First, I hope you are well. Second, I’m pleased with my writing progress this past quarter even though I hit a few speed bumps. And third, these are the books I read the first three months of 2020 along with a one-sentence review for each.
I’ll link the titles to the Amazon e-book page in case you want to take a book for a spin.
Holy time-stuck-at-home, Batman, I just realized how many books I read 1st quarter. Here’s the TLDR version in case you’re in a hurry:
Best scare: Will Haunt You by Brian Kirk, about a haunted book, freaky.
Best anthology: None, why oh why do I insist on reading anthologies when I know I get more satisfaction from longer reads?
Best literary horror: The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson. I don’t think I’ll find a better lit-horror novel this whole year.
Best palate-cleansing light read: Summer Magic by Marcia Meara (poetry).
Best nonfiction: The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo, lots of wisdom and encouragement.
Best short read: Let Go by Michael Patrick Hicks, a zombie novelette that made me cry.
The Binge-Watching Cure II edited by Bill Adler is a horror anthology that starts with a 10-word story and works up to a 24,000-word story, and has only one story I didn’t like (because it came across as political ranting instead of fiction fun).
Adam’s Ladder edited by Michael Bailey and Darren Speegle. This dark science fiction anthology didn’t float my boat even though, as with most anthologies, there are a few clever, scary stories.
Oversight by Michael Bailey is a collection of two novelettes and one short story, all science fiction horror dealing with seeing or not seeing the monstrosities in life, all with passages that can get frustratingly sluggish or intriguingly ambiguous, but ultimately an impressive literary collection.
Widow by Rob Bliss. This imaginative retelling of The Three Little Pigs read like a surrealistic fairy tale with creepy people-pigs, but the omniscient POV was hard to follow at times.
Chosen by R.S. Broadhead. I loved the small town isolation and the occult madness and the scary plot, and while I didn’t love the prose, I suspect Broadhead’s writing style will mature with time.
Kind Nepenthe by Matthew Brockmeyer. This book with its haunted woods, gore, and madness should have been right up my alley, and hundreds of reviewers liked it, but I needed more tension and believable conflict for the story to click with me.
Under the Weather edited by Matthew Cash. This horror anthology uses weather as an antagonist or a support character in every story, and oh how I loved “Red Frost” as a modern Gothic take on vengeance.
Eventide by Mae Clair. The whole Hode’s Hill paranormal suspense trilogy is scary-fun with a feminine vibe, but this third book is the best with a terrifying ghoul, a relatable and likable protagonist in Madison Hewitt, and several despicable humans that keep giving Madison grief.
Stranger Still by Michaelbrent Collings. In this psychological horror story full of torture, blood, and many, many killings, Collings develops the serial killer character so well that a couple of times I caught myself feeling sorry for the killer, ugh!
Tendrils of Passion by Carrie Dalby. Book three in this Southern Gothic, paranormal romance series has a rich, textured setting 100-some years ago near Mobile, Alabama, and a sweet-n-strong protagonist, Magdalene, that you feel good about cheering on.
The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson. Southern Gothic meets folklore meets horror, all tied up with Davidson’s poetic prose. Davidson’s a freakin’ genius.
The Art of Slow Writing by Louise DeSalvo. God bless DeSalvo for explaining in this super encouraging book with loads of writing advice that it’s okay to make false starts, to explore tangents, and to re-re-re-re-re-rewrite, because I was beginning to think it was just me!
Monkspike by Sarah England. Darn it, a Gothic story I wanted to like but didn’t because the frequent changes in POV were distracting and the non-occult scenes lacked tension. (Still, Monkspike has lots of good reviews. I think this book is a case of different strokes for different folks.)
“The Mysterious Disappearance of Charlene Kerringer” by Marlena Frank is a short story that gets kudos from me for having a scary baby (!) and a hard-boiled PI together in one tale.
Fiona Finch and the Pink Valentine by Teagan Geneviene. This novelette is the cutest, pinkest steampunk love story ever.
Come Closer by Sara Gran. Freaky possession stories scare me witless, especially when they drag you by the ankles through an ordinary woman’s life so that you think the story is plausible!
Plain by D.T. Griffith. Poor Essy is just trying to leave her horrible childhood behind. Rarely is insanity captured so well in a story. Five mad stars. (Okay, that was three sentences, not one, but Plain was worth it!)
That Which Grows Wild by Eric Guignard. I wanted to love this short story horror collection, but Guignard’s neither purple nor minimalist prose comes across lukewarm for me even though I thoroughly enjoyed the desert monsters in “Last Days of the Gunslinger, John Amos” (practically worthwhile buying the collection just for that story).
