Blood Bank: A Charitable Anthology

Spreading Hope Through Dark Fiction – Edited by Blood Bound Books

5/5 Stars

The good folks at Blood Bound Books have put together a truly stellar anthology featuring fourteen authors who are some of the biggest names in horror right now – Livia Llewellyn,  Neil Gaiman, Jo Kaplan, Kristopher Triana, Kealan Patrick Burke, Mona Kabbani, Max Booth III, Joseph Sale, Jay Wilburn, Jeremy Robert Johnson, Rena Mason, Lucy Leitner, Patrick Freivald, & Jeff Strand.

Click the link to get a signed copy for only $20 USD

My favorite thing about this anthology, which you might guess if you’re familiar with any of these authors, is the wide variety of horror sub-genres contained within. Looking for horror comedy? Jeff Strand and Neil Gaiman have you covered. Looking for something a little more extreme? Kristopher Triana has your back. Body horror your bag? Jeremy Robert Johnson can scratch that itch. There are monsters, grief, revenge, magical realism – you get the idea. There is something for everybody in this collection.

While there wasn’t a story in this anthology that I didn’t like, a few stood out as favorites – They Say the Sky is Full of Snakewolves by Lucy Leitner, about the power of fear; Laws of Virulrnce by Jeremy Robert Johnson, about the spreading of a new virus; Every Breath is a Choice by Max Booth III, about a desperate father’s quest for revenge; and New Fox Smell by Livia Llewellyn, about a new kind of fox hunt.

The best part about purchasing this anthology? A portion of the proceeds from every copy of Blood Bank will be donated to Read Better Be Better and Hagar’s House, quarterly, over the next five years! What’s not to love about this? You get a stellar collection of stories AND you get to help out two worthy charities –

Read Better Be Better – Read Better Be Better’s mission is to connect young readers and youth leaders to inspire a love of literacy and learning. Click the link to read their full mission statement and to take a look at the good work that they do.

Hagar’s House – Hagar’s House is a sanctuary for women, children, and gender non-conforming folks that provides an open and empowering residential community, resource coordination, and a safe space to transition into sustainable housing. Click the link to read their full mission statement and to take a look at the good work that they do.

What are you waiting for? Click the link above to get a signed paperback for only $20! You can also pick up a version for your Kindle here.

The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories Volumes 1 and 2

Edited by James D. Jenkins and Ryan Cagle

5/5 Star Review

I recently had the displeasure of suffering through a horrid cold and sinus infection. The one positive from the whole ordeal is that I had a few days of nearly uninterrupted reading time. During this time, I blew through both volumes of The Valancourt Book of World Horror Stories.

The good folks at Valancourt Books recognize the lack of translated horror fiction in the U.S. market and are seeking to bring more to light. Nearly every story in both volumes is appearing for the first time in English. The stories range from over five continents and a multitude of languages, including the endanged Romansh in volume two.

Volume One features twenty-one contemporary horror stories published in thirteen different languages. Favorite stories in this collection for me were Uironda, from Italy, about an exit off the highway that sometimes appears to truckers; The Angle of Horror, from Spain, about seeing people from a new angle – fans of Junji Ito will see this as a stand-out story; Señor Ligotti, from Mexico, about a real estate deal that is just too good to be true; Pale Toes, from Finland, folk horror about cave dwelling creatures; and The House of Leuk Dawour, from Senegal, about the evil spirit, or rab, Leuk Dawour. Other standout stories were The Time Remaining, from Hungary; Menopause, from the Ivory Coast; The Bones in her Eyes, from the Netherlands; and Backstairs, from Sweden.

Volume Two features twenty contemporary stories published in sixteen different languages. Valancourt tried not to repeat stories from any of the countries previously published in Volume One and succeeded with the exception of Denmark. While I thoroughly enjoyed Volume One in this new series, Volume Two was my favorite. I felt Valancourt extended their reach a bit further and pulled in some extremely varied and different stories. Where the stories in Volume One felt safe and relatable for foreign readers, Volume Two felt edgier and not afraid to take risks.

It’s incredibly difficult to narrow down my favorites from Volume Two, as I flagged nearly every story for one reason or another. However, a few standouts for me were Whitebone Harp, from China, about a woman who gives herself entirely to her husband; The War, from Poland, about the truth of never-ending war; The Old Wound and the Sun, from Japan, about an interesting portal; The Bell, from Iceland, about a plague in a small town; The Grain Dryer of Tammõküla, from Estonia, about a ghost and family secrets; and Firstborn, from Greece, about the truth behind a family’s wealth.

If you’re a fan of short stories and a wide variety of horror, these are two collections that you don’t want to miss!

