Review: The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror Volume 1 edited by Paula Guran

cover of The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror Volume 1 edited by Paula GuranThe Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror Volume 1 edited by Paula Guran
Pyr (October 2020)
440 pages; $15.53 hardcover; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

In her introduction to The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror Volume 1, editor Paula Guran writes “Most of these stories begin with a world you can identify with. Then…the world changes. The normal is subverted.”

My first thought was, “That’s horror fiction in a nutshell.” (My second thought was, “That’s 2020 in a nutshell,” but I don’t want to get into all that.)

The stories Guran has chosen for this, her eleventh volume in this series (the first ten were published by Prime Books), back up her assessment. These are stories of worlds that you will probably recognize; or, at the very least, be able to relate to on some level. These are stories of ordinary beings trying to persevere under extraordinary circumstances. These are stories of extraordinary beings looking to reshape the world around them. These are stories of what happens when “the normal” is intruded upon, wiped out, rethought….or undone.

A few highlights:

Rebecca Campbell’s “The Fourth Trimester is the Strangest” follows a new mother as she fights through a postpartum horror show. As her sleeplessness and fear ratchets up, so does the fear she and those around her feel for her baby, and for the damage that may come at her suddenly unreliable hands.

Sam J. Miller’s “Shattered Sidewalks of the Human Heart” depicts the surreal encounter between a New York cab driver and a post-King Kong Ann Darrow. The cabbie takes Darrow away from yet another vapid red carpet event, and unexpectedly finds himself privy to her plans to avenge the death of the god-like ape.

“Conversations with the Sea Witch” by Theodora Goss tells of the meeting between a woman who was once a mermaid and an old sea witch. The two get together often to discuss the life-changing decisions they each made in the past, and how things turned out for them in the aftermath.

I’d call “About the O’Dells” my favorite of the collection. Pat Cadigan writes about a young girl who witnesses a murder, and who is (understandably) haunted by what she saw. Years later the killer — or someone the girl strongly believes is the killer — re-emerges, and the girl finds herself collaborating with a revenge-seeking ghost.

Guran has put together a solid collection here, filled with intriguing characters, fresh approaches to old tropes, and sound storytelling. This is definitely a great book to have around when you want something quick and good to read. It’s introduced me to a number of new names that I’ll be seeking out in the future. Recommended.

Review: Ink by Jonathan Maberry

cover of Ink by Jonathan MaberryInk by Jonathan Maberry
St. Martin’s Griffin (November 2020)
464 pages; $13.72 paperback; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

Jonathan Maberry first caught my eye nearly 15 years ago with Ghost Road Blues, which was both his first novel and the first novel in the Pine Deep Trilogy, which also includes Dead Man’s Song and Bad Moon Rising.  The town of Pine Deep has popped up here and there in his work since the completion of that original trilogy, but with Ink it’s back center-stage.

For those of you who haven’t read the Pine Deep Trilogy yet, don’t worry — Ink  stands on its own. I haven’t re-read those books since their original release, but that didn’t keep me from enjoying this book as its own story. However, I highly recommend picking them up — it’s a great trilogy, and reading them will certainly enhance your experience with Ink.

In this new novel, something is targeting citizens of Pine Deep and stealing their most precious possessions — their memories. It’s not just taking these moments from these people, it’s feeding on them, erasing them from existence. For many of the victims, memories are all they have, and losing them is the equivalent of losing their last tenuous grip on life.

I’ve long been in awe of Maberry’s talent. He does not write small books — I’d say 400 pages is about average for him. But his characters are so real, his scenes so vivid, you never feel bogged down. You come out of a Jonathan Maberry book not having read it, but having lived it. It’s the highest compliment I can pay to a writer, and Ink once again earns that accolade for its author.

Reading Ink was, for me, like returning to a place after along absence. It’s a place you once called home, and while lots of things are different now, there’s enough there that’s recognizable to bring those old feelings to the surface. Those feelings — those memories — are just what the monster in this book is feeding on. Losing those moments, those feelings, those memories, is a scary proposition, and Maberry’s work brings that feeling to dreadful life. Highly recommended.

Review: Bone Chase by Weston Ochse

cover of Bone Chase by Weston OchseBone Chase by Weston Ochse
Gallery/Saga Press (December 1, 2020)
336 pages; $26 hardcover; $9.99 paperback
Reviewed by Dave Simms

A hunt for giants? Ties to the Bible? Rival factions that stretch back eons?

