Review: Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby

cover of Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. CosbyBlacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby
Flatiron Books (July 14, 2020)

320 pages; $26.99 paperback; $13.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

Money can’t fix it and love can’t tame it. Push it down deep and it rots you from the inside out.

Blacktop Wasteland features a familiar crime noir trope: A man formally connected to a life of crime is trying to live an honest life and raise a family. When times get tough, he returns to what he knows he’s good at to turn a sizable profit, hoping this will be a one-and-done job. He might think he can leave the life but the life doesn’t want to let go.

We know this story, right?

But you don’t know this story. 

Immediately upon starting this book, I recognized the telltale signs of a character-driven story for the sake of emotional investment. 

I’m an emotional reader. 

I approach my reads with my heart on my sleeve and a willingness to surrender it easily. This book made it clear, right away, I was signing up to have my feelings wrecked and I wasn’t angry about it. I was ready, eagerly anticipating the journey to destruction.

The first neon sign was the main protagonist, Beauregard “Bug” Montage. I like Bug. He’s street smart and savvy. He’s been with his wife since they were kids and now they have kids of their own; a dedicated family man with a solid work ethic but with this wise-ass, “take-no-shit” persona as a remnant from his previous lifestyle.

S.A. Cosby does an excellent job bringing the reader into Bug’s day-to-day schedule and pulling back the curtain on his personal life so that we can share in his intimate relationships with his mama, his wife, and kids and his extended family and friends.

There’s also some seriously developed backstory as Cosby deals with themes of generational addictions: fathers passing on their self-destructive behaviors to their sons and so on and so on. 

Like all good crime noir dramas, the stage is set for conflict.

There’s no right or wrong here. There is only gray area as readers are forced to ask themselves, what would you do if you were forced to choose between a rock and a hard place? Thankfully, Bug is a complex, fully-fleshed out individual who makes some decisions that readers will choose to agree or disagree with; either way, you want Bug to be successful, which is a true sign of the author’s authenticity to the human condition.

The narrative goes from zero to sixty. It is exhilarating and nerve wracking.

Did the author deliver on the emotional wreckage I assumed was coming for me? Yes. Was it what I expected? No. This story is full of ups and downs, highs and lows, victories, and losses. It’s one of those crime dramas that leaves a lasting impact on your mood much like a Dennis Lehane or James Ellroy novel. I carried around a heaviness in my heart for quite some time after I turned the last page.

I recommend this book for those who are looking to read  adrenaline-pumping heist stories, intense car chases (some of the best driving scenes since I watched the movie Drive), good guys that act like bad guys and bad guys with heart, Black authors telling their own stories and just a damn good story told by a damn good writer.

Review: Tea with Death: A Gothic Poetry Collection by Abigail Wildes and Jeanna Pappas (Illustrator)

cover of Tea with Death by Abigail Wildes and Jeanna PappasTea with Death: A Gothic Poetry Collection by Abigail Wildes and Jeanna Pappas (Illustrator)
Alban Lake Publishing (February 2020)

101 pages, $19.99 hardcover
Reviewed by Joshua Gage

Gothic poetry is an interesting concept. Originally a nineteenth century invention and an offshoot of Romantic poetry, Gothic poetry was pretty much any poem that had elements of gothic literature. However, it was popularized by Romantic poets such as Keats and Coleridge, and became its own subgenre of poetry. Almost two hundred years later, it’s interesting that this subgenre of poetry is seeing a slight resurgence. Obviously, the advent of Gothic music and the Gothic subculture in the 1980s influenced this, but many speculative poets are returning to older models of poetry for inspiration. One such poet is Abigail Wildes, whose newest collection is Tea with Death.Continue Reading

Review: Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones

cover of Night of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham JonesNight of the Mannequins by Stephen Graham Jones
Tor (September 1, 2020)
136 pages; $11.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

So Shanna got a new job at the movie theater, we thought we’d play a fun prank on her, and now most of us are dead, and I’m really starting to kind of feel guilty about it all.

