This past quarter was such a fabulicious three months for reading! (Mostly horror, but other stuff, too.) Can you believe I have X, Y, and Z authors? I’m aiming to keep each review whittled down to one sentence. Here we go…
I’m Tired of Being Ordinary, Are You? by Wm. Allen. Allen’s blog is about current topics, books, and films, and is so thought-provoking that I just had to read his book, and I found his self-improvement book to be motivating and entertaining with jokes and movie selections as it presented a focal point for each week of the year.
Frightful by Stephen Barnard. This collection of Christmas stories is all horror (clever, creepy, or gory), all fun, and would make an excellent Christmas gift for the horror fan (even for dear mom because Barnard manages to keep the stories rather clean).
Colony of the Lost by Derik Cavignano. I thought this was a contemporary haunted house story, but it’s so much more with mind control and an evil, cosmic creature and well developed lead characters.
In Search of McDoogal by Mae Clair. This feel-good novelette is like an old Honeymooners episode set in a contemporary small town with lovesick Brady in a pickle and his best buddy, Declan, trying to help him out, and like the Honeymooners, I laughed and smiled the whole way through, five stars.
Remains by Andrew Cull. Cull skillfully personifies a mother’s grief in this haunted house story, and the terror of what might lurk in the shadows (because we don’t actually see it for the longest time) is freakin’ scary!
Scarred Memories by Carrie Dalby is a Southern Gothic, historical romance that has no ghosts or anything like that but was fun to read in a gossipy way and a good palate cleanser after too many scary reads.:-)
Existential Western horror? Yup.
Grind Your Bones to Dust by Nicholas Day. I read this existential, theological, splatterpunk, supernatural, highbrow, masculine, mind-twisting, Western, horror novel slowly so I could soak up the poetic prose.
The Shadow of a Shadow by R.H. Dixon. Dixon takes the tropes of Gothic horror (bleak weather, orphans, shadows, madness, etc.) and creates a contemporary tale of a woman and her niece, their delusions, and their grief (and one vampire, maybe two). A five-star homerun.
Eternal Night by Benjamin Fouche is an ambitious collection of interwoven, Gothic horror stories, a pastiche of Poe, and the book is almost brilliant but loses some tension in the repetitive nature of the stories and the episodic manner in which some of them are written.
Broken by Marlena Frank is a YA fantasy set in an incredibly creative world that’s a kaleidoscope of magic and diverse beings.
Lunae Lumen by Lanie Goodell. Goodell takes a chunky vampire love story and crosses it with a hard-boiled detective murder mystery to produce something that’s almost great but tries to do too many things in one book.
Eeek, a giant, subterranean centipede!
The Chihuahua Centipede by Nicholas Gray is a near-future science fiction horror novella in which Cade, a widower and oilfield worker, must escape the giant, subterranean centipede that kills in the most horrific manner (scary and entertaining).
Graymatter by Nicholas Gray is Gray’s debut short story horror collection with deceptively simple prose that somehow makes the events and diverse creatures, in contrast, seem that much more terrifying.
A way-cool title.
Cinders of a Blind Man Who Could See by Kev Harrison. In this novelette with a way-cool title, occultism in a small UK village gets out of control until you ask yourself what wouldn’t a father do for the son he loves, and thus, the story is hard to put down.
The Swarm by Arthur Herzog. In this 1975 classic about Africanized honey bees gone wrong (yikes!), I loved the up-close, horrific scenes but got bored when the camera pulled back and the scope of the book got too big.
The Resurrectionists by Michael Patrick Hicks. In this violent, gripping, horror novella, Salem Hawley is a former slave living in the late 1700s in New York, and he ends up battling bizarre, Lovecraftian monsters as well as the normal human kind of monsters, but the abrupt ending (setting up for a sequel) made this a four-star read for me instead of a five-star.
Inky Quill Ramblings Volume 1 by the Hope Community Library Creative Writing Group in Wales. This anthology is Wales-themed and has sophisticated stories and poems, and my favorites were “Angelystor” by D M Kelly and “Black Dog” by Eileen O’Reilly, both dark tales based on Welsh legends.
Legacy and Other Short Stories by Debbie Johansson. Johansson writes with a prosaic but feminine hand in these dark stories about cruelty, vampires, sadness, and creatures, and the creature lurking in the watery depths of one of Johansson’s stories is why I don’t go swimming when I can’t see the bottom!
The Still by Bella Dean Joyner is Joyner’s debut horror novel portraying a serial killer, his sociopathy, and an evil entity, and the book is almost perfect except it’s a little heavy on the backstory.