This is easily going to be one of the hottest thrillers of the year. Imagine if you will, Dan Brown writing with the pacing of Lee Child with the adventure factor of James Rollins. If that’s not enough to crack open this book, nothing will. Did I mention there are giants?Continue Reading

Review: WYRD and Other Derelictions by Adam L.G. Nevill

cover of WYRD and Other Derelictions by Adam L.G. NevillWYRD and Other Derelictions by Adam L.G. Nevill
Ritual Limited (October 2020)
106 pages; $7.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

In the third collection of horror stories from Adam Nevill, something is missing. The “who” and the “what” and the “why” aspects of the story have been intentionally omitted from the narrative and it’s up to you, the reader, to discover and discern these things for yourselves.

Doesn’t that sound…

Horrifying?

Because it is.Continue Reading

Review: Sadako at the End of the World by Koma Natsumi and Koji Suzuki

cover of Sadako at the End of the WorldSadako at the End of the World by Koma Natsumi and Koji Suzuki
Yen Press (November 17, 2020)
146 pages; $15 paperback, $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Danica Davidson

Sadako, the vengeful ghost villain from The Ring franchise, gets a new twist to her story in the manga Sadako at the End of the World.

The Ring started out as a 1991 novel written by Koji Suzuki (and is available in America from the publisher Vertical), and that spawned off into more books and then movies. Japan made two movie adaptations and South Korea made one before the franchise made its way to America with a 2002 Hollywood movie adaptation starring Naomi Watts. In America, “Sadako” was changed to “Samara Morgan.” The obsession with Sadako and The Ring franchise continues in Japan, where their most recent movie in the franchise (called Sadako) came out in 2019.Continue Reading

Review: Meaningless Cycles in a Vicious Glass Prison: Songs of Death and Love by Anton Cancre

cover for Anton Cancre's poetry collectionMeaningless Cycles in a Vicious Glass Prison: Songs of Death and Love by Anton Cancre
Dragon’s Roost Press (October 2020)
114 pages, $9.99 Paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

In Meaningless Cycles in a Vicious Glass Prison: Songs of Death and Love, Anton Cancre creates scenes of death and works to capture them in short, poignant poems. Cancre works within various horror tropes but does his best to keep the ideas fresh and visceral for the reader. This is an interesting collection, and while the poetry is inconsistent at times, fans of horror poetry will enjoy perusing it.Continue Reading

Review: WYRD and Other Derelictions by Adam L.G. Nevill

cover of WYRD and Other Derelictions by Adam L.G. NevillWYRD and Other Derelictions by Adam L.G. Nevill
Ritual Limited (October 2020)
106 pages; $7.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Adam Nevill has quietly transformed into one of the top writers in the past decade. His novels, ranging from Apartment 16 to last year’s The Reddening (easily this reviewer’s vote for most frightening novel of the year), have evolved into fiction that’s both accessible and surreal. The Netflix adaptation of The Ritual broke open the floodgates to new audiences everywhere. Hopefully, other films will follow.Continue Reading

Review: Boneset & Feathers by Gwendolyn Kiste

illustrated cover of Boneset & Feathers by Gwendolyn KisteBoneset & Feathers by Gwendolyn Kiste
Broken Eye Books (November 3, 2020)
172 pages; $34.99 hardcover; $12.99 paperback
Reviewed by A.E. Siraki

Gwendolyn Kiste, witches, creepy birds, and odd kids. Need I say more? The author’s prose is as beautiful and engaging as ever in this story of a witch running from witchfinders. This would make a very compelling film or television adaptation and has what I’ve started referring to in my reviews as a “watchable” compulsive quality. It’s also a deeper commentary on the fear men — particularly wealthy older white men — have toward women; that antiquated but dangerous notion about women having power, the implications, and the stubbornness with which it clings to the fabrics in society.Continue Reading

Review: The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie

cover of The Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie, showing an upside-down photo of trees against a cloudy skyThe Children of Red Peak by Craig DiLouie
Redhook (November 17, 2020)

384 pages; $16.99 hardcover; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

A group of adults shares the same dark secret. When they were children, they grew up at the foot of a mountain called Red Peak. Isolated from the rest of the world, the children lived through the traumatic experience of life in a cult. Years later, a fellow survivor and friend, takes their own life. The grownup children of Red Peak reunite and re-open old wounds.

