Reviews

Master of Horror: Poppy Z. Brite

Revisiting Lost Souls, Drawing Blood, and Wormwood

Some books feel like coming home again – if home is a ramshackle house out on Violin Road in Missing Mile, North Carolina.

I recently decided it was time to revisit some old favorites and it’s been more than twenty years since I’ve picked up these novels and short story collection from Poppy Z. Brite. These books got me through high school. I was a goth kid in a surfer town and it brought me unbelievable comfort knowing there were other kids like me out there in the world – even if they were fiction.

First up was Drawing Blood. This was my favorite when I was younger and I found it to still be my favorite even now. Trevor’s father is a struggling artist whose inability to draw has turned him onto the bottle. One night, when Trevor is just five years old, his dad takes a hammer and kills his mother, brother, and then hangs himself – leaving Trevor alive. Fast forward twenty years and Trevor has returned to Missing Mile, to the house where it happened, looking for answers. Zach, a hacker on the run from the cops, is also newly arrived in town. The two meet and have an immediate bond. As Trevor tries to get to the bottom of the mystery as to why he was left alive, Zach keeps him grounded with one foot still in our world while the other swings wildly into the supernatural. I love how untraditional this haunted house novel is and I’m not sure that I have yet read its equal.

Next up was Lost Souls. Technically a prequel to Drawing Blood, this novel takes place predominately in Missing Mile and New Orleans. They do not have to be read in order, but there are nods to events and such in Drawing Blood that happen in Lost Souls. Nothing is a baby left on a doorstep and by the time he is fifteen he realizes that he just doesn’t belong where he is. He steals a $100 from his parents and buys a bus ticket as far south as he can go. His favorite band is a group call Lost Souls? and he decides to head to where they’re from, hoping to meet them. Once the bus money runs out, Nothing starts hitching and fate brings him to the van carrying Zillah, Molochai, and Twig – three vampires. What Poppy Z. Brite did for the haunted house trope in Drawing Blood, he does for the vampires in this novel.

Finally, I took a dive into Wormwood (formerly titled Swamp Foetus). This is a short story collection that contains twelve short stories. Including two that feature Steve and Ghost of the band Lost Souls? They are two of my favorite characters so it was a pleasure to see them again here. Other standouts for me are The Sixth Sentinel about the ghost of Jean Lafitte; A Georgia Story about the lives of four boys who once lived in an abandoned church; The Elder about a man’s love for his son; and His Mouth Will Taste of Wormwood, about two men who can never be satisfied. There is truly not a bad story in this collection.

What’s the takeaway, you may ask? Reading these books again, at almost forty, I found that they still held up extremely well. Some horror dates itself, and not in a good way. Poppy’s books are cloaked in nostalgia and are so character-driven that they could almost happen at any place, during at any time. Poppy knows the south and it flows through these books like very few others. Long story short, I hope it’s not another twenty years before I pick these books up again and I hope you’ll pick them up with me.

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.

And the Devil Cried

A blend of crime noir and extreme violence by Kristopher Triana

Readers of this blog will know that I am a huge Kristopher Triana fan. It doesn’t matter what genre he writes in, he always knocks it out of the park and leaves his own unique flavor behind. And the Devil Cried is no exception to that remark. This novel is as dark and gritty as crime fiction gets. It’s written in first person and our protagonist, Jackie, is the most detestable human being imaginable.

The story begins as Jackie is being let out of prison and set up for the illusion of a straight life by crime boss, Pino. He has an apartment, a job in a deli, and begins working small jobs for Pino on the side. It’s not long before Pino needs Jackie for a job that’s right in his wheelhouse because Jackie is known for doing the jobs that no one else will – jobs that involve women and children.

Jackie is one of the most detestable, unlikable, and vile characters you are going to come across in any genre. He is a complete sociopath. His actions are reprehensible and dare I say, triggering.

I’m not a proponent of trigger warnings in general. Simply put, what triggers me may not trigger you and in this genre it’s difficult to pinpoint all of the triggering subject matter. I know this is an unpopular opinion, but that’s how I feel about it. That being said, if you have a problem with extreme violence and/or abuse, this may not be the book for you and I would be happy to recommend another Triana book to start with.

While I loved the novel, I personally struggled with the abuse of Natalie. She is the counter girl at the deli where Jackie works. He chooses her to be his, for lack of a better word, beard. She represents the normal, straight life he maintains on the surface while still living a dirty, sleazy life just underneath. The mental, physical, and emotional abuse was borderline too much for me. As a victim of emotionally and mental abuse, I wanted a redemption for Natalie that never really happened.

And the Devil Cried is the first release from new publisher, Stygian Sky Media. SSM is the child of Death’s Head Press head-honcho, Jarod Barbee, and acclaimed author, Jeremy Wagner.

If you ask me, this was a great pick to launch the new press and I will be looking forward to future releases from both SSM and Kristopher Triana.

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.