Stephen Graham Jones packs a lot of information about his new book Night of the Mannequins into that opening sentence. You get a hint of events to come, a clear idea of the tone, and an important clue about the attitude of the narrator, all in less than 40 words. That, my friends, is talent.Continue Reading

Review: A Little Amber Book of Wicked Shots by Robert McCammon

cover of A Little Amber Book of Wicked Shots by Robert McCammonA Little Amber Book of Wicked Shots by Robert McCammon
Borderlands Press (Spring 2020)
146 pages; $30 limited edition signed & numbered hardcover (750 copies; sold out)
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

Borderlands Press has a built an outstanding back catalog of titles with its Little Books Series, attracting an array of legendary-or-heading-there authors including Charles L. Grant, Jack Ketchum, Josh Malerman, Sarah Pinborough, Caitlin R. Kiernan, and a host of others. These tend to sell out quickly—including the entry we’re looking at today, A Little Amber Book of Wicked Shots by Robert McCammon. So, while today’s review may not serve as a call for you to rush out and buy this book—I mean, I ain’t sellin’ mine, and I doubt many others will, either—let it be a lesson for you to get on the Borderlands Press mailing list so you can start grabbing these titles when they are released.Continue Reading

Review: All the Dead Men by Errick Nunnally

cover of All the Dead Men by Errick NunnallyAll the Dead Men by Errick Nunnally
Twisted Publishing (July 20, 2020)
252 pages; $18 paperback
Reviewed by A.E. Siraki

All the Dead Men is the sequel to Blood for the Sun by Errick Nunnally, both recently re-issued by Haverhill House Publishing. This is a werewolf novel, but it’s unique not only because the protagonist comes from a mixed-race background (he comes from a black father and a mother from the Kainai nation of Saskatchewan in Canada), but also suffers from a condition like Alzheimer’s. The thing that struck me must about Alexander Smith, the protagonist, when we first meet him is the way his scent power works with analysis of clues to solve murders. Trigger warning: those who have issues with harm against children should be aware that Blood for the Sun starts off with it, and it continues in the next book as well.  Continue Reading

Review: The Neon Owl (Book I): When the Shit Hits the Van by Chad Lutzke

cover of The Neon Owl by Chad LutzkeThe Neon Owl (Book I): When the Shit Hits the Van by Chad Lutzke
Independently Published (January 2020)

168 pages; $8.99 paperback; $2.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie Hartmann

Showing up for a Chad Lutzke story is a resignation of emotional preservation. You come to engage with the words on the page with your heart fully exposed and a willingness to let Lutzke do as he wishes. More often than not, the book will end on a note that breaks your heartstrings and leaves the reader with a nasty bookish hangover.

The Neon Owl is a bit of a departure from the usual agreement and I loved it! This story manages to put a big grin on your face instead of streaking your cheeks with tears and I’m not mad about it.Continue Reading

Review: The Lost Memories of Freddy Frehling by James Newman

cover of The Lost Memories of Freddy FrehlingThe Lost Memories of Freddy Frehling by James Newman
In Your Face Books (January 2020)

32 pages; $0.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror”Hartmann

It’s tricky to review a short story of just thirty-two pages. My primary objectives here are to make readers aware of this title, and to praise the work of James Newman.

The Lost Memories of Freddy Frehling is a story about the feelings adult children have for their parents. Continue Reading

Review: Fishing by P. Gardner Goldsmith

cover of Fishing by P. Gardner GoldsmithFishing by P. Gardner Goldsmith
Shadowridge Press (February 2017)
132 pages; $10.99 paperback
Reviewed by Kevin Lucia

P. Gardner Goldsmith’s Fishing is a hallucinatory, Kafka-esque, surreal ride which invokes reflections of Charles Beaumont and Rod Serling by way of Ray Garton and even Richard Laymon. Gardner’s terse, tightly-controlled prose thrums with drive and energy, and even though it’s precise and efficient, it occasionally breaks out into a lyricism invoking ghosts of Ray Bradbury himself.Continue Reading

Review: White Pines by Gemma Amor

cover of White Pines by Gemma AmorWhite Pines by Gemma Amor
Independently Published (March 2020)

442 pages; $16 paperback; $3 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie Hartmann

