Ghoul

A coming-of-age horror novel by Brian Keene

5/5 Star Review

It’s the last week of April and you know what that means – we are halfway to Halloween! Over on the Spine Breakers YouTube channel, Sue and Megan have been hosting Halfaweenathon 2020. You can find the the original video and the reading challenges here.

I read Ghoul for challenge #2 – Read a spooky book and then watch the movie (or TV) adaptation.

Ghoul is a perfect example of quintessential coming-of-age horror. The novel takes place over the summer of 1984. Three boys, twelve years old and best friends, are going through their own separate hells at home, fighting a supernatural monster, and becoming more grown-up than they should ever have to be over the course of just one season.

Timmy, Doug, and Barry live in small-town PA and their primary playground is the cemetery that sprawls next to Timmy and Barry’s homes. They notice that something seems to be going on when Barry’s dad, the cemetery caretaker, warns them away from playing there anymore and tells them to never come near it again at night. Days later, they notice some of the gravestones seem to be sinking into the earth. As more holes seem to be opening up and people start to go missing, the boys make plans to try and explore what they believe to be an underground cave system underneath the cemetery. Amidst their outdoor adventures, each of the boys is dealing with their own issues at home. Barry lives with a verbally and physically abusive father; Doug lives with a mother who is far too physical with her affections; and Timmy is dealing with the death of a family member and a father who demands he grows up too quickly.

Ghoul reminds us that there are things in this world that we perceive to be monsters, but that they are only doing what it is in their nature to do. It reminds us that humans can be monsters, and they they can be the most monstrous of all. Highly, highly recommended read!

I read my old Leisure copy of Ghoul that is no longer in print. You can find the current version linked here that is in print through Deadite Press. If you want to go all out – I highly suggest ordering the June 2020 Night Worms package, “Boys of Summer.” One of the books included will be an exclusive version of Ghoul published by Poltergeist Press with new cover art and a new introduction written by Brian Keene – read more about it here.

I’m only going to say a few words about the movie. It was released in 2012 and made for Chiller TV. I rented it through Amazon Prime and watched it a few nights ago. It was incredibly disappointing. It was missing all of the heart from the book and the filmmakers made some serious changes to the plot, particularly in regards to the ghoul itself. The changes could have worked, or at least not have been as glaringly out of place, if they hadn’t tried to use so many direct lines from the novel. Delivering the lines without context, or completely different context, just made for a muddy mess. I highly recommend skipping over the movie and just reading the book.

John McNee’s Doom Cabaret

A transgressive horror anthology by John McNee

5/5 Star Review

Do you remember the first time that your read Clive Barker or Poppy Z. Brite? Or the first time you discovered books published under the old Dell Abyss imprint or the splatterpunks of the 1990s? That feeling – that excitement – of knowing that horror can be both brutal and beautiful? That’s where I am with John McNee’s Doom Cabaret.

Like Brite and Barker, McNee has perfected the art of presenting taboo acts of extreme horror, violence, and gore as art. He makes the grotesque palatable by painting it with smooth curves and soft edges – acceptable in its brutality.

Doom Cabaret is comprised of eight short stories – all of which are worth mentioning: Bebbel – A story of dark magic and a carnival sideshow; Dead Deanna – About a girl who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer; Man Holding Razor Blade – Sometimes art takes on a life of its own; Slaughterhouse Sweetheart – Some men can never stop playing with their food; Skunk Jr. – A story about a couple who finally get a baby of their own; Repulsive Glamour – A cautionary reminder not to anger the gods; The Lullaby Man – A girl confronts her childhood nightmares; and the title story, Midnight at the Doom Cabaret – A sinister nightly show whose main act is always different and always chosen by the patrons.

If I have struck a chord reminiscing about 90s horror, or if you are looking for a darkly beautiful slice of the macabre, John McNee’s Doom Cabaret is available on April 24th 2020 and I highly recommend that you pre-order it now! I have placed a link to the ebook on the title image above.

This was my first time reading McNee and I can guarantee that it won’t be the last. It’s been awhile since I have been so very excited about a new author! My next dive into his works will be his novel, Prince of Nightmares, published by Blood Bound Books in 2016.

Please note that I did receive this title as a review copy in exchange for an honest review. 

In the Shadow of Spindrift House

A novella of cosmic horror by Mira Grant

4/5 Star Review

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

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

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

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

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

Top 5 Reads of 2019

2019 was an exciting year in reading for me: I started this blog as a way to communicate my thoughts and feelings on great reads, to promote horror, and to connect with more readers and authors. Overall, I would say the year was a successful one as far as those goals went – even though the last few months got away from me due to life issues. I didn’t set much of a posting timeline going in, but I was able to read and post regularly up to October. Moving into 2020, I’m going to try to post at least twice monthly – hopefully more! Look for a “What to Expect in 2020” post coming your way very soon!

Throughout 2019, I was able to read 74 books. Most were 4 and 5 star reads so narrowing it down to five was really difficult! Nevertheless, here they are – in no particular order. My top 5 reads of 2019:

Bunny by Mona Awad

13 Views of the Suicide Woods by Bracken MacLeod

Cry Your Way Home by Damien Angelica Walters

Things We Lost in the Fire by Mariana Enriquez

Westlake Soul by Rio Youers

Links to my reviews have been embedded in the titles if you would like to read them. 13 Views and Westlake Soul are currently out-of-print, but look for them in your local library on on the secondary market – they are absolutely worth tracking down.

What were your top reads of 2019?