Let Go by Michael Patrick Hicks. This is the first zombie story that actually made me cry because it addressed those things in life that we all find precious (and that could be destroyed with one zombie bite).
The Haunting of Beacon Hill by Ambrose Ibsen. Crud, I should have enjoyed this Gothic haunted house story, but the prose was too florid for my liking and the omniscient point of view too confusing.
The House on Cold Hill by Peter James. I am the perfect audience for this modern Gothic haunted house story by a talented author with mature writing skills. Five fat stars!
Entanglement by Gerald Kilby. The first book in Kilby’s Belt trilogy is a hard-science fiction book about faster-than-light communications in space with the best part of the book being neither the plot nor the characters but Kilby’s ability to simplify advanced science for ordinary readers. This was a buddy-read with my sweet husband.<3
Entropy by Gerald Kilby. This is book two in Kilby’s Belt trilogy, and now the artificial intelligences are characters themselves, which is cool, but I sure wish the protagonist, Commander Scott, wasn’t so doggone mopey. Another buddy-read with Dear Husband.<3
Will Haunt You by Brian Kirk. This gimmicky, trippy, self-aware story about a haunted book (and monsters) scared me so much I almost stopped reading until I realized I had stopped at exactly .666 of the way through . . . so I HAD to keep going, don’t ya see? I had to keep going.
Critical Decision by Richard Mabry. An easy read, this medical thriller with a Christian slant is the perfect palate cleanser if you’ve been reading too many serial killer novels!
Mr. Sagittarius by M.J. Mallon. The lives of three siblings, one of them dead, are told through episodic stories and poems full of whimsy and wisdom for a short, happy read.
Never Kiss the Dead by Kelly Martin. Told in typical Kelly Martin style (check out Martin’s YT channel if you’re not familiar with her adorable self), this YA horror novel has a fast paced, big stakes plot and a humorous internal dialogue from protagonist Mercy Manning.
Summer Magic by Marcia Meara. A feel-good book of summer poems, delightful!
Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors edited by Doug Murano and Michael Bailey. Like a typical anthology, there were stories I didn’t care for (for me, politics takes the fun out of horror), some well-done insanity stories (like Mercedes Yardley’s “The Making of Asylum Ophelia”), and some nail-biters (like Max Booth’s “You Are My Neighbor”).
Nightface by Lydia Peever. I enjoyed this thoughtful, literary approach to vampires with their needs, wealth, and cruelty, and the Ottawa setting descriptions were so good I could almost touch the railings and feel the pebbles and smell the river.
Reaper by Jonathan Pongratz is a fun YA novella with monsters who enter through (where else?) the creepy door in the basement!
The Funeral Birds by Paula Readman. (Doesn’t Readman have the bestest name for a writer?) This murder mystery novella with a paranormal twist kept me turning pages because of the darling, almost-retired private eye and his plucky wife. This is Readman’s debut novella, and it’s a good story, but I think Readman is going to write great stories.
The Lot on Route 6 by Anthony Renfro. What, Christmas tree monsters? Light prose, unique monsters, and a quick pace make this a fun, holiday horror novella.
Angelus Rose by Loren Rhoads and Brian Thomas. I thought the first 30 percent of the book was sluggish, but then this angels-and-demons romance with lots of blood thrown in takes off and throws epic mythology, tantalizing sex, and heady philosophy at you for a satisfying reading experience.
Rigor Morbid: Lest Ye Become edited by Sandra Ruttan is an anthology of gross, creepy, or scary stories, and I thought some were great, but “MRSA Me” was too close to home to read during a pandemic!
Horror Stories: Scare Street Horror Short Stories Book 4 edited by Emma Salam. This anthology is full of mature, polished writing techniques, and while I didn’t enjoy every story (different writing styles will appeal to different readers), I did enjoy the various subjects and the way the authors made me cringe or pause to check over my shoulder.
A Sparge Bag on the Washing Line by Julia Thorley. Written in daily diary style, this is a lighthearted, humorous account of Mr. Thorley’s first year of retirement . . . from Ms. Thorley’s point of view.:-)
All Systems Red by Martha Wells. Who hasn’t heard of the popular Murderbot? He’s a space-based cyborg with emotional scars, the best science fiction protagonist ever! This was yet another buddy-read with the sweet hubster.<3
Pretty Little Dead Girls by Mercedes M. Yardley. A serial killer story told fairy tale style . . . yeah, that weirded me out a little, too, but it is good.
I am thankful for downloadable ebooks which make reading easy when you’re stuck at home.
Be safe, be well.