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 Book of the Most Precious Substance

An erotic literary thriller by Sara Gran

The Book of the Most Precious Substance is the latest release from Sara Gran. For those in the horror community, she is arguably best know for her possession novel, Come Closer. It deserves its own post, but for now let me assure you that it is one of the best modern novels of possession.

Her new novel, while completely different from her take on the demonic, still has its roots in the occult. Former novelist Lily Albrecht has become a rare book dealer out of necessity. It’s not what she wanted to do with her life, but she found she’s quite good at it and is able to support her husband, Abel, and his caregiver with her sales. One day at a book sale in New York, another dealer approaches her with an opportunity to make six figures if they can find a book for a buyer. He reveals the name, The Precious Substance, they make a deal, and he’s found dead the next day.

Lily needs the money and enlists the help of another dealer, Lucas, in order to find out about the book, how to find the buyer, and how to get their hands on it. Together they discover the book is considered the oldest and most powerful occult book on sex magic to ever exist. Only five, hand-written copies exist in the world. The quest and obsession with the book takes Lily and Lucas across the country and across Europe as they attempt to put their hands on a copy.

This book ticked a lot of boxes for me and I found it to be absolutely unputdownable. The underworld of rare book buying? Yes, please. The obsession to find a book that can grant you what you desire most in the world, if you’re only willing to perform the book’s five acts? More, please. The sordid, passionate lives of book people? Absolutely!

If you’re looking for a fast-paced, sex-filled, literary thriller – look no further and pick up this book right now. Highly recommended!

5/5 Stars.

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?

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.

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.

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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.

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?

Fever Dream

A surreal novella by Samanta Schweblin and translated by Megan McDowell

4/5 Star Review

It’s nearly the end of September and I am wrapping up 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 and it featured five different reading challenges – check out this link for the details!

I read Fever Dream for Challenge #3 – Read a Book by a POC (Person of Color). This is my third “official” pick for the read-a-thon.

Fever Dream is a hallucinatory tale of a woman called Amanda who is dying in a rural clinic. At her side sits a young boy called David who pushes her to tell the story of how she arrived there.

I hesitate to say much more about the plot as this is only a novella and it is easy to give too much of the story away. Schweblin is originally from Argentina and paints that landscape clearly in a short amount of time. The tale is set in the country – an area that is still heavily reliant on traditional healers rather than modern medicine.

My only complaint, and it is minimal, is that I felt this story needed to be a little bit longer, needed a little bit more time to cook. There are ambiguous endings and there are endings that just don’t quite feel complete – this felt like the latter to me.

Overall, I quite enjoyed this cautionary tale of modern evils and the plight of those who are only beginning to understand them and their consequences. The novella is a gorgeous blend of surrealism, hallucinations, confusion, unreliable characters, and magic. This is a great little book which should be devoured in one sitting and I recommend this to those who enjoy a healthy mix of magical realism and horror.

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.

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

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!

Bunny

A novel of splendidly weird fiction by Mona Awad

5/5 Star Review

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.

Click on the banner image to purchase from bookshop.org.

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.

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

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!

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.