What really happened on that last night at Red Peak? Our protagonists, the survivors, must bring to the surface all the painful memories they buried and maybe even take a trip back to where it all happened.Continue Reading

Review: Moriarty the Patriot, Vol. 1 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ryosuke Takeuchi, and Hikaru Miyoshi

Moriarty the Patriot, Vol. 1 by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Ryosuke Takeuchi, and Hikaru Miyoshi
VIZ Media (October 2020)
206 pages; $9.99 paperback; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Danica Davidson

William James Moriarty was barely in the Sherlock Holmes books, but his position as Holmes’s archenemy and “The Napoleon of Crime” have kept him in people’s imaginations. Over the years he’s been seen in movies, books and other forms of entertainment not made by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And now he’s the main character in a Japanese manga that’s been made into an anime currently playing in Japan and streaming in America.Continue Reading

Review: Blood Lake Monster by Renee Miller

cover of Blood Lake Monster by Renee MillerBlood Lake Monster by Renee Miller
Unnerving Books (July 2020)

116 pages; $11.49 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Janelle Janson

If you’ve yet to read any of the Rewind or Die series put out by Unnerving, you are surely missing out. I am obsessed with this retro b-movie horror cinema-style series, and if you love brilliant female horror writers, then this is the collection for you! Renee Miller’s Blood Lake Monster is the twelfth publication and the sixth title I’ve read, but I plan to collect all of the paperbacks because…have you checked out these covers?! My favorites thus far are Food Fright, Cirque Berserk, and All You Need Is Love and a Strong Electric Current, but they have all been horror-tastic!Continue Reading

Review: Captain Clive’s Dreamworld by Jon Bassoff

Cover of Captain Clive's Dreamworld by Jon BassoffCaptain Clive’s Dreamworld by Jon Bassoff
Erasherhead Press (October 2020)

234 pages; $15.95 paperback; $5.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

For anyone that’s ever lived in a small town where everyone knows each other and seems to hold secrets about their next-door neighbors, idyllic town horror is a satisfying trope. Truth is always stranger than fiction and if you live in one small town long enough, you’re bound to uncover some of the strange history and unusual happenings. Sometimes what appears to be perfectly quaint is really just good at hiding its seamy underbelly.

It’s not difficult to suspend disbelief in order to buy into the old adage, “Nothing is as it appears to be.” Or another fitting favorite, “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.”Continue Reading

Review: Something is Killing the Children Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera

cover of the graphic novel Something is Killing the Children. Illustration of a child standing alone in the woods.Something is Killing the Children Vol. 1 by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera
BOOM! Studios (May 2020)

128 pages, $13.41 paperback; $12.74 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

Something has been taking the children of Archer’s Peak. At first it was just one girl, and the police assumed it was a typical family kidnapping perpetrated by an uncle. But then, young James and his friends have a sleepover, and when it’s over, James is the only survivor. There are bodies and blood. The whole town is in chaos. Then, a stranger with an uncanny knowledge of things who talks to her stuffed-animal octopus arrives and says she’ll take care of things. Something is Killing the Children is a really strong series from writer James Tynion IV and artist Werther Dell’Edera.Continue Reading

Review: Ring Shout by P. Djéli Clark

cover for Ring Shout by P. Djeli ClarkRing Shout by P. Djéli Clark
Tor.com (October 13, 2020)

176 pages; $15.99 hardcover; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

I read a brief tagline for Ring Shout that was along the lines of, “a dark fantasy historical novella that gives a supernatural twist to the Ku Klux Klan’s reign of terror” and I was sold. I love everything the tagline promises: Dark Fantasy. Historical Fiction. Novella. Supernatural. Give me all of those things.

Ring Shout not only delivered on these promises, but it also flew past all of my expectations making this book a solid contender for my favorite book of 2020.Continue Reading

Review: One Who Was With Me by Conrad Williams

cover of One Was With Me by Conrad WilliamsOne Who Was With Me by Conrad Williams
Earthling Publications (October 2020)
$45 limited edition hardcover
Reviewed by Dave Simms

It’s that wonderful time of year again when Earthling Publications announces their Halloween series title for the upcoming holiday. When was the last time Paul Miller failed to publish a stellar tale for this press? Hint: I’m still waiting.

Conrad Williams returns to the series in fine form here, following up his award winning The Unblemished from fourteen years ago, with a novel that at the onset sounds familiar but trust me—it’s anything but. I don’t know if the author is a baseball fan but he appears to be a master of the screwball, curveball, and sinker.Continue Reading