I had completely consumed the book that I was intending to savor. C’est la vie. What can you do?

End of the Road is comprised of all of the essays that Keene wrote for Cemetery Dance Online during his Farewell (But Not Really) Tour in 2016. Cemetery Dance Press has collected all of the essays, plus a few extras – including a wonderful introduction from Gabino Iglesias – into a beautiful signed and numbered hardcover. As of this posting, it’s still in stock and limited to 750 copies. It’s a steal at only $40.

These essays are raw, heart-felt, and honest. If you listen to Keene’s podcast, you’ll know that he often speaks of bleeding onto the page – and that’s exactly what he has done here. He channels Hunter S. Thompson in a whisky-fueled cross-country tour and discusses his thoughts on grief, loss, mortality, longing, familial bonds, fandom, horror, friendship, love, art, comics, the rise and fall of horror publishing, and the craft itself.

I had the pleasure of meeting Brian Keene and John Urbancik on this tour when they were in Oviedo, Florida. They were signing at the Barnes & Noble in the mall there. Kudos to Chris Kosarich for organizing this event – by the way! The signing was a blast and it was my first time meeting both of them. I picked up Stale Reality by Urbancik and the two books Brian was promoting on the tour- Pressure and The Complex. Both authors were incredibly gracious and Brian even signed all my backlist books that I brought with me. I mention this because it was a great experience and Brian was so jovial – it’s hard to imagine, looking back at that signing after reading these essays, how very much he was going through in his personal life at that time. Let it never be said Keene is not on for his fans.

I’ve enjoyed so many of Brian’s novels and this was my first foray – aside from his newsletters – into his non-fiction and I am hooked! I just bought The Triangle of Belief for my Kindle and can’t wait to get to it! A “memoir-styled treatise on faith, religion, the occult, atheism, agnosticism, science, and the supernatural…” Yes, please!!

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?

House of Salt and Sorrows

A Gothic Retelling of The Twelve Dancing Princesses by Erin A. Craig

5/5 Star Review

September has passed, but with this entry, I am wrapping up my 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 House of Salt and Sorrows for Challenge #4 – Read a Book by a YA or Middle Grade Author. This was my fifth and final “official” pick for the read-a-thon.

It was many and many a year ago,

In a kingdom by the sea,

That a maiden there lived whom you may know

By the name of Annabel Lee; —

Annabel Lee – Edgar Allan Poe

I realize that I began this review by stating House of Salt and Sorrows is a fairy tale retelling, and it most definitely is – but it is impossible to ignore the homages to Edgar Allan Poe scattered throughout as well.

As the novel opens, Annaleigh Thaumas, our protagonist and the seventh of twelve daughters, is mourning the loss of her sister – the fifth familial death in but a few short years. They began with her mother and four of her eldest sisters followed – each death more tragic than the last. The deeply superstitious village believes that the family is cursed and none of the daughters believe they will ever marry well, if at all. After a series of events, they discover a hidden door in the family crypt that carries them anywhere their hearts’ desire. This leads to the girls sneaking out every night to attend balls all over the kingdom. As inevitably happens in fairy tales, situations and people are not often as they appear and the girls find themselves in terrible danger.

House of Salt and Sorrows has all of the common Gothic tropes – death and decay, haunted estates, family curses, madness, powerful love/romance, and ghosts. Craig writes them beautifully and weaves them into the setting and atmosphere of this novel. The setting is its own character in House; It is a raging sea, high cliffs, salty air, and sprawling manor. It is palpable. It paints the novel in blues and greens and grays that you can see as you read.

I would also like to mention, briefly, the mythology that Craig has built into this world. She has created a pantheon of gods that are worshiped in this land and they are reminiscent of those from the Greek and Roman mythos, but they have their own unique quirks. They are embedded in the day-to-day life of the people who live in this land and are therefore quite important to the story. I truly hope the author decides to revisit this world with another story. Craig has a strong talent for world-building.

As a final note, I want to remind readers that this is a YA book. If you go in expecting anything too grotesque or dark, you’re going to be disappointed. If you know what you are walking into – I think you will really enjoy this spooky little sea gem.

Garden of Eldritch Delights

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.

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!

Stirring the Sheets

A novella of grief and loss by Chad Lutzke

4/5 Star Review

For those of you who’ve read some of my reviews, you will have likely noticed that I am brief – both with the description of the book and my thoughts on it. I prefer writing in this format as these are the types of reviews that I like to read. I enjoy going into books relatively blind, without the opinions of others clouding my perspectives on the story. With that being said, it is difficult for me to review Stirring the Sheets without going into the plot to tell you why this wasn’t a full 5 Star read for me. If you’ve not yet read this novella, proceed at your own risk – thar be spoilers ahead!

Emmett, an elderly mortician, has unexpectedly lost his wife of 49 years in a terrible car accident. It’s been a year, and to his neighbors and co-workers, Emmett seems to be doing well. Except he really isn’t. He hasn’t slept in his bed since his wife died so as not to disturb the impression her body left in the sheets. He sleeps on the couch, surrounded by her photos; he will not eat food offered to him by the kind widow on his street because he thinks of it as cheating; in short, Emmett is a man still wrought with grief. One day, Emmett is sent to pick up a body that looks so much like his wife when she was younger, that he decides to bring her home.

Lutzke understands emotions – he is exceptionally skilled at conveying them in a way that really packs a punch. You feel every bit of Emmett’s grief in this story. It broke my heart to see him lean over the side of their bed where his wife slept to look at the impression left in the sheets and to smell her pillow. I have known loss and Lutzke gets it.

The story loses me when Emmett decides to bring the body of the woman home. He has been established as a man who respects the dead and the grieving, he considers this skill a service to his community. He takes meticulous care for the dead and the grounds of the funeral home. The mere fact that he would embalm a body without the permission of the family, steal it, take it home, and then cremate it earlier than he normally would have to cover it up – it is so mind-boggling wrong that I can’t get behind it. Everything we know about Emmett does not support this.

It should be said that there is nothing overtly sexual about the night Emmett spends with the dead woman. He wants the last night with his wife that he never got to have. This act is his catharsis. In the morning he is ashamed of what he has done and is finally able to begin the process of healing and moving on with his life.

This was a polarizing read for me. The story ran the gamut from 2 to 5 stars. I ultimately decided on the 4/5 Star rating due to how much this novella made me think about the story, human behavior, grief, and how I would handle losing a spouse of 49 years. I read this book weeks ago, but haven’t really been able to articulate my thoughts and feelings until now.

If you have read this, please comment! I would love to hear other perspectives on this book – whether you agree with me or not. This was a complicated read for me and I would love to have a discussion about it.