Whiteout by Ashton Macaulay. Nick the adventurer battles the Yeti, brutal weather, and a rival crypto-hunter in this bloody, fun, creature-feature novel.
Hey writers, here’s a superb collection of essays and interviews.
Where Nightmares Come From edited by Joe Mynhardt and Eugene Johnson. This superb collection of essays and interviews about the how-to’s and philosophies of writing horror gave me a greater understanding of the genre along with several practical tips.
This book changed my relationship with my screen.
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport. Because Newport’s book is well researched and convincing, it changed my relationship with my screen.
Running in Heels by Mary A. Perez is a memoir about growing up in poverty and surrounded by alcoholics, and it left me feeling happy for Perez’s ultimate triumph.
The debut issue of 34 Orchard edited by Kristi Peterson is a literary magazine of intelligent horror and related dark literature and is so well curated that it restored my faith in the short story (I typically enjoy longer fiction more) because every story or poem made me stop and ponder.
An Invitation to Darkness by Hailey Piper. Set in 1881, this atmospheric, intelligent, fresh-take, Gothic horror novelette (complete with a decrepit ancestor in the attic) features a lesbian ship captain, her love Elizabeth, and the ghosts bound by Elizabeth’s sexuality.
I loved this debut from Pohlig!
The Unsuitable by Molly Pohlig. Set in Victorian England, this Gothic horror novel has all the tropes (wealth, mansion, dark colors, a haunting of sorts, a little blood) but throws in feminism and humor and delivers with lyrical prose that I absolutely savored. Loved this one!
The perfect haunted house story.
The Residence by Andrew Pyper. Pyper uses unobtrusive prose, a well-executed omniscient POV, historical details, and President Franklin Pierce’s White House to create the perfect haunted house story.
Days Pass Like a Shadow by Paula R.C. Readman is a dark fiction collection of short stories ranging from grief to war to a sociopath, and while I didn’t love every story, I enjoyed most of them, especially “Rat Trap” because it is hold-your-breath suspenseful.
The Window by Glenn Rolfe. The plot of this possession story is fabulous and consists of a dad going slowly bonkers under the influence of a demon, but the story loses tension in the scenes depicting happy people in happy places.
Campy . . . five stars!
Unmasked by R. Saint Claire. This contemporary Gothic novel with a serial killer, lots of blood, and a campy feel harkening to horror of the 1980s is a home run, well done, five stars!
Hook: Dead to Rights by Melissa Snark. In this entertaining retelling of Peter Pan, Hook is a good guy (and a woman), and Pan is the bad guy, but darn, the story ended abruptly as it set up the next book in the series. (A buddy read with the hubster. We both liked it.)
The Unbeliever and The Intruder by Morgan K. Tanner. Short Sharp Shocks! Book 39 is a collection of two entertaining, gory, short tales, a fantastical horror story called “The Unbeliever” which takes place at a theme park and a particularly violent horror story called “The Intruder” which explains what happens when a new dad gets postpartum depression.:-)
Oops, way more than one sentence.
We Are Legion by Dennis Taylor was another buddy read with Dear Husband. It’s a hard-science fiction book featuring Bob who’s been cryogenically frozen and wakes up with his mind uploaded into some hardware. (So yeah, Bob’s just a stack now.) The bad guys are Christians of the future, which I thought was in poor taste, but otherwise it’s a humorous and entertaining space story. Oh dear, that was way more than one sentence.
Artificial Condition (and Rogue Protocol and Exit Strategy) by Martha Wells are books two, three, and four in Wells’ science fiction Murderbot series (as well as more buddy-reads with Dear Husband), and the cyborg protagonist, Murderbot, is ridiculously adorable and the best part of the whole series.
The Hanover Block by Gregor Xane is bizarro horror, a new subgenre for me, and Xane’s story is gross and bizarre and compelling even though I wanted to look away!
Arterial Bloom edited by Mercedes Yardley. If 34 Orchard restored my faith in the short story, Arterial Bloom restored my faith in anthologies because Yardley took a diverse group of writers and somehow made their literary horror stories all speak to one another. Awesome.
She was only 17 when she wrote it!
The Extinct by Xiaole Zhan. The Extinct was my first experimental fiction novella, and it’s written in free verse and tells the coming of age story of a musician with the lyrical refrains in the text marking the passage of time. (It’s genius, and Zhan wrote it when she was only 17 years old!)
Whether you read horror, history, or other, I hope you are reading something wonderful.
Feature image by Ergita Sela on Unsplash.