The Executioner’s Song

True Crime as a novel by Norman Mailer

5/5 Star Review

I recently fell down the rabbit hole when I discovered actor Josh Brolin’s Instagram page. I knew he was an actor, but what I didn’t realize is that he is also an avid reader and an immensely talented writer. During my fall, I discovered an article from a while ago that listed some of his recommended reading and The Executioner’s Song caught my eye. I’d not heard of it and I’ve never read Mailer, so I figured I would give it a go. I’m so pleased that I did.

The first thing you may notice about this novel is that it is a beast. At 1109 pages, plus a foreword, it’s a commitment. What I can promise you is the same thing that Dave Eggers’ promises in his foreword – this is the fastest 1100 pages that you will ever read.

The book follows Gary Gilmore on his journey as he is released from prison and his subsequent nine months as he travels down the road that leads him to murdering two people and being executed by the state of Utah. During the 1970s, Gilmore was a household name across the country. He was the first man to be executed after a 10-year moratorium on the death penalty in the United States. It sparked a nation-wide conversations on vengeance and morality.

I went into this book blind and I highly suggest you do as well. It’s a far more powerful read if you don’t have any preconceived notions about Gary or any of the people in his life. While this book is technically classified as a novel, it has been written as true to the facts as it could be. Based upon hundreds of interviews, letters, court transcripts, newspaper articles, and other documents, Mailer paints every player in this story as a well-rounded and important person. It’s important to remember that these are real people, with real problems, and morality is not black-or-white. Wherever you may fall on the death penalty or America’s criminal justice system, this book will make you question your opinions and ideals. It’s a powerful read that leaves you with a burning desire to discuss it.

This is a quintessential read for anyone who considers themselves a true crime reader or for anyone who thinks they have an unshakable opinion about our criminal justice system in the United States. Highly, highly recommended.

Dune & Mental Health

My Life in 2021

If you follow this blog, it should be quite obvious that it has been neglected over the past 16 months or so. The reason is both easy and difficult to explain. What it all boils down to is that I have been struggling with my mental health. If you’ve no desire to read this, please feel free to skip to the bottom – or click away if Dune doesn’t interest you either.

Early 2021 found me struggling to just keep my head above water. I knew that I probably needed to talk to someone, but I was hanging on, so I kept putting it off. Fast-forward to the summer where I found myself crushed by the weight of stress at work. Compile that with what I was already feeling in my day-to-day personal life? That was it. That was the proverbial straw. I got myself into counseling and a psychiatrist and started to take back control of my life.

Through counseling and medication, I am beginning to take back control of my life. I am getting back to myself, to the things that I enjoy and make me happy. Throughout all of 2021, I managed to read about four books. FOUR BOOKS?! Who even was this person? Reading has always been my happy place, my place to escape and leave all of my real troubles behind. The fact that I couldn’t handle reading should have been the largest, flashiest red flag of them all. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. I was too deep in my own head to see it.

2022 is proving to be remarkably better – I’ve already read about a dozen or so books and while that isn’t a lot for me, I’m okay with it. The time that I am making for myself to read is special and I am doing with it what I can. I am also enjoying other activities that make me happy and have even started to dabble in fictional writing again. I have decided to start blogging and reviewing again as well. I’ve missed it and aside from some drama, I miss the community a great deal as well. I’m ready to come back into it with new-found strength and confidence.

So. FOUR BOOKS?! It would make it seem easy to pick out my best read of 2021 with numbers like that, right? And you know what? It was. It surprisingly wasn’t even horror. It was Dune by Frank Herbert.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect when I went into this. Science Fiction from 1965? Chosen for our office book club? I know a few people who love it, but I started reading with a fair amount of skepticism. I’d seen the old David Lynch movie, but it did nothing to set up what I ultimately found in this book.

Dune is the single-best book that I have ever read in regards to world building. It’s clear that Frank Herbert had every bit of this universe planned and well-thought out before he endeavored to create the world of Paul Atreides. I am talking about every single aspect – from religion to ecology, from politics to people. There was not a piece of this story that was not intentional and nuanced. Herbert has an acute understanding of religion and politics that I’ve not read outside of non-fiction specifically on the topic.

I’m not going to waste time and summarize this book because I think everyone knows the basic plot at this point. Here’s what I will say – stick with it. This is an incredibly hard book to start reading. Much like Paul, we, as the reader, are dropped into this new world for which we have no understanding. Use the glossary – it will become your best friend and will help you to gain a deeper understanding of what’s happening during a given scene. My glossary is worn out! Once you tackle a few chapters, you will not be able to put the book down.

Without spoilers, there is a scene in this novel that is, hands-down, my single favorite scene ever in a book. It makes up the entirety of Chapter 16 and involves a dinner party hosted by the Atreides family and invitees are both enemies and allies. There is not a wasted word during this thirty-one page sequence. Every look, uttered phrase, movement – it’s all intentional and purposeful. It’s a choreographed dance and it is exquisite.

Even if Science Fiction is not your go-to genre, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It is intelligent and relevant, even after nearly 60 years.

5/5 Stars – If I could give it 10/5, I would.

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?