I like that the synopsis of White Pines is short and ambiguous. I’d like to leave it that way. I’m going to do my best to share my reading experience without disclosing important plot details in order to protect “reader discovery.”Continue Reading

Review: Eden by Tim Lebbon

cover of Eden by Tim LebbonEden by Tim Lebbon
Titan Books (April 2020)
384 pages; $11.99 paperback; $8.99 e-book
Reviewed by Kevin Lucia

It’s amazing how quickly nature overcomes what man has built. During quarantine, I’ve spent hours walking paths in the woods I haven’t for years, visiting old camping spots, and one spot in particular: a clearing near a creek where, five years ago, we built a fire pit with cinder-blocks, erected a small, portable charcoal grill, and built several wooden tables and chairs.Continue Reading

Review: These Evil Things We Do by Mick Garris

cover of these evil things we do by mick garrisThese Evil Things We Do by Mick Garris
Fangoria/Cinestate (May 2020)

$9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie Hartmann

I’m going to go with total honesty and transparency by revealing that I didn’t know who Mick Garris even was when I accepted the review copy from the team at Cinestate/FANGORIA. I just read whatever they give me because it’s always entertaining; if not amazing.

After finishing the first three stories of These Evil Things We Do and feeling totally blown away by how much I had enjoyed them, I decided to look this Mick Garris guy up on Google.


Mick Garris is kind of a big deal.Continue Reading

Review: watch the whole goddamned thing burn by doungjai gam

cover of watch the whole goddamned thing burnwatch the whole goddamned thing burn by doungjai gam
Nightscape Press (May 2020)
50 pages; $30 Limited Edition
Reviewed by Kevin Lucia

If you’ve read doungjai gam’s glass slipper dreams, shattered and savored that collection’s wonderfully  raw emotion, then her recent novella from Nightscape Press—llustrated by the immensely talented Luke Spooner—is a must buy. In it, gam takes all of the intensity and power of her verse and packs it into prose, weaving a highly emotional and devastating tale which will leave you gasping for breath and, quite possibly, weeping at its end.Continue Reading

Review: The Horror Writer: A Study of Craft and Identity in the Horror Genre edited by Joe Mynhardt

cover of The Horror WriterThe Horror Writer: A Study of Craft and Identity in the Horror Genre edited by Joe Mynhardt
Hellbound Books (January 2020)
216 pages; $14.99 paperback; $4.99 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Books on writing have been churned out by the dozens, and while many have been worthy reads, few have been standouts. In the horror genre, even fewer come to mind, although there are a few classics.

Joe Mynhardt has compiled a wonderful, useful, and frightening insight into the minds of some of the best dark minds writing today. It’s like someone tore straight into the souls of these authors and culled their best, and darkest secrets.Continue Reading

Review: Tales of the Lost Vol. 1: We All Lose Something! edited by Eugene Johnson and Steve Dillon

cover of Tales of the Lost We All Lose SomethingTales of the Lost Vol. 1: We All Lose Something! edited by Eugene Johnson and Steve Dillon
Things in the Well (December 2019)
283 pages; $15 paperback; $3 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Horror anthologies seem to be emerging like gremlins dunked in fetid water these days. While some are stellar, others fill up the pages with reprints from the greats, and some just fall through the cracks because the authors within aren’t household names.Continue Reading

Review: The Best of Both Worlds by S. P. Miskowski

cover of The Best of Both WorldsThe Best of Both Worlds by S.P. Miskowski
Trepidatio Publishing (May 2020)
80 pages; $9.95 paperback; $4.95 e-book
Reviewed by Dave Simms

Skillute is one of those towns that has quickly become one to remember in horror fiction. It’s creeping like a tainted tide, inspired by Oxrun Station from Charlie Grant and Cedar Hill from Gary Braunbeck. The land has been poisoned, seeping into the soil of a town that should be long forgotten, but things that refuse to die grasp hold of the frayed threads of reality in this Pacific Northwestern hell. Good people still reside there, and S.P. Miskowski has made them pawns in her playground, a setting that never can shed the shadows which infect everything that breathes within.Continue Reading