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: 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: The Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson

cover of The Loop by Jeremy Robert JohnsonThe Loop by Jeremy Robert Johnson
Saga Press (September 29, 2020)

320 pages; $26.99 paperback; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie Hartmann

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.Continue Reading

Review: The Ghost Tree by Christina Henry

cover of The Ghost Tree by Christina HenryThe Ghost Tree by Christina Henry
Berkley (September 8, 2020)

432 pages; $13.99 paperback; $11.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie Hartmann

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. Continue Reading

Review: The Raven by Jonathan Janz

The Raven by Jonathan Janz
Flame Tree Press (September 8, 2020)

256 pages; $24.95; $14.95 paperback
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

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.Continue Reading

Review: The Residence by Andrew Pyper

cover of The Residence by Andrew PyperThe Residence by Andrew Pyper
Skybound Books (September 1, 2020)

352 pages; $26 hardcover; $13.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

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.Continue Reading

Review: Clown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare

cover of Clown in a Cornfield by Adam CesareClown in a Cornfield by Adam Cesare
HarperTeen (August 25, 2020)

352 pages; $17.99 hardcover; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie Hartmann

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.Continue Reading

Review: Children of the Fang and Other Genealogies by John Langan

cover of Children of the Fang by John LanganChildren 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.”Continue Reading

Review: Malorie by Josh Malerman

Malorie by Josh Malerman
Del Rey (July 21, 2020)

304 pages; $19.29 hardcover; $9.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

From my review of Bird Box in 2018:

Our protagonist, Malorie, is young and a little naive. There is a global calamity going on and she seems very preoccupied with her own circumstances. As a reader, you are concerned with our protagonist’s perspective—can she navigate through this story safely for us? I wanted a more reliable, capable protagonist to be honest but this is a horror novel and I came prepared for the worst. And the worst did come…

…This was an engaging, edge of your seat read. I loved every hair-raising moment. A solid work of horror, suspense and apocalyptic storytelling.

Continue Reading

Review: Survivor Song by Paul Tremblay

cover of Survivor Song by Paul TremblaySurvivor Song by Paul Tremblay
William Morrow (July 2020)

320 pages; $25.19 hardcover; $14.99 e-book
Reviewed by Sadie “Mother Horror” Hartmann

Beware! Paul Tremblay is not interested in writing stories readers can walk away from unscathed. Survivor Song will leave emotional trenches in your heart long after you’ve finished trying to ugly-cry and read at the same time.Continue Reading

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: 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: 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: 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.

Oh.

Mick Garris is kind of a big deal.Continue Reading