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.

Ronald Kelly Opens The Halloween Store

Cover of the book The Halloween Store by Ronald Kelly. Features three jack o lanterns that have been carved for Halloween. But one of them is a human face! GASP!

Ronald Kelly has been spinning his throwback style of horror since the early 1990s, blending the no-holds-barred sensibilities of Jack Ketchum with the quiet dread of Charles L. Grant. He’s recently dropped a themed collection, The Halloween Store and Other Tales of All Hallows’ Eve, just in time for our favorite holiday. With these stories (plus a couple of nonfiction essays), Kelly aims to invoke those wind-swept October nights when freedom and fear walked hand-in-hand.

Kelly, who has a long history with Cemetery Dance that he touches on briefly in this interview, was kind enough to answer a few questions about these new stories and more.Continue Reading

Graven Images: The Nancy A. Collins Swamp Thing Omnibus

In her introduction to this omnibus, Nancy A. Collins describes how comics of all kinds attracted her at an early age. Her interest in the medium kicked off right about the time the Comics Code was losing its once-considerable grip on the industry, which put her in a prime spot to catch the wave of horror comics that began flooding the newsstands. She talks about picking up copies of Eerie and House of Secrets as part of her weekly haul — but it was the cover of a comic featuring a certain muck-encrusted monstrosity squaring off with a werewolf (drawn by horror maestro Bernie Wrightson) that really stood out to the young fan.Continue Reading

Review: Edited By edited by Ellen Datlow

cover of Edited By, a collection of short stories edited by Elle DatlowEdited By edited by Ellen Datlow
Subterranean Press (September 2020)
632 pages; $45 limited edition hardcover; $6.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

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.Continue Reading

Review: In the Shadows of Men by Robert Jackson Bennett

cover of In the Shadows of Men by Robert Jackson Bennett showing an old hotelIn the Shadows of Men by Robert Jackson Bennett
Subterranean Press (August 2020)
120 pages; $40 limited edition hardcover
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

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.Continue Reading

Interview: Into the Cornfield with Adam Cesare

cover of Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare, showing a red clown face in a field of cornAdam Cesare, author and Cemetery Dance columnist, has been a fixture on the horror scene for nearly a decade. Early books like Video Night and All-Night Terror made him an instant favorite among fans of horror fiction, and he’s continued developing his skill and style with books like The Con Season  and The First One You Expect.

His new novel, Clown in a Cornfield, is generating the sort of next-level buzz those of us who’ve been reading Cesare’s work since the beginning have been expecting. Adam was kind enough to take time during a busy book-launch week to talk with his old Cemetery Dance editor, who may or may not have taken the opportunity to press him relentlessly about writing for us again….but mainly asked him questions about the new book.Continue Reading

Dead Air: An Interview with the Creators of The Kingcast

banner for Cemetery Dance's Dead Air column - neon green background with black writing

Not too long ago, journalists Eric Vespe (formerly of Ain’t It Cool News, among others) and Scott Wampler (formerly of birth.movies.death, among others), got together to discuss an idea that would evolve into “a Stephen King podcast for Stephen King obsessives.” The Kingcast invites guests from the entertainment industry to discuss the King novel or short story of their choosing, along with the film or television adaptation of that work.

Over the past few months, The Kingcast has hosted a variety of guests, including Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep) discussing 1408, Elijah Wood discussing MiseryKaryn Kusama discussing Carrie, and Damien Echols (who was wrongly convicted and jailed for murder largely due to his interest in heavy metal and horror) discussing the Dark Tower series.

Recently, the co-creators and hosts were kind enough to answer a few questions for Cemetery Dance.Continue Reading

Review: Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 3 edited by William Schafer

cover of Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 3 edited by William SchaferSubterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 3 edited by William Schafer
Subterranean Press (July 2020)
234 pages; $40 hardcover; $150 limited edition hardcover
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

Like most anthologies, Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy 3 is a bit of a mixed bag. There are no bad stories here, but some resonated with me more than others. No doubt each reader will have his or her own favorites; rather than try and predict what those will be, I’m just going to share a few of mine.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: The Darkling Halls of Ivy edited by Lawrence Block

Cover of The Darkling Halls of IvyThe Darkling Halls of Ivy edited by Lawrence Block
Subterranean Press (May 2020)
328 pages; $50 limited edition hardcover
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

A life in academia always struck me as a somewhat safe, even enviable career choice. I mean, what could be so bad about a career dedicated to increasing knowledge—your own, and that of others? What could be bad about a workplace where you’re surrounded by books and intelligent colleagues, and you’re encouraged to pursue whatever niche interest catches your eye?

Turns out there’s a lot that can be bad about it. Continue Reading

Review: Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus

Bent Heavens by Daniel Kraus
Henry Holt and Company (February 2020)
304 pages; $12.39 hardcover; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

Liv is a teenage girl, a high school freshman living with the typical teenage drama that comes with trying to find your crowd, not to mention your own identity. Unfortunately for Liz, she has more than the usual obstacles standing in the way of acceptance and self-confidence; she has to carry the burden of being the daughter of the man who went missing, showed up raving and naked in the middle of town, and then disappeared again.Continue Reading

Review: Blackwood by Michael Farris Smith

Cover of Blackwood by Michael Farris SmithBlackwood by Michael Farris Smith
Little, Brown and Company (March 2020)
304 pages; $27 hardcover; $13.99 e-book
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

If you’ve been to the South you’ve seen kudzu, the suffocating green vine that will envelop anything that stands still long enough. It fills gullys and blankets hills. It climbs telephone poles and encircles trees. It’s got a deep foothold in the region, and it’s tough. I once saw a car that had plunged nose-first into a kudzu-filled ravine, its taillights the only thing visible through the green webbing — webbing strong enough to catch the car like a net and keep it from hitting the ground.

Were the kudzu to disappear one day, to turn brown and crumble the way other, lesser plants do, there’s no telling what would be revealed. Abandoned pickup trucks. Forgotten general stores and shotgun houses. Animal bones by the millions. And secrets…so many secrets.Continue Reading

Review: Jane Goes North by Joe R. Lansdale

Jane Goes North by Joe R. Lansdale
Subterranean Press (March 2020)
232 pages; $40 limited edition hardcover
Reviewed by Blu Gilliand

I took a few road trips in my youth. While they were marked with plenty of shenanigans and questionable decisions (as was most of my youth), none of them came close to the craziness experienced by the women in Jane Goes North, Joe Lansdale’s new novel from Subterranean Press. It’s probably a good thing, too; Lansdale’s women barely flinch in the face of the inconveniences and dangers he tosses at them, while I would have crumbled like a cheap cookie.Continue Reading