The Thirteenth Koyote

A werewolf splatter western by Kristopher Triana

5/5 Stars

Leave it to Triana to remind us that werewolves are monsters. In The Thirteenth Koyote, the eight installment in the Death’s Head Press Splatter Western series, we get a brutal tale of werewolves and redemption set against the backdrop of the old west.

Our story begins with Vern, a disreputable undertaker, come grave robber, who unwittingly unearths the body of Jasper Thurston, the first Koyote. Thurston’s undead heart still beats and calls upon those who can hear it to the small town of Hope’s Hill. Unbeknownst to many, the church in Hope’s Hill harbors an ancient secret, a powerful piece of evil that can open up the very gates of Hell if it falls into the wrong hands. Ultimately, the fate of the town, and the world, lies with a small ragtag group of men and women who are willing to stand up and fight again the Koyotes and the very evil they represent.

At just under 500 pages, The Thirteenth Koyote weaves a taut tale of good vs. evil vs. what we often question to be good. It is full of richly developed characters – who, spoiler alert, often die. No joke, this was like reading Game of Thronesdo not get attached to any characters because you just don’t know who is going to make it out alive. The Koyotes are a ruthless gang of killers and if you are looking for sympathy, you won’t find it here. What you will find are monsters, ancient magic, evil, brutality, and a few good folks willing to stand up against all of it.

I loved this book. It was a lot of fun and paid homage to the splatter western theme perfectly! Do yourselves a favor and pick this one up. The sequel, Ballad of the Werevixens will be releasing soon from Death’s Head Press.

The Razorblades in My Head

A short story collection from Donnie Goodman

If you spend any time following horror writers or reviewers on social media, you will have heard of The Horror Hypothesis. Donnie Goodman has built his brand across all social media platforms and that’s how I stumbled upon his first publication – an anthology of short stories titled, The Razorblades in My Head.

Goodman’s inaugural release packs a strong punch that spans multiple sub-genres. While some stories struck me as homages to the author’s influences, Third Grade, Magic in the Hat, and Stargazing; Others stood out as wholly and uniquely the author’s own voice emerging, The Stranger in the Squared Circle, The Old Bay King, and Toasted.

The standout stories for me were The Old Bay King, a tale about crabbers who stumble across an abandoned boat; The Stranger in the Squared Circle, a wrestler finds himself headlining with a star he’s never heard of; Toasted, flash fiction about a talking toaster; Teddy, the story of a paranormal cremator; and Hourglass, a horror comedy tale about a botched sacrifice.

While some of the stories didn’t feel quite fleshed out enough for my taste, this collection overall is highly readable and a whole lot of fun. If you’re looking for a multi-genre, single author anthology, I recommend giving The Razorblades in My Head a read. I can’t wait to see what Goodman puts out next!

4/5 Star Review.

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!

Underworld Dreams

An anthology of weird fiction by Daniel Braum

4.5/5 Stars

Right, then. You received gift cards this holiday season and are looking for books to spend them on. Let me direct you toward Underworld Dreams. If you enjoy weird, ambiguous fiction then this is a must-read!

Released this past September, Dreams takes us on a journey from shapeshifting sharks in New York to to hunting for seahorses in 1980s Belize. While all of the stories in this collection were enjoyable, the following were absolute standouts for me:

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

The Monkey Coat – June finds an old coat made of real monkey fur in her grandmother’s old trunk. She is drawn to it and wears it out about town. The thing is – she can’t remember what all she does at night when she wears it.

How to Stay Afloat When Drowning – In Montauk, New York, sharks are coming ashore to take back the oceans.

Palankar – Jacob and Steven are brothers who have returned to Palankar Reef in Mexico to relive a dive trip they took with their father thirty years ago. Jacob is trying to convince his brother to return to his wife and kids, but plans go a bit off-kilter when he sees Steven’s doppelganger on the dive down.

Rum Punch is Going Down – A man acquires the nickname of Rum Punch in Belize where he has gone to escape his life and search for seahorses. On his quest, he may or may have not found supernatural goings on in a small, seaside community.

Something else about this book that I really enjoyed were the author’s story notes added at the end. It’s a rare thing, at least in the books that I have read, to find notes on the inspirations and explanations for stories in weird fiction collections. More often than not, endings tend to be ambiguous and left to the reader’s conclusion. Don’t get me wrong, these stories still are – but it is interesting to understand where the author was coming from when he wrote them.

Bottom line? If you enjoy modern weird fiction, you are seriously missing out if you miss this collection.