Paperbacks from Hell

The Twisted History of ’70s and ’80s Horror Fiction by Grady Hendrix with Will Errickson

5/5 Star Review

What is there to possibly say about this glorious book that hasn’t already been said? I read this book last fall and keep going back to it over and over again. To those few of you who may be unfamiliar, Paperbacks from Hell is an ode to the bygone days of horror, broken down by the popular tropes of the ’70s and ’80s: Satanism, Creepy Kids, Killer Animals (of all kinds), and Science gone horribly, horribly wrong – just to name a few. This is an over-sized paperback book that is absolutely brimming with the tremendous cover art that graced these books back in the day. Let’s be honest – most of the time, the covers were far, far better than the actual books.

Click the cover art to purchase from bookshop.org.

I am a child of the early ’80s, so much of what I discovered here was brand new to me. That being said, there were still some fun moments of nostalgia to be had when I saw V.C. Andrews creep up in the opening of the Gothic and Romance chapter; old favorites R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike leaping from the section entitled, Won’t Somebody Think of the Children?; and unfortunately, the downfall, the Death Rattle, and the discussion of the Dell Abyss line – Poppy Z. Brite got me through high school, dear readers.

Like the many others who came before me, I finished Paperbacks from Hell and knew that I had to own these new-to-me books and seek out titles that I used to own 25 years ago. It’s been an expensive year, friends.

Paperbacks from Hell has made old fans nostalgic and new fans hungry for the horror that came before. Along with the thriving independent publishing scene, this resurgence has helped to bring horror back into the light and birth a whole new generation of fans.

I can’t recommend this book enough – whether you’re a fan of the genre, or the artwork, or just want to know more about pulp classics – this book is the bee’s knees.

Need more? I also recommend checking out the sites below:

Grady Hendrix – Check out the author’s page and subscribe to his free newsletter. It’s like receiving free mini-sequels to Paperbacks right in your own mailbox! Don’t forget to check out Book Reviews of the Damned and read Grady’s take on some of the trashiest, craziest books he can find!

Too Much Horror Fiction – Check out co-author Will Errickson’s review blog. This site is an absolute treasure chest of mainstream and obscure horror. You can get lost on here for days!

Valancourt Books – A small, independent press that specializes in the rediscovery of rare, neglected, and out-of-print titles. These excellent folks have teamed up with Hendrix and Errickson to resurrect some of the titles featured in Paperbacks from Hell and they have been reprinted with new introductions by either Grady or Will. Valancourt has done their best to retain the original cover art where possible and have already released the first wave of five titles. The second wave is just launching – be sure to check it out!

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.

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

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.

The Graveyard Apartment

A Japanese horror novel written by Mariko Koike and translated by Deborah Boliver Boehm

3/5 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 The Graveyard Apartment for Challenge #5 – Read a Translated Book OR A Book Set in Another Country. This is my second “official” pick for the read-a-thon and happened to fit the bill on both accounts.

The Graveyard Apartment tells the story of Teppei, Misao, and their young daughter, Tamao. The couple has bought their first apartment – it’s an absolute bargain for the location and close to school and the train. However, there is a downside. The apartment building overlooks an old Buddhist graveyard and crematorium. Strange occurrences begin on the first day in their new home and continue to ramp up all the way to the very end.

One thing this book does very well is creating a certain atmosphere. The entire book has a very claustrophobic feel to it which adds to the spookiness. It feels dark, dreary, and cold – even when it is a beautiful summer day.

There are several issues that I have with the book, and I feel that they may have simply been “lost in translation.” Without dropping any spoilers, the main issue that I have is the reason for the haunting. The book alludes to a few possibilities, but they don’t necessary correlate with the end of the book. There were many statements and descriptions where the translation seemed almost too literal and it made for some awkward dialog and narration. Lastly, my interpretation of the story may have also been incorrect due to cultural differences and societal norms.

I enjoyed the book, but I definitely didn’t “get” it. The Graveyard Apartment has a bit of a slow build, but once it ramped up, I couldn’t put it down. I would recommend it if you are a fan of Japanese horror – a lot of the common ghost story tropes are there, but the average horror reader could give this one a pass. Have you read it? What are your thoughts?

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!

Corpse Cold

New American Folklore written by John Brhel & Joe Sullivan and illustrated by Chad Wehrle

5/5 Star Review

I first found out about this collection from a bookmark that was included in my January (I think…) Night Worms subscription box. Shortly thereafter, I stumbled upon Cameron Chaney’s BookTube channel and saw a great review for it (here). I knew I had to have it.

If you were a child in the 90’s and a fan of all things creepy, chances are you read Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, written by Alvin Schwartz and illustrated by Stephen Gammell. I sure was and can remember checking these books out from the school library over and over again. I loved them – and they terrified me. The illustrations alone were solid nightmare fuel.

Why am I waxing nostalgic about Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark? Let me tell you – Corpse Cold is a gorgeous homage to these childhood classics. Brhel & Sullivan have written a brilliant new collection amassing classic folklore tropes, local legends, and personal experience and packaging it all into this little book that is most definitely not for children.

Standout stories for me were Czarny Lud, a story of the Polish boogeyman and misbehaving children; Autoplay ‘On’, a cautionary tale of the dark web; Moss Lake Island, on why you should never trust witches; It That Decays, body horror that is not for the faint of heart; and Jesup, a tale of a boy and his pets.

Special recognition goes to Chad Wehrle for his illustrations in this collection. He truly captured the grotesque beauty that Stephen Gammell was known for and brought these stories to life with his artwork in Corpse Cold.

If you are jonesing for some scary stories and wishing to recapture that campfire nostalgia, look no further – you need Corpse Cold in your life. Brhel & Sullivan own and publish under their own imprint, Cemetery Gates Media. They have several other story collections that you can guarantee I will be ordering soon!