If you look back over the history of horror fiction, there are a few names that have become synonymous with the genre. Stephen King. Edgar Allan Poe. Shirley Jackson. Clive Barker. Ellen Datlow may not have quite the same level of mainstream recognition as these authors, but her influence on horror fiction (not to mention fantasy and sci-fi) stands equal.
The Harrowing of Hell by Evan Dahm
Iron Circus Comics (August 2020)
128 pages, $15 hardcover
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
In Christian theology, The Harrowing of Hell is the story of Jesus Christ descending into Hell after his crucifixion and rising, triumphant, three days later on Easter. Evan Dahm has taken this story, as well as some details from apocryphal gospels, and created a very dark graphic novel that, while still religiously based, is sure to appeal to horror readers as well.
You know, if I didn’t have to sleep, eat, or tend to the family during this stay-at-home order, I would have sat and read this one straight through. This book is everything.
Cue some strange intro music like the eerie riffs from X-Files or the digital notes of that synthesized melody from Stranger Things and settle into this binge-worthy genre mashup. Best known for his bizarro-horror style and flavor, Jeremy Robert Johnson is an unexpected hero for the coming-of-age conspiracy thriller genre.
This review is a bit different. I’m approaching it as an author instead of a reader. I was in the midst of editing one novel and completing another—both were forever altered by this book. I’m also hitting it from the viewpoint of a creative writing teacher. Both color my opinion of this writing book by the prolific Tim Waggoner. For those unfamiliar with the author who seems to churn out a new novel every few months, either in his own worlds or dipping his toes in that of Supernatural, Alien, or Grimm, he’s also well known as a professor.
Christina Henry entices readers to travel back in time to a small town called Smith’s Hollow. It’s the 1980s. We follow best friends Lauren and Miranda, their longtime friendship seemingly in transition. Miranda is looking to make friends with older boys who drive while Lauren resents being dragged along as a third wheel.
Wrapped in this compelling coming-of-age story is something more insidious than teenage boys. Two girls Lauren’s age are found murdered, their bodies mutilated, in the backyard of one of her neighbors.
If there’s one thing readers of horror fiction know to be true, it’s that old, isolated motels are not the place to go if you’re looking to get your life together.
Especially if said motel is brimming with secrets.
Especially if the person seeking sanctuary is bringing his own demons along for the ride.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about horror is the vast variety in its sub-genres. So many tropes fit under the horror umbrella; I truly believe there’s something for everyone. I passionately believe the horror genre is plenty sufficient to cover any thirst for diversity in your reading.
My top-shelf writers of horror, the mega-talented, often write books categorized in the full spectrum of the genre. The opposite of the one-trick pony, these authors are part and parcel of horror fiction.
Jonathan Janz is one of those authors writing bestsellers that cover a lot of ground. Supernatural, paranormal, creature-features, noir, gothic, you name it and Janz has tried it; successfully.
Twelve: Poems Inspired by the Brothers Grimm Fairy Tale by Andrea Blythe
Interstellar Flight Press (September 7, 2020)
64 pages, $9.99 paperback; $5.99 e-book
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Andrea Blythe is a well-recognized name in speculative poetry. She is a widely published author, as well as a podcast host. Blythe is most known for her work with fairytales and folktales, and her newest collection, Twelve, based on the Brothers Grimm fairytale of the twelve dancing princesses, is a potent and exquisite addition to her already impressive body of work.
When I first saw the cover of The Residence, I was skeptical. A ghost story set in the White House? It seemed ambitious. I have a lot of feelings about residents that are currently haunting the White House but none of them are paranormal entities.
Still, the idea was tantalizing so I put in my request to review.
Mexican Gothic has been hyped to the extreme for at least a year, so my expectations going in were high. And even though they were high, they were never unrealistic as I already knew Moreno-Garcia to be a talented writer. But when this book took an unexpected and interesting turn, combined with a surprising amount of gore, I knew I had found a winner.
The setting for Clown in a Cornfield is the fictional town of Kettle Springs, a rural town that sounds like good ol’ Nowheresville, USA. The townspeople seem caught in a time-warp where young people are to be seen and not heard, especially while the grown-ups are trying hard to “Make Kettle Springs Great Again.” Unfortunately for our protagonist, Quinn Maybrook, her father took a job in Kettle Springs and Quinn has no choice but to adjust to her new scene.
Submitted for the Approval of the Midnight Pals by Bitter Karella
Guttersnipe Publishing (2020)
99 pages; $25 paperback
Reviewed by Anton Cancre
I assume you know about @midnight_pals and The Midnight Society. If you dig horror literature, I don’t know how you could have missed it. You know, THE twitter gathering of great minds from across generations. Where Mary Shelley slaps the soul out of anyone pretending to the throne. That Midnight Society.
If you don’t know it, just look it up. I don’t have the space here and it is worth your time. This is the best literary satire currently going. And it is actually funny.
If you do, then I am sure, like me, you wanted to know why you should buy a book of stuff you can get online for free. But Bitter Karella has some treats in store for you here. Cute drawings that add to the lampooning of your favorite writers? Check. Plus additional faux stories from those authors we all love that really nail the silliness we all look past.
And if you want to find out about new horror talent, this is a surprisingly good place. Amid the gags at King and Barker and Lovecraft, there are pokes at the likes of Mary Sangiovanni (one of the bewb gags had me spitting while I sat on the toilet) and Betty Rocksteady, aka the sneaky snake of Canada that will rock your world.
The only downside is that orders can only be placed through direct contact via twitter at @midnight_pals but it is totally worth it.
On Quiet Earth: A Zombie Apocalypse Novel by Chris Kelly
Severed Press (May 2020)
155 pages, $9.95 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
At first glance, On Quiet Earth reads like a typical zombie survivor novel. The plot is formulaic—survivors band together, try to outrun zombies, and live in a post-apocalyptic world. What makes Kelly’s take on this genre unique is his sparse prose which, coupled with the psychological aspects of the book, make for an interesting zombie read.
Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies by John Langan
Word Horde (August 18, 2020)
388 pages; $19.99 paperback; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie Hartmann
First things first, the introduction to this book, written by Stephen Graham Jones, is so choice. Bonus points right away for mentioning one of my favorite childhood stories ever: The Monster at the End of This Book (narrated by your lovable ol’ pal, Grover).
Dr. Jones goes on to say, “John Langan, both delivering us some compelling horror but at the same time interrogating the basic form of horror.”
A Complex Accident of Life: Blackout Poetry Inspired by Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Jessica McHugh
Apokrupha (June 2020)
104 pages; $18.99 paperback; $3.99 e-book
Reviewed by Anton Cancre
Writing poetry is a tough gig. Trying to put together poems from someone else’s words, even tougher. Putting together personal, meaningful poems from someone else’s words and using their location to make for impactful, visually appealing art seems nigh impossible. So, of course the inimitable Jessica McHugh has done just that.