The Pike Cast & Die Softly

Chatting about the new podcast and a vintage YA book review

3.5/5 Star Review

Christopher Pike and L.J. Smith were my two absolute favorite YA horror writers in the mid-90’s. I couldn’t get enough of them and I waited impatiently for each new book to come out. They are the two authors whose work I have held on to since my middle school days. While I have reread a few of L.J. Smith’s series, I have been wanting to revisit my Pike collection for a long time and kept putting it on the back-burner – until now. Enter The Pike Cast!

The Pike Cast is a brand-new podcast put together by Cooper S. Beckett author of the Prudence Osgood series, Cassie Daley artist and reviewer for Dead Head Reviews and Ladies of Horror Fiction, and Becca reviewer for As Told by Bex and Dead Head Reviews. The Pike Cast premiered on October 1, 2020 with a discussion of Die Softly. Every two weeks the gang will be back to discuss another Pike title! What better time to start rereading my Pike books?! The second episode will feature Whisper of Death.

Bear with me for one more bit of nostalgia before I get into the actual review of Die Softly… Once upon a time, in the early days of dial-up internet, there used to be an online Pike community called The Midnight Club. There was a website, but most of the communication was on ICQ and a listserv. It was so exciting to communicate with Pike fans from all over! Long before Facebook and Pike himself posting occasional updates there, he communicated with Scott and Shannon from The Midnight Club and we were able to get exclusive bits of news! (Fun fact – Pike’s long-awaited Execution of Innocence was dedicated to them!) You may be asking why I am bringing this up, aside from a trip down Pike memory lane. Simple – The Pike Cast has a Patreon and when you support the show for as little as $3/month, you get access to their private community on Discord. The community feels exactly like The Midnight Club used to feel – a warm, welcoming place for like-minded folks to discuss Christopher Pike. There are different channels for different chats and it is just a fun place to spend a little time every day. If you’re a fan, I highly recommend joining the group!

Ok! On to the review of the actual book – Die Softly by Christopher Pike. This will contain mild spoilers.

“Why did you two bake those cookies?” Herb asked.

“For money for drugs. I thought that was obvious?”

“I suppose. Did they have cocaine in them?”

“Just a tiny bit. Gave them a special flavor….”

The thing about Christopher Pike books was that they were always more mature than the other YA books out around that time. Reading them always felt like you were getting away with something. His teenagers drank, did drugs, had sex – they did things real teenagers did. That’s what I remember thinking at the time when I first started reading them.

I’m revisiting Die Softly about 25 years after reading it for the first time. Holy hell, friends! The amount of cocaine consumption in this book is insane! I’m sure that I understood it was an illegal drug when I first read this book, but reading it as an adult? Whoo boy! These cheerleaders have a serious habit! Fueled by the money from illicit school bake sales and a little B&E, Alexa and Lisa live a high-risk lifestyle. They bend boys to their will and make them into their personal slaves by addicting them to cocaine and sex. They are just trying to pass the time until they graduate high school and move out to L.A. where they dream of being famous. The All-American Dream, amiright?

Enter Herb, the self-proclaimed nerdy guy who will never get the girl. His passion is for photography and he just wants to get a few snapshots of the cheerleading squad naked in the showers after practice. After Lisa ends up dead and Herb develops the photos, he realizes he caught more on film than he ever bargained for!

The whole of Die Softy takes place over a couple of days and it is absolutely bonkers. It’s a whodunit fueled with cocaine, no sleep, drinking and driving, drinking and shooting, illegal weapons, and lots of teenagers getting murdered. Who even are these teenagers?! While Die Softly is certainly not one of Pike’s better books, it is so over-the-top that you can’t help but to appreciate it for what it is and chuckle at the absurdity of it.

There are some descriptions in here that are certainly signs of the times. Die Softy was first published in 1991 and it shows. We have an all white cast with the pretty popular girls holding all the power. Sammie, one of Herb’s best friends is an overweight girl who, “… didn’t have a body, her body had her. Somewhere inside, hidden beneath the rolls of fat, was the real Sammie.” Yikes. This description coming from the POV of her best friend – double yikes. Unfortunately though, that was typical in YA from this time period.

Overall, this is not one of Pike’s better books. It is notable, again, because it is so over-the-top, but it is also one of his few books with no supernatural element. It’s worth a read, but if you have never read Pike before I would not recommend this one as a jumping off point.

Next up – Whisper of Death! (A title that is a great jumping off point!)

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.

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.

Click the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

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 released from Off Limits Press on August 10, 2020. Click here to order the paperback directly from Off Limits or click the cover image above to order the book from my bookshop.org affiliates page.

It’s worth a mention that Crossroads was 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 titles straight from their site!